September - BLUE
In my secondhand football boots—studs worn blunt—their taunts to Run faster, Blue carried across the field, where twenty-two sweaty, arrogant adolescents hurled insults and throw-ins in equal measure.
David Azure—Blue. Get it?
No, I didn’t either. Not then anyway.
Now the demons are different, internalised by the absence of noise and people. Time here feels infinite. For reflection, they say. Really they’re just letting me simmer until a confession rises to the surface and escapes.
When my life was mapped out, time was always a good thing. Time to revise. Time to play. But no good can come of it now.
Tired and dizzy—having paced the minutes and hours away—I perch uncomfortably on a wooden bench, dwelling on the name Blue and all it has come to represent. Perhaps the rich kids got it right from the start.
First it’s footsteps. Then the cold chime of the lock.
Now it begins.
I unfurl and clench my fists unwittingly, fighting to keep my expression deadpan—poker face—as we pass through the double doors and down the great marble steps towards a line of police cars mounted on the kerb.
The handcuffs are rubbing again. Today will be long, and my resilience is already waning.
The suit I’m wearing is both too wide and too short, as if it’s been tailored for a gnome rather than my once broad and muscular father. He’s in his grey suit—starched and hemmed—to look his best.
Reaching the pavement, I fasten the drooping buttons of my blazer. Jade’s serene image slips away before I can grasp onto the curl of her fine lips or the way she twists her wavy golden hair.
When a hand presses on the back of my head, I crouch without flinching. They’ll put one officer in after me, whilst Detective Pike makes her way around to the other side. For a few seconds, the detective’s line of sight is severed. These are the moments I wait for, like the cracks between paving stones, breaking up the hard cold reality of where I am.
A flash of the white cliffs infiltrates my mind. I blink it away. Anxiety is a potent cocktail; a few sips and I’m fighting a losing battle inside my head. The first image to resurface is always the conveyor belt. The red emergency button. The clicking of the plastic slats. Blood trickling from the metal skirt.
It takes a few minutes for the other patrol cars to fill. I scan the officers on the pavement for any sign of Mikey, though I already know he’s not been granted permission to come, at least not for the journey. Whether he chooses to turn up for the service is up to him. But he won’t. If for no other reason than it’s not reimbursable as a client expense.
As if it didn’t hurt the first time, the detective leans in so I can feel her breath on the side of my cheek, and for the second time this morning she says, ‘Have you considered my offer?’
It takes every ounce of restraint not to acknowledge her. My nails grind into my palms. My expression is stolid. I will not accept her offer. She will not break me.
See, this is what the police do. They scare you into coercion, at the expense of your sanity and of every standard you’ve ever kept. They want to manipulate me into a hole as ill-fitting as this blazer so they can write their report and seal the file. Who cares if it’s the truth. Who cares what I will lose.
The Western world was free last time I checked. Only I should have looked harder. Small print lurks in the shadows with asterisks and dotted letters. The key of life you’re automatically granted at birth is threaded with an invisible chain.
When I finally exhale, the words ‘go to hell’ slide between us. I glance to the other uniforms in the car.
‘You can’t have your old life back, David,’ Detective Pike snaps.
This time the other three heads in the car flick around. Judge. Pity. Shame.
My old life? I’m not ready to relinquish it, even to her.
Taking in the sight of her incensed stare, I imagine her flat nose widening into that of a bull’s, with steam rising violently from her protruding ears. Whilst she marvels at my humiliation, a shot of anger threatens to consume me. I hate her. I hate her. I harbour the rage by studying the frayed stitching on the back of the driver’s headrest. Though the car’s ‘12’ plate puts it at around three years old, the gnawed seat is aged beyond its years. Perhaps she pushes all cons to grip its coarse leather as tightly as I do, teasing the stuffing out of the proverbial teddy bear until it’s no more than a vacuous shell.
Teeth gritted. Eyes in sharp focus. Temples wound with an invisible cog so tight, my forehead must surely be throbbing. Perhaps they could be forgiven for thinking me powerless in this state, but self-control is something I’ve been honing these past two weeks. I won’t let myself succumb to her taunts. Not anymore.
The other three officers are still now, with phlegmatic faces fixed dead ahead, mimicking my stance. The two in the front are divided from us by a reinforced mesh reserved for only the serious offenders, like me. This past week, I’ve often wondered if they hate the detective, too, whether they see the way she twists her lips, narrows her ebony-brown eyes and enjoys the effect of her infernal words.
With smaller red stars affixed to their lapels, they’re at least four rungs down the promotion ladder. Unfortunately for me, Detective Pike’s golden epaulettes, pinned spirit-level straight onto a handmade suit, put her somewhere close to the top.
