She had always been partial to the gentle but stylish sounds of singer and songwriter Clifford T Ward. She loved his voice, it's quiet strength and his clever and concise lyrics. She'd been a fan since she'd heard his first album way back in her teenage years; “Singer Songwriter” in 1971, then she'd moved onto “Home Thoughts” (his second and most successful recording) and had followed him via his other recorded output up until he died in 2001. She had never seem him perform live however, he was famously reluctant to tour but she was consoled by the odd video clip that remained and her collection of cuttings and albums. Whatever else even if most of the world had forgotten about Clifford, she would not – she hummed the opening lines of “Gaye” to herself and carefully and slowly played along on an air piano. It was a beautiful song.
Now she was looking out across the kitchen sink, out through the grimy window and net curtains, across the roofs of the council flats and garden sheds, the concrete and cacophony of housing estate life, past the odd struggling tree and orange glowing lampposts and that mysterious cold fog of damp and air pollution that just hung there between heaven and earth. She looked through all this to see the winter sun glow and slowly fade out over the warehouse tiles and the motorway flyover. The day was over nearly but she felt warm inside as the melody trailed away somewhere in the back of her mind, like a ribbon on the end of a drifting balloon. It would have been nice to have been called Gaye (with an e of course). It seemed sad that the word and the name had been hijacked by another meaning altogether, a modern language piece of robbery that she was powerless to stop or change. She just liked that name and liked to imagine Clifford T singing it to her in the song, as if it was her real name and it was all pure and untainted by...everything. The thought brought a tear to the corner of her eye and a sniff and a wipe. She finished the dishes.
Life would've been so different if she could have just met a man like Clifford, a mild, creative, sensitive type, a man who just understood things, a man who listened and smiled. She was still looking out of the window. At times like this her loneliness was like a sharp pain, almost crippling but familiar and comforting in a way she couldn't understand. This was how it had been for years, tight up and private, all there running around inside her head in an unspoken spiral of frustration, rage and then tempered by a silent reflection and a passive acceptance. “This is my life and my pain; I can choose to prod it to understand it or I can choose to deny it and leave it be. I can also choose to ignore it and then just slip away. Slip away into that music, those chords ringing out from the piano, recorded forty years ago but still as fresh as paint. Remarkable and moving, understood by me and me alone as the voice rises and sings and pours out the raw but very English emotions that you won't find anywhere else. You just won't.”
Then, the doorbell rang, you never do expect that to happen. It was a delivery, an Amazon Box, recycled and woven with brown parcel tape and handwritten labels. She signed the electronic device the man handed her, thanked him, took the package inside and closed the door. She stood and admired the box, she like the look and feel of cardboard. This was a fine example. “Don't be in too much of a hurry to open it, savour the moment, don't be in too much of a hurry,” so said a voice from somewhere. Perhaps God, Clifford T, the radio or the delivery man whispering through the letter box.
She put the box on the coffee table and read the label; Ms G Fraser, 121 Mendelssohn Way, Saltley, Wolverhampton. It had come to the correct address. The voice's advice was still resonating so she made a cup of tea and weighed up the box and what It might contain. There were no brand names or logos, it was ex-Amazon but the label was hand written in biro on white paper cello-taped to the lid. It was bigger than shoe box but much smaller than a whale. She was intrigued and she reminded herself that she never bought things on line or from mail order catalogues. Somebody else had sent it out to her. Another singsong voice began in her head:
“I sent a letter to my love and on the way I dropped it,
I sent a letter to my love and on the way I dropped it,
I dree, I dree, I dree, I dropped it.
My lover sent a letter out and on the way he dropped it,
My lover sent a letter out and on the way he dropped it,
He dree, he dree, he dree, he dropped it...”
She jumped up from the couch, plonked down the empty tea mug and sliced open the box with the upturned blade of a pair of scissors. The cardboard flaps yielded and sprang up as the tape was slit up the middle, a delicious moment. There were more packing materials inside, bubble wrap and tape and botched things. It was well wrapped up. She tore through the outer levels. She saw the contents and was shocked, a tiny hiss of a tiny scream escaped and she shut the box quickly and looked around the room, as if a crowd might have gathered to watch and comment upon her response. She gently put the package back on the coffee table like was for all the world an unexploded bomb (it wasn't).
She composed herself, that took time. Hands together then open and apart she lifted the lids and picked out the packing materials, shaking each piece as she drew it from the box. With the packing gone the contents were revealed and her mouth already open fell open wider. Bones. There were bones. Dry, white and grey, flaky, old, dusty, misshapen, strange bones, unholy bones she thought. About a dozen shapes (which she wasn't about to touch or count properly) maybe femurs, ribs, vertebrae; human or animal, ugh! There seemed to be no obvious explanation and her mind was racing around the various macabre possibilities. She looked again at the outer packaging and the post mark. “Birmingham City” was all it said. “Bones from Birmingham, dry bleached bones, blown in to lie and die in the dust in my house, sent from up the motorway in Birmingham.
The neighbours were complaining to the police. Hardly an angry mob but here and there feelings were running high on a mixture of frustration, disturbance and concern. “Bloody woman, bloody music, everyday, all day, that's all she plays and now it's been going on for weeks...well all week. I can't sleep or concentrate, it's like being strangled by treacle, you have to do something.”
The police eventually acted. They had to break down the door. She was there, sitting in the kitchen, slumped but still staring out, dead eyes open, blindly staring over the sink, beyond and past the kitchen window to the wide world beyond. The sun was going down. There was an eerie glow in the room. The bones were laid out on the kitchen table, arranged like letters or symbols. The officers couldn't quite fathom it, then one realised he was seeing the word upside down. He moved across the kitchen floor stepping on some bubble wrap that popped as his black shoes landed on it. The bones spelt out “Gaye”.