Doorstep

I noticed the figure out of the corner of my eye as I went to the bathroom.  I’m not at my best first thing in the morning and my eyesight hasn’t been great for some years now.  But, as I glanced down the stairs at the front door, there was clearly someone there: outside.  “Milkman?” I wondered.  Ten seconds, twenty seconds … no movement.  “Not the milkman, then.”  Although not usually a timid person, I felt a bit uneasy.   Why would anybody be standing on my step at six in the morning?  There’d been no knock and I hadn’t heard a car pull up or any footsteps on the gravel as I’d lain awake for the previous half hour.  I’d been feeling a bit under the weather and had hardly slept a wink, but a full bladder had woken me from a brief sleep and I’d just had to get up.

And now I couldn’t hang on any longer, though, so I slid into the bathroom as quietly as I could and shut the door, controlling the handle to keep the noise as low as possible.  “Stupid!” I told myself.  “The front door has a heavy bolt, there’s no need to worry.”  But my skin was clammy and tingling at the knowledge that somebody was on the step.

Living alone can be difficult at times, especially when you get to my age.  My children have moved far away and my husband died nearly 25 years ago, when he was 53, from a massive heart attack.  The internet is my main connection to the world, although I’m not housebound or anything; I just keep myself to myself, like I always did, so I don’t really talk to the neighbours.  My arthritis has been getting worse and when I go to the shops, I’m becoming painfully aware that it’s taking me longer and longer.  But I don’t usually scare easily.  At least … I didn’t.

As I opened the bathroom door again, I realised that I was holding my breath and I let it escape through pinpoint lips, with almost a whistle.

“Still there!!”

The words in my head were the loudest sound in the house.  As I stepped back onto the landing, it occurred to me that the person might be able to see me, too, and I froze, staring at the still, dark figure.  The blue, frosted glass of the door didn’t give a clear view – just an impression.  It was no good – there was no way I could tell which way they were looking.  When I moved again, it was toward the wall, hugging it in an attempt to blend with the shadow and I tried to picture the view through my front door from the outside.

Having stood on that step thousands of times, you’d think I’d have a perfect mental image of what could and couldn’t be seen by somebody looking in, yet I couldn’t work out whether the top of the stairs would be visible from the step.  Glancing behind me, I considered the bathroom window.  It’s quite high up … small and covered by a dark roller blind!  They wouldn’t be able to see me because the background would be too dark to make me stand out!!  Thank God.  But what should I do?  I couldn’t stay there, watching.  I would have to go and dress.

Cursing my own procrastination, I opened the wardrobe door a fraction; knowing that it would send out a raucous screech if I opened it any further.  For at least three months, I had been intending to oil it.  But at least I could reach some clothes, which I put on as quickly as I could whilst keeping up the silence.  All the time, listening for anything that might suggest that the person on the step was moving, trying the door, leaving me alone, going around the back.  Going around the back!!  The doors and windows were all locked – a habit I’d developed after a burglary many years before – but they would have a clear view into the house from the back.  I’d come up to bed while it was still light; spent a couple of hours reading in bed.  So, even though my bedroom curtains were closed, the ones downstairs would all be open.

Of course, I couldn’t even get downstairs without having to walk really close to the front door and there were at least two stairs that would draw attention to my presence.  I was trapped.  Slowly, I twitched aside the corner of my curtain and strained to see the area in front of the step, even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to see the person properly, but perhaps I could catch a glimpse.  No.  Nothing.  Not even a hint of a shoulder.

Creeping to the top of the stairs, I peered around the banister and instantly saw that the figure was still there – dark, large, menacing.  “Why?” I wondered.  “What does he want?”  This last thought fell like a thud.  “He?  Why did I think that?”  There was nothing to indicate that this was a man … it was certainly somebody tall, but so am I, and the clothes were too blurred to be distinguishable.  All I could tell was that the person on my step was tall, very good at standing still, and wearing something dark.  It seemed that the whole figure was of one colour, so could this mean that they had their back to me?  That they were wearing a hood?

