Web Site: www.suzannestrong.net
Can one night change your whole life?
You don't expect your life to change forever on a balmy, September evening walking to the ATM to get some money for dinner. But mine did.
I was reveling in the tropical warmth of the Brisbane air around my body, no hint of chill. Walking in my sandals, singlet and skirt down the main street of West End I was looking forward to a relaxing Chardonnay and dinner with Scott. The climate was a big reason why I had moved to Queensland, seven years ago, as well as to escape my not so sane family in Sydney.
Standing in front of the ATM I was pressing the appropriate buttons and humming a Mutton Birds song when suddenly I couldn't breathe.
A black gloved hand was suffocating my mouth with its claustrophobic vinyl. The man had pinned my arms against my body. His scent was unbearable, sweat and stale urine. I struggled and tried to scream, his hand tightened over my mouth.
"Shut up!" I heard him say, menacingly, in my ear. His voice was gravelly and deep, but unusually so, like he was trying to disguise it.
He grabbed the money that had appeared in the slit of the machine, released me and ran. I could hear his sneakers slamming the concrete and I quickly looked in his direction and saw his black form scurrying off like a cockroach into a cupboard.
Then I collapsed onto the footpath. On my hands and knees, I started to cry and cough, I felt like I couldn't breathe.
A man and a woman came over to me and asked if I was okay.
"I've been mugged," I said, a little hoarse.
The woman, Simone I later found out, helped me up and the man tried to see if he could see where the guy had gone.
I told them I hadn't seen his face or anything. Simone helped me to get to the Police Station down the road. I was very grateful to them both. I didn't want to walk there alone. My hands were shaking as I related what had happened to the Police Officer.
How could this happen at 7:00pm in the middle of West End? How the hell did this happen to me?
Everything seemed like we were in another dimension like the Twilight Zone or something. Scott picked me up and we drove back to my house in Louisa Street. Approaching my yellow and green wooden house I felt like a different person. I didn't know how to feel towards this person. Who was so desperate, they would mug someone like this?
Fear swept through my body as we walked up the steps of my house in the dark. The shadows seemed threatening now. What if he knew where I lived? Or if he had been watching me. His voice played over and over in my head, its tone, violent and unpredictable, his breath hot and oppressive in my ear and his body enveloping me.
Probably a junkie, I thought to myself. I knew all about junkies. Images of my brother's bony body scoring in Nimbin Park haunted me now. I couldn't think about Terry anymore. I had done everything I could for him.
Scott ordered Vietnamese for our dinner and I went straight to the shower. I wanted to clean every inch of the skin that he touched. Lathering up my body, I scrubbed so hard that my skin was irritated and red. I drew blood on my shoulder where I could still feel his arms around me. His smell was still there, and his voice.
I sat down in the shower recess and cried quietly, so Scott didn't hear me.
After my shower we had our dinner on the veranda and tried to enjoy normal conversation about our days. Talking about my Vet Surgery and Scott about his work in Legal Aid. I felt exhausted and wanted to go to bed. When we went to bed I couldn't sleep. Scott tried to console me but it couldn't help too much. I stared at the ceiling for hours and kept seeing him running away and wondering who the hell he was. Why had he done this to me?
When I did finally sleep I experienced red cellophane nightmares. His stench enveloped me, felt like it could crush me. But even more strongly, I could hear his voice; playing over and over in my mind on a foreboding and strange record player that I could not switch off.
Relief came when the sun rose; it was something constant, normal and comforting. We decided to go and have breakfast at Katrina's, our usual hangout on a Saturday morning.
Adrenalin swept over my body as we parked in our usual spot on Jane Street. We walked down the footpath that was across the road from the Suncorp ATM where it had all happened. I didn't look over the street, I couldn't - I had seen those images all night and I wanted relief. I focused my gaze down Boundary Street towards our destination.
Scott went inside and ordered our coffees and I sat down at an outside table. I was doing some slow breathing and trying to relax. Bile was rising in the back of my throat. Maybe West End was just full of mugging junkies and people not to be trusted? I watched people passing with an eagle's eye, and I wondered was he passing me right now?
My flat white arrived. Sipping my coffee, I started to feel more serene. I closed my eyes and focused on the people's laughter and talking, trying to take myself to a pleasant place.
