a man and a woman at a bar it’s a jazz bar and it’s in a very cool very hip corner of space he orders a pluto blue beer extra cool and extra blue she orders a sun cocktail with jalapeno juice he pipes up as the stage falls silent and asks the woman come here often no just passing through this isn’t really my thing she replies jazz isn’t your thing he asks no I just don’t like sitting around drinking and feeling sorry for myself she smiles he smiles back story of my life honey he says turning away from her and receiving very blue booze from the barman thanks pal he says yeah yeah yeah replies the barman as he continues to serve the other patrons they sit in silence and listen to a number performed by blobs of blue liquid he looks at his drink and ponders as to what actually it actually contains and the music stops she looks at him and asks so what’s with the hat this hat he says yeah I don’t see two hats on your head well he says you haven’t seen me on Two Hats Tuesday it is Tuesday she replies oh and they just sit for a while I like the hat he says finally yeah me too I was just playing with ya oh really yeah oh really oh okay well it’s just a lot of people ask and I wonder sometimes she looks brow slopping low a little and asks wonder what well I wonder if it looks a bit silly who gives a fuck she shrugs we’re in fucking space drinking weird shit and watching blue blobs play jazz
I feel grim
And I’m noticing little things
Like the number 24 sprayed
On a wheely bin
That bin is the same age I am
Walking ahead of me a guy is whistlin’
A plastic bag
Through it’s semi-transparent skin
I approach pigeons eating chips off the pavement
Noticing they’re not even chips they’re
I suppose we all make do
It’s cold and I have
Wish I had a Chapstick
But I heard from my bird you become dependant and if you stop using it your lips end up even drier
And I don’t want that
One foot leads before receding into second position
It’s my mission in life to do just enough to tell people
I am alive
I do things
‘Cos this is doing shit
Walkin’ and contemplatin’ it
Who I am and who cares
Sometimes I don’t
And it feels good
Simon struggled with the belt buckle before it finally clicked and loosened from his neck. His throat wheezed with the first breath, and he spluttered and shuffled through his drawers for a pen and notepad. He flipped through to the list and drew a question mark next to “hanging.” It was uncomfortable, but with a proper noose and decent enough drop his neck would break quite nicely. If he felt like being a little more theatrical, according to his calculations he could use a longer length of rope and go for decapitation.
There was a knock at the door.
“Are you decent, love?”
Susan poked her head in. “Your father will be back soon. I think today he’ll be bringing us a little something for dessert.”
He could feel his mother’s eyes on the back of his head, knowing that she wanted him to be excited, or to give more than a two word answer. Instead, he took the belt from around his neck, laid it on the floor and returned to the list.
“I’ll see you in a bit then,” she said.
The door clicked shut and he flipped to a fresh page, heading it, ‘Murder/Suicide,’ jotting down new ideas as they came to him. He chuckled to himself before balling it up and tossing it into the bin. His parents were idiots, but he didn’t hate them as much as he hated their attitude.
Outside the bare branches of trees rattled against one another. A dense wind blew through the streets of London as rain flung down at its ruins.
Downstairs, Simon’s father, Paul, came in from the decontamination room and unzipped his HAZMAT suit. Removing the breathing apparatus, he took in an appreciative lungful of the good, clean, interior air of the lobby.
“How’s the weather out there?” asked Carl, the building’s desk clerk.
“Rather wet,” he replied, bundling his equipment down the depository shoot. “Looks like we’ll have a toxic storm passing over tonight. Erosion’s going to be pretty high.”
“Bugger, that’s just what I need. The missus and I were hoping to go for a stroll later.”
“Ha!” Paul shook his head and signed into the register. “How is Rebecca?”
“Oh, you know, ill, hungry… Tough times on us all.”
“Aren’t they just,” Paul said with a twinge of guilt. Over the years he’d seen their belts tighten, cheeks sink and eyes darken, until only Carl stood behind the reception desk. Paul was at a reasonable weight, had a steady job and a good income of rations, which included the occasional luxury.
