Late Again

by Heather Jones

The evening had not really gone to plan. Karen glanced at the broad, white face of the clock that sat atop the squat, ornate tower to her left. It was 3am. Oh shit, she thought, I'm so late. She thought about calling ahead, but decided against it. She was feeling too heavy and muzzy headed, unable to deal with the barrage of angry words that would come with the announcement of her lateness. All she wanted to feel was the softness and warmth of bed.

God, she thought, I want to get home. She glanced around her at George Street. The darkened windows of the buildings stared back. How did I get here? She thought, shivering, feeling the damp of the rain that splattered down

Then she heard the swish of tyres on the wet road. He heart leapt. A taxi! She moved to the edge of the pavement, leaning out into the path of the white cab, waving her hand to attract the driver's attention.

But the taxi sped past. Bastard! Karen spat incensed at the driver's ignorance and stupidity. How could he do that to a girl on her own? She looked down the street for another cab, but the street was empty. Karen felt fear rising in her throat. It was miles home, she thought, miles and miles of empty roads, of darkened alleyways and shadows. "Shit", she muttered to herself as she began to walk, her dulled mind sharpened by adrenaline. "Shit, shit shit."

She moved quickly and quietly along George Street, her senses attuned to any possible danger. She felt like a commando on a mission, a sniper. Kill or be killed, she thought to herself.

She thought about Mark and tears of frustration stung her eyes. She could now see why he got so angry with her for neglecting to let him know when she would be coming home; a simple call that would keep him happy and in the loop. I'm so sorry, she thought. Next time she would call him, next time she would have a plan.

Karen looked around again in growing desperation. Why were there no bloody taxis? She felt so far away from home, so unprotected and dreading the next part of her journey, the turn down darkened Market Street, and the loneliness of Pyrmont Bridge. Where no one can hear you scream, she thought darkly. She prayed for others to be there, normal people, anyone that she could attach herself to, to blend in, to cross the blackened water home.

As she began her walk up to the bridge, Karen's heart leapt with terror. There was a man on the bridge! She couldn't see his face, but she felt panic rising. He was alone. She could see his form, in a hooded top and jeans, facing towards one of the heavy black pillars that held up the monorail. Karen felt her heart pounding. What now? She drew herself up to her full height and walked purposefully on. No fear, she thought, they prey on fear. She had some where to go, some place to be and no-one was going to change that.

As she drew level with him, she felt a spark of recognition, followed by a flood of reassurance. It was Mark! "Mark!" she called out, puzzled, but happy to see him. He didn't turn. Perhaps he's angry with me, Karen thought. She stood next to him. "Mark," she said softly, feeling warm tears of gratitude beginning to roll down her face. "I'm so sorry. Let's go home now, I'm tired." But he didn't look up, continuing to look fixedly at the pillar before him.

Karen followed the line of his gaze towards the pillar. She knew, even before she saw it what would be there. She knew because she had seen it before, last night, the night before that and possibly even the night before that. Her eyes focused on the card that Mark had put there only a few days ago, amongst the floral tributes, the morning after her body had been found. It said simply "Karen, I miss you."

Copyright © 2005 Heather Jones

This story was one of the commended stories of the 2005 Magic Casements Flash Fiction competition sponsored by Infinitas Bookshop.

This page last updated 16th September 2008.