Trouble by Heidi James
‘We’re just here to take your statement,’ he says, ‘nothing to worry about at the moment.’ He takes out his notebook and pen and turns the volume down on his radio. He sits opposite me on the armchair, his stab vest and heavy boots at odds with the soft furnishings. I want to rearrange the cushion behind his back. He will crease the covers slouching like that. I nod and tuck my hands under my thighs.
It’s hard not to think of your life as a maths problem, where this event added to this crisis, added to this choice, subtracted by that choice, multiplied by this situation divided by sleepless nights and God knows how many bad habits equals this. If I were the religious type I’d consider it the most efficient way of deciding who to let into heaven. But I’m not. The religious type I mean. But I was never very good at maths, among other things.
I don’t often take the initiative, it’s not that I’m unimaginative I just don’t like to cause trouble. I’m used to sitting back and letting things happen, letting people make their own choices, do what they have to do. It’s better that way. My sister calls me a pushover, she’d be surprised now if she could see all this; but a girl is missing, and I could be doing the right thing.
I’d phoned them, that time before she disappeared. And I had every right to, listening to them fighting, screaming night after night. The walls are thin, and I need my sleep, I need my peace. I have every right, as much as the next person to have a little peace at home. And I gave them chances. It wasn’t like it was the first time, I wasn’t sticking my nose into their business. They made it my business by being so loud. Anyway, I wish someone had called the police for me, when my trouble started, I probably don’t actually, come to think of it. God only knows what I want.
The trouble didn’t start the drinking, that came later so I can’t really blame him or the situation, but it didn’t help. It creeps up on you, slowly. You go from enjoying a drink at lunch with friends, to watching the clock and keeping busy till the time you can have one glass and still drive and do the school run. But then you drink a bit more and a bit more and you end up in an incident where you’re having a fight with another driver while your kid is screaming in the car for you to stop. Or where you’re so drunk at work that you can barely stand, so you lie and say you were hit by a car on the way in and have concussion.
Maybe life is more like a chemical reaction, you add this element to that, and heat it and shake it, and add another solution and watch the reaction and then maybe add something else until it explodes, or solidifies or evaporates. Perhaps that's it.
The policeman is writing everything down, only occasionally stopping to listen. I’m not sure I’m speaking, so I can’t guess what his notes say. Perhaps he’s written, ‘she smells of misery, fags and cheap coconut shampoo’, that’s what my ex said, before he left the second time. I haven’t had many dealings with the police or the law, not really; except when I was a kid and went with my boyfriend to court for his sentencing. I’d had to bunk off history, and was still in my school uniform so it should’ve been no surprise that it was reported to my social worker. My boyfriend sent me a visiting order to see him in prison, but I didn’t know what it was for so it went to waste and he called me a cunt while he cried from loneliness during his weekly phone call. I didn’t even get into trouble when I stabbed him, in self-defence obviously, because it hadn’t rained for a week and the threats he’d chalked on the pavement I walked on to school hadn’t washed away. But that was all so long ago that now I’m not really sure how to act. I’m not sure what to expect. I want to ask the policeman if it’s my fault she’s gone missing, but I don’t want to raise his suspicion, it can’t be my fault anyway, not really, that's just a habit of mine, to feel guilty.
I had a friend once who could read your fortune. She had narrow brown eyes and hips twice as wide as her shoulders, childbearing. ‘Your trouble,’ she said, when I threw the I Ching coins one more time, ‘is you want something for nothing.’
‘What does that mean?’ I said, showing her the symbols on the coins.
‘No idea,’ she shrugged, picking at the spots on her arms, ‘I wouldn’t trust them even if I did. Gemma nicked them from the hippy shop.’ Later I heard she moved to Middlesex and worked in a café. She wasn’t a very good fortune-teller. She said I’d have children, but she didn’t say anything about them being taken away. Or this.
He stands up, is putting away his notepad. I stand too, to be polite and walk him to the door. ‘We’ll be in touch,’ he says. I wave goodbye but he doesn’t turn back to look. Above him the sky is filling with clouds, bumpy and the same grey-purple as brains.