Night-time can be lonely, long, and frustrating. Lying on freshly laundered sheets, inhaling the summer fresh aroma mixed with vanilla from the slow burning candles. Rhythmic snores from my husband, Adam, sleeping the sleep of the innocent, not a care in the world. People wonder how on earth I can stand sleeping next to such a thunderous sound. A shrug and comment to say, ‘it doesn’t bother me anymore’, scared they will think I’ve lost it when I explain – ‘I love the comfort that the constant gravel and wheeze, whistling down my ear lulls me into absolute bliss’ – his constant hum reminding me that he is there, right next to me, my rock, my soul mate. For so many years we bed hopped between our three Angels with Dirty Faces, whoever needed a snuggle and comfort. Breathing in their unique smell, slowly stroking their hair or heads whispering in soothing tones wondering who fell asleep first – them or us. Inching an eye open, trying to get a small clue whose bed I was waking up in. Pink, purple or green being cascaded giving vital clues to which Sleeping Beauty needed my arm to cling to all night.
Oh, if only I knew how much I would miss these nights that used to drive me to distraction, understanding why sleep deprivation used to be used as a form of torture!
Now of course, my three teenagers; my little women, sleep their lives away, and me? I’ve never been able to break the habit, my body clock not realising that it is now safe to sleep a blissful dreamless sleep. No one needs me now. Instead, I’m almost alone in my nocturnal habits, Mr Snorey lying next to me, the occasional sleep talking can be heard, their chatter even continuing in their sleep and the constant whirring of the hamster wheel. At least he gets to sleep the day away.
A snort erupts next to me, making both me and him jump in shock – wide shocked eyes peer at me in the dark, he reaches out to me and strokes my face, “can you not sleep love?”
I reply, “I’m okay, I’ve been asleep!”
I don’t want to worry him any more than I already do. His eyes drift closed again and immediately he snores profoundly as if his sleep was never broken. I watch him; my favourite past time; I envy how deeply and peacefully this man sleeps, but I don’t hold a grudge, I love that with the chaos our life can be, he can switch off and escape into a night of peaceful slumber. I watch the rise and fall of his chest, and find myself smiling and stifling a giggle watching, maybe even hearing his cheeks expel a lung full of air with each breath, I close my eyes and will myself to fall asleep – I take slow, steady breaths, trying to harmonise with my husband, my body aches from a long stressful day, followed by a busy night of family dinner, testing my youngest for her English exam tomorrow and the normal humdrum of our night-time routine.
An errant thought invades my mind and it’s like a switch has been flicked, words that cannot be heard by any other inhabitant of my home are almost violently crashing around in my head incoherently, I feel my heartbeat taking over my body, the vibrations being felt in my chest, head and stomach. Clammy hands rake through my now dampened hair trying to eradicate the familiar feeling of utter dread. My inner voice shouts you’ve really done it this time! How are you going to get out of this mess? I swing my legs out of bed and creep out the bedroom, skipping the floorboard that manages to wake the heaviest of sleepers and slowly skulk downstairs, praying not to wake the sleeping pup as I pass her. Blindly fumbling around for car keys in the poorly lit kitchen, reminding myself idly that new lights in here will make a real difference, the keys are nowhere to be found, panic rises as I move boxes and open cupboards with no sign of my shiny graduation cap keyring and chunky Peugeot fob. A breeze startles me, where did that come from? I spin around to see our back door slightly ajar.
“Why on earth is that open?” I mutter to no one but myself.
With a feeling of unease, I go to close the door, for it to wobble on one hinge in my hands. Fear rips through my body as I stand in utter silence, questions once again shouting, my internal monologue, has someone been in the house? Oh god, what if they are still here? Who could it be? Oh please leave my kids alone.
I am next to my sleeping husband, jarring him awake, not even remembering how I got back upstairs but aware of the kid’s voices and the whimpering of the now awake pup from downstairs, my eldest says, “mum you know which floorboard to avoid!” I’m not sure if my attempt to act normal is Oscar worthy or they are just too bleary eyed and half asleep to notice as I scoot past them, frantically scanning their bedrooms for signs of an intruder.
With a somewhat level of relief, I muster, “it’s okay girls go back to sleep I just need your dad a second,” and they nod and make their way back to their beds incredibly sloth like. I turn around and jump having not heard my stealth husband, who missed the creaky floorboard like a pro join me on the landing. I silently signal to him to follow me downstairs, even half asleep he understands and tiptoes behind me.
“What’s this about love, another nightmare?” he mutters as we get to the kitchen, his overcast eyes trying their best to focus and work out what has spooked me this time. I know the second he spots that door, his face registers and his head whips around, suddenly wide awake, “have they gone? Did you see anyone?”
I shake my head numbly and say, “there is no one here, I think they’ve taken the car!”
Like a ninja he creeps outside, pulls himself up to peep over the fence and lands cat like on his two feet again. He beckons me over and we open the gate together. My beloved Peugeot has gone, I start shaking as fear rips through my body, my lovely hubby wraps me in a hug, whispering, trying to soothe me, “it’s only a car, we are safe love, that’s all that matters, we can get a new car, get the locks changed, we’ll be okay,” and all I can do is nod my head woodenly, if I open my mouth to respond, I’m sure an avalanche of confessions will rush out. My guilt and fear must be passing as shock and disbelief as I get a kiss on the temple, he holds my hand and guides me back to the safety of our home while he calls the police.
