Ghosts of the Railway

A war time Farewell

This is the second of the writing group’s excellent Round Robin Stories, this one has been written by Gwen Bunting, Val Chapman, Wendy Fletcher and Jane Pobgee. Enjoy.

Chapter 1

Ada made her way quickly along the platform. The late afternoon sky had turned dark as she travelled here on the bus, fine drizzle had made her hair wet on the short walk from the bus stop to the station.

That wouldn’t have been a problem, she thought to herself, if it wasn’t for its propensity to become a mass of frizz when even slightly damp. Why today? She asked herself in frustration. Today of all days.

She had taken hours to get ready for her journey this afternoon: carefully pulling on the fine nylons so as not to ladder them as she straightened the seams, then choosing a skirt that revealed a flash of knee when she sat down. She had added a sheer blouse that offered a hint of a tantalising outline of the uplifting bra underneath. The top button was left undone, almost revealing some cleavage.

Her shoes were sturdy and she had sighed as she pulled them on in her bedroom. They were not fashionable and definitely not sexy. Coupons were still limited. How can a girl look alluring in these?

She had considered asking her elder sister, May, if she could borrow her smart black pair but decided against it. She could just imagine May’s voice.

‘Ma, our Ada wants to get dolled up to go to the station.’

And her mother’s response.

‘Hey, our Ada, don’t you go up there looking like some old tart. That young man of yours will be pleased to see you just as you are.’

So there was not a chance of borrowing lip gloss or even a bit of blusher but, almost in defiance, she drowned herself in scent from the bottle on her dressing table as she did a final twirl and assessed her appearance; back, front, sides in the three bevelled mirrors.

Deep in her heart, she knew they were right. Her Stan would just be pleased to see her waiting with all the other women. They had waited so long for this day.

The neighbours had crowded into their little parlour, listening for the announcement on the wireless. Finally came the words they had all waited to hear. The war was over. The men were coming home.

Then there was the bustle of preparation. The women donned pinafores and rolled up their cardigan sleeves. Spiders who had hidden in corners didn’t stand a chance as every cobweb fell before the feather duster. Whitewash and brushes were pulled out. Till late in the evenings, the sounds of carpet beaters could be heard across the yards.

The whole street seemed to come alive again, as if everybody had been holding their breath and now blew fresh air over the terraces. Front doorsteps took on a new sheen of cardinal red. Grates were declared blacker than Newgate’s knocker. Even the drooping plants seemed to revive. All the talk over the low garden walls was of reunions and parties. Cakes were baked and the children played out late, taking advantage of the good humour that enveloped their mothers.

Ada had watched with a wistful smile. When the war had started, she and Stan had only been married for two months. In fact, they had brought the wedding forward so they could have a honeymoon – that wonderful weekend at Bognor – and move into the little house that had just become vacant in the street where they had grown up and both their families still lived.

As she listened to the children squealing below her window, she folded her arms over her flat belly. When Stan had first been called up she had thought she might be in the family way but six weeks after he left she suffered terrible cramps and then the heavy bleeding of a late period.

She still clung to the thought of a late period, not able to face the possibility that perhaps there was a baby but she had somehow not looked after it properly so it had slipped away. Now the sadness was tinged with hope. Stan was coming home and maybe there would be a baby. She hugged the thought to herself as she got ready to go to the station.

With a quick ‘yoo-hoo, I’m off now’, at Ma’s back door, careful not to let the scent waft into the scullery, she had left the street along with the gaggle of women all heading the same direction. Now they jostled for a first glimpse as the train pulled into the station in a burst of hissing steam.

‘Bill, Jack, Ralph,’ she heard the shrill calls of the women close to her as they spotted their husbands, brothers, sons, and surged forward. Then she saw him and joined the rush, mouthing, ‘Stan, oh Stan, over here.’

There was just a moment when she thought he wouldn’t see her in the crowd but then his eyes met hers. He was tall and could see over the crowd although she was still tiny even in those sturdy shoes. Her heart expanded with love as she took in his handsome face, neatly cut hair and straight back, despite the heavy kit bag that all the men carried, slung over one shoulder.

Now she was pushing forward and he was almost within reach.

Then two taller women stepped in front of her and just for a moment she lost sight of him. Weaving around them she stretched to her full five feet, craning her neck to catch sight of him. Men were still pouring from the train. Women still thronged around the open carriage doors. Couples were hugging all the way to the escalator.

‘Oh, Stan,’ she tutted. ‘Couldn’t you have just walked in a straight line?’ but she knew it was difficult with the crowd jostling from all sides. Nothing to do but wait until he came into view again.

The porters were sweeping the platform before she admitted to herself that Stan wasn’t going to reappear from the WC or behind the paper stall. He had obviously not looked properly for her, typical man, scanning the platform and deciding that she must have given up hopes of reaching him in the crowd and gone home again.

Now she felt lonely as she caught the bus back. Gone were the women from the street, gone were the clamouring children, gone were the men with their heavy kit bags. She knew Stan wouldn’t be at their house. Who went to war with the back door key in their pocket?

So she headed straight to Stan’s ma’s house and burst in the door without even waiting for her tap to be heard, unable to contain her excitement a single moment longer.

