The Gloves

It was late. The train was nearly empty. She didn’t notice the woman get on. She was suddenly sitting across from her, hands folded neatly in her lap. As if she wanted her to look.

She looked. The gloves. Red leather, quilted at the wrists. The police had said to call. She should. Call. Now. Where was her phone, in her bag? But hadn’t it been a man?

She had only caught a glimpse but it had been a man. She had seen through the crack in the door, heard heavy footsteps running away. It had been a man. She was sure.

Was she? Those were the gloves. Distinctive gloves. Red leather, quilted at the wrists. She should call the police. It was not possible. She could not be that wrong. Her phone was in her bag. She just had to take it out. Call. Hesitation.

She was staring at the gloves. Drawn. Drawing in her head, the scene. A crack in the door. The red gloves, pressing hard. The victim. She thought there should have been noise, there was no noise. It all happened silently. Except for the footsteps running away, great heavy footsteps. The footsteps of a man.

The woman sat there with her gloves on. Unbothered. The last of the other passengers got off the train. She sat across from the woman, staring.

Then the woman looked up. Smiled. Those gloves. She was caught staring. She looked at the woman’s shoes. Boots, out of kilter with the rest of her clothes. She looked at the arms, muscular, then the neck, stronger than she had first thought.

Her gaze drifted. Back to those gloves. It wasn’t possible. She had just caught a glimpse, through a crack in the door. She’d heard, what had she heard? What had she thought? Those gloves, so unlikely. She should call the police.

She looked at the woman, still smiling at her. Knowing. Knowing what? It was her stop. She got up. The woman followed, stood behind her. She could feel breath on her neck, a soft leather glove on her back. Panic. It can’t have been. No.

Call the police.

Cinders

Beltane.

There is fire in the night. I dream of men dancing naked. Sweaty, smelly, ashen men, lit by fire dancing in darkness. Of witches screeching, of eyes caught in firelight. Of rhythm. Of smoke and stars.

I remind myself this is a Maths exam.

But there it is. The thought in my head. The numbers blur on the page. I look at my palm. At the tiny cinder of heat in the middle of it. I blow on it. To cool it. To cool me. Why me.

I can throw fire.

Out of the palm of my hand. The cinder embedded there glimmers in the dullness of the hall. I could burn this place to the ground. With everybody in it. I look around me. There is the invigilator.

An old man in a cardigan.

It’s always the same. They always wear cardigans. Woollen cardigans are best for soaking in water and dousing the flames. I know I have watched them beat flames in the night when I could not control it.

Polyester burns green.

Everyone else is writing. There is the noise of thousand of pens scrawling across wooden desks. The gentle tap of fingers on soft calculator buttons. Buttons. After the last fire there were buttons. Giant buttons.

One of the dead must have had a jacket with buttons.

They all think it was me. The cinder burns my left hand. It is a flame waiting to be lit. It was me. I have been out of control. I am now in control. The fire burns with me, not against me.

Beltane.

Flames licking the night sky. Wolves howling at the moon. The crops, we need them to grow this season. I belong to the past. I am no use to the future anymore. I must make a life here.

Calculus.

I cannot focus. Somewhere inside of me the fire burns endlessly. I feel hot. From my toes to the top of my head. I push it away forcing it all into that point in the palm of my hands. That cinder, it grows red hot.

Trigonometry.

Triangles. Three sides. I scrape the cinder with my fingers and smoke rises. I shove my hand under the desk to hide it. Why me? I wonder. Why did this happen to me. I shift in my seat. I shuffle. I try and focus.

Beltane.

There is a ringing in my head. I look at the panel where the fire alarm is. The ringing, it is only in my head. Can no one else see the smoke? I take a sip of water. I stroke the cinder. I must stay calm.

Algebra.

I pull my hair until it hurts. The girl across from me looks at me. She is something I am not. I try and ignore her. Still the fire rages inside of me. The cinder burns brightly. I can smell smoke. It is 3 desks to the wall. I can see the fire alarm.

Statistics.

I look behind me, I look all around me. Everyone head down, scratching away. The man in the cardigan looks at me. I can see him thinking. He is coming towards me. I am moving.

Beltane.

I did not intend to move. He is getting faster. I fling myself out of my desk, leap for the alarm. My hand smashes the fire alarm. Smoke rises as everyone flees the building. I fling flames at my desk. I want to be innocent.

No one is innocent.

Blood is red

I was stabbed when I was 13. I don’t really remember it. It was 10 years ago.

