You have been awarded points.
Thank you for !
- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Mystery stories
- Subject: Crime story
- Published: 03/05/2020
EIGHT STEPS DOWNBorn 1955, F, from London, United Kingdom
EIGHT STEPS DOWN
By Jane Lockyer Willis
This is where my story begins, for it was on the eighth step that Lady Boockley’s body was found. Totally dead to the world, slumped and still, she was discovered at dusk by Melissa and Frederick who, anxious to know of her whereabouts, had gone looking for her in the nearby spinney.
Melissa was first to find her. She gasped, screamed, shook her.
‘My God! I think she’s dead. Check her over, Freddie. See if I’m right.’
‘Darling, if you say she’s dead then ...’
‘Oh don’t be wet! Check her!’
Frederick, who had never checked anything other than his alarm clock, knelt down, lifted her arm and found what he believed to be her pulse.
‘Well, yes, darling. She does seem ehm...’
‘Dead! Dead! Say it! Oh God! What are we to do?’
Frederick knew only too well what Melissa would do. She wanted tonight more than anything in the world: a planned, grand party to celebrate their forthcoming marriage. All had been arranged at Lady Bookley’s house, a pleasant, if a little run down, eighteenth century Georgian mansion set in acres of verdant, fertile land. Many people had been invited and some from the nearby estates who would doubtless try to outdo each other in dress, rank and wealth. Colonel Blimp would wear his military medals and his wife, Lady Tara, her priceless diamond necklace, so outdoing Clarrisa Forbes-Wyatt who, not possessing a priceless gem necklace, would doubtless compete by donning a double string pearl choker rumoured to have cost many thousands of pounds. All very petty, you may think. It certainly was, in the wake of such a tragedy, for Lady Bookley, Boo to her friends, had not only suffered an untimely death, but had generously paid for the whole affair: the invitations, the band, the food – the lot.
Ought they to cancel and at this late hour? Frederick said an emphatic yes. It was heartless, and callous to proceed under the circumstances. But for Melissa, cost and effect gained precedence over sentiment, an emotion she despised. Cancel? Out of the question. Boo would have wanted the party to go on; She would not have considered cancelling. ‘The show must go on', was her motto, and having been in the acting business, knew only too well what that meant. But strict etiquette dictated otherwise. In that world, their world, it would have been considered very bad form to go ahead with a social event of that magnitude so immediately following a demise. And Frederick, weakened by Melissa’s overpowering force, capitulated. But how to get round this unpleasant conundrum? Put bluntly, what were they to do with the body?
‘We could put her to bed and say she was taken suddenly ill …Perhaps?’
‘Don’t be dim Freddy. Guests will want to go upstairs to see her. It’s her house for God’s Sake.’ Melissa rounded on Frederick with sickening frequency.
Melissa began peeling a piece of bark. ‘I know! We’ll put her in the summer house. If, by some remote chance she’s discovered there, it’ll seem as though, feeling a little better, she’d risen from her sick-bed and wandered over there, perhaps for some fresh air, or wanting to listen quietly to the band playing in the distance. Sadly, tragically, it all proved too much for her and she died there, most probably of a heart attack. You know she had mild angina?’ And seeing the look of horror on Frederick’s face, ‘All we are doing, darling, is altering the time and venue of death. And tomorrow, when the party is over, we’ll get in touch with her doctor and the usual proceedings following a death will take place. But for tonight, let’s party. Stop worrying, Freddie. Leave things to me.’
Discussion over. Decision made. One didn’t argue with Melissa. So, Frederick took Boo’s arms, and Melissa Boo’s feet, and together they moved her from the bottom step up to the top step and screened from exposure by the darkening skies, they carried her through the spinney to the Orangery then along a winding path which led to the wooden summer house.
Pushing the stiff wooden door open they were hit by a smell of damp rot. Inside the ample sized room were some shelving, several cane chairs and a table, all covered by a thin film of fungi.
‘Pooh!’ said Freddie, pulling a face, ‘I wouldn’t want to sit in here. If I were ill, I’d feel a damn sight worse.’
