Authors: Alison Carpenter
The woman looked past Jo at the two men, and with a flick of her hand sent them on their way.
"They`re scared of you?" asked Jo, a look of amusement on her face.
"Probably," she turned back to her trolley. "What do you want now?"
Jo folded her arms across her chest. "I want to know why you lied to me."
Jo nodded. "I don't believe she's dead."
The old woman nodded towards a couple of tyres, and sat on one, waiting for Jo to join her.
"It's cold," said the old woman as Jo eased herself down onto the dirty tyre.
"Coldest winter for over 50 years," Jo agreed, wondering why they were carrying on this ridiculous conversation.
"My name's Edna." The old woman thrust a dirty, withered hand towards Jo, and was surprised when the younger woman took it without reservation.
"Jo," the younger woman said simply.
Edna held onto the hand, feeling the strength there. "You have strong hands."
"From my father, I think."
Edna nodded, and released the hand. "Your colouring comes from your mother; she's not English."
"That's right. She has Greek parentage, but was born in England." Jo was running on automatic, her upbringing forcing her politeness.
Another nod from the grey head. "I didn't lie to you about Rocky, only about when she died."
Jo was sure there was a serpent in her chest, squeezing the life from her heart, as it pounded, making her head throb in unison. "She's not..."
"Oh, she is dead," said the old woman. "Died just over five years ago."
"No, I saw the picture, it was taken a couple of months ago."
"You saw what is left. It's just a shell. Rocky is dead."
Two pairs of pale eyes held each other for a long moment as the younger woman took in what she was hearing. Then the dark head began to shake slowly. "No, I saw something. I saw ..."
"Nothing. There is nothing. She arrived here five years ago. Too young to claim benefit. Terrified of being sent back."
"Back where?" Jo ran a shaking hand through her damp hair.
"We don't ask. It's nobody's business. She was a child and she was afraid. We helped her until she could help herself."
"Edna, how old was she?" Jo was shivering now, her leather jacket not enough to keep out the bitter cold.
"She was just fifteen, I think." Edna watched the angular face across from her, seeing the sorrow there.
"We all have reasons for being here, Jo. What's yours?"
"I'm looking for Rocky." The answer came to Jo's lips easily, it was simple.
"And you don't know why, do you?"
Jo pulled the collar of the jacket up, her hands holding it tightly beneath her chin. "Can you tell me?" she whispered.
Edna seemed to ignore the question. "Why did you come here?" she waved her hand. "Why this place exactly?"
"I was trying to find you." Jo looked puzzled.
"But why Whitechapel, why outside the hostels?"
Edna stood so quickly Jo almost fell off the tyre she was sitting on. "Don't say that bastard's name in my presence." She paced in a small circle. "This is what she was scared of. This is..." She looked back down at the stunned woman, who still sat close to the ground. "I'm sorry." Edna returned to her seat beside Jo.
"So am I, I don't know much about..." Jo was obviously trying to find a word that wouldn't insult the elderly woman.
"The homeless? Displaced? We have many names, most of them not good."
"I'm not here to judge you, Edna. Just to find Rocky."
Edna nodded. "So you are. And as I said before, why here?"
"And I already told you, because...."
"Because you heard the word Whitechapel. Yes, I know. But it goes beyond that, Jo. You are here to find a woman you've never met, never knew existed before yesterday. And you're confused as to why."
Two perfect eyebrows knitted, as Jo's brow furrowed. "Who are you, Edna?"
"You're not stupid, are you, Jo?"
"I like to think not."
Edna's pale eyes caught the blue of Jo's and held them. "I was here when Rocky arrived, and I was here when you did."
"And?" Jo squirmed on the cold tyre, trying hard to understand the woman's cryptic answers.
"And I believe it was meant to be."
"What are you saying, Edna? I don't understand."
"I believe that Rocky has been waiting for you. That's what drew her here."
Now it was Jo's turn to stand and pace. "And you're saying that she's been waiting for me to turn up? Without appearing to be rude, Edna, that's a crock of shit." She walked a few paces away, and then crossed her arms and bent her head. Feeling suddenly tired, she turned back to the still seated woman. "I saw her picture in a gallery. For some reason I felt compelled to find her." Jo shrugged, hugging herself tightly against the cold breeze. "I don't know, maybe I'm going crazy."
