BOBBY SHAFTO Part 1 of 2

Recently I heard about a question on a game show which went: “Who wore silver buckles on his knees?” The answer, which I was proud to know, was: “Bobby Shafto.” The question made me think about the Bobby Shafto ditty which goes as follows:

Bobby Shafto’s gone to sea,
With silver buckles on his knee;
He’ll come back and marry me,
Bonny Bobby Shafto!

The still popular song dates from the early 1700s and is now played as a nursery rhyme. It has several conflicting explanations. I delved into these and offer this story as my interpretation of what might have happened. I give it in two installments.

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Bridget Belasyse[i] lived in Brancepeth Castle[ii]. She sat gazing out of her window while her maid combed and braided her long blond hair. It was a crisp north of England morning. Birds sang, and light mists tinged with pink hung over the verdant surrounding fields. Her window faced east toward Durham City. city with its ancient castle and cathedral hidden from view in the valley of the River Wear valley. To her left was the village of Brancepeth and if she turned right and strained, she could see Whitworth Hall across the rolling countryside.

Bridget knew that the castle had been purchased by her warring grandfather and often wished that she had been born a man so that she could partake in this kind of gallantry and adventure. The closest that she had come to war was in 1745 when she was ten, and the English army led by The Duke of Cumberland raged through the countryside on their way north to Scotland to annihilate ‘The Jacobite Rising’ led by the romantic figure of Bonnie Prince Charlie[iii]. What took Bridget’s imagination was not the ruthless defeat of the rebellion but the romantic story of Flora MacDonald, a Scottish highland lass, who had aided the Bonnie Prince to escape abroad. Bridget knew that in the same situation, she would have done likewise.

It was now spring of 1760, and Bridget had just turned twenty-five, rather too old to still be unmarried, but she was headstrong and insisted that she wouldn’t marry “just anyone’’. She pointed out that her idol of feminine achievement, Flora MacDonald, hadn’t married until she was twenty-eight. She said that there was still plenty of time. Those who knew her agreed that, with her fortune and astonishing good looks, there probably was, plenty of time.

Her hair finished. She donned a bonnet and called for her velvet cloak. She went outside and walked with a resolute stride to St. Brandon’s church. Her ostensive mission was to welcome Thomas Goodfellow Shafto, the new rector. When she entered the church, its cool presence reminded her of her belief in God. She hastily curtsied and took a pew to kneel and pray. Beside the altar she could see two men conversing. Their voices echoed but strain as she did, she could not make out their words. She deduced that the one wearing a cassock must be the new rector and the other? The other, tall blond with a relaxed easy stance – surely that was Bobby, his brother. She knew that Whitfield Hall which she saw from her window was their family home, but she had never met the brothers. They had been raised in London where their father had served as politician and Member of Parliament[iv]. When Bridget began to feel uncomfortable in her strained eaves-dropping stance, she slipped out of the church unannounced. The two at the altar heard her retreating footsteps and smiled as they watched the church door close behind her.

“I hear that’s a feisty one” remarked Thomas.

‘One of the Belasyse from the castle?”

“The Belasyse, – If I’m not mistaken that was Bridget. She is monied – no other children – Her parents are elderly, she will get the entire estate when her parents die!”

“Worth a visit?”

“Yes indeed!”

The following morning Thomas and Bobby paid a visit. For some reason, Bridget blushed when her butler announced their presence. She wasn’t sure whether it was something about their voices in the church, or the easy self-assured way that Bobby had stood in the church which had intrigued her and now made her blush. She was still pink when the two entered her drawing room. She served small cakes and tea, acquired, she explained, through her father’s trading with the East India Company. They exchanged pleasantries. She mentioned that she liked to ride. Bobby was quick to follow up on her comment with an offer to accompany her. For the first time in her life, Bridget was attracted to a man. She heartedly accepted. The attraction appeared to be mutual. The young couple quickly fell into a routine of riding together every morning. They adopted a wooded dell, half way between Brancepeth and Whitworth Hall, as their meeting place. The place was damp and beautiful. That spring the ground was carpeted with blue bells. Their brilliant color spread in wonderous beauty under the trees giving the place an ethereal smell of damp earth and blossom.

