drama

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Cuckoo

Published May 20, 2021 by Naomi Rettig

I sit in my car chewing on nicotine gum and watching the mourners seep into the church. I don’t recognise anyone. Leaning back and closing my eyes, I toy with the idea of driving off somewhere else, anywhere else. My overnight bag is in the boot. I could. I wouldn’t be missed.

There’s a tap on the window. I open my eyes. Keith. My brother-in-law is attempting to smile, his face almost pressed against the glass. I stare at him and press the button. The window drifts down. His wobbly face twitches. It seems he doesn’t know whether to start talking while the barrier is lowering or wait.  He waits. I chew. The whir of the window stops.

‘Kate. Hello.’ He exhales, expelling the essence of peppermint and meat. Cheap sausages, I think.

‘Hello Keith.’ I don’t smile, hoping my sour face will encourage him away from my personal space. It doesn’t.

‘How are you?’

‘I’ve just driven six hours to come to my mother’s funeral in bank holiday traffic with a hangover.’

‘Oh. Yes.’ He straightens up and recedes from my window, fidgeting with his tie. ‘Are you coming in with us now?’ He glances across the car park to my sister and their two adolescents. It’s odd seeing her dressed in black. I only see her wearing florals, bright yellow, or tacky Christmas jumpers. Josh and Max are in matching black suits. One is tapping away on his phone. I think it’s Josh. They’re both the same height now.

I take out my gum, wrap it in a tissue, and pop it in my pocket. Keith hovers as I lock up then we walk across in silence.

‘Hello Kate.’ My sister smiles. It’s a tired smile. She looks old.

‘Jackie.’ I smile back, but I’m not sure it translates to my face. My Botox hasn’t had time to settle.

She takes a deep breath. ‘Let’s go in.’

The service is short. A brief history of Mum’s life accompanied by sniffing and snivelling from Jackie. Keith and the boys look like they’re waiting for a bus. Friends of Mum give their condolences to Jackie outside the church. I don’t think many of them know who I am. I’m a stranger. To everyone.

Jackie says thanks to the vicar then turns to me. ‘Do you want to follow us in the car to the wake?’

‘I’m going to give that a miss.’

Jackie’s face wrinkles. ‘Why? You’ve come all this way.’

‘Exactly. I’m tired from the drive. I’m just going to the house.’

‘Fine. Do what you want, you usually do.’ Jackie sighs. ‘I’ll call in later.’

‘I’ll probably be asleep.’ I walk off to my car, judgement smothering me.

I pull up outside Mum’s house. I see a curtain in the house opposite quiver as I lock the car. Nosey neighbours in their narrow semi-detached houses with their narrow semi-detached minds. Yes, it’s me, the bad daughter, the one that left and only comes back unwillingly for birthdays and Christmas.

Closing the front door, I drop my bag on the floor and stand still listening to the almost silent house. That bloody clock is ticking loudly. Leaving my bag in the hallway, I follow the noise of the clock into the lounge. Mum’s beige threadbare wingback chair is still shaped with the indentation of her. The burgundy walls are still depressing. The flowery curtains are still deciding what decade to fit into. I wander around the room, looking at all the cheap ornaments on display like I’m in a mundane museum. Photos in mismatched frames are everywhere. Most of them Jackie’s kids in various stages of growth. I stop at a picture of Jackie and me. We must be about ten. Linked arms, smiling on a beach. Morecombe, I think. We do look like twins. That was when I believed we were. About a year later, my nan told me I was adopted.

I sit on the sofa, taking the photo with me. I trace my finger over the two smiling girls with matching swimsuits and matching brown bobbed hair. Nan had told me not to tell anyone I knew. She said it would upset Mum too much. It hadn’t even been a real adoption. Apparently, while Mum was giving birth here in this house to Jackie, I was left on the doorstep. I often wonder how my life would have been different if, instead of Mum and Dad registering me as the twin to Jackie, they had handed me to the authorities. I knew Jackie was the favourite. I understood why. She was the golden child, and I was just a cuckoo.

I realise I’m crying. Not big ugly crying but tiny veins of tears trickling down my cheeks. ‘Oh, Mum.’ I say out loud to her chair. ‘Why didn’t I tell you that I knew? Why didn’t you tell me?’

The clock ticks. That bloody clock. I discard the photo frame on the sofa and wipe my face with the tissue in my pocket. I forgot I wrapped my gum in there and proceed to wipe it over my eyes. ‘Shit.’ Removing gum from my eyelashes, I stride over to the clock, remove the batteries and fling them to the floor. ‘Shit, shit, shit!’

‘I never liked that clock either.’ A voice says quietly behind me.

I reel around. ‘Jackie! Why aren’t you at the wake?’

‘I went, but it didn’t seem right that you were here alone.’ Jackie puts her handbag onto the armchair by the door.

‘I’m fine. You can go back if you want to.’

‘You don’t look fine, and I don’t want to.’ Jackie picks the batteries up from the floor. ‘I don’t think Mum liked the clock either.’

‘Then she should have got rid of it.’

Jackie places the batteries on the mantelpiece next to the now muted mahogany clock. ‘Think she felt a duty to Nana Babs to keep it.’

‘How ridiculous.’

Jackie nods. ‘How long are you going to stay here? You can stay with us next door if you’d feel more comfortable.’

I’d feel more comfortable on a bed of nails in the middle of a motorway. ‘I’m fine here. I’m going back home tomorrow.’

‘Oh. I was hoping you’d stay longer.’ She sits on the sofa staring at her hands and then erupts into tears.

I freeze. No automatic instincts kick in. Does she want me to console her? Give her some space? Say something meaningful? I opt for sitting next to her and placing my hand on her back. She still sobs but is now more subdued. I awkwardly stroke her back. We sit with my silence and her soft sobbing. I feel tears formulating in my eyes. I swallow them down. One of us has to be in control.

Jackie wipes her eyes and takes a deep breath. ‘I miss you.’

I don’t know what to say, so I say nothing.

She takes another gulp of air and sniffs. ‘With Dad and Mum both gone, I’m frightened you’ll disappear from my life and leave me too.’

‘You have Keith and your boys. You’re not alone.’ Unlike me. My hand is static on her back. I remove it.

‘But you’re family too. We grew up together.’

One of those statements is true.

Jackie turns slightly towards me. ‘I know we haven’t been close since you left. I know why. But I’d really like us to build bridges.’

My hands clasp themselves like magnets. ‘You know?’

‘Yes.’ Jackie nods. ‘Mum told me.’

My chest feels like my lungs have been punctured. ‘Mum told you but didn’t have the decency to tell me?’

Jackie frowns slightly. ‘I guess she thought it was more relevant to me.’

‘Wow!’ I lean forward, desperate not to faint.

‘Mum told me not to tell anyone, but I thought you knew somehow when you moved away and didn’t keep in touch.’

I focus on the swirly brown carpet. My stomach feels like it’s trying to replicate it. Or decorate it. ‘Nana Babs told me.’ I swallow down bile. ‘And also told me not to tell anyone.’

‘I wish I’d said something to you before now. This secret has been eating away at me.’ Jackie reaches across to her bag and extracts a tissue.  ‘I’ve felt such an imposter around you whenever you came to visit.’ She blows her nose. ‘A cuckoo in your nest.’

I sit up. ‘A cuckoo in my nest?’

‘Yes. I know Mum favoured me a lot of the time, but I think that was because of me being abandoned like that, and selfishly I accepted it. And now I’m so sorry because it pushed you away.’

My heart accelerates like a cheetah chasing an antelope. ‘What do you mean you abandoned like that?’

Jackie stops looking at the awful carpet and turns her focus to me. ‘Did Nana Babs not tell you the full story? I was left on the doorstep. Here.’

I take deep breaths. I don’t want one of my panic attacks right now. ‘But it was me on the doorstep.’

Jackie stares at me, her eyes wide and wild. ‘No. Nana got that wrong. I was the doorstep baby.’ She reaches out and grips my hand. ‘You thought it was you?’

‘Yes.’ My speech feels weighted with granite. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes. Mum and Dad were both O blood groups, but I’m type A. That means they couldn’t be my biological parents.’

I feel Jackie squeeze my hand. A spike of emotions rips through my entire body. I implode and spew out a strangled shriek accompanied by a torrent of tears.

Jackie hugs me and cries too. We sit entwined in grief for what feels like hours but is merely minutes.

Jackie releases her embrace and reaches for more tissue in her bag. She hands one to me and frowns. ‘You’ve got something sticky in your eyelashes.’

I laugh. ‘Oh, nicotine gum.’ I take the tissue and pick out the remaining gum.

Jackie wipes her eyes. ‘I can’t believe you’ve spent all these years thinking you were adopted.’

I finish picking at my eyelashes, satisfied all the gum is out.

‘Why do you think we bought the house next door to Mum?’

I shrug.

‘Because I felt an obligation to stay close and look after her. She took me in and treated me as her own. In fact, better than her own. I felt that I owed her.’

I shake my head, still processing. ‘Meanwhile, I ran away like a selfish brat. Resentful to you for being the perfect daughter with your perfect husband and your perfect kids.’

‘Ha!’ Jackie sinks back into the sofa. ‘Keith thinks he’s romantic if he changes his underwear every day, and the boys are obnoxious ungrateful ignorant teens right now. You have it right with your high flying career and luxury apartment in the city.’

I laugh and flop back into the sofa too. ‘What? My boringly glamorous head of accountancy job and my microwave meals for one. I haven’t even got a cat.’

We sit in comfortable silence in the uncomfortable room. I close my eyes and almost doze off.

‘Why don’t you stay longer?’

‘I guess I could work from here for a few days.’

‘You could always move in here. Permanently.’

I open my eyes and tilt my head towards Jackie. ‘That’s quite a big decision.’

‘I know.’ She nods, then leans back, closing her eyes. ‘Just want you to know that I’d like it if you lived closer.’

I lean back and close my eyes again too. ‘Would Keith letch at me over the fence if I was sunbathing in a bikini?’

‘Probably.’

‘Would the boys get on my nerves with their noisy music over the fence?

‘Probably.’

I peep across at her. She’s still got her eyes closed and is smiling. ‘Can we burn the clock?’

Eyes still shut, her smile expands. ‘Definitely.’

My smile twins with hers. My heart rate reconciles itself.

The Money

Published February 10, 2021 by Naomi Rettig

The grubby gym bag, bursting with twenty pound notes, lay on the kitchen table between them like a corpse on a mortician’s slab. Hannah and Ollie stared at it as if waiting for it to come to life. The refrigerator clicked and a clock ticked.

Hannah hauled her gaze from the bag to her husband. ‘Should we call the police?’

‘No.’

‘But it’s obviously not legal.’

Ollie glared at her. ‘No shit.’

Hannah lowered her head and fiddled with a button on her tatty pink cardigan. ‘How much do you think is there?’

‘Let’s find out.’ He stood up and leaned over towards the bag.

‘Don’t touch it.’ Hannah bit on her lip. ‘The police will probably want to test for finger prints, won’t they?’

‘We’re not calling the police.’

