JERUSHA’S TRICKS

JERUSHA’S TRICKS a novel by Pat Mosel
PROLOGUE

Jerusha’s Tricks

APRIL FOOLS’ DAY 2010

Prologue

DIGGING THE HOLE

‘… but you must. You know the rules,’ said Jerusha. She lounged back on the chaise longue, sloping so that her feet lightly touched the floor. Voluptuous curves outlined her figure.

By contrast, Oswald sat on the edge of a chair, openly irritated. What she was asking them to do was absurd, meaningless and he was still put out by the breakfast thing … what he thought of as a silly little drama designed to amuse only Jerusha.

‘Darling. You’re still miffed about breakfast. Dear Ossie. Don’t take it to heart. It was just a joke.’ Jerusha played with her hair, bound with an elastic band on the top of her head and looking like the blades of a helicopter. Her round face habitually wore an expression of optimism. ‘We can’t not celebrate April Fools’ Day. Where’s your sense of fun, my precious?’ She flicked her hair as if it would take off and fly. She wriggled around on the chaise longue to consolidate her position. She was wearing a purple tunic over a polo neck sweater, darker purple trousers and pink shoes.

Oswald was in his usual attire – a grey tracksuit. He would jog along the country roads at any time of day, obsessed with hanging on to his youth, which he felt was every minute passing by. He scraped back his hair over his bald patch in an effort to hide the years. ‘James always takes so long getting dressed. You’d think he’d be down by now,’ he said.

James had had breakfast in his red, silk dressing gown. They, all three inhabitants of a large country house in the Scottish Borders, Kirkfield House, had risen as usual, without alarm clocks. Jerusha had woken in her spacious bedroom filled with cushions, drapes and soft armchairs. She rolled out of the double bed in her ballooning nightgown, put on a pink, fluffy dressing gown and padded in slippers to the room next to her bedroom that was her workroom. She always did this to decide what she would sew each day and what she would wear each night. This room was a cave of shawls and prints, bolts of fabric, swatches and drapes, mirrors and chunky jewellery (her expensive jewellery was in the bank). She would walk slowly around and finger the fabric and garments.

Scattered around the room, which had one window overlooking the side garden, were three dressmaker’s dummies, one bare, the others clothed. The one that stood by the window was dressed in the upper garment of a sari in apricot threaded with silver, soft fabric draped around its stiff shoulders. Jerusha always dressed for dinner and often the dress was ethnic. That day she couldn’t decide between the sari and the red and gold Chinese tunic that was adorning the third dressmaker’s dummy. She had to put a few finishing touches to the trousers to go with the tunic. These trousers were laid out on her worktop and her Bernina machine stood elegantly in one corner of the room. By the time she had finished making a reverent perusal of this hallowed space she had decided on the Chinese outfit for her evening wear. She would finish hemming the trousers while Oswald and James were in the garden. Meanwhile, she had promised them a cooked breakfast.

The kitchen was a large room. All the rooms at Kirkfield House were spacious, and the ceilings were high. It had been built of stone, centuries ago, and had turreted corners. One of these towers constituted the breakfast area of the kitchen but today she decided they would eat their morning meal in the dining room. She clattered away, singing loudly. “If I were a carpenter and you were a lady, would you marry me anyway…?” The third time around she had married her favourite husband, Hamish Burnett, a gentleman of good breeding who had owned Kirkfield and several fields surrounding it. Just when Jerusha thought she had reached the pinnacle of happiness he died of cancer. He left the property to her. Friends, of whom she had many, suggested she move away from all the memories – the family portraits, the silver, the antique furniture, even the Aga on which she was now frying bacon and black pudding – but she refused to move. She couldn’t put into words why she would not go. She clung to Kirkfield, never wanting to forget her husband. And she filled the gaps with James and Oswald. James was Hamish’s half- brother.