Both Bridget’s and Bobby’s parents disapproved of their bludgeoning romance. Bridget’s because they wanted Bridget to marry a titled man of good means, and Bobby’s because they wanted Bobby to parley his good looks and charm into a relationship with an heiress to a fortune larger than Bridget’s. Both sets of parents agreed that a separation was required, but by the time they took action Bridget and Bobby had exchanged troths. Bridget gave Bobby a pair of silver britches or knee buckles and Bobby had sworn eternal love and marriage. Bridget’s mother called on the Shaftos at Whitworth Hall and requested that Bobby leave her daughter alone. She offered introductions to enable him to go to sea and ‘shape up’ as she put it, by engaging in meaningful work.

Bobby was attracted to the idea of getting rich quickly and agreed to join the East India Company and to ship out to India. He and Bridget met under their meeting place trees and exchanged a long farewell during which they repeated their vows of constancy and eternal love. They knew that they faced a long separation for the voyage to India alone, around the Cape, took about a year.

In order to thwart her parent’s attempts to pair her off with other suitors Bridget created a comforting song. She took an older north of England tune (circa 1690) and set her own words to it. Every morning, rain or shine, she opened her window and gazed east while she sang her catchy ditty.

Bobby Shafto’s gone to sea,
With silver buckles on his knee;
He’ll come back and marry me,
Bonny Bobby Shafto!

During the day her parents and servants often heard her singing to the ramparts of the castle. She sang to the woods and dells around Brancepeth until everyone knew her refrain. Soon the servant girls took up the song. Some sang of upcoming nuptials, others of temporary separations. The song gained in popularity as it gradually passed from village to village. No-one changed the essence of the first verse for perhaps they liked the ring of Bonnie Bobby Shafto or maybe preferred anonymity for their loved ones. Some added verses to suit their particular circumstances.

There was this verse dedicated to a tall lover:

Bobby Shafto’s tall and slim,
He’s always dressed so neat and trim,
The ladies they all kick at him,
Bonny Bobby Shafto.

Others with shorter beaus added this verse:

Bobby Shafto’s fat and fair,
Combing down his yellow hair;
He’s my love for evermore,

Bonny Bobby Shafto.

To be continued.

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End notes associated with this part.

[i] Belasyse, pronounced ‘bel- asis’.

[ii] Brancepeth Castle, originally constructed in Norman times, was purchased on April 7th 1701 by Sir Henry Belasyse, Bridget’s grandfather. He used funds accumulated during his military career.

[iii] In 1745 Charles Edward Stuart, grandson of James II of England, landed in Scotland to lead a catholic claim to the throne known as the Jacobite Rising. The rebellion was defeated by William Duke of Cumberland. Bonnie Prince Charlie, as the ‘pretender’ was affectionately called by his followers, escaped with assistance of a local highland lass, Flora McDonald.

[iv] John Shafto Member of Parliament 1729-1742.

[v] Some believe that the Bobby Shafto song relates to a Bobby Shafto who lived in Hollybrook, in County Wicklow Ireland and died in 1737

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Leslie a short story

At present I am reading short stories in Amy Hempel’s new collection “Sing to It.” In these stories most of her polished prose is in first person and reads as a stream of compelling, and of-times surprising consciousness. At first, I was confused by her style but after reading a few of the stories I tuned in and let her messages haunt. I can’t duplicate her style but admit some influence and offer this purely fictional tale for your comments.

My routine is simple. I rise before the sun, don an attractive tracksuit and run. I adopt a three-mile circuit. I warm up on the short distance down the west side of Shoal Creek to the park at fifteenth. Here I cross and turn to run up the east side of the Creek where the trial is located next to Lamar and is lit by street lights. Then, at a mile and a half, when the sun has risen, I turn left across a bridge and take the path on the west side of the Creek. I enjoy the dappled sunlit path, the green trees, the earthy smell of the ground, the bird song, and the gurgle of the water in the Creek. In one place, the path opens up, and I pause to take in the magnificence of nature. I do some jumping jacks while staring at the way that the morning sun highlights the Creek. I promise myself that one day, I’ll return with watercolors and easel to paint this beautiful scene. Invigorated, I climb the bank to my apartment, shower, put on an attractive blouse and business suit, and drive my short commute to work.