I ventured onto the top step and, holding the handrail tightly, I eased myself into a seated position close against the wall.  The very creaky stairs were three steps down and then seven steps down but there was another temperamental one four down.  I didn’t believe I would be able to step over the worst one, without setting off the other one.  I definitely couldn’t step over two; my hips wouldn’t let me.  If I hugged the wall and only stood at the very edge of each step, I might make it down, but I was pretty certain that once I got halfway, if this person turned around then I would be totally visible.  My nerves were strained beyond anything I had felt for years and I wanted to cry.  If I cried now, I might not be able to stop my sobs from becoming louder and I was just too terrified to take a chance on drawing attention to myself.

If I made it to the living room, I would be able to take the phone into the kitchen, out of earshot, and call the police.  I would close the curtains, too, if I made it that far.  In all this time, I hadn’t seen the figure move a muscle.  The light was brighter now and I was sure they were turned away, standing like a guard on my step.  Not looking inwards, but out at the world.  “Why?”  Again the question reared its head.  But I didn’t want to think about that too deeply.  I just wanted to get help.

As I shifted my weight to pull myself up using the handrail, I felt a pain in my neck and into my jaw.  My vision swam and I felt the sweat pouring from my forehead and the palms of my hands.  I sank back against the wall and screwed my eyes tightly shut.  My heart felt as though it had swelled to fill my chest and the worst nausea I had ever imagined gripped me and held me pinned.  I was so frightened.  So frightened that I shuffled onto the next step on my bottom, and then the next.  The stair made its customary blackboard screech and I looked at the door, afraid of what I would see.  The figure didn’t move and I shuffled again, wanting only to get to the phone.  More in need of an ambulance than the police.

I don’t even know how I got to the living room, but that’s where I first opened my eyes.  I could feel my head being lifted and felt the hands on my shoulders and my neck.  Something was on my face, but nothing made sense and then I was just floating and jolting.  Noises … talking … I couldn’t move.  My arms were trapped … and then there was nothing.

Waking in the hospital, I felt the cold smoothness of the sheet and smelt the clinical smell so particular to such places.  My tongue was like an emery board and I looked around for a drink.  In the next bed, a woman in her forties or fifties was watching me.

“So, you’re awake at last!”  She seemed surprised.  “You’ve been talking in your sleep, you know.”

I cleared my throat.  “Is there anything to drink?”

She got out of bed and shuffled over in sponge slippers.  She poured me a glass of water from a large jug and watched as I struggled onto my elbows and then to an upright position.  The water tasted horrible, like an old metal spoon, but I needed it too much to care.

“Who’s Bob?” she asked.

I nearly choked on the mouthful of water I’d just taken.

“Bob’s my husband.  Why?  Did I talk about him in my sleep?”

“A little bit” she replied, “but I was wondering because I heard the nurses talking.  They said that if he hadn’t been there, you would have died.  He called the ambulance.  Weird that he didn’t wait around once they came.  They said he just stood on the step until the paramedics went in and was gone when they came out.  They said he went so quickly, it was like he’d vanished.”

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In the quiet of the house

I remember the first time it woke me; I didn’t know what had happened.  My head was aching and I was really thirsty, so I thought it was probably that that had woken me.  According to the clock, it was 3:18.  I lay for a minute, hoping for some miracle to take away the headache and the thirst without me having to get out of bed.  There was no miracle.  I slid my feet to the freezing floor and pushed myself from the bed with a wince as my arthritic knee squeaked in protest.  From the bedroom, to the kitchen.  Two painkillers, a bottle of water.  Better go to the toilet to save having to face the stairs again later.  Back up the stairs.  Bed!

But I just lay there with something poking at me.  Some little thought that danced in and out of focus.  Had there been a noise?  A last look at the clock.  4:22!  How could more than an hour have gone by?  I didn’t need to be up early, but I knew I would be, so I closed my eyes and listened to my own breathing until sleep came.

All day, as I went about my routine, I felt jumpy.  There was nothing I could put my finger on; no specific thing that I could identify as the cause of my nervousness.  But it wore me out.  By mid-afternoon, I was struggling to keep my eyes open and since I couldn’t think straight, I decided to take a nap.

I fell asleep almost as soon as I lay down, but my dreams were disturbing visions of everlasting staircases, chasms that opened up in the floor of my bedroom and doors slamming.  I opened my eyes.  Was that a dream or had a door just slammed?  I was soaked with sweat and there was a humming in my ears.  I swallowed and my mouth felt like sandpaper.  I sat up slowly, feeling sure I’d be dizzy, but I wasn’t; I just felt weak, washed out.  I opened my window and the autumn air dried the sweat on my face as I stood there.  I listened for sounds of movement, but hearing nothing apart from distant traffic and the scratch of leaves along the pavement, I went downstairs.

