Shadows.

Shadows.

This is part 3 of ‘Frames’, if you need to catch up before reading: click here.

At 6pm I put the finishing touches to dinner. James had finished work early and been to his parents already, so should have been home around 6.30pm. I tipped some frozen peas into a pan and listened to them sizzle while watching the clock’s second hand crawl around the face. My picture was finished, and I’d attached it to the fridge with the tiny footprint magnets which still awaited the real photograph. I brushed my fingers across the pencilled surface and imagined the feel of a baby’s skin.

Below it on the fridge was a photo of my sister and her husband standing beside James and I. It was a double date in Summer last year and we’d visited a zoo together. The sun had caught the lens of the camera so that a star of white blocked the view behind us. By it’s very nature, it’s my favourite picture in the house. My sister’s arm flows behind her husband’s back so that it can poke little bunny ears above my head. The week after this my sister was lying in a hospital bed, unable to move. In the photo she is tanned from a recent trip to France and poking her tongue out at the camera. A week later she was unable to breathe. I’m laughing in the photo at something my sister had just shouted across the group, a joke to the camera man. A week later her heart stopped beating, it gave up and exploded, leaving my own with a sister-shaped hole.

I knew exactly what luck I’d had with my sister from the moment I started school. All the other girls would moan about their brothers throwing things at them or calling them names. All the other sisters would steal their toys or pull their hair. My sister let me play with her dolls and play dress up with her lipstick and shoes. She was two years older than me and mum was very strict with numbers, so when I was seven my sister was allowed to play with makeup while I still wasn’t. There was a picture in a photo album hidden under my bed of my sister and I after a makeover session. I’d dragged her smooth golden hair into two very uneven and matted pigtails. She’d managed a fairly neat plait on one side of my head. We’d both plastered bright pink lipstick around our mouths, and neither of us had been good at keeping colouring in the lines. I took it out from time to time when my heart was feeling strong.

By 6.30, James is still not home. I pick up the phone a number of times and dial his number before replacing it onto its hook. There’s a little photo of us in a heart-shaped frame beside the phone. The heart is a little glitzy and pink for our taste, but it was a gift from his mother for our engagement. It houses a picture of us shortly after he asked me to marry him, taken at a professional studio which was also a gift. We’re both wearing our favourite clothes, which do not match in the least. His dark denim jeans and flannel shirt are so incongruous with my slimline black dress that I almost made him change, before deciding that this portrayed us as we truly were. Independent. Together. Perfectly different.

James smiles at me from the photograph, unaware of the tumult inside me at his being twenty minutes late home. I picked up the phone twice more, and checked on dinner before turning the cooker off and settling on an armchair beside the window with a book. Drunken words stare up at me from the page, dancing around like an untamed ocean as I look over them at the street below the window. At 7pm I pick up the phone and dial James’ number, but before the ringing begins there’s a knock at my door.

The policeman’s badge sports a photograph of him in his uniform. I realised that this man was a shadow of his former self, we are all shadows of who we once were. Where crevices now lurk beneath his eyes, there is clear, fresh, young skin. It stands up straight and bright, ready for the day after a night of sleep with a clean conscience and lack of regrets. He stands before me now, a balding image of himself. The lips which are pulled into a friendly smile in his photograph are now drooping like a dead flower as he opens them and speaks slowly. As he holds onto my arm to stop me from falling.

 

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Artistic License.

Artistic License.

This is part 2 of ‘Frames’, if you need to catch up before reading: click here.

8 months seemed a long time to wait for the little addition to our family. We wouldn’t even have a black and white scan to frame for a few more weeks and I’d looked for frames of that size and couldn’t find one anyway. I’d bought some little footprint magnets and stuck them onto the fridge ready. One pink. One blue. One yellow in case we changed our minds and wanted a surprise. I’d told James last week and he’d been dying to tell his parents but we’d agreed on one month. He was going to see them after work. His parents stand in a little frame with slightly forced smiles on their faces, over by my mother on the windowsill. They hadn’t really wanted him to marry me, unemployed for two years with so many health problems we’re all surprised I haven’t dissolved into ashes already. They worried about him making enough money to support us both.

