The silence startled Sarah from a hundred-fathom
sleep. She opened her eyes to the red blink of the digital
bedside clock: 16.32.
The yips of small dogs came from one
of the gardens downhill, insistent, ricochetting off the
ceiling and around the curved
Quiet. Sarah routinely left the radio on in the kitchen
when she was here, tuned to Radio 4. The conversational coo
the edge off the emptiness. Heard from another room it gave
that the house was full of charming, chatty people from Hampshire.
Burglars might find that strange in Glasgow but it was plausible
in the exclusive village of Thorntonhall. Sarah left strategic
lights on too: hall, stairs, anywhere that couldn’t
be seen into. She had a talent for making things seem.
This was not the burgling hour. The house was at the
top of the hill, visible in day light, especially at this
time when neighbours were out in their
grounds, critiquing the gardeners’ work or goading fat pedigree dogs
around. A thief would have to be very confident or very stupid to break in
Exhausted and desperate to sleep, she considered an innocent
explanation: either a fuse in the kitchen had blown or the
old radio had finally stopped
Everything in the house was old and needed fixed.
So she decided that the
radio had died, smiled and shut her eyes, curling up under
the crisp duvet, almost glad to have woken up for the delicious
back to sleep.
Her mind slid softly into the dark warm.
A sudden crack of
floor board at the bottom of the stairs. Her eyes snapped
She raised her head from the pillow, the better to hear.
shoe scuffing over carpet, amplified by the stairwell and
a hissed two word instruction. A high voice. A woman’s
voice. “Go on.”
Sleep-befuddled, Sarah sat up,
imagining her mother on her stair lift, her whirring, inexorable
rise to the
landing. Her mother, pinch-mouthed
mother wanting answers: why did they fixed on that care plan?
Sarah never there to bathe her? Why didn’t Cardinal Geoffrey
conduct her funeral service?
She threw the duvet off and swung her feet the floor,
attempted to stand up but her drowsy knees failed her and
with an undignified bounce.
Exasperated with herself she
realised that she was defenceless because she was at home.
Sarah had been in strange places,
scary places and
alert and calm. She always mapped the fire exits on the
way in, arrived in charge and stayed in charge, but here she
This was different than those stranger
rooms because here she was a normal householder. She could
call the police,
Relieved, she flopped forwards over her knees,
reached into her handbag at the side of the bed. Her nervous
and receipts and passport
to the cold metal back of her iPhone. She pressed the
button as she pulled it out and was delighted to see
light up. She
in the aisle of first class, waiting to get off at
Glasgow airport. She didn’t
always. Sometimes she left it off for twenty four hours
until she’d had
a sleep. Now, using both hands to concentrate on the
screen, she slid it open, selected phone, selected
keyboard, jabbed 999 and pressed ‘call’ just
in time to hear movement outside her bedroom door.
It was more of a sensation than a sound, air shifting
on the landing. A body brushed the wall by the door,
cold fingers to the
small of a bare back.
She shoved the iPhone into a little
cave in the duvet and stood up.
The door moaned softly as
it fell open.
It was not the ghost of her mother but two
teenage boys, gawky, awkward. They wore baggy black jogging
T shirts, inside
out, the seams
showing all the way down the legs, along the
arms. They wore the same black trainers too. The strange
Tentative at first, shuffling, they occupied
the doorway. Not desperate but confident, boys
She almost laughed with relief, “What
are you doing in here?”
One of them was
tall, shaven headed. He couldn’t look at
her and squirmed slightly at the sound of her
voice, stood sideways in the door, his shoulder
out on the landing as if he’d like to leave.
Look,” she said, “Get out of my house. It isn’t
empty this house...”
The other boy had longer hair,
jet black and thick, but he wasn’t tentative.
He was angry, standing square to the door frame,
looking straight at her, taking in her face.