Now he sauntered into the kitchen in his red and green, silk gown, a red sash tied around his slender waist. His sandy, curly hair was tousled. Oswald had woken him up as usual with a cup of tea at his bedside, their bed, and a whisper in his ear. ‘Good morning’. Even now, talking to Jerusha in the kitchen, James was still half asleep. He slept so deeply. Yet Jerusha had an infectious way of stirring people into life and living. ‘How are you this morning, my dear James?’ She projected her voice like an actress. ‘This fine April morning, the first day of a brand new month. Just look at the way the sunshine is streaming through the windows.’ She didn’t seem to expect any answers. ‘Warm, bright sunshine.’ She gestured towards the curved windows with an egg slice, her cloth apron clinging to the mound beneath her breasts.

James blinked. ‘Did you get the cheque?’ he asked in his melodic voice. Jerusha always said he had the voice of a poet. ‘I left the rent on your desk last night.’

‘Dear James. You are so responsible. There is no need, you know.’ She dropped some halved tomatoes into the frying pan where they spat and turned brown.

‘My brother’s money won’t last forever, Jerusha. Especially with the upkeep of this place.’ ‘I’ve done my sums. I can manage. Now, darling, let’s not worry about money.’ She seldom wanted to contemplate the subject. Some might say she didn’t know how much money she had. ‘I’ve got some bubbly we can open to celebrate. Be an angel and take it through to the dining room. I’ll bring the food through. You and Oswald just take a pew. Oh, and here are the glasses.’

James took the bottle and glasses across the passage and through, into the dining room where Oswald was seated, looking hungry. He was re-aligning his place setting. ‘It’s a bit early for champagne, isn’t it?’ he asked.

‘The boss says we’re to celebrate.’

‘Jerusha would celebrate the blossoming of a single daffodil if she could.’

‘That’s not such a bad thing.’

‘Don’t get me wrong. I love Jerusha as much as you do. No more than I love you, of course. It’s just that she sometimes goes over the top. You know what I mean?’

Just then, the woman in question came through from the kitchen bearing a silver platter topped by a rounded silver cover. She held this high as a waiter would, a white linen napkin folded over her free arm, almost dancing into the room. Yet, try as she might to look professional, Jerusha couldn’t act out of existence the motherly nature of her action. She was warm after the cooking, flushed with anticipation, with a slight smile on her lips. For a woman who had had no children, she could not help diverting her instincts and mothering James and Oswald. Even as the child in her was surfacing the mother was also present. She placed the platter, still covered, in the middle of the long, dark-wood table that was large enough to seat sixteen people. She had laid their places at one end. Now she stood behind her chair at the head of the table and, placing the napkin on the back of the chair, she reached out for the bottle of bubbly and popped the cork. ‘To love and laughter,’ she said as a toast.

‘To levity,’ said James, raising his glass.

‘Come on Oswald. Your toast has got to being with an “l”, ‘said Jerusha.

‘Say, to luck, Oswald,’ James chipped in.

‘I’m hungry.’ Oswald ignored the game.

‘To life and living,’ said Jerusha, sipping her champagne. ‘To the best of surprises. Now take off the cover, Oswald.’ He did this eagerly, expecting bacon, eggs, potato cakes, black pudding but all he saw was a mud-caked, brown old boot, its laces curled around its sides.

There was a pause as each of the men registered the leather offering for the first time and Jerusha scanned their faces, not caring to hide a wicked grin. Then silence reigned for seconds until James picked up his knife and fork and pretended to saw away at the old leather boot. He began laughing, an open genuine kind of ‘ha ha ha’. He was amused.

‘April fools,’ teased Jerusha and she too laughed, a high-pitched, trilling laugher which was reaching a crescendo when Oswald scraped back his chair and stood up.

‘It’s all very well for you. You’ve never been hungry. You’ve never known what it’s like to long for seconds and there aren’t any. You’ve never known what it’s like to see your brother get a bigger helping than you, to see your whole family crying out in hunger, to envy people with plenty to eat.’ He was pacing the floor. ‘You think it’s funny to serve up an old boot instead of breakfast. But it’s not a joke. It’s a manipulative trick. You, Jerusha, have a childish, misguided sense of humour. And you, James, should not encourage her.’