Once he’d logged the time and date he realised something was missing. He turned and looked mournfully at the depository shoot, then to Carl’s curious, thin old face.
“Something the matter?”
“Oh, no. It’s nothing. Goodnight Carl.”
He plodded up the stairs, wondering how to explain the absence of a sticky toffee pudding.
At the dinner table Simon rolled a pea from one side of the plate to the other and sighed impatiently.
“That was lovely, Susan,” Paul said as he finished his last mouthful.
“Thank you.” She gave him a quick smile and gathered up the plates.
“And you, Simon, don’t you think it was a nice meal?”
“Yeah, delicious. Can I go now?”
“Hold on,” his mother said. “We’ve a little something for dessert, don’t we?”
“Actually,” Paul lowered his head. “We won’t be having dessert tonight.”
“Typical,” Simon snapped. He stood from the table and stormed off to his bedroom.
Susan returned to the dining table with a bottle of gin and poured them each a glass.
“I dropped the pudding down the depository shoot.”
“Oh, never mind about that,” she said, knocking back her a full glass.
As she topped herself up, Paul lifted his gaze from his lap and looked at what was hidden beneath her curls of ash-blonde hair. He looked at the smooth brow sat over a pair of puffy grey eyes, the porous little nose that hung above a flat and ever so slightly wet mouth. He looked at her face and wondered if those eyes would ever be blue, if those pores would ever close, if that mouth would ever be moistened by not just her saliva, but his too.
Resigning to the fact that these things might have once been, but were no more, his eyes drifted around the dining room before finding themselves on the dim standby light of the stereo.
“How about some music?”
He removed one of four government issued CDs from its case and placed it into the stereo, turning the volume to the recommended level. Paul walked over to his wife and laid a hand upon her shoulder as she poured herself another drink.
On Monday morning, as Simon left the flat and headed downstairs the building’s one and only classroom, Paul woke with a start and glared at the alarm clock.
“Yes, dear?” she replied, walking into the bedroom.
“The alarm clock’s broken!”
“Oh?” She chewed her bottom lip. “That’s unfortunate.”
“You know what they’re like about being late! We’ll lose our rations. I might even lose my job!” He rose from bed and fumbled both legs into his trousers.
“Goodness me. Breakfast’s ready when you are.”
“I don’t have time for breakfast,” he said, rushing passed and buttoning up his shirt.
“Have a good day at work, dear.”
The door slammed. Susan went through to the kitchen and stared at his plate of uneaten food. Humming to herself, she thought of the chores that filled her day. First was the kitchen. She would put Paul’s food into the container stamped ‘Waste not want not.’ Then she’d do the dishes, sweep the floor, mop it too if needed. After that was the bathroom. The boys were both good at keeping it clean, so it wouldn’t take too long. Once the bedrooms were finished she’d finish what was left of the gin.
She decided to mix up her routine and start with Simon’s room. As she emptied out the bin a balled up piece of paper rolled across the floor. Unravelling it, her eyes ran down a list of ways Simon would kill the three of them. She scrunched it back up and continued with the chores.
Paul anxiously waited for his train to stop and charged out the doors, pressed his watch against the reader and ran over to the bikes. He touched in and set off for work.
Notching up the gears, he pumped ferociously, avoiding the potholes and debris scattered in his path. Something struck him from the side, sending him wobbling dangerously to the side of the road. Regaining control of the bike, he saw the heavy frame of what could only be Maxy, one of his co-workers, riding off into the distance. He began cursing, fogging up the visor. Shutting his mouth he slowed down until the visor defogged. By the time he could see again, Maxy had vanished.
As he approached the great iron gates of Thames Barrier, he coasted on one pedal and jammed the bike into the docking station, touching out. He approached the doors to the decontamination area and pressed his wrist to the reader. Shuffling from one foot to the other, he waited for the process to finalise. The interior doors opened and his eyes fixed on the analogue clock on the ceiling. Eighteen minutes late. His record would come up with an absence.
