In Other News

"Thanks John. The community of this quiet London suburb is in shock today after the report of an assault on these very streets. The victim - a young woman whose name is being withheld for her safety - was walking home from the nearest bus stop after working late. Claiming that his intentions were friendly and simply mistaken, the assailant goes to court next week facing charges of assault, sexual assault, and battery. He is not being charged with rape. In a police statement, the victim said; 'I don't know if he intended to rape me or not. But he was making unwanted advances before he became violent.' This is a rare case for an area such as this, but it is safe to say that the feeling of security has been greatly disturbed. We'll follow this case as it plays out. John?"

Again she finds herself in the small, rather plain room. What is it, the third, fourth time? She's lost count. For some reason, the room has become oddly comforting. Safe.

Click. The videotape stops. A sigh is drowned out by the whirr of the tape rewinding.

"Okay Eliza, we've been over the assault. Now, shall we talk about how you dealt with it after the event?" The therapist peers at her across the table quizzically, a look that would normally annoy her. She's used to it.

"Alright…" Eliza is silent for a few moments. Time stands still.

Eliza decided to go to work the day after the investigation. Her family had been contacted and she didn't want to give them an excuse to interfere. She was fine. It was no big deal. That day she decided not to take a taxi as she normally would have, in favour of bussing as she had on the night of the assault. She was fine. Her neighbourhood was a haven from the reality that is London. Trees lined the clean sidewalks, the road was perfectly smooth and every house an exact copy of the one before. It would not be a stretch to have believed that there was less pollution in the air, compared to the rest of the city. That day, as she dragged her feet towards the nearest main street, Eliza looked off to her right. There was an alleyway. What? She had never noticed the alley before. Having taken a moment to look down the damp, closed in passage she moved on. What an odd place for an alleyway, she had thought, where the lingering smell of many drunken nights crept from beneath the perfect skin of the neighbourhood.

"Interesting. Did you notice anything else that day?" The therapist rises, and removes the video cassette from the VCR. He taps the tape marked "News source - 1" against his opposite palm.

"Stop that." Eliza taps her forefinger on the table.

"OK."

"That day, I walked past a homeless person begging on the street."

"Why is that important? There are homeless people everywhere you go."

Eliza recalls the man; he had a dirty face and his clothing was worn. He had thrown a grin onto his face as she passed. You see the same person everywhere you look, each one more pathetic than the last. It has recently become illegal to beg on London streets, but where are they going to go?

"'Allo luv. Spare some change for a poor bugger with a dirty old boat race?"

"What?" Eliza stopped; normally she would have ignored him and kept walking.

"Boat race, luv." He pointed at his face. It dawned on her, "Too posh to know that aren't you dahlin'."

"Cockney."

"Right you are luv, spare some change?" He looked up at her hopefully. His eyes were lifeless, the fake grin starting to fade. He was dead. Eliza found herself locked into a stare, she could have done nothing else in the face of such misery; his, hers - it was all the same. She moved on without a word, picking her feet up into a quick walk. Only two, heartbroken words followed her, "Thanks luv."

"He must go through that every day. I felt horrible, but I just couldn't…"

He waits for her to continue. She doesn't. "You feel like you share something with him. Pain. Why did you walk on?"

"I don't bloody know!" Putting her head in her hands, Eliza tries to stop herself from sobbing. She takes a moment to regain her composure before the questions start again.

"That's what we need find out, Eliza. I know it's hard, but please try to be open with me." He's calm, always so calm. Eliza can think of nothing worse than having someone calm her down, but she tries to control her frustration.

"I just couldn't face him… I suppose. We were so alike, in a way. His pain felt so familiar, I couldn't stand it, you know?"

The man across the table nods, "That is perfectly normal. To be expected, actually. He reminded you of your ordeal, and it was too soon for you to come to terms with it. Everyone goes through that." He watches her face, it doesn't change. She isn't at ease, "There's something more?"

