(So, there’s about to be a change on The Blank Page. Don’t worry, it’s nothing major. I’m not about to start blogging only in Wingdings or turn this whole thing into a either raging diatribe on why I should run the world or why old Thomas the Tank Engine will always be superior to its modern incarnation. Although, for the record, I think I’d make a pretty good world leader. But don’t we all, right?
Here’s the thing, the second novel has come back for one final edit and it’s going to take up a lot of my time. Which means that epic blogs about whatever is floating around my tired brain come the end of another long week are just not going to be feasible for a while.
Hey, do I hear fireworks out there?
Never fear, though, folks. I have a plan to see us through these hard working times. For the next few weeks I’m going to use this blog as a sketchbook. I’m going to put pieces of prose up instead. They won’t be stories as such. More quick studies of a character or a situation. Maybe they’ll be from something I’ve seen that week or maybe from something that’s been festering in my head for a while with no real place in a story. It’ll be good practice for me and, I hope, they’ll make for some interesting short reads for you. Enjoy.)
He was sitting in the restaurant, alone and all too aware that no one else was alone. They were all in couples around him. Couple or families. Collectives. Laughing, eating, celebrating collectives. Tribes of people where none of their interactions looked stilted or awkward. It all appeared so natural for them.
He reached out with clammy fingers and reset his cutlery into straighter lines yet again. This had to be the fourth or fifth time he’d performed this little dance. He strained to rein his focus down to only the now fingerprint smeared knife, fork and spoon. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t stop himself from being aware of all these people sitting around him. Sure, they sounded as if they were talking to each other. If he changed a glance in their direction, they did an incredibly good job of looking as if they were only looking at each other: but they were fooling no one.
They were certainly not fooling him. He knew they were watching him.
Not that he could complain. He wanted them to look at him. He needed them to look at him. It was all a part of the plan. Such as it was. A plan he had been making up since the incident with the garage door. That goddamn garage door. For the simple press of one button on his car keys, tonight would have been so very different. Instead, here he was, racing to lay the tracks ahead of the train.
‘Has Sir decided yet?’
He looked up, his throat suddenly too dry to allow him to speak easily. He knew exactly what he had to order. The sirloin. The sort of thing he was never normally allowed to order. Especially in a place like this.
Somewhere out there, right now, Gillian was totally unaware that he had done something that would change both their lives tonight. She’d always joked about it when they were out for a few drinks after a Friday shift.
If only you weren’t married, she’d say. Well, she was in luck.
…if luck was really the right word.
He ordered the German style Spätzle noodles with his steak. He’d always wanted to try them. They came with a deep, rich gravy. That’s what the menu said. It sounded delicious. Once the waiter had departed, he sat, trying to remember how you looked when you were relaxed. It wasn’t easy. His hands refused to sit still. Any which way he left his fingers, they felt too conspicuous. Too clumsy. He didn’t want to draw attention to them. There was a good possibility that were still small stains on them. Flicked splatter patterns that had painted themselves secretly onto his fingers as he’d raised the hammer for the second and third time.
The twitching had ceased by then. The sound had begun to remind him of tenderising meat. Wet, thick thwacks. Even the sensation had been similar.
His tired body suddenly creased in discomfort. His numbing muscles tried to surf it out as best they could.
He had to clean up so quickly before coming here. He’d moved about the house like the thief he desperately needed to insinuate had been there. He had slipped on a pair of those plastic gloves she always wore when she chopped onions, suddenly all too aware of one word. Fingerprints.
Never again, would he see her in the kitchen. The gleaming blade gripped between those plastic wrapped fingers. The concentration on her aging, moisturiser sheen face as the tip pricked the surface of old skin. She would slice into an onion as she was waiting for it to scream and then chop into it as her eyes flooded with a brief wash of salty tears. It was always so mistakable for grief out of the corner of his eye.
Only he knew differently now. Racing around the house in the dark, rummaging through the jewellery box to make it appear violated and pulling on a suit, he had caught sight of his reflection. Guilt didn’t sit on his face as unease or fear. If anything, it was stubborn. Guilt was fractious determination.
With hands and face scrubbed near raw, he had checked out the front before setting the alarm and locking the front door. Then he let himself in through the side gate, smashed a back window and gone through the back gate to the row of garages behind their terraced house. He had waited a few moments before driving away, remembering to close the garage door.
A woman behind him giggled. It sounded like her. His anxious fists clenched before he could stop them. Was he sweating too heavy. His shirt was starting to feel wet around his armpits. Looking around him, he told himself these people were all meat. That’s all anyone was. He’d learnt that tonight. Past the daydreaming and the irritating character flaws, you were just meat. Meat that hadn’t stopped moving yet.
The hammer had been on the kitchen side from the weekend. He’d meant to hang some pictures up, but there had been trips to the garden centre and yet another jaunt to the farm shop. She had become obsessed with buying fresh joints for their Sunday roasts. She’d spent so long selecting a cut of pork that he’d ended up helping in the kitchen to make sure they ate before midnight.
His hands were shaking at the thought of her voice. Something had changed tonight. Today had been a rough day and he’d come home to her already ranting at him. Her usual level of complaining had mutated into something grotesque. A pantomime that he’d been forced to end.
He’d picked up the hammer to take it outside, hadn’t he? He was almost certain that he had. He’d been heading outside when she’d snagged his elbow to hold him there. To keep him within range.
The first swing had been self defence.
‘Your steak, Sir.’
She’d always wanted to come here. She’d said it looked fancy. Fancy. She always used to say that about restaurants and coffee shops when they were on holiday. It made her sound like her mother.
He thanked the young man and let him walk away. He took up the cutlery and caught himself staring too hard at his own shifting reflection in the serrations of the steak knife. The edges warped him into a monster. Too obscure to be mistaken as a man.
He cut into the steak and chewed a mouthful, knowing what he had to do next. He spat it out, stood noisily and began to complain as loudly as he could.
The staff flocked over and clustered around him as he wildly berated them for a ruined steak. He channelled all that grim resolution, all that frustration. He exorcised it all from his system before his phone rang.
He answered it and listened as someone official told him that his wife had been killed. There was no doubting his audience now. The whole restaurant were definitely watching at him. He had to stop himself from smiling and showing the meat caught between his teeth.