Rosie sat in her bedroom perched on the edge of her bed wearing nothing but one of Wilfred’s old singlet’s. Her eyes red rimmed as tears streaked her face. Precariously balanced on the end of her nose a pair of spectacles. Her arms, white with a layer of fat hanging from elbow to armpit, had fallen to her waist so that her hands flopped like dead birds on her lap. Her breasts were stringy and vanished beneath the vest to snuggle somewhere near her waist with her nipples, long and anaemic, thrust out like the tongues of thirsty lizards. Her legs, covered to her knees by Wilfred’s old garment, were knotted with varicose veins. Looking at her now Ethel wondered what Wilfred had seen in her but then the sheer wonderment of his passion occurred to Ethel – he had loved her warts, elasticated breasts, and all. Seeing Rosie now, grief stricken and beside herself with guilt made Ethel want to hug the old woman.
Constance, a fellow octogenarian, sat beside Ethel and threw her arm about the grieving widow’s shoulders. ‘Come on dear, dry your eyes. Wilfred wouldn’t want to see you in such a state, would he?’
‘It wasn’t just the sex you know?’ said Rose emphatically.
‘No?’ Replied Constance patting the bereaved woman’s back.
‘No. We also played a lot of scrabble. He was always trying to stick a small one in on the sly.’
At this Ethel smiled to herself.
‘Did he beat you?’ Asked Constance.
‘Only when I asked him too but he never left any bruises.’
‘I meant at scrabble.’
‘Oh, I see! Yes, I never could get the X onto the O or the Z in front of ‘ero.’’
‘And was Wilfred better at getting his X onto the O?’
‘I’ve no complaints.’
Constance raised her eyebrow. Rosie started weeping again. Ethel pulled a hankie from her handbag and then passed it to Rosie. Constance patted Rosie’s shoulder as Ethel readjusted her brassiere before Rosie blew her nose like a gander warning a gaggle of imminent danger. Constance started. Ethel shrieked. Rosie blew her nose a second time then passed the wet rag back to Ethel.
‘Sorry,’ said Rosie.
‘Never mind,’ said Ethel.
‘You are bound to miss him,’ said Constance.
‘I do, already,’ sniffled Rosie, ‘mind you, at least I won’t be having to get out of bed to get some sleep.’
Whilst Constance and Ethel were attempting to comfort a grieving Rosie so Charles had been busy on the phone, Verity beside him. First, he had phoned the funeral parlour back.
‘Hello. Larkspar, Werungle and Trot. How may I best direct your call sir or madam or person of no particular gender?’
‘Is that Mister Werungle?’
‘How can I help Mister Pickles?’
‘It’s about Wilfred Hardbottle.’
‘He’s still dead I’m afraid.’
‘I am sure he is. That’s not why I called.’
‘Is he in transit?’
‘You’d ‘ave to ask the Bishop about that?’
‘The Bishop? What’s he got to do with it?’
‘Well, we only take care of their remains not their souls,’ snorted Werungle pleased at his witticism. ‘You could always call the A.A.’
Charles, totally baffled by the surreal nature the call had taken assumed the man was referring to the motoring association that breakdown assistance.
‘The Automobile Association?’ queried Charles.
‘No,’ sniggered Werungle, ‘Assistance Afterlife.’
Charles, his patience fast ebbing kept his cool.
‘I wasn’t asking if the deceased’s soul is ascending, I was merely trying to establish if the coffin, having left your offices, is on its way to the ferry?’
‘Well, yes, it has I’m afraid. It has left our offices. It’s all been a bit of a muddle I’m sad to say’
‘What do you mean? What has happened?’
A deep sigh floated down the line.
‘The Bishops not too pleased either.’
Charles held the phone away from his ear and pulled a face, his eyes rolling up in his head in an expression of frustration. His displeasure was clear. Verity pulled the handset from his grasp.
A slight hesitation followed by an intake of breath then a protracted response.
The use of her maiden name was deliberate.
‘Miss Lambush. How nice to hear your voice, my Rumatillda went to Fekenham High.’
‘So, she did. I remember her well. Does she still hold the same fascination for boys and formaldehyde she used to?’
