Authors: Nichola McAuliffe
Don Mackay who had Faith,
Misty Spring who had Hope,
Mary McAuliffe who all her life has had Charity,
Liz Calder who had the manuscript
There was no difference between the blood. Moslem and Christian. It still ran through the gutters of the estate. The rain whipping down heavy and hard swilled it over the rubbish of the day into drains full of cigarette ends, sump oil and polystyrene cups.
The bloody mud continued its journey searching for a place to hide.
But they didn't stop trying to kill each other. The baseball bat smashed an eye socket, the machete hacked through an arm. Two lads, the dark of the storm making them identical. The crowd roared them on. Lightning lit up the faces, thunder effortlessly covered the shouting. More lightning, strobing the blows of machete and bat into Keystone harmlessness. The rain sluicing the blood off their faces, painting their hair to their heads.
A car now turned on its back, a tin turtle turned by hatred. The petrol tank smashed open with a paving block. A fire so fierce it defied the sheeting rain for twenty minutes before flickering out in a lake of black sludge.
And still the boys fought on. African against Asian. Black against brown. Nike versus Reebok.
âTo Me! To Me! To Me!'
She was no more than young, no taller than small. Her roundel shield beaten with all her strength with her baton. Her visor down, the rain making vision impossible, she flipped it up between beats. Inspector. Female in riot situation. Her men, her squad, came at her barely audible call. Men who'd been Special Patrol Group until rebranding became necessary due to excessive force being used on more than one unarmed individual. Long Roman Shields, greaves, helmets, sheer muscle pushing the crowd back. The
thickness of a blue serge uniform separating them from the thugs they faced.
From the side she could see the opportunity to go in and snatch the fighting cocks. As another streak of lightning lit the estate her lads went in to grab their lads. The two crowds of youths were now one mob united against the police. Paving slabs were ripped up and thrown. In the supernatural thunder and lightning bodies smashed by the stones fell and were dragged away with no sense of reality. The only reality was the rain. Best policemen in the world. But not tonight. The energy of the raging elements seemed to have entered the bodies below making them oblivious to the worst storm for four hundred years.
More police fell and still their Boadicea urged them on, but now they needed no urging. They wanted to feel bones crack; they were hungry to feel bodies under their boots.
The mob fought back with bricks, knives and finally the petrol bombs they'd been saving to use on each other.
Then the rain fell harder, the wind whipping it across faces, into eyes. The falling torrent put out the childish flames as the bottles broke around the police.
Now there was confusion. People falling, unable to stand under the force of the storm. And suddenly there was fear, not of their fellow men but of the blind biblical force of the elements tossing them about like so much rubbish in the flood.
But God sent no Moses to ford the rivers of blood.
A Pakistani boy aged about fifteen blown on to a scaffolding pole. It went through his face like a straw into milkshake.
Roof tiles falling, smashing heads and shoulders.
The earth whipping up as if the dead awoke.
Now everyone was running as the storm, like an angry parent, lost its patience.
They tried to find shelter but found the ugly buildings of the estate funnelled the energy of the wind, flattening bodies against walls and sucking the breath out of them.
Many collapsed where they were, curled over in an attitude of prayer, crying out to whichever god they knew. But the storm took their voices away. God was somewhere else.
Only the devil was listening.
A stroke of lightning struck the ground-floor flat opposite the pub and blue flames snaked into the sky. Flames the rain couldn't quench.
And below the flames, coils of oily smoke covered the stunted grass that had once been a garden.
And there, as the opportunistic desert blooms after years of drought, strange life stirred once more.
In thunder, lightning, and in rain.
âWhat were you saying?' Jenni said. âAbout adoption?'
âOh â¦ nothing. Just waffle,' Lucy replied, regretting she'd mentioned a subject so close to her and so far from Jenni.
âThey'd never let you, of course â you're probably too old and Gary â¦ well, Gary's â' Even Jenni's sublime insensitivity paused at saying âa cripple'; she settled for a rather lame, âDisabled.'
Lucy wanted to slap her pretty face. Lucy resented her prettiness. Jenni with an I. Perfect hair, perfect nails, matching husband and children. Pretty. A little crÃªpey round the neck in a harsh light, but Jenni never allowed harsh light to shine on her.
âWe weren't thinking of adopting â I was just saying â¦ it must be nice to have children.'
Jenni wasn't listening. Why should she? The conversation wasn't about her.
Lucy sighed. âHow's Tom?'
Those two words put them back on to Jenni's ground. Her Husband. The Chief Constable. Her Children. The Chief's Children. The Chief's Wife. She loved the power the title conferred, though it was frustratingly local.
âWell, you know he gives a hundred and two per cent. Of course it's easier now, but when he took over the force was a shambles, but you know Tom Shackleton.'
She always referred to him by his full name. A strange mixture of display and insecurity. He was a Success. They were a Success. But there was some part of her that had no idea who her husband was. No insight into his empty policeman's soul. By repeating the full resonance of his name she could make him exist.
Lucy always thought of him as a large cold hall with a small pale boy curled up in the corner, afraid.
When Lucy refocused Jenni was still twittering on about the Chief. About his devotion to her and her ability to tug his chain occasionally to bring him back into line.
