It was a quarter to five when an unknown operatic bird in the oak tree next to my bedroom window woke me. It was barely dawn! I was all dressed and ready to run, but it took a large mug of coffee, toast and a bit of a read (The Club Dumas – highly recommended). I was on the path at seven thirty and back before eight thirty. I had a blast. Why is this such a difficult thing to start?
I was an efficient packer, back in the day. That is, when I went somewhere that I needed to pack for. When I went off to the big city for the first time, my father presented me with “The Trunk”. It may have been something from WWII, but it did the job and doubled as a sturdy item of furniture all through college. All my worldly possessions went into this heavy item, all except my electric kettle. You are not even allowed to keep a kettle in dorm rooms now!
I was reminded of the trunk when one featured in an Hercule Poirot episode I saw on Netflix recently. I remember it fondly and wonder where it ended up. A thing like that never dies! The trunk is a fantastic item of luggage if you have a porter or other strong person ( I was tempted to say ‘man’ there, but I am getting the hang of all this nonsense about gender-neutrality. I meant man. I would never ask a woman to lift things for me.) As having a porter is something requiring more cash than I will probably ever have, I am also glad of the lightweight carry-all; but am also grateful that I now have a car with an extensive flat area in the back.
On the subject of the car, I think the amount a child (young adult?) takes with them when they go to college is related to the volume of storage area made available during the exit. In retrospect, if I had rented a U-haul, my eldest daughter might not have left enough of her worldly goods in her/my bedroom to sustain a normal person for a lifetime when she ‘left’.
I managed with a trunk about four feet by three feet by two feet. Just the one. I may have packed the wellies separately… I didn’t need a pharmacy of products for hair care and skin attention because, well, I was going to college to study. And all the people I was with understood intimately that I was a poor student, not a runway model. I also paid very little attention to having coordinating linens. In fact coordinated anything was not part of my kit. I expect I would be shunned in today’s dorm. I do remember finding a deal on a family sized instant coffee can (thank you Nescafé and Woolworths) which made my room a very popular place after classes, and before classes, and sometimes while we were supposed to be in classes.
We start our children off very young with the amassing of stuff. Most of it is rubbish, wont last, and is not even made to last as long as you might use it. We buy all these things and then feel obliged to house the stuff in ever larger houses, storage lockers and sheds. It promotes a disdain for things of real value and working towards anything, or for things. Everything must be instant and easy to get. We end up working to pay off the debts for things we bought, but no longer own; or perhaps it is just that we can no longer find them amid the rest of the rubbish we have since amassed.
Life is driven by the need to answer questions. The trick is understanding the nature of the question and then determining how much you really do want to know the answer. I am a curious, maybe trending to a nosy type, with an insatiable appetite for information. I panic sometimes when I feel my ability to store and retrieve information is dimming from what I remember, on good days, as a once brilliant radiance. I have days now when I can’t remember the simplest word or person’s name. Having a grandmother and aunt who had severe Alzheimer’s, albeit in their 80s, is probably what makes me feel this more acutely than most. Forgetfulness increasing with old age seems to be the human norm. It might be hubris, but I intend to fight this all the way.
My success with losing weight (basically just getting my tiring body off the seat and moving forward at a pretty good lick) has inspired me to greater achievements in other parts of my life. I want to achieve very desperately. Perhaps it will be a sign of my independence but it is also one of the few things I feel able to work on and succeed. I want to be fit when the average woman of my age is complaining of their ailments; and I want to be productive when they are retired and idling. It is how I want to be remembered.
The quest for the questions is my theme. I enjoy the answers but the quest is the thing that drives me on. Competing. I had no idea that I was so competitive.
I was ‘Oi-d’ today.
I don’t like being hailed with an ‘Oi’; so I ignored it, and continued my walk, listening to the music on my iPod. As I had my sunglasses on, I considered myself almost invisible. After three more ‘Ois’ I was ready for a set-to. I turned into the sun to face my assailant… and almost burst out laughing…
The section of path was on a bit of an incline and I was still striding along at a fair lick (for me anyway). Nothing was going to interfere with that. This is 2015 – And I mean business! The sight of the scruffy looking guy on a bike coming up behind me made me laugh because he was struggling to manage the small bike that he might have nicked from a neighbour’s kids, and I was going faster than he was! Hehe. Back to the music.
The correct expression – you almost growing-a-moustache, scruffy Herbert, is “Passing on your left.” It is definitely not ‘Oi’.
Pamela Lewis was born in Cambridge, England. She enjoys rowing which is a sport rarely associated with women even though it is a big deal in college towns like Cambridge. Pamela would have loved to have gone to Cambridge University but quite frankly she is just not that smart. This is not a poor reflection on her as most of us are just not that smart either. But if you have ever seen a pub in Cambridge empty of it’s student clientele on a Friday night at closing, being smart is relative and not in a physics sense.
