Ned lay in bed with his hands behind his head staring at the ceiling. He had, over the years, spent some time analysing the cracks in the ceiling, but had always been unable to work out whether they showed the outline of Australia or an unknown, perhaps treasure, island. He was being no more successful on this occasion and his mind wandered off on to other things.
The previous evening, Friday, he had missed the school bus once again and had had to use the service bus. The usual crew had been on board and Ned chuckled as he thought of the driver walking across the bus station forecourt singing, to the tune of Colonel Bogey, 'Hitler has only got one ball, ' Ned couldn't remember the name of the person in the second line who apparently had two but one was small, but the driver went on, Himmler, has two quite similar, and poor old Goebbels has no balls at all.' As he got to the bus the conductor greeted him with, 'I reckon that's a load of old bollocks, ' and they laughed uproariously.
Just as well, Ned thought, that he was the only passenger at that moment, but although the words were offensive, because of the subject he doubted that many people would object. The bus would go down to the town to pick up more passengers and then go through the local army camp before it made its way across several miles of chalk downland to the stop where Ned would get off. And then walk three miles to home. Still, he thought, perhaps he could call on Diana at about the halfway mark for tea and sympathy.
The bus started and the conductor came back to take Ned's fare. Ned offered him a pound note, anticipating the inevitable.
"Good heavens, what do you think I am? I can't change that at the moment. You'll have to wait."
Lying there, his mind then wandered back to things that had happened in recent months, and as the inevitable gloom began to descend his bedroom door was thrown open and, full of the joys of spring, Susie burst in.
She took one look at him.
"You're dwelling on it again Ned, still I know what'll take your mind off it."
With that she yanked the bedclothes off exposing Ned's morning stand. Lifting her nightie she swung a leg over him and dropped herself down onto it with a groan of pleasure from both. She sat still for a moment.
"Little sisters are supposed to cheer their brothers up, and this is certainly cheering me up too," she said, and began to move up and down. "Did you know Gwenny's pregnant?"
Ned paused. "Is she?" he asked somewhat guiltily remembering what had happened when Mrs Garfield had left him frustrated.
"Yes, she's sure it's her dad's though. Although it might be her brother's."
"Blow me," exclaimed Ned, starting to move again.
"Not while I've got you in here," Susie giggled.
Ned had been stiff of course because he needed to go to the bathroom for a pee, and he realised that things needed to be taken fairly swiftly if there was not to be an accident. He sat up and hugged Susie to him, rolled her onto her back and picked up the pace bringing mutual satisfaction in a couple of minutes. He leapt up and headed for the bathroom leaving Susie luxuriating in the after effects.
When Ned entered the kitchen his mother was sitting at the table, her elbows on the table and her hands holding a cup of tea. Ned stood behind her, leant down and kissed her neck beneath her ear. She offered her neck for another.
"Good morning mother."
"You sound more cheerful this morning Ned. Susie help?"
"Yes, Susie always helps," Ned replied, helping himself to toast.
"Are you going to see George this morning, because I've got something for you to take to your Aunt Miri."
"Yes, I thought I'd go and have a look at his new enlarger and see what it can do. Then this afternoon I've been invited to tea at Lady Jane's."
"What on earth can she want? Something to do with Lia I suppose."
"I expect so," replied Ned, pensively. "I can't think what else it could be."
A little later Ned left to drive over to the next village where his Uncle George and Aunt Miri lived. Despite the fine day and the wonderful scenery he once again felt the weight of the world on his shoulders, and he again ran through the events of the last few weeks.
Lia had been the love of his life so far. From their first date, a trip to the museum and art gallery in the nearby seaside town, and their meetings in the art building at his school where she came several times a week to do the practical side of her 'A' level art course, there being no facilities at her school for this, he had been smitten, and their relationship had blossomed, although under the watchful eyes of both Miss Green, the art mistress, and Lia's guardian, her aunt, Lady Jane Brougham. They had also had several outings, to the seaside, and to local historical features, iron age forts and the like. Ned always picked her up from her aunt's house, and was always careful to get her home on time.
Ned had even persuaded the manager of the local cinema that the wheel chair could be stored on the ground floor of the cinema whilst Ned carried Lia up to the balcony. The back row of the balcony was equipped with double seats and it was in one of these that Ned sat her and then sat down beside her. He put his arm around her and they sat there chatting until the lights went down. Ned leant down to kiss her and she enthusiastically returned the kiss, then she drew his arm further around her until his hand rested on her breast, with her hand on top. That was as far as things went, as she pointed out to him that unless they watched the film they wouldn't be able to answer the inevitable questions from her aunt. Ned was perfectly happy with this as he wanted to see the film anyway. They had taken their relationship a little further on subsequent dates but only as far as she wanted to go. Of course Ned often had to physically pick her up and she joked that he was the only man who ever had his hands on her knickers. Ned of course did his best to avoid any embarrassing incidents.
After the film Ned carried her downstairs and pushed her the three quarters of a mile home. They were amused when Lady Jane invited Ned in and, over a cup of tea in the kitchen, questioned them about the film.
One Saturday a couple of months back they had arranged another trip to the cinema. Ned arrived at Lady Jane's to collect Lia, to find a police car parked outside. He rang the bell and a minute later the door was opened by a uniformed constable. Before Ned could speak he asked:
"Are you Ned Kelly?"
"Yes," replied a bewildered Ned. "What's going on?"
The constable simply told him to come in and go to the kitchen.
In the kitchen there were three people seated at the big kitchen table. There was a man in a suit, clearly a plain clothed detective, and a uniformed police woman, and there was Lady Jane who looked pale and distraught.
"Ned," she did little more than whisper, "it's Ophelia, there's been an accident ... she's dead." And she burst into tears, unable to speak any further.
Ned blenched at her words.
"W what? H how?" he stammered.
The uniformed constable came in and whispered something in the detective's ear.
He cleared his throat. "I'm afraid she was knocked down by a car this afternoon, she died almost instantly. The driver failed to stop. Can you tell me where you were between two and three this afternoon?"
"Surely you can't suspect Ned," Lady Jane seemed to recover her voice as she perceived what she thought was an injustice.
Ned couldn't speak for the lump in his throat. Tears were streaming down his face.
"We have to check everything m'lady, The constable has checked his car and that is clean, but questions have to be asked just to make sure."
"Ned?" she asked.
Ned pulled himself together. "I was at home," he replied. "My mother and my sister will confirm that."
"Thankyou," said the detective. "I'm sorry we have to ask these questions, but we have to find out as much as we can as soon as we can. Well m'lady, there's not much we can do here for now, we'll get along and get other lines of enquiry going. If there is anything else..."
"No ... no I don't think so."
"We'll see ourselves out then."
And they left.
Ned sat down. He could think of nothing to say.
"I'll make a cup of tea," said Lady Jane, and started to do so as if on auto-pilot, her mind clearly elsewhere, eventually giving a cup to Ned, and sitting down with one herself.
They sat there for the better part of an hour saying very little before the door opened and Desdemona, Lia's elder sister came in.
Desi and Lady Jane were hugging and crying and after a few minutes Ned decided it was time to leave, excused himself, said goodbye and saw himself out to drive home.
He was devastated.
Ned arrived at his Aunt and Uncles' house, stopped and took a moment to clear his mind. He picked up the bag his mother had given him for his aunt and went round to the back door, where he knocked and walked in to a cheery greeting from his aunt, in her curiously accented English.
"I've just made a pot of coffee, Ned. If you've come to see George, you're out of luck, he's been called away for work. But he said if you came over to tell you to have a play."
"Did he say what with?" asked Ned.
His aunt stopped and looked at him, and he realised that his question could have an alternative meaning, and blushed.
"I've been hearing things about you, Ned," she said, walking towards him.
Ned backed up until he could go no further.
"I can't think what you mean Auntie."
.... There is more of this story ...