Nights in the Gardens of Spain

Alan Bennett

Nobody normally gets killed round here; they’re mostly detached houses and you never even hear shouting. So it took me a minute to tipple to what she was saying.

I said: ‘Dead? Is it a heart attack?’

She said: ‘Oh no. Nothing like that. Just look at me, I’m in my bare feet.’

I really only know her to nod to but they have a lovely magnolia so once when she was in the garden I called out: ‘You’ve had more luck with your magnolia grandiflora than I have.’ But she just smiled and said: ‘Yes.’ And since I didn’t have another remark up my sleeve ready, that was the end of that. I do that all the time, start a conversation but can’t keep it going.

Blondish woman, a bit washed-out looking. Nice, tired sort of face. Anyway she comes out into the road and waits for me to get to their gate and says: ‘I know I don’t really know you only there’s something wrong with Mr McCorquodale.’

I was actually rushing because I’d planned on getting the five to nine and going into Sainsbury’s but anyway I went in. I said: ‘Has he been poorly?’

She said: ‘No. I’ve a feeling he’s dead. Come through ... only Mrs Horrocks ... he doesn’t have any trousers on.’

I said: ‘Well, I do a stint at the hospice twice a week, that’s not a problem.’ Only to be fair I just take the trolley round I’ve never actually been there when anybody’s been going and they think I’m not really ready to administer the consolation yet.

She had a nice linen dress on, very simple. I think she might have been drinking.

He was lying on his back on the rug, one of those fleecy hairy things, with blood and whatnot coming from somewhere behind his head. And it’s awful because the first thing I thought was, Well she’ll never get that out.

He had on these green Y-fronty things which I’d have thought were a bit young for someone who’s retired, but Henry’s the same, suddenly takes it into his head to go in for something he thinks is a bit more dashing. Little Terylene socks.

I said: ‘Should I touch him?’

She said: ‘Well, you can if you want but he is dead. I’ve been sitting here looking at him for an hour.’

I said: ‘His pants are on back to front.’

She said: ‘Oh that’s me. I thought I’d better put them on before I fetched somebody in.’

He had a little tattoo not far from his belly-button and I remember when they moved in Henry said he thought he had something to do with vending machines.

I said: ‘Did he bang his head, do you think?’

She said: ‘Oh no. I shot him. I’ve put the gun away.’ And she opens the sideboard drawer and there it is with the table-mats and playing-cards. He had a gun because he’d been in Malaya apparently.

My first thought was to ring Henry and ask what to do but I couldn’t face the fuss. I was still a bit nervous of calling 999 because I’m never sure what constitutes an emergency. Anyway I thought if she’d waited an hour already I might as well get her a cup of tea first, and as I was running the tap I called out: ‘The police haven’t already been, have they?’

She said: ‘No. Why?’

I said: ‘Nothing.’

Only there was a pair of handcuffs on the draining board.

The policeman had some difficulty writing. Big boy, nice ears, spelling all over the place.

When I asked him what he thought had happened he said: ‘Well, it’s marriage isn’t it, the stresses and strains of. Though we don’t normally expect it with oldish people, they’ve generally got it out of their system by then. And it’s a bit early in the day. People seem to like to get breakfast out of the way before the shooting starts.’

I’m just signing my statement when Henry arrives back and of course prolongs the process.

‘I don’t know that Mrs Horrocks quite means this, officer. What you said to me on the phone, young lady, was ...’

I said: ‘Henry. You weren’t there.’

The policeman winks and says: ‘Now then, we don’t want another shooting match do we?’

I mean at first Henry didn’t even know who they were.

He said: ‘Not the chow?’

I said: ‘No. That’s the Broadbents.’ Anyway he sits about for a bit, whistling under his breath, then goes upstairs and attacks his computer.

After the policeman had gone I went up and apologised and asked Henry whether he thought anything had been going on. He said: ‘Why?’

I said: ‘Well, she didn’t have anything on under that linen dress.’ Of course any suggestion of that embarrasses Henry, he’s such an innocent.

He said: ‘Rosemary. I don’t know what sort of world you think you’re living in but there’s probably some perfectly reasonable explanation. In the meantime let’s just remember that somebody has died. I’m only sorry that you had to be the one who was passing, because I’d have preferred you not to have been involved.’

I went out later to get some milk at the garage and there were still one or two reporters outside number 17, a whole branch of the magnolia broken off.

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