ELLEN AND EMMA

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26 Νοε 2013 (πριν από 3 χρόνια και 8 μήνες)

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ELLEN AND EMMA



PART 2: EMMA



CHAPTER NINE: SWEET SIXTEEN



He pushed me onto the bed. The window had been open all evening, and the sheets were cold.
I lay there, looking up at the ceiling, visualising patterns that weren’t there, while he did his
thing. Eventually, he stiffened inside me and it was over. I didn’t even know his name. Happy
Birthday, right?


The night was long and full of the din of traffic. I sat up,
crossing my legs under the duvet,

and
looked down at the snoring stranger. He was

a
n older guy, the silver streaks a blatant telltale
sign of age. On his left hand was something I hadn’t noticed upon first encountering him


a
gold ring


and now that I had, I found that I really didn’t care. There were worse things in life
than shagging

a married man

and if you wanted to know about one of those things, I was your
girl. The window was still open, a winter chill permeating the room. I got up and closed it. Then
I just stood there for a while, gazing out at the picturesque street below, she
eted in a virgin
snow. Wait until tomorrow, I thought. The snow would turn to slush; people would slip and fall.
A wet arse or a cracked skull


that depended on whether or not you were a glass half
-
full type.
The point was that everything which looked nic
e really wasn’t. The truth always stepped out of
the shadows in the end. This especially applied to people. Yeah, I knew a thing or two about the
nature of
them
.

If you wanted to know about

that, too, I definitely was your girl. I went over
and sat on the
edge of the bed, and surveyed my small flat. The walls, all pockmarked and
peeling; the floor, bare and booby
-
trapped with myriad splinters; and the single window level
with the lamppost, a cancerous yellow glaring through the glass like some twisted sun i
n an
alternate dimension. It was the perfect place in which to completely lose your mind, although
that could happen anywhere…anytime. I glanced at the alarm clock. A quarter past midnight.
That was it


all over for another year. After a few more minutes,

I realised my teeth were
chattering,

so

I crawled back beneath the duvet.
Warmth soon returned to me, and it was not
long before my mind broke from its leash and ran off yammering into the darkness of sleep.


Train headlights

chased me through a dream wor
ld, brighter than bright, like the light of
H
eaven gone berserk, burning into and through me, as they raced to catch me up. Those lights
spelled a hunger born from a loss too great; they spelled desperation and madness. That was
because they were not light
s, but eyes. Two eyes, swallowing up my existence and making
nothing of me. The faster I tried to run, the more futile it became, and the less of me there was
with which to escape. I woke up, knowing that those who didn’t get hit by life’s train were
desti
ned to be pursued by it all their days; knowing that this story was mine and, whether I
liked it or not, the power to alter it was beyond my control. I screamed and screamed at the
man in my bed to get out,
and he did, hopping and staggering into his cloth
es in his rush to be
clear of my sudden hysteria. Quiet fell over the room again. I sat huddled in my duvet, steeped
in thought, lost in the small hours


those hours that always moved with such slothful defiance
when you were on your own, almost as if a r
ift in time had opened, and the idea of daylight was
no more than a fantasy. I thought about a lot of things. I thought of the past, and that was
difficult; I thought of the future, and that was near impossible. And then I thought that it says
much more ab
out your life not in how you begin the day, but in how you finish it.

Yeah, Happy Sixteenth.



CHAPTER TEN: ROCK, MEET BOTTOM



I awoke to the sounds of industrial glumness, well
-
rested, and yet fatigued from the very sight
of a place where I didn’t want

to be. A police siren lamented from afar, foretelling another sad
story among countless more in progress. The alarm clock read 4:42 A.M. ‘Piece of shit,’ I
muttered, throwing back the duvet. The bed smelled of alcohol, semen and sweat

meaning I
did, too.
I checked my Blackberry on the bedside table


eleven was the proper time


and
headed into the bathroom. The water was cold, but it ensured cleanliness. I poured it over
myself until I was too numb to shiver, and then I got to scrubbing.

When I came out o
f the bathroom, my towel wrapped loosely around me, I spied the envelope
caught in the letterbox.
Slitting it open with my nail, I moved to the window and held it up to
the reluctant winter light. It was from my college. A permanent cut in my bursary had b
een
made as a consequence of my erratic attendance, the letter informed. Also included was a
warning that the funding would be withdrawn in full and I would be removed from the course

unless I made a turnaround in commitment. I sighed, and let the letter f
all to the floor.
It was
hard to be committed to anything when you had seen how life could break people. It broke
them, and they cut anyone that they came into contact with, for they were nothing but shards.
I had once known a broken woman; in my dreams, I

still did. I frequently shared my bed with
broken men. How much blood did I have left to bleed? Or was I broken, too? Were we all mere
fragments of something once complete, scraping against one another in desperation as we
tried to fill the cracks and res
tore the semblance of that wholeness, and perhaps even joy, that
we knew so long ago? I didn’t know. All I did know was that I had seen life’s second face, and it
was a cruel face. That woman


