“Many homicidal lunatics are very quiet, unassuming people. Delightful fellows.” Agatha Christie
The one thing I can say about Graham, without fear of contradiction, was that he was not a homicidal lunatic. He was, however, very unassuming: a man who you would walk past in the street. He mostly wore greys and blacks, and his hair had thinned so that his bald patch was the lion’s share of his head. Graham wore his hair slightly longer than you’d expect for a man in his sixties and he seemed unfinished, slightly grubby. This is not to cast aspersions on his character – he was a nice, decent man.
We encountered Graham when we lived in Rossendale. He drove his white Granada up the unmade road past our house twice a day, and parked it in front of some disused garages. He’d leave the car there, and then head on foot to the patch of land he rented off the Hardman Trust to feed his animals. We too rented land off the Trust, a slightly under the radar operation that owned most of this part of Rossendale, including – one assumes – Hardman Drive that ran at the end of the unmade road, curling up to a dead-end and a field full of sheep. Old Mr Hardman was in effect one of the founding fathers of Waterfoot, one of a few Victorian gentlemen who made money from the felt mills on the valley floor. The Trust carved up the space into various chunks and asked for a small amount of rental once a year – many people lived out their dreams of being small-holders on Hardman land.
In fact, most people who came to live in Waterfoot had come originally to work the mills and at their height they’d sent the woollen material across the world. I don’t know the full history of Hardman (although a W. Hardman seems to have been some sort of Historian), but stone was also quarried in those parts and there was business in the town for a man who could make the most of it. Indeed, Graham had done just that – although on a much smaller scale.
Before we moved into Waterfoot Graham had owned and run the sweet shop. Tucked in just beside the pub, he’d made a good living from selling sweets: generations of children and young people from the Grammar school had doubtless seen it as the place to be directly after school filling up on Riley’s Chocolate Toffee Rolls, Licorice Allsorts, Turkish Delights and supplies of penny sweets of all kinds: milk bottles, chocolate logs, mojos and more.
I never saw inside the shop because it closed just as I was finding my way about the place. For a while, the shopfront was a bit desolate, and the odd business moved in and then out without ever really making a go of it. Finally, it was re-shaped into an Estate Agents and we all just walked past it and straight into the Co-Op for supplies.
I should imagine the shop’s demise made Graham a little sad, but he never showed it. Instead, he came, regular as clockwork to feed his chickens and his goats. We’d wave and then the wave became a nod, and the nod a hello until we were on polite speaking terms. It was Graham who let us know about where we could acquire rescue chickens, bringing us the first of them in a battered old box.
“They’re good layers,” he said. And they were. Even though those rescue birds arrived without any feathers, and with their wing structure exposed, they never let us down. They delivered an egg a day. “It’s miserable where they’ve been, stuck in those laying sheds day after day, so it’s grand that you’re giving them a chance.” Graham smiled, and with a wave was on his way.
It was difficult to age Graham – in part because he was a bit of an every man, and also because most Saturdays he would appear at his plot of land with a woman and two children in tow. We thought at first that they were his grandchildren but as time span out we heard the odd, “Daddy.” We made the assumption that this was Graham’s wife – perhaps even a second wife. She was a diffident woman, who generally kept her eyes down but her kids, their kids, were full of beans and Graham was delightful with them. Some weekends, he just brought the kids and they had a whale of a time running around with the chickens and the goats. Other times, Graham came alone and sat up in his shed whiling away the hours.
One day, when we walked the dog we noticed a police car parked where Graham’s car would normally have been. I didn’t think anything of it – I’d seen them there before catching a sneaky fag, or having a brew. In fact, that area also attracted a few ne’er do wells here and there some casting off rubbish from the back of rusting vans or young couples making out.
I’ve a feeling I was in the bathroom when the two women with adjacent plots came to tell us what had happened to Graham. There was something strange about these practical women – Kay and Susan, Kay with string tying her coat together – marching towards our house with great purpose particularly as they were often at loggerheads and more than once we’d had to play peacemaker.
I didn’t answer the door, so never heard it first hand but apparently Graham had been found in his shed that morning having suffered a colossal heart attack. A week later, we saw Kay, the scruffier of the two women, and she said, “They’re not sure how long he’d been there. You know, because of his arrangements.”
“His arrangements?” I don’t know whether I asked the question or whether we asked it in unison.
“You know, having his wife and his lady friend…” she trailed off and I got the feeling we’d missed something significant about Graham. We must have both looked aghast and clearly without the insider knowledge Kay was itching to tell us…
“Yeah – he lived with his wife, his grown up kids had flown the nest but he had this other family with a woman young enough to be his daughter, had them tucked away in a house on Edgeside. You probably saw her here sometimes… with a couple of kids. They were his. He never hid it from anyone and somehow his wife managed to carry on up Newchurch by ignoring it.”
This was a lot of words for Kay. She breathed deeply. She was pin-thin and coughed the cough of a smoker. You could tell there was something else she wanted to tell us…
We waited. She looked around as if she was holding a state secret. She smiled.
“And the dirty old bugger had a stack of pornography up there in his shed. Thought there was going to be something amazing in that locked box!”
We smiled. Unassuming Graham – gosh, how many more revelations?
But more sadness though.
My partner and Kay went to the funeral. Up front sat Graham’s family that we’d never met or seen listening to a eulogy that did not mention the woman he also shared his life with or their children.
And then, at the back of the church, that woman shyly entered and sat quietly in a pew, leaving before the coffin made its final journey.
She said nothing to no-one.