‘But…’

‘My garden, my property.’ He planted his hands on the table. ‘We’ve lived here five years, whoever buried this would’ve been back by now if they were going to. They’re probably dead. Or if  Mrs Monroe’s buried her life savings then technically it was ours the moment she sold the house to us. And she’s dead now so she won’t be turning up to collect it.’

‘She’s dead?’

‘Christ.’ He stood upright and rubbed his head. ‘Yes, I told you. About a month after we bought the house.’

‘Oh, I don’t remember.’

‘Of course you don’t, you stupid cow.’ He pulled the bag towards him. ‘Get me a drink.’

Ollie started taking out the bundles from the bag. Hannah went to the other side of the kitchen and poured Ollie a glass of whiskey. Her hands were shaking and she was almost tempted to take a sip herself, but she didn’t, knowing what the consequences would be. Fading bruises reminding her. Instead she stared out of the window at their small back garden, at the hole that was going to house the foundations for Ollie’s barbeque patio. She stared at the hole, imagining the pond that she’d always wanted there. She heard Ollie laugh and was plucked back from her dreams. She placed his drink down on the table.

‘Five hundred thousand pounds.’ He took a gulp of whiskey. ‘Half a million.’

Hannah flopped down onto the chair. ‘Oh Ollie.’

‘I need to think how to play this.’ He continued staring at the piles of notes. ‘I can’t just stick it in the bank, that’ll look dodgy. I can buy a better house, but can I pay for it with cash? Would that get flagged up?’ He chewed at his bottom lip. ‘Probably.’

‘What do we want a new house for? We can stay here and pay the mortgage off and still have enough to live off. You could give up work.’

‘Give up work and have to stay with you all day?’ He took another swig of whiskey. ‘And you know I hate living here with that creep next door.’

‘Ray’s not a creep, he’s just friendly.’

‘He wants to get into your knickers. And if you ever let him I’ll kill you both.’

‘Oh Ollie, you know that would never happen.’ Hannah twiddled the button on her cardigan again. The thread it was dangling from was getting thinner.

‘These notes might be on a wanted list, I’ve seen it on the telly. People get caught when they try to spend it.’ He pulled a note from one of the bundles and thrust it towards Hannah. ‘Take this to the shop and spend it. If we don’t hear anything then it’s ok to pay into the bank in drips and drabs.’

Hannah gingerly took the note. ‘Ok.’

Ollie scraped his chair back and stood up. ‘Now get me some food, I’m going to have a shit and a shower.’ He knocked back the last of his drink and left.

Hannah stared at the money. She had an urge to shove it back in the bag and disappear somewhere but her fear was greater than the urge. He would find her wherever she ran. She slipped the twenty pound note into her cardigan pocket then started to prepare his steak. Saturday was steak night.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Hannah crept back into the bedroom. She had mastered the art of peeing quietly and then avoiding the creaky floorboard on the landing. Drawn to the bedroom window she tiptoed over and peered out into the blackness. She saw a figure by the hole and stepped back, bumping into the bed.

‘Ollie! There’s someone in the garden.’

Ollie sat bolt upright then leapt out of the bed to the window. ‘Where?’

‘At the back, where…’

‘There’s no one there, you paranoid cow.’ Ollie got back into bed, rubbing his eyes. ‘Get back in here and make yourself useful now you’ve woken me up.’

Hannah glanced back out of the window, and seeing no one in the garden, started to doubt herself. She got back into bed wishing she’d kept quiet.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Hannah answered the door to a man she guessed was in his late fifties and her first impression was that he looked like an undertaker. A long formal black coat covered black suit trousers and he wore highly polished black shoes. He was over six foot tall, thin but muscular. He raised his black trilby revealing a shiny bald head and smiled.

‘Hello,’ he said.

Hannah smiled back. ‘Hello.’

‘I’m Alan. Alan Monroe.’ He continued smiling.

‘Oh, hello.’ Hannah frowned slightly.

‘And you are?’

‘Um, Hannah.’ She didn’t like that his smile didn’t extend to his eyes. He reminded her of a shark. All toothy grin with predatory eyes.

‘Hannah, you bought this house from my mother.’

‘Oh, yes, Mrs Monroe.’

Alan took a step forward. Still smiling. ‘Can I come in?’

Hannah’s fingers tightened on the door. ‘Why?’

‘Because I’d like to talk to you, more privately.’ He kept his shark smile in place.

‘Well, my husband’s not here.’

‘And?’

‘He wouldn’t like it if I let you in without him being here.’

‘I can wait on your doorstep, but the net curtains are twitching already.’

Hannah looked around at the neighbours houses, no one was twitching their net curtains. Neighbourhood watch hadn’t taken off here, no one gave a toss. She almost sighed with relief when Ollie walked down the drive carrying a four pack of cans.

Ollie looked Alan up and down as he walked towards him. ‘Can I help you, pal?’

Alan stopped smiling. ‘And you are?’

‘I’m her husband. Who the hell are you?’

‘I’m Alan Monroe. Cynthia Monroe’s son.’

Ollie stood inches away from Alan, looking up at him slightly. ‘So?’

‘Can I come in to talk?’

‘Say what you want here.’

Alan frowned. ‘You have something of mine and I want it back.’

‘I don’t have anything of yours.’ Ollie moved past Alan and thrust his cans at Hannah, who held them to her chest.

Alan took a step forward. ‘The hole in the garden tells me a different story.’

‘So I’m putting in a patio. Like I said, I don’t have anything of yours. Anything I have is mine, bought fairly and squarely from your mum. If you think any different then call the police.’ Ollie stood on the doorstep and folded his arms.

‘I don’t think that’s necessary.’

‘No, didn’t think so.’ Ollie stepped into the house, shoving Hannah into the hallway. He glared at Alan. ‘Now fuck off.’

‘I’ll be back.’

Ollie slammed the door. ‘I’ll be back, who does he think he is, the terminator?’

‘Oh god Ollie. What are we going to do?’

‘Nothing. That’s what.’ He pushed past Hannah, into the lounge, grabbing his beers and plonked down onto the sofa. Yanking back a ring pull he took took a swig.

Hannah followed him in. ‘But he’ll come back. We should just give him the money.’

‘You’re so pathetic. I’m not giving it back, it’s not his. He stole it from someone else, and now it’s mine. Food chain darlin.’ Ollie took another slurp from the can and switched the tv on.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The bedroom light flashed on. Hannah and Ollie woke instantly. Ollie squinted. Hannah yelped. There was a gun with a silencer pointed at Ollie’s head.

‘I told you I’d be back,’ said Alan.

‘Get out of my house.’

Hannah noted that Ollie’s voice had less bravado than the day before.

‘Or what? You’ll call the police? I don’t think so. I will leave, when I’ve got my money back.’

‘That’s not happening.’

‘Then I’ll have to resort to dramatic persuasion.’

Hannah sat upright and pushed herself against the headboard. ‘Give him the money.’

Alan glanced at Hannah then back to Ollie. ‘You should listen to your wife.’

‘Shut up you stupid cow.’

Alan whacked the gun down onto Ollie’s head. It made a loud crack and Ollie cried and fell backwards. Blood ran from the gash. ‘Where’s the money? It’ll be a bullet next.’

‘No!’ Hannah screamed. ‘It’s in the airing cupboard.’

‘Stupid bitch.’ Ollie clutched his head.

‘Thank you.’ Alan smiled, turned, and started to walk away.

Ollie staggered from the bed and slammed into Alan’s back knocking him down. The gun flew across the floor towards the bed. The two men wrestled and punched each other until Alan managed to roll on top of Ollie and was pummelling his face. Hannah, shaking, got out of bed and picked up the gun.

Ollie looked up at Hannah. His one eye was closed and swollen. ‘Shoot him! Shoot him, you stupid cow!’ Blood spat out of his mouth like a rabid dog.

Hannah pointed the gun at Alan’s head and pulled the trigger. The sound from the gun with the silencer on was louder than Hannah was expecting. She recoiled back onto the bed like a ragdoll as Alan slumped onto Ollie. Sitting up she brought her breathing back under control. Ollie pushed Alan off and spat out a large globule of blood. They sat in silence.

‘Lucky we’ve got a hole in the garden for him to go in.’ Ollie spat out more blood.

Hannah stared at Alan’s body. She knew she should call the police but she didn’t want to be locked up. She needed to be free.

Ollie hauled himself to his feet and grabbed Alan under the arms. ‘Well don’t just bloody sit there, pick up his legs.’

Hannah placed the gun on the bed and then picked up Alan’s legs. They carried the body downstairs. Hannah dropped Alan’s feet a few times. Ollie swore at her. She was sweating by the time they’d lugged the corpse to the garden.

‘Where’s his shoe?’

Ollie whispered, but Hannah could feel the venom in his voice. She looked at Alan’s feet. One shoe on, one shoe off. ‘It must be in the house.’

‘Useless cow. Go and find it.’

Ollie rolled Alan into the hole while Hannah trudged back to the house.

She stood at the door watching Ollie. He was scratching his backside. She saw him notice her and she could feel his scowl even in the darkness. She strode towards him, shoe outstretched in her left hand. He snatched it from her and threw it into the hole. Hannah lifted her right hand up. It shook slightly as it gripped the gun. ‘Food chain, Darlin’ she said. Before Ollie had chance to react, she shot him straight in the heart, and watched as he dropped to the ground, his eyes wide and motionless. Next, she pushed him into the hole, where he fell on top of Alan, in a loving embrace. Tossing the gun in after him, she began to  shovel the excavated earth back on top.

Once completed, she lay on the grass, knowing she’d never be able to move house now. The makeshift graveyard tethered her here, forever. But, she was pretty sure the half a million in the house would help. Gazing up at the sparse stars she felt a calm radiating through her. She smiled. She couldn’t remember the last time she smiled. It felt good.

The Suicide Cat

Published December 9, 2019 by Naomi Rettig

Beth stood at the edge of the cliff, her eyes closed, listening to the waves thrashing against the rocks beneath her, feeling the wind slapping her, and whipping her hair across her face. Thirty-six years had culminated to this resolution. Thirty-six years of struggle and pain and feeling out of place. Thirty-six years of angst and self-torment. Even with her eyes closed, Beth could feel the moon shining a spotlight onto her. This was her moment, her final curtain call, time for that final bow.

She listened to those wonderful waves calling her name. About to take a step forward into the salty wet audience, she stopped herself. She listened again. It was definitely a cat meowing. Confused she opened her eyes and blinked to adjust to the moonlight. Taking a few steps back she turned around. Nothing. She could see the gorse bushes pushing against the wind, spiky warriors standing their ground, the blackness of the coast path in front of her, leading to inky blobs of rocks and boulders. It was ten o’clock on a deserted clifftop, her mind must be playing tricks on her, maybe as some cruel final encore. See, you are totally mad, jump off and disappear. A meow again, this time louder.

Beth peered into the darkness in the direction of the sound, still nothing.

‘Hello?’

Another louder meow was followed by two twinkling eyes materialising out from path in front of her. A black mini panther, the size of a domestic cat. The cat meowed again and slinked towards Beth, tail twitching in the air, stopping just in front of her.

Beth crouched down and held her hand out. ‘Hello. What are you doing up here?’