I see the posters up everywhere. A picture. A boy. Not much older than me. I don’t know what happened to him. I don’t remember. I don’t think it can have been me. He was so much bigger, not older just bigger. He went to my school.

He plunged a knife into my stomach. I remember that bit. The knife. His surprise as it hit something hard. Like I had a rock inside of me. It was inexplicable. He left the knife there. Twisted it. I was looking into his eyes. He looked down. At the knife. A frozen moment. I don’t remember anything else.

No one ever saw him again.

I look at the posters. I feel for his family, but I can’t help.

All I remember after that is lying on my bathroom floor with the knife still inside me. Blood pouring out of me. Its warmth and life seeping through my fingers as I desperately tried to hold my body together.

I remember pulling the knife out. Just pulling it out. I don’t remember pain. I remember my mother coming in, the look of concern on her face. I remember days in bed. Healing when I should have been at school.

After that we grew apart my mother and I. As if she knew something I didn’t. I moved out a few years ago. I haven’t seen her since. She never called the police. Nor did I. There was no ambulance. She literally bandaged me up, put me to bed and left me to heal.

I remember her looking at the knife, at me, at my blood soaked clothes and the floor. So strangely. I guess she had never seen anyone stabbed before.

There is still a scar. I know if I told the police perhaps his family would have some closure. Perhaps every year on the anniversary the posters would not appear. Perhaps they would find out what happened.

My mother burned the clothes, cleaned the floor.

I still have the knife though. An odd idea. I carefully wrapped it. I never cleaned it. I have read a lot of books since then. I take the knife out every anniversary. I carefully unwrap it and examine it. The blood is still there. The problem is every book I ever read said human blood was red.

The blood on the knife, my blood, was not red.

The Draytons

Edward Drayton. He stared at the name on the file.  Another one. This job never got any easier. Edward Drayton had no doubt taken his wife’s name after marriage. Not unusual in these parts. Drayton was an old name, one from the time when Europeans first came here.

He breathed in. Sighed it out. Prepared himself. He knew what was coming. He buzzed Drayton in.

Drayton came in, sat down. Drayton was the usual. Embarrassed. Agitated. Desperate.

Drayton started speaking almost straight away, ‘Nobody in my wife’s family has ever died.’

Even before Drayton said it, he recognised the look on that face. His heart sank. It was common in these parts. Locals called it the vamps.

‘Nobody?’ he said calmly.

He knew Drayton had chosen him as a therapist because he was from out of town. Deliberately chosen him, no doubt Drayton had done some research. Someone with no connection to the family that he knew of, but there were so very many Draytons. How could anyone be sure?

His surname was different, but he had taken his wife’s name on marriage too. He had tried to distance himself from the stories. Drayton had come here, taken a chance, looking for a kindred spirit. Who was he to judge?

‘Well there was Cousin Lola.’ Drayton continued. He remembered cousin Lola, quite sad. He showed no emotion though and Drayton ploughed on.

 ‘Impaled on a fence, but I went there. Wooden fence!’  Drayton said this with finality as if there was only one explanation.

He tried to maintain a professional composure. There was the rest of the family to consider.

‘And they don’t like garlic. I once made a chilli with a lot of garlic for my wife and her sisters and their kids, whole family. They all sat there, barely ate it.’

Drayton was on a roll now. He tried to remain calm, neutral, professional. Even as the saliva was pooling in his mouth.

‘And my wife, sometimes she sleeps during the day and haunts the house at night. She says its menopause.’

‘And she hates silver.’

He wanted to put up a hand and stop it then and there. Drayton was looking for answers but none of the behaviours he described were unusual. Some people preferred gold. Garlic was relatively new in this part of the world when his wife was growing up. Someone died in a random accident on a wooden fence.

He knew the conclusion Drayton wanted to draw. It was sad. Always sad. He prescribed something random, told Drayton to think about it, come back in a week. He wanted to add ‘but only if you see your wife howling at the moon.’ He didn’t. Sarcasm was not professional in these situations. His was a difficult job. He had some sympathy. The women out west were odd sometimes.

He knew as Drayton opened the door to leave, he would have to make that phone call.  

He called his mother. To tell her to call her cousin. To tell her cousin to call her sister. To tell her to call her daughter. To tell her,

‘It’s time to eat your husband.’

The hand

I never went outside. Much as a child. I grew up inside. Afraid of the outside. A manor house. Big old stone thing. Creaking walls. Lots of indoor space. Perfectly manicured lawns. I think in half sentences.  

The hand.

I remember everything about it. It is the mark of. My childhood, that patch of lawn. Perfectly Cut. A square. Part of a bigger rectangle. Intersected  by a path. It sat right next to the driveway.

