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Her voice, small and trembling, woke me like an alarm clock. A single word had me tumbling from the womb of warm sheets.
The drive is quiet, my teeth ground together by the tension, knowing that at any moment, I might arrive to some horror scene, blood and rage. Frightened by what I might do if she’s not alone.
I call when I am outside. Parked a block away, she sobs as she tells me she’s alone.
 Treehouse games and stories we only ever told to one another, and when the inch of space between door and frame shows me a livid bruise around her left eye, I want to give it a violent, violent ending. Inside, I’m all business.
‘What have you packed?’
She looks down, auburn hair hung in her eyes and lean arms wrapped around herself. A runner’s build, but this is one trail she’s been gearing up for, for a long fucking time. Grey vest and faded track bottoms, translucent at the knees.
‘Becky. Get something together. Where is she?’
She shakes her head without looking up. I remember reading an interview with Sean Connery once; he said that there were worse things done to a woman than hit her.  Becky argued death penalty cases, wrote papers that went to Supreme Court Justices and here she was, unable to tell me if she had packed a bag or not.
I sigh and she flinches, which makes a small series of knots, made of of guilt and anguish from palate to bowel, slip itself tighter together. Pressing my palms together as I take a small step forward.
‘Becky, we have to go now. You called me, and I want you to come home with me, but you need to get some things together.’
She nodded and cantered into the bedroom. The hallway was heavy with framed pictures. Even in an age of Instagram and Snapchat, Becky appreciated representations of her history. Lots from her gap-toothed childhood, earnest eyes that looked too old for an apple-cheeked face and fine, windblown hair with my arm around her. Self conscious enough to make sure I sneered in every photo. Little brother, that I was. First boy in the family.  Honour roll, certificates, qualifications, college with the haircut, shaved at the sides and long on top that nearly got her kicked off. 
Jennifer. Five feet tall, ninety pounds. Not insubstantial or weak. Compact. A dwarf meteorite. Beautiful compression, her existence lived like a tape on fast forward. Words all pressed together and an intense line of patter that made you wonder how she drew breath.
Becky didn’t stand a chance against being loved like that.
I’d gone into the academy.
 When they announced that they were moving up to SF. 
Jennifer had landed a great gig working the diversity angle with tech companies eager to avoid being crucified online, Becky, in a resigned voice, said that she could practice anywhere. Thanksgiving was with her family and then Becky shut down her facebook without telling me. A couple one came up instead, Jennifer’s idea.
On the phone, talking like a bad audition for an awful movie. 
Into my career, blue flames shooting out of my ass, looking at making detective and living like a monk. 
Maintenance communications with my family and not even noticing how Becky doesn’t really talk to anyone anymore.
A call from a payphone, sobbing with the pain of it all.
No details, but fuck that was enough. If you had looked at Jennifer and Becky together, you’d have guessed wrong about who did what to whom and the nature of it. No one wants to be a victim, inventing reasons that justify a course of action because that’s easier to saying that life is, to quote Hamlet, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
She came out with a suitcase. Looking around, my forehead furrowed as the silence bothered me. She had everything swamped beneath a sweatshirt that hung past her.  Taking the case, she bit her bottom lip and lowered her eyes. I told her I would use the bathroom and she swallowed heavily. She limped out to the car and I swallowed another slick burst of rage.
I walked down the hall. My apartment was smaller than their bathroom, one of those showers that had multiple heads at angles, black marble and chrome. Their toilet looked like performance art.
I took a quick piss and flushed. The door to their bedroom was open and as I shut the bathroom door behind me, there was the scent of something dark and heavy. My heart was heavy in my chest and I reached for my hip, embarrassed that my instinct outstripped my actual reality.
A lump beneath the duvet, goose feathers hung in the air and the smear of black hair against the pillow. Illuminated by the light from the hallway. The reason she had called me. We had both worked within institutions that served and protected people. Knew that the law was like sausages, that you might enjoy them, but if you saw them made, you’d never eat one again.
The implications, the armchair quarterbacks who would look at her and wonder why she didn’t ask for help, would haunt her. Remembering a bit from a Doug Stanhope show.
‘I don’t like when minorities tell me I can’t understand racism because I’m white. I go: “No, you can’t understand racism ‘cause you’re not white; I hear the shit they say about you when you leave the room! They don’t hold back on my account.”
Same applied to sexism. That, and we both knew how cops and lawyers fared in prison. This was not Peter Harris with his broken arm, but the principle was the same. Love is not a statement that you can rely on in court, My handkerchief came out and wiped everywhere that I had touched.
She sat in my front seat, chin tucked to her chest and hands folded in her lap.
The knife was in the suitcase, wrapped in a hand towel and a plastic bag.  I put my hand on her arm, told her we would figure it out on the way.
Her first smile, cold but familiar to me. We always covered for one another.
The front seat of my car.
The treehouse in the backyard.
Just one more body, that was all.