The cat cautiously approached her outstretched hand, sniffed, then rubbed his face against it. Beth scratched him under the chin and stroked his skinny body as it weaved around her hands.

‘You shouldn’t be up here, this wind will blow you off the cliff, you’ve got no weight on you, you silly thing. Do you live close by? Have you even got a home? What am I going to do with you?’ Beth continued her monologue of questions as the cat revelled in her attention and the wind played with her hair.

Beth stood up. ‘Well I can’t do this with you watching me. Do you want to come back with me?’

The cat meowed with perfect timing.

Beth smiled. ‘Just for one night though, I’ll postpone for one night. I’ve no more nights paid at the hotel so I’ll find you somewhere else to go in the morning. Deal?’

The cat meowed and rubbed against her legs.

‘Come on then.’ Beth started to trek back down the coast path towards the bay and the hotel. She glanced behind her, the cat was following her. She chatted to him as she navigated steep banks, slippery leaves and gnarled tree roots attempting to trip her. Every glance back was met with the vision of the black shadow with stars for eyes trotting after her.

Sneaking the cat into the hotel wasn’t a problem. Beth’s room was on the ground floor and there was a back door leading into her corridor from outside. Six stealthy feet scuttled along the corridor and into the room. After flopping onto the bed and partaking in strokes, head nudges and purrs, Beth called for room service, a tuna sandwich, a ham sandwich, and a chicken sandwich. The cat ate the contents of all three and lapped up water from a fine china saucer.

After a cleaning and grooming session the cat curled up next to Beth on the bed and slept soundly. Beth slept soundly for the first time in a long time too.

Beth observed the different shades of black fur on the cat as the morning sunlight seeped in through the curtains. Darkest brown tinges and indigo hues mingled in with the sleek tarry blackness. She felt calm and relaxed watching his belly move in and out contently and rhythmically with her breath. The cat yawned, opened his eyes slowly, and stretched his paw out into her chin, splaying his pads in a furry high five.

‘Good morning to you too.’

The cat licked his fur three times and stood up for a full body yoga stretch. Beth opened the curtains and made herself a coffee and the cat jumped off the bed, sitting knowingly by the patio door.

‘Time to go or do you just need the loo?’

Apparently it wasn’t time to go. After a toilet trip to the hotel flower beds the cat strolled back in for a wash before breakfast. Room service was ordered, extra sausage and extra bacon. Room service was eaten.

Beth’s suitcase was already packed. She’d packed it last night before going to the cliff top. She’d ask them to store her luggage for her until she decided on an altered plan of action. She dialled reception. ‘Hi, this is a strange question but is there anywhere on the island that rehomes cats or takes them in?…No, I found one this morning, I know pets aren’t allowed in rooms.’ She winked at the cat, the cat blinked back. ‘Oh ok, could you book me a taxi to take me there please?…Yes, as soon as possible…Thank you.’

‘I don’t take cats.’ The taxi driver shook his head to confirm this point. ‘They make a mess.’

Beth thought that was ironic considering he was wearing most of his breakfast remains on his sweatshirt, which was indeed sweaty too. ‘It’s my therapy cat. It’s for my anxiety. My disability cat.’

‘I don’t care if your leg has fallen off and your cat is carrying it, it’s not getting in my cab.’

The cat, in Beth’s arms, stretched his mouth wide in a yawn. Beth knew the cat was silently swearing at him. ‘But he’ll stay on my lap the whole time and it’s only a fifteen minute journey.’

‘No.’

‘I’ll pay you double the fare.’

‘Get in.’

The fifteen minute journey occurred in silence. The taxi tore through the tiny country lanes from the south of the island to the north. A fluffy bull, dangling from the rear view mirror, swung along to Coldplay. He’s trying to hang himself, thought Beth, having to put up with this mediocre droning. The cat sat happily on Beth’s lap. His left paw dangled over the edge of her leg and gently rested on the back seat. Beth smiled and whispered ‘rebel’ in her mind.

Beth paid the taxi driver but he drove off from the old farmhouse before she had time to ask him to wait. She kissed the top of the cat’s head and put him down on the driveway. Two chickens stuttered by in the background, the cat observed them casually while staying close to Beth’s legs, tail in the air, alert and wary.

A woman appeared in the garden to the side of the house, carrying a basket of washing. She was short, robust, with sparse spiky grey hair, wearing a blue shirt, jeans tucked into green wellies and a chunky cream cardigan. Beth would guess she was in her late fifties or early sixties.

‘Can I help you?’ Her voice was blunt and it didn’t sound like she wanted to help at all. She walked towards Beth, washing basket still in her arms.

‘Hello, yes, I hope so. I’ve got a cat.’

The woman stared down at the cat, then slowly back up to Beth. ‘Yes, you have.’

‘Well, it’s not really my cat, I found it last night, and it needs a home. The hotel I was staying at gave me your address.’

‘Oh they did, did they.’

‘Yes.’ Beth watched the woman, the cat watched a rogue chicken streak across the drive. Beth felt she was hostage negotiating. ‘I was hoping you could give the cat a home, or you might know someone who can.’

‘Why didn’t you just leave the cat where it was to wander back from where it came?’

‘It was on the top of Beauport Bay cliffs.’

‘At night.’

‘Yes.’

The woman’s face remained impassive. ‘You don’t live here on Jersey then.’

‘No, I was staying at L’horizon hotel.’

‘Was?’

‘It was my last night last night.’

The woman shifted the basket of washing to rest on her right hip and sniffed. ‘What time is your flight?’

‘My flight?’

‘You said it was your last night, are you flying home today? Where is home to you?’

Beth felt herself tense up, where is home seemed a more philosophical than geographical question. ‘Oh, I, um, I’m from Wales, I haven’t booked my flight yet.’

‘I see.’

Aware she was stood soldier-like Beth tried to relax her stance by shifting more of her weight to her left side, she fiddled distractedly with the strap of her bag across her body.

‘What’s your cat’s name?’

‘I don’t know, and it’s not my cat.’

The cat rubbed against Beth’s legs.

‘What’s your name? Or do you not know that either?’

‘Beth.’ Beth found herself in automatic soldier stance again.

‘Well Beth, my name is Susan. Not Sue, or Suzy, or Sooze. Clear?’

‘Um, yes.’

Susan turned and marched off towards the house. Beth and the cat stood side by side watching her.

‘Well don’t just stand there waiting for a bloody written invitation, and bring your shadow too.’

She disappeared through the door and Beth hesitantly followed her in, her shadow padding behind her.

The kitchen was cluttered with crockery, books, and plants, an assault of colours vied for Beth’s attention. An aroma of moth balls, dusty libraries and Deep Heat challenged her nostrils. A large hefty wooden table was in the centre of the room with various sizes of crocheted coasters and placemats of a kaleidoscope of colours scattered on it. Susan was filling a kettle by the cooker.

‘You can have tea from the pot with me or a coffee, only instant coffee though, I have no time to mess about with those silly plunger things.’

‘Instant coffee is fine, thanks.’

The kettle boiled, Susan clattered about with a teapot. ‘Sit down then.’

Beth sat on one of the wooden chairs, the cat jumped up on her lap, massaged her legs while he got comfortable then curled up.

‘And you think he’s not your cat?’

Beth smoothed his fur as he purred. ‘I can’t look after a cat.’

‘Nonsense.’ The teapot, wearing a green and yellow crocheted cosy, was plonked on the table, followed by a mug of coffee emblazoned with ‘I love Ibiza’, followed by a tin of malted milk biscuits.

‘Thank you.’ Beth glanced at her mug. She doubted that Susan had been to Ibiza.

Before she had chance to ask her, an elderly German Shepherd plodded into the room and over to Susan. Susan ruffled his head and smiled.

‘This is Jim. Jim, we have visitors.’

Beth was slightly taken aback by Susan’s smile, it transformed her face so much. She turned her head to the dog. ‘Hello Jim.’

Jim slowly walked to Beth and sniffed her leg and the cat. The cat opened his left eye and studied Jim’s large damp nose and inquisitive eyes. After a brief moment Jim turned and plodded back out of the room.

Susan delved into the biscuits and started to munch on one. ‘Do you like animals?’

‘Of course, I like them more than people.’ Beth looked up to meet Susan’s studying of her. ‘Sorry.’

‘Don’t be, animals are nicer than people, they don’t let you down or leave you.’ Susan pushed the biscuit tin towards Beth. ‘Don’t stand on ceremony.’

‘Thanks.’ Beth took a biscuit out and bit off half.

‘So if you leave your shadow here, what are you going to do next?’

Beth was glad she had a mouthful of biscuit to stall for an answer. She could hardly tell a complete stranger she would probably go throw herself of the cliff tonight. She shrugged. ‘I don’t know.’ Her shaky hands picked up her coffee and she was self consciously aware Susan had noticed this.

Susan slurped her tea. ‘Won’t anyone miss you?’

Beth’s hands gripped the mug handle tight. Had Susan read her mind? She stared into the abyss of coffee. ‘No.’

The following silence felt so deep to Beth, she had an urge to fill it. ‘I have no job, no family, no partner, no children, no friends, just a rented apartment full of dreams and regrets.’ Shocked at her honest revelation she shoved another half of a malted milk in her mouth to stop herself revealing anymore.

Susan nodded solemnly and slid the biscuit tin back towards herself, also taking another biscuit. ‘But now you have your shadow.’

Beth twitched a smile as she looked down at the sleeping cat, her eyes watered. She brushed off an escaped tear and desperately tried to swallow down the remainder of her biscuit without choking.

Susan swigged more tea and topped up her cup from the pot. ‘Do you have bags? A suitcase?’

‘Oh, yes, my suitcase is in storage at the hotel.’

Susan nodded. ‘We’ll go get it after lunch. You can stay in one of my spare rooms. It’s not fancy but it’s got a comfy bed, wallpaper, and a nice wardrobe.’

‘Oh, I couldn’t stay here.’

‘Why not? Are you a thief, a murderer or an arsonist?’

‘No.’

‘No I thought not, so you can stay. Until you decide what you and Shadow are going to do next.’ Susan nodded towards the cat. ‘He thinks you’re someone worth hanging around for, that’s good enough for me.’

‘But, I wouldn’t want to put you out.’

‘You won’t be, I’m not offering you the swanky hotel services you’ve been used to. A bed and board for you both in return for helping me look after the animals here in the kennels. Again, not a hotel, so you’ll eat what I cook for myself or cook and clean up after yourself if you don’t like my cooking.’

Beth realised she’d been holding her breath and exhaled deeply. ‘That’s really kind of you.’

‘Not being kind, I’m using you for cheap labour, my arthritis is playing up and you’ve come along at the right time.’

Beth looked down at Shadow on her lap, then back up to Susan. ‘Yes, I think I have.’

The Good Samaritan

Published March 31, 2018 by Naomi Rettig

Joe closed his eyes and felt the cold rain slap his face. It was perfect. It would be over soon. No more pain, no more anguish, no more self-loathing that consumed every cell in his body. He loosened his grip on the rail and took a deep breath.

‘Hey!’ A voice shouted louder than the rain.

Joe tightened his grip again, opened his eyes, and turned his head towards the voice.

