Holiday Sleuthing

Victor’s Watch 8

“Why don’t you try going back to the wardrobe and see if you can see where you went as a child?” Victor’s voice was soft in an effort to calm her down.

Juliet closed her eyes in preparation for the enveloping darkness, on opening them again, the blackness was all around her, she was sitting on the hard wooden base of the wardrobe and her legs felt numb from being still for too long. The soft ticking of the clock was a reassuring anchor in the darkness.

Juliet considered for a moment what it was she was trying to do. It seemed to be that the reason her mind was able to occupy young Juliet’s body was because young Juliet’s mind was elsewhere. That made sense and it made Victor right, she had been able to separate her mind and body from a young age. However it didn’t make any sense that she would be able to see where young Juliet’s mind was and what it was doing. To her, the more important question was what had made her forget all of this?

Before yesterdays heart failure her life, for the past two years, had been one of a settled routine of working, keeping the house tidy, keeping the garden neat, shopping and cooking. The routine had been a comfort and allowed Juliet to feel that normal life was slowly returning. It did strike her, sitting here in the dark, that if the familiar routine of the past few years gave her a feeling of normalcy, what had been her previous routine? Had it been so far removed from what she considered to be normal that she had blocked it all from her memory?

Juliet stood up, swiping a coat out of the way as she stepped out of the cupboard and looked at the clock. Five o’clock meant that she had a short time before young Juliet would be requiring her body back. Juliet walked down the hall and checked on her mother, her body was in its usual position, her mind obviously not there. Juliet realised that she had never spent much time in her mother’s room and she took the opportunity to look around. The annual family photographs were on display on her mother’s dressing table along with a vast selection of out of date beauty creams. Juliet looked at the photographs. The oldest one was of her parent’s marriage, two happy beautiful people with the promise of their whole lives ahead of them. The next photograph, of herself as a baby with both her parents, was carefully posed to show the new addition to the family. The joy on their faces shone out of the photograph. The next five were of Juliet on her own, growing normally Juliet assumed, it was difficult to judge as she was not a parent herself.

The next photograph showed Juliet holding a tiny baby wrapped in a blue blanket with her father sitting next to her looking down at them both with undisguised pride. Juliet’s face was lit with excitement at being able to hold the new arrival and she grasped the blanket bundle firmly. Juliet felt some poignancy that her mother was not in the photograph. The rest of the photographs, Juliet counted another ten in total, were of just her, barely changing over the years, but growing thinner, with the expression on her face growing more distant over time. Juliet remembered that her mother had finally stopped having the annual photograph when Juliet was 16. It was sad that Juliet distinctly remembered her mother posing for a photograph each year but clearly she chose not to buy any of the ones that included herself.

The photographs were just tiny snapshots in time. A moment recorded reminding Juliet of the dresses she wore and her mother’s lick on her unruly hair. There was no indication of the difficulties in her life, her dutiful smile for the time it took to take a photograph hid any of the pain or loneliness that went on for the rest of the day. There no answers here as to why Juliet might have chosen to forget her ability and consequently such a substantial chunk of her life. Maybe she was looking at this from the wrong perspective. Juliet walked back to the wardrobe and deposited young Juliet’s body back into its usual position in the wardrobe.

Victor had counted fifty four autumns when a group of men gathered in the ruins of the Abbey loudly discussing what they should do with it. In those fifty four years Victor had watched the town prosper. Acting as a central market for the sale of the local high quality wool bred in the fertile surrounding countryside, the town had become rich and enjoyed close links with three bustling cities within a days ride that took the local produce all over the world. The town had built a large imposing Parish Church that loomed over the Market Square, providing a central focus for the people of the town. Life was good and it had been a quiet time for Victor who spent many hours wandering the streets and experiencing the life of families from afar, enjoying watching the rhythm of their lives, births, deaths, illness and happiness. When he wasn’t needed in the town he spent a lot of time in quiet contemplation in what was left of the chantry. Many years of falling leaves and wind blown earth had covered the garish tiles and the floor was now made of compacted earth. On warm days he watched children play in the ruins, climbing on the walls, picking blackberries that grew over the fallen stones and chasing rabbits.