On the way, I stop at my favorite coffee shop for a sweetened café latte. There are two baristas. From the way that they interact with each other, I assume that they are close. Jose, the taller of the two, always serves me. He must see me in the parking lot for, when I enter, he has my order ready. We exchange pleasantries. One spectacularly beautiful morning I tell him that I had an invigorating run along Shoal Creek that morning.

He asks: “Did you see Leslie?”

I tell him that the route is generally deserted. He comments that Leslie visits the coffee shop each morning with an identical order to mine. We both laugh, then I turn half expecting to see Leslie, instead I see a car entering the lot with the favorite Austin bumper sticker. It reads: “Keep Austin Weird.”

I turn back to Jose and remark, “That Leslie, as a confirmed cross dresser, is well invested in keeping Austin weird.” Jose agrees with me.

I arrive at the office and open it up for the day greeting the staff and my partners with a serene sense of wellbeing tinged with superiority. When the mayoral election comes around Leslie’s name is on the ballot. Leslie as mayor – now that would be weird. The winner is Kirk Watson for another term. I like him and admire the astute way that he brought the rampant city environmentalists and the needs of in-coming employers and their developers together.

His thesis was quite simple, “The environmentalists and business leaders have the same goals.”

His premise startled every one until he explained. The environmentalists wish to protect the green Austin amenities, such as the Barton Creek greenbelt, Shoal Creek, and Town Lake, to name a few; to do this, they need Council’s support and funds. The new comers and developers come because they wish to enjoy the green Austin amenities, such as the Barton Creek greenbelt, Shoal Creek, and Town Lake. They expand the tax base and bring funding for the environmentalists.

Everything evolves and so does my morning run. It begins with an appearance where the west trail comes to my favorite spot, the place where there is an opening commanding a view down the Creek. The man, yes of course, it is a man, is completely naked. He stands fifty feet from me obviously posing for my benefit. I pretend not to see but catch his actions as, he pees an impressive long arch into the Creek. I’m a little taken aback by his presence but not frightened. He is too far away, and I can run. I wonder if he is Leslie, who is known to camp somewhere along this Creek. I do ask myself why Leslie, who likes to be seen as a woman, should wish to assert masculinity to me. I calm myself by telling myself that this person, was caught by surprise, and is as startled as I am.

My office overlooks the street of the coffee shop and, beyond, the way into Shoal Creek. Late each morning Leslie appears calmly walking up the street. He, or should I say she, is perfectly clad in women’s clothing. A clean chin, how does one shave in the woods, full make-up, skirt and blouse, hose and the highest high heels, surely uncomfortable to walk in? To top it all I keep reminding myself that Leslie is enrolled as a mayoral candidate, yep, Austin weird.

Sometimes I meet others on the trail. It is rare. I greet each with a hearty “Good morning” glad that we are always passing. Leslie still appears from time to time, or I think that it is Leslie, always the same place, generally sparsely clad. Sometimes there is a wave of a hand. I respond raising my arm. Time passes, spring becomes summer and then Fall. It is still warm I wear a skimpy top and shorts. The dawn is getting later and my run through the woods is in half light. I begin to fear seeing the naked / sparsely clad one, because something has changed. I can’t put my finger on what, but my sixth sense tells me that things are different; I consider altering my route but don’t.

It is Friday the week before Thanksgiving, and my nemesis jumps out in front of my path. He holds something in his hand. It looks like a gun. I’ve never seen him this close. His chin is covered in stubble. I’m now convinced that he is not Leslie. He motions to me to step off the path into a stand of bushes. There’s a rug on the ground. He wants me to lie down. I am trembling. I must obey. There is a yell, and my assailant is attacked from behind; he drops the gun. Leslie yells,

“Go away you perverted creep. I’ve had my eye on you. You are not welcome. Go.”

Miraculously, my assailant runs off. Leslie picks up the gun and hands it to me. I feel stupid when I look at it and see that it is plastic. I am embarrassed to have been held up by a semi-naked man with a toy in his hand. Leslie gives me a smile and disappears.

I do not call the police for their presence would surely be a poor thank you to Leslie. At the coffee shop, I talk to Jose and arrange for free coffees for Leslie. I don’t explain why. I merely remark, “I’m keeping Austin weird!” Jose nods in approval

I make one additional change; I adopt a new run route around Town Lake.

