The first one convinced me that every vile thought I’d ever had about myself was true. The weight of his judgement crushed me slowly until I was so diminished I begged him to love me because I knew no-one else ever would.
When I found him again I peeled his tongue, word by contemptuous word, until he had nothing left but a scrappy shred of muscle flapping in his empty head, his eyes gaping and bewildered.
The second one could not bear to share me. He locked me in my lonely room where I waited for him to come. When finally he appeared, though, he was angry and threw rocks at my face.
When I found him again I took a poker from the fireplace while he slept and smashed his bones to powder. I sank my dog-teeth into his greasy jowls, spitting out his dead skin as I left.
I told the third one I could never love again. He smiled a sagacious smile and told me that is not the way.
‘You must re-write the end that should have been,’ he said. ‘I will be here when you get back.’ Then he sent me down dark labyrinths to find them again.
Category Archives: Claire King
Your temper was part of the fabric of our house, a stain between the coving and the flock. At night your foul, beer soaked threats and my pleas for mercy were ghosts floating through walls into the kids’ dreams. In the morning we’d breakfast on silence and bruises. I felt sorry for that child inside you still fighting some painful injustice – a beating handed down along with patched up clothes, a rationing of wartime love. Until years later, when the kids told me how you’d take your belt to their bare backsides behind closed doors. Bastard.
We made our escape on grimy streets under skies filled with crows, flapping like litter in the wind.
For years you drifted angrily alone. Then the grandchildren were born.
“A new start”, you thought, packing your narcissistic bags and dumping them on her kitchen floor. You were soon boiling over again, but her husband stepped in.
“Not in our house.”
How you raged then, the world proven to be as cruel as you’d painted it. Everyone against you, you angry little man.
She says she feels it too sometimes: the chemical rush of fury in flesh, telling her to grab their arms, shake and bellow and slap. When it comes she falls prostrate, pressing her face to the floor, waiting urgently for it to pass. “Here,” she says, “it stops.”
Poised precisely at her table for one, she is immaculately groomed, her sunglasses by Chanel.
The waiter brings six oysters on a bed of crushed ice, placing them before her with an unwelcome flourish.
Minutes pass. Finally she lifts one shell, sips a little, then swallows the creature whole. As its saltiness slides down her throat she inhales its sulphur breeze. Like the last time her bare toes touched down on sand. When coastal gales blew hair across her smile and the horizon was wide.
The waiter brings toasted focaccia, piled with sautéed chanterelles.
She leans into the rising steam, turns the plate slowly – once, twice – then spears the mushrooms on silver tines and touches them to barely-parted lips. It is in her mouth again, the peaty earth where she buried her face the last time she was by his side. When they lifted her away screaming so the void could be filled before dark.
The waiter brings chocolate tart, glossy, almost black, perfectly central on oversized porcelain.
Someone once told her chocolate is addictive. That the physical pleasure from its chemical rush is like falling in love, like orgasm, like bliss. She pushes the spoon into her mouth and waits to feel anything again.
Sunday, city farm. Bickering on the bus as always. Panic swells my throat. But then for once they click, finding shared delight in suckling lambs and pot-bellied pigs.
“Lamb chops,” I say. “Bacon.”
Their heartbreak is followed by cheese sandwich solidarity.
On Monday I cook coq au vin. Fatty yellow skin detached and floating in the sauce. Folded arms and pushed away plates. Stereo disgust.
On Tuesday I bake trout, slimy with garlic butter. Bones and eyes left in.
“Fish are not vegetables,” they say, their fingers locked under the table.
Tonight I serve up bleeding lumps of gristly flesh.
“Cows,” I say, and wince at the slamming doors.
I stand outside their room as they close ranks, tearing me to pieces with whispers sharp as butchers knives. My fingers pick idly at malignant cells and the hall clock marks the minutes that remain.
Tomato juice – ice, no lemon – and a small sachet of salted snacks. An American movie, Will Smith. Tash asleep in her bassinette on the bulkhead, to the relief of the obese red face in 32H. On a central screen our matchstick plane makes its not-to-scale progress over the Atlantic.
The flimsy film that tears to release the nylon blanket. My fingers tucking it under my loosened belt. The seatbelt signs bright: turbulence ahead. It’s nothing too dramatic; Prim and Prissy are still blocking the aisle.
“Tea, coffee, for you sir? Teacoffee f’you Ma’am?”
Fragments that meant nothing until they became an overture in retrospect.
The light comes first. White hypotenuses slash through every window. As though God Himself had rent the indigo skies. The light opens our mouths, jump starts idling hearts.
Just one brief knock, a rap on metal, then we are dropping. The rays of light extinguished.
A gasp. Is it my own? Through the monochrome of flashing stars where clarity used to be, I reach forward blindly for Tash. I have to touch her now. My bones, my flesh could save her yet.
I am jolted back against my seat and then…
Then nothing. The engines’ drone fills the vacuum where the screams should be. Four hundred passengers caught in cognisant limbo. Our fear held in the balance.
Tash’s face is wet with tomato juice. Her cry is the first to puncture the silence. Permission to exhale.