Everything seemed normal.  The doors were all open, so if the slam had been real, it had been outside, which was a relief.  I went to make myself some tea and was surprised to find I’d already laid out the tea things: my favourite cup, a present for Mother’s Day with ‘World’s Best Grandma’ in childish writing; the 2-person tea pot I use when I’m sure I’ll want seconds, and a tea spoon.  “I must have been more tired than I realised!”  My words bounced around the room, the only noise in a vast silence.  No, not the only noise.  There was a rapid clicking that I recognised with a sinking feeling.  It was the noise the kettle makes when it has recently boiled and switched off. Praying that I was wrong I tentatively laid a finger on the side of the kettle, but almost before it had reached the hot metal I was pulling it back to watch the red spot turn into a blister.  But I had been asleep for at least an hour and a half, maybe two hours, so who had boiled the kettle?

I didn’t feel safe.  My chest felt tight and I could feel the pounding of blood in my ears.  I walked into the living-room to find my keys.  They were nowhere to be seen, but if I left the house without them, I’d be locked out.  And then I remembered where they were; I had left them on the bedside table when I went to lie down.  I’ve always taken my keys upstairs with me when I went to bed and it had been an almost unconscious action when I’d gone up for a nap.

I didn’t think I could stand to go up those stairs right now.  The pounding in my ears was faster and I could hear my own breath, coming in short, wheezy puffs of panic; I had to do something!  Then I remembered something from years before.  When my children had been young and prone to messing about after bedtime, I would go into their room, see them unconvincingly pretending to be asleep and I would close their bedroom door as though I had left the room.  I would stand there not breathing and they would open their eyes to see me still watching them.  More often than not, they’d laugh. So it didn’t help them get to sleep, really; it just let them know they couldn’t pull the wool over my eyes.  I caught them out like that many times before they’d cottoned on to my trick.  Whoever was in my house right now, if there was anybody, didn’t know it, though.  I could at least be sure whether there was somebody there.  If I stood by the front door after I had closed it and somebody came out of hiding, at least I would be close to the door to get away and if nobody moved, I should probably consider the possibility that I’d sleep-walked or that I might finally be succumbing to the dementia that had stalked the women in my family for generations.

I made a lot of noise ‘leaving’ the house.  I banged into the living room door, swished my coat around as I put it on, said to myself, “I’d better get some bread while I’m out!” in a voice much louder than my usual voice.  It didn’t sound like me.  It sounded like somebody brave.  And then I opened the door and slammed it.  And waited.  I held my breath for half a minute …nothing!  I slowly and quietly let my breath leave through barely parted lips and then I heard the first noise … a creaking, perhaps …maybe a cupboard door.  It was upstairs.  And then a second noise, which I instantly recognised as the loose floorboard in the back bedroom.  As I took hold of the front door handle I heard another noise, and another and another.  And then all the noises happened at once, as, from top to bottom, the house came alive around me.

Pictures of a girl

His eyes were drawn by the crow as it flapped across the garden on wings like borrowed rags.  He watched until it was a twitching dot, then nothing.  Only then did he return his attention to the pictures in his hand; smudged, old, yellowing, pencil portraits.  The same little girl, drawn from different angles: just her head.   She had large, striking eyes framed by long, curled lashes.  In one picture, she had her eyes closed and a ghost of a smile lay on her lips, in another her eyes were hidden behind the dark floppy fringe, but they were definitely all of the same girl.  Same bow-shaped mouth.  Same dimpled chin.  Same crescent birthmark at the side of her nose.

He looked up at the house.  He’d only lived there for a month, in fact he’d never even visited the area before he’d seen the house, then, one day … absent-mindedly clicking on estate agents’ sites on the internet.  It was just there: the perfect house!  Three bedrooms, original fittings, garage, large garden, much further away than they’d considered moving and a lot more than they’d planned on spending, but it just looked right.  It shouldn’t even have been in the search results.  Just a fluke, really.

Buying it had been much easier than he’d expected; the seller accepted his offer, which was quite a bit less than they’d been asking.  They’d inherited it and just wanted to be rid of it.  His own house had sold quickly, which came as a surprise, and everything just seemed to go smoothly.  Coming here would help them make a fresh start!  It would be so much easier because it was so far from everyone they knew: his family, her family, their friends.  What was left of them!

