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  Darkness Falls



The tail end of August, and hotter than hell. Clemence wound down the window, glancing around to check for nosy neighbours as he did so: with the window open, he was conspicuous. The mingled scents of overblown privet and new-mown grass buffeted his face like a solid mass. He noted with alarm that the sun had crept round, slicing sharply across one edge of his camera, resting on the passenger seat. He snatched it up. It was warm. Shit! For a moment he held it to the cooler air at the window, but shifted it when he got a curious look from a kid walking past.
He watched until she became a blurred tadpole shape in the distance. A combination of heat haze and the residual effects of twelve years staring at nothing further than thirty feet away. A slight deficit in visual perception, the doctor said. It would right itself, with time. The girl turned the corner and he settled back. The 28-200mm lens he had chosen for its versatility was a comforting weight in his lap.
He armed the sweat from his forehead and a spiky trickle crabbed its way from his chest to the waistband of his chinos. If she didn’t come soon, he would have to move the car somewhere cooler.

   He squinted up into the shimmering mosaic of the sycamore canopy above him; the leaves had a hard, brittle quality, not yet tinged with autumn colour, yet well past the soft greens of spring. He would have to wait another year to see that on the outside.
A couple of streets away, an ice-cream van clanged ‘Greensleeves’ at a mad pace, speeding to its favoured pitch, and for a moment the stink of privet was displaced by a childhood memory: running into the street after tea, the pavement a hot, searing white, coins slippery in his seven-year-old palm. Reaching the juddering, custard-yellow van and breathing in the heady combination of raspberry syrup and diesel fumes.

   The years inside seemed grey by comparison – leached of colour by their sameness and deadened by fear and rage. Those years, when the predominant smells of boiled cabbage and stale shit seemed almost interchangeable, had made him greedy for sensory stimulation of a more wholesome kind. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, purging himself of the prison smells, relishing the prickling sensation of the privet’s scent on his palate and at the back of his throat.
A car pulled up almost opposite and Clemence slumped lower in his seat, cupping his hand protectively over the zoom lens in his lap, then, cautiously lifting the camera to waist height, he turned his head slowly, his heart thumping painfully in his chest. It was her.

   He experienced a curious mixture of excitement and anxiety: this woman represented a goal – perhaps even an ambition. It had taken some time to build to this moment. He had sought her out, and now he was determined that he would get what he came for.

   She got out of her car and walked towards the house with the faded red door, broken fence and overgrown privet hedge. He had imagined her somewhere grander – more picturesque – with neatly pruned shrubs, and borders planted with meticulous reference to the colour wheel: no clashing oranges and purples for her, but tasteful drifts of graded tints, and a carefully considered marrying of texture and form.

   She reached the front door and he zapped off a few shots as she turned into the sunlight to rummage for her keys in her handbag. He liked catching women unawares: it was at such moments that they often exhibited an unselfconscious grace.

   She went through the door and he waited. No point in startling her. Give her a few minutes to kick off her shoes, hang up her jacket, maybe put the kettle on. She might even offer him a cuppa. The anxiety had been replaced by a growing sense of dread. Group therapy sessions during his final three years inside had taught him to recognise the often confusing emotions he felt. They had also practised anger management: identify the signs and deactivate the rage or, if it got past control, walk away. Not always an option on the inside, but being on the outside made things easier on that score – it was so big for one thing; there were so many places you could go. And managing the anger had unexpected advantages: putting distance between what you might call the incitement, and the retribution made detection more difficult.

   He checked his watch. He’d given her long enough. He rolled up the window and reached for the door handle. A moment of doubt like a spasm of pain. What if she wouldn’t speak to him? He forced himself to take a few breaths. She would – he would talk, and she would listen. He would persuade her.

He got out of the car and crossed the street.

Excerpted from Weaving Shadows by Margaret Murphy. Copyright © 2003.
Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


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