The hand.

I can’t remember how old I was. When it first happened. I was simply standing on the lawn. That lawn. A hand. Green and covered in grass, came up out of ground and grabbed my ankle. I was terrified. Frozen. Rooted to the spot. I looked down. I could see it had hold of my ankle. Then it let go. I examined that grass. Minutely. There was nothing there.

No hand.

A few months later the same thing. Again. It happened intermittently, as I grew up. The hand out of the lawn. I tried never to go out. Grasping my ankle. I stayed very still. It let go. I had an older cousin, Maisie. Her daughter strayed on to that patch of grass. They found her playing on it. But they never found Maisie. There was simply no trace of her. The police investigated. There was nothing.

No hand.

I could see the patch of grass from my window. Sometimes in the semi darkness it seemed to heave itself upward. Roll and then settle again. I never went on the grass. Not after Maisie. Then an even odder thing happened. The grass seemed to grow. In a neat line. Across the driveway. The gardener kept killing it off. It kept growing back.

It was the hand, I know it was the hand.

I knew even then what had happened to Maisie. One day I simply packed my suitcase. And left. I remember stepping over that errant grass on the driveway. Knowing I had won. I took one of my mothers best jewels. I watched from afar. A pariah. A thief. As the house opened to the public. It shut again after a few years. A young woman went missing. No trace was found.

It was the hand, I know it was the hand.

I married. Had a daughter. Then she had a daughter. It is all too painful, even as I think of it now. They were in an accident. A terrible accident. My husband. My daughter. My grand daughter. Not me.  In the days afterwards, that became months and years, I contacted my brother. He invited me home. To the house.

I wondered about the hand.

Back to that house. I would go. To live out my final days. He seemed to think there was some justice in what had happened. I still had that suitcase that I took with me when I first went. Tatty old thing. I took it down. Opened it. Empty. Except for a tuft of green grass in the bottom. I sat on the bed.

I wondered about the hand.

There it was, I went home. When I got there. The patch of grass had been fenced. First by wrought iron then clear plastic panelling put up. The gardeners struggled to keep it under control. I watched the grass grow, big and tall. I knew it was coming. Coming for me. It would snake out across the driveway no matter what I did. It was patient.

The hand.

Late one afternoon. After tea and cake, I put on my best dress. I went down to that piece of lawn. I opened the gate. It creaked. Clanked. As if announcing my arrival. I stepped inside. All this time, that bleak dark thing-whatever it was- had waited. I did not wait. I walked onto the lawn.

The hand.

An answer: Unclever, ungiven, undone

A crowd. Suited. Tied. Watched-Rolex. Worldly. Erudite.

She is here, pretty. Dress, shoes, gloves.

He speaks. Preening. Glossy teeth. Words oozing out. Applause.

He is clever. Suited. Tied. Watched-Rolex. Cufflinks catch, glittering on lights.

A hand raised. Delicate. Ungloved. Not ringed. Red nails. Ignored.

Another hand. Cufflinked. Watched-Rolex. Question. Answer. Applause.

A delicate hand. Again ignored. Another hand. Answered. Applause.

A delicate hand. Eye contact. Flicker. Recognition. Passed over for him. Again.

A tie loosened.

She takes refuge in the bathroom.

Later. She is there. Still. Quiet. Tied, marks on her neck. Unwatched, no one saw.

Did not see her. Don’t know her. A lot of men wear ties.

Blue. Questions from the blue. Blue uniforms. Swarming, like odd little bees.

Suited. Tied. Watched. Look at the Rolex. These are not the clothes of a man who kills.  

Who was she? He? Were they? Ever?

Tied of the tongue. The little blue bees search on. Time travellers.

Was she clever? Pretty? Both maybe? Now you ask, there was a time. Once. Before. He was clever. She was pretty. Tied to her now. Watched-he cannot leave town.

Her gloves drape across her body. She is lowered into the ground.

Her words. Written down. Kept. Tied. In a pile in the drawer. Clever girl. A theft. Of thinking, of words.

I wrote what she wrote. We wrote together. I wrote better. Better punctuation. The words, yes, the words the same. Her words.

Recognition, confrontation, yes, in the bathroom. She fell. Fell. Unwatched, but tied- around her neck.

He is quiet. An answer ungiven. His tie. Her neck. Squeezed into silence.  

A theft of thoughts. Words. A book.

Cold  steel bars. Entitlement still not displaced with regret. Untied, chained, no cufflinks, still cuffed, watched, the Rolex gone, uniformed, no suit. Inelegant. Unclever. Undone.