15th January 2020- 3:43am
“So, let’s get this straight, you’re now saying that you’re not responsible for what happened that night, someone else is?” I nod in agreement. I’m tired of trying to make him understand what actually happened.
“Ma’am, you do realise the gravity of what you are saying, right? And, the consequences if you are found to be lying?” The officer looks sleep deprived and in need of a coffee. I sit still and look down at the drying small splatters of blood inside my clenched fist. The teacups on the coffee table have lost their steam and the biscuit plate is still untouched.
“And what would I gain out of lying, officer? I was the one that called you and confessed that night, and you’re in my house, I wouldn’t ever disrespect somebody on my property.” There is a thud from above.
“Thin walls,” I say before he can ask.
“Okay, Mrs Miller, I understand. Now, before we ask him for his side, I’m going to need you to go over your series of events again. Please, just for clarity.” Unable to read my poker face, he looks frustrated.
“You want me to repeat the whole story, again?”
“Yes, just to be clear.” There is another thud. I regret these thin walls now.
“Where’s that coming from?” It was only a matter of time before he asked. Time to confess.
“Please, let this be off the record.” He gives me a nod of reassurance.
“It’s my partner, Jeff.” He seems confused, but he understands what I’m saying.
“Jeff has been with me all day, he helped me to piece together what happened. That’s why I called you. He visits me often, especially because I’ve been so lonely. I asked him to wait upstairs. I’m sure you understand why, officer.”
“I’m not here to invade your personal space, Mrs Miller. I just want to get to the bottom of what happened. Now, can you please tell me what happened again, from the start, please?”
“My pleasure, officer. It all started around six months after that night…”
Two months earlier- 28th November 2019
I was drenched in a pool of my own sweat and piss; I couldn’t sleep that night. My husband switched on the bedside lamp and he had that same 3am look on his face that he has most nights. He smiled and reassured me as he usually did, but I could tell that he was tired of it all really. It was the same routine with us. I’d wake up around midday and by then he’s already left for work, and when he’s back in the evening, we eat, he gives me my meds and we’re off to bed. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, we have sex -- we never make love, that’s out of question, and then we both fall asleep at different times, usually it’s me first. Then at around 2-3am, I either wake up in sweat or piss or both and he has to change the sheets whilst I’m off to shower. When I’m back, we pretend to fall asleep, neither of us speak.
I went into the bathroom to shower and I must have passed out because when I woke up, I was in bed.
“Wasn’t I in the shower?” I asked.
“You was meant to be. I banged on the door because you were there for ages and you didn’t answer me, so then I had to come in. It’s a good thing you didn’t lock the door.” I thought I had.
“I came in and found you asleep on the floor, so I wiped you down and carried you into bed.
You’ve been mumbling in your sleep again.” I knew I had been; my skin was blistering.
“Yeah, same again… She was on fire, grabbed my arm and was pulling me towards her bedroom cupboard.” My arm was so sore.
“Jesus! Shit, look, maybe if you try and get out of the house for a bit-”
“You know I can’t bear the heat. Can we please not do this now? I don’t want to talk about it.
What time is it? Don’t you have work?”
“It’s Sunday, Celeste. I’m going for lunch with Steve. I’ll be back in the evening. Will you be okay?” His voice was laced with concern.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine, probably going to watch some TV and read some more of my book.”
“Yeah, okay. Oh, I ,uh, I forgot to say: Stacey called, said she’s going to be round later.” I was glad. I missed my sister.
After he left, I got out of bed and made my way over to the large wall length window and admired the view; the gentle green swaying leaves basking in the heat of the tender orange air. The cool breezes of the short breathless nights were becoming slowly intoxicated by the dangerous warmth of summer, and I was stuck indoors. I could do nothing but revel in my envy of others out there enjoying the heat. Summer used to be my favourite time of the year, but after Sydney passed heat was no longer my friend.
Later that afternoon, whilst waiting for her, I decided to hoover and make myself useful. My eyes were so focused on the floor that when I looked up, I noticed that I was in front of Syd’s room. I hadn’t been inside since that night, I wanted to, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I touched the door handle and it was scorching, like it was on fire and it was just then that the door rang.
After a hug and mild talk, I showed her my burnt hand. “Your hand is fine; it’s cold. How did you burn it? Run it under some warm water. You’re hilarious.” At the time, her reaction seemed odd to me because when I looked, my hand was scorching red. I was baffled as to why she couldn’t see it, but to avoid any awkward conversation, I changed the topic and we went upstairs for a few hours.
“Today’s been great. I haven’t laughed like this in a while, Stace. You don’t even visit me much anymore, you silly cow.”
“I know, babe. Well, I know you’re in good hands and well, it’s hard to be here sometimes. I think about Sydney a lot and I know… I know that’s selfish of me seeing as you live here.”
“It is hard. I haven’t been in her room since it happened. I was hoovering earlier today and wanted to but-” I stopped myself from telling her about the doorknob.