‘You’re taking this far too seriously, Ossie,’ said James. He got up, went around the table and put a hand on Oswald’s shoulder. ‘Come. Sip some champagne. Breakfast will be here in no time.’ He raised his brow and tilted his head in Jerusha’s direction. She took the hint; slapped the napkin onto her forearm and theatrically lifted the offending dish. She was not put out by Oswald’s outburst and merely thought, like James, that he was taking the joke too much to heart. More than that, she thought he was being melodramatic about his childhood poverty. He was a grown-man and those years of hardship were many years away. Jerusha wondered how Oswald would have survived her own childhood with her brother, Saul, playing tricks on her all the time. Saul would come up behind her and kick the backs of her knees so that her legs crumpled; he would mimic her when she was on the ‘phone; he would flick her with elastic bands. He once cut her doll’s hair and had strewn the hair over her bed sheet. Oh yes, Jerusha was used to malicious tricks, only she considered her tricks to be nice tricks, full of fun and laughter and signifying a heightened sense of humour. The boot trick had enlivened breakfast. James had laughed. What they didn’t guess was that she, Jerusha, had a more complicated, more challenging trick in store for them. She smiled at the thought. Yet, as she was about to take up the china platter from the warming tray, she looked briefly behind her to see if someone were about to launch an attack on her knees. It would have been impossible that Saul was there because he was still in South Africa, as far as she knew. She dismissed the complications of Saul and carried the food to her current brood.

‘Whose boot was it anyway?’ asked Oswald who had taken a huge helping and whose mouth was full. It was a conciliatory question. While she had been in the kitchen, Oswald had been sitting swigging champagne, which seemed to comfort him. ‘It belongs to my dear departed Hamish.’

‘Oh, husband number three,’ said Oswald, showing that he had not fully recovered his humour.

‘Oswald, you are well aware that I make no secret of having had three husbands. To each, I gave what I could and from each, I learned a great deal. In my marriage to Hamish I reached the pinnacle of my achievements as a wife. I lived up to my name, Jerusha, which means ‘the perfect wife’. Not forgetting that he was James’ half-brother.’ She turned to James. ‘He was a wonderful man, your brother. Yet, God saw fit to take him away from us.’

‘He’s been dead for five years and you still haven’t cleaned the mud off his boots,’ said Oswald.

‘He was the one who collected the mud. There are all sorts of reminders of him in this house.’

‘Then, how come you’re thinking of selling some fields?’

‘Overheads are high. In order to maintain the house in accordance with his memory, I need an injection of capital.’ Her suppressed worry about money surfaced, although she would not have admitted her confusion on this subject.

‘You see what I mean. Wasn’t I saying you can’t afford to be generous with the rent,’ said James.

‘Why don’t you go out to work, Jerusha? You could do some more teaching. That was how you started off, wasn’t it?’ asked Oswald.

‘Now, we are getting serious. I fancy doing some acting.’

‘You’re good at that,’ said James in a neutral way. ‘I’m certain you should accept my rent.’

She ignored this. Her generosity towards dear James and Oswald wouldn’t be hampered by accounts. ‘Oswald, help yourself to seconds. There is plenty… film, I think… it’s entirely possible that someone would need a forty plus, charming, dynamic woman for their script. I mean, look at the actors who get into TV. If they can do it, so can I.’

‘You’d need to get some training and find an agent,’ said James.

