My rucksack slips from my shoulder, but instead of catching it I let it fall onto the foam mattress with a muted thud. Standing motionless for a moment I exhale deeply before sinking down onto the bed beside it. As I land the acrid stench of ammonia wafts up, so I run my hand over the sheets to see whether they are damp or just cold.
What the Hell am I doing here?
Reaching into my jeans pocket, I withdraw a thin pouch of tobacco and rolling papers. I started smoking properly a couple of weeks before my sixteenth birthday and it rapidly became an area of discontent within my foster family. Holding one end tightly between my lips I search my pockets for a lighter. My ears prick up at the sound of a voice, the homeless shelter manager, growing louder as she approaches. Whipping the unlit cigarette from between my lips, I conceal it beneath a thin pillow. Glancing over my shoulder I see her walking side-by-side with a woman in her late forties who repeatedly dabs her eyes with a screwed up tissue.
“I’m afraid that our records are confidential so I won’t be able to search for a name, but you’re more than welcome to have a look around to see if she’s here. What did you say that your daughter’s name was again?” she asks the weeping woman.
“Jessica,” the woman replies in an uneven voice.
I stretch out along the bed, turning to face the wall when they pass. It’s not that I’m unmoved by the woman’s plight, to the contrary I only wish somebody was out there looking for me. I close my eyes and try to picture my own mother’s face. She died when I was very young, and with it any chance I had of a normal life. I often wonder whether I look like her, sound like her, have the same sense of humour or taste in foods.
The sound of the woman’s voice close by startles me, and I roll over to locate it. “She’s been gone for years now, my daughter.” The woman sits on the bed opposite, her tear stained face puffy and blotchy. “You look like her actually. She had beautiful long golden hair and the biggest blue eyes, just like a doll.” She pauses and cocks her head to one. “How did you end up in a place like this sweetness?”
I shrug my shoulders and scan the room like I’ve only just noticed what a shithole this place is. “I was put into care by my dad when my mum died, and I never really found a foster family that I fitted in with.”
“That’s really sad, but not your fault,” she says reassuringly, reaching out to pat the back of my hand. “What’s your name?”
“Janey,” I reply.
“Hi Janey, I’m Sue,” she says, smiling widely. “Now this is going to sound pretty crazy, but I have a spare bedroom in my house that’s warm and safe. You’re welcome to stay there and I’d be glad of the company.”
I sit upright remaining silent for long moments whilst my brain tries to decode what she’s just said; then my words fall out on top of each other. “Sorry, what did you say, did you just, that you want me to come and live with you?”
“Obviously you need time to think about it.”
“No,” I say more forcefully than I’d intended. “I mean that I don’t need any time, the answer’s yes.”
A smile tugs at the corners of my lips as we walk out through the main entrance. I hear the rapid click of heels fast approaching from behind, but I don’t turn around until I the centre manager speaks.
“Do you two know each other?”
Sue whirls around defensively. “She’s my daughter,” she replies, flashing me a mischievous smile.
I laugh and nod in agreement. It’s obvious that the centre manager’s sceptical about the arrangement, but I’m now legally an adult and consequently she’s unable to prevent me from leaving.
Without hesitation I climb into Sue’s silver Mercedes with fairy stickers down the side that read, ‘Powered by fairy dust’. The car journey back is comfortable as the conversation flows easily between us. I feel excited as we drive through fashionable housing estates with detached houses and paved drives. Once inside the house Sue leads me upstairs and pushes open the first door that we come to. It swings open revealing a large room with a bay window overlooking a paddock and a small church beyond. On the far wall is a huge bed covered with throws spilling off the sides like icing on a cake.
“Well this is it, make yourself comfortable,” Sue says, turning to leave.
I read the plaque hanging on the bedroom door surrounded by butterflies, ‘Jessica’. “Sue, I thought you said you had a spare room. This feels like a very special room.”