We leave in a motorcade of noise and colour like a royal procession. If only I were special for those reasons. Being born into a family which double-shifted their numerous jobs to send me to a fancy school in London is without the pomp and honour I am ashamed to desire. Instead I have fallen into the very footsteps my parents dedicated their lives to ensuring I’d avoid.
That is shame enough.
Bullets rain down in a torrent storm in my head. It’s been like this every day since. I blink them away, but it’s too late. The image of blood dripping over the conveyor belt is back. This time with the balaclava-clad faces yelling orders as they hurdle crates and dodge the peppered bullets from the frenzied guards. My heart hammers. My escape is to concentrate on Jade until my breathing stabilises, though it’s getting harder to maintain focus. Harder to remember before.
I wait it out for twenty-five more minutes of abhorrent instructions, which float over my head, before the police car grinds to a halt. All the while, I picture Jade’s smile and the way the light would catch her eyes. So much has happened in the sixteen days since I saw her last, since I left her all alone on the Heath.
‘Remember, we’re not here to make a scene,’ Detective Pike says as an officer from the front seat opens my door and hauls me out.
We’re here because I exercised my human rights, because it’s probably the last time I’ll feel loose soil beneath my feet or see the smoggy London horizon without a chicken-wire fence obscuring the view.
The whole team, including eight additional support officers, escorts me from the car park up a steep hill, to where a small crowd has collected in rivulets that flow towards an empty grave.
A pit I might as well have dug.
It’s the same oppressive humidity as the day on the Heath with Jade, which makes my shirt stick to my shoulder blades and the back of my throat burn. Only this time, my shirt is buttoned up, and this sierra is void of lush grass and angled so no matter what time of day, it turns its back on the sunlight.
Ironically, my father always used to say that graveyards were a place of rebirth, where old souls redeem your sins, but I don’t see queues at the wrought iron gates seeking repentance now. Besides, what I’ve done can never be forgiven.
A few people look up as we approach. Then more emulate them, until almost every eye is upon me. Mikey is not here. Why did I think my good-for-nothing solicitor would be? Maybe if I paid him more than the capped legal aid pay shelf, he would show a little more ebullience. Probably not. And in any regard I’m not in the position to do so.
Jade is also notably absent, and for that I’m grateful. Maybe it’s that curious notion of pride again, not wanting her to learn what I did, to see the person beneath the one she was falling for. I prefer to imagine I’m protecting her from becoming like me, from the residue my bloodied hands would taint her with.
The faces I recognise are the most curious—perhaps to see a restrained criminal in plain sight—whilst unfamiliar ones are incensed, fuelled by a rage they will never understand.
Even the beating heart of the priest on the other side of the open pit is weighted with anguish. I know because he’s my priest, and for an old man, I’ve never seen the wrinkles that mar his forehead or crease his cheeks or pucker at his eyes and lips quite as prominently as I do today.
Father Glendor is already presenting his eulogy (I’m awarded a right to attend, though not necessarily from the start of the service, it would appear), but his words are lost on the crowd in the shrill of the wind that whips at the gravestones and offers me the only physical comfort since it happened. Still, the wind cannot alleviate the guilt that breathes at the nape of my neck and twists its wiry fingers around my lungs. It will not bring my father back.
I would turn away but for the shackles trained at my ankles. Like dogs, they squeal at my slightest movement, attracting the attention of a new crowd which forms a secondary band of black cloth around the open pit like the devil’s halo. I might be consoled by their presence if they were here to mourn, but they’re decorated with starched shirts, police badges, batons and the odd promotional star like the uniforms in the police car: a reminder that they are here for me.
It’s been twelve hours since I slept, and even then it was petered and fraught, atop a wooden ledge in the nine-by-nine cell—the largest holding cell the station could offer me, on doctor’s orders. The judicial system is flawed at best. Men can be beaten to a pulp in a fully supervised penitentiary whilst gangs and crime and drugs and booze run rife, but a green piece of paper complete with doctor’s scrawl can get you your own quarters and a private toilet.
Though after the trial it might get me to the psych ward as well. I’m not certain, but that’s probably worse.
My legs are stiff, and my head feels like a lead globe wavering on a daffodil’s stalk. Though my strength waned days ago, they continued to interrogate me within an inch of my sanity, and for my own father’s funeral, they assigned a dozen guards to my side. I can’t imagine a worse environment to harbour my bitterness or inflame my rage. It’s diluted momentarily by the priest’s final address; the wind calms long enough to hear Father Glendor praying for the salvation of the man who could commit such a heinous crime.
