Esther was burying somebody when we
first met; it was a cold evening, but she emanated heat from inside her large
parka as she thrust her spade deep into the mud. Lying close by, wrapped
tightly and neatly in black plastic bin bags was the body, large and if not
dead certainly not moving.
I was intruding of course; it was
Esthers garden, and I should not have been there. Although not exactly a
burglar and certainly not a voyeur I was up to no good, searching the gardens
of north London looking for gnomes which I required for an art project I was
doing for my college course. I already had two in my rucksack and was thinking
of calling it a day when I had stumbled upon Esther doing her nocturnal
Can I help? I enquired. She
looked at me with a startled expression on her face; perhaps for the only time
in our relationship I had taken her by surprise, and then she shrugged and
handed me the spade. She was shorter than me and a pale face peeped out of her
hood. She did not say a word; did not ask where I had come from or what I was
doing there, but stood and watched as I dug. The mud was heavy but I was much
healthier then than I am now, so soon the pit Esther had started was a decent
size and when we rolled the body into its depths; it made a satisfying squelch
as it landed.
After we had covered up the corpse, she
headed back towards her house a large bungalow with no lights on
and I followed her. I was not sure of the etiquette after helping somebody
surreptitiously bury a body, but I imagined that I would at least get a cup of
tea. She held the door open for me and I meticulously wiped my feet on the mat
and was then ushered into the living room whilst Esther wandered off into the
kitchen; I had still not heard her speak.
The living room was large with shelves
of books but no television, there were four paintings of flowers, one on each
wall, with the colour red predominating. Somehow I knew that the owner of the
house had painted them, not that they were amateur by any means, just unlike
anything I had ever seen. There was also a strong smell of tobacco and by a
Pavlovian response I got out a cigarette and was smoking away quite happily
when she returned with two cans of beer, and sat down beside me.
She appeared to be in her mid-forties,
about ten years older than me, but she had a youthful spirit, and her body
looked firm beneath her jumper and jeans. She handed me my drink with a shy
smile and then stole a cigarette from the packet on my knee.
I love a fag after I have been
She was softly spoken and her accent was
more northern than if she had been a Londoner. In fact I never found out where
she was from, being the secretive person she is, but I suspect Midlands;
Cheshire or Shropshire, she had an air of the rural about her and she could
certainly handle a spade.
Who was the body?
She smiled, an old colleague. He
came here for sex and in the end I had to hit him over the head with a rolling
pin. I didnt mean to kill him, but after the first two blows it seemed
better to continue with it, I couldnt let him go home covered in
But wont he be
His wife didnt know that he
was visiting me, so I doubt anyone else will either. Anyway I have learned to
cover my traces. Dont worry, he is not the first inopportune suitor that
I have had to dispose of.
We made love in her large bed, and she
was even more beautiful naked than dressed; her breasts glowed beneath me and
they quivered as she came.
Oh my goodness she murmured
and then the same words more loudly a few moments later.
As I got dressed I asked her do
you happen to have a garden gnome that yearns to appear in a
All very clever I am sure, but I
am not sure I would want any of it in my house. I wouldnt call any of it
Esther and I had been to visit the
exhibition of students work from my college which was being held in a
small art gallery, hired for the occasion. There were some strange things
dotted about; childrens toys, body parts, used tampons, various dead
animals and of course, and disappointingly hidden away, my garden gnomes,
liberated from various gardens in North London, and arranged to echo
Goyas The Disasters of War.
Esther had not said much as we walked
around, just the occasional sniff and pursing of her lips. I had hoped that she
would take my arm as I would gain some kudos with my fellow students being with
such an elegant and well-dressed woman, but she kept her hands to herself. I
had also tried to look more fashionable than usual but she had disliked my
brown suede shoes telling me that she could not bear brown and that
it makes me want to vomit. From then onwards I never wore brown in
her presence, and got rid of any such coloured items from my wardrobe. But I
was so much better dressed then than I am now, surrounded by mud and filth,
with my clothes eaten away by damp.
We sipped tea and munched on scones and
I waited for her judgement of my work.
I like Goya she told me, she
was a slow and quiet eater, war is a horrible thing, and he captures the
evil of it. She gazed around the café where we were sat; she
looked at a young couple who were obviously rowing, ignoring their toddler who
was sat between them, and who was whimpering quietly. I could tell Esther was
cross and was worried that she would go over and cause a scene, but fortunately
she confined herself to a few pointed stares and a rather loud tut, which must
have penetrated to the couple who left suddenly, almost forgetting to
Sometimes war is necessary
she continued as if the family had not existed, I have seen some dreadful
sights but if it is kill or be killed what can you do?
Were those your pictures, in your
bungalow? I asked her, hoping she would then talk about my
Yes, I have been painting since I
worked in the Middle East; I loved the colours of the desert so much I had to
capture them, and I distrust photography so I decided to paint instead. When I
was involved with so much destruction it was restful to create something. I am
not a great artist, but I am better than some who think that they
What were you doing in the Middle
East? I asked her.
