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.

How To Write Badly…


So you have finally decided to write that story or book.  Let me tell you all the things you need to do to not get to the end and fail at your task.

1) Keep re-working that first chapter. That’s write. Why go on to the next part of the story when you can spend all your time endlessly re-writing the first part so it becomes perfect. After all, it’s not like most writers end up cutting the first chapter/part anyway as they started the story in the wrong place, is it?

2) Make sure you have access to Twitter, Facebook, Messenger or any other social media. You need to be constantly updated on the latest cake picture and cat video. You need to lose yourself down the rabbit hole of messages. Social media is catnip to writers and should be engaged at every opportunity rather than actually doing any writing on your story.

3) Surround yourself with lots of noise. Why not put the TV on as well or a playlist with good vocals? Nothing works better to help you lose your train of thought when you are being constantly…

4) Make sure you drink loads. Have lots of tea, coffee or fizzy drinks. It easily breaks the flow if you’re constantly sipping and having to run to the loo. Also, adds a sense of urgency.

5) Play a video game. You know you want to. Just get to the end of the level and then you’ll stop. Well, maybe, just one more level. Oh, is that the time. I’ll do some writing tomorrow, I promise.

6) Keep re-drafting your plan. In fact, invest in lots of colour pens and sticky labels to add a bit of colour to it all. What about a character spreadsheet mapping out all the history and interests of all the characters? I know you won’t use any of it but preparation is key.

7) Read a few books about writing. Better safe than sorry. Best to learn the craft from a book rather than actually doing a bit of writing. Maybe attend another writing course. Better still, re-read this blog post until you have memorised it.

8) Stare at the page. Fill yourself with nagging doubt and hesitate. Tell yourself it won’t be as good on the page as it is in your head. Whatever you do, don’t begin. Don’t put words down. You’re only setting yourself up to fail.