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Miss Sommers` Lost Chance - 4

by  Xena

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

‘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.