The officers think I can’t hear the mutters that carry through the balmy air.
‘A tenner says it was an inside job,’ and ‘that security guard must have been on a big bounty for this,’ and ‘it’s definitely that band of immigrants who protested in Trafalgar Square last month,’ and ‘maybe they were hiding refugees—all their uncles—in that pallet and that’s why they had to blow it sky high when the alarms went off.’
Worse, their conspiracy theories went as far as to blame foreign governments, cartels, neo-suffragettes, the mafia, the antiabortion brigade, you name it.
Everything but my version of events.
I heard them back at Pimlico, in a station so muggy it would take a hurricane to stir the stagnancy. Long days, punctuated by the clipping of thickened soles and rattling of keys, offered little more than their loose words served up with trays of gruel. Perhaps that’s part of their mind games? Another way to break you down.
More recently, they’ve been talking of greater repercussions. I even heard that the Prime Minister—Christopher Seaford—had suspended international travel. Closing the borders won’t help. That casement is long gone.
Father Glendor offers something of a smile, though I must be delusional to expect any compassion at this funeral. I realise his attention was directed at the gravedigger behind me when a stout man, in thigh-high green Wellington boots, comes forth from the cobbled pathway I climbed and drops into the pit to receive the coffin.
Muffled sobs rise up to cloud the silence as the casket is wheeled through. Lorraine. Clive. Pauline. My mother. Grandparents. All those I held so close in the palm of my hand, come to the front, though in their grief they can’t even look at me. Most police officers dip their chins respectfully as it passes, all but the detective, though she wavers as she steps back from the grave and falls in line beside my mother.
This is the part that woke me in a kind of sleep paralysis, bathed in sweat, but thankfully the coffin is now closed. Mr father’s eyes, wide and terrified, would be closed, too, inches beneath the casket lid.
The blood trickling over his eyelashes.
I bite down on my lip.
His body slumped against the conveyor belt, arms out wide, flashes before me. I resist the urge to wipe at my face and instead let the tears roll down my cheeks and my unkempt hair fall into my eyes. He was a good man. A better one than me.
‘The wife’s not talking,’ one of the police officers whispers behind me. I want to turn around and punch him, to draw his chest—by his uniform buttons—up to my shoulder height and watch the blood drain from his smug face. How dare he bring her up here. The threads of conversation I pick up thereafter only get worse with ‘retard’ and ‘breakdown’ being the most painful. What did I expect when she won’t even speak?
The lowering of the coffin stings like gravel rubbed into my irises. I clamp my jaw and grind my teeth, praying for it to end.
I did this.
I’ve been trying to ignore the detective, who’s been watching me since the service began. In fact, she’s been at it since she picked me up running like a scared beggar on the white cliffs of Dover, gun in hand, and charged me with first-degree murder, since a dozen officers pounced on me, twisting my hands behind my back until I was sure they would break and squeezing my neck into the dirt as they pinned me down. She’s judging my remorse, but like every other aspect of me that she’s evaluated, she’d be wrong.
I don’t know who they were nor why they stole the case of Zaconoph-A, and I certainly don’t know where they took it. What would terrorists want with a fertility drug anyway?
But four guards died. And that’s only counting physical injuries. My mother—she’s a victim too—in many different senses.
Detective Pike is a giraffe of a woman next to my mother, in a tight navy suit, scraped back hair and a stare so callous, it could bruise. She doesn’t comfort the frail, tawny-haired women nor notice the vacant expression in her eyes as she stares down at the standard-issue pine coffin as the attendants shovel dirt with tarnished spades into the well, as the clouds finally soak up all measures of sunlight, sealing the humidity in until we are no more than pickles in an unsavoury jar.
I will my mother to look my way, and for a moment she does. Her once illuminated expression is gone. When our eyes meet, no unspoken words pass between us, though so much is left unsaid.
I want to shout, ‘I did it all for you, I did it all for you.’ I need her to know, to see me, her son, not the monster she recognises now. The others turn to me. I can feel their stares, and the shame uproots a sudden surge of anger that makes my fists curl, but still the expression on my mother’s face remains unchanged. She has to understand, I did it for her.
The shackles pull tight and I realise I’m moving. Being moved. Restrained. My throat is not just dry, it’s hoarse. Only when they push me back into the police car do I hear the shouting: my cries, echoing off the roof.
‘Tell them, Mum! Tell them I did it for you!’
They don’t need to shelter me from her response, for I know she will not reply. I’ve been her son for nearly eighteen years, but it’s taken me sixteen days to realise she doesn’t have a son anymore.
The coffin ought to have taken two bodies. For David Azure is dead. Now there is only Blue.
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