It was intended to be a holiday home. Yet, as the years went by, it became, by default, my main abode, while my flat in the city grew its own ghosts without me.
It seems laughable now, but, when I bought ‘Mysterious Place’ from a distant Aunt who was emigrating further away in the world that I could imagine any place being from England, I did not question that name she had given the house. Mysterious Place, in hindsight, probably seemed appropriate, situated as it was in the corner of some common ground, ground in itself quite a few miles from the nearest village, with woodland and hedges between it and the shops. Having said that, there was another house situated within that common ground, on the other side of it, in fact, next to the access gate and just perceptible from my window. Common ground may be a misnomer – I call it common ground because there were disputes regarding ownership of it outside of the land occupied by the two houses themselves, or so I heard.
Whether such an interface of disputed freeholds could subsist legally, I was determined one day to ask my solicitor friend when I saw him next. But when I did see him, the whole matter had gone out of my mind, because life is often like that, especially when in your sixties as I am.
There was a single woman living in the house opposite, I soon gathered, when taking my first holiday break under the roof of Mysterious Place. We waved to each other but it did not seem right not to have a few words face to face. She was quite attractive, dressed to kill, in fact, and she advised me about various delivery and shopping logistics for our two houses. I offered her help when I was staying in my house as any man would.
Looking back on it, she must have been off duty on that first occasion because, next time I occupied ‘Mysterious Place’, I saw her in a police uniform, being collected by a colleague in a police car. Over the next few years, I saw her both in her off-duty ‘dressed to kill’ mode and in her day-job mode as a very smart policewoman, with all the paraphernalia that police personnel seem to carry with them these days. I was indeed astonished by the contrast between the two modes. As a policewoman, official walky-talky phone jabbering in her ear, truncheon in its neat belt-pack. And as a woman-about-town with a posh handbag and high-heeled shoes. In the latter mode, she was often collected, by someone I guessed to be her boy friend in a small white van, but in this day and age one wonders about the true relationship and why they didn’t live together ... or whatever.
I did not pry ... except recently when, after a long period of staying in ‘Mysterious Place’, during which time I had even forgotten that I should be returning to my city flat to cope with my normal life, we had a rare conversation. She was picking some sort of wayside fruit from the bushes near my house as I happened to be inspecting a fence after the previous night’s storm.
She seemed neither the woman picked up in the boy friend’s van or the police constable collected by the smarter official vehicle with the blue light on top. She now looked more matronly, with an apron and hair untidily loose. More kindly, in fact. With a wicker basket instead of her posh handbag. Maybe there had been more years than I realised since I first saw her. And we all change gradually.
“Not at work?” I asked.
“No, it’s a long story – but I’ve left the police force.”
“Oh dear... Or should I be congratulating you?” I laughed nervously.
She spoke about a situation which I couldn’t really follow. Something about losing her handbag – or about losing something she had lost from her handbag - and then, strangely enough, something she had somehow lost in her handbag – I’m still not sure which of these or if any of these.
“Well, it’ll be good to have a break from work. Have you any plans?”
She nodded – presumably acknowledging the first part of what I had said but ignoring the question.
She delved, plucking, into a deeper part of the hedgerow.
Had I told you that the common ground between our two houses was mainly grass? It was the sort of scrubby grass that never seemed to need mowing. I often wondered if it was done when I was back in the city at my flat.
Had I told you, too, that I fancied the young lady? Not so young now, though. But it seemed off-putting, knowing about her being a policewoman. I’m sure you will know what I mean by that. Also knowing about the man in the van. I had never asked her about him. Until now...
“Has your friend been able to help?” I asked towards the back of the woman as she leaned into the hedge.
It was then I saw she was swishing a police truncheon at the undergrowth, beating a path further into it. She must have had it in her basket.
She called back to me without turning: “I’m looking for what I lost.”
“Can I help?” I asked. “What is it exactly?”
I admired her round fulsome behind, with the tied bow of the apron strings tagging down cutely in a countrywoman or housewife sort of fashion.
But then that caused me to recall the type of handbag she used when in her glamorous evening wear. In fact, over the years, she had used several different handbags, all in high top fashion. Like many women, she seemed to collect them and often replaced them before they were worn out.
Manufactured with different materials, some animal and some synthetic, bearing delicate chains and baubles of stylish quality on the outside, often jingling as I heard her walk from her house towards the white van when it came to collect her.
As she eventually became immersed in the hedge to the very point of vanishment, I saw at the corner of my eye the pulsing blue light so common in our English cities. And heard the siren.
Unaccountably, I shed a tear. A Mysterious Place indeed – a woman’s handbag.
written today and first published above