Shoulders softened, head stooped, he plodded over to his depository shoot. Maxy came and stood beside him, a grin spread across his face.
“It was you, wasn’t it?” Paul said.
“I can’t hear you, matey.”
Paul tugged several times on the breathing apparatus, failing to remove it. Maxy chuckled and helped him with the zipper of his suit.
“On the bike,” he exclaimed, the apparatus now removed. “You were the one that bumped me. I could have really hurt myself. Or worse, imagine if I got a hole in the suit, or busted up the breathing equipment.”
Maxy shook his head. “Oh, no, no lad. I wouldn’t know a thing about that.”
“It was you. I could tell by your bloody great ape-like frame.” He planted his hands to his hips. “How is it that in this day and age someone can be as big as you are? What are you eating? People?”
“You ought to be careful with insults like that lad,” he replied, jabbing a finger into Paul’s chest. “Or you might just find out the answer.”
After the long slog of returning home – the bike, the DLR, the decontamination room – Paul bundled his equipment down the shoot and logged the time and date. He gave Carl a quick nod and headed upstairs. His son called him into the bathroom. Paul froze. Hanging from a shower rail, her face expressionless as ever, was his wife, Susan.
He fell to his knees, flung up his arms, wailed, and beat his fists against the floor, a reaction Simon was neither impressed nor surprised by.
Simon had been observing his mother’s dangling corpse for ten, maybe fifteen minutes, noticing she had used a length of rope that wouldn’t have been sufficient to break her neck. Despite the lack of evidence of a struggle on her face, there was no denying it would have been a long and painful death.
He gave her a poke and watched her swing to and fro.
“What are you doing?” Paul asked, sobbing from the floor.
Simon shrugged indifferently and poked her again.
“Stop that.” Paul stood, wiping his eyes with the back of a sleeve. “Go grab the scissors.”
“Why? She’s obviously dead.”
“Please, son,” he implored. “Just do it.”
Paul grabbed his wife’s legs and lifted her as Simon returned with the scissors.
“Stand on the chair and cut her down.”
Simon rolled his eyes, lifted the chair from its back and stepped up.
“Where did she even get this?” Simon asked as he began cutting her down. “I mean, it’s not like we have lengths of rope lying around the flat.”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s weird though, isn’t it?”
A strand broke.
“I’ve looked,” Simon went on. “We really have none whatsoever. I don’t have permission to leave the house, she doesn’t work anymore. So where did she get it?”
“I have no idea.”
“Do you think someone gave it to her? Someone here? Maybe it’s some kind of pact. Do you think it was Carl?”
The rope finally gave. Paul struggled with his balance and fell to the floor. His arm pressed into Susan’s belly and from her mouth escaped a vile stench.
“Oh my God,” he sobbed, peeling his face from the pale green tiles and pressing it into her dress. Amidst the heady scent of disinfectant and his wife’s gas, he could smell the bio detergent of her clothes and a slight hint of gin.
“I suppose that would make sense,” Simon continued. “Carl doesn’t exactly have much to look forward to. His wife’s bed ridden and he’s not far from it himself.” He paused. “I wonder if he’s already done himself in.”
“What’s wrong with you?” Paul mumbled into Susan’s belly.
“What’s wrong with me? Dad, are you crazy? We’re all just sitting around waiting for an inevitably boring death. I applaud mum, she found a way out.”
Paul grabbed at the end of Susan’s dress and wiped the tears from his face.
“If you think about it,” said Simon, “none of this is really that surprising.”
Paul sniffled and rose to his feet. He took in his surroundings: the broken mirror, the flickering light, the rusted piping and damp patches, and finally Susan’s corpse.
“No,” he replied. “I suppose not.”
The following day Paul woke to a dull thudding coming from upstairs. He rolled onto his back and gazed at a crack in the ceiling. Each bump sent a small shower of dust down onto the bed and, eventually, into his eyes. He closed them and thought how this used to be an experience he shared with his wife, the two of them lying still as room 42 copulated sluggishly.
