She’d felt them hiding out there for an hour now she supposed, though it was closer to two.
Right out there in the bushes that spoke sibilant whispers through her bedroom window; lime green snakes hissing lies on the breeze.
She knew someone was there without even the need to look. There they were, veiled amid the petrichor and rotting mulch. In those detestable bushes that scarred the Pritchard’s house opposite. That house. Among these houses. Each as neat as a curtsy.
She’d always thought the foliage a pockmark on the face of the street. Unbecoming of the area, being unruly and hardly ever tended to.
And now, there was somebody in those bushes. A person burned into an invisible stillness. Their patience serving as camouflage. But they were there, laying in wait. She was sure of it.
Should she venture out to confront them? Or report it to the police? But report what exactly? She’d seen nothing threatening. There was no evidence of wrongdoing or malice.
But she knew all the same - there was someone there. Just like she knew the kiddie ‘copter outside the supermarket would one day fly away with someone’s child. Or how she knew the staff at the library were foreign agents monitoring the nation’s reading habits.
It would be irresponsible to just go to sleep and ignore the situation. I must confront them, she thought. How angry she’d be if the agents had followed her home to pillage the books in her study, and she did nothing to prevent it. But it was already very late, and she didn’t have time for an all night vigil. Not when there were spies at the library.
Wait, what was that? She thought. Movement! Movement that was contrary to the way the wind was blowing the leaves. Her forearms prickled alive with static; her sympathetic nervous system flexing the follicles there, raising fine wheat-coloured hairs.
She could feel her heartbeat deep in her ears. It’s pulse in her neck. Suddenly startled, she let out an expletive as a small animal darted from one bush to another. She giggled, at first with relief, then with a ridiculous glee as she pictured a preposterous scene.
She imagined a squirrel, going about it’s business, making good on autumnal provisions. Upon seeing the intruder ahead in the foliage, the squirrel would come to a sudden taxidermist's halt, heart urgently fluttering.
The squirrel inquisitively sniffs the air. Not sensing immediate threat, it decides on a questioning, cautious approach.
“Can I help you?”, the squirrel would say. “Only, I’ve never seen you here before. Are you lost? Are you a threat?”.
“Move along little squirrel and let me be”.
“But this is my bush. My garden. You do not belong here”.
“There’s room for us both in this garden. If you just attend to your business and let me tend to mine”.
“But tell me, are you a friend or foe? Are you here to raid my stores? I’m worried that you may be”.
“I’m not, little squirrel. But I must ask, do you have any books collected there?”.
She convulsed from an alien sleep on the lounge sofa as first light of day nestled at her un-socked feet.
She couldn’t remember settling on the sofa at all, but she did have a brief snapshot of a dream. She’d found herself trapped and powerless, locked inside her own mouth, imprisoned behind bars of jaundiced teeth. The memory gave her a feeling of mild vertigo. Unsteady for a moment, she felt dislocated and sleep-heavy.
A furnace burned now in her stomach and behind her chest. This was how she would feel as a child, when she awoke from falling asleep on the living floor in front of the fire.
She rose, stumbled on clicking ankles and grumbling knees towards the kitchen. The thought of last night’s events were a murky puzzlement to her now.
Questions chiselled away in her head, she stopped and tutted when seeing the oak dining table, upon which lay a dispirited red satchel. I never did like that satchel, she confessed. It’s ugly and goes with none of my other pretty things. She was unsure why she even kept it any longer - she didn’t have anything else in red. And she was angry with herself for leaving it untidily on the table.
She took the bag and hung it on the hooks in the hall beside the coats, just above the place where she always deposited the day's mail. Mail which, she now noticed, there was an awful lot of. And still unopened! There were numerous letters and a few unassuming packages, all in a pile. Bills, she guessed. And the packages wouldn’t be for her, she was sure. She’d check later. There was more pressing business at hand.
As she hadn’t succeeded in accosting last night’s malefactor, she thought it wise to head outside to see if there was anything of material interest. Or indeed, proof that the only guilty party wasn’t her imagination.
Disappointing, she thought at the completion of her reconnaissance. She hadn’t expected them to be so sneaky. So efficient at covering their tracks, and wondered how she should prepare if the campaign were to repeat again tonight.
Readying to head home and wrestle with the problem and the post, her neighbour - Elizabeth Pritchard, shouted to her from the front doorstep of the house.
“Morning Leanne! Have you seen the postman at all? He’s usually been by now. And I’m waiting for this month’s Better Homes & Gardens”, she guffawed.
Better Homes & Gardens Liz? With those fucking bushes?
