Martha/groundskeeper/disgust

I asked a friend to suggest three things and then wrote a short story  around them. Feel free to do the same =)




“Eulalie! Dash it all, where have they got to?”

Martha Wight strode deeper into the woods, scanning the undergrowth bordering the trail. She stopped occasionally, stooping to fuss with some errant branch or plucking a leaf and tucking it into one of the many pockets that festooned her jacket and breeches. Her scowl remained fixed as she searched for the child.

When she agreed that morning to watch the child for a few hours, she’d had no idea of what a handful children could be. Trees and bushes and brooks had a tendency to remain relatively in place; children did not. Not even a little bit.

“Eulalie! Child, get your bony rump in front of me right this instant or there will be consequences!” she bellowed.

Grouse broke from a thicket, startled by her roar. Still no sign of the child. She resisted the urge to curse the tutor. It was hardly his fault an aunt had fallen ill, and he was to be commended for going to care for her, being the nearest relative to her. Had Martha known that a twelve year old could be the source of such vexation, she surely would have insisted the cook take charge of them.

“One would think a simple admonition to remain on the path was clear enough,” she grumbled as she strode along, “I’m quite sure I understood simple instructions when I was twelve…”

She stopped for a moment, recalling her childhood, and blushed at recollections of some rather outrageous escapades.

“Even so,” she muttered, and continued on. The small copse was thinning out. Martha felt a shadow of concern now. The grounds weren’t so extensive that her task should prove so difficult. Beyond the woods was a small meadow and past that the fence running the perimeter of the grounds. The house was grand, but its lands were relatively limited, having been sold off to the farms hereabouts by family ancestors whose debts had mounted to daunting sums.

Although Martha would have liked the larger grounds, she was content with what she oversaw. She was fairly young, to hold a head groundskeeper position for such an esteemed old family. But they trusted her, and she had lived up to that trust.

Until she misplaced their child. This might put a dent in the good relations she had hitherto enjoyed. She pulled her compact field glass and scanned the meadow. Right across, beside the fence, she could just about make out a huddled form with bright blue boots. Relief flooded her and she hurried across the meadow.

“Eulalie you little rotter! What were you thinking, rabbitying off like that?” she demanded, trying to sound stern rather than hysterical.

He looked towards her, face scrunched up.

“Martha, look. I found a gross thing,” he said, and pointed to the object of his disgust.

She looked down, and sighed. Up against the fence was a mostly-eaten rabbit. A fox must have run it to ground here and killed it. As a groundskeeper she was hardly a stranger to small dead animals but she could understand the child’s objection to the gruesome sight.

“Do you have to clean that up?” Eulalie asked, staring fixedly at it once more.

“Oh it won’t be long before nature takes its course; give it two weeks and there’ll likely be nothing but a few bones and tufts of fur to mark the spot,” she replied matter-of-factly.

He looked up once more, gaping.

“What does that mean?” he asked with equal parts horror and fascination.

She hesitated, considering the pros and cons of explaining the efficiency of carrion eaters, decided an impromptu nature lesson couldn’t hurt.

He listened, rapt, as she explained the eating habits of foxes and crows, and the rapidity with which insects and weather would dispose of what remained. He was especially interested in the beetles, wanted to go hunting for some right there and then. But the shadows were growing longer and the sun was sinking. Only by promising to bring him a jar of the voracious carrion eaters was she able to coerce him into heading back to the house.

“Go on ahead,” Martha told him, “and go directly to the house. I’ll mark the spot and come back later to find you some beetles.”

He headed away across the meadow, making a beeline for the manor.

Martha waited for him to enter the small copse, then rolled up her sleeves. She stretched her arm between the fence and grasped the rabbit corpse, drawing it back through. She’d been hard-pressed to behave in front of the child, but now she sank her needle-sharp teeth in with relish, crunching bones and greedily swallowing the remains. She received a generous stipend for her duties, but no boggart would pass up a tasty snack had they the chance.