“Call me Mum. And of course you can stay here, this is yours now. Why don’t you take off those old clothes and have a long bath? I’ll have some clean ones waiting for you on the bed when you get out.”
The bath stands in the middle of the bathroom supported by four chrome lion’s feet. I run the water as high as I dare without it spilling over the sides as I relax into its contours. The warm foamy water penetrates my cold stiff joints, drawing out my worries and dissolving them into the water. I’ve never been inside a house like this before. My real home, with my father, was small and damp with piles of rubbish that collected on every surface. And the foster homes that I’d been placed in bustled with children of all ages making it impossible to get even a moment’s solitude or relaxation.
As the water cools I climb out and swathe myself in a fluffy white towel before softly padding my way back into my room. Jessica’s room. On the bed as promised are a new set of clothes laid out for me to dress in. A pair of pale blue jeans, a white t-shirt with a picture of a cartoon mouse on the front, and a pale pink hoody. Not exactly what I’d have chosen to wear myself, but they’re clean and smell fresh so I dress eagerly.
I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror that’s stood on a dressing table next to a doll’s house that stands almost as tall as me. Looking at my reflection I feel uneasy, like an imposter in someone else’s life wearing their clothes in their room.
Hesitantly I push open the living room door and peer in. The room is clad in heavy wallpaper with porcelain plates hanging from it. In the corner of the room stands a television set quietly talking to itself and lighting up the room in flashes. Mum is knitting on a pink velvet sofa with a bag of brightly coloured balls of wool next to her.
“Jessica, sorry Janey. You look lovely darling,” she says, gathering up the bag and patting the empty sofa cushion next to her. “Come and sit down.” I perch tentatively on the edge of the seat feeling awkward, before slowly relaxing back into the welcoming foam. Our shoulders touch and she smiles at me. “It’s lovely to have some company after all this time. I get so lonely on my own, do you?”
I nod subtly, not because I don’t agree but because I’ve never really had anyone to miss. Maybe this is where all that changes.
I’m awoken by the mouth-watering smell of bacon frying that wafts up the stairs and into my room.
“Breakfast’s ready,” Mum calls up the stairs in a musical voice.
My stomach growls in deep appreciation as I slide from beneath the sheets into a pair of white fluffy slippers and slink down the stairs. “Coming,” I call back.
The small wooden table in the kitchen groans under the weight of the banquet that’s laid out. A large pot of tea is placed equal distance between two delicate teacups resting on saucers. Next to the teapot is a whole rack of white, wholemeal and brown toast with a wide range of preserves to choose from.
“Help yourself,” Mum says whilst plating up what I think is eggs Benedict. “There’s plenty more where that came from.”
“What can I say, this is amazing. Thank you so much” I gush, overwhelmed by her effort. “I’ll wash up of course,” I add as an afterthought.
“There’s no need for that love. I’m just doing what any good mother should.”
The words sting, although I know she didn’t mean them to be offensive. I wonder whether this is what my mother would have done if she’d lived long enough, and I can’t help thinking how different my life could have been.
Mum hands me a plate before taking the seat opposite me. “It’s just nice to have someone to cook for again.”
After breakfast I lie across the sofa in the living room watching the news channel. A searing pain burns the inside of my stomach. Drawing my knee’s up to my chest I take deep breaths hoping that the pain will subside, but it intensifies. It feels like I’ve swallowed boiling water which has blistered my digestive track, pooling in my stomach and scolding my stomach lining.
Mum pokes her head around the living room door. “Are you are okay sweetheart?” I force my grimace into a smile and relax my clenched fists, trying my best not to appear ungrateful because I’m not used to such rich food. “Just a bit of stomach ache that’s all, it’ll pass soon.”
“Why don’t you go for a lie down?” she suggests.
I try to stand but another stab of pain pierces my side and I collapse back onto the sofa.
“Let me help you,” Mum says taking hold of my arm and hoisting me up.
