“What do you mean, you don’t want to be bothered?”
Sybil was furious. She had just taken a mug of tea down to the garden shed, for William, her husband of forty years, and had been feeling pleased with herself. She had offered him the tea, along with the brilliant idea that had come to her on what to spend the unexpectedly large prize she had won at bingo. She was going to buy him a new shed. His lack of enthusiasm was like a slap in the face. She banged the mug of tea down on the bench, splashing it over the crossword he had been doing.
“Watch it, watch it.” William Warwick dabbed the offending pool of tea with his handkerchief, careful not to rub a hole in the damp paper.
“Here! Not your hanky, that’ll stain, that will. Honestly! Why don’t you use that kitchen roll? It’s always the same with you; the easiest thing to hand. You’re getting worse. You spend nearly all day in this tumbledown shed, supposedly tending your plants and half the time, you’re doing crosswords. There’s plenty of odd jobs about the place that need doing, if you can muster up the energy, instead of wasting your time in here. I’m telling you, this shed’s so old that, one day, it’ll fall down around your ears. It’s like a refugee from the allotments. I offer to buy you a new one and all you can say is, you don’t want to be bothered. It’s not as if you’ll have to do anything, the shed people will put it up.”
“I know, I know, but I’ll have to move all my plants and pull this one down. It’ll be a lot of work and that new one will cost quite a bit.”
“I know that… I’m paying for it, aren’t I? So that needn’t worry you. Here’s me, offering to spend my winnings on you and you throw it back in my face. I tell you this for nothing. I’m going to get a new shed, whether you like it or not. I’ll get one of those, you know…like a Swiss chalet and I’ll have it put right in front of yours so that I don’t have to look at that eye-sore anymore.”
Stalking off and entering the kitchen, she slammed the back door. The new shed duly arrived and took pride of place at the far end of the lawn, blotting out Sybil’s view of the potting shed. She was delighted with it and started to make it into a small home from home; a remnant of carpet, table and chairs and an electric point to boil a kettle. On warm sunny days, she sometimes invited her friends to tea; sitting on the small veranda, enjoying the sunshine.
William, passing to tend his plants could be heard to mutter “Blooming Wendy house.” After a few months, the novelty wore off and with winter coming on, they were back to their normal routine. They had always walked their dog, Sandy, every morning and evening but several times, lately William had said, ”You go. It doesn’t need two of us.” He’d make some excuse or other. In the end, Sybil went on her own. She decided it wasn’t worth an argument but she was worried about his growing laziness.
Their usual walk took her through a small wood. She wasn’t nervous, she had the dog after all, but one morning, she noticed an old van dumped among the trees. There was a man, sitting on the cabin step. He was dirty and unshaven. Sybil was startled and Sandy started to growl.
“Good dog, good dog.” The man held out his hand. The dog walked towards him, timidly, and the hand stayed outstretched. The voice was soothing. Sybil was surprised to note it was a cultured voice. She watched nervously as the dog, on reaching him, submitted happily to the fondling of his head and the gentle comforting words. The man looked up at Sybil. She noticed his eyes were a startling bright blue, even in the shade of the trees. He spoke,
“That’s a fine dog you have. I’m sorry if I frightened you.”
“Oh, no, not really,” she lied. “It’s alright. Come along, Sandy,” and she resumed her walk. She told William of her little adventure and next day, he accompanied her. He told her he wouldn’t let her go alone. She was rather touched.
The tramp appeared to have taken up residence in the van for he was there every day when they passed and they would nod a greeting. Sybil started taking him a flask of tea. And they would sometimes stay for a short chat. “Just call me Reg,” he said and, after a while, they learned that he was alone in the world, having no relatives or friends. After a week or two, William, saying he thought he was harmless, went back to avoiding the exercise of walking the dog. Winter really set in and one evening, finding the man wrapped in a blanket and looking frozen and ill, she couldn’t go back to her warm house and leave him there to freeze, so, she decided to take him home, with her.
Later, in the kitchen, while Reg was soaking in their bath upstairs, William, shocked out of his usual apathy, voiced his horror at what she’d done. “What got into you, woman? We don’t know anything about him. Social Services should be looking after him. He’s not our problem. He can’t stay here.”
“He’s a gentleman, Will. You can tell by his voice.”
“They’re the worst kind,” William warned her. Sybil shrugged, “Well, It’s obvious Social Services don’t know about him. At least let him enjoy his hot bath.”
“It’ll probably kill him.”
“Don’t be stupid…and you can lend him your old pyjamas … and give him some of your old clothes. We’ll have to burn his.”
“But where’s he going to sleep?”
Sybil gave it some thought.
“I suppose he could sleep in my shed. There’s a point for a kettle and he can have the blow-up bed.”
“Your precious shed?”
