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Such a Long Time Coming

Effie Merryl

I had always planned to take refuge in the lavatory. My initial delight when I realised she’d chosen a first-class carriage waned rapidly with the reality of having to wait inside the tiny disgusting box. The stench of slopped urine and railway-issue soap clogged up my nose as I chugged this way and that, my body forced to weave along with the beast manoeuvring the tracks.

I thought of her sitting out there in the carriage, head lolling to one side. I imagined her tongue hanging out, a red slab of raw meat on the verge of turning purple, her eyes bulging like a bull-frog. I watched my hands squeeze her throat, tight, tight, a little tighter … and snap!

However, I was better prepared than that, than to use my own hands, and had a different plan. I smiled, rinsed my new teeth with a slug of cider from a can and sat back to wait. The heat was rising, my back sticky. The thump of my heart pumping hard inside my chest was strong, rising up my neck. I felt it in my head, behind my eyes, and also in my trousers. I was finally close enough. I was going to do this. I’d waited long, so very long. Nine years is such a long time.   

****

Tick-Tock. Tick-Tock. The huge clock on the wall behind the dock ticks, tick-tocks. I hear the click clack of the thin black hands as the battery-operated clock tick-tocks. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.                                                                                      

The foreman stands, the elected member of the twelve, a small balding man, nervous, frightened, though a respectable man, one would presume. Somebody’s husband. Somebody’s son. Somebody’s dad. A granddad. Executioner.

Every face turns to look at him. Many pairs of eyes stare black, dark beads of anticipation, as the clock tick-tocks. The judge, the barristers, the clerks, the press, the police, the public in the gallery … and me, the defendant. Every eye turns to look upon me. No lashes flick. No eye blind. Then back to the foreman. He turns the small rectangle of paper in his hand, nervous fingers with an imperceptible twitch, a slight shake he doesn’t want anyone to see. He folds the slip, creases it, opens it, and looks down.

I know the judge already knows what it says when the foreman looks at him, searching for his eye, his acknowledgment, some understanding. He does not look at me. He doesn’t look anywhere near the dock. It is then that I know my fate.            

Tick. Tock.                                                                                                                 

Guilty.                                                                                                                                    

I am guilty. Convicted of many assaults, my hands on boys. They have thrown in the perverting the course of justice, of course they have, perversion.

I turn and look at her. I see my snarl rather than feel it as my upper lip peels back. I show her the fleshy bits of my gum, the bright red lumpy bumps rich with blood pounding through them so hot I think they are going to burst, blood red splattering and spouting across the court room. They don’t explode so I expose my teeth, dull sock-grey and little, like a teenage anorexic, only I’m no longer a teenager.

I pretend to snap, give a little whoop-woof like I’m Austin Powers doing the soul bossa nova. I remind myself of a dog my uncle once kept. A bit thin, a bit scabby, a bit rabid, a bit mad.  

The jury members, once twelve good people and true, raise their eyebrows at the shot of drama. Mellow drama. I stay in the dock. I raise my arm as if to dance, my other arm poised.

‘You,’ I whisper as I point at her, properly snarl. It’s nothing. I’m impotent really. They look but don’t want to see, yet can’t control themselves. I laugh. Ha. Haha. Hahaha. It is so funny.

She shifts her bottom along the wooden bench, as my finger remains pointing. I spy the thin wedge of black beneath my nail. In that instant we are the only two people in the courtroom and the world stops tick-tocking. My life stands in the silence between us.     The judge, the barristers, the clerks, the jury, the watchers, the congregation, they all stare, watching me like I am a court jester they don’t want to notice, look at, or laugh at. An elephant taking up too much room. They do nothing but gawp.

The judge is used to such actions, such reactions, especially from bitter convicts angry at perceived justice. At injustice.  Everyone of them angry, especially to the police. Especially to a woman, a woman in man’s clothing who aided and abetted in my conviction. It was her conviction that did for me.

I see them, the jury, looking at me, but they don’t linger because they are the ones who have condemned me to an indeterminable sentence. They don’t want that dirty-horned nail that looks like it belongs to Satan pointing anywhere near them so in turn, they look at her, her, that detective with the grim face and podgy ankles.                                                            

I see two of the jury give a sly flick of an eye back in my direction. I imagine myself as Hannibal Lector and slurp my tongue and flash them a grin. My barrister makes his case, my case, for leniency as I protest my innocence yet again, calling for my barrister to lodge an appeal.

