Web Site: Espresso Fiction
A story about suspicion and the way it eats into you when it takes hold. The story was first published in Espresso Fiction and will be included in my upcoming short story collection.
‘And then?’ he prompted.
‘I looked over, didn’t I?’ I said. He wrote that in his notebook too. I knew I was making him work, like teasing a splinter out with tweezers, but the truth is it’s hard to talk about it. I mean, it’s not like it happens every day. I just wanted them to be gone, and this nightmare to be over.
‘You looked over and...’
The other one, the woman, shot a glance at him, then a kinder one at me. She put a hand on top of mine. It was warm and gentle.
‘Take your time Mrs Collins,’ she said.
I tried to think of it and not think of it at the same time. I tried to remember it as if it had really been what I thought it was.
‘It was like a wax doll. Like one of them things in shops? What d’you call them?’
‘Yeah. Like a mannequin. Like something made out to look human, but it isn’t.’
He was writing it all down, but I could feel his impatience. It spilled out onto the paper in the way he wrote with a scratchy pen. Scratches. Impatient scratches. She came into my mind then, and I couldn’t stop her.
‘I’d partly covered her with the weeds I’d thrown over the fence,’ I said.
‘It’s a vacant block. I suppose its all right to throw weeds...?’ It didn’t matter now. The pen scratched on the paper and the woman policeman patted my hand. There, there.
‘Knickers down to her ankles. Nothing else on. Her face...’
I couldn’t go on. The girl’s face was burned into my memory just as the terror was burned into her eyes, but I couldn’t describe it properly.
‘Her eyes were open,’ I said after a bit, and I saw those eyes, the look I’ll never forget. ‘She looked scared.’
There’s a much stronger word, but I couldn’t think of it at the time, so I just said scared. Scratch. Scratch on the paper. Then the scratching stopped and he looked up, wanting to draw more blood.
‘Did you recognise the girl?’
‘Not at first. I thought it was a doll. One of them things in shops. What d’ you call them?’ I knew I ought to know.
‘Mannequins,’ the woman policeman said. Policewoman. That’s the word. My brain wasn’t working right. It hasn’t worked right since. It’s not working right now.
‘But then...’ he prompted. I looked at him. They’re not very old, policeman these days. You wonder if they really know what they’re doing. This one didn’t look that much older than my son, and he’s only nineteen.
‘Then I did recognise her,’ I said. It had been a shock, like finding yourself standing in front of a bus and being hit. It was that girl from down the road. I don’t know the people except to say good morning, how are you. Not enough to care how they are. It was her.
‘It was her down the road,’ I said.
‘From number twenty-seven.’ She had lovely sandy coloured hair. It was orange when she was little. Really orange. She looked ever so pretty in blue and green, and her mother knew and dressed her in the right colours all the time. As she got older she did stupid things to it. She even dyed it pink once. Kids.
‘I don’t know her name,’ I said, ‘but I’ve seen her since she was born really. They’ve always lived down the road, but I don’t know the people at that end. Not know them. You know.’
He scratched it into his notebook as if it mattered whether I knew the poor little kid or not. She’d have been sixteen, no more. Yes, that’s right. Jason would have been three years ahead of her in school. I don’t know. You don’t take much notice. They’re just people down the road.
‘Let’s go back to last night. Did you hear or see anything unusual?’
‘No screams? No...’
‘Nothing.’ It was true . I hadn’t heard a thing. Mind you, the telly was on, just for company, as it always is. I don’t watch it. I knit, usually, or read a book. TV’s mostly rubbish. I just have it on to drive away the silence. Jason says that’s stupid and he’s right I suppose, but I don’t like silence. Especially not now.
‘What were you doing all evening?’
I told him, and he wrote it down.
‘Was anyone else at home?’
‘You said earlier you have a son living at home?’ The woman policeman this time.
‘Jason,’ I said. ‘But he wasn’t in.’
Where was he? I knew they were going to ask me. It was the obvious question. Why wasn’t he in?
‘Where was he?’
‘I don’t know. He never tells me where he’s going. He says it’s none of my business.’ He’s always been cheeky since his father walked out on us. Boys need a man around or they get undisciplined when they get bigger than you and they work it out.
‘We’ll question him separately,’ the man said, ‘but where do you think he was?’
I wish I could say he’d been tucked up in bed. I wish he’d been in, or even come home early. I wish I knew where he’d been or what he’d been doing.
‘I don’t know,’ I said.
‘Did he know the girl?’ the woman asked.
Well, of course he did. She only lived down the road. They went to the same school, rode on the same bus. He’d known her since she was a toddler.
‘No,’ I said. Then I thought I’d better clear up any misunderstanding quickly.
‘She was just a girl down the road. He knew her the same as I did.’
‘But they went to the same school. Took the same school bus?’ The man’s pen was poised, ready to catch any slips.
‘I suppose so,’ I said. I bit my lip, and wished Jason was there so we could go through this together. I wasn’t going to tell them that he knew her. I could only hope Jason would have the sense not to mention it either. There’s no point in raising their suspicions for no reason, is there? Why send them off on a goose chase? It wouldn’t help them find the killer if they spent time chasing after Jason. He didn’t do it. He couldn’t do something like that. He just couldn’t.
‘Well, we’ll talk to your son later. Where is he now?’
‘At work.’ I told them where to find him. They would have to talk to him. They would be talking to everybody.
I don’t think anybody else knew about him and her. It had only just started really.
They left. The policewoman gave me her phone number. ‘If you think of anything, or you just want to chat...’ She was nice.
Jason came home for his tea later that afternoon. I asked him if he’d talked to the police, but he was in one of his sullen moods.
‘Leave off Mum,’ was all he’d say. Then after tea he asked me, ‘Did you tell ‘em I was going with her?’
‘Good,’ he said. Then he headed towards his room. He stopped at the door and turned. ‘I know what you’re thinking,’ he said, with a funny look, ‘and you’re dead wrong.’
And that was it. He moved out not long after that and went to share a place with his friend Neil. He hardly ever comes now, and I never know where he is, or what he’s doing. We’ve grown apart, and I don’t really know him any more. Like I never really knew his father.
The day it came on the news that the police had charged somebody with the murder should have been a great day for me, even though the man claims he’s innocent. The nightmare ought to be over. I should be able to put it all in the past and sleep easy.
But the nightmare isn’t over, and it never will be, because I’m still left with this terrible suspicion eating into my brain, like worms chewing into a corpse.
Published at ExpressoFiction.com
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|Reviewed by Candace Ho
|Wow, incredibly eerie and vivid work. I was enthralled at the very first sentance.|