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by Jennifer Walmsley

Liberty, he muses, is a perfect word. Liberty, his liberty, encompasses his body, soul and actions in a beautiful way and, as he thinks those thoughts, he stands almost at the cliff’s edge watching gulls skim water while, below, waves rise and fall, their spume white against grey.

He’s experienced liberty for many years, an anonymous man now living a quiet life in a nondescript town. He speaks to no one. Smiles a lot but never utters a word. His mother often told him when he was a child, that he had his father’s smile and then she’d slap that smile from his face.

Recently, he’d overheard a neighbour describing him as shy. That neighbour, a pert young mother with long blonde hair, had tried to make conversation with him on a few occasions, but he pretended not to hear. Just kept on smiling.

He smiles in his dreams. He smiles while his hands are around her pretty neck; a neck pale and soft as she begs for him to stop but of course, he’s unable to. He needs to see her life force diminishing second by delicious second.

Now he sways, groans, thinking about his ulitmate need; a compulsive need he’s satisfied over the years in different towns in different parts of the country. But not like some idiots, he doesn’t retrieve keepsakes from his long, blonde haired victims for he knows that after the act, he can dream, dream about those intoxicating minutes for months ahead until his dreams dim. Then he starts again.

At the corner of his eye, he sees a flash of red and turning his head, watches a young woman approaching. She’s wearing a woollen hat but it doesn’t conceal her long blonde hair dancing about slender shoulders.

Beside her, a small brown dog prances, the kind of dog that could be stamped upon. Squished. She’s laughing down at it as she draws closer, cheeks blushed by a cold, frisky wind. When they come alongside, the dog stops. ‘Ruby,’ calls the young woman, but the dog remains standing its ground, staring at him, gurgling a perculiar warning.

‘Ruby!’ its owner calls once more, her tone apprehensive. He smiles, despite feeling a little disappointed that her neck is hidden beneath a red scarf and, sniffing the air like the dog itself, he can imagine that soft pliable skin under his fingers and her pulse lessening and lessening.

The young woman retreats backwards; still smiling, he takes a step forward, but with sudden and surprising speed, the dog runs at him, leaping up as if on elastic, and he, with arms flailing, trying to keep balance, totters back in an attempt to grab the scrawny creature’s neck. But, at the last moment, he tumbles over the edge, silently flying out into space before, with a smile, he plummets down into the ocean.

Copyright © 2008 by Jennifer Walmsley

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