International Writers Magazine: Love Ties Bind
Then whyre you here?
Shit. He didnt know. Looking down at the business card twisting
in his hand, then up to the Councillors smug face; leaning
back in that leather chair; feet crossed upon an oaken desk.
I need your help. Quiet, evaporated.
me? Another flicker of wanton venom.
I need your help. Louder, through staring eyes glaring.
My wife; shes cheating on me. There, it was out.
like a sprung bolt, dropped his raised feet and stood in one jagged
motion. Leaning over the large desk, close so that some pungent odour,
expensive enough to be scent, seeped into the other mans lungs.
Then, Sir, youve come to the right place.
He sat in the bar, wishing hed never done this. Never called in
to book the appointment. Never agreed a time with the pretty blonde
receptionist. And never, ever miss-trusted his wife. Shed be here
any minute. He checked his watch again then drowned his second whiskey
and coke. Back away from the bar, behind the pool tables, dim in their
Shit, he needed another drink. But if he went now... It was too late,
she would be here. Laughter, so unpopular in his head, shook him, drew
his stare from the doors to the bar again. And there he was; the Councillor.
Over by the bar, laughing it up with the barmaid, on his third pint.
Turning so that his back was to her, turning so they were now face to
face. One smile. One glare. A spark igniting. Until she walked in.
Just like auto-reverse; the Councillors demeanour and posture
adjusted, such as it did back in the town office. She was here, where
he no longer was. If he didnt leave soon, he was going to kill
him. Right here in the bar. Right after he threw-up.
Watching his wife with him; The Councillor. A man hed met twice
but still couldnt completely recognise and didnt know. Watching
her relax back against him, laughing and touching him. Viewed all through
some slurred, detracted fun-house mirror. He, now a strange voyeur on
himself; seeing his wife with someone else that shouldve been
him. Something he couldnt watch anymore. He really couldnt
do this. Not here tonight. But, then, he couldnt move. Not now
they were coming over.
The man slunk down low in the shadows. The Councillor, eyeing the table
he was hiding beneath, pulled her over, whispering quiet through tilted
teeth. Across to the pool table directly in front of her husband she
couldnt, or didnt, care to see. Only that man did. Quite
purposely. Guiding her to stand there, in the radiance of the orange
pool table lamp. Half lit and anxious. While her new acquaintance slid
around the outer wooden grooves to the opposite side. Just to watch
and be watched from.
His back ached at the base. And his knees bruised the wood ingrained
underneath. If he didnt move soon, the bar of numb bone would
scratch itself alive with knives. But he couldnt. Set up and now
broken, the coloured pool balls smacked and rolled upon the blue felt.
And back here, away from the tinged light, his teeth stamped down hard
on his jaw bone. Masking the ache of his spine. Seeing that wondering
hand grope his wife. On her shot. And on his.
Now she was bent over in his unwavering eye line, caught on a silken
rouge hint below her rising dress. A recent gift. Now betrayed and forgotten
before him. His hands clutching and supporting his burning weight, slouched
awkwardly on this seat. Wanting to kill or be killed. Angry and close
to tears as that hand, with those fingers, slimed slowly along and down
underneath. While she took aim, potting nothing but not moving.
The table slams his knees on impact. Those hands, and her grace, stall.
They look back, distracted. But hes no longer there.
The toilet door thumps shut behind him. His eyes sting and he misses
the hard footsteps, hollow on the sleek floor tiles, lost behind the
surge of splashing tap water. Until a grip, from those hands, threatens
him from the row of sinks back against the stall walls.
Nothing has to happen. Calm, but shaking and itching through
his dripping water skin. He tried backhanding it away. But that hand
slapped him, hard on his already soaked skin. Caught in a second after
a breath and a beat, lost there. Staring. Smelling her on that hand
that hit him. Wondering whether to cry or hit back. But doing neither.
Just standing there doing nothing.
Just walk away and Ill take her home. It sounded like
a question but he knew it wasnt.
Okay. Broken, dripping with water in the gents. He left
quietly, while the Councillor stayed behind to urinate.
Its up to you, Sir, how this goes. He couldnt
believe this. Sitting here in the Councillors small town office,
high above the traffic on a hot Wednesday lunchtime. He hadnt
shaved for several days. Hadnt even been to work. And, although
those eyes kept looking at his face, his stubble growth wasnt
an attempt to hide that sore red slap mark below the surface.
A brown package sat between them on that giant oaken desk top. Polished
to a gleaming shine, sleek and strong, mixed with the heavy aftershave
together in the room. He wanted to take it and destroy the contents.
And the Councillor knew that. Just like he knew that hed been
fucked. Well and truly proper fucked. And he thought of the Buzzcocks.
Remembering Pete Shelley and understanding him completely. Feeling like
dirt. Feeling trapped and hurt. Unable to get those pictures away from
his head. Waking up the next day and realising that theyd lied;
both of them. She wasnt there and the Councillor hadnt brought
Now we can end this all here. End it? How could he end something
thatd barely even started? A smile. Across a tilted head. Raptor
like. And he wanted to. He really did. Dropping his leg and rising from
the visitors seat, low and artificial. And, he watched that head
jerk away with sound. Of a side door opening. Those dark pupils flinching
still on two men, entering the room. Then easing closed the door behind
So, hows it gonna be? Cheque or cash? Double or nothing.
He, actually, almost liked it.
He looked down at it in his hands. The package. Unopened. And took it
through into the kitchen. Coldly addressed to himself, but baring no
postmark. That bastard. Brought it right to the house. Pushing it right
through the post box himself. So he dropped it down on the cluttered
counter top. And stared down at it while he made himself a drink.
