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Miss Sommers` Lost Chance - 4

by Xena 

Posted: 27 November 2005
Word Count: 2212
Related Works: Miss Sommers` Lost Chance - 1 • Miss Sommers` Lost Chance - 2 • Miss Sommers` Lost Chance - 3 • 

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‘Yes, we have a picture.’ With these words PS James pulled out a small booklet from the middle of the pile on the table, opened it and threw it in front of Joan in his usual contemptuous manner. PS Martin widened his eyes and even jerked forward, but stopped short of rising from his chair.
Joan carefully looked at it. There she saw a photograph of a woman. A photograph of a kind she had never seen before. A chill rising in Joan’s chest slithered to her brain with a terrifying message. The woman in the photo was dead. It was impossible to identify her age, she was almost beyond it. There were no traces of violence on her face, not a drop of blood, not even a scratch. It was horrifying in its cleanliness. Her pale swollen face was more than lifeless – it was incompatible with life, it was contradictory to it, it was a threat to anything living…
Joan leaped up and clasped her throat. She couldn’t breathe. She was gasping for air in desperate convulsions.
PS Martin also left his seat.
‘Stop the interview!’ he yelled. ‘Stop the tape! The detainee needs a break!’
He dashed to Joan and grabbed her by her wrists.
‘That’s OK, that’s OK. Let’s get out of here. It’s too stuffy here… Can you walk?’
Joan nodded slightly. Her hands were on her chest close to her throat, as she was making first timid attempts to pace her breath along regular patterns.
Sweet then stood up and spluttered in confusion:
‘My client needs a rest. Could you, please stop the tape.’
James came round last. He hastily reached for the button on the recorder, still staring at Joan.
Martin led Joan out of the room. Outside he sat her in a chair and offered her a glass of water. She soon came back to her senses, but her muscles were still stiff and unruly. She was disorientated but she could hear Martin’s voice clearly:
‘I could release you right now, so you could go home to rest. And I will, if you choose,’ he was saying. ‘But the thing is you would have to come back for another interview. It may be hard on you. It’s better to do it all in one go. Think about it.’
Joan turned to him and knitted her eyebrows:
‘What do you mean ‘home’? You would let me go home?’
‘Yes, of course.’
‘How come?’ Joan blurted. ‘Didn’t I kill someone?’
‘Well, this is our case,’ stammered Martin.
‘What if I run away?’
‘We’ve got your passport. We’ve conducted a search in your flat and seized some of your things.’
Joan was too drained to pay attention to this new development. They had got all her clothes, they had seen all her friends, so what if they had been to her house? She no longer felt she had the right to anything personal. But the fact that she would be let off as soon as the interview was over really stunned her. She had no doubts that she was headed straight for prison. The prospect of going back home tonight made her blood run warm again. She suddenly became animated and articulate:
‘I prefer to do it now. I’m ready,’ she said standing up. ‘I’m fine and I’m sure I can cope now.’
‘So long as you’re sure.’ Martin shrugged his shoulders, also standing up.
They went back to the interview room. Then the tape was back on and James continued:
‘Miss Sommers, do you use your shoes for anything other than for walking at all?’
‘What do you mean?’ asked Joan, bewildered.
‘Well, do you take them off to do something else with them?’
‘I don’t understand you at all,’ and here Joan dared to tinge her voice with a touch of agitation.
‘Have you ever used them as a tool for anything?’
‘Yes, I use them for cooking’ said Joan sarcastically and couldn’t believe her own audacity.
‘What do you mean?’ asked James, bewildered.
Joan grinned.
‘I think, it would be better, if you explained yourself. I can see you’re getting at something. I can’t think what it could be.’
James looked down and clutched a sheet of paper on the table in front of him as though searching for something. Finally he said:
‘Did you use your shoe once to throw it at a rat?’
‘A rat?!’ exclaimed Joan. Her chin dropped and her eyebrow twitched folding the skin on her forehead in a sudden revelation.
‘You can’t be serious…’ she faltered with anguish and disbelief gradually taking hold of her. ‘I don’t usually do that. I’ve never done it before or since,’ she said. ‘I’m afraid of them. My house was infested with them, that’s why the council has relocated me to my present place. I didn’t mean any harm, though. I didn’t even want to call the pest control, the council did. I used to just avoid them as long as they didn’t come my way.’
‘Miss Sommers, you’re not facing animal cruelty charges,’ James stopped her. ‘All I’ve asked is whether or not you use your shoes for anything other than walking, in particular, as a weapon against the rats.’
‘What weapon?!’ Joan raised her voice. ‘It was just a reaction. I came back home and I saw the rat in my kitchen. I was so frustrated! And I was with a guest. I was with… Oh, my God! Pat’s told you this.’
Joan went silent. She buried her face in her hand.
‘Alright,’ James continued. ‘I take it you recall this episode. How exactly did it happen?’
‘I just walked in,’ Joan looked up. ‘I saw the rat. I pulled off my shoe and threw it at the rat. I didn’t even hit it. It ran away.’
‘Are there more incidents of the same nature you could share with us? I mean when you had to use one of your shoes?’ asked James.
Joan looked him in the eye. She knew what other incident James was hinting at.
‘No, I don’t know of any,’ said Joan obeying her instinct of self-preservation.
‘What about the squabble with your neighbour, Mrs Bartram, is that her name?’
Joan nodded. And after a pause she said:
