Ok, Lily's latest exceeds our usual limit but, as it's so good, it deserves a slot...
They’re always there now, watching. I don’t know what they want. I don’t know what they’re waiting for.
I have no-one to talk to about it. My husband Harry is long gone – he won’t be coming back any time soon. My neighbours are never around; very busy people they are, both sides. Busy, busy, busy. Number 22 are a pair of bankers, fast-talking money boys in sharp suits. I don’t know their names. Number 18 is home to single Cindy, an ageing air-hostess. Cindy never talks to me, never asks me to water her plants while she’s away, or take in any parcels.
I wish I’d had children. By the time Harry disappeared it was too late. A daughter would have been nice – I could have dressed her in pretty pinks, plaited her hair, cried at her wedding. Still, I’m not sure if I could have told her about this. About them. What would I say? ‘They’re watching me Emily’, or maybe Harriett – after her father.
‘They’re watching me Emily.’
‘Don’t be daft mum’ she’d reply. ‘You’re imagining things’. She’d go back to her life – she was probably a lawyer or a ballet dancer – and she wouldn’t worry about me. That’s how it works. That’s what our relationship is like, me and Emily.
Aspen Avenue runs just off my street at a T-junction. It’s a long road and I can see right to the end of it from my bedroom. I’d suspected the man at number 6 for a while, him with his short dark hair and pointed chin. He always seems to be coming out of his house as I walk past. Random times – I have no routine.
These days he doesn’t even bother pretending not to be interested. He stands at his window, watching me through the curtains. Upstairs or downstairs – he’s not particular. When I’m dressing he sits in his van, smoking, his eyes on my room.
Number 6 was the first, but there are more of them now. The middle-aged couple from the other side of the road at number 13 can’t see my house from theirs so they go out and sit in their car, their headlights on full beam. Just watching.
I went to the park last Friday to feed the ducks. I thought I could see people swimming under the water in the boating lake – were they mermaids I wondered? I remembered seeing them when I was a little girl. They’d follow me as I walked around the edge, as close as I could get without falling in, their faces pale and unsmiling, skin faintly green beneath the lapping waves. What’s the collective name for mermaids? I had my own word – bliss. A bliss of mermaids.
They followed me round the edge, as was our little tradition, their bodies undulating as they swam, their long, long hair never getting caught in their sinewy limbs.
When we reached the little bridge that crosses the lake, they didn’t come out the other side.
I went and sat on a bench, watching the bowlers in their pristine whites, all very serious. I didn’t stay long – they didn’t like me being there, especially the women. I could see them giving me ‘the look’, whispering comments about me into each other’s hearing aids. I got up slowly and wandered over to a gaggle of them.
‘Pssst, pssst, pssst’ I said loudly. I walked away.
Coming home via The Spar I bought a couple of bottles of overpriced Merlot. I’d get drunk tonight. It wasn’t as though I was taking the tablets anymore so it wouldn’t do me any harm.
I stood in the middle of the living-room, wondering what to do with myself, a bottle in one hand and a large glass in the other. I must have stood like that for quite some time because when I looked outside it had got dark without me realising. The couple from number 13 were in their car again, their headlights shining straight at my house. Right at me.
My jaw tightened. I put the glass down on the floor, unscrewed the bottle and poured myself a goblet of liquid cherry – the colour matched my carpet, my sofa, my walls. Needing some courage I took a big gulp of wine. Then another, then another before putting the half-empty glass down. Reaching behind my back I unclipped my bra and walked across to the window. I lifted my T-shirt and pushed my body, my bare breasts against the glass. I shouted.
‘Is this what you want?’
I squirmed about, rubbing myself up and down the double-glazing. Mr and Mrs Hinson from the corner house walked past with their poodle. They didn’t even notice me. Although I expect Mr Hinson did, secretly. His poor wife, she’d be devastated if she knew how he feels about me, fantasising he is in bed with me instead of her.
The headlights went off and I couldn’t actually see the car anymore. I snorted back a laugh and looked down at myself. My nipples felt bruised and sore. My stomach was pink and blotchy, flabby, with little brown smudges. Jesus. When had I last cleaned the windows?
I adjusted my top and clipped my bra back together. I was exhausted. Flinging myself down on the sofa I grabbed the wine glass and drank the remaining Merlot in one go. I paused for a moment before topping myself up. And then I heard a car door slam.
Smoking a fat cigar and leaning against his vehicle, a taxi driver stared straight at me through my grubby windows. I recognised him. Every Wednesday morning he arrives at twenty past eight to pick up Mrs Roberts from number 12, four doors down. He usually arrives five minutes early, so he can ogle me for a bit before setting off with his fare. He never helps Mrs Roberts. He always parks on the opposite side of the street, outside my house, and he lets her hobble over while he gets his eyeful of me. I began to feel angry. What was this taxi man doing here at this time of night? Mrs Roberts would be in bed by now. I prowled up and down the living room, watching him watching me, out of the corner of my eye. Enough.
I marched to the front door, out onto the garden path. I was off the pavement and halfway across the road when he got back in the driver’s seat and I heard my neighbour Cindy’s front door slam. She sped past me, tottering on ridiculous heels. She ignored me completely and hopped into the back of the car. The taxi roared away leaving me in the middle of the road, the half-smoked cigar at my feet, where he’d thrown it.
I stood there for a while, seething, not moving until the loud beep, beep beeping of a car horn made me jump. Four lads in a metallic blue Fiesta screeched to a halt behind me.
‘Get out the bloody way!’
Looking over my shoulder at them I put on my best smile and fluttered my eyelashes before sauntering back to the house.
Silly boys, I knew they didn’t mean that.
