The Child in the Garden

There is a child in the garden. A quiet child, of little more than seven or eight. A child with wild hair, pale skin and fiery eyes. She will be the death of me.

When first I saw her she was standing, hands on hips, admonishing the bronze lion guarding the path to the folly. What mischief the lion had attempted I cannot guess. He had done nothing but gaze at the lake since my father put him there one Christmas: the same Christmas my uncle locked himself in the library along with his ill-temper and a bottle of whiskey.

Strange that such a dim memory should puzzle its way through to daylight. For the most part, memories of my childhood lay mouldering among others in some viscid pool filled with bitter spoils. The war had begun you see, and he is the greatest of thieves, purloining memories while laying waste to claims upon innocence. In the end he left me nothing but the smell of bubbling flesh and screams filtered through burst eardrums.

I was pulled from the rubble near Caen, broken in body and will. They sent me home to mend, but a body so broken can only mend so much, a mind so shattered can do little but hope to hold whole thoughts for moments before they seep away through the cracks. So, when the child appeared I bid her good day and carried on through the arch in the hedge, on toward the folly. She found me later, digging and planting as I had done every day since my return. She wandered among the beds, watching me, running her fingers over the tips of the flowers, releasing their scent.

When finally she spoke, her voice echoed strangely, as if there were others whispering with her.

‘They’re wriggly and bent,’ she said, pointing at the flower beds.

It was true, I had dug all the beds that way—curved and swayed, radiating out from the stone heart of the folly.

I have added more since that day, too  many for my mother to bear, though she visits the folly most days.

‘Surely that is enough now,’ my mother says, though she addresses my father, not me. She finds it hard to look at me, though my face bears few scars.

My father stays silent, but sets aside the manuscript he has been working on, his latest treatise on some long dead architect.

Finding no conspirator, my mother turns on me. ‘We have gardeners, Peter, gardeners who know how to look after the grounds properly.’

In am ruining the place, you see. It is a grand garden of some significance or other I no longer care to remember. As for the gardeners, there is Wallace, and Price and his son—they do as my father asks as he asks so little of them and it is a vast estate. Besides, Price and his son mostly work alone as Wallace is aggrieved by gout and sticks to the greenhouses most days.

‘They have enough to do, Mother,’ I say.

Frustrated, she stumps away, back to the house. Then she stops, right in front of the girl who is playing in the hedge. For a moment I think my mother sees her, perhaps hears the girl singing. Then she turns. ‘Mary will be here at six. Be civil.’

Mary is the daughter of Lady Beardsley. We were to be married. She visited me for the months I lay in the hospital. I was not kind.

As my mother’s footsteps fade I plant the last of the lavender, breathing in its warm scent.

‘What next?’ asks my father, stretching.

 He has been sitting on the steps of the folly for a good while, spending time with me before he joins Mary and my Mother on the trek to Lady Beardsley’s estate. He does not wish to go, but he is resigned to attending Mary’s engagement party. He is fond of her. They are bound by the memories of visits to see me when I first returned.

What next? The question hangs there, but my father is good at waiting.

‘Roses,’ I answer. I do not know why, though roses will do. I suppose it is because the garden must be filled with fragrance, anything to mask the stench. It followed me home you see. I cannot rid myself of it.

Father nods, gathers his things, and heads back to the house. He will talk to Price about the roses.

I watch him go. He takes the long way back to the house, down behind the folly. Anything to avoid my mother’s ire for a little longer.  But, while Mother rages, at least she rages, how else is she to let out the grief. Father stays silent, believing that fresh air and long walks will heal everything, in time.

None of this is the fault of the child you understand, she is blameless. They grieve for the son they have lost. I am not who I was. I am no longer the young rugby captain, the carefree young son of a lord, the son they parade at parties. Parties. My mother takes my medals in place of me these days. I won them. Won them. As if medals are prizes to be won. I cannot look at them.

I stand, brush the worst of the dirt from my hands and grab some sticks and twine from the wheelbarrow Price has given me. I work away, having marked out the next few garden beds before I realise the girl has been singing that old nursery rhyme about the roses, the one where they all fall down. She looks pleased as she leaves the hedge and runs around the lavender beds, arms stretched out as if she is flying. The singing grows louder, stranger—like others have joined in from afar. Then she is gone.

