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#6 Fresh Air, Long Run (3/3)
Welcome to Story Press #6 and the finale of the serialised Fresh Air, Long Run. If you missed the fifth edition and the second part of Fresh Air, Long Run, click here.
If you haven’t read any of Fresh Air, Long Run - start from the beginning here.
This week, we learn a whole lot more about Michael, about the murder of Chloe Campbell and the comedy and tragedy of paranoia.
#6 Fresh Air, Long Run (3/3)
The spot on the ceiling where he stared up from his bed had nothing on it. There were only the dried smears of white paint faintly moving from one side to another. But for Michael, it opened up a deep chasm within which he saw the worst of himself.
He saw everything he had done to Chloe Campbell. He saw himself, hands white with the tightness of the shoestring in his hands, the bitter hatred on his face. He saw the future that awaited him, sharing a dark and damp cell with the worst this world has to offer, a life of scraping by. He saw the…
‘Michael! Michael, come daan here!’ Mrs Goodfellow shouted from the top of the stairs.
‘What is it? Can I come later?’ Michael rolled over and stared at the floor, awaiting her response.
‘No! It’s urgent, boy! Why’d I tell yer to come now if yer can come la’er?
Michael groaned and rolled off his bed. He straightened his tee-shirt. Climbing down each laborious step, he looked up and saw Mrs Goodfellow grimacing at him and two police officers watching from the door. The way the light streamed in, they were just two dark silhouettes; they held their tall black hats under their arms and their vests protruded out about their shoulders.
‘They wanna speak to yer bout that girl.’ Mrs Goodfellow sidled past him and into the kitchen at the back. Turning to the officers, she said, ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if he did it, strange boy he is. Ha, ha.’ With the chuckle, she slaps Michael on the shoulder with a tea towel and wobbles into the kitchen.
‘Good afternoon, Michael,’ one of the officers started.
‘Hello. Is this about the girl who was murdered?’ he said, his voice shaking.
‘Yes,’ the two officers replied in unison. They both nodded at the same time too.
‘I don’t know anything about it.’
‘That’s quite alright, sir. We just have a few questions. We’re asking everyone in the neighbourhood. Only trying to get a complete picture of the events.’
‘But I really don’t know anything.’
‘That’s fine, sir. We’ll judge that for ourselves. Can you tell us what you were doing early in the morning of July 21st?’
‘Well, that depends how early we’re talking.’
‘Say, eight o’clock.’
‘I would have been just about to leave the house for my morning run.’
‘You run at eight in the morning?’
The two police officers looked at one another and began audibly scribbling with pencils in their notepads.
‘And did you go on your run?’
‘Yes, of course. Why wouldn’t I?’
‘No, it’s just, you only said you were about to leave. But you hadn’t actually left by eight o’clock.’
‘Well, I left about that time.’
The two police officers shared a second look, this time accompanied by a frustratingly lacking nod.
‘And then what happened?’
Michael’s legs shuffled beneath his body. ‘Well, I went on my run.’
‘And where was your run?’
‘I ran around the park. I do that every morning.’
‘Oh, is that right?’
‘You know the girl was murdered in the park, just after eight o’clock, that same day?’
‘Yes, I read about it in the papers.’
‘So, you didn’t see anything?’
‘You mean like somebody being murdered? No. Don’t you think I would have mentioned that?’
The other officer, the woman, shrugged her shoulders. ‘You might not have.’
‘Did you see anything else on your run?’
‘I don’t know. Anything you couldn’t help noticing? A person, a group of people, anything out of the ordinary?’
‘No, I don’t think so.’
‘You don’t think so…? What do you mean by that?’
‘I don’t remember seeing anything.’
‘You don’t remember seeing anything of note?’
‘I don’t remember seeing anything at all. But what’s that got to do with it? My bad memory is my problem!’
‘That’s very interesting though.’
‘Very interesting? What’s very interesting about it?’
‘It’s just objectively interesting. You must admit…’
‘I shouldn’t think so.’
‘Oh, certainly it is,’ the woman added.
‘Did you see the girl?’ They held a picture up.
‘No, don’t you think I would have mentioned that?’