Stan’s ma sat hunched over the kitchen table and the crumpled telegram lay on the chenille cloth right next to the fruit bowl.

Ada stopped dead in her stride, she couldn’t breathe. She finally stepped forward and picked up the telegram. Everything around her seemed to stop, slowly the words began to make sense as they swam before her sight. Stan was dead.  She sank into the chair next to Stan’s Ma.

Time Chapter 5

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The concluding part of the Wordsmiths Round Robin story written collaboratively by Jane Pobgee, Val Chapman, Val Fish and Wendy Fletcher. This chapter was written by Val Fish.

Time

Chapter 5

I wake early, my stomach churning even more than usual. I wish he’d just hurry up…

I hear the key in the lock. I take a deep breath and get into position, my right fist wrapped tightly round the nail. He sees me with my hands clutched to my stomach, the chains are back on my wrists and I’m praying he can’t see they are loose and untied. I groan loudly.

He puts the tray down and stares at me. ‘Is this some sort of trick? You really don’t think I’m that stupid, do you?’

Those are the first words he’s said to me in all this time. I make my next move; I collapse to the floor.

‘Help me, please!

As he kneels, I release the chains, reach out and swiftly dig the rusty nail into his right eye. He loses his balance and falls. For good measure I follow it by throwing a cup of hot tea in his face.

As he screams in agony, I bolt for the door.

I can’t believe I’m outside! The daylight blinds me for a moment. I realise he won’t be far behind me. I run, not knowing where I am or where I’m going, just knowing I’m running for my life. The good news is I’m just a few feet from a road, though right now it’s deserted. ‘Please God, please let a car come by…’

My prayers are answered, I shall be forever grateful to the lovely lady that stops for me and drives me to the police station. Mind you, she doesn’t have a lot of choice other than to run me over, as I stand in the middle of the road frantically waving my arms, screaming ‘Stop, stop!’

At the police station it is hard to get the words out. I think I am in shock. Somehow I manage to convey what has happened to me.

I tell the police about the other girl. They have no cases that tie up with my situation – no one, that is. The little information I can give at least means they can investigate, check the missing persons register for any possible link.

It is hard to think she may no longer be alive; it seems I am the lucky one…

Apparently, I’d been taken quite a distance from home, so it is a while before my parents arrive for an extremely emotional reunion.

I am taken to hospital to be checked out. Apart from having lost a lot of weight and being dehydrated, I am deemed okay and allowed to go home.

Home, to my own bed.

There were times I thought it would never happen.

Time Chapter 4

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Continuing the Wordsmiths Round Robin story written collaboratively by Jane Pobgee, Val Chapman, Val Fish and Wendy Fletcher. This chapter was written by Wendy Fletcher.

Time

Chapter 4

Every day the leather cuffs seem to get a little looser. Of course, it is suddenly clear – even to my fuddled brain. Another day or two of the meagre rations and I will be able to slip free. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to the man that this is a possibility. Maybe if I eat even less, I could hurry the process. After all, they do say you could live without food for a few days as long as you have fluid.

As darkness falls outside, I start to implement my plan. He brings more sandwiches – cheese again – and puts them close to me. I almost weaken when I smelled pickle: my favourite. But now is no time for indulging my whims. Plenty of time for that once I am out of this place. I manage to push the sandwiches off the plate and nearer to the corner where shadows hide them from his view when he returns. Just to be sure, I lay out flat on the hard floor and scoop a heap of the dust over the top of them. The soil is gritty, reminding me of sand. I wonder if I might be somewhere on the coast.

Next day I manage to ignore the griping pains in my stomach and stretch across to hide the sandwiches in the corner.

Although I am feeling weaker by the hour, my mind is somehow clearing. Of course, the food has been drugged. Now it is getting out of my system. If I don’t eat, I can work out what to do – if I don’t starve first.

I reach for the spot where the girl had been and stretch my tied hands out to touch the wall. What is it made of?

The surface is cold and very rough.

I move my hands up and there is a crack running across; down, and there is another crack. I edge my way along, almost sure now what I will find. Similar cracks going upwards at regular intervals tell me it is built of blocks.

I push myself into the corner and know I am right. It isn’t a right-angled corner; walls are offset at an angle that means the structure is the shape of a fifty pence piece.

I don’t know where I am, but I know what the building is.

As a child I had played in these war-time pillboxes. They were strategically placed all over East Anglia to defend us from attack. So, whoever my assailant is, he has local knowledge as they are abandoned now and mostly overgrown.

I know there is no chance of slipping out of a window. They were shaped to deflect attack and the inner edges are little more than slits. No chance of breaking down a wall; these monuments are solid concrete. My only hope is the door – perhaps when another tray of food is brought to me.     

After a lot of struggling I am finally able to free myself from the chains. I have an idea how I can use the nail; my biggest problem will be how to keep my hands out of his sight until I make my move. It could all go horribly wrong, and then what? But I have to try. I could be free tomorrow!

It is such a relief to have the chains off, but still I have a restless night – so many thoughts going around in my head.

Time Chapter 3

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Continuing the Wordsmiths Round Robin story written collaboratively by Jane Pobgee, Val Chapman, Val Fish and Wendy Fletcher. This chapter was written by Jane Pobgee.