By the time the police, locksmith and workman leave, it’s gone 9am. The kids have just left for school with their dad, as my car is still nowhere to be seen, I really don’t want to be left in the house on my own, especially after last night, but what choice do I have. I’m standing in my kitchen looking out at my garden when I hear the letter box. I turn to see an envelope lying on the door, with no stamp. I rush to the door and open it to see who delivered my letter, my next-door neighbour is collecting his milk from the doorstep.
“You okay Hannah? I heard the police last night; I didn’t want to intrude.”
“Hi George, aw sorry to wake you, someone er took my car!”
George looked disgusted, “cheeky sods, nothing is safe nowadays love, at least it can be replaced, no harm done.”
“No,” I reply, “no harm done, erm George, did you see who just posted a letter to my house?”
“No love, too early for post.”
I mutter thanks and rush back inside.
With a pounding heart I lean against the door while I open the envelope, a folded piece of paper is snug inside with stuck down letters saying:
YOU HAVE NOTHING ON US NOW!!
What on earth does this mean? What do I have on anyone? Surely someone has got something on me, not the other way around.
Short, harsh breaths stall my ability to focus, damn panic attacks can be so debilitating. I practise my squared breathing and just about get it together in time for Adam to get home. With the letter in my pocket, I get on with my day, Adam, staying close by, fussing, as he can sense something isn’t quite right. I offer to go and collect our eldest daughter from college in Adam’s car, she looks like she has the worries of the world on her shoulders, I wish I could put her mind at rest; however, I haven’t got a clue how to do that now.
“Are you okay love? How was college?”
“Hi mum, it was okay, I can’t stop thinking about last night.”
“Oh Maddie, I told you, there was nothing there when I went back to Moreton Shore.”
“But mum I was sure I hit something, there could be a poor fox or badger lying there waiting to be saved.”
“Maddie, enough now, I told you, I went back and there was nothing anywhere, you must have been imagining it,” before I can even register her reaction to my response, I know that I’ve been far too harsh, sign of a guilty conscience my inner voice shouts. She looks away, and guilt tears at me as I hear a stifled sniffle.
“Maddie, I’m sorry love, I didn’t mean to upset you, I’m your mum, I love you to bits and don’t want you worrying about things like this.”
“It’s okay mum, I’m just being daft.”
The rest of the journey is in silence, Maddie now smiling with her earphones in, leaving me alone once again with my tornado of emotions. Who took my car? Who left me the letter? Do I tell Adam about what was in my boot? I’m not a bad person, I was trying to be a good mum, Maddie didn’t mean it. It was dark, what was he doing at the side of the road in dark clothing? Bless her she was heartbroken at the thought of hurting an animal, I couldn’t possibly tell her that when I found where she said it had happened, there was no sign of an injured fox or badger, however, there was a man, lying, lifeless in the bush. I didn’t even stop to think, with strength I didn’t realise I had I put him in my boot and covered him in tarp, how the hell was I to know my car was going to get pinched before I had time to process what to do?
When we arrive home there is an official looking car parked outside the house, I send Maddie straight up to her room to join her sisters, take a deep breath and walk into the living room to see two strangers in suits, drinking coffee on my sofa. Adam makes introductions, however, I can’t process what he is saying, I am focusing on a picture DCI Davies, Dawson or Daniels maybe is holding a picture of a burnt out car, not any old car, but my Peugeot, no longer metallic purple, but now charred, the boot open with the edges of green tarp where they have not fully melted can be seen, with a boot peeking out on the one side. I feel the room spin and before I know it, I am lay on the sofa with DCI Dudley – that’s it, is kneeling next to me while Adam runs out for a glass of water, he leans over and whispers.
“It’s okay, there are no forensics leading to you, he was the lowest of the low and the world is a better place without him in it.”
I weakly muster, “I didn’t do it.”
“I know Hannah, it was us, you completely threw us when we saw you drag him into your car, I thought you were gonna turn us in, but then you’ve not said anything so we knew we could trust you! He has been hiding on the sides of the road all over the Wirral, jumping out and attacking young girls driving alone at night. He has attacked twenty one teenage girls over the last two weeks. He attacked my daughter in that very spot the night before, I had to put a stop to it, you understand, don’t you?”
Just then Adam walked in with my water, “are you okay love, you’re white as a sheet, I know it looks pretty gruesome but it sounds like the fella who broke in and stole your car fell asleep with a cigarette in his mouth, the whole thing went up, sounds like he was a nasty piece of work too, I can’t believe how lucky we have been, Maddie is always at Moreton Shore, the thought that he might have attacked her knocked me to six too, thankfully he can’t hurt anyone else now.”
I look at the DCI and discreetly nod my thanks.
“I’ll be okay Adam; he obviously got what was coming to him, all those girls will be able to sleep easy now they know he has gone!”