‘Hey, what you doing?’ The voice in the rain belonged to a man in his thirties, black rain mac, dark hair made darker with the rain.

‘Isn’t it obvious? Go away.’

‘Well I can’t do that now.’

Joe stared back down into the agitated river. ‘Why?’

‘I couldn’t forgive myself.’

‘There’s nothing to forgive. Walk away, this’s nothing to do with you.’

‘It is now.’ The man took a step towards Joe. ‘You’ve kinda made it my business by doing it out here on a public bridge.’

‘I couldn’t find a private bridge.’

Again, the man took a step forward and was almost in touching distance of Joe. ‘Come down here, you’re making me nervous.’

‘Go away then.’ Joe stayed transfixed on the rushing water below.

‘Told you I can’t. Not gonna happen.’

Joe leant forwards with arms locked straight behind him. A glimmer of moonlight illuminated him, rain running down his face, like a marbled figurehead on the bow of a ship.

‘You’re really kicking off my anxiety here.’ The stranger shouted up at Joe.

Joe stayed poised in position.

‘My name’s Mick, what’s yours?’

‘Joe. And you’re an annoying bastard Mick.’

‘Technically correct on both counts, my dad ran off and didn’t marry my mum, and I have been told many times by many people I’m annoying. Usually by ex’s just as they dump me.’

Joe relaxed his arms and leant back against the rail. ‘Jesus Christ.’

‘I don’t think he’s here, it’s Good Friday, I imagine he’s busy, so I’ll have to do.’

‘What do you want from me?’

‘I just want you to come down here, stop me feeling anxious. And I’m getting soaked. I’ll probably get pneumonia. Do you want me to catch pneumonia Joe?’

Joe closed his eyes. ‘I just want to die.’

‘Can we make a deal? Some kind of trade off?’

Joe remained anchored.

‘If you come down, come back to my place and talk things through, if you still want to jump off a bridge I’ll find you a private one to do it from.’

‘Are you nuts?’

‘Says the man about to jump off a bridge?’

‘This makes perfect sense to me. More than you. You don’t even know me.’ The rain whipped at Joe’s face.

‘If you jump now I’m always gonna be thinking I could have saved you, and wondering why you jumped. Plus, there’s a crowd gathering here and I don’t want to look like a shit negotiator in front of them.’

Joe opened his eyes and turned his face to Mick. Looking down he saw five people clustered together. ‘Oh Christ.’ He turned his face back to the river. ‘Alright, make them go away and I’ll come down.’

Mick turned to the little group behind him and started waving them away. ‘You heard him folks, go on with your whatever you were doing.’

‘Should we call the police?’ A large woman in a navy anorak peered at Mick from under a pink polka dot umbrella.

‘No, it’s gonna be fine, I got this.’ Mick smiled at the lady. ‘I’ll look after him.’

She smiled back. ‘God bless you.’ She then dispersed into the night with the other onlookers.

‘Ok, people shooed away Joe.’

Joe turned and checked there was no audience, then climbed back over the rail and down onto the pavement. He stood face to face with Mick, inches apart. ‘You can go now.’

‘Are you kidding me? As soon as I walk off you’re gonna be straight up there again.’ Mick gestured to the bridge girder. ‘Look, I just live around the corner, come back to mine, chat, eat, drink, and like I said, if you still want to end it all I won’t stop you.’ Mick placed his hand on Joe’s shoulder. ‘Do it for me, give me a clear conscience when you jump.’

Joe stared into Mick’s eyes, the deep blue seemed to swirl like the river. ‘Ok.’

Mick patted Joe’s shoulder again and grinned. ‘Good, come on.’

Mick ushered Joe into his basement flat. ‘It’s not a palace, excuse the mess, I wasn’t expecting company, although to be honest I probably wouldn’t have tidied anyway.’

The living area was a riot of colours. Reds, oranges, pinks, and greens.

‘Let me get out of these wet clothes and I’ll get you something dry.’ Mick disappeared through a door at the opposite end of the lounge.

Joe stood in silence, dripping onto the doormat. He surveyed the room. A tired sofa had an orange woven throw draped over it. A terracotta tiled coffee table was adorned with different varieties of cacti and a New Scientist magazine. And the kitchen area in the corner, painted bright red, had dishes stacked up high on the draining board like a modern art installation.

Mick returned through the door, wearing jeans and a blue and white striped shirt. ‘I’ve put some clothes on the bed in there, you look the same size, and put your stuff on the radiator to dry out.’

Joe fiddled with a button on his jacket. ‘I’m ok, don’t want to be a bother.’

‘You’re bothering me dripping on my floor.’ Mick held out his hands. ‘Jacket.’

Joe slipped his jacket off and handed it to Mick.

‘Now go change.’ Mick smiled and hung the jacket up on the bulging coat rack behind the door.

Joe re-emerged from the bedroom in bare feet, with grey jogging bottoms on, and matching sweatshirt.

Mick was in the kitchen, the kettle boiling. ‘Sit yourself down. Tea, coffee, something stronger?’

‘I’m an alcoholic.’

Mick shrugged. ‘Ok. Tea or coffee then?’

‘Tea.’

‘Sugar?’

‘One please.’ Joe sat down and sunk into the sofa.

Mick pottered about and carried over two mugs of tea to the sofa. He handed Joe his tea and sank down next to him. ‘So. Cut to the chase, why do you want to kill yourself?’

Joe took a sip of his tea then placed it on the table, he shrugged. ‘I just don’t want to live anymore. I’m a failure, I have nothing to live for. I can’t go on anymore.’

‘Friends, family, colleagues. There must be people that wouldn’t want you to kill yourself?’

‘The only friend I had ran off with my wife, my parents are dead, my sister is a self-absorbed bitch who lives in France, I’m self-employed, well, I was, my business has just gone bankrupt. So, you see, no one would care if I’m here or not.’

Mick took a sip of his tea. ‘Ouch. That is pretty shit.’

‘Yep.’

‘There’ll be other women, I’m sure your wife wasn’t the first woman in your life and she doesn’t have to be the last. You’re a good-looking guy. Granted you haven’t got a lot going for you right now, so more of a potential catch than a current catch, but you’re not dead in the water in that department yet.’

Joe shook his head. ‘I could never love anyone again. I could never trust anyone again.’

‘You will.’ Mick combed his hands through his damp hair. ‘You can get another job easy enough, might not be your own business but you can earn money. What did you do?’

‘A chef, I had my own restaurant.’

‘There you go, everyone needs to eat, you can get a chef job anywhere.’

‘I’m too tired to start again from the bottom.’ Joe leant forwards, cradling his head in his hands. ‘I just can’t. I don’t want to.’

‘How old are you?’

‘Thirty-six, why?’

Mick tucked his legs up and under himself. ‘Hardly past it. You could have an exciting bright vivid future. Starting with this blank canvas in this moment right now. The future can be anything you want it to be.’

Joe lifted his head from his hands. ‘That’s just it, I don’t want the future to be anything, I don’t want a future. I’ve had enough.’

‘I think you’re lying.’ Mick took a gulp of tea and then placed his mug on the table.

‘What?’

‘I think you do want a future.’

‘Look, you’ve been kind to me, but you don’t know me, I want to die.’

‘Nope, you’re a liar.’ Mick folded his arms.

‘I’m not lying.’

‘If you’re not lying to me you’re lying to yourself.’

Joe sat up straight, frowning. ‘With respect you’re talking shit.’

‘With no respect, you’re the one talking shit.’ Mick grinned.

Joe stood up. ‘Thanks for the tea, I’m going.’

‘Where to? In my clothes? Gonna jump off the bridge again, oh no wait, you didn’t jump did you, because you don’t want to die.’

‘I didn’t jump because an asshole like you came along and interrupted me.’

‘If you really wanted to die you wouldn’t have let an asshole like me stop you. You’d have just jumped. You wouldn’t have even chosen a busy bridge to jump from if you were serious, you wanted someone to stop you.’ Mick uncrossed his arms and uncurled his legs. ‘Sit down Joe.’

Joe sat slowly back down. ‘If you didn’t think I was going to really jump why did you stop.’

‘Why didn’t you choose a whiskey?’

‘What?’

‘When I offered you a drink, you told me you were an alcoholic and you chose tea.’

‘So?’

‘If you were an alcoholic and wanted to die you’d choose a whiskey. Why stay sober if you don’t even want to live?’

‘Habit.’

‘Bullshit. You’re self-indulgent, loving to be the centre of attention in the drama you create.’

‘I don’t have to sit here listening to this crap.’ Joe stayed seated, his shoulders slumped forwards.

‘No, but you are, because you love being the centre of the drama. You certainly don’t want to kill yourself.’

‘I do. I’m just a coward.’ Joe started to sob. ‘I don’t want to live but I’m too much of a coward to kill myself. How pathetic is that.’

‘That’s pathetic.’ Mick sighed. ‘And sad. Pathetic and sad.’

‘You should have left me on the bridge.’ Joe wiped his eyes with the back of his hands and sniffed snot bubbles back up his nose.

‘To do what, be ‘rescued’ by a different passer-by?’ Mick placed his hand on Joe’s knee. ‘This cycle would just keep repeating itself, wouldn’t it? The torment would never go.’

Joe nodded. ‘I’m such a failure I can’t even kill myself.’

‘Do you know what’s not a failure Joe?’ Mick stared into Joe’s eyes. ‘Meeting me. That’s a definite result on your part. Do you know what I do Joe? For a hobby that is, my day job is butchering.’

Joe shook his head, his eyes not breaking connection with Mick’s.

‘I watch the bridge. I was in the café watching you. I sit in the window there and watch for leapers. Lost souls that don’t want to live anymore. Then I talk them down, just like I did with you Joe. A few leapers have a cup of tea with me, are grateful for my intervention, and go back to their lives, thankful for the stranger that saved them.’

‘You have some sort of a hero complex?’

Mick removed his hand from Joe’s knee. ‘Oh no, I don’t enjoy helping people walk back into their dreary lives. I enjoy helping the people who really want to end it all.’

‘I’m confused. You talk them out of jumping.’

‘Watching someone jump to their death is not a thrill Joe. Helping someone to their death is.’ Mick relaxed back into the sofa, resting his hands on his thighs. ‘When someone tells me they really want to die but can’t do it themselves, I help them. Assisted suicide.’

Joe turned to face Mick more, perching on the edge of the sofa. ‘How? Drugs.’

‘Administering drugs and watching someone slowly slip away is also not a thrill Joe. And it’s not good for the decider either. If you decide you want to die, you want it to be over with quickly. Don’t you?’

Joe nodded. ‘What do you do then?’

Mick’s eyes sparkled. ‘I use a knife. Quick and easy. People can request where they want to be stabbed. Throat or heart are the most popular.’

‘What happens after?’ Joe frowned. ‘With the bodies?’

‘What’s it matter? They’re dead. No one loves them enough to want to bury them.’ Mick sighed and stood up. ‘Your clothes might be dry now.’

Joe stared up at him. ‘What?’

‘Your clothes, dry. You can put them back on and go back to your life of drama.’ Mick started walking towards the bedroom.

‘Heart.’

Mick stopped mid step and turned to Joe. ‘Pardon?’

‘Heart. I want you to stab me in my heart.’

