For today’s blog post, here’s something a little different. It’s a short story I wrote, and although it’s not crime, it does contain a mystery. It also might not be all fiction … I’ll let you decide where the truth begins and ends. I hope you like it!
I wasn’t to know just then that I was about to embark on the greatest and most enduring of love affairs. The passion to end all passions. Because actually at that moment, it was just a huge disappointment.
I’d read this story in a magazine, just a week or so before. A romantic story, not the sort of thing I’d normally have picked up at the age of nine. It was a story about a girl who found a silver locket engraved with an unfamiliar set of initials. She’d found the locket in her grandmother’s house, and when she’d asked about the initials, her grandmother’s eyes had misted over, all dreamy-like. The old woman’s voice grew distant and wistful as she began to tell the tragic tale of her once-upon-a-time Romeo, lost on the front line along with swathes of his baby-faced compadres.
It had really affected me, that story, and I’d spent all of the following week desperately looking for things that might hint at a similar secret, of stories deep hidden. Longing to stumble upon a mystery that needed solving.
Well, my hand was a-quiver as here I sat now, staring at the silver object I had just found in my own grandmother’s house. Like the locket in the story, on it were engraved three initials. They weren’t my gran’s. They weren’t my grandpa’s, or any of the “uncles” that had followed in swift succession after his demise. No, the initials were truly mysterious, and I could scarcely believe that I had actually found it, this skeleton in the family cupboard.
I’m not sure how long I must have sat there staring at it, craving its story to emerge from the hint of a reflection that swam back at me from its age-dulled surface. Sitting on the rug in front of my gran’s coal fire. I remember one of my cousins once being whisked away from that very spot, when her nightie started to smoke. Those were the days, when they stuck us in front of the open flames in our flammable jammies. I don’t think I was in my jammies that time, though, when I was desperate to conjure the story from the magazine out of this astonishing artefact that I held in my small hand.
I was a quiet child, and so my gran, my mum and my aunts took no notice, intent on their chatting and knitting,
yackety yack yack.
clackity clack clack,
while the flames crackled and warmed my face almost to burning, making me drowsy.
Every now and then I would look up from the initials and stare at my gran, hoping she would spot the thing I was holding and whisper to me, Let me tell you a secret. But she didn’t, busy as she often was, regaling the women around her with some colourful tale of her latest exploits.
She was a wonderful storyteller, my gran, and I was always enthralled at her clipped Scouser vowels interspersed by laughter. To this day, whenever I hear it spoken by an older woman, I’m taken right back to the sleepy warmth of the crackling flames and the clackity knitting needles.
A warm voice in a warm room, I always remember her as the warmest of people. The only person, in fact, I had ever heard say I love you in real life. People in the West of Scotland in those days just didn’t say such things, but they must have done in Liverpool. Anyway, I was later to realise that this warm, loving woman knew heartbreak and pain, the devastation of loss, only too well. When the five-year-old me had seen the blood on her kitchen wall, my immediate concern had been to try and clean it up, fearing I’d get into trouble for the mess. Failed suicide attempt held no meaning to me back then.
But on this particular day, four years on from scrubbing away the blood with a wet dish towel, she’s telling her stories, and I’m willing the life out of this mysterious silver object that I’m convinced is full of exotic and tragic promise. Staring at it, making up names that match the initials, and testing the names out in my imagination, sneaking furtive glances at my gran to try and decide if they feel right. But none of them do.
I stared and stared into the shaped silver. At every mark. Every swirl and scratch. The ones that were meant to be there, and the ones that weren’t, like the scars on my gran’s wrists, I supposed.
I turned and twisted elements from the story in the magazine, desperate to bleed some drop of meaning from this silver object I was clutching tighter and tighter. A spoon, it was. A silver spoon, with those strange initials carved into it. There had to be some deeply held meaning to it, otherwise she wouldn’t have kept it, would she? But hard as I tried, the spoon would not give up its secrets.
Like I say, I was a quiet child. Painfully shy, in fact, and the thought of interrupting the yackety yack yack made my neck and face prickle with heat, and not just from the fire.
I remember my heart beginning to race as I tried to judge the moment to pipe up, fearful of being mocked or shunned from the room if I did, and wondering how on earth other people knew how to do it. But I was desperate to find out about the spoon. Was it like that locket in the story? I needed to hear the tale in her quirky, laugh-along dialect.
When I could finally contain myself no longer, I blurted out the words, Gran – what does BHS stand for?
Well, the fire kept crackling, but the yacking and the clacking stopped abruptly, all sets of eyes suddenly turned upon me, scorching me into the floor. Then a stifled snigger. And my gran going slightly rosy in the cheeks when she said, I pinched it from the canteen.
The story in the magazine spilled right out of my shrinking heart, swirling the magic in a vortex of disappointment towards the flames, my world going from colour to black and white in an instant, while the yackety yack yack struck back up, this time going on about items they’d nicked from the BHS canteen. They didn’t witness the death of my dream, the demolition of my secret castle in Spain, or my nine-year-old’s anguish for a broken romance. Not to mention how scandalised I was that my gran stole a thing.
But her voice stayed warm, her carefree laughter and honey-tipped Scouse making me giggle. They were laughing at their own stunts of petty thievery, not at me, and I discovered I could laugh along too.
I moved away from the fire, shuffled a little closer to the circle, wondering if I could learn to knit the way they did, amazed at how the needles stayed put half-tucked under an arm without having to be wedged against something else. Beginning to wonder lots of things, beginning to imagine. Beginning to write my own story about a girl who finds a silver object engraved with a set of mysterious initials in her grandmother’s house. Beginning my love affair with fairy tales, with anecdotes and legends. The beginning of that greatest of all passions, where truth is no object and reality places no boundary, with writing.