Time

Chapter 3

I shuffle once again over to where the girl had been. In the half-light I was sure I had seen something. I was right, low down against the wall I can just see a small nail. It has been banged into the brickwork, barely visible. I’m not sure how this could be useful, but it is something.

Crouching low I manage to get my fingers to the nail; it feels tight in its hole. I knew I wouldn’t have the strength in my fingers alone to pull it out; I need something to help prise it out. I hear the man returning with the bucket so scurry over to my ‘place’ again.

Once he has left I go back to the nail. It is dark now; I have to feel for it.

I try putting a link of my chain over it, tugging at it; it immediately slips off. I triy again, this time keeping my finger over the nail to stop the link coming off. I don’t know how long I crouch here, pulling and tugging this way and that for what seems like hours until, eventually, the nail loosens.

I shuffle back, sit, and hid the nail in my bra. I try to get some sleep. It doesn’t come easy; I am too buzzed to settle. This could be my chance, a way out of this prison.

Eventually my eyelids drooped and I slept. Again I don’t know what time it is when I awake, the man comes, bringing another tray of food, not the usual slop. This time it is a sandwich: a cheese sandwich. I know I need to eat more even if it is drugged as I am too weak to think clearly. I eat every crumb, and it tastes so good. He replaces my water bottle, allows me to use the bucket and leaves.

I drink most of the water straight away; I figured that would help clear my head. Thankfully, it tastes clean and cold. I don’t think it is drugged but then what would drugged water taste like? I have no idea.

For a long time I sit, not doing or even thinking anything. Later the man comes back with another tray containing another cheese sandwich, slightly stale, and some more water. Again, I eat every crumb. Not quite as appetising as the first but still better than the slop they have been giving me.

Once he leaves, I know I have to have a plan. I need to think how to get out of here. He isn’t going to return for a while; I dig out the nail. It isn’t very long, but I wonder if I could somehow use it to free myself of the chains. I spend a long time looking at the leather cuffs that tie my hands, inspecting every bit of them, seeing how they connect to the chains.

An idea begins to form.

Time Chapter 2

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Time

By Val Fish, Val Chapman, Jane Pobgee, and Wendy Fletcher

Here is Chapter 2 in the writing group’s excellent Round Robin story, Time. This Chapter was written by Val Chapman.

Chapter 2    –    Val Chapman

There used to be two of us here.

I can remember a girl. She was here before me and through my drug fuelled haze, I tried to talk to her, find out who she was, who had imprisoned us here, and why?

I had so many unanswered questions.

I never had a reply, she had just sat on the floor, knees pulled up to her chin and when she did lift her head I could see her tear stained face. Dirty, and with a look that once I imagine was defiance, but now was just defeat.

I could almost smell it on her.

Of course I had no idea how long she had been here, wherever ‘here’ was.

Jesus Christ, I had no idea how long I had been here, but I would make damned sure it won’t be for much longer.

I had discovered something about myself being here. 

Fear makes me bloody determined and angry.

I woke up one morning? afternoon? and I was on my own.

The girl had gone.

I had heard nothing and had no idea when, how, or why she had been taken away.

More fear gripped me and I shivered, not just with the cold, as my stomach twisted and churned.  

I would be next.

I forced the fog in my head to clear. My life depended on it.

Moving as far as my chains would allow me, I shuffled across towards the spot where the girl had been.

Maybe, hope upon hope, she had left a clue or something which could help me to get out of here.

His footsteps sound on the stone floor on the other side of the door and I quickly scuttle back to ‘my’ place.

The bastard unlocks the door and comes in with another tray. The last thing I want to do is eat it, but I have to keep my strength up if I’m going to get out of here.

And I will. 

I try to smile at him.

Maybe I can fool him into letting his guard down if he thinks I am friendly.

I say “try”, but my mouth is so dry my lip sticks to my teeth.

Still, he seems to accept it, and slides the tray in my direction. 

He stands, arms folded, and looks at me.

He says nothing, just watches me for an uncomfortable few minutes, then picks up the disgusting bucket and leaves.

Who is he?

I try not to think about what he wants with me. If it is just for a ransom then I hope it gets paid soon. 

There is still a small amount of watery light coming through the window and I take my chance to look around for something, anything I could use to get the hell out.

I had almost given up when I spotted something.

Time

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Our writing group, Whittlesey Wordsmiths has been working collaboratively, in teams during the lock down, to produce Round Robin stories. These pieces are group efforts with each team member writing an individual chapter. This is the first chapter of Time, we will post the other chapters during the next few days and weeks. Enjoy!

Time

By Val Fish, Val Chapman, Jane Pobgee, and Wendy Fletcher

Chapter 1 Val F

Time means nothing to me, not the hours, the days, the weeks; I cannot tell you how long I have been here, I cannot tell you where I am, except in hell…

I only know that I wake up every morning, sometimes I wish that I would just go to sleep and never wake again, to free myself from this nightmare.

I have no wall to scratch out the days, and even if I did my hands are tied.

I could not even tell you the time of year, I’m guessing late spring, as, from the little light I do get from the tiny window  (it’s too high for me to see out) it does seem to stay light longer each day.  Nevertheless, it’s pretty cold down here; I only get a smidgeon of sun each day. I suppose I could work out which direction I’m facing if I thought about it, but what good would that do me? 