Mick walked back to the sofa and crouched down, he held Joe’s hands. ‘Are you sure? I don’t think you really want this.’

‘I do. Please.’ Joe squeezed Mick’s hands. ‘I can’t go back. I don’t want to.’

Mick’s voice was almost a whisper. ‘Only if you’re one hundred per cent sure. I’m not a murderer. I’m a suicide assistant.’

Joe gazed into Mick’s eyes. ‘I’m sure.’

‘Ok.’ Mick nodded slowly. He stood up and slinked silently into the bedroom. When he came back out he had an eight inch hunting knife and some plastic sheeting which he laid down on the floor, moving the coffee table slightly to make room. He indicated to Joe’s clothing. ‘Take my tracksuit off and lie down.’

‘I have to be naked?’

‘It makes it easier to clean up after, and saves me a tracksuit.’ Mick grinned. ‘Coz you’re gonna shit and piss yourself, everyone does. It’s perfectly natural.’

‘Oh, ok.’ Joe nodded, stone faced, and stood up starting to undress.

‘It’s only a naked body, I’ll only be looking where I’m stabbing.’ Mick started to unbutton his shirt. ‘I’ll take this off to avoid blood splatter. Dry cleaning bills are a bitch.’

Joe stood naked in front of Mick, his hands hung loosely in front of him.

‘Lie down Joe.’

Joe led down on his back. His hands alternating between by his sides and covering his privates.

‘Relax Joe, leave your hands by your side.’ A topless Mick straddled Joe and lined up the knife on his chest between the fourth and the firth rib, the tip of the blade resting gently on his skin. ‘Whenever you are ready I need you to say to me ‘please take my life’.’

Joe nodded. His breathing deepening. Mick leant over Joe, his two hands gripping the knife. The two men stared into each other’s eyes. The silence was deafening.

‘Please take my life’.

Mick thrust the knife at an angle into Joe’s chest, swept it swiftly along, then removed it rapidly. Joe’s eyes widened like a goldfish as a jet of blood volcanoed upwards splattering Mick. No scream came from Joe, just a gasp and a gargle, his eyes scared and pleading faded to acceptance and regret as he drifted down into deaths warm embrace.

Mick leant forward and kissed Joe gently on the forehead as the last beat of life left him. He sat upright on Joe and, with his head back and back arched, he massaged the blood that was decorating him into his chest. Licking his lips he started to undo his trousers.

Kiss

Published August 26, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

Misty pouted her blood red lips at her reflection. ‘Irresistible.’ She sprayed herself with perfume, Gucci Envy, and smiled. His last gift to her.

There was a knock at the hotel door. Misty took a deep breath. She carefully applied the gloss that she had mixed earlier over her lipstick barrier. Her lips glistened like syrup. A more impatient knock came to the door. She stood and walked over to the door, she undid her silk gown revealing a black corset and overflowing breasts.

She opened the door slowly. ‘Hello Joe.’

The man in front of her, Joe, appraised her body from head to toe, his eyes relocated to her chest when his surveying had finished. ‘What are you doing to me? You’re killing me.’

Misty smirked. ‘You don’t have to come in.’ She stepped back and arched her body slightly, glancing over her shoulder. ‘I just wanted to say goodbye properly.’

She turned fully back into the room, and heard the door close behind her. She dropped her gown to the floor.

Joe slid his arms around her waist. ‘This is definitely the last time,’ he whispered.

Misty felt his warm breath on her neck. ‘Definitely.’

‘I can’t leave her, not now.’ Joe’s fumbling hands stumbled up to her breasts.

‘Not now she’s pregnant.’ Misty twisted in Joe’s arms so she was facing him. ‘It’s ok Joe, you can say it. I’ve calmed down now.’ She started to undo his shirt. Her red nails a contrast to the white cotton. ‘You were going to leave her, weren’t you?’

‘Of course.’ Joe’s breathing got deeper as his eyes flitted between Misty’s fingers unbuttoning him and her slightly wobbling cleavage.

Misty finished unbuttoning his shirt. ‘I love you Joe, I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you. Did you want that too? Did you want to be with me forever?’

Joe refocused to Misty’s hypnotizing dark eyes. ‘Yes, but -’

She placed her index finger on his lips and trailed it down to the bottom lip, parting them slightly, then releasing. ‘Tell me that you love me.’

‘I love you.’

Misty lifted her face to his, she saw his nostrils flare slightly as he smelt her perfume. ‘Kiss me.’

Joe immediately locked lips with Misty, like a screw on a magnet. They kissed with the hungriness of hyenas devouring prey. Misty pulled Joe down onto the bed. His hand slid up her leg to her inner thigh.

Misty stopped his hand going higher and pulled her lips away from his. ‘Hold me.’

Joe tried to kiss her neck. ‘But I haven’t got long.’

‘I know.’ She smiled sweetly, while pulling him closer and kissed him gently.

The slow tender kissing gave way to faster primal kissing and Joe started to fumble with his trousers, trying to undo them while staying glued to Misty’s lips.

Misty reached down and blocked Joe’s hand. ‘No.’

Joe froze. ‘What?’

‘You’re not using me anymore my love.’ Her hand moved up and stroked his face.

Joe frowned and studied her eyes. ‘But you called me? You said you needed to say goodbye properly? I thought this was going to be our last time together, to say goodbye.’

‘We can say goodbye without having sex.’

Joe pulled away from Misty and did his trousers up. ‘Why invite me here, to a hotel room? We could have just met for a drink.’

‘We couldn’t have met for a drink, that would be too public. I needed you here in private. I needed that kiss from you, now you couldn’t have kissed me like that in the pub, with prying eyes everywhere.’ Misty smiled at Joe, her red lipstick in place but the gloss gone.

Joe sighed and rolled onto his back, his hands flat on the bed. ‘If you’re trying to make me leave her again it’s not going to happen. You know I can’t.’ He glanced across at Misty. ‘Even though I want to.’

Misty shuffled closer and placed her hand on his chest. ‘I know you want to. That’s why I’m doing this.’

‘Doing what?’

‘I mean, if you’d said you didn’t love me anymore, or that you’d just be using me, of course I’d be heart broken, but in time and tears I would have got over you.’

Joe rolled back onto his side. ‘Doing what Misty?’

‘We both want to be together forever.’ Misty cupped his face lightly. ‘Just the two of us for eternity.’

Joe pulled away quickly. ‘What have you done to Claire?’

‘I haven’t done anything to her, why would I?’

Joe sat upright. ‘To be with me, to get her out of the way.’

‘I can’t believe you’d think I’d hurt her, pregnant too. I’m not a monster.’ Misty sat up too. ‘And if I hurt her I’d go to prison, and we’d still be apart.’

‘So what are you talking about?’

Before Misty had chance to reply Joe doubled up and moaned a guttural groan, collapsing back down onto the bed.

‘It’s started my love.’ Misty cradled Joe in her arms and stroked his hair. ‘It’ll start with me soon. My lipstick will have stopped it absorbing as quick into my system.’

Joe contorted in pain. ‘What have you done?’

‘Ssh, ssh, it’s all going to be ok. I put strychnine into my lip gloss.’ She kissed his forehead, then drew her knees up to her stomach. ‘It’s happening to me now too.’

‘You’re crazy.’ Joe started to pant.

‘Crazy for you my love. We will always be together now, for eternity.’

The Healer

Published July 16, 2017 by Naomi Rettig

‘I know what you’re doing, but I don’t know how you’re doing it.’ Dr. Lennox interlocked his fingers tightly together and stared across the desk.

Vivian volleyed the stare back across, her face set to neutral. ‘I don’t know what you mean.’

Dr. Lennox sighed. ‘How long have you worked for me Vivian?’

‘Just over five years.’

He unclasped his fingers and rested his hands on the desk. ‘Do you know what I did on the weekend?’

Vivian frowned. ‘Um, no.’

‘You’d never guess.’

Vivian studied Dr. Lennox’s blank face. ‘Then I won’t try.’

‘I went through patient medical files. All weekend.’ He stood up and retrieved a brown battered briefcase from beside the filling cabinet. ‘I’ve spent all weekend correlating data.’ Sitting back down he pulled out some papers from the bag and set them down on the desk, placing the bag on the floor. He indicated to one of the sheets with his right hand. ‘This is a list of all my patients who, having been diagnosed with terminal diseases, miraculously got better. Without medical help.’ He looked up from the sheet of paper to Vivian.

She remained perfectly still, hands resting lightly on her lap. The only movement was a pronounced swallow.

‘And this list,’ said Dr. Lennox. He pointed to the other sheet of paper. ‘This is a list of people who have suddenly developed the same terminal illnesses, seemingly overnight.’ He looked up from the desk again. ‘If you want to say anything, please, just jump on in.’

Vivian shrugged, staring at the papers on the desk. ‘People get sick all the time, and some people get better, that’s life.’

Dr. Lennox laughed. ‘Well, yeah, that is life, yet, do you know what the strange thing here is?’ His face crumbled the smile away and his eyes narrowed.

Vivian’s only response was to breathe a little faster.

Dr. Lennox continued. ‘These people on this sudden illness list, well, they got sick on the same day that the people on the sick list got better.’

Vivian tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. ‘Co-incidence.’

Dr. Lennox smiled broadly, yet the smile didn’t reach his eyes. ‘We both know it’s no co-incidence.’ He looked down at the lists in front of him. ‘Mrs. Ramirez had terminal bowel cancer, in June she no longer has it, but Mrs. Godfrey, of previous good health, now has terminal bowel cancer.’

‘That doesn’t mean anything,’ said Vivian. She crossed her legs slowly and leaned back into the groaning plastic chair.

Dr. Lennox rubbed at his moustache. ‘Not on its own no. But there are seven other cases I’ve found. Seven other terminally ill patients, spanning back five years, that have miraculously been cured without medical intervention. And seven matching patients that have developed those exact terminal illnesses overnight. Shall I read you the other six out?’

‘I don’t think there’s a need for that.’ Vivian folded her arms.

‘I checked on the system, and the dates that they appeared to switch their illnesses, both patients were in the surgery, and on all seven days, and for each of those patients, you took their blood.’ Dr. Lennox mirrored Vivian by leaning back in his chair and folding his arms. He had a smug grin on his face, as if he was Poirot revealing the murderer at the end of an Agatha Christie adaptation.

Vivian returned his smile slyly. ‘I’m your only phlebotomist and I’m in most days, so that’s not surprising.’

Dr. Lennox rocked on his chair slightly, loosening his arms to rest on his stomach. ‘So, you’re not going to tell me?’

Vivian tilted her head. ‘Tell you what?’

‘How you’re doing it?’

‘Doing what?’ Vivian uncrossed her arms and leant forward. ‘I’m not sure what you’re accusing me of, do I need my union rep in here with me?’

‘Vivian, of course you don’t need a rep.’ Dr. Lennox attempted a warm smile as he rested forward onto the desk. ‘This is just a friendly chat, completely off the record. Just between you and me.’ He picked up his silver pen and started to roll it between his fingers.

Vivian gazed out of the window, she watched flowers being blown from the apple blossom tree outside. ‘I don’t know what you want me to say.’

