Friday, February 26, 2010

game, set and match (continued)

It was only eight o'clock, but Sandy was weary. One of the great delights of her single status was that she could do as she pleased - eat cake for breakfast without causing comment, wear stretched tracksuits at home without rebuke, leave unwashed plates on the coffee table if she so desired. Sandy stretched, and headed to the bathroom. She would shower, and change into pajamas. Perhaps tonight she would finally make some inroads into 'War and Peace'.

Stepping into the shower, Sandy felt a flicker of fear light up in her belly again. Something about standing under the water, both vision and hearing obscured, gave her the creeps. This was one of her least favourite things about living on her own. She blamed the movie 'Psycho'. But she knew she was being melodramatic - after all, she had a shower every night and lived to tell the tale. Sandy gave herself a mental talking-to as she scrubbed her face. What she needed was some reading as distraction.

A few minutes later, with towel-turbanned head and dressed in her flannel PJs, Sandy moved confidently about the flat, switching lights off and checking locks. Her earlier jitters had been soothed by the shower, and by the simple rhythms of her evening pattern. She propped herself up in her soft queen bed, pressed a speed dial button.

"Hi Mum, it's me. I just wanted you to know I'm okay."

Her mother's voice had a definite tone of relief. "Oh love, I'm glad you called. Your Dad and I do worry about you, you know."

"I know Mum. That's why I rang. But I'm safely tucked up in bed, ready for a solid attack on Tolstoy."

Sandy's mother laughed. "Are you still trying to get through that doorstopper?". They chatted for a few minutes, and wished each other sweet dreams before Sandy hung up. Sandy was still smiling as she replaced the phone in its cradle.

It was only when Sandy reached for her thick book that her smile fell away. There, underneath where the book had rested, was a half-open packet of matches, embossed with the words, 'Hotel Forum - Bratislava'. Bratislava, Slovakia. A single match lay loose from the pack, charred at the tip. He had been here, he had lit a match in here, maybe even smoked one of his cigars. Sandy's heart began beating frantically, so loudly she could hear nothing but the frenzied thudding. She let the book fall to the bed beside her. She was more frightened than she'd ever been in her life. Then, from within the haze of her panic, another sense intruded. She could smell his aftershave again, stronger than before. She heard a movement from her walk-in wardrobe. Her mouth was too dry to form words; she could only gasp. Viktor stepped from the shadows, twisting a scarf in his strong brown hands.

Sandy's eyes widened, her breathing erratic, thoughts spinning madly in her head. She could try to yell, and kick, and fight, but the walls of these apartments were thick and sound-proofed for privacy. Viktor was six foot four and muscled, powerful. Her chances of surviving this were almost zero. Sandy's voice choked in her throat; she sat rigid with terror. The game was over and she knew it. Then the phone began to ring.

Viktor glared at her, his face vicious and contorted. "Don't answer that!" he hissed, as he strode forward, pinning her arms to her sides.

Sandy stayed motionless as the phone rang and rang, announcing the caller ID at intervals, "Call from 3434 2612 ...... call from 3434 2612 ....". It was her mother calling. She was checking to be sure Sandy was really alright, double-checking with some sixth sense that a mother often has. She would let the phone ring out, and then she and Sandy's father would come over with their extra key. They were five minutes drive away. Don was a big man himself, and still a strong man despite his age. Sandy was in with a chance. She began to holler, and twist, and kick, and bite.

* This story was written in response to a visual prompt on the fabulous new blog magpie tales (thank you Rel, for your imaginative post, which inspired me to go check it out!). Go visit - it might inspire you to try a tale or two, too!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

game, set and match

She opened the door and felt a cold rush of fear. He'd been here again. There was that familar, spine-tingling, terrifying scent of his aftershave. She stood in the doorway of her tiny flat, waiting for her racing heart to slow down. Slipping a hand into her tote bag, she withdrew her mobile phone.

"Sandra, is that you?". Her mother had caller ID, but never seemed to fully trust it.

"Hi Mum." Sandra felt a little silly now, hearing her mother's sensible voice. This was not the first time Viktor had been in her flat, and it shouldn't rattle her so much. He was playing mind games with her, that was all. She couldn't go running to her parents every time this happened.

"What's wrong Sandy?", her mother queried. Her mother always knew when something was bothering her, even when she tried to hide it.

Sandy sighed, stepping inside, and plonking her bag on the kitchen bench. "Oh Mum, I'm embarrassed to tell you. I feel like such an idiot. I should never have agreed to date him in the first place." She didn't have to explain further. Sandy and her mother knew each other so well that their conversations often took this oblique form. Sandy sat down on the crumpled suede couch, removed her shoes one by one. She could hear her mother's voice, faint and worried as she turned away from the phone - "Don, it's Sandy. That man has been in her flat again." Sandy listened as her mother breathed quietly, the rumbling low tones of her father's reply unintelligible. It was excruciating to be in her late thirties and still calling home like a child. She had to stop this.

Her mother's voice was falsely bright in her ear. "Sandy, your father's coming round now. Why don't you bring your things, and stay the night?"

"No, Mum! Tell him not to." There was a tiny note of irritation in her voice now, although she'd tried to hide it."I'm perfectly capable of driving myself over you know." Sandy frowned, rubbing a strand of her dark hair between finger and thumb as she walked into the kitchen and pulled a plate of leftovers from the fridge. "But Mum, I can't keep staying at your place. I have to live my life. I can't let him get to me."

