Read When She Was Bad - Tammy Cohen

1

Anne

Imagine we could see the damage inside ourselves. Imagine it showed through us like contraband on an airport scanner. What would it be like, to walk around the city with it all on view – all the hurts and the betrayals and the things that diminished us; all the crushed dreams and the broken hearts? What would it be like to see the people our lives have made us? The people we are, under our skin.

I thought about that when I saw you on the news just now. I recognized you right away. ‘Such an ordinary person,’ those people said. ‘I can’t believe someone like that could do something so terrible.’

When I got the text this afternoon from Barbara Campbell telling me to turn on the news, I couldn’t work out what she meant at first. The news was full of the usual stuff – the Republican leadership contest, the price of fuel, Syria, Russia. Nothing that meant anything special to me. I wondered whether Barbara was going a little senile. She retired a while back, so it’s possible. Then I remembered that, of course, living over in England she meant the British news. Well, that flummoxed me. In the end I had to call Shannon and she popped in on her way home from work. She fixed it up in five minutes flat, running a cable from my laptop to the main TV screen so I could watch the BBC live.

I waited for Shannon to leave before I put it on. Before heading out, she hugged me for a long time, as is her custom, and I was grateful all over again. So many daughters grow out of that kind of close contact as they get older, as I did when I learned to recognize my mom’s distinctive scent as last night’s sweated-out booze. Parents are always a disappointment to their children, that’s part of our role. But Shannon has never held it against me.

From Barbara’s text, I’d guessed the news wouldn’t be good. But when I saw the photographs, when I heard what you’d done . . . I had to stop myself from pouring out a large glass of white and drinking it down in one as if it was a shot of something short and strong and slammed on a bar. Instead, I took a deep breath in and tried to count to seven before releasing it as, on-screen, a woman in a blue raincoat stood outside a courtroom and recited the stark facts of your case.

‘First court appearance,’ said the woman’s thin-lipped mouth. ‘Confirmed name and address.’ And, ‘Judge set a date for trial.’ Then the scene changed to a wide, tree-lined London street where a different woman was adding a bouquet of flowers to an impressive pile outside a glossy black gate, in front of a smart-looking Georgian townhouse. ‘Crime that shocked a city . . .’ the voiceover said. ‘The accused worked with the victim . . . particularly brutal nature of the killing.’ Then the focus skipped again to a modern office building in the financial heart of London. A young man interviewed on the sidewalk outside the main entrance shook his head in disbelief. ‘Such an ordinary person,’ he repeated.

But I know. I know the truth. And ordinary doesn’t come into it.

2

Paula

‘I still can’t believe it.’

Paula knew it wasn’t helping Gill to keep saying the same thing over and over, but the phrase seemed to be stuck in her throat. Every time she opened her mouth, up it came again.

‘I wouldn’t take it, if I were you, Gill. Find a shit-hot lawyer. Sue the arse off them.’

Typical Ewan. Always thinking there was something that could be done about everything. But he was still young. Hadn’t yet learned that sometimes things happen to you, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

‘I already talked to an employment lawyer, and the head of HR was in the meeting,’ said Gill, smiling bravely, although her large brown eyes seemed to swim beneath a glaze of unshed tears. ‘Yes, I could try legal action but apparently the money they’re offering me on top of my statutory notice period is more than I’d get if I won an unfair dismissal claim, so it’s not worth it.’

‘But it’s so unfair,’ said Chloe, who’d already gone through three tissues which were scrunched up on the table in front of her, next to a near-empty glass of wine. ‘We’re such a good team, all of us. Why