Short Story Serial: Two Looks Like Murder, The Whole Story

Here, in case you missed it, is the whole story. Comments welcome as always.

Honestly, who uses a cut-throat razor nowadays? They’re museum pieces, Sweeney-Todd relics; deadly silver scissors that can slit the life with one flick of a careless wrist. Even if you don’t sever an artery there’s still a risk of infection and I hardly think swishing the blades under a cold tap whilst humming I Got You Babe counts as a proper cleansing routine.

But Dave loves his cut-throat. I can hear him singing to it as he shaves, then as soon as I open the door he clamps a hand to his jugular and starts making choking noises.

‘That’s not funny!’ I snap.

He looks contrite for a millisecond before his face splits in a big grin. ‘TGIF!’ he chortles, as if the day grants him some kind of clown-like immunity. It’s April Fools Day on Monday. Worst day of the year.

I push past him, shrugging off my dressing gown. ‘Why’d you still use that thing? Most people don’t even wet-shave, let alone with one of those.

‘Most people?’ No-one else would have noticed the darker tone in that voice.

‘Most men then,’ I say sulkily.

‘Can’t shave your armpits with an electric.’

I knew we’d get on to this. ‘They’d still never use one of them.’

‘Wouldn’t they,’ he says softly, darkly.

Every morning he makes some comment. But I don’t see why I should shave my body when he’s as hairy as a gorilla; a fact I pointed out one Friday night and so caused the collapse of a whole weekend. But I won’t give in. ‘An electric takes about ten seconds instead of all this palaver with foam and towels,’ I say. (He leaves the towels on the floor all wet and sticky, another bone of contention.)

‘If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.’ He chants the words like a chorister singing a psalm.

‘One of these days you’ll do it so well you’ll slice your head off,’ I retort, and get in the shower quick. I hear him shut the blades with a flick of the wrist and I pull the curtain tight, thinking of Psycho.

Every morning it’s the same routine, shave – shower – argue – breakfast. As he leans in to inspect the coffee I notice his chin’s bleeding but I don’t say anything. Breakfast is a time of truce and without these truces we’d have split up long ago, he knows that as well as I do. I hate having the TV on but as usual Dave gets his way and I wonder if it damages our brains, ingesting all this gloomy news along with our coffee. I look at the vein pulsing in his neck. What if he really did slice it open? I imagine the gasp of shock, the bright-red liquid spurting out, the hand clamped to the neck, the blood splashing in a Jackson-Pollock all up the shower curtain… then I remember it’s not that easy to sever an artery. You have to slice really hard. You have to mean it.

I think about that later as I chop the tomatoes. They’re cheap ones, the skins so thick that you have to poke the knife right in. Like Dave’s skin… some days he annoys me so much I could – I stab again and the juice spurts all up my shirt. On the way to the sink, I catch my expression in the mirror. Sometimes I scare myself.

I put the radio on and hit the news; top story is the woman who murdered her husband. She suffered years of coercive control and in light of that was given manslaughter. Twelve years; out in ten… as I grab hold of the lettuce I wonder about that coercive control. What did he make her do? I cleave the iceberg in two with a satisfying crunch; inside it’s wrinkled like a cold green brain. I wonder what Dave’s brain would look like; I wonder if there’s a part that governs sadistic humour and whether it’d be engorged. I shred the leaves with a boning knife and sluice them under the cold tap. As I spin the salad drier I’m humming I Got You Babe and I realise I don’t know where my mind has got to, nor my life either.

The weekend is calm, almost too calm. I have a sense of foreboding but I put it down to climate change; you shouldn’t be able to sit outside at the end of March. When I wake on the Monday my first thought is that it’s cold again. I can feel a draught round my head and I wonder if the window’s open. Dave’s not in bed – have I overslept? What time is it? Why does my head feel so strange? I run a hand over my scalp: it’s like a field of stubble with ridges and clumps. What the hell? I check the clock. Shit, I’ve overslept, I’ll have to call work. But first I have to see, I have to know – what the hell has happened? Where has all my hair gone? Have I got some form of rapidly-advancing cancer? I wrench myself out of bed and into the bathroom. I turn on the light and let out a yell – the figure in the mirror looks like a Holocaust victim. She’s been shorn, her scalp brutally butchered. Between patches of bare skin clots of blood stick to clumps of hair. Who could have done this?

I stumble back into the bedroom and step on a piece of paper. There’s a note beside the bed – I pick it up and read the words without understanding them. You wouldn’t shave so I did it for you. What the hell does it mean? I sit on the bed and read it again. You wouldn’t shave so I did. Gradually the full meaning sinks in and as I hurl the note into the bin I see an empty packet; not Dave’s pills, not my contraceptives. I take it out. Temazepam. I know the word but my brain refuses to make sense of it, going off on tangents of trapezes and trampolines. Finally the full picture comes into focus and a murderous rage possesses me. I want to kill him, really kill him. This is coercive control; I’d get manslaughter. Twelve years, out in ten? God, it’d be worth it. I pace to and fro, hardly noticing the cold.

I need to phone work. Carol answers and I say I’m sorry I can’t come in today and she says where have you been and I say, I can’t explain now but I’ve not been well, I’ll be in tomorrow (when they see my scalp they’ll think cancer) and she says sorry to tell you this but you’re fired, you haven’t been in since Friday. What? Friday? What?

