Thick Brown Tea
Disturbed by the draft coming through the open fanlight the floral curtains swirled as Rita entered the cold sitting room. The ticking clock on the mantelpiece said four-thirty-eight. It was already getting dark. Lighting the gas fire for some instant heat she jumped when it banged. That bang always scared her. She then sat in her favourite armchair, the one with the big yellow, comfy cushions. Picked up her book and blue rimmed glasses. A romantic fiction by an American author that made her wish she had made better choices in her life. Then all hell broke out. The thick dividing wall separating the attached houses did not enough to dampen the row. Shouting and screaming and crashing as things were thrown.
Six months ago they had moved in. Rita was out and the first she knew the house was occupied was when she bumped into Ann as she came out the gate. Plain, lanky dark hair which she flicked back and a miserable smacked with a wet flannel face. She was no beauty. No makeup. Just frowns, “Hi I’m Rita.” she had said.
“Ann.” was all she got and Ann shuffled off.
Later Jenny was hanging out the washing. Bright red with some blue, bit of pink and flapping in the wind. Blonde hair, red lipstick. Snapped up ready to go dancing. Although it was only nine-thirty in the morning. She looked familiar. Rita was smoking her last cigarette ever for the one thousandth time holding a chipped, painted cup full of thick brown tea.
“Hi, I’m Jenny,” was enthusiastically thrown at her over the leaning fence held up by an enormous pink, rambling rose. A very vivacious character and no mistake.
“Rita…. How do you like it here then?” she replied but rather reluctantly. She was quickly overwhelmed by gregarious people. She coughed a bit and ground out the ciggy next to the other nine hundred and ninety-nine stubs.
“Oh it’s great, it is. Love the house. Love the area. So nice to meet you. You on your own?” Long blonde hair drifting over her face. She did look familiar. Something in the eyes.
And that started a longish chat. The way Jenny talked made Rita think Jenny and Ann were a couple. She talked about Ann in a passionate way. Over the months they came and went, the neighbours. Sometimes she would see Ann who just drifted off. Nothing to say. Then Jenny who would not shut up. Got the whole works. Jenny worked. Advertising something or another. Ann didn’t. Just moped about.
The day was almost done when Rita’s rusty old front gate squealed in protest at being opened. There was a stiff breeze. It blew the leaves around that were falling from the scrubby old tree in front of the repaired window with unpainted putty. An ornamental cherry that she hated. Planted by her violent husband thirty years ago. Who she hated. The son of a bitch. His whisky fuelled temper done for him. In the Nags Head. And good riddance. Twenty five years of terror. Ended.
Through the frosted glass panel of her front door she could see the silhouette of a tall man. Hand raised to lift the lightweight bronze knocker that rattled rhythmically in the wind. Arm strangely suspended when she opened the door. Just left hanging. Detective Dave Roberts grabbed a well worn trilby from his head.
Crispy brown leaves had followed him up the path and drifted inside. Making her tut. Kicked up a bit by his brown suede, soft sole creepers The dog three doors down barked its yappy high pitched annoyance. Making her sigh.
“Hello Rita, you OK to talk now?” he said with a kind of lisp as though his tongue got stuck on his front teeth. “You were upset yesterday and said come back today at six.”
She nodded, turned and walked, well kind of stomped, down the dull hallway avoiding the creaking floorboard that Dave trod on as he followed the stale cigarette smell having shut out the leaves as he went. Devoid of any furnishing except a foxed, drab watercolour of flowers that failed to brighten up a stark place. A yellow and cream painted cabinet with lift up table flap dominated the kitchen. A throwback from the fifties. She pointed to a red, plastic covered steel framed chair and said, “tea?” Then turned to grab a tall kettle with a bent handle to place on a gas ring on a surprisingly clean cooker. She wiped her hands on the sides of her plain blue apron and stuck them in her pockets. Waiting.
The chip on the rim of his cup stared at him as she dropped in a sugar lump he did not want. The stained spoon clinked into the saucer. He wondered if he could avoid drinking the thick brown swirling mass then lifted the cup and sipped and tasted bitterness. Now glad of the sugar.
“Well Rita, a bit of a shock yesterday with all the screaming and stabbing and everything. You called the police. Is that right?” He said, pulling out a black covered notebook and dumpy pencil. Flicked a couple of pages.
“I did. It sounded like murder was going on. See the cut glass vase on the front lawn. Chucked it through the window one of them did. Still got the red roses in it. Didn’t even break. Smashed the window to shreds though. What a mess. What a to do. I got scared.” Rita looked at him and he saw genuine distress and tears in her blue eyes. Something in her face. He thought, “I bet she used to polish up nicely.” She continued. “Reminds me of my husband. The bastard. He threw things about. Shouted and yelled. Threw a vase at me. Missed and that went through our front window. Just the same. Then he went down the pub and didn’t come back. The bastard.”