CHAT WALKS a memoir

Today I post “Chat Walks” which is a short personal memoir. It is offered as a quick read to atone for my last two long “Bobby Shafto” posts.

Every summer we visited my maternal grandparents who lived in a small village south of London. Probably to get us out of the house, my grandmother frequently insisted that we accompany my Grandfather on his daily walk. This consisted of a ramble around the village green taken at a slow pace for he stopped to greet everyone we encountered. He was on first name basis with them all. Each exchange, true to the English, began with the weather and went on to hold his attention for several minutes. I named his walks his “Chat Walks.” The name stuck! Soon my grandmother took to rising from the breakfast table with the words, “Jimmy, time for your Chat Walk, take the grandchildren!”

 

BOBBY SHAFTO Part 2 of 2

Ten years passed during which time the ditty continued to spread. From County Durham, it spread into the neighboring counties. It was passed on by word of mouth by both rich and poor. It quickly reached neighboring county Yorkshire where the mythically wealthy Anne Duncombe lived. Along with many others, she sang it in her youth. By the time that she reached marriageable age she still harbored a secret desire for this bonnie man with romantic silver buckles. The song continued its popularity slowly spreading across the land. It even made its way across The Irish Sea to as far away as Hollybrook, in County Wicklow Ireland[v]

Thus, it was that when Bobby Shafto returned to England, he found a land replete with women hankering for him. Each hoped that Bobby Shafto’s “silver buckles” meant he was rich and the promise ‘He’ll come back and marry me,” applied to them. He enjoyed his popularity and outlaid the small sum that he had managed to accumulate during his travels to set himself as the desirable bachelor he had become. For the following three years, he moved from place to place wooing women and enjoying his eligible status even though he began to find that once his true net worth became known most of his targeted women’s families told him to move on. Anne Duncombe’s family were different as the size of their fortune immunized them from financial concerns. Bobby liked Anne’s youthful innocence and told her that he was in love. They became engaged.

During Bobby’s absence, Bridget’s parents died leaving her an independent heiress. She felt happy in this state as she was now mistress of her own destiny. She kept up her vigil for Bobby’s return and continued to sing her song. Every day she rode to the glade where she, and Bobby had always met. Here she dismounted to sit and wait. When she heard rumors of Bobby’s return, she increased her vigil. Her doctors advised her to stop lingering in this damp dell. They told her that it was probably the cause of her consumption and most certainly aggravating it. She refused to move to a warmer dry climate to treat her ailment for she knew in her heart that her Bobby would return as he had promised and wanted to be there to meet him. When she heard that Bobby had been seen in Yorkshire wooing Anne Duncombe, her resolve faltered, and she arranged for a trip to London to seek treatment.

Meanwhile, Anne’s youth and fortune reminded Bobby of Bridget. The closer they came to their wedding date the more his old memories of Bridget intensified. He decided that the only thing that he could do was to see Bridget. He traveled north to County Durham, and on the day after his arrival at Whitworth Hall rode out to their meeting place. She was not there so he continued on to Brancepeth Castle. On hearing that she learned of his engagement and had left for London, he followed her with urgency. It was the speed which he now knew he ought to have used on the day of his return to England.

It was here that Bobby Shafto and Bridget Belasyse reconnected. She lay decoratively on a couch and gasped when she saw him. His years in India had aged him, giving him, mature good looks and he still wore his silver buckles. He was in for a greater shock for he hadn’t been prepared to find her pale and thin. They sat together talking until one of her coughing spells exhausted her that her nurse suggested that she ought to return to bed. Bobby swept her up in his arms and carried her to her chamber. When she was in his arms, he was amazed how light she had become. Now his feelings for her intensified, and he knew that he had always loved her.

“Let’s get married.” He suggested.

“Yes.” she responded, “But you have to know that I am dying.”

“But you are not going die.” He shook his head “We’ll help you get the best treatment.” He smiled weakly as he gently stroked her icy cold hand.

“If we did get married …….’ Bridget paused, “if we did, and I died, you’d get everything.” She attempted a smile, “It’d be my gift to you, and I’d much prefer it going to you than to my cousin.” She sank back on her pillows and closed her eyes.

Bobby turned to the nurse, his eyes asked, “What now?”

“She needs to rest.” said the nurse, “Come back tomorrow.”

