“The Tiger” is one in a loose sequence of stories Nina is still in the process of writing, featuring some continuing characters and all set in and around Lewisham in south east London, where she lived for some years. Other stories in the sequence so far include “Wilkolak” which was published in the biannual British magazine Crimewave, and “The Nightingale”, which was published in the British horror magazine Black Static.
by Nina Allan
There is a bed, a wardrobe with a large oval mirror, a builtin cupboard to one side of the chimney breast. The boards are bare, stained black. There is a greyish cast to everything. Croft guesses the room has not been used in quite some time.
“It’s not much, I’m afraid,” the woman says. Her name is Sandra. Symes has told him everyone including her husband calls her Sandy, but Croft has decided already that he will never do this, that it is ugly, that he likes Sandra better. “I’ve been meaning to paint it, but there hasn’t been time.”
She is too thin, he thinks, with scrawny hips and narrow little birdy hands. Her mousy hair, pulled back in a ponytail, has started to come free of its elastic band. Croft cannot help noticing how tired she looks.
“Don’t worry,” he says. “If you can let me have the paint, I’ll do it myself.”
“Oh,” she says. She seems flustered. “I suppose we could take something off the rent money. In exchange, I mean.”
“There’s no need,” Croft says. “I’d like to do it. Something to keep me out of mischief.” He smiles, hoping to give her reassurance, but she takes a step backwards, just a small one, but still a step, and Croft sees he has made a mistake, already, that the word mischief isn’t funny, not from him, not now, not yet.
He will have to be more careful with what he says. He wonders if this is the way things will be for him from now on.