Monday, February 13, 2012

A Monologue: Rose.

I must stop doing that. I just downed that glass of wine and although the flurry of jokes and laughter came, I guess they’re now wondering what sort of new neighbour I will turn out to be. I have to learn everything. All over again. And talk about getting thrown into the deep end. Two weeks ago I lived on this street but I mean the actual street. I slept in the doorway of the fish and chip shop and ate the leftovers at the end of the night out of the bin.

They know they’ve seen me somewhere before. I’m sure I look frightfully familiar darlings but they can’t or won’t associate me with the dirty faced woman in the alley with the forlorn look on her face. And here I am, at a dinner party which makes me want to run out into the night, find Old Jack and tell him so we can laugh our bloody heads off and go in search of a drink.

I’ve been found a home. After all these years of imagining what it would be like I’m living it. Some charitable young do-gooder signed me up on some project, clicked her fingers with immaculately painted nails and gave me a house to live in. I have a job, I’m training to sit on the checkout at the little supermarket and scan and beep foods, I’ve always dreamed of, on the conveyer belt all day.

I’m just not used to this, people giving me the time of day, wishing me a good morning, inviting me to dinner. I forget that it’s ok now; I know I will eat every day. But put a feast before me and I will simply show myself up, grabby hands and piles of food on my plate, eating with my fingers with a ferocious speed because I think someone’s going to come and take it all away again and say oh come on Rose, you know you don’t deserve this, and kick my sorry arse back into the cold street.

I used conditioner tonight. I’ve never done that before. My hair looks funny, like it belongs on the head of one of those mannequins they have in shop windows. I found this dress and these shoes in the charity shop and I don’t look a million miles away from these people; my judges. I’m dreading all the questions. I lied and lied when I first moved in and they invited me round. I said I’d been staying with my brother, looking after him as he’d been seriously ill and that he’d sadly passed away and that I needed a new start. God knows where that came from. I guess that’s from the streets, you have to think on your feet.

I went to the bathroom when I arrived and I was so in awe of all the posh things that I stole one of the little soaps in the shape of a rose. I regret that now. I feel bad. I’ll wait until I need to go again and put it back.

This food and this wine will keep me up half the night, I can feel the heartburn creeping up on me. Still I shouldn’t complain should I? This is what I wanted isn’t it? Warmth and safety are such luxuries I barely allow myself the privilege of turning on the fire. I think of Old Jack and how conditioned he is to his shitty environment now, that there’s simply no other way of life for him. I hope I’m not the same, that it isn’t too late for me to turn it all around.

I watched a homeless girl die last year, six months pregnant she was. She wouldn’t go home, it felt better to hang around and freeze than to return to her own father. I can identify with her. You don’t forget things like that and, selfishly, you’re thankful it wasn’t you. And that’s the thing. You are nobody. Nobody gives a shit, ultimately, if you live or die. You’re a nuisance, dirty, a pest; they never ask themselves how you got here, to be existing in this state. Because it’s not important or relevant. You’re as good as a rat. You see it in their faces, the disgusted look of disdain, noses crinkling at the mere sight of you. Or, sometimes, a brief, rare look of pity that lasts as long as they care about it all: one, two, three, four, five seconds.

Having had so much time on my hands before all this, I used to watch the people come and go. I’d watch them shopping, meeting with friends, rushing to work. I’d wonder why barely anyone ever looked any happier than I did. They had it all didn’t they? A home, people to love them, food, heat, gadgets that the TV and magazines said they ought to have, that week in the sunshine after saving up all year, Christmas trees, children, hobbies. Why did everyone look so glum behind painted lipstick smiles and work day masks? Is nobody ever really happy? Does everyone just want more and more and more?

