There was a body in the back garden. That’s what he was telling her; the police officer in the reflective jacket. The building manager’s voice piped up from somewhere nearby, it was early, and she couldn’t see in front of her, let alone hear what either of them were saying. Without knowing why, she mumbled a thank you, and closed the front door. Her feet were cold, what was she wearing? She looked down and saw her dressing gown, thrown on in an involuntary reaction when the knocking at the front door had grown too loud to ignore.
She wandered back into her bedroom and tried to process the information to hand; clothes on the floor, a heavy head, a blurry, fuzzy taste on her tongue. Work Christmas party the night before. When did she get home? One was it? Or two? She heard the familiar ping of her phone and followed the noise under her quilt. She took the phone up in her hand and let herself fall onto her back, sprawling over the rolled up quilt, her body felt very heavy. She scrolled through the texts, Facebook messages, the Whats Apps. Drunken nonsense. Her head really hurt.
She nestled herself into the quilt and studied the ceiling, because that hurt less than looking at her phone. Sounds and shadows passed her bedroom window, and her mind wandered back. What did they mean? A body? What kind of body? An animal body? A human body? Maybe it was one of those things where someone had spotted a sleeping bag or a bin liner, strangely body shaped. It would all be for nothing. Maybe. What had the police officer said? She couldn’t remember. If it was important he’d come back.
There was another knock at the door. She swung herself up, and then stopped. She wasn’t an uneasy drinker, but she had hangovers enough to know to move slowly. She put her feet gently on the floor and walked back to the front door. It was the building manager; Bill, wearing his default worried expression. “Sorry Emma, but you really need to get moving.” She was confused, her? Move? Why? Reading her expression he tried again. “The coppers, they’re going to be all around here. And they’ll be wanting to, um,” he leaned in and whispered “take it away.”
This still didn’t seem right and Emma’s silence only prompted Bill to go on. “Young lad they say,” Bill looked up the footpath to the long strip of grass beyond. Emma leaned out of the doorway and followed his gaze. Police officers, people in plain clothes, carrying equipment, the drive in front of her door blocked in by vans. The crowd broke for a moment and she saw two men staring down at the bushes beyond the maintenance shed.
The faint feeling of understanding took hold at the base of her stomach, and it began to knot. “You need to move out, just for a day or so. They’ll be needing to check the outside, and um…”. His words faded as Emma began to comprehend the reality being presented to her. There was a body, someone had died? When? When she was here? How had they died? She looked up at Bill and he saw the confusion of her thoughts. “They don’t know anything yet,” he offered. “But everyone at the back here needs to stay away for the night.”
“Why just us?” she raised her brow purposefully, indignantly. “Because of the, um, body, I’d expect,” he responded “can’t have you seeing nasty things like that.” Bill was panicked, and she was making this worse for him. She gave in. “I could go to my parents. Just for the night.” Bill seemed satisfied. “Okay, okay. They’ll be wanting to talk to you before you leave though.” He wandered off, distracted, not saying goodbye. Emma closed the door. She paused. Had Bill found the body? She didn’t care enough to ask.
That evening she sat in her old bedroom, in her parents’ house, listening to them as they moved about; making tea, negotiating with the dogs, her mum vacuuming ‘for Christmas’. She was still piecing together the day and the fractured concept of the dead body now buried in her past. She had packed, sort of, by throwing some things in a bag. Then there’d been a police woman at the door. Had she dressed? Yes, she had dressed by then. There were questions, another police officer, a man, came in too. He had sat near them but let the woman ask the questions. Probably something they’d learned in training.
Had she heard anything last night? No. When had she come back? Two! Maybe. She thought. She wasn’t very useful, and her head hurt, and didn’t want to be useful, she just wanted to go back to bed. She remembered the chill of the wind as the officers led her to the car, and drove her to her parents. Her parents’ faces as she arrived, unannounced, in a police car. Drama mounted around her as her mother jumped on the moment. Oh that poor man! And poor her for being so near! Phone calls were made and received, gossip was spread, and Emma found a small thrill in the attention she received.
She even began to think that maybe she was suffering with some kind of shock. She must be! She wasn’t really understanding, or feeling much of anything. Why wouldn’t she be in shock? But then she didn’t really know what had happened. She supposed she could look up the news, on her phone, she could try to find out more. But it was easier to just go to bed, her old bed, unchanged since she was a teenager. A place where nothing bad had ever happened.