Sarah knew she
wasn’t very pretty but she made the best of herself,
was slim, had a good haircut. In a kind light she could be
thought attractive. This
boy wasn’t finding her so. He was disgusted
The taller one elbowed his friend. The
angry boy didn’t break eye contact
with her but answered him with the jut of a chin,
ordering him into the room. The tall friend flinched,
giving a half shake of his head. They continued
conversation in micro gestures, the angry boy
holding her eye, hating her.
My mother died..” she said again, voice fading as it dawned on her that
they weren’t surprised to find her here, “I still live ...”
Where’s your kids?” asked the angry boy.
You’ve got kids.” He seemed very certain.
No...” she said, “I haven’t got kids..”
Yes, you fucking have.” He glanced around the room as if her children might
be hidden under the edge of the duvet, in the armoire, under the bed.
His voice was high, the voice from the stairs,
but the accent was what she noticed: not Glaswegian,
Coast at all.
It wasn’t even the tempered, indeterminate
Scottish of the local kids. He sounded East Coast
but English, Edinburgh and London maybe. They’d
come here, not stumbled across the house, but
had travelled here. She suddenly had no idea
what this was.
Sarah tried again, “You’re
in the wrong house.”
But he looked at her
and said firmly, “No, I’m not.”
money. They must be here for the money. It was
the only thing in the house they could have
cash was in
was through a door, along a corridor, across
a hall, upstairs. They had come here
looking for her.
A little more confident now,
she looked at them afresh. They weren’t getting
the money. She’d deny all knowledge, act
innocent because the police would come and take
the boys away and question them and she needed
to sound innocent.
Look,” She said, trying to sound reasonable, “You
should go. I called the police a minute ago, they’ll
be on their way.. you could get in a lot of trouble being
The angry boy held her eye as he shifted his
weight to one leg and slid his foot into the
the sacred neutral space between them. He saw
her bristle of alarm, she saw a spark of empathy
his face before
and moved his foot again, half an inch, until
it lipped over the fringed edge, telling her
he could come
he would come
Irritation shocked her awake and she took
charge, “I know what you’re
here for,” she stepped towards him, waving
a hand towards the stairs, “You
don’t know who you’re dealing with,
you’ve made a mistake-”
STOP.” The angry boy bared his teeth. “Get fucking
took a firm step towards her, smiling now.
His teeth seemed very dry.
Sarah stepped backward to the bed.
She could see the corner of the phone peeking out of
His eyes slipped from
her face, snaking across her T, down to her thighs, and he
had been so tired when she got in that
pulled her shoes off in the hall and tramped
up the stairs, shedding her dress and knickers
on the bedroom
floor. The old T shirt she slept in only
came down to her thighs, barely covering
her. She hadn’t slept for twenty
four hours. She was sore. Her mum had died.
deserved to sleep.
She shouted as loud as
she could: “GET OUT OF HERE THIS
The tall friend flinched
but the angry boy didn’t even blink.
His lower jaw jutted forward as if he’d
like to bite her. It was the anger, the
tinge of deep rooted bitterness that she
recognised and she suddenly knew his face.
Who are you?” she said, “I know you.”
tall boy was thrown by that, afraid, and looked at his angry
I definitely know you,” she wasn’t sure though: it was a grainy memory,
as if he had been on television or in a newspaper. “I’ve seen a photo
The angry boy’s face pinked in blotches and he spluttered
when he spoke. “Photo?
You saw a photo?”
She shrugged awkwardly,
and saw that he was clenching his fists.
raised his fist and punched himself hard on his heart, “-
Showed you a fucking photo of me?”
His voice was cracking
on the upper register. The friend jerked his hand across,
free from the
chest and yanked
him backwards, “Stop. Stop,
man. Breathe, take a breath.”
stole a glance at the iPhone, looking
for a glow of hope but saw nothing.
sputtered still: “Fucking handbag!
Fucking get her phone!”
boy was changing colour, paling, looking
at the floor by her
his eye and
go of him,
stepping long-legged, colonising
the precious distance in two careless
steps. He dropped to a crouch by
her feet, shoving a rude hand into
her favourite handbag. He was less
her thigh and Sarah uncrossed her legs,
baring her cunt at him, shocking
him into a freeze.