"Not many of us get the chance to find the other half of our souls." Edna waited, watching the woman turn slowly towards her. "You have an ancient soul, Jo. It needs the other half to be fulfilled."
Jo was backing away from her now. "I don't believe this crap."
"Believe it or not, Jo. I see in you something you have kept buried for many years, for centuries in fact." Edna stood and approached the retreating woman. "Let it have its voice."
"Jesus, you're crazy," said Jo, as she backed up against a wall.
Edna smiled a gentle smile. "Maybe, many have called me that. But Rocky never did."
The girl's name seemed to calm Jo somewhat. "Where is she?"
"Not far, we can go there now."
"Now?" asked Jo.
"Of course, come on." Edna turned abruptly and started picking a way through the debris and bodies that littered the alleyway, making a path for her shopping trolley.
For over fifteen minutes Jo had stood `guarding` Edna's shopping trolley. A number of people had passed her, curious as to why a decently dressed young woman should be there with what appeared to be her worldly possessions in a wheeled supermarket trolley.
But the old woman had asked her to watch it, and watch it she would.
Edna had left her near a small park, deserted in the cold winter morning. There was very little in the park, which was ringed by bushes which hid metal railings. A couple of trees stood to one end, a flowerbed to the other. Between the two trees was a picnic table, next to that a waste bin.
Jo looked down at the trolley, full to overflowing with plastic bags, and wondered how this woman survived like this. Would she be able to? She thought not.
She sat on the bench that was beside a bus stop, pulling the trolley closer to her. She wished now that she'd chosen something warmer to wear. She had a sweatshirt on under her leather jacket, but it was proving inadequate against the extremely cold weather. Her thoughts strayed to Rocky. Where had she slept the night before? Where had she woken up this morning? Where would she sleep tonight? If she found her, what then?
Harry's words echoed in her head.
Hi, I'm Jo, and I want to take you home,
or words to that effect. So what would she say when she saw her? What if Edna came back alone? What if she refused to see her?
A hand on her shoulder shook her out of her rapidly building panic, and she jumped at the contact.
"Hey." Edna took a step back. "It's only me."
Jo stood, looking past the woman. "Is she here?"
Edna shook her head. "No, but she'll come in a while."
"What is it, what's the matter?" Jo was shivering now, blowing her warm breath onto cupped hands.
"Nothing's the matter." She reached out a hand and rested it comfortingly on the younger woman's forearm. "She's just taking her time." Edna pulled back her arm, watching as Jo surveyed the street. She pointed towards the small park. "She'll meet you there."
Jo followed Edna's gaze. "In the park? Is it safe?"
"This time of year, yes. Too cold for your average rapist."
Jo looked doubtfully at her.
"It's safe, Jo. I have a couple of friends watching it too." Edna took possession of her trolley. "I have to go, try to get some breakfast. You wait here."
The old woman began to shuffle away, but Jo took a gentle hold of her arm. "Thank you," said Jo, her voice breaking.
Edna merely nodded and walked away, never looking back.
Jo made her way to the picnic table in the park, and sat on the damp wood, swinging one leg across and straddling the narrow bench. Resting her elbow on the table, she massaged her forehead, trying to quell the headache that was beginning. She couldn't feel her feet now. Cowboy boots were great to look at, but didn't keep out the cold. But then she'd never needed to before. Where did she go that was cold? She went from her house to her car. From her car to a restaurant. From a restaurant to a club. Then back to the car. She didn't walk anywhere that she could take her car to.
Suddenly the lack of sleep in the past forty-eight hours seemed to catch up with her, and she bent her head forward to rest on her forearm, which acted as a pillow.
"What do you want?"
The voice was low, soft. There was a hint of anger in it.
Jo raised her head and found herself pinned by green eyes.
"Rocky?" she asked.
The girl said nothing, standing about five feet from the table, still on the stone path that bisected the park.
Jo stood abruptly, causing the girl to stiffen.
