Jemima by Barnard Browne
Jemima occupied a box in my father’s study. It had once contained an Xpelair fan. The cardboard was thick with copper staples to keep it together. The texture set my teeth on edge. That’s how they made cardboard in 1962.
Jemima terrified me. She was about twenty years old compared to my five, but not much taller. She walked at night. I could see her through the bed clothes that I drew up around my head for protection.
Her method of locomotion was necessarily unconventional. She had been decapitated and buried with a few pots of Roman provenance by the side of the ancient trackway that passed the front of our house. Her skull was found between her knees, as if she was looking for her missing feet. In my imagination she walked with her skull perched directly on her pelvis.
Close by is the church of St Michael and all Angels. Its name and unusual north-south alignment hint at a pre-Christian foundation. The church was in the care of my father, the Rector.
In the same year, a number of flint hand-axes were found in our garden. There was no doubt about their purpose since they fitted perfectly into a modern hand. They were much older than Jemima, predating her by about 300,000 years. Most likely this was the work of an ancestral hominin species – probably Homo Heidelbergensis.
They left no corporeal remains – only a dusty fragment of Mammoth bone. Perhaps this was for the best.
My father decided that Jemima should be reburied in consecrated ground. Later, I thought this was presumptuous. There was no reason to believe that she was a Christian. Indeed, the decapitation is best understood as a means to prevent her ghost walking or to disempower the earthly remains of a witch. I think my mother - a doctor - may have shared my rationalist reservations because after her death I found she had retained Jemima’s lower jaw.
After the reburial, I was no longer troubled by Jemima - the modern voodoo was successful. But what of the axe-makers whose remains were never found? Their accumulated remains must lie under every footstep we take. Do their ghosts also walk?
Author Notes: Primary academic reference: P.J. Tester: Plate V "Researches and discoveries in Kent", Archaeologica Cantia Vol 78 (1963)