The Passing of Aunt Meg
(A polite male tourist unwittingly makes the mistake of stopping to ask the village gossip for directions.)
"Tourist Information centre you say? Ain't got one o' those hereabouts… Let me see... Post Office is the place you want: Betty in there knows everybody's business. It's just over there, Sir, past Meg's place that was… Of course, you never knew Meg did you. A rum tragedy that was. Everyone misses her. It was the gas that did it, you see. The explosion ripped the cottage apart. What remained was eaten up in the fire.
"I can see her now, hobbling down the road, wicker basket held two-handed close to her midriff - you never saw her without that basket. Folk say it was to save her when she bumped into things. She was dreadfully short sighted, and hard of hearing you see.
"Almost six feet tall, nineteen stones if a pound, and shaped like a pear. She wore thick tortoise-shell spectacles with lenses like ship's brass bound portholes. In her late fifties, I think. Upright and severe of face, she could put the fear of God in most men - but even the tiny tots loved her. It doesn't seem like a month has passed…
"Despite her outward appearance, that woman had a heart of gold, Sir. She was always there to help. Jumble sale, Church fete, baby-sitting, Meg could always be relied on. Clumsy, and short sighted maybe - but always willing and reliable. With no family save a sister in Australia, Meg busied herself helping the community bless her.
"You uncomfortable Sir? You take a lean on my wall. Where was I...?
"'I shall go to Australia one day,' Meg used to say. Nobody disagreed with her. In our heart of hearts we knew it was just her dream. Aunt Meg - as we called her - could have her dream.
"It was the coming of that Thomas that started it. A bad lot him, if ever there was one he was, Sir. Fifty, if a day, and he had this strip of a girl in tow - and her, not a day over sixteen. It took him less than a day to charm Meg. Two days later and the pair moved in with her.
"Of course, we all tried to warn Meg. She would have nothing of it, just said - 'There's good in all of us, it just needs finding.' One of her favourite sayings that, and - 'Every cloud has a silver lining.' She was a trusting soul, Sir.
"It wasn't long before things started going missing, I can tell you. Young Fred Lilly's bike was the first thing. Next it was Emily Johnson's grass strimmer - left her weed-buster by the back door she had. We couldn't prove anything of course - but we all had our suspicions. You know what I mean, Sir. You pass her front garden on the way - can't miss it: Still high with weeds it is.
"Several break-ins later the pair got caught when Joe Mitchell came home unexpected like. Joe let the girl go, and hung on to Thomas until the police came - That's how we found the man was on the run from the Law.
"Made no difference to Meg. She got him a lawyer from out of town, paid his bail, and spoke up for him in court. Got him off with probation and a fine she did. She paid his fine too, and kept him on. The girl had done a runner. We never saw her again. You have time for a cuppa tea, Sir? - Perhaps not - Where was I? Oh yes:
"For a week or two, Thomas spent his time working in her garden. Then Meg took to bringing him along to church. After a while, it seemed Meg might have been right after all. Thomas fast became a model parishioner. Grudgingly, we agreed he was a changed man. We even took to passing the time of day with him, and some would stop and chat with him.
"We were still wary though. Leopards don't change their spots overnight, do they, Sir? However, in deference to Meg we gave him the benefit of the doubt. Almost accepted him as one of us - Almost.
"One day Meg took herself off to the City. 'It's Thomas's idea.' She told my neighbour. 'Said I should take out insurance. We never know when we might need it.' When I asked her about it later, seems she knew as much about it as me. Told me, 'I had difficulty making them understand what I wanted, but the Insurance man sorted it all for me.' Thomas was less forthcoming when I questioned him about it. 'Just something I thought she should have,' was all he proffered!
"It was after the explosion we guessed what he'd been up to. I reckon he got the idea when Meg had one of her turns - brought on by a touch of 'flu. 'You better take it a bit steady for a few days,' Doctor McGee told her. That wasn't in Meg's nature of course. She carried on as normal - even if she was slower getting about than usual.
"It was two weeks after Meg took the insurance out that Thomas acted. The whole thing staged to look like an accident, we reckon. He chose a day when Meg was not at her best. She had been out to all hours the night before, cleaning up after a Disco, and she'd never fully shrugged off the 'flu.
"Thomas had her stay in bed, and fed her milk laced with aspirin and brandy, we heard later. 'Give yourself a treat Meg,' - he'd told her - 'You deserve a wee drop and a lay in. It'll do that cold of yours a power of good.' She'd agreed, pleased he was concerned about her. Of course, nothing was proved … we all knew though.
"He'd closed the windows and turned on the gas cooker, leaving it unlit. Tried to make it look like Meg done it accidental like. Started making a drink perhaps? Then changed her mind and gone back to bed again half asleep, forgetting to switch the gas off. He intended to return later and find her gassed in her sleep.
"It didn't work out that way. Things seldom do, do they Sir? But the end result was the same - we lost Aunt Meg.
"Leaving the gas on, Tomas took off to town all day. The gas in the cottage must have built right up…
"It was sharp on six thirty that evening when the lot blew up. Shook the whole town and shattered windows everywhere: Cracked yon panes of mine up there. See, Sir? It took three fire engines to get it all under control. PC Philips helped carry the charred body to the ambulance. Fairly shook him up for days, I can tell you.
"As I say, that was over a month ago. Funny how things work out… must have been when Thomas returned and switched on the light - a spark at the switch you see - and boom…
"They say as one soul leaves, another arrives. T'was certainly so in that case. Young Maureen started labour early. Naturally, they called on Meg to give a hand. Phoned her just after Thomas left, they did. Meg didn't stop to finish her drink. Obliging as ever, she rushed to the rescue, left the house without a glance at anything - least of all the cooker. Couldn't have smelt the gas of course - her cold you see, Sir…?
"Maureen had a long labour, the boy only being delivered after the explosion. Maybe the bang did the trick - who knows?
"Yes. Poor Meg is sadly missed… But as she used to say, 'Every cloud has a silver lining.' She was right of course… Turned out she'd insured Thomas, with her as beneficiary, not t'other way round as he'd wanted. Had the inquest right smart they did, and brought in a verdict of Accidental Death. I never knew any insurance company pay up so smart. As for the rest - two days and it was all sorted.
"'Course Thomas couldn't have taken the money anyway - not where he must have gone… Meg must be nearing Australia by now, bless her.
"Goodness, listen to us two gossiping - and it's ten past five-o-clock - Harry will be home for tea any minute. Nice having a word with you Sir - As I say, the Post Office is over there - just past the church. Bye…
"Oh, Sir? - It shuts at five sharp - you just missed it…"
Contact Fanon: - "I'm an 84 year old guy that took up writing a couple of years ago because I got cancer and could do little else. I left school at thirteen (71 years ago), so am not exactly educated, lol."