Housewife. I looked like one in the frame in our room. Above our bed, a canvas print from the wedding of course. We’d got the proofs the day after I’d told James about the little parcel with a long wait for delivery. We’d scrolled through them ‘cooing’ and ‘awhing’ and laughing together, admiring our beautifully made up selves in the crisp clean print of the photographs. We’d ordered the canvas in the middle size and stuck it on the wall as soon as it arrived. I was leaning in James’ arms, laughing with my eyes closed. Pure joy. Leaning into him to demonstrate my submissive, demure position as his wife. His arms were wrapped tightly around my waist, new ring glinting in the sunshine, bright teeth all on show as he smiled.

I’d wanted a career before I got ill. The problem is that once you get that diagnosis you’re screwed, no one wants to employ you after that. James made me think that was okay. It was alright to be disabled and spend your days pottering about the house because you can’t face going out: cleaning and drawing and preparing dinner. There’s a picture from before in the office where I draw and never produce anything that sells.  It’s me collecting an award at school for organising an auction of art to support a charity. I forget which one, I think it was probably cancer research or something because that’s what schools always seem to push you towards.

I’d finished preparing dinner now, and moved in to my study, fuelled by nostalgia after thinking about my career. The study was my room. The only thing in the house that James didn’t share, the only part of me that wasn’t intrinsically linked to him. There was only one photo of him in there, sitting atop the dark mahogany desk by the window. He was kissing me on the cheek and I was laughing again, eyes closed in glee. Contentment. I was always content when he was around. When he was at work my life felt a little empty. Each sound a little too loud. Each footstep bringing a tiny ray of hope that he’d walk through the door in his crisp grey suit, cheeks flushed from the walk home, dark hair fluffy from rushing.

I picked up a pencil and began to sketch a face. Eyes closed, laughing. Gums on display as a giggle escaped from the mouth. In my head the picture was in colour, but I couldn’t remember where I’d put the coloured pencils. In my mind the baby was in hysterics over a face James had pulled, his tongue out, blue eyes crossed the way you would to make your daughter laugh. I’d be beside them, smiling, eyes open to watch the two people I love most in the world feeling happy. I’d finish this picture and frame it, compare it with the face of my little baby when she entered the world, a screaming bundle of baby fat and blankets. I’d probably got it entirely wrong, but I used a little artistic license. It was my baby after all.

At this time my heart is open, not yet closed by the events of the day. That is because they hadn’t happened yet. Until now, my heart is full of longing to meet the child inside me, and to see my husband after a long day at work. Later it will be empty. Devoid of feeling, it would become a chasm within me, ready to swallow me like a black hole.

8 Months.

8 Months.

They say that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. I’m not sure I agree.

It wasn’t raining on the day my life fell apart. It was actually quite a nice Summer day and I was considering taking a walk that afternoon.They say you can tell when something bad happens to a loved one.  I was feeling a little unwell, but that wasn’t unusual. In fact the nausea may have been a projection once I’d found out what a terrible day it really was.

The sun was smiling at me through the windows and the slight breeze seemed to snicker as it wove through the opening. I chopped the vegetables for dinner and threw them into the slow cooker, coating them in oil and a layer of rice. Two presenters  babbled away almost inaudibly from the retro blue radio I’d been bought as a wedding gift. I didn’t really like to listen, the nonsense they spouted got on my nerves, but I liked looking at it. James would turn it up when he got back and dance around the kitchen with me balancing on his toes.

Pictures of us smiled from every surface. A mural to our first meeting stood beside the radio: the two of us laughing , frozen in time and trapped inside a photo frame. I wore a sequined skirt and t-shirt that was tied up to reveal a generous amount of untanned flesh at my waist. He wore a flannel shirt and skinnies. He’d waxed his hair to perfection but forgotten to shave, so that tiny forgotten hairs sprouted covertly from his chin. We’d both had quite a lot to drink at this stage and as frequently happens with inebriated people, it had quite slipped our minds that we’d only met an hour ago.

