Henry Tegner 2009
Two police officers
stood at the front door. Some questions about where I had lived before moving in to the
flat. And then, with appropriate gravity, 'We have to inform you sir, that human remains
have been found at that property.'
I was thrown by the announcement. In my initial confusion I found
my mind racing back to happier times. When my son was preoccupied with the adventure of
growing up, and his mother still my wife. He now irrevocably lost to me; she also lost to
me, having sought solace, and finding disillusionment, with another man even while we
still lived under the same roof.
I was shocked, and frightened. Were they accusing me? Would I be
spending tonight and many more to come in a police cell on suspicion of murder?
'Are you able to account for them?'
Of course I could account for them. I knew at once the
significance of their discovery, and wondered how I could have been so careless. Our
leaving the house that had been home, a contented home to our small family, had been
precipitate. It held too many memories, which could only sustain a grief that was almost
impossible to bear. Even then Mary and I had started to bicker and on at least one
occasion had had a furious row, over nothing very much in particular. I know now that this
had more to do with our suppressed rage at our loss rather than anything seriously wrong
between us. And a sense of shared guilt which I know now was groundless. Yet we were
almost consumed by it.
Miko, you were my only son, my only child. And I
adored you. What might you have become had had you not gone? Every parent sees their child
as exceptional, but there surely was something quite unique about you. Not just the
driving curiosity common to all young children, but the sheer joy you experienced in your
discoveries. You were a hunter after things to fire your imagination, and your imagination
fired further your desire to seek out yet more wonders in the world where you found
yourself. You of the grimy knees, the scuffed shoes, unkempt hair and perpetual grin. Yet
you were quite without guile. You were a respecter of wild things and their habitats,
although there was little enough that they could keep secret from you. Fossil hunter and
star gazer you were. And an avid beachcomber on our occasional holidays by the sea.
I hear his voice even as I think about him. 'Dad, Dad! Whats
this? It looks like a baby shark!' He had run to me clutching a dogfish, pretty much
intact and only recently dead, judging by the
absence of stink. He insisted on taking it home. 'Ive seen fish pickled in jars in
the museum. Couldnt we do that?' I warned him of what his mother might think, but he
was not dissuaded. At a hardware store on the way home we bought a quantity of methylated
spirit under the suspicious eye of the brown-coated shop keeper. An hour later the
creature was consigned to an old sweet jar, suspended incongruously in purple
preservative, and placed with pride on the mantelpiece in the boys room.
He was drawn to the sea and the sea shore. Even the days in high
summer were not long enough to satisfy his desire to seek out exotic treasures in the
shingle and the flotsam cast up by the previous winters gales. On two or three
occasions we gathered driftwood and lit fires in a roughly constructed hearth of stones.
Sausages cooked in a cheap frying pan, fresh bread and tomato sauce we feasted upon. I see
Michaels ketchup smeared face split by his grin, and in my imagination I ruffle his
hair again. No queen or king ever delighted in such banquets as we tasted then.
Back home he arranged his treasures haphazardly in seed boxes and
placed them on roughly constructed shelves in the redundant hen-house. Outside he hung a
I saw his point - and theirs. Not many shared his enthusiasm for
abandoned birds nests, the bunch of porcupine quills given to him by a keeper at the
zoo, and his prized dogfish. But his collection was essentially for his own enjoyment and
it seemed that he thought little of other peoples views on it. As the months went by
it became clear that finding a space for everything was going to be a problem. And it was
equally clear that any sort of a cull was not an option for consideration. I
noticed, however, that with the passage of time he did become more selective about what he
The last summer that I shared with him was what I guess was
something of a pinnacle for the boy. We rented a cottage on a remote part of the
'You could get swept
away by the tide in your sleep', she cautioned. He did not press the matter. For he had
also learned that the coastal erosion was still very much ongoing. Yet he seemed content
enough to occupy himself pretty much entirely with his searching among the sea wrack for
whatever might lurk beneath the glistening fronds. This year, too, he became more inclined
to wander off on his own, always promising his anxious mother that he would not go so far
as to lose sight of us or we of him. The fact that he showed fewer of his discoveries to
us caused us less concern. With hindsight it may well have been that we were remiss in
showing less interest than we might have done. But this was all in the days before
contamination with used syringes and other unsavoury human detritus had begun to blight
I did not discover the full extent of his collection until early
in the next year, when I was able to steel myself to go through his things.
'Sir? one of
the officers jerked me out of my reverie. 'Are you O.K? Its not as if wed
the pathologist said that the bones are very, very old.'
I nodded. 'Yes, I know they are. Hundreds of years old.'
'Much older than the house even. Seems that they were put there.
In a box, under the stairs. So you know about them?'
With relief I realised that the police officers were not, after
all, making any sort of criminal enquiry. Perhaps they already had a pretty good idea of
how the remains had come to be there and just wanted confirmation.
I nodded 'Five years ago
we, my son and his mother and I
we were staying near the east coast. Its a
part that gets hammered by the gales in the winter. Im told that the waves smash
into the cliffs when the tides are high. Theyre soft, and several feet get cut away
I recalled the conversation Id had with a local, a retired
coastguard from a nearby town. He told me how some years earlier the erosion reached the
edge of the grounds of a long ruined monastery, encroaching at last upon the burial ground
of the monks who had lived and worked there. It seemed that the sea was no respecter of
the dead. In the wake of every onslaught was a scattering of bones across the shore. When
he found them I think Michael must have realised what they were and could not resist
taking such as he came across and adding them quietly to his other trophies. But I did
regret his not telling his mother and me what he had done. It was never in his nature to
'We thought that
might be the way of it, sir. Probably best if you have a quiet word with your lad some
time. This has taken up some police time that could have been better used
'Of course. Im sorry. Ill have a word with him
They took their leave and left me to my thoughts, and the lonely
evening that lay ahead of me. At last I put on my coat and set out on the familiar route
to the cemetery. Ten minutes later I was standing by the grave. 'Well now, Miko
would you ever guess who came to see me today?
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