An extract from Helen Jones’s MA novel.
Erin stared out at the Greek countryside – the fireflies swarming, the sun glistening on their lace wings. The warm mountain air carried its own smell to her, the scent of wild sage and lavender. ‘Maybe I don’t want to be your wife anymore,’ she said, feeling the vibration of the engine as she rested her cheek on the window.
If there’d been a trace of shock in Piers’ face, she might’ve taken the comment back. But an expression of amusement flickered in his eyes. ‘Don’t make me laugh. You’d never manage without me.’
All those times she’d backed down and held tight against saying what she really thought. This time would be different. The courage to say the words was gathering in her chest. ‘I would manage perfectly well on my own, just me and Josh.’ The words clogged in her throat.
‘You’re kidding yourself. You’d never cope without me. First of all, you’ve got no way of earning your keep and, second, you can’t even control the only child you’ve got.’
A sick feeling clutched at her stomach. ‘It’s not fair to the say that about Josh. He’s a good lad and it’s not like he ever gets into trouble.’
Piers’ voice skimmed over hers. ‘What about this last week? What would you call that, if not, getting into trouble?’
‘That was an accident. You can’t blame Josh for what happened.’
‘Well, I don’t agree with you on that one. Drink driving and running over an old woman is getting into trouble, especially when the boys drove off and left her for dead. But you’re right, we can’t blame Josh. The person who should take responsibility in all this is you as his mother. You’re the one to blame. It’s all about how you’ve brought him up and if you hadn’t been on your own, things might’ve turned out differently. It’s like I say, you’ve never been able to cope on your own. You need me and you damn well know it.’
‘I was alright on my own before I met you and there’s no reason why I couldn’t do the same again.’
‘I’d like to see you try. For a start, you’d struggle to find a job that would earn you anything like enough money and you haven’t done a decent day’s work in years. But you know what? If you leave me and wind up on the breadline, I’d be happy to put you up in some poxy little ex-council flat. I’d do that out of the kindness of my heart.’
Something was hovering on Erin’s lips, but nothing came. The words skated in circles in her head, as she summoned the courage to say them. ‘I’d rather be on my own for the rest of my life than have to put up with you watching every move I make.’
‘Wish I was dead, do you?’ His words flew out like a gun-shot.
Erin’s stomach twisted. More resolve was needed, more control, more guts. In the end, her thoughts slipped out as a whisper. ‘I wish the world was flat and you’d walk off the edge of it.’
Piers threw his head back and laughed, slapping the steering wheel with his hand, mocking her, taunting her. He leaned in close, brought his nose right up to hers. ‘I wouldn’t dream of making it so easy for you.’
All that courage had left Erin, along with the energy to fight on. She wound down the window and gulped at the warm air to calm herself. Piers swung the car in tight to hairpin bend, throwing her against the car door. On the other side of the bend, a hunchbacked woman, dressed head to foot in black, was selling water melons by the side of the road. It was a high August day and she fanned herself with a newspaper, raising a sun-tanned hand to Erin as the car passed.
Piers fished a packet of cigarettes from his pocket, shook one out and lit up.
‘I had a funny feeling you’d started smoking again,’ Erin said. ‘Thought I smelt it on your breath last night. What’s made you go back to the cigarettes?’
‘I’ve gone back to smoking since your bloody son went missing. Can you blame me? So much for a sodding holiday, it’s been a living nightmare. You’ve been all over the place and I’ve been stressed to hell. You should count yourself lucky it’s only fags.’
Anger clogged Erin’s throat and she struggled to get her words out. ‘You’ve been stressed? What do you think it’s been like for me? It’s my son who’s gone missing. My son. I’m the one who’s going spare. And I don’t know why you’re stressed, because you never show any concern for Josh. Most of the time you behave as if you don’t even like him.’ She swiped away a tear with a shaky forefinger. ‘As usual, you’ve been no bloody help. You never support me when I need it.’
‘I have supported you! How many times have we talked over this mess with Josh? I haven’t buggered off and left you to it, have I? Christ, what more do you want from me?’ Piers put the cigarette to his lips and blew a smoke ring in her face.
Tears crept into her eyes and Erin had to turn her face away. The quarrel was taking the same course as all the others. ‘You just don’t understand,’ she whispered. She unlooped a string of worry beads bobbing from the rear-view mirror and ran them through her fingers, taking comfort from its smooth, marble cross. ‘The only person who really understands is Nelson.’
Piers face flared red. ‘Nelson? So, I am right about him. There is something going on between you two.’
‘No, there isn’t! I’ve told you a million times already, there’s nothing going on with Nelson.’
He snapped up her arm like a shot, squeezing her wrist hard, dragging her towards him.
‘You’re hurting me. Get off!’ she jerked back her arm, but he had a tight hold. ‘Let me go.’ She jabbed her fist in his direction, catching Piers beneath his jaw.
