As he stared out the window, he still found it difficult to understand how he hadn’t noticed. It’d lain in the long grass for weeks, decaying in its own putrescence, and all he had done was complain to the custodian about the smell from what he assumed was the drains. But it hadn’t been the drains. It had been an old man, lying dead no more than ten feet below his office window for approximately four weeks.
The police assumed he’d wandered behind the office block looking for a place to relieve himself after an afternoon in the pub. The autopsy indicated a heart attack.
The body had been found on a Saturday morning by a loose dog following the scent, so none of them had known about it until the following Monday. Andrew read about the man in the local paper the next day. He’d been married, with five grown-up kids and an army of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He’d lived in a small terraced house close to the office. His family had reported him missing after he failed to come home and the local police had carried out some extensive searches, but who would have thought to look in the long grass behind an office block? Andrew learnt the man’s name. Bernard Jones. He had been seventy-eight years old.
Andrew went to the old man’s house about three weeks after the discovery of the body. He had no real plan, just some vague notion of wanting to see where the old man lived. He had an unresolved sense of guilt. There were a few cars outside, with people in dark clothes milling around. It was only after a few moments he realized he was watching the man’s wake. A young man, smoking outside the house, noticed him and walked over.
“Can I help?”
“I’m just paying my respects to Bernard.”
“Oh, you knew him. I thought you might have been the press again. They’ve been hanging around for weeks now. It was the way he was found, you see. Come on in and say hello to Nan.”
“No, I must get back to work.”
“Please. Grandad had so few friends. It would be nice for her to see you. We’re just back from the crematorium.”
Andrew found himself being guided into a small house where the entire Jones family was gathered. It was a forlorn place, showing all too clearly that Bernard Jones had not been a rich man. He was gently steered into the front room, full of what his mum would have called knick-knacks. Plates with various pictures hung from the walls. Brass figures of dogs and horses stood on the mantelpiece above the gas fire. Photographs of the family were everywhere. Bernard might not have been rich in the financial sense, but he did have wealth of another kind. He was rich with family.
An elderly woman sat on a sofa. Middle aged men and women, teenage girls and boys and children were arrayed around the matriarch of the Jones family.
Andrew stood there awkwardly. He shouldn’t have been there. He felt like a fool. He should have just stood up to the young man outside. The conversation stopped and interested faces turned towards him. Mrs. Jones smiled at him. The young man spoke.
“Nan, this is one of Grandpa’s friends. What’s your name, mate?”
“Nice to meet you Mr. Johnson. Bernard never mentioned you, but that’s no never mind. Come and sit beside me Mr. Johnson. It’s nice to hear stories about him. Makes me feel as if he’s still with us. We were married for fifty-six years you know. Never had a row, not ever. We didn’t have much money but we was happy.”
Andrew sat, trying desperately to think his way out of the situation he had stumbled into.
“So, how did you know my Bernard?”
“It wasn’t through the bingo was it? He loved the bingo, not that he ever won anything.”
The others around her laughed.
“No, it wasn’t bingo.”
“The pub then. He loved his ale.”
A ragged cheer went up in the room and several of the men raised their plastic glasses.
“No, it wasn’t the pub either.”
A plastic cup containing warm white wine was thrust into his hand. He took an involuntary sip just to avoid speaking for a moment.
“So where did you know him from then?”
There was no other answer than the truth and it spilled out of his mouth in an unchecked flow. The faces of the family changed to amazement and then to anger. Mrs. Jones sat on the sofa beside him with an expression of stunned bemusement on her face. Tears welled out of her eyes and coursed down the canyons of her wrinkled face.
Andrew was pushed off the sofa and landed on his knees on the faded carpet. The wine spilled out onto the shoes and stockings of Mrs. Jones and, as if in a dream, Andrew watched as the liquid trickled from the nylon down into her lumpy shoes. She sat as if not feeling the sensation.
The family jostled him, not quite drunk enough to strike him in front of the widow. He was forced from the front room and into the hallway. In a matter of seconds his jacket was torn and his tie pulled off. A few punches were thrown and Graham felt blood on his face. He was thrown out the house. He started to run. The crowd did not pursue him, perhaps in deference to their deceased relative. Shouted insults echoed in his ears.
He didn’t stop running until he reached the office building. He was deeply ashamed. The Jones family had reacted naturally to him. He had spoilt an important family moment. He walked round the side of the building until he stood directly below his office. He saw the indentation in the grass where Bernard Jones had lain. It was still visible. He laid down and started to cry.
∼ RJ Meldrum
© Copyright RJ Meldrum. All Rights Reserved.