The man woke with a sickening jolt. He rubbed his eyes, and instantly knew where the noise had come from. He had heard them before, scuffling, struggling and fighting at all hours, for whatever reason. The couple next door.
He’d often wondered to himself, should he help her? Should he post a note through the letter box of the girl with auburn hair? The one who left the house each morning with a different bruise, pulling up her scarf as she tried to hide the fresh angry purple marks so desperately?
He’d looked at her carefully. Longingly. Watched her from the window and occasionally said good morning, if he was lucky enough to catch her. Why did she stay? Why scream and cry and be punished in the arms of a man who was cruel, violent, when she could be loved, cherished and needed by someone warm and lonely, like him?
Instead, she foolishly stayed and was beaten, day in, day out. And he listened. Heard through the wall in his bedroom which he assumed backed onto hers. Sometimes, he heard them together. Muffled, hoarse cries reverberated in his room as they reconciled. Tonight, the noise was different. It was quicker, faster, over, and had ended with the dreadful thud that had torn him from sleep.
He lay still for a few moments and waited for something else. A reassuring normal noise. The kettle being clicked on. A light switch. The bath being run. But no. Only silence. Cautiously, he crept into his hallway and stood still, frozen in the dark, hands poised out beside him as he listened. Silence. Empty black ominous quiet.
Suddenly, feet, stomping rushing feminine steps raced round and round through the wall next door and descended down the stairs. They stopped abruptly. He waited, wearing only blue pyjama bottoms from the selection given to him by his mother each Christmas.
He felt unsure as to what to do. Should he ring the police? The thud had been heavy, solid. It had been thick and lifeless and instinct had told him that it had been human.
Slowly, he placed his foot on the first step, then crept quickly and silently down the stairs and through his living room. He kicked something solid. His latest painting. A painting of an woman, perhaps from the street, perhaps from his dreams. Clinging onto his toe, his mouth shaped a silent scream as pain thudded up through his bones. The toenail would probably be blue tomorrow.
He bent, and smoothed the canvas with his palm to check it wasn’t torn. Calmed, he carefully walked towards the glass doors. Fearfully, he pulled back a curtain, creating a crooked glowing crack.
Harsh blue light spilled into his lounge, highlighting his furniture, his photographs, making his family members in them look grey, haunted.
He inhaled sharply when he saw her, and pulled his face away. Taking two solid even breaths, he dared himself to look again.
She sat cross legged on the grass. She wore a light blue night dress, the delicate lace framed her neck and collarbones. Hands held out before her, the paleness of her skin glowed white with the moon, and she stared, silently down. Red, alarming startling red splattered up across her arms, her hands, her belly. It glinted and glittered in the moonlight, like sparkling garnet gems.
His eyes widened, shocked. Had he gone two far this time? The one who made her scream in the night? Was she hurt, dreadfully hurt - might she die?
Thoughts screamed through his horrified mind as he scrambled to his phone. Dialling the police he explained urgently to the toneless voice on the other end what he could see, and where he was located. He slammed down the receiver and frantically fumbled with the lock on his patio doors. He ran through and scrambled over the small fence, into her garden. She sat, motionlessly.
“Please don’t worry,” he explained breathlessly. He knelt down in front of her.
Slowly she raised her head, her eyes sunken, her irises black in the night. His large eyes stared down at her. They were shocked, but reassuring. His hair was long, fair, and ruffled with sleep.
He spoke again, his voice shaking, yet soothing. “I’ve rang the police, you’ll be alright, I promise…please, say something. What’s your name?”
She fell forward and he reeled back as warm fluid ooze covered his chest, his arms. “Laura,” she whispered.
“I’m Jack.” he said, “and don’t worry, I’ll help you. I hear what he does, every night, and it should stop Laura, it will stop now, now that the police are coming.”
He pushed her hair away from her face and sighed. She was delicate, slender, like an antique doll. Large frightened eyes stared back at him, the shapely mouth quivered in shock.
“He wouldn’t stop,” she explained. “He took me and hurt me and nothing would stop him. I don’t know why he-”
Jack hugged her tightly, “Shh, he won’t hurt you now, I won’t let him. I can keep an eye on you as I live so closely. Even after this is all over I’ll be here, don’t worry, and the police will be here any second.”
Laura stared up at him. He was large, masculine. His face unusual, but kind.
A moments silence, then she stood, out of Jack’s grasp, and walked abruptly back to her house.
Jack stood and ran after her, in through her kitchen and up the stairs. He pursued, a second behind, a hand’s grasp away, but slightly too far.
Poised in the doorway he stood. Hands on the frame he stared, horrified, into the room. A man, in his late thirties, dark and handsome, lay sprawled on the floor. Jack recognised him immediately as the man who Laura lived with. He had seen him groomed immaculately each morning leaving for work, watched with hatred as this animal, this coward had left each day, leaving his battered grazed female behind to recover just in time for his return.
Laura clambered to the floor by his side. “He deserved it,” she said, voice icy. She look up at Jack, “Don’t you see? He deserved it!”
He held out his hands, as if to calm her. The truth dawned. The blood had belonged to the man she’d lived with.
“Laura please, leave him be. Explain to the police what he did, I know - I heard, and, everything will be alright. It was self defence.”
Laura shook her head, the images of her felony rushing before her eyes in fast macabre flashes. “But he did deserve it,” she whispered.
She stood, faced Jack, and his heart leapt. Her eyes thinned into thoughtful calculating slits as she continued. “If I’d have left him, he’d have done it again,” she said, aiming it down at him. He didn’t answer.
She continued, her voice becoming shriller, and cracking with emotion. “He’d have found another girl; some hopeless, needful girl and he would have scratched and clawed and pummelled her, drained her self esteem until she snapped.”
She slowly grinned across at him, her smile slightly crooked.
Jack shook his head, confused, frightened, as he tried to work out why she would say these things, tried to understand why she would think this was the way to help her circumstances.
Electric blue lights flashed through the window. Round and round lazily, they reflected on her face, and her lover’s dead body.
Suddenly, Laura leaned down and, before Jack could stop her, could even think, she grabbed hold of the knife in his chest, and pulled it briskly outward. Then, turning on her heel, she ran towards Jack, and before he could cry out, before he even realised what she was doing, she pressed the handle firmly into his open palm. His reflexes caused him, for a moment, to hold it, the slippery sticky handle. The instrument of crime.
He dropped it abruptly, and Laura dashed back to her lover’s corpse. “Anybody in there?” A deep authorative voice called out from the doorway. “Yes! In here!” Laura shrieked.
Jack stared incredulously as Laura knelt and cradled the body in her arms.
She began weeping and rocking him back and fourth as deep guttural sobs screamed from between her lips.
Three uniformed gentleman burst though the door and saw the grizzly tableau. Saw Jack’s large powerful frame stood over them, covered in red, a knife at his feet. Laura looked up at them pleadingly. “He’s obsessed with me!” she cried.
Jack shook his head in amazement, it had all happened so quickly. What had she done? Why had he helped her?
She continued, her sobs dry, false. “He watches me all the time, stares from his window, and now look!” she screamed, shaking the man as if she could revive him. But his head lolled back, lifelessly.
Jack felt rough leathered hands on his wrists.
“No! Wait!” he cried.
But it was too late, too clear, and so obvious there was no need to question.
As he was dragged roughly away, Laura clapped her bloodied hand to her mouth, and giggled.