It was Win’s idea. She’s framed in our collection of photos on the wall by the TV. All of our friends in different sized squares sitting on the wall to be admired. It’s a bit strange if you think about it too much, but I think she’s pleased to be there. I’d known her since school and she’d taken me out with her work friends after a particularly dull week to ‘blow off some steam’. I’d done that. I’d also met the love of my life. Win had spent the night making out with various strangers until she found someone who was ‘skilled enough’ to warrant taking home.

I was interrupted from my reverie by the rude bleeping of my phone. Mum. She rang almost every day to ask if my life was married bliss. We’d only been back from the honeymoon for a week and already she wanted to visit, to intrude on our peace and bring noise into our home. Mum’s honoured with a small frame on the windowsill. It’s right above the radiator so she’ll never get cold, I think she’d like a bigger space in our house. She’s smiling in the photo, standing with her arms around two small children with pigtails. They’d be matching if one didn’t have glasses and the other a grin that revealed teeth which didn’t fit into her mouth. I’m the one with the big teeth.

I balanced the phone between my shoulder and ear while I poured boiling water into a mug and added instant coffee and a splash of sugar. We may have been able to afford to decorate our flat with a vast array of photographs, but ‘posh coffee’ as James called it, was out of the question. We lived on a healthy (and cheap) diet of mainly vegetables, snacking on nuts and porridge with honey for breakfast. We ate the same things. We’d taken a cooking class last year and  a huge canvas of us proudly flaunting our creations hung on the wall in the kitchen. I’d been intending to call James at lunch time but mum had stolen the opportunity. I didn’t think about it at the time. I was too busy telling mum about a new photo that we’d be framing in about 8 months.

Baby It’s Cold Outside.

Baby It’s Cold Outside.

This is part 5 of ‘Mince Pies and Murder’ if you need to catch up before reading: click here.

The door swings open and Patrick pulls his mouth into a wide smile that make his teeth appear like fangs in the dark room.

“Heard moving around. If you’re not sleeping you may as well come and sit with me.” He gestures for her to leave the room and she does, making sure to face him as she passes. “I could do with a drink… got any liquor?”

“Nah, I’m clean out.”

“Yeah right, it’s Christmas. Get me a drink Em.” Only the slightest pretence of friendship remains in his blue eyes that now glint with the frostiness of an ice burg. She crosses the room and opens cupboards at random, hoping for the dregs of a bottle of something to offer to her former friend who has clearly now become her captor. A bottle of whisky with a few glasses left is her saviour, a knight in a murky brown armour on the bottom shelf.

“So that crime, you know the murder from today… what do you think happened? Lover’s tiff?” She pours a measure as she speaks and crosses the room to hand him the glass.He smiles as he accepts the glass with that same frosty smile he’d given when he entered her room.

“Don’t worry yourself about that dear.” He takes a sip of the whisky and blows out a deep breath, staring at the black screen of the television.

“It is if I’ve been framed for the murder Patrick, don’t you think?”

“Listen Emmeline. You weren’t born to be a detective, or lawyer or writer or adventurer. You were born to be a princess. Don’t you know that? You worry too much about these things, it damages your brain sweetheart.Don’t trouble your little mind about it any more dearie, I’ll end the mystery. It was me of course. Stupid girl took me back to hers, played the sweet and innocent cards and then rejected me. Spurned me. After offering herself on a platter she changed her mind. She had to be shown the weakness of her sex.”

His voice is flat as he speaks, emotionless, lacking remorse. He almost smiles as he tells her to sit beside him again on the sofa that she’ll throw out if she survives this situation herself.

“We’re going to be great together Em, did you get my messages? I assume you did… I saw the bauble, me and you together as children as we could never have been. But we’re together now, and I’ll never leave you. Never let you weaken your mind by thinking too much again. All you need to do is trust in my devotion… and get me another drink, there’s a love.”

She stands again and takes the glass from him, careful to control the slight tremble in her fingers. She walks to the counter and picks up the bottle, pouring the remains of it into the cut glass tumbler he’d been drinking from . But she keeps hold of the bottle, unable to let go. Somehow it makes her feel safe, powerful even, which he would no doubt despise. Either way she keeps a tight hold of the bottle, right hand slightly above the other as her dad had taught her with a cricket bat all those years ago.