I try to remember how I got here, in this dungeon; I guess I was drugged. I think he’s possibly putting something in my food, I am constantly feeling dozy and lightheaded, although that could just be the lack of food, or drink.  He leaves me water, but I sip as little as possible, for fear of needing the toilet.

He comes in three times a day with my food, unappetising muck; my stomach is crying out for food, but still I can usually only manage a few mouthfuls before I start to feel nauseous.

At least my hands are free for a while.  Then the ultimate humiliation, he allows me to relieve myself in a bucket in the corner. 

When he’s gone, and the door bangs shut, and I hear a key turning in the lock, back in my chains, only then will I  cry.

The world out there must be looking for me, I must have hope.

Will I ever get out of here, or am I destined to die in this shithole? 

Lockdown

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We have a longer piece to start the new year, Happy New Year everyone. This piece written by Jane Pobgee a member of our U3A writing group is inspired by our current situation, we hope you enjoy it.

Lockdown

Mary sat down quietly on the sofa, her eyes were drawn to the corner of the room that seemed to be filled with the inert body of her husband Graham.  She slowly controlled her breathing until her heart beat slowed to its usual rate. She glanced around noticing the dust on the sideboard, on the floor was the heavy brass menorah that she had hit Graham with. She picked it up and automatically began to rub it with the hem of her pinny. She had always loved this menorah, it had been a present to herself on her fiftieth birthday. He had said it was stupid, they weren’t even Jewish, but that didn’t matter to her. She loved that it had holders for seven candles and each holder was shaped and styled with ivy leaves winding around them.

She checked it over carefully and was grateful to see it had not sustained any damage. She realised that this was a bit of luck as she would have hated to part with it. It hadn’t even split his skin, so there was no blood or gore around. She could almost imagine he was just asleep, but of course he wasn’t. She had managed to catch him on the temple, it was a huge blow with all her pent up frustration and anger behind it. She was certain it had fractured his skull as she seemed to remember hearing a loud crack as menorah met head. She got off the sofa and crossed over to Graham, she tentatively put out her hand and with two fingers felt for his pulse again. There was no pulse. So it was true she had killed him.

She went into the kitchen and put the kettle on, nothing was ever so bad that it couldn’t be made better with a cup of tea. She laid out her china cup and saucer on the little blue tray and decided to open the chocolate biscuits she had been saving. She put three on a small plate next to the teacup and when the kettle boiled poured some hot water into the pot to warm it then poured the rest over the loose tea leaves she had spooned into the pot. Carrying the tray through to the lounge she set it down on the coffee table and placing the tea strainer on her cup she slowly poured herself a cup of tea.  She sat back in her armchair slowly sipping her tea and eating the biscuits, as she did so she realised she was now calm and collected and ready to think things through on how she would go on from here.

Graham had not been seen by anyone since lockdown began nine weeks ago, he was too worried about catching the virus to go out. She was the one who was at risk, fetching the shopping not forgetting his beer. No one really bothered asking about him either. When she saw neighbours they asked after her health but never his. She knew they did not like Graham, he had always been so rude and overbearing to everyone that they avoided him. She also knew that they felt sorry for her.  The thing was, she couldn’t leave him where he was. If anyone looked through the window they would be able to see him, besides he would eventually begin to smell.

With these thoughts running through her mind she went to the window and closed the blinds. She often closed them in the afternoon as the sun would shine on the television and she could not see her programmes. So no one would think that odd.  The next problem is what to do with his body. The first thing was to put something underneath him to make sure he didn’t stain the carpet. Although there was no blood she didn’t know how long it took for a body to start leaking fluids and breaking down. She went straight out to the shed and brought in the tarpaulin they used to collect the hedge trimmings in.  It took a great deal of huffing and puffing but eventually she managed to roll Graham on to the tarpaulin. Thank goodness he wasn’t a large man. Once that was done she could take her time thinking about how to dispose of his body.

The rest of the evening passed quietly, she watched a little television, did a little knitting and decided to have an early night. She tidied the lounge turned off the lights and without thinking said goodnight to Graham as she went up to bed. She hoped she would fall asleep quickly and she did.

She woke early the next morning with a germ of an idea at the corner of her mind. She lay quietly allowing the idea to develop. Graham’s pension was paid into their joint account every month. Nobody saw him collecting it so no one would know that he wasn’t spending it. She knew his passwords to all his accounts on the computer as he wrote them all down in his blue book, the one he locked in his desk drawer. He didn’t know that she knew where the key was kept and would often open it just because she could when he was out in the garden or upstairs in the bath. It was her little acts of defiance that had kept her sane.

She got up and prepared to go shopping as usual, she made out her list and added beer to it. She didn’t drink herself, but everything had to look normal. She had to make sure that no one would guess that Graham was no more.  She dressed carefully putting on her gloves and home-made mask just to be on the safe side and walked to the shops. She waved to Gloria next door who was cleaning her windows and asked if she wanted anything from the shops as she was going anyway. Gloria said no her children were fetching her shopping later that day. Gloria always mentioned her children, Mary felt it made Gloria feel superior to her as Mary had never had children. There had been a pregnancy but it had ended too soon and had never happened again. Another of the disappointments that Graham would remind her of constantly.