“No I haven’t I’m afraid Liz! But you can have some of my post if you like!”. Touché she thought contentedly. A decisive quip to volley back with.
“Oh, and Leanne, sweets! Your cat’s started leaving animals on my doorstep again. There was a dead squirrel this morning!”.
“I’m really sorry Liz. I’ll have a wee word with him now”, she offered as conciliation. Why Daniel had married that she’d never know.
Right. Must head in, she thought, I need a coffee. And that cat deserves an extra large tin of Whiskers this morning, she decided with a giggle. She really did tickle herself sometimes.
Once home and with kitchen looking presentable - minus the satchel - she set out the cat food and made herself a posh machine coffee. The machine fanned into polite action. Head on hands, on the counter like a bored school child, she marvelled at the sedimentary layers forming in the glass mug before her.
She loved this bit. Pure white milk settled as mantle. Then a sequence of smoky browns to create the crust, fading until reaching the snow-capped froth on the surface above. Wonderful, she whispered, almost hypnotised. Yes, I could watch that all day too, her reflection in the glass agreed back.
She double-blinked and snapped back into reality, her neck stiff and calves cramped, she shook her head and grabbed the drink while trying to stretch. She wandered towards the hallway and a took took a sip of her coffee.
“Bugger!” She exclaimed. How on earth had it gone stone cold in just a few moments? I only just made it, as she remembered the steam flustering the outer glass of the mug while it brewed hot. Yet another mystery... Oh well, she thought. Cold coffee is all the rage these days.
Walking past the sideboard at the kitchen’s exit she realised her mobile was there, it’s flashing light indicating activity. It was all go this morning!
She flipped open the phone and clicked into Texts.
Two unread messages, from:
Elizabeth Pritchard, today, 25 Sept:
Hi Leanne. Liz here. Sorry to bother. Has your post been delivered today? Thanks x
2nd message: Hi again Leanne. Sorry. Just spoke to you outside :o) Ignore me x
If only it were that easy to ignore you Liz. With those rotten bushes abusing my view.
One read message, from:
Daniel Pritchard, Wed, 23rd Sept:
Leanne. I’m sorry to be sending this by text. I couldn’t face telling you on a call - telling you this from so far away feels easier. One good thing about working away I guess. I also didn’t want you trying to convince me not to do this. I just think it’s better that I act in the moment. Doing what I think is right. Right for US. Leanne I’ve sent Liz a letter. I’ve come clean and a letter felt the way it should be done. I’ve told her I’m in love with you and about the affair. And that I’m not going home. Ever. I want to be with YOU Leanne. Please forgive me. And allow us to be together. As we should be. Always. I love you I really do. Can’t wait to see you. All my love. Dan x
“Noooooooooo!”, she shrieked, slamming her hand down on the sideboard and upsetting the Lalique crystal flower held hostage there. The sudden fury of the scream felt like it would rip apart her larynx. She felt nauseous and dizzy, closeted suddenly in her own body. Her skin felt too small to contain her, as if she may either suffocate or explode.
“Stupid, stuuupid man!”, she shouted. It wasn’t love on her part. She didn’t even really want him. Most certainly doesn’t want to keep him.
Wait... A mental spasm jolting her… Did Daniel’s message say ‘Read’ before she’d actually clicked into it? Impossible for a new message. But she was almost certain it did. How odd... If it had said ‘Read’, it could mean only one thing - the infiltrators at the library were now monitoring her phone, and not just her book collection.
She could deal with that later. The immediate problem was spineless Dan. The affair with him was all just a ploy anyway. An engineered, means to an end. The sex meant nothing. A face slap of revenge. Righteous retaliation for those wild, horrid bushes. If Liz or Dan the idiot at least trimmed them occasionally, who knows? She may not have taken such drastic action.
She took her volcanic anger out on the red satchel. Ripping open her front door and slinging it into the bin. There. Decisive action, she thought. She paused for a second, then flung the mobile phone out too, feeling the tiniest bit better for it.
Why though did cowardly Dan have to send that ridiculous letter. If only it wouldn’t be delivered at all. But it was too late. Sent out Wednesday. Today was Friday. She and the rest of the village knew the Swiss-like clockwork schedule of young Joshua, the postman. The letter would be delivered today.
She hated Liz for the corner she’d back her into. Hated how she kept the garden, and the way she would wear carpet slippers when posing out there, doing very little of anything productive, while looking at the flowers. She hated how Liz had married such a pathetic man. And despised her even more for forcing her into taking him away.
How to handle this mess she mused. She just needed to think. To get ahead of the problem. She was pretty sure today’s post still hadn’t arrived, which would mean Joshua, the postman, would still be out on his rounds.