That’s sad if that’s true. You kind of wonder what the point is. If all you’re here on the planet for is to bicker with your spouse and compete over trivial, petty matters. I bought myself a newspaper yesterday. One report covered a story in which a man killed his next door neighbour after a row about the height of his hedge. Can you believe it? Over the height of a hedge? A life snuffed out, someone’s husband, someone’s Son, someone’s brother. Gone.

I’m not saying I’m anything special. I’m clearly no more than a speck of dust. It just worries me that there is such an alarming lack of perspective in the air. Maybe it takes losing everything to see that? What would I prefer? That none of this had happened; I was just some blasé young woman with a head full of horoscopes and soap operas and was as self-obsessed as everyone else? Or to keep my peculiar life and all the torment and heinous memories that sometimes brings? At least I see what’s going on, what natters and what doesn’t.

Looking around this table maybe I’ll choose to be the blasé woman after all. With my bubble still intact, because nobody ever popped it, beat me up on the way home from a club, propositioned me for sex for the price of a sandwich. I could be the most entertaining dinner guest couldn’t I? I could recall all my weird and wonderful tales, regale them with hilarious Old Jack sagas, confess they all look frightfully familiar to me too, because they’ve cursed me, ignored me, despised me.

But I won’t. I’ll fit in, the best I can, and play the game. I’ll guffaw at your jokes, put your little soap back and pretend I share your political views. I’ll learn how to eat in a sophisticated manner and develop my back story until I weep real tears over my poor dead, fictional brother. You win. You always win.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

White Van Man

After a rushed last drink, she left the bonfire party. She shivered in her jacket which wasn’t long enough to cover her short skirt. She’d felt great getting ready, donning her high black stilettos, lip gloss and straightening her long dark hair. Now she wished she was wearing jeans and trainers. The click-clack of her heels sounded wrong, alone, so late at night and every booming, screeching firework startled her.

Michelle gathered speed, dreading the narrow bridge by the stream. It was only 20 seconds or so until she would be back in the buzzing streetlights but it caused anxiety. Each time, she envisaged falling in, cracking her head open or someone swooping from behind the trees and grabbing her. She started to run and couldn’t stop; her legs didn’t belong to her. Heart jumping out of her chest, her breathing rapid and her lungs on fire, she reached her garden gate. A furtive scan of the streets revealed nothing but a white cat, unperturbed by the pounding explosions in the black sky. Her clumsy, cold hands unlocked the door. She was in. Lock. Bolt. Chain.

Immediately a large hand grabbed her shoulder, the other quickly wrapped around her face to muffle her terrified screams, her hands scratched at the obstructive gloved hand. Tears from wide eyes raced down her cheeks. She had associated danger with outside and all along the danger waited; warm, cosy and unexpected in her own house.

Whoever gripped her was tall and immensely strong. She couldn’t see him, still positioned with her back against his frame, and then she saw nothing at all as something hard cracked down on her head and she fell to the ground unconscious. When she came to, the nauseating realisation that it hadn’t been a dream, a horrific nightmare, caused her to whimper like a small child. Her hands were tied together with a length of black cable and she couldn’t see her shoes. Michelle guessed that the sticky mess beneath her was blood which made her heave. The crushing, heavy pain in her head stopped her attempt to struggle. Her eyes searched for clues as they slowly adjusted to the darkness.

A sob broke out from her trembling body, she couldn’t understand what was happening, who would want to do this to her? Michelle listened to the eerie, choking silence; no traffic, no smoky sulphuric bangs illuminating the sky above her. Clearly she was in the back of a van and she must have unknowingly travelled some distance to escape the familiar noises of the city. Noises she’d never really noticed, taken for granted in the background of her life, until now.

The van doors abruptly opening left her begging the black shadow of a man. Over and over again the word no left her lips, the only word her voice could find. With ease, her silent attacker threw her over his shoulder and jumped down on to the path. He roughly tossed her on to the ground and returned to the white van. She watched his silhouette rummage for something, as her brain simultaneously sent too many messages, yet told her not nearly enough.