Suddenly, a shrill musical sound rang out and startled me. My mobile phone began to vibrate on the table as it sang. I grabbed it, my nerves were shot again. I didn't recognise the number, but it was in Brisbane and I wondered if it was the police needing me to identify someone.
I had to face it, sooner or later.
"Hello," I said, more as a question than a statement.
"Hello," said a familiar voice on the other end.
"Is that you Terry?" How weird, why would Terry be calling me? I thought.
"Yeah, how are you going sis?"
A wave of anxiety swept over me. It was his voice, the intonation, the depth...
"I'm okay. Do you know about last night?"
"Yep, Mum told me."
"I'm okay, pretty shaken up..." my voice was failing me, "I have to go, Terry."
"Sorry to hear about last night..." he paused, "I hope you're okay."
I couldn't bear his voice any longer.
"I've got to go."
"Okay, take care..."
I hung up. His voice still lingered with me, haunting.
"He did it," I said to Scott, quietly, and I pushed my chair back and got up. I had to get out of the noise and I wanted to run. Nausea threatened to overpower me again.
"What?" Scott asked, incredulous.
"He did it. My brother," I said again, almost to myself. I started to walk up the street.
Scott jumped up awkwardly and ran to the counter to pay before he could follow me. I walked quickly to the top of Boundary Street. Crossing the street without looking, I was nearly run over by a man in a Ute who then yelled obscenities at me from his window. I didn't care. I stopped outside Bent Books and stared into the window at the shelves of new and old books that had once kept my attention for hours and now, nothing. I could feel his hands around me again, his breath and voice in my ear. My own brother! How could he have done this to me?
Scott reached me, breathless. I didn't say anything for a while. I couldn't.
"Are you sure?" he asked.
"It was his voice. I could tell. He's in Brisbane at the moment. He hasn't been here for many years! Believe me, I don't want to believe this, but I know it's true ."
"I haven't heard from him in 18 months and now he rings me? He said Mum rang him about this, but why would she?"
I started to walk again, past the Coffee Club packed with people, until I reached the house-like office buildings. I wanted to keep going until I reached the river, but nausea overwhelmed me and I dry reached onto the white, concrete wall.
Standing up, I apologised to Scott.
"It's not your fault, Jos," he said.
"How could he do this to me? Did he know it was me? He must've known, if he's ringing to see how I am."
"Jos - I'm so sorry."
"What the hell do I do now?" I started to walk again but Scott stopped me.
"Let's go home, we can think more clearly about all of this there."
"Okay," I said and we walked back to the car, neither of us speaking. I didn't know what to do or say or think.
When we got into the car, I started again, like a madwoman, ranting and raving.
"I don't have any concrete evidence that it's him, and I don't want to prosecute my own brother! But, he obviously knows my movements. Shit Scott, what if he does it again?"
"I know, I know."
My phone vibrated in my pocket again. I took it out; I saw Terry's number. Why was he ringing again? I couldn't face him, right now.
When I got back home I checked his message. Turning it on loudspeaker, I heard the voice again, it was different now. It wasn't my brother's voice anymore, now it was the lowered tone of my mugger. He sounded concerned for me, though.
"Hey, Jos. Me again, just wanted to say I'm sorry to hear what happened to you. Hope you're okay. I'm staying in West End, might see you round."
I hung up and started pacing the room. Instantly, I knew what I had to do. I had to tell him I knew.
Honesty was going to make me clean again. I wasn't going to participate in Terry's sad world.
"The truth will set you free," I remembered from somewhere and now I knew what it meant.
Stomach churning, I dialed his number. I could see him in the surf with me, smiling as we took off on a wave together and then laughing as we both went "over the falls". His blonde stringy hair and his stream-like green eyes and deep cackle; all of this seemed a shadow now, of someone who once existed. Something inside of me was dead.
"Hi Terry, it's me, Jocelyn."
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|Reviewed by Jean Pike
|This story really resonates, Suzanne. I can feel your character's anguish and her indecision. You brought this story to life for me. Good work!
|Reviewed by Art Sun
|This is a well written and chilling story...you captured well the events and the effects of it's reality...
nice work.....Art Sun...
|Reviewed by Suzanne Strong
|Thanks a lot, Regis.|
|Reviewed by Regis Auffray
|An engaging story, Suzanne. You captured my attention and held it throughout. Thank you. Love and peace,