Nearly two years had passed since I last heard from her. It had been so long, I had almost put her out of my mind. Verruca had always been a bad dream, popping up when you least expect her to, but her erratic behaviour, since her unceremonious departure from OXSCAM House, had become so outlandish and idiosyncratic, that there had been times I was actually afraid for my life. I knew she would always be in the shadows to an extent, but by just how much, I was never quite sure. The hold she has over people is indescribable; she is not someone you underestimate, she is the arch nemesis, all of us fear. Verruca would always surprise you at the most inopportune moments, but the longer she stayed away between visits, the more I hoped she had finally given up!
The bath was steaming, nice and hot, just how I liked it. Wiping my hand across the bathroom mirror, I could finally see my face, the morning expression I was so used to – a frightened rabbit in the beam of a headlamp, slightly pained and that grimacing look, that doesn’t do wonders for my ageing complexion. A handful of cold water splashed liberally on my boat race and I nudged gently into the day.
Shaving is the bane of my life, I hate it; having a five o’clock shadow at 11am is never a good look, so I am always meticulous about making sure I look presentable for the day ahead. Manoeuvring a sharp blade across ones profile early in the morning, navigating fifty years worth of cracks and crevices, steering towards a perfect crescendo, was never my forte and today was no exception. On the last stroke, I punctured the top of my lip. In a rage, I through the razor into the sink, it spun around multiple times, dislodging the head; broken, it was the last one in the pack. As blood dripped into the porcelain bowl, scowling, I got into the bath and tried to relax before my temper reached boiling point; not a great start, but it was about to get far worse.
Two minutes in and there was a knock at the door; I decided to stay put; maybe they would just go away. A few seconds later a louder more determined banging, so I decided reluctantly to get up. Soaking wet, I put on my dressing gown and angrily headed downstairs. The third pummel on the glass panel, was enough to shake the house. ‘Alright, ALRIGHT, I’m coming’ I shouted, as I adjusted myself, making sure nothing was hanging out and frustratingly swung open the door. In front of me was a bush, an overgrown plethora of foliage, accented by the occasional red carnation. In truth, it looked a mess, although organic and natural would probably be the preferred words I'm sure.
I wrinkled my nose upwards and squinted my eyes, looking puzzled and confused, I shook my head. It was no one's birthday, family occasion or funeral? Had I actually missed something? ‘Delivery for Mr Martin?’ cried a faint voice behind the monstrosity before me.
‘Who, Mr who,’ I exclaimed?
‘Mr Martin; Mr Luke Jones,’ came the reply.
‘Oh Luke Martin-Jones,’ I asked?
‘Yes Sir, Mr Luke Sir,’ came the reply, as a heavily masked florist poked his head around the forest burgeoning in the porch!
‘Yes that’s me, I’m Mr whoever you said!’ I affirmed, less than impressed, by the service I had received so far! Biting the side of his lip, he looked towards my dripping wet face and blood, now pouring down my cheek.
‘You are bleeding Mr Jones,’ he retorted, gesturing with his finger, animating my distress.
‘I know, I know, because I’m stood here talking to you, when I should be in the bath!’ I growled angrily; grabbing a mask from the console table in the hall, I awkwardly attached it to my face.
‘These are for you, Sir,’ he said thrusting the Amazon rain forest into my face.
‘Thanks, thanks for nothing!’ I shouted as he scurried up the road, leaving me to close the door loudly behind!
Who on Earth is sending me flowers, especially the unseemly disarrangement, not so proudly on display. Strangely the muddled mishmash of flora and fauna looked familiar, but I just could place where from. As I wiped away the last of the blood from my face, using the mask now dangling from my ear, I saw an envelope attached on a spike, set precariously in the middle of the bush. Parting the evergreen, I delved in and retrieved the dog-eared attachment; instantly my heart sank. Familiar handwriting, the scent of woodbines on rum and the usual blood stained scrawly writing. Standing back, I could immediately see the unruly mess for what it was. The floral composition, red flowers, matted greenery was Verruca in all but name, this was her calling card, she was back after two years away.