We make our way slowly up the stairs, but I feel secure in her grip and she moves intuitively with my body. I wonder whether she’s ever worked as a nurse because they need to be able to help people up. I feel embarrassed as she helps me back into bed. It’s like my body’s unable to accept that good things can happen to me and is rebelling.
I spend the next few hours alternating between restless sleep and excruciating pain but by the evening I’m starting to feel a little better. Mum pushes the bedroom door open slowly but when she sees that I’m awake she walks into the room.
“I’m going to the supermarket. Is there anything you need?”
“No thank you. I’ve got everything I need and more.”
“Okay darling, well I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
I listen to her footsteps as she descends the stairs and hear the front door slam closed behind her. Left alone in the house I’m filled with the curious feeling again that I’m an actor filling in for somebody’s part. I find myself rolling out of bed before I consciously make the decision to move, and slowly inch my way out of the door and down the landing, past the bathroom, towards mum’s bedroom.
A twinge of guilt nags at the periphery of my consciousness but I suppress it and push the bedroom door firmly open. I need to gain a better understanding of the woman who’s taken me into her home. I think she’d tell me if I asked but I don’t want to blunder into a sensitive issue without knowing. And so far all I know about her is that she had a daughter called Jessica.
Floral patterns cling to the curtains, duvet cover and wallpaper. The carpet is pink and faded in the places that have been walked most often. Everything in the room looks well made and I suspect it would have been expensive in its day, but it now looks dated and tired. Above the bed hang framed photographs of a young girl with straw coloured hair, like mine, and azure blue eyes. Jessica. As I move my gaze around the room I watch as the girl grows up into a young teenager but she’s now lost all her hair and her skin looks paper thin. The last photo on the dresser shows her about my age but her body’s withered and her looks ravaged by sickness.
My mind’s spinning. How can this be the girl that Mum said she was looking for in the homeless shelter? She doesn’t look well enough to have been able to run away.” I stare at the photos intently. Perhaps she had two daughters. But the closer I scrutinize the photos the more convinced I become that they are the same person.
Click. I hear the front door open once more and the rustle of carrier bags being bustled in. Startled, like I have been caught in the middle of a crime, I rush to leave but another crippling pain in my stomach renders me unable to move quickly. Leaning on the wall for stability I walk myself round towards the door as I hear her footsteps coming up the stairs. Lunging towards the bathroom I spin around to make it look as if I’m just coming out of it.
She pauses, momentarily looking between me and her open bedroom door.
“Everything okay?” she asks.
“Yeah I just had a bit of stomach ache again, but I’m alright now.” It isn’t a complete lie, but it isn’t the whole truth either.
“I bought a nice bottle of Pinot Grigio and I was wondering if you feel well enough to share it?”
In the summer I used to sit on the river bank with other people from the homeless shelter drinking extra strength larger. It was fun but I’d choose a cold glass of white wine any day.
“Sounds amazing,” I reply.
I follow her back downstairs, feeling guilty about my intrusion on her privacy.
“Take a seat in the lounge whilst I put away the rest of the shopping,” she says pushing the door ajar.
“I’ll help you.”
She looks almost disappointed for a moment, but then shrugs her shoulders. “I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to have a bit of help around the house.”
“How long has it been?” I ask curiously.
“Oh, almost ten years,” she replies sucking in a long breath and exhaling deeply through her nose.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…,” but I let my voice trail off, not sure how I was going to finish the sentence anyway.
“That’s okay,” she says forcing a smile to her lips. “Let’s go and have a nice glass of wine and watch something on telly.”
I sincerely doubt that we enjoy the same TV programmes but the idea of chilling out on the sofa, sipping wine and watching trash TV sounds perfect.
The wine makes us both sleepy, and after a couple of episodes of Project Runway, Mum falls asleep. I debate whether I should wake her or leave her on the sofa. Gently, I shake her arm. “I’m going to bed now. Shall I turn the TV off and leave you down here?”
“You go,” replies in a sleepy voice.