‘Tracy Bartram is an alcoholic, and when she’s drunk, which is all the time, she amuses herself by picking on passers by and chucking stones at them. You can check her name. She’s very well known to the police in the area. On that day I was with…’ Joan heaved a sigh here and her eyes filled with moisture. ‘I was with Sarah. Tracy spotted us and began to swear at us in her usual manner. We didn’t react, just carried on. But she came close with a huge spanner in her hand. I don’t know where she’d got it, must have sneaked it from the nearby garage. I was terrified. We tried to run, but I couldn’t run. I was wearing shoes with very high heels…’
‘These shoes?’ asked James pointing at the shoe still lying on the table.
‘No, other shoes… So, I couldn’t run,’ Joan continued. ‘I had to take them off, but while I was doing that she caught up with me. It was too late to run…’ and Joan paused.
When the pause became too long to expect anything else from Joan, James said:
‘And what did you do?’
‘Nothing, I was almost paralysed with fear…’
‘You attacked her with your shoe, didn’t you?’
‘No!’ cried Joan. ‘Absolutely not! Sarah couldn’t have possibly told you that! Did she? Tracy raised her hand with the spanner to me. I covered my face in a protective gesture… Like this,’ and Joan raised her arms over her head. ‘And my shoes were in my hands. I was only using them to defend myself. Then Sarah reached us and she grabbed the spanner and stopped Tracy, and Tracy backed up. She didn’t try to do it again. Sarah had saved me. She’s very brave.’
‘OK, that’s almost all. One more thing I need to ask you. Both your friends confirmed that it’s not unusual for you to take your shoes off for one reason or another, not at home, but when you’re out in the streets. What do you say to that?’
‘And why did they say I do it?’ Joan asked weakly and realising that the answer wouldn’t follow she continued: ‘They are very uncomfortable, those shoes. I often take them off just to have a rest. Sometimes I simply can’t walk anymore.’
‘Why do you buy those shoes, if they are so uncomfortable?’
‘Because they look nice. What’s that?!’ Joan flared up suddenly. ‘Is this the way you’re trying to prove my guilt? She wears those ridiculous high heel shoes! She must be the shoe murderer!’
‘Miss Sommers, the way we’re trying to prove your guilt is only a matter for us,’ James said. ‘Your role here is to answer our question. Do you understand?’
Joan opened her mouth and froze. She couldn’t bring herself to say ‘Yes, I understand.’ Instead she looked down as a naughty schoolgirl, and quite unexpectedly to herself she mumbled:
‘I hate these shoes… I hate high heels. But that’s the only type of shoes I’ve ever bought. I thought those high heels are one of those things which make me… a woman, which bring me up to standard… so that, you know, men would notice me.’
‘And does it work?’ James asked.
Joan looked him in the eye and shook her head.
‘Nothing has ever worked for me. All my life was wrong. I didn’t do the right things to achieve what I wanted, but it seems to me that I was wrong to want what I wanted in the first place. I’ve been making one mistake after another.’
‘Could you, please, tell me what particular mistakes you’re talking about?’
‘What?’ gasped Joan. ‘I don’t believe it! I was only talking about… All my life I wanted to find my man, my soul mate, if you like. But whatever I did, didn’t work. I would make one mistake after another. Then I gave up, and all I wanted was a quiet life, to live for myself, to enjoy my life as much as I can. And I made a mistake again.’
‘What mistake?’ James was fast to react.
Joan choked.
‘My mistake was,’ she faltered and took a deep breath. ‘My mistake was to stay at Pat’s place so late, to let her persuade me. Because of this, and only this mistake I am here before you now. I have not killed Julia Knoss.’
‘All right, that’ll be the end of the interview, then…’ concluded James.
The tape recorder was switched off and James and Martin left the room, taking all their bags and papers. Joan was left alone with Sweet in total silence.
She couldn’t bear this silence. Even less she could bear Sweet’s company, that round face in the frame of the tidy grey beard, that ever-smiling unconcerned expression. It suddenly occurred to Joan that his expression wouldn’t be any different, if she was standing on the scaffold with a noose around her neck. Joan had never felt so distant from anybody in her life. Sitting next to Sweet here, in a small room, and at the same time being so many worlds away from him was giving Joan an almost surreal experience.
To her relief the door soon opened and PS Martin came in.
‘Well,’ he said without sitting down. ‘I have to formally charge you with the offence.’
‘Haven’t you done that already?’ Joan asked.
‘When? We’ve arrested you on the suspicion.’
‘Ah… I don’t understand all these technicalities.’
Technicalities were sorted much sooner than she expected and in a matter of minutes she was standing on the front steps of this red brick building breathing in fresh air she had almost forgotten the smell of. Yeah, she recognised it, this same air, blown by a gust of wind, slightly seasoned with exhausts…
She was so overwhelmed by this gasp of freedom that she lost her touch with reality. She forgot where she was and where she was heading. She walked idly without the sense of direction. She came back to her senses only when the dusk began to fall.
When she finally reached her house, it was a pitch-dark night. She was exhausted from walking and changing buses so that she could hardly move anymore. Only the drunken singing of Tracy reaching her from a distance made her hasten her pace.
She came into her dark empty flat and slumped onto her sofa. Now what? – flashed across her mind. It was only her and the night, and Tracy tearing her throat…
What is this all for? thought Joan. I wish I could kill myself. I’m so weak. I hate myself for that.
And she imagined herself basking in a warm bath with blood gushing out of her slit wrists, and then her swallowing one tablet after another with a gulp of water after each go, and then… Then her imagination gradually gave way to her dreams which had colours but no shapes, which were giving nice feelings, but no apparent causes for them.