Years ago, he would kiss her on the shoulder in the hopes that it would rouse something in her, and sometimes it would work. Over time she became less and less interested, until virtually all physical contact between them had ceased. This did not, however, prevent him from becoming aroused when room 42 were, and often he would glare at the wall in a painful state of stimulation.
He opened his eyes and watched the exposed section of woodwork bow as the thumping continued, then closed them again. He matched the rhythm with his right hand and rubbed his chest with the left. It didn’t take long, and once finished he slept like the dead.
“Dad. Dad. Wake up.”
Paul rubbed his eyes and frowned at the alarm clock, remembering it was broken. “What? What do you want?”
“We have a visitor,” his son replied.
His mind raced over who it could be.
“Tell him I’ll be right through.”
Simon went off to the lounge as Paul dressed and took himself to the bathroom. Peering between the cracks of the mirror, he washed his hands and face and flattened the dishevelled mess of hair as best he could, ignoring the reflection of Susan lying in the bathtub. Straightening his spine, he walked through into the lounge where the visitor sat, arms folded at his waist. Paul was astounded by the cleanliness of his suit.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Postlethwaite,” the man said, standing and removing his hat. “Please, take a seat.”
He sat, as did the man.
“I did not mean to wake you.”
“Not at all,” Paul replied, feigning a cough. “I was a little under the weather earlier, but I feel a bit better now.”
“That is good news. And for you and your boy, Mr. Postlethwaite, I have more good news.”
“Indeed. Let me begin by congratulating you on your loss.”
“Yes, congratulations are in order. For your wife is a hero, sir.”
“I don’t follow,” Paul replied.
“Let me explain.” The man cleared his throat. “Contrary to what many think our great country has been working towards all these years, we don’t actually need to repopulate at all. It is quite the opposite, in fact. The number of people living in the city is simply too high to maintain; there aren’t the rations to feed every poor, hungry mouth. At the moment we’re focusing on those who contribute directly to the preservation of the city. Do you remember China, Mr. Postlethwaite?”
“That’s the ticket. They actually put in place a rather effective population control policy called the ‘The Family Policy,’ or the ‘One-Child Policy’ rather, that restricted urban couples to…” he paused, inviting Paul to finish his sentence.
“Excellent. You’re very quick, Mr. Postlethwaite.” He laid a suitcase on his lap and popped it open. “We’re trying to adopt our very own policy without going so far as to putting rather forceful measures into action. What we’re doing instead is providing individuals the opportunity to be heroes. Your wife, Mr. Postlethwaite, responded to one of our letters most enthusiastically and in turn has done us all a service. She truly was a fine British citizen. As a token of our appreciation we’d like to present you with this medal in her honour.”
He handed Paul a purple ribbon, a pressed two pence piece dangling from it. Upon the coin was the imprint of a Maltese cross, within which a lion stood atop a crown. Paul was lost for words.
“Oh, it is most pleasing to see one so speechless. Now, I feel that I should discuss something else with you,” he said, pressing a button on his watch. “We’ve been going over your employment records and noticed a number of absences. We’ve all been there; I assure you it’s nothing to worry about. However, perhaps I could leave you with one of our brochures. In it you’ll find a number of alternative methods to contribute to your country.”
“I’ll take that,” Simon said, snatching the pamphlet. The man took another from his briefcase and handed it to Paul.
“Bright spark, this one. Although I might add the literature there is far more suited to your father. Perhaps you’d like to consider working for Thames Barrier as your father did? Excuse me, does. If I might ask, Mr. Postlethwaite, where is your wife?”
Paul became distracted by a number of men stood at his door.
“Your wife, Mr. Postlethwaite,” the man said. “Where is she?”
“She’s in the bathroom,” Simon intervened.
The men shuffled through the lounge.
“She was a great citizen.”
“Truly an inspiration.”
“We could all learn a thing or two from her.”
One of them remained in the lounge, placing a box next to the stereo and removing the government issued CDs. He replaced them with a new selection and left out a smaller box.