His boots crunched on the gravel; he placed her stilettos nearby, neatly lining them up at the edge of the path. That’s when she heard water, running water. He began to bind her ankles together tightly, cutting into her soft flesh, she winced. The string of pleading no’s pierced the freezing cold air.

He lifted her up and carried her to the spot where her shoes were and set her down, holding on to her around the waist. They were on a bridge with choppy, brutal waters racing underneath. She wondered if this was the reservoir. She thought her parents had brought her here for a summer picnic as a little girl. The mental image of her parents brought loud tears which blurred her eyes.

He teetered on the edge, loosening his grip of her to just one hand, digging her in the small of the back with the other. Still, he did not utter a word. He wanted her to jump, to make the decision herself, to let go, to hurtle off the edge and take the leap.

The hardest thing of all was not being able to comprehend why. Who was he? Why her? Why this? As she mutely antagonised over her limited choices, he went with her. He swung them both of the ledge and they were falling. Falling. Falling. Falling.

Friday, February 10, 2012


I beg my feet to just get on with it but instead I resemble a granite carved statue. I will them to move up the stairs yet they disobey me. I inhale sharply; my cold hand clutches the wooden banister, steadying the nauseating butterflies that crash against my empty stomach. I’ve put this off for several weeks and it has taken such a lot for me to be here. My right foot tentatively strokes the step above and before I know it I’m on the move, trembling and hesitant, and half way up.

It’s when I see the door to the flat that I could scream from the top of my lungs; just like I had on that morning. I can visualise myself, I still hear the screams, bile rises in my throat and it’s all I can do to swallow the hot liquid down. Tears prick the corners of my eyes, my nose tingles with the urge to cry. But I can’t. Not yet. I need to reach that door.

On my feet go again, like a controlled marionette; left leg up, foot down, right leg up, foot down. The creak of the old wood and the thud of my heart deafen my ears. I’ve done it. I fumble in my bag for the key and feel sad as my fingers find it; the familiar shape of the attached teddy bear shaped key-ring chokes me.

In it goes. This lock was always tricky and, as ever, it takes me a few attempts before I feel the turn. My hand rests on the handle for a few seconds as I realise how difficult this could actually be. But there’s nothing else for it so I plunge down the handle and push the door wide open.

I slide in to the kitchen, close the door behind me and take a brief, furtive glance around. It’s freezing, too cold to take off my coat. I pull my scarf closely around me and wonder why it’s colder in here than outside. There is no noise; yet the silence is so eerie and heartbreaking that it almost becomes one, a raging, offensive sound that I wish I could grab and smash to make it go away.

I approach the hallway and need to steady myself. I’m outside the living room door and so frightened of what I will see, what I will feel and, most of all, if this wall of numbness does not break down and I feel nothing at all. I bite my bottom lip until a lump forms. The pain helps establish that I really am awake, alive, here. I push at the door a little with my finger and then remember that it gets stuck on the badly fitted beige carpet. I’m cross at myself for forgetting. I can’t afford to forget these small details.

I trap the edge of the carpet with my shoe and force the door open, eyes closed, my fractured brain coaxing them into reopening. I slowly manage it and am immediately shocked. All the things that I expected to see just aren’t here. It’s like it never happened. It’s like he wasn’t here. There’s no evidence in this room to suggest that he was. Where is everything? I remember tripping over his tiger toy, hanging his tiny striped blue socks on the radiator, the box of nappies under the table.

I weep now. I knew it would have been hard for me to be faced with all the memories but this is, somehow, so much worse. Somebody had come and packed it all away, probably to ease my pain but all that’s happened is that it’s just increased tenfold. I need to see his tiny vests, the teddy bears, the bouncer, and the play mat, all of it. I feel angry that this option has been removed. I throw down my bag in despair and stride out to the bedroom.