‘Shut up, and help. That wicker chair will do. Let’s sit her in that.’
Melissa, breathing hard, kicked one into a position that would take her aunt’s slim body.
‘I don’t like this Melissa. I think it’s wrong. I feel as though we’ve murdered her. I was quite attached to your aunt, you know.’
‘Leave sentiment until later, Freddie. Look, it’s all very sad, but this is our engagement party night. There are some pretty wealthy people coming. Think of all the wedding presents we can look forward to, not to mention tonight’s gifts. Now, let’s not deprive ourselves simply because dear Auntie has died. I’m sure that she would have applauded our little plan. Do buck up Freddie.’
She stood back and cast a critical eye over Boo, who sat slumped in the chair. ‘We must try and make her look as though she’d been sitting reading or something. Find a book or something. And tidy her up a bit. Her hair’s a mess. Now, do the lights work?’
Frederick tried a switch by the door. No lights. He rearranged Boo’s blue chiffon scarf and straightened her old oil jacket before looking beseechingly at Melissa. But Melissa was looking at her watch, exclaiming at the time; and after issuing several more orders, rushed off to dress.
Frederick, left alone, spotted a book of Keat’s poems on a shelf in the corner. He opened it at the poem, A Thing of Beauty. With solemn care he placed the slim volume on her lap. He knew that were she alive, she would not be able to read it in the dark, but somehow it seemed fitting, like leaving flowers on a grave. He let himself out, pushed the swollen wooden door to, and shoulders slumped, walked back to the house.
‘Poor Boo!’ guests at the party exclaimed, when told of her sick absence, ‘Can’t we pop upstairs and say hello? We’d only stay a minute.’ And, ‘Do give her our love. We do so miss her cheerful face.’ Melissa, all smiles, with Frederick ever obedient at her side, who echoed Melissa’s lies.
There were cocktails to start with, followed by a splendid buffet. Dancing followed to a large band hired at great expense. There were speeches congratulating the happy couple, and of course one given by Melissa expressing sorrow for her aunt’s absence. Frederick, hating every minute, longed for them all to go home which, following a firework display, they eventually did.
Melissa was triumphant at the party’s success. Frederick, troubled all night by the thought of what they had done, kept seeing Boo sitting lifeless in the cane chair with the Keats poetry book on her lap.
Now that the party was finally over, he determined to go and check the summerhouse. Not that that would bring the poor old girl back to life, but still, he might sleep better having checked on her and whilst there, would say a prayer for her soul. He felt that he had betrayed Boo. She had liked him, made a fuss of him. A lump rose in his throat and he held back tears.
Checking that Melissa was asleep, Frederick crept out of the back door, down the long path that led to the wooden summerhouse half hidden amongst the bushes. The moon was out which was just as well since he had forgotten to take his torch. He reached the door, turned the handle. Inside shadows loomed. The moon, gave small light, An owl hooted. Frederick, breathless and trembling stumbled towards what he thought was her chair. He felt the seat. Nothing. Sobbing, he felt his way towards the next chair, Nothing. He grovelled around on the floor like a dog. There were four chairs, weren’t there? Yes, yes, he remembered the four chairs. Four chairs and a table. So where was she? He wanted to call her name, he wanted to throw up, he wanted to die. Nothing but silence, that god-awful smell, an empty summerhouse, and the wind in the trees.
Frederick was shaking so badly, he could barely find his way out, but out he stumbled, and fell on his face onto the muddy path. Picking himself up, he ran back to the house tears splashing down his face. He was a child again, lost, alone without a friend in the world, only a father, demanding, bullying, and a mother too scared to interfere with his threats and beatings.
Once inside the house and taking the stairs two at a time, Frederick burst into their bedroom and shook Melissa awake whilst half dragging her out of bed.
‘She’s gone! Boo has gone! Boo has gone!’
‘Gone? What are you talking about?’
‘Gone. Vanished. Not there.’
‘Of course she’s not gone.’
