The knock at the door is clipped and polite. It could be a door to door salesman. There was one last week, overly cheerful, trying to sell her a subscription for frozen fish. Delivered weekly, he’d announced brightly, fresh as daisies. As though she didn’t live within spitting distance of the North Sea. As though the whole town didn’t smell of brine and salt and guts. She knows it isn’t a salesman, of course. A salesman wouldn’t have set her heart rattling around her chest like a boat without a keel. She knows who is at the door, knows why they have come.
Before she makes the phone call, she knocks back three neat shots of Johnnie Walker. Wipes her hands down the thigh of her jeans. She isn’t sure which number to dial. In the end, she decides on the number from the poster, from the radio. When it is over, she thinks the weight in her chest will be lifted, a starling taking flight from a telephone wire. Instead it gets lodged in her throat, a fishbone she will never be able to shift.
When she sees the poster, she thinks of her son. She remembers how he used to have tight, blonde curls, just like the little girl in the photograph. She remembers sitting by his bed, watching the gentle rise and fall of his chest, knowing she would do anything to protect him. She wonders if there is a limit to the unconditional loyalty of a mother’s love.
One Day Later
The washing machine is on its rapid spin cycle. The washing machine is on its rapid spin cycle, but she didn’t turn it on. The sound is an unfamiliar insect, flitting around the kitchen, worrying at the edge of her reality. She crouches down and peers into the distorted world within, already knowing what she will see.
She notices how clean the car is, early morning sun glinting off its metallic sheen. Her eyes slide over a dent in the bumper. Just a trick of the light. Surely just a trick of the light. There’s a quavering voice on the radio. She switches it off. Sits at the computer, cursor hovering uncertainly over the footage from last night.
Her Dad had installed the CCTV eighteen months earlier, the instinct to protect his child still strong. It isn’t safe, he’d said gruffly as she held the ladder steady, not for a woman living alone. I’ve got my son, she’d told him.
She swallows. Steadies the cursor.
She is woken, for the second time, by the sound of the front door closing. She steps into her slippers, hesitates outside his bedroom. The door is slightly ajar and she closes her eyes, imagines she can hear the soft swell of his breathing, imagines that in the morning she will make him pancakes for breakfast, just like she did when he was little, and he will hug her and smile, and everything will be as it was.