A fragment of Memoir: Jemima by Barnard Browne

Jemima occupied a box in my father’s study. It had once contained an Xpelair fan. The cardboard was quite thick with copper staples to keep it together. The texture set my teeth on edge. Perhaps that’s how they made cardboard in 1962.
Jemima terrified me. She was about twenty years old compared to my five but I was taller. She walked at night. I could see her through the bed clothes that I drew up around my head for protection. 
Her method of locomotion was necessarily unconventional. She had been decapitated and buried with a few pots of Roman provenance by the side of the ancient trackway that passed the front of our house.  Her skull was found between her knees, as if she was looking for her missing feet. In my imagination she walked with her skull perched directly on her pelvis. 
Close by is the church of St Michael and all Angels, its name and unusual north-south alignment hinting at a pre-Christian foundation. The church was in the care of my father, the Rector.
Stone hand axes were found in the garden in the same year. There was no doubt about their purpose since they fitted so well into a modern hand. But they were older than either Jemima or me by about 300,000 years. Most likely this was the work of an ancestral hominin species: Homo Heidelbergensis. Fortunately for me, no corporeal remains were found – only a dusty fragment of Mammoth bone. 
I don’t know if it was for my benefit or not, but my father decided that Jemima should be reburied in consecrated ground.  Later, I thought this was presumptuous. There was no reason to believe she was a Christian. The decapitation was best understood as a means to prevent her ghost walking; to disempower the earthly remains of a witch. I think my mother, a doctor, may have shared my reservations because after her death I found she had retained Jemima’s lower jaw.
After this I was no longer troubled by Jemima. 

© P.J. Tester: Plate V "Researches and discoveries in Kent", Archaeologica Cantia Vol 78 (1963) 




by Barnard Browne

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