‘Why not? There’s no bloody key. Someone’s taken her.’
‘Pull yourself together Freddie. Get some whisky inside you, grab a torch and we’ll go down to the summerhouse together.’
Half doped with sleep, she dragged on her dressing gown and slippers and followed Frederick to the summerhouse. Minutes later Frederick watched her rush back to the house babbling incoherent nonsense to herself.
‘We must ‘phone the police and tell them everything,’ said Frederick, suddenly buoyed by witnessing Melissa in a state of chaos.
‘Are you crazy! Do you really think they’ll believe us, now? Things will look even worse. Our behaviour, past and present will be suspect.’
‘Then what are we to do Melissa? Just leave things as they are?’
‘For the present, yes. We don’t have another option. At least, for now, we’re spared having to go through the charade of telephoning the doctor and making the necessary funeral arrangements. You’re right. Someone has taken her.’
‘Yes. But who and why?’
‘How should I know. Freddie we must be prepared for a visit from the police. It may be blackmail. With all Boo’s wealth, it’s certainly on the cards.’
Now, adding to their worries, were the regular enquiries from Boo’s friends as to her health: How was she? When could they visit? On and on, until Melissa could have screamed. She wished now, although not admitting it to Frederick, that she had not entertained this madcap idea and just cancelled the party. But oh, the presents! Such gorgeous engagement gifts each person showing off their wealth through excessive generosity: Silver cutlery, jewellery, the latest cameras. They would be set up alright, and the wedding wasn’t yet. More presents to come.
Melissa didn’t understand Frederick’s disinterest. Really, he was so weak at the knees. She couldn’t imagine why she was marrying him. He hadn’t really made much of himself: a solicitor. Well, that was all right, she supposed, but he was not the find she had hoped for. Still, age was not on her side. She just wished that Boo had not died so soon. Perhaps given a few more weeks, Melissa might have worked on her to change her will in her favour. This house was falling to bits and the land, well plenty of that, but the wily old bird had made sure that Melissa didn’t get anything other than a couple of first editions – some fusty old books that would fetch a few thousand pounds at the most. Why then had she insisted on paying for the engagement party? Melissa couldn’t think. Guilt probably. Oh yes, guilt. She gave a dry laugh. If Freddie only knew the half of it, he might not take such a soppy attitude towards her aunt. Why should she shed tears for the old bat now she was dead. Dead and gone, so it seemed. But still, it worried her, ate into her thoughts night and day.
Now, by force of circumstance, their fake story became even more elaborate: Boo, now recovered, had gone to stay with her old friend up in the Yorkshire Dales. Yes, Yorkshire was way up north, far from the little Shropshire village. Melissa doubted that anyone would want to take the trip up there to check on their lie.
Frederick, agitated and ill with nerves, knew it was only time before the truth came out. Their story, now more convoluted and suspicious than ever, held little conviction for him, and his days were spent on constant alert waiting for the police to call. But nothing happened. After several weeks, the newspapers reported nothing, friends always polite to them, stopped their frequent enquiries and life resumed a little more normality. Occasionally Melissa sensed a coldness from several of the people in the village, and invitations stopped coming. Oh well. Summer was the holiday season. Yes, lots of people were probably away. She tried to shrug off an ever increasing unease.
Melissa, now renting out her London flat, was living more permanently at the manor, with Frederick commuting up to his London office. She was obliged to deal with her aunt’s mail and was confronted with requests for money from various charities, which she ignored. No bills fortunately, these were all paid by debit. But on a bright summer’s morning she opened an envelope addressed to her. Not able to decipher the post mark, she tore it open. A photograph of her aunt fluttered to the floor. It was a black and white picture taken when she was a young debutante. There she stood in court dress with ostrich feathers in her hair. A pretty young woman, with bright, smiling eyes carrying a fan. There was no explanation, no signature. Was this blackmail? This photograph could be a warning. More would be bound to follow. Shaking, Melissa yelled for Frederick, threw the photo on the dining room table and marched out to find him.