He ignores me and continues his monologue in monotone, black and white words, up and down like a boring piano chord. He again misses off the bit about my previous good character because I don’t have one. It’s a tell tale sign for the jury, should they know to look for it. Maybe some did and maybe some didn’t when they did their condemning.

The jury listens as the barrister for the prosecution reveals my dirty secrets. A young woman on the backbench cries, sobbing into a paper handkerchief, her with a perfect life that has vanilla candles in the bathroom as she soaks her aching back and soothes her troubled mind. Vanilla candles in her lonely bedroom too. I see it all. A middle-aged man hangs his head. Perhaps he’s guilty, too? One in twelve, they say, so it could be him. Some look away. Others stare ahead. Nobody speaks when the judge addresses me, the guilty one.            

The Lord Justice Hootenanny Flubberguts, as I’ve named him, doesn’t linger over words as he sentences me. Fifteen years imprisonment. No deliberation. No pause. Straight to jail. Do not pause, collect, just go.

It matters not. I won’t do fifteen. Might not even to five. I know what to do, how to play the game, how to bide my time. I’ll get fit. Get fatter, bulk up. Get my teeth fixed. And I’ll clean my nails. I’ll be a good inmate for the judge. I’ll be a reformed character.                               

The jury are dismissed. They file out into the safety of a warm room laden with fresh espresso coffee, curled up sandwiches, and comfortable round cakes. They are excused from further service at the court and they will take that pass with relish and relief as they collect the expenses form handed out to thank them for conducting their civic duty.               

As I’m taken down from the dock and led through the back door of the courtroom in handcuffs, I cast a backward glance in the instant before the door clangs shut. Her eye catches mine and the deal is done, whether she knows it or not. It could take a long time but that’s something I have a lot of. Time.                                                                               

Tick. Tock.     

***     

A seven year stretch, that’s what I had to do before they would release me, like an itch, it was time to scratch, to move on. Like a spring, they expect me to bounce back. I reckon the elastic might snap this time.

I’d been a good prisoner, done everything they asked – the counselling sessions talking to some pretty girl shrink who teased with her stocking tops – only she was fat and ugly and the only stocking should have been over her head. I had to pretend to myself that she was a pretty one though, just to get through the rubbish I was expected to spout. I did the kitchen duties and the gutsy jobs nobody else wanted. I did things for the screws and in turn, they did things for me. Like turning the other way when I needed them to. That sort of thing. Play the game, poker-face. Lady Haha.

Like all convicted sex offenders I was subject to conditions. Silly thing but when they locked me up I didn’t know how to use the Internet or a computer so there were no specific terms in my order, but I learned a lot inside. About search engines. Cookies. Internet footprints. Canny, eh?

When I got out, Probation found me a flat in Leeds. I didn’t care where it was. Anywhere would do. With a computer the world was open and free and fresh and mine. It didn’t take me long to find her. Social networking. The more people do it, they less they can resist it, and the less cautious they become, until finally, Google becomes their name.                         

It took less than six months for me to find out which street she lived on, where she went on holiday, the names of her children, and what colour underwear she wore last Sunday. It was that easy. Twitter. Facebook. Tik-Tok.

I followed her every tweet without her even knowing of my existence. I’d been onto her for months and she didn’t even know. I never tweeted to her but had she come across me she would see I’d invented an online persona of my own. Male/female/ambiguous. I sent random tweets to celebrities who never replied and a few random folk who did. Nothing suspicious, nothing to raise a concern, me, a casual follower she didn’t know existed, anonymous in the mêlée that was Twitter.          

I took my time. I had plenty of it. Patience is my best virtue and I let it fester until I could hold back no longer. Last Thursday I was watching Question Time with one eye on Twitter when I saw it flash, that little blue bird squawked, and I caught it before it disappeared down the plughole of tweets. She would be in Paddington train station on Saturday. It was a book day and she was meeting other bibliophiles. She would be joining ‘her tribe’ after a few days in the city looking at universities for her son. He must be a big boy by now, Guy, her eldest. I know a lot about him, too. The bubble inside me bred, doubling, tripling, popping and fizzing until I was frothing, chomping at the bit.                    

She was going all the way to her home in Aberglendinny, to a remote cottage she’d moved into with her family to escape their busy life, their past. What she hadn’t realised was a small place is no place to hide and everyone knows your name. What they don’t know, they make up. I could have told her that, had she wanted to listen to me. Unlike a book, you cannot tear a single page from your life, not on the internet.

There was only one train going from London to Aberglendinny on Saturday afternoon. It went every afternoon at three o’clock. I prepared well, packed my rucksack like I was going climbing – change of clothing, rope, knife, flask, bandages, bin-bags. Gum. Gun. Tick!

