There was a storm building inside Ray’s skull. Waiting to break. And it was all because Ray hadn’t seen her for over a week now. Twenty-seven days and seventeen hours, to be precise. And he was starting to wonder if he’d imagined her. Created some kind of wish fulfilment figure. His stomach cramped.
It wouldn’t have been the first time that his imagination had set him off on a wild goose chase, after all. Sent him racing and stumbling headfirst into a collision with cold, cruel reality. Made him look a fool.
But just after midnight, at the exact moment he turned on the car’s ignition, the night sky was gutted with crack of thunder, a flash of lighting and a cleansing rain.
He looked up and there she was. Shimmering in the silver glow of the street light that was in front of the sex shop on the corner of Langdon Street and Spender Grove.
And she was … resplendent. Yes. That was the word. That really was what she was.
As she had been the first time he’d gazed upon her.
It was late October when Ray had decided to stop going to his night class. It was the dark evenings that had put him off at first, there were too many animals crawling the streets at night these days. Filth everywhere.
Although he knew deep down that wasn’t the only reason he’d stopped attending the course. He hadn’t been making a great deal of progress – French never felt as natural to him as German or Latin -and he knew that he’d never actually go to France, anyway, so there was no real point continuing.
At the end of the month he’d called into the College of Further Education and paid for the rest of the course, it was the decent thing to do after all, and money wasn’t a problem for him. He shook hands with the tutor and headed off home, once again feeling that something was missing in his life.
The winter night bit like a beast as he headed off to the bus stop, avoiding the begging trick-or-treaters in their identical Halloween costumes. Ray loathed this time of year.
His doctor had once said that he suffered from SAD: Seasonal Adjustment Disorder and that he should go away to somewhere sunny, since he had lots of free time these days. But even the thought of travel was an abomination to Ray, who had only left Seatown once in all of his thirty- five years. That was a trip to London to visit St Paul’s Cathedral. And that was an unpleasant experience that he certainly didn’t want to repeat.
They say bad luck comes in threes and Ray certainly had his share that night, and he really couldn’t count how many things went wrong. The 94 bus at Warden Green left early and, despite racing after it, it didn’t stop. But it did splash through a puddle as it drove past him, soaking his brown corduroy trousers . And then it started to rain. Pour. He leaned against a kebab shop doorway catching his breath. His chest burning. The smell of sizzling animal flesh making him heave.
He decided to take a short cut through a nearby alleyway and was soaked through by the time he got to the end, which came out directly on Barclay Common. A couple of cars, their headlamps dipped, cruised past, the drivers examining the girls –and boys- that worked there. Ray kept his head down, ignoring their beckoning calls. Whenever he walked past the common it produced the usual cocktail of feelings -disgust, guilt, shame, embarrassment, resentment. And desire.
He gave a cursive glance at the prostitutes, seeing the usual shaking anorexics or overweight grannies. But then there was a sort of fizzing, popping sound, and a lamp post came to life. And there, underneath that flickering streetlamp was a vision.
Tall, blonde. Wearing a shining silver dress and boots. Looking completely alien to her grimy surroundings. More than human. An angel. And she smiled at him.
After that, his days, and nights were haunted by the Silver Lady. His dreams more so. And even during his waking hours, little pin pricks at the back of his mind made him turn sharply, expecting to see her.
At times he did see her, too. Just out of reach, At the edge of his vision. If he squinted, she was at the end of the street. Or a mannequin in a shop window. Sometimes, when he blinked, he saw her in the darkness.
Her voice, though he had never heard it, called to him. Sang along with the sound his alarm made as it dragged him by his greasy hair from his fitful sleep.
So, tonight he’d plucked up his courage and borrowed his Uncle Ricky’s car and headed off to cruise Barclay Common.
The night hadn’t started well. Uncle Ricky’s car had been specially adapted to suit his disabilities- Ray wasn’t completely sure what they were – and it was a pain to manoeuvre. And Ray wasn’t exactly the most experienced driver, although he’d passed his test some fifteen years before.
So, he’d stalled about a hundred times and panicked that he might be spotted in Barclay Common by someone he knew. He drove around until darkness fell.
And he waited. He waited all night, and, as he was about to head off home at last, she appeared. There she was. As clear as day. He squinted to see her more clearly. She was mouthing something. The red lips so clear against her alabaster skin. It was hard to work out exactly what she’d said at first but later he was he was sure it was: save me. Of course it was. And Ray knew he would.
That night he’d had the thickest, most vivid dream of all. She’d crept into his bed and she’d begged him to save her. To set her free. She’d called him My Ray Of Hope. My Ray Of Light.
And he had made love to her. But this time was nothing like that horrible night in London. This time had been something so special that he had awoken with tears. Tears of bliss.
He knew then that he was a caterpillar waiting for the right moment to transform into a butterfly for his Silver Lady.
And then she was gone again. As winter bled into spring. there was no sign of her. He drove to Barclay Common so many times that the prostitutes had started to recognise him. A couple of the pimps had even approached him one night, to say or do Lord knows what, but seeing his dog collar they had stepped back.
After that, some of them called out ‘Hello Preacher,’ when they saw him, though most of them ignored him. And he them. But there was still no sign of the Silver Lady. They had taken her. These animals. And he knew, as the storm clouds gathered, that he must take their lives in revenge.
The glow from the burning car was warm. Comforting. The screams of the burning prostitutes and pimps calming. The storm had broken. Was over. He felt sated, wet at his crotch.
Ray had filled the car with as much flammable material as possible and sent it into the pack of vermin that lined Barclay Common. He’d thrown a Molotov cocktail and the blast had ripped the sky open.
With an aching heart, he walked toward the street light where his Silver Lady had stood. As he got closer, he felt a stomach cramp as saw the sex shop’s demolished facade. He rushed forward and burnt his hands as he gripped the metal shutters that had been ripped open by the blast. He smashed at the glass that was already shattered to reveal the twisted, torn form of an alabaster mannequin, its silver mini skirt ripped to reveal her burning flesh. The blood red lips. The blank, dead eyes.
And Ray laughed. He laughed so much that it melded into the sound of the police cars and ambulances that drew close. And the storm that had returned.