In Front Of Her

“Do you take sugar and milk Deborah?” Mary asked.

“Just milk please and call me Debbie” she replied.

Mary squeezed the tea bag and put it on the side, picked up the three mugs of tea and walked through to the front room, which doubled as the dinning and sitting room for the council flat they lived in. It was furnished with a table and three chairs against the one wall while a saggy sofa, coffee table and large plasma screen TV occupied the remaining space. In the corner next to the table and chairs facing the TV was a young boy sitting in a wheelchair playing a video game. He was nine years old but looked younger as he was thin and sallow.  He glanced at Debbie and her silent companion sitting at the table and then focussed his full attention on the TV screen.

Debbie was perched on the old and shabby sofa and stood quickly to help Mary with the transfer of the mugs to the coffee table. The table was cluttered with an array of items, newspapers, three ashtrays, a packet of tobacco, cigarette papers, several lighters, empty cans of pop, crumpled tissues, a plate with the remains of a meal, unopened letters, a few pens and a collection of prescription bottles of varying sizes. Debbie could read the labels on two of the bottles: Prozac and Manitol.

“How long have you lived here Mary?” Debbie enquired.

“Coming up to eight years,” Mary replied. “We moved just after Nathanial was born as we needed more space.” She picked up the packet of tobacco. “Joe said we would need three bedrooms for when the boys got older, he wanted Nathaniel to have his own room.”

“What’s it like? I’m new to the area; I’ve only been working here about six months.” Debbie asked.

“The other people are nice, most of them anyway. Some keep themselves to themselves, they are scared of the youngsters that hang about, you know. It can be a bit frightening for some people, the old like, but I’ve been in places like this all my life, so I’m used to it. Anyway, everyone round here knows us.” As Mary talks she touches the cross hanging at her neck and then carried on making a roll up cigarette.

“How long have you and Joe been together?”

“Coming up eleven years, I met him at Saint Luke’s you know,” she said.

“Mmm, and he’s a good man?” Debbie looked straight at Mary, observing her body language as she answered.

“He’s the best.” Mary paused and lit the cigarette.

“It’s not been easy for him since he lost his job at the car plant, he loved that job, he’d worked there since school, done his training and he was a good worker. Everyone liked him there; he was friends with them all even the bosses. It was not fair. And it’s not like he hasn’t been looking for work since then. There just isn’t anything for anyone. The whole area is ‘economically depressed’, that’s what they say in the local paper.” Mary said.

“He worked with a man called Mo, isn’t that right?” Debbie asked.

“Yeah, they were started there together and worked together, but Mo left a couple of years before it closed down.” Mary replied.

“Are they still in touch; do you know Mo?”

“No, I never met him; it’s been tough for Joe and all his mates from that place you know.”

“I know Mary; it’s been tough for everyone. Even more so for you. It must be difficult living here and looking after Nathanial as well.” Debbie said.

“Yeah, it is. Some days if the lift isn’t working we can’t get out; sometimes we’ve been stuck in here for over a week before they’ve fixed it.” Mary picked a piece of tobacco from between her lips.

“And it cannot be good for Nathanial, not being able to go out?” Debbie turned and looked at Nathanial. He was intent on the large TV screen and the pursuit of virtual death and destruction.

“Of course not, look at him; he needs the fresh air, poor thing. The doctors say we should have some extra help but the council won’t give us any because we’re both not working,” Mary said.

“That must be a big pressure on you both.” Debbie stated.

“Yeah it is. We get along most of the time and Joe makes some extra money. I shouldn’t be telling you that, but most people round here do something or other to make some extra money. Anyway you wouldn’t dob us in for that would you?” Mary looked at Debbie.  

“I’m amazed how you have coped, especially with the death of your other son Benjamin” Debbie left the statement hanging in the air to see how Mary would react.

She tensed for a split second before her shoulders slumped and she said with a quiet emotional voice “My Benjamin, he’d be nearly fourteen now.”

“I expect you miss him every day?” Debbie said softly, leaning towards Mary and placing a hand on her shoulder.

“I do. I miss him every day.” Mary repeated the words. Debbie watched Mary and allowed her to have a few moments before she carried on. Mary’s eyes became unfocussed as her thoughts slipped back through the years, the memories running through her mind and almost playing on her eyes.

“How does Joe cope, does he miss him?” Debbie asked after a minute.

“Yeah, of course.” Mary’s voice was quieter now, softer, “Even though he wasn’t his Dad he raised him as his own you know. He loved him like he was his son, just like Nathanial. I know he did, he tells me all the time. It helps me to cope knowing how much he misses him.”

“Joe being with Benjamin when he died must be tremendously hard for him, being there and not being able to stop it, not being able to save Benjamin from being hit by the car.” Debbie said.

“Of course yeah, he was really gutted about it. He was so upset, but the local paper made him out to be a local criminal, which isn’t true. They don’t know the real Joe like I do.” Mary was getting more emotional and wiped at the bottom of her left eye.

“When Benjamin, died they were walking back from getting some alcohol from Joe’s local pub, that’s right isn’t it?” Debbie asked.

“Yeah, Joe said it would be a treat for Benjamin to go with him. It was the first time he’d taken him.” Mary said.

“And the man driving the car is a local, isn’t he, you know him, the man that killed Benjamin? The man that took your Benjamin away from you.”

“Matthew Evans. I don’t know him.” Mary was distant, her eyes were glistening from the emotion and she kept wiping at them with her hand. Debbie waited for her to carry on.

“He lived three floors up on the other side…… 345….people said he was always drunk…….driving that car….. nobody stopped him….the police said he was over the limit…….took them days to find him…..couldn’t prove he was drunk…….proved he was driving it when Benjamin got hit.” Mary said.

“Oh, I thought you knew him. Joe knows him though doesn’t  he? He knows Matthew Evans?” Debbie asked slowly.

“No he does0n’t know him.” Mary said.

“Mary, Mo and Matthew Evans is the same person. All of Matthew Evans friends call him Mo, Joe worked with him at the plant, they’re still friends Mary” Debbie said slowly. Mary sat there still, not moving.

“’Mo’……..he told me……” Mary’s eyes focussed. Suddenly she looked horrified at something in front of her.

A look of relief glanced across Debbie’s face. She sat more relaxed into the sofa resting her arm on the sofa arm. Mary sat next to her completely still as if she was frozen in time, tears forming in her eyes. Nathanial was looking at his mum from across the room.

The sound of a key in a lock split the silence. The entrance door to the flat opened and closed shut. Debbie and her companion both rose from their chairs as a man walked into the room and stopped in surprise.

“Who are you?” he asked.

Debbie produced a small black wallet from the inside pocket of her jacket and opening it, showing the contents to the man stood in the doorway.

“I’m DC Deborah Hawkins of the Metropolitan Police. Joseph Thomas Delaney, I’m arresting you on suspicion of the murder of Benjamin Williams on 21st of May 2007. You do not have to say anything but it may harm your defense if you do not mention when questioned something you later rely on in court. Anything you say may be given in evidence.”

“You bastard” Yelled Mary, “You bastard, Why? Why did you……”she flew at Joe with a venomous scream that burst Debbie’s ears.

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