There’s a body over there, on the Common, lying there, unmoving. I wonder why it’s laying so still? Not my problem, is it? All I wanted to do was to walk Lucy, my sweet little Westie, the same as I have nearly every morning these past three years since Elsie went. I still miss her. Fifty-three years wed and barely a cross word between us. She was a woman in a million was my Elsie.
I know what she would say about this: she’d say “Ernie, you’re too old to be getting involved in that sort of malarkey”, she would. She would tell me off and call me a “silly old bugger” with that slight Irish lilt in her voice and that sparkle in her hazel eyes when she was joshing me. God, how I miss that!
“Ernie,” she would tell me, “there’s nothing good to come of getting yourself all bothered-up with the police and the like. You just mind what’s yours to mind and leave everything else to others” was her favourite saying. I can hear it now as I stand on the edge of the tarmac-covered footpath that skirts the Common. I’m all a-dither now, because I know what I ought to do and I know what I want to do and I can hear my departed Elsie telling what I should do.
Oh, why me? Why this morning? Every day I walk this way, take Lucy for her morning trip to the newsagent’s shop to buy my ‘paper and a pack of her favourite cheese and onion crisps. We stop at the hawthorn bushes on the way back to the house so that she can do her business before going back indoors.
While the kettle boils for my second cup of tea of the day, Lucy messily munches her way through her crisps, spreading them in a wide arc around her bowl, which, although I pretend-moan about to her, always makes me smile as she’s such a messy eater. Always has been, from the day we brought her home from the breeder. Lucy and food – dry mix or tinned stuff – never stayed in one neat place for long, bless her. It’s her only fault, really; that and a tendency to want to snuggle under the duvet when she knows full-well that she’s just not allowed to. The number of times my Elsie shooed her out of our bed! I’d give anything to hear her telling Lucy off now, today.
All that routine – and I rely on my routines to help me get through my day – has gone to pot now. I mean, I cannot just walk past the body, can I? That would not be right or proper. I know what my Elsie would have say about what is right and proper and walking straight past a dead body would definitely come under the heading of not right or proper.
Did I say ‘dead‘ body? I suppose I did. I don’t know for certain it is dead. I mean, ever since I spied it there when I made to cross the Common I have not seen it move. Actually, thinking about it, I am being rather rude and disrespectful calling the body ‘it’. Going only on the way the body is dressed it looks like a male so I should really be saying ‘he’ instead of ‘it’.
Not that it is any sure guarantee that the body is male given the way folk these days dress. In my day a man dressed like a man and a lass looked like a lass. These days? Well, sometimes I just wonder how those people can bear to be seen in public. Really!
Lucy is getting worried, I can tell. Like me, she needs her routine and standing here like this, all dithery and undecided, is not a routine occurrence for her at all. Poor little mite; she must be getting desperate to do what she needs to do by now. She’s not getting any younger and, if her bladder and bowels are anything like mine, they need to be seen to regularly and quick-smart when the old clock starts ticking, if you catch my drift. I’ve had a few close shaves since my Elsie went I can tell you. It is not pleasant, of that you can be certain.
Damn! I have just realised something: I’ve not seen young Jimmy yet, the paper boy. He’s a good lad, young Jimmy; about as different to his elder brother as you could possibly get. I’m not one to spread gossip or bad-mouth folks, but Teddy Raymond fell in with a bad lot when he went off to college or university or some-such place. He was a nice enough lad until then. Two years later he turns up out of the blue, looking like something you would expect to see sleeping rough on the streets of a big city, not in a nice backwater like here.
No, I don’t know for certain what the story with Teddy was, but I’ve been around a bit and know what drink, possibly drugs and almost certainly a girl or two can do to the wrong sort of bloke. It can be devastating, I know. I was one of the lucky ones when I met my Elsie. I knew almost straight away that she was going to be my girl. Heh, heh, it took me a while to convince her of that, though, but she eventually came around to my way of thinking and the rest is, you know, history.
So, what’s the problem with young Jimmy this morning? I swear, you could normally set your watch by the lad, he was so punctual and reliable. It’s not like him to be late. Maybe he’s ill or something. Who knows?
Lucy is definitely getting distressed. She needs to go – do her business – so I have to make my mind up. Oh, God, why did you do this to me? I’m just not good at this sort of thing. My Elsie, she was the coper: she was the one you could rely on in a crisis, not me. I’m just a silly old fool whiling away his last days ‘til he gets to be with his beloved again. It’s at times like this I wish for that day to come sooner rather than later, I really do.
Okay, I’m going to walk just a short way across the Common; not too far, but far enough for Lucy to do what she has to do. In truth I’m starting to get signals that my body needs some attention in that area as well, which is just great news on top of all this other stuff. This is so bloody annoying!
