Walter Copper quickly scanned the pages of the Advertiser, he was bored and needed something to keep his mind alert. Usually he would stroll to the pub on the edge of the town. It was not truly his local but it was near the end of his beat and he would call in for a few minutes, in the line of duty, as it were. If it was cold or raining, or he needed to visit the gents. It happened most frequently in the worst of the winter when the comfort and shelter of the pub and facilities were most welcome. He could warm himself briefly, sidling to the log fire that crackled through the silence of the bar. You could almost touch the smoke and soot in the atmosphere from a century of logs and sometimes, when pine was on the pyre their smell cut sweetly through the years and the smell of old beer. Yet here he was, at home, bored, itching to go out and do something brave, something to remembered for. Anything to get him out of his little house and the only company he had, his wireless. He looked up from the newspaper spread out, almost covering his small table, and across to his wireless. It was a big square box of mahogany with a circular rattanesque central feature. Behind it was the big speaker. The metal rim, just touching the back of the weave, had left its impression as it vibrated and touched a million times to ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ or any similar contact from that other world. He looked at the wireless with the dark circle of the speaker that had seeped through the weave looking like a beer-stain on its centre. Above it was the glass etched with the stations, lit by a small green bulb from behind. If you looked into the glass closely, and down, you could see the thin twine with its one plastic tooth inserted. Turn the tuning knob at the bottom of the wireless and the twine would shudder gently and move slowly like a tightrope walker across a void until it was shaded by a radio station etched on the glass. If you were lucky you could tune out the static and hear the sound of BBC Home or Third. Really lucky, with the breeze in the right direction and you could get Radio Luxembourg. Walter had tried holding the aerial that trailed from the jack-plug at the wireless’ back and circled along the picture rail to the window opposite, where the wires of the old flex he used were twisted round the metal curtain rail. If he raised it off the floor he could sometimes, or at least imagine, get reception from Athlone or Radio Moscow. The advertisements on the page, writ bold and blocked in heavy squares did not enthuse him. Evening Beetle-drives, past and future, all no doubt in draughty halls and of no interest. Bridge clubs and jumble sales were passed over. He briefly hesitated over the adverts pleading for enthusiastic singers for church choir and another for Gilbert & Sullivan auditions especially in need of men able to be both pirates and policemen. He could be the policeman but as his voice was like a rasping file when he sang he quickly dismissed the idea. Anyway, he was bored not energetic! And it was now, not for the next two months. Faithful to his search he continued to the bottom of the page. His patience was rewarded when he saw the panel with the bold words, “Spend an evening with an Inuit”. It was that very night, down the road. All he had to do was to decide whether to walk or cycle. “That’ll do for me. A bit of the Arctic life sounds a better bet than the rain. Is it Greenland, or Arctic? I know they fish in ice-holes, suppose they eat whales and things. Polar bears and penguins I reckon too. What with kayaks and ice-floes, must be worse than walking the beat”. All this while pulling his boots back on and knotting the laces, between finishing swigs of the small bottle of stout he had opened the minute he arrived home. He shrugged awkwardly into the heavy raincoat and peered out of the window into the night. It was now dry and clear so he decided to walk but grabbed the scarf from the peg on the back of the front door as he opened it. With the scarf wrapped and tucked round his neck he stepped out into the street, pulled the heavy door closed, pushed and rattled the brass knob to check it was closed properly and strolled on. “I’ve never met an Eskimo before. I think it must be Canada; Greenland. Hope he’s wearing one of those jackets with its furry hood. Mind you it would be hot indoors here compared to Greenland. All that ice and snow. It might be polar bear skin and fur. Cor’, fancy having to kill a bear so you can dress to go outside”. Walter amused himself by designing questions and wondering if there would be photos projected onto a screen. He would like that, even better if it were a film of some sort. You never know, it could be in colour, well some of it might be! Colour was becoming a norm at the pictures these days… He saw the board outside with its big, scribbled, ‘8 pm start’, the last of the crowd had entered as he reached the door and followed quickly, intending to get a seat near the front. He noted that the few people in front were all women with their assorted old coats and gray hair or woolly headscarves. “Makes a change from bingo”, flicked through his mind. “Three shillin’s tonight luv”, said the cheery young girl behind the glass panel. “oh, it’s you Walter, didn’t expect you tonight, it’s not a film you know.” “Need a bit of culture tonight, Pat”. He paid his money, took his ticket and the girl followed his back with a slightly quizzical expression. Walter strolled into the old picture-house to find a seat. It was a cinema built at the beginning of the century for the burgeoning silent-movies but fallen upon hard times with the arrival of a big new cinema nearby with its ability to show films in colour on a big screen and with the new stereo sound. The old cinema survived by holding regular events such as bingo, exhibitions, amateur productions and assorted entertainments on the low stage. Such as this one. He walked down a side aisle, towards the front, looking for a seat. He was surprised at how many people were there, must be over a hundred, he guessed. Scanning the rows he then began to notice it was mostly women in the audience, all chattering, many smoking or passing sweets to neighbours. A few husbands seemed to have been dragged along. There were few gaps but he spotted one in the first row and sneaked in, half crouching as the lights dimmed in the auditorium and rose on the footlights. The spots in the far corners lit up a golden circle on the lush red curtains. Walter crumpled his coat on the floor, apologised to the woman each side of him and settled in the creaking seat as the curtains opened to a flutter of audience clapping. Walter folded his arms, keeping his elbows to himself and looked up at the figure approaching from the wings. A tall, gaunt figure wearing a pink, knitted dress and long grey cardigan walked into the central spotlight. Round her neck trailed a long silk scarf which she slowly pulled off and folded into squares until it was as small as a handkerchief. She waved it to the crowd, asking for silence and smiled, nodding her head in thanks as the quiet descended. “Good evening everybody, so good to see you all here. I do hope we can meet some of your loved ones tonight”. She looked round slowly, then down and Walter felt her eyes dipping into his, locked. I am an Intuit, a clairvoyant, a medium. I am not an Eskimo, an Inuit from Greenland. I have no kayak or fishing pole. And for information you should also know that penguins live in the southern hemisphere and polar bears in the northern. They never meet, not even in a zoo”. She smiled, ” If you saw the advertisement in the paper I am sure you noticed the spelling mistake”. She smiled at him again, “Meet me after the show, Walter.” she instructed. She looked out around the audience again, “Now, who needs to talk with me?” she closed her eyes. Walter Copper also closed his eyes and tried to shrink back into his seat.
from ‘It Happened in Burnthorpe’
copyright wordparc J Johnson Smith