I did a bad thing once. Not like they all thought though. Not bad like that.
I met a man you see, not your father. He came much later, when all I wanted was safety; someone who’d take me in. Not that it was much different back then. This man, he was kind. Picked me sweet roses and moved me out of the bedsit and into his home; a proper house with a garden, plenty of light. He didn’t want for much really: his dinner on the table, my face all made up when he came through the door. They call it the jealous type. And he had a streak of that about him alright.
Wish I’d never left him all alone that weekend. Wished it then and I wish it now. It was our Joanne’s eighteenth, you see, so I had to go back home to the family. Knew he’d check up on me though. And Mum only went and told him they’d got themselves a lodger; a nice lad from up at the college. Screaming blue murder he was, when she finally passed over the phone.
All the way home I was praying. It’s not that I can’t take a beating. Give me a black eye over a week’s silence any day. I pulled up onto our little drive and just sat in the car as if I was still a child and no one had unbelted me. Then I looked up and it was him – standing in the doorway like Brannell, my old headmaster, about to call me into his office. And as he came towards me, I shut my eyes tight and put my head down with both hands to cover it.
They call it the brace position when you fly on an aeroplane, and I reckon that’s a good name for it, brace. The summer air choked its way into the car as he opened the driver’s door, and I dug my fingers into my roots so it’d hurt less when he yanked me out by my hair. But he just placed his hand on top of mine, eased it open, and held it there. Leant forward and kissed me on the top of my head.
He was sorry for scaring me, he said. Told me I was his baby girl, and I should just come right in as he was cooking dinner: had even got us a cheap bottle of bubbly. I asked him what we were celebrating, and he said, just that I was safely home.
They call it women’s intuition. I went up to the bathroom, my stomach all over the place; a strange kind of relief. I could almost hear the fat steaks sizzling in the frying pan downstairs, smell their bloody juices oozing out and charring the pan. I was just about to put away the bottle of squirty bleach, and that’s when I saw it: a few strands of long blonde hair curled around the plughole. And I knew it. I plucked the evidence from the sink and opened the bathroom window. Let it drift away on the wind. Then he fed me the wine and steak. Even did us individual chocolate desserts in the microwave. And we made love. He told me he loved me. And if this plughole woman had meant anything at all, I knew it was me that he wanted. I knew.
In the morning, when he leant over and kissed me goodbye, he looked me in the eyes all serious, and I almost thought he might pull out a ring.
‘If anyone asks where I was the night before last,’ he said, ‘just say you were here the weekend, won’t you?’
‘Of course,’ I said, trying not to look disappointed. I wondered whether she was a teacher up at the school. Hoped some irate husband wouldn’t come up here, banging at the door and creating a stink. Then, that afternoon, the door did knock, and I repeated what he’d told me in my head. Then I repeated it to the officers standing in front of me.
‘I’m not sure I should be lying to the police,’ I said to him that evening. I’d seen the telly by that time, you see, found out about the dead girls.
‘You fucking what?’ he’d screamed at me.
You’ll have to excuse the language – at least you’re not old enough to repeat it – but that was how it was when he got properly mad. If I was calling him a killer, he said, I could fuck off out the door that very second.
‘Are you? Are you? Are you? Are you? Are you are you are you are you areyouareyouareyou?’ Of course I didn’t think . . . all that terrible stuff on the news, but how could I ask him then, about the peroxide-haired secretary, or the woman from the post office, or the stylish mother with the silky perm.
They came back again, asking the same questions, and I wondered whether she was one of their wives, sneaking out behind his smart-uniformed back as soon as she’d slipped off the handcuffs. Then they came a third time, and that was when I knew I should just tell them the truth. But if I was at home all weekend, and there was nothing to prove otherwise down the plughole, it was almost like those few days could be rewritten. And I didn’t need to keep searching the faces of blonde women, my eyes fingering every strand of hair for a match.
Rhoda Greaves is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Birmingham City University and an Associate Editor at Short Fiction Journal. Her short stories and flash fictions have been listed for a number of literary prizes including Bridport, Manchester, Bristol, Frome, Aesthetica, and Fish, and have been published widely. You can follow her on Twitter @rhodagreaves.