The rain fell on the moor in torrents, in cataracts. It spilled from a dozen tributaries into the Avon and roared down the valley like a wild beast. It tore trees from the banks, trees that had grown patiently for a hundred years, and hurtled them downstream. It smashed them like battering rams into the old bridge, but the bridge held fast and the trees wedged against it, pressed intimately against the stones by the power of the flood.
For a while the trees impeded the predatory waters, but still the deluge continued and still the beast grew. The water level upstream of the bridge rose and overtopped the flood defences. It reached the parapet of the bridge and spilled over. The wall started to bulge; for perhaps a minute soil and weeds bled from the cracks opening in it, until the massive stones exploded outwards and a huge wave surged through.
The bridge was gone.
Two days later the water still ran high, swift and muddy but with nowhere near the ferocity of the spate. The road by the river was passable with care, and Lucy was always careful. She gripped the wheel of her VW Golf, and drove slowly through the sticky, slippery mess that the river had left behind. As the crow flies, she lived two hundred yards from her work at a solicitor’s office. With the bridge gone it was nearly three miles down to the next crossing, and three miles back. Lucy wasn’t complaining about the inconvenience. Her house was just far enough up the hill to have been spared. She’d spent yesterday helping her next door neighbour shovel out the worst of the filth dumped by the flood.
There was a figure up ahead, carrying a violin case as she trudged along the road. There was a large, wet, slimy patch on her coat. She must have slipped over, Lucy realized. She stopped and wound down the window.
“I’m going down to New Bridge. Would you like a lift?”
The girl was about twenty, with long, fair hair.
“I’m ever so dirty,” she admitted.
“Oh, don’t be silly; get in. The seat will clean easily enough, and you’re soaked, you poor love. Whatever brings you out today?”
The girl climbed into the front passenger seat.
“This is ever so kind of you. I’ve got to get to the train station to catch the train to Glasgow. My first class of the new term starts at two o’clock. I thought it would be easy enough to walk the six miles round by New Bridge, but this stuff’s so gloopy and slithery. I say, I’m really sorry to be making your car dirty.”
“What are you studying?”
“Violin. I’m at the Conservatoire. I’m Emma, by the way.”
“I’m Lucy. I’m only going to New Bridge to cross the river, then I’m going back to Casterton. I can drop you at the station.”
“Oh, that would be great.”
“Do you live in Glasgow during term-time?”
“Only during the week. I’ve got a flat in Casterton, and I don’t want to lose it. I sleep in my friend’s flat in Glasgow during the week, but her boyfriend comes up from Newcastle at the weekends.”
“So you’re coming back on Friday? Would you like me to pick you up from the station?”
Emma looked apologetic. “That would be ever so kind if it isn’t too much trouble. I wasn’t looking forward to the long walk in the dark. I’ll be on the train arriving at six fifteen if that’s really alright?”
“That’ll be fine. I wouldn’t want that long walk in the dark either.”
Lucy finished at four on Fridays. She wondered whether to wait in the library, or perhaps go to the pub, but neither option appealed. She drove home, put a meal into the oven and went out again to meet the train.
It was late. Lucy had to move her car from the short stay spaces and pay a fifty pence parking charge. It was cold, and light rain blew in the blustery wind.
Emma was full of apologies.
“No problem,” reassured Lucy.
“Gosh, can’t you smell the river?” said Emma.
Lucy sniffed. “I suppose so,” she agreed. She hadn’t noticed.
As Lucy drove carefully through the darkness, she realized that Emma had dozed. “Poor girl,” she thought. And when she pulled up outside Emma’s flat and woke her up, she asked, “Have you got food for tonight?”
Emma blushed. “I’ve got some cereal.”
“Would you like to eat with me? I’ve cooked a nice chicken casserole; there’s enough for two. If you don’t come, I shall have to freeze half of it.”
“Are you sure?”
Lucy grinned. “I wouldn’t have invited you if I wasn’t sure.” She put the car into gear, and drove the quarter mile to her terraced house.
The house was warm and welcoming.
“Gosh, that smells wonderful!” exclaimed Emma.
Lucy spooned rice and chicken, fragrant with tarragon, onto the Portmeirion plates. It felt like a banquet. Emma didn’t need much encouragement to talk about her studies. She was passionate about music. Lucy was glad to listen and not talk. There was too much in her recent past that she would prefer to forget.
They ate an apple each for dessert, and then Emma said, “Would you like me to play something for you?”
“That would be lovely.”