Nothing. Not even a stray bib or bootee. I’m crushed and pulling at my hair, the sobs coming thick and fast; fat, salty tears pouring down my face. This is the worst thing. The worst thing of all. Not only do I have to try and cope with everything that has happened but I live my putrid life in agony and fear of forgetting; forgetting his sweet smile, his comical yawn that sounded just like my Granddad, so many things. And now it feels like the world has forgotten him already and that it just too much for me to take.

I walk to the bathroom and almost collapse. Nobody had thought to come in here. His little bath and rubber ducks greet me, his white towel embroidered with silky rabbits hangs on the rail, and his bubble bath sits on the shelf. I take it down and open the bottle and wail because I can smell him. So many bath times come flooding back and I laugh and cry all at the same time. My arms ache for the weight of him and my heart aches for the love of him.

Thank goodness for this untouched room. I bury my face in his soft towel and open the drawer. His brush, the tiny scissors to cut his tiny nails. I touch everything that once touched him and breathe it all in, desperate to catch a scent of his beautiful baby aroma. Relief that I haven’t forgotten adds a few more tears to my day.

I sit on the floor and make myself see that morning again and again: waking up, the horror that it was 10.23am and he hadn’t cried to get me up, the quiet cot, the lifeless body, the rigidity of his limbs, my screams, the emergency services call, the tragedy, the grief. And my cries continue yet become softer, quieter when I try and replace some of this with happier times with him. Bringing him home from the hospital springs to mind, beaming with delight, prouder than I’d ever known about, and saying “This is where you live. This is your home”.

A recollection: I smile at the picnic we’d been on just as the summer came to an end; his small chubby legs kicking wildly in the fresh air, his fascination with the clouds, the happy little egg yolk sun in the sky. I must remember of all these special moments because they are all I have. I won’t watch him grow, see his first timid steps, hear his chatter, pack him up with crust-less sandwiches for school, feed the ducks, wrap his Christmas presents, receive handmade Mother’s day cards with beautiful, scrawled handwriting inside.

This is not my home now. I cannot come back here and exist in these rooms without him. I have to say goodbye and move on. I will drink up all the cherished memories I have of his short life and take them with me. I have the keys to the new house and move in next week. I don’t want to do anything or go anywhere without him but I have no choice about that. I don’t belong here anymore.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

One January Night

Even in darkness, colour shines through.
Await dusk, go outside, and look up.
Someone has taken a brush
And spattered the sky with white paint.
Behold the beautiful moon,
Large, resplendent, illuminating.
Dazzling Jupiter takes my breath away;
As does Sirius: super bright star.
Your eyes adapt, look again,
More colours flood through.
Catch the blue hue of Rigel
As Capella twinkles yellow.
Golden Polaris points to the north.
Orange Betelgeuse and Aldebaran
To red, red, red Mars.
Do not be fooled by the night.
Even in darkness, colour shines through

Vivienne Love

Vivienne Love (yes that genuinely is her real name) has waited three years, eight months and sixteen days for Gerald Farley to leave his wife. Muffled twilight promises disappear into the morning and jealousy is starting to stain her face. Vivienne lives simply to be in his company: for those snatched few hours; travelling all the way across town for secretive, candle lit dinners for two and falling into bed, or on to the sofa, the dining table or the floor. Some days she feels drunk in her love for him. She exists, but she only comes to life when she’s with Gerald.

Gerald is 42, a lawyer and the classic description of tall, dark and handsome. He has a loud, infectious laugh that makes his rich brown eyes twinkle a little. He is one snappy dresser, expensive suits and polished Italian shoes. He knows about wine, politics and the solar system and laughs at Vivienne, affectionately of course, for not knowing a thing about any of these subjects.

It sickens her every time he has to leave, the walls of their beautiful love fall down when she pictures  him sleeping next to another woman, albeit his wife. She knows they go for family picnics by the river with their grown-up sons while Vivienne bites her nails, cries and watches Bette Davies movies with Gin & bitter lemon.

