Minnie Hatherwell walked along the road in the way that only an ample black woman can. She had been profoundly blessed with 'Caribbean Bootie,' a large, prominent rear-end that rolled and tumbled when she walked, like two ferrets fighting in a sack. Minny was a big, happy lady from Tobago and was proud of what nature had given her. She sang as she walked, not worried by the glances from any strangers she passed. Minnie had a voice, and with the blessing of her Lord she was going to use it. She sang a song from home, a song of sun and plantation labour, and love. It could have made her sad, Minnie missed the warmth of the sun from her homeland. This insipid British cousin was no substitute, but she wasn't given to unhappiness. Her mamma always told her.
"Chil`o` mine, ya ain owed no happiness, ya have to work to get it like ever-a-thin` else. Ya done ever let that ole blackness in your soul girl and youse doomed. Ya hear wha` ya Mamma 's sayin` Chil`? Ya hear me?"
Minnie heard her Mamma all those years ago when she was a little girl, and she never forgot her words.
Moving parallel to Minnie and just one street away was George Crommer. He was walking rapidly, head down, hands thrust deeply into his coat pockets. His fingers ran over the closed blade of the knife and he felt a surge of excitement course through his body, leaving goosepimples to climb the vertebra of his spine. He had an incomplete erection and was pleasantly aware of the weight of his penis as it banged against his pubis with each step.
He was a hunter, a man held captive and repressed by society too long. He was free now, out there again to live off his wits, to take of his needs, to do what he does best. They wouldn't catch him this time; he promised himself that he would never go back there again. He felt like raising his face to the sky and screaming. His brother the wolf howled to the swollen moon. He, George Crommer, understood his brother's need to yell his freedom and rejoice in it. But for now he must use the skills of his other bro' Renard; the cunning fox. Never must he draw attention to himself. He would slink in shadows and feast on his prey at a banquet laid for one.
Little Jimmy was out playing. His mam wouldn't be happy if she knew he was with the Rogerson twins. She didn't like them, but he thought Riley and Max were great. They called him 'kid.' He didn't like that much, they were only one year above him at school. Not so very much older than him themselves. He'd show them, he'd show them he was no soft kid.
They were playing down the tracks, something else his mother would disapprove of. If jimmy had been less intent on dragging huge rocks from the siding onto the rail tracks he might have pondered for a moment which was the greater sin in his Mother's eyes. Playing with the Rogersons or being on the train tracks?
Lorraine's Mother said she had an interesting face, but Lorraine knew she was only being a mother. Despite her Mum's feeble attempts to bolster her self-confidence Lorraine saw that her face was far from interesting, it wasn't even plain. It was just plain ugly. No matter how carefully she conditioned her skin a legion of angry red pimples would rise from their trenches each day, and despite spending a fortune on the latest 'miracle' products her lank hair had no will to shine. Her eyes were too close together, her nose too big, her mouth too thin, her body too full. She was a mess. She heard them in the work canteen that day, ridiculing her, laughing at her behind her back. The knot of self-pity rose form the coldness of her belly to become a harsh sob in her throat. She couldn't live like this any longer. Suicide was the only way out.
David King just plain wasn't looking where he was going.
Minnie, Jimmy, Lorraine and David were all wrapped in the cocoon of their own little worlds, going about their life with no thought that the next three minutes might herald the end of their life. Apart from Lorraine, she was strolling along planning her magnificent death. She was the travesty because she was the only one of the four who was not destined to die at five fifty-two that dreary Thursday afternoon.
At five-fifty-one and ten seconds the earth jolted. Earth tremors and quakes happen all the time, but this one was different. Perhaps something green with eight arms farted on some neighbouring planet and inadvertently sent out a ripple to destroy our world. Or maybe there is some other more scientific cosmic reason, whatever the cause. The earth was shocked into standing still for twenty-one solid seconds. She failed to breathe and rocked to a standstill. Time ticked on but our lass held no part in it. After that almost half-minute she took a breath and rolled back into action as she had for the millions of years since time began.
What should have happened in those few missing seconds threw the world into chaos. Things are destined to happen when they happen. The world works on a knock-on-system-of motivation, always has done. One event leads to the occurrence of the next. It's ordered and automotive and the earth machine had never once stalled or faltered before.