Bobby stood and lent over to kiss her damp forehead “My only love.” He murmured. “I’ll be back, I’ve learned my lesson I promise; I’ll be back.”

The next day, April 6th 1774, Bobby returned. He was greeted by a front door sporting a black wreath. Bridget had died during the night. The cousin had already materialized and taken over the household. He met Bobby at the door and told him that he was not welcome.

Bobby mourned for a couple of days and then pulled himself together and returned to Anne. On April 18th 1774, two weeks after Bridget’s death Bobby Shafto and Anne Duncombe were married. Their union, by all accounts a happy one, was blessed with children and greatly improved the Shafto holdings for decades to come. They played Bridget’s song at the wedding. Bobby let Anne believe that it was in her honor.

Bobby Shafto’s gone to sea,
With silver buckles on his knee;
He’ll come back and marry me,
Bonny Bobby Shafto!

The end.

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For additional end-notes see part 1  of 2

[v] Some believe that the Bobby Shafto song relates to a Bobby Shafto who lived in Hollybrook, in County Wicklow Ireland and died in 1737.

BRIDE IN THE BATH

Marie disliked her brother-in-law George Smith. It was a disturbing aversion which she couldn’t understand, for she deemed him to be, like Mary Poppins, “Practically perfect in every way.” Perhaps it was this very perfection, which triggered her dislike, or perhaps, deep down, her dislike was the result of an innate sibling jealousy. When she watched him objectively, she found his good looks and healthy physique pleasing and couldn’t help but wonder how much her sister, Anne, must enjoy her intimacy with such an ideal masculine specimen. 

Before the wedding, she tried to explain her sixth sense reservation to her parents. They suggested that her sense of foreboding was ill-founded. They pointed out his solicitous kindness, and the way that he appeared to adore his wife. She told them that she wondered whether his interest in her sister was triggered by her status as a wealthy woman. They told her not to be jealous. They informed her that her fears were unfounded because George, himself, had suggested an elaborate pre-nuptial agreement.

****

A few days after Anne’s ecstatic telephone call to tell Marie that she was pregnant Anne received a call from George. He was weeping and stammered his appalling news. Anne drowned in her bath. He requested that Marie call their parents as he asserted that he was too distraught to make any further calls. No-one could understand how Anne could have drowned until investigators postulated that she must have accidentally knocked her hair dryer into the water. Her autopsy confirmed that she had died from the combination of heart attack and drowning. This diagnosis had some appeal to Marie’s family as a few years earlier one of Marie and Anne’s school friends had died in a swimming pool accident due to a heart attack and subsequent drowning induced by a short in a faulty under-water pool light.

When Anne’s affairs were wrapped up, it transpired that she and George hadn’t signed their pre-nuptial agreement. Anne’s grieving family decided not to contest the inevitable and did not challenge the transfer of her assets to her unhappy widower. Marie even faced her dislike for George and joined her mother in helping pack up his possessions in support of his proposed relocation to “get away from it all” as he put it by taking up a new position in London. They used a hoard of old newspapers which Marie’s mother had saved for such an occasion.

It is a strange phenomenon that old newspaper stories frequently catch our attention as we use them to wrap-up fragile items. In Marie’s case, it was the photograph of a widowed husband standing outside his house, which caught her attention. He was clean-shaven while George was bearded, but something about the eyes got her attention. She took a pencil and added a beard and moustache rather as she had adorned pictures in her youth. She pointed the picture out to her mother. “George doesn’t have a twin brother, does he?” she asked.

“No dear, don’t you remember he had no family at the wedding.” Her mother reached for her reading glasses to better scrutinize the newspaper photograph. “Didn’t he say that they were all killed in a car wreck when he was a teenager.”

Marie stopped her packing and read the headline “Wife drowned.” This was accompanied by the photograph which caught Anne’s attention and instructions to turn to ‘Drowned’ on page A6. She sat down and read on. The names were different, but the circumstances were remarkably similar. Marie was so disturbed by her find that she contacted the police. They reviewed her evidence and although they agreed that there were similarities, they told her that they didn’t think it  sufficient to open the case for further investigation and certainly didn’t want to change their report of accidental death to murder.

