When I heard the front door close I dashed to the window. From behind the lace curtain I watched Lilly-Anne skip down the steps onto the street. Palpitations fluttered in my chest, my arrhythmia raced like a motor-cross Kawasaki skidding sideways across sand. She walked along the street in black low-heeled shoes, light blue stockings and her coat flapped with each step exposing her knees, her handbag hung over a shoulder. Those lips glistened with gloss; no colour, such a pale face. She looked ill. I groaned, perhaps her boss will give her the day off; I wished. She made her way along the road out of my view.
I sat down and began my breathing mantra; in for five seconds and out for five until I calmed myself sufficiently to let the pulsating surge in my groin subside. My hands no longer shook and I could pick up my coffee.
Lilly-Anne had moved into the apartment block a few months ago, and since the day I accidently brushed against her on the stairs I have become an obsessive wreck. She had nodded a hello, and smiled. I sensed a connection, a mutual understanding that often telepathically passes between lovers, but she wasn’t my lover yet, just an adorable stranger. When I stared into her soft grey eyes an emotional detonation in my heart blasted a wave of blood to the surface of my skin. She stood still for a moment and said, I’m Lilly-Anne. I felt paralysed and didn’t respond. She turned and ran up to her landing. The rear view of her firm body stirred a flush of lust through me and my legs trembled. From then on, with her image imprinted in my mind, she controlled my thoughts and stimulated my dreams like a succubus that prowled through my night time trance of sweats and stains.
I tell myself I am normal and all I have to do is speak to her. Perhaps a casual introduction with a gentle smile and ask her about the type of coffee she drinks. So, there I stood outside her flat engulfed in a warm air of percolated Arabic wafting beneath the door, like a hypnotic aromatic mixture of wood smoke and chocolate. I had a moment of courage ready to knock, just to say welcome to the block, but then my heart rumbled out of control and my practised preamble evaporated. My mind went blank, a numbness and a tingle crept up my legs, and I muffled a scream. Dragging my momentarily dead left foot, I turned and loped like the hunchback of Notre-Dame down into my hallway of loneliness. There I punched and kicked at my full sized grizzly bear. Oh! how that felt better. Sometimes, I think if it wasn’t for my physical release of frustration on this stuffed monstrosity I would go insane.
On another occasion, I came home early from work, and paced my front room; back and forth to the window. I saw her, a little later than usual. I rushed into the front hall and stood waiting, I heard her coming up the steps, I pulled the door open and stepped out intending to accidently bump into her.
Her speed and agility surprised me. She side-stepped and said, sorry. Her eyes were tearful and red from crying.
Before I could reply, what was I going to say in any case, she ran past and up the stairs. I started to follow with the idea of consoling her, at the third step I stopped. I didn’t want this, a relationship based on me taking advantage of her in a vulnerable and fragile state. I should be better than that.
Back in my flat, I imagined the tattered bear flinched in response to my frustrated moan, I kicked its arse.
Some time ago, I followed Lilly-Anne to her work place, I needed to know what she did and discover something to talk about as an ice breaker. I looked through the estate agent’s window on the pretence of browsing the property advertisements. She seemed agitated at a desk, a man perched on its edge. I crouched down to avoid being seen and stared at her legs. I caught a glimpse of dark panties then saw my reflection in the window. Lilly looked up towards me and I panicked. My disguise was awful, dark glasses and a moustache. I looked like a perverted creep. I rushed away up the road, she couldn’t have recognised me, could she?
Who was the man following behind me? I dodged into a bookshop and waited until he passed. The staff at the till stared as I tore off the moustache and I felt the strike of their thoughts, like a volley of darts from their eyes. Yes, I look like a creep. I tell myself I am normal. Is this what they mean by being besotted, completely irrational and idiotic. Stalking is an offence, I know, I know! Am I really depraved?
Friday evening after work, the lads insisted I come along to celebrate our team’s success, a killing on the foreign exchange market. I had sweated all afternoon in the electrified excitement of high stake deals, and felt immersed in an air of high-octane testosterone swirling in the office atmosphere. It was like having my face caressed by a crotch on heat as my palpitations raged back and forth. Yes, I needed a drink.
After my third tequila and grapefruit chaser, I saw her. Lilly-Anne sat at a corner table in the Saracen’s Head. The man in a suite had his hand on her knee, she held his arm in a tight grip around its wrist. They looked tense. I took another swig of tequila, I was going to say hello and get a conversation going; too late. They got up and hurried out. My demeanour changed, I slumped back in my chair as the thought thudded home, she had a man! I was disappointed and felt dizzy so walked out ignoring the calls from my colleagues to stay, I heard someone mutter she’s a wimp.
In the street with the fresh evening air I sensed the alcohol pump through my veins, the effect surged my mood towards bravado. I would take a chance and pick up in Georgios, although, I might hate myself in the morning, but who cares.
She was in her early twenties with a half-shaved scalp and multicolour hair hanging to one side. She wore a chequered Ben Sherman, with pink braces attached to stone washed jeans turned up to show her red bovver boots laced with yellow cord. Her young face was fresh, confident and alert, she had a silver stud through her tongue. I smiled and she joined me for some draft Pilsner. We laughed.
She wanted to see my stuffed brown bear. I invited her back. She stroked its nose. I caressed her cheek and she stuck her studded tongue in my mouth. I was rough, she squealed in orgasmic ecstasy and sucked at my nipples, she squirmed and shuddered shamelessly.