Emma took her fiddle out of its case, tuned briefly, and played. Lucy listened. The music was both sad and happy, with a transcendent serenity. Tears rolled down Lucy’s cheeks, but she sat still and made no attempt to dry them. She turned a little away from Emma; she didn’t want her to see she was weeping and maybe stop playing. Only when the music ended did Lucy take out a handkerchief, dry her eyes and blow her nose.
Emma sat in silence.
“That was beautiful, just beautiful,” said Lucy.
“It was by Bach. I love his music.” Tentatively she stretched out a hand and rested it on Lucy’s shoulder. “You’ve been so kind,” she said. Her blue eyes were very dark. Lucy felt a warmth run through her from the touch, a sense of homecoming and a delightful security.
It became routine. Lucy would take Emma to the station every Monday, and fetch her and feed her on the Friday, and after the meal Emma would play her violin. Lucy learned that Emma was in her first year, that she had a part-time job to pay her way through college, and that she had no boyfriend. Emma hardly spoke of her parents, and Lucy didn’t ask.
It was four weeks after Lucy had met Emma that she saw him, in hard hat and hi-vis jacket, giving orders to a group of men by the wreckage of the bridge. She shrank back into a side street, out of his sight, and shuddered. What should she do? If he saw her, it would all start again. She panted. She ached from the memories. All the bruises, all the fear.
Did he know she had fled here? He must have found out somehow! What should she do? Was she going to have to run again? Quickly, while he’s still busy! She dodged up a back street and through to where her car was parked, almost in sight of the bridge. As she sank into the driver’s seat, she gasped with relief. He hadn’t seen her. Hastily, she drove out of the car park and fled home.
The next morning Lucy thought of calling in sick. But it was Friday; she had to collect Emma. She didn’t want to let Emma down. She parked at the further car park, away from the river, and walked the half-mile to her office. He might be near the bridge so she left the main road and slunk through the backstreets. Would he come into he office and catch her? She spent the day terrified.
As she drove into the station car park to meet Emma, she saw his car. She nearly turned tail and fled. She tried not to look at the car as she passed it, just in case he was inside.
“What’s wrong?” asked Emma, as soon as they met.
“Is it as obvious as that?”
“Lucy dear, you’re trembling.”
“That car over there; the blue Range Rover. Is there anybody in it?” Lucy gestured in the general direction of the car.
Emma looked. “I can’t see anyone,” she said. “Are you hiding from the driver? Is that it?”
“There’s nobody in it. It’s alright”
Lucy shook as she engaged first gear and moved towards the car park exit. And then there he was, right in front of her, tall, red-haired, broad. She slammed on the brakes. He looked contemptuously in her direction, and then did a double-take. A grin spread over his face. He walked up to the driver’s door and pulled at the handle. The car was locked. He pantomimed that Lucy should open the door. She sat motionless, quaking with fright.
“Don’t!” said Emma. “He has no right! Drive on!”
Eyes rigidly ahead, Lucy depressed the clutch and engaged first gear. She let out the clutch with a jerk, nearly stalling the engine. There was a yell from the red-haired man. Lucy pulled out of the car park without looking at the traffic. A white van screeched to a halt, horn blaring. She didn’t notice. Emma put a hand on her shoulder.
“It’s alright, Lucy. You’re alright.”
Emma’s quiet voice broke the spell. Lucy shuddered violently for a few seconds.
“I am so sorry, Emma,” she said. “So sorry.”
“You’ve nothing to be sorry for, Lucy.”
“I just want to drive home as quickly as possible. I don’t want him following me.”
“If he follows you, I’ll call the police. Look, I’m holding my mobile ready.”
Lucy glanced across. It was true; Emma had her mobile on her lap in her left hand. She relaxed a little.
She refused to park outside her own house, choosing to leave her car two streets away. All the way from the car to the house, she was looking about her. As she opened the door, she looked up and down the street.
“Quickly, Emma, quickly,” she said as she entered. She slammed the door, locked it, bolted it. She drew the curtains. She checked the back door, even though she knew it was locked. Only then did she draw a deep breath, releasing it in a long, fluttering sigh.
Emma took her hand. “Well done,” she said. “Oh, very well done!”
“I don’t feel as though I did well. I ran.”
“He told you to stop, and you defied him. You did what you decided, not what he decided for you. You were so brave!”
“He’ll find me on Monday. He knows I’ll be working at a solicitor’s office, and there are only three in Casterton. He’ll find me.”
“Then we must have a plan.”
“Emma, this isn’t your fight. You mustn’t become involved. You don’t understand what he’s like!”
“I’m already involved. I saw how he behaved this evening, and I can guess a little bit about what he’s like.” She paused; she seemed hesitant.
