This is the weekend when I get to meet lots of writers and show off my own books – it’s the Leominster Festival. First there’s the Awards Ceremony for our writing competition – mainly primary schoolchildren, with Deborah Moggach giving out the certificates. That is followed by Deborah’s talk (perhaps I’ll have more on that next week as I’m writing this before it happens). On Monday we have the Bookfair with about fifteen local authors (and publishers) displaying their books and hoping for sales. That will be opened by local author of historical fiction, Anne O’Brien. She is an example to us all having started writing only after she retired ten years ago and now has a publisher eager for her work and a burgeoning reputation.
I’ll be offering all my books that are in paperback – the Jasmine Frame novels, Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design as well as the three volumes of Evil Above the Stars. Let’s hope there are some people who actually want to buy books.
By the way, if any readers live nearby, there are still vacancies for the writing workshops run by Simon Whaley and Fay Wentworth on Monday starting at 11a.m. in Grange Court. They are on the theme of writing about nature and landscapes in fiction and non-fiction.
Despite the festival taking up some time this week I have for you quite a long episode of Aberration, the latest Jasmine Frame novella length prequel. Here James/Jasmine is questioning Andrea/Andy’s mother following the discovery of the body.
Aberration: Part 5
Mrs Pickford turned away and sobbed. James noticed a bruise on her cheek and realised that he’d been a bit abrupt with his question.
’I’m sorry, Mrs Pickford. I didn’t mean to upset you.’
Andrea’s mother sniffed and turned back to face him. ‘It’s not your fault. Every time I think of my dear girl, I cry. I want her to come back through that door, but the Police came and took us to see her body. I know I’m not going to see her again.’ She cried again. James felt awkward. Should he put an arm around the grieving woman to comfort her? He decided against it. Perhaps if he could get her to talk.
‘You rang the Police because Andrea didn’t come home.’
Mrs Pickford nodded. ‘We were usually in bed and asleep when she got home from work. You know how late it is when the pub closes?’
James nodded. ‘Yes, I do the late shift. It’s nearly one when I get home.’
‘Sometimes I hear her come in and go to her room but usually its morning when I see her. Tony leaves early – he’s on the bins. I do afternoons at the Spar down the road so I’m always around in the morning when Andrea gets up.’
‘When did you realise that she wasn’t home?’
‘It was nearly midday and I was about to go to the shop. I was surprised that she hadn’t appeared so I went upstairs and knocked on her door. I wondered if she wasn’t well but she didn’t answer. I opened the door and she wasn’t there.’
‘You didn’t think that she might have stayed overnight with friends?’
‘Andrea never did that and she always gave me a call if she was out for a while. She liked to check I was okay.’
Mrs Pickford waved her hands and looked flustered. ‘It doesn’t matter. I just know Andrea wouldn’t have stayed out without telling me.’
‘So, did you ring the Police then?’
‘No. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t think what Andrea was doing. Look, I was always worried about her, her father was too, really. I know she had problems. . .’
‘Well, you know her. She’s always been a tomboy and never had a boyfriend, do you know what I mean?’
James knew what she meant but also realised that she didn’t have much idea about her own daughter’s, or son’s, inner turmoil.’
‘What about girl friends?’ James made sure he separated the “girl” from the “friends“ to spare Mrs Pickford’s embarrassment.
‘I haven’t seen Andrea with friends since she left school, but, um, I thought that she might be, you know, a le. . . Her father thought so too.’
‘You didn’t talk about it, either of you, with her?’
The woman’s eyes opened wide. ‘Talk? Tony? With Andrea? Tony’s not a talker.’
‘Andrea didn’t speak to you.’
She shook her head. ‘I suppose she got that from her father too.’
James took a deep breath. ‘So when did you call the Police?’
‘I waited till Tony, got home. I should have been in the shop but I rang in and said I wasn’t well. Mr Patel wasn’t very happy. But by the time Tony got in I was frantic. I couldn’t understand why Andrea hadn’t been in touch.’
‘She had a mobile.’
‘Yes. I tried her number but there was nothing.’
‘So, your husband, Tony, got home . . .’
‘He was angry. He gets like that when he’s tired after a hard day on the lorry. He said a few things about my girl, which I know he didn’t mean, really. Then he said if I was so worried I’d better call the Police; so I did.’
James waited for her to continue.
‘I suppose I expected them to say they couldn’t do anything but the woman took my description of Andrea. It was less than an hour later when a policeman rang back and asked me some questions. Then they came round and took us both to see. . . to see her body.’ The tears welled up again and her voice croaked.
‘So you were sure it was Andrea?’
‘Oh yes. Tony was too. She looked as if she was asleep. Well, not really, but her face was like when she was in bed.’
‘Did the Police tell you what had happened?’
‘They said they’d got her out of the Kennet. What was she doing there? Oh, and they showed us some clothes.’
James’ heart beat faster. ‘Clothes she’d been wearing?’
‘That’s what they said, although I didn’t recognise them.’
‘What were they?’
‘A mini skirt, a lace bra and a pink vest.’
‘You hadn’t seen Andrea wear things like that?’