Would he help her if she explained it was an emergency? Would he be sympathetic, allowing himself to forget his obligation to His Majesty’s Royal Postal Service? She thought it unlikely. But she’d be mad at herself if she didn’t try. She could at least…
Her thinking was obliterated when there was a knock at the door. “For fuck’s SAKE!”, she spat. “I really haven’t got time for this shit!”.
She practically attacked the front door as she opened it. Ready to verbally flay whoever was there knocking extremely loudly, she thought.
Oh they’re going to get it, she laughed with a well-earned mania, a slight trickle of saliva abseiling from her bottom lip as she forced down the handle. Luckily, she managed to suck it back up before it fell to the rug.
Yanking the door open - “OK WHAT THE FFFF….” She broke off. Sentence hanging.
“Good morning Miss Brydon. Detective Warren Thomas. This is detective Charley Kumar”, he said, displaying credentials then flicking the wallet back into his coat like close-up magic.
“May we come in?”.
“Well, erm, y-yes. Of course. But please, could you both take your shoes off?”.
They looked at each other. Thomas nodding to Kumar to comply. The former obviously taking charge here, she noted.
The dizzy, out-of-body sensation from her sleep earlier returned as she led them into the living room. Her mind felt like it was floating above her head, looking down on them all.
She’d done nothing wrong, but felt sick nonetheless, and she couldn’t very well excuse herself to vomit in the downstairs loo. Such a reaction would surely look suspicious.
“So, how can I help?”, she asked in a strangled voice as they sat shoeless on the sofa. He in socks. She - Kumar - barefoot.
“Can we ask your whereabouts yesterday evening?”.
“Erm, certainly yes”, she said with a warm smile, knowing she’d got at least the first question in the bag. “I was right here”. She patted the reclining armchair where she was sat.
“Last night was a Thursday. So I was in this very chair, watching Silent Witness”.
They nodded with glassy eyes as if her words had no tangible impact whatsoever on the conversation. The female detective, Kumar, adding notes in a pad.
“And this was all night?”.
“It was yes”.
“Can anybody confirm this?”.
“Just Winston. My cat. Where is that silly chap anyway?”, she wondered aloud.
“I see”. Said Detective Thomas, sounding like he really didn’t at all.
“And can I ask you to explain why you have such a large amount of unopened post in your hallway? We couldn’t help but notice it there”.
“Well, I just haven’t got round to sorting it yet I’m afraid. I’m usually a stickler for such things. But I’ve had a lot on my mind”.
“Oh really? Such as?”.
“Well, there are…” She had to stop herself from mentioning the rogue in the bushes and the sleeper cell at the library. They were private issues she needed to investigate first.
“There are only so many hours in the day you see? And it’s been such a busy morning”.
“Hmmm, hmmm”, he nodded back, Kumar scribbling into the notebook, without the need to even look at the page.
“And can I ask, why most of the post isn’t addressed to you? Or, why it isn’t even meant for this address at all for that matter?”.
Now that she wasn’t expecting.
“Oh, that errrm…” Eyes darting. Mouth sandpaper-dry. Weeks passed… “Oh silly me”, she tutted and swallowed at a level that was surely audible. “My total lack of manners! Would either of you like a drink? I’ve a wonderful coffee machine…”
“No thank you, we’re fine. Now, are you aware Miss Brydon that the village postman, Joshua Emery, was found murdered early this morning?”.
She was sure she must have visibly blanched. What the hell was going on? she thought. Words simply wouldn’t form. She answered instead with a head-shake on a rusted neck in need of new oil for its hinges.
“Lastly Miss Brydon, could you tell us why the postman’s satchel was found in your wheelie bin right outside?”.
“Ohhhh, the… It’s prrr… I…” She had lost the ability to speak completely now. Was the chair reclining beneath her of its own freewill? Was she leaning over a high balcony? Her brain unable to grasp her three dimensional position within the room.
“I really can’t ssss…”
No words. No breath. Her body and her brain, usually so well trained through years of daily use, now finally abandoned her.
Until a thought…
No postman? She questioned herself lightly.
No post! She concluded with a smile.
Detective Thomas caught the delicate as air comments, he saw the smile, and he thundered into action:
“Miss Brydon…”, he stood and proclaimed, looking like a monument to authority.
“I am arresting you on suspicion of the murder of Joshua Emery. Do you have anything you wish to say?”
“Ahhh,” she replied with relief as she touched back down into her living room, glad to finally get this off her chest.
“Yes I do. I know of some people who work down at the library you see. And you really do need to speak with them”.