Climbing back into bed, I turn on the side light. Next to the light lies a well-loved book, ‘Cinderella’. Opening the pages, I run my fingers over the pictures of a girl in rags who finishes as a princess in a grand ball gown. The story feels like it could have been written just for me, and for the first time in my life I feel safe and wanted. I feel the now familiar prickle of guilt on the back of my neck for prying though Mum’s private memories. I need to stop expecting the worst from people and accept that I’m worthy of someone’s help and love. I should just accept it for what it is, regardless of whether it’s fuelled by the absence of her daughter; she needs me and I need her.
There’s a small tap on my door and Mum shuffles in with a glass of milk. She places it on the bedside table and kisses me on the top of my head before going to bed herself. “Goodnight Jessica. Sweet dreams.”
I read the book and sip my milk until my eyes begin to close. Content.
Hot pain seers my insides like molten lava, rousing me from my peaceful slumber. Each movement burns like a red hot poker, taking my breath away so I’m unable to call out. Throwing the duvet back, I try to swing my legs off the bed but my insides twist like a snake, forcing me into the foetal position. Nausea rises from the pit of my toxic stomach and rapidly makes its way up my oesophagus. I cough which morphs into a heave, bringing up the bitter tasting fluid which splashes onto the bed sheets.
Doubled over, I roll myself off the side of the bed and stagger bent double down the landing to the bathroom. Another wave of nausea brings up more yellow tinged fluid that splashes into the sink and runs down the drain. Memories of my father vomiting into the kitchen sink after he’d been on a bender come flooding back with every retch.
Once the heaves have reduced to gurgles, I sit back onto the toilet seat, exhausted. Through the crack in the door I catch a glimpse of something from inside Mum’s room, an eye.
In the morning I’m relieved that deep restorative sleep has rejuvenated my body. However, the stench in the room is almost suffocating and my sheets cling to me where I vomited on them last night. Peeling myself out, I shuffle into the bathroom and climb into the shower still wearing my pyjamas. The warm water cleanses my battered body as I watch the dirty water drain away down the plug. No bath today.
Re-entering my bedroom I notice that the bedding has been changed but Mum doesn’t say anything. She has a knack of moving unnoticed, almost behind the scenes without asking for thanks. I think back to the photos of Jessica in Mum’s bedroom, I guess she was a nurse after all.
“Are you out of the shower?” Mum calls up the stairs.
“Yeah sorry, did you want it?”
“No I was just checking when I should start breakfast.”
“Oh I’m really not hungry. I still feel pretty awful.”
“All the more reason to keep your strength up,” she says disappearing towards the kitchen. “I’ll start now.”
Pulling open several drawers in the dresser, I rummage around for items of clothing that aren’t pink. My hands settle on a pair of stone washed jeans and a plain red t-shirt, although both are on the tight side. Presumably they were worn by the Jessica in the last photo.
I pull open a few more drawers to inspect their contents. Hair and makeup paraphernalia in the first draw, art equipment in the second, and a sketch book lies in the bottom of the third. Reaching down I lift up the book which has a hand drawn picture of a fairy on the front, but as I tilt it a small booklet falls out. It’s a passport. Surely Jessica wouldn’t have run away from home without her passport. I feel like a detective trying to work out the most likely series of events that have taken place. If only stuffed toys could speak, they could tell me everything their black beady eyes have seen.
“Jessica,” Mum calls.
“Breakfast’s ready,” she adds.
“Coming,” I reply, sliding the sketch book and passport back into the draw and pushing it closed.
The spread across the kitchen table is as decadent as yesterday, with stacks of American style pancakes and croissants. But with last night’s sickness still fresh in my memory, I don’t feel hungry and the smell threatens to make me gag. Taking a glass from the table I walk over to the sink and fill it with tap water before sitting down and taking a slice of brown toast.
Mum watches me disapprovingly. “You can’t live on dry toast.”
