Jacqueline Beard Writer

Lawrence Harpham Murder Mysteries & Constance Maxwell Dreamwalker Mysteries

It’s raining today, miserable, and a good time for catching up with administration. I’ve just cleared out my writing files, cringing with embarrassment at my earliest efforts, but discovering other long-forgotten favourites like the flash fiction story below written for the 2018 Noirwich Crime competition. I’m fond of this piece. My lovely and sadly departed mother came from Overstrand, and her grandfather, Frederick Dennis, dug the first grave in the cemetery. As the short story says, by a quirk of fate, he ended up in it. The Cotswolds where I live are delightful, but I miss Norfolk, especially on days like these. Days where a brisk walk across the cliffs clears the cobwebs and soothes the soul. This story is for my mum and my Overstrand relatives & ancestors.

Rumour has it that old man Dennis dug the first grave in Overstrand cemetery. By a quirk of fate, he died soon after, and they laid him to rest there. It made me mindful of my mortality—no pauper’s grave for me. I signed up to the North Norfolk burial club sharpish together with the wife and nippers. We went hungry sometimes but always paid our dues. Better to starve than end up in the workhouse; better to shiver and have a decent final resting place.

But that was then.

Ten years on, and I long to dine on food not dragged from the ocean, warm my feet by a blazing fire, be my own man and make my own choices. No more turbulent seas, blistering chills, beaches dotted with crab pots. And no more Florrie.

My heart alive, but she was beautiful once. Her smile dazzled. I would have laid down my life to protect my Florrie. Now she is a hard-faced lump of a woman. Lazy too. She spends all day mardling with the fishwives and has no time for me.

Bessie Storey does, though. Little doe-eyed Bessie, younger and prettier than Florrie, has made no secret of her regard. Bessie is from a large family. She’ll make a good mother for my children.

‘Hold you hard,’ I hear you say. ‘Is poor Florrie dead?’

Not dead yet, but soon. There is money aplenty in the burial club and still more besides in our life insurance policies. Money scrimped and saved from my toil at sea – money I could have spent on ale, like every other red-blooded man – wasted, like my life.

Look, here comes Florrie now, plodding over the cliffs, her dumpling face set in its usual frown, demeanour as predictable as her Friday evening walk. Always the same routine. She visits her mother in Paul’s Lane before lumbering down to the cliffs, where she waits silently, staring out to sea. But why?

Florrie has seen me. She lifts her hand uncertainly and waves it in my direction. Her face, a mask of misery, shows no pleasure in my presence. What does she make of my intrusion? No matter. One minute or two – soon, she will be close enough. I will sidle towards her, smile and give her a little shove. The moment is perfect. It’s close to dusk, and there is not a soul around.

Florrie reaches me, piggy eyes searching my face. There are bristles on her chin. How did I ever love this woman?

It is time.

I move towards her but suddenly feel a weighty thud on my chest, then fall backwards, arms flailing. The Overstrand cliffs rush past me. I can smell the salty sea and hear the cackle of gulls–but is it? No, the sound is raucous laughter, and it’s coming from Florrie. I cannot see her, but before the world goes black, I sense her looking down at me, smiling as she did when we were young.

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