Extremely Dramatic Events

There’s a little frost on the highway this morning so they case along slowly, the older man setting the cruise control around thirty-five and leaning back into the seat. First light just about creeps over the ridge of the distant mountains. A gritting truck looms far ahead.

‘Late this morning.’

‘What’s that?’

Flannery juts his chin towards the truck. ‘Gritting truck. Late start don’t you think?’

The driver looks over his glasses. ‘Fairly.’

They put some more road hissing beneath them.

‘So, Chief. You er, you do anything at the weekend?’

A fox noses out from the edge of the fields, darts back when it sights them. The chief watches in the rearview as it crosses the highway behind them.

‘Saw my son Friday night. Had lasagne. Mostly worked other than that.’

‘Work eh? Downside to being Chief I guess.’

‘I guess.’ They can just about make out a dark figure in the cab of the gritting truck now. Looks to be the older Twain boy, back for the holidays.

‘We went to that new department store at Hoxton, me and Bren. It’s a big place, you been?’

‘Haven’t been yet. No.’

They draw level with the truck, driver waving from the cab. It’s the younger Twain, grown up some little bit though. The chief returns the greeting.

‘Oh you should go. They got just about everything I’ll say. Got myself a worlds sharpest knife.’

The chief glances over. ‘How’s that?’

‘How’s what Chief?’

‘You got yourself a knife?’

‘Oh right, yeah.’ Flannery nods. ‘Worlds sharpest knife, so they say. For the kitchen. TV set right there next to the display, showing what it’ll do. Had a woman cut up a pineapple no problem. Then a tin can.’

‘A tin can?’

‘Oh yeah. An empty one. Can’t say I’ll need to do that, but it underlines their point don’t you think?’

‘Well, I suppose it does.’

They pull off the Highway and enter the suburbs. Early risers scrape car windows or run their engines for a while before setting off. Here and there the streetlights blink and flicker out.

‘You got that address?’

‘Oh yeah.’ Flannery flips open his notebook. ‘It’s 225 Maple. Old couple, name of Harris.’

The chief nods. ‘I know the one.’

They drift past the building, pulling up further along where there’s a space and killing the engine.

‘It’ll go blunt though?’

‘What’s that Chief?’

‘I’m just saying, world’s sharpest or not, you cut up a tin can, your knife will go blunt.’

‘Well I suppose so Chief. I don’t intend to do any such thing though.’

‘No.’

‘No sir. Plain foolish that would be.’

‘Right. Shall we.’

The son answers the door, shows them through.

‘Mother went over to my aunt’s place after calling you folks,’ he explains. ‘Then she called me. In a bit of a state, you can imagine. He’s through here.’ They go through to the kitchen, where the old man lies stiff on the lino. Flannery kneels down, checks for a pulse just in case.

‘Got up for a glass of milk most likely,’ the son continues. ‘Mother said the fridge door was open when she found him.’

‘Was anything else moved?’

‘How do you mean?’

Flannery stands. ‘You say she closed the fridge door- was anything else on the scene disturbed?’

He shrugs. ‘Well I don’t suppose she stopped to make a casserole. But no point letting the fridge motor burn out right?’

The chief nods. ‘Fair enough. Flannery, impressions?’

‘It’s looking like natural causes Chief. Heart maybe, or a stroke.’ He looks to the son. ‘Real quick I would have thought.’

‘Oh yeah? Well, that’s something.’ They can hear the cooing of pigeons roosting in the chimney. ‘Well then, what’s next?’

‘The coroner will come by and take the body. Probably you’ll be his first stop when he gets in this morning.’ Flannery checks his watch. ‘That won’t be for another couple of hours though. Have you got somewhere else you can wait?’

‘Oh yeah. I’ll head on over to my aunt’s, let them know what’s going on.’

‘Well alright then.’

‘Ok.’

‘Well, we’re sorry for you loss. Be seeing you.’

They get back in the car, wait for an SUV to reverse slowly out of a driveway.

‘Not a good start to their week huh chief?’

‘Say again?’

‘I said, not a good start to the week, for Mrs Harris, or Mr Harris junior.’

‘Surely is not. Worse for the Harris senior though.’

‘Yep.’

‘Depending on your beliefs.’

‘Yep.’

They follow the SUV back to the highway. The sun’s full over the mountains now and starting to give a shape to the day. They cruise a little faster back over the fresh-gritted road making long-morning shadows in the tarmac.