Pamela is passionate about her rowing and enjoys hours on the river at off times, and in silence. She likes the fight with her body and the quiet of the water; but mostly she enjoys that she can get away from people – which is Pamela’s secret – she is basically an antisocial woman. It is obvious if you get to know her, but she makes sure that people don’t get to know her. She likes her privacy and is frustrated with the way that modern society seems to want to share everything.
Pamela grew up in a large family, sharing everything including private space, so she is thrilled to have a rented room that she doesn’t have to share with anyone. Nobody is invited to visit her at home, including her family and her landlady is very happy to have such a quiet and retiring girl for a lodger. She cooks for herself and keeps her space immaculate, pristine. When the police arrive to look for clues as to why she died, they find it hard to believe that anyone lived in the room. It resembles a showroom in a magazine.
Her parents disapproved of her moving out. They were overjoyed to have six kids and thought Pamela and her two sisters were close because they shared a room. They could not understand the need for privacy.
Pamela first worked for a car sales company in the accounts office and was meticulous with the paperwork but the salesmen were flabbergasted that she didn’t respond to their flirting and innuendos – ever. They decided, in their arrogance, that she must be a lesbian. It was easier for them to believe that than consider that Pamela had not found them attractive. In truth, Pamela had set her sights on something better. She had decided that if her A level results had fallen short of the requirements for Cambridge, she would find a man who’s results had been enough. She had found him. Unfortunately someone had married him first, but it had not mattered to Pamela and it certainly hadn’t mattered to him. He was a bit of a geek and had married Sandra because she had become pregnant after a three-month relationship, and it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. The stress of unwanted motherhood and managing on part time income had proved stressful for Sandra and she had basically become a royal bitch. So Stuart had been flattered and relieved to find an attractive and no-nonsense girl like Pamela was interested in him.
Pamela had only stayed in accounts for six months. She had been bored after about six days but leaving would have looked bad on her CV, so she stuck it out until the library job came up. She had been thrilled to work in the college library although the students were a snobby lot who treated her like a servant. She loved the old architecture and the old books and manuscripts which she hoped one day to be allowed to touch. Mrs Beamish, her supervisor was strict but appreciated Pamela’s sense of orderliness and had taken her under her wing to show her things she might otherwise had been excluded from.
It was at the library that she had met Stuart.
She had not been brought up with pets. The house was full of children and there simply was not room. So Pamela grew up with a fear of dogs. She could cope with cats up to a point, but not the ones that sensed her discomfort and insisted on curling their way onto her lap for a knead. But dogs made her shake.
Her body was found on the tow path by the Cam and her camel jacket was covered in dog hair, determined to be from a Golden Retriever or similar dog.
Pamela was not dramatic enough to have made enemies but she was disliked by a boy at the library who had been passed over by Mrs. Beamish.
Her sister, Alice, was jealous of Pamela’s independence and resented that she still had to chip in with household chores. The chores had come to include keeping an eye on Dad’s mum – Granny Perkins, who had recently been fitted into the house.
Granny Perkins was a bit batty. Everyone knew it but nobody mentioned it because it made Dad uncomfortable. And if Dad got embarrassed he got drunk and if Dad got drunk – they didn’t talk about that. But Gran was a welcome addition to the household. She had been married twice and when the second husband died she had sold up and brought the not inconsiderable wealth to her son’s life. She allowed him to manage her monies which she would not have done had she been in top mental condition but her battiness was really a godsend and most of the family were pleased to reap the benefits.
Unfortunately, Alice had got on the wrong side of her parents and was considered the black sheep. She had a tatty reputation in the community due to an incident with one of the neighbours sons and she had trouble finding work. She didn’t really want to work so that wasn’t a problem for Alice except that she couldn’t leave home. It was bearable when she had both her sisters there because she could bully Pamela and Rachel into doing most of the chores, but once Pamela had gone she was the oldest girl. Their mother was a bit of a hippy but she had retained a traditional outlook on women’s roles in the family; so Alice had been put in charge of Gran. That freed up Mum to get on with… Well, not much, but it did free her up a lot. With the extra cash, she could always shop if she got bored. And she had developed a taste for pina coladas which was keeping her in good spirits.
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.
It was definitely Sonya. I should have looked away in horror but something basic drew me to stare at her. I recognised the winter coat she had worn to the office that morning. From where I stood I had to lean forward and look down but it was clearly her. Her handbag, old-fashioned with it’s snap clasp in bright unconvincing brass was a dead giveaway. I had no idea that her hair was so long. She always wore it in a tight bun, pinned to oblivion against her veiny skull. But it was actually quite beautiful; the way it spread out now from her wrinkled forehead and lay like cloth in the clear water. She must have been floating just below the surface because she moved slowly with the eddies of the current. Apparently, she had got hooked on something because she stayed right there below me as all the day streamed under the arch below the old stone bridge.
If it had been the week before, all the debris from the floods would have obscured her. I remembered seeing bits of rubbish and branches pass under me when I went to see how high the floodwater had come. It was a murky flow then. But the landscape had settled down and the river had purged itself of the mud and flotsam, and the sun reflected off Sonya’s handbag as I was stunned into silence and stillness.