“I don’t think I want to run Patrick, running will only make me look guilty. Besides, I’m not quitting my life for something I’m innocent of.”

He still hasn’t looked around but she sees his shoulder shake a little as though this had made him chuckle.

“Don’t be ridiculous Em. Where’s that drink?”

She takes a step toward the door and glances around for her keys which are absent from their place in the lock. She takes another step and a deep breath before responding.

“Oh it’s just on the side, I’ll bring it in a moment. I’d just like to know why you decided to frame me if you don’t mind. Why you’re keeping me here?”

She takes another step toward the door,  not far now. The keys are hanging on their hook a few feet away. She reaches her arm out. Not quite. She takes another step.

“Well my dear I couldn’t think of getting you to myself any other way. It worked anyway so I’ve got no regrets. Besides, I needed someone to take the blame once I’d ended up killing that girl. You should’ve kept those chairs, the broken leg was handy.”

“Why do you hate me Patrick? I thought we were friends!”

She takes another step. Loose floorboard. A creak escapes from the ground that may as well have been a screaming alarm. Patrick stands up and spins around in an instant to face her, crossing the gap in a few long steps and ducking as she launched the bottle at his head. His face transforms into a beast of anger as he slams her into the wall and bares his teeth in a smile that wreaks of whisky only inches from her face.

“All I did was love you and you didn’t have it in you to be grateful?” He is shouting now, in a booming gruff voice that is raked from his throat in painful, gravelly syllables. “A powerful woman, needing rescuing from herself. You weren’t made to be powerful so I was going to save you… ungrateful bitch!”

He drags her head into the wall with a handful of hair. She screams, lifts her fist up and into his chin with a crack. He shouts, almost a growl like every human cell was losing a battle with the beast within.He grabs her wrists and slams them into the wall with one hand, slapping her across the face with the other and punching her in the stomach. She doubles up in pain, focuses, brings her knee up between his legs with a shout and as he bends over she uses his own momentum and her fist to bring a pool of blood from his nose. They tumble to the ground. Rolling in a deathly tangle on the old carpet. He has her, legs buried beneath his knees, hands pinned to the ground. He smiles at her then, all warmth returning suddenly to his face.

“I’ll let you go and we’ll be friends. Together forever my beautiful Emmeline.”

He kisses her then. Forehead, cheeks, chin, she accepts them, plotting. He smiles, taking this as her submission, bring his lips toward her mouth. Kisses her long and hard. She bites his lip, and while he shouts in pain she smashes her head into his nose, furthering the earlier damage. He’s loosened his grip on her wrists in shock, she brings a fist into his stomach, then another. Pushes him over and straddles him, reaching for a part of the bottle which had remained intact. It shatters on impact with his bloodied head and the battle is done. She jumps to her feet and slots the key into the door, hands shaking she fumbles with the lock and runs down the stairs. Down the street. Stops at her neighbour, Eliza’s house and bangs on the door until her friend answers it in a dressing gown, just as the lights begin flashing in their regular blue strobes.

“God, Emmeline, it’s cold outside. Get in here.”

 

 

Examination of the Overlooked.

Examination of the Overlooked.

This is part 4 of ‘Mince Pies and Murder’, if you need to catch up before reading: click here.

Emmeline closes the door to her bedroom and sits on the edge of the bed, examining the pictures of her family pasted onto the bauble.  There’s one that isn’t quite right, the picture of her at two years old wearing one of those enormous puffed out skirts that only look at home sitting on top of a toilet roll. It’s the most horrific colour, a sickly peach that borders on the colour of something one might produce after a night of heavy drinking or eating badly cooked food. She’s smiling in the picture, huge gaps between shiny white baby teeth on plain view between her wide open lips. A little boy is pasted beside her, his head slightly above as though he’s stood next to her but is taller. She doesn’t recognise him. Having looked at this picture a number of times it’s clear to her that the picture is meant to be beside hers, but the boy is not one of her relations.

She pulls out the little pile of letters from beneath her pillow and replaces them with the bauble. The letters start of at some degree of friendliness with suggestions of going for coffee, dinner, movie; but they develop quickly into ‘long and passionately secret encounters’, running away together and getting married. Either way, the scrawling green pen tells her, she’d have to leave her job and give herself over to the complete mercy of this new lover. She’d not replied, at first thinking they were a joke, and then living in denial of the existence of a stalker in kind who wanted her submission to his greater power and manhood.