I would not speak her name, the thought of her was enough


ha
d been a victim. That was true. Still, that truth did nothing to soften my hatred for her. She
had uprooted me from my innocence, dragged me through a mental netherworld, and exposed
me to that which people quintuple my age could not have coped with.
And
the greatest sin of
all? She never let that tra
in hit me. The bitch saved me
-

s
aved me so that I could grow up,
haunted and tormented
,

a thing foreign to my peers, a teenager apart from all the other
teenagers.
Yes, it was hard being committed

to anything

outwith these four walls. Very hard. I
sank onto the bundled duvet at the bed’s edge with my heavy cloud of thoughts, pains and
concerns of the past and present warring for precedence. Does anyone else my age feel like this?
I wondered. I sit and watch th
em sometimes; they all seem so…free. Is there? I both hoped that
there was and wasn’t. More than anything, I wanted to find someone who could understand
me inside
-
out, but I wouldn’t have wished my worst enemy down the path necessary to acquire
that unders
tanding. It was a path

of ghosts and headlights in the shadows.


When you wanted time to fly, it refused to unfurl its wings. That was universal knowledge. After
a long time in which no second passed unnoticed, evening teased its way into being. I locked
t
he door, descended the stairs, and passed through a close so thick with graffiti that that was all
it appeared made from; a passageway built from vulgar colours and obscene slogans.
Within
five minutes on the street, my legs were blue. The slush was twice
its usual challenge in heels.
Cars honked as tens of people paid the red man no heed and spilled onto the road like some
failed attempt at mass suicide. I worked my way into the heart of the city, zigzagging between
Christmas shoppers and gaggles of partyg
oers, becoming deaf whenever I passed a beggar, and
wishing I truly was deaf when I came within earshot of a busker strumming away on an acoustic
guitar and singing some mawkish slop. I went on by Sauchiehall Street, past the clubs. Clubs
weren’t for me. P
laces like
The Garage
made me shudder.
I’d no desire to be a muppet magnet
for the night. My interest lay in men, not boys competing with their mates to get laid. Those
men tended to broken, yes, but that was okay


it meant that they were closer to my way

of
thinking.
Whenever I felt like forgetting everything for a little while (which I often did) and
bleeding in the arms of a stranger, I always headed to the same pub. It was one of the city’s
well
-
kept secrets.
You had to be on a certain path to wind up
at those doors. You know the path.


Three days until everyone’s favourite commercial shitfest. I would probably be joining the
beggars on the street before 2013. Dad’s money was not enough without my bursary

and the
bursary
would

be going bye
-
bye. Where was the sense in lying to myself?

I wasn’t going back to
college. Your heart needed to be in something like that, and mine just wasn’t. Home was no
option either. I never wanted to see that town again. A shame the rapture was a fal
lacy; I would
have welcomed it with open arms and a kiss. I put my worries away, and entered the pub.



CHAPTER ELEVEN: FULL CIRCLE



Of the limited clientele, I was one of three females and the sole person under thirty. Quiet held
sway in that dim room, p
unctuated only by the clunk of glasses being set down and the murmur
of infrequent conversation. The TV mounted on the wall behind the bar was as before:
cracked
and useless. I sat at one of the stools, and smiled at the barman. If he recognised me from
pr
evious outings, he gave no sign.

‘A Corona, please.’

He reached under the bar, and handed me a bottle.

‘Cheers.’

‘Three pounds.’

I rummaged through my purse, taking my time, and then came the line. As always.

‘Have that one on me,’ said a voice to my right
.

A few stools down from mine sat a man in a black pinstripe suit wearing black leather gloves
and designer glasses. So white was his hair it would not have surprised me if it could glow in the
dark. I flashed him a smile. ‘Thanks very much.’

‘What’s your
name?’

‘Emma. What’s yours?’

‘Short and sweet. I like it.’

He stepped down from his stool, and took the one next to me. The
scent of his cologne was thick and pleasant. ‘What are you doing in a place like this, Emma?’

‘I come here all the time,’ I told him
.

‘I would have thought a younger girl like you would find the clubs more appealing.’

‘We’re not all alike.’

‘No, I can see that. You’re quite different, aren’t you?’

‘What?’

‘I said you’re quite different. Aren’t you?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘’Course you are. Wh
y else would you be here?’

‘Because it’s more…mature.’

‘Just like you. Can I get you another drink?’

‘If you want.’

‘There’s a price this time, though: you have to tell me about yourself.’

‘What do you want me to say?’

‘Whatever you’re willing to.’

‘Why don’t you tell
me

about
yourself
?’

‘Young people are more interesting.’

I laughed. ‘Fine, I’m sixteen and I live here in Glasgow.’

He nodded. ‘Go on.’

‘I don’t know what else to say. I’m really not that interesting.’

‘I find you intriguing.’ He pushed

a second Corona towards me. ‘Don’t be shy.’

‘That’s the last thing I am.’

‘Then prove it.’

Our eyes locked. His cold, gloved hand was resting on my knee. I didn’t remember him putting
it there. I took it in both of mine and slid it up to my thigh.

‘I’m a

student,’ I said, ‘but not for long.’

‘Why’s that?’

‘My heart’s not in it.’

‘What is it in?’

