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30 July 2014
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Helen Eccles
Helen Eccles

Helen is a retired librarian. She has one husband, two children and a Dachshund dog. Retirement has given Helen more time to walk her dog, which shows no more enthusiasm for this activity than she does. Helen also has more time for reading, writing, and visiting gardens. She enjoys being a member of a writing group and reading her work to various clubs and societies. She was runner-up in the Spring artsextra short story competition with her story The Man Who Looked Like Dylan Thomas.

The Man Who Looked Like Dylan Thomas by Helen Eccles

I sat looking at the large slice of Black Forest gateau on my plate. Queuing at the café check-out it had looked so tempting. Luscious, moist, dark sponge studded with jewel-bright cherries, and now, I no longer wanted it. The place was packed with people laughing and chatting together. As I pushed the cake around with my fork I saw the small fat man coming towards me. A round short-legged barrel of a man, with the hems hanging down on both his shabby sports coat and flannel trousers. Lost in my own thoughts I didn’t at first hear the wonderful rich deep voice repeating the plea, that if I didn’t mind he would share my table as the place was so crowded. I looked up and stared into the deep soulful eyes and quirky smile of Dylan Thomas. It wasn’t him really of course, just a very shabby, tired-looking little fat man. His tray held a plate of cream crackers and cheese, and a pathetically small, one-person pot of tea. Slimming, I thought, probably advised by his doctor, and not before time.

‘I always come in here when I am in town,’ he said. ‘You can always rely on the food.’
I laughed, well, what can go wrong with crackers and a lump of cheese. He must have known what I was thinking because he began to laugh, a rich, indulgent, full-bellied laugh. I wasn’t really in the mood for conversation, and certainly not to this odd-looking little man. However, soon I found myself listening, and responding to his friendliness.

The rise and fall of his lilting voice was nearly hypnotic as he told me about himself, that his wife was dead, there was no family and his hobby was writing. Several articles and short stories had been published. At home now there was only himself and the cat, Beatrice. He told me about a short holiday he was planning to have in Margate, just because he had always fancied the name Margate. He was worried though that poor Beatrice might not settle down in the boarding cattery he had booked for her. I told him all about my husband Peter, and that today was the first anniversary of his death. He was most sympathetic and very kind.

Suddenly he said, ‘Are you going to eat that?’
I looked down at the cake lying untouched on my plate. I had forgotten all about it. He said that he had always loved Black Forest gateau, but lately somehow he couldn’t fancy it.
‘Funny that,’ he said, ‘Yet today I really feel I could enjoy a slice again.’

He looked at me, and waited expectantly. Of course I insisted that he have it, and after an assumed show of reluctance, he snatched the plate as if he was terrified that I might change my mind. I watched him in fascination. He cut the cake carefully into tiny slivers, and then with his eyes closed ate each piece with a reverence as if he was taking Holy Communion. He anointed each morsel with the greatest precision with cream from the little jug before he put it to his lips.
I didn’t speak while he was eating, somehow I didn’t like to interrupt this nearly sacred ceremony. When the cake was finally finished, he dabbed his mouth daintily with the paper napkin.

‘Oh,’ he said, ‘That was wonderful, I haven’t enjoyed anything so much since I murdered my wife.’
My head shot up so quickly it seemed as if someone had pulled a string sharply above it. Then I noticed his eyes twinkling, and I relaxed, remembering that he had talked about being a writer. Perhaps he was testing my reaction for a storyline.
‘You know,’ he said, a smile creasing his heavily jowled face, I simply must have another slice of that cake, and with double cream this time.’
He was making his way, still smiling happily, towards the cake stand as I said goodbye and left the café.

Some weeks later I went to the library and saw that there was to be a film that afternoon on the life of Dylan Thomas. I went back to the same café to have a cup of tea while I was waiting. The Dylan film had reminded me of my Black Forest gateau friend. I might even meet him again, and as I remembered how kind he was, and how he had made me laugh about the cake, I rather hoped I would. However as I carried my tray to the table and glanced around there was no sign of him. Ships passing, I thought to myself, and decided that most likely I would never see him again.
Wrong! Someone had left a newspaper on the chair, and there he was, on the front page, looking up at me.

David Dylan Thomas Hopkins had been found hanging in an attic room in a backstreet hotel in Margate. Police had been alerted by a home help, who had let herself into the home of David Hopkins to remove some items from the deep freeze cabinet which Mrs Amelia Hopkins had allowed her to use. She had been informed by Mr Hopkins that his wife had gone for a visit to Margate. He was intending to join her, so the home help would not be needed at present. Mrs Hopkins, a dominant, violent-tempered personality, was often physically abusive to her husband who was described as ‘a dear and a perfect gentleman.’ She refused to have any form of fancy bread or cakes in the house, and had once poured and lit paraffin oil on a cake he had brought home. On lifting the lid of the freezer, the home help had discovered Mrs Hopkins lying inside, a cake tightly wedged in her mouth. Cause of death, asphyxiation with a large object. The suspected weapon - a Black Forest gateau.

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