Leaning against the grimy brick Mel scuffed her feet on the flags. She flicked a fag end into a puddle of scummy rain water. Her fingers quivered and shook, fiddling and picking at the little gold clasp on her shoulder bag. She sniffed, wiped the back of her hand across her nose. She needed a fix but couldn’t have one yet, she needed to keep her wits about her. She hated being out on the street, well of course she did but it was Saturday and so there was no choice.
If she could just stick with her regulars, Stephen and the big fat bloke who wouldn’t tell her his name, then she’d be in easy street wouldn’t she?
She’d been meeting Stephen for nearly a year now, every Tuesday and Friday and almost every Sunday. He was nice, nicest bloke she’d ever met. He was clean, pretty good looking actually and he always gave her a couple of extra quid. There were times when she pretended, a silly little daydream, pretended that he was her boyfriend, her lover, her man.
The fat man wasn’t so nice but she felt a bit sorry for him really. He didn’t often manage to get it up and his sweating was horrible, made her feel grimy and panicky sometimes. He was never rough though and he always paid, even when he couldn’t manage it. Every Wednesday and Thursday. She only had to come down the town on Mondays and Saturdays and knew how lucky she was.
Saturdays were best for money, there were tourists and Stag Nights, usually so drunk that, either they couldn’t do it at all, or it was over so quick that she didn’t have to make any effort. They always paid, well nearly always, a mixture of guilt and embarrassment made em pay. Two on a Saturday was usually enough and then she could go home but it was raining and the middle of February, nobody out, no trade.
She shivered, glanced around, took a couple of steps across the pavement. Tricia was up on the corner talking to someone in a black car, Sues was down in front of the Kebab shop, it was warm down there and brighter, a good spot, safer perhaps.
Eleven o clock, maybe she could call it a night, no that’d be stupid the pubs’d be letting out in a bit and if she could just get one job then she could get a bottle of cider to take home and then tomorrow was Sunday, a Stephen night.
A car pulled up to the kerb, she sashayed over the damp pavement. “’Ello love, you lookin’ for business.” Arabs, she didn’t do it with Arabs, they scared her. She backed off, turned around and scuttered on her too high heels up the street a bit. The car swung past with the driver’s window down, he flipped her the bird. The gesture didn’t even register, the everyday currency of her life. Sues, waved to her, face split in a grin. She raised her hand in acknowledgement.
The night felt odd, uneasy, the mood was all wrong. She would go home. There was a little stash in the wardrobe, she could take a hit, opt out for a bit, waken up tomorrow and tomorrow was Sunday.
She lit another fag, raised a hand to Sues and pantomimed a blown kiss. Her shoes clattered on the road as she crossed under the streetlamps and tottered down towards the park. Tugging at the skinny jacket, pulling the collar up to her freezing ears, she hunched her shoulders. A bus rolled by, in front of the park gates, blazing lights and pumping fumes, it was homely, took her mind back. Back to when she’d been a nipper. Coming home from the pictures with Mum and Dad. She was swept with memories. Days out, shopping trips, daft teenage nights and all the lost crap that had nothing to do with now, and this, and what she was. Tears prickled at the corners of her eyes, the deep sadness that was always a whisker away nudged at her heart, she sighed.
The shadow against the wall moved. It slid in behind her, floated nearer, she was unaware, wrapped in the past. Her street sense was numbed by sadness, thoughts of the other life betraying her as they always did, taking her somewhere else, anywhere but here. Her animal cunning and nervy vigilance were numbed by the dreams of what could have been, the ‘what if’s’ and ‘if onlys.’
There was very little sound, it was mercifully quick and, in the end strangely lacking in terror.
The shape loomed beside her, caused her to gasp, just once there wasn’t time for more. There was no pain, not at first, just a flush of wet heat on the front of her body, cooling quickly in the February chill. Then the pain hit with the second slice of the blade, a pain so deep and so unlike anything else that it refused to be named. She tried to scream then but the pain had stolen her voice. The shock rendered her dumb, mouth gaping, hands slick suddenly with the flow, groping at her belly. Another thrust, she folded at the knees, crumpling quietly to the floor as her life stole away with the footsteps, running in the direction of the park, thudding on the grass. She heard the bus whining now as it started the climb to the church, the rumble of tyres on wet tarmac, softer, fading, fading until finally there was only silence and the shine of the spreading puddle of darkness under the street lamps…
“I’m home, Fliss, it’s me.”
“I’m in the kitchen Stephen, won’t be long.”
“Right, d’ya want a drink.”
“No thanks, not just now.”
“You going to the Gym tonight.”
“No, I thought we’d stay in.” She waited, spoon poised above the pan.
“Stay in, but it’s Sunday. Oh, well I might have to pop out later, I said I’d meet Phil, that’s okay isn’t it.”
“Put the news on will you, the television.”
“What? Oh right. Did you hear, I’m going out later, that’s okay isn’t it?”
“Reports are coming in of the discovery of the body of a young woman in the Victoria Park area of the city. The dead woman was found in the early hours of the morning by a man walking his dog. We understand that the woman, who was apparently in her early twenties, was known to the police and had been arrested in the past for soliciting in the Mill Road area of the town centre. Police have issued this photograph of the victim and are searching for anyone who may have seen her in the town centre or Victoria Park area in the last few days to come forward. Any contact will be treated in the strictest confidence.”
In the kitchen, Fliss stirred the soup slowly, quietly. Her ears were straining, would he speak? The washing machine whirred, starting the final spin. She walked through to the living room where Stephen stared wide eyed at the photograph on the screen.
“Actually, I don’t think you’ll be going out tonight will you Stephen, I thought we could have a nice night in together, just the two of us. It’d make a change for a Sunday, don’t you think?”