The policewoman shrugged her shoulders again. ‘You might not have.’
At this, Michael huffed and rolled his eyes.
‘This taking too long for your liking, sir?’ The male officer asked.
‘No, it’s just… I don’t know what to say.’
‘Just say the truth, sir.’
‘Right, yes. But I don’t remember a lot. It wasn’t a very significant morning to me.’
‘Well, it was significant to her, sir. She died that morning. If you could just try…’
‘I am trying!’
‘Sir, there’s absolutely no need to shout like that.’ The woman stepped back. Both of their mouths were agape.
‘I didn’t shout. I just… It’s very distressing.’
‘There’s no issue here, sir. Nobody's accusing you of anything. We just don’t know a lot, and we need you all kind folk to tell us what you know, so we can make the best decisions.’
‘I don’t know what to say! It’s very distressing: all these questions I don’t know the answers to. It’s not my fault I don’t know the answers. It’s not my fault I don’t remember anything from my run. What do you want me to say? That I killed her? That I’m guilty? That I took the lace off my shoe and strangled her in the park? Well, fine! Have it that way. I did do it. I did it and my memory has cast it away because it doesn’t fancy it. I’m as guilty as Charles Bronson, madder too. I don’t know what the truth is anymore and I don't fancy thinking about it much longer.
‘Cuff me, throw me in a cell and let it be done with!’
Spending time behind bars is an odd experience. You lose track of time. You think about things a lot. But you’re also forced to spend time with one or two people. They tell you their stories, you tell them yours, and you have this kind of eternal bond that neither person has shared with anybody else.
Just such an experience is how I met Michael. I was taken into a cell for being drunk and disorderly. I was at a nightclub with some friends, drunk myself under the table and started a fight with a security guard. It was not a typical evening for me, but at least I don’t stick to the stereotypes. When I was brought in, I couldn’t see straight. I slumped down on the stained, torn mattress to one side. Michael stared at me through the bars. He said nothing, only stared. His face gave me the shivers so I turned over and, after a while, my nerves calmed and I fell asleep.
The next morning, he told me his story. He had been in the cell only a few days and was waiting to find out what would happen to him. We spoke for a couple of hours, telling each other about our lives. He was a kind man, his face was worn and I got the sense that he had aged as much in a week as he had in his lifetime.
In the middle of our conversation, a police officer approached us and at first I thought they were going to tell us to stop talking, then I wondered if they were going to let me go. After all, I was only supposed to be there one night. But instead, he reached into his back pocket, revealed a key, and unlocked the door to Michael’s cell.
‘You’re free to go, yer daft git.’
Michael’s eyes immediately watered. His lips quivered as he tried to say, ‘What do you mean?’
‘They caught the guy that actually did it. It was her ex-fiance. Someone overheard him gloating about it in a bar last night. Picked him up this morning.’
Michael looked at me and then back at the officer. ‘But I’m guilty, I know I am. I know I did it.’
‘No, you’re not. You don’t know what you are. Come on, yer daft git.’ The officer wrangled Michael to his feet and dragged him from his cell.
That was the last I saw of Michael. I was left alone in my cell for several hours. Eventually, the same officer came to get me. I had to fill in some paperwork and speak to lots of people I didn’t know, and then they let me go.
When I got outside, the rain drummed on the roofs of the few cars parked in the car park. I didn’t have an umbrella and I didn’t think the police would give me one. I walked down the street and waited for a bus. The shelter was packed with bodies so I stood to the side in the rain. The bus was late so I shivered for a long time, and at some point there, I stopped thinking about the bus and the rain and wondered what might have happened if they had never caught the man who really killed Chloe Campbell. I wondered whether Michael was perhaps better than most people for pursuing the truth even to his detriment, and whether, indeed, I would ever see him again.
At that, the bus arrived, pushing waves of rainwater onto the pavement. I let the other passengers on first before climbing up the stairs and settling into a seat, pressing my forehead against the cold glass.
Thank you for reading my full and first serialised story: Fresh Air, Long Run. Let me know what you think of the story and I hope you join me for many more.
For all of you, please do share with those in your world who love a story.
Next time, we’ll meet Hugh, who’s got himself into some personal troubles…