Midnight Stroll

A large wine glass smashes into a perpetual scattering of shards and minuscule pieces as it slips from the tray. The entire restaurant looks up, goes silent. Anna’s face turns a shade of pink as she runs to grab a dustpan; ‘butter-fingers’ announces Amy – her bubbly, garrulous colleague. Anna fakes a smile. She’s been on her shift since five pm – it’s nearly midnight – she’s tired, agitated, ready for bed: desperate to cleanse the greasy chip fat from her hair; the smoked salmon from her fingers; the red wine from her trousers.

Nearly time to go, Anna thinks, as she scoops up the shards and shiny crystals of glass, kneels down, desperately mops the fruity French Claret seeping into the tartan rug like a fresh, bloody wound. She gets up, bursts through the kitchen door – violently bangs the soggy, glassy mess into the bin, stops and takes a deep breath. The Chefs have gone home, so she decides to grab a quick snack. Opening the walk-in fridge – Anna spots a huge portion of white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake. Result! She wolves it down urgently: energy for the walk home. She missed dinner after all.

It’s mid-December and crisp, light snowflakes scatter the ground, dusting the pavements like icing sugar. Anna looks out of the window at the ominous dark night and puts her jacket, scarf, and headphones on; “one for the road” she thinks – necking a glass of the Chefs’ wine: letting the alcohol warm, sooth, and relax her insides. Anna says her goodbyes at the restaurant. It’s only a ten-minute walk to her rural cottage; she’s used to it now, so heads for the door earnestly.

The cold wind hits her as she pushes the heavy door open, and an oppressive darkness lowers her mood. Icy, illuminating raindrops have now replaced the flutter of festive, white snowflakes and they advance on her sideways in the howling wind. Walking down the narrow country lane – the air is thick and heavy; Anna is struggling to see. Her key-ring torch helps her find her feet, but she faces pure blackness – has a peripheral awareness of something lurking, rustling nearby. Tall, menacing trees shake violently, and leaves tear into the wind like skin being ripped off bone; Anna’s imagination gets the better of her and she begins to jog, very lightly and cautiously.

She doesn’t see it coming; the van’s lights are off as it ploughs into the side of Anna, knocking her into a ditch. The speed was slow, intentional and enough to send her into deep shock and disorientation. The driver staggers out; a tall slim man, all in black. His round glasses pierce through the slit in his balaclava – which doesn’t quite cover his long, straggly hair. He pulls a torch from his coat pocket; in an intoxicated state, he tries to focus, occasionally catching the bright light on the helpless, whimpering young lady, lying in the slushy ditch.

Dragging Anna by her neck scarf, he forcefully rolls her into a prone position on the cold, wet road; he is aggressive, barks – ‘keep your mouth shut!’ with chilling conviction. The man opens the rear of the van, hoisting her in like a rag doll. Through Anna’s panic breaths, she detects a vile, sickly stench of whisky, cigarettes and rotting fish. Her whimpers become louder, more desperate. As her heart forcefully, painfully beats at her chest – she thinks – “this is it – dead at twenty”.  Slamming the door shut – the drunken predator falls into the driver’s seat and makes his getaway, through the dark and narrow country lane.

Just two minutes later – the van skids to the side of the road, protruding half-way from a holly bush; the man has fallen asleep, drunk – with his blackened face pressed to the steering wheel. Bruised, battered, and bleeding – Anna is still conscious. Can she escape? Her right hip agonizes with pain, so she turns onto her left, pulling herself towards the passenger seat. She passes dirty old rags; pungent white spirit soaked rags; musty old clothes; piles of newspapers. Children’s toys. She rolls herself into the seat and reaches for the door handle; trying to be as stealthy as possible. In the compartment below the handle sits a medium-sized hammer, she grabs it – urgently. In an emotion fuelled aberration, she raises the hammer – with all her force swings the cold, iron stump towards the man’s slumped, snoring head.

She misses, instead of indenting his skull – Anna strikes him on his right shoulder as the hammer releases from her weak, slippery grip – sending him into a wild, murderous frenzy. He screams – lashes out with the back of his left hand, hitting Anna twice in the face. For a split second – she thinks – “I’ll wake up any minute, nicely snuggled and warm: hot mug of coffee, crispy bacon sandwich: Sunday telly”. These thoughts evaporate though – when her mouth bursts open, causing her to spit a mouthful of blood and teeth; reawakening her once more.

In a moment of ‘fight or flight’ – primal instincts coarse through Anna’s veins as she grabs the door handle, leaping out in sheer panic and desperation. Hobbling down the dark lane – Anna tries to run; moving on pure adrenaline as heavy, swaying footsteps become louder. Anna doesn’t look back. She prays for her life. The footsteps eventually fade into the distance and she makes it back to the restaurant. Using her key – she lets herself in, collapses, and phones for help.

It’s eight weeks until Anna returns to work in the restaurant. She suffered severe bruising, a fractured hip, two broken teeth, and is still undergoing therapy with a psychiatrist. With strong determination though – she decided that life must go on. Anna now relies on a lift from a friend instead of walking, and takes another route to her cottage; she is too distraught to go back to the same spot. ‘Drinks for table four’ Amy announces to Anna; ‘got it’ she replies. ‘Two glasses of red wine, two cokes for the kids’ Anna asks the family sat at table four. A tall, thin man, with glasses, and shoulder-length hair stares her in the eyes and says – ‘yes please’.

 

A.T Hawthorn – 23.7.19

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