It wasn’t the venom he spit through his contorted lips that shocked me the most. No, it was the speed at which it all happened.
At first, I didn’t notice him, too intent on getting a parking spot behind the bank. Those ones are free, not like the rest of town and there’s no time limit. These things count now since, well, since everything, but I certainly wasn’t thinking about any of that terrible business. No way.
I wasn’t thinking about how I was going to explain to the phone shop I needed their help without the receipt either. Sarah left it behind with the rest of her stuff. Nor about sourcing a new school. No, I was zoned out, the increased meds not yet settled.
The man pounded his fist on the car roof. I lowered the window to find a raging respectable in a suit.
“You stupid fucking bitch!”
Sarah woke up in the back seat. “Mam?”
“It’s okay, Sarah. This nice gentleman is just angry. We’ll park somewhere else.” I’d seen his likes before, you didn’t poke the bear.
He moved to the front of my car, spreading his arms and blocking my path. A fine-looking man, mid-forties, grey around the temples, too thin in a blue shirt and tailored tweed pants. More at home in a board room than threatening a woman and her child. “Get out of the car, now,” he snarled.
“Don’t worry, I’ll see what he wants. You wait here.”
“I’ll call Dad.”
“No. No, don’t do that. I’ll sort it out.”
I stepped out of the car, to where a crowd had gathered. Folded-armed tutterers, watching the drama unfold from a safe distance, stocking up on their stories for the day. He stopped inches from me, close enough to smell his coffee breath and black molar.
Cars changed people. The kindest, most mannerly people became wild animals behind the wheel. I glanced sideways at my parking spot. “I don’t see the problem. I’m inside the lines.”
He laughed so hard I thought he would pass out then stopped abruptly. “This has nothing to do with your parking, May.”
“How do you know my name?”
His eyes burned red. “You don’t even know me?! Oh my God!” Reaching into his tweed jacket pocket, he pulled a worn photograph from his wallet. “Do you remember him?”
My hand flew to my mouth. Shane Matthews.
“My Shane was seven years old, seven, when your husband mowed him down in cold blood.”
He ran the tips of his fingers over the image of Shane. There were shadows of the Richard Matthews I remembered but he was only in his late twenties. The man in front of me was at least fifteen years older.
Sarah stepped out of the car. “What’s going on?”
“Get back in the car, if you know what’s good for you,” he demanded, his voice controlled and low. Sarah did what she was told.
“What do you want from us?” I asked.
“The truth. Why did you lie for your husband that night? Why did you say you were with him in the car and Shane ran out in front of you? You know he was driving erratically and there was only one person in that car. I saw the bloody car screech away for fuck’s sake.”
“Please leave us alone,” I cried. “I can’t – I can’t do this anymore.”
Richard grabbed me by the throat and pushed me against the pebble dashed grey wall behind the car. “Why did you lie? I mean, my boy he…he … he was just playing. He didn’t deserve to die.” He let me go, then staggered backwards and fell sobbing to the ground. “Why? Just tell me why.”
I put my arm around him, and he didn’t shrug me away so I took him into a hug. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “It was a tragic accident. Your boy ran out in front of Victor’s car. The sun was low in the sky, he couldn’t be seen. He was too fast. It was so fast—"
He raised his head, his eyes searching mine until I broke his stare.
“Oh my God. How did I not see it? Your husband, the Detective Inspector was drunk! Oh shit, he was drunk and killed my son and you lied for him.” He was getting to his feet.
Sarah was glued to the passenger seat, her eyes like saucers. What good would it have done to say what really happened? I’d have gone to prison and she’d have been sent back to Victor, the man we were running from. I’d had a bottle of wine, but I didn’t know he would go out and leave the keys of his car at home. He never did that. We had to take our chance. It
I wanted to tell the police when I hit the boy but Victor, the DI Victor Mortell, persuaded me to tell a different story, one that kept me from prison, but indebted to him for life. One that would make sure we never left. But today, we did just that.
I looked from my daughter, dearest Sarah, sweet and kind, to the tall man in the good suit, broken and crying and it was clear what I needed to do – for Richard, for Shane, but most of all for Sarah.
“I’m so sorry, I wasn’t honest in court. Victor was alone in the car that day and he had been drinking. Victor killed your son.”