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Comments by other Members

Account Closed at 07:52 on 02 December 2005  Report this post
Joan's a great character here - but I wonder if she could be more prickly (if you see what I mean) with the police - she seems strong enough to be sarcastic to them - this could either build up the tension or have occasional flashes of humour? - depending on the effect you want of course!

I thought also that her initial reaction to the photo was rather too extreme - she doesn't seem to be the kind of person who would do that? Maybe it can - eg the fit etc - be toned down a little?

I rather liked the expressionless lawyer!

And there might be something weird happening with the phrase "OK" - sometimes it has a spare speech mark intruding in it ...

A lot going on here - enjoyed the action conveyed in the dialogue a lot.



Xena at 18:45 on 02 December 2005  Report this post
Hi Anne,

thanks for reading this, double thanks for liking this.

I worry for Joan becoming too prickly. She's actually very shy and passive. It's only due to the extraordinary and painful experience of the past three days that her personality has begun to change slightly.

Perhaps, you are right, and she overreacted to the photograph. But I thought, first, she had never seen photographs of dead people before, second, she’s supposed to have killed the woman on the photo. She is the cause of what she sees (or at least that’s what the police allege), and that’s what she is unable to bear. She denies passionately that she has done it, she has absolutely no memories of it, but deep down she can’t be sure, and that’s what’s driving her crazy. Does it make sense?

Thank you again for popping in.


