The track from Meadow Hill Farm twisted and plunged its way
down through the gorse bushes until it ran alongside the green, bubbling soup
known as Brock's Bog. Here the path had become overgrown through disuse. The
effluence of the quagmire kept away any creature with olfactory senses; even
ramblers avoided the short cut it offered to the picturesque valley beyond.
It was a curiously still place, as though the very breeze held its breath sooner
than pass over the fetid water. The only movement was made by rising bubbles
So there Brock's Bog lurked, oxygen-less, barely liquid and totally unloved.
As this mire straddled the boundary between two counties, neither council was prepared to own it. A speculator did suggest it should be drained and turned into a recreation park, but no civil engineer would guarantee that the stench could be removed from the ground and the planning application was shelved. It was hardly surprising that the alienation towards Brock's Bog triggered rumours that it was haunted. Nobody was quite sure why or by what, but there had to be some explanation for Nature creating this monstrous feature which could deter the most ardent toad and rot any gossamer seed having the audacity to land on its pea green crust.
Alice was a survivor. To her, the meaning of life was nothing
more profound than an answer in some inane quiz thought up by a tabloid sub
editor jaded by the daily excess of bare boobs and libellous trivia. Kevin,
her husband, could finish the Times crossword ln five minutes yet, if he did
comprehend what their humdrum existence was about, he certainly never gave Alice
a clue. He was cantankerous, controlling, self opinionated and, because he had
letters after his name, could argue down any lesser mortal who didn't share
his point of view. Neighbours ducked behind their neatly clipped hedges or suddenly
scrutinized some point of interest in the opposite direction when they saw him
coming. Alice, the fun lover, and Kevin, the redundant accountant, were totally
mismatched in a relationship that breeds terrible dependence.
Both daughters had tried to persuade their mother to take the rest of her life off and have some fun before it was too late. Their father found out and banned them from the house, knowing that it would be difficult to persuade anyone to bale out of a failed marriage surrounded by their screaming young broods in the public arena of a Tesco cafeteria. And what lf she did leave him? The only work experience Alice possessed was as a part time seed packer in the local nursery; hardly a vocation guaranteed to give a fifty-five year old woman an instant mortgage. She certainly wouldn't have moved in with either of their daughters and their rowdy children.
Kevin became increasingly bitter about his overqualified unemployability and resentful of the small wage Alice brought in, and when she started working full time he suspected that she was up to a lot more than packing seeds of cabbage and forget-me-nots. Infidelity couldn't have been further from his wife's mind - the man she already had was enough for one lifetime, but that green-eyed monster had its twitching nose above the parapet. Sometimes Kevin would cut short his afternoon at the wine bar to secretly watch his wife laughing with the other packers as they came out through the ornate nursery gates. What had they got to laugh about? No doubt some private joke at his expense. Women were like that, you couldn't trust them out of your sight.
Then Kevin started to follow Alice during her lunch hour.
The more friends he discovered she had, the more jealous he became.
He searched the drawers of her dressing table and kitchen cupboards. He found that the tin marked "flour" contained wholemeal biscuits. The one labelled "spices", out of order and crumpled household receipts, which so offended his book keeper's brain it might as well have been infidelity. The less he was able to find, the more suspicious he became. It was almost a pity he wasn't there to see the head nurseryman secretly hand Alice that small, unmarked packet of seeds. Kevin would have immediately deduced that she was going to leave for South America with a Latin gigolo to start up her own cannabis farm. In fact, the contents of the small envelope were almost as illicit - the seeds of the water hyacinth which had clogged so many waterways of the world. These were of a new hybrid commissioned by a water filtration company who wanted to use the plant to mop up the impurities from polluted water. The idea was simple and economic, and the roots of this variety could be pressed into chipboard without the risk of the furniture made from it sprouting at the first hint of moisture.