“Now, for your convenience we shall take Mrs. Postlethwaite from the premises and to the crematorium. I assure you, a grand ceremony will be held on your behalf, all very tasteful, and a song of your choosing shall be played. Should you be unable to think of anything we shall have the National Anthem played by our very own band.”
“You have a band?” Paul asked.
“Indeed. And won’t they be so moved by your wife’s actions. I myself will be in attendance.”
The men carried through the body, now wrapped in the Union Jack.
“Would you like to say a few words before she is taken, Mr. Postlethwaite or shall I?”
“Um,” Paul thought for a moment. “Perhaps you could?”
“Very well, sir,” he replied. The man stood and laid his hand upon his chest as the others lowered the heads. “May God watch over the spirit of Susan Postlethwaite, whom in our time of need rose above the call of duty and took her own life for country and crown. She will be remembered by our people for her courage, and by her widower and son for her time here on earth. Rest in peace.”
“Amen,” they all said.
“Excellent. Feel free to look over the brochure and if something there appeals to you, just check the box and leave it with your building clerk. We’ll respond to it as soon as we can. Any questions?”
Paul shook his head.
“Thank you for your time Mr. Postlethwaite,” the man said, returning the hat to his head and turning to leave. “Good day to you too, young man.”
As the door shut, Paul and Simon remain seated, taken in by the pamphlet they each held.
Paul rose for breakfast the next morning and glanced at the wall clock in the kitchen, noting with a smile that today he would be early for work. He rummaged through the box left the previous day and laid on the counter the makings of a rather delicious breakfast: cans of brown raisin bread, powdered omelette and pear halves as well as a jar of coffee granules. Before preparing the food he decided to play a little music. He popped in a CD, twisted the volume passed the recommended level and saw to the food.
Simon’s morning did not start as pleasantly as his father’s, owing to his last moments of rest being disturbed by O Fortuna. In the kitchen he found his father flouncing around the kitchen wearing nothing but a medal around his neck. Simon turned the volume down and waited for him to notice.
“Oh, good morning son,” he said over a bare shoulder. “Hope you’re hungry.”
“If I was before I’m certainly not now. You are aware of the fact that you’re naked, yes?”
Paul lowered his head and surprised himself.
“I wasn’t aware of that, no. We have omelettes, bread and pears on the menu this morning. Your dad will also be having himself a coffee.”
“Just make me a coffee will you,” he snarled. “It’s early and I’m not hungry.”
“Now, now, Simon. You’re a little too young for that. And you need your breakfast.”
“You’ve got to be joking.”
“When a pebble was asked what it wanted to be, it said it wanted to be a little bolder.”
“That was a joke. Now I’m being quite serious. You need to eat.”
“And you need to get dressed.”
“Right you are,” his father replied, laying two plates on the table and leaving to the bedroom. He returned fully clothed and took the kettle off the boil. Pouring water into a chipped mug, he went on, “Isn’t it amazing we have drinkable water? This country really is something else. I wonder if they have clean water in America?”
Paul sat and began at his food. With each bite he made a little satisfied moan. “This is good. Take a seat, son. Relax. Enjoy the food your father has put on the table.”
“Mum put that food on the table. If it wasn’t for her we wouldn’t have any of this.”
“Ah, yes,” he replied with his mouth full. “Once again you are correct. But soon you will wear a medal, as I am now, and you’ll have an abundance of food. Imagine what they’ll say about me.”
“That you were a lousy, spineless fool?”
Paul laughed. “Good one.” From his pocket he produced the pamphlet and began filling it out. Tucking it back into his pocket, he checked the clock. “I think I’ll take off for work now. Make sure you eat something and I’ll see you this afternoon.”
Simon scorned as his father kissed him on the forehead.
“Have a good day son,” he said, whistling his way out the flat.
Simon sank into a kitchen chair and spooned food into his mouth. Once finished he threw back what little coffee Paul left behind. From upstairs a dull thumping began and he grumbled to himself.
