It was autumn in London, that blessed season between the harshness of winter and the insincerities of summer; a trustful season when one buys bulbs and sees to the registration of one’s vote, believing perpetually in spring and a change of Government. For clandestine operatives, buoyant with expectation and careful planning, autumn-a time for pay-rises and revelations, was a perfect opportunity to lay traps down in the leaves. There wasn’t much that George didn’t know about living in the country, except that every year without so much as a batted eyelid in surprise autumn arrived on a different day, at a different time, with a different state of mind. There was something unnatural at her very core. The hard, fast fall of apples and the violated pink across the sides of tupped, tired ewes was accounted for, but the creeping colours of the sunset lying orange at the close of day hid faultless, wicked secrets of the winter that would come. But for the purposes of this story, George is already dead, I was merely using him as a marker, somewhere safe to lay the seasonal hat before I launch out into the damp, squalid future that is marked by the end of the year. And we are not in London. It was autumn in London, once. But this story is next year, or the year after somewhere in a village not far from Wrexham by a river that does not flow very strongly in the real-time of local village imagination. That is to say, I made the river up.
There is a fete occurring. It is almost organic in its incidence, an annual circumstance of careful planning; a white elephant stall, lashings of strychnine on the 99p flake, a spot of deadly nightshade in the edible flower display. In the village near Wrexham the position is almost always open for a new detective police officer, the last several have, unfortunately, become indisposed. There is a fete, and a foreigner and a suspicious rucksack-which is merely a decoy, planted rather too close to the tombola, and slightly in the way of the Shetland pony’s bid for freedom. In the vicarage, an argument is taking place. Grandma started singing songs about black men at breakfast and with an exclamation of ‘Mother’, The Rector left to see to his proverbial flock and Mrs Rector remained, making biscuits as angrily as possible in the kitchen. The family lambs were up in the attic, flushing their youngest brother’s head down the toilet and making roll-ies from their prayer books. They most enjoyed smoking St Mark. Meanwhile, 3rd place in the Best Kept Garden competition was being disputed due to the unlawful (category 6, clause 3.2 for reference) use of a Chinese water feature, imported from Bangkok and made in Taiwan. The complaint that ensued was over issues of originality. It has yet to be resolved. And finally, there was the story-over in the corner of the paddock, underneath an hospitable looking, long-lashed Hereford, unsurprisingly known as Daisy, was the fragment of a letter, signed and sealed with a kiss, Mrs R.
For three years, and counting, Mrs R (NOT to be confused with Mrs R the Rector’s wife) had been carrying on with The Widower, who lived in a small thatched cottage where the lane petered out into a dead end. There was so much wisteria on the front of this cottage that it was hidden from view and thus a very good place for a married woman to be carrying on with a grieving man. The love letter was a final, desperate plea of affection from the trapped and beguiled woman to a man who wished she looked like the woman he had lost. There was blood in the margins. The reason the letter was under Daisy was because, The Widower, in a flight of fancy, had run across the field towards the river in order to drown himself and had lost the letter on the way-coat tails flapping. And suddenly, among the tombola and the lawn croquet and the giant marrow competition a small boy, streaked with dirt and tears appears, jamming white knuckles into bruised and puffy eyes. Down among the reed beds, nestled between the moor-hens sleepy nest and the pock-marked solitude of the bank he found a man, upturned, mouth wide open in a watery O. And pressed against the tight curled blackness of his chest, a washed out photograph and a coronet of dried flowers. And as the boy stood and wept, kneading the soft lawn with his brown summer toes, the Punch and Judy show got up and running and someone thrust a toffee apple into his hand. Today was the day of the fete. The dead man was an unwelcome reminder that autumn was on her way and that grief still remained in the sought after moments at the end of a plentiful harvest.
And this is why this story wasn’t set in London, and why the river was a necessary addition to an otherwise dry and dehydrated pleasure that is a tale of a village near Wrexham at the ending of a summer before autumn lifts her skirts and flashes, indecently, at the unsuspecting villagers. I have learnt a fondness for raisin-laced cookies, and mistakenly sharpened toy arrows and pot-plants with suspicious compost. That is to say, in the sharp intakes of breath at the mention of a homo-sexual, or a young girl out after dark, and the gratification of quilt making and honeysuckle training there is a self-sufficient world of intrigue in the honest people of the village.
My life’s true pleasures I have found in the remains of this lost, proud culture, in the solitude of their beautiful tombs.