The blonde girl seemed to be weighed down by the amount of clothing she was wearing. The trousers Jo could see were khaki, but they seemed to be only the top layer. They were too long, but she could just see roughened boots peeking from beneath the hems. Her jacket was also khaki, and was also huge, the sleeves turned up a few times, and even then her gloved hands were all but hidden. On her head she wore a hat. The kind that possessed flaps which could be let down to cover the ears, which they had been. The small leather ties that would be used to tie the earflaps on top of her head hung loosely against her shoulders.
Her blonde hair peeked out from beneath the hat, and once again it seemed to tangle with her eyelashes. At her feet were a couple of large bags, her hands never leaving the carrying straps.
Jo started to walk around the table and, as she did so, Rocky picked up her bags and took a step back. The taller woman raised her hands and slowed her advance.
"It's ok," said Jo. "I just want to talk."
Rocky said nothing, maintaining the same wary attitude.
Seeing that the girl was skittish, Jo went back to her seat. "Would you join me?" she asked, nodding to the bench on the other side of the table.
Rocky advanced slowly, her eyes never quite meeting those of the other woman. She stopped when her knees hit the bench, but remained standing. "Are you with the police?"
That was unexpected. "No, I'm not." Jo ducked her head, trying to get eye contact with the blonde.
"Did my uncle send you?" The girl was looking around, her eyes never seeming to connect with those of the taller woman.
"No, I don't know your uncle." Jo watched her, staying very still, not wanting to frighten the obviously nervous girl away.
Then, suddenly, the pale green eyes were fixed firmly on her own. "So what do you want?"
Jo suddenly realised she wasn't really sure of that.
The girl sat cautiously, but didn't put her legs right over the bench. She sat sideways, one arm resting on the damp wood of the table, the other still keeping a grip on her bags.
"I saw your picture." Jo immediately regretted the statement when she saw the anger wash over the face of Rocky.
"DeBurgh," Rocky said simply, and stood again, her back to Jo. "I thought I got away from him." She turned backed to the stunned woman. "Where did you see the picture?"
Jo managed to snap herself out of her haze. "My mother's gallery."
"Not in a paper or anything like that?"
"No." Jo was quiet, and watched the blonde as she processed the information.
"What kind of people would have seen that?"
Jo had had enough of this line of questioning. "What are you afraid of?"
The question seemed to affect Rocky like a physical blow, but she quickly gathered herself. "Nothing. I just want to know why you were looking for me."
"Are you hiding from someone?" Jo persisted.
Rocky gathered her bags and turned away from Jo. "I have to go."
Jo sprang from the bench and ran to catch up with the rapidly walking woman. "Please." She reached out and caught Rocky by the shoulder, turning her to face her.
Now she was up close she could see the pain in the green eyes, and for a moment she was breathless. This time the eyes did not leave her own, but she could feel the small body trembling. "I'm not going to hurt you," she whispered. "I just want to talk to you."
Jo let her hand fall slowly away from Rocky's shoulder, trusting the girl not to bolt again. "Whatever you like."
"Is this some kind of bet?"
Jo was confused, as the lines on her brow showed. "What?"
"Did your friends put you up to this?"
Jo shook her head. She knew now she had to tell Rocky the truth. "Yesterday I saw your picture at Mother's gallery. I don't know why, but it had a dramatic effect on me. I fainted." Jo chuckled, but her mirth was not echoed in the face of the smaller blonde. The smile left her face quickly. "Anyway, I had the sudden compulsion to find you. I'm not sure why, but the desire to go out and search for you was overwhelming. I went to see DeBurgh..." At the mention of the man's name Rocky turned away from Jo. "I know he hunted you. He told me. I'm sorry." Again she reached out to the girl and laid her hand on her shoulder.
Jo saw the small form in front of her relax, and then the blonde head shook gently. "I told him no. Why couldn't he take no for an answer?" She reached up and took the hat off, her blonde hair standing on end in its wake. Ruffling her hair with her free hand, she turned back towards the tall woman. "Edna says I should listen to you. I wouldn't be here otherwise."
"Then I have a lot to thank Edna for." Jo graced her with her most dazzling smile. It wasn't returned, however.