“Morning Paul,” Carl said rising from his chair, offering his a hand over the desk. “Congratulations on your loss.”
“Thank you,” Paul said. “So you heard?”
“Heard? You mean saw,” he replied excitedly. “We all saw. Big fuss. They carried her out in the ‘Jack. Did they – oh, look at that.”
Paul looked down at his chest “Ah, yes. Would you like to see it?”
“If you would be so kind.”
Taking the medal from his neck, he laid it into the palm of Carl’s hand. He held it delicately, admiring the press and turning it over.
“My, my, my,” he said breathlessly. “That really is something.”
“Isn’t it? And soon,” Paul said as he returned the ribbon around his neck, “Simon shall have two of these.”
“You mean - ?”
“I do.” Paul removed the pamphlet from his pocket and slid it across the table.
“Well then,” Carl said, tucking it away into the outbox and smiling at Paul, “that’ll mean two more brave individuals have lived under this roof. And from the same family!”
Paul frowned, but promptly pulled himself together. Sure enough, Susan was a hero. But not like Paul. She had simply dangled from a shower rail. He would burn for his country.
“Yes, yes,” Paul said. “Quite.”
He removed the gear from his locker and zipped himself up. Waving to Carl, he stepped into the decontamination room, and out into the wasteland.
That evening Paul prepared himself dinner from the box: tinned spam, creamed cheese and crackers. Simon had been locked in his room since he returned from work. Let him sulk, he thought to himself. If he wasn’t going to take pride in his father’s ambition then so be it.
Between mouthfuls he sang along to Land of Hope and Glory and sipped from a glass of gin. With any luck the government would sanction his public suicide soon. It had to be seen, whatever his act of valour would be, and it had to be grand. Simply dying in the street was not enough; people did that all the time. He’d read in the pamphlet of a Tibetan monk named Thich Quang Duc, whose name was immortalised by his self-immolation in 1963. The reasons behind it were quite noble, he had read, and Paul thought his were too. In addition to this, the pain involved would surely impress respect upon those who would witness and hear of it. The long and short of it was this: Paul would be a legend. Now it was simply a waiting game.
A stir came from Simon’s room, prompting Paul to take a hearty swig of gin and roll up the volume. Standing beside the stereo, he placed one hand to his chest, raised the other in toast to himself and his country, and sang.
Land of Hope and Glory, fortress of the free.
How may we extol thee, praise thee, honour thee?
Hark, a mighty nation maketh glad reply;
Lo, our lips are thankful, lo, our hearts are high!
Paul woke early the following morning and wiped the grogginess from his eyes. Not even the hangover would dampen his spirits. Today would surely be the day. He padded down the stairs to the lobby and asked Carl if he’d received anything for him. Carl nodded and disappeared into his office, returning with a container of liquid and a book of matches.
“Petrol,” he said, popping the items onto the counter. “Hard to come by. What’s it for?”
“Did you not see the pamphlet I filled out?” Paul asked, a smile creeping across his face.
“Well, yes. But I didn’t read it.” After scratching his chin for some time, he said, “Oh, I see. Goodness, Paul. Self immolation?”
“That’s the ticket,” he replied swinging his arm jovially.
“I’d seen that one myself.”
“Oh, so you’re considering it too?”
“Heavens no; far too painful. I’m still undecided. Last night I smothered Rebecca with a pillow and that seemed quite nice. I’d like something like that.”
“Mmm.” Paul tried to contain his pride.
“You’re very brave, Paul.”
“Well you know,” he gushed. “Thought I’d show my commitment and dedication to the country. Do her proud.”
“And you’ll do just that. Bravo, good man. Bravo.”
Paul smirked and bowed. “Thank you. Well, I haven’t told the boy yet so I best see to him now. See you, Carl.”
“See you. Or perhaps not.”