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Sunset Ride

The flat was too empty to bear alone.

Henry pulled on the set of leathers which cost more than the bike, avoiding his eyes in the mirror, afraid he might give it up and spend the day curled on his single bed, turning pages on a book without reading a single word. He went outside; the afternoon sloughing away into a civil twilight. He slipped on the helmet, listening to the change in pressure, how it made the sound of his blood turn thick and listless. A comfort experienced outside as a deadness within.

A beautiful time to get away from everything. Including himself. He had his wallet, phone, house keys, a paperback book and a nub of pencil. No one would miss him for a few hours, and the double-edged sword of it grazed a small paper cut on the inside of his soul.
He had counselling suggested to him, no end of offers to listen to him but he did not trust it. Pain was a drug best filtered through other experiences, and he had seen the dilated pupils, the open mouths of people getting high on his supply. He bore it through the days as he always had. Alone.

Getting out on the bike helped.

He moved out, along the quay and onto the Acle straight, took the bike up to open the engine up. The world sped past him, an optical illusion, and in the pocket of air, he allowed himself to feel something of the pain he carried. A blind man trying to describe an animal he did not understand existed.

He headed towards Norwich, but resisted the pull to find somewhere in the city to park up and distract himself. He needed space and rode hard to find it, guided only by whim and distraction.

A country road took him away from the grids of motorway, fringed by high hedgerows and clumps of trees. He slowed the bike down, shifting into a lower gear to enjoy the moment. It was not peace, but a postcard from it.

He could smell smoke, brought on the wind to him, and underneath it, something metallic and sweet. It revealed itself as he took the next corner. It blocked the setting sun ahead.

A Ford Ka, it’s windshield opaque with a filigree of cracks, the driver side door buckled in and the passenger door open.

She had long, curly hair, rose-gold and dark with blood at the crown and dripping onto her forehead. Her eyes glazed with shock and pain, the neck of her blouse torn open, revealing pale, freckled skin and the globes of her breasts. Henry looked away until she turned her head and showed him the livid mark on her cheek.

The perfect dimensions of a handprint.

Henry slipped off his helmet and parked the bike. He fought the urge to dash forward, wary of the disconnected expression the woman wore.

‘Stay still. You’ve been in an accident.’ he said.

She laughed and tottered on her feet, but regained herself as she pointed to the car.

‘What happened?’ she said.

He tried to think of something but words failed him. Actions never had, so he came and reached his hand out to her.

‘I don’t know, but it looks like a head injury.’

She touched the top of her head and winced, staring at the blood on her fingertips and trying not to sob.

‘He hit me.’ she said.

Henry revolted like he had touched a loose wire. The situation demanded action over thought, so he focused on what he could prove.

He retrieved his phone from his leathers and looked at the single exclamation point, a joke made about his need to reach out and call anyone. Henry put it away but kept his face neutral.

‘Do you want me to check on him?’ he said.

She stared at him. Tears welled in the corners of her eyes and her lips trembled with the force of her emotions. He nodded and walked over to the car, tasting the spilled gasoline with each breath he took. It made his head swim with its potency. He walked with care to the driver’s side.