‘Nothing.’

‘I was right: you really are intriguing.’

‘You’re teasing.’

‘No, I don’t do that.’ He stood up, patting down the creases in his suit.

‘Where are you go
ing?’

‘I’m leaving, and you’re coming with me.’

‘Oh, am I?’

‘Yes.’

I shrugged. This is what I had come for, anyway. ‘If you say so.’


We rode until the city left our vision, and then our minds, winding up on a road unknown to me.
I had only moved to Glasgow last year and, past the perimeter of its centre, much of it
remained unfamiliar. I looked sideways at the man driving. He had asked
me if I lived with my
parents and I’d told him, no, I didn’t live with my dad, and I couldn’t live with my mum because
she was dead. Leukaemia. She had started at that hospital as a nurse, a dream come true, only
to finish in it as a patient. He ha
d then a
sked me if I would like

to come home with him.
The
answer had been yes. This one was different from the rest. Even though he appeared to have
no troubles of his own, he showed a willingness to hear of mine. An enthusiasm, to be more
precise. I didn’t know
if I would open up to him


or if it would be worthwhile


but I did like
him. That storybook mysteriousness that a girl enjoyed


this man was dripping in it. Or would it
have been more accurate to call it drowning? He hadn’t even told me his name when I’
d asked.
That much would have been welcome at this point.

‘You’re quiet,’ he stated.

‘Drinking makes me sleepy.’

‘But you’ve only had a few.’

‘I’m a lightweight.’

‘Well, it won’t be long now.’

I rested my face against the cool glass, watching the landscape

pass in the fading light. My
stomach churned. I should’ve eaten before drinking, but I never did. He removed a hand from
the steering wheel, and turned on the radio, as if to fill the silence.

Neil Diamond was singing
Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon
. I thoug
ht to myself that it was hard to hear that song without the
instant accompanying image of Uma Thurman OD’ing on smack.

‘Hang in there,’ he said, like I was bleeding out on his car seat or something.

I didn’t respond.

Eventually, we pulled into a driveway.
The man turned and gave me a small smile. ‘We’re here.’

‘Good,’ I said, and I meant it.

To enter through the door of another was better than electing to
stay behind your own door, unwilling to partake in life. A stranger’s door, perhaps, but we were
all st
rangers in this world, each to the other. What was there to lose?


I sat down on the leather settee, and he brought me a glass of water.

His living room, while
sleek and spacious, gave the impression that it had seen little living

done

in it. The walls wer
e a
very bright white, made more so by the overhead lights, and the room itself was too tidy. There
was only a single picture; a framed group photograph above the fireplace. In it, he was standing
with several boys and girls, all of whom were dressed in gr
aduation robes. Everyone looked
happy, including him.

‘Do you teach?’ I asked him.

He followed my gaze to the photograph. ‘I taught.’

‘Where? What subject?’

‘I taught Philosophy at Plathmore University.’

‘Oh, wow. A thinker in my midst…’

‘Yes, but he’s th
inking of only one thing right now.’

‘Uh
-
huh.’ I grinned. ‘Are you going to open up my mind?’

‘That, or another part of you.’ He ran a hand through my hair.

‘Why don’t you take off those gloves?’

His steel grey eyes bored into mine. ‘I have bad circulation
, and this place takes a while to heat
up. It’s a big house.’

‘I’ll heat you up,’ I assured him. I kissed him, gripping at his lower lip with my teeth. He drew me
closer, and began working his way down my neck. He bit my shoulder, and I cried out, but not
so loud did I cry as to miss another sound in that brief second. A faint thump, like a half
-
hearted
poltergeist at work. I opened my eyes. ‘What was that?’

‘What was what?’

‘I heard a noise.’

‘This place is old,’ he said.

For another minute or so, he conti
nued to kiss me. Then he stopped.
‘I have to take a trip to the
bathroom.’ He got to his feet. ‘Back soon.’

I watched him walk off down the hall. ‘Don’t take too long,’ I called after him.

‘I’ll try not to.’


When ten minutes had taken their leave from my
life, I decided to go and find him. There was
no name I knew of by which to call him, so I progressed down the unlit hall in silence. Doors on
my left, doors on my right, all hiding rooms within which there was no apparent activity or
presence. I moved on.

Further along, I heard what I believed to be the hum of a fan. It was
coming from the room at the end of the hall; from beneath the door, a weak slice of light lent
some vague detail to the hall floor. I knocked on the door. ‘Hey, are you alright?’

No ans
wer.

I knocked again out of mere civility, and then tried the handle. The door was unlocked.

With
great trepidation, I eased it open an inch at a time, at last speeding up when it had reached a
half
-
arc. One of the taps in the sink was running, but the bat
hroom was empty.

I stood in the
threshold, trying to think, trying to shake myself free of encroaching drowsiness. I backed out
into the hall, and tried another door.

Locked.

I tried another. Locked again.

My hand pulled down once more on a different handl
e, and this door gave way.

