Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for intermediate learners. The name of the story is House of Secrets. This is chapter four of four. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Secrets4. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Secrets4. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
OK, so I’ll just start by reviewing what happened in the last episodes.
Xu, Elisabeth and Steve all live together in Rosa’s house, but they’re very bad at paying rent. Xu is an artistic photographer, Elisabeth is an amateur Shakespearian actress, and Steve is a psychic.
In the last chapter, Steve gave a seance and called back the ghost of Rosa’s father. They discovered that Rosa’s father was also Xu’s grandfather. Rosa had a painting of herself when she was a child which she thought she would inherit from her father, but she never found. It turns out that actually Xu inherited the painting, and now they are all going to look for the painting. But it seems like Rosa might want it for something more than just sentimental reasons.
OK, and now I’ll go through some words that are in the story.
Scold. Scold is when you tell someone off. Usually it’s a mother doing this to a child. For example, if a child steals some food, the mother will scold them and say, ‘You have to ask for that!’
Distressed. When you are distressed you are very panicked, you are very desperate. You are in a state of emotional vulnerability. People get distressed perhaps if someone close to them dies, or if they’re in a very stressful situation.
Unleash your anger. So unleash is spelled U-N-L-E-A-S-H. When you unleash your anger, you let it all go. So you pour all of your anger out on something or someone.
Glare. A glare is when you stare at someone, so when you look at someone for a long time, with a very mean expression. You are glaring at someone because you are angry at them.
A frown. A frown is when you crumple up your face, you wrinkle your forehead. Perhaps it’s because you’re confused, surprised, but generally it’s a negative feeling.
Dignity. Dignity is something you have when you are worthy of respect. So it means people should respect you. For example, if you come to school naked, you will lose all your dignity. And this is perhaps why this is a common nightmare.
A gesture. A gesture is when you make a sign with your hands. For example, you put your thumb up or make a circle with your fingers, to express a meaning.
Urge. An urge is a very strong desire that is hard to say no to. For example, you might have a sudden urge to go and eat crisps, and it’s hard to say no to that.
To say something through gritted teeth. [grits teeth] It means when you’re talking like this. Your teeth are pressed together. “Grit” actually means to rub your teeth together, but when you say something through gritted teeth, it just means you are angry and you are putting your teeth together, and you’re not necessarily rubbing them.
Indifference. Indifference is when you feel no strong emotion in either direction. For example, maybe you read a book that your friend really loves and they ask you, ‘Well? Did you love it? Did you hate it?’ and you just say, ‘Mmm. I felt indifferent.’ You didn’t love it and you didn’t hate it, but you didn’t feel a strong emotion.
OK, so remember you can find the full transcript of this episode, so the whole episode in text format, at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Secrets4.
So, listen and enjoy!
House of Secrets Chapter 4
Xu’s room was a mess. Steve thought his was bad, with jewels and bones and spellbooks everywhere, but at least in his room you could see the floor. Everywhere in her bedroom, there were pieces of paper, old fast food boxes, apple cores, magazines, and polaroids. There was some genuinely nice art on her walls, but the complete mess everywhere else distracted from it.
‘Sorry,’ Xu muttered as they walked, or rather, climbed in. ‘It’s been a while since I cleaned.’
‘Xu!’ scolded Rosa. ‘It’s in your contract that you have to keep your room tidy. Do you call this tidy?’
‘We could’ve had Stefan live here,’ Steve said. ‘He could sleep under all the rubbish. You’d never see him.’
‘Not funny, Steve!’ Xu said. ‘Now, help me find the painting.’
Rosa looked at if she’d just been slapped with a giant fish. ‘You mean, you don’t know where it is?’
‘It’s around here somewhere,’ Xu said. She began to sort through the piles of rubbish, but in reality she just threw things from one pile to another.
‘Xu, that painting was a priceless antique!’ Rosa scolded. ‘It must be kept in the dark, and you certainly shouldn’t scratch it.’
‘I’m sure it’s been in the dark,’ Elisabeth muttered. ‘Under five-hundred kilograms of McDonald’s wrappers.’
‘I didn’t have anywhere to put it,’ Xu said. Her anxiety made her sound like a distressed cat. Steve felt sorry for her and helped her to look.
Eventually, seeing that there was no other way, Rosa started searching as well.
They worked for what felt like hours. When the task turned out to be more serious than expected, Elisabeth went and fetched them rubber gloves and rubbish bags. Rosa muttered a few times under her breath about being made to do Xu’s work for her, but after that she kept quiet, because she was the one who wanted the painting the most.
