I was afraid of her, the woman with the cruel eyes and the taunting expression. She held me close to her with my necklace and I could feel her breath on me as real as I could feel the eyes of the helpless watchers outside. She wanted to hurt me and I knew she would.
“It’s things that matter to you, not people,” she said and pulled the necklace tighter. I felt the chain cut my neck, it sawed into me and I flopped closer to her to relieve the pressure on my skin and save the chain from breaking. But I was clever, cleverer than she thought and while I held her gaze I started to taunt her back, swing gently against the chain, mesmerise her with the pull and motion of the necklace. She still held the leaf but it lengthened, twisted, vibrated and shone and her eyes glazed over. I hypnotised her with it, saved myself with the chain. I saw her slump back into her chair and I released the clasp, leaving my leaf, my Freddie leaf, in her hand.
“You are wrong,” I said, walking backwards. “I know what matters. People. You can keep the leaf. That isn’t him.”
Eyes on her, I edged to the door, slid it open, stepped through. The latch clicked. The police around me clapped.
“Well done. You kept your head. You made the right decision. Well done.”
But the noise of the lock had woken her – perhaps. She opened her eyes, winked, walked to the window and signaled outside.
Someone shouted for me. The police started running.
A helicopter hovered above. As vile as Hollywood henchmen, her thugs were ready to play out the scene.
Max, the girls, Bene all suspended on ropes above me, screaming as their torturers swung them up and down and back and forth. Exactly the same movement I had used to trick her.
And then they let the ropes go. Dropped them all.
I woke before they hit the ground. In the second before I made myself wake up, I knew exactly what I had done. I thought I was so clever. I thought I had saved myself but by escaping, I doomed them all. The only thing that kept them safe was me being in danger. When I let go of my leaf and let him go, I lost them all.
It was not a kind awakening; violent, thudding, horrifying. No more sleep for hours. The kind of waking that disturbs bedfellows, leaves your heart hammering so hard it feels dangerous.
I never dream of Freddie but lately he has crept in at the edges of my sleep, the loss of him and the trauma of him. Never the boy.
I sat through the first half of a child first aid course today. I forgot to prepare myself for the impact of it, because everyday life is manageable now and I don’t remember how fragile the grip can be. I lasted – with the help of firm and practical support from a friend – but it shocked me to find myself teetering on the edge of broken again. It feels a long time since I’ve struggled with that. A child sized dummy, talk of death and non-breathing children though… it doesn’t take much to be back in a room ,a bed, a striped duvet, the quiet, and the little purple, blue, white hand.The sounds after death and the end of movement.
Really, it doesn’t take much at all.