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Tim Lott

The Scent of Dried Roses

One family and the end of English Suburbia – an elegy
Tim Lott - Author
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Book: Paperback | 129 x 198mm | 304 pages | ISBN 9780141191485 | 30 Jul 2009 | Penguin Classics
The Scent of Dried Roses

Tim Lott's parents, Jack and Jean, met at the Empire Snooker Hall, Ealing, in 1951, in a world that to him now seems 'as strange as China'. In this extraordinarily moving exploration of his parents' lives, his mother's inexplicable suicide in her late fifties and his own bouts of depression, Tim Lott conjures up the pebble-dashed home of his childhood and the rapidly changing landscape of postwar suburban England. It is a story of grief, loss and dislocation, yet also of the power of memory and the bonds of family love.

Chapter One

It was a nothing day for Jack. He worked part-time for Age Concern. He didn’t think of Jean. She did what she did. After the dinner job, she would probably go and see her sister-in-law, Olive, or chubby little Rene from round the corner who had lost her husband a few years back. Or she would practise golf at the club in Perivale, although she wouldn’t join because she lack confidence that she knew how to score properly – Jean found arithmetic difficult.

Jack got home at about five o’clock. The house was nice and tidy as usual, with all the breakfast things cleared away. He shouted for Jean. There was no answer. Deciding that she was probably in the garden, he walked through the kitchen and into the small patch of green at the back. It ran slightly wild, the garden. It was deserted. There was an old shed at the end, full of junk, but there was nothing there either.

He came back into the house, puzzled. It seemed so still. Suddenly he moved, fast, running up the cramped stairs. He did not know why he was running. Jack rushed into the bedroom. Jean’s wig was on straight and nicely coiffed. Her feet – size four, petite like the rest of her – were maybe six inches from the floor. The blue necklace of rope held her tight. Her eyes were closed. She looked unconcerned. There was a letter on the bed, with Jackie written on it. A stool had been kicked away.

Jack ran downstairs. He was a practical man. He had to cut her down – although he knew she was dead and that it wouldn’t serve any purpose. There was a line around her neck, the blood pointlessly rushing to protect the delicate skin in the purple of a bruise. There was a line of blood.

He searched the kitchen drawer, but couldn’t find the scissors. He decided to make do with a bread knife. Upstairs again, he sawed through the tension of the rope. It took only a second. She fell into his arms lightly, as if they were dancing. He laid her on the perfectly made-up bed. Then he went downstairs and called 999.

The ringing tone no longer suggested a bell, merely a series of impulses. Jack’s voice held steady as the line was picked up.

Hello. There’s been an accident. My wife is dead, I think.

I see, sir. The address? Spell it please. 31 Rutland…As in the county? Thank you, sir. We’ll be with you as soon as we can.

Ok. Thank you.

He hung up, gently, as the line went dead. He decided to go upstairs again, dreaming now. He sat on the bed and held Jean’s hand, rocking gently back and forward, trying to find balance. The bed was firm, to guard against backache. She was cold, of course.

The letter was addressed to Jackie. The handwriting was neat and tidy, ‘Jackie’ in a different colour ink to the rest of it. There was a doodle at the top and the paper was folded into four. Jack opened it and began to read, tears now dissolving everything slightly. The letter was logical and clear, but it made no sense, no sense.

Jack decided to go back downstairs. He let go of Jean’s hand, giving it the tiniest squeeze. Goodbye, Jeannie. He walked slowly down the stairs, the note still in his hand.

He sat in the living0rom armchair, which was a gold-brown velveteen. Now there was blue light at the net curtains, flashing on to the walls. A knock at the door. There were two young men, policemen. There were men in white who went upstairs, without a word, without even asking.

One of the policeman, the older one, spoke.

Sit down, sir.

Jack had not returned to the chair and was wandering around without very much purpose.

I think you could use a drink.

The policeman poured a full glass of something or other and Jack took a deep wig, almost choking. He sat, listening to the noises upstairs, footsteps and something that sounded like furniture being moved. He felt a little groggy now. He tried to stand, to get to the phone to call his sons, but couldn’t remember their numbers. It was strange, because he’d known them all off by heart, for years.

Of course, they would be in the ‘Addresses’ book. Jack rose to his feet, went to the hall and picked up the vinyl-bound volume. He thumbed through the page, but found it hard to keep the book still. In the end, he couldn’t do it. The policeman gently eased the book from his big, collapsing hand. Jack gave him the names and he quickly found the numbers. The policeman began to dial the first one carefully.

Jack sat down again. His jaw worked, but he wasn’t sure whether or not words were coming out. Certainly the policeman didn’t respond, but then he was busy peaking on the phone now. Yet Jack felt it only proper that he be told what had happened, exactly, and why.

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