By Dennis-George Antipas

"Life is one damned thing after another': (Elbert Hubbard (1859 - 1915).

Saturday afternoon 11 February.

Margo and I returned from our two weeks holiday abroad and found, at first, all was well in and around the house.
A short note on the kitchen table together with a few flowers, a small plate of sandwiches and a pint of fresh milk were appropriately provided and arranged by Florence Lancashire (Flo ) our daily.
We certainly felt truly tired and jet lagged, being on the move for more than thirty six hours since leaving our cruise ship, in New Orleans, to fly back home.
We enjoyed a hot cup of English tea in our kitchen, the sandwiches calling for attention would be addressed later on. Subsequently, we tackled a couple of telephone messages and dropped on to the easy chairs in the television room to relax for a while, having made up our minds not to retire to bed until later on in the evening.

The next day, Sunday, following a generous lie-in I prepared breakfast, sorted out the holiday laundry and went out for a short walk. On my return, I prepared a light lunch for Margo and I. The afternoon and evening (Margo is addicted to the box) was spent in front of the television. By seven o'clock I gave Margo her usual glass of wine, followed by a tasty snack which I had put together spontaneously, for the two of us.
It was getting on for 10 o'clock, time for me to retire to bed as planned earlier on, leaving Margo on her own to watch more TV.

Monday morning. Kath, Margo's daughter, arrived with Joy her baby girl, by car, from London. They were going to stay with us for a couple of days to chase the completion of the purchase of a small terraced house, not too far from our own place. I thought I would wait until their return home before I could sort out the remainder of our holiday things, check all the post and dissect and peruse the last two weeks' news papers.

It is part of a carer's contribution to cook and to see to all the other minor or major daily chores; now all these operations were down to me with the formula working out well, this far for Margo and I.
The problem arising was that my labour of love was impeding upon my literary hobbies and upon what was left of my valuable free time.
This sort of regimentation, sadly, had come about because of Margo's progressive failing eyesight due to macular disease; a slow degenerative eye condition, with no known cure.
In effect, my regular house work was to see to everything where Flo, our daily, would leave off. Flo was employed to work for us only three mornings a week.

Today I felt rather depressed, with the hapless Kath still around, her non stop chatting little girl and their endless problems on the purchase of their terraced house; a poor tonic for me. Their cumulative complications moving home and of their future, dominate any other aspect of conversation.
Kath seems to be permanently moody and humourless with never ending personal problems. All this adds to my own stress and ill humour. I bear fools badly, especially moody and boring ones - more so if they are void of any charm, as well.

Search for my missing treasure.

Strangely enough, with one damned thing after another, I realised I had neglected to look for and recover, from the TV room, my old Indian silver tray, since our return from holiday. I now decided to retrieve it and reconnect with it from the spot in the TV room where I had hidden it, the night before we went off abroad.

Usually, our trusted Flo gathers all our silver and hides it away for safety, each time we go away, but for some unknown reason, Flo missed my Indian silver tray this time. I would loath to have it mislaid or, indeed, lose it, as this beautiful oriental old object and I share a special relationship.
The tray is 12" long by by 6"wide and it is over 150 years old. It was hand made in Bombay from solid Indian silver and endowed with oriental craftsmanship. It has been in the hands of my family for many a year, before it was handed down to me. A truly sentimental treasure, one that could never be replaced.

For fear I might not remember, on my return from being away, the secret spots in the house, where I would hide specific objects, I would jot down in my private note book details where I had hidden them. In this instance, it was the keys to our Rover saloon car and, secondly, my Indian silver tray.
The keys to the Rover car were easily retrieved from inside the biscuit tin. But, the Indian silver tray which was sandwiched between the two old, large books on the second bookshelf in our television lounge, was not there.
I was shocked and amazed being faced, so unexpectedly, with such a peculiar incident.

It was now dark, rather late and it was cold. It was the end of the week and I certainly felt most anxious and upset. Yet, upset or not, Margo had to be told about it, who reacted impulsively, accusing me I must have hidden it at some other spot in the house and that it was my fault for not remembering.
She embroidered her view by saying I was getting old and forgetful. Not uncommon remarks by Margo.
But, when I read to her my private entries from my little note book and explained the Rover car keys were recovered from the biscuit tin and that my Indian silver tray did not
turn up, Margo was non-plus. I am afraid it was no use arguing with Margo; I felt rather sick trying to visualise the unpleasant repercussions that might follow.

It would be better, I thought, if I were to ask Flo on Monday morning for her help, when she came in to do her cleaning jobs.
Meantime, I was hoping that whilst cleaning around the house, Flo might have found my Indian silver tray and promptly placed it at some other safer spot; it sounded rational. Sadly, such hopes were fading away with dark doubts racing in my head, instead. I was, really, struggling to come to terms with an unhappy situation wrapped around emotional people who were not my family.

The Search continues.

Monday morning started as usual, with Flo back on duty. I am still concerned and depressed about my possible, painful loss.
It was time to come clean and explain to Flo of my concerns; with certain trepidation I asked her if she could, please, help me find the missing silver tray.

Without any doubt, this must be one of those peculiar sensitive issues, which could go wrong either way. It might involve innocent as well as guilty people alike. Flo promised, she would help out. But was I sure, she asked, of the exact hiding place to my missing Indian silver tray?

Of course I was sure, promptly showing to her the entry in my little note book.
Flo read my notes. It was clearly shown the tray was concealed on to the book selves in the TV room on the night of the Friday 26 January.
Flo, appeared relaxed and said "leave it with me" for she would look everywhere in the house to try and find it - those were Flo's own words.
I said, I felt quite uneasy and apprehensive as this kind of loss would have to be reported to the local Police to comply with our house insurance policy. And I added, that if needs be, I would go out to hire a metal detector to help search the whole house to find the missing silver tray.
I could never think of a better statement to make to confirm my resolve to both Margo, Kath and to Flo who were in the kitchen, all at the same time.