“Well, he can’t go back to that van in this weather.”
“Why not? That was his choice, and, what’s he been living on, I’d like to know?” Will was getting hot under the collar.
“Oh, stop making a fuss. You said yourself, you thought he was harmless. Go on.” She gave him a slight push, “Go and get out the blow-up bed and I’ll get him something to eat.”
That night, Sybil slept peacefully, revelling in a ‘good feel’ factor. William slept uneasily, trying to remember if he’d bolted the back door and being too warm and comfortable to go and check. Next morning, Sybil was awakened by a frantic William.
“Sybil, Sybil, I told you that bath would kill him.” His wife, rudely wakened, yawned “What do you mean, kill him? Who’s been killed? Someone we know? “
“No, someone we don’t know… the man in the shed.”
“What do you mean, dead?” She was wide awake, now. “He can’t be. He was alright, last night. He tucked into my hot-pot, right enough. . Dead? What are we going to do? Oh, my Goodness,””
“It might be your goodness that has done for him… your hot-pot on an empty stomach.”
“Oh, don’t say that, William… they’ll have me up for murder…I’ll go to prison…what’ll we do?”
“Don’t take on, it might not be as bad as that…it’ll probably be manslaughter, you won’t get quite so long.”
“William!” “Oh, Will, you’ve got to do something. I can’t go to prison. I’ve never even had a parking ticket.”
“I know, old girl… but if it was your hot-pot, I expect we’ll have to tell the police.”
“Do we have to? Nobody knows he’s here. Can’t we take him back to the van…let someone else find him?”
“We can’t do that. It’s broad daylight. We’ll be seen…and he’s wearing my pyjamas.” After a few minutes, he asked, “No one saw you last night, did they?”
“No, I don’t think so, it was dark.”
“Well, that’s a relief! So, no one knows he’s here.” He sat on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands, thinking. Sybil spoke, a faint trace of hope in her voice. “Are you sure he’s dead…not just sleeping in…he must have been tired?” Her husband shook his head,
“He’s dead, alright. I looked in on him this morning and I couldn’t wake him. He was icy cold.”
“Oh, Will, the poor man.” William got up suddenly from the bed with a brisk air that was unusual for him.
“What are you going to do?” Sybil panicked.
“I think I’d better look in his pockets to see if there is any identification. You haven’t burnt them, already, have you?”
“No. They’re in a black bin bag, in the kitchen.” Will disappeared downstairs. A few minutes later, he called up,
“It appears his name is Reginald Plant. That’s all there is, there’s no address… hand-stitched labels…good quality clothes…”
Over coffee, they pondered on what they were going to do. Sybil, despite her fear of being arrested, could see no way around it and felt that they would have to inform the police but her husband hesitated. “It’ll be such a palaver, I can’t be bothered with all that. There’ll be questions and statements, then we’ll have to give evidence at a Coroner’s hearing. It’ll go on and on and be such a lot of trouble. I don’t think I’m up to it. What’s more, if it turns out that it really was your hot-pot that did it, your Women’s Institute will never let you bake another cake for their market stall. And, just think of it, if you get sent to prison, it’s bound to be miles away for visiting. I’m not sure I’ll be able to…” Seeing the look on her face, he quickly added, “But, of course, I’ll come.”
“I’m sorry, old girl. I wish there was another way to avoid all this upheaval but I don’t see how…” He relapsed into a state of pensive melancholy, but suddenly brightening, he caught hold of her hand. “Are you sure no one saw you?”
“ I’ve had an idea. We could get rid of the body ourselves. After all, he’s got no relatives or friends. He told us that himself. We could give him a decent burial and say nothing about it. No one needs to know.”
“But where can we bury him? The neighbours are bound to see us.”
“I’ve been thinking…no one would think anything odd about me spending all day in my shed. What they won’t know is that I’ll be digging up the floor. Then tonight, when it’s dark, we’ll carry him from the other shed and bury him, and cover it with my plants,” Suddenly a rueful grin crept across his face, “Come to think of it, with a name like Plant, he should feel at home.”
“Oh, Will, don’t talk like that, this is no joke.”
“Quite right, old girl. I’d better get on with it.
Sybil, at last accepting the situation, decided that a bit of digging, manual labour, might do him good.
William had been digging for a couple of hours. He was out of breath and his back was killing him. He was muttering about irresponsible strangers, inconsiderately dropping dead where they weren’t wanted when, a shadow fell across a tray of winter pansies and a voice broke in on his complaining.
“Good morning.” The voice was bright and cheerful. William straightened up to find himself gazing into the bright blue eyes of the stranger who, rubbing his hands together, in an attempt to revive his circulation, remarked,
“That’s the best night sleep I’ve had in ages but I’m frozen. It’s like a morgue, in there. May I use your toilet?”
© Marion Sharville