The things on the table were like a still life, in sharp relief. The tray was round and had a raised braided border of wicker. A crocheted doily filled its base and gave a patterned softness to the background. It was all very cosy, except that a bloody penknife had trailed a bright red smear across the craft-work and a drop of blood was dribbling down the side of the bone china milk jug. Steam came out of the cup in a swirl and the knife pointed sharply at the small side plate and its carefully-placed digestive biscuits.
I saw it all from the window, and through thick wavy glass it looked like a dream. It could also have been someone’s nightmare. It was about to become mine.
I don’t know why I knocked on the door. I could see that it was was partly open. Its bright yellow paint must have been nearly a half-inch thick. I imagined someone painting it the same colour year after year. It had been this bright yellow for all my life anyway. There was, of course, no reply; so I pushed the door open and called out for Mrs Jenson. Her cat would normally have launched itself from the dark interior at this point and either wound its sinuous way through the umbrellas to circle my feet, or hissed and rushed past, almost knocking me over, but never quite managing. I knew the cat’s name but it eluded me and my mind focused on that instead of what I worried that I might find inside. There were no sounds from the place. Mrs Jenson usually had her TV on and playing something too loud as she busied herself around the place and ignored it. Now the sound of traffic on the main road was a background to the artificial stillness.
I expected something gooey when I walked through to the sitting room, but she was sitting in her chair, upright as ever and holding her knitting up to her face, as if she might have dropped a stitch. The maroon knitting trailed down and pooled on her lap, covering most of her floral wrap-over dress. She wore them all the time but this one would be her last. Most of the knitting had been soaked by the gashes in her chest and her watery eyes stared out from the thick lenses of her glasses unblinking. Mrs. Jenson was most definitely dead.
Remembering the sight of her now I am surprised by how I reacted. I told her off, and my hand went to my own body as if to defend myself from the same sort of injury. I had no thought that someone might still be in the cottage and, fortunate for me, nobody was. Then I looked quickly to her tea tray so carefully laid and on the side table, ready for sipping, and a biscuit there in the saucer for dunking. The steam from the tea had gone when I looked but it must have been still fresh. I felt the pot and that was my downfall. If I had just kept my hands and fingerprints to myself I could have walked away. But I did something illogical in touching that pot and I was asked about those few seconds over and over again until the memory was scorched into my head to be relived for weeks after in ever more macabre combinations and scenarios.