By the glow of
a small, metallic desk lamp, I found myself to be in what looked like a study. Behind the desk
stood rows of filing cabinets, and a book cabinet stretched the length of the furthest wall. I
walked over to the desk,

and started when I saw what hung from the wall adjacent to it


a
replica of Goya’s
Saturn Devouring His Son
. I wondered why anyone would display such a
morbid painting in their home

especially in a room intended for work and contemplation.
How could any
brainstorming ever get done with something like that hanging before your eyes?

I positioned myself on the edge of the high
-
backed armchair, and opened the top drawer.

Inside were a roadmap and a notebook. I lifted out the latter item, balanced it on my kne
es,
and opened it. Etched so deep in black ink on the first page that it had almost torn through the
paper was the following:

WHAT’S MY PHILOSOPHY? MY PHILOSOPHY IS SUFFERING.

I turned the page. A newspaper clipping had been pasted there


a black and whit
e photo of a
teenage girl with braces. The headline above her read:
JULIE ANNE FAIRBANKS, 17, MISSING.
Below the article, in the same handwriting as on the first page, was:
1989.
Each new page that I
took, I wa
s hit with more girls, every name

accompanied
by a year written in that same black
ink. I was tearing through it now, hands atremble, nearing the end pages of this scrapbook of
the lost.
Another girl, this one with glasses and an off kilter smile.
FRANCINE COPELAND, 22,
MISSING. 2003.
My eye caught a
specific part of the article, and my heart stopped for so long, I
feared it may never start again. ‘A sociology and philosophy student at the esteemed Plathmore
University…’ I whispered aloud. ‘Oh, God...’

There were two pages left.
The second to last show
ed a black haired girl

by the name of Maria
Vermont,
who had
disappeared on her way home last year.
Worst of all was the final page. At
its bottom the numbers ‘
2012
’ were slashed. There was no clipping; the page was blank.

The scrapbook slid from my grasp
and hit the laminated floor with a thunk. My head was
spinning like a Ferris wheel gone haywire. The room and its contents had taken on a blurred
edge as if this world’s reality had been no more than temporary. Two Coronas couldn’t do this
to anyone


I di
dn’t care who you were. But a glass of water from a stranger?

I rose from the chair, too late. Ran for the door, too late. Into the hall, too late.

‘Emma?’

He stood in the hall, soaking up its darkness, a man made of shadows, yet all too solid.
Backwards,

backwards, I retraced my steps into the living room. He moved with me. This living
room had seen very little living, I had thought, and I had been right. Only, I’d had no clue to
what extent. How did I allow myself to arrive here? How stupid are the lonel
y, the desperate,
and the broken? No other kind of person would have fallen for this. Caution lay in happiness; in
minds with the space to house it. ‘I
-
I have to go now,’ I heard myself saying. ‘It’s late, and I
don’t feel well.’

‘All the more reason for y
ou to stay the night,’ he said.

Christ, wasn’t the black humour of life the richest shade of ebony you’d ever seen? I spent
damn near every weekend pulling broken men, and here I had landed one who got off on doing
the breaking. This wasn’t ill fortune; th
is was fate with a grudge.

‘Are you still worried about that noise? It was nothing. I’m a bachelor, I promise.’

‘I believe you, and I appreciate your offer, but I’d really just prefer to go home.’

‘You don’t know where home is. That’s what I liked about yo
u, Emma.’

‘We can hook up again,’ I said, still backing away. ‘I’ll give you my number.’

He emerged into the light, one of a kind. A philosopher without reasoning. A self
-
appointed
Angel of Death, driven by a purpose known only to himself. His inner workin
gs a mystery to
everyone who wasn’t him, yet that he functioned in a manner different from the rest of us
made clear from the look in his eyes. I looked into them and I saw no quality

I could call good.

‘I hook up with whores once,’ he said. ‘Once…and once

only.’

From across the room, he raised his gloved hands, fingertips outstretched, until they were level
with my throat. Then he came for me.



CHAPTER TWELVE: I UNDERSTAND



In my haste to put the glass coffee table between us, I staggered and almost fell

through it. My
head felt like a forest’s worth of wood, and he knew it. I picked up the empty glass, the
contents it had held now fast at work within me, and lobbed it at him. It shattered against the
wall behind him. The only projectile available to me h
ad been wasted. All that was left to do
was run

if I could. I sagged forwards, and then shook my head from side to side in a desperate
effort to sustain the world before me. If my eyes were to close, never again would they open.
He chased me around the set
tee once, and once more, and then with abrupt speed, he turned
and ran at me counter
-
clockwise. I clattered across the floor in panic

and then one of my
heels broke. I fell against the wall, sliding down into the glass debris.

So, I thought, everything is
to end here. The tracks go no further, and the train nears. There had
been no other alternative. We lied to no one more than ourselves. How far could I have
run

before passing out? Not far enough. I was his for the taking.
He stood over me as my
consciousness seeped away. I was certain my ankle was broken, but I couldn’t feel any pain,
and it didn’t matter, anyway. Injury no longer bore relevance.

Horrific didn’t begin to describe
what he did next. I wanted to vomit and cry at once, but I was too
tired to do either. I watched,
helpless, as he unbuttoned his trousers to reveal his erect penis. He took it in his ever
-
gloved
hand, and masturbated to his triumph and my defeat.

