Authors: Martha Grimes
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To the memory of Lucille Holland
and to Christine, whose case has altered
Dorcas Is Willing
orcas hated the fens.
A no-man's-land once you got beyond the pub, whose cold window-panes behind her glowed like a row of golden fingerprints, and the only other lights were those of the occasional car moving along the A17. The endless monotony of the fens was bad enough in daylight, and worse at night because at night it got really spooky. Dorcas kept looking over her shoulder, seeing nothing but a vast black flatness and the tiny lights of the pub.
It was a little after eleven o'clock on a cold February night, mid-February it was, that found Dorcas walking across Wyndham Fen. She set her feet down in the sopping field, made spongier by the incessant rains. She should never have worn these heels, inch and a half they were, but they made her legs look ever so much better. She was convinced that there must be quicksand about, despite people's telling her this was marshy land, the fens, and though it might be soggy and spongy, it wouldn't suck you down. There was always a first time, she thought.
The pub was well behind her, probably a half-mile, its lights still visible. Now they looked as far off as stars, and nothing lay between her and the rim of the sky, black and blank. She especially hated Wyndham Fen because of the tourists who came into the pub and asked stupid questions. It gave her a kick to give them stupid answers sometimes and watch as the puzzlement grew on their faces. It was really a laugh how many tourists were actually eager to be separated from their two or more quid to have the experience of seeing a fen as it used to be hundreds of years ago. God, wasn't it bad enough to see it now without pining over what it was? It was
like her own mum poring over old photos, snaps of them all at Skegness, places like that.
The dark shape of the Visitors' Center drifted like a ship on the unsteady ground. The fens lent everything around a curiously breathing lifeâobjects appeared bigger, trees grew larger, the spire of a distant church spiked higher, stumps engorged. Bright light would return these objects to their natural shapes, but even in the light of day the overwhelming flatness of the fens could make what appeared in the distance more distant, and at the same time, things that were closer looked closer still. It was as if there was never a time, day or night, when you could depend on the evidence of your own eyes.
Her shoes sank in the spongy ground. There was peat beneath the grass and for some reason that always made her feel the ground was not secure. As if the ground itself floated on a raft through fog.
The Visitors' Center was the only building around, so the only place that offered cover. She was making her way to its porch, thinking it a very odd place to choose for a meeting. Why couldn't they have just as easily met inside where there was warmth and light? The only light here was her torch spiking the ground, and she soon turned that off. Looking to her right where the boardwalk began to weave its way through the canals, she remembered how she hated water, had done ever since she'd been left in the tub alone as a tyke and slipped under and almost drowned because her tiny hands couldn't get purchase, couldn't find anything but slippery enamelâthe very thought made her sick, even now. When the family went to Skegness every summer, she wouldn't get any closer to the sea than halfway down the strand where she'd sit with her private hoard of film mags and sexy novels. She'd taken off the original dust jackets and replaced them with others. They were now entertaining her cloaked as
Jane Eyre, Adam Bede, David Copperfield.
Mum and Da would think that was what she was reading.
“Improving your mind are you, Dorcas? Good girl, just don't go getting too smart to get a paying job. Hah hah,”
her father would say. Not much of a laugh her father wasn't, but at least he wasn't always at her like the ones some of her friends had.
One of these books,
it was, she was supposed to have read in school. She never finished it. The boys at the comprehensive
seemed to have read Dickens for the sole purpose of taunting poor Dorcas, who had, at age thirteen, already something of a reputation. The boys had quickly put to use a slightly revised version of Barkis's message to Nurse Peggotty, which became in their mouths:
“Dorcas is willin', Dorcas is willin'.”
She pretended she couldn't be bothered, but the taunt stung, and her reputation gained momentum with no help from Dorcas. The primary reason that Dorcas
willing was because she wasn't pretty; she had nothing that would attract men except for being willing. And that had gone right round the comprehensive like wildfire. Dorcas hated Charles Dickens.
For more than twenty years she'd been inwardly raging about her looks, not one feature she could be proud of except maybe for her teeth, but did any man ever tell a girl he loved her teeth? Not likely. And her shape didn't make up for her face, either. Lying on the warm sands of Skegness she was painfully aware that the spandex of her bathing suit was girdle-tight and showed the rills and ridges around her middle. Her hair was rusty-red and stiffish, like one of the scouring pads she used for dishes. The only color in her round face came from the freckles that almost covered it.
Well, her da couldn't accuse her of not working, not with her two jobs, at the house and at the pub. Of course, if he knew why she was working two jobs, wouldn't he be surprised? She'd already got her “going away” outfit: a washed-silk brownish gold suit that made her eyes look more honey-colored than just plain brownâworse than brown, a silt-color, muddy brown.
As she hobbled along the pathâshe really shouldn't have worn these shoesâshe felt the burden of her plain looks lift a little, for they hadn't done her any harm in the last analysis; they were not important. She had found someone who could see her inner beauty. For Dorcas had always been convinced that here she shone.
She walked up the few steps, her feet killing her, and at the top took off her shoes and knocked off the mud. With shoes dangling from her fingers, she stood and looked out over Wyndham Fen and sighed. Here was history. She thought about that with absolutely no enthusiasm. Back in school she had been forced to go with her classmates to hear a boring
lecture about how the fens were drained. And other boring details about the Levels. Did anybody really care except for the people who grew all of those acres of tulips and daffs?
What she was looking out atâexcept she couldn't see with the torch offâwas what Wyndham Fen had looked like a hundred years before. Or was it a thousand? How could a person remember all that history? Then they'd drained all of the fensâshe was unclear as to who “they” were, the Vikings maybe? No, that was too long ago. That Dutch yob, Vanderbilt? No, he was that American billionaire. VanderÂ .Â .Â . Van Derâsomething? Anyway, he'd got this idea one fine day that you could make the fens produce crops and so forth if you went and drained them. This was good news she supposed if you wanted to be a farmer, maybe the dullest job in the world, but there it was, there's men liked it. Then after they drained the whole of Lincolnshire, nearly, someone elseâthe National Trust, she guessedâgot the idea that it would be nice to have at least one of the fens looking the way the fens had looked before. Why, she couldn't imagine. So they de-drained this one where the Center was. Flooded it back or something with water. Dorcas stood there with her shoes dangling from her fingers thinking, My God, look at all the trouble for nothing. Bugger all, it was a bigger waste of time even than sixth form had been. Anyway, you can't bring things back the way they were.
That was a deep thought for Dorcas, and this pleased her, for she didn't much like thinking. She meant to file it away to repeat when the two of them were talking. He'd be pleasantly surprised to know he was going to marry a woman who was good in bed and a good cook
a thinker of deep thoughts. She stood in the frigid mid-February air absently humming and wishing another deep thought would come her way. Maybe she should go read
She wrapped her heavily sweatered arms about her. She chided herself for not wearing a coat because the sweater was prettier and the coat was black and awfully old. She shivered but not from the cold this time. No, she refused to think about the dead woman. She would not think about her, would not name her name, not even in the privacy of her own mind; she would set her aside. If she were nameless then she would lose her power to disrupt and unnerve. The police would or would not take care
of that; they'd talked to everyone at the house, her included, till she was blue in the face.
Dorcas hunched her shoulders and huddled down into her heavy sweater and looked out over the dark tangle of trees and tall grasses and canals that was the old fen. She'd rather save her two quid, ta very much, for her trousseau or a good cookery book.