Charlie’s Last Stand by Lindy Viandier
Charles found that he was thinking more and more about the wall, he even took Richard and I for a drink to discuss it.
“It’s in the wrong place,” he said.
“How can it be in the wrong place?” I replied, “It’s where a wall should be; at the bottom of the garden.”
“The council reckon it’s 20cms too close to the house.”
“20cms! That’s less than 9 inches, how can that matter?”
“The searches. They said everything has to be in order before they sell the land at the back.”
Charles had gotten himself into a right pickle, silly old fool. I told him his blood pressure would be up again, but would he listen? Talk about road rage, wall rage, that’s what he had.
The wall hadn’t always been there. Charles had built it soon after Margery walked out on him. Before the wall there had been a hedge. Margery loved greenery. She’d liked things to look natural. She would have hated the wall. Most of the other residents in the Close hated the wall too. Ed Simmons said, people who built high walls must have something to hide. I told him that Charles had built the wall for protection from intrusion – he had always been a private person, but became almost reclusive after Margery left. If any good had come out of this business, it was that it had got Charles back into the real world.
Richard thought Charles was over-reacting. The council had promised to replace the wall with some nice lap-larch fencing, and Charles would actually be gaining some land, all be it 20cms. I could sympathise with Charles, not being one for upheaval myself. There would be workmen and bulldozers, and kids chucking lumps of concrete everywhere, and every dog in the neighbourhood sniffing around and cocking its leg. Even so, I sensed there was something more than just upheaval bothering Charles, but even I didn’t suspect the lengths to which he would go to save the wall. First there were the complaints to the council, then the planning department, then the local M.P. Then, when all the e mails, phone-calls and letter-writing failed, he decided to take direct action.
Charles had always been a fence-sitter, figuratively speaking. Now there he was perched up there like some geriatric Eco-warrior, Swampy or Lofty, a right blooming Charlie. Sitting astride the wall, his war medals pinned to his M & S cardigan, Sousa’s Stars and Stripes blaring from a CD player in the garden. The workmen looked bewildered. The dogs barked excitedly. The kids picked up sticks and marched up and down in time to the music.
“The strain will kill him,” I said to Richard. “Go and talk him down.”
But it was no use, the whole thing had become a crusade to him, Charlie’s last stand.
I was right. The strain did kill Charles. Four days and nights he sat on that stupid wall, and neither threats, nor bribes could entice him down. He wouldn’t climb down from the wall, unless the council climbed down from their decision to move it. The papers arrived on the second day, then the local radio. Channel Four came on the last day, just in time to film Charles keel over, and land head-first in a rubbish skip. The following morning, they started the bulldozers. A little group of us stood and watched in stunned silence as the wall began to fall.
One of the dogs found the shoe, it was one of those canvas sandals you buy abroad. Margery brought a similar pair back from Majorca the summer before she left. There was nothing remarkable about finding an old shoe at the bottom of a garden. Then one of the kids spotted the ring, Margery’s big diamond engagement ring glinting in the sunlight. There was nothing remarkable about finding a ring at the bottom of a garden, except this one still had a finger inside it.
The bulldozers stopped and the men started, with tweezers and plastic bags and labels. A screen went up around the remains of the wall, and the remains of Margery as it turned out. She was reconstructed like some bizarre puzzle. The wall was reconstructed too. The garden had become too much of a curiosity for lap-larch fencing. Only this time it was 20cms further away from the house.