Short Story Serial: Two Looks Like Murder Episode 6

This is the final episode of the story: I’ll post the whole thing tomorrow.

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.’

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.

‘Well?’ he says.

‘Well what?’

‘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…

Comments welcome as always.

Kirk out

These Are Your Lives

The elderly member of our household, having exhausted antiques programmes, box sets and railway videos, has found the complete series of This is Your Life and apparently – since this is Youtube – Jimmy Savile is still on there. I guess it’d be interesting to watch, since otherwise every trace of him has been expunged from the world, but I don’t know if, knowing what I know now, I could bear to watch it. There was an interview with Joan Bakewell at the weekend and amongst other things – detailing the sexual harrassment she received in her youth; I still remember her being referred to as ‘the thinking man’s crumpet’ – saying that in fact nobody did know about Savile. I can well believe it – these people are clever. They hide in plain sight.

Along the same lines was serial killer Dennis Nilsen, portrayed brilliantly and enigmatically by David Tennant on ITV. Des, as he was known, is here an enigmatic figure, at first seemingly baffled by his own crimes, wanting to be helpful to the police, to ‘clear all this mess up.’ He gives them details and confesses freely to a number of murders. But how much was he concealing? How many other murders did he commit and not admit to? The question ‘was he mad or bad?’ – never in any case a simple either/or – was decided in court when he was convicted of multiple murders, but is left entirely open in the series. Des is well worth a watch – in fact it’s so good I may watch it again. And it also has the excellent Jason Watkins, who impresses me more every time I see him.

TV-wise, there’s a lot to look forward to in the autumn: the return of Spitting Image, a new series of The Crown and the second instalment of His Dark Materials, The Subtle Knife. There’s so much good TV in fact that it’s hard to restrict one’s viewing hours – but I must. To that end, OH and I have started doing the ‘Shabbat’ thing again, turning off all devices from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. The aim is basically to reconnect – with yourself and others, with nature, with your thoughts, whatever – and avoid distractions. We did it last week and it was great, except that we hadn’t planned it too well and I did in fact need to use laptop and mobile for some scheduled events. But next weekend we will do better.

The thing that I was going to say, before I got completely sidetracked, was this: what if there were a Hindu or Buddhist version of This is Your Life? Imagine how that would go: Eamonn Andrews would come along with his big book and say, ‘Tonight, Dev Patel, these are your lives. You were born first of all in 4 BC in Ancient Rome…’

It’s fun to think about.

Happy Tuesday.

Kirk out

Short Story Serial: Two Looks Like Murder Episode 5

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.

Last Chance to See…

If you haven’t read the previous short story Backstop, hurry up because it’ll be disappearing in a day or two. I’m about to send it to a magazine and whilst they don’t mind it having been on my blog they ask you to take it down before you submit, so that’s what I’ll be doing. Meanwhile I hope you’re enjoying Two Looks Like Murder. Comments welcome as always.

Kirk out

My Guardian Article – Three Looks Like a Crowd

Thanks for all the comments I’ve had about the above article and for the suggestion that I should write a response. I will do that but first I want to tell you how it came about. As regular readers will know I’m a member of a support group called Straight Partners Anonymous which exists to support the straight partners of people who come out as gay or transgender. A while ago a journalist got in touch asking for people to tell their stories; however no-one was very keen as they wanted us to put our name to the story and most members prefer to stay anonymous. I decided that I would do it, and so in the fullness of time I got to meet Colin.

By this time lockdown was in full swing so we met on Zoom. He’d prepped me by sending some questions for me to think about and this gave me a chance to consider my boundaries – what I would and wouldn’t talk about. I decided I’d give my name but no photos and just a vague geographical area rather than the specific town. Of course anyone who knows us would realise straight away that it was me but it just felt like too much to have a photo out there.

Colin turned out to be quiet, very personable and respectful of my boundaries. He didn’t push me to talk about anything I didn’t want to discuss and was understanding of my feelings. If I’d had a fear about this stage of the process it was that he might question my responses; to say (as people have done in the past) why didn’t you leave? or why can’t you just accept this? That last question has caused me a great deal of grief at times. He did ask gently whether I’d considered leaving and I said in moments of crisis, yes, but not otherwise. He went away and wrote up the interview and then emailed a copy for my comments.