As far as the people of earth were concerned, nothing altered. They didn't notice the time slip, they merely faltered in their step, stumbled on the word they were reading or swallowed the mouthful of over-chewed sloppy food.
On the stroke of one fifty two, Minnie Hatherwell was due to round the corner of Prince and Bolton streets and come face to face with the cold evil eyes of George Crommer, escaped lunatic and twice convicted murderer. Her own eyes would drop in slow motion as she watched the blood seep from the slicing wound to her voluptuous belly. It was ordained; it was as it should be.
At this same second in time, Jimmy Morgan was to become trapped under one of the loose sleepers on the track. A blue maintenance slip had been doing the team rounds for months about them, but as yet nothing had been done and the maintenance team laboured elsewhere on some other piece of unsafe rail track.
Jimmy's ankle held firm, trapped. He'd squirm, calling for his new friends to help him escape. He would hear the oncoming sound of the Five-Thirty from Bath. He would see the wide eyes look of his terrified mates. He would pee hot urine as the realisation that his friends were running away from him seeped into his brain. He would cry for his mummy as the train sent his head rolling fifty yards down the track. It was scheduled, due. It was just the way it was.
David King with a head full of progress reports was going to step out in front of a car. Simple as that, a moment's carelessness in the small world of a man who always did put business before the needs of his family. His children would be provided for, his mortgage paid off, and his wife re-married to Brian Jones within two years. He would be but a not-too-painful memory and a dint in a Volvo's bodywork.
Lorraine was not due to die. It was not her time. She walked along planning her dramatic suicide in detail. She fantasised about her funeral; not that she's need a very big box after the double-decker bus had finished with her. She saw in her morbid mind's eye the horrified look on the faces of the tired day-weary commuters staring out of the steamed up windows of the red, two-storey bus. A fresh tear rolled down her cheek as she imagined a mother pulling her child's head into her bossom to spare him the sight of the poor lady being killed as she threw herself under the wheels of the six-four-three.
But it wasn't going to happen, because as the bus came round the corner, Lorraine was going to chicken out. Bravery was not one of Lorraine's strong points. She had an over-active imagination to balance out her under-active thyroid gland. She imagined pain only too well and decided the pressure of double-decker bus tyres about her midriff was perhaps just a little bit too much to be expected of her. She would re-think and find another, easier, less painful way of ending her days; later maybe, after an iced-donut.
Minnie never met her killer. The earth had come to a standstill, but she had not. They missed each other in the criss-cross interconnectedness of the street grid.
Jimmy never got his foot trapped, because Neville Holmes the platform guard had chased him and the Rogerson boys away. If the earth hadn't stopped Nev would still have had three drags left on his cigarette and a hawk-load of phlegm in his throat to sort out before he went back onto the platform and saw the bloody kids. He never saw the horror of the little boys head rolling down the track like a kicked football.
David King missed the car that was supposed to mow him down by twenty-one seconds. He went home to his wife that night, and it would be three months before she would now leave him. She never did meet Brian Jones, but married a man who, unlike boring David, beat her and the kid's; later she would take to drinking alone to get through the day.
The man, who should have run David over, didn't. He didn't kill himself three months after that drizzling Thursday either, which set off a whole new train of consequences on a stem-off branch that should have died with the demise of the driver.
It was not Minnie who rounded the corner to come face to face with George Crommer, but Lorraine. She had no time to scream. George was a hunter. He walked in a world where wolf and fox were his brother. His knife sliced her belly, her intestines bubbled out of the stomach cavity to spill in the alley, and as she died she felt the weight of George laying upon her. That was his 'thing' George liked to fuck them while they lay bleeding. Writhing in the steaming warmth of the foul smelling internal organs, blooding himself like the hunter he truly was. Lorraine should have been standing at the side of the road and waiting for a bus that she would never jump in front of. Instead she was spilling her guts for a madman.
It was not meant to be. Lorraine was supposed to endure another thirty years of misery. She was supposed to feel and truly understand loneliness, it was her right. And George was supposed to go on to kill another eight people before he was finally caught. Because of Lorraine's unwritten death had messed up the tidy playing field he went on to butcher thirteen more.
"Different daisies in different chains." As George would philosophically have said, if he'd known about the world standing still.