The Dead Never Forget by Tina Lonergan.

Charlie scrubbed at the graffiti on the old brick work, the skin on his hands red and swollen. Cold water and arthritis. Sometimes he thought his skin would break and crackle open like a frying sausage. He didn’t need to be out here with the wind going through his coat and the stinking traffic roaring by on the street but the bastard kids couldn’t leave him alone. When he had done as much as he could, with the ghost of the writing and the shadow shapes of cocks and balls still visible, but better, he went back inside and shoved the door shut. He kicked in the bottom to wedge the door home into the sodden frame.

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.


She nodded.


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

Always.

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

17 comments:

Graham Smith said...

Excellent piece Tina. You held me there in the room and took me from sorrow to disgust.

Keep 'em coming

McDroll said...

Great story - love how it played out. Well done :-))

Madam Z said...

This story is one wild ride! We go from sympathy for an old man with his painful hands and lustful memories, to dismay at his horrible deed in the distant past. And it is all told with vivid description and gut-wrenching detail.

Kudos, Ms. Lonergan.

Tina said...

Thank you Graham, McDroll and Madam Z. It's a privilege to be here.

Bruce Harris said...

"his skin would break and crackle open like a frying sausage." Hell of a line and helluva story! I really enjoyed it.

Robbie Grey said...

Congrats.

AJ Hayes said...

Reminded me of close up magic. Just enough misdirection to keep the reveal a surprise yet not enough to blunt the force of the past event and then the capper last paragraph. I feel whipsawed and wonderful at the same time. And that's what makes the magic happen here. Cool!

Pat Tillett said...

wow! I really like this one Tina! Several excellent lines in this surprising story!

Paul D Brazill said...

Exceptional, powerful writing.

Robin Billings said...

Tina,

I agree with Paul - exceptional and powerful writing. Felt myself drawn into Charlie's mind and world - seeing that he'd been waiting years with his view to the field, for an end to come, and it changed him, inside and out.

David Barber said...

Loved this story, Tina. It's dark and disturbing but also desperate and sad. You pulled it off really well with some great writing.

Well done!

Tina said...

Wow, thanks everyone!

Rob Kitchin said...

Great story. Nice pathos.

Dana C. Kabel said...

Wow. This is a brilliant story. Well written and realistic...found myself gritting my teeth while reading it because of the disturbing turn. But that is what great writing does...evoke emotion in the reader. Very well done.

Nicole Hadaway said...

Very powerful, Tina -- I love how you told the story, very rich, lots of layers, and emotion through and through. Great job!

Anonymous-9 said...

Congrats Tina and FFO for making the Top 10 Best Short Stories of 2012 over at My Little Corner with this one. Great job!
Anonymous-9

PhilipH said...

Great tale, well told. Held me for every moment. Readable and re-readable. Congratulations.