His victim in her circle of shards.

Shards.

I looked down. Glass clung to my

palms like grit, and the floor was speckled with red. A larger
piece lay by

my

leg. Like a wounded spider, my hand crawled towards it


and seized it. Using
the wall, I pushed myself in his direction, stabbing the glass shard into his glans before he coul
d
make to stop me. His scream was of the kind that consumes you and rips loose the rivets from
your mental framework; the kind affiliated with the highest echelons of agony. When you heard
a scream like that, you knew what it was, even if you had never hea
rd it before. You knew what
it was because you woke up into this world, hoping never to hear such a sound tear your own
throat asunder. So enormous was the blood flow it was like bearing witness to the coming of
the first plague. He sank to his knees, clut
ching at himself, and with the last of my fleeting
energy, I embedded the dripping sliver into his Adam’s apple. I lay there on the floor, his body
on top of mine, covered in a warm blanket of gore. ‘How much more?’ I asked the ceiling in a
voice so thin i
t may have been imagined. ‘How much more of this?’

Did I not already know the answer, though? Was I not proof that life shovelled shit not in equal
proportions, but load after steaming load onto specific individuals until they collapsed under
the weight of

it? Fate, right? The path you walked was the path you walked. I quit fighting, and
let my eyes shut at last. And then I was gone.


Flakes of dried blood crumbled to maroon dust as I struggled to sit up. I pushed and pulled at
the corpse atop me until its
suit detached itself from my dress with a sickening Velcro sound,
showering me with more blood flakes, and it rolled onto the floor beside me. Glass littered the
living room like a crystal meth spillage. I crawled through it on my hands and knees, ignoring

the pieces that nipped and picked at my skin, and dragged myself onto the settee. I lifted a
forearm to shield my eyes from the sunlight streaming through the curtained window, and then
I cried. I cried not solely for the night before, but for a decade pa
st, too. I cried for my life so far;
sixteen years’ worth of tears


from birth to here. It took a while to empty those loaded ducts,
but it needed to be done. Not to heal, but to persevere. Healing was for optimists;
perseverance for realists. Maybe I was
n’t much of a realist, as I believed that fate did with us as
it pleased, but regardless of the journey I thought myself to be set upon, I placed great value in
facing the facts every step of the way. It was true that I could end my life whenever I chose,
but
would it not then also be true that certain events beyond my control had transpired to lead me
to commit such an act?

I just couldn’t see how anything could be arbitrary. Exhausted all over
again, I drifted off, waking hours later to something I dared
not believe my ears had heard. But
it came again, and I couldn’t treat it like it never was.

That sound.

Thump.

Far away, yet…

Thump.

Under this roof.

Thump.

No…

Thump.

Under the floor.

Thump.

I got up, and limped along the doors. This time I moved past th
e bathroom. The hall opened up
to a small square of a room. Here there were two additional doors: one opposite me, which I
assumed led to the back garden, and one on my right. It was this second door that I swung
open. Wooden steps descended into the dark

and
from somewhere in that dark was

the
source of the thumping.

Loud. Consistent. Alive.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

I paused with my hand on the banister, turned back, and searched the house until I’d found the
kitchen. When I had armed myself from the knife rac
k, I returned to the staircase. The steps
were narrow; my progress slow. This time, a more violent thump from below, followed by a
silence that disturbed me in a way the prior sound could not. I held the knife in front of me as if
it were a holy relic, fee
ling not unlike some foolhardy prophet trespassing into Hell’s throne
room to slay the snake which slithered there. The silence continued, intensified rather than
interrupted by the occasional creak of my feet on the steps. At last, I reached the bottom an
d
cast about in the dark until my hand found the light string. The basement took on a shape and
form around me, and I stood blinking in the sudden brightness.
Upon adjusting, my eyes like
twin magnets

were drawn

to the centre of the room. I uttered a small

scream and dropped the
knife. Bound to the support beam with coils of rope was a girl with black hair. She was gagged
and naked. Her head hung between her knees and blood dripped from her hair onto her
shoulder blades. Blood ran also from the beam, and I
realised what she had been trying to do to
herself.

I crouched beside her, hoping she had failed. My fingertips sought a pulse

and found
it. I toppled backwards in relief. For a minute or so


maybe longer


I stayed like that, and
stared at the girl like
I’d never before seen anyone like her. I guess I hadn’t. It was then that I
was able to put a name to her face.

‘Maria Vermont,’ I whispered.

Yes, it was her. The girl from 2011. The sole surviving inductee of the scrapbook upstairs.

What
should I do? I wondered. Wake her, or wait for her to wake? To be honest, I wasn’t sure I could
bear to wait. I looked around the basement. On the girl’s right were two steel buckets and a
tray. The bucket nearest me overflowed with wads of toilet ro
ll, all bloodstained. The contents
of the other bucket were hidden from me, but the smell told me all I needed to know. I reached
forwards and pulled the tray across the concrete floor with as much care as possible.