Oswald was too busy concentrating on eating to pursue a conversation about an acting career they all knew that Jerusha would never take up. When he had polished off the last of the breakfast, his thoughts turned logically to the washing up. ‘When is the S.S. coming?’ he asked. The S.S. was Sarah Sharp, a young tyrant who cleaned the house on a weekday basis, wearing a pink overall and a hairnet. She would arrive in her ancient, green Morris Minor and the two men would peer out of the downstairs sitting room window, whispering, ‘the S.S. is coming’, with sibilance and warning looks. There was some respite because Sarah would always start with the kitchen. Thereafter, they would dodge her vacuum cleaner from room to room until finally it was safe to say that the sitting room had been perfected. Jerusha, on the other hand, was not daunted by the military-bearing and obsessive cleanliness of Sarah. She would chat to her about her family and pets, and her grandmother who was very frail at the age of ninety plus years. Jerusha, by charm and persistence, had got behind the facade of their young home help. ‘I’ve given her the day off,’ said Jerusha. ‘Her granny is in hospital.’

‘Well, that’s a relief,’ said Oswald.

‘I’ll do the washing-up. It won’t take a tick,’ said Jerusha. ‘But first, let’s take the rest of the champers and have it in the sitting room.’

James went upstairs to get dressed. He went to the bedroom window that looked out over the vegetable garden at the side of the house, looking to the outdoors to solve the puzzle of what to wear. He never went by what Jerusha and Ossie were wearing because, unlike them, he was a cold-blooded creature who easily caught a chill. Today, he chose unfashionable green corduroys, checked shirt and a brown sweater.

Downstairs, Jerusha was trying to win over Oswald. She needed him compliant if she were to carry out her plan. She filled up his glass to the brim with champagne and poured only a little into her own glass. He seemed not to notice.

‘You’re looking very fit nowadays, my young man.’ Jerusha tried flattery as she settled into the chaise longue, holding up her long-stemmed glass as if to toast his health. She knew that Oswald struggled with two aspects of himself – the health-conscious person and the decadent boozer. She also realized that he wasn’t young any more. He had celebrated his fiftieth birthday the year before. They’d had an eventful weekend in Paris to mark the occasion. Jerusha didn’t have the self-effacing quality that would make her feel she was playing gooseberry. Generally, she was very much at ease with Oswald’s and James’ relationship. Jerusha loved the idea of love. She had had more than three intense relationships in her life so far and she was anticipating that another would come along eventually. In the meantime, while she was still mourning Hamish, these two men filled a gap. They were her friends, a reminder of partnership and a buffer for the loneliness she would never confess.

‘The treadmill’s fine for the winter,’ Oswald was saying, ‘But what I need is a bicycle. To get out in the fresh air.’

‘I’ll buy you a bicycle. In fact, I’ll buy you each a bicycle. Or, one of those tandem things so you can ride together. If you’ll do me a little favour.’

‘That’s very generous of you, Jerusha, but you have been telling us you’re not a bottomless pit.’

‘That’s just what I want you to do, dig a pit next to the vegetable garden.’

‘Is this for your potatoes, or what?’

‘That’s a secret. All I want is for you to dig a hole. I’ll do the rest.’

‘Doesn’t sound like the way I want to spend my day.’

‘Oh, but you must. You know the rules.’

He edged forward in his chair.

James came in, oblivious to what they had been saying, his green cords scraping as he walked. ‘When does Sonia get back?’ Sonia was Jerusha’s niece, one of Saul’s children, who had come across from South Africa on a working holiday six months previously. To Jerusha’s chagrin, she seemed to want to patch things up between her father and Jerusha.

‘She’ll be away for a while,’ Jerusha said vaguely and then changed the subject back to the pit and the bicycles. James poured himself the rest of the champagne and listened to Jerusha’s proposition. The men began grumbling to each other about ‘slave labour’. James was anxious because he did not want to get his clothes dirty. Oswald wasn’t worried about his tracksuit.

‘I can buy the bicycles, myself, Jerusha,’ said James.

‘Well then my friends, we have to think of the rules,’ she answered with a little of the teacher in her voice.

‘It has been so long since you’ve invoked them I can’t remember what they are,’ said James.

‘I remember them,’ said Oswald grudgingly.

‘Let’s say them together,’ prompted Jerusha.

‘Tolerance of Jerusha’s eccentricities. Respect for Jerusha’s wishes and being wise enough not to dig a hole,’ said Oswald.

