A Matter of Habit









The camera gains focus and we hear Sarah Allen’s voice as she swears under her breath whilst getting to grips with the camcorder. Everyone has the weird bluish complexion common to home video and the information which shows the date, running time and settings like a heads up display for a poor Terminator variant. Her wife, Cecilia, looks like a more photorealistic cast member of Avatar as she narrows her eyes and asks her where he got the camera from.


We hear Sara swallow and Cecilia frowns before their eldest child Adam comes into the room and complains Evan has been in his room again. Everyone looks washed out and blue, aside from Cecilia who is wearing a white dress, and thanks to the inherent luminosity of home video, she looks ethereal and incandescent until a flickering horizontal line cuts across the screen, blocking her eyes as she looks at her wife with an expression which shows this is far from over. Sara says nothing but her breathing quickens as she follows her wife and son through to Adam’s room. Cecilia turns around and tells her to put the camera away.


The screen goes dark as Sara ceases filming.




Cecilia Allen’s diary dated XX/XX/XXXX


She thinks I’m stupid.


There are no reasons for what she does, but there are always excuses.


She’s gotten fat too, and I remind her how heart disease runs in her family like red hair and being left-handed but she says she watches what she eats. She forgets I find the burger wrappers stashed in the glove compartment and each time, it’s a little reminder of how she thinks she can run rings around me.


Love will do that to people, sometimes.


It has.


She brought the camera. I found the box and the receipt tucked away in the basement on a shelf she thinks I can’t reach. It’s the thoughtlessness which stings the most, after all we’ve been through. Endless cycles of IVF, my parents inability to accept their darling Cece likes girls more than boys and now the woman I want to spend my life with orders shit we don’t need with money we don’t have.  We would be fucked if it weren’t for the house which belonged to her grandmother and god knows she has no problem bringing it up in arguments, knowing I don’t have a comeback. I hated the judgemental old bitch, but she had a deathbed conversion and Sara got the house. Her parents pitched a fit, but it was in the will.


I’m easy to love, aren’t I? I don’t think we need things to be happy. Sara gets the same look in her eyes when we go shopping as people get at tent revival meetings, the Holy Ghost of retail sends her wide eyed and shaking as she shows me things we should get for the house. If we buy them, they end up gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. We bought a doughnut maker and we still go out to Krispy Kreme, same with the coffee machine which looks like a fucking steampunk version of NASA Mission Control.


Guess how many times she’s used it?


Go on, I’ll wait.


Is it me? Am I some kind of bitch to know what we are spending. We’re still recovering from the cost of the IVF, and since the bottom dropped out of the solar industry, Sara’s had to temp which isn’t giving us a consistent income at all.


Sometimes, when we’re in bed together, I wonder if I’m just another object, a thing to possess and I fight the urge to cry about it. She loves me and I love her; we love the kids and it’s been a long time since anyone made a thing of us being a couple although I know she misses getting fucked up at Pride Parades, but the point was we didn’t need to go because people stopped caring about who you went to bed with.


I try to talk to her but the kids are demanding and we’re both stressed and tired from working all the time. She gets defensive and changes the subject until we are both screaming and weeping at one another. We end up fucking and we’re fine again but this is not good for us or the kids.


I wonder if she does this to keep me from addressing the issue.


I wonder if I excite her as much as the new phone she says Adam needs.


I wonder if I want to know the answer.




Eli Harrison has the pallid expression of a man who spends too much time under fluorescent lighting and eats too much fast food. He retired from the police last year and I think his contribution is fuelled by a fear of irrelevance common to retirees, but it means he’s keen to share his insights with us.


Which isn’t a good thing once you get him talking.

‘The problem is we don’t see if someone is a victim or an actor in these situations. It’s cognitive bias, a soupcon of ignorance and maybe some homophobia.’


He lights up a cigarette and pours himself another tumbler of scotch as he sits back in his chair and frowns as though he is contemplating something serious and profound before he carries on speaking.


‘I always thought gay couples were the worst for it. We came across this guy once, stabbed so much there wasn’t a postage stamp worth of skin left untouched. His boyfriend sat there, a knife in his hands and sobbed like a baby over what he had done. Shameful but not surprising.’


I’m about to say something when a tall, aristocratic man with silver hair and a square jaw comes in and asks Eli if he needs anything from the store. Eli beams at the sight of him and tells him no thanks. The man smiles at me and leaves the room. I pretend to write something down and when I look up, Eli has an amused expression as he narrows his eyes.


‘Shame on you.’


I ask him to continue and make a note to cut this part from the finished product.


‘Lesbian couples have a higher incidence of domestic violence. Sara and Cecilia Allen were having issues and sometimes it takes one thing to make them flip out. It’s the kids who suffer though, isn’t it?’  


Not as much as Cece though, I think and keep filming.