***

My dreams are filled with nursery rhymes, stretched thin by distant voices. I wake. First light plays across my bedroom windows. I throw on my clothes and head to the shed. The shed is the gardeners’ realm and I the most rancorous pest.

I knock, though the door is open and Price and his son are already at work.

‘Have the roses arrived?’ I ask.

‘No,’ says Price, whose hands, ingrained with dirt, look as if trees will sprout from deep lines in his knuckles. ‘But Wallace gave me a dozen or so from the greenhouse. Pure white they’ll be. The lad can take them to the folly for you,’ he says pointing to his son, a young man of perhaps nineteen or so.

‘No.’ My answer is too curt, too blunt. I do not want the son’s company.

‘Right you are,’ says Price. He ignores my outburst and hands me an old water bottle and a bread roll stuffed with cheese. ‘Whether you eat that or not you must drink.’

I swallow hard, gratitude stuck in my throat, blocking the words gathering behind.

He talks quietly to his son, the lad as he calls him. A few words, none harsh and leaves me to it. I know Price is afraid for me. He senses I carry too much shame to expect life to bear me much longer.

I am partway through planting out the second flower bed when the girl appears. She takes the last rose from the wheelbarrow and kneels beside me as it starts to rain. She fingers the thorns for a moment, tracing the tip of each one with her thumb. Then she takes my hand and presses the rose into it, hard. Her hand is strangely warm.

‘Now it is right,’ she says, eyes on fire. ‘Plant it now.’

The thorns bite, and I watch the blood pool with the rain.  It drips onto the bed. The girl laughs and jumps up. Certain of some small victory she soars among the beds once more.

I watch her, trying to remember the joy of running, of being small. I grasp the rose harder, pressing the thorns deep into my skin, desperate to remember.

Then Price is there, taking my hand to remove the rose. The girl stops and screams. She beats the air with her fists, then is gone.

The shed is warm. The lad places a cup of tea before me and Price tells him to be off home. He does not want me to be uncomfortable.

I sip the tea. The bandage on my hand guards a thick layer of yellowish unguent Price concocts himself ‘to stop the cuts festering.’

‘You ought to be more careful, your …’

I cut him off. ‘How old is he?’

Price watches the lad disappear down the path. ‘Twenty-one this winter.’

There is silence as I take another sip. My hands are shaking now. The lad is older than I thought. Old enough to be given the uniform I so willingly sought.

‘The war will end some day,’ says Price, regarding me with either pity or confusion, I cannot tell which. ‘Besides, they won’t have him, if that’s what’s concerning you. He’s a good lad, but he can only do what he’s told, if you follow me.’  

I place the cup on the table, willing my hands to be still, grateful for whatever it is that ails the boy, grateful for Price as he rattles around and takes up a pair of garden shears and begins to sharpen them.

Before I can stop myself, the words spill from my lips. ‘Did you see her?’

Price stops sharpening. ‘See who? Lady Mary?’

‘What?’ I stand to take my leave, ashamed I have spoken. ‘No. Yes, Mary. Sorry, I must have drifted off.’

He stares at me for too long. I head for the door.

‘At least wait until the rain stops.’

I cannot.

‘You should not punish yourself,’ Price says as I step outside. ‘Soldiers do what they must.’

What they must … I want to laugh at him, hit him, pummel his stupid face. He does not understand. I am doing what I must. 

‘Let me know when the rest of the roses arrive,’ I say, slamming the door behind me.

I make my way back to the folly and find the last rose lying in a pool of water where it fell. I scoop it up, jam it in beside the others and head off to see if Wallace is willing to part with more.

It is long past noon when the girl appears again, a posy of wildflowers in her hands. The rain is gone and the sun squints through remnants of exhausted clouds as the girl places the posy next to me. She is no longer angry, though she does not stay.

I am sitting in the shade of the folly studying the posy when Price arrives with a barrow full of roses. They come from Warburton’s farm, a few miles down the road.

‘They were glad of the money,’ says Price dropping the barrow and wiping his hands on the apron he always wears.

