Watch her now, in mid-tirade. Impressive, yes? A woman of a certain age who has clawed, scratched and bitten her way to the top. Anyone who stood in her way surely regretted it.
Her world, the stage of the Old Bailey, the number one court in the land. She has chosen murder, rape, the most heinous of crimes, as her home. And she loves it, gliding down the tiled corridors, wig in hand, wheeled case stuffed with evidence lists, case law, closing and opening speeches. It is where she belongs. Juniors vie for her attention, yet quail when selected by an imperious prod of her crimson nail. She is terrifying.
And yet, watch her now as she collapses through her front door in the minutes after midnight. Her make-up has faded, her hair has pulled free of its chic chignon. Much of her work, the gossip of the law, takes place in the pubs that cluster around London’s Inns of Court like washer-women around a pump. In her twenties and thirties, she had thrived on this extra-curricular frenzy, gulping down rumour and Shiraz like a baby at the breast.
Watch her, now she is home, now she is just the woman who has realised too late that all she really wants is a husband, two kids, a dog and some goldfish. What’s the use of a family home without a family to fill it? Who needs limited edition this, designer that, original the other when they can’t welcome you home at night, or miss you when you’re not there?
Look at her as she regards herself in the mirror, frankly appraising the high cheekbones, the flinty eyes, the fulsome lips. She fumbles in a pocket, pulls out a glossy square of paper. A photograph? Her eyes slip downwards, shy of her own scrutiny. Her face dips and she hooks a stray curl behind her ear, a regular, unconscious act. Then with a swift twist, she releases her hair and it tumbles down her back, uncharacteristically wild, black stranded with silver. A softness appears in her expression as she glances at her reflection again. She slips the piece of paper into the corner of the frame, touching it with her fingertip – a gentle mannerism.
Her coat is thrown over the bannister, heels kicked off, black jacket unbuttoned and she sighs, as if release from these trappings is ultimate relief. Now turning sideways, we can understand.
She caresses her stomach with one hand, and then the other. The mask slips once and for all.
“Hello, little one. Welcome home.”