Water.
Clean and clear. I sat cross
-
legg
ed in front of her, and lifted her chin to expose her face. The
remaining hand I used to dip in the cool water and sweep back the dry strands of hair from her
shut eyes. I eased the rag from her mouth, then I dabbed at her skin with my fingertips. Her
fore
head, her cheeks, her lips. There was so much said in that face, I realised, even as it slept.
Every page of her story was there, readable by any who cared to look hard and long enough. In
spite of all that she carried in her face, she possessed a beauty t
hat remained untouched.
Whatever that monster had done to her down here in the dark, he had been unable to take
that from her. Probably because he hadn’t been able to see it in the first place. Probably
because he had not gone through a single day since th
at of his spawning where he had ever
understood such a thing. We are forever without that which is outwith our comprehension.

When she came to, those pale lids would recede. Eyes like maelstroms, no doubt. What would I
see in them? If I could look into the
m. If I could stand it.
The arrival of the moment where I was
to find that out was soon upon me, as if the mere thought of it had hurried her into
consciousness. Just after I had undone the ropes which bound her, Maria Vermont opened her
eyes. They were not like maelstroms, but l
ike twin lakes of calm. The too
-
calm quality of a
person given up. I recalled what she had tried to do to herself and should have realised that this
is how they would look. We stared at each other like primitive beings to both of whom words
were a thing un
discovered. And they might as well have remained undiscovered, for I could
think of none of worth to speak right there and then. I decided that was because there weren’t
any, and I leaned towards her and hugged her. I held her, and not knowing what to do n
ext, I
continued to hold her, our hearts beating back and forth, as if they would do the talking for us.

Perhaps some form of communication was exchanged in their rhythm, for she then let her face
sink into my shoulder and cried. Never in my life had I hea
rd someone cry like that, not even
myself. She seemed to spill from her eyes her very soul, an anguish so palpable it could have
taken on its own form and climbed the stairs to the world above. I don’t know how long or how
briefly we remained like that


o
nly that somewhere along the way, I joined her in her tears:
two lost girls in a madman’s playpen. The serpent lay slain, but its venom lingered. We would
leave this house poisoned. Was there an antidote for something like this? I thought not. I
thought ma
ybe that was one of many reasons why we cried. She raised her head and looked at
me. Her lips parted,
and then

closed again.
She instead focused her energy into standing up. I
rose with her, each in need of the other’s help to rise at all, and with time, w
e stood. Arms
around one another’s shoulders, we traversed the basement, two battered minds across a sea
of darkness, watching our feet and never the stairs.

Perhaps we feared that if we lifted our
heads to acknowledge our destination, it would jump furthe
r and further into the distance, until
we circled in hopelessness and sank a final time. Whenever she stopped, I did likewise; on the
occasion that it came my turn to falter, she did the same for me. We left here together, or we
did not leave.
As separate
vessels, so faint was the hope that rattled around within us that it
may have been no more than the ghost of such a thing now passed, yet united we somehow
found ourselves carried

by a determined wind which would see our sluggish progress over this
never c
hanging concrete to the very end. And so it did. I let her take the first step, and then
followed behind her, my hands pressed against the small of her back. Should she fall, I knew
that I didn’t possess the strength to catch her, but I liked to think that

she took some
encouragement from the presence of those hands; hands that, for once, pushed her up instead
of dragging her down. The climb continued, each creak on those haunted steps a minor victory
in a battle surely already lost. The foe lay defeated,
but so maimed
were the survivors that I
couldn’t overlook these questions: To what did we ascend? How could we rediscover our place
in the world, if such a place still remained

if such a place had ever been? Should we not just
turn back and limp down into
that all
-
knowing darkness; that underground sea where dead girls
sailed in search of a light they’d never find? A visitor to Hell becomes a permanent resident, be
it only in mind. There was no walking away from this unscathed. We reached the head of the
st
airs and worked our way along the hall. Upon reaching the living room, I tried to cover her
eyes, but she wouldn’t allow me. She stood over him for an age, like a mourner frozen in time,
but of course it was not for him that she grieved, but for all that w
hich he had stolen from her.

I
watched her, her face hidden to me, knowing that whatever expression took residence there
best remained unseen. When she turned around, she became the first of us to make the leap to
words.

‘Let’s go,’ she said.

We left the l
iving room, and came out onto the porch. The deep orange of an afternoon on the
cusp of evening greeted us as we stepped into the grit driveway. Birds sang out from the refuge
of trees, a species more familiar with happiness than ours would ever be.

I gaze
d at her where
she stood shivering in the luke
-
warmth of a day half gone, and then cast around for something
heavy. By the trees to the side of the driveway was a fallen branch. I crunched over to it, picked
it up, and came back. Then I stood alongside his

car, feet parted, and swung the branch with
both hands. The window shattered on impact, littering the leather interior with glass. I reached
in and pulled the cover from the backseat. After fanning it out to rid it of any debris, I brought it
to her and d
raped it around her. She whispered her thanks. I took her hand, and felt her fingers
curl around my own. We stood there for a while, watch
ing the sky darken, as it must
; listening
to the birds; trying to think empty thoughts, and failing hard.

