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Lilian Cohen


Lilian Cohen moved from Australia to Israel in 1968, living first on Kibbutz Yizrael, then in Haifa, where she taught English at Leo Baeck Senior High School until her retirement. In 2013 she returned to Melbourne for family reasons. A member of the Haifa chapter of the ‘Voices’ poetry association, her poetry and short stories have appeared in journals in Australia, England, Israel and the U.S. At present she is completing a crime novel set in Israel. 


The Interview

“That damn dog! If it ‘adn’t come in and started digging, they’d never ‘ave found Em’s body. Nobody knew she was dead, I made sure of that. And no one bothered to ask. I keeps myself to myself and we was always private, Em and me.

I ‘ate people what can’t mind their own business. Take traveling on the train: the way some people stare at you, brazen, I call it. Now I ‘ave to put up with them TV cameras following me and them pesky reporters pushing their microphones in my face. They think they’ve got me because now I’m stuck in a wheelchair. But I won’t talk to them. Cover my face with a big bag every time they come near me. But you look nice, dearie, so I’ll give you the story.

They say I did somefink terrible. But I didn’t hurt no one, just took my dues, you might say. I didn’t plan nothing, things just ‘appened. Em was my friend and she was afraid to live alone. Nobody else bothered with ‘er.

Where was ‘er family when she needed them? Answer me that! Now they’re making trouble, saying I took ‘er in so as I could rob ‘er blind. They told the police I killed ‘er and took all ‘er money out of the bank to buy this place. That’s a lie!

I took ‘er in, all right. No one gives me thanks for that. Do you think she was easy to look after? She was my friend, but she always thought she was better than yours truly; didn’t like the way I talked. Dropped me aitches most of the time, y’see. ‘And don’t call me Em, Harriet; it’s common. My name is Emily,’ she’d say and look down ‘er nose. No, I didn’t like that, but it didn’t make me want to kill ‘er.

She was always wanting somefink. Not that you’d think so to look at ‘er. Ever so sweet-looking, she ‘ad me fooled at first. But it was always, ‘Harriet, I’m so sorry to bother you, but could you get me my pills.’ Or, ‘Harriet, I’m feeling poorly today, could you bring me my breakfast in bed?’ Course I wanted to make things easier for ‘er in the beginning, but she got worse and worse. Funny how someone so la-di-da wasn’t bothered by ‘er own dirt and smell. Never would’ve thought she’d be like that.

I got to hate the sound of ‘er voice, hated changing ‘er sheets after an accident, ‘ated the dirty dressing gown she sat around in; always covered in egg and tea stains, it was. In the end I ‘ad to fight with ‘er so as I could wash it. ‘Ave it your own way then, Em. You can be as dirty as you please. Just don’t ask me to sit with you,’ I’d say. Then she’d give in. Lonely, you see.

Why did I take ‘er in if she was so much trouble? Course you’re right. Like I said, she soon got on my nerves, but I wanted to help ‘er. Seemed natural at the time, both of us on our own and not getting any younger. With everything in the papers about old people getting burgled and bashed up in their own ‘omes, it wasn’t safe to live alone no more.

She come in with me. Not this place but the terrace in Brixton. Where they found the body. She didn’t like the neighbourhood, bit of a come-down for ‘er, see. I don’t fink the neighbours knew I got a lodger, because Em never went out. Started feeling poorly, so I ‘ad to do things for the both of us. Like I was the one that went to the post office near where she used to live when she couldn’t pick up ‘er pension no more. They had ‘er old address, see. I didn’t mind, going on the bus was no trouble back then. Still ‘ad the use of my two legs. You ask why didn’t she tell them she’d changed ‘er address? Never thought of it, I s’pose.

How did I manage to get ‘er money at the post office? I was lucky, see. All them tellers was new and wouldn’t ‘ave known ‘er from a bar of soap. The only snag was the signature, but after a few tries I could fake it so no one would know. They never asked no questions. She didn’t neither, just smiled when I give ‘er the money. ‘Thank you so much, dear,’ she’d say and put the money away after giving me the rent.

Can’t say she didn’t appreciate what I did for ‘er. She did. ‘I hate to think what I’d do without you, Harriet. God was kind when you took me in.’ God, my foot! What did God ‘ave to do with it?

One day I come home and found ‘er sitting on the porch steps. Dead as a doornail, she was. Didn’t know till I tried to help ‘er up. She just flopped sideways and nearly rolled onto the path. Must’ve been ‘er ‘eart. No, I didn’t call the doctor; she was dead, wasn’t she?

Should’ve notified someone, I know. She ‘ad relatives somewhere, was always talking about ‘darling Alfred and Bea.’ They couldn’t ‘ave cared less about ‘er though; never rang, never wrote no letters neither. I didn’t know where to get in touch with ‘em. Not that I tried, mind you. Nosy parkers would’ve started asking questions, like about collecting ‘er pension with the fake signature. Could’ve been nasty. Same if I’d told the police. We keep away from the police where I come from.

I buried Em in the back near the side fence. ‘Ow did I get ‘er down off the steps? Gave ‘er a push and down she went. Dragged ‘er all the way down the back. Wasn’t easy—good thing she was so tiny. Never weighed much at the best of times. I didn’t need no wheelchair back then. Then I collected ‘er things and burned them in the incinerator. Told everyone I was burning leaves, so nobody asked no questions.

You’re asking what ‘appened to ‘er pension and bank accounts? I couldn’t tell them at the bank that she was dead if nobody else knew, now could I? The neighbours? Like I said before, no one knew she was living with me. If anyone’d seen ‘er, they’da thought she was a friend come to visit.

No one saw me take the body out the back, I made sure of that. It was ‘ard work dragging ‘er body, I can tell you.  Buried ‘er at night when it was pitch dark and planted flowers over the spot early in the morning. No one would’ve looked twice ‘cause I was always in the garden. Love flowers, I do.

I was on my own again. Won’t pretend it wasn’t a relief; I wasn’t at Em’s beck and call no more. Then I realized I’d ‘ave to go on collecting ‘er pension, same as usual. Would’ve looked suspicious otherwise. And then the bank sent a letter saying one of ‘er accounts was due and what should they do about it. So I ‘ad to decide, didn’t I? I faked Em’s signature like I did for the pension and then I took the money out.

 

You’re right. I ’ad to be careful with the bank. What do you mean it’s all on computers today? Nobody come to check if she was alive or dead. Was a nice little nest-egg come my way. I bought this ‘ouse with the money; needed the extra space. I got this new condition, see; doctors said I’d need a wheelchair very soon. So far I only need it when I go out. It’s mechanized so I don’t need ‘elp. 

Nobody knows me ‘ere and all minds their own business. Mind you, I didn’t plan it – the money, I mean. I faked Em’s signature to ‘elp ‘er out, and once I started collecting ‘er pension, I ‘ad to keep on doing it. I told you why; no one knew she was dead and I didn’t want no trouble with the police.

No, course I didn’t kill Em. Kill my friend? I told you, she died on the steps while I was out. How could I know she’d lock ‘erself out? By the time I got back it was too late. Terrible, it was.

She would’ve wanted me to ‘ave the money. It was my due for looking after ‘er! Why can’t all you nosy parkers leave me alone! If it wasn’t for that damn dog what dug up the body, I’d be living quiet like before. But I got nothing to worry about. I never touched ‘er. I told you, she was already dead.

You telling me ‘er ‘ead was bashed in when they found ‘er ... ‘Ow can that be?”