Brown and blue gift box

when kevin looked back on the events he was surprised how things had escalated so quickly. from a small gripe. a slight. to action. to conclusion. but one thing he was certain of. it definitely wasn’t his fault. he was not to blame. he was the hurt party. when all things were done. when you looked at things objectively. he was justified in what he did. fully justified. unavoidable in fact.

a contract had been agreed at an early age. when he was young. without his approval. agreed by his parents. their parents. the parents before them. and so on. back through the ages of time. to the first person. the first contract. for first instance. kevin had no say in it. it was done. besides he was too young to voice an objection. to know the full implications of what he had entered into. how it would be with him for years. a chain around his neck. from place to place it was dragged. situation to situation. time to time.

the early years he was too young to know. too unaware. he was given things. he was not told. they were inconsequential items. a pair of woolly socks. a beanie hat in bright yellow. a small brown bear. how he loved that bear. where was it now? long gone. with his youth. hope. naivety. his parents.

he was told of the contract when he was four . of course they did not call it that. they referred to it joyfully. as if some game. but as the time neared. it was made clear. he had to be good. all year. to get the presents. or he would be left nothing. just coal. a single piece of coal. for his crimes.

kevin was horrified at this. why hadn’t he been warned earlier. given the heads up. he would have been much better.the ideal child. not pulled lucy’s hair. squirted the neighbour’s tabby cat with water. thrown a stone at a duck. eaten his broccoli. he had to make amends quick. play lucy’s games. give the cat some trout. feed the ducks. eat some broccoli. lots of broccoli.

the morning arrived. the reckoning. all would be revealed. had he done enough? he looked at the end of his bed. the presents were there. nuts. a tangerine. chocolate. a kazoo. a game where you flicked ball bearings into cardboard holes. all seemed well. but these were the additions. the unasked for. the starters. he made his way down stairs. to the lounge. and there. under the window. by the symbols of the contract. were the presents. specially wrapped to mark the day. he had to wait until his parents were up. that was the rule. he must not be tempted. they could all disappear by one wrong action. he waited. breathless. an age of time. waiting. 

his parents appeared. they smiled. little realising the obligation they had created. gave the signal. he opened the first. the largest. a pale blue metal scooter. push down brake at the back of the foot rest. rubber gripped handles. perfect. the contract for that year was complete. he could relax. a bit.

as kevin grew. his teachers remarked what a quiet, well behaved child he was. what an angel. but kevin was not fooled. he knew he had to be on his guard. to be good. perfect. maintain the contract. he knew what was at stake. he knew his teachers had a straight line to the contract keeper. the adjudicator. mrs higgins had told him so. with a smile on his face. as nigel kicked the classroom door. again. so kevin was good. always. made sure his reports reflected this. studied hard. got A grades. 

when at college he didn’t fall into the trap of long hair, electric sounds and smoky rooms. hallucinogens. experiences. his dad called them reprobates. he kept his hair down. kept away from the pretty  girls. stayed in his room. played sports. had only one pint after matches. studied. kept his hair short. and each year the contract was fulfilled. he had been good. the presents were there.

his father passed. he still visited his mother. cared for her. phoned her regularly. a dutiful son. his mother worried that’s he had yet to meet a nice girl. but he told her not to worry. he was looking for one just like her. like his mum. she just smiled. patted his hand. made them some tea.

in search of a good girl he joined groups. book groups. poetry groups. choir singing. wholesome pursuits. he even once went to a singles night in search of the right girl. a wholesome girl. it was in a bookshop. not just any. the most respectable bookshop. high vaunted ceilings. oak beams. pile bookshelves with only the classics. dickens. brontes. london. austen. eliot. none of that new writing. none of the corruptible stuff he had heard about. certainly no joyce. no hemingway. woolf. and absolutely not any larkin. never any larkin. but all to no avail. but there were no nice girls. they talked of politics. feminism. sex. not like his mother at all. his dear mother. his dear departed mother.