At the check out she had a short conversation with Joan the lady on the checkout. She usually went to her till as she didn’t rush your purchases through and gave you time to pack things in the bags for life. As she was placing the beer in the bag she commented that it wouldn’t do to forget that or she would be in the doghouse. They laughed together, she paid by contactless card something new she had learnt to do since the lockdown, and then she was on her way home. She was happy with the way that went, everything as normal. As she arrived home and opened her door she called out “Graham I’m home” for the benefit of anyone who might see or hear her. Closing the door she felt quite proud that she had carried out her first mission in convincing the world that nothing had changed.

After putting the shopping away and remembering to pour the beer down the sink, she sat at the kitchen table with her shopping list notepad. She wrote down things to do at the top of the paper.

Bury Graham – Where? How? When?

Trim the vine on the back wall.

Re-pot the azaelia

Cut the grass

sew the button back on her blue blouse.

Reading back her list, she began to seriously think about how and where to bury Graham.  After a while she began to think she could bury him down in the back part of their cellar.  The very back part just had a compacted dirt floor, it was cool there too. She used it to store her apples and potatoes that she grew, along with a variety of vegetables she pickled.

Of course she had to think how to keep the smell of his decomposing body  away from the rest of the house. Cement seemed like the answer. She knew you could buy bags of cement, all you had to do was add water and mix it. If she also built a cement flower bed in the garden, that would explain why she needed cement. She would have to get it delivered as she could never carry that home. Once she felt she had a plan, she went straight to the phone and ordered a load of cement from the garden centre, she also ordered twelve stepping stones they had advertised in the local magazine. They would make a nice little path between the flower beds and again help explain the need for a lot of cement.  They were due to be delivered in three days. Perfect.

Knowing she would need things sorted ready for the cement delivery she began to haul the tarpaulin with Graham on it towards the cellar door. She was careful to move as many things out of the way as possible so nothing would get knocked over. It took her a long time just to reach the cellar steps. She decided to leave him there for a while and have a rest. 

After a lovely reviving cup of tea and a few biscuits, she had to think how to get him down the steps. She hoped that if she tied him into the tarpaulin she could slide it slowly downwards. That way she hoped not to damage his body any more and most importantly not leave any sign of what she had done behind.

She tied him in with garden twine, using the lovely little cast iron twine holder and the scissors that went with it. Another thing he thought was a waste of money, she hoped he knew just how useful it had become. Sliding him down was harder than she thought as he was now a dead weight, she laughed a little to herself at this thought. She hung on for dear life and eventually she  managed to get him down the stairs and dragged him to the back of the apple store.  She decided that that was enough for one day and went back upstairs and opened the living room blinds. She saw Gloria’s son Christopher going in Gloria’s gateway, loaded with shopping bags. She waved to him and he nodded his head unable to wave back as he had his hands full.

She was feeling quite hungry by now and decided to treat herself to a pizza, she fetched it from the freezer and put it in the oven. Graham didn’t like pizza, he was a meat and two veg man. He had to have a cooked lunch every day or there was trouble. Mary almost felt as if she was cocking a snoot at him by having pizza.  She felt deliciously free and a little naughty but enjoyed every mouthful of her lunch.  After lunch she went out in the garden, sun hat on and secateurs in hand.  Much later she came back into the kitchen and crossed off most of the items on her to do list. She spent the rest of the day eating and quietly watching television and had an early night.

The next day she had so much to do. She needed to get digging in the apple store, then she needed to plan how to make her cement flower bed, but the digging came first. Straight after breakfast she made her way down to the cellar and with shovel in hand went straight back to the apple store.    She had to move a lot of boxes and bits and pieces that were stored down there, but finally she was ready to start digging. She knew it would be difficult, but she was a very determined person and would keep at it until she succeeded in her task. At first she hardly made a dent, but persevering she eventually dug a decent sized and shaped hole.   Not deep enough yet, but it would be. She went upstairs and collected the three step stool from the shed and took it down to the cellar. She wasn’t very tall and as the hole got deeper she would need that to get out of it.

The next day, the hole was deep and wide enough to put a body in. However she needed to line it with cement first.  She had been watching You Tube videos on how to mix cement and make planters. It would take time but was not overly difficult. The hard part would be waiting for the cement to dry out and moving the set pieces where she needed them. The videos showed her how to use earth or sand to shape the pieces she needed and how later to join them together with more cement until she had the box shape she required. Having done all she could until the cement arrived she went upstairs and out into the garden to do the same thing there for a new cement flower bed. This one would be a little more ornamental as she wanted it to look attractive. She loved her garden and wouldn’t want anything ugly in it.

Later, thinking over her plan she realised that she didn’t need to do a cement box for Graham. She could just partially fill the hole with cement and let it dry then place Graham still in the tarpaulin on top of the cement and pour more cement over him until he was totally covered. That would certainly make things easier for her and she could wait until everything was dry before she replaced as much of the dirt as possible and tamped it down as hard as she could. Then she could drag back all the boxes and bits and pieces she had moved so the floor was covered at the back and no one would ever know there was a grave there. This seemed a much more sensible idea. She would still do a cement box for the garden and any left over soil from the cellar could go in the new planter. So everything was beginning to take shape, now all she had to do was wait for the delivery tomorrow.