In the early hours she dressed, she wanted to see me again so I gave her a random business card that someone had slipped into my pocket at a meeting. I insisted she take a twenty-pound note for the taxi. After a limp wave, I closed the door.
I found her Y fronts lying in the bathroom and wondered where she had been the previous evening. I showered and gelled my body to cleanse away the stink of female animal lust and cringed as a wave of self-disgust crept through me. I deplored my behaviour. I needed certainty in my life with a commitment to a fulfilling future. I wanted Lilly-Anne.
It was a week or so later on a cool evening I decided to walk home from work, well I needed the exercise and time to think, where was my routine life going? A car pulled onto the pavement in front of me. Shouting and screaming, Lilly-Anne got out and slammed the door. The driver blasted his horn.
“Can I walk with you?” she said and grabbed my arm. Her eyes were wet from crying and her face flushed an angry red.
I breathed slowly forcing my pulse to remain calm, I was in heaven.
I lip read the rant of profanities from the man in the car as it followed us until we dashed down a pedestrian only alley. I asked who the prat was.
Although it seemed perverse, the predicament was an opportunity for me and a moment of sheer delight, walking with Lilly-Anne.
I expected her to burst out with a flurry of excited reasoning, an explanation for her bust up. We walked on, the silence was like a drum roll of reverberating agony in my head.
In the hall, I held her hand and asked if she was alright, she could come in for a coffee, just chat, maybe feel better, calm down. I was rambling. She said, give her a moment and then come up, and it would be nice to have some company.
In my flat I kissed the bear, the poor creature had been shot by my grandfather for just being a bear. I abused it as a punch bag to release my frustrations, yet for the first time ever I kissed the ugly brute. Are there no limits to such cruelty?
Lilly-Anne sat on her settee, we drank strong black coffee and she unloaded her story of abuse, harassment and violence at work, of the insistent and persistent slow drip from a creepy pervert. He was Lilly-Anne’s boss at the estate agency, a despicable vile creature. She was a lesbian but that didn’t discourage his approaches. My heart skipped a few beats. He offered her a pay rise, he wanted to promote her, there was an opening in the office, provided, he had whispered; she had an opening for him.
I listened with complete concentration, falling in love with the contours of her cheek bones, the soft rapid lyrical voice, the way she would sweep loose hair away to one side. I imagined washing her back in the shower, brushing her auburn hair and kissing her lips as I explored the soft crevices of her body.
In the occasional break from her outpouring, as she sipped her coffee, I offered to help write and make her case to the company head office, to demand a transfer, or better still find a new position for her elsewhere.
For two weeks, she would come home sometimes smiling but mostly crying and upset. We sat drinking coffee and I would transcribe her harassment, I even suggested an industrial tribunal and possible compensation. She laughed and said I was going too far. Next day, I sent the letter.
We went to the cinema and she cried all the way through Bridget Jones Diary. When we came home she told me how wonderful I made her feel and she understood me more than anyone would realise. We kissed on her sofa until I broke off; my palpitations and arrhythmia were racing beyond control.
A few days later, she called me at work and asked to meet in Costa’s at lunch time, she was giggling like a two-year old on a sugar rush.
A top manager had come to the agency and offered Lilly-Anne a post with a pay increase in the central office. She was advised to leave for home and have a few days off. The manager took her boss into the back office.
I was delighted for her, she bubbled and purred over her café-latte as crumbs from a muffin dusted her chin. We walked along the canal path holding hands until I had to go back to work; I promised to cook a celebration dinner.
The first thing I did when I got home was to move my delightful bear from the hall into the broom cupboard. I wouldn’t be needing him for a while, in fact I might just find it a new home. I cooked chicken schnitzel, and rice, I prepared a salad and warm bread rolls. I opened a bottle of red Gallo to let it breath. I fetched my grandmother’s Victorian plate service and covered the table with a cloth. I felt normal. Tonight, Lilly-Anne would learn how I really felt about her, yes tonight. I was ready.
The doorbell rang. I took a moment to calm my breathing then walked with an air of raising confidence.
He stood there with a matter of fact bland expression, he held up an identification card. Beside him were two pale faced policewomen.
“I’m Detective Inspector McLean.”
I felt my stomach somersault and gripped hold of the door.
“Nothing to worry about,” he said. “We are interested in the movements of a young woman. Do you know Miss Lilly-Anne Hawkins?”
I invited them in and sat at the table shaking.
Lilly-Anne’s badly beaten body was found in the canal at approximately fifteen twenty hours that afternoon. How well did I know her?
My heart thudded and I knocked over the wine, its ruby liquid soaked into the table cloth and dripped in drops as blood over the floor. I burst into tears and began wailing, palpitations kicked at my rib cage, I was a lunatic heading for the madhouse.
I rose free from my body, I looked down on the woman shuddering in grief. What was she going to do now? Her love in shatters, her dreams dashed. I became distant and disjointed, as an observer from above. This poor woman at the table, she’s not normal.
Could I ever be normal? I had written the letter with meticulous detail, delighted to help my Lilly-Anne. She had signed it with a flourish, we had laughed.
The woman at the table screamed. It was a death warrant.
“Miss Fletcher,” the Inspector said, he pressed on the bridge of his nose. “I’ll leave you with Jean and . . .”
“Caroline,” a policewoman said.
“Yes, Jean and Caroline will look after you. Whenever you are ready Miss Fletcher.” He nodded to them. “They will take a statement.” He turned and strode out of the flat.
Banner Image: By Abbottscountrywide (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons