The drone of an aeroplane in the summer skies went unnoticed by youngsters playing skipping games in the cobbled street. Two women, scouring doorsteps never looked up.
Aggie peeped from behind net curtains. Within seconds, armed and poised for battle, with feverish zeal and a torrent of eye-watering expletives, she’d careered barefoot into the street to terrorise the unsuspecting pilot with her flailing rolling pin.
Mad Aggie, unkindly, yet appropriately labelled, was simply another facet of our small village community. It was said that during the London blitz of WW2, she survived a night time air raid after being pulled from the rubble of the family home. Her parents and sisters did not survive.
In the 1950’s, she made her home up north, in our sleepy village on the outskirts of town.
Aggie was not always mad. She sold wet fish at the market place. “C’mon,” she would yell. “You won’t get a tastier bit ‘o’ cod roe than mine.” With bare fingers she scooped lumps of ice to keep her fish fresh. Each purchase was wrapped in brown paper and carefully bound with sheets of newspaper.
When trade was slack, Aggie enjoyed chatting with stall holders. She owned a repertoire of phrases seemingly pulled from the air, bearing no connection to the conversation whatsoever.
‘Fine words butter no parsnips - Fish always stink from the head down - Triumph is borne out of tragedy,’ and by far her most regular, ‘Every sick has two ends.’
No-one thought to question these strange, out of context utterances, though it was generally assumed it was related to her dreadful childhood trauma.
As the downslide into Cuckoo Land became more marked, it was commonly acknowledged that, ‘the poor lass definitely copped for the short end of that two ended stick she rattles on about.’
Village life was cosy and life was simple. Neighbours were kind to Aggie. Dad kept hens and would pick out six large brown eggs and carefully lay them in a small bowl filled with wood shavings. “These are for Aggie,” he’d say. “Take them to her and refuse any payment.”
If a hen went ‘off lay,’ he would wring its neck and Mother would pluck it and cook it. When cooled she halved it and sent me round to Aggie’s house. “Always lend a hand to those less fortunate, she’d say.” At first I was timid, but after a while became fascinated with Aggie.
One day she opened the door wide, “Come in,” she gestured. “I don’t bite.” I gingerly stepped inside, stealing furtive glances around her living room.
“You resemble my sisters,” she pronounced. “Look.” She pointed to the wall. Three cute little girls, each with pigtails tied with ribbon smiled down at me. “Aunt Eliza gave me this picture. That’s me, on the left.”
“That’s nice,” I said, because I didn’t know what else to say.
“She’s gone now, Aunt Eliza. There’s no one left. Do you believe in Jesus?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Good. You’ll go to heaven when you die.” And that was it.
I returned home bewildered. Aggie’s conversation had been short and sweet, but totally rational. Her parting shot, “Every stick has two ends,” was to my unquestioning eight year old mind, the same one she’d got the short end of.
Well, that’s what the grown-ups said.
“Dad,” I asked eventually. “How can a stick have a short end?”
“It’s a saying,” he laughed. In Aggie’s case it means that life has served her a raw deal. First losing her family and then losing her mind.”
“I don’t think she’s lost her mind. She told me I’d go to heaven because I believe in Jesus.”
“Did she now? That’s interesting.” Dad stroked his stubbly chin.
“That means she believes in Him too.” I pondered this for a while. If Aggie had lost her mind, but lived in the same body, then what bit of her believes in Jesus?
“Dad, how does a mad person get to heaven?” Dad chuckled. He was one step ahead of me.
“God knows the heart,” he said. “Aggie believed in her heart as well as her mind. Now, as promised, Jesus has made His home with her and comforts her through the bad times. Do you think He’d abandon her because her mind is sick?”
“Dad, you know that two ended stick of hers? Really, she hasn’t been given the short end at all, has she?” Dad looked thoughtful and remarked,
“Do you know, I believe you’re correct!”
*Fiction based on a factual character.
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