Damn, what woke me? Still dark, my eyes attempt to focus on something, anything. I roll over and go to reach across for my husband’s warm skin but immediately remember he is away for two more days. I hear it again, a definite snapping sound reaches me through the open sash window. I sit up and hold my breath. Looking back, I wish I’d simply stayed under the duvet but a concerned fascination had crept through my limbs and they took me to the edge of the bed, then padding across the carpet to peer out through the glass panes.
Is that something by the patio, or is my vision playing tricks? Trying not to get too close to the glass, as I’m aware my presence will be more obvious if I do, I still my focus and stare at the edge of the grass so that gradually I see the box hedging and the conical yew tree in a tub at the corner. All is in order and I huff out a relieved sigh. Sleep is not calling so I choose instead to go downstairs. A herbal tea will calm my racing pulse, and I conclude the sounds which woke me must be that of a stalking fox or a badger snuffling its way under the hedge after beetles. The surrounding fields are the secret home of many animals who like to venture close under the cover of darkness.
The teabag floats and a teaspoon squeezes the life from the dried herbs, colours merge and swirl in the hot water. I raise my tired eyes to my reflection in the kitchen window in time to find a different set watching me. I scream and the spoon clatters to the floor. The eyes are gone but my heart is racing and my breath catches. In the hallway I feel more protected and the juxtoposition is sharp as I pull my T-shirt further down my thighs as if it is some coat of armour and will protect me where it covers my goose bumped skin. What to do? Behind me is the horrid umbrella stand mother insisted I house but in it and within easy reach, are potential weapons and I am grateful now to be able to choose the walking stick with its ivory hound head for a handle. It feels cold on my palm and as my shallow gasping leaves me lightheaded, my fingertips touch the sharp teeth so intricately carved.
Why is this happening when Joe is away. Fuck…. what would he do? I get down on all fours and know that the kitchen lights will not infiltrate the next room. Dragging my hound with me, I crawl towards the french doors of the living room, avoiding the furniture I know so well. I crouch in the corner, my back to the cold radiator which had earlier provided the room with warmth and atmosphere. In front of me are the two huge curtains, closed against the outside world. Tentatively I pull the edge of one a few centimetres away from the glass, but see only the legs of the chairs on the patio, and that book I was enjoying yesterday on the table top, its cover curling in the dew. All I can think of is the pages must be getting damp and the poor child on the front will hate not being next to my bed. Why did I leave it outside?
I don’t know how long I sit there, pulling gently at a thread at the base of the curtain. I feel safe in this corner, so will stay put until it is light or the milkman swings into the drive and I can catch his attention. My phone is out in the car, in the glove box I think, such an idiot, so I cannot call Joe and there’s nothing he can do from Ireland anyway. I am stuck, so close my eyes against the problem and take in a deep breath. I am drifting in my cosy corner. I do not see the torch beam on the hall carpet, I do not hear another’s heavy breathing, I do not smell the burning of my car and its contents outside the house. But I do feel my hair being ripped from my scalp as I am dragged from my corner, and my arms grapple to hold onto the rose-patterned curtains and for a second or two they keep me close to my corner before their rings snap and break, revealing the patio outside. I yell for help but my mouth is covered by smoky fingers and I notice, just before I’m taken from the room, the book is gone.
(Photo credit to – Between Birds of Prey)