The next day the delivery van arrived just after ten as they had said they would. Mary was very careful to social distance and the nice young driver brought the cement bags and slabs round to the back of the house for her. After the driver had left Mary realised that she would have trouble lifting even one bag as they were larger than she had thought. Still she thought she might be able to cut a bag in half with her spade and load half a bag into the wheelbarrow.  However, this proved almost impossible. So Mary sat in the garden and thought how she could get round this situation. The answer came to her, her old shopping trolley. Graham had bought her a new one just last Christmas but she had never thrown out her old one. It was in the shed and it would be perfect.

She dug her old trolley out of the shed and set to work. She decided to mix the cement downstairs in the cellar. The trolley easily held half a bag of cement, it could have held more but Mary knew it would be too heavy if she put too much in it at once.  The trolley was easy to manoeuvrer down the cellar steps. Much easier than getting the wheelbarrow down there even when it was empty. She read the instructions and added the exact amount of water to the cement and mixed it really well. That done she wheeled the barrow to the hole and tipped the cement in. 

She did this over and over until she had a good foot and a half cement layer in the bottom of the hole.  She knew when buildings were being constructed out of cement, iron posts or wires were used to help it all hold together. So with that in mind she fetched some old wire coat hangers and placed them around the edges of the cement so half of the coat hanger was in the cement and half sticking out in the air. Once that was done she decided that that was more than enough for one day and she would leave it to dry out for a couple of days.

Over the next few days she kept herself busy by making up parts of her

cement planter for the garden. It took time but she had plenty of that now she wasn’t at Graham’s beck and call. She had wondered if she would miss him, but was pleased and relieved to find she didn’t.  While she was busy on the planter the cement in the cellar dried out and soon she was ready to place Graham in his last resting place.  She managed to manoeuvre him into the hole on top of the all ready set cement and then set about making up a lot more to cover over him and fill the hole to quite a high level.

It took almost the rest of the cement to cover him well and still have a decent depth over him. By the time she was finished she was exhausted and decided to have something to eat and then an early night.

The next morning she checked to see how things were setting. The cement had seemed to have formed a rigid surface but she knew it would be many days before it would have hardened enough to start putting the earth back over it. She returned to the garden and finished her planter. She decided to place it sticking out from the large border across the grass. She thought it would break up the large grassy area that Graham insisted was cut just so in stripes. Something that Mary hated. She preferred smaller more natural areas surrounded by flowers and shrubs. She decided that when it was planted up it would make a nice wind break too, so she placed one of her low wooden garden chairs just in front of it. It would be a very pleasant place to sit and have her morning cuppa.

Over time the cement hardened and Mary filled in the hole with the soil she had removed to bury Graham. She tamped it down as hard as she could and even left it a little higher than the surrounding floor as she knew over time it would sink a little more as the soil compacted properly. She had seen this often when she was planting in the garden so knew what to expect. She took the rest of the soil in the shopping trolley up stairs and out to the garden to help fill the planter.

That evening she pored over her gardening books trying to decide what to plant in it. She wanted something that would grow to a reasonable height and flowers that she could plant in front that would hang down over the side of the planter. She spent many happy hours sketching how she thought it would look and deciding what to plant and where.  In no time at all it was her shopping day again. So she wrote out her list carefully adding the beer Graham would have insisted on and headed off to the shops again. 

She was amazed at how easy it was to live a lie, but then, hadn’t she been doing that all her married life. To the outside world she was a happily married woman, so when anyone spoke to her that was the lie she continued to tell them in word and deed.

Gloria called to her when she was heading back up the path to her house asking if Graham was alright as she hadn’t heard him recently. Mary said he was fine but had been laid up with an upset stomach. That conversation made Mary think about the future. While the lockdown carried on it was easy but what about after. How was she going to convince people that everything was normal if he didn’t go down the pub or visit his sister on her birthday. Something he always did before.

In the quiet of the evenings Mary hatched a plan. As soon as they announced that lockdown was eased or over she would put it into action. She would say that Graham was going to visit an old school friend in the next town but one. He was planning to stay over night and then drive on to his sister’s the next day. She would pack him an overnight bag with a couple of changes of clothes in case he wanted to stay a few days at his sister’s. She could arrange a hotel room for the first night by emailing and booking a room when needed. No one would know it wasn’t Graham emailing.

She decided that she would have to drive his car there and park it in the car park of the hotel. Obviously she would have to dress up like Graham and try to look as much like him as possible even down to the slight limp he had from a touch of polio as a child.  She knew they were almost the same height and their hair colour was the same grey. It would just be a matter of wearing his clothes with some padding, limping and hope that no one who knew him would be looking closely at ‘him’.

