Tony and Margaret discussed whether to make a shrine at all and then after they decided, they discussed what kind of thing should be in the shrine. Tony/ Margaret suggested candles, crosses and flowers, to which Margaret/ Tony replied that they didn’t have to stick to tradition, so they painted an old bookshelf, fixed a plaque to the front and then decorated it with cacti and toy cars and whatever else took their fancy. They made it up as they went, deciding that it didn’t matter as long as it evoked.
The incident at February North had made a lasting impression on them and, though it seemed a long way ago, they felt it deserved a shrine. Shrines may have been out of fashion but, or perhaps they were coming back into fashion now.
After the local newspaper ran a short piece about Tony and Margaret’s shrine, an artist named Tim posted them a picture which had been inspired by the incident at February North. He had been wondering what to draw one day, when he accidentally knocked over his pencil tin. The scattering of pencils across the desk caused him to recall the incident and he made the commemorative drawing as an abstract representation of his recollection. When he saw an article about Tony and Margaret’s shrine in the newspaper, he sent them his artwork.
They added it to the shrine. They also put in a visitors’ book, but it was not like the ones you find in chapels and cathedrals, the ones in which people write things like, ‘an enjoyable visit, though we did not enjoy the weather.’ The comments were concise and careful, and were mostly left by other witnesses to what happened at February North.
One of the comments in the book was left by Jane, a chef. The comment took the form of a recipe. At first the recipe’s connection to the incident was not clear to Tony and Margaret, and they puzzled it over as they ate. Eventually they came to realise that the connection was, or could be, the following – that Jane did not know who else to share the recipe with, but as she had shared the witnessing of the incident she now felt a connection to Tony and Margaret and the others. So she had decided to share the recipe with them. There was no way of being sure whether this was the truth or not, but maybe it didn’t matter.
Neither Tony nor Margaret were blessed with practical skills, but they researched the upkeep of miniature shrines thoroughly and found that the important thing was to give their shrine plenty of care and attention. The shrine turned out a little lopsided but that, they thought, was ok. ‘Nothing has to be perfect, it just has to do its job,’ they had read somewhere. This spirit informed their upkeep of the shrine.
The incident, or accident – neither Tony nor Margaret, nor Tim nor Jane were sure which – had become a fading memory. They could no longer say with any certainty which part of the incident they had witnessed. Had it been the incident itself, or just the aftermath? Perhaps they had just been told about it. All they knew was that there was something that had been etched in their memories at February North.
There were also always so many things happening in their lives that their memories of the incident were becoming more and more obscured every day.
Shrines were gathering momentum and soon came back into fashion in a big way. Tony and Margaret were at the forefront of the movement and were once again featured in the local newspaper, then in the national newspapers and eventually they were profiled in a ten minute slot on a television programme all about the new shrine movement. Tim and Jane and other visitors to the shrine were brought together to contribute talking head pieces. After they had finished filming they all retired to a local guest house for drinks and food, where they tried to make concrete their recollections.
That night, united by the effects of the incident at February North and by the shrine built by Tony and Margaret, Tim the artist and Jane the chef fell into each other’s arms and embarked on a long and uneven love affair which consisted of a long series of incidents and accidents far too numerous for each to be commemorated.
Following the success of the television program, Tony and Margaret found themselves inundated with requests for their time. There were more and more visitors to the shrine, which meant that it required more and more maintenance, a new visitor book and, etc.
It started to take over their lives.
A novelist wrote to ask permission to write a fictionalised account of what happened at February North, to which Tony and Margaret wrote back to insist that they were not sure if permission was theirs to give. A sculptor got in touch, a balladeer, a hypnotist. A candle manufacturer made an offer to sponsor the shrine, an offer they turned down.
Meanwhile, the novelist had replied to their letter. His new suggestion was that they collaborate on a different book, ‘What Really Happened At February North.’ He wanted to talk to Tony and Margaret, to conduct in-depth interviews. He had discovered the coordinates for February North and wanted to take them back to where it all began.
For the first time since they built the shrine, Tony and Margaret were in disagreement.
Tony wanted to go back, to try and find out what happened there, whilst Margaret was set against the idea. Tony said he had to know. Margaret shouted that she had to not know. Knowing/ not knowing would spoil everything. They raised their voices and things were just the way they had been before they built the shrine.
On the same morning Tony was due to meet the novelist and travel back with him to February North, a letter arrived addressed to ‘Tony and Margaret aka The Shrine People’. The correspondent scrawled love, affection and respect for them and their shrine, calling it, ‘a beautiful, impermanent monument to impermanent moments, to accidents and incidents and fleeting forgotten things.’
Margaret spent that day reading the letter over and over, before throwing it in the fire.
Tony met the novelist and finally went back to February North, where nothing happened – he had no recollections or epiphanies, only a very vague sense of peace. The novelist realised he would not be getting a story out of this and abandoned Tony, leaving him to find his own way home.
Shrines fell out of fashion again. The television crews, the candlemakers and the novelists moved on to the next craze, leaving Toby and Margaret to solve their problems. The first thing they did was to stop maintaining the shrine.
It fell apart slowly.
And then all they were left with was each other and the memory of their shrine and their memories of February North turning to dust. And that was ok.