Look, I’m sorry for whoever it is lying over there, and all that. I am not a heartless man, really I’m not. But I am an old man and I am not in the best of health. I didn’t ask for this, to be confronted with a dead body pretty-much on my doorstep, when I set out to get my daily newspaper. That wasn’t on my horizon at all. Now, though, I have to deal with it on my own, and I just don’t know what to do for best. It’s all giving me a bit of a headache now.
Please, it can’t be, can it?
I’ve seen that jacket before: many, many times before. Like, pretty-much every damn morning when it’s a bit nippy, too nippy to be out and about without something to keep the chill off your arms. That’s what he wore, young Jimmy Raymond, a grey pullover thing with a hood, and the logo of some sportswear brand prominent on the front and the back.
Why do clothing manufacturers do that, spoil their garments with garish designs and massive, disproportionate-sized logos? So many of the young people – and not-so-young people – seem to me to be nothing more than walking advertisements for a range of clothing makers who get their name publicised for free. I don’t understand it. I can tell you this though: if God had blessed me and my Elsie with children, which he didn’t for whatever reasons that neither me nor Elsie nor the medical profession could fathom, there is no way on God’s green Earth I would have allowed them to go out looking like a walking advertising hoarding!
However, Jimmy Raymond, like most youngsters his age – fourteen, I think –, liked to dress that way and if his and his friends’ parents thought it was okay and proper for their kids to go around dressed like that who am I to say otherwise? The point is that the body on the Common is wearing a hooded jacket-thing that looks exactly the same as the one young Jimmy Raymond always wore when it was required. And, believe me, it was most certainly required this morning.
It wasn’t yet autumn, let alone anywhere near winter, yet the frost this morning made the village look like something off of a Christmas greetings card or something. Well, if you forget about the body on the Common, of course. I don’t think that that would go down to well with the card manufacturers, would it now?
Sorry. A little black humour there. Inappropriate I suppose you’d say, but I am trying, in my own way, to deal with the shock realisation that a young lad I knew, only by sight really as we barely spoke to one another unless it was unavoidable, was laying dead on the frost-covered common of our little village.
That was how I knew that lad had been brought up right. Jimmy always made eye contact and spoke politely, if only to say “good morning” to me. He had a ready smile, too, not a surly sneer like some – most – of his peers when they saw an elderly man who is not too steady on his feet these days. No, young Jimmy was a nice lad and now, I was convinced, he was dead.
Oh, Elsie! What am I going to do, darling? She can’t help me, I know, but talking to her helps calm my frayed nerves. I’m too old for this stress, I really am. I’m sorry, but I just can’t get involved in this. It could well be the end of me and then what would happen to my poor little Lucy.
She’s an old girl now; not as doddery as me, true, but not an attractive proposition as a long-term pet for someone either. I hope that she goes before I do otherwise her ending will come by way of a so-called merciful needle. My Lucy deserves better than that so it’s up to me to keep going for as long as I can, which is why I have to leave young Jimmy where he is and just go home and forget I ever saw him. I can't help him, anyway. He is sadly beyond anyone's help now. I am really sorry, Jimmy, lad.
Anyway, it won’t be for long. The kids will be coming across the Common on their way to the old schoolhouse fairly soon. I’m amazed it’s still there, what with the way the government keeps closing little places like our school, as if they aren't good enough anymore. The good thing is that it is still there and some of the kids have to cross the common to get to the school, so it is inevitable that someone will find young Jimmy Raymond sooner rather than later. I wouldn't want for him to be out there like that for too much longer. That would be undignified.
Not that there's anything dignified about dying, anyway. You ask my Elsie. She died in our bed and I tell you, waking up next to her was shock enough, but having to deal with her bodily functions as well? No, no dignity in that whatsoever. But I did my best by you, didn't I Elsie, love?
It will be a shock for them, of course it will, for the youngsters. It will be upsetting, too, I've no doubts. Quite a few of the kids know Jimmy well and he is - was - a popular lad around the village. But, you know what? Kids are tougher and more resilient than folks give them credit for. They are young and they will soon bounce back from whatever upset and trauma finding their dead schoolmate will cause them. They have that to their advantage. An old man like me doesn’t need that sort of thing at my time of life. If she were here I am positive my Elsie would agree that it is the right course of action for me to take, wouldn’t you Elsie?
Well, Lucy has done her business and I need to do mine. Standing around in this chill has not done me any favours. Old bones need taking care of so, again Jimmy, I am really very sorry for leaving you out here in the cold and on your own. I’m off home for a nice cuppa and a couple of digestive biscuits. Lucy will have to make do with one or two of them as well. Your dead body means that we won’t be going to the newsagent shop any time soon today for her crisps. How damn inconvenient!