Even as the words left her mouth, her subconscious was screaming that it was ludicrous even to think it but, watching Flora’s reaction confirmed the outrageous. The young woman lowered her head, shaking it a little from side to side. She shuffled across the floor towards the carpet covered grave. When she began to mumble Jean had to move closer and bend to catch the words. They were childlike, ‘She hadn’t meant to. It wasn’t her fault. She was very, very sorry’.
Jean’s mouth had dried, she had to swallow hard and clear her throat before muttering some reassuring sounds which was the only way she could think of to respond.
Flora was crying quietly, and leaned down to touch the raggy carpet. She collected the dried flower stalks together and clutched them in front of her. Jean wrapped her arms around the thin shoulders. “You need to tell someone.” Flora began to pull away but then relaxed back into the embrace. Her face was wet with tears and she was diminished by sadness.
She shook her head against Jean’s shoulder. “No. Ted said, no.”
“I know love but he’s wrong. You have to let someone know. I’m sure you didn’t mean to do it, but it’s the right thing, to tell someone. You must let Doris Smart know. All this time she’s been wondering where he is. You have to let her put him to rest properly.”
There was no response and though she didn’t really want to know, didn’t know how much it would help, Jean began to wheedle the details from Flora, trying to understand how this frail, pathetic little person could possibly have killed a burly Farmer.
When Flora started to speak it was whiny, again like a child and as she listened Jean knew that no matter what she had done this woman could never be held responsible. She was in need of care and protection and it was a travesty that she was here, often alone, and in the charge of someone like Stanley Lipscow who, though he seemed to love her, had no way of caring for her properly.
“He said he was going away. He said Stanley had ruined his life, killed his chickens burned down his shop. I didn’t mean to tell him all that, but he was nagging at me, over and over asking me about it and I thought if I did he’d be quiet and then take me away. I thought he’d see that, sometimes, Stanley isn’t very nice, and so, me and Ted could go and live somewhere together. But that’s not what happened. He said he was going to the police. He told me that they’d lock Stanley up.” She glanced up, fear rounding her streaming eyes. “They can’t do that. You do see don’t you, Mrs Duncan? They can’t lock him up. If they do that they’ll take me away. That’s why we had to bury him here. That’s why I had to do what I did.”
“And, what was it that you did Flora? How did you hurt him?”
“I just cut him with the knife. I’d been chopping the lamb for the freezer. It was on the sink. He was putting his coat on. He was going away. He didn’t see. I just cut him with the knife the way Stanley does with the chickens, here.” She made a sweeping motion across her throat. “It wasn’t nice. He hurt me a bit, I had a sore face after. He was very cross at first and then there was such a mess. You aren’t supposed to do that in the kitchen, you should do it in the barn or the yard. Anyway, that’s what I did. Stanley was angry.”
There was nothing more, the old shed creaked in the silence and outside was the rustle and bleat of the country. Jean began to tremble as she imagined the scene. Poor Ted taken by surprise, bleeding out on the kitchen floor. Flora with the bloodied knife and the spread of gore across the tiles. It would still be there now, no matter how well they thought they had cleaned it was always there, in the cracks and crevices, the remains of such tragedy.
Flora stood in the circle of Jean’s arms, her hands hanging limp at her sides the dead flowers shedding petals on the earth floor.
They had to move. She had to be taken away from here, to the authorities. People had to be told what had happened, and Ted had to be returned to his family, so they could grieve.
The shock, when it came, assaulted the silence so profoundly that Jean screamed. Flora squealed and ran for the corner of the shed where she cowered, her arms thrown up in front of her face, her hands covering her head.
The door, which had been ajar, was thrown back on it hinges, the collision of wood on wood shaking the fragile construction, weakened now by Jean’s destruction of the window. The roar of Stanley Lipscow’s great voice drove Jean to the back of the shed. She would not cower beside his wife, but she was shocked and frightened by the furious figure storming into the small space.
In her preoccupation with comforting Flora, Jean had dropped the belt with the heavy metal buckle. It lay beside the door, out of reach. There was nothing near to hand with which to protect herself save a pile of small plastic plant pots. The heavier, terracotta ones lay in shards under the window.
Lipscow glanced around, his eyes hovered for a moment on his distressed wife and then came to rest on Jean’s face. She met his gaze, lifted her chin. Inside she was a mess, her stomach churned, and her heart pounded but he was a criminal, he was a bully and she would stand up to him.
He growled at her, “You should have kept your nose out of this. Who the hell do you think you are. Why didn’t you just bugger off back where you came from. This is none of your business.”
“Your wife needs help. You know that, you must. And what happened, what she did, you can’t hide that. It’s not right. You need to tell someone. You must tell the authorities.”
He stepped towards her, his fists clenched. “Authorities, bloody police, courts, all that lot. What do they know. What do they know about trying to scrape a living somewhere you’re not wanted, somewhere everyone points at you, talks about your nutter wife. What do they know about working every hour God sends and not being able to sell your stuff because somebody else has a strangle hold on it all. Bloody Smarts, Ted and Doris, been around for generations. Oh yeah, well so have we, so have the Lipscows. Alright my old man, he didn’t hold with namby pamby farm shops, tea rooms, bed and bloody breakfast. He were running a business, he were a professional farmer, stock, that was what mattered to him, good stock, market prices all of that. Proper stuff, proper farming. Alright he were hard to get on with, he didn’t join in the bloody village fetes and what not but he had a right to a living just the same. Then he came here, Ted Smart asking questions.” He pointed at the disturbed soil covered with the carpet. “Taking advantage of her, of her.” He waved a hand towards the small hump of Flora, sobbing in the corner of the shed. “They’d made plenty of money over the years. Greedy bastard. It were my turn, when my dad died but, no, he had to interfere. Threatened the suppliers, turned ‘em against me. ‘Oh no, sorry Mr Lipscow, we let you sell our goods and Hawks Farm will cease trading with us’. He delivered this in a sing song high pitched voice, spat on the ground. Anyway, he were taking advantage and she had to protect herself and that’s all there is to it. There nobody to say any different. Well, there wasn’t, not until now. Not until you.” He moved towards her, across the scruffy floor.