****

George disappeared from their lives. Marie’s grandfather died and left her a fortune. Even though much of the family deemed her slightly insane as a result of her ongoing obsession about her sister’s death no-one contested her inheritance. Now that she didn’t need to work, she spent most of her time searching newspapers and obituaries. Her dedication was rewarded and she found him living in Hollywood under a different name. By now, she was so embroiled in her murder theory that she determined to catch him, and elicit revenge herself. She changed her name, died her hair, lost weight and moved to Los Angeles. Here she mixed with the rich and famous constantly manipulating until she managed to meet him, the George Smith, who married her sister, now going under the name Francis Brown. He invited her on a date, and she found herself attracted to him. Could it be. She wondered, that her original dislike really was a manifestation of jealousy?

****

She accepted his marriage proposal. They had a quiet chambers exchange of vows and purchased an enormous house with a lap pool. Francis told her that he liked to swim in the morning as part of his fitness regime. Before she did what she knew that she had to do Marie picked the lock to his desk and searched his papers. At the very bottom, she found his scrap book containing a jumble of images of not two but three wives all of whom had died in their baths. At this moment, Marie knew him to be a ruthless murderer. She ought to have gone to the police, but she didn’t. Instead, she researched electricity on-line and when she was confident that she knew what she was doing she switched one of the pool lights from a GFI circuit to a regular one. Then she wiggled the light and adjusted the worn wires so that a short would occur. Meanwhile, she managed to avoid marital intimacy by claiming a yeast infection sincerely hoping that the pool light would do its job before she ‘recovered.’

They were married less than a month when she saw her chance, while he changed into his trunks, she turned on the lights. They sparkled seductively in the morning light. She took her coffee and sat in a beach chair next to the pool. She blew him a kiss as he dove in. He came up spluttering clearly in the onset of cardiac arrest. He shouted to her but she smiled, and waved. She shouted “Remember them, remember Anne.” and slowly ambled inside to call 911.

Marie skillfully acted the bereaved wife and waited until he was interred before she ‘found’ his secret journal and alerted the police so that he could be named the ruthless serial killer that he was. She thought it poetic justice that she should inherit his vast assets but after the police dubbed him a murderer, she magnanimously contacted each of the bereaved families and restored to them the equivalent of their daughter’s assets. Then she emigrated to New Zealand to distance herself from the terrible memories which haunted her, and away from her fear that someone might question the strange way in which he had died.

Underground Initiation

The Northern Line has become my line. Every day I board in Earls’ Court, where I live, and ride its cranky elevators deep into the earth. Then I follow the black Northern Line signs and take my train. I stand swaying with the masses of other commuters until the train whirls into Russel Square where I emerge for a brisk, I think cleansing, walk to our office in Bedford Square. Sometimes the crowds throw me back five years to the time when I was a nineteen-year-old student riding this same line. Only then things were very different. On that occasion, it was night. I rode from Earl’s Court where I had been at a late-night get-together to Russel Square the closest station to my student digs on Bedford Way. As I doze off in my wedged upright stance, I relive every moment of that ride………

It is late, there are no standing room only crowds, indeed, my coach is empty except for me and a noisy threesome of young men. I select a seat a reasonable distance away from them and am pleased that they exit at South Kensington. I am now alone rattling through space. He boards at Hyde Park, the next stop. I am surprised when he selects to sit in the seat beside me even though he has the choice of the whole empty coach. I am penned in with a seat in front and this man on my right.

I pretend that he isn’t there. I can feel the warmth of his body as his presence rubs my right shoulder. I smell his body odors, smoke mixed with unwashed human, sweat. He grunts, and I quiver. Green Park passes we are still alone as we run through Piccadilly. His body odor becomes more oppressive. I consider trying to get off. At each station I hope that someone, anyone will board. No-one does, we continue to be alone. He is fidgeting with something in his lap, I turn and see what I have never seen before. I react with a quiver and start shaking; Leicester Square, Covent Gard, Holborn, the stations take an eternity to pass. I stare and try to turn away. I make a futile attempt to ignore what he is doing. As we roll into Russel Square, I stand and say,

“Excuse me, this is my stop.”

“Mine too” he gives a toothy grin.

He lets me pass, my body rubs against his. He touches me with his hands but I wriggle and am free. I run down the platform and vault up the escalator. I think that I can hear him behind me, but I’m not sure. I am too terrified to turn and look as this might slow me down. At the top, I am thankful to see that the ticket booth is still manned. I rush up and whisper,

“Help! A man! He exposed himself to me,” I turn “he’s…….” but he wasn’t – he had disappeared.

