My dear darling Geoff

I know we parted a long time ago but I have a lot to tell you and you are the only person who truly knew Marilyn. She’s dead Geoff, really gone out of our lives. I wanted you to know before anyone else. You know how much I loved her, as much, almost as much as you. But she was my only true friend you see. I loved her and she gave me so much. But she never quite had what she deserved. You know what I mean? She only wanted to do good work in the world and now they have destroyed her. I wanted to destroy them at the end of all this but what’s the point. Big tycoons have always won the day. I felt in despair for a long time, but I’m coming out of that now. I just want to tell you about Marilyn.

First she wanted to live in the caravan, the one you helped me do up for her in gypsy green and red; the one with the brass bed head, pink geraniums in sparkling red tubs on the sills and the Polish hand decorated spoons. It was so much her dream to live like that, to be the wandering gypsy, to live out in the fresh air in summer and to curl up by the wood burner in winter in those tatty woollen socks I knitted her aeons ago. I was going to be her neighbour. We were searching for a corner of a farmer’s field, or an old woodland. She had money, you know, lots of it. More than we both imagined. She’s passed it down to me now, some of it – but I’ll tell you about that later.

I helped her pack, get rid of stuff, cleaned the old cobwebby windows of her musty flat. We went to car boot sales and got rid of most of the rubbish. Then we embarked on a long trek of wandering paths, woodland walks, fields, plots of land, old derelict railway lines, wasteland, back gardens of the grand and wealthy. We put emails and ads out all over the place. But we never found anywhere to put her caravan. They said the council wouldn’t like it, or you had to go through planning applications for months or years and they are likely to say no. They said if anyone even spotted the caravan there would be trouble and that spies were everywhere, even in the sky. Apparently they have scouts looking out all over the place in their helicopters for people living in caravans. And then they get marked in ordinance survey maps. So it’s not worth the hassle really. That’s what they all said.

So we tried the other route. We went round all those static caravan parks – but it wasn’t the same. And Marilyn wanted her caravan, not some glamorous grey and white sterile piece of metal that looked just like a bungalow for retired people. They had chemical toilets, bars and discos – she didn’t want any of that. You know Marilyn! She would have dug herself a pit and done her business there like they do in more authentic places. She wanted to live like the animals. She loved animals. There wouldn’t be many in those places – too many chemicals. Anyway the ground rents were extortionate after you’d spent quite a few thousand on the caravan. They were all in lines like an army camp with little neat borders of about 2 foot around each one. Then there were those noisy generators. She may have been in her latter years, 74 she was – but she was all for being sustainable. She wanted solar panels and a wind turbine and a proper compost toilet. The parks were just not her thing at all. I could see her point.

That’s when she found the cottage. It had a big garden so she thought she could live in both; caravan in summer and cottage in the winter. It was kind of semi-rural. There was a little supermarket at the back, but not too near. She tried not to use it, but it was there in case she really couldn’t get out. I helped her pot more geraniums and some palm trees, an elder bush and apple trees. It was about one and a half acres and the cottage was beautiful. A real old place with 3 open fires, ivy round all the windows, a smell of wood smoke coming out of the ancient chimney, an old arga and a big brick barbecue outside. She used to hang an old Victorian kettle on the fire and make her tea like that, lots of chamomile and elderflower – those were her favourites. She always picked them in summer and stored them up for winter.

We had some good times there, we really did. In the summer we would lounge about in her overgrown garden watching the midges glow around the open fire. She dug her own fire pit. And there were frogs and dragonflies around the pond. The local children used to come round and she told stories and played her flute. They loved her caravan – everyone did. She used to collect rainwater in an old tin bath and let it warm up under the sun. Then at midnight when it was dark she would slip in and have this kind of lukewarm bath, usually with a bit of water heated up over her fire. I slept under the stars some nights, if it was really warm. I missed you of course, but you were long gone by then. Marilyn and I knitted a pair of socks together, we made our own dyes out of onion peel and beetroot, made clay figures, danced under the moon. We did everything together at one time. She was just more open to nature than anyone else I knew.

It was funny how she stopped going to the supermarket altogether. She just refused to buy anything from them. It was quite a way on the bus to the nearest health food shop but she always went there or made do with what she had. The diggers and tractors started coming next. She slept with cotton wool in her ears and the caravan was too noisy to sleep in, even in summer. She started coming indoors more because it was quieter. She became quieter somehow. She was being pushed into a world that she didn’t really belong to. She was part of nature, not part of the indoor world.

Anyway, the noise got louder, sometimes at night she was woken by the deliveries at 3am. There were long traffic jams, bus delays. The buses got so disrupted at one time she didn’t know where the bus stop was. She walked for ages trying to find it till it was too late to go anywhere. She didn’t sit in the garden any more and the dragonflies and toads seemed to disappear. They tried to buy a piece of her garden to extend the car park. She felt really invaded. The store was already huge. Why did they want to make it bigger? There were signs up everywhere and a letter put through everyone’s door saying planning permission had been granted for the extension of the supermarket. She didn’t understand why the council didn’t want her beautiful gypsy caravan anywhere but they were happy to have this monstrosity almost in her back garden. She started getting a bit of tinnitus and cramp in her arms. The noise just wouldn’t go away. Even indoors it was loud. She hand painted a ‘For Sale’ sign and put it outside the cottage. She resigned to find a wood somewhere and just live there regardless of planning laws. She said it didn’t matter any more. If the supermarket was allowed to get away with all this, then she was going to live in her caravan whether the council liked it or not. But she wasn’t going to live here any more, next door to an evil invader.

