We’ve just sat down to dinner when there’s knocking at the door.
“Just leave it,” I say. “It won’t be anything.”
Geoff stands; I fork up peas.
“Hello. Mr Anderson?”
The voice coming from the doorway is determinedly polite.
“We’d just like to ask you some questions.”
I abandon dinner and go and look. One is in uniform, the other plain-clothed. Police.
“It’s okay,” Geoff says. “They just want help with their enquiries.”
“Oh,” I say. “Would you like to come this way.” I gesture at the door to the living room.
The plain-clothed officer doesn’t smile.
“It’s your husband we’d like to talk to,” he says.
The three of them go through and I’m left behind. Back in the dining room, the remains of fish looks pallid. I go into the kitchen and scrape plates.
I wash up. An age passes as I sit at the table, staring ahead. But only fifteen minutes have been marked by on the clock when there’s a tap at the door and the uniformed policeman is standing there.
“I need to do a search of the house,” he says and flaps a piece of paper in front of me. “No need to be alarmed.”
“But…” I force my goldfish mouth to shut. “What are you looking for?”
“We’ll have to take any computing equipment away, I’m afraid.”
“Yes. I’m sorry. But it is necessary.”
“I’m afraid I can’t answer that.”
I stand and watch as he goes upstairs and then descends, the computer stack from Geoff’s study held in front. I open the door for him.
He’s back, asking me to “please sign here,” before I’ve had time to think. The door to the living room opens and the plain-clothes man is there and Geoff is looking hunched and gaunt. He looks straight into my eyes.
“I haven’t done anything, Maureen,” he says. “But I have to go to the station. I’ll need a lawyer.”
Then the three of them are gone.
Geoff isn’t back till late.
“What?” I say. “What’s going on?”
“Let’s go and sit down.” But I don’t want to. I don’t want to know that this is serious.
“They’re charging me,” he says. “With…” His face is twisted up. “With accessing pornography.”
His eyes seek out mine. Pornography? Geoff? Slowly it registers what he means.
“You mean?” I start to say and it cuts across him.
“Child pornography,” he says, his eyes drilling into the cream-coloured carpet.
We sit there not looking at one another and it’s as if neither of us wants to be the first to speak.
“It isn’t true,” he says eventually.
“No. Of course not.” My eyes laser into his.
“They won’t find anything. Not on my home computer.”
A great big but is hovering mid-air.
“They found…” His voice wavers. “They found images. Horrible, disgusting images… at work. On my work PC.”
Oh my God! My hand has risen to my lips. But how?
“I’ve no idea how they got there,” he says. “I have to know you believe me.”
“Yes,” I manage to say. “Of course.”
The weeks blur past. He’s suspended from work; the school won’t have him anywhere near. The lawyer is round regularly, charging by the hour. And Geoff and I seem unable to talk.
I go to the trial and listen for Geoff’s not guilty plea, and try to hear the force in it. I hear the evidence. I watch Geoff in the dock and he looks small and insubstantial. He repeats over and over that he’s no idea how those images got there, and his hand keeps pushing back his hair, and each time he sounds less convincing. I sit on the wooden seat, breathing in the heated dust, and I wonder how much of a person anyone can ever know.
I listen to the verdict.
“Guilty.” It’s unanimous.
I listen to the sentence. “Eighteen months.” And of course he’ll never work near children again.
When Geoff’s eyes seek out mine, I look away.
Weeks go by and I’m adjusting to my routine. I’ve increased my hours on reception at the doctor’s surgery and all day my smile is brisk and tight. I visit Geoff. We have an hour a week in which we struggle to find enough to say.
“How is it?” I keep asking and he keeps giving bland replies until finally his head whiplashes round.
“How the fuck d’you think it is?” he says. “How the fuck d’you think it is being in prison for something I didn’t do, and everyone thinking I’m a pervert.” His eyes bore into mine, challenging. Except I don’t have an answer.
Denial. It’s what they do. These men. Paedophiles. That’s what I’ve read, night after night, seeking out cafes with dim corners and Internet access.
How did those images get there? No one has an answer.
His lawyer is insisting that we go for an appeal. I wonder how we’ll pay for it. “We’ll get your husband out of there,” he says, his voice thin and reedy. He’s young and earnest. It doesn’t seem to occur to him to ask, what it is I want.
“I sometimes think you’d prefer me to confess,” Geoff says when I visit.
“Don’t be silly.”
“I’d get out of here quicker.”
“But you can’t. Not if it isn’t true.” My voice falters.
Weeks pass and I’m back sitting in the courtroom. Geoff isn’t called this time. His lawyer puts that plain-clothed officer on the stand and leads him through the fresh evidence.
The lawyer managed to trace the anonymous tip-off to the police. The handyman who helped Geoff out round the school, who wanted his position as caretaker. The handyman who is now in police custody and has been charged with possession of indecent images. And with perverting the course of justice.
Geoff is acquitted with an apology.
His neck twists round and his eyes seek out mine, triumphant and searing. Only I can’t bear to meet his gaze.
Sarah Evans has had dozens of stories published in magazines and competition anthologies, including: the Bridport Prize, Momaya Press, Earlyworks Press, Tonto Press and Writers’ Forum. Most recently, her story “Stuck” was published in Unthology no. 2, “The Tipping Point” won the 2011 Rubery short story competition, and “Loving someone else” won the Glass Woman Prize, and can be read here: http://www.sigriddaughter.com/GlassWomanPrize.htm.