His mother was the village butcher. She always dressed elegantly, often in full-length evening dress with a string of pearls around her neck. Then, over her beautiful dress, she would throw her butcher’s apron – the purest white, all the better for showing up blood.
He hadn’t known any different; she’d always been his mother, the village butcher. Every day she’d open the shop very early to take the carcass deliveries, Then she’d prepare the cuts of meat, lovingly, handling the sharp knives with a dexterity that her father would have been proud of. Then she’d serve the village regulars, slicing, dicing, mincing to order and her day would end in time for her to walk down to the school to pick her only son up at the gate.
No, her little boy had never known different, but he’d been told by the neighbours that his mother had been quite something in her day, before she’d taken on the family business, quite something.
When she was young, in the blossom of adolescence, she’d had, they said, the boys of the village wrapped around her little finger. But, they said, there was no one for her but Andrew Hammond. No one remembered Andrew half as well as they thought they did, but everyone said that he had been the pride of the village: the golden boy.
They remembered his clean sweep at the school sports day: 100 metres, 400 metres and long jump. They remembered his single-handed demolition of The King’s Head ‘A’ in the darts. They remembered his hat-trick in the final of the West Harkshire Under 19s. And they remembered, perhaps best of all, his shining smile, as featured, almost every week, on the front and back pages of the Croxford Herald.
And it had never shone more than on the day he was murdered.
It was the night of the school dinner-dance. His mother had gone with Andrew, of course. They were the prince and princess of the village, the luminous couple, the day-dream dancers. They said she wore a dress of pure gold that night, with a simple pearl necklace that lit her face just so. But her face had been dark that night, they said. They said that his mother and Andrew had had an argument, about what no one ever found out.
But it made no difference: still they danced and danced around the village hall, her shoes tapping on the wooden boards and his smile reflecting off the mirror ball brought down for the evening. Nothing could take away from their luminescence, from her beauty and his athleticism. Everything was well, it seemed. But that was the last smile anyone ever saw on Andrew’s golden face.
They never found out who did it, who stole the knife from PG White the butchers and who had made the precise cut above the Adam’s Apple to remove the head, found in ditch on the road leading out of the village.
They told him that his mother had never taken another boy after Andrew – out of grief, they said. She had taken over the family business when PG White himself died not long after. They said it was God’s justice that Andrew Hammond had begotten a golden child before his horrific end. They said that his mother was an angel in her virtue, living her quiet life since, slicing, dicing and mincing.
But every time he watches his mother, in her long dress and her white apron, making another incision to the neck of a pig, he can’t help but wonder what really became of his father.