Save the Date!

Save the Date!

Announcing the Wedding of John Aspell Jr to Mary Therese Lansley-Hamptonburg

Dear Friend,

You are cordially invited to attend the joyous union of my beautiful daughter Mary Therese Lansley-Hamptonburg and John Aspell Jr on April the 19th 2015 at 2.15 pm. Black tie only (of course!)

As you all know this day has been a long time coming, to say the least! John and Mary were first an item at University, for three wonderful weeks, and although fate led them in different directions then, it was only to bring them back together years later, in the luxurious retreat that John owns and where Mary has occasionally stayed. (and where celebrity residents have included such stars as Pete Doherty, Lindsey Lohn, and Amy Winehouse!)

I’ll have to be honest with you and say that, within the family, we weren’t entirely sure at first that John’s responsible asset management and Mary’s bohemian artist lifestyle would gel, but boy are we happy they did! John is truly the tether to my daughter’s balloon, keeping her firmly on the ground, no matter how hard she might try to float away!

Those of you who know this charming couple best will of course remember how supportive John was during a tough time in Mary’s life; over Christmas she was the victim of a terrible crime, her penthouse looted of every item of value and all her accounts plundered. Poor Mary was reduced to sleeping on a mattress, hardly eating, and all the while too proud to tell her mama and papa what had happened to her! I shudder to think what might have become of her if not for the sensible presence of John, who gladly put her up in his convalescence resort while he refurbished her home. It warms my heart to think of her so well cared for, especially as she has such terrible luck with this sort of thing. My husband sometimes reminds me of the number of times we’ve needed to replace our little girls television or laptop, although I do have to remind him of the number of valuable items that have gone missing from our humble abode over the years! What a world!

But now our Mary has a shining knight to guard over her, and she cries with anticipation for the Big Day! Almost around the clock! I would be lying if I said I hadn’t been a little emotional myself over the last week, the suddenness of it all being quite, quite overwhelming. But, ask John and Mary, and you’ll sense the urgency of the desire to marry; that’s their word urgent and I think it’s beautiful in these days of long engagements.

So, we’ll see you on April 19th, please RSVP. The couple have asked that instead of gifts, donations be made to the charity Action on Addiction.

Sincerely,

Mother of the Bride

Blue Movies

These days, when I go to visit my grandparent’s bungalow I take loose, comfortable clothes that I don’t mind getting dirty, and sturdy work boots. Cliff and Sarah are old, and they’re only getting older, the amount they can do for themselves diminishing faster than they’re ready to admit. The jobs started out as small things. My grandmother would take my empty plate and nod towards the garden.

‘While you’re here, would you mind putting the lawnmower back in the shed? Your grandfather got it out but he now he’s feeling a little weak around the knees.’

Of course I’ll do that for you. Then, next time, it’s;

‘While you’re here, would you mind mowing the lawn? Your grandfather would, but his arthritis is giving him hell.’

Sure thing. Then it’s;

‘What do you know about cavity wall insulation? Your grandfather thought installation was included in the price but it turns out, no.’

Four hours of stapling fiberglass into the crawl spaces, while your grandfather makes suggestions from his armchair will naturally make a person reconsider the frequency of their visits. But, being the only relative who lives nearby, I bear the burden of visiting, making my assessment and reporting back to my aunts. I usually make the call as soon as I get home while the details are still fresh in my mind, to an aunt who has me on speakerphone, and I answer questions for a babble of voices.

‘How is her leg?’ someone unidentifiable asks from the other end.

They always begin with general enquiries about Cliff and Sarah’s health and wellbeing, the kind of straightforward questions my grandparents could answer for themselves, but this is only preamble.

‘Her leg’s better,’ I tell them, ‘she’s walking about town again. Actually…’

‘That’s great,’ someone cuts me off. ‘Did he forget anything this time?’

The aunts biggest fear is that either Cliff or Sarah will lose their marbles a long time before they die, and some kind of expensive healthcare will consume the inheritance.

‘Well,’ I hesitate. ‘He did call me Greg at one point, but he corrected himself pretty quick. Anyone know who Greg is?’

There’s a murmur from the other end as the Aunts confer.

‘We think he had a employee called Greg in the 70’s,’ they tell me, ‘a borderline retarded guy in the factory. He was probably thinking of that.’