The ticket clerk jumps up and opens his door. He invites me inside. He tells me to sit down while he calls his station manager. The manager arrives. He is an elderly, old enough to be my father. He puts a kindly hand on my right shoulder I try to make it erase the memory of the touch during my ride, but it doesn’t. He and another man usher me into a very warm inner office. They offer me tea. It arrives hot and strong. I warm my trembling hands on the surface of the mug. Although I never add sugar, I do so now as the brew is strong. They want me to make a police report. I am calmer now. I let the glow of the tea permeate my body. Once we have got past the easy questions, name, age, residence et cetera we get down to specifics. I am so flustered that I can’t describe him. His smell maybe and his noises but these men are not interested in this information, they want specifics.

“Circumcised or not?”

“I don’t know”

“Did he ejaculate?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well,” they shrug,” describe the size. Describe what you did see.”

I look at their anxious faces, and notice their leaning-in body language. I realize that they are deriving as much pleasure in this debrief as he took in sitting next to me. I stand and thank them. I say that I must go now; maybe another time. Yes, I’ll complete the report tomorrow. I rush out and, with a renewed spate of energy, run home to my apartment. I lock the door.

The incident still haunts, even though I am beyond that fear. I handle things differently. Recently I rode a late tube home and found myself in an empty car with a man wearing an expensive Burberry raincoat. Like the other, he sits next to me. I know the routine, he starts fiddling and opens his coat to reveal his goods. I turn to him and remark, in a bored, matter-of-fact voice of irony,

“Put that thing away. I am not interested.”

He does just that. He gets off at the next station.

WILE E COYOTE

Lucy joined Alex and Alice. The three stood at their front room window watching Mr. Roadrunner, who stood on a short garden wall a few feet from the window. They admired his size and his cinnamon, blackish and white freckled feathers. He flexed his long tail and seemed to look at the three in the window. It was clear that he didn’t see through the glass. Presently, they saw a streak crossing the road and Mrs. Roadrunner joined him.

“They are magnificent,” commented Alice. “How fast they run! Monogamous, mates for life; rather like us.” She turned and looked at her husband. Then she went on, “do you remember the old Wile E Coyote / Roadrunner cartoons? I enjoyed watching those trailers. It’s a pity that they are no longer shown.”

“Beep. Beep.” replied Alex. They turned and gave each other a high five.

Lucy stood motionless between them, still fixated on the pair of birds.

“I heard the coyotes last night,” said Alice. “Their commotion upsets Lucy. I’m glad to see that she is calmer now. I wonder if she knows something we don’t; like what they are communicating. Is it a noise when they make a kill, or are they calling for reinforcements as they hunt?”

“Perhaps they are opening an order from Acme. One of those fateful contraptions that Wile E Coyote ordered to assist him in catching Roadrunner!”

Alice giggled “The roadrunner can go fifteen miles an hour; no wonder Wile never caught him!”

“They are doing quite well here for they have caught everything else- – all the domestic cats and wild rabbits. I think that even the dog population is diminished.”

“Surely, they don’t hunt dogs. They are the same species, aren’t they? However, talking about coyote prey, I’d love it if they could also work on the squirrels.”

By now, the Roadrunners had left; and Lucy wandered away. Alex and Alice went about their various household activities.

That evening the coyote calls were close. Lucy was very agitated and roused Alex and Alice. Again, the three stood at a window. This time it was their backyard window where they could see beyond into the greenbelt where the coyotes called. Alex slid the back door open and stepped outside. The night was balmy, and the cloudless sky twinkled with stars. Alice joined him. Together they stood breathing fragrant night air.

The coyotes called again; this time Lucy responded. She ran out between Alex and Alice’s legs, and made for a hole in the fence. She was gone before they realized what was going on. They wondered what an Australian Sheepdog, like Lucy, would do with a pack of coyotes and suspected that she would return. They were wrong Lucy had heard and responded to The Call of The Wild. She was gone. The next neighborhood newsletter described the coyotes, who were continuing to kill outdoor domestic pets and had morphed into a ferocious pack led by a large alpha who looked strangely like a dog.