This is the sixteenth part of a fiction serial, in 748 words.
As I suspected, the drop didn’t kill Sophie outright. But I wasn’t prepared for how long it took for her to be strangled by the nylon line. There was a lot of swinging around too, and the bark on the branch was rubbed away where I had fastened the line at the top.
Watching her clawing at the noose, her knees drawn up as if that would somehow help her, I had to remember to use my vantage point to look around and make sure nobody was nearby. Fortunately, it was a little early for afternoon strollers. They were probably still finishing their traditionally heavy Sunday lunches before deciding to walk off the stupor in the fresh air.
When she finally stopped moving, arms limp at her sides, I carefully climbed down, making sure not to scuff my shoes or catch my clothing. I knew enough about fibres and forensics to realise clues are microscopic.
The long way home was the best option, as I was less likely to encounter anyone making for the famous tree on the main path. It wouldn’t be long before someone found the girl hanging, and it would be better if they didn’t remember a blonde-haired boy walking past them carrying a blue duffel bag.
By the time I got home, Uncle Brian had started cooking the evening meal, ready to warm it up later. He didn’t ask me where I had been, and he knew nothing at all about Sophie. I suspected he thought I had been seeing Toni, but my absence never came up in conversation. He turned and smiled. “Chilli Con Carne tonight, blondie. One of your favourites”. He had called me blondie on and off for years, but only when my parents were not in earshot.
That was going to have to stop.
Watching the news later, they mentioned that ‘the body of a young woman’ had been found in the woods, and that an investigation was ‘ongoing’. There was the usual appeal for witnesses, and a freephone number to call. It wasn’t until her parents reported her missing when it got dark that they found out who she was.
The next day at school, everyone was talking about it. The girls in tears, mostly crocodile tears, I was sure. There was a special assembly, and the headmaster told us in solemn tones that Sophie had been found dead in the woods. I looked suitably sad, and Toni genuinely cried for her one-time friend. At break time, it was Toni who told me the rumour that was spreading like wildfire.
“She hung herself, you know. Went into the woods, climbed that big old tree, and hung herself from a washing line that she took from home. They reckon it’s because she had arguments with her parents about how she dressed, and that she spent too much money. She used to complain to me about her dad all the time”.
One good thing about those green nylon washing lines, everyone had one at one time. They mostly came from the same shop too. One day, Sophie’s dad would find their old washing line still in the shed, or wherever. Then he might wonder where Sophie got her washing line from.
Two days later, it was all but forgotten, and there was no mention of any suspicious circumstances. Everyone, especially her parents, just accepted that Sophie had hung herself in a fit of temper after a couple of years of arguments at home. I was amazed that anyone would believe that of such an egotistical girl who would never dream of killing herself.
Then again, maybe I was the only one who knew what she was really like.
Things got a lot better after that. There was no Sophie to call the shots, so Toni got back in with the girls who had been blanking her. We started to be known as an item, with everyone accepting that Toni was my girlfriend. That made her happy. “Oh, Danny. They are genuinely jealous, because you are so good-looking”. It had never occured to me before that girls might find me attractive.
Uncle Brian did of course, but that was something very different.
When we both turned thirteen, Maria Malone was inviting me in, introducing me to Toni’s older brother, and telling anyone who would listen that I was a ‘really nice boy”.
Then late that summer, during the school holidays, something changed.
Maria took an interest in me. A very personal interest.