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Dr Alistair Brown
Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Speak No Evil

The following are extracts selected from my Grandmother's journal – Michael Tarn

December 10

She is out there every morning on the shingle, with her dog. A lovely, bouncing border collie, sniffing the sea like it, too, is a live animal, dashing around like there’s no tomorrow. Every time he gets wet, he runs up to her and shakes himself in a windmill of spray. Every time she jabs her finger at the ground, shouts at him, and every time she ends up laughing. I laugh too (inwardly, of course). I wonder if she knows there’s anyone watching?

Lovely thing, like the one that belonged to our neighbours when we lived in York. Jackson, that was the name. The neighbours’, not the dog’s. Never spoke to them really. Always sent them a card at Christmas, though: the polite thing to do. I think she used to talk to the dog more than her husband. They went for a walk Sunday mornings, across the playing fields, dog in front, her holding on to him, husband five foot behind. On a lead, the pair of them, we used to joke!

December 14

I’m sure Susie must have spoken to several people to make sure I got this room in this place. Goodness knows what it costs, although as soon as I could write again I told her not to bother. She insisted though, and I was glad really. Funny that although the house is at the edge of the town, this is the only one with a sea view, if you exclude the one below in which Mrs. Watts lives but she’s almost blind anyway so I don’t suppose that matters. "A beautifully located set of apartments at the head of the town, with expansive views of the streets and the sea" - she showed me the brochure. They must be paying a bomb, for me to have got the sea view. Not that I can see the sea, as such; the drainpipe running down the building blocks the angle at the left of my window, unless I lean right over. So I can only see the harbour, really, and the beginning of the pier. But its more interesting than the sea anyway, with the fishing boats and the small crane unloading wet crates, and the tourists who waste twenty pence in the telescope so they can see the shingle on the other side (where the woman walks).

Actually, when we go out in the summer in makes me realise how lucky I am. Your perspective drops three feet when you have to sit in a wheelchair. Looking at the knees of kids. Though, it’s nice to get around, to get a feel for where I am in relation to the rest of the town, it's not like my window. Like looking through a picture.

December 16

Susie came to visit me yesterday. She missed last weekend, so she stayed longer this time. She wrote down one of her usual stock phrases, on the pad of paper, in the thick felt-tip pen, "Are they feeding you well?" I always nod. It’s easier than trying to explain that the carrots are hard as golf balls. So I nodded, and wrote down "Nice joint of beef."

You can tell he’s a good butcher. His van pulls up every Thursday afternoon – cartoon picture of a pig on the side and "Fred’s Family Butchers: The Best Joint" in large, black letters. Usually the older chap, about sixty, I guess; close to retirement at any rate. At his age, he probably likes to get out of the shop and do the rounds. Always very smart, with a clean red and white striped apron and a shirt and tie underneath. Actually, this time it was the younger lad who came, though. The son, home from university. He dresses more casual: always wears a cap on his head but, daftly, with the peak backwards.

December 20

Susie gave me a piece of paper with Michael’s exam results on it. He’s done quite well, especially, I was pleased to see, in English – he has such an active imagination. It's in the genes, as they say these days! I hope he doesn’t end up at that Green Prior place in town. The kids from there: I see them go past at half four most nights, a gaggle of them, chattering like chickens, losing their clothes and undoing buttons as they walk towards the pier or, in winter when it's dark, standing in the orange pool beneath the street light outside my window. Such smart green blazers, must be so expensive, but they swing them at their friends, drop them in the mud. Must drive their parents mad.

So I’ll be glad if Michael doesn’t end up there. Would be a bit embarrassing, too, if he ended up walking beneath my window most days with a fag in his mouth. He drops in from time to time, when Susie makes him, but I can’t say I blame him. I’m not much fun to talk at, if you can call it that. He’s not a bad kid, after all. I wouldn’t know whether to tell Susie, if I caught him.

Going to stay with them over Christmas.

January 3

Old Mrs. Watts died yesterday. The hearse came today – I caught it as it pulled in round the back, rather than parking on the street on the front. More discrete, I suppose.

She had an obituary in the local paper. Apparently, she was quite a personality up in Runthorpe. She was an English teacher, too, but was one of these who got involved in all the local groups – the WI, the church committee – and ended up fundraising so the hospital could get one of those scanners, the ones that look like giant Polo tubes. "Over one million pounds" contributed to the scheme thanks to the "energies of this charismatic local personality." Mrs. Watts, MBE. Who’d have thought it?

January 7

She was there this morning again – with a man too. Of course I couldn’t see him very well. Black high-collared coat on, tall, black hair, blue jeans. If only I had that telescope! I know what she looks like, though, because the other day I was watching as she passed by over to the pier with her dog. Lovely curly brown hair, bouncy. I wonder if she’s married.

January 8

Lovely surprise. Susie dropped in on her way back from work with some flowers. And Michael came too on his first day back, looking very smart in his uniform, although he had taken his tie off and undone his top button. "Gorgeous," I wrote, "What’s the occasion?" I wrote. I meant it to be funny, but Susie looked hurt. "Just because," she wrote.

January 11

I wondered why she wasn’t there this morning, and it was only when the Colonel – the ladies call him the Colonel, because of his moustache, a stereotype like in an Agatha Christie some of them like to read – gave up the paper after lunchtime that I found out. "Local Woman Missing." Seeing it, I realise now why the lifeboat was out all day. "Police have promised that they will continue searching for Joanne" (so that’s her name) "Lawson, in spite of treacherous weather conditions predicted for tomorrow..." They think she was swept off the pier, but they "refused to speculate."

January 13

It was a stormy night; you could see the rain shooting in diagonals under the lamp. Most of the boats had come back early. It was after the light had come on that she walked past towards the end of the pier. A minute or so later, the duffel coat and jeans man, with a cap on, followed. Quickly past. I tried to see, but the damned pipe was in the way. I won’t mention it, unless they ask.

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This page was published on August 25, 2005 | Keywords: speak no evil, short story, fiction, diary

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