What I didn’t like though was the sound of their laughter as they disappeared at a frightening speed. I don’t like being laughed at. I’ve never liked being laughed at. Why do they do it, these people? Harry used to laugh at me. That’s why I killed him.
Harry called me paranoid. He called me nuts, jealous, stupid. He told me to shut the fuck up, and eventually told me to leave him the fuck alone. He didn’t have a nice mouth on him, Harry. So to hear those boys laughing at me and using the F word...
I felt deflated as I walked into the hallway and shut the door behind me, so I went and sat and drank more Merlot from the second bottle in a welcome silence. It lasted just five seconds.
Dance music. Club music. Heavy throb, throb, throb mincing music from next door. My head pounded with the relentless beat. 11 o’clock at night and it was a party, just beginning. Thump, thump, thump through the walls. And voices, disembodied. Loud, so loud yet muffled at the same time, lacking clarity. Just like the bad times, when I heard the voices all the time, telling me what to do and how to do it, before I ended up in ‘hospital’.
I finally came off the pills in April this year - on my birthday, five years after being released ‘back into the community’. It was the last time I’d seen my after-care counsellor. She told me I was making such good progress she predicted I’d be medication-free in twelve months time, and had made me an appointment for next March.
Well, I was feeling just fine so after I left her office I made the decision to stop the meds there and then.
And here I am. Looking good. Feeling good. I just didn’t like all those people WATCHING me, like they knew. Like they were waiting for me to make some kind of exhibition of myself. And what I hate, what I really hate, is when everyone laughs at me. Because it takes me back to when I lived in a different part of town, with a cheating husband and no daughter named Emily. When I thought I was happy, but instead I was insane. When one afternoon I came home early from work, and everything changed.
I knew he was there. His jacket was lying on the hallway floor, a pair of red stiletto shoes beside it, which clearly weren’t mine. That was when I heard the moans and the familiar, ugly, uh, uh, uh Neanderthal grunts. I closed the front door quietly, picked up a shoe in each hand and made my way slowly up the stairs towards our bedroom, knowing where to tread so the floorboards wouldn’t squeak. I knew this because if I ever woke him up when he’d been out on a bender, he’d beat me within an inch of my life. I crept sideways along the wall, taking in their horrid sounds. I waited outside the bedroom for two, three minutes, then walked in and looked at them.
I didn’t know her. She looked half my age, but ragged, complete boredom on her badly painted face. Turned out she was a prostitute. One of many. Her wrists were handcuffed to our lovely Victorian bedstead; her skinny legs wrapped around Harry’s fat arse as he pumped away at her. And they were doing it in our bed, his and mine, not hers. She saw me first - he was blinded, his head down between her tits, slavering like a rabid dog – her chest covered with his spittle. She stiffened when she realised I was there. He felt it and stopped his thrusting to look down at her.
You see, what did it, wasn’t him. It was her. It was like slow motion – as he turned his face to see what she was staring at, she smirked, then started to cackle – an old sound from such a young throat. For a moment Harry’s eyes rested on me, and I could see him struggling to understand what I was doing there. I nearly walked away, but then, finding the one thing he could do to me that was worse than screwing a hooker in our marital bed, Harry started to laugh too. At me.
And so my responsibility became diminished. Instead of leaving the room like the useless bitch he’d always told me I was, I stepped straight over to them, still locked together on the mattress and slammed a stiletto heel into each of their heads. They both screamed. A lot. So I did it again. And then I did it again, and again, until they were just a mash of brain, skull, blood and snot on my perfectly white, crisp pillowcases.
Before I had any idea they were dead, the bastards, I climbed on top of them, onto Harry’s back and I rode them and rode them, tears pouring down my face, their heads smacking together, spilling everywhere. I didn’t even know I was screaming until the sirens outside the house penetrated my eardrums and were louder than my own voice.
They broke into our house, the police, and that’s how they found me – atop my dead husband, straddling some street-slapper, also deceased. According to the court reports I was shrieking ‘Stupid. Stupid. Stupid’. It was the word he’d used against me our entire married life.
And now, in the house I had made my home, where I had got better, the voices were back. In my head. In the walls. And the laughter, oh God the laughter. I sank to my knees, the carpet blood-red like my soaked marriage bed of so many years ago. The noise from next door grew louder and louder, and with every beat I rocked back and forth, back and forth.
I’m told what happened next was that I hammered on their door – naked. When someone opened up I entered the house calmly, and walked through the stunned throng of people. As the party guests hung back, pointed and turned away in embarrassment a friend of the bankers ran upstairs and grabbed a quilt – purple and beaded, it was. He came back down and wrapped me up in it.
‘Tell them not to laugh at me’ I whispered as he held me. ‘Or I might have to kill them.’
His name was Alan. He was a nurse. He asked someone to call an ambulance and he took me in his arms, letting me rock and rock and rock, and rock and roll, and roll and roll…
Apparently Tony – number 6 Aspen Avenue man – was having an affair with the woman at number 13. It was her he’d been watching, not me. She and Matthew, her husband of fifteen years had been trying to work it out; the only place to get away from the kids was to go out to their car. Matthew still loved his wife, despite what was going on. She was afraid of the dark, so he’d put the headlights on for her, full beam, to help her feel safe.
The meds are working again now. But I doubt I’ll be allowed back to the house. I’m OK here though – Alan comes to visit every Thursday and he obviously has a thing for me, he’s not gay like his friends. It won’t be long now until he declares his love. Or maybe I should tell him first how I feel.
I hope he will understand.
I hope he doesn’t laugh at me.
Lily Childs is a budding writer in the mystery and chiller genre, and is thrilled to have her short stories published on Thrillers Killers 'N' Chillers.
Lily lives on the Sussex Coast with her artist husband and beautiful 5-year old daughter.