I stood rigid. Hypervigilant and scanning each window and door from the corner between the lounge and the hall. Each night I had taken up this position. With a dry mouth and pounding heart I prayed the children would stay asleep and I could stay on watch. The boys were too young to be of real comfort, even though, exhausted, I sometimes crept into bed with three-year-old Ben.
My husband expressed sympathy but I believed that if he understood the extent of my distress he would stay home. Wasn’t it his role to protect me?
‘You have to get over this, you know Ann.’ Bill’s impatience was clear. ‘The house is secure. I have checked and rechecked each lock. Just put the radio on and go to bed. My job depends on my being able to wine and dine the clients from out of town.’ A perfunctory kiss and he picked up his keys and jacket and walked into the garage.
Of course I couldn’t go to bed. The bedroom window was where the light would most often appear. Just a small beam that would shine through the gap above the top of the pelmet. The soft glow could easily be missed if not accompanied by the soft tap, tap, tapping on the window pane.
The footsteps on the gravel were louder – designed to attract my attention towards the loungeroom. The French doors would rattle slightly and I would hold my breath listening intently. Sometimes the doorknob would turn slowly and the footsteps would move towards the back of the house.
The stairs to the back deck were steep and the last step creaked even under my slight frame. Tonight, the noise was clear and the steps moved slowly across the open deck toward the doors.
I strained to hear any movement. Then, just as I had convinced myself that the footsteps had moved on there was a distinct cough. I put my hand over my mouth to stifle the scream and sank down onto the floor.
Anticipating the night to come my days became filled with dread. I lost weight and the anxiety I felt at night spilled over into my days. I was weepy and distracted.
‘You need to see a shrink’ Bill said after I had begged him repeatedly to stay home at night. ‘When I’m home I sit up and watch after you go to bed and there is never anything. You imagine it all’.
‘Whoever it is will know when you’re home.’ That seemed logical to me and the solution did as well.
‘I have decided to sell the house,’ I declared and waited with some trepidation for the response. I hadn’t wanted to move here anyway and thanks to my father’s will the house was mine. My father had made certain of that.
‘Just shows how bloody stupid you have become’. Bill put both hands on my shoulders and I thought he was going to shake me. ‘If you carry on like this you will be declared unfit and I will be forced to make all the decisions. For god’s sake Ann, just go and see someone.’ Bill took a deep breath and drew me towards him. ‘Please darling, you know how worried I am about you.’
Three months in the house and I had failed to make any friends. Determined to remedy that I went along to the local play group. Jane was one of the more outgoing women in the group and before the end of the session she had invited herself to my house for coffee the next day. ‘Just to welcome you properly’ she said. ‘I remember when I first moved here – so lonely at first.’
The next day Jane listened patiently while, between sobs, I poured out my story.
‘We can’t let this continue,’ Jane said. ‘Why don’t I organise some of the men in the street to keep watch?’
I refused, knowing how Bill would hate outsiders involved.
‘Well next time Bill is to be out you call me and I’ll come and sit with you’ Jane insisted. ‘I’m only three doors away.’
So here we sat in the dark, my hand gripping hers as the footsteps moved slowly away from the French doors towards the rear of the house.
Instead of footsteps across the deck there was a crash, followed by a loud scream.
Jane moved quickly to the lights and out onto the deck.
‘Marbles on the steps – deadly,’ Jane said. ‘And so easy to pick up’.
‘Your husband? He may need an ambulance.’
I was speechless and shaking.
‘He had to be up to no good.’ Jane said. ‘Parking his car up the street and often with a women. Creeping around with a torch. Well he won’t be creeping for a while now.’
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