The man looked too large to have fit behind the wheel. The folds at the back of his neck hung like distended lips and his forehead protruded over his small eyes as he slumped against the wheel.

‘What the fuck?’ the man said.

Henry caught the tang of alcohol, sour and heavy from it being filtered through his pores.

‘I can’t get a signal on my phone.’ Henry said.

He turned, eyes burning with a petulant anger.

‘Where is she?’ he said.

Henry knew the tone of voice. Possession without responsibility, a sudden anger which came from him, bold and harsh. Henry did not flinch, preferring to cajole his manners into remaining present. It was none of his business, he told himself. He would help but his involvement had boundaries.

‘Look mate, she’s concussed. We need to get help.’ Henry said.

The man’s eyes narrowed like Henry had tried to explain something complex to him. He struggled in his seat and a prickling chill ran Henry’s arms, like slipping into cold water.

‘Rose? Come here, love.’ the man said.

His voice softened. Henry watched the man’s expression, found only need and possession within it, not love. Henry stepped backwards.

‘Look, she’s all right. We need to get you both seen to.’ Henry said.

The last few years had demanded a passivity, a softness of him which was difficult to overcome. Henry had to unlearn a great deal and was proud of his progress. The lessons were deep into him and he slipped his hand into his pocket, finding the pencil and testing the point with the ball of his thumb.


He glanced at Rose. Henry made a wager with the universe, if she came to him, he would call an ambulance and be on his way, leave them to it.

She grimaced and wept, shoulders rising as she sobbed with her entire body, knees bending as she sagged down onto the road, shaking her head and saying ‘no’ over and over.

Henry had the pencil between his fingers as he slipped his hand free.
‘I won’t assume you started it.’ Henry said.

The man’s eyebrows went up, the cold tone of Henry’s voice cutting through his concussion as he fought free of the tangled mass of metal around him.

‘But my dad was like you.’ Henry said.

It was a joke in a movie but Henry brought the pencil around in a straight arc, punching the tip into the man’s head. Blood splashed from his nose onto his lips and chin as his pupils altered size, the left waxing whilst the right waned. The pterion bone, located just behind the temple broke beneath the force of the blow and left an inch of yellow and black pencil, the eraser a gynecological pink where it emerged from his head. He bucked and thrashed in his seat before gasping once and slumping over the wheel.

Henry had dreams like this. Memories.
He plucked the pencil free. It made a sucking pop, loud in the evening air, making his stomach turn with a polite revulsion. He slipped the pencil back into the pocket of his leathers and remembered to breathe.

Checking his phone revealed a single bar of signal. Henry put it back in his pocket and went into the state which followed such work. Everything was there, he needed to give the natural forces of the universe a nudge. He reached into the man’s pockets, found a cheap disposable lighter and a packet of cigarettes, lit one and enjoyed the dizziness as the smoke moved through his bloodstream, mingled with the blood and gasoline. He dropped the cigarette onto the floor of the car and walked over to the woman.

She stood up in his arms, sobbing with an awful, violent relief as she stared at him. Henry knew what his lessons required here. He held her face between his hands, knowing there was only a single twist between him and anonymity.

‘Thank you.’ she said.

Her voice was a damp, broken whisper and it reached to the soft, new parts of the soul he was growing. He slipped his hands onto her shoulders.

‘I’m sorry. He didn’t make it.’ he said.

She sniffled and cried, leaned against him and rested a wet cheek against his leathers. She spoke one word, an incantation which made him glad of his decision.


The wind rose and he held onto her, looking past her at the sunset, so beautiful and yet stained in ways he knew he would never see past.