He jumped as she knocked on the kitchen window.  She was pointing down towards the sink so he nodded, even though he had no idea what she wanted.  He put the pictures back into the tattered envelope they’d been in, slipped it into the satchel that leant against his deckchair then, scooping up the bag, he walked into the garage. 

When he entered the kitchen, he couldn’t see what his wife was doing because everything looked so dark, but as his eyes adjusted, he saw she had potatoes in a sink full of water.  He sighed, picked up a peeler and asked, “What did your last slave die of?”

She laughed and replied, “Asking too many questions!”  She walked away.  He could hear her humming in the living-room.  It was nice to hear her humming again after all this time; she sounded happy when she hummed.  He hummed too: quietly.

They ate their dinner in the garden, chatting about the unexpectedly warm weather, the list of jobs that would need doing around the house, whose turn it was to wash the dishes.  They talked of everything and nothing at all.  The light had barely begun to fail when they finally went indoors and, in spite of an earlier conclusion, he washed the dishes, finding the robotic motions and warm water peculiarly soothing.  He couldn’t hear her humming now, but he heard her laughter occasionally over the noise of the television.

He dried his hands and, gently turning the back door handle, slipped into the garden.  He took a deep breath and identified honeysuckle, lavender, earth smells.  For some reason they made him hungry.  He opened the door to the garage and went in.  Reaching up to the highest shelf, he brought out the bag with the drawings in them and slid them back out.  Standing under the bare bulb, he scrutinised them for something new, some sign to make sense of them; he knew there would be none.  On each piece of paper, just the girl’s face and a date in the bottom, right-hand corner.  He’d looked at them five or six times a day for the last week, since finding them in a box in the attic, underneath some moth-eaten curtains, a few old books and a stack of newspapers dating back forty-something years.  He’d held them up to the light, smudged the pencil markings with his finger to check whether they were real and, time after time, he had placed them side by side with the tiny photograph from his wallet.  Comparing the dark hair in the drawings with the dark hair in the photograph.   Comparing the large, long-lashed eyes, the bow-shaped mouth, the dimpled chin and comparing the crescent-shaped birth mark on the face in the pictures, drawn before he had even been born, with the identical birthmark on the face of the seven-year-old daughter, whose death had come so close to destroying his marriage.

Blacklight

“What just happened?” she asked, looking at the lamp.  There was no answer.

“What just happened to the light?” she said, louder.

“Nothing.  What are you talking about?”  She looked at her husband: his head barely visible behind his laptop.

“The light did something.  It went out.  Or something went in front of it.  The room went black for a moment; didn’t you see?”  He looked up at the lamp and then at her.

“It didn’t do anything.  I would have noticed if the room had gone black.  You probably blinked or something.”

“For God’s sake, Ben, I blink all the time.  Do you think I don’t know what blinking is like?  You don’t even notice a blink!”  Frustrated, she threw the newspaper onto the couch beside her and got up.  She went over to the light and poked the bulb.  “Ow!” she breathed.  She shook the base.

“It’s gone a bit black now your fat arse is in the way!” laughed Ben.  She spun around and frowned at him.

“I’m going to bed!”  She strode to the bathroom, slammed the door and sat on the closed lid of the toilet.  She realised her hands were shaking a little.  Fury?  Fear?  Something else?  If the light didn’t do anything, perhaps she had a brain tumour.  Perhaps there was something pressing on the back of her eye, creating vision problems and making her temper short.  No.  Not the temper thing.  That was all Ben!!  No …something had got in the way of the light; he didn’t notice because he was looking at a brightly lit laptop screen.  He wouldn’t have noticed if she’d done a fan dance in front of the lamp.  He never noticed anything she did.

As the water ran into the sink, she watched her reflection blur and fade in the bathroom mirror.  She looked better in the steam.  The water was a little too hot as she stood with her hands pressed flat and her wrists smarting.  They didn’t look like her hands in the water; they looked like a stranger’s hands.

By the time Ben came up to bed, she’d been asleep for an hour, but he turned on the light, walked over to his side of the bed, turned on his lamp and yawned, “Turn that light off for me!”.  She did.  Then she lay on her side with her back to him as he opened a book and began to read.  The flowers on the wallpaper looked like giant moths in the gloom, and the shadow cast by her own body made it seem as though they were struggling to crawl from the earth, to free themselves from a two dimensional chrysalis: but failing!