maybe it was because he had attended the groups. had read the sports pages. had two beers after a match. but kevin did not get a present that year. 

vowing to do better. kevin stopped the groups. joined the church. stopped drinking. avoided female sports. gave regularly to christian aid. but still no present. on adjudication day. nothing. no orange. no chocolate. no nuts. not even a lump of coal. how had he been so bad? he had done everything. he had been good. better than good. john in the office had got a watch. and he was sleeping with jane from accounts. be he. good kevin. had got nothing.

it dawned on kevin. it was not his fault. he was not to blame. he had not broken the contract. he had fulfilled his part. fully. to the full. the blame did not lie with him. it was the other to blame. he had broken it. he had torn the unseen threads that lay between them. something had to be done. retribution had to be sought.

so before judgement day. kevin lay in his mother’s house. on his mother’s bed waiting. waiting. waiting for the tell tale sounds. he was prepared. the traps were set. he would have it out. in a calm.reasonable. manner. 

it was after midnight when he heard the sound. the clatter on the roof tiles. the sprinkle of coal dust down the chimney. a sneeze. kevin hid behind the closet door. baseball bat at the ready. in case. he could hear the scrap of the glass on the mantelpiece. he pulled the string. there was was a cry. a thud.

it took kevin a while to position the man on the chair. he being so large and all. and the need to make the ropes tight. real tight. but he got the job done. he removed the hood to see what was there. a ruddy face. white hair. white beard. a red hat. with bell. it was him.

‘where’s my bloody presents?’

‘i’m sorry Kevin. What do you mean?’

‘last year. christmas. no presents. my mum even died.’

‘i’m sorry kevin. a foul up in the system. one of the elves…’

‘that’s not good enough. i was good all year. every year. every year of my life. and you didn’t come. a filing error. i’m worth more than a filing error.’

‘we’re all a little bad,sometimes, kevin.’

‘i’m not. i’m always good.’

‘and now. this isn’t being good kevin.’

‘screw you. you broke the contract.’

‘well kevin, if you’re going to be like that. we may have to forget presents this year.’

‘you wouldn’t…’

‘well, you’ve certainly put yourself on the naughty list…’

‘you bastard.’

‘now now kevin. this isn’t looking good for you.’

‘i want my presents.’

‘maybe next year..’

it was those words that did it. and the smile. and possibly the hoo-hoo on the end. but kevin couldn’t stop himself. he saw blazing red. a lot of red. the red of Father Christmas as he brought the bat down on the fucker’s head. not once. but several times. each time harder than the first. he ignored the crack of bone. the smash of teeth. the blackened eye. he just kept brining it down. all those years. all those opportunities. all those women. and he said this. the bat shattered with the last blow.

the body was easy to deal with. a spade. his mother’s large garden. a dark night. all pre-occupied with celebrations. festival delights. a quick sale of the house would sort that out. he would be long gone. abroad probably. somewhere with a wild nightlife. parties. bikini clad women. no worries. but what to do about the reindeer on the roof? that was a problem.

cleaning woman

Woman in white robe standing in kitchen

It was the towel that did it.

Karen returned home to her bungalow at quarter past six.This was her usual time after cleaning the offices in the evening. A day spent wiping down the surfaces of the food preparation areas. Scrubbing at stubborn coffee spills on counter tops. Vim usually did the trick for that problem. Vacuuming the coarse office carpets. Often in colours no respecting householder would have. Dingy greys, dark blues, grass greens. The toilets were always the worse. Particularly the executive loos. Maybe it was some sort of power play or a case of ‘because they could’ but the floors around the bowls were always covered with pee and carelessly discarded tissue. She really had to work her magic there to get rid of the smell and yellow tell-tales. 

Karen trudged through the open front door stepping over her husband’s discarded jacket on the floor. Precisely where she had told him numerous times not to leave it. She picked it up and put it on the nearby coat peg. 