The next thing was that I found this protest camp in a nearby village. Another supermarket was trying to knock down the local wood. The council had given them permission to do this – so the council obviously doesn’t mind trees being cut down and woods destroyed. But they don’t like caravans. I went to find the protestors. They were all living up tree-houses. It was amazing. They had about 3 acres of woodland and tree-houses 60 foot up in the trees, so they had to have climbing gear to get up to their beds at night. And they had secret underground bunkers to hide from the police. There were outside ovens made of old oil drums and just what Marilyn would have loved – a compost toilet! It was a great place. They’d been working together for some weeks to make a geodome. It’s kind of like a bender, made of willow and an old parachute. Some of them were going to live in it. They already were. It was great at night, guitar playing and singing till the early hours. I stayed a couple of nights in one of the spare tree-houses. I felt like a bird. Then I went back quickly to tell Marilyn and thought we could both live there for a while.

She’s never smoked dope or anything like that. She may have been around in the 60’s and she may be a bit of a hippy in her own way, but she’s never been into drug taking and nor have I in a big way, only in my younger days. But the tree house people were smoking a lot. I just tried to ignore that side of things but Marilyn came and wanted to try one, just the once, to see what it was like, what all the fuss was about as she said. She’s so super sensitive I should have known what would have happened.

Marilyn and I stayed for one month at the camp while her home was falling into decay and misery under the other supermarket’s noisy influence. She enjoyed staying in the geodome – it was ideal for someone nervous of heights but never scared of the outdoors and the wild. She whistled and sang and made us all lentil stews and seaweed pancakes. We sat for hours every evening glaring at the embers and ashes and flames of the fire until we fell asleep on top of one another and it was time to climb the trees to our beds. But Marilyn was getting high and low on cannabis at the same time. She was starting to feel invaded constantly and fearing going home in case her home was bull-dozed away. Sometimes she thought she had no home left. She didn’t feel safe anywhere except on her own in the geodome.

I realised we had to get her home to face reality. I loved being in this cosy community in the wood but it wasn’t always cosy. Sometimes the police arrived and took photos. Apparently ‘intelligence’. But if we all left the supermarket would take over. It was the only way Marilyn could protest about her own invaded home – but now she wasn’t seeing reality clearly enough and it was imperative that I got her away from the dope. ‘Intelligence’ came one final time while we were there and then the police arrived and confiscated the geodome in the middle of the night. Marilyn was in it at the time. It was a horrible struggle. We all came down, but they had their devices and the others were too stoned at that time to do anything sensible. Marilyn and I huddled together under the stars and left the next morning. She was severely in shock and now she had a police record.

We left at the end of August and returned together to her cottage where I was officially lodging – but she wouldn’t take any rent off me. I just helped out a bit when necessary. It worked well. There was a letter on her doormat when we got in. Her name and address in big black letters with the name of the supermarket in the left hand corner. I asked if she wanted me to open it. She didn’t. I watched as she tore open the envelope and let the printed letter fall onto the floor. ‘Wanted, further land for commercial development – large sums of money offered.’

She screamed. I had never heard her cry like that before. It was a wolf in pain. That was what she had become. The next day she took an overdose of methane while I was out shopping. And that’s how she went Geoff. That’s how it happened. I found her naked, thin wolf body next to the fire indoors. Given up entirely the simple dream she had to live close to nature. The fire took her away in its ashes somewhere where she could be the flying phoenix again.

She’d already left a will. Most of it was for me. I found out she had a daughter who was adopted from birth. She was left the cottage. She had no other family and few friends. The animals were her friends most of all. She didn’t trust people. Someone came to look at the cottage the other day. I told them it was taken, though I don’t know where her daughter lives.

I’m quite rich now. I’m going to buy a wood. I’ve thought it all out. It will be a place where everyone is welcome and where we will all live in a loving community, without drugs. I won’t let anyone bring drugs of any kind to this place. It will be beautiful, in memory of Marilyn, with compost toilets, solar panels and wind turbines and beautiful gypsy caravans and a geodome. The council and the police will have nothing to do with it and Marilyn’s spirit will live there. I will call the wood ‘Wolf woman’.

Write to me soon Geoff, I don’t have anyone in my life now. Remember the plans we always had…

Lots of love always Madeline xxxxx

PS: Marilyn left her bones to be used for ‘something useful and natural’. It’s in the will. She has dedicated the task to me, so maybe I’ll make a bone table for our geodome or make some kind of material out of the bone dust. That way dear Marilyn will find some way of living in her wood!