When she woke, it was as though she had been shaken and for a moment she thought one of the children had come into the room.  Her head was fuzzy and her tongue so dry it clicked as she tried to swallow.  “What’s up?” she heard herself mumble before realising there was nobody there.  Her head felt so much heavier than it should, but even so, the last of their children had left 2 years before and had already been long past the age when you come looking for your mum after a bad dream.  According to the clock, it was 04:11, but it wasn’t reliable.  She felt for her phone and checked the time on that.  04:11. Holding her breath, she listened for anything that might have woken her, knowing that it wouldn’t take much: the sounds of the fridge, the central-heating turning on or off or just being old, a rattling door, nothing at all.  There was nothing to be heard, but she couldn’t get over the feeling that she had been shaken.  She shuddered and her breath came in a burst and shocked her with its loudness.  It took more than an hour for her to get back to sleep and when the alarm rang at 7, she felt as though she hadn’t slept at all.

In work, the hum of the library was a comfort for her twanging nerves.  Her back hurt as she pushed the trolley to the far end, where she would begin the ritual of replacement: checking the other books on the shelves as she went, using a sixth-sense to find out-of-place books, carelessly used by people who didn’t have respect for the knowledge stored here.

It was while she was moving a copy of ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ from ‘J’ to ‘P’ that the lights went out at the end of the stack …for a moment.  She felt so vulnerable.  She turned to one end and then to the other, then pushed her back against the shelf, her hands shaking wildly and her chest feeling so tight it could have been encircled by invisible arms.  She forced herself to walk to the end of the stack.  To where she could see other people.  It calmed her a little and she walked to the desk.

“Did you have a problem with the lights over here?”  She tried to keep her voice casual but wasn’t sure if she had managed.  Laura looked at her with a frown.

“Are you alright?  You don’t look well.  Sit down before you fall down!”  She did.  “You’re a funny colour!  Do you want a drink of water?”

“I’m alright.  I didn’t sleep well.  I just wondered if you saw the lights flicker.  They did up by the children’s stacks.  Just for a second.”

“No.  They were alright down here.”

She realised she still had ‘Peter Rabbit’ in her hand but she gave it to Laura.  She didn’t want to go back into the stacks.

As she ate her dinner that night she watched a programme about why the bees are vanishing.  She had the main light on and the lamp as well as the hall light.  She felt uneasy alone here now, and Ben had texted to say he would be going straight to the club after work.  She wished they had a dog.  Or a cat.  Or a budgie.  Something with a heartbeat, however small.  The bee programme was over and somebody was explaining how Stonehenge had been built.  And why, apparently!  She pushed a piece of cold fish across her plate with the point of her knife and realised she’d sat for an hour and had barely eaten a mouthful.  She had tasted none of it.

Scraping the food into the bin, she felt as though she had somehow lost a chunk of time and wondered if she should see a doctor.  Maybe, in the morning, she could make an appointment to put her mind at rest …or not.  That’s what she’d do.  Making the decision helped her to relax a little and she decided a warm bath and an early night might start making up for lack of sleep and stress.

In the bathroom cupboard she found some bubble bath that had been a Christmas present and poured it onto the torrent of hot water, filling the bath.  The smell of strawberries filled the room and for a moment she was 7 again and sitting, surrounded by bubbles and playing with her dolls.  Washing their hair.  Making them swim.  She shook her head and straightened up, withdrawing her hand from the swirling water.  Something was pushing for attention.

“What?”  The stark, sudden question made her jump, even though it was her own voice.

She stepped into the bath; the hot water turning her leg lobster coloured in seconds.  She sat down and leant back into the crackling bubbles, relishing the borderline pain.  She closed her eyes and the dolls came back into her mind; they had been called Jenny and Lulu and she couldn’t remember what had happened to them.  They had been there all the time for years and then …where?  She was 7 again.  In the bath.  Playing.  With the dolls.  And then …then …the light had gone out.  No, not gone out …was blocked.  Mum’s friend, Joe was there.

Back in the present, she pulled her knees into her chest and began to sob.

At the end of the pipe.