Ava at 19:56 on 07 December 2005  Report this post
Hey Xena, hope you're well!

You know I've always liked this story and I still do very very much. I enjoy following the plot and Joan is a very likeable character! Your writing is lovely and i found the shoe conversation baffling and funny all at the same time!
This is going to be something great and I can see it now, the whole plot unravelling, what really happened to Julia Knoss, why Joan and her heels are involved and dont forget this is appealing to all women who are ready to kill from the pain of high shoes! (joke). Is there going to be a court case if Joan is charged?

I really feel sorry for Joan, I felt sad reading about her insecurity thinking no man has ever wanted her...you explored that to an extent where it just seemed to tumble out of her mouth, it was her rambling thoughts that weren't really meant to be heard by anyone but her. does that make sense? thats what i took from it. :)

The only thing i will mention is the odd spelling error such as; "alright" is actually all right and maybe include more tension and harsh questioning to the point where Joan is near driven mad because these police officers who are dying to catch their murderer. you know the police officers could be brutal and blunt with things like "did you kill Julia Knoss?" and "lets start again "or I'll say it again" shouting in her face and repeating themselves. That makes riveting reading!

As always, impressive stuff! looking forward to more:)

Xena at 17:19 on 08 December 2005  Report this post
Thank you, Sarah. Your comments are always so encouraging. I'm happy that you registered that her rambling was not for anyone's ears. I'm sure one day thinking back she will be shocked that she gave away these intimate details not only to total strangers, but to her, in effect, enemies who were ready to jump on anything remotely proving her guilt. I thought that human psychology is such that you long for something human even in most inhumane environment. You tend to trust when it’s the most ridiculous thing to do. I hope I’ve made some sense by this.

I’m very cautious to make this questioning even harsher than it is. She’s already a nervous wreck.

Thank you again for staying with me.


Ava at 17:39 on 08 December 2005  Report this post
I totally agree with that, the human mind has an amazing way of coping when faced with the worst situations like death and being charged with murder!people will do anything to find reality so talking intimate things with these strangers could have been Joan's way of trying to get them onto her level... that could be something else to think about, there is a lot of issues the reader can ask from just one chapter..very good!

smudger at 09:00 on 12 December 2005  Report this post
Hi Xena,

You are building the tension inexorably with this latest chapter. It has a suffocating quality stemming from the predicament of your MC. It feels to her as if everyone is engaged in some conspiracy against her. It’s very Kafkaesque.

I especially liked the way that she loathes the legal representative that has been imposed on her; he obviously doesn’t give a toss whether she walks free or is found guilty.

A few typos I spotted along the way:

‘visibly shuttered’ – ‘shattered’

‘And I will, if you chose’ – ‘…choose’

‘to pay attention at this new development’ – ‘…to this new…’

‘I didn’t do right things to achieve’ – ‘…the right things…’

‘was giving Joan almost surreal experience’ – ‘…an almost surreal…’

I also felt that the last sentence lets the piece down a bit. Maybe you could describe her feelings more clearly than simply saying that they were nice?

Other than that I really enjoyed the story and I am definitely being drawn in by it.



Patsy at 17:40 on 13 December 2005  Report this post
Hi Xena,

Doing my best to catch up, so if I repeat above comments, I'm sorry.

I liked this section. I really liked Joan's reaction to the photo, and to all of her friends ratting on her to the police. Martin seems to be more on her side than her own lawyer, or is he just playing good cop, bad cop with her? You have a great mystery going here. I don't know what will happen next, and that's great, it keeps the reader reading!

Things to consider:

. . .And I was with a guest. I with with... Oh, my God! Pat told you this..." Joan went silent. She buried her face in her (hand).
...face in her (hands).

"Miss Sommers, the way we're trying to prove your guilt is only () matter for us," James said strictly.
. . .prove your guilt is only (a) matter for us . . .

I have so little about me to attract... I'm quite short as well. (I thought those) high heels (is) one of those things which...
...short as well. High heels are one of those. . .
for a stronger sentence.

You have a great story going here! Keep up the good work :)

Xena at 22:41 on 15 December 2005  Report this post
Hello smudger, Patsy and Bege.

