I tried to scream but my brain was stuck on registering details: the cold kitchen counter under my cheek, the painful pressure of a drawer handle sticking into my hipbone, the stale alcohol on his breath as he groaned in my ear.
“It’s been a long time since I had a redhead. I bet you’re already all fired up, aren’t you?” His hands pulled at my leggings, the weight of his upper body keeping me pinned in place. The material refused to cooperate, stretching outward rather than moving down, generating a grunt of frustration.
“Please don’t,” I cried as his hand ferreted between my legs, my clenched thighs unable to offer enough resistance. “Please. Please. Please.” My begging fell on deaf ears as his hand tugged again at my waistband. I knew what was going to happen and couldn’t believe that this was my fate. Vague memories of my brother Jake’s attempt at teaching me self-defence skirted at the edge of my consciousness, but I couldn’t move enough to stamp on his instep or hit his windpipe.
I knew I couldn’t give in.
I squirmed and shifted, fighting harder than I had ever needed to before.
“Stop it, you little bitch,” he spat before grabbing my hair and slamming my head against the counter. “Do you like it rough? Is that what you’re after?” Bile burnt my throat at the sound of his zipper, causing him to bang my head again. I heard more than felt the ripping as the material of my leggings started to give way in his hands and felt my life, my soul, leeching out of me at what it meant.
I stopped moving.
I stopped breathing.
I stopped hoping.
And then there was noise, the cry of an animal in agony, and the dead weight of his body slumped on mine. I couldn’t work out what was happening; his guttural moaning had nothing to do with pleasure and he repeatedly pushed into my back, but made no contact anywhere else. I took advantage of his loosened grip on my hair to twist my head.
And saw Mum stood next to us.
Holding a knife.
As she lunged for him again, I managed to pull myself away from the counter and felt the weight of him slide off me. Pain shot through my arm as the knife caressed my skin, leaving a red line in its wake.
Silent waves of rage rolled off her, rendering her oblivious to my cries. She launched at him again, even though he was slumped, unmoving, in a growing pool of red. The sound of knife plundering flesh made me retch and I pulled at her, causing us both to slip in the blood. As we fell to the floor, I managed to knock the knife out of her hand and pull her to me. “Mum, what have you done?” I tried to make eye contact with her but she was like a wild animal, unable to make a connection. Even on her darkest days, after Dad died, or her most hung-over days, I had always managed to get through to the hidden her. But not in that moment. She was beyond me, lost in a world I didn’t know how to get to.
A gurgling sound brought the realisation that the monster may not have been slain. The dilemma of what to do next was overwhelming. Who needed me the most? Mum still appeared unaware of my presence, staring into the abyss of her mind.
That left him.
I moved across the floor on my knees, warm blood soaking into my clothes, and turned him over. His front was covered in congealing blood and his eyes were glassy, staring into the same space Mum was inhabiting. I couldn’t hear or see any signs of breathing so I felt around his wrist, not knowing how or where to find a pulse, but compelled to do something.
“Nine, nine, nine,” was the whispered instruction that came from behind me. I looked at her, but her eyes were still elsewhere. Running to the hall, I picked up the phone, dialling as I returned to the carnage.
Looking back, I wish I’d sat there with her for longer before making that call. I wish I’d had the chance to try and find her, my mum, one final time. I wish I’d thought about how to protect Josh from it all. I wish I’d thought about whether I had the strength to deal with the ensuing chaos.
“Hello. Which service do you require?” There was a split second when I thought about hanging up, trying to get Mum away and finding a way to explain a body in the kitchen. But I knew it would be an act of utter futility. This could never be undone. The consequences had to be faced.
“Ambulance, please. There’s a man and I think he might be dead.” My voice was strangely calm.
“What’s the address?”
“Six Highfield Road. I don’t know what to do. I don’t think he’s breathing.”
“Right, an ambulance is on its way. Can you see him?”
“Is there any movement in his chest?”
“No, but I can’t really tell with all the blood.”
“What’s caused the blood?” I could hear the tip-tap of her typing as she spoke to me.
“He’s been stabbed. Lots of times.”
“Do you know who by? Are they still there? Are you safe?” Questions I didn’t want to answer.
“I’m okay.” I couldn’t condemn Mum.
“Right, what’s your name?”
“How old are you, Grace?”
“OK, Grace, let’s see if you can find a pulse. I’m going to stay on the line with you until the ambulance turns up.” The calm voice led me through instructions on finding a non-existent pulse on his neck. “What about CPR? Have you ever learnt about this? Done any first aid at school?”
“I can’t do it,” I admitted as she started telling me to lie him on his back and open his airway. I knew I wouldn’t be able to cover his mouth with mine. Not covered in blood. Not after what he had tried to do.
Not when it might save his life.
“That’s okay, Grace. Just try to find a pulse again, will you?” I did as she asked, avoiding looking at his face, into his eyes, just in case they looked into mine. There were already too many horrific images to erase from my brain. “The ambulance has just pulled into your road, Grace. Can you let them in?”