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Mason Jar

Shirley had not left much in the way of belongings. A few worn, battered boxes of objects that held sentimental value and the musk of years clinging to them. Laura had taken them in without a care to examine them, exiled them to a corner of the basement whilst she got on trying to raise Kelly when Shirley went into the care home. Kelly’s memories of Sheila had been abstract, the smell of her, violets and chamomile, the soft, flabby crush of her embrace, her lilting gentle laughter and how it carried up into the air.
Shirley had been bitten by life. Her husband, and Laura’s father, Pete, had been a brutal, weak man who was quick to blame everyone else for his failures and in turn, quicker with his fists if anyone called him on it. They had survived as a family due to Shirley, who took it all in her stride, back at a time when marriage was something you believed required work. The work that was similar to a drop of water eroding a cliff face. Laura and Kelly’s generation knew the lie of it, even though some of their relationship choices had uncanny parallels to Shirley and Pete, a predisposition towards rough confidence and an ambiguity as to what rough meant in that context.
Shirley would say if either of them ever asked what stopped her from leaving or taking a knife to Pete’s throat whilst he slept. She would ask them to fetch down the mason jar that sat on the shelf in the living room, with the seal of cracked, flaking rubber and the lid sealed on with tape.
She would give an inscrutable grin and tap the lid.
‘I would open this up, and scream or cry into it, close it again and go on about my day. Your pa was an asshole, but he used to balance that out with being sweet. Over time, men like that, they don’t get sweeter as a rule. The jar kept me going on making sure you were alright.’
Laura had survived her marriage as her mother had. At first it was the same determination, and then the fortunate act of a 17-year-old drunk driver who had ploughed into Bobby’s pickup truck and killed them both. Bobby had been a protégé of Pete, without ever having met him. The only good thing he had left Laura was Kelly, and so she retreated behind the role of mother, unwilling or unable to trust her instincts to love again so freely. When she did date, Kelly noticed, they were tepid, plaintive men whose safety had suffocated their animal natures until they were muted, gelded soft boys with worn, adult features. Her step father William, had been one of them and Kelly had liked him, although she knew that the relationship was a band aid on an amputated limb for her mom.
Kelly, at that time, seventeen felt an arrogant pride in seeing the mistakes of her relatives and was determined to avoid them herself. No, she would not let herself be taken in either sort of man – the brute or the eunuch. She would be more cautious in who she let into her bed or her heart.
She was later reminded of the maxim, that if you wanted to make God laugh, tell him your plans.
Predators came in all forms. They adapted to their environment, wore the plumage of safe, appropriate identities but beneath it all, they still held the same crawling disdain for women. Barrett had been displaying some of his work for his final grade. He had long, shining hair and round spectacles, spoke with his hands and was informed about third wave feminism and the benefits of a vegan diet. Kelly had thought him safe, a good man who would align with her values even if he didn’t immediately set a fire in her loins.
It was two years into it that he struck her for the first time. He had gotten a scathing review by Harlan Foster for his last show, and although Kelly had sought to soothe him, he had taken it as criticism. His bony hand came up and caught her on the curve of her left cheekbone. The surprise hurt worse than the blow itself. A small, resigned voice at the back of her head gave an unpleasant chuckle and told her that she was not so unlike her mother and grandmother after all.
She had been six months pregnant at the time.
She had stayed. Laura was undergoing treatment for cancer at the time on the other side of the country, barely able to muster the energy for a conversation. Kelly had, by getting pregnant and quitting her work, tied herself to Barrett, whose success had been intoxicating even as his ego had developed an unpleasant, peevish swagger that resonated with deep, ancestral memories. Shirley was a ghost in ageing flesh, dementia had reduced her to unfocused smiles and an orderly to change her diaper. Kelly, stood in the bathroom with a cold cloth to her bruised cheek, realised how effectively Barrett had cut her off from anything approaching a support network. The price of his intensity and attention had come due. She patted her belly, squeezed out a few tears as he pleaded with her through the door and swore that she would not repeat the pattern of previous generations.
It was a year before he struck her again. She had just managed to get Georgia off to sleep, a fractious baby who conducted the tension between her parents like she were made of copper. He had come back from signing a new deal for more of his work, appropriations of other people’s Instagram posts recreated and blown up into hallucinogenic collages that generated controversy. He blamed the drink this time, but Kelly knew that vulpine smile, the opportunity to shut her down with a single blow. His smile knew her weakness, and she hated it. They had a beautiful home, tastefully decorated but Kelly would have burned it to ash if it meant her and Georgia got away.
Within six months, Laura and then Shirley had passed on. Barrett had been dryly supportive, a means to continue isolating and controlling her. He checked her emails, went through her phone. He had clung to her at the funeral, not as a gesture of comfort, but to keep her to heel. A single unguarded conversation might arouse suspicion.