But the angry boy
was unmoved by the sight of her. “Squeak, fucking move.”
crouching boy tore his gaze away, took his hand out of the
He was holding
It was a
brick, the sort
of phone a
Red plastic with big buttons, small
screen with a picture of a palm tree
It did look puzzling
didn’t light-up, it was
a phoney phone. Dismayed, Sarah realised
that she had forgotten about it.
She always forgot about it and she
should have used
The boy held the phone up over
his head to show his friend by the
boy’s face twitched, “What
else is there?”
boy shoved the brick phone into his
pocket and reached
to find her
stood up, held
Sarah almost laughed
with relief. “You
But they were
focused on the purse, the tall
finder stepped back to
his fat friend,
They were little
muggers, stupid kids
wearing inside-out clothes and
she realised that they were hiding
She watched the angry
boy yanked at the zip on her purse. She knew
nostrils. She knew
it very well.
“I know your dad-”
She was right: he hesitated
in tugging a zip open so she said it louder, “I
know your Dad.”
thin boy looked from her
to the angry boy, panicked,
her voice: “You’d
better get out of here. What
do you think he’s going
to say when I tell him you’ve
A dad. That
could be anyone. A snivelling
or a pathetic
Maybe Lars had
decided he didn’t trust
her and wanted it back.
Lars?” she blurted. The angry boy looked hurt.
moment she expected him to drop the purse, give it back,
apologise, back out.
For a moment her blood slowed and she
caught her breath.
hurt, thrashing Lars who
despised her but needed her and had never needed anyone.
wouldn’t flinch from
killing her if it suited
him. But it didn’t
suit him. Lars hadn’t
sent these boys.
boy was looking at her, that
to hate. He kept
at her as
fumbled inside her
purse, scissoring around
a couple of big notes and
Sarah took her chance
and lunged for her iPhone. Toppling
cold metal, wrapping
knew it was
slippery. She held it up,
stabbed at the face, trying
“POLICE! HELP ME! TWO BOYS ARE IN MY HOME-”
The angry boy was next
to her. He grabbed her clenched hand, pulling her upright but Sarah continued
MY BEDROOM. A FAT ONE,
I KNOW HIM-”
They all froze, looking
at the phone, imagining
an audience in their
play. The angry boy
was the first
to break out of it:
slowly he lifted the
phone to his ear and listened.
A smirked erupted on
his face. He jabbed a
at the face
They stood close
together at the end of her bed,
Behind her the
tall boy shuffled a foot,
his breath was hitting
She felt the
moisture from his
on her ear.
boy read the desolation
on her face and she
shoulder the breathing was
Once, in a hotel
in Dubai, Sarah
and had dinner
though she tried
to make conversation,
the meal, drunk
a good deal,
help. In the lift
up to the room
she rehearsed her
speech: it happens
to everyone sometimes,
just as nice to
touch and talk,
the next time they
could use a pill
if he wanted. On
the bed, facing
down into a pillow
she heard that
behind her, rapid,
and she turned
around to glimpse
a flash of metal
in his hand. She’d
kicked him off
the bed, grabbed
her clothes and
ran. She only got
away because he
fat to chase her.
“I’ve got money..” she said to no one.
“Money?” said the angry boy quietly, “You think this is about
What is this?” she shouted as loud as she could, hoping
it would make them back off, “What the hell are you
doing here? This
is my fucking house..”
But neither back
away. The angry
eyes met hers.
was crying now,
I done something
to you? I’ll
tell, you know,
he broke eye
the room, unconcerned.
Sarah understood abruptly: he
afraid that she
his face because
he had come here
to kill her.
would never get
to leave this
house. She would
never get out
die here, in
a cold, run down
house she had
get out of her
whole life, with
a bare backside
and two insolent
into the room
that was once
a shimmer of
saw the space
Sarah put her head down and