She carried the bags of shopping through to the kitchen. He was there at the cooker frying. She watched as egg, sausage and bacon spat fat up the wall of tiles around the oven. Each little spit landing and leaving a yellow mark. Hanging there at first then gradually making a trail down the wall towards the surface of the hob where it rested satisfied. A mark of defiance. Defiant at her cleaning. The hours she had spent scrubbing those tiles white last week. The toothbrush she had used dipped in the best bleach then worked into the grout between each tile. The only way. All gone. All lost. Lost to the sizzling spit of a frying pan.

Karen left the shopping by the kitchen table to be sorted later. Made her way to the bedroom. Worn and unworn men’s clothes littered the bed and floor. A battlefield of linen. Reds, blues, greens intertwined with each other. Day used socks and sweaty underpants slept on her pillow. He was always such a dirty man. Unclean. She wondered what had attracted her to him in the first place. He had turned up at their date in a crumpled dark suit, crumpled shirt, crumpled tie. Unpolished shoes. Maybe she felt he needed looking after. That she was the one to do it. A challenge to be taken on. Or was it just to annoy her parents. Knowing his long hair and t-hs dropped for fs would be an a-front to their prim and proper ways. Whatever it was, they were married a year later and she set about trying to train him.

She left the bedroom. Went next door. Her favourite room of the house. She had insisted on the decor. It was her non-negotiable. A fashionable free standing bath. A wide white basin with victorian taps. A wooden bench on which rested three scented candles. Dimmable lighting to set a mood. Tiled flooring with heating. Her sanctuary. But it had been defiled. Again. Two used white, wet towels lay on the floor. In the middle. In the middle of her room. Her place. The clock work in her mind clicked another notch. The final notch. Rang the bell.

Karen made her way back to the kitchen. He was sat at the table eating his fry up. Bacon, eggs, sausages, fried toast. The frying pan had been dumped on top of the pile of washing up in the sink. She lifted it up. Turned around. Hitting him hard on the head. Metal against bone. There was a crack. He slumped in the chair.

He was always a slip of a man. So it was easy work dragging him from the kitchen to the bathroom. She looked with disgust at the trail of blood along the carpet. But she knew she had a fluid that would sort that out. She stripped him of his oil stained jeans and t-shirt. Damn that garage. And with a mighty heave, practised from lifting large vacuum cleaners up flights of stairs, she got him in the bath. 

She put in the plug and turned on the mixer tap. Something nice and warm. She fetched the large container of bleach from the cupboard under the stairs. Pilfered from work. There had to be some perks. She emptied the 5 litre bottle into the bath. Watching the gentle trail of the thick liquid hit the water. His skin. She would teach him how to be clean even if it killed him. 

She turned off the taps. It still wasn’t enough. He still looked grubby and dirty laying in the bath. Her bath. Something more was needed. Something to get him really clean. She went back to the cupboard under the stairs and lifted down the brush from the shelf. The steel wire brush. The one she used to clean the bottom of blackened pans. That would do the job.

She set to his skin. Scrubbing furiously. Scrubbing as if he were the pissed stained floors of the executive loos. The coffee  marked surfaces of the food counters. The tiles in the kitchen. The bath water turned red. She ignored it. She was doing good. Getting the grime away. The years of fried food, engine oil. Dirt on her clean sheets. A late night hand feeling for her arse leaving  fingerprints. He was always so grubby. She scrubbed away.

She pulled the plug and watched as the dirty water receded. A gradual reveal of her handiwork. A pinkish rim was left around the bath marking where the water had been. That would take some sorting but it had been worth it. She had finally taught him how to be clean to the bone.


image of x-ray of teeth. black and white.