Two days later a small package arrived, also addressed to Melissa. With hands trembling, she tore it open fearing the worst. Inside was a single pearl earring. Her aunt had been wearing pearl earrings the day they found her on the steps. Again, she shouted for Frederick but again no answer.
‘Damn him! Damn him! Damn him!’ Melissa collapsed onto a chair and wept.
Next came the ‘phone call. Frederick was in the kitchen making himself an omelette when he answered the ring. The caller asked after Lady Bookley.
Ready with the lie, Frederick said that she was away staying with friends.
‘Only she’s missed several meetings now. Is she alright?’
‘Alright? How do you mean?’
‘I’m sorry. Perhaps … no, no it doesn’t matter. I really can’t say any more.’
The man rang off.
What the hell was all that about? Frederick stopped himself from running to Melissa, knew he had to cope more independently of her. More and more he was keeping out of her way. Her short temper and intolerance of him was now at zero level. But it preyed on his mind, the more so as he discovered her one afternoon rummaging through her aunt’s things. He felt sick: how could she? But of course she could. Easily. That was the sort of woman she was: a predator, a schemer, hard as nails, a smart arse who would stop at nothing. Why marry her then. Gutless, that was what he was. He should go. Leave. But they were bound together weren’t they? Not by love, but by an act so despicable, so cruel, he could barely look at himself in the mirror. He knew he was weak and that weakness kept him here, a prisoner at this manor. He would give it another few days and then go to the police, confess his part in what to him had grown to the proportions of a murder. But deep down he knew that he wouldn’t. He knew he was bound to her for life; not by love, not even by duty, but by fear.
Frederick went into the dining room. If he could find a pack of cards, he would play a game of Patience that would calm him. He had always enjoyed cards and missed the activity. Now, where could Boo have put them? He opened several drawers with no luck but then noticed a Georgian cupboard in the corner that had five very deep drawers. Maybe they were in there. He pulled the top drawer open, nothing. The second was full of old cutlery, napkin rings and some silver knick knacks. The third drawer, stiff at first, opened revealing empty vodka bottles. There must have been about ten at least all shoved in any old how. So that was it. That was the ‘phone call: Alcoholics Anonymous, or some similar body. Boo had been a drinker by the looks of things. But surely not that much of one. He knew she liked a gin and tonic but …he had never witnessed her drunk. Frederick, shutting the drawer, decided not to tell Melissa who would only jeer and mock the poor woman. Leave her a little dignity, for God’s Sake.
One week later an invitation arrived addressed to them both. It was from a Caroline inviting them both to a poetry reading event. Champagne and canapes to follow.
‘Where is it?’ Melissa was sorting out more post.
‘Oh, some miles away. Berrington. I think that’s a small town near York.‘
Melissa thought for a moment. ‘Okay, let’s do it.’
‘Yes, but Melissa, it’s close to where we told people Boo had gone to stay with friends.’
‘Darling, don’t mix fact with fantasy. We made that up, remember? We haven’t a clue where she’s been taken. Oh God!’ Melissa slumped into a chair. ‘I don’t know how much more I can take of this. Look, let’s make the trip, go to the poetry thingy and stay over in a hotel. A bit of a break. What do you say, Freddie?’
‘Yeh, but we don’t know this person, this Caroline; and how does she know us, Melissa?’
‘I haven’t a clue, darling. Frankly I’m almost beyond caring. It sounds a bit of a stuffy do but innocent enough. We may as well go. It’s all gloom and doom here. Answer and say yes, we’d love to come. I expect the woman, Caroline, was at the engagement party. So many there, we must have missed her. And after-all, we didn’t know everyone. Most were friends of Boo.’
But Frederick knew by her expression, her once pretty face now gaunt and pale, that nothing sat easily with her any-more. Gone was the woman he had first met: He had thought her fun, pretty and vital then. How deceiving first impressions could be. Now her true personality was revealing itself rather too well: bad tempered, demanding, spiteful, greedy. And the sent photograph of Boo and the earring had left its mark. She was forever looking behind her, fearful that she was being watched. Her left eye had developed a nervous tick and she smoked almost continuously.
