State of Emergency – Chapter 19

March 18, 2011

They’d traced the call and Ian had driven there as fast as humanly possible, only to find himself staring across the near-vacant parking lot of a DIY store near the motorway, knowing, as a sick emptiness in his stomach, that Derek was long gone. Still, he’d prowled there for a while, watching the shoppers come and go from behind the safe, isolating barrier of his sunglasses.

He only really took them off when he played. Or when he was with Dolly.

A woman’s laugh made his head snap around, but he knew even before he saw her that it wasn’t his wife. The sound was too forced, too full of artifice, held too much of the world to be hers – that child’s laugh he was sure no-one living had heard before him. Her parents, perhaps; her sister, surely. Then ten years of dead nothingness until he’d drawn it from her again.

“Oh, come on! I think you know exactly how handsome you are, peacock!”

“It’s true. I am very good-looking.” He’d peered at her over the tops of his shades like a professor confirming a fact to an uncertain student.

And then he’d heard that silvery peal of laughter and it had told him, for sure, that she was going to be his.

He looked away from the red-head with her shopping cart and four rambunctious children, feeling an odd disgust that the woman was here, walking and laughing, going about her banal little life, while Dolly was…

He stopped himself thinking for a while, walking across the car park to examine a newly arrived station wagon.

No red Audi. No suspicious vans. No-one who looked or sounded like Derek.

From time to time, in his search, he’d forget, reaching for her hand or starting to turn to tell her to keep up. Every time he met her absence, the world would lurch in the same way it had when he’d looked into the empty bedroom. Seen the curtain blowing in the breeze.

He rubbed idly at the tattoo on his left arm, remembering the supple curve of her back, the smoothness of her skin beneath his hand as he traced the pattern there – a scarlet, elongated “I” crossed by a “C” of such a dark red it was almost black. The way it led the eye down to the hypnotic sway of her hips, his tag proudly displayed along her spine to boast to anyone who looked (and oh, how they had looked) that she was his.

In the tattoo parlour, she’d trembled from time to time as the needles pierced her skin, but the smile had never left her lips.

“You don’t have to do this, you know? I mean, it’s kind of cool, but…”

“I want to.” She’d smiled in that naughty, secretive way that was just for him. “I want to be yours in every possible way, and I want everyone to know it.”

“Jesus! … Have I ever told you that you’re perfect?”

“It doesn’t mean I get tired of hearing it.”

It had never even crossed his mind to ask what would happen if they split up.

The wind blew an empty fast-food wrapper past his feet. He went back to his car – the bishada Dolly had painted for him in Liverpool’s bright red, team captain Gerrard’s “8” splashing the roof in mimicry of his hero’s jersey. He rested his head against the steering wheel, suddenly aching for those stolen, innocent moments back in San Paro, just kicking a ball around with his girl or lounging on a rooftop watching the world go by.


He drove home to his empty house and made the last call he’d ever expected to make.


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