Fragile Minds


There are plenty of beginnings, but only one end to my story.

At the police station in the small country town, they brought me tea and toast, but I didn’t touch it; I pushed it away. I didn’t trust them. Any of them, any more.

My feet were cut and bleeding; I didn’t care. They matched my sore hands. In my head I was still running, and the road was cold and rough beneath my naked feet and I didn’t care. The pain pushed me on. I was a streak of white light in a black surround, and then you were beside me, only you couldn’t keep up, so I leant down and carried you, light as thistledown, in my arms. No one could stop us; I would run and run and run—

Someone was behind me. I could feel my heart beating, I could hear the blood thumping in my ears, I could feel the breath squeezing through my ribs and out of me; I couldn’t outrun them.

My feet were hurting badly now and I no longer felt invincible, I could hear the sobs pushing out of me as the car slowed and a blue light flickered across the road between the sand dunes, and the sea hissed to the left of me: ‘Don’t stop, Claudie, or they will get you.’ But I was weak now, too weak—

The man held my arm gently. He was wearing a uniform and he said, ‘Are you all right, love, you’re freezing.’ And he led me to the car with the blue light on top, and made me sit in the back.

And then they brought me to the building in the town, and said another man, a man they called Silver, wanted to talk to me.

I didn’t give him time to sit when he came in. I had waited too long already.

‘Something’s not right,’ I said, too fast, almost before he came through the door.

He leant on the wall in his shirtsleeves, hands in his pockets, and looked down at me. His expression was quizzical but I was relieved that he didn’t look amused. He looked tired, perhaps, but not amused.

‘I see. Are you all right though, Claudie?’

I kept my hands in my lap beneath the table, where he couldn’t see me tearing at my own skin.

‘I – I’m not sure.’ I eyed the toast warily. ‘I think I will be OK.’ If only they’d stop poisoning me.

He sat now, directly opposite me. There was a black tape recorder on the table between us, but he didn’t switch it on. His eyes were a little hooded; they narrowed slightly as he studied my face.

‘Have we met before?’ he asked.

‘I don’t think so.’

‘You look a little familiar.’

I shook my head. There was a pen on the table; he turned it round neatly, and then gave me a slight smile. ‘So, Claudie. In your own time, I need you to tell me why you’re here. How you came to be all the way out here. Did someone bring you?’

‘Yes,’ I nodded. ‘And something’s not right,’ I repeated, slowly this time. I could feel the shiny crescent moon of skin missing from my thumb where I’d stripped it raw.

‘What?’ he said now. His accent was Northern. ‘What’s not right?’

‘I can’t – it’s hard to explain.’

We locked eyes. Still he did not condescend to me; he didn’t look at me as if I was mad. He just waited, dug in his trouser pocket for something.

‘That sounds stupid, I know.’ I was trying to order my mind. My thumb throbbed. ‘I mean, I can’t quite put my finger on it.’

‘On what?’ He was handsome. No, not handsome even, kind of … debonair. Like he’d stepped from a Fred and Ginger film; his cuffs so white they almost shone.

‘I think I might have done something bad. The Friday before last.’

‘What kind of bad?’ he asked. Long fingers on gum; waiting to unwrap it. He sat back in his chair and looked at me patiently. I could smell his aftershave. Lemony.

‘Very bad,’ I muttered.

‘Do you know my name?’ he asked.

He felt me falter. I shook my head.

‘It’s DCI Silver.’ It was an inducement. ‘Joe Silver.’

A short, stocky woman walked into the room now and stood behind him. She smiled at me, a kind, reassuring smile. I recognised her, I realised. I’d met her before. A woman with funny coloured hair.

‘And what happened to your face, Claudie?’

Automatically I raised my hand to my cheek. ‘Berkeley Square.’

‘Berkeley Square?’ He sat up straighter. ‘The explosion?’

I nodded.

‘OK, Claudie.’