She had slowed down, having left her neighbourhood and started heading towards the main street. The streets changed as she went. Garbage began to appear, collections of paper and bottles lay about and the houses deteriorated as she walked further. As she approached the heavier traffic the air became thick and heavy; the polluted near-smog all Londoners are used to. Turning out of the residential area, she passed a foul smelling warehouse on the corner. Her lull was disturbed as several cars screeched to a halt down the street, which resulted in an eruption of car horns. The bus she intended to catch was visible down the street, the bus stop a good five minute walk in front of her. Eliza didn't bother to speed up - rush hour was inappropriately named. Once at her destination, a teenage boy of about fourteen smiled at her. She smiled back. He was in a school uniform, a backpack hung off his shoulders loosely. His face had an innocent look about it, with longish black hair that hung before his eyes.

"Excuse me," the teen addressed her, "do you have the time?"

"Yes…" She pulled her sleeve back, and suddenly felt vulnerable. She had an expensive watch, and in London you never know if someone wants to know the time, or how valuable your watch is. Suddenly an exposed wrist made her feel naked. She covered her watch quickly, and snapped: "7:30."

By the time the bus arrived a good five minutes later, it occurred to Eliza that the boy had not taken his eyes off her.

"Are you sure?" Interrupting again, the uncomfortably calm therapist watches her blankly. He shows no surprise, not even bothering to look quizzical this time. But of course, why would he? In his line of work, it makes sense that little would surprise him.

"Yes. I'm sure."

"Could you have been mistaken?"

"Have you ever been in a room full of people, when someone is watching you?"

"All of a sudden you're aware of nothing else."

Eliza nods, and stays silent. Having had her train of thought broken once more, she doesn't want to continue without a prompt. The man across from her writes a few notes on a pad of paper, the scratching of his pencil pulling on the veil of silence. Time stands still.

Having decided she needs a break, Eliza stands before a mirror in the ladies washroom. She would rather not be there, but it's about as private as she can get at the moment. Eliza looks into her own eyes - green with brown specs - and searches for help. She finds no insights, no windows. No soul. She blinks, brushes the dirty blonde hair out of her face, and tries again. No such luck; bloody poets. She notices a grey circle around her eyes that had never appeared before. Running her fingers over a pale cheek, she looks at her arm; it's the same shade of white. She remembers not putting on makeup that morning. The therapist had commented that working in a library, she wouldn't see much of the sun; he'd asked if that depressed her. She had laughed. Her skin is sensitive, even for a Londoner. Hazarding one more try with poetry, Eliza shakes her head and ambles to the door.

"Are you ready to continue?"

Eliza sits carefully, and nods.

"Let's talk about your home."

Eliza clears her throat, then scratches at it nervously.

"We left off with you on your way to work. Did anything of note happen while you were at the library?"

Eliza shakes her head.

"Then we'll skip ahead. You're walking home."

Eliza doesn't move or speak.

"Remember what I said about being open?"

Eliza sighs, "Well…"

A car alarm wailed in the distance, Eliza sped up. The piercing sound ripped through her as if she was cradling an unsatisfied baby. She turned a corner, and the sound was drowned out by the drone of distant traffic, but the quiet left her open for another assault upon her senses. On the other side of the street, a heated argument in a foreign language wafted out of an open window. This Eliza tuned out. Such screams of unidentifiable reason or origin were very common, and became as much white noise as the cars up the street. The warehouse still smelled, Eliza sped up again to be rid of the alien stench. Slowly, the litter disappeared, and the houses began to get larger. As the neighbourhood became progressively nicer, Eliza's pace slowed down. She was in a familiar area, a comfortable area. She walked on the opposite side of the street from the beggar, and the alleyway.

The lock clicked, Eliza removed her keys and opened her front door. When it closed again, she breathed a sigh of relief. The front hall was very plain compared to the rest of the house. Why should any old door-to-door salesman know how much money she had? On a small wooden table against the wall lay a phone and a lamp. A red light flashed. "Please, not again." Eliza pushed the "Play message" button on the phone. The light stopped blinking;

"Hi Lizzie! It's your mum here, I just want to check in on you darling. How are you? Are you there? Well, I suppose not. She must be working, love."

