‘They ain’t getting me out of here, Sarah. Never!’ John was ranting on his favourite topic. Didn’t it occur to him that, in his refusal to leave the condemned flats, he was trapping her too? As she locked the door behind them, rain slapped at the window at the end of the hallway.
I hate him, she realised. She removed the key from the lock and examined this revelation as she started towards the stairs, him blathering on behind her. Eight floors and the lift not working. Well, why would they mend it?
When did she start hating him? When the letter came and he settled in for a fight like an angry rat in a trap? Or before that when he quit his job because the new foreman, well, forewoman actually, had told him what was what. Or even earlier?
She stopped dead and he nearly walked into her. At the wedding. Yes. Then. She had thought she looked like a beautiful princess version of herself. She had glowed; the white lace shifting and swaying, reflecting light up into her face and making her hair shine. He’d said to his mate, ‘Put a bow on a pig, it’s still a pig, isn’t it?’ When he saw she’d heard, he shrugged and took another beer. His mate had looked embarrassed, at least.
‘What are you stopped for?’ he asked.
She opened the door onto the stairwell which still smelt of piss and old concrete, even with the flats almost empty. He shouldered through before her.
‘Did it ever occur to you that I’m trapped here too?’
John turned on the top step, surprised anger on his face.
‘You’re a selfish prick, John.’
‘Fuck off, we’re staying and that’s final.’ His face had gone an unpleasant blotchy red and yellow, scrunched up in anger and, what was it? Disgust? Yes, that wrinkling of the nose. Disgust. A cold, calm rage swept through Sarah.
She shoved him hard in the chest.
His look of surprise almost made her laugh, and then the flailing of his arms as he fell backwards and the crack of his head against the concrete stair edge pulled a disbelieving giggle from her and then she couldn’t stop. It was a sort of hysteria, she thought, as irresistible as vomiting. She had to sit on the top step to calm herself.
A last choked gasp escaped into the stale air from John’s slack mouth. He lay in the corner of the stairwell, blood seeping around his head.
He looked dead but she ought to check. She went down, her legs wobbling, and felt for his pulse. None. The laughter, or perhaps nausea, threatened to bubble up again. For a moment she thought about CPR, about paramedics and flashing blue lights, about stern policemen with notebooks. That could wait.
She turned and ran down the stairs, her feet clattering echoes up into the space until she burst out of the door at the bottom into the rain. She was free. Her heart fluttered in her chest and her breath came in gulps as the rain battered the top of her head and streamed down her face. The laughter escaped again because her chest didn’t have space for the joy alongside the terror. The sound of it bounced around the grey skies, the weeds and concrete until someone on the next street, waiting for a bus, smiled at the sound.
Copyright © Elizabeth Cutts August 2019
This is a slightly expanded version of a story written for my NCW crime writing course with Julia Crouch.