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Red Hat

Photograph by Danyella Rolla, Story by Hannah Tuson-Heasley

Red Hat_DR.jpg

    Frankie said that the car would pick her up at eleven. It was hot already and she sat in her silk dressing gown by her bedroom window. The green velvet curtains were closed but even they wouldn’t keep the heat out. She waited, watching through the crack in the curtains. The street, lined with regency houses, looked empty but that didn’t mean anything. He was good at hiding. She’d been staring out of the window all night and her hands were shaking from the endless cups of coffee.

    Frankie, her personal adviser, said that his staff would all have cameras. They’d be hiding too. He’d ordered a private box and there would be a champagne reception and a three course dinner, but of course she wouldn’t eat a thing. She always went to Epsom, every year for the summer finale. She would wear her sunglasses, that way she couldn’t catch anyone’s eye. She wasn’t in the mood for hellos.

    She sipped the last dregs of coffee. The clock on her bedside table read 10:35. She must get dressed before the car arrived. She hadn’t been outside since the last incident, months ago, and she wanted to wrap herself in her dressing gown forever. There was no need to go out. Frankie brought her shopping to her doorstep twice a week, followed her list correctly, and helped her pack it away in her kitchen.

    He said she should wear something colourful and distinctive so she was easy to spot.  Frankie wanted that man, that monster, to find her, to break his restraining order. She chose a white strapless cotton dress that wouldn’t show perspiration and painted her lips scarlet red. The matching red hat was waiting for her on the bed, last worn at her cousin’s wedding in Sorrento. She put it on and liked the way it cast a shadow over her left eye. She put on her red heels last, high, but not too high that she couldn’t run in them. She adjusted her white dress. It felt too tight under the arms and she pulled at the fabric and told herself to breathe.

    Her mobile vibrated and she glanced at the screen. The car was here. The windows were tinted and when the driver stepped out to open the door for her she took a step back, holding her phone tight in her hand.

    ‘Frankie said you’d be worried. Malcolm’s off sick so you’ve got me today.’ He smiled. ‘You’re in safe hands, Miss Lawrence.’

    ‘I’m calling Frankie,’ Miss Lawrence said, pressing the phone hard to her ear.

    Frankie picked up before the first ring. ‘It’s fine, Miss Lawrence. I knew you’d call. Malcolm’s off sick. Some sort of stomach bug.’

    She turned to one side, shoulder raised and said, ‘But have you vetted him? He could be anyone.’

    ‘Trust me, we don’t take on just anyone, Miss Lawrence,’ Frankie said. ‘He’s been DBS checked, like all our drivers. And there’s a tracker on the car like you asked for.’

    She nodded. ‘Alright,’ she said, and hung up.

    The driver, she wasn’t privy to his name, opened the door for her and she climbed inside, glancing around her before she did so. The car smelled of leather and had been recently cleaned, which was something. She took her hat off and placed it on her lap and smoothed her hair.

    ‘Would you like some music on?’ the unnamed driver said.

    ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Something classical. Upbeat.’

    The car pulled away and the music played. She opened her pocket mirror and absentmindedly checked her red lipstick. They were an hour from Epsom and she stared out of the window, visualising it all going well just like her therapist had told her to. She would leave triumphant, the therapist, Barbara had said, over pronouncing the word so that Miss Lawrence could see all of her perfect white teeth.

    ‘How much longer?’ she asked the driver.

    ‘Just under ten minutes, Miss Lawrence,’ he said. ‘Is the music OK? Do you want me to turn it down?’

    ‘No, turn it up,’ she said. She felt nauseous and her hands were clammy. The car was on the dual carriageway now and going faster and she wondered what would happen if she unclipped her seat belt, opened the door and just fell out on to the road. What would the press say? They were already talking about how long it had been since her last film, what a recluse she’d become.

     They were close. She recognised it from when she had visited last year, in entirely different circumstances, happy, drunk and desperate for a cigarette. She closed her eyes as the driver indicated left and slowed down.

     He stopped and opened the door. ‘Vanessa Lawrence,’ he whispered.

     A voice shouted, ‘Let them through!’ and Miss Lawrence jumped, clutching her red hat.

     The music stopped playing and was replaced by the sound of a phone ringing.

     ‘Frankie,’ the driver said. ‘We’re here.’

     Frankie opened the door almost immediately and helped her out of the car. The cameras started flashing and he took her arm, leading her inside. She needed to put her hat on, she thought. She wouldn’t be easy to spot without her hat on.

      The staff opened the door. The lounge was full of people and they all turned to see her.

     Frankie took her to one side and placed the hat gently on her head before she could say anything.

     ‘Do you need to freshen up, Miss Lawrence?’ he asked and she shook her head.

      One of the staff came over and handed her a half pint of Guinness, as requested.

     ‘There are cameras everywhere. We’ve seen him. This won’t take long,’ Frankie said. ‘Are you ready?’

     He put his hand on her shoulder and steered her towards the crowd.

     ‘Breathe!’ she told herself.

      And then she saw him, his bald head glinting under the lights.

      ‘Got him!’ Frankie whispered and she smiled, head held high up as the camera flashed.

Hannah Tuson-Healey has a Creative Writing MA from Kingston University. Her poetry and short stories have been published in The Rialto, The Morning Star, South Bank Poetry, Cadaverine Magazine and Mslexia, Follow her on instagram @rubyandheathcliff

Danyelle Rolla was born and raised in Liverpool in the 1980’s and with a background in the military, she is a social documentary photographer whose practice explores the contemporary British class system and its mis/representation. You can follow her here - @rollaphotography

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