Thursday, 27 October 2011

Every Little Thing

Metal security shutters clattered down behind a jaded and financially bereaved family as they trudged out into the dark and deserted Tesco car park. Ian Wardle pushed his 18 month old daughter Freya in the pushchair as she slept, enveloped in a swaddle of fleece blankets, her short blonde hair sticking with sweat to her soft, flushed forehead. His previously athletic physique now meandered determinedly towards obesity and his hair was edging dangerously close to the Nicholas Cage horizon. Conversation had progressed from “That's a lot of lager for a tenner.” and “Did you eat that tin of ham?” to “Will you just hurry up and decide please?” and “Why did you bother asking me if you were so sure?” and finally the tight-lipped “No, thanks.” “No.” and “Thanks.” at the till, followed by the reigning, mute resignation. To his left a heavily pregnant Maria forced their laden trolley up a kerb as the icy October air danced down her spine beneath the ridiculously baggy, and draught-permeable, old jumper which she had finally resigned herself to wearing now that her pride had diminished beside the realities of her massive bulge and the unexpected cold snap.

The small car park was surrounded by a raised embankment of trees, positioned to block the immediate sight of the sleeping industrial estate and wasteland which encompassed the supermarket. The blurred silhouette of the aptly named Black Hills were striking in the distance against the frosty, indigo sky. Yellow leaves from the deciduous border were sticking to the windscreen of their Peugeot 205 and a whirlpool of natural debris danced in the gusts around the empty space beside the car. A brief light or reflection in the shadows between the trees made Ian glance to his left and at the same moment the sound of breaking glass rang through the gusty wind from the opposite end of the car park. He turned instinctively towards the sound as Maria yelled.

“Ow! Jesus! What the fuck?!”

She let go of the trolley and attempted to bend over to rub her ankle. Ian put a hand protectively on her back.

“What? What happened? Let me see.”

He bent down to examine her leg, vaguely aware of a second shattering of glass but too distracted to gauge its proximity. Raising the hem of her long, brown skirt he gasped to see the thick, rusted nail hanging from the ragged chunk of flesh it had ripped from her upper shin. As he watched, the blood began to well from the wound and run down her leg, into the calf length boots. Standing to face her, his cheeks whitened with shock, he allowed her to hold his blood covered palm as she held his arm with her other hand to steady herself.

“Is it bad? What is it?”

“It's OK, it's just a nail.”

“Just a nail? Where did it come from?” She sounded frightened but he was too distracted to reassure her for the moment, trying desperately to piece together some innocent events which might have culminated in her injury. Across the tarmac a scattering of leaves and twigs as well as the man-made debris of cigarette ends and plastic food wrappers were travelling in spirals under the wind's direction. It was imaginable that the trolley had caught the nail and driven it up towards her, perhaps as she had pushed it up the kerb. He drew the diagram in his mind, clearly marking the force and trajectory and allowed the comforting logic of physics to calm his fear-ridden imagination. Ian sighed and relaxed, glancing at the motionless tree-line to be sure of their safety.

“It was the trolley.” He replied with confidence. “When you shoved it up the kerb, the nail was under the wheel.”

“Are you sure? Is that possible?” She deferred to him, seeking reassurance as she shifted uncomfortably on the injured leg.

“I'm positive.” He hugged her carefully and stroked her hair. “But listen, we need to get it checked straight away, come on – let's get you in the car.”

“Wait here and hold on to the trolley while I get Freya into the car. I'll come back for you in a minute – don't try to push it by yourself.” He ordered, squeezing her wrist reassuringly.

“OK, but hurry up won't you?” She replied in a small voice. “I feel a bit shaky.”

“Of course, of course.” He soothed. “Just relax – it's going to be fine.”

Ian closed the seatbelt around his daughter carefully, she was tired enough that she might sleep through their excursion to the Accident and Emergency unit and that would be one less thing for them to worry about. He tucked the blanket in around her body and adjusted her head so that it looked comfortable against the cushioned head rest on the side of her car seat. He shuffled back off the seat and closed the door as softly as he could. Again, the sound of breaking glass reached him from the opposite side of the car park. It could, he thought, be coming from somewhere on the industrial estate and be reflected off the side of the supermarket. In fact, it was entirely possible that there was a constant sound of breaking glass coming from some factory or workshop but it was inaudible above the sounds of traffic and commerce at other times.

