A short story


Hannah Simpson is a writer, blogger and bookseller based in Manchester. Since graduating from the University of Hull in 2013 with a degree in English, she has started to build a portfolio of short stories and lifestyle-related blog posts. When she isn’t writing, she can be found with her head in a book or retweeting things written by much funnier people.


Number One was sweet. He had butterscotch hair, played cricket and was endlessly optimistic. I found him beautiful, with his dimpled smile and his embarrassing taste in music. At fifteen, I thought he was ‘the one’. You couldn’t wish for a better first boyfriend. He asked me to go to Pizza Hut and we held hands. This continued for several months of innocent Sunday afternoon walks and tentative teenage kisses. On my sixteenth birthday, he cooked me dinner at his brother’s empty flat and told me he loved me and ‘made me a woman’ on a towel on the living room floor. It was…nice. It didn’t hurt as much as everyone said it would. We fell asleep on the sofa wrapped in a blanket and each other, bathed in the glow of a late night sitcom repeat. It was every cliché in the book and that was fine by me. All my friends were jealous as I coyly gave them choice details in a hushed whisper over lukewarm chips in the school canteen.

Two weeks later, there was an urgent assembly about safety on the roads. A boy in the year above had been killed in a hit-and-run on his way home from cricket practise. As soon as his latest school photo appeared on the PowerPoint behind the teacher’s head, I stopped listening. Obviously it was James, my James, I’m sure you’d guessed that. I should have guessed it; he would dutifully ring me every night before bed, and I hadn’t had my Sunday night call. I’d assumed he was tired. I hadn’t worried. I hadn’t imagined I had reason to worry. I couldn’t drag my gaze away from those big blue eyes on the screen. It felt like everyone in the hall was craning to see how I was taking the news. I didn’t cry. I couldn’t, under all that scrutiny. I spent the next year as the girlfriend of the dead boy, ignoring the poorly-concealed whispers and the pitying glances. The Miss Havisham of Sanderson High School.

 

Number Two was very different. He was almost painfully skinny, emaciated in a way that only junkies, cancer patients and boys who write poetry can be. Every muscle and sinew of his frame seemed visible through tissue paper skin. He was sharp, all angles and edges, and that appealed to eighteen-year-old me. I loved the way he curled over his guitar – sometimes he seemed to be sheltering it, at others he was restraining it – either way, his body constantly rocked and contorted in time with the drum’s beat coming from the back of the stage. He poured all the anger and hurt that the world suffered out through the strings. He was mesmerising.

Someone told me his name was Jinx and I hung around the bar for much longer than was casual trying to start a conversation. This was the drill for the next four of his band’s gigs until he finally invited me back to his student flat for a night cap. I learned that his real name was Theodore and that he didn’t ‘do’ the groupie thing. Probably because of the other thing I learned; he was prone to crying after sex. “This always happens,” he murmured as he wiped a post-coital tear from his cheek. I lay on his mattress on the floor (apparently it was how Bowie did it), feeling distinctly underwhelmed. The next few times were better, although each tryst was followed by tears which rather spoiled the mood. I’d lie there and he’d hunch over his guitar, cigarette clamped between his teeth, serenading me with wordless chords. He said he was writing a song for me, and I knew I should be impressed. This sort of rock-and-roll romance was wasted on me.

You might think that Theodore’s death was self-inflicted – he struck me as the type who was too sensitive to be long for this world. But no. He met his untimely end at the hands of a clumsy technician and a falling lighting rig. It was a tragic accident and not half as glamorous as he would’ve liked. The band replaced him within a month. I couldn’t help but feel guilty.

 

Number Three was worse. I was twenty two, working as a receptionist and dreaming about a time when I might put my Psychology degree to better use than trying to convince myself that my hang-up with death was nothing more than a delusion of grandeur. Daniel worked in Accounts and had just finished penning his first novel. He saw me immersed in whatever bestseller had been recommended in the newspaper, and asked if I’d like to proofread his manuscript. It was no work of literary genius and I was hardly an editorial whizz, but it was a solid crime thriller with a couple of clever twists but more than a couple of plot holes. Above all, it gave me an excuse to speak to him. By the time the killer had been brought to justice, we were much closer than I’d hoped.

“I didn’t expect it to end that way,” I told him, trying to focus on my notes as he kissed my neck. “Those last lines as they led her from the courtroom. Very…bold.” He just kissed me more fervently, so I mentally adjourned the literary meeting. It was a fun evening and, refreshingly, no one cried. He left at around one a.m., kissing me tenderly on my doorstep and promising that we’d meet up again soon.