(content warning – implied child harming)

She entered the nursing home room. It was impersonal, clean and smelt of decay. The passing of the flesh to decay. It had that disinfectant smell mixed with urine and sweat. She sat on the chair that was just on the wrong side of comfortable. Looked down at the man in the bed. Wrinkles within pale blue pyjamas. Frail. More skeletal than flesh. She took his hand and squeezed it.

Eyes flickered open. Delayed recognition. Then a weak smile. Eyes closed.

“I came as soon as I could. You know. I’m so busy with the kids. And work.”

“Busy. I know,” came the whisper of a voice. Like a birdsong caught in the wind.

“And we’ve been clearing the house. Going through things. Getting things ready.”

“I know.”

“It’s just we found something. We found something when clearing the garage.”


He opened his eyes. Looked intently at her.

“Yes. It was in an old brown box. Pushed to the back. On the top shelf.”


“It was full of envelopes. Brown envelopes.”


“We opened them.”


“When were you going to tell us dad? When were you going to tell us about it?”

“I wasn’t. It was my thing.”

“My thing?! Those envelopes were full of teeth! Teeth!”

“I know.”

“Children’s teeth.”

“I know.”

“Why dad? Why?”

“It was just my hobby. My thing.”

“But children’s teeth. What happened to them?”

“I just collected them. They didn’t need them no more.”

How could he not understand what he did was wrong? How could he be her father?

“You took the children’s teeth?”

“It was relatively painless.”


“Yes. When I first started I wasn’t so skilled. I was nervous. Impatient. It hurt a lot.”

“I bet it did.”

“But as I practised more. I go better. It was over quick.”

“But it is still children. It was still their teeth.”

“They didn’t want them. I knew I was doing the right thing.”

“What about mum? Did she know about you hobby.”

“She knew. She understood.”

“She understood.”

“She knew it was something I just had to do.”

“But why keep the teeth?”

“I don’t know. To remember. To remember them all.”


He squeezed her hand.

“Don’t swear. You know I don’t like swearing.”

She looked down. Wanting to get away. From this beast. This man. Her father.

“Don’t worry. I kept yours too. In a box.”

She pulled her hand away.

“And your sister’s.”


Soup with meat and vegetable in white ceramic bowl

This all came about because I was ill. Some may say: What do you expect? You’re vegetarian. You lot are always ill. You need protein. Meat!

But that is just guff. I’m rarely ill. It was just the usual coming to the end of the term so winding down and immune system taking a break. So hence, I’m ill. I got a cold. A humdinger of a cold. On the scale of colds: a ten. 

So I was lying in bed feeling shit. What’s worse, I hadn’t even been offered a warm drink. Or food. Nothing. My wife had just left me. There. In bed. Suffering. In my misery of endless sniffles, sneezes, throbbing skull, hot sweats, aching bones, shivers.

It doesn’t surprise me I got left. Sometimes I swear she doesn’t even know I exist. Things are such that when I get home from work she always tells me: I’ve eaten. Fix something for yourself.

So I do. I make myself something to eat. And sit alone at the dining table. Just me. The food. A glass of wine. No company. No conversation. She sits in the living room watching Strictly. Catching up on the highlights and the gossip. So when no food came when I was in bed. Gravely ill. It didn’t surprise me.

I guessed it was a “fix it yourself” situation. I wasn’t hungry for a big meal. Just something to tide me over. Keep me going. So I looked in the fridge bucket and came across a few spuds and a leek. Soup. That was the answer. 

I chopped the leek into pieces. Peeled and chopped the spuds.  Threw it all into some water with salt. Let it come to the boil and simmer. The water rolling over the veg in a gentle wave motion in the pan. Over and over. A rolling ocean of veg pieces. When the veg was soft, I turned off the heat. Got the hand blender and set to the mixture. The pieces breaking down. From large to small to a blend of lime green. 

