NIGHT CALL - DOT KING
And that was when the hand grabbed her by the throat...
In that instant, unconnected, simultaneous reactions assailed her: a feeling that something was familiar, should be, yet she couldn't seize, hold on to it; a strange, dangerous comfort that she was going to die: no more TV dinners, no more empty, lonely nights, relief from that torpor of all-consuming sadness ... feelings that were thrust aside by raw instinct screaming in her head « BREATHE ».
She couldn't. Nor could she see. She realised with a shock that her attacker's other hand was over her eyes. Her arms and hands were useless, unable to connect with those pressing her down on the bed, blocked by his arms. She was dimly aware of her hand releasing her cellphone and by the muffled skittering noise as it hit the floor, she knew it had slid under the bed.
Kicking out, she tried to bend her knees to get some purchase on the counterpane, to push away, lessen his grip, but it slipped away beneath her until her right arm, in its flailing, connected only with air as the top part of her body was pushed over the edge of the bed. She felt the pressure increase on her neck until she thought it would snap and still the voice in her head commanded « BREATHE ».
From somewhere, she thought she heard another, external voice. Then she knew she'd heard a voice, was still hearing it: « Police. Are you there? You have called the police. Please state your name ... » For a split second the pressure on her throat eased as her attacker tried to assess what he too was hearing. Susie needed no more time than this. Her hand connected with the empty glass from the night before, grasped it, lifted it, smashed it, dragged the jagged edge along the underside of his arm, elbow to wrist.
Liquid warmth ran over her hand and dripped down on to her chest. As the pain from the wound kicked in, the man gasped and raised the hand that held her throat. Susie dragged in a breath. It made her dizzy, but already her hand was arcing over for another slash. Into the side of his face. « You. Bitch! » Again. Again. The hand over her eyes yanked away.
In the darkness she scrambled back, away from him. He was holding his face, covering it, his head flung back. As her sight adjusted and her breathing steadied, she could see dark stains oozing between his fingers. He moaned loudly.
« Hey, what's going on there? »
The cellphone. Had she still had her finger on the call button when he grabbed her? She opened her mouth to yell. Her throat burned and her voice was no more than a strangled rasp. He was getting up from the bed.
Get out! Go!
Keeping her eyes on the man, back to the wall, Susie edged around the bedroom to the door. On the pale bedcover the dark stain was spreading. With every breath, the man moaned. He was standing, swaying.
The cellphone tinnily interrogated « Where are you? »
Finally, the open door, the landing, the stairs. Susie struggled with the multiple security locks on the front door, glancing behind her every couple of seconds. The man's moans seemed louder in the silence of the carpeted hallway. A thud from above panicked her.
Sliding the last bolt with trembling fingers, turning the handle made slippery with blood, she stumbled out into the yard, tried to fill her burning lungs with night air, but could only take small panting breaths. If they were all she had, then she would manage. Barefoot, she made her way to her car, vaguely hoping the keys might be on the dashboard. They weren't. Three miles on foot to the town. Auto-pilot.
The officer on the desk recognised Susie, took in her bleeding feet, blood-soaked pyjamas and the bruising on her neck and cheekbones. He called a doctor and asked a female colleague to lead her through to a quiet office where, in a halting, absent monotone, she told her tale. After hearing of her ordeal the desk sergeant immediately called control to dispatch officers to her house, only to discover they were on their way after her unanswered 999 call had been traced.
Passively, she sat silent while the doctor cleaned and dressed her feet and examined the bruising. She was helped out of her pyjamas and given a washed-out tracksuit. The world was cotton wool. She could not speak. She could not think. She had survived, that was all.
The radio on the officer's belt crackled. Reporting in from the house. Did Susie feel strong enough to go out there? She nodded distractedly.
As she was helped from the car, medics were carrying a stretcher from the house. She heard muffled, disjointed phrases. «Alive. Just. Lost a lot ... blood. Maybe lose ... eye. Unconscious. Pull through. »
« Do you think you could look at him? Perhaps you can identify him... if you feel up to it. »
Susie assented. Part of her picked up a distant, detached, flinty quality to the officer's voice. She looked at him, wondering. The woman officer walked her to the gurney, nodded to one of the medics who shone a light on to the devastated face of the man.
As unconsciousness finally pulled her under, Susie breathed his name, « Mike. »
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