In all her life Janice had never been known to speak in less than a shrill falsetto, and at 48 years old it was unlikely that she could ever be silenced. There were neighbours who fervently wished she might, a husband whose wishes were seldom heard, two sons who bought their own houses a mile away so as to be out of earshot: but she would not – some said could not -change.
“Mind you, the whole family were loud.” (This was Mrs. Proudfoot, a long-time friend). “The old man were a blaster down the mine and he were deaf as a post, so ever’one shouted at ‘im an’ ‘e shouted back. ‘Twas ‘im put the ‘Dog and Gun’ pub out of business. He were its only customer.”
Some believed Janice shouted because, like a small dog left alone in a big house, she was frightened. This would have gained greater credence if she were quieter in the evenings when her husband came home, or on the days when she cared for her grandchildren, but no. Teachers expressed concern that Janice’s grandchildren showed signs of premature deafness. Neighbours overheard each and every remark from Janice’s side of conversations, like: “You can’t have rice pudding”, “They’re in the top drawer”, or, more mysteriously: “It’s stuck!” These same neighbours were prone to changing TV channels involuntarily at Janice’s instruction, and to bury their heads beneath several pillows at Friday bedtime.
“Half-past eleven, without fail. It’s like the ‘Ride of ‘t Valkyries’. You never heard the like!”
Freda Warbleton, next door at no. 58, was less charitable: “She shouts to get her way. Every time she shouts at me I do what she wants. She never asks: she just shouts. From the moment she moved in, I got no peace – none at all. ‘Are you going down the town, Freda? Get me some sugar, will you?’; ‘can you pick up the children Freda?’ Freda this, Freda that, Freda the other. Life’s not worth living.”
“Why don’t you move?” I felt I had to ask.
“She KNOWS!” Said Freda. “We tried lots of times, Albert and me. We showed people round and there she’d be, leaning over the fence. She’d scream out helpful remarks, like: ‘Dustmen come on Thursday’, or ‘School’s a mile away: there’s no bus.’ No-one came up with an offer for the house – no-one.”
Janice’s sons generously clubbed together to pay for her house to be double glazed – to keep the sound in, rather than the weather out, said the neighbors – a failed attempt if that were its purpose because winter or summer, Janice’s windows were always open.
Transportation was to prove her final undoing. After receiving bans from the ‘bus companies (she alarmed the drivers, resulting in a number of minor accidents) she fell back upon taxi’s for her social and shopping needs.
The taxi-driver was Romanian. He had few words of English and a fairly loose appreciation of that strange British habit of driving on the left. Given these pre-conditions it is easy to imagine how, with Janice’s stentorian bellow an inch from his left ear uttering some jewel such as: “Yer going straight on, Yer should be turnin’ LEFT!” the poor man managed to somehow do neither. And how he ended up where he did.
Which was Doncaster.
On the northbound carriageway.
In the southbound lane.
Where the police managed to head off her taxi and guide it into a slip road. Doncaster police station was as good a place as any to incarcerate the taxi’s driver, who had no idea that he had committed any offence. Primed by the freehand traffic rules of Bucharest he was stimulated rather than alarmed by the aggressive behaviour of approaching drivers on the Motorway, and found the experience of driving up the wrong carriageway for 22 miles a bit of a blast.
Janice? The pale, quaking wreck ambulance men extricated from the foot well of the taxi’s rear compartment took twenty-four hours to stop shaking. She gave written evidence to the trial which followed, but it made little sense because the woman who had stared death in the face several hundred times within the space of thirty minutes was no longer capable of speech, or even logical thought.
And Janice, sadly, has never been heard from again.