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What You See

by Jennifer Walmsley

You wouldn’t notice me. I’m an ordinary forty-five year old woman. I stay in the background.

‘Nice lady,’ I overheard someone describe me to another. ‘Quiet. Unassuming. Moved here after her husband died.’

My rented house is small and compact. Furnishings bought from second-hand stores and charity shops. In the kitchen, on the dresser, photos of my late husband Tony stand among photos of our only child, Jane.

When Jane disappeared, Tony and I frantically searched and rang all her school friends. Then we contacted the police. After they found her, Tony had a heart attack. Shock, the doctor explained.

‘How are you today, Mrs. Fleming?’ The vicar interrupts my thoughts.

‘Fine.’ I smile and carry on with flower-arranging.

‘What a beautiful display,’ he says, gazing at white and blue blooms tumbling out from vases. He pats my arm as if I were his lap dog.

Mrs. Carson butts in. The vicar’s expression warms to her fussing attention. They don’t notice me as I leave the church and head for home, a short walk from St. Mary’s.

Letting myself in, I go to the kitchen and look at the photographs. ‘Forgive me, Tony,’ I say. Jane’s smile seems to widen.

Quick anxiety touches me. The table is laid in readiness for a dinner for two. Two sirloin steaks are marinating. A bottle of good Claret sits uncorked. All that is left for me to do is make the Pepper Sauce. John Freeman wrote and mentioned he loved Pepper Sauce.

I go upstairs and see a slinky black dress hanging behind the door. My pulse quickens as I think about the prisoner I’ve been writing to all these years and will soon be meeting. I sent him my photo. He says I’m beautiful. Claims he’s found God, like me. Yesterday, he was released into a world that has changed since his conviction all those years ago.

My dark hair, normally lank, is shampooed and blow-dried. Kohl and plum eye shadow creates a mysterious look. Red lipstick adds to the sultry appeal. Now I resemble the girl that Tony fell in love with at the disco way back in 1984.

There is a knock on the door and I go to answer it. John Freeman, looking older than his photograph, smiles and gives me a bunch of chrysanthemums. I lead him into the kitchen and he says something smells good. Then we talk as I busy myself cooking our meal.

In between mouthfuls, he praises my Pepper Sauce and as he pours more over his steak, mushrooms, broccoli and French Fries, I stare down at his plate and its contents that swim in an unrecognisable mush. While he eats, he tells me about his time in prison. The deprivations he had to endure. ‘Your letters kept me sane,’ he admits, his hand reaching out across the table to touch mine.

I withdraw my hand and his face turns pale. Small beads of sweat begin to bubble up on his forehead. He loosens his tie. Then a look of fear shapes an ‘O,’ on his lips. He slumps sideways, tumbling to the floor like a sack of potatoes. I go to the dresser and take out Jane’s photograph. Then picking up a bread knife, I stand over him. ‘This is my child.’ I show him her photograph. ‘The child you murdered.’ I glare down into his pale blue eyes.

He whimpers. Froth seeps from the corners of his slack mouth. ‘So glad you enjoyed the Pepper Sauce,’ I tell him as he lies there paralysed. After I slit his throat, I watch John Freeman’s filthy, murderous life ebb away in a dark pool of blood.

With my bags already packed, I remove any signs of my existence and head for the railway station. The platform is cold and quiet at this time of the evening. I’m relieved that at last I’ve shed the image of a timid, middle-aged woman, an image I’ve played with success over the past fifteen years.

Copyright © 2010 by Jennifer Walmsley

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