The group of men, standing in the middle of what used to be the Nave, argued about the building. It seemed to Victor that they had already decided what they were going to build here, the decision was whether to knock down what was here or incorporate it into a new building. They pulled their cloaks around them as a chill wind gave a taste of the winter that was to come and decided to retire to one of the taverns in the town to continue with the discussion over the local dark golden beer. Victor envied their easy friendship. He missed Geoffrey and the shared prayer services, at least a new building here would bring people and a less lonely existence.

The cold winter was difficult for the local town’s population. Victor was kept busy as the cold got too much for people who had lived to an older age. The cold weather kept disease at bay but families struggled to keep warm. The sheep farmers lost livestock in a snow storm one night that buried many heavily pregnant ewes in five foot drifts.

A bright green spring bought a new optimism and healthy lambs to the ewes that survived, the town had clearly decided that it should pool resources and, with the generosity of a local benefactor, work began to incorporate the south elevation of the Abbey into a grand frontage for the town’s new hospital. Victor was excited by the development, the area of the chantry was to be retained in the new scheme and he had the feeling that they were rebuilding his home. When the roof finally went onto the spacious new building, Victor felt that he could settle back down to a helping a population that now came to him at a time when they were most likely to need him, even if they hoped that they did not.

The day to day activity of the hospital was alien to Victor, very unlike the infirmary attended by monks and nuns that he had known. The male doctors had limited skills, often inflicting more pain that the original ailment. Victor regularly met patients as they died in agony and terror. One woman was a regular visitor to the hospital. Her capacity to care made her, in Victor’s opinion, perfectly able to administer some much needed compassion to the patients and he watched her visit each patient with kind words and small mutton pies that she helped them eat, holding it up to their mouths as they relished the tasty meat and gravy. Occasionally she would bring her sewing and sit at the end of a patient’s pallet as they slept fitfully. Victor noticed that she most often sat with the elderly gentlemen, holding their hands as they got close to the end. As they passed many asked Victor to thank the woman for the comfort she had given them in their last days.

Victor began to look forward to seeing her at the hospital, patients became calmer which improved the atmosphere in a building holding much pain.

The woman had been a regular visitor to the hospital for five years when Victor began to notice her slowing down. He knew what this meant and took to following her home to make sure she arrived safely. She lived over a mile from the hospital in a small brick house on the outskirts of the town and she hobbled home, picking apples growing on low branches which she carried in her skirt. When she got home she lit her fire and started work on small fruit pies to take back to the hospital the next day. Victor stood in the corner of her home watching her roll pastry and fill small dishes with the cooked apple and push them to the back of a small hole in the brickwork next to the fire. She sat down on the wooden chair by the fire, wiped sweat from her brow and leaned back. Her breathing became shallow and she closed her eyes.

“Hello, don’t be afraid, my name is Victor, I can help you.”

“I’m not afraid.” The woman turned and looked at her body as she stood up and walked towards Victor. “My name is Sarah.”

Victor and Sarah walked back to the hospital much more quickly than they had walked to Sarah’s house earlier in the evening. Sarah talked about her life, her husband who had been a wealthy wool merchant and had left the business to their eldest son. He had generously provided for her by bequeathing a small house and an annual income which enabled her to cook for patients in the hospital and leave her grown up family to their own lives.

Sarah wasn’t in a rush to join her husband in death and was willing to assist Victor in his work as the hospital and the town’s population grew. Having made the decision the stay, Victor wasn’t able to tell her how long she would remain in the present, he only had his own experience to draw on and he found it easier not to keep such a detailed track on time.

“Something must have happened when I was sixteen.” Victor was imperceptibly startled out of his own reverie with Juliet’s sudden return. “My memory up to that age is coming back quite strongly but nothing at all after it apart from a very broad sense of what I must have done.”

There was a moment of quiet while Juliet considered the enormity of what she was about to suggest and Victor let her think about it, wondering whether the she was ready.

“Perhaps I need to see this from my Mother’s perspective.”

Read Victor’s Watch – Chapter 9

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