‘How good that you could make it. Easy journey I hope. Come in.’
Caroline was on the doorstep of the large Georgian house to welcome them. An elderly, smartly dressed woman, handsome with a graceful style. They followed her inside.
Frederick gawped, his mouth slack with wonder. My God! there was some money here. Boo’s wealth had nothing on this. Struck by the gracious, tasteful arrangement of furniture, he put out his hand to touch the shiny surface of a circular table standing in the centre of the room and bedecked with purple and orange Iris Germanica. The portraits and tapestries hanging on the walls, spoke of noble ancestry. Breathtaking. Quite breathtaking, he thought, wanting only to gaze rather than keep up with the two of them who were making their way to the drawing room.
‘I hope you’ve both had time to recover from your journey as we are about to begin. Our audience are seated now. So, in you both go.’
Caroline turned and beamed at Frederick as she ushered them inside. I like her, he thought. She seems genuine enough – a good sort with a care for others. He glanced at Melissa who, for once did as she was told, and sat when bid in an upright gold and scarlet chair amongst an audience of about twenty or thirty people. The chairs were set out in two rows divided by an aisle.
Settled in their seats, Frederick looked around him. Most people were conventionally dressed: the women in short frocks or suits, the men in open necked shirts and jackets. The atmosphere was convivial as a friendly buzz of chatter filled the high ceilinged drawing room. The setting was perfect for a summer’s evening and as the audience waited for the recital to begin, the setting sun cast a rosy glow across the erected dais on which were placed six straight backed chairs. A harpist, sitting to the side of the stage, played Mozart providing further atmosphere. All very civilised, smiled Frederick to himself as all the horrors and worries began to fade. He felt relaxed for the first time in weeks.
There was a small commotion as the six artists including Caroline, all in evening dress and carrying red folders, processed up the aisle and took their places on the stage.
The recital began, compared by Caroline: A selection of poems were spoken by the actors with interludes of song and harp playing. The applause at the end demonstrated the audience’s appreciation and affection, not only for the performers but also Caroline who had compiled and produced the event. Waiting, smiling and poised for the clapping to abate, she at last spoke:
‘Thank you so much for your appreciation. But this is not quite the end of the recital. I have a surprise in store. To read for us John Keats’ haunting poem, A Thing of Beauty, please welcome someone whom many of you will remember from her young acting days on stage and television. She joins us now to recite our epilogue.’
The door opened and to resounding applause, Boo, resplendent in a long purple satin gown, entered. Walking to the front, she stepped onto the rostrum, bowed and opened the poetry book she was carrying. It was the volume of Keats’ poems that Frederick had placed in her lap that night in the summerhouse. Smiling, Boo first took in the audience before searching out Melissa and Frederick, who sat rigid with disbelief. She bowed her head in acknowledgement and began to speak:
‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness,...’
Watched and monitored, Melissa and Frederick were now prisoners: prisoners facing their executioner.
When Boo had finished, she bowed, stood down from the rostrum and walked down the aisle. When she reached Melissa and Frederick she stopped and beckoned to them both.
Making their hurried excuses, they left the hall where Boo stood waiting. She led them away from the others now beginning to mill out into the hall, and took them into a small study. Closing the door, she looked up at them and smiled.
‘Well, my dears. Are you surprised to see me? By the look on your faces I think the answer is yes. As you can see I am alive and seemingly well. Quite a shock, I daresay. She paused and the silence was palpable.
‘How did your party go? From what I heard, it was a great success.’
‘You heard?’ Melissa, white as a sheet, would not meet Boo’s eyes.
‘Oh yes. I heard. Don’t look so surprised Melissa. Caroline was a guest, although sadly for her, she didn’t make your party in the end, but there were those that did.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘Oh I think you do. Not everyone is fallible, you know. News good, bad and indifferent usually gets out one way or another.’
‘You mean people knew?’