There was a pause. "Are you sure sweetheart?" her mother prompted gently.

Sandy deposited the plate in the microwave, pressed reheat. "Yes Mum, I'm sure. I'm alright now. I'll talk to you soon, OK?". She tossed the phone on the bench, poured herself some wine, retrieved the now steaming-hot food from the microwave, and settled herself back on the couch. She had just flicked on the TV when she saw the vase. She inhaled sharply, stiffening.

It was a lumpen pottery vase she'd made herself, during a series of pottery classes she'd enrolled in after she and Steve had separated. She'd been terribly, desperately lonely, reeling from the loss of her marriage, her husband. Suffice it to say she'd quickly realised pottery was not her thing. She'd kept the lopsided blue vessel, though, out of a sort of affection and kindness towards the sad and lost woman she'd been back then. These days she could smile at her inept attempt to get back into the dating world. In fact, with her new job, and finally owning her own flat outright, things would have been pretty much perfect, were it not for Viktor. She stared at the vase, now, her heart accelerating once more. What was it doing beside the TV? She kept it out of public sight, on her bedroom chest of drawers. He'd been in her bedroom.

She moved now with a kind of reckless courage, still holding the plate in her hand. Angrily, she strode into the bedroom, glancing wildly about. Nothing else appeared to be out of place. The bed was made neatly, as she'd left it that morning. Her stack of bedtime reading was still topped by 'War and Peace' which she never seemed to manage to read for more than two minutes before falling asleep. Sandy sighed, and her shoulders relaxed a little. This was just what he would want her to do - to freak out, feel edgy and scared. She'd stay calm, keep her head. She'd get the locks changed again tomorrow, and file another report with the police, for what that was worth. It was hard to prove your ex-boyfriend was stalking you when all you could testify was that an ornament had been shifted, or a piece of fruit eaten. Sometimes she even wondered if she was imagining these subtle changes, or if maybe she herself was the one wandering around the flat in her sleep, moving things about.

Sandy retreated to the couch, and ate her curry in front of the news. The newsreader's words washed around her, meaningless and unheard, as she marvelled again how naive she'd been to fall for Viktor. Not that she'd fallen for him, exactly - it was more that she'd been consumed by him, overwhelmed by him, hopelessly flattered by his passionate attentions. After Steve's indifference, it was so thrilling to be adored, worshipped and pursued. She'd fallen in love with Viktor's love for her. She could see now that she had never troubled to get to know who Viktor really was. Victor was handsome in his brooding, European way, he was well-mannered, he was clever. He smoked cigars sometimes at night, and he drank fine wine. He had even white teeth that flashed when he laughed heartily at her jokes. He was a facade of a perfect man.

The first hint of a problem between them had arisen about a month into their romance, when Sandy had invited Viktor to her firm's Christmas party. Viktor had offered to drive, and Sandy had felt a little bubble of joy in her chest as she accepted. Steve would have tried to convince her to drive. It had been so nice to feel taken care of. But the night had not turned out well. Viktor had upset her by sweetly suggesting she change her dress, before they even left the flat. He claimed it was the wrong colour for her, which had annoyed her, as much for the fact that she doubted this was his true reason. Her cream-coloured sheath dress had a low, cowl neckline which showed off her cleavage nicely. Sandy had been curiously stubborn, refusing to swap outfits. Viktor had been surly all night. From that night on, the relationship had slowly begun to unravel - Viktor becoming more possessive and prone to bouts of anger, as Sandy tried to ease her way out of the ties she'd allowed to form. The night she'd finally ended things for good, Viktor's face had been impassive. "You're making a very foolish mistake", he replied softly, in his precise but accented English. When Sandy had repeated this statement to the young sergeant, after the first time Viktor had been in her flat, he had seemed unimpressed. As the sergeant rightly pointed out, there had been no threat of violence, no swearing, no angry name-calling. But the sergeant hadn't seen Viktor's eyes when he'd uttered those simple words -glittering, malevolent eyes. Sandy shivered, and stood up.

(to be continued)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

waterfront walk

The tall houses stare blankly at the water. Despite their premier location, and the time of day - sunset - few people are sitting on the balconies or terraces that overlook the river. I wander along, intrigued by these dwellings worth millions of dollars.

The homes are grey, and taupe, and grey. Their walls are within an arm's breadth of the dividing fences; windows face into windows of adjacent homes a mere 3 or 4 metres apart. The buildings themselves are long, and sprawl down the length of the narrow blocks of land. The few houses that have a patch of grass sport lawns the size of a large tabletop.

I pass a schoolboy in his matchbox back yard, leaning listlessly on the low wall. He looks lonely and bored. He hunches in his school uniform. He has nowhere to run about, no trees to climb, no pet to play with. He has a very glamorous abode, but it doesn't look as though he's impressed by it.

It strikes me that as much as I love the river, as much as I love to be near the water, I wouldn't want to live in one of these skinny mansions, even if we could afford to. I actually prefer our rambling, haphazardly-decorated home in suburbia. I love that we have lots of grass, lots of trees, a vege patch and a dog. Oh, and possums, rats, mice, geckoes and cane toads. Birds, frogs, lizards. Friendly neighbours. And kids with room to play.