Alice's request for the seed was quite innocent and only for a small unsightly pond stagnating at the bottom of her garden. She had bordered it with a few rocks to give a home to the frogs and hoped the water hyacinth would conceal the eyesore. For fear of the small packet being lost in the clutter of till receipts, sticks of makeup, envelopes, elastic bands and three different purses filling her handbag, the seed packet was placed in her blouse pocket for safe keeping. As usual, Kevin searched the contents of his wife's handbag for incriminating evidence as soon as she was busy in the kitchen and, as usual, found nothing but the customary jumble of items; certainly nothing to indicate that Alice would not be returning home the next evening.
Kevin waited a day before telling his daughters that their mother had disappeared, and two more before phoning the police. He knew what conclusion the neighbourhood would come to, and the inquiries of the police only confirmed their suspicions that Alice had at long last plucked up the courage to pack a suitcase and leave.
At the loss of the only person who knew how to operate his rewind key, Kevin became indolent; sleeping late and eating less. Persuaded that Alice had left of her own free will, the police made a token circulation of her photograph then put her at the bottom of a missing persons' list.
The more the well-meaning tried to draw Kevin out of his gloom, the faster he slipped back into his shell like a misanthropic tortoise. He had always nagged Alice about her easy gong attitude to housework and now had the opportunity to keep things as immaculate as he wanted. He should have been glad to lose her, cashed ln his shares and moved to the Riviera, or even attempted to open a small accounting business. But then there would have been no one to blame when things went wrong. With Alice, the world had always revolved around him.
Eventually Kevin had to admit that the unremitting failures in his life hadn't been her fault after all. Then the worst fate that any mortal could inflict on themselves engulfed him... blame.
The sun beat down on the crust rapidly breaking up on Brock's
Bog. Leaves appeared - large, bright green leaves. They punctuated several square
metres of the quagmire and soon sat like large islands surrounded by clear water.
Nobody would have noticed if a rambler, who had taken the wrong turning, had
not mentioned their appearance to the landlady of The Three Horseshoes. Her
daughter Amy, a keen botanist, cycled down the track from Meadow Hill Farm every
two or three days to keep watch on their progress. She realised that they were
a rare species of water hyacinth and, anxious to see them in flower, kept their
location to herself.
After several weeks steeples of bloom pushed up from the rich, green mattress of leaves. The white petals were much larger than wild water hyacinths' and attractively edged with purple fringes. Amy knew she was obliged to report their appearance. Hybrid or not, any botanist was regretfully aware that this plant had the potential to destroy all the hard work of the volunteers who had recently cleared the local canal system. Water managements had draconian ways of dealing with cloggers of drainage systems and munchers of indigenous trees, however attractive or endearing. The coypu had learnt that to its cost.
Amy was just taking out her mobile to make the fateful call when something that looked as though it had been coated in ancient shellac bobbed to the surface of water that had not yet been colonised by beautiful blooms.
The body was impossible to identify and the police were unable to establish how long it had been submerged in the bog. Prior to the sudden arrival of the water hyacinths it had been free of oxygen and capable of preserving a corpse for centuries. It could have been a Viking for all they knew, but carried wounds that looked too much like foul play for them to readily surrender it to any archaeologist.
Even though the water hyacinth hybrid had turned the fetid quagmire of Brock's Bog into a tourist attraction, the water authorities insisted that it had to go. Their efforts to find out where the plant had come from were almost as intense as the determination of the police to discover the identity of the body. They were eventually persuaded by their pathologist to hand the remains over to the archaeologists impatiently waiting to carbon date them.
Marion Watson, Landlady of The Three Horseshoes, vigorously
polished another glass. 'I reckon it's one of those ramblers, meself.'
Annie, her barmaid, stopped counting the day's takings. 'Really? I'd have thought ramblers would have more sense.'
'Not some of the ones who come in here. I don't think half of them would know north from south if they had a compass stapled to their shorts.'
Annie gave a nervous laugh. She had no idea about the identity of the body in the bog, but did know where the flowers had come from. Those seeds may have been intended for a stagnant frog pond at the bottom of her suburban garden but how much better they had looked, briefly cloaking that deplorable landmark which residents at one time wouldn't admit to being in their county. And, after all, they had brought to the surface the Iron Age sacrifice which was now the star turn in the local museum.
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