‘Er, I don’t know what you mean,’ mumbled Werungle.
‘Oh, I think you do.’
‘Ha, ha,’ chortled Werungle as though gargling a rose thorn, ‘Girl’s will be girl’s wont they eh? Just like her mum at that age.’
‘So, does your wife pour formaldehyde down your throat in the hope it may add stiffness to a certain part of your anatomy for that is what Rumatillda did to young Gorse Napper.’
‘Well,’ wheezed Werungle thinking of all the complaints his wife had made regarding his bedroom prowess, ‘perhaps not.’
‘Gorse Napper was forced to drink formaldehyde the effect of which meant he was off school for a month following bouts of diarrhoea, pains in the stomach, nausea, vertigo, stupor and having seen demons floating before him oddly shaped like your then adolescent daughter. Consequently, you may recall, I expelled Rumatillda.’
‘All water under the bridge now.’
‘Indeed. Now we have the matter of the absent corpse of Wilfred Hardbottle.’
At this point, as much to appease the one woman he feared more than his wifeor any other come to that, Mister Werungle interrupted.
‘The deceased’s remains are on their way to…’
Werungle never finished his words. Verity, with an ice cool voice like a female terminator retook hold of her diatribe.
‘When I want you to interrupt me I will tell you. I know the body has left your offices and is, according to you, now at the port of Poole. Now, as I understand it the whole business, including the Doctor’s visit then your arrival to remove the deceased was all about an hour and a half ago. That being the case, bearing in mind it takes from Apple Crust Hill to your office a journey time of twenty five minutes. That being so, when calculating the distance and time taken to travel from your offices to the harbour, another fifty minutes needs to be added. That gives a grand total of one hour fifteen minutes. The coffin cannot yet be at the harbour, can it? When did it leave Mister Werungle. Be precise and be swift.’
‘Thirty three minutes and twenty two seconds ago,’ came the tremulous response
‘Thank you. Goodbye,’ said Verity.
Whilst Charles had been investigating the missing coffin with its magnificently equipped cadaver ably assisted by Verity, so Constance had managed to get Rosie to take a shower. Both she and Ethel thought this best as a way of calming whilst refreshing the bereaved.
As Rosie was standing letting the spray cascade down her so Constance went off to make more coffee. They had taken lunch a little early and both Ethel and Constance felt in need of some refreshment.
Ethel sat listening as Rosie showered. It might have been her singing or a rusty gasket leaking steam. It was hard to discern. Whatever was causing the persistent aural pollution it seemed to have a positive effect on the recently widowed female. She exited the cubicle wrapped in a bath towel that covered her from neck to toe with a hand towel spun about her head like a Bedouin tribesman, or in this case woman, whistling ‘My Old Man.’ She seemed in better spirits than she had before her ablution. Unfortunately, no one had informed her of Wilfred’s prospective sojourn to the orient.
As Rosie was drying herself, her stringy breast frequently escaping the confines of the towel, peeking out like nosy ferrets, so Constance returned carrying a tray upon which stood three mugs of steaming coffee.
Rosie, sitting with legs crossed on the bed, the effect of which made the aged dames varicose veins bulk up like pressed grapes, accepted the mug gratefully. Constance sat down beside Rosie again indicating to Ethel to move closer.
‘Rosie, there is something we need to tell you.’
Verity and Charles, having concluded their telephone conversation with Mister Werungle and established that Wilfred Hardbottle’s coffin was en route rather than at the harbour in Poole, returned to the kitchen where Ralph was engaged in conversation with Susanne Beaufont.
‘So Black Betty doesn’t mind that sort of thing? Surely, it must be exhausting?’
‘Non, in matters of the flesh, of bodily pleasure, she is, how you say, inexhaustible with no particular
likes of dislikes. Her motto is Gardez le client heureux.’
‘And how do you feel about all this Elvis?’
The Vicar shrugged his shoulders. ‘Que Sera,’ he smiled, ‘It’s really a public service, isn’t it?’
‘I guess,’ laughed the American.
Heads turned as Verity rushed in followed by Charles.
‘I have some good news,’ she said.
