Boys don't have time for good ideas. For a boy of ten, such as I was at the time, a good idea is only one half of an idea. It is imperfect and it is incomplete. Danny, my best friend at the time, was well aware of the fact.
But the worst? The absolute worst? The one that still reverberates in the brain when you least expect it, years and years later? Well, I no longer remember who suggested it, and I would not be surprised if it hit us like a misguided butterfly at the same moment in time and space, but the idea seemed fairly straightforward: why not pay a visit to old Miss Golloway?
After all, every boy aspires to what is fictional, and there was no one in our village as fictional, as close to a crumpled old book of Edgar Allen Poe (whose "Premature Burial" we kept retelling to every sensitive girl we knew), as Miss Golloway.
We set off at dusk. And I do mean set off: we took sandwiches, we took two bottles of water and we took a small pocket knife. We were ready for a long journey. Miss Golloway lived on the other side of the village, and the descriptions of the house I had surreptitiously fished out of my mother were vague at best. We could easily get lost. In fact, we were probably supposed to.
And we did, caught up as we were in jokes about her crazy visions (Mrs. Johns, the hairdresser, recounted them incessantly) as well as meticulously detailed descriptions of her mouth as it got so frothy and foamy every time she tried to speak.
When we finally saw the house, we ran to the door and did something every overexcited boy was supposed to do in those circumstances: we stopped dead. We listened to the movements inside the house (it was oddly quiet, despite the light in the window), not quite realising how we were supposed to knock on the door and what exactly we were supposed to say to the old woman.
The wait was finally broken when the door creaked open and we saw Miss Golloway looking down at us (God, she must have been twice our size – I had barely seen her since the meteorite incident). In a way, this was a relief: our parents would start worrying soon, and my heart palpitations were chiming all over the village like a bell of some convoluted church.
Miss Golloway was trying to say something, and in such close proximity the froth on her mouth did not look especially funny. It looked disturbing.
'Tea, thank you', said Danny and slipped past her into the house. There was nothing else for me to do but follow him.
Danny looked strangely boisterous and stupidly brave, and began prancing around her living-room (all very chilly and clean and smelling of soap). While I just stood there in the middle of the room looking at her like a fool. She seemed confused, and searched me for explanations. Silently, though I would have preferred her to start mumbling again. Clearly she was not going to make us any tea.
'So you have visions, ha?' said Danny seriously, disappearing into a huge black armchair that looked much too big even for Miss Golloway (who stared back at him). Danny was not being himself.
And neither was I, especially when I heard myself say this:
'We heard about the letter'.
Her confusion rose into one abrupt scream, and she walked out of the room. Danny and myself, we looked at each other without saying a word. The silence was overwhelming, it was like Miss Golloway was walking on air. When she got back, ten hours later (or, rather, seconds), she was holding a grey envelope in her hand which she swiftly dropped on the small glass stand that separated me from the armchair in which Danny was sitting. Then she stood back and said something unintelligible which we nonetheless understood.
'Open it', she said.
But for the second time that evening, we couldn't open it, and this time there was no one else to help us out or in. And so we ran outside. And then walked. And then ran some more, all through the village. 'Black letters in the corner', I whispered as we finally stopped. 'Yeah', said Danny, quietly, as if to himself. 'I know'.
And it's not like we never met afterwards. We did. It's just that there was something unspoken between us now, and it left no room for mutual ideas, good or bad. One little outing to a house on the other side of the village left no room for someone you could once call your best friend.