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Jenny was a friend of mine

Mary Francis

I actually knew her. We were friends.

Okay, not friends friends. The kind of friends everyone is when you come from a small town. We knew each other. We grew up together. Well, close to each other.

I couldn’t believe it when I heard. You don’t think that kind of thing can happen somewhere like this, and to someone like that, who’s just like you. Or, not just like me, but very like. Jenny was a year older than me and a bit taller. Sporty and very pretty. We went to the same school - everyone did, it was the only school in the district. There were the farmers’ kids and there was us, the townies. Jenny lived a few blocks away from me. I lived on the seafront. Still do. She was going to move once she and Dave got married. I didn’t think she’d want to live in the country. But after we left school she went to college to be a vet, so I suppose it was becoming her world.

We didn’t see each other very much once she’d gone off to study. Christmas and some other holidays. Not that we met up, exactly, but I’d see her around, at the market or walking on the beach with her dog. She spent most of her time with Dave. People do that - they couple up and can’t get enough of each other and their friendships suffer because of it. It’s natural. You can’t hold that against someone.

And Dave’s a great guy. Even though he was a farm kid and played rugby at school and he didn’t recognise me when he came in to the Council office to see about a permit to develop the hill buildings on his parents’ farm. We laughed about that, once I’d reminded him who I was. He said he did remember me after all, from school. And from around town. We saw quite a bit of each other while he was sorting out the permits and consents and so on. He was grateful to have someone guide him through the paperwork. He has many strengths, but paperwork isn’t one them.

They were planning to renovate the old bothies into one big farmhouse for him and Jenny to live in and raise a family. He showed me the sketches and it looked amazing. Like a dream house. It had everything Jenny wanted: an en suite bathroom off their master bedroom, a big walk-in pantry, underfloor heating and three extra bedrooms for the kids. I said they must be planning a big family and he got all coy. Funny how farmers can be like that about something so natural. I didn’t tease him about it too much.

The final consents came through last week. Such a shame it’s all been for nothing. I can almost see the hillside where the house was going to be, from down on the beach. I look up sometimes and feel sad about those dreams going to waste.

We’re allowed on the beach now. I can’t imagine what they were doing down there for weeks. Surely any evidence was washed away by the tides and the rain, but they didn’t take the police tape away till last Saturday. It was good to be able to get back to the beach. Like getting back to reality after such a terrible time. And I know some people will never see it the same way again, but I don’t think Jenny would want that. She wouldn’t want everything spoiled because of her, because of what happened to her.

Poor Jenny. I suppose she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s what happens, isn’t it? These poor women who go for a walk on the beach alone at night. You can’t see that part of the beach from the seafront or the houses. I would never victim-blame, but it isn’t safe to go walking somewhere like that, not even in a small town like this. Not even if you have a dog with you and especially if it’s a silly soft beagle like Jenny’s. They still haven’t found that dog.

I can’t imagine why anybody would want to hurt her. Or kill her. She was so beautiful and clever. Full of potential, with her whole life ahead of her. Perfect, really. Everybody loved her. So it can’t have been someone she knew.

I suppose she put herself in the path of someone who decided that the opportunity was too good, that they could do this terrible thing and walk away without anybody knowing. A spur of the moment thing. Some crazy stranger, a man from out of town, passing through, who ran off afterwards.

I wonder if he regrets it? Do people like that regret the things they do?

I suppose we’ll never know.

It’ll stay with me, though. That terrible night when I lost my friend.

Mary lives and works in Wellington. She writes flash fiction and short stories. In 2020 she won second place in Grindstone’s flash fiction competition, and second place in the New Zealand National Flash Fiction Day competition along with the Regional Award (Wellington) and a Highly Commended place.

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