The apron is well worn, with the pockets stuffed with seeds and twine. A rabbit’s foot and a string of black beads are among the other bits and bobs he carries. He is superstitious despite all his practicality. Father says he carries one charm in particular. A small tin fashioned from spent bullet cases. The soldiers make them in the trenches, the first and last gift to a sweetheart or child they may never see. Perhaps this tin was such a gift. He is never without it.

Price removes his hat and wipes his brow with his forearm. The posy catches his eye.

‘Wildflowers … not from around here though.’

No, not from around here. They are the flowers I saw covering small graves in Normandy, flowers from woodlands and meadows ravaged by the toys of generals and madmen. But I lie when I tell him. ‘They’re from Mary, she just went back to check on Mother.’

He knows I am lying, he would have seen Mary walk back to the house, she does not know the way that runs behind the folly.

‘Must have just missed her,’ says Price, before wandering over to see my latest work. I follow, feeling wretched, Price is not a man to lie to.

‘You need to plant them further apart,’ he says, crouching down to inspect the roses. Then, he notices something I have not. This morning the roses were stick soldiers, bereft of camouflage, bearing up as best they could in rain beaten trenches. Now they are covered in buds.

Price looks up at me, momentarily flummoxed. ‘Are these the ones Wallace gave you?’

He does not wait for an answer. In one quick movement he is up, grabbing the posy from me as he casts about the grounds wildly, his gaze coming to rest somewhere near the arch in the hedge. The girl is there, standing perfectly still, her eyes brighter than I have yet seen them.

He has seen her. He sees her.

‘Get them out. Get them out,’ he yells, falling to his knees and tearing at the roses, trying to rip them from the bed

I throw myself at him, meaning to stop him, but pain stabs at my ribs and heart bringing me to my knees beside him. There is shouting. I hear my father’s voice, I catch a glimpse of the girl, then the world turns red.

***

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KnightWorx

I’ve been writing bits of a story called KnightWorX for a little while now, so I thought I’d start posting bits of the unedited story instead of all the words just sitting around in folders getting bored.

Here is the first bit –

KinghtWorX (To Hell and back with a dishonourable discharge) 

Daisy rammed her knuckles into her mouth and bit down, willing herself not to cry. If she cried they would find her, even here with the bones and mold and damp.

‘There have always been wars.’ Jed had told her when the tanks had first rolled into the village, screeching like stricken Banshees. ‘Big wars, small wars and everything in-between. The big ones sweep across the world leaving everything covered in grief and ash.’

Daisy knew this was one of the big ones, so big it had gotten in everywhere, destroyed everything, made people different. Though Jed had stayed the same. Jed had taken care of her, exactly like Mama had told him.

Up above in the moonlight people shouted, screamed, cried. Daisy leaned forward a little, listening out for Jed’s voice, but it was too hard to make out who belonged to what noise as the soldiers ploughed through the graveyard near the church, kicking over headstones and firing off their guns as they went.

Jed had said that these soldiers had no respect for anyone or anything – not the cat, not the cows about to calf, not Mama, not Uncle Vanya: nothing and no one living or dead.

Daisy shivered and pushed herself back into the corner of the crypt, her knuckles growing raw. The large letters carved into the damp stone pressed through her dress and into her back.

Jed had left her there, alone, down among the dead in their cold tomb beds covered in the odd writing no one could read.

‘There ain’t nothing to be scared of down here, Daisy,’ Jed had told her. ‘Ain’t no ghosts or ghouls gonna get you.’

She had begged to go with him anyway, said she’d be no bother, said she’d be quiet and wouldn’t complain about anything ever again.

Jed had been stern, like he was sometimes in that big brother way, when he’d had enough of her carrying on about being hungry. ‘No. You gotta stay here, Daisy, just like I taught you. You gotta stay quiet as an old she-cat stalking a bird and I’ll be back before sun up.’

Then he’d kissed her on the forehead, like Uncle Vanya had always done, and was gone.

Uncle Vanya had disappeared the same day they had taken Marli – the old lady who lived in the cottage by the river. Marli had had the same brown skin and blue eyes as Daisy, though Marli’s eyes had been more white than blue on account of her being so old and more than a little blind.

