The Long Night by Vivienne Moles

It’s good to shake things up, change of career. That’s what I’ve done. I’ve always worked but it’s always been for somebody else. This is down to me: self-employed. Of course, it’s not all that lucrative but you have to take what you can get. Who am I kidding? It’s not lucrative at all but eminently satisfying.

I found a need for my rather niche line of work. I did all the right things: research and a detailed business plan, costed with due care and consideration to health and safety — my health and safety. I thought I should run it by someone else but in the end, I had to trust my own judgement. It’s best if I keep this close to my chest.

‘You going out tonight?’ says Charlene, my housemate.

‘Might do. Still thinking about it,’ I muse. I am still thinking about it. Maybe it’s not the best plan I’ve had in a while. There are risks involved and I need to balance all the pros and cons. I can’t risk my venture falling apart for the sake of my strategy not standing up to scrutiny.

‘You’re a funny one!’ she says.

‘Look,’ I say, ‘I’ll come with you down the pub tonight, but I’ll leave early. Is that okay with you?’

‘Don’t sound like you’re doing me a favour,’ she says, pulling faces at me.

Charlene and I get on really well. We’ve known each other for a while and it’s been great sharing the rent here. The only thing is, and I do admit this, I’m a bit… well… secretive when it comes to what I do. I don’t want her getting involved. This is my thing.

‘There were a couple of nice blokes we met last week. Wonder if they’ll be there tonight?’ she asks, all flirty smiles and fluttering eyelashes.

‘Go on!’ I say. ‘We’ll make an evening of it. I need a shower. You can wait a half hour, can’t you?’ This seems to satisfy her. It’s been a whole week since we’ve had a girlie night together which is a bit crazy when we share the flat. I admit I do get a bit preoccupied with my work.

‘Since you’ve been doing those night shifts, you’re just not taking care of yourself,’ she says to me, in an almost matronly tone. ‘Surely you don’t have to work tonight?’

‘Look,’ I say, ‘it’s up to me. No one is there telling me what to do. I get out of it what I put in. I thought I’d explained. I do what I have to do. Believe me, I’d rather not have to at all, but needs must.’

‘Suit yourself. Still reckon you need a bit of R’n’R!’ she says.

An hour or so later we both take a walk down to our local. The street is well lit which is a major issue around here. There are too many alleys and footpaths steeped in darkness. There’s been a long-running campaign for more lighting but the council don’t seem to have much money to deal with this pressing need. People don’t feel safe around here, particularly us women. We have had a spate of attacks in the past few months. It makes you very uneasy.

‘Here, that one’s yours!’ says Charlene, pointing to a rather smooth-looking guy propping up the bar. He smiles at me —winks at me. That’s a bit forward. I don’t think I’m giving any signals. Maybe I smiled, a weak one at that. He’s not really my type.

‘Just let me chill out,’ I say to Charlene. ‘I thought that’s what you wanted me to do.’

‘Doesn’t mean we can’t have a bit of fun!’ she says.

‘I’m really tired,’ I say. ‘Do you mind if we just have a couple of drinks and go home?’

‘Party pooper!’ she says to me playfully but she knows I’m serious. ‘Alright, just this once, but that party on the weekend — I want us both to go and have a good time!’

‘We’ll do that!’ I agree. And I mean it. I do need a bit of downtime.

We have a couple of drinks and start to leave. One of the guys at the bar walks across.

‘Hi, there. Not going, are you?’ he says, putting his arm across the door pretty much blocking our exit, leering at me. I feel quite defensive. He probably doesn’t mean anything but I need to set my boundaries.

‘Excuse me,’ I say, more aggressively than I mean to and put my hand on his forearm. I twist it, almost without thinking.

‘Ow!’ he says, quickly pushing my hand away. ‘Only wanted to talk.’ He mutters under his breath as he turns round and walks away.

‘Well, that went well,’ said Charlene grinning.

‘He was blocking our exit,’ I say, but she knows me. I don’t like people invading my personal space.

‘Good to see you’ve got your wits about you. That booze went straight to my head!’ she says. I look at her disapprovingly.

‘Aw, come on, don’t tell me you’ve never done it.’

‘It’s not the best plan though, is it?’ I say.

‘True. There have been a few nasty attacks around town just recently,’ she concedes. I remain quiet. ‘Admittedly, they’ve all been men but it doesn’t mean the serial nutcase wouldn’t come after women.’ I nod my head to placate her. I know she is annoyed that I’ve scared men off on more than one occasion.

We walk home and she collapses on the sofa.

‘Go on, stick the kettle on and we’ll have a coffee. Might sober me up,’ she says, sticking her legs on the low table.

‘I’ve got my shift now,’ I say, hurriedly changing out of my jeans and into some thick trousers. It’s cold out there and I know I won’t be back for a while.

‘Not now, surely?’ she says, sitting up, clearly not understanding I have work to do which I take seriously.

It must be fate. As I walk through the back streets of town, adjacent to the park, I spot one of the guys from the pub tonight, the one who blocked me. I make a point of never deliberately setting out to trap: they just fall into their own trap, landing themselves in it, with absolutely no help from me. They are that stupid. He crosses the road and starts to follow me. I pause, he pauses. So childish. My pace quickens, his pace quickens. I slow down again and let him catch up. He didn’t have to do that. It was his choice. As I turn round, I give him an almighty blow to his guts with my elbow which winds him. He’s doubled up and I land a blow to his head with my bag — not your usual handbag — it has a brick in it. Like I said, he had a choice. I leave him bleeding on the pavement. I’m sure he’s unconscious. I reflect on how grateful I am for those self-defence classes I took all those years ago after I’d been attacked.

Some might say it’s left me with a warped sense of right and wrong. I know what I think. These guys have a choice. I didn’t when someone came up from behind, in the middle of the day, gagged me and tried to strangle me. The only reason I got away at all was that one lady, who was walking her dog at that precise moment because she was five minutes late leaving the house because she took a phone call. Fortuosity. Minutes before…,. Minutes later…,. Doesn’t bear thinking about. So I don’t. I move on. He’ll probably be alright. I have more work to attend to tonight. The road next to the park is a hotspot but there are others: the late night club in the high street, the two pubs in the centre and the town square after midnight. They all attract the wrong sort of attention.

Occasionally, I am a bit more heavy-handed than I intend. Again, these men have a choice. Although I do frequent the known areas, I don’t tout for business. Unfortunately, a couple of them — maybe more —have come to a sticky end. I’m not there at the end, of course, but I have gleaned that from reading the local newspaper. I take great care — gloves and the like — but I guess it will all catch up with me one day. Charlene hasn’t a clue. All she knows is there is some vigilante in the area taking it out on some of the low life. She has never put two and two together, bless her. Of course, she doesn’t know all my background, about the attack and everything. She just thinks I seem a bit over-cautious about everything.

I have a good night’s work, ensuring some of the miscreants in the area are told their fortunes, making it home before dawn.

Published in Issue #26

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