The more she thought about it, the more it became a possibility. She would have to think of a way of getting back without attracting attention. She decided that she would wear some clothes of hers that she didn’t want any more under his clothes but wear her own shoes. When the time came, she would drive to the hotel. Leave the car and overnight bag in the boot in the car park. She would then walk as Graham into the hotel straight into their disabled toilet.  Take off Graham’s clothes and place them in a foldable tote bag she would have with her. Disguise herself as best she could with a bobble hat, glasses, corona virus mask and walk out and into the town and get a taxi to the next town. Once there, she would go to the toilet in any shop that was open and change her clothes again and her hat. Then she would get another taxi to take her to her home town. From there she could walk back home.

If all went well, she could cut up the clothes she wore and burn them in the garden incinerator. She knew that most large towns had CCTV but local market towns didn’t, and the smaller taxi firms didn’t have camera’s in their taxi’s like the one’s in London did. The more she thought about it the more she thought she could pull it off. If she got that far, it would then be easy to phone up his sister after a few days and ask to speak to him. She obviously would say he wasn’t there and then Mary could be shocked and surprised. Do what a normal wife would do, phone up the hotel to see if he had left and find he hadn’t taken up his booking.  Shock, surprise, worry. Call the police and ask them what she should do? Yes this was a good plan. Now all she had to do was wait for the lockdown to be over.

The weeks passed in a blur of gardening, shopping and cooking all the meals that she enjoyed but that Graham didn’t. She would have to watch that she didn’t put too much weight on, but it was so lovely to have the freedom of choice. Every now and then she tried speaking loudly in a low voice so that her neighbour Gloria would think she was hearing Graham. Now and then she shouted calling herself names just as he used to. She wasn’t sure if it would work but it was worth a try.

Eventually the Government announced an easing of the restrictions and that lockdown was sort of over. Now was the time she had been waiting for.  She immediately emailed the travel lodge two towns over and arranged a single room for Graham. She packed his overnight bag with some clothes and his wash bag and shaving kit. She made sure his pyjamas were in there too. She placed his bag in the boot of the car, just as Gloria was going to her dustbin. “Going somewhere nice?” she asked, Mary gave a small laugh, “No, Graham is popping over to see an old friend and then up to his sister’s to check on her, she has been all alone since the lockdown began” Gloria commented that that was thoughtful of Graham. Mary nodded and headed back indoors.

Now it was time to make sure she had everything she needed. She dressed in her old clothes and jeans, then put on Graham’s brown corduroy trousers over them. She put on his big blue sweater and then his light weight tan mac and cloth cap. Luckily she had had her haircut just before lockdown so it was just about the same length as Graham’s and with his cap pulled down over her eyes and with his coronavirus mask on (which he had never used because he hadn’t gone out), it was difficult to tell who it was. She placed her tote bag with a couple of hats in it under the mac to help bulk it out. Once she was satisfied, she made sure she had plenty of money in her pockets and headed out to the car. She made sure she limped to the drivers door, climbed in and set off waving to Gloria who was in her window as she did so.

The drive was uneventful and she soon arrived at her destination, she parked up and carefully removed all the keys off Graham’s key ring. She planned to get rid of them one by one on the way home. She made sure there was no one around when she got out of the car. Still remembering to limp she headed for the reception area. Seeing the disabled toilets she headed straight there. Once inside she quickly stripped off Graham’s clothes and placed them neatly inside the tote. She took the plain black bobble hat and pulling her hair up inside it put it on. She had on a t shirt and a blouson jacket and of course her jeans. With a different colour mask she was totally different from the ‘man’ who had entered a short while ago.

She made her way quickly out of the door and out of the hotel. No one saw her go. She walked quickly along heading for town dropping off the odd key in a bin here and there as she went.  Once in town she went straight to the nearest taxi rank and got a ride to the next town. She was dropped off on the outskirts where she changed her hat and mask and then made her way closer into town before getting another taxi to her home town.

She decided to do a little shopping in town before heading home and bought some fruit and a couple of cream cakes. She was feeling incredible. She had done it. Hopefully everything else would go just as well over the next few days.

The next day she cut up into tiny pieces Graham’s corduroy trousers, his blue jumper and his tan mac. It took some time to cut up his cloth cap as it was sturdily made. She then cut up her old t shirt and blouson jacket and the black hat and the more colourful one too. Once they all were in tiny pieces she lit the incinerator into which she had put some hedge trimmings and then put in the clothes. She also burnt his leather key fob and his wallet. She had removed the cards before and cut them up into small pieces and put them in various bins around the town. Once everything had burnt away and the ashes had cooled down she sieved them to make sure there was nothing recognisable in them. Some of the plastic buttons had melted so she buried them deep in the garden. The rest of the ashes she put on the compost heap at the bottom of the garden behind the shed.

On the following Monday evening she phoned his sister Jean and after some general pleasantries asked to speak to Graham. As expected Jean said “what do you mean? Graham isn’t here”  With that Mary launched into her story of him leaving on Thursday last week to go and visit a schoolfriend and planning to visit Jean the day after. She said he had said he would return on the Sunday night. When he didn’t arrive she thought he had planned to stay another night and would be home during the day on Monday. When that didn’t happen she thought she would ring and find out what the delay was.