‘A few, Melissa. But then it only takes a few to spread the word, doesn’t it? And it’s at this point that I too have to make a confession. When you found me you thought I was dead?’
‘And in a sense, I was. Dead drunk, drunk to the point of death. So, you see, you were nearly right, but not quite.’
‘The vodka bottles I found. They were yours.’
‘Oh Freddie! You found them, did you? The secret drinker’s giveaway. Hidden bottles. I’ve been an alcoholic for years and it was with dear Caroline’s help that I sought A.A. But from time to time I lapse, you see. In the old days people like myself were known as dipsomaniacs. We are spasmodic drinkers, you see.
‘But Auntie, we thought you were so, so lifeless.’
‘Yes. I was lifeless.’ Her eyes clouded. ‘It’s a bitter pill to swallow. To be sozzled to the point of black-out. For much of the time I’m sober, and then, for some reason I have a sudden craving for alcohol and can drink myself to oblivion. Anyway, I’ve naturally no real memory as to what happened that night. I do recall going for a walk prior to the party. I’d been drinking heavily and wanted to clear my head a little but it was too late for that. I remember staggering into the little wood thinking that I must sober up before the guests arrived. I didn’t want to let you both down.
‘You should have thought of that beforehand, don’t you think?’ Melissa searched in her bag for a cigarette.
‘Yes I should. But I didn’t. On and on I staggered until I reached those pretty stone steps. Then I must have passed out. So after that what? Let me guess. You both found me slumped on the bottom step and thought I’d died. Perhaps you should both take a first aid course. My pulse, although weak, would have told you I was still alive. Anyway, I guess that you, Melissa, didn’t want to cancel the party, but thinking I had died so inconveniently, you did want me out of the way.’
‘Can I smoke, Auntie? I’m gasping.’
‘Yes. Caroline won’t mind. She’s a smoker. Anyway, when hours later, I came round, I found myself sitting in a cane chair in the summerhouse with a volume of Keat’s poems in my lap. Handy, your opening the page at one of my favourite poems which, as you heard, I read tonight. Confused with a raging headache, I checked my watch and saw it was around eight thirty in the evening. I could hear the band playing and lots of laughter and so on, and I thought, why spoil their plan and interrupt a well organised, not to mention expensive evening. It would be an embarrassment to have me stagger indoors looking like nothing on earth. And so I called Caroline on her mobile. She was staying nearby and supposed to be coming to the party. Well, of course that didn’t happen. Instead, she collected me and we stayed the night at the local Bull Inn and journeyed back the following morning to Berrington where I have been Caroline’s guest ever since.’
She sighed. ‘I’m amazed that with my mild heart condition the drink hasn’t killed me. I daresay one day it will. But as you see, here I am. I must be a tough cookie.’ She laughed. ‘Now don’t look so mournful, you two. I don’t hold any of this against you. But Melissa. let this be a lesson to you. Greed will not bring happiness. For it was greed wasn’t it? You could not let go of that party. Not for anything. Silly girl! Look at the penalty you had to pay – hardly worth it, was it? Your mind-set, Melissa, on all things material, will only bring agitation, worry and bitterness. And you have overdosed on that, darling. I daresay you wouldn’t want to go through any of that drama again. You are a headstrong young woman, were ever so since childhood, and I feared that something like this might happen one day. Be careful you do not tread on Freddie’s soul, for pity’s sake.’
Travelling home in the car the following day, Melissa and Frederick, still stunned by events, discussed the previous evening.
‘Caroline was in on the whole thing. That’s why she sent us the invitation. A right set-up job.’ Melissa lit her fifth cigarette of the day. ‘And the photograph and the earring. All came from Caroline, all engineered to give us the frights. Stupid old crows, both of them!’
But Frederick remembered Boos’ words. He recalled his domineering father and the way he had treated his mother: the sarcasm, the put downs all reborn years later through Melissa. Seeing her sitting beside him, he was staring at his fate. He must heed or forever live with regret.
'You need to get yourself sorted, Melissa. Stay with your aunt for a while before returning to London. Stay and look after her. She needs support right now.’
