‘Stay away from me,’ I cried, shielding my face with a bloodied hand as the beam of a torch found me. A strong female voice responded, lowering the streak of light to the floor.
‘It’s the police. You’re safe now.’ The officer spoke in a Jamaican accent. The late September night was making her sweat in her fluorescent jacket, her eyes wide as she took in the scene.
‘Where’s the light switch?’ a male officer said, his flash lamp strobing through the darkness of my home. I blinked against the sudden glare as the light flicked on overhead. My Tiffany lamp lay smashed on its side, and had plunged us into blackness. The policewoman was still speaking to me, but her words were muffled, as if she were talking underwater. My head spun. I was drowning in confusion. It wasn’t until her fingers dug into my shoulder that I could distinguish her words.
‘Why don’t you come over here and let the paramedics do their job?’
Paramedics . . . It felt like forever since I had made the call. I cradled Jake’s head in my lap, the tips of my fingers making blood-stained patterns on his greying skin. Glassy-eyed, he stared unblinking at the ceiling.
‘No,’ I said, as the woman took my elbow to pull me up. ‘I’ve got to stay with him.’ But his skin was cold. So very cold, and something sticky and damp had soaked into my linen trousers. My boyfriend had bought them for me, on a rare trip to London. You can tell a lot about a woman by the clothes she wears, he had said. I pulled my cardigan closed as his presence infiltrated my brain. But not quick enough to hide the yellowing bruises on my collarbone. I should have worn my polo neck, but I wasn’t expecting visitors . . . My thoughts were interrupted by a calming voice, and I stared numbly at the bearded man crouching down beside me. His green uniform was grubby, but his eyes were kind. Eyes that had witnessed this sort of thing too many times before.
‘C’mon, love, let’s get you onto the sofa.’
Gloved hands gently moved Jake’s head to one side and a puff of air left his lungs, escaping through his parted lips in a deadened moan. Faltering, I leaned gratefully against the paramedic helping me to my feet. My legs fizzed angrily with pins and needles, and I limped to the couch. The paramedic joined his colleagues, who were kneeling around Jake’s body, one urgently plugging the stab wound as another unpacked a defibrillator. The female officer and two male officers gathered around me, their radios buzzing like a nest of angry wasps. The sound penetrated my brain, and I allowed myself to fall deep into a distant fog.
‘Did you make the call?’ the female officer asked, her voice sounding very far away as she crouched down beside me. ‘Are you Rebecca?’
I nodded numbly, my eyes on the casualty on the other side of the room. The CPR that was being administered expelled even more blood. It pooled on the mat and seeped through the cracks in my varnished floorboards. The third paramedic, balding and in his fifties, attached the pads from the defibrillator. A button was pressed, and a mechanical voice repeated the command, stand clear. My television flashed in the background, as a news commentator reported a pile-up on the M25. His report was cut short by one of the officers, who jabbed at the mute button on the remote control.
I shivered, then realised why I felt so cold. The sticky crimson substance coating my trousers had lost its heat. A wave of nausea swept over me as I imagined Jake’s blood soaking into my pores. Inhaling a shuddering breath, I rose, only to be grabbed by both arms.
‘Where are you off to?’ a gruff police officer said. He towered over me, and his glare expressed little sympathy.