Authors: keith lawson
THE DARK SIDE
OF MY SOUL
Cover design by Dan Lawson and Matt Hogben
Also by Keith Lawson
My garage was a mess. Even by my own untidy standards it was bad. The winter months had taken their toll and the garage was now home to sun loungers awaiting the warmer weather, bicycles with one or more flat tyres, a couple of rolls of excess loft insulation, although they may have been around from the previous year, a large bag of golf clubs, some fishing equipment, a broken dining room chair, a bag of sand, a bag of rather hard cement, now almost certainly useless, and lined up along one wall, various pairs of my own and my wife’s winter boots. Opposite the boots were shelves full to overflowing with boxes of screws and nails, plus all manner of tools and other miscellaneous items that had been left there at some time or another and promptly forgotten.
I was always promising myself to tidy it up but it was one of those things that never seemed to get done. On the rare occasions that our car was driven into its rightful home all the paraphernalia had to be moved to one end to accommodate the vehicle but that was usually only when there was a forecast of heavy snow.
On a Tuesday in early March I was in the garage working on an old garden bench. I had pushed aside all the other various items and made enough space in the centre to repair the broken seat, in hope rather than expectation of a warm spring. It was a particularly cold and miserable day and I had kept the up and over doors closed to keep out the worst of the weather. A half cup of coffee was balanced precariously on one of the overladen shelves and next to it should have been a screwdriver which had somehow mysteriously disappeared. Temporarily giving up on the screwdriver I turned instead to the beverage when I heard a car coming up the drive.
I recognised the sound of the engine. It was my wife returning from one of her friend’s houses where she had been to lunch. Sandra, my spouse of ten years was forty one, three years and two months younger than me and a very careful and considerate driver. It was unusual therefor to hear the car race up the drive and come to a halt with a screech of brakes. I guessed a sudden need for the bathroom had necessitated the speedy arrival.
Unconcerned, I finished my coffee and returned to the search for the screwdriver. I heard the engine switch off and a couple of seconds later the car door slam shut. I heard the front door to the house open and my wife go inside. Next she was calling my name.
Our home has four bedrooms upstairs with a hallway, lounge, kitchen and utility room downstairs. The hallway runs from the front of the house to the kitchen, with the lounge on the left and stairs to the right. From the kitchen a side door gives access to the utility room which leads to the garage. Sandra was walking along the hall calling me.
I yelled back as loudly as possible, “I’m in the Garage.”
When she appeared at the door I knew immediately that something was very wrong. Her face was bleached of colour and tears were brimming in her eyes. Abandoning the hunt for the elusive screwdriver, I went over to her and she fell into my arms. We are almost the same height and her cheek nestled against mine as I embraced her. We stood together holding each other for a short while before the sobs started. They racked her whole body and I could feel her shaking as I held her.
Sandra was a quiet, timid and sometimes emotional woman but she was not given to sudden outbursts of tears. The last time I had seen her in such a state was years ago when she found out that her best friend had died and I hoped that bereavement was not the cause of her sorrow now.
I waited patiently for her to calm down before asking what had happened to cause such distress but was only rewarded with another uprising of tears. Eventually she pulled her face away from mine and looked me straight in the eye. My wife’s eye makeup had run down her face with the tears, drawing vertical wet black lines on her cheeks and her lips quivered as she spoke. “I’ve done something terrible.”
Not being able to imagine what might have caused such an outpouring of emotion, I waited for her to enlighten me at her own pace but the long drawn out seconds seemed like hours. It was as though she was gathering courage to speak so I gently prompted her. “Don’t worry. It will be all right, whatever it is I’ll fix it.”
It was an ongoing joke between us. Early on in our marriage she had given me the nickname of ‘Mister fix it’ because of my ability to sort out her problems. Whereas Sandra would panic and become flustered at the slightest obstacle, I was able to remain calm and detached and usually find a solution. It was one of the few differences in our personalities. This time, however, our little joke never drew a smile and I could still feel my wife’s body trembling as I held her.
“You can’t fix this.” Her voice was little more than a whisper. “I’ve killed somebody.”
