A busy week, largely due to preparations for the Leominster Festival. If any of you out there are close enough then come to hear best selling author, Jasper Fforde talk about his humorous, satirical, surreal novels (The Nursery Crime series, The Thursday Next series and the Last Dragonslayer series.) – 7 p.m. Friday 5th June at Grange Court (tickets £5). Then on the next day (Saturday 6th) we have a free Bookfair, also at Grange Court – 20 authors in search of readers, plus workshops for writers (there is a fee for the workshops).
We did manage one day in Hay. Starting at the Literary Festival, we had a good browse in the bookshop and attended two events. The first was very amusing. James Ward spoke about his book “Adventures in Stationery”. It was for anyone who loves a new pen or eagerly anticipated the start of a school year by getting their pencil case filled with new pencils, rubbers, etc. Actually it was a very good history of important(?) inventions – the paperclip, the drawing pin, the felt/fibre tip pen, the highlighter pen. I hadn’t realised how much I was in the vanguard of felt tip pen users when in around 1965 I, and my mates, used them instead of old-fashioned crayons for our Geography maps and illustrations – they’d only been invented a couple of years earlier. Probably the last time I was in the vanguard for anything. James had excellent comic timing and really made the subject matter gripping (that’s not a pun on paperclips).
Following an interesting discussion of NIMBYism in renewable energy provision we moved to the How the Light Gets In festival – the rival and smaller but simultaneous philosophy festival. There we attended a discussion on “the sublime”. Interesting, if as usual with philosophy, with little in the way of outcome or agreement other than that the sublime is, well, “Wow!”
Not much time to work on Jasmine this week but here is a slightly shorter than usual episode of Soft Focus, the (5th) prequel to Painted Ladies.
Soft Focus – Part 12
DC Thomson led Jasmine and Angela out of the interview room, along the corridor, up a stairs, down another, brighter corridor and into another room. This was a more cheerful environment, with carpet and chairs around a large segmented table. There were windows looking out over the traffic clogged roads of the city centre. The detective signalled to Jasmine and Angela to sit down. These seats did at least move.
‘Don’t go anywhere, girls. I’ll be back in two ticks.’ Thomson left them alone.
‘Why has he brought us here?’ Angela said. Jasmine looked around the room. It seemed to be a meeting room for police officers with a white board on the wall, noticeboards with typed and scribbled notes and a large TV on a mobile stand.
‘I don’t know,’ Jasmine replied.
It was indeed, just a few moments before the DC returned with a videotape in his hand. He went straight to the TV stand, pressed a couple of buttons and inserted the tape into the player beneath the TV. The TV screen lit up and Jasmine saw flickering dark pictures. She began to realise what Thomson intended.
‘Is this a tape of CCTV recordings?’ She asked.
‘Yes,’ Thomson replied, concentrating on the screen and holding down a button on the player. ‘I think what this tape shows will provide an answer your suspicions. There.’ The DC lifted his finger and stood up straight looking at the TV screen. He stepped back allowing Jasmine and Angela an unimpeded view.
The picture was fuzzy dark grey but a line of street lights provided some sort of perspective to the picture. Peering at the screen Jasmine was able to make out lines that represented a pavement. A blurry vehicle appeared at the top of the screen and quickly moved across it and out of view at the bottom.
‘Is that the suspension bridge?’ Jasmine asked.
‘Yes,’ DC Thomson said. He leaned forward to read the small numbers at the top of the screen. ‘At two-forty this morning.’
‘But Silla didn’t fall from the middle of the bridge,’ Jasmine said.
‘This isn’t the main span, this is showing the approach from the east.’
‘We didn’t think there were cameras there,’ Angela said.
‘There are. High up on the towers. They’re mainly used to check on traffic congestion on the approach road, but they also help to pick up potential suicides. Most head onto the centre span but some people, knowing that that stretch is watched all the time, jump from here. Watch.’
No movement showed on the screen for another minute or so and then a figure appeared at the top left walking along the pavement. Is that Silla, Jasmine asked herself. The image quality was poor, the lighting bad, the figure small and distant. It could have been anyone. The figure approached the tower until it reached the bottom corner of the picture. Then it stopped, leaned against the rail and seemed to be looking over into the gorge.
Jasmine felt her heart beating fast with anticipation. Was it really Silla? What was she going to do? Where were her assailants?
The figure reached up and grasped the safety fence above the old cast iron rail. She, presuming it was Silla, clambered up. She stood on the rail for a few moments, then cocked her leg over the fence. Her other leg followed and there, for a moment, she hung on the outside of the bridge. Her face shone white as she faced the lights and the camera. She seemed to look up, then pulled her hands away and fell backwards. She disappeared from view.
Jasmine leapt from her seat her hands raised as if to catch Silla. ‘No!’ She fell back on to her seat again. ‘That can’t have been Silla,’ she said knowing immediately that it was a stupid thing to say.
‘We only had one other jumper last night,’ DC Thomson said softly. ‘The cameras only show this one person falling from the bridge.’
Jasmine shook her head. ‘But, but. She can’t have just jumped. Where were the people who pushed her?’
Angela moved closer to Jasmine, enfolded her in her arms and leaned down to put her head close to Jasmine’s.
‘It must be Silla, Jasmine. Don’t you see? She wasn’t murdered. She killed herself.’
Tears filled Jasmine’s eyes. There was a lump in her chest. ‘Why?’ She appealed.
DC Thomson sat in a chair next to Jasmine. ‘I understand why you thought, hoped, that someone had killed Silla. It’s difficult to put yourself in the position of someone who is so pissed off with life that they’ll jump into space knowing that that is their end. But while you’ve been talking to the people she didn’t get on with I’ve been meeting her friends.’
Jasmine looked up into the detective’s face. ‘Friends? I didn’t think she had friends.’
‘Do you mean the girls she shared with?’ Angela asked.
Thomson shook his head. ‘No, not them. It’s clear that they didn’t get on with her either. No I’m talking about her transsexual friends, or rather friend, singular.’
‘Who was that?’ Angela said.
‘I haven’t met any others at uni., yet,’ Jasmine said, mystified. ‘There must be others. I suppose they keep their head down, unlike Silla. They don’t want their original identities discovered.’
Thomson shook his head. ‘This person isn’t at the university. She lives in the city though. She’s older, been through it all. A sort of mentor more than a friend.’
‘How did you trace her?’ Jasmine asked.
‘What’s her name?’ Angela inquired.
‘She’s called Patricia. Her number was on Silla’s mobile phone. We found it in her room. She hadn’t taken it with her when she went off to jump.’
‘How did you know that Patricia was her, um, mentor?’ Jasmine said.
‘The number of calls she had logged was a clue. Silla spoke to Patricia a few times every day. I called her and then met her. She told me Silla’s story.’
‘Story?’ Angela said.
‘Her life,’ Thomson continued, ‘her history of treatment for, what is it called, uh, Gender Dysphoria? The reasons why she killed herself.’
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available as an e-book and paperback from all booksellers including Amazon