"Well aren't we proud of our Lizzie-plum." This voice was male. "Getting on with her life anyway. Like I always say: if life pulls the rug from under your feet -"

"- Yes yes love, I'm sure she knows. Now Liz, would you like us to go shopping for you? We know all the best places to get your favourite foods, remember? All you have to do is ask dear. We'll pop over any time, you remember that."

"In fact we're not busy today. Give us a ring when you get back -"

"- Yes that's right. You give us a shout and we'll come and make sure our baby is alri -"

Click. "Message ends. Monday, two pm."

The therapist scribbles something on his pad of paper, and makes a long stroke, a motion made when underlining a word or phrase.

"Okay, let's stop there for now."

"Why?"

"I want to move on."

"To when?"

The therapist thinks for a moment, tapping his pencil on the table.

"Stop that."

"Right."

Having deleted the message, and made a point of not calling her parents, Eliza left for work early the next day. There were a few books on Latin she wanted to peruse before she started work. The same beggar was on the street; she had forgotten to cross the road. He grinned at her again, putting his hands out. Again, she walked away and was followed by another dejected: "Thanks luv."

"Lets talk about the boy. Was he at the bus stop again?"

The teenager at the bus stop asked her for the time again. Eliza pulled her sleeve back, but covered her watch with her hand.

"Well?" The boy gave her an odd look.

"7:24." Eliza quickly covered her wrist. That morning there was a chilling breeze, she crossed her arms over her chest. The boy didn't take his eyes off her.

"Why did he bother you so much?"

"He did the same. Every day."

"Asked you the time?"

"Yes. I don't know why, but it was around the same time each day that we were at the bus stop, still he asked me."

"Maybe he doesn't have a watch?"

"Exactly."

The therapist tilted his head; Eliza could see that he didn't understand.

"Maybe he wanted one."

The therapist sighs as the comment sinks in, and scribbles something else on his notepad. He taps his pencil on the table a few times, before seeing Eliza's face. He puts the pencil down. "Look. It's obvious that trying to convince yourself that you were fine didn't work. What did you do when you got home that day?"

"There was another message for me. I had told my previous therapist that my family was talking about me behind my back. He told me I needed to improve my relationship with my mother."

"Freudians are sometimes right. Sometimes."

"He decided I was paranoid, and for some reason my mother appeared to be of the same opinion."

"Oh."

"Then, they ALL started talking behind my back. I would sue him, but my lawyer said that he would just tell the courts I'm paranoid."

"Well I'm not sure that he's wrong."

Eliza says nothing.

"How long did this go on for? The boy making you uncomfortable, I mean."

"About a month. Every day."

"And each day -"

"- It disturbed me a little bit more."

The lock clicks. Two police officers walk into the room.

"Time's up, Rob, can we have your report?"

Rob sighs, and looks at Eliza. Shaking his head, he hands the officers a document marked: Criminal Profile: Eliza Bell.

"If you'll follow us, miss?" One of the officers takes the document and tucks it under his arm. He motions to the other, who walks across the room and helps Eliza up. As they leave the Forensic Psychiatrist's office, Eliza looks at him.

"What are you going to tell my lawyer?"

"I don't think you have a strong enough case for temporary insanity. Sorry."

Sorry. Sorry? Not an ounce of actual sorrow went into that word. No feeling what-so-ever! He wasn't sorry.

"Eliza Bell, a recent assault victim appears in court tomorrow for the murder of fourteen year old Simon Wale. Witnesses say that the boy asked the woman for the time, and she drove a letter-opener through his neck. Police criminologist Robert Mark has been working closely with the young woman's lawyer. Eliza's psychiatric profile will be presented in court tomorrow when the trial begins. Back to you, John."