‘I merely want you to tell me the truth. I’m a doctor, I just want to know how you are curing these people.’ He tapped his pen gently on the desk protector. ‘And I know it is you because all the saved patients are patients you like, and all the inflicted patients are patients you don’t.’

Vivian’s eyebrows flickered up.

Dr. Lennox smiled and put his pen down. ‘I hear the gossip when I’m getting coffee.’ His smile morphed into a frown. ‘But I can’t logically work it out.’

Vivian’s shoulders dropped and she stared at her hands. ‘It’s not logical.’ She looked up at the doctor. ‘Or ethical.’

Dr. Lennox nodded slightly. ‘Go on.’

‘You won’t believe me, and if you report me, no one would believe you either.’

Dr. Lennox nodded again. ‘Try me then, you have nothing to lose. Because if you don’t tell me, I’m going to have to let you go.’

Vivian’s nostrils flared. ‘I have a contract.’

‘I have a Hippocratic oath.’

Vivian bit the inside of her lip and stared at the blossom tree outside the window again. ‘I can’t explain scientifically how I can do these things. I’ve researched, but it’s a phenomenon, and I’ve been afflicted with it since I was a child.’

‘Afflicted?’

Vivian focused her attention back to Dr. Lennox. ‘Yes. My Gran called it a gift. I call it a curse. It’s a power I have, but it makes me a bad person.’

Dr. Lennox frowned. ‘You have the power of life and death?’

Vivian twiddled with the jade crystal on her necklace. ‘You could say everyone has the power of life or death. You choose not to kill people so you could say you are giving them the power of life.’

‘I could quite easily murder my ex.’ A nervous laugh followed from the doctor.

Vivian shuffled the chair forward and tilted herself towards him. ‘What stops you?’

‘What?’

‘What stops you killing her?’

Dr. Lennox sat upright and smoothed his moustache down with his index finger. ‘Because I don’t want to go to prison, and it’s wrong.’

Vivian remained angled forwards. ‘So, you choose to give her life because of the consequences?’

Dr. Lennox picked up his pen again and flicked it on and off with his thumb. ‘Where’s this going?’

Vivian smiled. ‘Imagine if there were no consequences? If you could kill without repercussions, your choices might be different.’

‘Yes, but -‘

‘I’ve gone a little off tangent.’ Vivian repositioned herself back into the creaking chair. ‘Basically, I can take away illness but then it gets passed on.’

Dr. Lennox rubbed his forehead with his pen free hand. ‘Why? Why does it get passed on?’

Vivian shrugged her left shoulder. ‘I don’t know. When I first realized what I could do, cure people, I thought it was amazing, indeed a gift. But I found that whoever I touched after ‘curing’ someone else came down with what I had removed.’

Dr. Lennox stared at Vivian, his eyes flickering all around her face. ‘I have so many questions. When you say touch, would brushing past someone cause you to take or give illnesses?’

Vivian shook her head. ‘No, I’ve honed my ‘technique’ over the years. I now squeeze and concentrate my mind to make it happen. Kind of like channeling it.’

Dr. Lennox nodded. ‘When you transferred illnesses in here, was that random or planned?’

‘Planned. Sort of.’ Vivian smiled.

‘Sort of?’

‘I always knew which patients I wanted to cure, that was the planned part. Giving their illnesses to others was a byproduct.’

Dr. Lennox placed the pen down on the desk protector. ‘Chosen at random?’

‘Well, not completely random, I didn’t draw names out of a hat.’ Vivian laughed and fiddled with her hair, repositioning a hair grip. ‘I’d see who else was coming in that same day for bloods, and choose off the list who was the least deserving.’

Dr. Lennox sunk his head into his hands. ‘Playing God.’

‘I don’t believe in God, I was merely making choices.’ Vivian frowned.’ Wouldn’t you?’

Dr. Lennox lifted his head slowly. ‘No, I couldn’t pick someone to die. That’s against my oath. And my humanity.’

‘You think it’s fair that Annie Kenwood dies from cancer, leaving her husband to look after her two children, while Grant Bailey abuses his body with illegal drugs and lives a long and happy life?’

‘No, but that’s life, that’s not for us to judge that’s for -‘

‘God to decide, but there is no God so why shouldn’t it be up to you, or I, or anyone else decent to judge?’ Vivian pursed her lips together and curled her hands into gripped fists.

‘But you’ve given a death sentence to seven people.’ Dr. Lennox grimaced. ‘You’ve killed seven people.’

‘I’ve saved seven people. Seven more deserving people.’ Vivian smiled. ‘It cancels out.’

The doctor rubbed his head. ‘Why can’t you just take away the illness? Why do you have to give it to someone else?’

Vivian gesticulates with her hands, as if swatting a fly away. ‘I don’t know. It just happens. That’s my curse. If I take away illness and don’t deliberately pass it on quickly, say within a day, the illness transfers with less effort to anyone. If I didn’t choose someone and pass it on, it would pass on by a random handshake, or hug with a loved one, or squeezing a friend’s hand. So I have to pass it on.’

‘Why don’t you just stop doing it? Don’t take illnesses and don’t pass them on, just let nature take its course.’

‘Because having the power is addictive. It’s wrong and it’s consuming but it’s also an immense rush.’ Vivian’s eyes sparkle. ‘And it’s not all life and death, I have a little fun with it too.’

‘Fun?’

‘I don’t just have the power to cure terminal doom and gloom stuff, I can cure hay fever, migraines, conjunctivitis, colds and such like.’

‘And you give those to others?’

‘Yes, I give those to people who have only slightly annoyed me.’ Vivian laughed.

Dr. Lennox lowered his head in hands once more. ‘Oh Vivian, I wish I hadn’t asked you now.’

Vivian’s smile ebbed away. ‘Why?’

He rubbed his face as he lifted it up to look her in the eye. ‘Because I can’t have you working here anymore. I have to protect my patients.’

‘But I’m saving the nice ones, you’re only going to be protecting horrid people, that doesn’t make sense.’ Vivian’s eyes widened and her voice softened. ‘Think of all the good souls I can save here.’

Dr. Lennox’s face toughened up. ‘How can you save souls when you don’t believe in God?’

Vivian sighed. ‘So, you don’t want to work with me? Help me choose?’

‘No. It’s wrong, you have to go.’ He placed his hands down onto the desk. ‘And I can’t give you a reference.’

Vivian swallowed hard and reached across, squeezing his hands tightly. ‘But I’ve been so loyal to you.’ She stared deeply into his eyes, still squeezing his hands.

Dr. Lennox pulled his hands away and stood up from the desk. ‘What did you do?’

Vivian relaxed back into the chair and smiled a satisfying smile.

Dr. Lennox’s eyes flickered between his hands and Vivian. ‘Have you given me cancer?’

Vivian laughed. ‘No, that’s not going to keep me my job here is it? I don’t want revenge, I just want to keep my job so I can keep on doing my good work.’

Dr. Lennox clutched at his chest, pain escaping from his face.

‘On my way to work this morning a man had a cardiac arrest in the coffee shop.’

The doctor fell back into his chair, he tried to grab at the phone but just knocked it onto the floor.

‘I saved his life, the man in the coffee shop, he always let me go in front of him in the queue. I took away his heart attack.’

Dr. Lennox, pale and clammy, tried to speak but words were trapped and movement slowed.

‘I’ve been careful who I’ve touched today, I was saving it for pervy Duncan this afternoon. He’ll have to wait now.’ She picked up the lists from the desk and fed them into the shredder, then placed the phone back on the desk. Staring at the lifeless body opposite her she sighed. ‘Oh Paul, we could have worked so well together.’

Vivian picked up phone and dialed 999. ‘Ambulance. I’m at Mainwaring Surgery, one of our doctors has had a heart attack, please hurry.’ While holding onto the phone in one hand she opened the door with the other and shouted down the corridor.

‘I need some help here!’

A Dangerous Lady

Published October 14, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

I knew she was trouble the moment my eyes groped her in The Horseshoe Saloon. She was sat at the bar, her long legs twisting around the bar stool like a boa constrictor squeezing its prey. A lucky red velvet dress caressed her in envious places. Her skin was the colour of milk, full fat, and I wanted to test my lactose intolerance. Liquorice spiraled hair cascaded down her back and as I positioned myself next to her I could smell the aroma of bergamot and marzipan.

She glanced my way as I ordered a bourbon, drink not biscuit, a flutter of her emerald eyes enticed me out to sea without my water-wings. I didn’t see the sharks swimming around us, I was too distracted by her chest, bobbing in front of me like a life raft, I wanted to cling on and float away to heaven. I should have walked away right then and there, but I didn’t, those sticky red lips pouted and stuck my feet to the floor like lead bubblegum.

She asked the barman for a pen, her voice like smoky syrup, and wrote a number on a crisp white napkin, instructing me to call her. Sliding off the stool she sashayed away, her curvaceous bottom swaying like The Golden Gate Bridge in high winds. I followed. How could I not. I was a fool.

I know I’m a fool as I am now looking at her body. Her perfect dead body. She’s still a little warm, like a hot water bottle at 2am. I shot her in the heart, I couldn’t bear to disfigure that face. That face with blood red lips that lured the sharks, and sucked me in too. How could I compete for her affection, I was too far out of my depth. I should’ve walked away, I couldn’t.

Blood pools around her and feels like sticky molasses on my fingers. I hold her close to me, clinging on to my life raft. The gun is cold in my mouth, and the metal clinks at my teeth like ice in a glass as I place it in position. I don’t know if we’re going anywhere after this, all I know is that I can’t live with her, nor can I live without her. I should’ve walked away at the bar, but I’m a fool who fell for a dangerous lady.

 

CHAMELEON

Published September 2, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

 

‘Argh! Jesus fucking Christ Jemma!’ Carl screamed. ‘What was that!?’

‘That, my love, was me injecting air into your vein, sixty millilitres of it to be precise and you have approximately fifteen minutes left before you die.’

‘What!?’

‘The air bubble will work its way up your body and when it fills the chambers of your heart it will cause a cardiac arrest.’ Jemma slid the silky black blindfold from Carl’s eyes, smiling sweetly as he blinked in defiance of the light. ‘A post mortem will reveal just that, a plain old boring heart attack, brought on by an energetic afternoon of sex and alcohol,’ she continued smiling at him, ‘a lot of men would think that was a good way to die.’

Carl attempted to move his arms and legs but he was still securely handcuffed and tied to all four iron bedposts with Jemma straddled across him. ‘Is this part of the game? Jem?’

‘No silly, I’m not playing games now, this is real and your time is ticking. Tick tock.’ She tossed the empty syringe to the side of the bed and ran her hands through her hair.

‘I don’t understand?’

‘I know you don’t, that was my plan. If you’d understood you wouldn’t have been so easy to manipulate. I’ve had an unfair advantage, like playing chess with a monkey, and now its checkmate to me.’

‘You’re not making sense.’ Carl tried to move his arms again. ‘C’mon Jem, unlock these. I love you.’

Jemma leaned forward and kissed Carl’s forehead gently. ‘I know you do baby, I made that happen. But I don’t love you, I just pretended to.’ Her smile dropped, leaving behind bitter cold eyes boring into him.

