street was deserted for the moment. Flipping down the visor of the crash helmet, he crossed the road and walked into the shop.
He stopped just inside the door. The bell above his head jangled as the door closed behind him. His hand still gripped the squeezy bottle under his jacket. Through the scratched plastic of the visor, he could see Anne at the back of the shop, staring back at him.
He felt as though he had never seen that woman before in his life. He had to tell himself: that is Anne, that is my wife. He could identify each part of her face: her chin, her cheekbones, her eyes, the curve of her nose. But those parts were just fragments of a face, without coherence or meaning, like the wreckage of a dream in the morning. He walked towards her.
She said, "Good evening sir. How may I help you?" and even through the crash helmet he could see that she was afraid of him. He smiled, even though he knew she couldn't see it.
She seemed to shrink away from him and glanced over his shoulder as though seeing someone behind him. He felt a pang of fear himself. He half-expected to see Ian standing behind him. He craned his neck around to look over his shoulder and mentally swore at the crash helmet's restriction of his peripheral vision.
There was no-one there. He turned back to face Anne and in the same motion he drew out the squeezy bottle, aimed it at her face, and squeezed.
Nothing happened. He began fumbling with the bottle, trying to flip the cap open. He heard a strange noise, and realised that Anne was laughing at him. He looked up at her white face. Her mouth was open and he could see her yellowing teeth and her tongue like a red slug, and she was laughing at him. He got the cap open and aimed at her grinning mouth, at her heavy red lipstick, and squeezed as hard as he could.
She twisted her head away as the acid splashed onto her face and she fell back against the rows of bottles behind her. He couldn't see her face so he leaned over the counter to get a better look. She was sitting on the floor gasping and mewling, reminding him of the noises she used to make during lovemaking. The noises made him angry, so angry he was trembling. He walked around the counter and stood over her, still aiming the squeezy bottle at her but waiting until she turned her face back towards him. He watched her pull herself up by grabbing the shelves behind her, making strange noises in her throat. Bottles of rum, vodka and scotch tumbled onto the floor and smashed open. Inside the crash helmet, he couldn't smell anything except the factory-new cloth of the balaclava. Anne turned away and disappeared through an open door into the back room of the shop. As she turned he caught a brief glimpse of her face, white and distorted with fear and with a large red splodge on one side like a huge birthmark.
He glanced back quickly to make sure the shop was still empty before following her. Anne was standing in the middle of the back room, looking around herself as though wondering where she was. When she saw him standing there in the doorway she opened her mouth very wide and screamed at him. He held up the squeezy bottle and showed it to her. She went quiet and stared at it like a rabbit watching a snake. He could see the skin of her face and neck where the acid had landed. It was red-raw and huge fluid-filled blisters were forming on it like bubbling porridge.
Abruptly, he pointed the bottle at her and squeezed it. The stream of acid arced between them like a glistening thread which broke upon her face. He kept squeezing until the bottle was empty. Anne collapsed onto the floor, her hands clasped over her face, writhing silently. He had heard that when fish are hooked they scream, but at a pitch too high for human hearing.
David walked back into the front of the shop, his shoes crunching over broken glass. No-one had entered the shop. He looked at the cash register for a while, trying to figure out how it worked. He pressed a few