"How deep down do we need to go?"
He can see her plump silhouette in the torchlight and imagine her tight, frightened face as she speaks.
"How the fuck do I know, Maureen? It’s no like I’ve done this before."
He instantly regrets biting her head off, but he doesn’t feel well: the sweat’s coming off him in waves and his heart’s beating so fast a heart attack is a distinct possibility. The last one had very near finished him off.
"You said you knew what you were doing, Willie."
She left the part she always got to about him not having a clue hanging in the air, but he knew it was there. It was always bloody there. He’d spent the last forty-five years pretending not to notice the tone that spoke of umpteen disappointments and things he'd done wrong.
He carries on digging. His back’s buggered, but he needs to keep on filling the spade with dirt and then dumping it to one side before it starts to get light and the neighbors start asking questions. He’ll take the soil to the dump later. Much later. The way things were going; he’d need to sleep for a week first.
The flashlight Maureen’s holding starts to dip; her hands must be cold (she always had bad circulation – there was a fancy medical term for it, but he could never remember it). It occurs to him that she might be shaking with fear and he knows he should tell her that everything’s going to be all right, so he stops for a moment, glad of the rest and props his body against the muddy shovel, wiping a dirty hand across his sweaty brow.
"We’re doing the right thing here. You know that, hen. If the police find it, it’s an automatic five years. He won’t last that long in prison. Not at one long stretch. You know that. He’s too damn soft."
In the darkness, he hears her crying. "How did it come to this? Where did we go wrong?"
As he resumes digging, the crunch of the spade on the soil drowns out the sound of her tears.
Two Days Later…
, it takes more
muscles to frown than it does to smile." Nancy
A workmate pointed that out and got a two-fingered gesture in return.
Today had been a right bitch of a day, frowned
not giving a monkey’s whether it gave her wrinkles. All she wanted to do now
was curl up on her parent’s couch; hands curled around a bowl of mum’s homemade
lentil soup, with butterbeans the size of canoes and listen to Mum’s latest
gossip, as Dad snorted from behind his book. Nancy
The prospect of going home, made her want to punch someone. Michael was being a right moody bastard these days and she wanted to avoid him and his soulless flat in
Glasgow’s West End that
she’d stupidly agreed to move into. If he plonked down one more coaster, and
warned her once more not to mark his Charles Rennie Mackintosh coffee table, she
was going to turn into the Hulk and smash him over the bloody skull with it.
She pulled up outside the house, relaxing as she took in the view. Little lanterns glowed in the windows and the Christmas tree (a real one, not one of those ‘plastic mutants’ as her mum called them) was the usual grand affair with twinkling lights and enough tinsel to wrap around the whole of
. Perched on top was the fairy she’d
made when she was six-years-old; the poor thing was lopsided with a grin that
was more troll than fairy, but her mum always insisted on placing it on the
tree every year along with the Shug's star. He’d made it when he was seven; the
last time he’d made his parents proud. Glasgow
She trotted up the short gravel path, surprised to find the door ajar. Her parents weren’t usually that careless. No one left their doors open in
, not unless they wanted their house
to get burgled. There were too many thieving scumbags around. She knew that
because her brother was one of them, what they called a ‘career thief.’ Glasgow
As she strolled down the short hall, she heard drawers being pulled open and cupboard doors being slammed and raised her eyes to the ceiling. Whoop-de-do, just in time for her parents to have one of their, "I don’t know where it is, you saw it last" type arguments. That’s all she needed, when she’d come here for some peace and quiet, not their bickering.
But, she couldn’t hear any voices. And something else struck her as odd. She can’t hear the TV either; usually it was blaring away as her parents watched the latest TV crime drama.
Something wasn’t right.
She wanted to leave, to get back in her car and drive. But that was ridiculous. This was her home. Where she’d always been safe.
"Mum, Dad," she shouted.
She expected them to appear at any moment and start arguing with one another about who left the front door open.
She took a few more steps into the living room and walked straight into hell…
I’m cold, colder than I’ve ever been in my entire life and I don’t know why. Slowly, I open my eyes, tentatively at first because even opening them a fraction feels like someone's shoving red-hot pins into them. The light is so bright.