‘For eight months?!’

‘Yes, for eight months. I’ve hated you for eight months. And loathed you for longer.’ Jemma reached over to the bedside table. Sipping champagne from the glass her breasts in their cream lace cups lingered teasingly over Carl’s face. She felt his body respond below her and she sat back, adjusting herself against his naked sweaty flesh. ‘So predictable.’

He bit on his lip, struggling to reverse his primitive reaction. ‘You never loved me?’

‘No. Now baby you need to be thinking quicker than this to work out why I’m murdering you. I’d like to see the realisation on your face when you do, that would be an extra thrill for me, but your death is the end goal of my project. Tick tock.’ The icy eyed smile manically returned.

Carl squirmed and the metal circling his wrists cut in causing him to recoil into the bed. Jemma steadied herself with her hands on his chest. She smirked at him. ‘Steady there bucking bronco, you know, I’m actually getting turned on knowing that you are about to die. Up ‘til now I’ve had to fake every moan and groan that I made when you touched me. I wanted to vomit and scrub myself with bleach after having sex with you…’

‘But you were…’

‘Lubricant. If you cast your tiny mind back to every time we’ve had sex you’ll remember I always excused myself first to “freshen up”. What I really meant by that was that I had to prepare myself with lubricant because the thought of you touching me made me as dry as the Sahara.’

‘Didn’t know I was screwing a psycho,’ Carl’s confused face morphed into anger, ‘you’ll get locked up for this.’

‘I won’t get locked up silly, everything has been planned. A post mortem won’t show up anything other than a tragic accident of nature. A tragic accident that happens in about,’ Jemma glanced at the clock on the wall, ‘ten minutes.’ She pursed her lips and blew him a kiss, ‘tick tock.’

‘What about where you injected me you stupid bitch?’ Carl sneered.

‘Oh, you mean the injection hole in your arm? The same one where you gave blood from this morning?’ Jemma fluttered her eye lashes and spoke in a high husky voice, ‘Oh Carl, there’s a blood bank outside Asda, you could be a hero and donate, and then I could reward my hero with fun and naughty games.’ She focused sharply into his eyes and dropped her voice back down, ‘I think those were my words to you. A rattle of handcuffs and your brain sank to your dick. Sadly predictable, again, but simple for me to work with.’

Carl’s sneer had gone. ‘You fucking bitch.’

‘Yes, I suppose I am. I’m going to take that as a compliment.’

‘Why do you want me dead Jemma? What have I done to you?’

‘You ruined my life. So now I’m taking yours,’ she pressed herself down, her lips just millimetres from Carl’s, ‘and my name is not Jemma.’ She winked and stretched across for the champagne bottle. ‘We’ve drunk it all. Oh, there’s a little left.’ Holding the bottle above him she poured the last drops onto his mouth, arched down and licked his bottom lip provocatively.

‘What the fuck?!’ Carl wrenched his head away from her, ‘you’re crazy! Who are you?’

Jemma laughed. ‘I’m totally sane. And I created Jemma just for you, you should be flattered really.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘I know. Poor baby. I’ll tell you more. Do you think we have time to open another bottle? Shall I risk it? Yes I think I will. This is definitely a celebration moment.’ Jemma dismounted Carl and sashayed out of the bedroom in her patent stilettos. For a brief moment Carl’s eyes strayed from her heels to her suspenders and bare bottom before she disappeared from view. He frantically tried to sit up, twisting his legs but they were firmly tied with rope and his wrists were not going to slip free of the handcuffs. Lying back despondently Carl shut his eyes.

His mind drifted back to when he first met her. Eight months ago, a hot August day, he was wilting, selling flowers on his stall when Jemma breezed by to buy some. She was as fresh as a daisy, smooth blonde hair perfectly in place, a thin blue dress that hinted enticingly at her not so hidden underwear, bright blue mesmerising eyes, red stilettos and a killer smile. That smile. She bought yellow roses to celebrate moving into her new flat, which happened to be just around the corner from his, he asked her out for a drink to celebrate properly, ‘can’t have a celebration without a bit of bubbly’ he’d said. How could she have played him when he was the one who chased and caught her?

The pop of a champagne cork shocked him back to the present. Jemma emerged back into the bedroom with the bottle fizzing over. She looked slightly different, he squinted at her trying to work out why.

‘Good, you’re still alive,’ she strode back over to the side of the bed, watching him study her, ‘oh, yes, I’ve taken my lenses out. No need for me to pretend I have blue eyes anymore. Quiet a relief really, they make my eyes tired and itchy.’

Carl’s voice was almost a whisper as he frowned in confusion. ‘You’ve got green eyes.’

‘Bingo. We have a winner. I’ll let you into another little secret Carl, I’m not a natural blonde. But I think you might have guessed that already.’ She gestured to her pubic hair which was on full display to him.

‘Who are you? What do you want?’

Jemma placed the bottle on the table and sighed. ‘Carl, you are wasting time, your time, not mine, I have all the time in the world but you have limited minutes to work it out.’ She sat to the side of him on the bed and stroked his hair. ‘You know what I want, I want you to die. That is going to happen. And you met me before, before I became Jemma.’

‘I’ve never seen you before, when you moved here that was the first time I saw you, I swear. Maybe you’ve mixed me up with someone else?!’ He swallowed hard and his eyes pleaded.

‘I would never get you mixed up with anyone else. I introduced you to Jemma last year but you saw the real me two years ago.’ Jemma studied Carl’s eyes as they flickered with thoughts and questions. ‘As well as my green eyes my hair was brunette and short. And I dressed quite plainly. Not a girl you would’ve looked once at.’

Carl’s breathing grew more rapid and his hair was wet with sweat. ‘I’m not feeling good. Phone an ambulance Jem. Please.’

‘If you say my real name I might phone for help.’ She poured champagne into her glass.

‘I don’t know who you are.’ Carl closed his eyes.

Jemma clenched her jaw, her cheek pulsing with rage. She downed the contents of the glass in one gulp and hurled it full force at the wall. A startled Carl reopened his eyes, he’d never seen her angry before. She scrambled back on top of him, grasping his hair tightly in fierce fists, pinning his head down savagely. She thrust her snarling face into his.

‘You do know who I am! Say it!’

Carl trembled beneath her. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Sorry for destroying my life?’

‘No, I’m sorry, I’m sorry I don’t know who you are.’

Jemma’s hand released Carl’s hair and swung out and back slapping forcefully across his face. He gasped, wide eyed. She took a deep breath, closing her eyes for a few silent seconds and then gently placed her hand on his cheek where a red imprint was already rising up. ‘I shouldn’t have hit you. There’ll be a mark there when they do your post mortem. I’ll say I slapped you during sex because you asked me to.’ Jemma’s hands trailed lightly down Carl’s torso and she gazed at his chest lost in thought, her shoulders now rounded forward.

Carl was hesitant to interrupt her eerie trance but the ticking of the wall clock in the silence mocked him. ‘Why Jemma?’

Jemma lifted her head up. ‘Hmm? What?’

‘Why did you come to me as Jemma and not the real you?’

‘To snare you. I stalked you for months before. I followed you to pubs and bugged this flat.’

‘You bugged my flat? Is it still bugged?’

‘No. I don’t need it anymore. It served its purpose.’

‘Which was?’

‘To find out what you liked, what made you tick. I needed to be the perfect woman for you. And I was wasn’t I?’ She searched deep into his eyes for confirmation.

‘Yes. Was it all lies?’

‘Yes.’ Jemma seemed to re-inflate herself with a large nasal breath, shoulders back, simulated smile reapplied. ‘You prefer blondes with blue eyes so I dyed my hair and started wearing blue contacts. You like long hair so I grew mine. You like your girlfriends feminine and sexy so I changed my fashion choices. You love girls wearing killer heels, a challenge for me as I have always just worn flat shoes, so I had to teach myself to walk on four inch spikes. Am I correct so far?’

‘Yes.’

‘I listened to your boring chat with your boring friends, Dave and Paul have got to be the most infantile jerks ever, and discovered your favourite films, music, football etc… did you really think I watched football let alone supported the same team as you?’

‘Yes.’

‘I even learnt what you liked in bed by listening to you having sex with the random slags you brought back from the pub. Did you really think I enjoyed doing that?’ Jemma raised an eyebrow at the question but Carl just stared at her mutely. The sadistic smile spread like a stain across her face. ‘You really are so gullible. Are you ready to tell me who I am yet? You only have a couple of minutes left.’

Carl started to sob. ‘I don’t know your name. If I did I’d tell you so you’d phone the ambulance.’

‘See, you really are gullible. I won’t be phoning for an ambulance. Well, not while you’re still alive. I’ll phone when you die and do my best acting, I’ll be hysterical when I beg for help because my boyfriend has stopped breathing. They’ll talk me through CPR while the ambulance speeds towards me, I will of course convincingly pretend I’m doing it, but really I’ll be finishing off the champagne, toasting your death.’ Jemma looked across to the smashed glass on the floor. ‘I’ll have to clean that up before I phone, I don’t want anything niggling at an over-zealous policeman. That air bubble must be nearly at you heart.’

‘Just tell me who you are. Please.’ Carl wept.

‘You first saw me two years ago. Two years ago today actually. It’s an anniversary.’

Carl’s eyes dilated and fixed on to Jemma’s eyes with tortured recognition.

‘I was sat in a car, travelling home from my honeymoon. Buzz in when you know the answer by the way; that air bubble must be knocking on the chamber door. I was in the passenger seat, my husband of seven days was driving. His name was Jake. Jake Jones. Do you remember that name?’

Tears plummeted painfully down Carl’s face.

‘I thought you might. Well, I hoped you would. You do don’t you?’ Carl didn’t speak. ‘Just nod if you remember his name.’ Carl nodded. ‘Good. I assumed if you kill someone you remember their name. I’m disappointed that you don’t remember me. But after all, you weren’t even looking at us when you hit us were you? Texting on your phone the judge said. You didn’t even realise you had drifted over to the wrong side of the road as you were so busy telling a girl what you’d like to do to her later. We didn’t stand a chance the speed you were doing. I was told I was lucky that I didn’t die too. Well I did. I died that night too.’

‘I’m so sorry.’ Snot and saliva mingled with Carl’s tears.

‘Did you know I was pregnant?’

Horror swelled in Carl’s eyes.

‘I was fifteen weeks pregnant. I miscarried two weeks later. On the day I was burying my husband. You killed her too.’

Guttural sounds came from Carl, he closed his eyes but the tears still surged.

‘Do you understand now? Do you understand why I want you dead?’

Carl’s voice was barely audible. ‘Yes.’

Jemma slid off Carl’s body and retrieved her skirt and blouse from the floor. She pulled the skirt on, zipped it up quickly and started to button the blouse. ‘I’ll leave the door on the latch, someone will find you.’

Carl observed Jemma with confusion, a heaving chest and stuttering sobs. The stench of urine filled the room as the sheet below him darkened. ‘Don’t go. Please. I don’t want to die alone.’

‘You won’t.’ She fastened the last button and smoothed down her skirt. ‘I didn’t inject air into your vein. I just stuck the needle into you.’ The painted on smile had been erased from Jemma’s face, she was now expressionless and detached.

