Every morning Andy would count to ten before he got out of his warm forgiving bed and while he was waiting, he’d usually count his luck as well.
He’d always been the type of soul who walked the line on the lucky side but he had to accept that things happened to you when you were forty seven years old. The way the radio sounded quieter in one ear than it did in the other. He was going deaf as well as losing his ability to see words clearly.
The news programme annoyed him to the same degree as it ever did. Why he listened to it was anyone’s guess. All they did was try their best to wipe the smile from his face: sick economy, rising unemployment, new terrorism – why did they never try looking at the positive for a change? Tell a good story about families who were working hard to save their kids. He knew why - because it didn’t make good news.
He was becoming sick of it all - fighting every single day for each and every step. Yet like millions of others across the land, he would get up and start his day with the best will in the world that he could muster. He’d grit his teeth like all the other parents and just get on with it.
Most of his life was a habit, but it was a habit that he wrapped around himself like a warm blanket. God help him if it ever disappeared - his wife Sara and the kids were the only reason he’d got up.
He loved his wife the way that you do after twenty five years of marriage, more than ever and less than before. She was his sun, his moon, his stars and his major pain in the butt from time to time. And the kids? Well the kids were part of him, sure they had their moments but jeez they had made this world bearable and they were his breath of life.
So he got out of bed on the count of ten like he did every day and he slid his feet across the floor like he did every day, and he shaved and showered like he did every day. He had a cup of coffee like he did every day – except for one thing, this wasn’t every day.
Sara very rarely stirred from her bed until he had got up. Every day it was the same, she could almost hear his brain counting to ten. But up he’d get without fail. He’d never had a day’s illness except maybe that time when they had just moved to this house, to this area and that must have been nearly twenty years or so.
He was a good man and she loved him, truly loved him – she’d never looked at anyone else in all that time. She knew how he was feeling and what he was thinking even if he was clear over the other side of the county. It was that close, it was that much love.
He was a decent father to their kids, never a harsh word to say to any of them and yet they were kept in check. They were good kids and they would make good parents themselves, everyone said so.
So why did she feel so lost? Like she was drowning, when all this was everything she dreamed of. It wasn’t the menopause, that had been and gone and she’d coped with it all. There was an empty ache at the core and it wouldn’t go away – no matter how hard she tried.
What can you say about a child who’s been murdered?
The year it happened was the year that Tommy joined the Police force, it would be more correct to say that because it happened is why he joined. Twenty years later and no one had been caught not even a hint. Sure there had been talk and names mentioned, some having to leave to avoid the whispers, but there had never been good solid evidence to point the finger at anyone.
The police had interviewed almost every male in the town at the time but either the Police were incompetent or the killer was very clever.
Tommy had watched the victim’s family disintegrate, that was the only word to describe it: disintegration.
The girl’s mother and father no longer lived together and even the same town wasn’t big enough, perhaps seeing each other brought back the horror of that night.
The night she went missing was the night that the girl’s mother knew she was dead. Before the Police had informed the family, before the body was found, before even her husband had grown worried about Tracey being late. A mother knows and she felt her daughter saying goodbye inside. That was what she told the Police the next day. The mother had even been a suspect at one point.
Back then Tommy was just a guy, plain and simple, and the night that Tracey went missing he helped along with all the others. He searched the undergrowth, the garages, down by the old canal and at the side of the once used rail track.
Poor Tracey’s little battered body had been found a couple of miles from where Tommy first started looking. That night he hadn't been sure if he’d wanted to be the one to find her or not.
Every night he washes away the images of what he did find with the best of vodka.
We separated about two years after the death. For better or worse we’d promised each other at the Church of Everlasting Love but they hadn’t mentioned anything about your own beautiful little girl being taken. That was the worst of the worst - no one could ever get you through that.
My darling daughter, my little one who I had read to, cried with, laughed with, run with, wiped her nose and her behind had gone.
I and her mother supported each other for as long as anyone humanly could - but the heart scars don’t show up, not at first anyway. They seep through the skin and poison everything around them, they seep into laughter and birthdays. They taint the very kindness of people. Until you grudge everyone their happiness. The fact that the world continues to turn makes your head literally spin.
I think the hatred started with the people on TV. They still made jokes, they still acted in plays, still read the news, still sung their songs. All I wanted was one of them to stop and speak through the screen:
“I am so sorry Mister and Mrs Andrews, on your loss”
But they didn’t, they just kept on singing.
Then one night I looked over at my wife and thought - why didn’t they take you and leave her and I knew I was finished.
Tracey was my friend and now I don’t sleep so good. My mother says not to worry as it’s only bed sheets. You can always wash bed sheets she says, but I feel embarrassed.
Tracey was my pal and now I don’t go out. Not because I’m scared, just because I don’t want to.
Tracey was my best buddy and I cry most nights.
Sometimes I see Tracey in a street or in a car or on a bus and then I remember.
My name is Andy and every morning I count to ten before I get up and then I count my luck.
They haven’t caught me yet.