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A Visit to World’s End

by Bertil Falk

Janet tended her garden patch and was dissatisfied. Her arrangements beside the small rock garden looked more like a grave than a bed of flowers. She would have to take care of that later. She put on her gardening gloves, took her pruning shears, and began cutting the inside of her box hedge. It was about time she devoted herself to the backyard. She wanted a place where everything came up roses and not weeds. Weeding would be her next priority after the hedge.

Over the years she had become more and more of a recluse. She stayed at home, moved things around: paintings and prints, souvenirs and decorations. She rearranged books on the shelves. She had problems concentrating. She was restless. She hardly went to central London any more. She was afraid of being assaulted.

The inherited house was a blessing, and the money that went with the inheritance guaranteed her independence. She didn’t have to work. She was her own master. Her house was not big but it was good enough for a single woman, and she had decided to remain one. But she was only 32 years old. The thought of a life as uneventful as the life she had been living paralysed her. Sometimes she thought that she should get a permanent job. A permissive lifestyle made her passive.

Those were her thoughts when cutting the hedge, and she came to the conclusion that she ought to go to London some day and do some shopping. She had not been there for more than a year. After putting aside the shears, she got down on her knees and weeded the garden. She completed her gardening by tending the flower bed.

She ate her dinner and looked forward to another gloomy evening followed by a mixed night with bad dreams alternating with sleeplessness. She was sick and tired of television. Her radio was always tuned in to the world service of the BBC, and she used its news from India and Kenya as a soporific.

She fell asleep. She dreamed that she used her pruners to cut fingers from human hands, and she woke up sweating. Trembling with agony, she got out of bed, went to the kitchen and made coffee. All the time she repeated in a low voice the same mantra over and over again. “Damned dreams! Damned dreams! Damned dreams!”

The coffee prevented her from going back to bed. She thought of things she had done. Why had she done this and why had she done that? She didn’t know the answers. She just knew the results. Results seemed to be unforgettable. On the other hand, events leading to acts and results were shrouded in fog. You know that you killed a fly, but could not put your finger on why you killed the fly.

It was not until five in the morning that she glided into a more sustained sleep.

She woke up at ten. The sun shone bright and she remembered her decision to go to London. She took a shower, dressed and took the Bakerloo Line.

The train was almost empty. The only other passenger was a terrible boy. He looked as if he was cut out of a cover by Thomas Henry for an old William book by Richmal Crompton. He sat snuffling with rolled-down socks. He kept staring at her. She felt ill at ease. He probably fancied that she was a spy or a smuggler or... a murderer. Unintentionally she started laughing. The boy stared even harder.

At South Kenton, a man with a dark beard and glasses entered the train and sat down opposite her. He was all dressed in black, and his penetrating eyes seemed to look straight through her as if she were a ghost. She felt uncomfortable and got a lot of silly ideas in her head. What if he was a rapist? She tried to dismiss the idea as a figment of her imagination, but didn’t succeed until he got up and left the train at Maida Vale.

When she looked around the train, she found that William the Terrible had disappeared too. Instead, other people had boarded the train, a Sikh in a red turban, a schoolgirl in a dirty uniform, a typical housewife and a ticket controller, who closely examined their tickets.

She got lost in thoughts about her garden and forgot to get off at Charing Cross.

“Mind the gap,” the recorded voice said in an old-fashioned dialect and she got off the train at Embankment. She was shocked as she saw William the Terrible staring at her until it dawned on her that it was another schoolboy on the loose with rolled-down socks. She breathed a sigh of relief and scolded herself. She was too sensitive. She had to pull herself together. She rushed down the stairs.

Good Old Northern Line!

Now that she was heading northwards, she realised that she had missed the miserable rides on this godforsaken Misery Line. She had not been to Camden Town ever since... since when? Since three years back, of course. She didn’t expect to meet anyone she had known then. In those days she had worked as a librarian for one of the television companies. She knew that they had moved from Camden to somewhere else, but it didn’t matter, for she was not going to Camden to see old workmates.

She was met by the heat of the day as she stepped out onto Kentish Town Road, crossed Parkway and entered The World’s End. Most of the lunchtime crowd had left, and she ordered roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. She had almost finished her meal as a familiar voice cried out her name.

“Janet! Is it really you?”

She was unpleasantly affected by this sudden surprise, but she couldn’t deny that it really was she. Brian, as swarthy as ever, stood there, big, smiling, friendly as he always had been. She should have known that he not only worked in Camden, but that he was a regular at the pub.

He sat down opposite her.

She nodded and tried a forced smile.

“How are you?” he said. “Good to see you again. It’s been a long time.”

“Yes, Brian. You know I quit.”

“I heard that. So many people have disappeared from here. Do you know what happened to George?”

“Haven’t seen him for years, Brian.”

That was certainly true.

“He seems to have disappeared into thin air. You were good friends.”

“For a while, yes,” she said.

“And what’s her name now, that girl...?”

Should she assist him? She decided not to. Let him find it.

He did.

“Laura, that’s her name. I haven’t seen her either for a long time. What happened to her?”

She smiled a natural smile at him. “Who knows?”

“What evil lurks?” he added to her question and laughed.

She shrugged.

“It must be about two, three years now, maybe four years,” he continued. “A lot of people are gone. If you look at the bums outside the tube station, they’ve been replaced by local winos. The Countess of Camden died. The King of Spades was sent to detox. Now the Duke of Camden Lock and the Duchess of Delancey Street have taken over. I think that the people who survive always return to their places, you know, the way murderers return to the scene of the crime.”

Her thoughts went astray. Had she arranged the flowerbed properly? Or would she do it again? Was the hedge to be cut on the outside as well?

“What are you doing nowadays?” His voice came out of a dimness.

“Nothing at all,” she replied. “I live on private means. Inherited from my aunt.”

“Oh, is that so? Then I understand why you quit.”

She let him believe he knew the reason.

“Well, it was nice seeing you, Janet. I have to go. I just happened to see you through the window. Must go back to work, you know. It’s always nice to see old friends. My regards to George and Laura if you happen to stumble upon them.”

She saw his broad back disappear and she knew that he would walk along Camden High Street across Grand Union Canal to his job. She tried to remember what he did, but couldn’t recall. In a way it had been a profitable meeting. She now knew that nobody else knew. Move over Tom Ripley.

She skipped the idea of shopping and went home. She walked around in her garden and felt some kind of satisfaction. She had not been satisfied one single day over the past three years. Even though she felt reluctant to leave her house for longer periods, she nevertheless began to muse about going to Paris. She had always wanted to go to Paris and see Mona Lisa. She could easily afford it. It was ridiculous not to do it. And she should at least go to central London more often.

That evening, she sat on her balcony with her coffee. Regards to George and Laura? Well. She had not seen either of them for three years, even though, in a figurative sense, she sort of stumbled over them every day.

So, Brian thought that a murderer always returns to the place of the murder. The truth is that a genuine murderer remains with her victims, especially when they were close friends. But she didn’t understand why she had cut off their fingers. It had not been necessary. She looked down at the grave that was now a flower bed.

Copyright © 2009 by Bertil Falk

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