‘Fucking hell, woman!’ Piers said, releasing her arm and rubbing his hand across his jawline. ‘Mark my words, you’ll pay for that.’
This was a place Erin had been before, the wrong side of her husband’s blind anger. Panic surged through her veins and she grabbled for the door handle. Anything to get away. But the car was still hurtling along the mountain road.
‘What are you doing?’ Piers yelled at her.
‘I want to get out of the car. Now!’
‘Let me out!’ Erin opened the door and stumbled out before the car had come to a stop. All she could think about was getting away from him. She ran straight ahead and behind her, she heard Piers kill the engine. The car door slammed. He was coming after her. In front of Erin, there was an olive grove, with goats grazing beneath the gnarled trunks. She headed for the trees, the herd scuttling away. Behind her, Piers was almost an arm stretch away. She dug deeper, sprinted harder and was getting away from him. But the other side of the olive grove was a sweep of shaggy grass and, beyond it, the edge of a cliff. There was nowhere to run.
Piers caught up with her by a tumbledown shepherd’s hut and they stood among the scattered stones of its ruins, staring at each other. He took her by the shoulders, hard and fast, gripping and shaking. ‘For God’s sake! Tell me what’s going on with Nelson.’
‘Nothing’s going on.’
‘I don’t believe a word you say. You’re a fucking liar. You’re having an affair with him, aren’t you? Right under my bloody nose.’
‘No, I’m not, honestly, Piers, you’ve got it all wrong.’
‘I don’t believe you.’ He spoke in a slow, rhythmic voice, pausing between each word. His face went dark, like some outside power had taken him over. There was something different in his eyes, a wildness and desperation that she couldn’t make out. In that moment, she no longer knew her husband. His eyes narrowed to slits, his mouth twisted. ‘Think you can make a fool of me?’
‘No, I –’ But she couldn’t finish her sentence. Piers shot out his right arm and got her by the neck, squeezing it tight and firm, his shovel-like hands on her slim neck. Then both hands, strangling her. Seconds passed, but it seemed like minutes. The sound of an engine whirred in the distance and a moped snaked its way up the mountain road towards the monastery. Piers glanced over his shoulder at the bike, loosening his grip and tightening it again. She had to do something. It was her fist under Piers’ chin that stopped him. His head jerked back, teeth chinking, and he blew a bead of blood onto his chin. ‘Bitch,’ he mouthed, wiping the back of his hand across his bloodied chin.
He lurched at Erin again, but she took a step back, catching her heel on the undergrowth, tripping on the scattered stones of the shepherd’s hut. Together they fell on the rocks, Piers lying across her, heavy and clammy. ‘What have you done to me?’ Piers said. That’s when she realised he’d smashed his head on the rocks. His forehead was gashed, his face streaked with blood. But it didn’t stop him. He was like a man possessed, forcing her back, pinning her to the ground. With both hands around her neck, he strangled her, pressing hard.
A shot of panic, hot and swift, surged through Erin’s body. She scrabbled with her hands, searching the grass for anything to stop him. Gripping a rock in her fist, she pounded it against her husband’s temple. One, two, three times. Piers spat a spray of blood in Erin’s face and slumped beside her. In his wrist, she felt his pulse beat slower, weaker and slower still until his head flopped to one side and he lay motionless. All was quiet, except for the sound of the monastery bells ringing out across the bay and the drumbeat of fear pounding in Erin’s chest.
Piers’ body was still and limp, but his head bore the scars of the struggle. Her heart rose and fell. A pleading noise seeped out of her mouth. What the hell had she done? The jagged rock in her palm was smeared with her husband’s blood, her tanned skin was gouged with scratches. Tears came and gathered at her jawline, dripping onto her chest. But she had to pull herself together. She needed to think straight.
Kneeling beside Piers, she rolled him onto his back. The sight of his wounds clenched at her stomach and made her want to wretch. The cut on his brow, the gash on his temple, the split in his lip. Grass and earth stuck to the blood and gathered at the corners of his mouth.
Behind her, the moped’s engine whirred back around the hairpin bend. Erin took a furtive glance at it over her shoulder. She watched and waited, her eyes following the bike until it was out of sight. There was nobody there to see her but the goats, and they were nosing their way along the cliffside path. Piers was muscled and broad, a struggle for her to shift. But slowly, inch by inch, she slid his body along the grass until it was lined up with the cliff edge.
This was it. Ten years of marriage ended on this clifftop in Greece. Erin rammed her hands under Piers’ side, ready for the final push. But there was a peace about him that stopped her. Something in the upturn at the corner of his mouth, reminded her of when they’d first met, the charm in his smile, the softness of their first kiss. She bent in closer, tracing the creases around his eyes, the curl of his eyelashes, the childhood scar on his chin. She breathed in the familiar scent of his cologne, mixed with sweat and blood. Now closer still, their noses nearly touched, and as her lips almos