My phone was charged. My body likewise. My soul was willing. I sat with a cardboard coffee outside the burger bar in the station. She wouldn’t recognise me. Not now. Not fast-forward all these years. Not with my mousy wig, dark glasses, teeth fixed, and body beefed with prime muscle, the skinny-minny long gone. It had been such a very long time that I knew I was right out of context and far away from her zone. She never expected me to be part of her life again. I’d given her false security. I doubt she even remembered my name. The walls were closing in, the ladder shrinking. No way out.                                                                                         

I spotted her instantly. She was trailing a little rose gold suitcase down the ramp from one of the swarming platforms. She propped the case against the counter of a posh coffee stall and ordered something fancy, just as she would. I saw her through the crowd as she took a seat at table filled with middle aged women and student types. I watched her manipulate the screen of her smart phone. I reached for my own, head down. Bingo! Two fat ladies, eighty-eight.

Twitter. Every time, Twitter. She was chatting in full view to some woman who wrote proper books the like of which she could only fantasise about. I followed their conversation. This writer, a popular children’s author, was going to be on her train too but going to Oxford, not Wales, like her. In the same carriage, M. For First Class. M for mine, all mine, for me. For Murder. She told the writer her seat was 55A. She, the sycophant, told the author she’d read her work to her lovely boys when they were young. I remember reading them to my lovely boys too, back when I had them, before she had taken them away from me, made them tell terrible lies. I’d only ever loved them. All of them. She would never understand that.         

I finished my cardboard tasting coffee. When the train snaked in I was ready, poised a few feet away. I knew she wouldn’t notice me, too busy looking out for her pseudo-famous pal to see me loitering. I watched her, full fat ankles as she climbed aboard. She waved like an excited kite let loose, and wore a flabby fish-mouth smile as she spotted her buddy.

I smiled a little laugh, quiet, unheard. Oh yes, she was happy now. And so was I.

I held my rucksack tight to my belly. I wasn’t leaving it on any old luggage shelf to be picked up by a stranger. It was mine, all mine, like she would be so very soon.    

The carriage was filled with cloying warm bodies and sour freebie gin given to the first-class carriage only. There were more people than I’d imagined travelling in first-class. I pretended to look for my seat, clocking the destinations on the reservation tickets as I passed them. Most would be leaving well before Aberglendinny. I selected a vacant seat travelling backwards, only I wasn’t going that way. It might as well have had my name on it. She sat a few feet behind me, at a table with all four spaces occupied. She was facing forward but she wouldn’t see me coming. Not that I would have sat with her should there have been a vacancy. Oh no. I’d be waiting in the lavatory, biding time, hiding until the time was right.

As we weaved out of London, I browsed the net. Nothing much of interest. My guts twisted like the train. I had to anticipate her and it was too tense. I could smell her behind me. I took a trip to the lav, clicked the lock and sat down, closed my eyes and saw her, fat red tongue lolling down, thick and lush. I shook my head, cross with myself. That was a sexually motivated crime and that would never do. As much as I’d love to squeeze the life from her, squash out her last breath, I know how it must be done.             

I checked my watch. Tick-tock. On a mid-autumn day like this it would be dark at the right time. There will be but me and her, waiting for departure. Her departure. She’d have to come to the lavatory at some point, what with all that coffee she drank. And the gin.

***

Done. Dead. Shot in the head. Quiet. Clean. A revenge killing. These days I make sure I don’t let my fingernails get dirty. I walk down the train through almost empty carriages, all the way to G. Or F. Or maybe D? Somewhere where the second-class people sit, where they slumber, read, and get drunk. When the train stops, I alight and disappear into the night somewhere remote, not caring where. Who would suspect me, a mediocre middle-aged woman on a mission, incognito, invisible. Ignored.

Well, when I say done, it is, sort of. I hadn’t banked on her alighting at Oxford with her pal. I couldn’t let the chance pass though, could I? I was always partial to teenage boys. When she left hers on the train, discarded and motherless, to continue the journey to the end of the line, to their escape home, haha, she hadn’t banked on there being no escape. Nor banked on me. I recognised him straightaway once she was gone and he sat alone. Her Facebook party photos meant I knew all her family.

I didn’t know he was travelling with her. I wouldn’t have come had I known. I would have waited for another time but things have a way of working out. He didn’t know me, so wasn’t prepared. Me, a harmless hag, nondescript. I looked him in the eye as I took him away from her.

Perhaps it’s better this way?