What day is it today? I say in a small voice, feeling like an idiot.

She seems to be suppressing a laugh. It’s Thursday. I drop the phone and collapse onto the bed.

Three whole days lost!

Enough. I drag myself into the shower, wincing as the water hits my scalp, and when I’m dry I throw on some jeans and a t-shirt, put a scarf over my lumpen head and ransack the drawers flinging clothes, money and passport into a bag. I slink out the back door and hail a taxi. I’ve already called May, said I needed a break; she sounded a bit curt but she’ll understand. She told me to leave years ago. Well May, I’m leaving now.

I hit the platform, ignoring the sidelong stares at my wild appearance, hoping the train won’t be delayed. As I look anxiously down the platform I see the stubbly brown hair and unmistakable gait of my least-favourite person in the world; Barry, my office nemesis and Dave’s best mate. Can I hide? Too late – he’s seen me. He strides over like a minder come to pick up his charge. What’s going on?

Without preamble he takes my arm in an iron grip and starts to steer me away from the platform. ‘Time to go home,’ he says out of the corner of his mouth. I’m trying to speak, to say what the hell are you doing, you can’t do this; to call out this man’s taking me by force, help, call the police, but the words won’t come. Barry propels me to a quiet spot under the bridge. ‘Now,’ he says.

Now? What does he mean, now?

He leans in to pull off my scarf and I wince, more in embarrassment than pain – in spite of needing help I don’t want anyone to see the state I’m in. He surveys my sorry scalp, nods in approval and hands the scarf back, then seizing my arm once more (why can’t I scream?) propels me into the lift, up and out through a barrier where he puts my return ticket through, a cancelled journey. In the side-street a taxi idles. Barry opens the door and shoves me in giving the driver our address, Dave’s and mine. Another cancelled journey.

Finally I find my voice. ‘You can’t do this,’ I say. ‘It’s false imprisonment.‘ (I’m talking off the top of my head and the phrase doesn’t seem quite right.) Barry says nothing; the driver says nothing. ‘I’ll go to the police,’ I say. No response. In frustration I yell, ‘What the hell do you want?’

Barry rounds on me furiously. ‘What do I want? What do I want? A man doesn’t ask much of his wife, just that she shaves her disgusting hairy body and does she oblige him? She does not. She goes her own sweet way.’ I open my mouth and close it again. In the mirror the taxi driver winks; if I had a knife I’d stick it right in his eye.

Barry’s still talking and I let him; gives me time to think.

Outside our house Barry pays the driver with a twenty then locks my arm in that same iron grip. He propels me indoors (he has a key? where’d he get that?) and drives me upstairs ahead of him. He locks me in the bathroom, saying, ‘Now shave yourself before your husband gets home.’

Dear god.

I consider my options. Shaving or not-shaving is one pair; escape or not-escape is another, as is escape-now or escape-later. I’ll go to the police, have them both arrested. Coercive control! That’s the phrase. I’ve been suffering coercive control. And I don’t just mean today – I’ve been suffering it for years. But what to do now? Maybe I could shave just this once? Pretend to go along with it, put them off the scent? Maybe. I open the cupboard and there at the back sits the cut-throat razor, still matted with hair and blood – my hair, my blood. That bastard, he couldn’t even be bothered to clean it. Immediately another pair of options springs into life, silver and sharp.

I spend an age washing and polishing the blades, running them under the tap crooning I Got You Babe. Eventually the front door opens; two low voices mutter in the hall, then footsteps thump up the stairs. I close the blades and tuck them up tight inside my sleeve. The lock clicks, the door opens and Barry says, ‘Downstairs. Now.’

‘Well?’ he says.

‘Well what?’

I follow him, my face hot, the silver blades cool on my arm; not having a clue when I’ll use them but knowing I will. Oh yes. Downstairs Dave’s standing in front of the mantelpiece like some Victorian patriarch.

‘Have you shaved?’

‘What’s it look like?’

‘In that case…’ Dave stops talking and holds his chest. What’s happening? Is he having a seizure? That’ll save time… but no, he looks up and I realise – he’s laughing! They both are – he and Barry are holding their sides and laughing fit to bust.

‘I can’t keep it up mate!’ Dave gasps.

‘Brilliant one mate!’ Barry punches him on the arm.

‘Couldn’t have done it without you.’

‘Or Genna at work.’

At this Dave erupts all over again. He laughs so hard he has to hold his stomach. He points at me, then at Barry, then at the calendar. ‘April Fool!’ they splutter in unison, then like a pair of clowns they collapse onto the sofa.

‘You – utter – total – bastard!’ Dave’s laughter turns to a gasp as with one flick of the wrist I flash the cut-throat razor in the air. I’m on him in two strides; he’s paralysed on the sofa as I attack. I cut through the jugular, remembering the tomatoes; you have to slice hard, you have to mean it.

‘I told you this thing was dangerous,’ I say, standing back to admire my handiwork. Dave doesn’t answer, just stares at me, glass-eyed. The blood’s splashed in just the way I imagined, only up the wall instead of the shower curtain. I turn around and see Barry’s scarpered. I won’t go after him though. One killing might be judged as diminished responsibility, but two? Two looks like murder…

Hope you enjoyed that. There’ll be another one starting in a few days.

Kirk out

2 thoughts on “Short Story Serial: Two Looks Like Murder, The Whole Story

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