The soldiers had said old Marli was a half-cast witch who didn’t deserve to live among decent pure-blood folk like them.

Uncle Vanya had tried to reason with them, tried to tell them that Marli was just a blind old lady who knew a thing or two about herbs. But they hadn’t listened. They never listened. They’d just shoved old Marli into a truck and slaughtered the goats she had kept for milk.

Daisy missed old Marli, though Jed had said it was the milk he missed more.

Then, the iron gate at the top of the stairs clanged and clamoured as someone shook it hard.

Then someone shouted. ‘Get this thing open.’

Daisy covered her ears and began to cry as shouts ricocheted around the crypt. If they found her they would take her away, like old Marli and Uncle Vanya and Mama.

It was then that a man strode through the wall—clean through like it was no fuss at all.

The man was even taller than Uncle Vanya—who was the tallest man the village had ever known—and he wore strange, old-fashioned clothes, like the knights Daisy had only ever seen in paintings by someone called Old Masters or something. The man had a sword strapped to his back, and his broad mischievous face held an even broader more mischievous smile.

Daisy felt the scream gather in her throat, ready to burst out, but the man held one enormous finger to his lips to keep her quiet, which seemed odd as the next thing he did was take the sword from his back and slam the pommel onto the top of the tomb Daisy was hiding behind.

‘Awaken you coward,’ the man roared, slamming the pommel of his sword down so hard against the dark marble sparks flew. ‘You offer this child your protection or I’ll lug your lazy bones down to hell this very night – you brazen fool with naught but folly and soot for a heart.’

The gate rattled angrily, followed by more shouting. ‘Just shoot the damn lock off.’

‘Lady George,’ the large man yelled as bullets blasted the lock to pieces. ‘I say awake at once or I’ll …’

‘You’ll chip the marble my parents paid a fortune for, sir knight.’

Daisy gasped as the large man whirled around to find a woman leaning casually against the wall at the bottom of the stairs. This woman didn’t look like a knight at all, rather, she looked as if he had just come home from a very grand ball. The lace bow on her dress was loose, her pointed red shoes were ever so slightly scuffed and her slick dark hair fell over her eyes in an impish sort of way.

‘Why you laggard, George, I should wring your pretty neck …’

Lady George grinned at Daisy. ‘In front of our guest, that would never do, would it gentlemen?’

Daisy squealed and scrambled backwards, even though there was no further back to go. At the top of the stairs stood two soldiers, their guns pointed straight at Lady George.

‘Lovely evening, gentlemen,’ said Lady George, sweeping the hair out of her eyes and tucking it under a pearl band as the soldiers stepped down and down again. ‘Is there anything we can do for you?’

The shots came quickly, twelve in all, one after the other, pinning Lady George to the wall.

Daisy screamed as Lady George slid down the wall, dead. She screamed as they pointed their guns at the large man with the sword. She screamed for Mama. She screamed for Uncle Vanya. She screamed for Jed.

In a blink the large man was by her side, crouching beside her, stroking her cheek. ‘Take heart little one,’ he said. ‘All will be well.’

One of the soldiers moved down into the crypt. While he kept his gun pointed at the large man, he kicked Lady George hard to make sure she was dead.

‘Stand up,’ he said, edging forward.

The large man stood and turned to face him.

‘Now drop your weapon,’ the soldier barked.

‘Good idea,’ said a voice behind him. ‘Drop your weapon.’

‘I just said that,’ snapped the soldier, not taking his eyes off the large man.

To Daisy’s astonishment the large man laughed heartily. ‘I do not believe he understands your little jape, Lady George.’

‘Apparently not.’

An elegant gloved hand tapped the soldier on the shoulder. Tap. Tap. Tap.

The soldier turned his head slightly, and found the woman he had just killed standing behind him holding a handful of bullets.

‘Yours, I believe,’ said Lady George.

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#MyWritingProcess Blog Tour

So, @FreyaWriter asked me to share some thoughts for the #MyWritingProcess Blog Tour. Since I’m a little caught up over at Tiny Owl Workshop at the moment finding time to write is a challenge. But, I thought I’d give it a go and answer the four questions.

What are you working on right now?

