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I can’t be doing with fornicating, swearing, drinking and gambling. Not in

public. Not on my sister.


I often go and join my sister for afternoon tea. A thermos of Earl Grey and a

couple of scones. It’s hard to chat much, as Princes Street is busier and noisier

these days, and I get funny looks if I talk to her too loudly, but it’s nice to be

together.


Of course, my sister isn’t buried on Princes Street, she’s in Warriston Cemetery

with Mother and Father but this is where I like to remember her, sitting on her

bench.


                Dedicated to the memory of a good woman


                She lived respected and died regretted


                Jean Isobel Crosbie 1922 - 1956


                In God We Trust


I polish the metal plaque a couple of times a year, and I have asked the council

to revarnish the bench, but they say it will happen in rotation, like all the other

memorial benches in Edinburgh.




Benchmark by Lari Don                                                                 1
I sit with her at least once a week, thinking about when we were young, about

how she encouraged me to be a good citizen, with a good name amongst our

neighbours.


I don’t always get to sit on the bench; sometimes other people are already

occupying it when I get off the bus. But that is perfectly acceptable. I gifted the

bench to the city Jean loved, so that others could rest their weary feet.


When the bench is busy, I sit on one of the benches either side and give Jean a

cheery wee wave, just like we were passing on different sides of the road, or

one of us was in the church choir and the other was in the front pew.


The devoted wife and mother Euphemia Macaskill is on the east side of Jean,

and our old friend the former Provost is on the west side.


It’s comforting that Jean’s bench is so near the Provost’s memorial, because

when he was a young councillor they spent a lot of time together campaigning

for tighter licensing laws, and against the wilder shows at the Festival and

Fringe.


I do like seeing other ladies in the prime of their autumn years enjoying a seat

with my Jean, or mums with little ones feeding them a snack and watching the

world go by.




Benchmark by Lari Don                                                              2
But it’s a little offputting to discover people shouting into mobile phones on

Jean’s bench. She must find the one-sided conversations very frustrating. I

know I do.


And I try hard to be charitable when I find German tourists with huge

knapsacks packing and unpacking on Jean. Even their grandparents, I tell

myself, were probably too young to fight in the war. But I do resent their size

and health and freedom. I was that age in the war and so were all the young

men who courted me and never came back.


But last month I saw something even worse.


I saw fornicating on top of my sister!


Hands inside clothes, tongues inside mouths, heaven alone knows what else. A

pair of shameless immoral hellbound fornicating sinners defiling the memory of

my sister in full view of Jenners and the Scott Monument.


So I went straight home and baked some scones.


Not for me and Jean this time; for the godless wretches on her bench.


However, by the time I had found the rat poison, and baked the scones, and let

them cool so they wouldn’t go soggy in the Tupperware box, and caught the

bus back to the bench, the sinners were gone.




Benchmark by Lari Don                                                             3
So I sat down with Jean. I was a bit shaken, but she calmed me down, as she so

often does. Soon I started to worry about what she has to put up with when I’m

not here to watch over her. How many other people have used her bench for

immoral and obscene purposes?


And what could I do with the scones? I was liable to eat them myself absent-

mindedly if I took them home, and I hardly wanted to feed them to the poor

pigeons.


I could just have put them in the bin, but I know that some of Edinburgh’s

unfortunates rake through the bins for food.


So I sat on the Provost next door, to see who else came to disturb my dear

Jean’s rest.


An elderly couple. A woman reading her mobile phone rather than talking to it.

Three schoolgirls in kilts.


When I returned to my spot after a trip to powder my nose in Waverley Station,

a couple of young men with cans of beer were sitting on Jean’s bench, shoving

each other, shouting obscenities at passersby. Jean used to write letters to the

Scotsman about this sort of thing lowering the tone of our fair city. I think she

would approve of my choice.


I walked over to them. They smelt of drink, and they were bigger than I

expected.




Benchmark by Lari Don                                                               4
I nearly walked past, but I thought of Jean and her courage when walking into

dens of iniquity to gather evidence against them. I took a deep breath, and

prodded the larger one with my umbrella to get his attention.