‘The coffin isn’t at the docks,’ replied Ralph.
‘How on earth did you know?’
‘I have a watch,’ replied Ralph tapping the face of his wrist watch, ‘the rest was simple math.
Where is the coffin now?’
‘In transit on the A350. If we are quick we should be able to catch it before it reaches the port.’
‘You want that I should get the Aston? I’ll give Ernie a call. Get him to fetch the car.’
‘Yes, do that.’
Forty five minutes later Ernie arrived. Aston Martin parked outside Apple Crust Retirement home,
Scrubbs and Codpiece snuffling around the homes grounds seeking trees or shrubs or water barrels
to pee up.
Ernie was embarrassed. ‘Sorry about being late. The Old Bill are digging up the green. The whole
place is now cordoned off. Bleeding rozzer’s everywhere. According to Cyril they’ve dug up a
Wouldn’t tell me who. You know what the geezer’s like. Took me forever to get around the road
blocks. Anything else you need my help with?’
Verity said nothing. Her face retained a natural stoicism. Her thoughts though flew fast. It was
Ralph who responded to Ernie’s offer.
‘I think we’re okay, Ernie. Me and Verity will set out in couple minutes, hopefully catch the
vehicle transporting Wilfred’s coffin. This should do the job. Might need someone here available
on their comwand just in case.’
‘Whatever,’ replied Ernie, ‘give me a bell and I’ll be there.’
Ralph stood up, extended his hand which Ernie in his.
‘Thank’s for what you’ve done,’ smiled Ralph.
Ernie turned, smiled at Verity who was standing beside Ralph then, passing Charles who had
remained with Verity after the telephone call, bade the ex-Royal Airforce pilot adieu. Well, no,
that is a misrepresentation of what Ernie had said. What he said was this – ‘Catch ya later Chaz,
give Connie my best.’ Charles was unperturbed with being called Chaz nor did he mind his
common law wife being termed Connie rather than Constance as he too called her Connie when
on their own but Verity’s face, eyes wide with horror, was appalled to hear her mother referred
to as Connie. Foreshortened forenames were forbidden in Verity’s mind. It was only the lower
classes who stooped so low. Thereby the difference between mother and daughter was
beautifully illustrated. Verity the snob, Constance the eglatarian.
As Ernie Stallworthy departed the cloistered walls of Apple Crust Retirement Home so Ethel
bounded from the bedchamber of the grieving Rose.
‘How is she?’ asked Verity.
‘Asleep. Yer mum gave her a sleeping tablet. She thought it best.’
The right reverend Elvis Linkthorpe coughed.
‘If you need any more of that sort of stuff I know a very good dealer.’
Verity gave the vicar her very best stare, the one that disabled Rhino’s mid-charge.
The kitchen the company sat in was relatively large. An assortment of lidded jars lined a shelf
on one side. It reminded Linkthorpe of old sweet shops. A welsh dresser which occupied
most of one wall was laden with plates held in a rack. Below them a jar with various
cooking utensils. Beside this a large biscuit barrel.
‘We best be going.’ Suggested Ralph to Verity, ‘the sooner we start the more certain we can be
of catching the consignment.’
Verity nodded, ‘Of course. Ready when you are.’
The couple turned to Ethel, Susanne, Charles and Elvis who was by now licking the sugar off a
‘See you later guys. We’ll be back later this evening,” said Ralph.
‘With Wilfred,’ affirmed Verity, smiling.
Ethel watched them go then turned toward Charles.
‘It don’t feel right them going off while we sit around twiddling our thumbs. I’m going ‘t follow on.
Anybody up for it?’
Susanne looked puzzled. ‘Up for it? What is this ‘it?’
Elvis laughed. ‘Ethel means is there anyone who wants to go with her.’
Susanne’s eyes boggled. ‘You mean in that char, that landau?’
Elvis laughed again this time heartily. ‘Yes, in the pig drawn cart. It’ll be fun.’
‘Fun?’ said Susanne, ‘bonne merde.’
Ethel flung the kitchen door open and walked toward the front door.
‘Any that’s coming with me best come now ‘cos I ain’t waiting.’
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.