It was an adventure to live where we did in that Spring of 1969. Our house was a year old and the four of us were old enough to go off on our own during the day. We wandered around the neighbourhood and ventured out to the shops on our bikes as a gang, or perhaps a marauding horde. We raced down the Spinney path and cycled free-handed around the roundabout there. It is a miracle we all survived.
Being on the edge of the town was a special place. There were overgrown mounds of the soil; and rubble the builders had left; and the half-built building sites where men made noises and bricks were tumbled quickly to build the next veneer of the edge of town. The politicians put a halt to growth with a Green Zone, so this edge was made forever. The dog and the four of us clambered about destroying clothes, new and old alike, and got tanned, and scuffed our knees.
On the mound, the top had a hollowed out area where we could all sit out of sight of the parents, away from everyone. Our imaginations were ripe and fed by TV, but mostly by each other and the books we all read. We played cowboys and indians and treasure hunters and generally went wild for the summer holidays and were recalled to base once the weather got colder and the evenings were dark in the Autumn after school. Dark was the end of play unless you had a battery for your flashlight in bed. We usually did.
She was running on a trail when she found a large patch of blood on a part of the path. The blood is mixed with berries and she is initially unsure if it is blood or squashed berry juice. In her heart she knows it is blood and on her return trip, still pacing herself to the music in her headphones, she pulls out the ear buds and looks more closely.
Off in the grass, on the verge, is another bright red patch, smaller than the first but the same unnatural colour that had caught her eye on the way out. It had been very early in the morning and her breath was smokey in the cold air. More natural reds and oranges of fallen maple leaves and straw brown in needles have washed into the edge of the path from rain the night before; but this bright red trail leads into the trees and shows in the green of the remaining grass as though the sun was highlighting it. She is tempted to ignore it. It had been easy to ignore on the way out and now she feels chilled. It could be an injured raccoon or other animal, but the grass is undisturbed.
She follows the trail and down the back in more pine needles, the amount of blood seems to grow until there is a puddle, and then a man’s body. He is lying on his side with his right hand holding his stomach and blood covers his fingers, drying and no longer flowing. His face is contorted in pain and his eyes are partly open, glinting in the sun coming through the half-leaved branches. The faint beat on her headphones seems to intrude into the silence of the forest as they dangle from her neck. She bends over him and seeing that he is obviously dead, quickly turns away and clutches her own stomach as she lurches to one side, narrowly avoiding vomiting on the poor body.
Finally she stands up and fumbles with the cell phone in her jeans pocket. Her hands are not working to order, but she manages to phone for the police. It seems sad to say that she doesn’t think she needs an ambulance but the emergency operator must have had these calls before because they are calm at the other end of the scale where she is verging on hysterical. When she is asked to describe where she is, she looks around frantically for something to describe where she is.
It seems like years before the police arrive, but it is really only a few minutes. The young officer seems as shaken by the scene as she is and fusses with details that seem irrelevant to her. She is becoming impatient with his questions because all she wants to do is run away and pretend she hadn’t stopped.
Yes, she is aware that she might have thrown up a bagel and cream cheese on an important area of the crime scene.
No, she can’t give him a more accurate time when she first walked past.
No, she didn’t see anyone in the area.
No, she definitely didn’t touch the body. It had been obvious that he wasn’t alive and she had never seen a dead person before. And so much blood.
Her stomach lurched and rose again and she turned away. The officer also looked a bit under the weather.
More officers arrived with their flashing lights, blue on their vehicles. It seemed to fill the woods as they pulled off the road and got as close as they could among the trees. A woman police officer wrapped a blanket over her shoulders and walked her away from the scene a little to sit on a fallen tree. She notices the exchange of looks between the two but has lost the ability to speak. She feels so cold and lightheaded. She had dressed for a jog and was now wishing she had a warm jacket. The blanket smells new and is scratchy and not as comforting as her own jacket would be.
There is no mention of the body in the woods in the newspaper the next day and the police arrive at her house early to tell her that she is not to discuss this with anyone. They repeat this order in different phrases as though she was a dog needing a lot of training and reinforcement. She almost expects to get a biscuit when she agrees to comply. She doesn’t want to ask the detective with the unkempt greasy hair and greying bristly chin why it is so secret, but she would have liked to. The uniform police officers in the woods had been much more reassuring, but in the back of her mind she wonders if she is a suspect. They took her statement but it seemed to be more a matter of routine than for information. It was as though they has known the answer to the who and why of the death before she had even arrived on the scene. Now she was an inconvenience they needed to cover up.. to silence.
Who had she told about it?
Nobody, because she had gone mute and when they had taken her home she had downed the best part of a bottle of vodka and slept on the couch. The hangover that morning had not made dealing with the detective any easier and it had not helped her queasy stomach. But at least when she was hammered she had stopped seeing the blood. There had been so much blood!