It seems strange after a few years of being, first, in a group based at Eden Court Theatre (Inverness) and then a founder member of what is now, rather grandly, called The Highland Literary Salon (HLS) to be moving on. That should not be taken to infer anything other than support and respect for the HLS, and I still receive their splendid newsletter every month. More power to their collective elbows. The thing is that I have moved to a new part of the country and I’ve finally been obliged to join a new writing group. My first meeting, attended by only two other men in an otherwise female and, it has to be said, “older” group, had been set a task to write up to 500 words on the topic “Riding the Buses”. I wrote two – here they are.
Riding the Buses (#1)
It had been a year already; a year of avoiding spaces where Danny had been. A year in which Maureen still half-expected to tidy up things he’d lost interest in or plain forgotten about: a year of making allowances for a presence no longer there; a year of an absence tangible as a presence.
Most of all he was absent from the No 52, one of the buses they took to the start of their country walks which, despite his inexorable terminal decline, he enjoyed with enthusiasm. Almost to the end he had insisted on dragging himself to the top deck, and right to the front, from where he could see the world as if he owned it, clinging to the possibility he could, would, still do anything he chose. A denial, of course. In that last winter she had even had to wipe the condensation from the window, so that the breath from his open, dribbling, mouth did not obscure the view. Some other passengers, who did not see his innocence and childlike pleasure in the journey, were repelled. She even heard them say, in hushed tones calculated to be overheard, “they oughtn’t allow them on buses in that condition”. They did not have a Danny in their lives.
Alone she still walked, mostly to please her doctor, but his loss had made travelling by bus almost unbearable. For a long time Maureen had shunned buses completely, often arranging lifts with friends, even if it meant walking somewhere she disliked, or taking shorter routes, but when that was impossible she chose walks served only by single-deckers. Then she would sit at the back, and in a window seat, though even that felt odd as if it were really his by right. But slowly, almost imperceptibly, this new view of the world, less lofty, less detached, brought her back; she saw the view herself, not obstructed by Danny’s matted black hair and head pressed against the glass.
Over the following months Maureen was able to look on others walking together, with less pain and more fondness until, one summers day, stepping off the bus she suddenly knew she was ready to move on: perhaps not a big dog like Danny, when fit he was almost too much for her. Perhaps a spaniel? Yes, a spaniel. Then she would ride the top deck again.
Riding the Buses (#2)
It wasn’t an entirely routine accident, but Superintendent Nelson still didn’t bother to look up; “You’re the detective, Fry, so detect. But hurry up, we need the road re-opened for the school run, and take young Nixon with you.”
Sergeant John Fry stood in the half-dawn, unwrapped a toffee and sucked. He stared at the road, the bridge, the dark stain under the arch, and thought “detect what? This is for traffic division, or uniform, not C.I.D.”
But the young body had suffered a massive head injury, yet there was no sign of an accident: no skid marks, no broken glass or plastic, no oil or water, no soil from under the crumpled wing of a car – nothing. All the damage was above the waist; if he’d been hit by a car he would have had leg injuries but even the trainers had been unmarked.
“Well, Nixon, it appears it’s not one for traffic after all. The ‘super’ said “Detect”, so let’s detect. Tell me how a kid gets killed at 4 in the morning on a quiet suburban road, leaving no trace, and nobody hears anything? There must have been a helluva bang.”
“I don’t know guv. Could he have jumped off the bridge, do you think?”
“Suicide? Why? Poor kid was clean, well dressed, obviously cared for, money in his pocket. He was wearing school uniform, apart from the trainers – his proper school shoes were in a back pack with books and a sandwich; it’s as if he was running to school, but 4 hours early. Anyhow, he was at St. Joseph’s, a catholic, so not likely a suicide.”
“What, from a railway bridge, by who?”
“OK, thrown from a train, then?”
“Maybe. I don’t really see that, though: he’d have to have gone clean over the parapet and come down head first. You can check the times of trains later, but start on the blue tape and re-open the road. Oh, and see if you can find his phone; you’re all glued to ‘phones these days but we didn’t find one on him. I’m going up on the bridge.”
By the parapet, with the smell of diesel drifting in the cold wind, Fry unwrapped another toffee and looked down at the street, his foot unconsciously probing at trackside rubbish. The first house lights were coming on, other families were getting up, other kids packing their school lunches. What was he doing here? Judging by his address, it wasn’t even on the route to his school, so why here? His toe moved something solid. “Well, someone’s been up here, several someone’s by the looks, and recently”. Amongst the pile of crisp packets, juice bottles and cans he found a mobile ‘phone, still on. It was the boy’s and it had been recording video: happy, mischievous, conspiratorial ‘selfies’, normal teen stuff – except the last one. Presumably taken by his friends, it was of a boy surfing the roof of the first bus of the day.
Andrew Gold ©
29 March 2014