She’s roaming the street in the very early hours of a wet English morning in August. Just like me.
I crouch down. She stands still. Suspicious. Unsure. Doubting. Lost. Fed up. All the same emotions I have. I approach her.
She backs off. I’ve decided she’s a lady. She remains still, her coat dripping in the drizzle.
I shrug and slowly straighten myself up.
‘Okay. Suit yourself. I’m Jim, in case you’re interested.’
I trudge back to my house. The light, persistent rain has soaked my t-shirt. As the key clicks loudly in the lock, I look behind to confirm I am alone. I am.
I’ve had enough. There’s more to life than my four walls.
Saturday heralds the start of a new weekend. Happy times for happy, contented people. Monotonous hours for the lonely. Spent looking at four beige, character-free ‘living’ room walls, in my case. ‘Existing’ room walls is more apt. This has gone on for four months. My garden is full of gargantuan plants, grown without hinderance for years. A jungle is a more appropriate description. I decide to tackle it. Gardening is good for the soul, people say. One reason Katie left me four months ago was, well, my home maintenance. Or lack of it. The garden being the principle example. She was always on at me to dig the borders, to get the brambles out. She even bought me a spade. It has remained untouched in the shed.
I’m realistic enough to understand she won’t be coming back, so I’m not tackling it in a desperate attempt to regain Katie. There were other reasons she walked out. I never really trusted her anyway. Kind of thought I had her ‘on loan’ for a while. She was too good for me. Batting well above my average. But I have spent the period subsequent to her departure in the doldrums. No doubting it.
As usual I hardly slept, so I might as well start early. I retrieve the spade and some shears. Being out in a garden at sunrise feels fresh. Kind of spiritual. The day promises much at this stage. The soft, hazy glow of the sun, the glisten of the foliage. The dew on the long, thick grass. Which has gone to seed. The seed heads are spiritual. About to drop on the ground, to recreate and start again. It is life’s force. Re-birth happens everywhere. Even here.
I begin pruning a forsythia, the biggest shrub in the garden. Next to it is massive silver birch tree. It is in full leaf now. The garden feels like a pastoral soundscape from Vaughan Williams, or a gentle Pink Floyd intro. You know, before the guitar has its say.
After ten minutes I have reduced the forsythia by half. It’ll grow back. Treat’ em mean, keep ‘em keen, as my Mum used to say.
‘This applies to both men and plants,’ she used to add.
I turn my attention to a prickly Pyracanth. Its white flowers have begun to morph into berries. Gardens grow and the world still moves on, whatever happens to me. The berries will be bright, plump and orange come autumn. Now they are light green, and small. I return to the house to get some protective gloves. Pyracanths are deadly. Catch your skin on them and it’ll bleed for most of the day. The soundscape would go from Vaughan Williams or Pink Floyd pastoral beauty to Iron Maiden heavy metal savagery with the blood let from one of their spikes.
Upon my return I see her. God knows where she came from. There are plenty of hiding places in this jungle. She may have been here for six months for all I know, quietly sheltering from mankind. The eyes give her away. The dog from the early hours this morning. Looking right at me. Suspicious. Unsure. Doubting. Not lost now, though. Not so fed up, either. She is small, a terrier I’d guess. Very scruffy, brown with dark flecks. Skinny. Her ribs show. Her eyes are uncertain and weary. But not frightened. Almost beyond scared. As if she’s decided sheltering in my back garden is as good as it’ll ever get for her.
‘I’ll call you Rose,’ I tell her. After a red rose scrambling up an apple tree at the bottom of the garden. It caught my eye as I ventured to the shed earlier.
I crouch down. As before. Again, she stands still. I put out my hand. She remains motionless.
But doesn’t retreat.
She then edges towards me, does a 360-degree rotation and settles down in the long grass next to me.
Rose looks up at me. It’s early in the morning. Things look better. Vital signs exist. Even for her. Even for me.
Around mid-morning time without warning, Katie shows up.
She moved all her stuff out over two months ago. She even tried to sneak my vinyl copy of the White album by the Beatles at the same time. Bitch. I noticed and made her bring it back. ‘That concludes our business together,’ she said at the time, coldly. And that quite quickly, became that. I haven’t seen or heard from her since. Never once has she checked whether I was okay or not.
‘I’ve been thinking of you again,’ she begins. She is dressed in white, knee length shorts and a vest top. She looks hot. In both the heat of the morning, and in any man’s eye, I’m sure. Her auburn hair is gripped tightly back to her head.
‘Me and Mark have finished, and I’ve realised how much you mean to me.’
Unbelievable. You’ve no idea what you’ve put me through over the past couple of months. It’s your fault I have become a depressed recluse.
This is what I would like to have said. Instead I just smile and say, ‘Oh, right.’
She reaches out to touch my shoulder. I take a step back. Katie cannot expect to just walk back into my life when it suits her. Mark must have dumped her. She listed many reasons why she left me at the time. The real reason was she was shagging Mark O’Neill. I’m not totally stupid.
Just stupid enough to keep the whole thing in my head since.
I realise I am holding the spade she bought me. I have been using it to dig the garden. Wonder if she noticed? I tighten my grip on it.
‘Of course, your new friend would have to go. You know I how I hate dogs.’
‘You want to come back?’
‘Well that’s what you want, isn’t it? I know how much I mean to you. We can go back to where we were before.’
My grip on the spade tightens. I look at my knuckles. They are white. Rose looks perturbed. A barely audible growl escapes from her mouth.
‘What was that?’ Katie asks.
‘Just Rose,’ I respond.
I look at Rose. And then at Katie. And back to Rose again.
