by J. D. Richardson
She found that without sight, all other senses are heightened; the raised plastic of the Braille keyboard, the companionable humming of her laptop, the smell of the heated silicon and copper relays. The screen reader relayed incoming emails in its bland, electronic voice, but she could imagine the inflections; sibilance revealing the emotions beyond.
‘We could meet,’ Hayley typed, ‘the Upper Crust on Winchester High Street. It does great soup and casseroles. Or sandwiches, real coffee. Just follow the great smell. Say, at eleven. Wear something lemony, Versace perhaps. It’ll guide me to you.’
‘Yes, I’d love that,’ he typed in return, ‘Versace it is, but it’ll have to be a sample from the chemists. Can’t exactly afford such things after being cooped up in here you understand.’
She did. Hayley had enjoyed their email correspondence. The Prison Reform scheme had been a good idea, a godsend really.
She thought about the car crash, the drunk driver whose negligence had cost her eyesight. Darren Blixton. A short driving ban. Back on the roads now. Hayley would never drive again.
Head trauma can affect people in so many ways, but loss of one or more sensory faculties is more common than many realise.
‘In some cases, eyesight can return, but not when there’s been physical damage,’ the doctor had told her in practiced, regretful-sounding tones.
She could compensate in so many ways. Billy could guard and guide her, help her survive outside. But the isolation from others was something her guide dog could not help with. He drew near, his huge ribcage and rough hair rubbing her leg as if he knew she was thinking of him, feeling alone.
‘HM prisons do an email correspondence scheme, only with suitable inmates,’ Emma, her advisor had suggested, ‘I could enrol you on that.’
It had gone even better than she’d hoped. Barry had served his time, was circumspect about his life, his prospects. He seemed to have gained an insight that she couldn’t recall in other men. She’d posted a selfie, hoped her hair looked OK.
‘You’re beautiful,’ he’d typed in response. She had been once. But beauty is accompanied by self-assurance, that direct gaze into the camera or someone’s eyes. That chimaera of allure she had once possessed, driven forever from her life by some idiot who couldn’t say no to the drinks offered at the office party.
Hayley could hear it in people’s voices. The fear of confronting the fragility of their own existence, the curious gaze at the beautiful circus freak whose eyes could only gaze inward.
‘I’ll look forward to it. I’ll bring Billy.’ She’d told Barry about her accident, her disability. He hadn’t been fazed. ‘We both have our issues,’ he’d written, ‘both damaged. That’s just life. I’ll be out in two days, looking to start fresh.’
Hayley walked along the pavement, feeling the careful avoidance of passersby. Billy was large, a German Shepherd cross. Loyal, intelligent, he also kept bad intentions at bay, made her feel safe. He knew the Upper Crust and she felt his body ease her towards the door, but there were specific dishes only they served and she knew the scents herself without her guide dog’s aid.
She walked in, stood, moving her head, detected Barry immediately, heard him rise and walk towards her. He guided her to his table on its own, near the back. She felt Billy huddle beneath the table, heard him huff, pulling in his big paws.
The lemon scent Barry wore was edged with vetivert and patchouli.
‘You’re right,’ he said, ‘the food in here is good.’
They spoke, skirting verbally, being nice. ‘Who did you kill?’ she finally asked. Truth is always better in the end than manners.
There was a silence. They’d already discussed his charge and sentence.
‘A business partner. He defrauded money from our company, left me penniless. Bought himself a luxury home on Sandbanks in Poole. He was a bastard. I did my time for it, in more ways than one. Learnt my lessons. I’m going to look for work straight away. It’ll be hard.’ She liked his honesty, refreshing in a world of false kindness and politically correct sidestepping. Beyond the shop fragrance rose the testosterone sweetness of his need. So long without a woman’s touch and scent.
Hayley heard him pushing the salt and pepper shakers, working out his frustrations on inanimate objects. The waitress breezed past with a waft of toasted cheese, vegetable soup, warmed bread and a weak, cheap perfume.
‘That’s good,’ Hayley said in lowered tones. She pushed a photograph across the table. Darren Blixton, downloaded from the online local newspaper. ‘I have a job for you.’
J. D. Richardson lives in Cheshire, travelling there via Cornwall and Hong Kong – she went the long way round.