Thank you for your loyalty. I can't describe how much I appreciate it. Also thanks so lot for going through my mistakes and oddities. I really need this.

smudger, thank you for noticing the lawyer bit. This was, perhaps, central to this piece. The last sentence. Surreal dreams is something like my signature. My works are full of them. But I shouldn't overuse them, I know. These passages seem meaningless and not connected to the rest of the story. If you felt it was letting the piece down, I'll consider removing it.

Patsy, if you like Joan's reaction to the photo, I will stop worrying about it.

Bege, you have given me some job to do here. I shall attend to it as soon as I can.


ang at 08:04 on 03 January 2006  Report this post
Hi Xena,
This is a really good story. You are keeping up the tension really well and I always am desperate to know what happens next.
Just a few parts where your english slips a bit.
'must have sneaked from the' sneaked it
'OK, it's almost all' ?that's almost all
'What did they tell you why I did this' - doesn't make sense
'realising that answer would not..' - missed out the
Also a couple of sentences didn't ring true.
'I hate myself for this cowardice' - seems a bit too formal
'detainee needs a rest' - the word rest seems inappropriate maybe a more formal wording as it's a recorded interview. Do they use interview terminated and then state date and time?
Anyway that was it, this is developing brilliantly.
Angela ;)

Cymro at 21:18 on 04 January 2006  Report this post
Hi Xena,

Really enjoyed reading this. Very impressive tension and characterisation in the piece. Certainly had me gripped!

There were just one or two parts that worked less successfully than others to my mind. The first was the photo. I agree with Anne that the reaction was a tiny bit overplayed, particularly as there is no blood, no signs of violence. If it was made more explicit that she was reacting to the situation as much as the image on the photo, that might make it ring truer. The line 'The chill engulfing Joan’s organs eventually slithered to her brain with a terrifying message'...is 'message' the right word here? Would something like 'realisation' sit better? I don't know why, but for me the phrase 'terrifying message' jarred a little. Maybe it's just me!

The line ‘Miss Sommers, the way we’re trying to prove your guilt is only matter for us,’ also didn't sit well with me. Would a PC say something like that? Wouldn't they at least try and maintain an air of objectivity at this stage of an interview? Something like 'the way we conduct the investigation is only a matter for us' would read better.

Also 'Both your friends confirmed that it’s very usual' Would this seem less strange as 'confirmed that it's not unusual' - seems a bit more plausible, perhaps?

OK, the above points make me sound very negative. However, I did really enjoy reading this, and am envious that you can tackle something like a police interrogation scene with such aplomb. I think it's a very ambitious thing to attempt, and you've pulled it off. Plus I loved the bit about the shoes/cooking - very bizarre and very funny - exactly the sort of strange humour that emerges in stressful situations!

Can't wait for the next thrilling instalment!

Xena at 21:54 on 14 January 2006  Report this post
Angela and Cymro,

I'm very sorry for my late response. First I was away, then immediately under a lot of pressure at work. This is the first time when I can take breath and say... thank you.

Angela, thank you for keeping up with my instalments. It's very important for me. This sort of attention makes me carry on writing.

Cymro, I honestly didn't think you were very negative. Very diplomatically you sandwiched your criticism between great compliments. It left me content and pleased with myself.

Anyway, about the criticism. Tomorrow I will go through all your points and make some amendments.

Thank you again.


eanna at 11:38 on 28 February 2006  Report this post
Hi, I'm really sorry that it took me a million years to get around to this, but here goes anyway.

This is a really believable piece of writing without any wooden characters or phrases.

It seemed like a real, if strange police interview and her reaction to the body is right on the money.

I always have trouble justifying my characters reactions, but you haven't experienced that here.

I really enjoyed it. Where is chapter 5?


Xena at 17:34 on 28 February 2006  Report this post
Thank you, eanna, for visiting me here. It was a very pleasant surprise, taking into account that I didn't expect anybody else to comment on this piece (it's visible only to the group members).
I'm really happy that you find my piece believable, because this is exactly the object of my writing - to create believable characters. In short, you've said what I wanted to hear, and I'm very grateful for that.