He began walking towards Maria, who had turned and was now facing away from the car. As he drew close he noticed a second pair of legs behind hers. A remarkably small woman was standing in front of his wife, wearing clothing which was smart but, he observed, quite inappropriate for the weather. Her hair was unusually styled and she had quite a dirty face; he wondered whether she had been in some sort of accident. Maria wasn't saying anything, she appeared to be distracted by something. She was looking in the direction of the trees behind the woman.

“Is everything alright?” Ian directed the question at Maria but she didn't respond. He thought she might be in shock which was perfectly natural but it would be preferable if they started moving towards the car. “I'm sorry but we need to go.” He explained to the small woman who stared back at him mutely. “She's injured her leg and it really needs checking at the hospital so we'd best be going.”

The woman looked from him back to Maria and said in a small, child-like voice “Why is she crying and bleeding and cold?” It seemed an odd way to phrase the question and Ian frowned, trying to gauge whether the woman had a mental disability.

“She's hurt herself. I need to take her to the hospital.” He put a protective arm around Maria's shoulders and tried to turn her towards the car but she didn't seem to want to move. “Come on love, you'll feel better once we get you warmed up in the car.” The strange woman took a small step closer to Maria and put a hand on her bulging belly.

“Why is she tired and broken and leaking?” Ian shuddered as he saw the filth encrusted around the woman's shockingly thin hands caressing his wife's passive body. He noticed that she was smiling grimly, her dark, chapped lips pressed together and her large pupils darting voraciously across Maria's breasts and abdomen. He started to lean forwards to remove her hands and force Maria to come to her senses when he heard a bark from the direction of the car. He turned to see the back door, which he remembered closing, wide open and the back half of a large dog climbing up onto the back seat where his daughter lay unaware of the danger.

“Oh fuck!” He swore quietly, his voice constricted. He ran back to the car, his pulse pounding in his ears. Pulling himself to a skidding halt at the back door he lurched forwards, his hands eager to haul the dog away regardless of injury to himself, but his hands found nothing to grasp. The interior of the car was quite empty – save for his daughter snoring gently and still blissfully unaware of the proceedings. Confused, Ian leaned into the front of the car to check the foot wells, although common sense told him that the dog he had seen would not be able to hide in a gap that small. The dog was clearly not in the car.

He began backing out of the car to look around and was about to stand up when a quiet voice from behind his shoulder made him jump and hit his head hard on the roof, “Why is she missing and silent and gone?” He turned, one hand on his head which was pounding, and looked behind him but there was no sign of the diminutive woman. A mixture of anger and fear welled inside him as he fought to retain control over his imagination. He had to get them all out of here and somewhere bright and populated, he had to have a large cup of something hot and reassuring and he had to inform the police about the over-curious freak who had taken a fancy to his wife's breasts as he was sure someone should have noticed that she was missing.

Twice he looked at the shopping trolley before he accepted the information from his retinas. Their food, toiletries and cleaning products were strewn across the length of the car park. Packets were opened and toilet rolls unfurling in the wind. The trolley itself remained upright and rolled gently backwards down the small kerb.

Maria was missing, silent, gone.


vicky ellis said...

Oh, Ashley, just to pre-empt you... I know it's missing about this many full stops:


It was written about 7 years ago and like I said, days off :P

Ashley R Lister said...

What sort of Grammar Nazi do people think me to be? Am I likely to ask if this was written seven years ago: before the invention of full stops? :-P

Good and creepy. I don't see that it matters when it was written if it's good reading.


vicky ellis said...


It was written in the days when I found it acceptable to write 'her eyes rolled'.

Ashley R Lister said...

It has echoes of Neil Gaiman flowing through it. I don't think there's anything wrong with that for a style.


vicky ellis said...

Now I want to watch Coraline again :)

Ashley R Lister said...

I've deleted the previous spam comment. F***wits.