Jean quickly explained that Graham had definitely not turned up on the Friday and she hadn’t heard from him in ages. Mary reacted as she knew Jean would expect and said she would phone the hotel and try to find out what was going on. She promised to phone Jean as soon as she knew something. True to her word, Mary phoned the travel lodge, she confirmed that he had a booking for a single room on the Thursday night but when the receptionist checked she said he had not arrived. Again, Mary was suitably distressed and upset and the receptionist was very caring and suggested she call the police.  Mary phone Jean back and told her what she had found out and that she was going to ring the police.

Next Mary made herself a cup of tea and rehearsed what she would say to the police. She phoned the local station as she told them she wasn’t sure it was an emergency. She explained the situation to the very nice Officer Bream who took her call. She again had a slight tremor of worry to her voice, as she retold her story. Officer Bream said he would pass the information on and it would be looked into. He asked if she would be in tomorrow if they needed to speak with her and of course she said yes.

The next day a police car pulled up outside her house, as she opened the door two very young officers introduced themselves. She asked them in and once more went over her story.  They explained that they had been to the hotel and Graham had definitely not booked in. However, they told her that his car was in the carpark. Mary was pleased that she hadn’t moved the seat forward as she would do normally when she drove the car and that she had worn gloves too. As although they would expect her fingerprints to be in the car they shouldn’t be the last fingerprints on the steering wheel. The police explained that his car had been there since last Thursday and no one had seen Graham. They also asked if she had a spare key to the car. She said there was one in the top drawer of the sideboard and collected it and gave it to them.

They stayed quite awhile going over everything two or three times, asking about the old schoolfriend. Mary explained that she didn’t know who it was and that Graham didn’t always tell her everything. She knew they would be speaking to neighbours soon and that they would tell them things about Graham and her. That he was obnoxious and bullying and Mary was a quiet wouldn’t say boo to a goose sort of person. She knew that she didn’t have to say much for them to realise just what a bully Graham had been.

Over the next few months the investigation didn’t seem to get anywhere. They kept Mary informed, checked Graham’s computer and spoke with his sister, all the neighbours and his old drinking buddies down at the pub. Of course no one had seen him since the start of lockdown. Gloria told them how she had seen him drive off on that Thursday and that he had waved to her. Yes she was certain that was him, he had lived next door for years so she knew it was him. Besides she recognised his limp.

Various people popped round to see her to make sure she was alright, but really to see if there was any news or gossip that they hadn’t heard. Graham’s sister Jean even came down and stayed two days. She was just as bullying as her brother and Mary was delighted when she had to go back home because of her cat.

Time passed the case became a ‘cold case’, no one knew where Graham was. As the years passed Mary became more relaxed, joined a few clubs and generally began to enjoy her life. Eventually after seven years Mary had Graham declared dead. Yes it meant his pension was halved but it was still more than enough for Mary to live comfortably especially as she now had her own pension.

While for many the lockdown was a time of fear and hardship for Mary it was a time of liberation and freedom. She realised she could cope with anything life threw at her. She would rise to any challenge. Every time she polished her menorah she would give a little smile and be quietly happy and contented with her life. All the more so because she knew Graham would have hated that she was enjoying herself so much.

Jane Pobgee.

Resting Written by Tessa Thomson

Santa’s House Drawn by Jane Pobgee

This post features a Christmas poem by Tessa Thomson and a drawing by Jane Pobgee. Both are extremely talented young ladies.

Resting

The door was locked, the latch held fast

The windows blocked with boards.

Cobwebs hung around the glass

Ivy spread in hordes.

The garden kitted out with nettles

Stinging stockinged legs.

Hands held high to keep from catching

Brambles, briers and thistle heads.

Nestled in the tiny wood

Nearly out of sight.

Waiting as if stuck in sleep

The cottage painted winter white.

Silence covering all around,

No noise from distant roads.

But then a tiny muted sound

Of music soft and low.

Through a little glimpse of clean

In a window pane,

A smallish man sat in a chair

And smiled and smiled again.

He had a very long white beard

And wore a suit of red.

A fire brightly lit the room

As the old man bowed his head.

I thought he might drop off to sleep

So heavy seemed his eyes.

But then he turned to look at me.

The look was clear surprise.

Then I stood rooted to the spot

Afraid to run away.

The door was opened just enough.

The old man said, “do stay”.

“I’ve had a  busy time,” he said

As I stepped through the door.

“I think I may have seen you once.

Are you at 34”?

He seemed to fit the tiny house.

All measurements seemed exact

For someone of a rotund build

With features fit to match.

He sat me down with cake and tea

Served from a tiny pot

And started to let rip his tales

Of work, as was his lot.

And so the tales went on and on

About his working life.

And how this was his holiday home

Away from toil and strife.

He told of how he saw the world,

It’s good points and its bad,

It’s times of inhumanity,

And how it made him sad.

But his job’s not to dwell

On things he couldn’t change.

But rather to give joy all round

With gifts exotic and strange.

We chatted on with this and that

And laughed at things quite weird.

Occasionally deep in thought

He tugged his long white beard.

A man of gentle fun and mirth

Of kindness and of care.

Who saw the world for what it was:

Cruel, unjust, but sometimes fair.

He saw the harshness others shared,

He saw the bitter wars.

He watched the children growing up,

The scars, the pain, the sores.

He felt it deeply, as we talked

I felt his pain inside.

I left that night with greater hope

For earth from ills worldwide.

Tessa Thomson