“I think I’m going to have to run again. Perhaps London would be safer, I don’t know.” Lucy spoke to fill the silence.
“I’d hate that.” Emma spoke quietly. She looked at the carpet. “I want to be near you, Lucy. I want to see you every week; well, every day actually. I want to be with you.”
“Oh, Emma.” Lucy sighed.
Emma looked up, looked Lucy full in the face. Her expression was earnest, beseeching. “Will you marry me, Lucy?”
Lucy sank onto the sofa. “Marry you,” she repeated. “Emma, I’m twenty-nine. How old are you?”
“Twenty. What does that matter? I love you. I shall always love you. I know that as certainly as I know the music of Bach.”
“I love you, too. That doesn’t mean it would be wise for us to marry, Emma. There are things in my past.”
“I saw some of your past this evening. If he’s the worst we have to face, then let’s do it!”
Emma approached Lucy, who reached out to her. They clasped hands.
“I wish I could. I wish I could!”
“It’s too sudden for you, isn’t it? There’s unfinished business with that man. I’ll help you deal with that, and then we’ll see.”
“Thank you. Thank you, Emma. Yes, I think that would be the best thing. But let me just say it properly…” Lucy hesitated, and when she spoke her voice was husky, “I love you, Emma.” The two women kissed, gently, and then Emma released Lucy’s hand and sat down beside her on the sofa.
“Is your boss in the office tomorrow?” asked Emma.
“Mr Abercrombie? Yes. At least, I think he is.”
“He can probably help us. He won’t want you harassed in his office, and I’m sure he’ll want to make sure you’re safe all the time. He’ll know the right people in the police to talk to about domestic violence.” Lucy nodded. After a little pause, Emma continued, “My dad used to beat my mum, that’s how I know this. And I saw the police stop him. That man who’s threatening you, he won’t want the police involved. He’s respectable. He can only hurt you if you let him. But you don’t need him any more, do you?”
Lucy shook her head. “I hate him,” she said.
It was mid-morning on Monday that the red-haired man appeared in the solicitor’s office. His right hand was bandaged.
“You shouldn’t have driven off like that.” His voice was quiet, his tone menacing. Lucy’s heart raced, and her face went white. She pressed the panic button below her desk. As the man leaned threateningly towards her, there was a noise of footsteps clattering downstairs.
“Is this the man, Lucy?”
“Your staff member caused me personal injury last night.”
“Yes, I’ve heard what happened.” Mr Abercrombie looked over his spectacles at the bully. “In fact I’ve heard a great deal about you, Mr Brodie. I have a sworn deposition from Lucy in my files about your treatment of her during the period August 2010 to February 2016. I may say that it does you no credit, sir, no credit at all.
Now, if any harm should come to Lucy, this statement will be placed in the hands of the police. I would advise you that our local constabulary take a dim view of domestic abuse, a very dim view indeed, sir.”
Brodie puffed out his chest, and glared at Mr Abercrombie, who met his gaze calmly. “You’ve not heard the last of this,” he snarled at Lucy.
“Oh, but she has, Mr Brodie, she has. Any further harassment on your part and the police will be contacted. As will your employer, Kielder and Company.” Brodie snorted, turned on his heel and stamped out of the office.
“Well that was fun, wasn’t it?” exclaimed Mr Abercrombie. Lucy slumped forward.
“Oh my goodness! First aider!” Mr Abercrombie called for help.
Even as they moved her into the recovery position, Lucy’s eyelids flickered open.
“Don’t disturb yourself, Lucy. You passed out. We’ve rung for an ambulance. You’ll be fine, just stay calm.”
Lucy felt cold and rather sick. The first aider fetched a blanket and covered her. She snuggled it around herself as she shivered.
A paramedic first responder reached them quickly. He checked her vital signs carefully.
“Well, you look okay now. I don’t think there’s any need for a hospital visit. If there’s somebody at home, you might be more comfortable there. You had quite a shock.”
“Would you like to go home, Lucy? That was an ordeal for you, I’m afraid.” Mr Abercrombie was concerned.
Lucy nodded. Emma had taken the day off; she would be waiting for her at home.
“You’ll take a taxi, of course. You don’t want to drive after that. Oh, the company will pay, and for the taxi in tomorrow. You’re too good an employee to lose, Lucy, far too good.”
As she slumped in the back seat of the taxi, Lucy breathed deeply. It was over. The nightmare was over. Her fear had gone. She thought of Emma waiting for her and her limbs slowly suffused with warmth. She sat up straighter. The clouds parted and the sun gleamed through.
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