For awhile she just sat there licking
her finger and picking up crumbs from her plate but eventually she replied
oh just politics. There is a lot of politics in the Middle
At the time I was living in a room in
Highgate in a house owned by an elderly couple who were struggling to make ends
meet. That evening Esther and I sat on my bed drinking Early Grey and then we
made love with passion and kindness. Afterwards as we lay beneath the sheets
she smiled down upon me and bit my lip lightly.
You are a good artist she
told me, keep going with it. The best artists dont care what
anybody else thinks, just follow your instincts and dont expect to get
Sometimes I lie here in my box and the
time I spent with Esther seems to have happened to a different person. Lying in
her arms, watching her walk naked to the bathroom, visiting various London
parks hand in hand and the fact that I had this proximity to this mysterious
and beautiful woman, it cannot have happened to me, but somebody else a long
time ago, buried away in the past.
I tried to talk about our future; what
we were to each other, but she stopped any such conversations.
Be happy she told me,
accept what we have got. I am a complicated person, and I wont be
in London forever.
But I was young and stupid and kept
prying. Were there other men in her life? Was she going to up and leave me,
disappear back to Israel or one of the other troubled countries that she
occasionally dropped into conversation? I wanted certainty and perhaps to
capture her, and people like Esther have learnt to avoid such snares from
We still had happy times; sitting in
cafes, visiting museums, making love and talking about what we had done in the
past. We found a connection, both having lived in Moscow but whilst I had been
a tourist with an easel she had been working, although she refused to say who
she was working for; Mossad? The CIA? God knows. She talked about train
journeys at midnight, hiding from somebody in the snow, the sound of a bullet
whizzing past your head and being so close to death that you cannot move for a
moment, but after a quick prayer of thanks you shrug and carry on.
Kill or be killed as she was so fond of saying.
My course was finished and I had barely
enough money to continue to stay in my room in Highgate. I could have gone home
to my father in Leicester but I loved living in London despite the expense, and
the few contacts I had in the art world lived there. Eventually I got a job in
a shop selling cards and other gifts, my wages paid my rent and beer, but left
little for anything else beyond such necessities. I had an idea for a
metal sculpture and spent many an evening looking for bits of iron and steel
which I could weld together. And I had more and more spare evenings as my
friends from college were busy doing their jobs or had gone back to their
provincial homes in despair.
I tried to see more of Esther, but she,
perhaps sensing my desperation was often busy. Perhaps we had never seen that
much of each other, but with time hanging heavy on my hands I missed her more.
I rang her one evening and we had chatted about this and that, I wanted her to
suggest we meet up, even just a drink would have been a blessing, but it was
not to be.
I would invite you round she
told me sensing what I wanted, but I have work to do. Why not forage for
some metal, you need to be doing something.
So I decided to go out and
I did not intend to go to her bungalow,
well not to start with, but the gardens were large where she lived, and the
owners rich, so it had proven to be a happy hunting ground in the past, and of
course I knew the area. By the time that I got to her garden I had collected a
few potentially useful bits and pieces and should really have gone home, but
instead I sat in her back garden and watched her house; there were no lights
on, but then she liked the dark and the curtains were drawn and so I had no
idea what was going on, there was just the occasional movement, but that might
have been my imagination.
I became bored and cold and walked to
her back door. Unusually it was locked, so I walked around to the front and
rang the bell. She was wearing a white cotton dressing gown and did not look
particularly pleased to see me, although she let me in.
I told you I was
I know I said, but I
was in the area collecting metal, I stopped to show her what I had
collected and realised I had left my bag in her garden, I could get it later. I
sat down and she brought me coffee.
Can I stay? I asked
No. Have your coffee and go. I
will ring you tomorrow.
But I love you I blurted out
I hate living on my own, not seeing you. Despair and loneliness
overpowered me, and I wept slightly. She put her arm around me and kissed me
lightly on the forehead.
Does anybody know you are
here? She asked, and when I shook my head she went back out into the
kitchen and I heard a drawer open. I felt awful at my loss of control, and was
just reaching for a cigarette when I heard the faintest of noises next to my
left ear and half turned before something crashed down onto me and I felt an
excruciating pain penetrate into the back of my head and then I could taste
blood which overwhelmed my mouth. Everything crashed in around me and then all
there was pain, and even that disappeared along with everything
And now I lie here in a box in
Esthers garden surrounded by numerous other bodies; friends, lovers and
the occasional unfortunate intruder. I hear the insects scratching around me
trying to get in, and sometimes I hear the rain above me which is soothing, but
then the moisture gets in, and I shiver with damp and hunger, but I know that
my suffering will not be relieved and that I will be here forever. We are her
sentries, us unlucky few who she has killed and interred; we are keeping Esther
safe from those who would interfere with her and cause her harm, and from those
who want to trap her and make her life ordinary and dull.