She yearns, oh how she yearns, to be the one, the one that boils his morning egg, the one with the tissues and tenderness when he’s ill. To be the last person he sees at night and the first face he sees upon waking. To be able to go out, anywhere, hand in honest hand, to have their own picnics by the river. She’d make his favourite sandwiches: egg and cress.

Vivienne thinks of their house, she knows where they live. Occasionally (is once a week occasionally?) she drives right by the driveway and once even got out and looked through the large bay window. She should be there; it should be hers, although those ghastly Laura Ashley drapes would have to go. And she’d put good money on her having twee floral bedspreads. Vivienne wishes she could frolic in that bed, stain the clean sheets and have an orgasm that she didn’t feel were almost stolen.

Mrs. Farley, her name is Diana, it made Vivienne think of the dead princess. Goodbye England’s Rose. It’s no good. She has to go. Gerald will never be hers at this rate: “My career, the children, it would break her heart ....” No more. She picks up the black Gucci bag Gerald bought her for her birthday. The silver glint of the kitchen knife on the sideboard catches her eye, winking, double daring her. She pops it in her bag and locks the door behind her.

Red Rose

He watched her adoringly. She simply was the cutest, most spellbinding creature he had ever laid eyes on. He never got bored of hearing her voice, she was his little skylark and he loved her dearly. He perched, as ever, on the end of the bar, nursing the neat whisky her little dainty hands had poured for him. The music was blaring; the smoke machine wheezing its magic, the place was busy due it being the weekend before Christmas. Gaudy tinsel was everywhere and when she smiled, her eyes lit up making her the perfect fairy on top of the Christmas tree. Iona. He even got excited saying her name. I-o-na. I-on-a.

He refused to move, he didn’t care one bit how busy it got, this was his place, at the end of whichever bar in the club she was working that night. It was the same every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. He liked to think that he could always be near to her in case she needed him. There were often some rough types in here; he had to keep an eye on her, his delicate little flower. That’s why he sipped his drinks slowly; he got into too much of a panic if he needed to go to the toilet. He worried something would happen to her and he wouldn’t be there, so he rushed, and often ended up with piss dripping down his beige trousers.

It would soon be midnight and the Latino red rose lady would be doing the rounds with her bucket of cellophane covered flowers, miserable face and grabby hand. George thought she could at least offer him a smile, all the money she got from him as a customer over the last year and three months should have earned him at least that, in his opinion.

He watched her fetch another drink; even in her high spike heels she was still tiny, standing precariously on tiptoe to nudge the side of the glass on to the optic. He laughed to himself, at his funny little thing. He just about remembered what it were like to be 18; he wouldn’t have dared to have worked in a place like this, certainly an eye opener. He didn’t appreciate her being exposed to some of this behaviour, people meeting and automatically rubbing genitals together, in public for all to see. That dingy old brown sofa in the corner must have seen some action. He sighed, draining his glass. This was his favourite part of the evening, asking for another drink. She served him immediately which made his heart race and his hands sweat.

‘Same again my darling’ he stated, pushing his empty glass across the slippery bar and wishing he had the opportunity to smell her immaculate blonde, straight hair. He only got to do that when it was ridiculously heaving and she had to lean right into his ear to hear what he was saying, unfortunately the bar had cleared a little. She smiled, yes she smiled, her sensual lips upturned to reveal her hidden dimples. He beamed back at her, so much he needed to say to her but not just yet, another time, when they were alone.

Again he watched her strive for the optic, her little black skirt riding up, almost revealing her knickers. He shuddered as he felt himself harden and brushed his hand over his excitement. He would save this image for later. He felt a tap on his shoulder and feared the worst. Had someone spotted his erection? He slowly craned his head and to his relief, it was the Latino lady holding out a single red rose, expecting her £3.00. He duly rummaged for the cash, his hand feeling wrong in his pocket for a moment. He liked to leave the rose for her at closing time; it was a moment he relished that helped him get through Sunday to Wednesday when the club was closed.

