Revenant - (French, 'returning one'). Someone who returns after a long exile, or more usually, an apparition, a ghost, a person who returns from the dead.
A fortnight’s rain has bloated the bowels of North Hill. Filled each of its ancient crevices to capacity, spilling the glut of water past those few houses which cling to the westerly side, facing the grey smear of Welsh hills.
This overflow silvers the Tarmac encircling its girth. Turns the land below soft and spongy underfoot - quite treacherous in parts - the worst possible conditions for cycling or running. Or more importantly, grave digging. Yet the young man, sodden though he is, must satisfy his curiosity and follow where the lean female jogger first spotted from the road above, takes him. Her blue Lycra-clad body glitters like a magnet, pulling him still further away from an afternoon planned for other things. He pushes himself and his bike through ranks of giant late-flowering cow parsley whose umbelliferous heads bend low, weighted by moisture. Past hawthorn hedges where the Heritage Trail begins; where his target has suddenly vanished, leaving deep distinctive footprints which lead him to an iron shack, so old, so rusted that the slightest gust of wind will surely topple its frayed and flimsy sides.
His nostrils take in the whiff of sewage and lanolin from the creeping sheep in the fields beyond, but once he's eased the skewed door open, there's a different smell altogether.
Of meat. Raw meat. The kind which clings to every butcher's shop he's ever been in.
But this is no commercial butchers. And nobody's buying. Least of all him, for when he discovers what lies half-hidden in the gloomiest corner, it's as if he's wandered into Hell, and from now on, there will be no way out.
"Holt. Frances Ann. 358, Dartmoor Road, Openshaw."
She was a quick learner if nothing else. Surname first, then the rest. A month of trekking back and fore to the Benefits Office had seen to that. The faster she got it off pat, the sooner the dough was in her hand.
This time the woman the other side of the security grille wasn't quite playing ball. She was being less than automatic on this occasion, and she was fat. Really fat. In fact, the fattest person Frankie, had ever seen in her life, and that was saying something. Heavily ringed fingers checked through a file containing sheets of headed notepaper; all too easy to read upside down. Boots, Woolies, Iceland, which to the other scrubbers in 5G who'd all bunked off the last two weeks' of term, represented a kind of Nirvana. But not her. Frankie. No way. She knew what was coming next.
"Did you try for the sanitary wear assistant's job?"
Her excuse was off pat too.
"Can't be doing with all that stuff, sorry. Periods, babies. Having them, getting rid of them..." Here she stopped herself as her adversary tutted. Found the next sheet.
"Pick 'n' Mix helper. What was wrong with that?"
I don't pick and I don't fucking mix, Frankie nearly replied. She just wanted her dole. No questions asked. It was the least she was entitled to. Considering.
"I'm not very clever round kids," she said at last. "If you must know, they do my head in."
The official looked up at her, the whites of her eyes a yolky yellow in the corners.
"Okay, Miss Holt. No interviews, no benefits. Simple as that." The file was closed. Thick red lips also pursed together.
"Nursing‘s cool. Anything doing there?" Frankie found herself asking. Washing and dressing her baby Lila, was the best thing ever. Even better than boys or clubbing, which her step-sister Shannon did every weekend while she'd stop in her bedroom either re-reading her collection of library sale books and worn scribbled-on volumes nicked from school - Peake, Tolkien, Shakespeare and the like, or brushing and re-brushing those glossy blonde curls to perfection...
"You willing to train?" The voice interrupted her memories and Frankie became aware of the room behind her filling up with more punters. The drumming of heels on the linoleum. Impatient sighs.
"Yeah, I might be. Where? How?"
"Your sixth form possibly."
"I've had it up to here with that dump."
"The Tech near you's starting GNVQs in Caring..."
"Caring? I said nursing."
The official leaned forwards.
"By 2010, Miss Holt, over 60% of our population will be elderly..."
Frankie hoped she couldn't read her thoughts.
"What's the pay like?
"It's not so much the pay, but satisfaction." That last word sounded like the woman was licking honey off its jar lid. Frankie stared at her, mind churning, visualising her baby daughter suddenly grown old. Her plump cheeks withered, like the old tarts in The Railway where she bought her fags. Her feet spoilt by crusty yellow toenails...
"I don't know. I mean, mopping up after them. Washing their willies, wiping their bums..."
"It's all about giving them dignity, Miss Holt. Giving them hope."
"OK. I'll sort it." Probably the most reckless words she'd ever spoken and, within five minutes, was by the bus stop for the return home with the dole safe in her purse and an appointment for 2pm to see a Mrs Beavis at Openshaw Tech.
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