Welcome to Part 3 of Till You Die. Things are beginning to take a turn into suspicion territory for our Joanna. But I shan’t say any more – I’ll let you read it for yourself!
If you’ve missed parts 1 and 2 of this short story, you can find them here:
Happy reading! 😊
Joanna decided not to relay the details of her conversation in the shop, as they drove home. She did throw in, ‘Wouldn’t have mattered if I’d been a bit longer in that shop, seeing as you were on the phone.’
Craig rolled his eyes. ‘Longer? Seriously?’ Then he shrugged. ‘Just someone from work, wanting to know if I wanted to go out tonight. I said I’d see.’
‘See what?’ She knew she was getting wound up about nothing, really. But she watched Craig’s face intently, waiting for a reply.
‘See if you’re feeling all right for me to leave you on your own.’ He squeezed her knee. ‘You’re looking a bit peaky. I wouldn’t dream of going anywhere if you’re not feeling well.’
‘Maybe it was all that walking about.’ The walnut head hovered in Joanna’s mind and refused to budge. ‘Maybe I just overdid things a bit. That’s all.’
‘Well, I did say so, didn’t I?’ The words sounded a bit abrasive, so Joanna stayed almost silent the rest of the way home, using the excuse of the burger Craig bought her from the drive-thru to keep words to a minimum.
Once they were safely indoors, Craig offered to cook, and she took him up like lightning on the idea. The baby had started playing football on her bladder, so she took the opportunity to sit down with her laptop and trawl the Internet in search of information on watch balls, or witch balls, or whatever they were called. All the time the food was cooking, Joanna was down a research rabbit-hole. She was fascinated by the images she found. The pictures she found of different designs were so beautiful – like hers. She discovered that the Victorians hung them near windows to ward off evil spirits. Then she found a website that said how strongly people used to believe that if the ball changed colour and emitted light, real evil was nearby. A bristle of something strange ran up her spine as she recalled the way the ball had glowed in the shop. She read it again. It was just old-fashioned superstition, she told herself.
Joanna took the ball out of her bag after they’d eaten, and wandered with it up to the room they’d chosen for a nursery. Or, she’d chosen, really. Craig had just gone along with whatever she said.
‘It’s a bit weird. I don’t like it much,’ Craig said when Joanna showed it to him. It was nothing less than she expected, really. He hadn’t wanted her to spend the money on it, after all.
‘Oh, well,’ she sighed, ‘I’ll keep it in here, on the nursery window sill.’ She looked at him, hoping there would be a flicker of emotion at the word ‘nursery’. There was nothing. Her bottom lip quivered as she continued, ‘You won’t see it much in here.’
Craig pursed his lips, but he said nothing about the baby. She hadn’t expected that he would – not really, even though he was painting the walls primrose yellow at her request. Paint spotted on his shirt, and he tutted as he said, ‘You ought to be careful with that ball, here by yourself all day. You could end up in a fire.’
Joanna frowned as she tried to focus on the paintbrush going up and down the wall, instead of Craig’s words. She felt the beginnings of a panic attack; her chest tightened and she began to sweat, but she took in deep breaths and let them go slowly, like the doctor had said, and it calmed down. ‘What do you mean – fire? I don’t want a fire. That’s why we’ve had all the electrics rewired.’
‘Oh, I just meant – can’t sunlight shine through glass and cause fires, sometimes? It magnifies or something. And the wires would have been perfectly fine. But, whatever.’ Craig smiled. Joanna felt sick.
‘This room doesn’t get full sunlight,’ she muttered. But her heart had begun to thump and she moved the ball off the window sill and onto a nearby chest of drawers. She had just put it down when she groaned and clutched the wall.
‘What’s the matter?’ Craig spun round and through her pain, she grinned. At last, some reaction.
‘I’m fine. It’s just Braxton Hicks contractions – I think. You know they come a few weeks before the birth. I’ve had them before.’
‘Really?’ he asked, as he turned and continued with the painting.
She stared at his back while she waited for the pain to subside. When would he show some interest? Would he ever show any? She only had a couple of weeks to go but he just blanked it all out whenever he had the chance. She wondered if he discussed it with others – his mum, perhaps, or someone at work?
Craig’s mobile rang. Joanna watched how he jumped, flung down the brush and looked frantically around for something to wipe his hand on. ‘Damn. Keep ringing.’
‘Want me to answer it?’
‘No. I’ll do it.’ He flung down the brush.
‘Want me to get it out of your pocket, then?’
‘No, it’s fine.’ He thrust his hand inside his jeans, leaving paint on the pocket.
‘Hello?’ Joanna watched him stifle a smile, then he spoke very deliberately, clearly for her benefit. ‘Hello, Mum. What’s up?’ He turned to Joanna. ‘I could do with a cuppa. And it would get you out of these paint fumes.’
Joanna said nothing. She glanced at the watch ball. Its colours shone out from the tangle of threads, beautiful and bright, just as it had when the old man had given it to her. She left the room. Craig wouldn’t have noticed the welling tears stinging her eyelids.
Joanna picked up the phone on the kitchen worktop. She rang a familiar number.
‘Hello?’ queried Craig’s mum at the end of the line.
I really hope you’re enjoying the story so far, and especially the character of Joanna. I have to say that I very much enjoyed writing about her. Expect to see her appear in a Darker Minds book sometime in the foreseeable future.
If you’ve read the other parts to the story, you’ll know that I’ve written a new novella, Beneath the Flesh, which is the welcome FREE gift for new members of my Readers’ Club.
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