“When did all the commotion start?”
“It was just coming up to a quarter to five. I know it was. Definitely. I had just finished a bit of tidying in the front garden and went into the sitting room. Looked at the clock on the mantelpiece just as it all started. The row. Really high pitched screaming. Like a tantrum. Over and over. The same things. The place must be really smashed up. I called the Police straight away. They were an odd couple. Jenny was so full of life. But the other one, Ann, she was the complete opposite. Never said more than a couple of words. And always miserable. What Jenny saw in her I don’t know. But then they say opposites attract don’t they. I could hear Jenny yelling. She has a very distinctive, quite high pitched voice. And then Ann. A much deeper, almost booming voice. Odd sound for a woman. Could not make out what was being said but they were really going at it. Never heard the like before.”
“Your call was logged at four-fifty-five. When did you notice the Police were here?”
“About fifteen minutes after I called. A police car arrived. Siren blasting away. There was a policeman and woman. Both in uniform. They went to the front door but could not get an answer. It was still all going on. Worse if anything. I went outside and spoke to them. Told them I thought two ladies were inside. The policewoman called for help and an ambulance. Then they carried on knocking and shouting things like, “it’s the police... open up please,” trying to get some response. A few minutes later another police car arrived with two policemen. They tried forcing the door but it would not give. The noise was escalating. Then the ambulance arrived.”
“So, how did they get the door open?”
“They didn’t. They kept trying of course but these houses are well built. Then two ambulance men came up the path. One was tall and carried a bag and the other a bit shorter who said to one of the policemen, “What gives here then, mate,” or something like that. A bit casual and a bit bemused. He seemed to think it all a bit of a joke. Just another domestic. He asked me who was in the house. I told him, two women and he chortled something about how that explained it all. At that moment the front door burst open and Ann came rushing out. Yelling. Hair all over the place. Blood on her arms and her face bleeding. She had a big carving knife in her hand. The police were taken by surprise. She got past them and confronted the ambulance man with the bag. She lifted the knife. He could do nothing because of the bag. It was a big thing. He couldn't even raise it up quickly. Ann slashed him across the face and then stabbed him. Here, in the stomach. The nearest policeman grabbed her but she stabbed him in the arm. She was wild, going wild, frantic. Just thrashing and swiping at everything. A proper maniac. Then the two other policemen overpowered her and the policewoman slapped on some cuffs. Another ambulance arrived. I think the policewoman might have called for it. Ann went in one with the policewoman and a policeman and the wounded policeman and ambulance man went in the other. Another police car arrived. Then you. That’s about it I think.”
“Thank you. A very thorough account. Later we will have to take a statement but that can wait for now. Until you are more recovered.”
“Are the casualties alright? And what about Jenny? I did not see Jenny come out. Is she alright? I’ve been worried for her all night. I did not realise until quite a bit later, until after everyone had gone, that I had not seen her.”
“The policeman was not too badly hurt. The ambulance man was a bit touch and go but is stable now and should recover in a few weeks. Jenny though is a different matter.”
Rita cut him short, “What do you mean a different matter. What do you mean?”
“When I went inside, the house was absolutely trashed. Everything was broken. There was china and glass everywhere. Blood traces in every room. There was no one downstairs so I went up to the bedrooms. There was no one there either. In the main bedroom there was a big dressing table with lots of makeup and a blond wig. A very expensive wig with long blond hair.”
“But where was Jenny? She had to be there. I’d seen her only an hour or so before. I was in the front garden. She’d come home from work early. She didn’t look well and didn’t speak. Which was unusual. Just went indoors. A while later everything started.”
Dave thought for a moment then said, “I spoke to the doctor this morning. It turns out that Ann was a long term patient being treated for a split personality. She was thought to be stable but the doctor thinks something must have triggered this reaction. Maybe something associated with her past had resurfaced. I don’t know but they will get to the bottom of it I’m sure.”
“I don’t understand. Are you saying there is no Jenny?”
“That’s right. They are the same person. Ann is the dominant one and makes herself up to be Jenny with the blond wig. She had a very troubled upbringing and Jenny represents what she wishes she could be. I don’t quite understand it but that’s what the doctor tried to explain to me.”
“You know, I always thought there was something familiar about them. I could see it in the eyes. You can change an appearance but the eyes, that’s a different matter. You cannot change the eyes.”