When she heard this, Jerusha’s face crumpled and she burst into timely tears. This had both Oswald and James rushing to her side, James holding her hand. Her chest heaved and she hid her face with her free hand. ‘I am not so bad,’ she sobbed. These rules are meant to be good, meant for all of us.’

‘All right. We’ll dig your pit,’ James capitulated. Okay, Oswald?’

‘Okay.’

‘Tolerance is the word. Respect everyone is our motto. And it is wise to keep the peace,’ said James.

‘How big do you want it?’ asked Oswald.

‘Six foot by three foot and two feet deep,’ pleaded Jerusha.

‘ Can’t you do metric?’ asked Oswald.

‘No,’ she wailed.

‘This a deep hole, big enough for a body. Where do you want it?’ Oswald didn’t believe she would possibly want to bury a body. So he turned to practicalities.

‘I’ll show you. James, you need to change your clothes.’ She brought a tissue out from her trouser pocket and started dabbing her eyes with dainty, manicured hands.

The gardener, Luke Junior, could have dug the hole but he was off work with a sore back. That he called himself Luke Junior was misleading. He was a man reaching his seventies and his father, Luke Senior, had died many years before. His father had also worked as a gardener at Kirkfield and the two of them, in their own ways, clung to the property as if it were part of their own family. They took pride in perfectly mown lawns and trim flowerbeds and vegetables, fresh for the table. Jerusha knew that Luke Junior, with his wizened face and bulbous eyes, should retire but she also knew that retirement would kill him. Jerusha had a soft spot for him and a compassion that rivalled her eccentricities. She had lived in all sorts of strata of society during her forty-two years. She had landed up well off but she wasn’t about to forget the underdog or the disabled. She wasn’t about to drop her act as a rich widow either.

‘At least, tell us what you plan to put in the hole,’ Oswald said as they walked to the utility room at the back of the house.

‘That’s my secret,’ she said softly, almost coyly, smiling to herself.

The utility room was where Sarah did the washing. It was well equipped with an expensive washing machine and tumble dryer. A basket of clean washing stood on the worktop above the machines and an ironing board stood ready and waiting on the concrete floor. It was a well-lit room with windows lined up on one side overlooking the garden. It was a peaceful room when the machines weren’t going. On the far side, opposite the windows, were a series of shelves holding light tools and equipment and, beneath them, a closed cupboard housing more useful equipment. Jerusha picked up a metal, retractable tape measure and a ball of string. These were to mark out the measurements of the hole. Then she and Oswald went out to the garden shed to find stakes and the spades.

Outside it was sunny without being hot; the air was fresh without being dry. It had rained in the night and the soil was soft for digging. ‘Perfect conditions,’ thought Jerusha as she marched with Oswald through the vegetable garden and to the shed, her weight colluding with her motion in a surprisingly deft way. Her tears, which were genuine, had relieved the slight tension that she felt about carrying out her plan. She had emerged from them and into a positive mood. What she felt matched the spirit of the April day – bright, if chilly, and still at its centre. She heard the birds communicating their happiness. As she walked she took in the expanse of lawn and the incipient burst of colour in the scalloped flowerbeds. ‘Always look on the bright side of life,’ she sang.

‘When you are finished warbling in my ear, tell me why you’re not digging with us?’

‘Because, my darling, there are only two spades.’

‘I give up. Where’s my spade, darling?’ He emphasised the last word.

‘In here.’

They entered the shed, which had an adjacent small garage where the motorized lawn mower was kept. In the shed was an array of tools that it had taken years to collect, covered with dry smudges of soil and those at the back laced with cobwebs. Leaning against one wall were two, well-used garden spades. They took these out and Jerusha, letting Oswald carry the spades, led the way to the grassy spot between the vegetable garden and the house where she wanted the hole dug. They began measuring out the dimensions. By this time, James had joined them, looking rather pale and naked in his light tracksuit. James always looked as if he had never seen the sun and his gestures were pale, too. This was possibly why he was attracted to the rugged, muscular Oswald with his history of hard work and hardship. Oswald had even lived with a wife and family at one time, before he came out as being gay. He and James had met in a pub in Edinburgh, Oswald an unwilling participant in a group of heavy drinkers. James had come on his own. Lonely and shy, he had been festering in a flat in the West End, after two years still mourning the loss of his parents.

