by Paul B. Cohen
Miranda always said she felt safe in parks. This was why she blithely strolled home from the university unaccompanied. She would walk in the gloom of evenings, even through the intensity of obsidian winter nights, to the terraced house she shared with Ollie, Angela, Tony and me.
Other female students gathered at the Student Union door, as a free minibus ran every half hour to Headingley. The bus service was a legacy of a serial killer: the Yorkshire Ripper had stalked the area and claimed at least one student life. In response, the university had instituted a shuttle bus, and it continued to run four years after the convicted killer, Peter Sutcliffe, had been deposited behind bars for life.
Just before Christmas, a third year student was raped in the park. The attack took place around eight at night. No-one heard the young woman screaming, or, if they did, came to her aid. Her assailant had cut her, as well.
I signed a petition for more lighting in the park. The council said there was no money in the budget for additional illumination.
Miranda and I shared a loft room in the Edwardian house we rented. I was studious, and often I would be working at my desk, scrutinising a Physics textbook under the buttery light of my lamp, when I heard Miranda come in. She attended all kinds of political meetings that ran late. Sometimes, she assured us, she would walk back with friends, and the discussions from her meetings would continue. Sometimes she traced her route home in solitude.
Her arrival home was unmistakable, because she wore boots that clattered on the scruffy hallway tiles.
It was early February that it happened. Like a parent, I had been listening for her. At 11:30, I’d closed my books, rolled unsexy grandmother socks onto my frozen feet, and slipped into my bed in the corner. I’d dozed until after 1 a.m. Miranda still wasn’t back.
Grim police officers, tall as redwood trees, turned up at our house before seven the next morning. Ollie and Tony were in bed. Angela was busy in the bathroom, sorting out her perm. I shivered on the doorstep, my meagre nightgown no shield to the Yorkshire blasts of chill air, and no barrier to the news the police brought.
Her murder was on the BBC news that night. Miranda’s distraught parents featured too, as if specimens to be investigated.
Angela and I went to her funeral up in Hull. The day was gorgeously cold. Miranda’s family crumpled. I looked across the cemetery. Miranda’s grave afforded views over the jumble of headstones to the verdant and unbridled park beyond; it ran emotionlessly to the horizon.
Paul B. Cohen read English at the University of Leeds, took a Master of Arts in English at Vanderbilt University, and gained a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. His plays have been produced in LA, Miami, Orlando, and New York City. He is now focused on writing evocative literary fiction, and recent short stories have appeared in Poetica Magazine and Conclave: A Journal of Character. His storyLecha Dodi won first place in the 2014 Moment-Karma Foundation Short Story Contest and was published in December’s Moment magazine. Website: www.paulbcohen.com.