I’m reading through a tonne of short stories submitted for the Unfettered project and trying to pull together the website for a project called The Lane of Unusual Traders. Storywise, I’m working on a short story called The Child in the Garden. It’s a ‘Woman in Black’ style story about a young WW2 soldier dealing with post traumatic stress disorder. I’m also editing a manuscript called The Krampus Road (a story of a girl caught on an eerie road) and pulling together research notes for a story called Shade and Grim (a story about a cursed police officer).

How does your work differ from that of other writers in your genre?

I guess every writer has a unique voice, experiences and interests, so that’s what sets us apart from each other. We all pull stories together in unique ways. I was born in England and moved to Australia when I was eight. Australia is full of immigrants like me, but I do tend to draw on that experience of being pulled from one place (and friends, family and the familiar) and pushed into another. Kids don’t really have any control over decisions like ‘shall we move to another country’ so I think those kind of experiences come through in my writing – I write about people on the outer, or caught between worlds.

Why do you write what you do?

Hmm, I might have answered this a little in the last question, but, to be honest, I don’t know. I just write the stories that start to form in my head, or that appear on the page. I don’t really have a particular audience in mind, so I’m writing for myself in the first instance, and I do write to amuse myself quite a bit.

I also think that people are hardwired for stories. Our brains seem utterly oriented to trying to make patterns out of all the info we take in, so it would be a bit strange if we didn’t write or tell stories I suppose – it’s how we make meaning.

How does your writing process work?

I’m a pantser. I write the story as a go along and jot down plot notes for other chapters as I go. When I’ve completed the first draft I just start the process of rewriting. It’s quite a laborious way of writing really, and I wish I was much more of a plotter: but I’m not. I love being surprised along the way, and I have gotten better at getting out of my own way and letting the story flow (I think).

Because I work fulltime I write in the morning before work. It can get a little frustrating constantly pulling myself out of stories to go and earn $$$, but there are harder things in life.

 I haven’t asked anyone to take up the #MyWritingProcess challenge yet, but I will. It’s been great to read about other writers and their process.

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The Day the Giants Woke

The Day the Giants Woke

A small story for Terry Whidborne’s Sunday Sketch #4

image

The day the giants woke was a Wednesday. The world was changing. Seas expanding, ice caps shrinking – drip drip drip, crack crack crack – until the bears of the north thought of little else but hunger and death beyond.

The giants pushed their way up from the heart of the Earth in the realm below. Bit by bit until their crowns poked through the sodden crust.

They blinked in the bright light, and the Great Queen Above blinked back.

The Earth quaked as the giants wriggled and shimmied, shaking coal and grit and bone from their mountainous limbs as they eased themselves free from the realm below.

The oldest giant looked about as he checked his crown for broken redwoods and tumbled mountains. The Mother of All Things had made the crowns herself and the giants wore them now with the deepest of pride.

‘Tis proper time then,’ he said as a house floated by.

‘Time for the gathering and reaping, Old Ark?’ said the smallest giant, brushing saltbush from her splendid moustache (just curled using the finest of lava that very morning).

‘Aye, young Arkling,’ replied the oldest giant. ‘Gather what birds, beasties and innocents ye may. It would break the Mother’s heart full through to see them drownded.’

Bowing to the Great Queen Above, so as not to appear impolite, the giants strode off about the Earth and began gathering and reaping. The creatures they gathered they placed safely upon the crowns they wore. Some crowns were wrought from mountains of ice which creaked and sang with each step, others were fashioned from forests of trees long displaced by smouldering cities.

And all the while the waters rose as the giants gathered and reaped. They toiled while the Great Queen Above shone and while the Pale King watched on as she slept. They wandered far and wide, filling their crowns as the waters lapped at their knees, then hips, then chests.

When all was done, Old Ark called the others to him, for he himself had stayed to gather the old ones who lived at the heart of the realm above. The Mother of All Things loved the old ones most of all, and they, in return, tended the realm above with the gentlest of touches.

The others answered Old Ark’s call, carrying all they could carry on their crowns.
‘Where is the youngest Arkling?’ asked Old Ark, searching for her face as the others placed themselves around the great red rock, the heart, now submerged in the rising waters.

‘I am here,’ said the smallest giant, tears falling from her diamond bright eyes, as she took her place in the circle.