She closes her eyes and pictures each of her memories with Patrick in turn. He’d been friendly when she’d arrived, taken her under his wing and welcomed her to the team. He’d brought her coffee most mornings, and once he’d bought her a minuscule birthday cake when she’d refused to take her 30th as holiday. He’d cooled down a little bit after the promotion, she supposes, but she hadn’t noticed at the time having been so absorbed in her own success. It was probably a mistake, she thinks, opening her eyes and surveying the inside of her room. At least he hasn’t tried to come in yet.

Tucking the letters back under her pillow she walks to the window and looks out, judging the distance to the ground below. Too high. She is uncertain what happens when men this power hungry have the object of desire within their grasp, but it’s doubtful that he’ll let her go now. Possibly not ever. Newspaper headlines flash through her head: Disappearing Detective. Loner Detective Vanishes At Christmas. Murderer On the Loose. In her panic she’d almost forgotten the murder… everyone thought she’d killed that girl! She couldn’t really ask for help in her present state.

She pulls the blind closed and begins fumbling in the bottom of her wardrobe, looking for the floorboard where she hides her passport and a little cash in case of emergency or robbery. Gone. Empty. Dammit. She needs to prove that she hadn’t killed that girl. She’d looked like she was about to go on a date, all preened and in a nice dress, freshly done nails by the look of them. Unless she’d just got back from a date instead. Either way, there was a lover of some kind involved, or someone who’d pretended to be…a detective perhaps who was hoping to get his partner all to himself? Paranoia, has to be.

Second hiding place. A tiny box on the top shelf of her wardrobe, so short that you couldn’t feel it when it was pushed all the way to the back. Bingo. A second mobile phone. She switches it on and crosses the fingers of her left hand, praying it has some juice.She dialls 9-9-9 and hides it in the inside pocket of her jacket just as her partner opens the door without knocking.

 

The First Step.

The First Step.

This is part 2 of ‘New Beginnings’, if you need to catch up before reading: click here.

2/1

New year, new me! I know it’s a massive cliche and if I’m going to change everything I should really get rid of the diary but I’m just not there yet… besides if this all goes horribly wrong I’d like to know at exactly what point the disaster happened. So the diary stays, you’d be glad to know if you were capable of feeling emotions, or thinking, or breathing. Either way, I’m not chucking you on the fire so that’s always a plus.

So I’ve become a little impulsive. Last night I booked flights, two singles to Florence for tomorrow! I haven’t told Bobbie yet but I’ll see him at dinner and I can tell him then. I’ve already called mum and cancelled dinner for the foreseeable future, no more dull Sunday lunches for me. Besides, I don’t know when I’m coming back or if I am. I only booked one way tickets and I haven’t even found a place to stay yet! I feel like a new person, so adventurous, I even quit my job. Huge!!! Can’t go back to work tomorrow if I’m going on holiday indefinitely. It’s a new start. I found an Italian phrase book in the attic and buried under a load of dusty books from Bobbie’s university days and I’ve been trying to memorise as many words as I can. I at least know ‘Ciao’ and I guess that’s a good start.

3/1

And we have lift off!! I’m writing this on the plane which thankfully is going calmly along in the air without any of that turbulence stuff, I’ve always wondered what that actually is. It’s probably just the weather or something but either way it’s terrifying, plus it’s not the most useful when you’re trying to write.

Bobbie isn’t with me. He stayed at home, after a lecture about how irresponsible I’m being and how he can’t take time off work and I shouldn’t desert him and jet off to a country for God knows how long. He doesn’t know if he can wait so I told him not to bother. Hey presto! The new me is single. I know I sound all chirpy but that’s just an act, strange as that is since you can’t tell anyone and are basically just my thoughts but I’ve decided to live firmly under the philosophy of faking it till I make it. I’ll miss him though, he was always there and it’s going to be weird without him.