In the past, Margo would, absent-mindedly, misplace her own jewellery and other things frequently around the house to my annoyance. Whilst our very loyal Flo would always manage to recover them, in good time, to the relief of all concerned.
But this time, almost after a week, Flo had failed, somehow, to perform her magic, to find the missing silver tray. And what was rather curious, she did not appear to be unduly worried about it. At least not as much I happened to be worried.

Flo kept repeating that she and her husband were the only ones who had come into the house during our absence abroad. And then she added her husband, this particular time, was only brought in to give her a hand to turn over the mattresses to our beds.
But, they would never have lifted the Indian Silver tray, was the emphatic way Flo had put it to us in the kitchen, at the end.

It was the first time we learned that Flo was not entirely on her own tending to the house as she had always done in the past.

The Plot thickens.

On the following afternoon when Margo and I had come back from our shopping, we found Flo's hand written note, left on the kitchen table which simply read:

"Dear Donald, I have spent two and a half hours searching everywhere downstairs in the house to no avail. Perhaps you put it in your office upstairs. Signed, Flo".

My anxieties multiplied and I felt angry. What in reality was going on here? Why did Flo suggest my office and not my bedroom ?
It was quite evident, by now, my Indian silver tray had gone walkies; I hope not for good. But who could, ever, have spotted it and did remove it from where it had been concealed by me, in the TV room?

If Flo (as she had reported to me earlier) did not shift the books to dust the bookshelves in the TV room, which other human being had visited this very spot and lifted the my tray? I certainly felt more troubled by now, promising myself not to show any anger. Nor, indeed, accuse any one in particular about the unfolding mystery, as yet.
Anticipation - the mystery is deepening.

I did not see Flo the next day , being her day off.
On Thursday, on my return from my monthly visit to Wetheral General Hospital, the moment I got back into the house, Flo greeted me with anger and indignation. The missing tray was found, Flo screeched at me!

In front of Margo, Kath and I she started flying around the kitchen almost hysterically, shouting loudly, that she had found the missing tray upstairs in my study, amongst some small books.
She kept repeating, "what a terrible, worrying time she had had about it all " and that she had never, ever taken anything from "this house" over the last twenty years she had been with Mrs. Margo.
Her defending attitude and body language were overtly exaggerated, quite an unexpected reaction. Flo was clearly over emotional and being supercharged she was running around like a half plucked old chicken ! It was a good performance, but for whose real benefit?

When, eventually, the thunder and lightning had subsided I asked Flo to, please, show me the spot where, she told us, my Indian silver tray had been discovered by her.
Flo, now calm and composed, took me upstairs to my little office and pointed at the spot and at my tray. Naturally, my surprise and my pleasure could not be measured as I was, at once, elated, curious and suspicious.
I felt there were several questions which must call for an answer. This, somehow, might prove a real barrier to the truth.
What, on earth, had taken place here? I felt my reactions were timely and just, indeed.
It was Shakespeare who had written in Troilus and Cressida:
"And give to dust that is a little gift I More laud than gilt o'er - dusted".

Frustrated celebrations.

The relief of being reunited at last, with my valued Indian silver tray was more than joyful. It was a kind of an anticlimax, though. I had, truly, suffered stress that my tray should have travelled from the TV room to such an out of the way spot in my study, unaided by me. It was abundantly clear that someone had hurriedly and clumsily deposited it there.

The silver tray, at the spot I was now looking at, stood out like a sore thumb.
Any visiting burglar would have spotted it and taken it away with the utmost ease. It was not the place where I would have, ever, chosen to hide my Indian silver tray.
With kindness and diplomacy I thanked Flo and gave her a hug for reuniting me with my very own treasure. Flo and I, just looked at each other for a fleeting moment, without saying a word. I, suddenly, got the strange feeling mendacity floated around us like a bad smell.

It was rather premature, I thought, for anyone to try, at this point, to sort out who did what. And why, exactly, did all this charade happened in this way?
Flo and I returned to the kitchen with the Indian silver tray securely in my hands and found Margo and Kath standing there quietly. Neither of them registered any reaction nor did they make any comment, in spite of the fact the entire episode had caused so much anxiety.

I felt a kind of belated relief that this drama had ended well with the recovery of the missing tray, although my suspicions refused to go away.
How is it that the real culprit, the major protagonist, who had truly moved my silver tray at first, had dropped out of the play and had, quietly, vanished out of the plot? Mendacity, like one of the old mythical Furies, was floating around me, once more. I was unhappy again, as the full mystery remained unsolved !
The Jury is still out.

Who did, really, come across my Indian silver tray, in the first instance ? How many pairs of hands had touched it ?
It was too simplistic and quite odd, looking at the way the tray had surfaced in my study at the end of its journey around the house.
Was Flo's husband involved, who rarely visited the house?
Or, was it Flo who was trying to cover up for someone else, well known to her, only ?
Or, did Kath get herself insidiously involved when she was left on her own, in this house, on the two separate occasions, between coming up and going back to London?

More than one person must have the right answers to this enigma.
Flo is the only material witness, at present, who knows the exact truth.
But having relocated the silver tray, why had Flo decided to cover up the actual culprit? Her finite action, sadly, left her with a transparent paradigm to personal suspicion.
"The truth makes men/women free is for the most part the truth
which men/women prefer not to hear." (H. Agar 1750).

One day, I trust, the truth might pay me a visit !

Dennis-George Antipas. Cheshire, 3 March 2006.