I rose early the next morning, taking extra care over my make-up and underwear choices, and floated all the way to my desk. I was there before the time he normally arrived so that I could catch him on his way in, but eight forty seven came and went. As did nine forty seven. Nobody seemed concerned. Time ticked on and a knot of concern tightened between my collar bones. The words on my screen danced and blurred, and my shaking hands dialled several wrong numbers throughout the course of the morning.

Daniel had been mugged heading back to his car, parked four streets away from my flat in an area that people avoid once the streetlights come on. He was held at knifepoint and when he tried to reason with the teenagers rather than handing over his wallet and phone, they stabbed him three times in the chest and left him for dead. That was what the news report said. He was found by a couple walking their dog and rushed to hospital, but it was too late. As soon as the announcement was made in the office, I sprinted to the ladies’ to vomit. I’d had a sneaking suspicion but I’d been desperate for that suspicion to be wrong.

 

Now, I don’t bother. It’s safer. Even if it is all a fluke, I’m not willing to take that risk. It’s been nearly five years and I refuse to be responsible for any more fatalities, so I avoid all situations in which I might find myself tempted. I used to attempt a normal social life, going out with friends or making flirtatious conversation with the barista who made my morning coffee. Before long, I realised that this was a waste of everybody’s time, since I knew I couldn’t do more than smile and toss my hair. A girly night out isn’t the same when all your mates have pulled and you’re too scared of killing someone to do anything but get a taxi home by yourself. Going on a date feels unfair to the guy who will only get a peck on the cheek. I’ve never been one for sleeping around, but it might be nice to have that option. While my friends are either embracing their single lifestyle or settling down, I’m too terrified to even think about a member of the opposite sex. So I try not to think about it as much as possible.

I’d never confided in anyone, knowing no one would believe me. I even had the occasional blissful moment where I’d wonder if it could possibly be true – never more than a moment before the weight of evidence returned to lie heavy on my shoulders. Sharing it would make it all the more real, at the same time as making it sound all the more stupid. While it lived in my head, I felt safer. But it was a struggle to carry on as though nothing were wrong. My friends got worried, and then annoyed. At family parties, I had to withstand the barrage of intrusive ‘when are you going to get yourself a man?’ After several glasses of champagne at my cousin’s wedding, my mother tearfully told me that it would be fine if I were a lesbian. Eventually, I cracked. I didn’t want to be forty and locked away in my little flat with only my worried thoughts. I couldn’t even become a crazy cat lady, because I’m allergic. I started seeing a therapist although I’d always considered it a self-indulgent waste of time. I was nearing the end of my tether and I hoped something drastic might help.

It has, somewhat. It’s the reason I’m writing this. Dr ‘Call Me Eileen’ Patrick thought that getting everything down on paper might help me make sense of it. I think she also hoped it might show me how far-fetched the whole thing is. I know she doesn’t believe me, although she never says one way or the other. It’s always about what I think, how I’m feeling and what I think I should do. It’s endlessly frustrating. I don’t know the first thing about her which makes our interactions feel very odd and false. It’s not a conversation when only one person contributes. I’ve said that to her, and she just nodded and made a note in her little book. Her little book disconcerts me. Her face is always perfectly noncommittal as she makes note after note. But I do think it might be helping, just a little.

 

I met him in the waiting room. At first he was quiet, ignoring me as we sat against opposite walls flicking through outdated magazines. That was fine. That was what I wanted. But it didn’t take long before he was making eye contact and trying to hold it for longer than was comfortable. Then he started speaking to me and even though I’d never respond, he began confessing outlandish things that I definitely didn’t want to hear. He says he’s a sex addict like he’s proud of it. He says he has no control over his urges. I try not to listen but my silence spurs him on. He says he sees me as a challenge. He likes a challenge. He seems to get off on telling me the hideous things he’s done to women, or the things he’d do to me if I’d let him. Even if I wouldn’t let him – that implication is clear. For the patient of a therapist, he seems to have little inclination towards changing. It’s difficult to go to my weekly appointment. Sitting in a room with him makes my throat constrict and my cheeks flush with panic – that familiar feeling I’d get walking around the city on my own, passing a group of seedy-looking men, or getting a taxi home alone. Even though I, at least, have a means of punishing any unsuspecting attacker.

That particular thought has been overwhelming recently. I’m sure Eileen would be disappointed in me for considering it…mostly because it would indicate that I’m nowhere near dismissing this delusion she believes I’m labouring under. I can’t shake the feeling that maybe this is what I’m supposed to do. Maybe there’s a way of utilising this thing, and maybe he’s the first step. I’ve been thinking very hard about whether exposing myself to that experience would be worth the potential outcome, and have come to the conclusion that it’s a risk I may just be willing to take.