Thus far all was good. I felt that it was my story and that there was a concerted effort to tell these neglected narratives of people left behind by the trans agenda. It very much feels that we are a forgotten people and it seemed important to me to talk about this.

The problems began with the editorial process. Colin is freelance and whilst he was firmly aiming the story at the Guardian, it wasn’t certain they’d accept. And at some point I got the distinct impression that the editors at the magazine were getting twitchy about it. The first hint I had was an email about pronouns. Since this is my story I used the pronoun I generally use (in private) which is ‘he’; Colin was fine with this but now they were suggesting we should use the trans person’s preferred pronoun throughout. I found this a quite outrageous suggestion: if this is my story it should be told in my words. I put my foot down. I said that I felt strongly about pronouns and this was a red line for me. As a compromise I would accept my (public) pronoun, which is the gender-neutral ‘they.’ This was accepted: so far so good.

But the problems escalated. The next suggestion was that the trans partners should be given the ‘right to reply’ to what we’d said – and at this stage I nearly pulled out. It seemed entirely wrong to me; when trans people’s stories are told, do the straight partners get a right of reply? We do not. I fulminated to OH who was as concerned as I about this new direction and – bless their little cotton socks forever – declined to be interviewed, saying it was my story and should remain so. I can’t tell you how good that felt – but the situation should not have arisen in the first place.

There followed such a long hiatus that I more or less gave up on ever seeing it in print. Colin was supposed to let me know and when the weeks went by without a word I decided that for whatever reason it wasn’t going to happen. Then on Saturday I just happened to get a paper – and there it was. On the front cover. What is it like when your partner comes out as trans?

There are several other stories and I’ll perhaps comment on the whole thing in another post, but for now here it is in case you missed it.

Kirk out

Short Story Serial: Two Looks Like Murder Episode 4

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.

Two Looks Like Murder Episode 3

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.

My Guardian Article is Out

Aeons ago you may remember that I gave an interview to the Guardian about what it’s like being the straight partner of someone with gender dysphoria. I’d more or less given up on seeing it in print as the editors seemed to get very twitchy and demand changes which I didn’t want so a lot of emails were sent back and forth. You may recall that a while ago they wanted to interview the partners as well to get their take on it: this was almost a deal breaker for me but OH, may whose cotton socks be ever blessed, said it was my story and declined to be interviewed.

Anyway they were supposed to let me know when it was coming out but nobody did, so it was lucky I happened to get a Guardian yesterday. And there it was!

And here it is:

Kirk out

Short Story Serial: Two Looks Like Murder Episode 2

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.

TMI Friday

I wrote an entire short story yesterday, from start to finish. I don’t think that’s ever happened before – or if it has, I wasn’t at all happy with the result. I may not be happy with this one when I go back to it but I was pleased as Punch yesterday when I’d done a Jane-Austen-comes-to-the-present-day story with a twist. It follows on from the first story about C S Lewis and I’ve got a series in mind, though I don’t know what the others will be.

Writing a series is like having the wind at your back. It’s such a help; you don’t have to start from scratch with characters, ideas, settings etc; you’ve done all that groundwork already and can just concentrate on what happens next. And since what happens next follows from the previous story you’re already half-way there. It’s such a joy. These time-hopping stories are great fun to write as well; I particularly enjoyed my time with Mr Lewis. I wonder who I’ll have next? Btw it’s important to distinguish between a series – one story after another – and a serial, which is one story in instalments. Of which I’ve just started another one – see below – I hope you enjoy it.

You’ve heard of TGI Friday – well, today is definitely TMI Friday. OH and I are quite focussed on what’s happening in Scotland at the moment, comparing it to the situation here in benighted Blighty, so we watch the Scottish news and check the Scottish weather. So this morning when OH commented that it was cold, I said it’d be colder in Scotland. Out came the weather app, out came google and I was informed of the prevailing conditions in Lerwick and Dumfries as well as the levels of humidity and prognostications for those areas. That was definitely TMI for a Friday morning.

Have a good day today and stay safe. The virus is on the up…

Kirk out