[This is the first short story that I wrote since English classes in school. It dates back to late 2014, probably September or October. As such, it is probably my least refined piece thus far and falls prey to various beginner faults. But maybe you’ll enjoy it anyway. It’s a black comedy piece influenced by the radio work of Chris Morris. Properly formatted PDF version available at the bottom.]
How He Knows About the Noose
Somebody knocks on my door and I try to stand but fall back down. I try to stand again and this time my legs grace me with regular use and I stumble to the door with the bottle of beer in my hand. I open the door.
It’s my appointed guardian, Mr Chinn. He’s wearing an expression of distaste and that green suit that he wears when he visits people that he would rather not have to.
I say hi to him and ask if he wants to come in.
“That’s the idea,” he says.
I try to perform as if I’m not blind drunk but I don’t think it’s working. I also try to make him a cup of coffee but it ends up too watery and I forget that he doesn’t take sugar. He doesn’t really seem to mind, and he eyes the collapsing mountain of bottles and cans that I like to leave in the corner of my living room. I rent the ground floor apartment from a man called Jones, who lets me off with some of the rent sometimes because he knows what I’m like and also because he knew my dad before my dad turned into a corpse.
“This place. It’s not as organised as it should be, Martin. I thought we spoke about that.”
I say that’s true but actually that’s not up for discussion right now.
“What is up for discussion, then? Your once latent alcoholism and dependency on triple strength barbiturates or perhaps the noose you keep tied in your closet?”
I ask him how he knows about the noose. He says he was making a bad joke and eyes me like he might a backwards leper. I don’t mention it again and he seems to let it slide. I haven’t always had an appointed guardian, it was something left in my father’s will and paid for in full at the time. Mr Chinn didn’t know my father but his friend did, and although his friend was supposed to be my guardian the roles were somehow reversed.
I ask him if he has a cigarette but he says he doesn’t. This is because he doesn’t smoke and never has but it was worth asking. I usually have some but the man at the newsagents kicked me out of the shop this morning because he said he thought my t-shirt was distasteful and I didn’t feel like walking any further than the corner because I couldn’t really walk too well in the state I was in and also I didn’t have any money.
“I heard you were invited to Sarah’s wedding, then.”
I say that this is not up for discussion either.
“I’m surprised she invited you after you called her a pig fucker and tried to jump off her roof.”
I say that Sarah hasn’t invited me because she’s a caring or loving human being, it’s because she likes the way I squirm around that Mike bloke.
“I don’t think she’s all that vindictive, Martin. She cares about your wellbeing.”
I say that she sent me a Christmas card two weeks late and it was just a black card with the word Christmas written in chalk on it and that inside it just read Christmas. From Sarah. I think she’s been trying to kill me recently. I imagine her sipping a morning brew and looking through the papers for obituaries to see if the time has finally come and how disappointed she must be when she realises I’m still amongst the breathing.
“At least she sent you one. My ex-wife has never sent me a single greeting since the divorce. The most she did was shred all of the love notes I ever wrote her and dump it all on my front door step. Now that’s love.”
I say yeah, sure. I say why are you here.
“It’s the fourteenth of the month, Martin. Why wouldn’t I be here?”
I didn’t know it was the fourteenth. I rarely know what date or day or hour it is but if you asked me who played session guitar for obscure Stax Records singles I could tell you and if you asked me for a list of musical acts that have names that start with the word black I could come up with at least thirteen examples.
The last thing my father ever said to me was Don’t die before the year twenty-fifty. I think he was being funny but he said it with a real sincerity. I think he was being optimistic, too. I’ve got to terms with the loneliness now, I think.
“You’re wearing your old jeans, I see.”
I ask if this is a problem but he says it isn’t and sniffs at his lukewarm and probably flavourless coffee and wrinkles his fat old nose and stands up and pours the drink down the sink and leaves the cup on top of the microwave.
“I want you to come with me, Martin.”
Why, I say.
“We’re going on a sort of field trip today. I think it’s going to be beneficial. Come on.”
I lock up and I get into his car and he starts driving. We drive past the newsagents and I think I see the man spot me and raise his eyebrow. We drive past the cloned-looking terraced houses and high-rise apartment blocks and brightly sheened supermarkets and dying homeless people with their frail old dogs. We drive past where me and Sarah used to live before I tried to kill myself with the gas cooker and some garden hose and before I threw her Dickens books off of the cliffs of Dover and before she started fucking a man with a better face than mine. We drive past Hyde Park and Regent’s Park and then Primrose Hill where I used to sometimes sleep if I had lost my way after drinking spirits in Morrison’s car park. I spot a man walking a huge dog that he doesn’t let off the lead and which drags him along every step of the way. My head is spinning and I realise I forgot to bring more beer for the journey and wish I could be sipping from an ice cold ale in the Summer in somewhere other than here. I guess at least Mike doesn’t try to drown himself. It must be nice.
