This story won the Secret Attic Short Story Content in Summer 2020
cw: mild peril, murder
I flip the calendar page over. The big, red cross is in sight now, but we still don’t use the garage.
Nearly ten years we’ve been here, Keith, his dog Rusty, John and I. Rusty’s a funny old beast; born with one eye blue, the other green. They’re like glazed marbles now. He must be on his last legs. No idea why Keith called him Rusty, he’s clearly brindle. Should’ve called him Bowie, really, but like the rest of us, he’s more grey wire than hair now, mind.
Keith felted the dining room table up back in ninety-six so we could play Texas hold ’em for coppers or matchsticks. None of them can read me for custard. I pull a proper poker face, I tell thee. I keep my matchsticks in a Tupperware box I found in the cupboard next to the sink and tuck them up behind the U-bend out of sight – they’re worth more than gold at game time.
He’s a good egg is Keith, terrible cook though. We met outside of Currys back in the winter of ‘92. I had a terrible case of frostbite, so he shared his blanket with me in exchange for some rolling papers. We stayed in touch like, on the town centre front line.
We’ve a four-ring hob now, a power shower and a large television with five channels. Makes a change to have the sound up and I can’t say I miss watching all the shows at once through the glass. I took the master bedroom. The boys were more than happy to share the spare. I say boys, but we’re all in our fifties now.
Jack pretty much keeps himself to himself. I’ve had more words out of the dog than him. The fridge has got more to say. Ah, the fridge! I’d forgotten how lush a chilled beer on the patio is in the heat of the summer, mind. Hums like a rascal, though, that refrigerator. But instead of moving on down the street, I just move into another room if it gets on my nerves. Can’t complain, hey?
It’s funny how things turn out when you look back over twenty-odd years. And they have been odd, for me at least. I’m the first to admit I made a mess of my youth. The bottle, red wine that is, never brought me said promises of unoaked, full-bodied essence of the Rhône valley. It brought me a divorce and took my job. Struck off the building site for being five times the legal limit, I was. Quite an achievement, Mary, my wife at the time had said, although her words were weighted with venom. I spent my forties in the stairwell of the NCP and managed to ditch the vino; I prefer a beer now. The wife still ditched me though, as promised. Still chain the old coffin nails like they’re going out of fashion, mind.
We have our happy routines: Job Centre on a Monday, Wetherspoon’s on a Thursday, kebabs on a Friday at the start of the month, then beans with a flipped egg to garnish when the giro runs dry. The boys keep the kitchen clean and I do the lounge. The bathroom is no man’s land – it’s functional, but you wouldn’t want to be trapped there for longer than needs be.
In and out.
Fortunately, I’m a bit handy with a power tool as there was plenty to be getting on with. First priority was security so I fixed the doors up a treat: an extra bolt on the front and some panelling over the back. Proper job.
As soon as I was in, I did what I needed to do, then I tossed my old sweater and jeans on the floor and got in his shower. God, that water felt like liquid gold compared to the three-point sponging I’d been giving myself in the public toilets. The leisure centre staff had stopped letting me in to use the washroom facilities and I’d rather have stunk like a bin full of kippers than check in to Westland Hostel. Full of wasters going nowhere fast, that place. I washed away years of street life under the power-jet head, I did, that first night. It went cold at the end, though. Woke me up a treat. Penance for my sins, I suppose. I’ve since figured out the combi-boiler and now I spend over an hour in the bath each morning, making up for lost time.
He was a man of habit, I’ll give him that. He even folded his under-crackers. I’ve taken to a clean pair each day now we’ve worked out the washing machine.
Once I’d got out and dried off, I bundled my old clothes into a ball and stuffed them in the bin. Then I slipped into something fancy; cashmere the label said, from Marks and Spencer. I laughed, I did. I had a good old rummage in his wardrobe as my bottom half needed covering too. I remember thinking, given all that freedom of a job – an office worker of some sort – bricks and mortar, money, why would anyone choose five identical pairs of slacks?
Six foot on the nose I reckon, thirty-four-inch waist, just on the right side of thirteen stone.
A good size for a grown man. Felt it too. Nearly did my back in.
His bed was off the ground. Pine slats, stiff mattress and those Egyptian cotton sheets, you know, the ones that hold the heat in. They were in need of a good wash though, even by my standards. Crawled in, slept like a log.
He drank good coffee, mind, and his freezer was full of those ready meals you put in the microwave.
Twist the dial.
Five minutes and thirty seconds.
Ping. Good to go.
Domestic bliss. I’ve never eaten so much in one sitting.
Couple of weeks later, once I’d worked my way through his comestibles, I had to nip out to get more supplies. Found a twenty in his wallet so I came back fully loaded. Brought the boys back too. They’ve been here ever since. I like the company, mind, but they can be scruffy beggars at times.