“I know. I just really can’t bring myself to eat anything else this morning.”
“What about a nice cup of tea?” she says reaching for the teapot.
“Sorry. I’m fine with just water.”
She raises her eyebrows. “Okay then. It’s just that I went out and bought all of this stuff for you.”
“I know and I’m very grateful. I just still feel pretty rotten.”
We eat our breakfast in silence. Mum stands up unannounced and walks out of the room, followed by the sound of the TV talking. I think she’s annoyed with me but I’m not sure why so I decide to wash the dishes up alone before going back up to my room.
Looking out of the bay window at the far end of my room, my gaze falls upon the small church and graveyard in the distance. If Jessica did die from her illness then she’d surely have been buried there. I stop myself and step back from the window. It shouldn’t matter to me whether Jessica died or ran away; either way a mother lost her daughter and I’m sure Mum will tell me about it when she’s ready. My whole life I’ve wanted nothing more than to be part of a family and I won’t throw this away.
Marching purposefully back down the stairs, I push open the living room door. Mum doesn’t look up from her knitting but I know she’s aware of my presence.
“Is it okay if I join you?” I ask hesitantly.
She nods but doesn’t answer.
“I’m sorry if I offended you earlier, I didn’t mean to.”
“I know,” she says laying down her knitting. “It’s my fault for being so sensitive. You see my Jessica got ill and withered away before my eyes. I kept trying to feed her up and keep her strong, but the leukaemia had taken hold.” Tears spill from her eyes. “And eventually it took her life.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry” I say rushing over to hug her. “But I thought you said she’d gone missing.”
She nods sorrowfully. “Sometimes I like to pretend that she’s still alive so there’s still a chance that I might find her again. I know that must sound terribly silly.”
“No” I say resting my face against her damp cheek. “No.”
“I’m going to go and lie down for a bit,” she says, grabbing a tissue from the box on the coffee table and disappearing out of the door.
I feel guilty for having caused Mum so much distress, but at the same time it feels good to know why she’s been acting off with me today. It must be very hard to be reminded of such painful memories. I kick something hard on the floor with my foot, a stack of three photo albums. Mum must have been looking at these. I listen for the rhythmic thud as she climbs the stairs, before picking them up. Flicking open the first album I see a young newly married couple. The young woman, although plumper with a broad smile and permed hair, is clearly Mum. The young man with his arms around her waist is handsome, and they look very much in love. I wonder what happened, did they divorce or maybe he died too?
Turning more pages I see the appearance of a small baby dressed in pink that grows into a toddler with bright blue eyes and the fairest blonde hair. Jessica. The family looks happy together until Jessica’s around three-years-old, after then the man no longer features in the family photos. At around five-years-old there’s the first photo of Jessica in hospital, and shortly after that she loses all of her hair. I feel sorry for the little girl, but her eyes still shine brightly with determination.
In the second album there are more photos of Jessica at parties and in her school uniform, however the number of photos of her in hospital increases disproportionately. At around eleven-years-old she has a tube inserted up her nose which remains a permanent feature. During this time Mum’s appearance becomes increasingly dishevelled as it becomes clear that her daughter is going to die. By approximately aged thirteen all the photos of Jessica are of her in a wheelchair, followed by a bed and in the last one she lies in a coffin. I feel my throat tightening and I have to tilt my head backwards to hold back the tears.
I thumb the last album and flip it open. Inside are more photos of Jessica and she looks healthier. Some of the photos are even taken outdoors, at the park and ice-skating. Staring at the photos I feel confused because she looks older. Did she get better and then die later? Turning more pages my confusion increases because although the girls in the photos are wearing the same clothes and all have blond hair and blue eyes, they’re different people. I shudder involuntarily when I look down at my clothes and realise that I’ve become one of them. But where did they go and why are there so many of them?