‘She’s got Caroline.’ Melissa unwound the window and threw out her cigarette.
‘For now, yes. But Caroline has her own life. Boo is returning to the manor in a couple of days. That’s when she’ll want every bit of loving help she can get. She needs watching, and she needs to attend her meetings. Poor woman, I wonder why she drank on the day of the party. Something must have been bothering her.’
‘A Love affair, what else?’
‘A love affair! What happened?’
‘The man was married. He died of a heart attack the day before the party. His wife, of course, knew nothing of the goings on, so Boo had to keep her grief to herself. Serves her right stealing another woman’s husband.
‘God, Melissa! Why didn’t you tell me? Poor woman, she must have been suffering terribly.’
‘Everything was so hectic. You know it was, Freddie. Caterers rushing about, the florists, the whole set-up. What was I to do about her? There just wasn’t time to take the old girl in hand.’
‘Take her in hand. I see. Well, Melissa. I’m taking myself in hand now. When we get back, I’m going to pack and go.’
She turned to face him. ‘What! You can’t! I won’t let you. You can’t desert me now.'
‘Yes I can. I’ve had enough.’
‘Stop the car!’
‘I said, Stop the car!’
‘And I said no.’
Melissa took hold of the steering wheel.
‘Stop it, I say.’
‘Leave go of the wheel.’
‘Then stop the bloody car. I want your full attention.’
‘You have my full attention. You don’t need me, you never have. Leave hold of the wheel. For Christ’s Sake, leave go!’
There was a struggle. Melissa leant over and slammed her foot hard on the brakes. The car swerved. The car behind went into the back. Hard. There was no air bag. Melissa, not wearing her belt, was thrown through the windscreen.
The funeral was a low key affair with only a smattering of people collecting round the grave to say goodbye to Melissa.
Boo stared at the flower strewn coffin.
‘She never forgave me, you see.’
Frederick looked at her sharply.
‘I don’t understand.’
‘My lover. The man who died. Perhaps I shouldn’t say. Not now, now that it’s all over.’
Frederick took her hand.
‘Tell me, Boo. Please.’
‘Before you two met, Peter was my lover. He left Melissa for me. I don’t think that she ever forgave me.’
‘But Boo, this Peter was surely nearer your age than Melissa’s.’
‘No, you see he wasn’t. He was forty eight. Melissa and he were far more compatible than I, age-wise. Don’t look so shocked darling. These things happen.
‘She never said.’
‘No. That was half the trouble, she stored it all inside her. Hated me. It was all such a mess. He being married and unfaithful, first to his wife and then much later to Melissa. But when you find real love it can be all encompassing. And I found it. You look horrified Freddie. But love creeps into all kinds of holes. It can play havoc with the best of us. Pick up any newspaper, read any kind of romance, and there the machinations will be in black and white, for all to see. Why do you think I was so tolerant of Melissa? It was love and guilt for my wronged niece.’
Boo took Freddie’s arm and led him away from the grave-side.
‘Are you coming back to the house? I’ve laid on some refreshments. Do say you will.’
He looked at Boo. At her small frame and kindly, ageing face. He looked at the small gathering of mourners beginning to move away from the grave-side, treading with care over wet grass to reach their cars.
‘No, Boo. I don’t think I will. But thank you for telling me. It all makes better sense now.’
‘At least let me take you to the station. With your leg injury, you know, after the accident. It’s quite a way, and you haven’t the car now.’
‘No thank you Boo. I’d rather walk. After-all there’s quite a lot to think about, isn’t there?’
Frederick kissed her on the cheek and waving to the others, made for the exit.
C: Jane Lockyer Willis (Fiction)
http://playsbyjanelockyerwillis.co.uk/ Jane's website
https://tslbooks.uk/product/tea-at-the-opalaco-and-other-stories-2/ TEA AT THE OPALACO and other stories https://tslbooks.uk/product/guys-and-ghosts-jane-lockyer-willis/ GUYS AND GHOSTS (novel)