‘Your crown is not but half filled, Arkling,’ said Old Ark.

The Arkling bowed her head and hid her hands under the waves. ‘They chopped at my arms and scoured my back with fire and metal and called me devil.’

Old Ark nodded, while the harvest was joyful reaping took its toll.

‘Come, young Arkling, you have done all you could,’ he said, reaching out to take her hand as the waters stilled. ‘Tis time to sleep ’til the waters fall.’

‘Will they remember us?’ said the smallest giant, her eyes growing heavy, her tears drying.

Old Ark smiled and closed his eyes. ‘Mayhap. Every now and then and again, in stories.’

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What the Dead Wear

Much to Father Porcini’s surprise, Death wore a bathing suit. It was pink with stripes. Orange stripes, complemented by florid pink stockings and ballet slippers.

It was not what he expected. She was not who he expected.

‘You can’t go about dressed like that,’ said Father Porcini.

Death grinned and reached into a fine lace bag hanging from her wrist. She pulled out a blue bathing cap covered in red flowers and put it on.

Father Porcini snorted. ‘It doesn’t suit you.’

He was being ungracious, and knew it. The cap was overlarge, but that was hardly her fault—the absence of ears made it difficult for her to keep it from falling over her eyes, or where her eyes ought to be.

Apart from the skullish head she was beautiful, a curvaceous woman with the kind of hips he loved to watch sway this way and that—which, in truth, is why he had always walked behind Sister Maria Gregory.

It was a moment before he realized he had spoken that name out loud.

The Bishop sitting in the chair by his bed muttered something inaudible and wiped his brow. Father Porcini winced. He didn’t like the Bishop, not since he’d caught him in the vestry with Mrs Devine and the candles. Afterwards, the Bishop had prayed for him. Father Porcini had prayed for Mrs Devine, and burnt the candles.

‘Why couldn’t you wear something more suitable, more refined,’ said Father Porcini.

‘What the dead wear belongs to me, ‘ said Death, pretending to tuck non-existent curls under the cap. ‘I can wear nothing else.’

She was playful. He liked that, though it scared him a little.

He gathered the remains of his well ordained wiles about him in defense. ‘Who would wear such a wretched outfit to the grave?’

Death nudged aside the bed clothes, nestled in next to him, touched his cheek, ran her fingers across his lips. ‘Cardinal Beazley.’

Father Porcini listened for the lie. He had heard many lies, both fascinating and dreary. There were no telltale signs of either.

‘I’d heard a rumour,’ he said, resignedly. ‘It’s a surprisingly good fit.’

‘He was a surprisingly shaped man,’ said Death. Her voice was low, melodic.

‘It was the pancakes,’ said Father Porcini. ‘He ate them for breakfast and lunch. Loved them with butter and syrup, and those little sugary sprinkles.’

The Bishop rested his hand on Father Porcini’s head and prayed.

‘If I’m truthful’ said Father Porcini willing the Bishop to remove his hand. ‘It wasn’t the Mrs Devine thing, I’ve always disliked him. He’s petty. Petty and dull. No one’s got a right to be both, one or the other perhaps, but not both it’s entirely too taxing on the patience.’

Death laughed.

It was like listening to the chorus of a song he’d loved as a child.

‘Can we go?’ he asked.

Death said nothing, caressed his brow, leaned forward and kissed him full on the mouth. It was soft, warm, sweet.

He sighed deeply. ‘Thank-you.’

The Bishop faded as Death wriggled from under the covers and pulled Father Porcini to his feet.

‘Where are we going?’

She pulled off the bathing cap and handed it to him. He put it on, tucking his own thick white curls under the cap.

‘To the sea,’ said Death, walking from the room. ‘There are castles to be made, holes to be dug, shells to find.’

‘I do like shells,’ said Father Porcini. ‘Will there be currant buns? You know, those long ones with the pink icing.’

‘No,’ said Death. ‘But it’s warm, and there are others.’

‘I’ll admit,’ said Father Porcini, trailing along behind her, watching her hips sway this way and that. ‘You’re not who I expected.’

‘I’ve disappointed you?’ said Death, turning to face him.

