THE WINTER OF MY DISCONTENT

10 Jun

I was poking in the coal-hole looking for a lost tortoise that might have decided that it was time to hibernate when I stumbled on a crow-bar left as a gift by the burglar who tried to break in last September.

It was good finding it, but the tortoise was nowhere in sight and I began to feel guilty. It was a cold winter, and I was discontented.

So, I would imagine, was the tortoise.

But that crow-bar was going to come in handy.

The trap-door had been there for as long as I’d lived in the house. I remember pondering over what it might be when I’d been a lad of nine or ten looking for somewhere to shelter from the rain and sorely tempted to lift it and see what might be seen under the coal-house floor, but being a feeble squirt I lacked the strength to budge it as much as a millimetre with the only tool I had to hand, an old screwdriver, and I gave up trying when it came to be time for school.

Then there was the time when I was in my teens and as keen as mustard on the girl who lived next door and I got to fantasising that there might be a tunnel under that trap-door that led directly to her lily-white-sheeted bedroom where I might find myself in the middle of a teenage fantasy involving bodily fluids and heaving bosoms, but there was a great deal of coal-dust round the trap door and I realised how stupid I’d look if I appeared in her boudoir with a smudged face and spreading black dust everywhere, so I desisted before I started.

Now I’m getting on in my years and have crow-bar to hand.

Why would a coal-shed have a trap-door in its floor and what might it be hiding? What secret places might I find if I open the trap-door and where might the steps that I’d undoubtedly find lead me?

If my great-granddad was here he’d tell me not to be bothered, but they told me he died before I was born after many a swashbuckling adventure in dark places. It’s strange how easily the deceased can come to mind when you’re contemplating trap-doors.

Old trap doors can be the very devil, especially if they’ve been in place where they are for well over half a century. Years of debris, moistened no doubt by condensation every cold season, had formed a kind of concrete, black as Satan’s backside and just as disgusting. I had to use that crow-bar as a kind of blade to cut through it, and the taste of the dust in the air was like the taste of sin.

Have you ever tasted sin? I have….

So it was hard work easing that metal slab open with a crow-bar that was a gift from a burglar, but I moved it bit by bit. It creaked and at one stage I thought the metal was going to bend or snap, but it didn’t, and eventually I lifted it and gazed fully into the face of my aforementioned great-granddad, though I didn’t recognise him. Well, I wouldn’t, would I, never having met him in the flesh, and now he had no flesh for anyone to recognise anyway, just a grinning skull and a sign that said, in bold capitals, “WILLY DID IT”.

It’s hard knowing what to do with a skeleton that accidentally appears under a trap-door that really shouldn’t be there, so I did what every right-thinking person would do and notified the authorities.

The detective put, by a chief superintendent who didn’t like him, in charge of the case was the most objectionable man I’ve ever met. He asked me who I was and when I told him “Willy Arkwright” (which is my name) his first reaction was along the lines of me being the Willy on the sign being held aloft by my deceased relative, and when the pathologist said the body must have been put where it well nigh almost a century ago (or maybe twice my age ago) he pooh-poohed the facts and arrested me for murder.

Everything seemed to fit in with his theory, mostly because of that wretched sign. He even managed to find evidence that the trap door had been opened relatively recently (a cigarette stub that I dislodged along with tons of coal dust while I was hacking away with the crow-bar) and even when I complained that I’d never smoked, not ever, not once in my life, he managed to pooh-pooh that as well.

He put together quite a dossier. My great-grandfather (DNA evidence proved that’s who it was) had been born in 1898 and disappeared in 1929. And it seemed that the state of his bones suggested he might have been lowered into a hole under the coal-shed and a trap-door closed on him around that time.

“But I wasn’t anywhere near being born then!” I protested, and “neither was my dad,” I added.

Then there came a sparkling piece of brand new evidence, which most detectives would dismiss out-of-hand but he didn’t.

Willy was a family name. I had it, my dad, granddad and great-granddad all had it, and it went back through generations before that. Even William the Bastard had it, and he lived a long time ago, or so they say. But it didn’t make much of an impression on the Inspector who was determined to see me spend the rest of my natural behind bars.

He said that if I had someone known as a bastard in my family tree then it was evidence I was a wrong-un and it’s a pity they’d stopped hanging desperadoes like me because hanging’s just what I deserved.

In court, the jury agreed with him. They were all good honest Christians to a person, and consequently well used to looking the truth in the face, and calling it a lie.

Which is why this has been a particularly gruelling winter of discontent for me. It’s a good thing about the tortoise, though. He came and rescued me when it was clear I wasn’t coming home in time to feed him. Spring-time had come and I don’t know how he did it but he chewed through the bars of my cell with a will.

Never say that our pets aren’t useful, because I know full well that they are! Especially tortoises.

© Peter Rogerson 05.12.16

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