I realised t
hat I was wrong. We
did

have a place in this world


my place was in her and hers in me. As a sixteen year old, I was
often wrong about a great many things, and it’s not always easy to admit it, but in this case I
can say in all honesty that I’ve never bee
n so glad to have been talking complete and utter
bullshit.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN: A LAST GOODBYE



It wasn’t all uphill from there, but I can assure you that there exists a hill
, and we crested it in
the end. The sun is bright up here, and even though the sh
adows remain clear to the eye, they
are a thing distant and without threat.
We limped through the years a day at a time until we
began to walk again, picking up our pace, carrying us out from under the eclipse of our shared
past, towards the light of our s
hared future. Upon leaving my teens, I soon learnt that you
cannot hide in this world; life is a stage without a red curtain, where the spotlight is never off. I
know this because the two of us tried to hide after that day, but instead found ourselves suck
ed
into a media circus, dancing the dance with lecherous journalists who saw us as their 9/11 piece
,
and providing the people with something to focus on besides their own problems, as they
balanced their dinners on their knees, captivated by one Maria Verm
ont and her equally
troubled co
-
star making their screen debut


an international debut, no less. To say we were
like poster girls for BBC News at Six would not have been unreasonable. Her and I, we were
real
news
; we were
hot



come one, come all. The nee
d to communicate our horrors to other
human beings made the bullshit tolerable. Talking helps. If you don’t talk, you’ll never walk


you’re always going nowhere, stuck in old traps. And so, that was The Story for quite a while:
two young women feeding vis
ions of hell to the brains of an audience who would never
understand. I’d like to think that there were some figures in the industry who thought of us as
heroines


after all, had we not uncovered and forever stopped Scotland’s very own Zodiac
killer?


bu
t for the most part, we were seen as cows with milk aplenty.
Those events, too,
came to pass, and we moved on. Trauma was no feeble minion, however, but a full
-
fledged
monster, which led us into the period of Maria’s OxyContin addiction. I won’t lie: there

were
times where I wanted nothing better than to throttle her


I couldn’t help but feel that she had
abandoned me, along with herself, such a feeling in turn concocting a bitter loneliness in my
heart


yet I knew that I loved her and that if I let her g
o, then I never would have been worth
her time in the first place. The drug was like another person, causing her to slip out of my life,
but I was determined to hold onto her in any way that I could. Together we were perfect, and
even if she didn’t realise

it, I promised myself I’d hang around until she did. Even if that day
never arrived, I would still stay, because I needed her. In hindsight, I guess I behaved like a
hypocrite


she was addicted to the OxyContin and I was addicted to her. That’s now also
behind us. Over the course of my life, enough dark thoughts and opinions have gushed forth
from my mind that I’
ve long waited


without too much hope, if I’m honest


for the day that a
pleasant one might form there

and it did. I don’t remember it
verbatim, but suffice to say that
it translates to this: I got the girl.

Something still wasn’t right, though. Even after the great climb to the hill’s peak, restlessness
lingered in me. The world had heard my story, which had helped, but that was exposure
, not
closure. I needed an ending so that I could continue on penning my new beginning. Its title was
Maria, but before I could go any further, Emma first required her final page.


*


I rolled down the car window to let in the summer air, and turned to loo
k at Maria in the
driver’s seat. She had one hand resting on the wheel; the other was scrolling the iPod set in the
dock


she went with
Spirit on the Water
, and then returned her hand to the gearstick. The light
caught her hair, her eyes, the sapphire rin
g I had placed on her finger a year and a half ago. The
road was ours alone
, but this time the journey belonged to one, not two, of us. Maria had been
adamant, refusing to let me travel by train; I had tried to convince her that it would not have
been an i
ssue, but she had seen through my lie before I could finish it. I tucked my hands
between my thighs in an attempt to prevent their trembling. I looked for a focal point beyond
the glass, but there was no sight to behold out there save the thin white line h
alving the tarmac
through its centre for an eternity of miles. My gaze found its way back to her, and stayed there;
looking at her always made me feel better, even if looking was all that it was. The song changed
to
It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Trai
n to Cry
. Maria then chose that moment to ask me the
same question
she had been asking me since we’d left the house that morning: ‘Are you sure
about this?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, I’m not.’

‘I need to do this.’

‘Do you think I can’t see your hands shaking?’


I shou
ld have done this
years ago, but I wasn’t ready. Now I am.’

‘You don’t look ready to me.’

I shrugged. ‘This is the best I can manage.’

‘I’m not trying to talk you out of it, you know. I’m just concerned.’

‘I know.’

‘I hope some good will come of this
decision.’

‘Me, too.’

As we ate up the miles, the road added more of them. There was time to think, and I didn’t
want that. What I wanted was for us to be where we were going, and I’d handle the rest. I
closed my eyes and sank back into the hot leather, re
leasing a long, slow breath that I was glad
to find did not shake as my hands did.

‘Good idea, you might as well get some shuteye. We’ll be a while yet.’

‘I’m not going to sleep.’

‘You should.’

‘Not unless I’m tired.’

‘And you’re not?’

‘I can’t look at tha
t road any longer


the distance never closes…’

‘It
is
closing, don’t worry.’

‘I see no difference.’