The room had started to go cold as gusts of chattering wind nudged the curtains into temporary peaks.  Somewhere, a door rattled in the cross-breeze.  Day noises had begun to edge over the horizon with the first rays of light but the buzzing in his ears kept them from registering as anything other than a whisper.  He moved his head a little and his own heartbeat bounded, unwanted, into his peace.  He opened his eyes.

In the half-light, he could see the dressing table strewn with her possessions: brushes, lipstick, curling tongs with the cord trailing onto the floor, tissues in imperfect spheres:  grey roses in the gloom.  And perfume.  So much perfume: tall bottles, tiny bottles, elaborate sculptures with pretentious names and cloying scents.  Everywhere!  Not just on the dressing table, but also … he pictured them … on all the bathroom shelves, on the ledge of the bath itself.  Glass bottles perched precariously on a thin strip, ready to plunge and shatter.  In the way.  All the time!

He remembered the first bottle he had given her.  A third or fourth date gift; he couldn’t remember everything, but he remembered how much she had loved it.

“How did you know?” she had asked.

“How did I know?” he wondered.

Click-click. A light flashing on the ceiling.  Once.   Twice.  An early riser, on his way to work, unlocking his car.  Oblivious!  He closed his eyes again, against the weight of the growing dawn.  He knew it would crush him!  The sheet throbbed; he couldn’t understand how, but he felt it.  He felt it as though it were happening to somebody else, or really far away, like everything!  All that exists at one end of a pipe with him at the other.   Listening, feeling, but only from a distance.  He couldn’t even remember being at the safe end of the pipe anymore and he no longer wanted to be there.

His head hurt.  He couldn’t understand why it would hurt when he had taken so many pills.  In a way, he wanted to lean over the edge of the bed and count the packets, even though he knew there would be five.  Five empty packets and three empty bottles.  The thought of the bottles made his dry tongue tap on the roof of his mouth.   Somehow, wanting to move was no longer enough motivation for his muscles and he knew he would never see those packets or bottles again.  He would never see his favourite book or his car.  He would never see his sister or the people he used to work with.  He would never see the pale green walls of the kitchen, the sink scrubbed clean, gleaming; an island of perfection in a sea of degradation.  The big, family-sized kitchen table his grandfather had made, undulating after two lifetimes of warmth and love and another of tension and despair.  Strong, rough under the fingers but smooth and shiny in patches, marked by constant use.  With his eyes closed and ignoring the buzzing and beating in his head that fought to distract him, he could imagine himself downstairs, sitting at the table with a strong tea and an unwanted view of the garden.

He’d grown up with wonderful gardens.  His own garden was in painful contrast to the ones he remembered from his childhood.  His garden was a tangle of yellow grasses and broken fence posts.   He’d only lived in two houses before this one and they’d both had lush, lovingly tended gardens full of glowing colours, gentle scents that he had always been able to bring to mind, before … well, just before!  He missed those innocent fragrances.  And in those other, better gardens, a multitude of insects.  Some beautiful, some dangerous.   Insects that bit and stung.  Insects that buzzed.  The thought of the buzzing brought him back into the now, where the buzzing seemed louder, or was it just that his heartbeat had grown quieter?  Maybe both.  It seemed as though the sounds were all that was left of his life; although he felt them now, rather than hearing them.  From the other end of the pipe.

The cold poked at him, half-heartedly, and he wanted to say something.  Hold me!  Warm me!  Forgive me!  He tried to stop the words forming in his head.  He didn’t want to hear that voice again but his imagination forced it into his semi-conscious ears.  No fingers could stop that sound: the sounds on the inside get louder if you block out the outside.  “Leave me alone!”  Was that real, or a memory?  Memories are real too.  Some of them are more real than others.  Some have lives of their own.

He knew it was nearly time to die.  Part of him had been dead for so long he could smell it on his words and see it reflected in the eyes of everyone who saw him.  They knew.  And he knew they knew.  He summoned every morsel of strength left in his body to roll onto his back.  The ceiling pulsated and the buzzing became all that existed for a moment.  Or an eternity   He could see her now though, lying there where he had put her, at his side.  On their bed.  Her beautiful hair brushed and curled.  Her lips, meticulously tinted.  Her favourite dress arranged carefully to hide the marks.  But all the perfume was gone now.  Every drop, from every bottle, from every room in the house.  All the perfume in the world wouldn’t stop people from finding her soon.  But when they did …they would find him too.