I was not prepared for that and my face must have registered the shock. “What? No, don’t be silly. You killed someone? I don’t believe it, you couldn’t have.”
We were a normal law abiding couple living in an average home with pretty average jobs and income. We had not been blessed with children but that had been our own choice. We went on vacation twice a year as a break from our conventional, mundane lives but in general we were happy and mostly contented with our lot. Sometimes if disillusionment crept in we consoled ourselves by comparing our fate to other less wealthy or less fortunate couples.
My job as a financial advisor meant that I could work from home, so I didn’t have the expense or inconvenience of commuting to a town or city miles away. Sandra worked part time in a shop in town. Neither of us had ever committed a crime of any sort, or would even consider harming another human being. I don’t think that we had collected more than two or three parking or speeding tickets between us during our whole lives, so Sandra’s statement was totally out of character and completely beyond belief.
She held my gaze with watering blue eyes. Her voice was quiet and shaky. “I hit an old lady with the car. She’s dead.”
Understanding gradually dawned and with it a kind of nervous anticipation of what was to come. I pulled her to me and held her tight, her cheek once again resting against mine. When at last she started to speak the words came in a rush.
“I was coming home from Mary’s. I was in the lane about a half a mile from here. I wasn’t going too fast, or at least I don’t think I was, when this old lady just came from nowhere. She stepped out into the road right in front of me. Maybe she came from behind one of those big trees that line the road. I don’t know. All I know is that she stepped out right in front of the car. I didn’t have time to brake or to swerve. I hit her, hard. She sort of crumpled and the next thing she was on the bonnet. She hit the windscreen and I thought it was going to brake but it didn’t. She went over the roof, right over the car and ended up in the road behind me. I hit the brakes and stopped. When I looked in the mirror she was lying in the road on her back with her arms stretched out on either side. She must have landed on her head because a massive amount of blood was pumping from it which was spreading all around the top half of her body. She never moved. I was so scared. It was like something out of a nightmare.”
We lived in a little village a few miles outside of Folkestone in Kent and the only road that serviced our small group of dwellings was a narrow tree lined country lane, scarcely wide enough to take two vehicles side by side. The lane meandered from the A20 through the countryside to our hamlet and beyond, and it was on this scenic stretch of little used highway that my wife had encountered the old lady.
I caressed the top of her head and let my fingers run through her shoulder length blonde hair. “God, it must have been terrible, no wonder you are so badly shaken.” We stood like that for a while before I spoke again. “Do you know who the woman was?”
“And when the ambulance arrived I suppose they confirmed she was dead.” It was a statement not a question but my wife made no comment. I could still feel her shaking in my arms. “Did you give a statement to the police?”
A long pause elapsed before Sandra replied. “There were no police.”
I eased my wife away from me so that I could look at her face. “What do you mean; you drove off before the emergency services arrived?”
A painfully long silence ensued. “No, I didn’t call them.”
“What? I don’t get it, why didn’t you call them?”
My wife’s eyes were full of sorrow, begging me to understand. “I panicked. I saw her lying in the road with the blood spreading all around her and I froze. I could not even get out of the car. There was no one to help. I was alone. I didn’t know what to do. I know it was wrong but I just panicked and drove away.”
She started sobbing but my voice rose in anger and fear. “Jesus Christ, so this woman is still out on the road. She may not be dead. We have to call an ambulance right away.”
“No, no.” Sandra gripped me tighter. “She’s dead. It’s too late.”
“She may not be.”
“You didn’t see her. I did. No way could she be alive, and in any case someone else is bound to have seen her by now. They will have called for help.”
“Sandra, it was an accident. I believe you but you drove away and that means you have just committed a crime. Hit and run is a serious offence. You could go to prison. I’m sure it wasn’t your fault but the police won’t see it that way because you left the scene. We have to call them and the sooner the better to explain what happened.” I was becoming exasperated. I could not understand why my wife, of all people did not stop. “Why, why ever didn’t you just ring them in the first place?”
“I panicked.” Another pause led to another confession. “You see, I had a couple of glasses of wine at Mary’s, large glasses; and I thought I might be over the limit.”
