I was the only person who went to help. There was a blood trail going up the stairs and the semi-comatose woman was up there, bleeding copiously from a crushed skull. Her boyfriend, Mark, was wandering round in a daze clutching a bottle of Martini, so I told him to find me some clean tea towels and to stop drinking because he’d probably have to talk to the police. I did what it was safe to do with a head wound and then made them keep talking to me.
They told me the attacker was her previous boyfriend, Stan, who’d carefully cut all the phone lines outside first. And we waited, and waited, and waited, and it seemed to be taking ages for the police to come. They told me afterwards that Stan had convictions for GBH and they’d been instructed to come in a group and escort the ambulance. And there was I…!!
When the ambulance took her off and the police allowed me to start cleaning up the blood – I can still see it all seeping into the pink carpet and oozing out when the carpet was pressed – I went towards the bedroom. I could see the doggy officer trawling the gardens with his Alsatian and torch and suddenly I went into shock and felt very very afraid. I heard the curtains drifting among sharp shards of glass, and smashed ornaments, and every so often a shower of glass fragments shivered to the floor or caught on Cal’s dressing table and hung there in a captured shaft of time. I pushed at the door. And there, in the middle of the pillows where she had been sleeping, were breeze blocks. Heaved in through the window. The attacker had known exactly where to aim for because he’d slept there often enough.
I wasn’t the first neighbour Mark had gone to for help, but I was the only one who did anything. Cal was a single mother with lots of boyfriends, and the neighbours’ opinion was that she was a prostitute. I don’t know. I didn’t care. She was quite pretty and she did her best to scrape some sort of income by posing for catalogues, the sort that sell cheap clothes mail order, and her kids seemed happy and cared for. She used to show me her portfolio and was so excited by the glamorous poses.
That evening, I saw a human being in trouble and did what I thought anyone else would’ve done. I found afterwards that they wouldn’t. They’d chosen to reject her in that time of desperate need because they disapproved of her boyfriends and her status and her image.
Boyfriend Mark came round a few days later, while she was still in hospital and I made a cup of tea. That British solution to any crisis or emotional conversation, a cup of tea! He was emotional. He told me what people had said when he was rushing from door to door trying to get help and he told me how he felt that I’d gone round. Then he took out his wallet. He wanted to give me money. I was horrified and deeply hurt. I know he was trying to say thanks, but I didn’t want money, I didn’t want anything, anything at all. I just wanted to put the whole thing in the past and move on, stop reliving it every time a noise made me jump, stop lying awake imagining Stan creeping through the gardens with his breeze blocks, stop it flooding back every time I heard a noise downstairs, stop imagining what would have happened if Stan had really come back, stop throwing up at the recollections of the blood, stop bursting into tears at sudden flashes of memory.
I never saw her again; she didn’t come back. I doubt that she’d be able to model for the mail order catalogues again, unless they needed photos with no faces. Tights or corsets.
I decided the time had come to move house. Didn’t like the neighbours.
All names changed.
May be necessary to explain that in those houses the bedrooms were downstairs opening on to the garden and the living rooms were upstairs.