Those They Left Behind. Paul Finch

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Название Those They Left Behind
Автор произведения Paul Finch
Жанр Ужасы и Мистика
Издательство Ужасы и Мистика
Год выпуска 0
isbn 9780008173753

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to her. Elsie recoiled, though her gaze remained fixed on the faded, mournful face. The stallholder laughed.

      “I hope the hangman wasn’t as squeamish as you. Otherwise he’d never get to test his apparatus, would he?”

      Slowly, Elsie turned to look at him.

      He explained. “Old Bob here – that’s what they used to call him – Old Bob got dropped the day before each execution so they could see everything was working right.” Again, he offered it to her, but now she was peering at him with mute disbelief. “There was probably a few of them, but this is an original. I think it was Pentonville where this one came from.”

      “Oh … my God,” she whispered.

      “Fancy cuddling him?”

      “Oh God!” Elsie turned and limped hurriedly away, her bad leg suddenly giving her hell in the November chill.

      “Rare piece of British culture, missus!” he shouted after her. “I can let you have it for fifty.”

      But she didn’t look back. Instead, she stumbled into a deserted side passage, where she was violently sick.


      Elsie was sitting alone in her small, neat living room when Shirley arrived that afternoon.

      “Yoo-hoo, Mrs Dawkins … it’s me!” Shirley called, letting herself in. “Heck, it’s gone cold out. Proper frosty.”

      Elsie made no reply. She was in the armchair in front of the gas fire, her bad leg resting on a cushion. She had Tommy’s framed photograph in her hand.

      Shirley entered from the hall, taking off her gloves and her heavy Afghan coat. “I met the new priest at St Luke’s today. He’s a nice young chap, Father Ryerson …” She stopped when she saw what Elsie was doing.

      Sensing the disapproval, Elsie stiffened. “It doesn’t matter about him. I go to a different church now. St Mark’s.”

      “St Mark’s? That’s Kentish Town, isn’t it?”

      “The further away the better.”

      “Oh, Mrs Dawkins …”

      “And I’ve joined the Mothers’ Association there too.”

      “The Mothers’ Association?”

      “Yes. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

      “No, of course not. I’m glad you’re getting out. It’s just – well, St Mark’s is quite a way to travel.”

      “They only meet once a week.”

      “Well if it makes you happy.” Shirley rubbed her hands. “I’ll put the kettle on first, then I’ll start, okay?”

      Elsie sat and analysed the photograph. She was doing the same thing fifteen minutes later, when her home-help had finished dusting and moved onto the vacuuming.

      “I thought we agreed you were going to stop brooding,” Shirley said conversationally.

      Elsie shrugged.

      “It won’t do you any good,” Shirley added. “Not after so many years.”

      “It’ll be forty years exactly in two weeks’ time.”

      “Hardly the sort of anniversary you want to remember.” Shirley stopped behind the armchair. She switched the vacuum off. “Why don’t you put that old picture away, eh? And I don’t mean on a shelf. I mean right away, so you don’t keep seeing it whenever you walk in.”

      Rather to her surprise, Elsie sighed and nodded.

      “Let’s do it now?” Shirley said. “Let me do it for you? There’s no time like the present.”

      Elsie handed the photograph over. Shirley opened a drawer in the sideboard. There was nothing in there except a few yellowed newspaper cuttings. The first bore a grainy black-and-white image nearly identical to the photograph she had in her hand; it showed the face of a handsome, sad-faced young man with short, dark hair. Over the top of it, the strapline read: Camden killer to die. The second cutting had no picture. It was simply text, and was headed: Dawkins hangs today.


      St Mark’s Sodality, or Catholic Mothers’ Association as its members preferred to call it, was a social group with only slight religious overtones. It consisted mainly of older ladies of the parish, who met on Wednesday afternoons at the church hall, and exchanged gossip over tea and cakes. Most of the chatter concerned family, usually grandchildren. Elsie didn’t contribute much, but for the first time at a meeting of this sort she didn’t feel entirely isolated.

      “Do you have any grandchildren, Mrs Dawkins?” someone asked.

      “No, I haven’t been blessed that way. But I have a son.”

      “Did he never have a family of his own, then?”

      “No, but he might do. Nice girl, he’s going out with. Very pretty, blonde. Works for Age Watch as a home-help.”

      After they’d cleared up and said the rosary together, the ladies went their separate ways. Elsie took a bus back into Camden, and visited the bank, just in time to draw some money out before it closed. After that, she went straight to the Stables Market, now on tenterhooks in case the stall she was looking for wasn’t there anymore.

      “Afternoon missus,” the Asian stallholder said. He was well wrapped, wearing a donkey jacket, gloves and a woolly hat. His breath puffed in thick clouds. “You window shopping again, or can I actually do you for something?”

      “You said fifty pounds, yes?”

      He looked at her askance. “You serious?”

      She dug into her purse and took out a bundle of notes. “Fifty pounds … and that thing is exactly what you say it is?”

      “I’ve no proof. I mean, you’ll have to take my word for it.”

      She offered him the money.

      “It might be worth a bit more, now I think about it.”

      Elsie flashed him a startled look.

      “Don’t worry, only pulling your leg. Want me to put it in a bag for you?”

      It was dark when Elsie returned home. She lived at the end of what at first glance was a typical North London terrace, quite close to a Victorian railway arch. But hers was the only complete house. The rest of the row of narrow, brownstone buildings had been subdivided into upstairs and downstairs flats, several of which were to-let, which meant they were drab, dingy affairs, the tiny strips of garden at their fronts filled with litter and refuse. Elsie, who had been able to buy her property thanks to the compensation she’d received when her husband, Ted, was killed in an accident working on a building site, kept her own front garden spick and span, as she did the interior of her home. Though, as Age Watch had noted, it wasn’t possible for her to do it all by herself these days, and even Age Watch’s generous assistance didn’t extend to the allotment on the other side of the road. There were ten of these in total, and in many ways they were the reverse of the buildings facing them. Where the Dawkins house was the only smart one in the row, the Dawkins allotment was the only unkempt one; it was deeply overgrown and covered with dead leaves, its shed dilapidated. All the others were tidy and fenced off from each other; at this time of year, many had been newly planted with flowers or vegetables.

      Elsie gave her own oblong patch of scrubby vegetation a frustrated glance before going indoors. Several times now, a West Indian gent from the next street had enquired about taking if off her hands, but she’d always said ‘no’. She never used it, but was determined to keep it in memory of Tommy. Indoors, she drew the curtains and switched the gas fire on. She didn’t immediately remove her coat or mittens; the living room usually took ten minutes to warm up. As she waited, the phone rang.