Not for the faint-hearted
A tale in three parts by Keith Errington (AKA the KEITH OF MYSTERY)
Part one – a beginning and an end
Not much was known about Flora, she lived on the edges of what many in Hopeless just called ‘the town’ – but which was in essence little more than a sprawling, overgrown village. She kept herself to herself and had few visitors. A pale beauty, some suggested she must have suffered from a touch of tuberculosis in her youth – although others pointed out how unlikely this was, as tuberculosis was generally fatal – especially here on Hopeless.
Like many on the island, she was raised in the orphanage and when she came of age she went to work for Mrs Grangewurm – the laundrywoman, but she didn’t last as she started to suffer from syncope – she would faint at inopportune moments. At first, they lasted but a few seconds, and were a minor inconvenience, but over time they became more pronounced and poor Flora became embarrassed and unable to face either Mrs Grangewurm, her job or other people.
So she moved out to the seaward side of town, and somehow, she eked out a living doing washing and ironing for folks who couldn’t afford Mrs Grangewurm’s prices.
And that’s the scene set for our story.
— < ooo > —
Enter young Horace D’Arblay – a thoroughly disagreeable individual of the type usually found in Victorian penny novels tying ladies to railroad tracks for not paying their rent. Although he was brutish and gruff, he nevertheless paid attention to his appearance – his one and only redeeming feature. As if having a neat beard could really compensate for a life of nastiness, meanness and petty grudges. When his latest manservant ran away, he decided to do without and so he called on Mrs Grangewurm to have his collars starched and his trousers cleaned and pressed. There followed an extended argument over prices – which ended with Mrs Grangewurm almost pushing Horace out of her door (she was a tough one, that one), and this meant that Horace had to look elsewhere for sartorial satisfaction.
Asking around in his usual polite and diplomatic manner – that usually consisted of shouts punctuated by thumps – he eventually learnt about Flora and set off to visit her.
Horace arrived at Flora’s humble cottage early evening – the sun was thinking about leaving – but had yet to make up its mind. So there was still enough light to adequately illuminate Flora’s figure as she answered the door to several, unnecessarily loud and insistent knocks.
Even Horace – with his heart made of ironwood – was struck by her beauty. She had a perfectly proportioned face with large, limpid eyes, her skin was wonderfully smooth and almost translucent, and her small delicate hands moved gracefully as she opened the door to face the brute.
For the first time in his life, Horace was stuck for words but managed to mumble something about his trousers, and getting things stiff again. She beckoned him inside and he lay his collars and trousers on the table in the small front room.
Horace now regained his composure and spoke about the work he needed doing and the price he wanted to pay. Flora listened quietly to his demands and simply nodded. The light from the window caught her dress in such a way as to emphasise Flora’s figure, the smooth curves of her breasts lying underneath the thin cotton, and Horace felt a familiar rising of the blood. Horace had always got what he wanted – he never asked permission and never thought of others. Now, with his passion rising he wanted Flora.
He stepped towards her and grabbed her – she didn’t flinch, even though his intentions were plain enough – evident in his burning eyes. He leaned in to kiss her roughly and she fainted, going limp in his arms. Horace simply bared his teeth in an unsightly grin.
— < ooo > —
Are you imagining the hideous fate that is to befall Flora? Are you shocked, dismayed, truly horrified at the events that have come to pass in my story? But no, I am not that kind of writer. Let me continue…
— < ooo > —
Over the next few days, there were no sordid tales in the local paper, no funerals for fallen women, in fact, no stories related to Flora at all. Flora’s small band of loyal customers continued to get their needs met – no shirt went un-ironed, no clothes were left unclean. If anyone asked how Flora was (although they never did) they would have received the reply “same as ever”.
Over the next few months, tales of Flora’s beauty attracted a number of visitors whose motives were not entirely wardrobe-based. Some were young men who were too shy or too polite to actually do anything, but at least they came home smartly dressed with the most immaculate collars and clean, pressed clothes.
A second group were bolder and propositioned Flora – presenting flowers or other small tokens and asking her to walk with them, but Flora always refused in the most wonderfully polite and sensitive manner, and these considerate fellows left it at that – disappointed but satisfied that they had at least tried their luck.
Sadly, there was a third group – a few bold and brazen types who were cocky and self-sure, pushy and occasionally violent who didn’t understand the simple no and would go that one step too far, with no regard for the consequences.
— < ooo > —
In many societies, suicides would be remarked upon, they would be noticed amid much outrage and outpouring of emotions – why didn’t we do more? I wish I had just spoken to them. How could they be so inconsiderate? And the like. In civilised societies, suicides are rare – or at least rare enough to cause comment. Some sectors of society even consider them sinful and frown upon the practice perhaps hoping to stop practitioners repeating their offence. Not so in Hopeless, Maine where suicide is often seen as a valid option for escaping the island. In fact, one could truthfully say that death was pretty much the only option if you were bored with life on Hopeless, Maine. And deaths were surprisingly common as the many interesting obituaries attested to.
And so it was, that no-one really thought too much about it when Horace’s body was found washed up on the shore. He’d probably just walked into the ocean – a common occurrence amongst the lost of Hopeless, Maine; or perhaps he had jumped off of the nearby Corpulent Cliff – a site well-known for attracting those tired of what passes for life on Hopeless.
Our tale continues in Part two…