Marion’s Secret (1,400 words) Marion gripped her shopping bag and hurried across the main road, barely reaching the other side before the lights changed and the traffic roared off again. ‘Phew! These lights don’t give you long to cross, do they?’ ‘They’re useless,’ said a teenage mother arriving at the crossing with a multi coloured pram. She jabbed a finger at the wait here button. ‘And it takes ages for them to change.’ ‘Well you can’t be too careful with… ooh what a lovely baby! What’s she called?’ ‘Sangria.’ Marion forced a smile. ‘Nice name. Oh well, mind how you go love.’ Poor child, thought Marion as she turned down Asquith Lane, gateway to the Gladstone housing estate. Jesus Christ, mothers today; giving babies daft names and putting ribbons on their heads. Babies were supposed to look like babies, not Easter eggs. For a broody moment she drifted into thoughts of what might have been. If she hadn’t wasted the best years of her life on a divorced father of three that kept quiet about his vasectomy till after they married, she might have been a grandmother now. A movement in a window across the street caught Marion’s eye. At the same time Kath Butler, in the middle of taking her curtains down, smiled and waved. Marion smiled cheerily and waved back. Monday; washday; must be giving them a scrub while the weather’s fine; about bleeding time. ‘Good morning,’ said Marion, flashing another cheery smile as a woman she knew by sight emerged from the alley beside the boarded up King’s Arms. ‘Morning,’ the woman mumbled as she swept by. Though she’d kept her head down, her black eye hadn’t gone unnoticed. Marion empathised. She knew all about domestic violence; the pain and the shame. It had been easy to overlook her husband’s faults when she was young and in love but as the years passed, her resentment grew and when the steelworks shut down and Ralph lost his job, Marion caught the backlash. Though the marriage limped to a silver wedding anniversary the day was ruined when Ralph’s temper exploded and Marion finished up in hospital. A bedside visit from her mother was no consolation. ‘I told you so,’ was the sum of it. Smug cow. A passing glance at the launderette window was rewarding enough for Marion to slow down and switch her shopping bag from right hand to left while she sneaked a peep at her reflection. In her new frock, her bum didn’t look half as big as she’d feared. Satisfied, she walked on with a swish in her hips. Then she saw old Albert coming up the road. Shuffling along with a garden fork in his hand, Albert beamed when he got close enough to recognise her. ‘Hello Marion. Not at work today?’ ‘No, I’m off for a fortnight.’ Marion cursed her luck. With his flat cap, glasses and sleeveless pullover, Albert always reminded her of her late grandfather but as good natured as he was, Albert could be a flaming nuisance and there was no escape once he stopped to rest on his fork. ‘Are you going away?’ ‘Not this year, I thought about going to Vegas but I think I’ll give it a miss. I’m just going to put my feet up and read a book.’ ‘I’m going up to the allotment.’ ‘You might as well while the sun’s out,’ said Marion. ‘The weather forecast says we’re in for a few nice days. I think I’ll sit in the garden.’ ‘Nude sunbathing?’ ‘No, reading, you dirty bugger, in my summer frock.’ Albert cackled. ‘I’m going to ask the lads if they can spare a few flowers for Mrs. Holden. She’s had her hanging basket stolen, you know.’ ‘Aw, has she? Some people will pinch anything these days.’ ‘I know. Want their hands chopping off they do. A good one it was too, with petunias and trailing begonias, and loads of busy lizzies.’ Marion searched for an excuse to get away; Albert would talk all day if she let him. ‘Well, I’d better run along and get my sausages in the fridge before they go off,’ she said, with a nifty sidestep. ‘Alright, but don’t run too fast. At your age you should be slowing down.’ ‘Cheeky bugger!’ For a woman fast approaching fifty, Marion considered herself quite well preserved. A little short of the right height for her weight, perhaps, but she could still touch her toes if she bent her knees a little. Ted the window cleaner had no complaints, anyway, when he knocked for his payment every other Friday. Marion had no complaints either. So what if Ted was twelve years younger and married, a shag’s a shag and it got her windows cleaned for nothing. Infidelity; Ralph accused Marion of that on the night he died, yet all she’d done is dance with her brother-in-law at her niece’s twenty first birthday party. Another family celebration ruined. At a one-platform station, out in the sticks, Marion kept her distance when they waited for the last train, dreading what was coming when they got home. Thank Christ he knew nothing about the one night stand with the bloke she met at the social club or the regrettable incident with the stripper at the hen party. A range rover pulled up outside the Jameson’s house. Home from the school run, an agitated Suzie Jameson got out and stooped to inspect the paintwork. ‘Good morning Suzie,’ said Marion. ‘Everything alright?’ ‘No, it’s not!’ said a raging Suzie. She pointed to an ugly scratch across the nearside doors. ‘Just look at that! Someone’s keyed it!’ ‘It’ll be him that lives in my street… Dobbo, I think they call him. He was over there when I went to bingo last night.’ Marion nodded to the children’s play area opposite. ‘Him and his gobby mates, drinking and throwing cans they were. You should have heard the language… bleeding awful it was.’ ‘Is he the one that’s always showing off his muscles and tattoos?’ ‘That’s him, proper jack-the-lad, thinks he’s something.’ ‘Bastard! Wait till I tell Steve, he’ll go berserk. Okay, thanks Marion. I’ll ring the police.’ Served the snooty bitch right for owning a car like that, Marion thought, as she strolled around the corner. On the shady side of Disraeli Street a welcome breeze cooled her ankles as she rested her bag on the garden wall at number three, and rummaged for her purse and keys. A few doors away, a smartly dressed couple were getting out of a car. Office types, Marion noted. Social workers, she guessed. After stowing her shopping away, Marion put the kettle on and turned her attention to the hanging basket resting on the draining board. How nice it would look sitting on a plant pot on her patio, where it wouldn’t be seen by her nosey neighbours. First though, she’d have to remove the chains. Marion had no sooner unclipped a chain and teased it out of the flowers when the doorbell rang. Snatching her keys off the kitchen table she hurried to the hallway, pausing only to scratch a fleck of paint off the front door key. ‘Good morning! Lovely day, isn’t it? How are you?’ The couple she’d seen in the street were grinning on her doorstep like Donny and Marie Osmond. ‘What do you want?’ asked Marion, a millisecond before she noticed Donny had a briefcase and Marie had a wad of leaflets in her hand. Jehovah’s witnesses; she might have known. ‘Piss off!’ Marion slammed the door. Bible bashers unnerved her. If anyone was going to cast judgment upon her it’d be God himself, if he existed. Alone at her kitchen table, Marion sipped a cup of tea and reflected on the findings of the inquest. Intoxicated; they said. A tragic accident; they said, and nobody doubted it. Inquest closed. That should have been the end of it, but it wasn’t, not for Marion. She bit her lip in defiance of the tears that welled in her eyes. Happiness is all she ever wanted, but no matter how hard she tried, the guilt wouldn’t go away. Come the day, God’s judgment would be swift, given her charge sheet. If eternal damnation awaits those that break the Ten Commandments then her fate was sealed on the night she pushed Ralph died under the wheels of the 23:08 to Lorton.