The train rattled enough to make Ken’s bones hurt as he sat back, numb with rejection and drink and feeling like a failed photocopy of himself. He tried not to think about Rachel’s strained expression but his thoughts returned to it like a rotten tooth, poking it for the stab of anguish. It was half an hour on the last train back to Yarmouth. He wanted a cigarette and instead looked around the carriage at the other passengers. As dates went, this one had been traumatic, and the high point had been when she looked into his eyes and told him he was a potential rapist. Ken paid the bill and left saying nothing.
He watched a pair of women, hard and bright with youth as they typed into their phones. He enjoyed the chance to look at them. He imagined through a series of implausible events taking them both home and watching them before joining in. A brief spasm of excitement arose in him before it settled down, stubbed out by the sight of his reflection in the carriage window. The image spared nothing of his flaws, and he looked away, sickened all over again. Ken had pleasant features but little to distinguish them.
He saw the sticker next to the window, about the size of a coaster. The carriages were always filthy but Ken tutted as he read the slogan.
KILL ALL MEN
Ken narrowed his eyes, chuckled and looked around him to see if anyone else noticed but no one looked up and the amusement died in him. He stared at the sticker and realised he did not understand if the sentiment was genuine. It didn’t matter, but it seemed pointless and concerning to think someone thought putting this up would change anything. Ken was uncomfortable, because the idea was so ridiculous and yet, whenever he turned on the news, ridiculous people said ridiculous things all the time. The drinks he’d taken to calm his nerves hung onto his perceptions, stripping them of inhibitions as the pointlessness of the sentiment turned into irritation.
The sticker was a round piece of vinyl. Ken had trimmed his nails, amongst other parts, but he would peel it off with no trouble. It was a small, pointless gesture, but it offered him something to achieve, an antidote to the mundane chaos of his romantic life. He reached out and dug his fingers into the edges of the sticker and pulled it away.
It took a second before something sharp slipped into the meat of his fingertips, deep and sudden enough to cause disbelief before the warm trickle of blood slid down his palm and onto the sleeve of his shirt. Ken cried out in alarm as his retreat sprayed blood away from him. A couple sat in front of him caught the warm splatter, and the man turned, his face cast in a masculine snarl, ready to address the insult. Ken had dealt with such men all his life, but when the man saw Ken’s hand, red and dripping, his expression fell apart into disgust and confusion.
Someone shouted for the conductor. It sounded faint to his ears as he looked at the lipless, bleeding slashes on his hand. As the sounds of shock and alarm faded around him, Ken saw the edges of his vision blurring to a soothing, intoxicating grey and with relief, he let it wash over him.
It embarrassed him when he awoke in the hospital. Passing out had not been one of his more dignified actions, but it meant they spared him the inevitable theatre of the ambulance and the dumbfounded Transport Police and staff, who glanced around, wondering where the blame would fall.
In a living room, with one of her less sociopathic cats on her lap, Rachel watched him and cringed with embarrassment. She had tried to reach across the aisle to a man, in the hopes of a comfort no march or heated debate could give her, but sat there, in the restaurant, her borrowed resentments kept coming up like a tic disorder until he was on the verge of tears.
She had tried to reach across the aisle to a man, in the hopes of a comfort no march or heated debate could give her, but sat there, in the restaurant, her borrowed resentments kept coming up like a tic disorder until he was on the verge of tears.
There, in a local studio, with his hair combed and a healthy glow to his cheeks, brushing off his anger and embarrassment with an aplomb which made him endearing.
The stickers had been a joke at the last meeting. Someone had posted a hoax message warning about the stickers, aimed at attracting the ire of trans women and Rachel, along with Flip and Petra, had spent a little over twenty quid on a roll of stickers and a few packs of razor blades. Rachel had taken the train to London but Flip had an uncle in Gorleston, so it had been her work. Her heart beat so fast, it throbbed inside her skull as she watched Ken recollect his decision. A prim, noble gesture like picking up litter and there he was, a man being celebrated for it. The cat leapt off her lap, annoyed at being petted so hard and she was about to switch off the television and go online when the doorbell rang.
Her skin prickled with nerves as her phone bleated out a notification. She looked at the message from Petra and tasted bile in the back of her throat.
THEY’VE ARRESTED FLIP!!
Rachel stood there, staring at the phone as her thoughts all thinned out into a single pointed scream inside her skull as the knocking at the door echoed through the flat.