He didn’t always manage the separation; sometimes he drove the miles between them and sat in the car, watching her window for a mere sight of her. She got up late; it must really tire her out working these long, anti-social hours, which would have to stop once they were together. He knew where she lived because he’d followed her staff taxi on the way home one night. It had been stressful as four people were all dropped off in turn and she’d been the last one. He’d had to go all round the houses to actually discover her address.

He loved it when he arrived before she awoke, he could watch her, half asleep and plain of face open the
curtains, her blonde hair askew. She’d look out of the window and he could hardly breathe, hoping for the day he’d wake up with her. He hoped it wouldn’t be too much longer; it was becoming more difficult to afford all this, since he’d given up his job as a geography teacher at the local secondary school. He hadn’t been getting to see her much and he couldn’t handle that in the end. His savings had been a blessing but they wouldn’t last forever.

Who was she talking to? He’d never seen this member of staff before. Who was he? He was flirting with her. Oh my God, she was responding, giggling and flicking her long side fringe out of her eyes and curling the ends around her finger. George was furious; he’d been dreading something like this. He could sense a mutual interest between them and he could not calm himself. Their eye contact and physical closeness stabbed him in the heart; his fingers crumpled the rose bud until petals tipped out on to the floor. He smashed the ugly flower down on to the bar, drained his drink and stormed out. He had to go. She would have to understand; maybe the damaged rose would make his point? She couldn’t behave like that and expect to get away with it. What was she thinking? Why was she trying to destroy him?

He knew he had to make sure they hadn’t gone home together. He had to know and despite being over the limit, decided to take his car. He had started doing this more regularly, he couldn’t afford the taxi rides. He felt fine; as long as he was steady there was no reason for him to be pulled over. It made sense, the club was spilling out customers now but she still had to cash up and get a taxi. He would wait for her there.

He drove slowly, his heart skipping a beat when he saw a police car. Stop worrying George, he told himself, it’s Saturday night, kicking out time. Of course there are police around. Keep it together. He had to focus. He didn’t know what he would do if she got out of her taxi with him but he didn’t anticipate leaving it there, he’d have to have it out with her. It would do them some good, clear the air, and make them stronger.

Parking up in the familiar spot, he turned off the lights and waited. And waited. Here she was, the moment of truth. He heard her giggle and she emerged, thanking the taxi driver. She was alone. Oh thank God, she was alone. He felt silly now, as if Iona would do that to him! What was he thinking? He was so elated he quite forgot himself, his car door opened before he knew it and he was striding towards her as her taxi turned around and departed into the night. She was fiddling with her bottomless, disorganised handbag, hunting for keys when he found himself right behind her, the little skirt he had watched for all this time, right there, a couple of inches away.

She span around, aware of a body from nowhere being too close to hers. She looked appalled and her eyes screamed terror. That really was too much. What was wrong with her? Why was she behaving like this? The horror in her face baffled and enraged him. He’s always been confused about this part of the events; it’s all a bit of a blur really. He thinks he must have hit her, probably quite hard. He must have carried her into his car? He can’t recall driving her to his house either but she was definitely there because he kept checking during the night. He worried she would try and run away. There was no chance of that though. She’d never woken up, not even after he had removed her little black skirt and violated her. Still, he couldn’t part with her, not now he’d finally got her all to himself, right there on his sofa. It’s just that his neighbours noticed a foul smell after a few days and despite several rings of the doorbell never saw George. So they called the council. Who called the police.


Their ashes had been scattered in the Winter Gardens, part of the silent crematorium, although they had died in September, along with the russet leaves that fell as a continuous rain upon her. Her high stiletto heels crunched on the leaf strewn carpet of her garden path as her eyes averted to the muddy mound at the other end of the grass. That too, now covered in an autumnal palette of browns and reds as the leaves fell from the tree above, creating a cover on what lay below.