The next morning she was awoken by her mother, a cup of tea, nothing in the news yet she said. Probably with it being a Sunday. The police hadn’t called either. Did the police work Sundays? Would they call if they were? She allowed her mother to talk until she exhausted herself. Then she allowed a bath to be run for her, and a fried breakfast to be cooked for her.
This was quite nice actually, being taken care of. Until it wasn’t. Did she want to come and walk the dogs? Did she want to come for Sunday lunch down the pub? See Aunt Mellie? Was she going to be staying till Christmas? No, none of those things, she thought, but didn’t say. Her phone rang just before lunch, the police were happy for her to return to the property. Everything had been dealt with, no reason to suspect any foul play, and she should feel safe returning home.
She didn’t wait for her parents to come home from their walk. She called a taxi, she needed her own bed, she needed some space. When she walked up to her front door she saw the last dregs of police uniforms standing about the garden. Through her letterbox had been pushed a letter for counselling services, she threw it on the coffee table. She dropped her bag on the floor and walked into her bedroom, where she fell into a deep sleep.
Sometime in the night she awoke, long enough to notice her clothes, which she kicked off; her boots knocking themselves loudly against the radiator before falling to the door. She wrapped herself in her quilt, and as her mind turned itself off she heard the knocking again. It was something she registered but didn’t quite understand, through the falling fog of sleep.
The next day Facebook was buzzing with the body that had been found in the back garden. People were off work, bored and eager for drama. Who was he? How had he died? Everyone she knew was wallowing in the dark details of the dead man. Determined to have her piece of the drama she wrote and re-wrote comments on friend’s posts, contrived in order to achieve the required amount of attention but still retaining a certain amount of modesty.
But although she was in the thick of it, within feet of the drama at large, she didn’t really care to take part in it. She barely looked at the news articles being shared, so she didn’t learn the man’s name, who he was, or how he had died. She didn’t hear friends and colleagues as they claimed personal knowledge of him. And they largely ignored her posts unless it improved their own position in the unfolding drama.
It was noon before she got out of bed, annoyed with Facebook, and with a rumbling stomach. She wandered into the shower, then dressed. With no clear plan in mind she walked in the direction of the high street. There she got bored and met up with friends, who wanted to talk of nothing but the body. That’s how she saw him still, a body, a thing, a lump, gone. She wanted to move on, and eventually the group gave in and agreed to talk about lighter things, and they laughed and drank into the night.
Emma stumbled home past midnight, kicking off her clothes and her boots. She was cold, she turned up the heating. She wrapped herself in her dressing gown and covered herself with her quilt. She drifted off for a while, until the alcohol betrayed her and she woke up with a start. She stared into the dark, considering her options; did she need to pee? Drink water? Then her thoughts were stopped, by a knocking at the front door.
It was a clear double knock, indisputably made by a human hand. She caught herself as her heart picked up its alcohol fuelled beat. Who was that? She reached out and picked her phone up off the night table, half past three. She frowned at the bright light, and placed it back down. Her vision blotched as her eyes readjusted themselves. Her heartbeat calmed as she considered the logical possibilities. Then the knock rang out again.
It was clear and precise. Her breath caught in her chest, the air had turned cold around her. She spent a second justifying the reality to the part of herself that had begun to panic. It was probably just a neighbour. She put a decisive foot out on to the floor, it was so cold, too cold. She moved to step off the bed, hoping whoever it was, had gone. Then the same somebody knocked on her bedroom window.
It echoed around the room, filling her senses. She gulped loudly, audibly, as her body tensed in something like fear. Her reason pushed her to turn her head, to the dark beyond the curtains. There was a security light on the front of the maintenance shed. It turned on for the smallest of cats and hedgehogs. But it hadn’t turned on, why hadn’t it turned on? Then, whoever was there, knocked again.
She felt a sudden unreasonable urge to hide, and collapsed down by the side of her bed. Time slowed, and she waited, for whatever would come. But the knocks did not return. She waited for footsteps, leaving, but nothing came. She stayed awake, alert, until the sun came up. As it did the realness of the room around her focused her mind. She yawned deeply, as the last of the panic left her body. She peeked over the bed but saw nothing beyond the thin curtains. She climbed slowly and silently back into bed, and as she fell asleep she berated herself for how she had panicked, for the fact that she had been afraid.
