Pausing outside the entrance to the burns unit, Charlie gave herself a silent talking to. How dare she worry about her own feelings, when this family were in hell? Her job was to help them, not worry about herself.
‘Get a grip, girl,’ Charlie muttered to herself, before opening the doors and stepping inside.
‘DC Charlie Brooks. I’m very sorry for your loss.’
Charlie offered her hand to Thomas Simms, fully aware of the absurdity and pointlessness of the gesture. He looked up and shook her hand before returning his gaze to Alice, who lay beyond the glass in an isolation unit. Her whole body was swathed in surgical bandages and an oxygen mask was secured over her mouth and nose.
‘I can’t believe that’s Alice,’ Thomas said suddenly.
It certainly didn’t look like her. The photos already making their way on to the news and social media sites showed a smiley, fun-loving girl who liked sports and dancing. The mummified figure in front of them bore no relation to that youthful, vibrant spirit.
‘How’s she doing?’
‘She’s hanging in there. She’s a fighter.’
It was said with a smile but tears now filled his eyes, overcome with the desolation that this shocking night had brought.
‘I hear encouraging things about Luke. The doctors said he should be out of theatre soon – he’s a brave boy,’ Charlie offered.
Thomas nodded, but the smile faded now, as the full cost of the fire made itself felt once more. There was a long silence and Charlie was about to offer Thomas a cup of tea, when he suddenly said:
‘What am I going to tell them? About their mum?’
He looked utterly bereft as he turned to Charlie. Quickly she sat down by him, placing an arm on his shoulder. She wanted to comfort him, to reassure him, but there was no easy solace to give.
‘The truth. That’s all you can do. You have to tell them the truth.’
‘That’s what I’m afraid of,’ he replied bleakly, returning his gaze to his daughter.
Charlie left her arm on his shoulder and thought of what to say next. But in truth there was very little to say. She would help him in any way she could of course, would try and lighten the blow felt by Luke and Alice. But how do you dress up something like this? There is no easy way to tell a child that their mother is dead.
It was 4 a.m. when Helen finally got back to her flat. Her clothes stank of smoke and her face was coated with a layer of fine ash. She had never felt so beaten up on the first day of an investigation before. The thought that a family had gone through such an ordeal and that the perpetrator was not even present at the point of their suffering made her feel very uncomfortable indeed. It was such a callous and premeditated crime and suggested a level of anger and cruelty that was hard to countenance. Who would do such a thing? And why?
Stripping off her clothes, Helen hurried to the shower. More than anything now she wanted to get clean, to wash away the traces of the night’s distressing work. The water poured down on her, as she washed her long hair once, twice, three times, but refreshing as it was, she couldn’t shift the anxiety and fatigue that gripped her.
Later, swathed in a thick towel, Helen looked out over Southampton from her large bedroom window. Dawn was about to break, heralding a day in which the full reckoning of last night’s devastation would become painfully clear. Waiting for the sun to rise, Helen suddenly felt very isolated. In the past, when dark feelings started to assail her, she would seek out her dominator, Jake, but she couldn’t do that now. He had started to develop feelings for her, so she’d had to sever their connection, before things became too complicated. She had no family to speak of and she couldn’t bother Charlie – she had enough on her plate already – which left Helen feeling very exposed.
Once the fracture in her relationship with Jake had become clear, Helen had considered turning to another dominator. She had always moderated and controlled her emotions through pain – the scars that decorated her torso and arms were a testament to this – and she missed her sessions with Jake. No one was better at driving away her dark thoughts than him. She had gone as far as calling one of his rivals – a dominator who went by the absurd name of Max Paine – but she had hung up before he answered, suddenly unsure about starting the process with a total stranger. With Jake, she could be herself, naked and unadorned. It would take a while before she could let herself be that vulnerable in front of somebody else.
Helen stared out into the night, pondering what the future might hold – for this city, for its inhabitants, for herself – one dark thought tumbling on top of another. Sitting there, framed by the large, picture window and silhouetted by darkness, Helen was the very image of quiet loneliness.
She held this pose for a few minutes then, angered by her self-indulgence, slid off the ledge and walked quickly to her wardrobe, pulling out a fresh set of clothes. Despite the late hour, she’d already resolved to go straight back to base to sift through the latest developments.
There would be no sleep tonight.
Blog post by firstpersonsingular.
Wednesday, 9 December, 07.00.
Winter sucks, right?
What else is there to say?
Ok, there is more. Let me try and explain it to you.
Everybody moans. As soon as the Christmas decorations appear in the shops everybody starts whinging: about the cold, how it gets dark early, about snow, about their relations, about their relationships, about how they fucking hate Christmas. But they’re lying. They love it. Otherwise they’d have nothing else to talk about, nothing else to do. It’s just an act – as predictable as it is false. They have no idea what winter really means. To people like me.
Imagine you’re standing on the beach, watching a huge black cloud coming towards you. It’s the darkest cloud you’ve ever seen – it’s huge – and it’s heading your way. It won’t rush – it wants you to know it’s coming, to anticipate its horror – but it’s moving. Inch by inch, mile by mile – it’s coming for you.
You feel the sun disappear as the storm blocks out the sun. Soon afterwards you feel the first flecks of rain, as the wind rises, whipping you again and again. Now you’re cold, really, really cold. It feels like … it feels like all the nice, kind, warm things in the world have been lost for ever. Now the cloud moves over you, surrounding you, stealing you. There’s no way out of it now. Even if you wanted to run you wouldn’t know which direction to go in. You are powerless. Unable to move. So you sit there. Doing nothing. Hoping for nothing.
It clings to you now, denying you light, hope, warmth. Day after day after day. But you never get used to it. Night and day – it’s hard to tell one from the other. Existence seems to stretch out far in front of you – long and pointless. You want to kill yourself but somehow can’t muster the energy. You are lost for ever, wandering around and around but always ending up at the same point. And there’s no one with you here, no one to guide you to safety. You are all alone. YOU ARE LOST.