Steve had been thinking about it a lot, since the seance. Rosa had asked ‘where the money was’, and Steve had no idea what she was talking about. He was starting to think this painting had more than just emotional value, though.
Gradually the rubbish disappeared, but the painting did not emerge from its depths. At some point, it became clear that it was not in the room, but nobody wanted to be the one who broke the silence and unleashed Rosa’s anger. If the painting had been lost, or worse, stolen, she would probably punish them all.
Unfortunately, they faced an even worse fate.
‘What. Is. This.’
They all turned to look at Rosa. In her hand, she held a photograph. Xu let out a high-pitched noise like a rabbit. Elisabeth gasped theatrically. Steve’s gaze jumped between them, a huge smile spreading over his face. He had been secretly waiting for this. He was worried it might happen when he was away, but it had come at the perfect moment.
It was a naked photo of Rosa, shot from behind. It was artistic, but art could only do so much for Rosa’s body.
‘It’s just an experiment!’ Xu said. She tried to take the photo from Rosa’s hand, but Rosa was gripping it so tightly that she couldn’t. The old woman pushed her away like a badly-behaved dog.
For a minute, there was silence. It was so thick that Steve didn’t dare move. Eventually, Rosa spat out a single word: ‘Where?’
Xu tried to answer, but she was shaking and could only make animal noises. Elisabeth tried to slip out the door, but Rosa slammed it shut, glaring at her.
‘I know you’re involved with this! You mentioned it. And you!’
She pointed so violently at Steve that he fell back onto the floor.
‘You joked about it as well. You were all planning this, weren’t you? Well, where did you sell it?’
Xu’s face went from fear to utter confusion. She frowned so much she started to look like Rosa. They were distantly related, Steve reminded himself.
‘Of course! Do you think I’m stupid? I know there are certain people who are interested in… dirty things like this.’ She pointed at the picture as if it wasn’t of her own naked body. ‘I’m sure there are plenty of people into my type. You can make a lot of money on the Internet with that kind of thing these days. Naturally, I’ve considered it, but I decided my dignity was more important. And now you’ve ruined it!’
Steve couldn’t help himself. He started laughing, and Rosa, who had been about to eat Xu alive, turned to him now.
‘What’s so funny, you little freak?’
‘Nobody wants to sell that picture. It was just for fun. Look, Xu was just doing a project. Photos taken when people weren’t looking. You know, so it looks natural. And Elisabeth told her to take one of you, as a joke, and it just happened to be while you were naked…’ Steve saw the look of horror on Rosa’s face, and quickly changed his approach. ‘But of course, the photo was so good that they couldn’t throw it away.’
Rosa glared at Xu. ‘Is this true?’
Xu nodded. ‘I’m sorry. I haven’t shown it to anyone. Steve saw it by accident. But I swear, I haven’t sold it.’
Rosa’s anger seemed to calm down, and for a moment she stared at the picture. Then her eyes jumped up.
‘Elisabeth. It was her idea.’
She turned around, but Elisabeth had slipped out of the door without any of them noticing.
‘Elisabeth, where are you?!’
Rosa ran out of the room, and Steve and Xu followed behind. They ran into the living room, the kitchen, the garden, but they couldn’t find Elisabeth anywhere. Then they heard a scream coming from upstairs, and sharing a worried look, they went to the attic.
There, Elisabeth was sitting on the floor, holding her hand to her mouth, and in the corner was Stefan. But more importantly, he was holding a huge painting. The painting.
It was indeed of a young girl, wearing a ballet outfit. She looked sweet, but her smile was pretend. If Steve hadn’t known it was Rosa, he wouldn’t have guessed, but he could see the similarity. There must have been a lot of loneliness, alcohol, cigarettes and jealousy to go from that innocent child to what she was now.
‘He hit me!’ Elisabeth cried. ‘I tried to take the painting off him and he hit me.’
‘Stefan!’ Steve shouted. ‘What are you doing?’
Stefan shook his head, and held the painting tighter. His eyes were wide and red. Rosa tried to move closer, but he snarled at her.
‘I don’t understand,’ Steve said. ‘He was never very interested in art.’
‘If he damages that painting at all, Steve, I’m kicking you out. Now, tell your brother to give it to me!’ Rosa looked panicked, and she didn’t seem to care at all about Elisabeth.
Steve sighed. ‘Stefan, give her the painting.’