Upstairs he rustled up his last breakfast, this time enough for two. He wanted Simon to remember this: his father – the hero – sitting opposite him, glowing with pride, enjoying a good meal. After all these years of his son’s insistent moodiness, his lack of respect and compassion, he could finally prove to him that he was a man. And not just any man, or father, or husband, or Thames Barrier employee: but a valiant man. A legend. Talk of Paul’s deed would be inescapable. The boys and girls at school would speak of him in excited whispers. Mr. Austin would respond to these whispers by addressing the class with his own thoughts, those of admiration and awe. Simon’s frustration would go unnoticed. Who would want to hear a boy speak ill of a man like Paul?
Nobody. That’s who.
Once the food was ready he knocked on Simon’s door and waited. He knocked again. Thinking he must still be asleep, Paul turned the handle and tried to push it open, only to find resistance from the other side. The little brat was bracing the door.
“Come now, boy. I’ve made us breakfast.” He pushed again with no success. “Would you open the door? Simon? Simon!” He huffed and puffed, frantically turning the handle and kicking at the door, but still found it very much shut. “Please?”
Not wanting to be defeated, he took a few steps back and charged, knocking the chair from behind the door and flinging it open. Simon was in bed, the blanket up to his neck, upon which a tight knot of blue plastic sat. Paul fumbled at the bag encasing his son’s head and tore it open. A pale, satisfied face looked back at him. He placed his hands over Simon’s ribcage and began to pump. Pressing an ear to his chest he heard nothing. He pumped again, listened, still nothing. His own heart began to race, hands trembling as he squeezed Simon’s nostrils and blew into his mouth. He checked again for a pulse and, again, found nothing. He went on with this process; thick beads of sweat falling from his head, dark patches forming beneath his arms, his back prickling as it became increasingly damp, before resorting to slapping his son in the face.
“Wake up,” he demanded. “Wake up you little shit.” He grabbed Simon’s shoulders and shook them violently. The boy’s head lolled around, mouth upturned and smug.
Paul finally resigned himself to the fact that Simon was dead and returned to the kitchen, fists balled, and looked at the food he’d prepared with dismay. His appetite for breakfast was ruined. From the box he procured the last of the treats: a sticky toffee pudding. He peeled back the lid, laid it on the table and sat pondering with a fork in his hand.
Simon had beaten him to it. There was no reason for Paul to die now, not in the shadow of his wife and child. He supposed that he might as well wait it out, perhaps then he may be able to salvage some shred of respect from his peers. Perhaps not. But what did he have to lose?
Well, he thought to himself, at least I have my bloody pudding. Plunging his fork deep into the can, he scooped up a substantial helping of sticky toffee and raised it to his mouth. Seconds away from indulging in his treat a knock came at the door.
“Mr. Postlethwaite. May I speak with you a moment?”
He plopped the fork back into the can and opened the door.
Memories of the island come to me like a dream. Being there had eventually made me so sick to the stomach I had to leave. The wind blew over the island like the big nothing it was and constantly filled the bottomless hole in my head with sand.
This wash of thoughts made for overactive senses. Smells were sharp, sounds cut through me; the slightest touch gave me goose bumps, especially when it was cold. Or when someone touched me. Sometimes I’d stick out my tongue and taste salt in the air, or damp on the grass and leaves. Sometimes I could even taste dirt.
But there are these weird little ones, memories; they’re filled with a beauty that doesn’t exist in my life anymore. I watch them play out in third person. A little kid running down a road, a rustle underfoot, a canvas of branches and autumn leaves overhead holding in everything he needs to know and be. His clumsy arms grabbing for a leaf dipping swooping doubling over and dashing forwards. The misty-eyed sun poking through the canvas and spying upon him until, at last, he notices its gaze. Standing still, mouth open, they communicate wordlessly. The eye shuts, the leaf has gone, another falls.
Those that come to me in first: stabbing my arm repeatedly with a pencil in detention. Pulling my best friend’s hair after he bit my fingers. Screaming at my mum, the weight of our words making my whole body tremble. Discovering my dad’s boxcutter, “Careful, that’s sharp.” Hiding beneath the porch. Jumping off the roof. Stubbing a cigarette out on the back of my hand.
