My very first assignment as a junior reporter on the Daily Spongecake was to interview a seaside resort wrestler. It was one of those short February years, the ones I am so fond of, when there is no danger of receiving a marriage proposal. I was young and wet behind the ears and my limbs flailed about, independently of each other, in those days. I had my brand new reporter’s notepad and brand new reporter’s pencil. The latter was much the same as a butcher’s pencil, without of course the caking of dried blood on it. An old hand in the office winked at me and said if I did my job properly I would soon have blood on my pencil.
So off I went to the seaside resort, by train. It was easy enough to locate the wrestler, as he was tethered by a chain to a stout post in the square. My editor had suggested a few questions I might begin with, to break the ice. I had not bothered to write them down in my notepad, thinking that I could retain them in my head for the duration of the railway journey. That was my first mistake. We spent at least four hours stuck in some sidings, due to “birds above the line”, and I passed the time by reading a paperback spy thriller, a tale so full of thrills and spills and excitement and adventure and mystery and intrigue and sudden, inexplicable violence that I was whisked away from the so-called “real world” and had great difficulty returning to it when at last the birds were scarified and the train chugged back on to the main track. I reminded myself where I was, and where I was going, and more or less why, but that was as much as I could remember.
As things turned out, my prepared questions would have proved useless, because before I had a chance to speak, the wrestler grappled with me and placed me in a half-nelson. Now at that time, so long, long ago, I was perfectly ignorant of the standard wrestling holds. As, indeed, I remain, for I have learned nothing, nothing.
By dint of youth and stupidity, I thought the wrestler was attacking me, rather than – as would have been obvious had I not been so young, so stupid – demonstrating to me, as a visitor to his seaside resort, the art and craft of his profession. I panicked, reached as best I could into my pocket for my reporter’s pencil, brand new and freshly sharpened, and stabbed the wrestler in the eye. He immediately relaxed his grip, already in his death-throes, and released me from what I learned later, during the court case, was a half-nelson. Sooner than I had expected, much sooner, there was blood on my pencil.
Sentencing me to life in prison for the heinous crime of murder, the seaside resort judge painted my character in gaudy terms. I was, as I recall, vile and pernicious and my soul was besmirched with sin. My youth and stupidity were not considered to be mitigating factors. If anything, they counted against me.
It was all so long ago, that short February year. I still think of the wrestler, chained to his post in the square, happy as a lark until the day I disembarked from the train and, in my eagerness, came charging towards him, my limbs flailing, bright eyes gleaming. Tomorrow I will, as usual, pluck a peony from the flowerbed in the prison garden, and pin it over my heart on my rough prison tunic, and wear it with both sorrow and remorse as I toil on the treadmill.