I remember my grandfather giving me basic, step-by-step instructions as I held up strips of prickly insulation that drifted into my eyes.

‘I think you’re probably right. What else?’

There’s a long silence as everybody circles around the real meat of the matter.

‘How was the house looking?’ someone ventures. There are a lot of dimensions to this question, and I have to approach it carefully. If I tell them that the house is untidy, the aunts will take it as evidence that my grandparents can no longer cope. If there’s any sign of disrepair it could mean that Cliff and Sarah’s debility is now affecting the value of the house, which is secretly the main concern. When I tell them that Cliff visited a store I can hear the sharp intake of breath, and a tension that only dissipates when it turns out that he bought an object that will retain its value.

‘The house is fine.’ I tell them about the insulation and I can hear them looking to one another nodding. Insulation reduces the cost of living, and adds to sale value.

When I last visited them, my grandmother was standing before a mirror, tying up a shawl beneath her chin.

‘Will you help you grandad fix the video player?’ she said, ‘he’s got a tape stuck in there.’

‘I can do it,’ came a voice from the living room, and I peered around the door to see him sitting red-faced on the floor, the box marooned in the middle of he carpet. ‘Although I don’t think I can get up.’

My grandmother left once I had helped Cliff back into his chair, and I knelt before the TV, ready to fix whatever small problem they had before they could think up anything more strenuous for me to do.

‘Don’t worry about that,’ Cliff said, waving his hand as I plugged the machine back in. I had assumed that video player meant DVD but no, it seemed my grandparents still had a working VCR set up. I was afire with curiosity. I don’t know what happened to my VCR. Presumably I got rid of it at some point, sold or taken to a charity shop when the rise of DVD’s became insurmountable, but I don’t know for sure. To have no memory at all of how I dispatched such a once treasured item seems strange to me, flippant, like forgetting having abandoned a childhood pet.

‘Just leave it,’ said Clive, ‘We don’t use it much anyway.’ I told him it was weird to see a VCR player again. He looked offended. ‘That’s top of the line that is,’ he said, ‘that must have cost about three hundred quid.’ I asked him when. ‘Not long ago. Nineteen- ninety something I’m sure.’

I didn’t pursue the subject, not wanting to find out if he knew what year it was.

‘That’s probably quite expensive too,’ he said, prodding at something on the coffee table with his walking stick, ‘but I’ve got no idea how to use it.’ I shuffled across the carpet to see what he was talking about. It was a laptop. It took a moment to register that it was a laptop, because finding a laptop in my grandparents bungalow was totally anachronistic. It was like finding a laptop in an ammonite fossil.

‘It’s not ours,’ Cliff told me. Someone down the pub lent it to me, said it would help us keep in touch with the grandkids but…’ he shrugged. ‘The BT man said we could get to the internet because our of phone package, but I’m not sure. I haven’t been able to turn it on.’

I turned the computer towards me. It was a Toshiba, the same make as mine but a model up. Hitting the power button did nothing, but it was probably just out of battery.

‘You see if you can make it work,’ Cliff said, rising laboriously from his chair and leaving the room. ‘Personally I don’t think it does.’

The computer came to life as soon as I located the cable and plugged it in, and while it was loading I turned back to the VCR. With the power restored there was nothing obviously wrong with it, and I pressed the eject button. The tape popped out with a clunk and, wanting to make sure everything was working, I turned on the TV and pushed the tape back into the player. Two women immediately appeared on screen, rubbing their bodies against each other and cooing, while smooth saxophone music played in the background. The recording must have been at least fifteen years old; the women had wavy bouffant perms and were half-wearing bright spandex leotards. On the wall behind the bed was a Soundgarden poster and a shelf covered in wishing trolls. For a moment I was locked into the nostalgia of the room, but then the women cast aside their leotards and got more comfortable. Down the hall I heard the toilet flush and a door creak open, and I ejected the tape, sliding it back into its blank case.

Cliff hobbled back in to the living room where I was sitting on the sofa, the laptop on my knee, tapping away. He looked from me to the tape which was laying on the coffee table.

‘All fixed,’ I said, not looking up. ‘I’m making progress with the computer too. I’ll show you how to browse the internet if you like.’

He rolled his eyes at me and fell backwards into his armchair. Poor guy. A window to a whole universe of porno right here in the room, but beyond his reach. At least now he can work the VCR.