“Christian, he erm, he keeps it locked. He keeps the key with him, scared that I’m going to relapse if I go in there.” She comes over and gives me another tight hug.
“I get that. He’s right to, he’s just being protective of you, babe.”
“Yeah, but I think I’m ready. I want to go in there, get some closure.”
She said nothing as she pulled out a cigarette from her handbag and offered me one.
“No, thanks. I stopped after-”
“Shit, yeah. Sorry. That was inconsiderate, fuck. Me and my stupid mouth.”
“Yeah, them fags and that mouth is going to get you into trouble one day.”
“It’s already gotten me into a lot of shit.”
“So, how’s things with Alex?” I was desperate to change the conversation.
“He’s good. We’re good. We’re actually trying for a child.” That news hit me like a tonne of bricks, but I congratulated her.
“Yeah, we’ve decided it’s time. After Sydney passed, it made us realise that life is just too short.”
She threw her cigarette out of the bedroom window. The smell was so strong that it still lingered in the room, making me feel sick.
After she left, I drifted into a deep sleep and the nightmares started again. The room was dark and cold, very cold. She was asleep. The window was open. I knew that smell. The strong waves of cigarette fumes were passing through like infinite waves, making me nostalgic. I looked over to the closet in the far right, a light shone through the gaps of the door. I walked towards it, slowly. The hairs on the back of my neck began to stand as I can hear nothing but my breathing. My heart beats slowly but the closer I get to the door, it gets faster... And faster… I’m nearly there. The light is so bright, the room is so hot, I’m sweating, I can’t breathe, I need air… I’m at the door, it flies open and all I can see is fire. I shield my eyes and try to run from the door. I can hear her crying. I need to get her, but I can’t move. I look through the gaps of my fingers. I need to close this door, but I see a woman.
Present Day- 3:55am
“So, just to clarify, ma’am, you felt as though on the night of the fire, there was another woman in the house? Even though when police checked, there was no trace of anyone?”
“Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying. It led us to argue because he denied it and I didn’t believe it.”
“Would you like to take a break, ma’am? Have some water?” The officer is kind and gentle, very different from the first officer that interrogated me last year.
“Yes, I’ll just have a glass of water and my medication, and I'll be back. Can I get you anything?”
“No, thank you” He replies. I make my way into the kitchen and close the door behind me. I get to the sink and splash myself with some cold water. Damn, I didn’t know it would be this hard. I can still hear the movement upstairs.
There is a knock on the door.
“Mrs Miller, are you okay in there? It’s been a while.” Shit, I can’t keep him waiting. I dry my face and shout that I’m on my way back. Once I’m back in the room, he smiles at me again and nods for me to continue.
Two months earlier- 29th November 2019
He slept downstairs whilst I stayed in bed that night. He called me a murderer, but at the time, I felt like I deserved it. I did accuse him of infidelity based on a dream. The next day, we were okay again. I forgave him, and he gave me my meds and we went to bed.
“So, today with Stacey was nice.” I was trying to force a conversation.
“Yeah, that’s good. I’m glad Stace came round, you needed a break.”
“How’s she holding up with the divorce?”
“Well, yeah, who else would I be referring to? Her and Steve are divorcing, aren’t they?” I was sure she said they were trying for a child. But then why would he say divorce?
“Yeah, she’s erm, she’s holding up okay, you know her.”
“Yeah, she’s a strong one, isn’t she?” I agreed as sleep had taken over me again.
Later that night, I needed the bathroom. When I was done, I washed and looked at my face in the mirror. I could hardly recognise the woman looking back. Why did my meds make me so sleepy?
The next day, when he got home that evening, I asked him for the key to Syd’s room and he refused and left. I went into the kitchen and he’d left my meds on the counter. I threw them in the bin. They’d been making the nightmares worse. I got into bed and was feeling sleepy, but I could fight it. I followed the same routine for the next few nights and I was stronger; I could fight the sleep and stay awake. I was going to get that key no matter what.
A few nights later, I woke up from a brief nap and turned to my side to see that he was also asleep. That was my chance. I slowly picked up his keys and took the shiny one, the newest one. I made my way out of the room and quietly closed the door behind me. I snuck over to Sydney’s room and paused. I was shrouded in doubt, did I want to do this? Yes, I did. My breathing fastened and my hands began to shake as I put the key into the lock. I turned it and pushed the handle down. It was dark, very cold, and quite empty. I looked over to the right and the closet door was closed. Reluctantly, I took one step into the room and it was in flames. The room was on fire again, and I passed out.
Present Day- 4:05am
“The room was on fire? Literally, you mean?” The officer asked.
“Well, to me it was. Of course, when I woke up later I discovered that it was only a panic attack, probably my PTSD playing up.”
“I understand, and how are you feeling now? Are you okay to carry on?”