Sara pans the camera across the attic. The large windows stream in light and the luminosity of the video camera makes it look more of a portal to some celestial paradise as she keeps filming. There is the flickering horizontal strip across the screen and a vague shape in the corner of the screen.


‘Meemaw had weird shit.’ Sara says.


She holds the camera in one hand as she opens a brass and oak trunk. Inside are piles of dresses, ornate and threadbare from disuse, but she pulls out a few before she sneezes and moves onto another part of the attic. The shaking footage produces another effect of a shape in the corner as she opens another trunk.


Before she puts the camera down, the shape appears larger.


Sara reads from a book.

‘That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die. Jesus, Meemaw, where does this shit come from?’


She coughs, we assume from the dust, but it gains a packed liquidity, unpleasant to listen to. When she picks up the camera, she turns it around as though seeing it for the first time. Her face is a leering mask as she tilts her head and chuckles.


From downstairs, we hear Cecilia call her name and she looks down, angered by the intrusion.


Sara drops the camera and the side angle captures her as she walks down the folding steps, hands clenched into fists as she inhales through her nostrils with her teeth gritted.




Sara has been incarcerated for seven years of her sentence. She has put on a lot of weight and smokes throughout the interview. Her tone is disbelieving and wavers as she keeps repeating the same phrases over and over.


‘The last thing I remember is looking through some dresses in the attic. I thought I could sell MeeMaw‘s things online.’


It had been her defence in court until her lawyer persuaded her a guilty plea would put the death penalty off the table. She appears panicked by her situation, odd when you consider the extent of the injuries inflicted on her wife.


I ask her about the book and she frowns as she shakes her head.


‘I don’t remember any book.’


No video recordings were entered into evidence, for or against. Cecilia’s diary entries and the overwhelming physical evidence made it a quick trial.


I change the subject and ask her if the children come visit. It is a question which prompts a savage and uninhibited crying jag as she shudders, the fringe of sagging adipose flesh jiggling under her orange prison coveralls as her hands, littered with needle and ink tattoos come up to her face.


It is when I switch the camera off that she lowers her hands and her eyes are dry, as a small, vicious smile crosses her face. I pack up my equipment and leave, struggling to make sense of what has happened.




There was not much of Meemaw on paper. A few photographs, some correspondence and whatever was in the attic. Adam inherited the house and contents, but he sold it as soon as the deeds were transferred.


I took six months to track down the books in the trunk. A private collector, Kenneth Lisbon, a collector of antiquities invited me to his house on the lake. He does not hold his collection there, which is stored in a specialist environment, sealed and filtered to preserve his vast library of books.


I asked him over tea if he had read through any of them. He turned pale at the suggestion and set his cup of tea down.


‘The diaries were bad enough. I’ve never known the pleasure of a woman, and after reading about such a vile bitch, I’m glad I remained a confirmed bachelor.’


I asked him what he meant and he leaned forwards as though confessing a terrible secret.


‘Danielle Allen was a false name. Judging by the diaries, she went under quite a few identities and had no end of lovers, left something of a trail in her wake before she settled down into domestic bliss.’ he said.


He had photocopied entries for me. When I told him about featuring him in the documentary, he shook his head and said he’d deny it all if I did.


‘Read for yourself then decide if this is a lever you want to pull my dear.’




There are no excuses for what I do, but there are always reasons.


The lump in my breast has made me desperate and thanks to Abdul’s ignorance regarding the intelligence of women, I’m able to educate myself on the practices he claims gave him a long and healthy life.


He’s extrapolated from several sources, including the Mass of Saint-Secaire and refined it down to a process which can be reproduced.


The problem is blood.


If I will return, I will need a relative to work with and a blood sacrifice. My children have moved away and my behaviour has scandalised them to where I am persona non grata.


The trick is to apport into a blood relation and carry out an act of violation. The resulting sacrifice means I gain another fifty to sixty years of health and vitality. It means sacrificing my identity but my death will be a relief to the spawn I didn’t get scraped out all those years ago.


Still, it’s a matter of habit.




Things come to light during the creation of a documentary.


Choices are made to include or exclude particular events to establish a narrative.


I was editing the interview with Eli when my phone rang. A friend of mine who works at the hospital gave me the news.


Sara opened her wrists on the corner of her bunk and bled out before anyone could save her.


I was sorting out repaying the funding I had sourced from the internet when I came across a news report.


A burglary at the house of a collector of antiquities which ended in murder. There were several items stolen.


I can guess which ones.


A guard at the prison left the state before a warrant could be issued for her arrest when it was revealed she was a distant relative of Sara’s. The police believe she assisted Sara’s suicide.


I could tell them how right they are but they wouldn’t believe me.


Things come to light during the creation of a documentary.


Choices are made to include or exclude particular events to establish a narrative.


I thought I was making those choices and bringing those things to light.


There is someone at my door. I wonder what face she is wearing when I answer.



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