‘Ere her limbs frigidly stiffen too rigidly,
Decently, kindly, smooth and compose them,
and her eyes close them.’
The Bridge of Sighs by Thomas Hood.
It had been one of those days. The rain was thin and feeble but enough to soak everything through and cause the gutters to drip, and the windows to be splashed and smeared. Jean had finished her housework and made a few little cakes ready for the WI meeting and now she felt muggy and confined. She peered out of the French doors into the neat little back garden.
The daffodils were ruined, their bright heads splashed with soil, the delicate stems bent or broken. She turned away and walked through to the living room, plumped up a cushion She was bored. She knew what she should be doing but hadn’t the heart for it, not just now. “Oh sod it.” She spoke aloud into the silent house. She had begun talking to herself when James died and the house had been so very quiet, now, it was just a part of who she was and she did it shamelessly and without any sort of worry. There was no-one to hear her, what did it matter?
Back in the hallway she pulled her green waxed jacket from the cupboard and fished out the walking shoes that were stuffed onto the shelf after the last ramblers meeting. As she opened the front door she called upstairs. “I’m going for a walk Slumpy.” The cat didn’t answer, but then he didn’t usually.
It wasn’t cold, though the rain was heavier now, setting in for the night probably. Jean pulled up her hood and turned right into the lane. She would go down by the canal. Already the cool, damp air was making her feel better. She took in a couple of deep lungful’s, glanced at her watch. Half past four. Just time for a brisk pass between two of the bridges, back through the park and then a glass of sherry before dinner. She smiled.
The tow path was puddly but there hadn’t been enough rain yet to turn the walkway into mud. She strode out, setting a good pace, felt her blood begin to course more energetically through her veins, her heart begin to beat just that little bit faster.
There was no-one around, not surprising really, everyone would either be still out at work, or hunched in front of computer screens in their spare bedrooms or garage extensions. She should be doing that herself, she had a deadline after all. She pushed the guilt aside, the exercise and fresh air would clear her mind, perhaps the niggly little plot glitch would resolve itself by the time she went back. She squared her shoulders and breathed yet more deeply.
She was approaching the bend, the first bridge was just beyond and then about a mile to go and she would climb the little flight of steps and turn back on the route. Her limbs were warming, joints loosening.
He shoulders felt stiff, she shrugged and flexed and swung her arms, turned her head back and forth. The rain was heavier now and the light was grey and miserable, really it would make sense to cut the walk short. She turned and looked across the rain dimpled water. The bank on the other side was sheer and covered in shrubs and weeds. There was a Moorhen hiding in the dripping reeds. She thought there was a car parked beyond the hedge but it was only the glint of light on something shiny, paintwork perhaps, a window or a trick of the watery light on wet foliage. The world was deserted and the thought of her warm home, the glass of sherry and a bit of Mozart before she started dinner was more appealing than this trudge in the wet.
She would cut the walk short, just as far as the first bridge and then the quicker route through the park.
As she turned the corner her life changed, inescapably and in many ways forever.
The body was partly submerged. It was a woman, not much more than a girl. She was dressed in trousers of some sort and a short top which had become bunched up above her breasts revealing a skimpy flowered bra. Her arms were spread wide in the water and it was obvious immediately that she was dead.
Jean wasn’t aware that she was muttering as she ran forward and knelt on the soggy ground. “Oh no, no. Oh please no, be alright. Please be alright. I’m coming, you’re alright.” In truth she understood already, deep down that there was no hope, that the poor soul was beyond help, and that really the correct thing would be to leave her where she was, floating against the bank. But still, she leaned out over the dirty, grey water and pulled at the green fabric until she could get a grip under the cold stiff shoulders and, panting and puffing, hauled the woman out onto the grass.
There was no longer any point pretending, hoping. This girl was absolutely beyond help. Jean flopped back onto her behind. She drew in a deep breath, regained control.
She pulled her mobile phone from her pocket and dialled the emergency number.
While she waited she stroked back the long dark hair. It was too late to worry about disturbing the crime scene, she knew that. As a fiction writer she was well aware of what she should have done, what she shouldn’t have touched, but as a human being she just wanted to show this poor young soul some love, some pointless comfort and a little respect.
She wiped the grey, stiff face with her handkerchief, straightened the skinny legs and folded slender hands over the girl’s flat stomach. Lines from the famous poem ran through her mind, and she tried to decently, kindly smooth and compose the frigid stiffened limbs and did indeed close the blind, staring eyes.
The sound of sirens in the distance stilled her now and she wiped at her own face with the cuff of her sweater. “You poor, poor love. I am so sorry for your pain.” Later when she played and replayed the scene in her head she wondered how she had known, what instinct had told her that there had been pain and not just misfortune.
She shook her head and then pushed to her feet to wave at the police men who had jumped from the car as it screeched to a halt on the narrow bridge.