‘I don’t know. I’m not sure I want to put myself through all that again,’ I confess out loud.
‘Come on Jimmy, you know you want to.’
‘I’ll give it a bit of thought, then.’
She gives me a smug, knowing smile. And clicks her heels, as if she’s in the Wizard of Oz or something, spins and departs.
Unbelievable. Un-fucking-believable. The day had optimism. Now it has confusion.
My depression is not all Katie’s fault. There is another person who shoulders a share of the blame. Mark O’Neill. Fucking Mark O’Neill.
I was at school with Mark. A big shot. With a big mouth. He used to wind me up, tease me about never having a girlfriend. This continued throughout our adolescence. Mark had no problem getting girlfriends. Several at once, at times. A trait he has carried into adulthood, I hear. He lives in my locality, see. I bump into him, unfortunately, at the shops, pub or at football matches from time to time. He usually succeeds in delivering a remark designed to upset me even at the age of twenty-three years old. You’d think I’d be passed that by now. Come to think of it, you’d think he would be, too.
So, when Mark discovered I not only had a girlfriend, but a fit one like Katie, it must have at best, impressed him, or at worst, irritated him. So much so that when Katie and I moved in six months ago, he started showing up when we were out on the town together. He’d come over to our table in restaurants and pubs. He’d buy us drinks. Then he started coming home with us. He’d end up sleeping on the sofa. Like he was my best mate. I never got comfortable with it. I wasn’t supposed to, I guess. He was up to something.
And then sure enough one day, it happened. The sight of Katie’s naked back with Mark underneath her greeted me as I entered our spare room one day after work. Mark pleasuring her as she straddled him. This is something I will NEVER ever get out of my head. Ever. They obviously didn’t hear me enter the house. Katie swore it was a spur of the moment thing. But I know she lies. Mark, on the other hand, told me she had given him the best sex he had ever had. Over, and over again, on several occasions, over a ten-day period, according to him.
I attempted to have it out with Katie. It was a bit pathetic. She ended up leaving me for Mark. She confirmed sex with Mark was unbelievably good. ‘He makes my legs feel tingly for hours afterwards,’ she told me. I never got that sort of reaction.
She tried to sneak away my copy of the White album, too, remember. Takes things to a new level, eh?
Now that really is unforgiveable. I’m better off without her, I know that. She’s selfish, manipulative and uncaring. Entirely suited to a self-centred ego maniac like Mark O’Neill.
Then guess what? In the early afternoon Mark shows up. About an hour after Katie. He is asking whether she had been here.
‘She was here an hour ago. She said she wants to move back in here.’
‘In your dreams,’ he snaps. And laughs. ‘Did she say where she was heading?’
‘No,’ I reply, leaning on the spade. My grip tightens once more. Rose growls softly.
‘She’ll come back to me,’ he sneers, and scoffs at Rose. He aims a small kick in her direction. Rose growls again, only this time slightly louder.
‘Why are you here asking after her then, if you’re so sure she’ll come back to you?’
He laughs. As if my question is ridiculous. Which it isn’t, by the way.
‘There’s no way she’d come back to you, Jimbo. You’re a loser. I can’t believe she was with you in the first place. Just one bit of attention and she was straight in the sack with me.’
I look right into his eyes. He blows me a kiss. To make out I am soft. To make out I am worthless. To rub in that he shagged her continually while she was living with me. To take the piss. To wind me up. To get under my skin.
He’s succeeded. He turns to leave.
‘O Neill!’ I call, firmly. I enter a kind of new dimension. Not of this world, really.
Mark O’Neill stops. And slowly, nonchalantly, turns himself around.
Before he completes his rotation, I crack him on the skull with the spade Katie bought me. The blow is struck with all my bottled up, frustrated, anger. A metallic clunk sound is made on its swift impact. The spade vibrates afterwards. The fingers on both my hands fizz for a few seconds.
He drops to the ground, and slumps down on his side. Like a sack of soft cement. His eyes now look vacant. Wide open, but vacant. They seem to be staring across the patio floor. His cheek is squashed against a dirty grey slab. His immaculately gelled hair now has a dent in it, where the spade hit him. Blood is trickling into his mousy coloured hair, where it is joined by grains of sand and dirt. It proceeds across his forehead, and begins to drip onto the slab, and into the grout.
I look at him, take a breath and sit on a white plastic chair about two feet away from his body. Rose moves towards his body, sniffs it, lifts her leg and urinates on his chest.
Mark.is breathing, though. But he’s thoroughly unconscious. I don’t care if he lives or dies. I’ve just got years of mocking out of my system in one second. One second. If he survives, he will now respect me. If he cries to the police I will say it was self-defence. It will be his word against mine.
If he doesn’t survive then I will go on the run. I have nothing to lose now, anyway. Rose can come with me, if she wants.
Katie shouldn’t have bought me the spade.
Bio: Paul Matts is a writer from Leicester, England. His debut novel ‘Toy Guitars’ is due to be published shortly, and he is the author of the short stories ‘Revenge can be Sweet’, ‘The Bench’ and ‘One More Season’. He also writes flash fiction, including ‘Hollow Love’, ‘Wedding Shot over the Wire’, and ‘Family Guy?’ His work has been featured in Punk Noir Magazine, We Are Cult, Razur Cuts and Unlawful Acts. A novella, ‘Donny Jackal’ is to be published in 2019. He previously promoted live shows as 101 Productions and owned The Attik night club from 2001-2007. He was also a songwriter and guitarist in The Incurables.
Paul runs a music blog and has recently started a series entitled Significant Figures in Punk. This focuses on under-appreciated individuals in the punk and new wave movement. See www.paulmatts.com for more details, and to subscribe to updates.