NO DISTANCING ONESELF FROM THE FAMILIAR ODOUR OF GUILT

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It’s six am and Hebe lies quietly, willing herself back to sleep, a sleeping mask fixed firmly over her eyes. She had been woken by loud cries from the children next door and their mother’s pleas for quietude. Finally the slam of car doors and the sound of a vehicle reversing down the drive bring merciful restoration of silence. Unfortunately, it comes to late. The ruckus has woken Hebe’s aging Jack Russell terrier, Tom.

She could hear his urgent scratching at the bedroom door, signaling a need to be let out. It’s time to attend to his morning ablutions. The day has begun.

Twenty minutes later, Hebe is seated on the her verandah reading a newspaper. The table is set with a pot of green tea, strawberry conserve and toast. She is engrossed in a rather grisly account of murder most foul – a man murdered his wife, then posts the poor women’s earthly remains, piece by piece, back to her family in Croatia – Hebe ignores Tom’s insistent barking. Only when he loses patience and places a damp soft weight in her lap does she finally takes notice.

There are some moments before Hebe’s brain can compute the shocking reality of Tom’s offering. She shrieks in revulsion and stands abruptly, causing the breakfast paraphernalia to rattle violently.

Tom seek seeks refuge under the table; confused and frightened by Hebe’s reaction. The object is now on the floor. Hebe nudges it gingerly with her foot. Her worst fears are realized, as is the awfulness of their consequences.

“Tom, you’ve murdered Calypso,” cries Hebe in horrified accents. Calypso, the angora guinea pig and much loved pet of the children next door, is indeed dead. It’s once lustrous, golden coat now matted with earth, grass and saliva; a victim of an awful and violent death.

Tom backs further under the table as if to distance from the accusing hysteria.

Stifling her revulsion, Hebe quickly examines the body. Thankfully, it’s all in one piece: no limbs severed or gaping wounds.

An idea born of desperation – and a desire to spare Tom a possible death sentence – suddenly presents itself. She hurriedly makes her way to the bathroom.

Hebe fills the hand basin with warm water, lowers the still pliable body of Calypso into it. She works a few drops of shampoo into the matted coat, a lather forms and is quickly rinsed off taking with it the evidence of the horrific crime. Then, after blow-drying the now clean coat to it’s former glossy fluffiness, she sprays Chanel No. 5 – an insurance against the cloying odour of mortification.

Urgency is paramount. The family may return home at any moment. Clutching the newly marcelled Calypso under her arm, Hebe sprints across the garden and climbs the fence into her neighbour’s yard. No mean feat when you consider she’s wearing six inch Louboutin stilettos.

Calypso’s  cage sits upended, further proof of Tom’s determination to commit a dastardly deed. Hebe glances around for prying eyes. The coast clear, she quickly arranges the dead guinea pig in a manner that suggests a peaceful exit from the mortal coil instead of the brutal one she most fears.

Back on the verandah, fortified by a stiff brandy and tea, Hebe waits. It’s not long before the family returns. With shaking hand, Hebe sprays Chanel No. 5 on her handkerchief and begins to mop her perspiring brow. The suspense is dreadful. Hebe fights the urge to confess all to the family. Tom needs her to remain firm – his life may depend on it.

Almost at breaking point, Hebe suddenly hears one of the children: “Mummy come quick. It’s Calypso.” What follows is pandemonium.

There’s a cacophony of raised voices – children and parents – all fighting to be heard. Finally, silence.

Moments later Shirley, the children’s mother appears at the fence and calls for Hebe to join her.

“The most perplexing and upsetting thing has happened,” says the visibly distressed Shirley. Hebe says nothing her face a careful study of concern.

The woman continues: ” The children’s guinea pig died last night and we buried it under the camellia tree this morning. We’ve just returned from taking the children out for a drive to serve  as a distraction from the sad event, only to discover Calypso has, while we were away, been miraculously resurrected from her grave and is now restored to her cage.”

“Oh dear, how extraordinary.” says Hebe, feigning ignorance, wishing herself anywhere but there confronted by Shirley. The young mother fixes Hebe with a gimlet eye. “The other interesting thing is her body positively reeks of Chanel No. 5.”

Hebe, not liking the turn the conversation was taking, decides  it’s best to put an end to it at once: “Chanel No. 5 doesn’t reek Darling. It’s the most aristocratic of perfumes.”

With that, Hebe turns and makes her way back towards the Verandah, the Louboutin high heels making hard work of it as they gouge deep holes in the lawn.

“Oh, one other thing,” calls Shirley, determined not to be distracted by Hebe’s deliberate red – herring: “All around the cage are these deep holes as if someone had been wearing high heels.”

Hebe realizing the dreadful finger of suspicion is being leveled at her, smiles, if a rictus of bared teeth  could be considered a smile: “Darling. You are a regular Miss Marple. Let’s put it down to divine intervention shall we, and leave it that.”

Head helf high she is gone, with Tom – innocence restored – following at her heels

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