“Yes, of course, officer.” There was another thud, like someone was banging on a door. Shit.
“You can ask him to come down if he wants.”
“No, not at all. He’s fine, probably working out.”
“At this time? And upstairs?” That was a shit excuse.
“Yeah, he does that when he can’t get to sleep sometimes. We have a gym room. Shall I continue?”
“Yes, please, it is getting late.”
Yesterday- 13th January 2020
I woke up and I was in bed, greeted by Christian’s blood shot eyes.
“I fucking told you, I told you that you weren’t ready.” I couldn’t even argue back, he was right, maybe I wasn’t ready.
“You’re right, I don’t know what I was thinking but it’s not going to happen again. I've learnt my lesson.” After a lecture from my husband, I made my way into the bathroom to wash my face. I felt sleepy again, there must be a way to combat this. I opened the cabinet to read through the side effects of the meds and the label caught my eye.
‘TAKE ONE ONCE A DAY.’ One? He’d been giving me three. It was just then that I heard him walking up the stairs, I quickly closed the cabinet and scrambled back into bed and pretended to sleep. He got into bed and there was nothing but a thick slice of ambiguity that lay between us.
Later that night, as he slept, I planned to go back into her room. I turned around and he wasn’t there. At the time, this didn’t bother me, as it was the only time that I had to go back into the room. I took the key again and went to her room. I opened the door with ease this time and reluctantly, took a step inside. After a few more steps, I was on her bed. I lay on it in the dark in silence.
Looking over to my right, I could see the window. It was new, but I could still see my cigarette stub sitting on it and I could still smell the smoke.
Time passed. I needed to get back before he noticed. I quietly locked the door and made my way back, but then noticed something. I crouched down in the passageway and could see him in the kitchen smoking and scrolling through his phone. I watched as he stubbed the cigarette and went through the corridor. He returned and he wasn’t alone.
Present Day- 4:12am
The officer sits and scribbles down his notes. He seems confused. I should probably say something.
“You see, officer, my husband isn’t a saint, far from it. Neither am I, but what I saw that night, it scared me.”
“And, where is your husband again, Mrs Miller?” The question I hated answering.
“I’m not sure, he left yesterday and hasn’t answered any of my calls.”
“And your, erm, friend upstairs, how long have you been seeing him for?”
“The last few months.”
“I see, but you haven’t once mentioned him in your story.”
“That’s simply because he has no relevance, he had nothing to do with it. We hadn’t met up in all that time, not since I was back from the hospital six months ago. We just called and texted.”
“Okay, Mrs Miller, that’s understandable. So, what happened 24 hours ago?”
Yesterday- 13th January 2020
Who was that? Why was he wearing a hood? And, why were they hugging? The hooded figure removed their hood and it was Stacey. I rushed into my bathroom and cried silently into the sink. I looked at my medication and threw it across the bathroom and slouched onto the ground. That’s why he’d been drugging me.
He had snuck down and opened the front door and they both began to make love in the kitchen. I wanted to scream. Such passion, such gentleness, it made me sick. I closed my eyes and waited until it was finally over. They began to speak about me.
“You know, she’s going to find out soon enough because you messed up. Why did you tell her about the divorce, Chris? I told her we were trying for a child.”
“Well, she went along with it, how was I to know?” He embraced her. “I’m sorry, baby, forgive me?” He was smiling. I hadn’t seen him smile since before the accident. I continued spying and watched as she pulled a cigarette from her bag.
“What are you doing?” Christian took the cigarette from her hand and stubbed it under water in the sink.
“I’ve told you before Stace, the one thing that I ask of you is to not smoke.”
“Shit, I’m sorry, I just-”
“I don’t fucking care, we don’t need a repeat of what happened that night. You’re fucking lucky that the police didn’t investigate further. I could’ve lost both of you that night.”
Present Day- 4:12am
“And, that’s how I know I was framed, officer.”
“So, you’re saying that your sister was the one that started the fire and not you?”
“Yes, officer. I heard them last night.”
“And, Mr Miller just walked out?”
“Well, yes. I confronted them, and he stormed out with Stacey. I don’t know where they’ve gone.”
He scribbled the last bit on his notes and makes me sign the sheet.
“Perfect, Mrs Miller. Thank you for your statement. We will get in touch with Mr Miller and Mrs Black and have a search warrant put out for them. I will be in touch soon.” I smile at him and there is another thud upstairs.
“Be sure to tell Jeff I said bye.”
“I will, officer, and thank you for keeping that secret. I’m not ready to bring our relationship out just yet.” He nods and leaves the house. I shut the door and run upstairs. I get to Sydney’s bedroom and unlock the door.
Stacey and Christian are sitting there on the bed, their mouths taped, and hands and legs tied. I take a cigarette out of Stacey’s bag and light it up. You see, I did time for a crime I didn’t commit so now it’s time to do time for a crime that I did commit.
Burn in peace.
By Lucky Uddin