âHonestly, Lucy, I watch that man and, of course, I'm proud of him.' She looked at Lucy through the mirror and said, âBut I'd never tell him that.'
Lucy wondered why not. Why withhold affection? Maybe it gave Jenni a feeling of power. Lucy imagined her dispensing small amounts of approval weekly, like pocket money. Earned but grudgingly given.
Sitting at the breakfast table in the television-perfect kitchen, Amtico floor, Maple cabinets, granite work surfaces, Jenni was repairing her already immaculate make-up. To go shopping. Lucy had seen the remains of it on the pillowcases, small veronicas of mascara. It was fascinating to watch how Jenni always laid out the pencils and brushes in the same order, always applied the colours in the same order with precisely identical strokes. The fastidious wiping of the brushes after and replacing them in the make-up bag. Lucy saw ritual and order where her life was chaos and make do and mend.
âHave you ever thought of having an affair?' Jenni asked, staring at Lucy through the mirror with those strange, unblinking eyes.
âNo â¦ I don't think I could be bothered shaving my legs on a regular basis.' She left the right length of pause. The one that says, I'm not really interested but it's only polite to ask. âYou?'
âOh â¦ don't be silly.' Had she been twenty years younger Jenni would have dimpled, and giggled with a sound like silvery bells. But she was around forty. Older than Lucy though better tended. She turned scarlet, prettily.
âThe Chief would kill me. I'd soon have my marching orders. Anyway, he's very demanding, I don't think I'd have the energy.'
Jenni looked at Lucy, coyly willing her to see them in scenes of sweat and carnality. She looked suitably impressed, even though she knew they hadn't had sex for six years. He'd never called it making love.
âBut â¦?' Lucy left the question hanging. Genuinely interested in the way one is when a beetle falls in a glass of lemonade. Will it find the straw and climb out?
The legs were clutching at the pink-and-white pole.
Jenni turned to face her, her lipsticked mouth vivid against her smiling teeth.
âWell â¦' She said it again.
Lucy wanted to slap her but she said softly, with a gratifying urgency, âCome on, Jenni, you can tell me.'
âOh, I know.' Her loyalty was dismissed, swatted away. Lucy was, after all, less equal now she cleaned the house. Not in the same way a friend.
âIt's just that â¦' Again the adolescent pause and giggle.
Lucy's hand itched to slap her.
âHe's in politics. A politician.'
Lucy looked at her.
Jenni misinterpreted her stare as interest. It was actually horror. âVery, very big.'
âOh ours, darling. New Labour â New Lover.' She was delighted with her wit. âYou mustn't breathe a word, Lucy. I really shouldn't have told you.'
âAnd have you â¦ er â¦?'
âNot yet. But â¦ I'm in training. No wheat, alcohol or dairy products. And it said in my horoscope this was going to be a period of intense activity.'
She was positively bubbling. Breathless with anticipation. She returned to applying her immaculate mask.
Lucy watched her with the blank, pale-eyed stare of an uncertain sheep and thought of the afternoon months before when Tom seduced her. She was taking him a cup of coffee in his study. Jenni was too busy on the phone to her daughter, Tamsin. Tamsin, Jacinta, Chloe and Jason. Aspirational for Tracy, Michelle, Kylie and Wayne.
She remembered he'd spilled the coffee into the saucer as he took it from her and been sweetly embarrassed. Lucy had said she did that all the time and smiled at him. He smiled back. Not the confident square-jawed smile so popular with newspaper picture editors but a shy movement of the lips and dip of the head. A humble little smile.
When Lucy turned to go he gently put his hands on her shoulders and started to kiss her ear and cheek. Lucy stood absolutely still. Guilt had pushed her half-formed fantasies of Tom Shackleton away so many times since they'd first met but now â¦ now â¦ He said he wanted to release her breasts and play with them. Curiously formal. Stilted. She felt a moment's panic that he'd see her bra, old and grey from being washed with her husband's socks. But his eyes were
closed. She wondered, if she went and left her body behind, whether he'd notice.
He told her, without looking at her face, about the sexless years after his children's births. They shared Jenni's bed and soaked up what affection she was capable of. Sex for her was a means to an end.
She was looking at a photograph of his year at Hendon Police Training College when his hand moved to her neck. Holding her, not painfully but firmly, he stood back from her slightly. She thought he was pushing her away but then she felt his other hand on the back of her thigh. She didn't move. She stood absolutely still, concentrating on the picture, not wanting him to stop. She couldn't pick him out among the low-slung helmets and shiny young faces. He pushed her skirt up very slowly.
She remembered her knickers being lowered like this when she was small, when underwear was still too complicated for little fingers. It was oddly comforting. He moved close to her again, enclosing her, leaning over her, his right arm across her chest, his hand holding her left shoulder, his face bent into her cheek and neck. He curved her over slightly, taking her weight on his arm. She felt safe, secure, surrounded by him. Again, curiously formal, he whispered, âMay I?' Lucy thought it was a silly question as she had her naked bottom pressed against him but by the time she'd decided to say, âOf course,' or, âFeel free,' something that would impress him as sophisticated, he had gently, and with no resistance from her welcoming body, slipped inside her. Neither of them moved for a long moment.