He avoided hitting her face after that. If anyone asked him, he would have said that he liked the expression that came to her when he kicked her in the shin or drove his bony fist into her stomach. He reminded her what power was, even if he lacked the awareness to see that this was a metaphor akin to cancer being a reminder of good cellular activity.
Because, he said, he loved her.
Their collective estates were mostly medical bills, absolved by good insurance policies and a few objects. William had died of a heart attack when Kelly was eighteen, so it was down to her to sort through the collected detritus of a life spent surviving, sifting through the trash of discarded dreams and fragile shelters for anything worth treasuring.
The jar was still intact although the tape holding it closed had faded to the texture of parchment, its control now a thing of sentiment rather than physics. She kept it in the kitchen where it drank in the light of the day through the large window. She showed it to Georgia without letting her handle it.
Because, when she held it, Kelly imagined a hum of something inside, tapping against the glass, eager to be released. She would laugh and put it back on the sill, but it was a shrill, polite rejection of the senses.
She had never asked her mother if she had screamed into it.
She wondered if it would work for her.
Georgia had been at daycare when Barrett had sauntered in, gazing around the kitchen for something to use as a reason to hit her. Kelly wondered when that would finally stop and he would just come over and beat his frustrations out of him and into her. He had grown more violent in his rages. Luckily, he had stayed away from Georgia which Kelly would have found intolerable, and that too became a reason to stay in the perfect cruel trap of their marriage. He needed her. He had stopped progressing as a man and an artist, perfectly content to nurse his insecurities and failings, the only true child of their marriage and Kelly’s presence meant he had someone to take it all out upon.
‘What’s wrong?’ she said.
Nothing. Everything. He had moved past the point of needing an excuse as much as she had moved past trying to fight him. The bruises healed, the blood in her urine would fade back to the straw yellow and the limp would disappear on its own. The paranoia, the removal of her privacy had done more damage to her sense of self. She had been a good girl, with her lid screwed on tight but what was inside her.
She ignored the screaming hum aside when she dreamed about it. A kaleidoscope of humiliation, clowns chasing after her that had faded by the time she awoke. She would cry in the shower afterwards and then return to bed, desperate not to wake him.
In the kitchen, he grabbed the soft flesh on her left bicep, dug his fingers in and brought his other hand up across her face. She cried out, felt the heat of her own blood on her upper lip. His lips were pulled back over his teeth and his eyes gleamed like broken glass in a children’s playground.
She was stood with her back to the sink and he shoved her. The edge of the sink bit into the small of her back and she flailed to remain upright. Her fingertips touched the glass of the jar, warm from the light.
The humming called to her, travelling down the bone roads and nerve pathways into her brain. Older, wiser voices told her what she needed to do.
What she had always needed to do.
She pulled her left arm away from his grip and was punished with gouges where he had dug his nails in. With both hands, she picked up the jar, fighting the desperate, atavistic urge to smash it against his high, veined forehead or into his long, hooked nose. It would have injured him, but another instinct made a more compelling argument. Without words, only the crude magick of memories and a need to save herself before he lost it completely and ended up killing her.
She held the jar towards him and wrenched the lid off. It made a soft, sucking sound like smacking lips in anticipation of a good meal. The pneumatic hiss was audible between them and that, above the rising tide of his rage, made Barrett step backwards.
The silence, for a moment, was a bomb going off in the room between them. A pressurised wave that ripped everything to rags before Barrett staggered backwards, his hands to his face.
Blood welled between his fingers and Kelly held the jar forward. It vibrated in her hands and she held onto it with what strength she had left in her. Barrett collapsed onto his knees, then fell forward onto his stomach, his feet kicking out a tattoo against the tiles. She kept the jar aimed at him as he floundered and thrashed with agony. Whatever was happening to him robbed him of the ability to scream.
Kelly knew how that felt.
He brought his knees up to his chest, hands still at his face although they were smeared with blood which had spread out into a thick, dark puddle around his head like a halo. The smell of wet pennies and unseen, internal processes filled the air but Kelly kept the jar open and pointed at him. She screamed along with it, adding her voice to the chorus of pain and anguish that had been her terrible, unwanted legacy alongside her mother and grandmother.
She caught the faint scent of burning and stared, in appalled disbelief as smoke began to rise in tendrils from his still form. The jar hummed as it went about its work and she watched him flake, turn grey and then disappear into a few smears of ash and the acrid scent of smoke on her lips and tongue. The blood had boiled away alongside every inch of him.
She shut the jar, looked at what remained and replaced the jar on the shelf. She left the lid off. She sobbed and sunk to her knees, the kind of healing, ungainly cries that was beautiful and ugly in the same instant. When she stopped, she looked around and realised that Georgia would be home soon. She wiped her eyes and got to her feet.
She looked for a broom and a dustpan. The sunshine came in, a second wave of brightness and warmth at her back. She whispered her thanks and set to work.

