The combination of the water multiplier on his tongue and buccal surfaces. with the transfer of chili juice from fingers to eyes was indeed almost joyful to witness for both women. Luke struggled to affect a fresh snarl but his second wave of intense, burning agony this time in his eyes, made it impossible to frame any sort of sentence, snarling or otherwise. Ignoring Luke’s distress with remarkable composure Renée said: “I hope you understand how serious this is” with an impressively austere expression and no hint of a smile. “We shall be making a report. I think it’s fair to say it’s over for you Mr Mordrake, don’t you Ann?” Ann held her face as still as possible, and could only nod her agreement. “Where is your wife Mr Mordrake? I am sure she is aware of the situation, and I am afraid she will have some questions to answer, as do you, Mr Mordrake.” This last with a slightly smug little smile, as she leaned towards his wet and still weeping face. “I told you. She’s gone. Scarpered. Disappeared” he managed to say as open mouthed he did his best to air his tongue. His eyes were inflamed, weeping and his eyelids were swelling nicely. “And when do you expect your wife back?” said Ann for whom all nursey kindnesses had drained away. “The fuck if I know”. Ann and Renée watched their patient coughing again, as he bent over the table his torso leaning on his forearms, and silently considered this new development. Where was Brenda? Had she finally had enough and left him? She wouldn’t dare. Or would she?
Renée and Ann shared a glance and both wondered how this was going to work. They could both picture Luke claiming that he’s only recently been able to stand, that the pain was under control expecting his wife to lie to back him up. But without Brenda how would that work? Who would believe him after this? And where Brenda was at present, was not actually relevant for the current situation. Ann waited patiently as Renée went through the various things that would happen next. She felt slightly sorry for the blubbering burnt lipped fool who was sticking to the first rule of lying, groaning even now that he was in pain, not just in his mouth and eyes. He was sticking fast to the principle that even if you’re found out, don’t admit the lie. But Luke Mordrake lacked the imagination to maintain the charade, so he never thought to ask for the wheelchair or if they could help him into it. A saturation of lies was rising slowly around him and he was drowning.
As Luke’s coughing subsided and he got up to hobble to his cigarettes, Renée was finishing her explanation of what happens next. “ … benefit stops straightaway because clearly you do not meet the immobility criteria and fraud officers will be visiting you. They will interview you under caution and you and your wife will have to pay back all the money you’ve claimed, possibly since the accident but definitely since you came home from hospital. There may also be penalties.” Luke sucked on his cigarette watching Renée’s thin lips give word to his greatest fear and felt himself trembling and a warmth passing its way down his leg to soak soft and tepid into his slipper. The shaking was getting worse but as Ann stepped towards him slightly anxious and asking, “are you alright Mr Mordrake” he pulled back his shoulders, scrabbled with his parts and hissed “fuck off the both of you, fuck off before you get hurt”. The two women backed a step away and Renée, still steely, said “yes, I think that’s a good idea. We’ll be in touch with your wife to let her know what’s going on.” And with that they stepped out into the morning sunshine.
“You won’t find her.” Luke shouted as they headed for the door. In his simmering head he was already planning his welcome for when Brenda came back. He knew she would. And he was certain that Brenda would come back groveling. “Bitch” he said setting a match with satisfaction to the package of chilis. As their pungent and unexpectedly asphyxiating fumes rose Luke’s coughing resumed with profound violence and as he tossed his little bonfire and cigarette into the sink he could barely spit out the word “bitch”. It came out of his tightened larynx as a wheezy whisper soft, enfeebled. Caved over once again he heard the car’s gears getting a pasting as Renée and Ann eventually pulled away. Underneath the burn in his lungs he could feel a rising panic brewing and the fear he had so long buried coming to the surface and once more he wept wet, stinking, afraid and alone.
As Renée thrust her car mostly into gear, Ann was already looking up Brenda’s mobile number. She sent a terse message, requesting that Brenda text her back because she and Renée needed a word with her about Luke. Safe in Audrey’s basement Brenda’s breath stopped when she saw there was a message and it was all she could do to stop herself from deleting it. So she did, on the basis that whatever it was they could work out how to solve it themselves, without her. Safe. Silent. But Brenda had underestimated their social services habit of concern. “What should we do? She’s not the sort to run away is she?” Ann’s question came freighted with fear. “Is she?” she repeated and Renée stopped the car and turned off the engine. “She might be in danger Ann. We don’t know what that man’s really capable of. We’ve both seen the signs, and we both know she won’t ask for help. We might even be too late already.” A sobering reality started filtering into the two women’s brains, totally overwhelming the screaming horns coming from behind. “Let’s give it a day”, Renée said absentmindedly waving on the traffic, not noticing that the light ahead of them was red. Ann nodded and read out the address of their next visit. She sent the message again to Brenda again adding a PS. R u ok. Pls let us know.