Carl’s crying had ceased, a baffled snotty mess focussed on Jemma. ‘What? I thought you wanted me dead?’

‘I do. But I’m not a killer. Like you are. I want you to suffer as much as I do every day. I will make your life a living hell. I will make you wish you were dead too. I will make you kill yourself. This is just the beginning.’ She scooped up her handbag and the syringe in one swoop from the floor and headed out the door. ‘Tick tock.’

NUTS

Published September 2, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

I stop pumping up and down on Harry’s chest. I think I have broken two of his ribs. He is dead, it won’t bother him. It looks like I tried my best to revive him though. I only started my revival attempts when I couldn’t detect a pulse anymore. So I guess you could say I murdered my husband.

I stare at his lifeless body. Part of me feels sad. I stroke his hair. I’d like to say he looks like he’s sleeping, but he doesn’t, he looks dead. We were so in love in the beginning of our whirlwind romance. Our first date was in an art gallery and we bonded over abstract art and champagne. Harry whisked me away the following week to Paris and proposed at the top of the Eiffel Tower. A downward spiral followed, passion turned to possessive obsession, mind games and manipulation.

A siren outside snaps me back. I sweep over the apartment quickly, double checking myself. I’ve placed the note telling Harry not to eat the pie on the floor, seemingly fallen from his view. His plate and fork still on the breakfast bar, my plate and fork washed up and put away. A buzz at the intercom. I answer. Footsteps run upstairs.

I fling open the door. ‘Quickly, you have to help him! He’s eaten nuts and is allergic to them.’

The paramedics rush over to Harry. I feign distress.

Glancing at my watch I note I have plenty of time before I meet Marcus at the airport. He’s whisking me away to Rome. I met him on the same website as Harry and he’s fallen for me. He wants me to leave Harry. Marcus is diabetic, but I’ll help look after his insulin levels. I’m sweet like that.

STILL HERE

Published September 2, 2016 by Naomi Rettig

The rhythmic low beeping of a machine lures my consciousness from its hibernation. I can also hear what sounds like a small bellows breathing life into a small fire. I try to open my eyes to see where I am but the inky black darkness remains. I can’t even feel my eye lids attempting to open; I can’t feel anything. I try to move my arms, legs, anything I can but I have no sensation anywhere. It smells of a hospital wherever I am. That acrid clinical smell, sterile and sour.

Why am I in a hospital? How did I get here? I have no recollection of an accident or any explanation of why I would be in a hospital, I remember eating out with Michael. His sister Grace and Harry just got back from their honeymoon and we were having a post wedding celebration. We’d dined at The Maple Tree as it was Grace’s favourite – Michael thought it pretentious and over-priced with smarmy waiters but is always generous with Grace. I think he still carried the guilt of her blindness, even though he was only young at the time of the accident. Maybe I’ve gone blind? Oh don’t be stupid, people just don’t go blind for no reason, and even if they did they would still be able to move or feel something. Surely?

Grace always amazes me, some moments it’s easy to forget she’s blind as she moves with the elegance of a dancer and seems to glide effortlessly through life, enchanting all who meet her, while I’m a clumsy klutz always managing to trip over my own feet. I wish I could feel my feet now. I wish I could feel anything now. Grace certainly lives up to her name. She reminds me of a ballerina, willowy thin with wispy blonde hair always tied up in a bun. Michael has the same blonde hair, short but still wispy, and the most vivid green eyes. His eyes were what mesmerised me when we met, almost recognising each other from previous lives. The five years we’ve been together seems like a glorious lifetime and I can only remember my life before him in fuzzy detail, but my life with him is always clear and in sharp focus.

I hear a door open and the squeak of rubber soled shoes on a floor. Hello. Can you hear me? The squeaky shoes move towards me. I can hear paper moving. The door opens again and another pair of shoes enter the room to wherever I am, not so squeaky though as the first pair of feet.

‘Oh, you nearly done? Her parents are on their way up.’ My parents are here?

‘Yeah only jotting down the vitals.’

‘Anything changed?’

‘No, nothing.’ Nothing? What do you mean nothing? What’s going on?

 The squeaky shoes and the not so squeaky shoes fade out followed by the door closing. Come back, I’m here! My parents are on their way up, I must be in a hospital, I must have been in an accident, why can’t I remember and why can’t I move? I listen carefully but only the noise of the machine beeping and the bellows blowing disturbs the silence. Time drags like weighted quicksand.

The door opens, slower and more cautiously than before, a few seconds of silence and machines pass. Did I really hear the door open? A clip clop of heels accompanied by heavier solid footsteps move towards me.

‘Oh George, she looks like she’s just sleeping.’ My mother’s voice is such a wonderful sound to me even with its forlorn tone. Mum! I’m here! I can hear you! I can smell her Nina Ricci perfume. Is she kissing me or stroking my hair? I can’t feel her but a sudden waft of strong scent must mean she’s close.

A chair scrapes the floor, heavy legs on tiles, being dragged towards me. I see a blue plastic chair in my mind. Why am I seeing a blue chair? Is my brain trying to compensate for my eyes not working? I hear a faint deflating sound as someone sits close by. My Dad? Why is my Dad not speaking? The image of the chair in my head changes from blue solid plastic to green padded vinyl, morphing Dali-like in my mind, playing tricks. I picture my Mum sat in the chair, fluffy plum cardigan with deep pockets like abysses that can produce tissues, nail-files, cough sweets or mints on demand, red floral skirt and tousled uneven bob, the same shade of chestnut brown as my hair.

‘Here.’ Mum says. Yes! I’m here Mum! Can you hear me?

‘I’m alright.’ Dad says. ‘I don’t need it.’ Dad! Can you hear me?

‘It’s ok to cry,’ says Mum, ‘let it out.’

‘Don’t fuss woman, I don’t need to let anything out.’

I’ve never seen my Dad cry, I can hear him sniffing, is he crying now? Don’t cry Dad, I’m here. They sit in silence, an occasional sniff from my Dad and some throaty sobs from my Mum is their only dialogue. I float helplessly in black space, tortured by their emotions, longing to move my arms to hug them. Concentrate. Think about moving your arms and make it happen. As much as I will my arms to shift even slightly I still cannot feel them. Are they even still there?

Why is Michael not here with me too? He could comfort my parents for me. Oh God, he might be in another room injured too. If we were both in an accident. Or if Grace was in the accident too he would be in her room knowing my parents were here with me. Yes, he must be at Grace’s bedside. She’s the only blood family he has.

I try desperately to remember more details, panic is scattering my thoughts like disturbed cockroaches and my claustrophobic cocoon closes in. Think. Focus. Go back to the restaurant and remember.

I remember the desserts, key lime pie. We all had the same. Well, we nearly all did. Grace squealed when Harry told her key lime pie was on the menu as they’d had that on their wedding day in St Lucia. She insisted we all had it. Unfortunately the waiter informed us that they only had three pieces left. Grace said that she and Harry simply had to have the same, they had also done this with their starters and main courses, so I opted for the raspberry cheesecake. I remember dropping the red fruit sauce onto my pastel pink dress giving the illusion that I had been shot, and Grace apologising to me for missing out on the key lime pie as it was so divine. I remember Harry having too many tequilas and being told off by Grace for telling us rude jokes and I remember Michael taking Harry’s car keys from him and nominating himself as driver as he had only had two whiskeys.

Michael was driving, I was shotgun and Grace and Harry were in the back. Harry’s tequila’s had hit him hard in the fresh air and he had tripped on the gravel in the car park and head-butted his car. He kept saying sorry to Michael, thinking it was Michael’s car. We were winding around the country roads, no other cars, just our headlights on full beam. Harry had shouted that he was bleeding, his head was bleeding. Grace was demanding Michael drive us to a hospital, faster. Michael was telling me to get a tissue from the glove box, it was only a little cut to Harry’s head. I got a tissue and tried passing it back to Harry but he was too drunk to take it, holding his head and moaning loudly. Grace was too busy telling Michael where the nearest hospital was. I reached behind me as far as I could to Harry but my seatbelt kept jamming. I undid my seatbelt.

‘The doctors will be here soon.’ Dad says.

‘No.’ Mum says. ‘Don’t let them. Don’t let them take my little girl away from me.’

‘She’s already gone Mary.’ No Dad! I’m here! I’m still here!

My Mum’s sobs increase. Don’t cry Mum, please don’t cry, I’m here, right here. Just listen really hard and you’ll hear me.

‘It’s only the machines keeping her body working,’ says Dad, ‘you know that. They explained it.’ His voice is monotone, detached, as if he too is trapped somewhere else. No Dad, make them give me longer! I’m still here! Your little girl who used to be your best garden helper, remember? We grew the greatest tomatoes that one summer, they were so vibrantly red and perfect in shape, remember? You said it was because we grew them with love. Give anything love and it will flourish you said.

The sound of the door opening is followed by footsteps, too many for me to distinguish. A mixture of squeaks and thuds my only clue as to my executioners.

‘I’m so sorry we couldn’t do more Mr and Mrs Grant.’ Says a solemn male voice. ‘Would you like to stay here or wait in the relatives’ room?’

No, no, no! I’m still here! Please, someone hear me!

‘I want to stay here.’ Mum says. ‘I can’t leave her.’ Yes, Mum. Stay here, don’t let them turn the machines off. I just need more time. I haven’t told you how much I love you, you need to know that. When I was younger you would kiss my forehead when I was ill and tell me you’d made the germs go away as they were scared of you. I need you to do that now Mum, I need you to make these doctors go away, because I’m scared Mum, I’m scared.

‘Come on Mary,’ Dad says, ‘she’s already gone. Let’s get out of the way and leave the doctors to do what they have to do.’

A scrape of chairs and my mother’s cries are overwhelming. I don’t want to listen to this, why did my hearing have to stay with me, Mum, please don’t cry, I can’t bear this.

‘Goodbye sweet pea,’ whispers my Mum, ‘I love you so much.’ I love you so much too Mum. Don’t leave me. Mum!

‘Nurse Barter will look after you.’ Says the solemn man. ‘Linda, take Mr and Mrs Grant to the relatives’ room please.’

No! Please! I’m still here! Mum? Dad? My Mum’s guttural wailing ebbs away in the distance and I imagine my Dad’s big strong arms wrapped around her, holding her up, holding them together as they grow smaller in the corridor outside.

I can hear the click of switches and paper rustling. Is this it? Is this how it all ends? I’m not going to go with the click of a switch. I’m going to bloody well stay here until I can move my useless body again! You hear that? Can you hear me you stupid people?

‘They can’t hear you.’ Michael says. ‘Your shouting is wasted.’

‘Michael! You can hear me?’

‘Of course I can silly.’

‘I knew you would! I knew you’d hear me!’ Its ok, everything is going to be ok. ‘You need to tell them quickly, the doctors, tell them you can hear me.’

‘I can’t.’

‘Why not?’

‘They can’t hear me either.’ He emerges from the darkness, I can see him so clearly. He is so handsome and radiating a soothing glow as he smiles at me. ‘I’ve come to meet you, we no longer belong here.’

Michael holds out his hand to me. My hand reaches out to his. I can feel his touch.