Mrs Griggs

Whilst checking through the case notes of a recently retired colleague, I came across the following few pages. After I'd read them I thought it worth while transcribing them here. From reading them I think that Mrs Knowles had a very active imagination, though we had always thought her somewhat dour. Her notes on Mrs Griggs were succinct, but these few pages do add something to the case. Mrs Knowles worked for the local council, in a town here in south west England.

Jan 10th 2006
I paid my last visit to Mrs Griggs in the hospital this morning. The ward sister had called me to say that her condition has taken a turn for the worse. She had no relatives that we knew about, and I'd been appointed to oversee her affairs when she had been put on the list of vulnerable elderly people. What had concerned me initially about her case was that she had been giving away all her possessions. Though she had little enough to start with, soon after she arrived, all she had in the world were the cloths she was wearing, and these were soon replaced by functional hospital clothing.

The sister told me that she had been moved into the constant observation ward following her rapid decline. When I first entered the ward I thought that there had been a mistake, for there was Mrs Griggs sitting up in a chair next to the bed of a very ill looking old lady. She gave me a broad smile in greeting.

"Mrs Knowles, how good of you to come and see me. I am most grateful. Here, there's a spare chair for you, sit yourself down." She patted the chair next to her, the only spare one in the room.

I explained the sisters mistake, and Mrs Griggs chuckled. "There are no free beds in here, tomorrow there will be one I think though." She tilted her head knowingly to the old lady in the bed.

I expressed my happiness that she was looking so much better.

"I have not felt this good for a long time. Those few things I'd gathered in a lifetime of scrabbling around in the rat race. Well they were becoming such a burden. Now that I've given them away. Mostly to charity shops if I'm honest, they are worth so little. But they were a burden to me, and now that weight has been lifted. I feel so much better. I'm so glad I followed the advice of that nice young man."

She must have seen me looking puzzled, and I commented that the ward sister had said that she'd had no visitors other than myself.

"Oh what do they know. Adam has visited me almost every day. Such a comfort to a silly old woman like myself." I saw her look past me. "Why speak of the... Here he is now."

I glanced round to see a handsome man, perhaps in his mid forties. Young to Mrs Griggs. Young to myself as well if I'm honest. He motioned to me to stay seated, "Please Mrs Knowles, don't get up." He swung a chair round, squeezed it in between us, and sat down.

"I was just telling Mrs Knowles all about you." Mrs Griggs chuckled.

"Not everything I hope." He smiled. "I'd like to keep a semblance of rakish mystery." He glanced around the ward. "Have you eaten yet? I always seem to miss the mealtimes."

"They left some sandwiches and a cup of water." Her voice lowered to a whisper, "But they don't check on you here. Very careless."

Adam had leant forward to look at the dismal offering of food on the tray in front of the old woman in the bed. "No need to whisper, I don't think they can hear you, even if Mrs Knowles can." He wrinkled his brow and looked a bit glum. "This is rather poor if truth be told. Let's see if we can spruce things up a little. A couple more glasses I think."

He reached into his jacket and produced two glasses and placed them on the tray, then filled them from the cup. The liquid he poured was a deep red. "I said they liked you Mrs Griggs, see here, they have given you wine today, not water."

"Oh how nice of them." She brightened and reached for the cup he held out to her. "Before you arrived I was just telling Mrs Knowles how I felt so much better. Lighter I suppose having followed your advice about worldly goods and the such. Of course I had disposed of my husbands things many years ago." She appeared to wait for me to say something.

"Careful now, it's quite full." He turned to me and winked, "Tonic wine for the elderly perhaps." He held out a full cup to me. "For you too, and one for me. I think we can split the sandwiches. Looks like tuna to me. Shame about the bread." He poked it with a hard workman's finger, it sank under his prod like plasticine, and did not rebound. "Hmm, oh well, beggars can't be choosers. Plenty here for us all at least." He handed us each a couple of sandwiches.