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Limited Service



Lizzie stood alone on the platform, arms wrapped around herself, and looking down the tracks. Every noise made her react until even the rasp and rattle of the breeze had her nerves on edge.

Harry had once told her about the ghost trains. Scheduled trains that stopped at odd places, single journeys that appeared to end up going nowhere.  Kept open because it was easier than closing down a line, itself made cumbersome by an Act of Parliament.

He had taken her once, back when things were good, and they had watched it come in. Empty and unused, just an ordinary process made magical by their presence, an imp of bureaucracy at the bottom of their heart’s garden.

He wasn’t coming. She only hoped that it was late enough that the kids would stop knocking on the door, asking for sweets.

That’s what had started it between them.

She had come home with a couple of bags of generic chewy candies, individually wrapped and an orange moulded plastic bucket shaped like a jack o’lantern. Ten minutes queuing in the pound shop and change from a five pound note. She was excited to show Harry, a way of testing the water to see if he had changed his mind about things. The little rituals that she had dreamed of since they had met.

He had looked at the shopping bag in her hand, sneering from the couch as he put the controller down.

‘What the fuck is that for?’

She grimaced, her stomach starting to hurt at how his tone of voice whipped through her like a belt being swung.

‘Thought we’d get summat when the kids show up.’

He shook his head and picked up the controller.

‘Not answering the fucking door t’kids.’

She set the bag on the table and began to take off her coat.

‘You don’t have to, Harry, I will. It’s not like it’s a nice thing to do, or anything like that.’

He often ignored her sarcasm, she had learned how to phrase a comment so that it sailed over his head like a paper airplane but not always. His frustration was fuel for the engine in him that made his self awareness a touch more acute.

‘What’d you say to me?’

He had not gotten up from the couch but he had pushed his heels against the couch, ready to get up and then it would follow the usual pattern. Him, invading her space with his squat, bulldog physique going to seed and his bitter, oily breath. A magnet with two polarities: indifference or aggression.

On cue, he got up and swept the bag from the table.

‘No fucking kids, in my fucking house. ‘

She backed up against the counter, breathing hard and struggling not to cry.

She did not cry when he struck her across the cheek. A maintenance slap. She had endured worse than this but it never stopped hurting.

It was the sight of the bucket, broken pieces poking out through the handles of the bag that did it. A perfect symbol of what she wanted and would never have.

She reached behind her. The wooden handle of the knife he had used and left to cut the loaf open felt right in her hands. When he slapped her again, she closed her eyes and swung the knife, in a perfect downward arc.

He fell back, clutching at his throat with his hand. The blood squirted through it, against his fingers as he collapsed against the table.

There was so much blood. An ocean of it inside him, pouring out through such a tiny cut in him.

She dropped the knife. She did not grab her coat as she left.

Outside, tight little knots of supervised children clad in masks and cloaks of black rubbish bags, led by wearied parents moved around her. She was running without a destination in mind.