‘You want some company?’ Oswald had asked, leaving his group and going over to the bar.

‘That’s very nice of you,’ said James, always polite.

‘I’m a very nice guy,’ said Oswald without knowing that he was soon going to discover what a very nice guy James was.

Having measured the size of the hole-to-be, Oswald cut the turf and placed rectangles of grass and soil to one side, next to the wall of the house. He was careful not to disturb the vegetable garden that was on the other side. Jerusha and James hovered while this was being done. It was as if by concentrating they were helping progress the work in hand. When at last this had been done, Oswald threw a spade to James and the digging began.

‘How deep did you say, again?’ Oswald paused.

‘Two foot,’ said Jerusha.

‘About sixty centimetres. That’s easy.’

Having got this started, Jerusha went into the house.

James began by picking up pebbles, one by one, then superficially scooping the spade into the soil. There were no trees nearby so that roots were minimal, incidental, easy to discard. Nonetheless, James picked them up and brushed them off as if he had found treasure.

‘You’re dipping, not digging, my friend. Do it like this. Push the spade into the soil, push it in deeper with your foot and toss the earth onto your pile. We’ll see who finishes up with the larger pile.’ With that in mind, James began to dig in earnest, working muscles he hadn’t used for a while, his skin pale against the deep and rich, dark soil.

‘You know, sometimes I think Jerusha is mad.’ Oswald kept digging.

‘Eccentric, yes. Mad, no.’ James stopped to think. ‘Anyway, mad as a description of mental illness is out-dated. In America the word means angry. Someone’s mad at someone else. Strange that.’ He resumed digging.

‘Remember that time …’ said Oswald and then was distracted. ‘Ooh, that was a big stone. Look at the creepy crawlies coming out from under it.’ He had moved a stone, which was getting in the way of his pile of earth and the sun shone onto the infested place where it had been. ‘ I’ll not forget that fiasco before Christmas when she dressed us up as chickens, orange stockings and all …’

‘And she was a shepherdess in blue and pink.’

‘With a curly, blonde wig. And she took us to a party that turned out to be a staid dinner party, not a fancy dress party in that sense.’

‘It was a posh party. All the men were in dinner jackets,’ said James.

‘Would you believe it? We had to have our meal standing up with the plates on the sideboard.

‘I was so embarrassed, taking off my chicken’s head to eat so that everyone knew who we were.

‘People still joke about it,’ said Oswald.

‘And Jerusha acted as if nothing were wrong. She didn’t even have the grace to blush,’ said James.

‘Comes of having had three husbands,’ said Oswald.

‘What’s that got to do with it?’

‘Well, you know. She’s a woman of the world. All those divorces.’

‘You’re saying that divorce is the ultimate faux pas. But the last one wasn’t a divorce. My brother died, God rest his soul. And what about you? Your divorce?’

‘The thing is she wears her marriages like a badge …’

‘I love Jerusha,’ said James.

‘I love her too, as a friend, but …’ Oswald was going to continue when his spade hit a blockage and he stopped digging. It turned out to be James’ foot and the latter sprang out of the deepening hole. James didn’t swear but cried out, exaggerating the pain, and hobbled over to the deck chairs that Jerusha had put out for them.

‘Hey, you can’t leave me in this hole,’ Oswald objected.

‘Come out and take a break,’ called James, patting the cushion on one of the chairs.

As if by instinct, Jerusha arrived with some freshly baked scones and tea. ‘Jerusha, you are a darling,’ said James guiltily, although she couldn’t have heard what they’d been saying. So, the three of them sat with their backs to the hole which was still just a dent in the ground and Oswald’s pile of earth was bigger than James’ pile. They ate scones and drank tea and also thirstily drank glasses of water. Jerusha had provided a large glass jug of iced water.

