I stand head-down against the rain at the bus stop outside my house. Occasionally, I glance up through my dribbling jacket-hood and flex arms that are tired with soggy bags of shopping. I sigh. Where’s the bloody bus?
As if on command I hear the distinctive rumble of a double -decker approaching. My eyes squint against the wet, and I watch as it sails past, overflowing with cramped commuters and their smug stares. I scowl at its angular behind in annoyance and start towards the pub on the corner. Sod it. I’ll try again later.
I order a pint of lager and the bags collapse by my feet. As I scrape hair from my face a man meets my eye from across the bar. He offers to buy my drink. I look at him. He is large, but neat; suited and booted with a garment bag hung from the hook. I accept his offer and introduce myself.
‘So where are you on your way to?’ says the man. He slips his giant paw-like hand into mine with unexpected elegance. I feel the power beneath and I am bewitched.
‘To see my Gran,’ I say, ‘she can’t get out in this weather.’ He has incredibly big eyes that seem to reel me in even as I sit on my stool. My pint arrives and I think of all the ways I would like to thank him.
I nod at his bag and ask if he is going somewhere nice.
‘I just got back. Copenhagen.’
He tells me it’s a nice, if underrated city. I’ve never been there. I’ve never been anywhere further than my Gran’s house in Forest Hill. Corner of Perry Street, does he know it? He knows it, he says. Then he asks me to dinner.
My blood rises in a knowing frenzy of where this will end. The thrill of the chase has made him bold and he licks his lips and gives me a wide white smile. I give him my number and tell him to call me later. Then he is gone, scavenging the street for an orange-lit cab. I head back to the bus stop.
Finally, I arrive at Gran’s. The door is open and I see her sat in her winged chair that faces the window, the curtains drawn partway across as if to protect her from the storm outside. Her hand knitted bonnet keeps her face hidden and she doesn’t stir from beneath her blanket.
‘Gran? You okay?’
The room is dim and she doesn’t answer. I am fearful that she has had a stroke, or worse. And then I see the blood. Strewn across family portraits and lace chair backs, dripping panicked from the teak table onto the cheap carpet below. I scream. The figure rises, and I see it is a man and not my grandmother after all. I am momentarily confused as to why my dinner date might be here. Then I see the bloody knife in his hand and the ribbons of Gran’s bonnet flying in his face and I understand. In sudden fear I throw the shopping bags at him and begin to run.
I hear the knife clatter and I have a few seconds to try to make it to the door before I feel him pounce. He lands on top of me with his full might and takes me down. His thick fingers clasp my neck and the world begins to grow dark.
After a while, I come to and open my eyes with slow reluctance. My attacker lays by the door, the knife in his back and a red pool gathering. A man sits close by. I find out later he is a contractor working next door, taking a tea break outside when he heard my screams. A strong man, he overpowered the beast with a single stab to the spinal chord. A lucky strike, they tell me.
‘Where’s Gran?’ I panic again, and lever myself from the floor. I spy the familiar garment bag laying flat and prone behind the sofa. I unzip it, like the gutting of some terrible beast, and the stench of blood rises from within. Beneath the violent red she lays, faint but alive, her hands reaching out from the belly of her fate to clasp mine. I gasp, relieved, and call an ambulance.