This is the revised first chapter of my manuscript – In The Dark.
IN THE DARK
‘Can I confirm this is Sarah Masters.’
This wasn’t the voice I thought I would hear.
‘This is Detective Stiles, from Slough police station. Can I ask, are you alone?’
‘Yes, I am. Is it about Graham? Has he had an accident?’
She doesn’t answer straight away, and coffee crashes around my empty stomach. It is the only thing I have consumed in the last three hours. I can’t even face breakfast.
Graham, my husband, got a phone call in the early hours of this morning. I picked up my watch – the braille near the hands tell me it is only one o’clock in the morning. Within minutes he left the house with a promise to talk more later.
Truth is I am still furious with him.
‘We will talk more when we get there. We will show our identification when we arrive,’ Detective Stiles says.
‘Is there another way? I’m blind.’
‘We can set up a password. You need to ring the police station to confirm straight away.’
‘Are you alone?’
‘Yes . . .’
‘I would advise for you to have someone with you . . . is there anyone you can call?’
I call Graham instead. Something is wrong, they wouldn’t call me out of nowhere. I’ve worked in a newspaper longer enough to know there can never be anything good come out of this. This person’s phone is turned off, try again later. I try again and get the same message. ‘Call me Graham, I don’t care where you are, just call me!’
Only then do I ring my local police station. The information is genuine. I set up the password St Ives. Our last holiday a distant memory now, but the last time we are truly happy. I call Graham again, and nothing has changed.
The next hour passes by in a blur of coffee. I text Graham, order him to call me back. I think of calling Poppy, but she will only worry. I could ring Mum, or Dad, but I am just about holding on.
Richard, his pragmatic nature is needed now.
‘The police have called, they don’t want me to be alone. I’m sure it’s nothing. Graham’s probably had an accident and in hospital somewhere.’
‘I’ll be right over,’ Richard says.
He has only been there five minutes when the police knock on the door. For some reason I tell him to stay in the front room. I’m not sure why. Just that there are some things I need to do alone.
‘I telephoned earlier, I’m here with Constable Woods.’
‘What is the password?’
I open the door wider, and they walk inside.
An image of them forms in my head. I’ve not always been blind, and only lost my sight three years ago. She, in her sensible skirt and freshly washed shirt, scared to speak. Him, in his police uniform. Heavy boots tread across my carpet – he is in my front room in seconds.
I’m not surprised they appear in pairs. One to give the bad news, the other to console. She hovers in front of me, her shadow blocking out the light from the street outside.
‘Is anyone with you?’ She asks.
‘Yes, Richard, he is in the front room.’
Why so formal Sarah? It is like your inviting someone in for tea and cakes. I think I knew then what she was going to say. I didn’t want believe it, but Graham still hasn’t put my mind at rest. This isn’t like him. Normally he is the first person to say sorry after an argument. I am the one who takes a grudge and will not let it go.
‘Is this about Graham?’
‘We’ll talk when we’re inside,’ Detective Stiles says.
‘Do you want anything to drink, coffee. I’m afraid I haven’t got any tea,’ I say.
Why am I saying that? The bile rises in my stomach and burns. Merlin senses it, and so do I. His last words to me get stuck in my throat I have to go Sarah, but when I get back we’ll talk I promise.
‘Shall we go inside,’ she says kindly.
Everything is in slow motion. I can’t go back or move forward to my own front room. Eventually, Merlin nudges me along the hallway. I imagine him walking beside me, his tough fur under my fingertips.
I take a tentative step. The carpet harsh against my bare feet. It is like I am dreaming, but awake at the same time. The detective’s sensible, slow steps amble behind me. Allowing me to go at my own pace, with a knowledge I don’t want to possess.
I just want her to ease my worries. They do not send police in the home unless they are delivering bad news. It could still mean he is in hospital. Why am I drawn to the worst possible scenario?
Detective Stiles has a professional air to her, and she has done this before. She remains standing until Merlin steers me towards Richard. In the dark, in more ways than one, I don’t want to hear their news.
Do I stand up, or sit down? Not willing to do either I sway on the spot. Why is my mind automatically drawn to the worst scenario? They could be here to tell me he is in the hospital? Motorbike accidents happen all the time. Yet, they didn’t they just say he is at accident and emergency.
Asking me if I am alone – to call someone if necessary.
Richard’s trousers brush against mine as I sit down. I’m not even sure what I’m thinking now, but nothing can be worse than the words crashing around my mind.
‘Can I confirm you are Mrs Sarah Masters?’ She repeats.
‘Yes,’ I say.
I won’t hold on to Richard’s hand because I will break down completely.
‘I regret to inform you that your husband has died in a motorbike accident in Stoke Poges Lane.’
It is so matter of fact, like it isn’t the worst news possible. It has to be like that. Working in a newspaper, as a journalist since I was twenty five, there is no easy way to give bad news.
Convincing myself they are wrong, I shake my head to rid myself of the bad news.
‘No, no, no! It isn’t him, you’ve got the wrong man!’
‘Sarah . . . they would have checked, you know that,’ Richard says.
‘We found his wallet at the scene.’
‘How do you know it is Graham? Someone could have stolen his wallet, his bike and his identity. You all sit here telling me my husband is dead, when it is another person you need to give this bad news to.’
‘At this present time we are not looking anywhere else,’ Constable Woods says.
‘It might not be him,’ I say, turning to face Richard’s aftershave. This can’t be happening. My last words to Graham were petty, accusations thrown against the walls like mud. Was it my jealousy about not being able to do the job I once loved? I want to take them back, but they are thrown to the wind like tattered pieces of paper.
‘We would like you to identify his body?’ Constable Woods says, but not to me. His words are directed at Richard.
‘I can identify the body, and tell you it isn’t my husband.’
Blindness is something I take for granted now. I know every ridge of his face. The way his nose points just the right way, the softness of his skin next to mine and the little scar on his face when he fell out of a tree aged four.
‘Of course you can, and take all the time you need.’ Detective Stiles says.
Manicured hands cover mine, and I roughly push them away. I am in no need of comfort from Richard. Whatever is happening, Graham is out there somewhere and no-one is doing a damn thing.
Why isn’t Richard arguing with me? Graham dead – it is so ridiculous.
‘Sarah, I can identify him if you want.’ Richard says.
‘You’ll need help in identifying the body,’ Constable Woods says.
‘He’s my husband. If it is him, I can identify him just fine!’ I shout.
‘Constable Woods, would you go to the car, I will meet you there,’ Detective Stiles says. ‘Sarah, the body is at the morgue in Wexham Park Hospital. Myself and my colleague will meet you both there. It is up to you whether you want to be alone, or with someone, but we will make sure you needs are catered for.’
Her voice is gentle, quiet, and consoling, like overly sweet tea. I am so angry. My whole body feels stretched. I still refuse to believe he is dead. Someone else is on the cold slab of metal. It isn’t Graham, it can’t be Graham. Any minute now the smell of warm sugar would drift into the room along with his apology. ‘Sorry babe, let’s talk.’
‘Whatever the outcome . . .’ Detective Stiles says slowly, ‘it is always advised not to go in alone.’
Richard is the only person I can trust. Even now there are no tears, just quiet reflection. Perhaps he is like me – not willing to believe until there is absolute proof in front of him.
‘Will you go in with me?’ I ask.
After a few seconds he answers. ‘I’ll be with you every step of the way.’
‘Thank you, but it isn’t him you know. This is some silly mistake.’