We drive past the hospital but then we don’t and we park up and Chinn says it’s time to get out. So I get out and he takes me into the hospital and I wonder if this is a sting of some kind, a birthday surprise such as a sudden sectioning of the highest degree but it isn’t my birthday so it turns out that this is not the case at all. We walk down the pale yellow and white corridors and follow a green line that runs along the wall and we get into a lift and get out at the third floor and we follow a purple line on the wall that leads to a room with some beds in it. The beds have people on them, some old and some younger, all of them seemingly asleep and one of them is breathing heavily and coarsely and I can feel it in my chest so I let out a small cough and watch the man breathing and I wonder what he’s here for. He looks like he’s about fifty but he could be younger. My sense of time is one that disintegrates more each day.
Why are we here, I say.
“We’re here for your benefit. I want you to absorb this feeling and this environment and I want to see you cry.”
Why would I cry, I say.
“Why wouldn’t you cry?”
I don’t know why I would so I don’t know why I wouldn’t either. In the far left corner is a woman, probably younger than the rest, and her bedside table is not adorned with cards and bowls of boiled sweets and tubs of grapes and weird little trinkets like the rest. She is quite beautiful but I don’t think that’s something she would be thankful for right now.
“You say some pretty weird things about dying sometimes, Martin, you know that?”
I try to think of occasions where I have but all I can think of is a woman I saw through the glass of some shop window who I thought I recognised but realised I didn’t and I stared at her too long, and she caught my glance and looked at me real weird and I thought to myself: I think I know what love isn’t. I can’t remember any other times where I have at least recognised what love is or isn’t. Even when I was married: those memories are blackened now, twisted somewhat, even innocuous memories of Sarah and me at the dinner table eating toast or drinking wine have a sinister sheen across them so I don’t think I’m really qualified to discuss the matter of love, let alone death.
“Have you not ever thought to make more of your life? You have a perfectly functioning body, you know. You could do anything you wanted, if you were so inclined.”
The man’s heavy breathing is grating my throat and I feel my lungs recede. It reminds me of smoke. It reminds me of smoking and how badly I’d like a cigarette now, and a beer, and some tablets of varying strength and effect, and how she used to do this one thing that I will never forget. Love and death are barely separate.
I say again, why are we here.
“Because I need to see recognition.”
I haven’t seen Andrew in years. Maybe I should give him a call when I get back home. We used to play pool together and drink. I beat him once or twice, but the man was a genius. Perfect direction. I guess he just knew his physics. A bird flies past the window, its wing slightly clipping the glass. I want to ask one of the nurses or orderlies if they have a cigarette that I could borrow but it doesn’t seem right and besides I’m not in a talking mood right now and I probably wouldn’t get the words out right.
I stand outside smoking a cigarette that I have borrowed from a man with terminal cancer. I watch people in wheelchairs being pushed to and fro by family members and people in white clothes and my head pulses and my bladder quivers. I feel better for the smoke but I know it will be gone soon.
Mr Chinn looks at me.
“Martin, I feel like we’re in a collision of direction with your life right now. I know you’re broken up, God knows I nearly killed myself when my first marriage ended. It was messy. I guess they always are. I tried taking you here to show you people who are really suffering.”
But the thing about suffering is that it’s subjective. I used to watch television adverts for aid appeals and all that they achieved was giving me the notion that the world is even worse than I thought, with less hope and less stability, and that I have not only my problems but the world’s, too.
One of my untainted memories of my life with Sarah is the day we knew it had ended. It wasn’t said outright, but it was obvious. And we took a walk that day and we walked through the park and we sat by the pond on the Heath and we drank a few beers and we didn’t talk much and I think we enjoyed each other’s company. And I looked at the water, and then I looked at her looking at the water. I saw that she couldn’t be there for long. She was happy in that moment, but not content. It ran deep. I couldn’t look at myself, but I knew I couldn’t stay much longer either. But in that moment, we connected. She held my hand and then she kissed me. Even with the sea of shit ready to fall upon us and take us so far apart, there was a moment of connection, just like the first time that we kissed, and the first dinner out that we had, and the first time that we made love, and which sparked through every dark argument that threatened to get ever darker. It was there, embraced between our lips in the fatality of that moment, smothered by our jealous love, its flicker finally extinguished and laid to rest in the lake in front of us.
[PDF download link: how-he-knows-about-the-noose-by-aj-tarrant]