When she awoke a few hours later it was like the night before had been part of some strange dream, simple in its form, but unnerving all the same. Why had she been so afraid? It could have been anyone. It could have been a neighbour, like she thought. The police? Maybe even someone who needed help? That stuck in her throat, and something small plucked at her conscience.
The night receded as she ran a bath and picked at food from the bare kitchen; some cereal, some chocolates, some Bucks Fizz won in the work’s raffle. She sank into the heat of the bath and savoured the silence. Then somebody knocked on the front door. Her heart seemed to stop in her chest, she gripped onto the edges of the bath. The knocking came again, quicker and more urgent. Then she heard murmured conversation and feet shifting.
Her body registered the appropriate reaction and she was in her dressing gown, walking to the door, before her brain caught up. As she opened the door the cold hit her, stopped her breath. On the doorstep were two police officers. Community Bobbies? Or whatever they were called. They beamed brightly. So relieved was she to see them that she invited them in, hurrying off to change before they could give reasons for their visit.
“We’re just going around, checking on everyone,” the man offered later on, while Emma shivered in now damp clothes. “It’s a difficult time of the year, and it was quite a sad thing to happen,” the woman added, gesturing clumsily to the living room window, “and we just want to know that you’re doing okay.” They were trying their best to look concerned, and Emma judged by their sincerity that they did actually care. But still, she could not understand why. They didn’t know him, she didn’t know him, this man in the back garden. Her stomach lurched as the words pushed through her. No. There was no man in the back garden. She was about to tell them this, when the male officer piped up again.
Clearly lost for anything else to say he brought out his notepad and began checking over the details she had previously given. She must have cocked an eyebrow. “Oh no, nothing to worry about. It was quite a straight forward case…” He drifted off as her silence grew. Her curiosity was piqued. “Straight forward?” she asked, leaning forward in her chair. “Oh yes!” the man proclaimed, a little too enthusiastically, happy to finally have something to talk about.
The words came thick and fast as the officer regaled her with the story, filling it with an unhealthy amount of enthusiasm. A young lad it was. Twenty-seven. Same as her. From the town nearby. Same as her. A heavy drug user, high alcohol concentration in his blood. Most likely wouldn’t have lasted the night, cold probably didn’t help. Daniel. His name was Daniel.
Emma let the details spin around in her mind. Did she know him? Had she known him? Why did he come here? As the man launched into further gruesome details the woman shot him a look and he stopped mid-sentence. “Is there, uh… anything else you’d like to know?” the woman offered. Emma looked up. She had to ask. “Why did he come here?” The woman nodded gently, “we’re not sure exactly. Some people seem to think he used to have friends around here.“
The woman watched her carefully, it made Emma uncomfortable. “Are you alright?” she asked. Emma thought it over for a second. “Yes, absolutely fine!” She blurted it out brightly before her mind had a chance to doubt her. The silence resumed and the officers said their goodbyes, said she should call them if she needed anything. As she slammed the door on them she realised she didn’t have their names, let alone their numbers.
She re-heated her bath and sunk back into it. The afternoon passed in a fuzzy version of itself. It was Christmas Eve she realised with a jerk, before recognising the freedom that she had opted for. No family to bother her, no indigestible food. In fact there was no food at all. She was hungry. The local takeaway was still delivering, so she ate fried rice and drank red wine, a Christmas gift, watching Christmas movies she only half liked. But which she didn’t mind in her semi-fuzzy, semi-drunken state. She fell asleep in front of the TV, with all the lights on. Until she woke, to someone knocking on the front door.
She woke abruptly and with a deep gasp as everything about the moment hit her. Once was unusual, twice was surreal. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t think. Her eyes fixed on the door, as though she could see through it, to the person on the other side, who knocked again. She let out a small involuntary shriek, quiet, stilled, as the noise caught in her throat.
Silence resumed and she swallowed as she gained her composure, ready for what she knew would come next. From back in her bedroom she heard it, a knocking, a long pause, and then another knock. Her eyes began to well, what was happening? What was this? As the moment passed she began to sob deeply, a small childish whine escaping in between her cries.
As her crying slowed she took up her phone in her hands, shaking. She needed to talk to someone, someone had to help her. But who would help? Who could she ask? What would she ask? In a swift moment she noticed the time on the phone, almost four, and realised there was no she could call. She began to cry again, and she squeezed her body tightly to her, her body shuddering with sobs until she fell fast asleep.
