“Day of the Dead”

Shang-Hai

Continued from “Three or Four in a Bed” – Part two of the Halloween Trilogy.

Compared to the large fattened frame of flash American horse-breeder Ricky Moran, Keith’s mother was extremely slight, diseased and etiolated. Nevertheless it surprised him how difficult it was to move her. When she was gathered into the sack, made crudely from her bedding, she bump bump bumped down the stairs like a cumbersome piece of furniture. Luckily she hadn’t made a fuss, just one stifled scream when he crunched her head with the stick she used to beat on the floor to demand attention. After that, the only sounds were splashing and Keith’s exhalations as he pounded up and down in these hours come day of the dead.
Once downstairs, he put his coat on and spotted the map of blood from last night, now dry and darkened as innocuous as sauce dropped from a spoon.
The cold air blasted him as he opened the back door of the little terraced house he’d shared with her for some twenty years since his father last closed the door behind him. These were the plump hours of Saturday morning but they hadn’t yet provided light, so it was safe to go and open the boot of his car with deft forward-planning. And then he was back in the house, gathering her up and hauling her over his shoulder like one of the many sacks of coal he once shifted in working days. He let the weight take him down the path and in one heavy movement the bag was in and the boot closed. Surely nobody saw him, though he didn’t much care.

He hadn’t cared, truth be told, since his father left. Keith senior was an admirable man, a strong, hardworking, gentle and handsome man whose only weakness was the curse of the strong. She never understood him, she never forgave his moods, she hadn’t the intelligence to know the man to whom she gave a child she didn’t want and a marriage she wanted less. She called him weak, feckless, useless. He was none of those things. He worked nights, tough, dirty foundry work, and brought home decent money to buy the things she wanted but were never enough. He’d be home at eight in the morning, face and hands black, have his swill and retire to bed on a belly full of porridge he made himself. While he slept away the day before his next shift, she’d be plastering her face and out of the house to pursue her sexual agenda. Both father and son knew this but never talked about it, the subject too irreversible and upsetting to confront. But these things do take their toll and ultimately Keith senior had had enough. After a blazing row and slamming doors, with a nod and a grunt that spoke volumes to his son, he took his cap from the peg in the hall and left the house. Four hours later there was a knock on the door and news that he’d been found in the remote depths of Knutton Wood.

By the time Keith hit London Road, the morning sun had burned off some of the mist, and as he approached the railway and disused coal wharf he could see the blue flashing lights.
“Morning,” said the police officer.
“Morning,” said Keith as he lowered the driver-side window, “I wasn’t speeding was I?”
“Just routine,” said the officer, “not a speed check.”
“Right.”
“Where you heading?”
“Knutton Wood,” said Keith, “Birdwatching.”
The police officer nodded, spotting the binoculars Keith always had with him on the passenger seat.
“Want to see my licence?” he asked, searching his coat pocket and flashing it towards the officer.
“Fine,” said the officer, “Bit of a twitcher eh?”
“Not a twitcher,” corrected Keith, “Twitchers go out on a tip-off. Birders like me just do it randomly like.”
“Thanks for putting me straight,” said the officer.
“I go up there most weekends,” added Keith, truthfully.
“Rather you than me on a cold day like this.”
“Has there been an accident?” Keith nodded towards the open-doored ambulance.
“Early days.”
“So am I good to go?”
“Yea you’re good. Have a nice time “birding” or whatever you call it.”

An hour later, having done what he’d come to do, Keith was on the edge of Knutton Wood, looking through his 8×30 bins down on the town beyond Moran’s suburban acres, to where the railway line cut the countryside in two. He could just about pick out the flashing lights in the distance and wondered if by now the body had been found. As a precaution he pondered returning home by the other route, where he could call at the supermarket for the provisions he needed for tomorrow’s roast dinner. After one final look back towards the spot he’d meticulously chosen to lay his mother to rest with the ghost of the man she in his eyes killed, he returned to his car.

As he pulled in to Pepper Street where at No23 he’d later have to vigorously clean, he could see their neighbour Mrs Hales knocking at the door. Seeing him pull up, she came down the path to greet him.
“Been out?” she said.
“That would seem to be the case,” Keith said, lugging his shopping bags from the back seat. “I’ve been birdwatching, called at the supermarket on the way back.”
“Yes I saw you leave early.  Only I’ve been knocking for your mother,” she said.
“Probably asleep,” he said.
“She’s alright I take it?”
“Doctor said she’s doing well considering.”
“Well if you need anything…” said Mrs Hales.
“Thanks,” he said.
Inside, he kicked the door closed behind him and headed for the kitchen to dump the shopping. Then he moved to the living room, where he thunked another dart into the board, pinning his mother’s bracelet along with the other in treble 20. Mrs Hales would be a problem, he knew that, but first things first, everything in its order, everything right, everything in its place. Tomorrow, while the beef was in the oven, he’d go to the church where Philipa Ireson liked to go and pray for those less fortunate, and give her the devastating news that her husband Derek has been using prostitutes.

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