‘Andrea hasn’t worn a skirt since she was in junior school. In high school the girls were allowed to wear trousers, so she did, every day. You didn’t see her dressed in stuff like that did you?’
She looked imploringly at James as if hoping to be proved wrong.
James shook his head.
Mrs Pickford spoke again. ‘You said you’d worked with her for a short while but you seem very interested in her. Did she talk to you at the pub?’
‘Not really.’ James was happy to confirm their lack of communication at work. ‘There wasn’t time most nights and you’re right I haven’t known Andrea long but doing the same job, the late nights, I suppose I felt a bit of a bond with her.’
Andrea’s Mum produced a thin smile. ‘Well, thank you. I don’t suppose there will be many others who are sorry she’s gone.’ She sniffed.
James wondered if he could ask a favour that might be seen as an intrusion. ‘Do you think I could have a look in her bedroom? Just to have something to remember her.’
Mrs Pickford appeared slightly surprised but then nodded. ‘I don’t know what you might see that reminds you of her, but come upstairs.’ She went to the stairs which rose steeply against the side of the room. James followed her up to the small landing which had just two doors. Mrs Pickford went to the first door on the left, slowly turned the doorknob and opened the door. She stood by it and nodded to James to enter. He stepped passed her into the front bedroom of the house.
‘There. There’s not much which shows it’s a girl’s room is there?’ Andrea’s mother said.
James looked around and nodded. She was right on that point. There was a single bed against the front wall of the house under the window with a bright orange bed spread. A small wardrobe was against the far wall with a chest of drawers next to it. Closer, on the right, was a desk that doubled as a dressing table. James stepped into the middle of the room and turned around. There was small set of bookshelves beside the bed with a mirror above it. Above the bed was a poster of the Reading football team, last season’s squad. On the other available wall space were posters of heavy metal bands that James didn’t recognise. He crouched to look on the shelves. There were CDs of the bands on the walls along with fantasy novels and superhero comics. There was nothing anywhere to suggest that this room belonged to a woman in her early twenties, not a feminine woman. There were no cosmetics on the desk-cum-dressing table, just a deodorant and hair-brush alongside a CD player.
James itched to fling open the wardrobe and search through the drawers but knew that would be too intrusive while Andrea’s mother was looking on. She saw him glance at the band posters.
‘I don’t know why she liked those groups, but at least she wore ear phones most of the time. Tony hated the noise they make.’
‘Her father got angry with her?’
Mrs Pickford pursed her lips and nodded almost imperceptibly. ‘He never hit her though.’ James noted the accidental emphasis. ‘He just wanted his little girl back.’
‘The girl with long dark hair that we dressed in pretty dresses and who loved her teddies.’
‘. . .and dolls?’ James added.
‘No, she never played with dolls. She ignored the Barbie we gave her one Christmas. She gave up wearing skirts and dresses when she could choose her clothes and then she cut her hair short. That made Tony really annoyed.’
‘What did he do?’
‘He blamed me for making Andrea the way she was.’ Mrs Pickford sucked in a breath as if realising that she was on the point of revealing more than she should.
James explained, ‘I don’t think it was anything you did that made Andrea the way she was. She just didn’t think or feel girly.’
‘No,’ her mother sighed.
James wanted to tell her about the conversations that Jasmine and Andy had had over coffee in the last few weeks, but he didn’t. He felt that while she seemed to accept that Andrea may be lesbian she wasn’t ready for the full truth of her gender identity. Perhaps she would never learn the truth. He glanced around the room again, fixing it in his mind.
‘Thank you for showing me this, Mrs Pickford. Did the Police tell you anything else, such as how Andrea got into the river or how she died?’
‘Didn’t she drown?’ The woman looked surprised as if she hadn’t considered any other possibility.
‘I suppose so. I don’t know,’ James said.
She shook her head. ‘They said they couldn’t tell us anything else. They asked a few questions such as when we’d last seen her and what she was wearing and what her mood was. I don’t think we helped them very much. She had just seemed normal. The detective said they were still investigating and would let us know what they found out.’
‘So the police don’t know much. There’ll be a post mortem to prove that she drowned.’
Mrs Pickford raised a hand to her mouth, ‘Oh, will they have to cut her?’
‘I’m afraid so. It’s normal in cases of unexpected death. The coroner will need to know.’
‘You mean there will be an inquest?’
James nodded. Unless it turns out to be a murder case, he thought, and if they find a killer it will go to court; but he didn’t tell Mrs Pickford that.
‘I’d better go. I’m sorry I’ve taken so much of your time.’
Mrs Pickford tried to smile. ‘It’s no trouble. It’s lovely to meet someone who cared for Andrea even if you haven’t known her long. Will you come to the funeral? I don’t know when it will be yet.’
‘Yes, of course. You’d better have my phone number to let me know.’
They returned downstairs and Mrs Pickford wrote down James’ mobile number on a scrap of paper. Then they said farewells and James stepped out onto the street. He took a deep breath and strode away down Albert Street. His head was full of thoughts. What was Andrea doing wearing those clothes when she died? Where did they come from? James was quite sure that if he had searched Andrea’s bedroom he would not have found any similar items. What were the Police making of her death? There was a lot more he wanted to know.