Somewhere in her sleep she felt a memory bubble through, repeating itself, over and over. A knocking from far away, and knocking over her shoulder. She got up, then she didn’t get up, she couldn’t get up, she didn’t want to get up. Her mind played over each scenario. When she woke the next morning, she was confused, worn out. There was something burning at the bottom of her gut, something like guilt, something like fear.
She got up and moved around the flat quietly, as though she might disturb someone else there. She stepped into the shower. She didn’t know how long she’d been standing there before she reached for the shampoo. But when she did she realised she was trembling. Her eyes welled as she went through the motions of cleaning herself, hating herself for reasons beyond her understanding.
She hoped her mind would clear. She hoped this would make sense to her, eventually. But as she sat in her parents’ living room, watching her nephews running around, music playing the background, she become aware that something unfathomable was happening to her. The happy Christmas being played out before her didn’t feel real, it was play acting, something bigger was waiting for her at home. It was growing, this intangible thing, asking to be understood.
The day passed in faked smiles and excuses for her silence, her paleness, maybe she had the flu? Before she could up with an alternative plan, before she could think to protest, her brother was walking her into her flat. There was a customary Christmas hug, and by the time she’d decided to ask him to stay he was already gone.
She looked around the living room, it felt too bright, wrong. She put on the TV and sat down on the sofa. She felt she was waiting for something, but that something couldn’t be real. Could it? Her mind turned and she reasoned away the nights before. Alcoholic induced hallucinations? Lucid dreams? Could be someone trying to scare her? Could have been someone honestly trying to get her attention? But at the same time? Every night? The more she thought about it, the more explanations became apparent, the stupider she felt for even, for a second, believing the only thing that made sense.
Her mind seemed to relax from the shock she had been stunned with, and she grew tired. She turned off the TV and walked into her bedroom. She climbed into bed, Christmas dress still flowing around her, and wrapped herself tightly in her quilt. She fell asleep almost immediately. She slept heavily, until the knocking began again.
As she woke a memory broke through. She remembered a knock on the door, through a sleepy drunken state, an annoyance, and an ignorance, and a yelled admonishment of the person who dared to wake her. Her mind snapped to attention as the reality of that memory awoke in her. Then she froze as she realised, she’d left the front door unlocked.
The atmosphere turned cold and her body grew tense, her mind now whip sharp, every nerve on edge. She braced herself for the next knock, which was as clear as ever before. Her adrenaline pulsed and her mind reeled with ideas of what would come next, what she should do next. It was quiet. She waited, and her heart sank as she remembered the day before. She’d left the bedroom curtains open.
She stared ahead, focussing on her wardrobe doors, seeing no shadows. She felt every need rage through her frozen body, she wanted to scream, to cry, to shout for someone, anyone. And while she was losing herself in her thoughts, he knocked at her bedroom window. She stilled herself, she couldn’t take this, she didn’t want to take it. He knocked again. Daniel knocked again.
Her heart welled up and a great sadness overwhelmed the fear that she had felt. This was something else, it was not something to be scared of. She finally, slowly, turned in her bed. Beyond the window there was only darkness. She got up quietly and walked around the bed. At the window, she stopped, and placed her fingertips on the window sill. Whatever this was, whatever she was feeling, she wasn’t scared, not anymore. She took her hand and without knowing why, placed it flat against the window. And in the great darkness beyond she felt a hand reach hers through the glass.
Her eyes welled and she hung her head, avoiding the darkness before her. But she was not afraid. She hung her head in guilt, in shame. She tried to say sorry, she tried to make the words come out, but they wouldn’t, but it didn’t matter. He didn’t need to hear them, he just needed her to know he was there. Relief flooded Emma’s body, it warmed with understanding. Then somewhere in the darkness Daniel said goodbye.
She woke the next morning, not knowing quite how she’d found her way back into bed. She needed to get up, she dressed and wrapped herself up in her coast and scarf. She went to the front door, paused before it, then walked out. Turning to the left she walked down to the end of the garden, slowly, but not afraid. She stopped at the trampled patch of grass, at the foot of the bushes. She looked over her shoulder, to the curtained windows of her neighbours, then she stepped into the worn grass.
She walked across it, and around it, she placed her feet firmly on the ground and turned to look at the sun rising in the sky. She squeezed her eyes shut, sighed deeply, and thought about Daniel. A memory was stirring of a little boy. She wasn’t sure if it was real, but she would find out. She would find out all about him, because she had to, because he needed her to. She would remember him, and for him, she would make herself remembered.