Stefan shook his head, thought for a minute, and then gestured at Steve to come forward. Rosa nodded at him, and he walked forward slowly.
Steve wondered what on Earth his brother was doing. He had never been violent before. He had always been thoughtful and clever.
It looked like Stefan was handing it over, but then Steve saw something on the back: a clear square outline. Stefan nodded at it, and grabbed it. Without thinking, Steve dug his nails into the edge. With a bit of effort, the wooden square popped out, and a piece of paper flew to the floor.
‘What are you doing over there?’ said Rosa. ‘Is he going to give me the painting?’
Steve picked up the paper. It was a cheque, written by Rosa’s father, it seemed. But what really caught his attention was the number. He counted the zeroes, unable to believe it.
As he did this, the other three slowly moved up to him. When he looked up and said, ‘It’s a cheque,’ Rosa, Elisabeth, and Xu were right next to him.
Chaos broke out. They all reached for the cheque at the same time. But Stefan was the quickest, grabbing it and running away. He stopped at the door, and made a grunt, gesturing at Steve.
Steve felt the urge to run away with his brother. They could have a new life together. With that much money, they’d never have to work again!
But deep down, he knew he couldn’t do it. As annoying as Rosa was, he didn’t hate her. And besides, he couldn’t live a life of crime.
‘Brother,’ he said, holding out his hand. ‘Give it back.’
Stefan looked disappointed, but at the same time, he looked like he had expected it. He walked over and almost handed the check to Rosa. But at the last second, he gave it to Xu.
Xu’s eyes lit up like candles. ‘Yes… It is mine, isn’t it?’
‘No!’ roared Rosa. ‘He left it for me!’
They fought over it, and Steve and Stefan held them back from each other. Meanwhile, Elisabeth went back to the abandoned painting.
‘Guys,’ she said. ‘There’s a letter, too.’
They had all been so focussed on the cheque, they hadn’t noticed the letter fall out of the painting.
‘It’s to Xu. It says: My dear granddaughter. I know I have been a terrible grandfather to you, and I hope you will forgive me. Take this money, and follow your dreams. It is hard to be an artist, but this will help.’
Xu smiled triumphantly. ‘See? It’s for me. Oh, but it is a lot of money…’
‘Say, Xu?’ Elisabeth said, placing a hand on her shoulder. ‘You could always help us pay our rent with it.’
‘Or pay for a professional cleaner,’ Rosa said through gritted teeth.
‘No,’ said Xu. ‘I’m going to give half to charity, and use the other half for my career. That’s what grandpa would’ve wanted.’
Xu walked calmly out of the attic, leaving them all in an uncomfortable silence.
‘Damnit!’ shouted Elisabeth. ‘I need that money more than her. It’s not our fault she’s a terrible photographer.’ She looked for something to unleash her anger on, and found Rosa. ‘I suppose I’m not the only unlucky one here. How does it feel, Rosa? To know that that little girl is richer than you?’
Rosa stared at Elisabeth with no expression on her face. She had been through such an emotional journey that day that she didn’t have any anger left, only pure, cold indifference.
‘Very funny, Elisabeth. I want you gone by tomorrow.’
Elisabeth gasped. ‘Sorry?’
‘Leave this house by tomorrow morning. Steve can pay his way, and now Xu can, too, but you have always been an awful renter. I want you to leave.’
Elisabeth’s jaw fell open, and her eyes filled with tears. She ran out of the attic and slammed the door behind her.
‘You know,’ said Rosa. ‘Maybe we should talk to Xu’s father. He’s dead, I understand. He might know what really happened with the will.’ She looked at Steve with raised eyebrows.
Steve shook his head. ‘I did it one time for you as a favour. But you should know: every time I do a seance it takes away a bit of my life.’ Looking at Rosa made him want to never do a seance again. He might end up looking like her.
‘Oh, really?’ said Rosa, completely indifferent. ‘Try finding a human monkey in your attic, discovering your father’s secret grandchild, having a naked picture taken of you and losing your inheritance all in one week. That will take a few years off your life.’
‘Yes… I think I’ve changed my mind. I really shouldn’t have done it for free. My normal rates are quite high.’
Rosa sighed, and took out her wallet. She had lost the energy to fight back. Steve smiled wickedly. All those secrets had made her into a much nicer person.
I hope you enjoyed the story. You can support the podcast by leaving a review on iTunes. Search for Easy Stories in English, give us a star rating, and say what you like about the show. It would really help us grow. Thank you for listening, and until next week.