That last one. The hiss of my roll-up tricks me into the memory, the sound of tiny hairs singing, the smell of burning flesh.
We were drunk in the playground’s Wendy Hut: James, Eve, Alan and I. Around us were the etchings of cocks, names, dates and devotions of love. “CP + EM 4 eva. That’s us,” I said. She smiled at me, and for a moment and we were in love. Until that point I’d never known anything with such clarity.
Eventually she laughed and ran off. Alan chased her and they fell in a heap by the swings, drunk and hysterical. James comes up to me and tells me they’re together, pats me on the shoulder like he’s sorry for my loss or something and fucks off. I’m left there, ears prickling, tears welling, cigarette burning. I didn’t make a sound, just the quiet hiss upon my hand. The sand swept away. The nothing sank in. That sweet, absolute nothing I continue to crave.
I stepped out with this new release, took the vodka from James and walked out onto the cricket field. He didn’t even bother coming after me. Fingering was big back then, everyone was at it, regardless of who was going out with who. Guys would run up to each other and glide their fingers under unsuspecting noses. At the time Alan fancied Eve, most of the guys did, and it was likely he was hoping to get a turn.
Upon the field the teenage boy is on his back, drunk, staring up at the sky. The island slides away from him, taking with it the excited sounds of laughter and moans of horny adolescents. Stars poke holes through the blanket stretched above. He hasn’t had sex yet, but thinks this must be what it feels like after. Eyes closed, the blanket is laid upon him and he enters a state of slumber. When he awakens it’s light and the cold and the vodka’s gone.
Cold. It’s cold in here. As I grind the cigarette on the windowsill I look at the garden and see the shed where we used to watch videos, get stoned and piss ourselves playing WWF on the Playstation. Beside it, in what used to be a flowerbed, lay the bodies of hamsters six inches underground – Jam, Pickles, Nuttela, Peanuts and Gaylord – each with their own little headstone.
The window’s shut. Cold’s locked out. I’m trapped in.
Don’t look at the bed.
Sitting down I stare at the patterns of the carpet. Retro red blue and yellow zig-zags. Who in their right mind designs this shit? The ceiling isn’t much better either. Infuriatingly inconsistent swirls of white paint. A buzz sounds from beside me.
Don’t look at the bed.
A boy approached Godleg, asking the clouds it disappeared into for the meaning of life.
Godleg bent so that Godear could be closer.
Godknee crushed the child.
'Pudding' part one here
Monday morning Simon begrudgingly allowed his mother to kiss him upon the cheek before heading downstairs. In the lobby he nodded to Carl and stepped into the conference room. Anarchy. Children of all ages fighting, laughing, running over tables, throwing paper, pens and pencils. Simon shook his head. These things didn’t grow on trees, he thought. He didn’t even know if there were trees anymore.
Paul woke with a start and glared at the alarm clock.
He rose from bed and fumbled both legs into his trousers.
“The alarm didn’t go off!”
“Oh?” She chewed her bottom lip. “That’s unfortunate.”
“You know what they’re like about being late! I could lose my job!”
“Goodness me.” She went through to the kitchen. “Breakfast’s ready when you are.”
“I don’t have time for breakfast,” he said, rushing passed and buttoning up his shirt.
“Have a good day at work, dear.”
The door slammed and Susan sat, staring at his plate of uneaten food. Humming to herself, she thought of the chores that filled her day. First was the kitchen. She’d put Paul’s food into the container stamped ‘Waste not want not.’ Then she’d do the dishes, sweep the floor, mop it too if needed. After that was the bathroom. The boys were both good at keeping it clean, so it wouldn’t take too long. Then the bedrooms.
She decided to mix up her routine and start with Simon’s room. As she emptied out the bin a balled up piece of paper rolled across the floor. Unravelling it, her eyes ran down a list of ways Simon would kill the three of them. She scrunched it back up and continued with the chores, whistling a curious Beethoven/Bach medley.