That threw a whole new light on the situation. Suddenly I understood why she had acted in the way she did. Fear; fear of retribution, fear of being labelled a drink driver and being shunned by her neighbours and friends, fear of punishment in whatever form it may take.
Still standing in the wreck of the garage I tried to talk some sense into her. “Look, we are not criminals. If we tell the truth we will have nothing to worry about but if we lie we will be found out. The police will call and ask questions. Will you be able to lie to them and say you know nothing about it?”
“Why should the police come here? I told you no one was near the accident. No one saw me or the car.” She was visibly shaking.
“My dear,” I only addressed her like that when I was becoming frustrated or annoyed. “This is a small village, only about twenty or thirty houses. The lane runs through here and out into the country the other side. The people that use it are nearly all local. The chances are that it is someone from this village that was involved. Believe me; the police will call at every home.”
“Then we will have to bluff it out. There are no witnesses, no proof of our involvement.”
The ‘I’ had suddenly become ‘we’ and I realised I was slowly being drawn into my wife’s predicament nevertheless I continued to try to persuade her. “We should call the authorities. Morally it’s the right thing to do.”
She fired back, the fear in her voice tinged with anger, “Since when were you so bloody righteous?”
Arguing was not going to help. My mind was in a whir so I tried to calm down and look at the situation logically. I had to try to find a way out. “Look, we could say that at the scene you panicked, that’s the truth, that you came home and had a couple of stiff drinks to calm your nerves. That way if they breathalyse you there is an explanation for the alcohol in your blood but we have to call in quickly.”
Sandra simply shook her head. “Don’t be so naive. That’s probably what everyone says who has been drinking and then left the scene of the accident.”
She was right, of course, it was a stupid idea. I was clutching at straws, trying to persuade her to admit her guilt but it was becoming obvious that I wasn’t going to be able to make her change her mind. Once she was set on a course of action she invariably stuck to it. The only alternative was to help her. I didn’t like it and felt guilty and nervous but I could see no other way out of the situation. I couldn’t stand by and let her go to prison. “Then we have to work out a story. Something that’s watertight. Something that proves neither of us was driving the car this afternoon.”
For a split second I thought I saw a tiny smile cross her face before it was wiped away with a frown. She knew she had me.
“Was there any damage to the car?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I haven’t looked.”
“Then I’d better check.” I said, already hurrying through the house, out of the front door and onto the drive. As I arrived by the side of our blue Ford Fiesta I heard the sirens and froze. The sound was getting closer and louder and it seemed like more than one vehicle. I was right. An ambulance followed by two police cars raced along the lane with blue lights flashing. They passed right in front of my driveway. The drivers were so intent on the road ahead that they didn’t seem to notice me but their sudden appearance shook me to the core and I realised that this was only the start. From now on every time I saw a police vehicle or came face to face with an officer of the law I would be reduced to a bag of nerves.
My next discovery was even more shocking. The front section of the Fiesta was badly damaged and split. It would have to be repaired. I went over the rest of the bodywork but found only a small dent on the roof and minor scratches which could have occurred at any time. Returning to the front I examined it more closely. There was no blood or at least none that was visible, no bits of torn clothing or any other incriminating evidence but the car had to be moved out of sight and quickly and for now the garage was the only option.
After opening the up and over door I struggled to return the bench I had been working on to the garden. Next I hurriedly moved the large items in the garage to the far end. Although it was cold my forehead was beading with sweat as I then rapidly tossed the smaller items to one side or another, leaving a space large enough to accommodate the Ford. It just squeezed in but I barely had enough room to open the driver’s door and get out. It was with great relief that I finally pulled down the garage door and hid the car from view.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in our lounge trying to concoct a story but each time one of us came up with something the other found holes in it and blew it out of the water. We also considered what to do about the dented and split front end of the car. We knew that we could not get it repaired locally as the police would almost certainly contact all the nearby dealers, asking them to report any vehicles brought in with such damage, so I suggested ringing around breakers yards that were some distance away, to try to find one that had a car of the same colour with an undamaged front end. If we could find one, even if it was several hundred miles away, we could buy and use the necessary parts without too much suspicion.