By David M Smith
David M. Smith
Fred and I are serious allotment holders. The allotment society ran the allotments with a committee of which we were both members. Serious gardeners. We grew our vegetables there, as did most people, but a few focussed on flowers instead, usually if they took part in local shows.
Bill was new that year. He had taken over from Arnie, who had become too frail. Bill was an organic gardener, refusing all chemicals and insisting that deep digging our allotments was a waste of time. I must admit that he did grow some delicious vegetables that first year, and the most beautiful roses were next to his shed. He said they had been his wife’s favourite. I forget their name. He told us he was a widow, so we always thought that was rather touching. So an elderly, lonely man, he “kept himself to himself”, as the saying goes. And so gentle. I would watch him lovingly caress the leaves of his plants. He wouldn’t hurt a fly usually though he did have a temper. Once when Fred, while chatting to him, buried his spade into the earth and leaned on it, Bill got very worked up.
‘Don’t dig in my earth!’ he shouted. A bit of a fanatic, we thought. Still, he usually was a decent enough chap, and we had no interest in digging his allotment, thank you. We had more than enough work digging our own and serving on the committee.
We were all upset when he was taken seriously ill and ended up in hospital. When I went to see him, he looked terrible. All he would talk about was how worried he was about his allotment. It prayed on his mind when awake, though he was barely conscious much of the time, lapsing in and out of troubled sleep.
‘Don’t worry,’ I told him. ‘We’ll all help out and keep it tidy,’ trying to calm him. But he just became more agitated.
‘Leave it alone!’ he shouted before lapsing back into semi-consciousness. I went home.
Still, we couldn’t leave it to become a mess. The committee was responsible to all allotment holders to keep the place tidy. Weeds spread. And especially not when he had worked so hard on it. So Fred and I agreed with the rest of the committee that we would do some weeding between the rows and keep the blackfly under control. I was tempted to pick some of the roses and take them to the hospital for him. Fred said better not, so I left them, simply deadheading them as necessary from time to time.
One day, as we worked away, we felt a breath of wind and heard a noise behind us. It was an elderly bespectacled woman who seemed to have come out of nowhere. Well, we do tend to become a bit focused when gardening. She was well-dressed and smart, with a hat angled across one side of her face. We said ‘Hello’ and introduced ourselves. She said, ‘I’ve come to look at my roses.’ We didn’t like to question her, so we left her to do that and turned back to work, and by the time I looked up again, she had disappeared.
‘I wonder who she was?’ asked Fred.
‘Perhaps his sister,’ I replied, though he had never mentioned one.
‘Perhaps he isn’t a widower, and she was his wife?’ Fred wondered.
Bill lingered in the hospital for a while, and his allotment was getting very untidy, so Fred and I decided we had to act. It could do with a deep digging. Bill would never know. If he did get better by the time he came home, the deep digging wouldn’t show. It would be nicely raked over. If he didn’t recover, the allotment would be ready for the following user. I quite fancied that plot myself. It was a very sunny position.
While deep digging, Fred found it under the roses, though it was the smell I noticed first. He had turned up a whitened skull, still with some flesh on it. Bill had always said he believed in organic fertiliser, but a body? We were both wretched, and then I called the police. They roped it off and tried to stop us from getting near, but it was harvest season, so there was no way we would be prevented from getting to our vegetables.
The police were very cagey at first about what they had found, but an offer of free cauliflower to the duty constable soon paid dividends. He told us a whole skeleton was there, wrapped in the remains of some clothing and with a pair of wire spectacles underneath, the sort that ladies of a certain age tend to wear.
It was his wife, the policeman told us. They were sure of that. There was clear evidence that she had been battered on the skull. Just the one blow with a sharp-edged metal instrument. Probably a spade. Not so gentle after all. So the poor man never got home. Although he was still very ill, the case came to court, and he was found guilty without delay. It was jail instead. The prosecutor said Bill regretted it afterwards, so he planted her body to feed her favourite roses.
As to the mystery woman? We both shuddered. Could it have been her? The hat might have hidden her wound. Fred laughed at this and said he didn’t believe in ghosts. I wasn’t so sure. After that, every time I passed Bill’s allotment, I felt a cold draft behind my back. I avoided the place.
I didn’t fancy taking the allotment on after that though Fred said it was all excellent organic fertiliser, and he didn’t mind. He laughed when he said it. Fred grows some lovely vegetables now. But when he offers me some, I always refuse. The very idea makes me want to wretch.