‘Are you sure this is what you want?’

‘With all my heart, but…’

‘But you’re afraid.’

‘A little.’

‘I know you are.’ She took my hand. ‘That’s why I’m here.’


*


Maria reversed

into the last remaining space, and killed the ignition. I had planned on bursting
out of the door the second we parked, but now that the moment was here, all I could do was sit
in silence, further building it up against my will. Neither

of us spoke a word for several minutes
,
and all I could hear was the echoes in my head; the echoes of a seven year old girl making a
very adult request: to have an end put to her. After everything that I had overcome, I could not
believe that crossing a s
mall car park posed such a challenge to me. ‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Okay.’ I
opened the car door, and swung my feet out first.

‘Are you positive you don’t want me to come with you?’ asked Maria.

‘I have to go in there by myself.’

‘Why, though? I don’t understand,

Em.’

‘Because this is my story. I’m responsible for seeing it finished.’

‘Can I not even wait in reception?’

‘I love you, but I need you to wait for me here. Please.’

She nodded. ‘Alright, if that’s what you need, that’s what I’ll do.’

‘I won’t be long.’
I shut the door at my back, and set off across the car park.

The day was
smouldering, the sky afire, yet I felt removed from its heat, as if upon leaving the car, I now
walked in a world of my own. I paused on the steps a second, and then I went inside. It

was no
different from every other place similar to it: white all over. The reception nurse smiled at me.
‘Hi, how can I help you?’

‘Hi. I’m here to visit Ellen Ashcroft.’

‘Are you a relative?’

‘No, I…I’m an old friend.’

‘She’s in the day room; I’ll show y
ou the way. Could you please sign in here?’

I scribbled my name, and then followed her along a corridor. ‘This comes as a real surprise, you
know,’ the nurse told me. ‘Ellen never gets any visitors.’

‘I’ve been meaning to drop in for a while now.’

We enter
ed a large room in which light poured in from all directions. In its centre, figures in
white robes moved back and forth, as if a ceremony were in motion. I supposed that it was


a
ceremony of the lost. Through their disarrayed ranks I was led, to the fa
r end of the room.
There by the window sat a white haired woman in a wheelchair.

‘Ellen? You have a visitor, dear.’ The nurse offered me another smile
, then gripped the handles
of the wheelchair, and turned its occupant towards me. The face that greeted me

belonged to a
person who was not there. ‘I’m afraid she’s always off somewhere these days, the poor soul,
but I’m sure some part of her appreciates your presence. I’ll leave you two alone, shall I?’

I stood before the woman who had abducted me fifteen yea
rs ago, taking in her vacant eyes,
her slack jaw, her nonexistent legs, at a loss for words. And then they were pouring out of me.

‘I hated you for so long,’ I told her. ‘I hated you with every fibre of my being, you selfish, selfish
person. You snatched a
way a seven year old girl and made a ghost of her. What you did was
destructive, despicable and beyond irresponsible. I trusted you and I loved you, and…’ My voice
shook with tears. ‘And you let me down, Ellen. You let me down. I used to believe your actio
ns
were unforgivable, but how can I believe that now? You don’t even know what your actions
were, do you? Do you even know I’m here? It’s me. It’s Emma. Why couldn’t you just settle for
being my friend? Why did you have to want something more? You ruined e
verything…for me
and for yourself. I always find myself wondering how much you had to be hurting to betray me
like you did, and I can’t even begin to imagine what must have been going on inside your head.
You weren’t just broken, were you? You were unfixab
le.’ I took her veined hand in mine; her
face showed no reaction to my touch. ‘Look at you now. Just look at you, left with less than
before. How could you ever think it was a good idea? You silly, silly woman. Oh, you stupid
fucking woman, I forgive you.
I forgive you for everything. Where are you, Ellen? Are you in
there? Won’t you come back? Come back and be my friend again. I forgive you, so come back.’

I crouched in front of her, and waited, but my waiting was in vain. Wiping my eyes, I rose to my
fee
t and looked down at her. ‘I think I’ve said everything that I wanted to say, so I’ll finish
by
telling you that I’ll never forget you. I might remember you for a lot of the wrong reasons,
there’s no escaping that fact, but I’ll also try and remember you f
or some of the good ones,
brief as they were. I’m going now. Goodbye, Ellen.’

I walked across the room, and stopped at the doorway a final time. Somewhere within the
depths of my mind, I imagined I heard a single door shutting

or perhaps it was a coffin li
d. I
thought to look over my shoulder at her before I left, but I knew all too well looking back
changed nothing. All you could do was keep moving forwards.


When I sat down inside the car, Maria asked me no questions. Our mutual understanding of
each othe
r was one of the things that made us a perfect couple. She pulled out of the car park
and onto the road. I switched on the iPod, thumbed through the playlist, and chose a song


Memory Motel
by The Rolling Stones. ‘Do you mind if we don’t head for home str
aight away?’ I
asked her.

‘Of course not. Where do you want to go?’

‘Let’s just keep on driving down the road,’ I said, and turned to look out of the window. The
afternoon was wearing on, but the sun still hung high. The sun was here to stay.