Toward the end of October in 1990, monitoring a procession of magpies from my bedroom window, I was surprised by the sight of our neighbour, Jenny Glover, emerging from behind the garage, hunched and purposeful, and striding rapidly across our lawn. On reaching the washing line, she cast a furtive glance to either side, before taking a pair of my underpants, cramming them into the pocket of her anorak and quickly departing by the same route from which she had arrived. It took me several seconds to recover my wits and make my way to the street, by which time the front door of the Glover house, immediately opposite ours, was closing behind her. At any other time I might have taken time to ponder the most sensible course of action. Having only recently, however, been an object of infatuation which had culminated with the imposition of a court order and a (slightly dubious) suicide attempt, I thought it best to acknowledge Mrs Glover's interest and politely but firmly discourage its development.
Twenty years on, my recollection of the ensuing exchange on the Glovers' doorstep still brings an instantaneous warmth to my cheeks. A verbatim account would challenge the abilities of a court stenographer. Suffice to say, I was disabused of the notion that Mrs Glover's attentions toward me could be anything other than hostile. "What would any woman want with your underpants?" she demanded with such incredulity I was stricken by a momentary conviction that I had lost the capacity to distinguish between reality and precognition. On returning to to the scene of the crime, however, I was reassured by a cursory inspection of the washing line on which disordered pegs and a gap commensurate with the breadth of a pair of boxer shorts indicated a recent intrusion. That night, I dicussed the matter with my parents. Neither seemed overly concerned by the violation I had suffered. "I couldn't go through a repeat of the Alexander business," said Mum, unfairly citing a long resolved unpleasantness precipitated by Dr Alexander's intemperate response to finding me in his wardrobe. Dad, meanwhile, restricted himself to the undeniable observation that, "It's your word against hers." Neither favoured police involvement: "It would be a bit of a cheek after what you said about them," said Mum referring to an interview in which I injudiciously referred to their work as 'janitorial'. On reflection, it was evident that further action might would, at the very least, prove a distraction to more pressing commitments and could leave me vulnerable to accusations of slander. Determined to remain vigilant, I decided, for the time being, to let the matter drop.
As any doctor will confirm, apparently trivial symptoms often indicate a darker malaise. Over the course of a long, troubled winter: I was debilitated by a succession of bugs compounded by the constant sensation that nemesis lurked in the lowering gloom. By spring, my spirits were bolstered by the return to lighter nights and the coincidental departure of the Glovers who moved to Glasgow in order to assist in the care of a grandchild who had been born with significant health problems. I thought little of them until several years later when Mum drew my attention to a notice of Jennifer Glover's death in the Glasgow Herald. "Loving wife, mother and grandmother," she read, emphasising the last word with a sharp glance, as if to say, "See? Nothing about stealing your underpants." Mrs Glover's posthumous exoneration was short-lived. Only weeks later, Gavin Sutherland, who bought their house, appeared unexpectedly at my door. "I think these are yours," he said, proferring a filthy rag which, on closer inspection, proved to be adorned by a tag on which the words 'Hamilton Coe' were still legible. "I found them when I was fixing the floor-boards in the shed," he continued with a slight shudder. "They were wrapped around some kind of carcass."
As a child visiting the David Livingstone Museum in Blantyre, I was thrilled to contemplate the explorer's jerkin torn in a lion attack. Future visitors to the Hamilton Coe House, I thought, would be similarly intrigued by evidence of my own attempted bewitchment. Mum, unfortunately, had less consideration for posterity: "Don't be so disgusting," she snapped as I argued the case for their retention. After a brief tug of war, I snatched the disputed underpants from her grasp and fled, hiding them under my mattress. Years later, months after Mum's death, I decided to move my bed. Removing the mattress, I was irritated by the realisation that the underpants were no longer there. With the unerring instinct, formerly used in the location of my siblings' cigarettes and contraceptives, Mum had found and, presumably, destroyed them. "For goodness sake," I muttered before, quite unexpectedly, my legs buckled and I sprawled beside my partially stripped bed, overwhelmed by a keening regret.