Immediately I grabbed the industrial strength sanitizer, next to the bowl of medical masks on the bookcase near the door, an unfortunate necessity when living through a pandemic. I liberally soaked my hands, rubbing vigorously, in case she had left anything behind. It sounds almost mad doesn’t it, but this woman has infected so many people, you just want to remove any trace of her from your person.
After several minutes, trying to compose myself, I opened the card and read the short note inside:
‘Hello Lovvie, it’s V, but I guess you already knew that, didn’t you? I’ll see you tonight down by the beach, the bench opposite the Co Op, facing the pier. I'll be there, red hair, Hannibal Lecter mask, drinking a bottle of Captain Morgan's, from a brown paper bag. Bring the envelope! Love V!’
It was blustery down by the promenade, as I walked down from the funfair towards South Parade Pier. Holding my cap tightly with one hand and the envelope firmly with the other, I had butterflies in my stomach, as I cautiously strolled along. There were plenty of people about – dog walkers, overweight joggers, offloading their COVID germs on you as they raced past, breathing heavily, sweating profusely. Friends sitting two meters apart were perched perilously on either side of the promenade wall. Wearing masks, they shouted conversations at one another, in order to be heard in the force nine gales. I felt safe in public, nothing could possibly go wrong!
Then I saw her, taking a swig out of the bottle of rum, stretching her arms outwards and cracking her fingers, just like she always did. I hated that, I couldn’t stand the cracking fingers, it sent shivers down my spine. It was Verruca alright, looking as indignant as ever, red locks blowing demonically in the ferocious sea air. Head down, I walked up to the bench…
‘Hello V, fancy seeing you here, oh what a surprise,’ I joked.
‘Whatever, don’t try and be funny, just give me the envelope and p*ss off,’ she demanded. This seemed very strange, usually she likes playing games, messing with your head for a bit, then leaves you wondering what just happened. Today she was different; still her usual obnoxious self, but more battle worn and tired.
I walked to the other side of the bench; socially distanced, I put on my mask and sat down, against my better judgement. I could have just given her the package and left, but the empath in me told me to sit for a while and find out what was going on. She looked broken, more than I had ever seen. Her trademark red hair was greying in traditional lockdown style, longer than I’d ever seen it, and she had aged beyond her years. The pandemic had taken its toll on all of us, but for a sociopath like Verruca who thrived on other peoples misfortune, without little or no contact with the World, she was a shadow of her former self.
I handed her the envelope, which she snatched begrudgingly from my hand. Her face was emotionless, her eyes glazed. She turned her head ever so slightly, facing me, mask to mask. Her red hair, constantly blowing across her brow, kept getting entwined with her thick bottle top spectacles. You could just see her eyes peering over the Hannibal Lecter mask. Raising an eyebrow, she then turned her head and looked down towards the envelope, nails, jagged and chipped as usual, she caressed the fastening, quickly looking up once more.
‘I never wanted to do this boyo, this is what they have done to me,’ She mumbled from behind her face covering!
‘What are you talking about V, who, who are they,’ I asked?
‘Them, the ones at the top, the ones who will come tumbling down, the ones I will crush and the ones who made me who I am,’ she continued. Verruca was almost demonstrative, for the first time in her life. If it wasn’t for the pandemic. I could have even placed a hand on her cold shoulder.
Suddenly she turned and flipped back to her usual self. The emotional facade, turned icy once again. Standing bolt upright, she took one last look into my eyes, lowered her mask ever so slightly and smiled, that sinister grin she always had when she was up to something.
‘You’ll be seeing me in the future, the time to tell our story is near, so make sure you get it straight, until then, keep looking over your shoulder; one day I’ll be stood there, for the last and final time. Until then, adios amigos…. Oh and remember, I was never who you thought I was!'
Perplexed, I was left with more questions than answers. Who exactly was she talking about? Who are they? And would it really be the last time I see her?
I first started writing about Verruca Almond, in my fist blog Bipolarcoaster. Verruca was a parody of my then boss Vera Lynham; the woman responsible for bullying, harassment, homophobia, lies and attacks against myself, my partner and other good members of staff. I created Verruca as a tool to offload my frustration and anger at the time and it worked.