I hear the soft thud as Mum descends the stairs and rush to reorganise the photo albums. I’m relieved when I hear her walk past and into the kitchen. Quietly I stack them neatly on the floor before lying down on the sofa, pretending to be engrossed in the TV programme that’s playing although I have no idea what it is.
“I made you a cup of tea,” Mum says carrying a mug carefully in either hand. “Homes Under the Hammer, thinking for moving out already?” she says laughing.
“Oh” I say, nervously laughing along at her joke. Sitting up, I take the mug from her outstretched hand. “Lovely, thanks.”
“Oops, I forgot the biscuits” she says disappearing back out the door.
Peering into my mug I see faint traces of a green substance clumped together, swirling in the middle of my tea. Narrowing my eyes I pluck it out and it turns to powder between my fingers. What the hell is this stuff? My mind races back to my recent illness. The onset of my first stomach cramps came after breakfast, and in bed…after I drank the glass of milk that she brought me before I went to sleep. Is she trying to poison me?
“Here we are,” Mum says handing me a pack of biscuits.
It looks sealed so I open it and take out two biscuits before passing the pack back. “Thanks,” I say taking a bite and lifting the mug up, but not far enough that the liquid touches my lips.
After fifteen minutes I clutch my hands to my stomach. “I think I’m going to go back to bed for a lie down because I don’t feel too well again.” I lie.
Mum throws me a sideways glance. “Okay dear.”
I climb the stairs slowly, as if I am in pain, and crawl back into bed, to wait. I hear the predictable soft fall of her feet following me up the stairs.
“Here, this will help Jess,” she says holding a hot water bottle outstretched.
“Thanks,” I say reaching out and taking it.
Then she reaches into her pocket and pulls out a small vile of liquid in a brown glass bottle with a silver spoon. I watch helplessly as she pours the thick dark substance into the well of the spoon.
“And this will help too,” she says thrusting it towards my mouth.
I am pinned helpless like a butterfly on a board. If I decline the medicine then she’ll know that something’s wrong, but if I swallow it I have no idea what’s in it or how ill it could make me.
I swallow it. It tastes like treacle but burns my throat.
She gazes lovingly into my eyes and strokes my hair for a while before going back downstairs to watch TV.
Rushing into the bathroom I cram the index and middle finger on my right hand down my throat until it makes me gag and vomit. I try to purge my body of as much of the liquid as I can so it won’t take effect, but I still feel my stomach tighten and churn.
After around three-quarters of an hour I creep back down the stairs. The living room door’s ajar so I press myself close and listen intently. I hear the slow rhythmic sigh of her breathing as she sleeps on the sofa.
Adrenaline pulses through my vein as I search for my original coat, bag and shoes, but they’re nowhere to be seen. A stab of pain causes an audible gasp to escape my mouth. I’m running out of time. The only coat I see is a light raincoat but I don’t take it because I fear the rustling sound will awaken Mum. I grab a pair of white trainers with lights in the soles that must have belonged to Jessica, but I can’t say with any certainty which one.
My stomach contracts again along with the urge to gag so I shuffle my feet into the trainers without tying the laces and walk determinedly towards the back door. Reaching for the key that’s in the lock, I turn it with a satisfying click. I’m free. I break into an ungainly jog down the back garden, through the gate and into the field beyond.
I don’t know where I’m going, I just need to put some distance between myself and the house, between myself and Mum. Sadness rises within me which I hadn’t anticipated. All I’d ever wanted my whole life was to have a mother to care for me and love me for who I am, and I thought for one fleeting moment that I’d finally found that.
I stumble in the long wet grass and one of the trainers falls off but I don’t have the energy to put it back on. Another wave of nausea floods over me and my body convulses violently. It feels good to be sick outside, to purge my body and my sole as well. Flipping my lank blond hair back I catch sight of the church and graveyard up ahead. I don’t know why but I suddenly have this urge to go and see if Jessica was buried there. I feel great pity for the girl and it’s strange how tightly our destinies have become woven despite never having met her.