She longed to return to the Winter Gardens, to see if she could feel something, anything. The fear stopped her going, it was all just too sad. Every day was sad, melancholy wringed out her mottled mind until there was nothing left. Her actions had become somewhat robotic during the last year. She awoke every morning, which surprised her, and then somehow, she was able to take a shower, boil the kettle, squeeze the oranges and butter the toast. She brushed her long blonde hair and dressed, even taking care to co-ordinate her clothing, shoes and accessories. She drove the silver car to her tedious accounting job where everyone pitied her but she managed, she coped and occasionally possibly appeared chirpy and capable.

She could handle the banalities, paying the bills, shopping for groceries and writing out birthday cards for the now faceless names in her address book. It was when she slept that the ghosts and ghouls would come out to play, taunting her, forcing her to look at what happened and see it all too clearly in a rapid firing of haunting flashbacks. Night after night she would scream into the darkness, clutching her galloping heart, choking with the reality of it all. In an attempt to curb the dreams, she had started to set the alarm for 3am and get up to have a cigarette, sometimes this worked, sometimes it didn’t. Last night, it hadn’t worked and she’d been awake since 5am with a crushing headache. But the show must go on; she’d taken her pretty, painted face to work and had been asked out by the new temp, Nathan.

Obviously Nathan can’t know about the tragedy, her whispering colleagues had not recited the sorry tale for him yet. The one about her husband and newborn baby boy in the out of control family car that hurtled into a wall, trapping them inside with the ensuing inferno, burning alive their mangled bodies, leaving her a childless widow at the age of 24. No, she felt sure he had not heard this one because what would the appeal be of dinner and drinks with this sorrowful mess?

She had accepted his invitation and was feeling increasingly nervous about how their date would go. She’d tried this before when the hidden grief was new, raw and fighting to get out. It had ended badly. Very badly. The guy, Russell from the courier service her firm used, had been keen. He’d taken her out for Sushi at the restaurant in town; they’d gone out for drinks afterwards and ended up back here. She’d had too much wine and he was taking advantage, hands and fingers roaming, kissing her neck. She had felt so deeply aroused it had shocked her. Only minutes into his exploration of her body, his incessant fingers had caused ripple after ripple of delight. She’d wept instantly; fat salty tears had bounced off her face. He’d not known what to do, how would he? It was the guilt ridden rage within her that had been the most astonishing factor. She’d felt so very bad then, her body had betrayed her and she had betrayed her dead husband and their tiny dead Son.

It had all happened so quickly and was surreal to her even now, that the scissors had appeared in her shaking hands and that she attacked him so brutally and with a strength she’s never known she had. That his cries of terror and intense pain meant nothing to her as the silver blades crashed down, blow after blow, and his warm claret blood spurting from so many holes couldn’t stop her. Even as he had fallen silent, his handsome face unrecognisable, his pulse slipping right away, she kept going until there was barely enough surface of him remaining to cut and slash.

That was when the emotion melted away after her unleashed grief had erupted. She had been so methodical and careful to clean away the bloodbath, buying little things here and there to replace broken items and anything stained by him. He was at the bottom of the garden now which had taken some serious doing, in the muddy mound with his leafy quilt. Forget-me-nots grew there in the summer.

Short-listed Story.

Peter Barry Short Story Competition: My Shortlisted Entry

63 Hannigan Road

The curtain twitches at number sixty three.
I can see you but you can’t see me.