Martha hurried after the child once she was done. She had been given very strict instructions by the tutor about when Eulalie was to be put to bed, and which incantations were to be said over the door.

A Solemn Conversation

They sat there, the two of them, on a grassy hillside facing the rising sun. Strikingly similar in appearance, yet their posture couldn’t have been more different. Jay was practically laid out, propped up on his elbows, ankles crossed. He stared out at the world before them, taking it in and smiling sadly. Dee slouched forwards, arms round his knees. He studied the ground before his boots intently, brow furrowed with worry.

“Strange really,” Jay said, realizing how silent they’d become and disapproving.

Dee didn’t notice, lost to his morose reflection. Jay glanced over, sighed.

“Dickhead, don’t ignore me,” he jibed playfully.

Dee glanced back briefly.

“Sorry. What’d you say?”

“It’s strange, yeah? Brand new day and it looks no different than usual. Bill’s gone, but to see this you’d never know he was there to begin with. Sort of lends perspective, when you think that we have so little impact on, well…on anything.”

Dee frowned deeply.

“Bill mattered,” he said, “to me, to us, to all of us. And we’re different, changed by losing him.”

“Yeah but even if a million people mourned, the sun would still be rising this morning. It doesn’t care. And when we’re all dead it still won’t care. Hard to be upset, thinking about that.”

Jay shrugged, added “Just how I feel.”

Dee’s frown didn’t lessen.

“Our friend’s dead, because he couldn’t stand how alone he felt, and you’re talking about how inconsequential he was. Bloody charming, Jay.”

“Hey!” Jay was indignant, “It’s not like it’s my fault, ya know? I mean, if he’d asked my opinion I would’ve told him to stick around.”

“That’s not how it works,” Dee muttered.

“Well I don’t bloody know how it works, do I?”

“Lucky you.”

“It still hurts, you knob. I don’t want my friends offing themselves. Even when they’re being a knob. And yeah, I don’t understand why he did it. I don’t get why he was lonely. Maybe if he’d talked to us then he’d know we wanted him around, and he’d be here with us, agreeing that you’re a bit of a knob.”

Jay was practically shouting, sat up now and looking a little angry.

“Or he’d be shaking his head cuz you’re being an insensitive prick!” Dee snapped, “Cuz life is so bloody easy, is it? Just don’t worry and it’ll all work out, is that right? I wish it were that simple Jay, I really do. But it’s not. You’re just too thick to–just forget it.”

“Don’t go.”

Dee was startled, for a moment. He sighed.

“I don’t want to go. Some days everything seems impossible, and even the good days can be difficult and it’s exhausting. But I don’t want to…to go.”

Jay sniffed, “Well, good. I mean, no, it’s shit. That it’s like that. I’m sorry. But I’m glad you want to stick around. And I’m sorry if I’m a bit of a knob about that stuff. I just really don’t get it.”

Dee couldn’t help but laugh at that.

“Mate, it’s my brain and I don’t get it,” he said. “Look, I’m sorry. I was being a dickhead because what happened to…what Bill did. There wasn’t some big change that triggered it. He just woke up one day and couldn’t stand to do it anymore. Live, I mean. And that’s pretty terrifying. Why am I different? Me and Bill, we’re pretty similar, so why am I still here when he’s not? I can’t help thinking about that.”

He glanced back. Jay was frowning, clearly angry, probably uncomfortable. Finally he met Dee’s eyes, spoke in careful, measured tones.

“If you want my opinion, it’s because you aren’t that similar. If you were, we probably wouldn’t be having this delightful little chat. Cuz I never talked to Bill like this, you know. I don’t think he talked to anybody about it, like this. I’m glad you do. I’d worry, I think, if we stopped talking about this. Maybe if…fuck it. He didn’t, and he’s gone; you do, and you’re still here. So maybe that’s the reason.”

Dee smiled.

“Didn’t know you cared, mate,” he teased.

“Dickhead.”

“Yeah.”

They sat there, the two of them, on a grassy hillside facing the risen sun.