It has been a really good day at school; a satisfying day in many respects. Amy had decided to start her class reading Dickens’ Oliver Twist, only the way she went about it was for them to listen to her as she read it aloud and for them to follow the story in their books at the same time.
One or two of her colleagues had looked at her doubtfully in the staff room when she told them what she intended to do. They thought it a bit of a stretch to expect children in years five and six to read Dickens’ dark and sometimes complex stories. But Amy argued back that they would discover unforgettable characters, spinetingling scenes and cliffhanging situations, as well as ideas and themes that still resonate today. She went further and said that Oliver Twist, for example, provides kids with a child’s eye view of the dark side of life – child cruelty, poverty, gangs and crime which all have relevance for children today.
It will also, she added, give kids the chance to compare and contrast the experiences of the characters that Dickens created with their own 1970 lives.
Head teacher Doug Bibby happened to be in the staff room when this discussion was going on and he nodded approvingly as Amy outlined her plan. An English teacher himself, he suggested that she might want to suggest that they watch the musical film Oliver if they get a chance. It was first screened two years ago but still makes an appearance now and then.
He smiled and also suggested that she might want to encourage them to imagine what kind of teachers Mr Gradgrind or Mr M’Choakumchild might be and how their names suggest their personalities. That suggestion caused some hilarity in the staff room with some teachers giving each other knowing looks.
As they all left the staff room Bibby stopped and told Amy quietly that he has put her name forward for the deputy head job with his personal recommendation. As they approached Amy’s class, the kids stared out at them expectantly.
Needless to say, the Oliver Twist session was a triumph. As the bell rang and they all filed out of class Amy could hear them still talking about it. What more could she want? As she put her coat on, she felt happy and optimistic about life despite the dark shadows surrounding Keith.
Both Dan And Dianne yesterday urged her to talk to Keith and to come up with a plan that would not leave her alone so much. They both also said that they would make a point of coming around at least once a week or inviting her to come to them for a meal. In both events she would not be allowed to be on her own when outside. One of them would always escort her.
When they both explained their plan Amy could feel tears pricking her eyes. She just hugged them both and smiled weakly, words having failed her.
Dan had then decided to lighten the mood by suggesting they go see the Aubrey Beardsley exhibition which was on at the Walker. ‘I feel like a bit of eroticism darling,’ he had said pulling a grotesque face at Dianne.
‘I don’t think I have ever seen his art,’ she said, grinning. Is it really outré darling,’ she replied mimicking his flamboyant parody.
‘Yes, it is,’ said Amy joining in the mood and smiling at them both. ‘He was shocking, especially when you think that it was in Victorian times when people were much less tolerant than we are.’
Dan pulled a leaflet out of his pocket: ‘Beardsley was an English illustrator and author. His black ink drawings were influenced by Japanese woodcuts, and emphasized the grotesque, the decadent, and the erotic. He was a leading figure in the aesthetic movement which also included Oscar Wilde and James McNeill Whistler.’
‘Just what we need darlings,’ he had announced giving Amy a playful squeeze, ‘a touch of the grotesque mixed with a slice of decadence and a helping of eroticism.’ He then linked arms with both of them and they headed for the stairs giggling.
As Amy walks home, she is careful to look at the people around her to notice if anyone is paying too much attention to her, but nobody is. People are heading for the shops on bustling Kensington and mums are hurrying home having met kids from school with the prospect of dinners to prepare and homework to oversee.
In truth, though Amy’s mind is not really on furtive strangers lurking in the shadows, she is thinking about the possibility of an interview for the deputy’s job following Bibby’s quiet comment. It will change her life if she’s successful, it could mean saving to put a deposit on a house in the suburbs – a house with a garden. She would grow flowers in the front and perhaps a few vegetables in the back – and there would have to be a back garden, she decides. It would have to have a lawn too; it needn’t be large, just large enough to sit out on balmy summer days.
It is a pleasant and comforting daydream to lose herself in as she walks slowly along Kensington. She can be forgiven for failing to notice a man 100 yards behind her who is nonchalantly keeping in step with her. He is not a man you would normally notice. There is nothing exceptional about him. He is simply Mr Average. He is dressed casually the way average men dress. His brown hair is parted in an average way down one side. In short, he is simply a figure in a landscape.
Amy would not notice him watching her because he appears to be more interested in the shops he walks past, frequently stopping to stare transfixed in windows or in the cars that are waiting non-too patiently at traffic lights.
No matter how fascinating the contents of shop windows may be or how appealing the procession of cars is, the man is careful to maintain his distance behind Amy, taking care to avoid looking at her directly.
Finally, Amy reaches her outside door. The man walks past her along with several other people, not giving her as much as a second glance. She puts the key in the Yale lock and lets herself in. The door closes behind her. The man crosses the road and leans in a doorway lighting a cigarette.
Amy climbs the stairs and reaches the landing with its two doors. She stops outside Colin Parker’s flat and listens at his door. There is complete silence. He is evidently not at home; there is no sound from a radio and the last time she was in his flat he had the radio constantly playing pop music from one of the pirate stations.
She turns and pushes the key into the lock on her door and as she does so she feels a frisson of fear. She stops and looks down the stairs. There is nobody there. She stares at her door with her key in the lock. Should she turn it? She puts her ear to the door. There is silence inside. Nothing stirs. She swallows and decides that she cannot stand on the landing indefinitely and turns the key.
She opens the door slowly and silently and looks inside the room before stepping in. Everything looks in its place but there is a stillness, an expectant silence as though the room, by its very stillness, is aware of a wrongness. She tip-toes into the sitting room and stands stock still in the centre of the room looking around her. Everything looks in its place. But still…
She walks to her bedroom door which is slightly ajar. Did she leave it open when she left this morning? She can’t remember but she usually closes it. It’s a habit of long standing because she never makes her bed when she leaves for school so that any visitors who may call around to see her unmade bed. She slowly pushes the door open.
Her room looks the same as it did when she left it, but something isn’t right. She can feel it. The room is leering at her. What is it? Why does she feel this way? She shivers.
It is then she notices the mirror on her dressing table. She stares at it uncomprehending. There is something on it. She steps forward and looks at it, her horror quickly growing. Someone has left what is undoubtedly a message on it, with one of the lipsticks she rarely uses.
It’s a large heart with a crude picture of a knife slicing its way through it. She stands back suddenly feeling a scream forming in her throat. She puts her hand to her mouth and slowly backs out of the room. Someone has been here. In her bedroom. Going through her things.
She picks up the phone and dials Keith’s number at the agency. It is engaged so she dials Dan’s number. He answers immediately.
‘Someone has been in my flat, in my bedroom Dan,’ she says angrily down the phone. ‘They have left a threatening picture on my dressing table mirror the bastards.’ Her anger gives way to tears.’
‘I will be there in ten minutes,’ he says. ‘Ring the police Amy. Do it now!’
She dials 999.