What’s with the light anyway?
Has Michael wandered in, blootered on some poncy new beer and left the light on, after collapsing in a heap onto the bed? I’ll brain him if he has. I’m no good to anyone when I don’t get my eight hours.
Pulling myself up in bed, I reach out my arm to nudge him awake so I can give him a right mouthful. My hand finds empty space.
Where is he?
My eyes sting as I prise them open – it’s as though there's been an accident with false lashes and I've glued my eyelashes together - and that’s when I realise I’m not in our flat. The reason I’m freezing is because I’m wearing a tracing paper thin hospital gown: the kind that shows off your backside when you’re being whisked off to x-ray.
A tidal wave of panic hits me and I jerk into full consciousness.
What’s happened to me?
I try to remember, but my brain’s all bunged up as if the top of my head's been removed and the cavity filled with cotton wool.
My arms are bandaged up. Have I been in an accident? If I have, I don’t remember. Maybe I hit my head.
I take in my surroundings. If I’m in hospital, it’s no ordinary one. For one thing, my room’s more like a cell. There’s a bed and a table bolted to the floor, but no personal stuff: photos, or cards, or stuffed animals from people wishing me well. Does anyone even know I’m here?
I grope for a call button to get a nurse, but there isn’t one. What the hell? This place is a prison.
Staggering out of bed, I fight the wave of nausea and dizziness that make me want to yell at the world to stop moving because I want to get off the carousel. The tile floor is stone cold and there are no slippers by the bed. My feet are ice blocks. Why don’t I have any socks or tights on?
Before I reach the door, there's a jingle of keys, then a key scrapes in the lock. Holding my breath, I brace myself for what’s coming.
A woman I don’t recognize with brown hair tied back in a ponytail appears. She’s dressed in a nurse’s uniform and there’s a small smile playing on the edge of her lips.
"Good, you’re awake,
She sounds pleased, as if we’re bosom buddies, when I’ve never seen her before in my life.
"Where am I?"
My voice comes out as a rasp as though my throat’s been sandpapered down.
The nurse puts a hand on my shoulder. "Let’s get you back into bed,
I do as she says. I’m worried if I don’t lie back, I’ll faint.
," she says, as she fixes
the pillows so I can sit upright. Parkview Hospital
I know all the hospitals in
but I haven’t heard of that one. I ask her what kind of hospital it is and she
tells me it’s a psychiatric facility. The reason I haven’t heard of it, is because
they don’t publicize it. Perhaps because it’s full of nutters they want to keep
away from society. The prospect terrifies me because that would mean they must
think I’m cuckoo. Why else would I be here?
I suck in my breath. When I ask her if this is a nut house, she presses her lips tightly together as she tells me no one refers to psychiatric hospitals in that way any more. Suitably chastised, I mumble an apology not because I think one’s needed, but because she’s the one with the keys.
"Why am I here?"
I’m dreading the answer, but I need to know. I don’t feel any different. Surely if I’d lost my mind, I'd know.
"You had a breakdown."
The way she says it, she could be talking about the weather.
She asks me if I want anything and I tell her a pair of proper pajamas, a dressing gown and slippers would be nice because I’m an ice block. If she gets in touch with Mum, she’ll bring me in some stuff.
Her smile’s still there, but breaks down around the corners of her mouth. There’s something she’s not telling me, because she’s worried how I’ll react. There’s fear in her eyes. I notice she’s wearing a lucky heather brooch, the same one I got for Mum. I’m staring at it as she tells me she’s going to fetch a doctor, when a memory stirs inside me and no matter how hard I try to push it away, someone’s taken their finger out the dyke and the water’s rushing in.
Blood, blood everywhere. Dad’s slumped in his favorite armchair, head bent forward as if in prayer (he never prayed a day in his life); a single bullet hole in his head. I know it’s him, even although his face has been beaten to a pulp: his blood staining the fireside rug my mum was so fond of. Even in death, my dad has a presence. He fills a room with the sheer weight of his personality. Discarded nearby is the baseball bat they used on him. It’s covered in blood and something sticky and dark brown, resembling raw mince.
Hell To Pay is available on Amazon in the UK USA CANADA and in all good book stores.
You can also get it for Nook