A dash more water. A touch of milk. I don’t like my soup too thick. I don’t like it to hang on the spoon like tinted slime. Ghostbusters’ Goo. I like it to pour off. Fluid. And quick. A bit more heat to the mixture. When it was just right. Just bubbling. I ladled it into a bowl. Two-thirds high. Retired to the table. Consumed. Just me and the soup and the empty house. My wife long gone on an errand. Or work. Which, I don’t know. She doesn’t tell me.

As I sat there. Sipping my soup. I wondered how many days would it be before my wife would check if I was OK and had eaten. One day? Two? At all? Would she even think to? Or were we now so distant it was a foolish question to ask. I know we are both busy. Me with my work. Her with her office job. But surely we weren’t broken? 

I finished the soup. Washed up the bowl. Pan. And things. Returned to bed.

Shivers. Cold. Sneeze. Watering eyes. The coldness of the bed would not improve even when she came to sleep. We stay on our own sides. Each distant from the other. When this started I don’t know. Just one day. Like other things. We just stopped. No longer together. We stayed in our spaces. 

I decided something had to be done. I had to make a stand. Raise the issue. Start a discussion. A dialogue. Put us back on track. But how? 

Then it came to me. A neat solution. I would just eat soup. A bowl of soup each day. Just one bowl. Nothing more. Surely, she would notice my weight loss? Worry if I am eating? Ask about my welfare? Then we would talk. Become one again. It seemed the perfect plan.

So day two. She’s at work. I make soup. Leek and potato soup. One bowl. Consume it. Wash up. Bed. Cold. Shivers. Sneezes. Watering eyes. Sleep.

Day three. She’s at work. I make soup. Leek and potato. One bowl. Consume it. Wash up. Bed. Cold. Shivers. Sneezes. Watering eyes. Sleep.

Day four. I get up. I feel much better. Shower. Dress. She goes to work. I shop. I make soup. Vegetable soup. One bowl. Consume. Clean. 

She comes home. Makes herself something to eat. Watches Strictly Highlights. Says nothing. My trousers keep falling past my waist. I think I need a new notch on my belt. But she says nothing.

Two weeks have past. I’m still on soup. The Xmas holidays have ended. Goodwill to all men. Hah! I only had a bowl of soup on Christmas Day. I fixed it myself. She didn’t notice.

I’m back at work. In the classroom with kids. My ribs are beginning to stick out. I’m sure of it. New notches on my belt. I’ve had to buy new shirts and trousers. Still nothing. I could be starving and she wouldn’t notice. What do I do? Do I carry on? Will she ever notice? But I’ve come so far. It’s so important. But I’m hungry. I need something else to eat. All she ever says is: I’ve eaten. Fix yourself something. I’m wasting away. I’m not sure I can go on. When will she notice?

It’s been a month. She hasn’t noticed. Each day I have soup. A single bowl of soup. I need more nourishment. I need something with bite. Something to sustain me. I feel light-headed and dizzy. My thoughts lose themselves. I’ve just got in from work and she is watching more Strictly Highlights. She’s just said: I’ve eaten. Fix yourself something.

I go to the kitchen. Reach for a bowl. Not once has she checked I’ve eaten. She doesn’t care. I’m invisible to her. She only loves celebrity dance. 

I return to the living room. See the back of her head. It’s focused on the TV screen. Not focused on me. It doesn’t see me. I look at the bowl in my hand. Empty. Rage fills me. Courses through my body. Hot. Red. She didn’t even ask. She didn’t even notice. After all this time. I cry: Fix it yourself! She turns towards me. Eyes wide. The bowl is in the air. I’m bringing it down.

I put the pieces in the new blender. Add some seasoning. A touch of chilli for some punch. Some hot water. And blend. I watch the pieces become smaller. Then nothing. Mix. Swirl. Liquify. I add a touch more hot water. I like my soup to pour off my spoon. Not stick there like tinted slime. Ghostbusters Goo. I pour it into a bowl up to the two-third mark. And cut some fresh French Stick to go with it. I sit at the table in the house. I sip the soup. It’s meatier than I’m used to.