Standing there practising what hes going to say, and how hell
say it. In the mirror above the sink. Like he did that night, two weeks
ago. Like he does every time. To the police. To her face. To her over
the phone. To the Councillor. And his body guards, who stand there waiting
for him, weeping, to sign across all his money to them. Redundant. Asexual.
Impotent. Broke and alone. In the snooker club gents. In the small town
office. In his own home.
And after the dreams he stays slumped on the sofa with the video he
got in the post. Shes gone. Long gone now. Hes alone. Looking
down at it, the company name on the label. Her name on the box. With
compliments. But he cant bring himself to destroy or watch it.
And he cant even sleep properly anymore. And cant feel anything
other than pain and raw frustrated, belittling, insoluble anger. So
he just collapses in a bundle. Sobbing.
Trust and jealousy; opposite poles of the same magnetic field. One inextricably
attacking and attracting the other. Trusting himself not to let his
jealously attract some other betrayal. Another force of warped logic.
But he couldnt see it, not then. Not there in the Councillors
office. Stepping in from the over heated waiting room of trade magazines,
low blue lighting certifications and water coolers. Dipped Muzak and
intriguing lip stuck smiles. Deployed into the arms of another defeat.
Mister Smith, how can we help you? An unbelieving, under-the-breath
smirk at the obvious pseudonym. Even oblivious to why a solitary figure
would refer to himself in the wider plural. Calculated.
Unsure. What do you do, here? An open question. A chance
to back out and go home to wait for his wife to come home.
Whatever is required, Mister Smith. He hadnt even
got up to introduce himself. Didnt even stop to remove his crossed
feet, and crawling socks, from the desk top. He didnt even know
the mans name, apart from the receptionists referral to
the man in the office as the Councillor. And that he was ready to see
him now. The Councillor. Of what?
Its my wife; shes... And then hed said
it. That word. What he knew he was and what he hated in himself. Addressing
him as Mister Smith, the first name that had entered his troubled head.
And when he heard it, he hated it. And the Councillor knew this.
In the bar again. Waiting for his wife to appear, as he knew she would
sooner or later. Not really a plan. More of an uncommon realisation.
Seeing the bar after the first and second drinks, but not the Councillor.
Only the door. Exasperated. Untidy and polluted. Untired. And unimportant.
Wanting to leave and take it all back. Back to the office. To stop it
there and break it off. But he didnt, couldnt. Weak-willed
and hazy. Not a party to himself. Separated apart from it all now. Trapped,
stuck to continue with this.
...to the right place. He didnt think so, not anymore.
Mister Smith was gone now, replaced by Sir. On the lavish oversized
desk, he noticed a manila folder. And the Councillor caught him, noticing
Your file, Sir. He was still standing over him, bearing
down unbearably. The Councillor, with his mordant parfum. Expunging
even the recent scent of sudor within. Your wife, we surmised.
At your booking session, outside. He reached out, eyes staying
fixed, unmoving. Picking it up. But holding it just out of reach.
A few photographs. Nothing you wouldnt already have seen.
That tilted mouth. Mr Smith wanted to break it wide open.
Crashing into the toilets. Sweating alcohol and rage. But tasting only
strong cowardice. All three stalls empty, he bent into the mirror and
just watched his reflection. Wishing he didnt have it. Wishing
he could just smash this picture if only to show himself that he could
do even that. Vent it; bring himself to release a valve. But instead
he ran the tap and splashed his face once and looked on, dripping, saying
to himself what he couldnt say out there to that man, the Councillor.
Or even to his own estranged wife. Cause thats what she was now.
Well, was she anything else? He couldnt even face that fact even
now. Filling his own twitching hands with tap water again. For the second
...or cash? He didnt need to sit down because he fell.
Back down. He watched them. They waited. Knowing how this would end.
Just as the man opposite did; the Councillor. That anger and rage again
gone. Replaced now, instead, with something else; a lesser.
Feeling safe, never anything else, the Councillor spilled the envelopes
contents. Not quite covering the monstrous wooden desk. Not even close.
The pictures, undoubtedly from his file, paperwork, forms and a plain,
Now, Mister Smith. You wanted my help. Now were asking for
yours. Or, should I say, your wifes. Hed not thought
of her through all this. Not even since stepping inside here again.
After the weekend. Following the answer phone message. Long since giving
up on his wifes return from the snooker club.
She - us. We need your money. Your wife, she promised my two colleagues
here that youd help us, help yourself. If you understand me, Mister
You can cut the Mister Smith bollocks, alright. A tilted
smile back at the two men bouldered in the far corner. They stared back
unflinched. Maybe this happened a lot.
Fair enough. I take it you hold at least one credit card still
on your person.
His hand, unselfishly, reaching to his back pocket.
In his back pocket, gentlemen.
With not even a glance backwards. He relented, they forcible took it
Where is she?
What dyou care? She didnt. The Councillor found
the papers he needed signatures for. Unclipped the expensive pen from
his jacket pocket and pushed them across the table. One man was still
behind the card holder.
How much do you want? A stifle.
All of it. And so he signed it all over as requested. Blinking
warm peppered tears from his eyes.
Remembering all of this and knowing that she was gone. That hed
killed her. That, what was on this tape was her final pleas to him.
For trust, not jealously. Finally.
He let his foot crash down onto the brittle black plastic casing. Kicking
away the splinters and reaching for the spools. Not wanting for anything
other than it all to go away. Ripping and pulling the reels of tape
clear, over and over. Until he sees nothing in his eyes except film.
And his wife.
Robinson Jan 2008
And the skies above the City bleed down upon the earth its overcast
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