The grass sloped gently down to the flowerbeds and beyond that a wooden fence. They could see over the hedge to the fields beyond and, in the distance, the river. The nearest field, which could be reached through a gate in the corner of the garden, held the secret to the name of the house, Kirkfield. At one end, among gravestones, stood a disused, ageing church. It could also be reached by a small road running along the other side of the house behind a mature beech hedge. The church was unlocked and Jerusha liked to go there to retreat and pray. She believed in God and believed that, through the cross, her sins were forgiven but she didn’t trust other churchgoers to think the same way about her. She was far too full-blown a character to fit into a church community, and she knew it. However, this church gave her respite from her own strength of character.

On the other side of the field with the church in it, between the house and the village, were the other four fields that Jerusha now owned, as part of her inheritance from her late husband. They had lain fallow for many years, certainly for the nearly eleven years she had been resident. Now there was a controversy surrounding the land. Len Robson, a successful property developer, had offered her a large sum of money for these fields. That was in August the year before. Somehow the village had got wind of this impending deal and had protested through the press and the local council. It was highly charged opposition – the villagers did not want twenty or more new houses appearing on their doorstep. They were making a loud noise, even before the deal had been clinched, and before planning permission had been applied for. They had sent a community councillor to liase with Jerusha.

‘What’s happening about the fields, Jerusha?’ asked James.

‘I don’t know yet. I’m seeing Len and the community councillor this week.’

‘You’re keeping the villagers hanging on,’ said Oswald.

‘It’s a serious decision. A serious subject and I don’t want to think about it today.’ Jerusha ate another scone, lavishly praising their digging and privately wondering how long it would take them to dig to a depth of two foot. What she really thought was that Oswald was doing all right but James was lagging behind. She would give them homemade burgers and chips for lunch rather than the smoked salmon sandwiches she had thought of at first. After all, they were manual labourers for the day and she needed to stoke their energy. Some beers would help keep them sweet and keep the impending secret.

What started off as one or two beers turned out to be more, until they were wildly inebriated. Jerusha went away, refusing to serve any more after they started flinging dirt at each other and rolling about, laughing. They were smudged with dirt. Earth was in their hair and in their tracksuit bottoms. They fell about and grovelled until Oswald got up and looked at their handiwork. ‘Some hole, this,’ he spluttered.

‘Wholesome,’ replied James, endeavouring to keep his balance.

‘Holy smoke. Holy hole,’ said Oswald.

‘Sum of the whole,’ contributed James, looking proud of himself.

‘Wanker. Holed in.’

‘Holed out. In. Out. Turn around. Do the hokey cokey. That’s what it’s about.’

They were dancing. Then they seemed to lose enthusiasm and Oswald said, ‘Let’s get this damned thing finished.’

Jerusha was in her sewing room and didn’t see them continue to fool around. She wanted to get the Chinese trousers finished for that evening. But she came down when she heard a clod of earth hit the window of her workroom.

‘We’re finished,’ announced Oswald.

‘In more ways than one,’ added James. ‘Just look at you!’ she laughed. ‘You should see yourselves in a mirror. You look like a couple of kids who have been making mud pies.’

‘We have,’ said Oswald.

‘But you’re fifty, Oswald and you are forty eight, James.’

‘Two geriatric gardeners,’ said James. ‘At least we haven’t reached the great age of Luke Junior.’

‘We’ve dug your pit. Now tell us what you’re going to put in it.’ Oswald challenged her.

‘I’ll bury you in it if you don’t go and have a shower. You’re more dirt than man at the moment.’

‘I’m beat,’ said James. ‘Jerusha can do what she likes. Bury a body, for all I care. I’m going to have a bath.’

‘The wholesome hole is dug. Now let’s away, partner.’ Oswald struggled to keep his balance.