His life looked dull as ditch water. I’ve tried to read his books, but The Railway Stations of Devon and Cornwall and The Complete Works of Thomas Hardy don’t really tickle my fancy. Splash a drop or two of his Old Spice on the old boat race after a shave though, especially if it’s my night down the pub. Not brought a lady back yet, mind, but you never know when it could happen, getting lucky that is. You’ve got to be prepared to take a few risks once in a while and I hear being a homeowner is quite the carrot.
When it arrives, I always open the post. It’s my gaff so I do the admin. It’s just a quick check usually to make sure the direct debits are still being collected, that sort of thing. I can’t believe how much the council tax is around these parts though, it’s more than I earned in a month when I was a brickie. Mind you, that was nearly thirty years back.
Keith found a stash of notes in the bottom of the wardrobe – must’ve been about four grand or so. Old Roy must have been saving up for the apocalypse. He should’ve used a bank, silly old bean. Since having a roof over my head, getting an account was as easy as pie and I’ve even gotten me one of them cards too now, mind. One with a PIN code. You’ve got to play it safe.
We make sure one of us is always locked in, just in case anyone snooping catches wind. There’s honour among thieves, see. We trust each other. John doesn’t go out much anyway which is handy, because Keith and myself, we love a brew or three down the Ring O’ Bells.
I keep looking at the red cross and I’m wondering which of them legal beagles I’m going to let handle this case. It’s a juicy one. I collected a few cards from my last trip downtown. Put on his smartest suit I did, fits me a treat. Look like royalty in it, I do.
We’re both size nine and a half which is lucky as he gifted me some lovely suede penny loafers. Perfect for driving in. As it’s my yard, the boys and I’ve agreed – I get the Aston Martin and I keep the keys to the garage. No questions asked. When I do nip out for a spin, I take his leather driving gloves and waxed jacket from the hall and a handkerchief to hold over my nose. Just to steer it out of the garage, mind. Smells.
No photos anywhere when I first arrived, except a sepia one in the hallway. Looks old as time, must be his parents or grandparents. Poor old chap can’t have had any family. That, our measurements and our schooling are the only similarities we’ve got. No one’s come after him anyway and he’s still paying all the bills.
He was a mean man and died with little, yet he still had more than I. I saw him often, Sneddon, with his snide glares, passing me as I sat cap in hand outside of County Stores down North Street. Never gave me the time of day let alone a quid. We’d sat side-by-side at school, Roy Sneddon and me. We sat side-by-side in the register, so we were put side-by-side in the class for a good five years at least. Five years of Sneddon’s sneaking eyes running up and down my answers. It was enough to drive a man crazy, I tell thee.
Following him home had been a doddle. He seemed oblivious to my presence. In fact, he seemed unaware of anything but the pain in his chest which he clutched like a wild rabbit as he climbed the first step that led up to his abode. Key in nook, I saw his humped frame launch through the door then fall into the hallway. I stood and watched. He could only have been a few months older than me, yet time had not treated him as kindly.
I guess you could say I’m house-proud now. Fed up of hoovering those bloody dog hairs off the sofa though, that’s for sure. Will have to have a word with old Keith ‘bout that later. Maybe I’ll knock up a kennel in the garden for the old beast. Rusty, not Keith. I’m not an animal.
Do I feel guilt, I expect you’re wondering? Not at all. Death comes to us all, some a little sooner than nature intended. Carpe diem. That was our old school motto. If I hadn’t seized this opportunity, it’d just have rolled into the hands of the state.
Nearly ten years ago, from behind the hydrangea I crept, carrying my worldly possessions on my back. Not another soul was watching as death swept his away. A rind of moon clung onto the midnight sky, smiling at me, giving me the signal, the go-ahead, so I lunged over his sprawled carcass which lay blocking my new front door, avoiding eye contact all the while. I was unsure if he’d taken his last breath, so inside, I waited as the moon slid behind a blanket of cloud. I stood and I waited and then I dragged him through.
Seventeen days and the law says this’ll all be mine.
His house, his clothes, his bed and his car, all mine.
I took the cane for him on more than one occasion. He should never have copied my schoolwork. Thing is, I was never a grass. There’s a big red cross on the calendar this month and we still don’t use the garage.
About The Author
SJ Townend has been writing creatively for two years—not non-stop, there have been breaks for food and sleep. SJ won the Secret Attic short story contest (Spring 2020), has had fiction published with Sledgehammer Lit Mag, Hash Journal, Ghost Orchid Press, Black Petals Horror Magazine, Horla Horror, Ellipsis Zine, Holy Flea, and was long listed for the Women on Writing non-fiction contest in 2020. SJ hopes that her stories are emotive and take the reader on a journey to often a dark place and only sometimes back again. SJ might have found her writer’s voice, but you might not like it. SJ has self-published two peculiar mystery novels: ‘Tabitha Fox Never Knocks’ and ‘Twenty-Seven and the Unkindness of Crows’, both available on Amazon.
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