Pushing open the black wrought iron cemetery gates I’m surprised to see how few headstones there are dotting the springy green grass. I make my way respectfully through the graves walking up and down each row until I see one called ‘Jessica Howgate’. I’ve never known her second name but the dates show that she died aged only seventeen-years-old, but that was twenty years ago. I wonder what it’s like to lose a child. Is twenty years enough or are you never able to move on, instead permanently trapped by the good memories more than the bad ones?
Suddenly I notice dips in the ground around the grave. I scan the rest of the graveyard but only see depresses where there are headstones. It’s like there are unmarked graves all around me, all around Jessica. What happened to those other girls? The pieces fall into place in my mind like a jigsaw puzzle revealing the bigger picture, and like a visual illusion it suddenly emerges.
Mum did have a daughter called Jessica who died young after a long battle with cancer. Since then she’s been finding girls that look like Jessica, dressing them up as her before chronically poisoning them to mimic her long illness, and then eventually burying them. I don’t know whether to cry or scream, instead I do neither, I just sit.
The crackle of gravel under the wheels of a car calls me back, and I catch a flash of a silver Mercedes with fairy stickers along the side. Mum. Clambering to my feet I begin to run towards the rest of the houses in the village, but she sees me.
“Jessica,” she calls, but I don’t look back.
That’s not my name.
I don’t know how much energy I have left because I haven’t eaten properly for days and feel very weak from vomiting. I run without looking behind me because I’m convinced that if she catches me, she’ll easily be able to overpower me and I know what she’s capable of. I hear her breaths coming in sharp gasps and her footsteps falling close behind mine. Before I reach the houses my legs give out beneath me and I skid to a halt spread-eagle on the floor. I roll over in a panic, expecting to see Mum towering over me, but she isn’t there. My chest heaves as I try to catch my breath again and my legs shake violently as I get to my feet.
I make my way through the houses, looking over my shoulder until I reach a large road where I see a bus stop. Waiting at the stop time slows down. I keep imaging in my mind’s eye Mum’s silver Mercedes pulling up at the side of me, and the thought keeps my adrenaline pulsing. I outstretch my arm when I see a bus and it comes to a holt.
“I’m sorry, I don’t have any money but I need to get to the police station to report a murder,” I blurt out.
Do I even know there’s been a murder; what evidence do I have? It all feels so confused and disjointed like I’m trying to think through a fog. I’m aware that I’m ranting wildly.
The man sat behind the wheel scowls thoughtfully, looking me up and down. He takes in my missing trainer and the remnants of vomit down the front of my t-shirt, and then waves me on with his hand. “Get off at Regent Street,” he says in a rough voice, clearly not wanting to get involved.
The bus grinds to a halt mid-way down an unremarkable road. I walk towards the front uncertainly and the driver points at an ugly concrete 1960s building at the end of the street ahead. Squinting my eyes, I make out the blue words, ‘police station’ written above the door.
“Thanks,” I call over my shoulder as I spill out of the bus and onto the street. People are looking at me, as a homeless person I’m used to people just ignoring me. I must look even worse than I think.
My body screams in protest but I ignore it, driving myself towards the police station as fast as I can. A silver car pulls up at the side of me and I recoil in horror, but when I see a young woman in a business suit walk towards it, I relax again. She looks about my age, but I suspect that’s where our similarities end. A heavy weight descends on me again. Mum and I had seemed to get on so well, was she really trying to murder me to fuel some aberrant psychological need?
My sight dims as I stumble into the police station and I clutch the front desk with both hands for support. The female sergeant looks up at me suspiciously. She probably thinks I’m drunk.
“I need to report a series of suspected murders,” I say, although my voice doesn’t sound as powerful as I’d have liked.
The sergeant rises to her feet like she is standing to attention. “Okay,” she says, pausing like she’s thinking about what she should ask next. “And what’s your name?”
I clear my throat. “Janey,” I say loud and clear. “My name is Janey.”