The first thing Nora noticed when she came into the parlour was that the curtains were the ones she'd been looking at in Binghamptons, the department store, just last Tuesday. She tried not to stare, but she'd known at a glance that they were the curtains she'd wanted, and she tried to walk casually closer to them to make perfectly sure. The second thing she noticed, as she headed towards the window, exclaiming about the begonia, was the chair socks.
She stopped dead, and stared openly at the wooden dining chairs, neatly set out around the edges of the room as though at the edges of a dance floor waiting for the wallflowers to take up position and coyly avoid the gaze of anyone wanting to dance.
"What's the matter, dear?" Mrs. Amtram was carrying the teapot, snuggled in its Chelsea-strip tea-cosy, in one hand, and in her other hand two mugs clattered together as her fingers barely clutched their handles. Nora pointed, too shaken to say anything.
"The chairs? They were from Auntie Clara. You must remember her, dear, she's the one who used to ask you why you had a boyfriend. Poor woman, back then of course we thought she was just being funny, but you know, when she died and I had to help Miriam clear out her rooms, we found things in there that suggested she might have... well, enjoyed not being married. Dear? You're very quiet still, dear." Nora pointed again, her shaking finger trying to isolate the chair-socks as the cause of her distress.
"Still the chairs? I doubt Auntie Clara haunts them, but you can check if you like. I'm quite sure her spirit wouldn't mind you sitting in her lap...." Mrs. Amtram trailed off, as though realising she'd perhaps said too much and risked speaking ill of the dead. She put the tea-pot down on the coffee table, a wood-and-glass affair that didn't go with anything else in the room, and clattered the mugs down next to them. "I'll go and get the milk, shall I then?" she said. Her tone, a little brisk, suggested that Nora was now being silly.
"Socks," said Nora, her throat working like a sword-swallower with inopportune hiccoughs.
"What? Oh, yes dear. They're rather lovely aren't they? I saw them online you know, on that laptop that little Kirstie gave me. Well, I say gave me, but when they asked me to go round and clear out her rooms after her little... are we still calling it an accident? Well, whatever. They asked me to go round, and her room was shocking. I know she was at university, and I well remember what we got up to back then, but at least all you ever found in my underwear drawer was some fuse wire and the schematic for a small bomb, just a little something to liven up the student councils. Nothing that ever vibrated, or needed washing, or was probably left behind by someone else. Or something else, but I don't really believe that that was why that was there. I think that was probably just to shock her mother. Anyway, I took the laptop as a small thank-you for the effort I made, and then I was browsing around on it, and these students do see a lot of the internet you know, and I came across those socks. So I bought them. Let me get the milk, dear."
Nora checked that the couch wasn't wearing clothing and sat down, trembling a little. She eyed the tea-pot cautiously, wondering if the cosy counted as clothing. Mrs. Amtram came back in to the room with a cow-shaped milk jug.
"They call it a creamer," she said, putting it down on the table. "Silly name for it."
"Chairs don't wear socks," said Nora, leaning forward and hugging her knees. "They can't walk."
"They have feet dear, and anything that has feet can wear socks. Though, and I can't stress this enough, never try and put socks on a deer, dear."
Nora's eyes grew wide, but for once Mrs. Amtram didn't seem inclined to explain any further.
"You have to take the socks off," she said. Mrs. Amtram poured the tea, golden brown liquid splashing merrily into both cups.
"No," she said. "I rather like them, dear. And this is my house, even if Auntie Clara is haunting it looking for lesbians, and Kristie likes to rattle the keys on the laptop from time to time. I'll keep the socks on the chairs."
"But you won't be able to hear them when they start walking!"
"Oh good," said Mrs. Amtram. "I think I'd rather be surprised by the furniture than have to listen to it trying to drag its murderous way up the stairs. Milk?"
"No!" Nora glared at the older woman, who set the creamer down again. "Me neither," said Mrs. Amtram. "I wonder why I went and got it?"
"You have to take the socks off," said Nora, her glare growing fervent. "It's important."
"No," said Mrs. Amtram imperturbably. "Take them off yourself if it matter that much to you."
Nora shrieked, and immediately pushed her fist into her mouth. Mrs. Amtram watched with mild interest, slightly surprised that Nora didn't knock any teeth out.
"They're only chair socks," she said. "The dresses for the chairs arrive tomorrow, with good postage."