He washed up in the kitchen sink, the cold water making his blood feel like glass, splintering inside the stretched skin. He used a tea towel and stared at the hands that had been lean and strong, that had cupped round white breasts. Her breasts, firm and smooth under his fingers, nipples always taut. A long time ago.
He plugged in the electric fire and got the box from the top of the cabinet. Sitting by the fire with the box on his lap, he waited until his fingers warmed up before opening the lid.
A weak scent of cigars floated up to him from the red silk lining against which three things lay. He slipped the ring on his little finger. The gold was bright enough still from his handling it every day. He squinted his eyes to picture another hand wearing it.
The locket was next. He opened it, careful with the old catch. A lock of blonde hair, platinum shiny, looking young still. He touched it and remembered stroking the long silk of it.
The photograph was always last. He put the ring and the locket back and held the photograph close to his eyes. It hurt him to look at her. She was wearing bell bottoms and a sleeveless top. She didn’t like her legs. Her boobs were her best asset, she said. He had never confessed how much he loved the feel of her sturdy legs around his hips, gripping him, trapping him inside her.
Her golden arms were raised in welcome, beckoning him to her. He had put the camera down on the blanket and buried his face in her neck, making her laugh. That was one of the best days. On the blanket in the sun, no time limits, no one wondering where they were. The illusion of freedom.
But that was the last day like that. She always had to get back, was always asking him the time. No matter what he said, she always had to get back. To him. She had to get back and shower before he smelt Charlie on her. He wasn’t allowed to wear cologne but she always smelled of sex after they were finished. Sweat and sex and the bad excitement of it.
But it wasn’t the last day at their place, just the last good day. She met him there once more with her bad news.
I told him, Charlie. I just couldn’t keep it in anymore.
What did he say?
He said he wouldn’t leave me. He said we could stay together if...
If you never see me again.
I didn’t give him my decision yet, but I’m going to stay with him. I’ll tell him when he comes home from work tonight.
She fingered her locket. Charlie loved her long fingers wrapped around him. He pictured them wrapped around her husband instead. Pictured him making her all sweaty, his hands all over her. Pictured her legs wrapped around another’s man’s hips, urging him closer. When his fist shot out, it was her husband’s face he was seeing. It still smashed her lips against her teeth and knocked her off her feet. She sat on the blanket, her legs spread and looked at him, her hand over her bloody mouth.
She didn’t cry. If she had cried, it might have been alright. But she looked at him with no expression, just watching to see what he would do next. A punch in the mouth made no impact on her. She was still leaving him, sticking to her decision as she always did. He hadn’t even made enough of an impression for her to be sorry, or afraid. She watched to see what he would do, so he showed her.
He slapped her hand away and was glad to see surprise. He punched her again, feeling her cheekbone give under his knuckles. She went down flat and he fell on her, punching and slapping at her. She started to fight back, still silent, and ripped at his face. He hardly noticed, tearing at her pants. She kept trying to kick and buck him off, but the movement was close enough to what he wanted and he finished inside her, a forbidden thing. She screamed in rage then and he had to shut her up, stop her being in charge. So he put his strong fingers around her neck. He kept squeezing long after she stopped moving.
He looked at his hands. His knuckles were red and torn from smashing into her face. Some of her hair was caught on his watch strap. He took her locket off, freed the strand of hair and put it inside the locket. He took her ring too and when he buried her in the field, he gave her his watch in exchange.
He put everything away and went to the window. He bought the flat because the kitchen window looked over the roofs of lower houses to a small green corner of the field. They were breaking ground tomorrow and they would find her. Find her with her broken face, her broken neck and his watch. The watch she gave him, though she never knew the time herself. He didn’t care anymore. They would find the watch and they would read the inscription.
Louise Byrne and Charlie Myers
Tina Lonergan is a writer of horror and speculative fiction. She lives in Ireland with her husband, five dogs and three cats. She loves horror and crime because it allows her to explore the human condition in crisis. She is always aware of the special atmosphere created by Ireland’s history, ancient and modern. Some of her short fiction can be found at http://www.thecleanwhitepage.com