I have been absent from the site recently and missed nearly all your instalments of Misbeliever. I’ve read the very first one, though, and I remember I was very impressed with it. I hope to catch up with this work and also not to miss on your new one.


joolsk at 09:11 on 28 April 2006  Report this post
Hi Xena,

Sorry it's taken me a while to comment on this. I really think this has some elements of wonderfulness - I particularly like the credibility of Joan's responses and feelings, you've managed to get a very empathetic response from all your reader's so far (including me!).

I also thought that your dialogue was very well done, it read easily and didn't have any 'stage like' quality at all, very natural.

Just one thing - you've used 'Yeah' in one or two places,
Yeah, she recognised it, this same air
in Joan's thoughts, it seemed a little 'relaxed' and colloquial to me, and tripped up my reading a tad.

Keep it comin'!


Xena at 15:02 on 30 April 2006  Report this post
Hi Jools,

Thank you for your comments. No comment can come too late, especially if it's a positive comment. I'm glad you liked this piece. It's very encouraging to know someone likes what you're writing. I have to get on with it, as I haven't written a line in months. Your visit actually reminded me that I have a job to do here.


tiger_bright at 10:31 on 25 May 2006  Report this post
Xena, I'm diving in and hope to catch up with the rest of the story soon. I hope that doesn't make my feedback too "isolated".

I think you do an excellent job of conveying Joan's sense of bewilderment at the events unfolding around her. I especially liked the bit with the photo at the beginning, where she starts off "analysing" it - and then, as she absorbs the factual information, it begins to effect (and inform) her mental state/reaction:

There were no traces of violence on her face, not a drop of blood, not even a scratch. It was horrifying in its cleanliness. Her pale swollen face was more than lifeless – it was incompatible with life, it was contradictory to it, it was a threat to anything living…

Saying that, I wondered if the whole opening section wouldn't have worked better without this:

The chill engulfing Joan’s organs eventually slithered to her brain with a terrifying message.
- it just seemed as if she was pre-empting the reaction? I'd have liked to see her acknowledge the facts and THEN react to them. Does that make sense?

I'd apply this rule, cautiously, to the rest of the story - just because I think it would be a really effective way of getting across to readers the "limbo" state of Joan - the fact (I think this is right?) that she's currently disconnected from herself and her surroundings - everything feels alien and strange, even her own body and mind. So, for instance, instead of saying:

She was gasping for air in desperate convulsions with her entire body engaged in this fit.

Just say, "She felt herself gasping for air," because she doesn't quite understand what's going on? If I've missed the point, please ignore me!

I love the complete confusion she feels in the conversation about the rat - you really convey her utter astonishment to the reader. (Tiny thing - you might want to check how many times you're using the word "bewildered" as it seemed to crop up a lot).

Yeah, she recognised it, this same air, blown by a gust of wind, slightly seasoned with exhausts…
- I absolutely love how you use scent as a memory-trigger, that's so perfect. That and the walk "home" show in a couple of paragraphs how confused and lost she is. I'd like to see more of that - and I'm sure you've got it planned for later stages in the story - smells etc breaking through her malaise and helping to restore her memory.

Hope this is of some help.


Xena at 22:18 on 26 May 2006  Report this post
Thank you Tiger for taking the time to read it.

That was a nice dive, straight to the bottom! You gave me some thought-provoking feedback here and things like ‘excellent job’, ‘absolutely love’ and ‘so perfect’ were a welcome bonus. (I particularly liked 'so perfect')

I got your point about her reacting to the fact before acknowledging it. But I did it this way deliberately, in full awareness of what I was doing. You see, I noticed that very often we feel things before we acknowledge them, especially when it comes to very strong emotions and unusual experiences. Here I was referring to one of those cases.

You are absolutely right, she doesn't quite understand what's going on. I see where you're coming from when you say 'she felt herself gasping for air', rather than 'she was gasping for air.' It would detach her from her body. And of course, it can be applied across the work. Nice one, I didn't think about it.

I'll trim off 'bewildered'.

Thank you again for catching up with me.


tiger_bright at 07:32 on 27 May 2006  Report this post
My pleasure, Xena. Of all the stories I started catching up on last week, this is one which has stayed in my head. So add that to the list of compliments, do!


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