Kate heard the car coming from a few streets away, it sounded different. Joan was upset tonight and the Mercedes was copping it. Kate wondered if it looked even more monster-like when Joan was driving angry. She could imagine the car with an angry face across its front grille and a growl like an animal that was cornered.
Pre-empting the necessity Kate ducked inside quickly and grabbed a second wine glass, returning to the front doorway just in time to see the shiny black car pull into the driveway opposite her.
Within a second of turning the engine off Joan stepped out and slammed the door hard behind her. With both hands on her hips she paced back and forth a few times, her heels clicking on the concrete driveway as she mumbled to herself, then she placed her hands on the top of the door and stepped back half a pace, dropping her head and taking in a few deep breaths.
Then she remembered.
Straightening up again she looked across the road, Kate was framed by the hallway light shining through the open front door. She raised the wine glass in her hand to her neighbour, simply a silhouette forming the image of an unvoiced question. Joan’s feet answered before her mind had time to process the action, they simply took it upon their own accord to walk towards the woman that was waiting for her.
By the time Joan reached the porch Kate had a full glass to place directly in her hand as she cleared the third step, of which half was drained in an instant. Kate noticed that her tie was loosened, her collar button on her crisp white shirt was undone, and although her hair was still held in the tight bun it was messy around the sides.
“Rough day?” were the simple words that reached Joan’s ears as Kate smiled gently, simply offering companionship and a listening ear.
“Awful day.” Joan was agitated and couldn’t bring herself to sit in the empty rocking chair; instead she paced back and forth in front of the sitting area. “Just when I think I’m getting somewhere these bitches back me into another corner.” Another mouthful, the glass was nearly empty.
“You want to talk about it? You know I won’t repeat anything you say to me.” Kate sat down on her rocking chair and pulled the blanket over her legs, settling in to listen to the story Joan would tell her.
“My prison is full of drugs again and I can’t damn well figure out how they are getting them in. I had a junkie on the roof today believing she could fly, one of my officers grabbed her just in the nick of time or she would have been pavement scraps.”
Kate simply sat and listened, not wanting to interrupt the internal processes her neighbour was going through at that moment as her internal frustrations aired themselves in a healthy manner. Interrupting would only serve to breach the flow, and Kate knew that Joan was far better off venting the pressure now than letting it build up and exploding later.
“This ‘top dog’ mentality of the women causes those who could actually make a difference to shut up and bog down instead of giving me the information I need to stop the supply. I could bloody well fix this if it wasn’t for the fear of getting beaten if they lag.” Spittle flew from her mouth and her black eyes darted all over the place as she growled the words out.
Kate watched Joan take three steps up the veranda, turn, and take three steps back, pacing back and forth as the anger tumbled out of her. Again and again and again as she worked out her frustration in three steps and a turn. The wine glass was empty but still she held it tightly in her hand, oblivious to the fact there was nothing left in it.
“I ordered a ramp and got nothing but a few small personal use amounts. Nothing to tie up who is bringing them in, nothing concrete enough to slot the main players. If we don’t get onto this soon I can feel another death in custody coming on.”
Time to intervene. In a swift and decisive movement Kate stood from her rocking chair and grabbed Joan by her upper arms. Kate felt knotted muscles and a tension throughout her neighbour’s body that wasn’t just related to work.
Those dark eyes fell to the green ones and a moment of calmness settled between the two of them. No words were needed. The tension in Joan’s body released slightly, Kate felt it in her hands as she remained close to Joan, the eye contact holding strong as together they simply breathed through the moment and Kate held Joan anchored to the ground.
Taking the empty glass from Joan’s hand Kate placed it on the small table beside the bottle of wine and stepped closer to her friend. Joan stood half a foot taller than her but Kate maintained eye contact as she inched closer until their bodies were almost touching.
Sliding her arms around Joan’s waist, Kate embraced the woman and pulled their two bodies together.
Joan’s arms tightened around Kate’s shoulders and she held her friend close. Kate’s mousey brown hair brought a florally fragrance to the embrace and calmed Joan’s racing nerves. She could feel the texture and softness of Kate’s woollen jumper beneath her fingers and she clutched at it for something to simply hold onto as she felt her mind racing faster than she could catch it.
“Breathe Joan,” Kate whispered quietly.
She breathed deep and felt the rhythm of Kate’s breathing against her own chest. She let the day wash away and regained control of her emotions one inch at a time with every long, slow breath. She could feel Kate’s pulse in her embrace and she concentrated on it as she held the woman close.
“Shh,” Kate soothed gently as their breathing matched one another’s. “You’ve got this Joan. You wait a few days and order another ramp. You let them dig a hole and then you throw a grate over the top before they can bury themselves.”
Joan felt her heartbeat synchronise with Kate’s as they stood in each other’s arms under the yellow porch light and she listened to the soothing voice telling her how to manage this situation without the chaos her own proximity to the situation was bringing. Life felt stable again. Her emotional cascade was controllable again, no longer a raging ocean that was drowning her.
Kate slowly let go.
Joan didn’t want her to, but she too allowed herself to loosen her grip, but she didn’t let Kate go completely.
They stood on the veranda looking into each other’s eyes for three seconds that felt like an eternity.
Kate smiled warmly up at Joan as their hands remained on one another’s bodies, nothing else in the world mattering in those seconds as she knew she was simply there for someone she cared about who needed her attention.
Joan couldn’t form words for how grateful she was for everything Kate had done, she found that she couldn’t form words for anything in those seconds, all there was in her world was the two of them, standing alone on a veranda in a big empty world.
Three days later it all came out in the wash.
Another death in custody.