‘Two foot you said and two foot it is. Mind the snails when you fill it in. They’re slimy creatures but they deserve to live,’ said James.

‘And you two mind what you say about this. I don’t want anyone hearing about it. Loyalty is the fourth rule of this house.’

‘My guess is you’re burying treasure. Don’t you trust the banks any more, Jerusha? I don’t blame you,’ said Oswald’

‘I’m not saying. Now, go on and clean up for dinner.’

We could just fill it in again,’ said Oswald.’

‘You won’t,’ said Jerusha.

‘What makes you so sure.’

‘Because you’ve had enough manual labour to last a lifetime and because I’m asking you not to. Loyalty again.’

‘Come on James, we’ll leave the lady to do what she must. Let’s away.’

‘Take your shoes off at the back door,’ called Jerusha. Hands on hips, she surveyed their handiwork, thinking it was a bit untidy but, nonetheless, what she wanted. She looked up at their bedroom window. They were not there yet. They would be preoccupied with the chocolate cake and fruit juice she had left in their room. She was excited that her plan was more than half done. She bent and picked out a leaf that had settled in Oswald’s pile of earth. Then, after a suitable pause, she went indoors. Creeping up the stairs she went into her sewing room and across to the naked dressmaker’s dummy. She picked this up, one arm around the torso and one holding on to the stand. She placed it gently sideways on the worktable. Then she selected a long piece of yellow, patterned fabric. Unwinding this, she proceeded to wrap it around the dummy, fixing it with safety pins. When the dummy was duly swaddled with swathes of fabric, she lifted it and, hugging it to her, went quietly downstairs. At the back door she rested it against the wall while she exchanged pink shoes for gardening boots.

Jerusha went outside. It was latish but still light. The dummy was not a heavy load but awkward, stiff as though rigor mortis had set in. She now took it to its resting place in the pit, to its grave. She anticipated, with glee, that Oswald and James would be watching her through their bedroom window and she imagined what they would be saying. She was not far wrong.

‘Cor. She really is burying a body,’ said Oswald.

‘I can’t see because you’re misting up the window, breathing on it like that,’ said James.

Oswald moved back slightly. Through the glass, and given their various eyesight, the two men could see only the outline of what Jerusha was doing. The dummy really did look like a corpse wrapped in yellow cloth.

‘Maybe it’s Sonia. She did disappear in a hurry. We ought to call the police,’ said James.

‘James, you know quite well that we’re drunk. We can’t see straight. We’re making things up. It’s treasure that she’s burying. The police would just laugh at us.’

‘Now she’s shovelling in the soil. Stop her, Oswald.’

‘I can’t go outside like this, not in my underwear. No, what we saw was a package, covered with cloth. Maybe it was a dog?’

‘Jerusha hasn’t got a dog,’ said James.

‘Maybe it was a cat then? A neighbour’s cat.’

‘A dead cat. That’s it.’ James seemed satisfied.

‘Really?’ Oswald was not convinced.

‘She’s always helping out the neighbours.’

‘We love Jerusha.’ These three words surfaced through the drink. ‘I hope she’s not going to be too late with dinner,’ Oswald added.

‘My muscles are aching.’

‘What muscles?’ But James had flopped on the bed with his eyes closed. Oswald went over to him and stroked his hair, running a hand with dirt-caked fingernails over the outlines of his face. ‘We’ll sleep well tonight.’

It took Jerusha some time to shovel in the soil and when she had finished she jumped on it, to flatten it. Then she carefully put back the turf so that there were criss-cross lines where it had been cut. It would grow over so that one day the grass would appear undisturbed and her trick might be everlasting. She had no doubt that Oswald and James would think she had been burying Sonia, no doubt that they were too loyal or too drunk to go to the police. She was triumphant. She stood on the wounded turf, looking up at their window. She raised her arms as if acknowledging her audience and she projected her voice, as all good actors should. She shouted to the winds and high windowpane. ‘April Fools,’ she cried and then doubled up with laughter, her body quivering and shaking with mirth.

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