She’d been doing so well. She’d got a support worker and a police liaison officer, she was working towards university. He had an exclusion order: he was not to go within a hundred yards of her home or place of work, nor approach her on the street, nor contact her in any way. In three months, not a sign of him – and now this.
He’d used newsprint, must have spent hours cutting out the letters and sticking them on. The messages were crude; threats mostly – we know where you are, your days are numbered, watch your back, bitch. Nothing to identify him, nothing personal. It had to be him, he had to’ve found out her address, but how could he have known the first one would arrive on the same day as her acceptance from Durham? She was to do an access course in the summer and if she passed that she’d be able to resume her degree. Far from disparaging her application as she’d feared, they were only too keen. And it hadn’t hurt to have a woman on the interview panel.
As luck would have it she’d opened Durham’s letter first and for a few seconds she was floating on air. She should have waited longer, left a gap between the two letters, enjoyed the moment more. But she tore open the printed brown envelope, pulled out a single page and stared at it without comprehension. Then she collapsed as if all the air had been sucked out of her. She read it again – and then again like cauterising a wound; then with a shaking hand she picked up her phone and pressed a button. She had her liaison officer on speed-dial.
Nadia was plain clothes, a purple headscarf the only outward concession to her faith. They’d exchanged details – part of the ritual, Anna assumed – so she now knew that Nadia was a few years older than her and married with four children. Four! She looked so young. But there was something in Nadia that inspired confidence. She had self-belief, Anna decided. How did you get that? Were you born with it? Or did you have to build it, brick by painstaking brick?
‘It has to be him, right?’
Nadia, gloves on, was examining the letter. ‘It’s likely,’ she said briskly, ‘but let’s not jump to conclusions. We’ll look for DNA first.’
‘Who else would be sending me threats?’
For answer, Nadia just shrugged. ‘You’d be surprised – there’s some real cranks out there. We’ve had people sent death threats just because they put an EU poster up in their window.’
‘I haven’t done anything like that,’ Anna protested. ‘I mean, yeah, I voted Remain but I’ve never put posters up.’ She’d had to go to the polling station in that window between coming home from work and him coming home; the window when she did everything.
‘You’ve not said anything publicly? Nothing on Facebook, Twitter, no protests?’
Anna shook her head.
‘OK.’ Nadia scribbled some notes, then put the letter into her bag. ‘Are you going to be all right?’
‘Yes. Except I’m late for work now.’
‘I can give you a lift.’
I should pass my test, Anna decided; get a car. When she thought about all the things he’d taken from her, all the opportunities he’d stolen… it had to be him, it had to. Some sixth sense had warned him she was moving on and he had to have one last stab at spoiling it.
Why had she ever thought he’d let her go? Of course he wouldn’t – no amount of exclusion orders could keep him from what was rightfully his. She must stop thinking about it. ‘You don’t want him inside your head,’ Nadia warned. ‘You’ve got your own life. Try to forget him.’
But did she have her own life? Was it even possible? She was jumpy at work all that week. In the following weeks more letters arrived, all the same as the first one but the threats escalating. She knew it was him but Nadia said they’d found nothing; no ‘biometrics’ at all. If this were a TV series, she thought, there’d be a clue; a smudge on the newsprint that would narrow it down to a single shop; the shop’s CCTV would show him buying that exact newspaper and in his bin there’d be the pages he’d cut it out from… but this wasn’t TV. In real life the police looked for evidence; fingerprints or DNA, that was it. Just hand over the letters, keep in touch with your liaison officer, thank you and goodnight. In the shelter she’d felt bolstered but out here she felt alone, unprotected and scared.
Then the letters stopped.
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