The Click of the Shutting
She waited for the sound of it, the sound that meant safety, the sound that meant it was over for now. The time it was when his shouts might soften, sometimes even turn to tears and beg forgiveness, beg for comfort, remind her again how it was all her fault.
If only she wasn’t like that.
If only she didn’t get in the way of things. If only she should read his mind so she would know what he was thinking because he didn’t have time to tell her. He was in a hurry, always. Unless he was taking his time.
‘You know I don’t mean it, Georgie,’ he would say after the click, after he shut the blade safely away. After the cutting, after the tears – hers anyway. Then it was sorry, then it was I didn’t mean it, then it was you made me do it. And she would believe it if only it weren’t for the scars.
He loved the scars.
Gregory traced the white lines on her arms and her legs with the wonder of a child. I made this! That mixture of pride and awe as if it were some kind of accomplishment. A five-year-old’s finger paints or a macaroni collage.
Georgie traced them herself in the few minutes of quiet before he knocked on the door to ask if she were done yet. They were memories – the burnt dinner, the too-loud laugh, the phone call – and they were badges. They were badges that said I am still here.
The click of the shutting blade made her shoulders drop back into place, her breath escape in a sigh, her fingers unclench. It would always be this way. Her mother said as much.
‘At least he doesn’t beat you.’
Aye, that was something. Her mother never smiled because of the missing teeth. ‘I’m just waiting for him to die,’ she’d told Georgie one afternoon as they both washed up the dishes. ‘Not going to lift a finger after that. Eat takeaway. Use paper plates.’
At least she had goals. Georgie tried to remember what she had once dreamed. When Gregory first wooed her. She felt so proud. He was so much older. Then she had imagined he thought her real mature. But no. She’d learned another word for what she was: gullible.
Georgie wondered how the word had come about. After all, the gulls that haunted the city centre were anything but gullible. They were careful if aggressive. Didn’t trust humans, but followed them closely, looking for a chance. She’d seen people try to kick at them or throw cans at them. They dodged all weapons with loud honks like they were laughing.
Maybe she needed to be more gull than gullible.
Georgie lived on the scraps of Gregory’s life anyway. Sometimes literally: he would let her finish off the chips he didn’t eat when he got takeaway for himself. Other times he would make her beg. Trade cuts for a chicken wing. If she refused he cut her anyway, so might as well get something out of it. It helped to feel like a gull instead of a dog, which he made her feel like at first.
The big gulls had a little dot of red on their beaks, like a drop of blood. That was like her too, though her blood was usually on her legs and arms, where the scars didn’t show as much. Georgie never wore shorts or short sleeves anymore. They weren’t big scars, except that one and Gregory had apologised for that and bought her a teddy bear, as if she were a child that needed bribing. He blamed the horror film they’d been watching. Gregory loved his horror films.
It might have gone on like that except for the pub.
It was a rare enough outing. Gregory went to the pub on his own sometimes, though he didn’t trust her to be on her own for long. But he wanted to celebrate some football thing so they didn’t go to the local but to the big sports pub down by the church in the centre. When Gregory got fed up with all the noise and the shouts, they skipped out the back way into the alley, which led around to the bus stop faster.
But there was some big shaved head menace there that made even Gregory pause before he grabbed Georgie’s hand and plunged on, chin in the air, belligerent like.
‘What’s your damage?’ the big bloke said, stopping Gregory short with a huge hand to his chest.
‘No damage here, mate.’ Gregory kept the chin high and for a moment Georgie remembered loving him when the sun shone and his curls blew in the wind and he smiled.
‘That right?’ The big man sneered at Gregory and then for good measure leered at Georgie. ‘You got something to say for yourself?’
Georgie shook her head. Gregory took a step forward. The big man grabbed the front of his jumper.
‘What?’ Gregory asked with as much venom as he could manage.
‘I said, what’s your damage?’ the man repeated, then punched Gregory in the face. He went down like puppet with its strings cut. The big man sniffed and headed back toward the pub. Gregory lay still.
Georgie thought, what would a gull do?
She slipped her hand into his trouser pocket and pulled out the blade. With a press of the button, the knife clicked open. The blade shone in the moonlight.
Gregory was groaning and beginning to stir. Without thinking Georgie’s hand shot out and, like she’d seen in a thousand gory films, pulled the blade across his neck where it pulsed. Gregory’s eyes flew open and he made a sound that was half annoyance and half fear. Or maybe it was just all disbelief. His hands clutched at his throat. Blood poured between his fingers.
Georgie wiped the blood from the knife on his sleeve, then savoured the click of the blade shutting for the last time. Gregory kept one hand on his neck and the other reached toward her, then started scrabbling in the dirt and stones of the alley. She watched him for a few minutes, then turned and walked to the bus stop.
It was almost time for the 9:20.