Away. It was all she could think of. Away.

Harry had been into trains. Studying timetables and spending hours waiting for particular  engines to arrive into the station. He had been gentle once, before the accident. The compensation that had not gone as far as they had hoped. The pain had rewired their lives together into something desperate and vicious. She ran into the station, and looking at the clock knew that it was due anytime now.


The huff and screech of it’s arrival compelled her to step to the edge of the platform.

She got on as the sirens grew louder. When the doors closed behind her, a chill hand brushed the hair from her face. She shut her eyes and felt cold breath on her cheek.

Welcomed her home.



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Extremis malis extrema remedia

Nigel got out of the car, staggering already at ten in the morning with a cardboard box under his arm. The orange juice was thick and bitter on Natalie’s tongue. She blinked, slow and heavy, swaying as she watched him open the door. He angered her so quickly, the difference between amicable and angry was a moment and her rage was a terrible, vicious thing.

He smirked when he first saw her, swaddled in the dressing gown they’d stolen from the honeymoon, hair heavy with grease and sweat. The hard, harsh light in her eyes made him flinch as she scurried forward.

‘Why are you home? ‘

Her voice, slurred like a cassette tape played at the wrong speed.

‘They’ve let me go.’

‘What do you mean? They’ve let you go. You’re a fucking solicitor, it’s not like you work on a checkout.’

He grimaced and shook his head.

‘They sacked me, unanimous vote. Ian said they’re sick of me coming in pissed up.’

She clutched at him. Her face was dull greasy meat hung from a bovine skull. Her ugliness and her anger were the same thing to him, he was terrified by both. He stood there as her gnarled brown twig fingers clutched at his shirt.

‘What are we going to do now, you stupid prick?’

‘We? What does we mean? You just sit on your fat arse and spend my money.’

He knew the slap was coming. The drink took away the pain but it hurt all the same. He used to flinch, pull away from her, even tried pleading but nothing had ever worked. So he stood there and took it. 

Mothers tell their sons to be brave. But it is a terrible lie to live by. It had taken her a year to break him, from a brash solicitor who liked a pint to a sullen, shambling drunk who needed a drink to keep from crying all day. 

He had rung a domestic violence helpline one evening when she had gone out, hung up when the woman on the other end had laughed at him.  Since then, he had tried to make her happy.

The wedding band caught the bridge of his nose and his eyes watered. At that she stopped and began to cry. Braying, grinding sobs that had never been for or over him. He went through to the kitchen, saw the bottle next to the carton and picked it up. If he touched her drink, that provoked her faster than anything.

‘That’s mine,’ she said.

He looked at her, wrinkled and hunched over, a tan that made her look like fungus, the kind that grew on damp cardboard and in the folds of the clinically obese.

It would never be good again, the climb to a law firm was steep and those who fell seldom made the ascent more than once. Next to nothing in the bank.

This home, this life, him, all his passion and potential pissed away. What friends he had were tied in anguished knots and he was so inured to suffering that he couldn’t speak his pain aloud.

The decision came to him easily. A relieved and strong certainty made him pick up the bottle and tip it’s contents onto the counter. She stopped crying and hissed at him.

‘What the fuck are you doing?’

He started to laugh, hard enough to bring tears to his eyes. He could not stop. The bottle fell to the floor with a dull thump against the thick oatmeal coloured carpet. 

When he watched her reach out to touch the block of carving knives, in the kitchen that they never used, he snorted, giggling until his stomach ached. The rasp of the blade being pulled from the block was loud enough to make him look at her and as she lurched forward.

The tugging sensation was a novel experience, felt at a remove and he looked down at it. The handle protruded from his chest and he laughed even harder. An end to everything rather than carrying on cringing whenever she raised her hand. 

When the last chuckle caught in his throat, he whispered his thanks and turned to receive the gift of the morning sunshine, streaming through the patio door. Freedom was his, and he walked tall for the first time in years, hoping his legs would take him there. 

The light was beautiful, all the more so for how it faded to black.