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Apostrophes

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If you are reading this on a reader, please be warned that the conversion process eliminates symbols, such as ampersands, which are crucial to the poem. I have notified the AO3 support team, but at present, it is still an issue.

~*~

Lewis didn’t notice the poem immediately. Innocent had piled his desk with paperwork to be filled out, and there was the case report to write up. Drudgery. He switched the computer on because, like him, it was getting on in years, and if he wanted to use it before lunch, he had to give it ample warning. The machine groaned and made strange sounds, as if parts were being shuffled inside.

While he was waiting for all the hemming and hawing to finish, he looked through the forms related to Felix Sansome’s arrest. Yes, yes. Everything routine. Maybe he’d make Hathaway do most of it. Where was Hathaway? Lurking about somewhere because he knew Lewis would hand off the reports. Lewis smiled.

A scrap of paper caught his eye. He picked it up carelessly, assuming it was a phone memo. But it wasn’t. He read.

 

‘ ’

sometimes
’ steps in for
what’s missing

‘ likes things said
just so

sometimes
’ tells the world:
you belong to me

‘ needs ’
as ( needs )

together
‘ & ’ curl head to toe
tenderly

 

Nonsense. Complete nonsense. He couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Was it some kind of joke? A riddle? He turned the paper over, but there was no clue to its origin. It was typed on plain white paper. The paper had been trimmed down by hand — Lewis could see a slightly jagged bit where the scissors had gone wrong. When he looked up, Hathaway was beside his desk. Lewis’s confusion must have shown on his face because Hathaway said:

“Sir?”

Lewis held out the piece of paper. “What do you make of this? I found it on my desk. It’s not something from the case, is it?”

Hathaway took the bit of paper and glanced at it. “I don’t believe it is.”

“Well?”

Hathaway shrugged. “Someone has written you a poem.” He handed the paper back.

“Who? Who would write me a poem? You call this poetry? I don’t understand a word of it.”

“You don’t have to understand poetry — not in the strictest sense. We can have visceral reactions to it even if its precise meaning escapes us.”

Lewis rolled his eyes. “You and your literary…leanings. I suppose you understand it.” He looked at the paper again. Who would write him a poem? He set it beside the keyboard before turning his attention to more important matters. “Do you want to do the write-up?”

“Always.” Hathaway accepted the folder Lewis handed him.

Hathaway had a funny look about him. He was smiling oddly, and he was a bit pink. Something occurred to Lewis. “Did you have a date last night?”

“I went out with you, remember? God is in all things?”

“Right.” Lewis waved Hathaway off. When Hathaway wanted to be mysterious, there was nothing for it.

The computer was still waking up. Might as well have a cuppa, then.

‘’

Lewis hadn’t packed lunch, and he left the station at 12:40 in search of a sandwich. On his walk, he passed the bakery. Ice cream’s. Misplaced apostrophe. He’d think of Hathaway, now, whenever he saw it. True of a lot of things. He supposed years together did that. Places you’d been. Things you’d seen. It was that way with Val. Some places he couldn’t bear to go. Others had pleasant memories. The city was a patchwork of his kids, Val, Morse, Hathaway. The people he’d spent the most time with. Some had been lost, but others had stepped into their places. Hathaway, mostly. If he took early retirement, it might be a bit lonely. He’d have to move north.

At the sandwich shop, he ordered turkey on wheat, then returned the way he had come. He stopped in front of the bakery, the apostrophe catching his eye again. There was something about that poem — it had been about apostrophes, hadn’t it? He tried to recall the lines, but his memory failed him.

Back at his desk, he sat heavily in his chair, setting his paper lunchbag in front of him. He picked up the poem and studied it. After five minutes, he gave up. It was still nonsense. He glanced towards Hathaway’s desk. Hathaway was reading a book, as usual, his feet up on his desk, the book open on his thighs. He chewed slowly on a sandwich. Apostrophes. Lewis looked down at the poem again. Apostrophes. Of course! Only one person in the station could have written this. But why?

Lewis got up and stepped over to Hathaway’s desk. “You wrote this,” he said quietly, so as not to be overheard by anyone in the corridor.

Hathaway stopped chewing and looked up from his book.

“You’re the only one who could have,” Lewis went on.

“You seem certain,” Hathaway said cautiously.

“I am.” Lewis looked again at the paper. “But why did you give it to me?”

“Who else would I give it to?”

“I —” The word ‘tenderly’ embarrassed him. It stood out, stuck like it was on the end of the poem. Lewis gazed at the word. He gazed at the apostrophes. Quotation marks. Whatever they were. A kind of understanding flooded him, not of the individual lines but of the overall meaning. He fell silent, daring a quick glance at Hathaway.

Hathaway’s face grew even pinker than before. He held his sandwich in two hands, long, slender fingers as pale as the bread. The pages of his book, which had been lying flat and open, began to fan towards one another, losing Hathaway’s place.

Lyn had told him to slow down. She was worried about his heart. Lewis could feel it beating. If he’d got it right — if he’d understood… Thump, thump, thump. There were many things he hadn’t considered before — like apostrophes — things Hathaway had taught him.

“I think maybe I do understand it,” Lewis said after a moment. “But some of it — you’ll have to explain to me.” Thump, thump, thump. “Later,” he added, gesturing with the bit of paper. He carefully tucked it into his jacket pocket.

Hathaway smiled. “I’ll do that, sir.”

the end