“Good evening lads. I have some baking here which I was going to give the

pigeons, but if it would help you soak up that beer, you’re welcome to a wee

bit.”


I offered them the scones.


They took one each.


“Take two, they’re small,” I urged.


“Are you sure, missis?” one asked, “Do you not need them for your own tea?’”


“No, I’ve had enough. On you go.”


“Thanks then.”


I walked away, not to the next bus stop, but to the one further on. I didn’t know

how long rat poison takes to work, nor how noisily it takes effect. I didn’t want

to be too close to them as they ate; I didn’t want to hear them meet their fate.


I glanced through the Scotsman and the Evening News for the next few days,

expecting my eye to be drawn casually to the story of two young louts dying

horribly on a bench on Princes Street. By Wednesday I was going through the

pages more carefully, sure I must have missed the story.



Benchmark by Lari Don                                                              5
But there had been no murder, no execution, no divine judgement.


What went wrong? Did I put the wrong dosage of rat poison in? Was the packet

of arsenic past its kill-by-date? Didn’t they like my baking?


I had to come up with a better way of guarding Jean’s honour. One that would

be available at all times, so the miscreants couldn’t get away; one I wouldn’t

have to use within a few days of baking for fear of it going stale.


I reread a few Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh books, hunting for hints.

Sharpened knitting needles? Icicles as daggers? Mysterious mushrooms?


Murder seems to be a balance of noise, mess and efficiency.


Poisoning you can do at a distance, but if they won’t eat up, then it doesn’t

work.


A gun between the eyes is far more certain, but it draws attention.


I didn’t think it would be appropriate for me to be caught red-handed. Jean

wouldn’t approve of me dragging the family name through the mud, or even

worse, the papers. So I had to be more subtle.


I tried to think what Jean would do; even years after her death she’s still my

inspiration. When she died suddenly in the nursing home up north, where she

went to recover from that persistent tummy problem which made her so




Benchmark by Lari Don                                                            6
bloated, I thought I had lost her forever, but I can still find guidance by using

her as an example.


I spent a few days sitting on Jean’s bench, watching the people who use and

misuse the benches.


In many ways I’m glad my first attempt didn’t work. It wouldn’t have been

very seemly for them to have died on top of Jean.


I noticed that many of those who abuse the benches come back again and again,

lacking anything better to do with their days. The two louts who spurned my

scones were sitting on Euphemia Macaskill last week, and they gave me a very

funny look.


“Your scones are bowffing, hen, go and buy a Delia cookbook,” one of them

shouted after me.


And the girl who wrapped herself round her consort on Jean, I saw her again,

with some other shaven-headed creature, on the Esperanto Society bench in

Princes Street Gardens. (The dedication on that bench is in English. I’ve never

understood why.)


I realised that I must target the repeat offenders. The ones who abuse not just

Jean’s bench, but the benches erected in memory of so many of our good

citizens. I will watch them, follow them, and punish them elsewhere, so it

doesn’t make a mess of the benches.




Benchmark by Lari Don                                                               7
                                     *****


IT’S NO FARE! BUS STOP MYSTERY


Lothian and Borders Police have asked the public to be vigilant at city bus

stops after six mysterious deaths on Princes Street in the last fortnight. Six

young people have died, and another three have been seriously injured, when

they fell, jumped or were pushed under the wheels of passing buses.


Detective Inspector Watson appealed for witnesses to come forward, adding

“We’re particularly keen to trace a possible witness to a couple of the

incidents: an elderly lady, below average height, described as wearing a brown

tweed coat, a dark green hat with a feather, and carrying a furled tartan

umbrella.”


                                     *****


I am taking afternoon tea with Jean while I glance through the paper.


I take my hat off, and pull the pheasant feather out of the stagshead brooch.


I’d better pop over to Jenners and get a different umbrella, once I’ve finished

this scone.




1632 words




Benchmark by Lari Don                                                             8

				
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