Anyway, adventure! I got an email back from a woman called Bianca who says I can rent her spare room for as long as I like. She can speak a bit of English and promised to help me figure out the language. It’s so exciting, I can’t wait to land.

4/1

Alright so when she said that she speaks a bit of English, she really means ‘a bit’. We’re currently communicating largely through hand gestures and heavy use of the phrase book, I think it’ll be useful eventually, I guess I have to learn the language now. The room was a little mis-advertised too, there’s no bed, just a mattress on the floor. The rest of the place is nice though and there’s plenty of space to cram everything I own into the cupboards which is great. The view out of the window is the best bit, she lives in a tiny little place near to the Ponte Vecchio and my bedroom window looks out over the river. It’s so beautiful! On the other side of the river are blocks of yellow stone houses just like the flat we’re in, and on the left is the bridge, the most exquisitely ancient bridge. It’s laden with little market stalls and the glinting windows of tiny shops, in the middle are some perfectly sculpted archways and sometimes you can see people in them, gazing out over the river.

She took me to a restaurant last night and I’m not sure whether the food was better, or the atmosphere. I deliberately picked some kind of pasta without fully knowing what it was, but the flavour was an explosion in my mouth. The most incredible thing I’ve ever eaten, I swear if I go home I’ll take a year’s supply back with me! The city comes alive at night too and I was overwhelmed by the number of people who have walked these streets before me, the air is almost electric with vibrancy and friendly noise. As we crossed the bridge there was a guy playing the guitar and singing and everyone stood to watch for a while, we joined them for a bit and I remember being so glad that I didn’t have anywhere specific to be at any time soon.I think I’ll live my whole life this way, no constraints or boundaries, always moving forwards.

Snowed In.

Snowed In.

This is part 4 of ‘Murder and Mince Pies’, if you need to catch up before reading: click here.

The next afternoon begins to remind Emmeline of the time she was snowed in as a child. Her school had closed for the day as most students and teachers were unable to get there through the thick snow that blanketed the world, hiding the shapes of the earth beneath. She’d looked through the window dreaming of the world beyond, of jumping in the untouched snow that coated their garden and making snow angels. Her dad hadn’t let her go outside though, banning his child from venturing into the icy cold outside for fear that she’d catch a cold.

She hands Patrick his coffee and sips hers, leaning on the kitchen counter and thinking of all the places that she could escape to. Whenever her dad was at home he’d told her bedtime stories of all the places he’d been: the blazing heat of his Spanish offices and the ice cold beauty of those in Russia. He’d painted a picture of beautiful little harbours and ancient winding streets in Italy. Those moments had built a craving within her to visit these places and she thought perhaps she’d take the next flight and work her way through the list in her heart from there.

“Have a seat Em.” Patrick doesn’t look up as he speaks, but maintains his perch on the edge of the sofa facing away from her. Emmeline doesn’t move. Her mind flicks back to Patrick’s face when he examined the bauble, and the emotion that flickered in his eyes too briefly to identify when he’d pulled the car over. “Emmeline?”

“I just think I’d better get off soon, probably not the time to be chilling out with a coffee Pat.” He turns around now and looks at her, this time the emotion stays on his face for long enough to recognise danger.

“Sit down.” Instinctively, she crosses the room and drops onto the other end of the sofa,, wringing her hands on the Mickey Mouse mug she’s holding. Patrick’s face returns its usual concrete lack of emotion and then he smiles at her. She is reminded of a dog baring its teeth. “Ok, here’s the plan. We’ll go to your Aunt’s in Spain, she’s got a big place right, we’ll stay there…”

“How d’you…”

“Or in fact, we could go to mine. I’ve got a holiday cottage over there, it’d be perfect. Why don’t you get some sleep, we’ll leave in the morning.”

“I was hoping you’d stay here and solve this case, clear my name…”

“I can’t leave you Emmeline, silly! I’ll be with you every step of the way. We’ll drive over and catch the ferry. Get to bed, we leave at 5am.” His eyes are glittering with something, perhaps the thrill of being in control. She isn’t sure, but something about his expression forces her from her chair and into her bedroom with uneasy steps. It doesn’t stop her slipping the little file of letters out of the drawer, and snatching the bauble from the sofa on her way out.