It was full dark by the time Bob Rather knocked on the door. Past dinner time by more than an hour but Jean hadn’t wanted to be caught eating. It seemed disrespectful somehow. She knew of course that nothing she did would make any difference to the poor dead girl, but the ordinary everydayness of chicken casserole would be an embarrassment in front of whoever came to take her statement.
“Are you alright Jean. If you like I could ask Eileen to come and sit with you for a while.”
“I’m fine Bob. I keep going over it a bit in my mind of course, but I’m alright.”
“Well I have to make my notes, and I have to offer you counselling.”
“Yes. You’ve had a trauma, you can go and talk to someone about it.” He looked abashed as he said it. He knew her well enough to be embarrassed about the offer.
“Well, I shan’t need that I don’t think.”
“No, well just so I can say I offered it, that’s another box ticked. Sorry Jean.
“Now then, you pulled her out of the water.”
“Yes, I realise that I probably shouldn’t have, but it was instinct more than anything. I didn’t want to just leave her there.”
“Did you try any sort of CPR or anything. You did the course didn’t you, at the WI when Eileen did it?”
Jean shook her head. “Yes, I did the course but – with her, the girl no, I didn’t, there was no point. It wouldn’t have made any difference.”
“You were sure of that?”
She paused before answering. He wasn’t looking at her, but rather staring down at the notebook in his hand. Jean took a deep breath. “She was dead, Bob.”
The policeman didn’t answer. She was swept with a terrible doubt and guilt that turned her stomach over. Could she have saved her, should she have done more?
Bob filled the awkward silence, “So, you didn’t hear anything before you found her, you didn’t see anyone else? There was nobody else around at all?”
“No, nothing, no-one.”
It didn’t take long to finish the rest of the statement and as she signed it, though she knew it would be too early, and anyway probably against the rules, she couldn’t help trying to pump the sergeant for a bit of information. “So, have you found out who she is?”
He shook his head. “Last I heard they were still working on that.”
“Do they know how she came to fall in?”
“Oh, come on Jean, you know as well as I do that it’s far too early for us to make any sort of decision about that. They’ll do the post mortem, have a good old look at the canal there, all of that stuff. Ha, I reckon you know as much about it as I do. You with all your research and books.”
“I know the routine but that’s not the same as doing it, is it?”
“Well, anyway it’s too early to know very much at all. Look Jean, I have to be off, everyone’s running about like blue arsed flies, ‘scuse my language. We’re short staffed as usual and there’s those robberies over in Calthorne demanding attention, and now this. Well you can imagine. But, are you sure you’re alright?”
“I’m absolutely fine Bob, truly I am.”
“All right then. But it you get a bit wobbly in a day or so just give us a ring. Some people do, once the initial reaction wears off.”
“I will, thank you. But really, I’m sure I’m going to be fine. I know you’re limited to what you can tell me but, it would be good to know when you find out who she was. I hate having to keep thinking of her as ‘The Girl’.”
“Well, we don’t know yet. No bag you see. No handbag, no phone. Of course, we’re dragging the canal. Might put a diver in if we can afford it, but that’s not up to me thank goodness. Tell you what though, if I do hear her name, I’ll give you a call. Just to set your mind at rest eh?” He tapped the side of his nose. “Just between you and me.”
“Thanks Bob. I’d really appreciate that.”
She watched as he walked down the drive and then pushed the door closed and leaned with her back against it. The casserole didn’t really tempt her and so she turned off the oven, poured a glass of red wine and climbed up to the office in the little front bedroom. Maybe a couple of hours editing would settle her mind, close down the day calmly, and give her at least a chance of sleep.
Every time she closed her eyes the image on the back of her eyelids was the canal bank. The damp undergrowth and the little moorhen hiding in the reeds. She saw, over and over, the body, dark hair floating weed on dirty water and arms spread wide. After a couple of hours Jean gave up the fight. She knew that she had to deal with this. Once before, years ago, she had been involved in a nasty traffic accident which had left one old man dead. The aftermath had plagued her for months playing and replaying in her mind until she thought she would go mad with it. She had fought her way through it and since then she had dealt with the worst of all traumas. She had lost James so very quickly to prostate cancer, and after that had thought nothing would have much effect on her again. It seemed she had been wrong and this poor dead girl just would not leave her alone.
She made a cup of fruit tea and went into the office to fire up the computer. She would write it all down. She would move it from her mind where it circled constantly and she would lay it down on the screen.
She put down the date as a heading. She made a note about the rain and then the details about the girl, her trousers and top, the long dark hair. She noted the time that she had gone for her walk. As she typed she felt the tension ease. This is what she knew, it was what she did. Hour after hour she made small black marks on virtual paper and as if by magic she wove worlds, and lives and happenings. It wasn’t always of any use and sometimes she would delete a whole day’s work in an instant. She never regretted it, she was a fierce critic of her own stuff, and if she wasn’t happy then, just as if it were a crumpled piece of paper from the old days she would put the document in the bin.
This time though she was happy with the way it worked. The description came easily. She typed with her eyes closed, redrawing the trees, the water and the dreadful floating corpse. As happened on some rare and magic occasions the thing developed, took on a life of its own and fact and fancy, truth and fiction melded so that by the time she had finished there was the start of something. She knew the trick had worked and she would be able to go back to bed and sleep.