There are several people I see walking by my house; I don’t know where they live. Take the ginger lady with the wavy hair so long I suppose she must sit on it? Four times a day I used to see her, pretty freckled face and belly full of baby, waddling duck-like the way heavily pregnant women do. I watched her get bigger and bigger until I thought she may just pop. I kept looking, eager to see her pushing the pram, wondering if the blanket would be pink or blue. I had guessed blue; I’m quite good at that. Anyway, it was weeks and weeks and I just didn’t see her at all. Until one cold day at the end of the year, there she was: flattish tummy but no pram. Never a pram, never a baby. She looks older and has a blotchy complexion like she spends much of the day in tears. There is sorrow in her eyes, lines of pain and torment etched around her mouth now. Her colourful paisley prints have been replaced with blacks and greys. I can only guess what happened there and I am sorry for her and hope to see her waddling by again some day.

I like the bearded gentleman in his crisp white suit, belonging to another decade and probably another place, more decadent than this suburban road. I appreciate his hats, ties and polished shoes. I enjoy his cigarette bouncing off the pavement with the quick spark of orange breaking up into bits. I wish I knew him because I have a strong sense that he has a story to tell and I yearn to hear it. I like his friendly weathered face, secretive smile and the fact I see the same green apple juice carton poking out the top of his shopping bag every day.

The teenage sisters amuse me with their flurry of squeals, giggles and whispers. Reading aloud their text messages from their busy small mobile phones, thumbs dashing over the surface to reply to some boy I suppose? They’re like two peas in a pod with their straight dark brown bobs, high cheekbones and lashings of mascara. Their school skirts get shorter by the month, the lipstick more prominent, their chests more woman like. They seem to revel in all of this and I hope they continue. One day I’ll watch them rush by, adult and serious. Long may their shrieks of laughter rule.

Directly across the road lives the bespectacled brunette, alone and without visitors. I suspect she lives to work and arrives home promptly at 6.15pm and draws the curtains. I feel sorry for her lonely existence so I like to imagine that behind those cream linen curtains, she gets hopelessly drunk, dances around naked and makes nuisance phone calls. Someone does. Andrea at 81 gets heavy breathing; though I’ve always put that down to the bulky ex-Army guy directly across the way from her. I’ve seen the way he looks at women. Once a year, always in August, he explodes in a mighty rage, offending everyone. Last time, the police were called out.

I’ve come to celebrate these autumn leaves; it means next door’s summer-long barbeque finally comes to an end; which is a blessed relief. The wife, Kim, is like a snarling terrier, especially after a few too many glasses of wine. The rows they have! You’ve never heard language like it. He storms out; she throws plates and then along comes her friend with massive hair, egging Kim on with top up after top up until their long painted talons render them useless.

On the opposite side is the old couple, quiet really except when the grandchildren visit. Then all Hell breaks loose. Six daughters they have, all reproducing snotty nosed miniature clones of themselves at a rapid rate. Not one of them seems to be at all fond their collective brood; they’re usually dumped on Grandma and Grandpa and left hungry and wailing in the front garden.

Next to them is the giddy deaf lady who always makes me think of a bounding little puppy, sweet until it pisses on your knee. I sound mean and I don’t mean to be, she’s very nice and very friendly, constantly trying to communicate with the neighbours, none of who can understand and I watch their stressed faces attempting to piece together fragments of what she means. The embarrassment factor is high, everyone walks away slower than before, shoulders slumped, feeling bad that they have failed her, struggling to shake it off and enjoy the rest of the day.

After that it’s Barbie and Ken. I don’t know their real names but that’s what I call them. Barbie is a lot younger than Ken and I frequently wonder what she sees in him, his younger brother is much more attractive. I’m sure that one day she will make the switch; I saw them share a kiss at Christmas. Barbie’s aesthetically quite perfect and always pristine. I’ve never seen her without full make-up or wearing sensible shoes. Not even when number 49 caught fire and killed the old lady with the tight white perm. I’m not keen on Ken, he looks allergic to fun and don’t even get me started on his moaning, grey voice protesting about something or other; heights of garden fences, allocated parking spaces and other such tedious drivel. I smile at the local children walking behind him, exaggerating his stoic, superior strides until they fall about laughing.

The curtain twitches at number sixty three.
I can see you but you can’t see me.