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Out of Control
Sarah Alderson


The policeman is looking at me, his head tilted to one side, a deep line etched between his eyebrows. He taps his pen in a slow staccato rhythm on the edge of the desk. ‘What were you doing on the roof?’ he asks.

I take a breath and try to unknot my cramping fingers, which are stuffed in the front pocket of the NYPD sweater I’m wearing. ‘I was just getting some air,’ I say. I sound like an automaton; my voice is toneless, lost. ‘I couldn’t sleep.’

The policeman’s eyebrows rise. He scribbles something on his pad then glances up, catching sight of someone or something behind me. He stands quickly, tossing his pen on to the paper-strewn desk. ‘I’m going to get a coffee,’ he says, grabbing a mug from among the mess. ‘Can I get you anything?’

I shake my head and watch him walk away, scratching the back of his neck. He stops on the other side of the room to talk to another detective, wearing a jacket emblazoned with the word FORENSICS. They glance over at me as they talk. I turn away and stare at the wall. I know what they’re saying. They’re saying that I’m a lucky girl. That the fact that I’m alive is ‘a miracle’.

But if this is a miracle then I don’t think I want to know what kind of god these people believe in. A shadow falls over me. I jerk around. The other detective, the one in the forensics jacket, stands in front of me. My eyes fall to the heavy-looking gun in the holster attached to his hip. I recognise it. It’s a Glock 19.

‘Hi Olivia, I’m Detective Owens. Do you mind?’ he asks, indicating the empty chair beside me.

I shake my head and he pulls out the seat and sits down heavily, as though the weight of a thousand dead bodies is piled on his shoulders. His shirt is as heavily creased as his face. He rubs a hand over his eyes. He has saggy grey bags under them but, now he’s closer, I can see he’s not as old as I first thought; maybe thirty-five, with dark brown hair and a day’s worth of stubble.

‘So, what I’d like for you to do,’ he says in a heavy Brooklyn accent, ‘is to walk me through what happened this evening.’

I grit my teeth. I’ve already done this. I’ve been through it three times; once with the cop who answered the emergency call, and twice here at the station.

‘Just one more time,’ Detective Owens says apologetically, trying for a smile. ‘I know you’re tired, I know you’ve been through a lot, but we really need your help, Olivia. You’re the only witness. If there’s anything you remember – even if it seems like something trivial, we need to hear it. It might be the clue that helps us find the people who did this.’ He pauses. ‘Because, if I can be honest with you, there’s not a whole lot to go on right now.’

I nod OK.

‘So . . . you get out of bed. What time is it?’ he asks.

I frown. ‘Around one I think.’

‘Can you be any more precise?’

I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to picture the room. There was a clock on the bedside table. I glanced at it when I turned the light out. It was just after midnight. I tossed and turned for at least an hour before I decided to give up on sleep, but I didn’t check the exact time.

I shake my head at the detective.

‘Why’d you get up? Did you hear something? A noise in the house? Did something spook you?’

‘No,’ I say, still shaking my head. ‘I’ve not been sleeping very well. I have jet lag.’

‘Lucky for you, huh?’

I don’t answer. I just fix him with a stare. He holds my gaze for a second and then looks away, down at the notebook cradled in his palm.

‘So you get up. Then what?’ the detective asks.

I close my eyes and try to remember . . .

I cross to the window. It’s sweltering hot, the night air torpid and thick as a quilt, threatening to storm. I’m wearing only a pair of pyjama shorts and a thin camisole top – the same things I’m still wearing now beneath the oversized sweater they gave me at the police station. The house seems to be breathing. There’s a clock ticking downstairs by the front door, the hum of an air conditioner, the ticking tink of the plumbing and the occasional sound of a car sweeping past on the street in front. Away in the distance a car alarm wails. My third-floor bedroom faces the back garden, a thin band of manicured green, walls stretching high on either side, trees blocking the view of neighbouring brownstones. Beneath my window is a jutting ledge, just wide enough for a foothold.

I don’t think twice before I’m crouched in the window frame, my hands gripping the wooden sill, my bare feet slipping through and finding purchase on the crumbling brickwork. I take a deep breath, flattening my palms against the walls, feeling the familiar tightening in my belly, the rush that feels like stars shooting through my veins. I don’t look down at the ground four storeys below. I look up, at the moon, a dishwater-dirty half-circle shrouded behind cloud, and feel every cell in my body spark to life.

‘Keep going,’ Detective Owens says. ‘What happens next?’ he asks.

I edge slowly along the windowsill, carefully, towards a drainpipe screwed into the wall. When I reach it I grasp it in both hands and then start shimmying up it, using the brackets as footholds. It’s not as high as some I’ve climbed – maybe ten feet before I reach the roof and scramble on to it, breathless, my legs trembling slightly. I stand, wiping off the dust and dirt from my hands on my shorts and then I balance on the very lip of the roof, my toes disappearing over the edge, feeling the first patter of rain dance on my bare arms. I stare at the tops of trees ink-stamped across the sky, at the water-stained clouds, and the thought whispers through my mind that I’m insane, that if I fell from this height I’d die for sure . . . but then the thought is swept away by a wave of pure adrenaline. I feel light as air, perfectly poised. There’s no way I could ever fall.

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