Father Porcini ran a little to catch up to her. He caught her hand, it was warm, soft. ‘Oh no,’ he said, taking her fingers and pressing them to his lips. ‘Quite the contrary.’

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The Close Talker

‘I tell you what, that Jimmy was a close talker.’

‘Is that right?’

‘He’d sit real close and poke his head in front of you, like he’d never had any attention and wanted to steal all yours. He’d drain the stuff right outta you and leave you feelin  all uptight and jumppity, ‘cause you weren’t never to know when he was gonna do it again. That’s what Jimmy was like, Grandpa.’

‘I heard he had some unsettlin ways about him, Mitch.’

‘Probably got too close to whoever killed him. I can picture it right enough. Probably got hisself killed for close talkin.’

‘That ain’t a rightful thing to be killed for.’

‘Well, anyone could’ve killed him for all sorts of reasons, Grandpa. Close talkin’ was just one of ‘em.’

‘You shouldn’t be speakin ill of the dead, boy.’

‘I ain’t speakin ill of Jimmy, Grandpa. It’s just the truth. It’s the way he was. He was a low talker too.’

‘Well now, I guess he’d have to low talk, bein a close talker an’ all. That’s just natural sense.’

‘That’s the darndest thing though. Jimmy’d wait ‘til he was way aways away to talk low. Talk so low you couldn’t make out a word he was sayin.’

‘Just the same, Mitch, I ain’t never heard of no one being killed dead for low talkin.’

‘Well, that ain’t all he did, Grandpa’

‘No?’

‘No, he’d be givin you stuff too. Offerin it to you when you was least expectin it.’

‘That sounds right kind, Mitch. Ain’t no reason to kill a man.’

‘That’s true, but it weren’t nice things he’d be givin a man, Grandpa.’

‘What kinda things then?’

‘Small things. Like, one time, I was sittin stampin that big ol’ library stamp on all them cards to be put in the catalogue, like I’d been taught, when BAM, he’s right in front of me.’

‘Close talkin?’

‘Yeah, real close. Then he says you wanna paperclip, Mitch. I got me a boxful of paperclips. But I ain’t never had no need for paperclips when stampin things, Grandpa. There just ain’t no need at all for that kind of stationery when stampin. Then, this other onetime, we was both filin’ stuff in these big-ass filin’ cabinets when Jimmy starts his low talkin at me. So, I sidles over to his cabinet and get as near as I think I need to be, to be polite …’

‘Like I taught ya.’

‘… yeah, like you taught me—but, Jimmy’s talkin so low I have to get a whisker away from his chin, then he says you wanna vitamin C capsule.’

‘Well, I’ll be. What would you be wantin a piece o’ fruit in a damn capsule for? They turn a man’s waste water bright yella. That can’t be natural.’

‘It ain’t. Once, he offered me a packet o’ seaweed too. Seaweed—in a bright orange packet.’

‘Well, that’s different, Mitch. Seaweed ain’t no bad thing. You can mash it up and put it on your vegetable patch right enough—brings up a man’s turnips a treat.’

‘I know that, Grandpa, but he give me the seaweed straight off as I opened up the door to step outta the men’s room. Straight off, like he’d been waitin the whole time I was in there.’

‘Oh, that ain’t right. A man needs a time o privacy on leavin the men’s room just in case he’s eaten too many turnips. It ain’t proper natural manners otherwise.’

‘Like you say Grandpa.’

‘That why Jimmy was killed, do you think, Mitch?’

‘Could be, Grandpa. Some o the townsfolk here are right sticklers for natural manners.’

‘That ain’t no lie, Mitch. Old man Cartwright from the bookshop woulda hollered the place down if he’d been surprised by a man handlin seaweed outside the privy door. Did you holler?’

‘A little. Jumped mostly.’

‘You was always one for jumpin, ever since you was a toddlin and a dribblin. Well, one thing’s for sure, poor Jimmy ain’t  gonna be causin no one to be jumpin no more.’

‘I guess that’s what comes of close talkin.’

‘There’s a lesson in that for all of us, Mitch. Speak up, mind yer manners and don’t startle a man goin about his ablutions.’

‘Words to live by, Grandpa. Words to live by.’

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