Styx and Stones
The shadow of Edinburgh Castle loomed portentous as a divine hand over Miriam, but it needn’t have bothered with the theatrics because she barely noticed. Her attention was fixed on the frost-coated gravel at her feet. Staring down through a curtain of scarlet hair, she marvelled at how such mundane, grey chips of rock could be altered so dramatically. They twinkled like jewels, even in the half-light, turning the drab pathway to a crystalline ribbon draped in a constant meander through the silver topped grass of Princes Street Gardens. She stopped, mesmerized. It wasn’t that she hadn’t witnessed Jack Frost’s work before, but she’d never really taken the time to appreciate it in detail - but then everything was precious today because today was new. Though new wasn’t always good. Miriam would have given anything for the old, for the familiar, for the status quo of no time ago, and all the glittering, stupid gravel in the world wasn’t going to make today better. Angrily, brows furrowed, she scuffed at the surface to expose the stones’ dank, muddy, true colours, but they remained as they were, impervious to her efforts. Sighing, she left them to have their moment of brilliance. It wouldn’t last. Nothing did.
Last night Miriam had been at a party and was still wearing her favourite gear: the red coat with black laces up the back, red mini dress with black insets slashed up from the handkerchief hem, black leggings and, of course, her red DMs – real DM’s, not knock offs. Her mother had gone halfers on them. Miriam stopped in her tracks:
“Mum. Aww, jeez.”
At that moment, Miriam became aware of a dark, smudgy figure on the far side of the park coming towards her. It was a bag lady - complete with obligatory shopping trolley - manfully trundling her way along the path. Miriam stared for a moment. The woman appeared to be waving at her. Miriam shrugged, dismissing the idea.
“Must be to them,” she decided, looking back the way she’d come at the policemen scurrying around erecting a tent and stripy tape to cordon off the area where her body was and with that, all thoughts of the bag lady evaporated in an exhalation of regret.
“Poor body,” she thought. She hadn’t even said cheerio to it, thanked it for having her for the past seventeen years, but it had all been a bit of a shock really and then that jogger had run straight through her. He’d carried on a bit, then stopped and come slowly, unwillingly back to where her body was lying curled up. She’d watched as he stared down at the blue-lipped form wearing her clothes, her face, her hair silver-sheened with frost. The man had touched her, tried to rouse her and she’d attempted to speak to him but got as much response as he had from her pathetic mortal coil. She’d observed him, in numb fascination, as he muttered to himself, panicked fingers fumbling with the zip on his bum-bag, car keys falling on the path as he extracted his phone. He seemed nice, his face full of sorrow for her as he waited for the police.
“Poor wee girl,” he’d said, his voice catching with emotion and that had nearly set her off bawling. Then the police arrived and the business of her demise began. She’d backed away not wanting to face or consider what indignities would be meted out upon her erstwhile flesh and bone now and in the days and months to come. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes in the sure and certain knowledge of …well…bugger all right now.
It wasn’t a biggy, her death, it wasn’t murder or anything. That’s what made it all less fair. If there had been a drama, some sort of seminal moment thing…nah…it still wouldn’t have been worth it. But at least she would’ve been memorable, more than just a salutary tale, something for the Morningside biddies to cluck over, making assumptions about her and her family. Alcohol and minus temperatures, her favourite coat not being really that thick, her cheap leggings a little too thin, it had all colluded against her. Miriam Thompson - good girl, clever girl, girl with a bright future – was never going home. She’d felt it creeping up on her slow and stealthy like a predatory cat. But it hadn’t mauled her. Hypothermia had wrapped itself around her and held her close as she drifted away.
“Hello, girly,” a ratty old voice said and Miriam jumped. The bag lady was standing staring at her – beady dark eyes in a peatbog face. Miriam looked over her shoulder to see who she was addressing, then looked back at the raggle-taggle smelly person in front of her.
“Are you….talking to me?” she asked.
“’Course I am.” The old woman’s breath was in keeping with her appearance. Minty-fresh would have been so wrong.
“Oh. So are you, you know, dead too?”
“’Course not, sweetpea. Do I look dead?” she smiled.
“Do I?” Miriam asked, indignantly.
“Yes, my dear love, you certainly do,” the old woman said, gently. “But I’m here now. I’ll see you on.”
“Where am I going?”
“Can I go to see—?”
“Best not too. For their sakes. Anyway, you don’t want to wait around too long and get stuck, fading away to mist and tatters and then no more. It’s a miserable end,” she said, shaking her head. “You come on with me now.”
David Matheson, whose jog had come to an abrupt end and Detective Inspector Henderson stepped back on to the path having been forced to move off of it by a bag lady and her overloaded trolley. They watched her trundle on her way, talking away to herself. The detective shook his head, amused despite himself, by the retreating figure.
“Old Kirsty,” he said. “She’s some character. Totally in a world of her own.”