I asked Mrs Griggs about her husband.

"I was so distraught at the time, as you can imagine. But I am over it now. There was so much gossip at the time. Tittle tattle, that's all it was." She turned to Adam. "Did I ever tell you about Brian?" She asked.

"No not at all." He replied. "Please do. I'm all ears."

"Well it happened so long ago. It was in all the newspapers. The nationals. He was one of the last people to be hung." She took a tiny bite from the sandwich, not enough to stop her talking. "This tuna is a little bland. But I do find food so dull these days. They just don't make it like they used to. Could be this new organic fad." She chewed and swallowed, "Or the farmers. I don't think they care for the soil. Not like they used to when I was a girl."

Adam raised his eyebrows. "I have read that our taste-buds decline as we age. Along with our eyes and ears and the like. But you were telling us that he'd been hung? I'm surprised I have not heard of him, usually I do you know."

"He..." She paused, took another bite, then continued. "This one tastes a little better. But where was I.. Oh yes. He was convicted of murder. Our two children. Those were bad times. He must have snapped. Smothered them in their sleep. Covered their sweet little faces with a pillow and pressed down with all his weight." She paused and took a sip of her wine. "Or so I imagine. Angels they were, angels." She laughed slightly, covering her mouth as she did so. "Well angels now I expect. As for Brian, protested his innocence right till the end he did." She shook her head, "But the evidence was overwhelming."

"I'm sure it was. Some witnesses can be so convincing." Adam said, then continued more thoughtfully, "I suppose he must have really loved you." He paused to swallow the last of his sandwich." I had been wondering why I was here. But I think this explains it."

"We can go out onto the balcony after lunch." Mrs Griggs enthused. "Such a good view from up here."

Adam studied the woman on the bed. "I think we need to remain here a little bit longer."

She tried to rise, and a puzzled expression crossed her face. "You are bound for just a little bit longer dear." He said, and smiled at her before draining his glass.

I glanced at the clipboard at the bottom of the bed, though the doctors scribblings meant little to me. I asked Mrs Griggs if she was visiting a relative.

"Relative? Oh dear no, not at all. No close relatives at all. Well, none that will... None I mean. None." She appeared a little flustered. "Only child, that's me."

Adam put his hand on her knee. "No one is an only child. If you look around, there are children in us all."

As pleasant as he was, some of his sayings and mannerisms were a bit bizarre, and I was grateful when he brushed the crumbs from his clothes and stood up. He held out a hand to Mrs Griggs, "I think we can go outside now."

Mrs Griggs took his hand and stood up. "Ah, that's better she said." And followed him to the balcony door, a good deal more sprightly than I would have given her credit for.

The air outside was indeed refreshing, though I found it very cold compared to the warmth of inside. The others did not seem to notice, and were gazing out at the view across the hills and dales.

I turned back to the ward to get my coat, but seeing that a commotion had started in there, centred on the bed we had just left, I decided to brave the cold.

Adam turned to me. "Mrs Griggs was just telling me how much better she felt now that she has given away all her possessions." He said, then a look of concern crossed his face, "There is no need to be cold, there is a warm spot just here." I moved to stand next to him, and it was indeed much warmer.

"I do not suggest you give anything away." He continued. "Not for a few years. All in good time." He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye.

I asked if Mrs Griggs had any possessions left. And if so then did she want me to take care of them. She continued to stare into the distance, and it was Adam who answered. "Nothing at all. Not now." He said. He glanced back into the ward. "I have taken the last thing she had to offer." He turned his gaze back to me, and when I looked into his eyes it felt that I was looking down a deep well. And the water that lay at the bottom was so very dark, and so very dangerous.

"I think you are done here." Adam said to me, putting his arm around the still smiling Mrs Griggs. "Until we meet again. Assuming we do that is. Nothing is ever certain." He bowed very slightly, then turned to join Mrs Griggs looking out at the view.

Sep 2009