I opened the front door and wordlessly led the two paramedics into the kitchen. It was then that I grasped the true horror of the scene in front of us. He was lay in an abstract painting of crimson, his jeans still unzipped, face contorted in a fixed grimace. She was huddled against the door, rocking and wringing her hands. I was smeared in blood, leggings torn, my own arm leaving a trail of blood wherever I walked. It was worse than a scene from a horror film because this was in our house. Our home.
The male paramedic leant down and took his pulse. He flashed a light into his eyes and examined the pool of blood. He looked up at me and then his partner. “No pulse. Extensive exsanguination. Injuries commensurate with severe internal injury. I recommend no resuss. Concur?”
“Concur,” the female paramedic said, before talking into her walkie talkie. “No resuss. We need forensics here.”
“Received. Sergeant Briggs is duty FAO and will be with you shortly. Coroner’s ambulance will also be called.”
“Thanks.” She clipped the walkie talkie back onto her belt and turned round. “This is a crime scene so we can’t touch anything but I’d like to take a look at your arm. Let’s go into the hall.” I followed her out of the kitchen and stood silently as she took first aid equipment out of her case. “I’m just going to cut the sleeve so I can get to it better, okay?” I could only nod. Once the sleeve had been cut off to shoulder length, I could see that the cut was long but hardly a gaping wound. “Some tape should be enough to keep this closed. Let me clean it first.”
She talked me through each stage, until my arm was neatly bandaged and I was left with the promise of a scar that would disappear in time, proving the body heals quicker than the mind. She then babbled on, checking when I’d last had a tetanus jab; I don’t know if she was trying to keep me calm or just trying to stop herself asking the obvious questions. Maybe she thought it was me who had killed him? Maybe, by not trying to given him CPR, I did.
Sergeant Briggs was a huge man, intimidating in both size and presence. The male paramedic gave him a brief outline of what he knew, using a lot of jargon that sounded like it belonged on CSI.
“What’s your name, love?” Sergeant Briggs asked, pen poised above his notebook.
“And how old are you, Grace?”
“Seventeen, eighteen next month.” There was a prolonged pause before his next question.
“What happened here today, Grace?” The earlier facts had been much easier to share. Scared that anything I said would incriminate Mum, I merely shook my head. “It’s okay, I’m just trying to work out what went on. Is that your mum in there?” I glanced over to where Mum was still sat, rocking and staring.
“Is that your dad?” He didn’t know how wrong his assumption was. I didn’t know his name but I’d seen him a few times before, one of the endless line of losers who hung around with Jim, drinking and smoking instead of leading responsible, adult lives. Since Dad died, Mum had moved from one loser to another, each one bringing more aggro into our already turbulent lives. When Jake died, it got even worse and a part of me wasn’t that surprised it had ended up like this.
“Do you know him?”
“Yes. No. Kind of.” Sergeant Briggs waited for me to expand on my ambiguous response but I wasn’t going to share details of the lifestyle Mum. Not until I had to, anyway. I walked back into the kitchen and sat next to Mum, hoping the press of me against her might be enough to tug her back home.
By the time the forensic team arrived, Mum was still sat next to me, but her head was on her knees, refusing to look at anyone or anything. This gave me a strange hope that she was resurfacing from whatever had taken her over. Was that why she did it? Did she lose control of herself and her sense of right and wrong?
A female police officer led us both into the lounge and, after introducing herself as PC Gibson, asked Mum the same questions Sergeant Briggs had asked me. Except Mum was in no fit state to filter her responses.
“What happened, Andrea?”
“He was trying to rape her so I killed him.” The facts sounded as stark as they were.
“You killed him?” The officer repeated, scribbling notes as she spoke.
“Mum, don’t say anything. You have to get a lawyer!” I’d watched enough crime dramas to know that she wasn’t helping herself.
Mum turned and looked at me, her eyes filled with the clarity I thought was forever gone. “Grace, that’s what happened. And if I ever saw someone trying to do that to you again, I’d do exactly the same. You’re my baby. He was going to destroy you. I did what any mother would do. Didn’t I?” She turned and asked the question of the police officer, who was a similar age to her.
“I can’t comment, Ma’am. We’re going to have to take you both down to the station for questioning.”
“How long will it take?” I wondered how long it would take me to clean up the mess. I didn’t want Josh to see it. Josh. Shit. “My brother will be home in a bit.”
“Oh. Where is he?” The look on her face told me that he wasn’t going to be coming home soon. Thinking about the crates of equipment the forensic team had carried in, it hit me that our house was now a crime scene.
“At a friend’s house. How long is this going to take?” My voice was more assertive this time.
“I don’t know. I don’t think you will be coming back tonight,” she admitted. Turning to Mum, I could see that she had retreated to her other world again and so it would be up to me to sort things out. In that moment, I missed everyone who had ever shouldered responsibility in our family: Dad, Mum, Jake.