The Lament of the Magpie’s Wife
I thought that I knew all about magpies. My mother had told the story of my grandmother’s wedding ring enough times. But I believed that this was different, he was different, that I was a treasure which would not tarnish.
All silver tarnishes with time.
My grandmother was washing up, so the story goes. She loved hating doing it. Her hands were red raw from the near-boiling water, scalded by the harsh yellow soap she insisted on using. They were ugly useful things. The pretty tiny glass stone in the cheap goldish metal was a lovely useless thing and did not go with the washing up. So she placed it on a soapdish above the sink. While she was scrubbing at the tools of the kitchen, she liked to have the window open so that she could watch the birds. She liked the small birds best. They pursued their business of feeding, loving and fighting with a seriousness that she found absurd. But today, well today there was a flick of a black and white tail, a tilt of a head and the gleam of an eye.
One for sorrow.
“Good Morning Mr. Magpie, how is your lady wife today?”
Grandmother observed all the courtesies. Yet the second she turned to get the tea towel, the wily thief stole her treasure from the soapdish. As the blue black wings soared away, the ring glittered nearly brightly as his eye.
All magpies steal. And they never have enough. I can’t believe that I forgot that.
I was a treasure begging to be stolen. As a child I would always take the games too far. When climbing trees I was the one perched on the slightly-too-thin branch furthest from the ground. There was no haunted house, so-called witch’s cottage, or older teens’ hideout that was safe from me. I would need to go look, to touch the age-raddled wall or sniff the empty beer bottles and fag-ends left in the leaf mould. As I grew I grew restless. I ached for wider skies and new faces. But as I wished to spread my wings my world became more restricted. A girl will always be bound as she grows to a woman. We are too monstrous to be left free.
I met him when I was old enough to be trouble, but not old enough to know better. I wanted more than I had, but was too afraid to find it. I was sitting at the dance, in a group and yet apart. I wore a dress that glowed as bright as my hair. I can never be sure about my looks. Men called me beautiful. When they wanted me. Women called me flashy, or obvious. Was it the brassy notes in my goldish hair? My eyes that were too big, too green? I knew that I was watched when I entered a room. I glittered. So did he. His velvet coat was so dark a blue it was black; his eyes so dark a black they were blue.
He asked me to dance.
He held me too close.
My breath came too fast, my heart beat too readily.
I was a treasure begging to be stolen.
He asked me to fly away that night. I pretended to refuse. A week later I was on a train to Gretna Green.
His house was small, damp, wooden. But it was filled to the brim with plunder- gold and silver, sparkles and shimmers. There were expensive marble statues next to tinsel covered cushions, mirrors and tin, rubys and glass. I loved it when I first saw it. We would laugh and dance naked, the fire reflecting from our skin, our eyes glowing in the mirrors and silver around us. When he smiled my world stood still, his teeth so white against the tan of his face and the black of his beard. His belly was covered with hair as soft as feathers. We tasted and took and gave until the dawn.
We were happy for a while. But all silver tarnishes with time. He stopped listening to me. He was gone all day and came home with little but bread. He left me while I was still damp with his sweat, aching from his touch, his eyes looking through me as if I wasn’t there at all.
I tried everything to keep him. I put on rouge and powder, gilded my eyelids and made my lips glisten. I worked to bring him trinkets and presents to show him my love. I would wrap myself in his silks, wear his velvet coat with nothing else. His eyes would snag on me, but they never stayed.
He stopped coming home every night. So one day I followed.
She was a treasure begging to be stolen. She glittered like glass and gold in the sunlight. His velvet coat was so black as to be blue: his eyes so blue as to be black.
Magpies steal. And they never have enough.
I rode my horse to the field, bare back and with only a halter. It made me feel like a child. So I wrote a poem.
Waves of mane
Crest muscle flex
Waves of memory
Black becomes brown becomes surf
Salt crust lip
Sea horses chase us home
Sarah carefully outlined her lips in scarlet. The pencil was hard and dragged at her lips. Her hand movement was practiced, ensuring that the right pressure and shape would result in a smooth, accurate line. She paused; checked out her face in the dirty mirror. Rummaged in her handbag perched between two taps, dangerously close to a filthy sink. The lights were too bright for the stained ladies room.
She relaxed slightly when she curled the red curve from its bullet casing. The colour was bold, bright. She placed it deliberately, the heat from her skin melting the red into her lips. Blot with tissue. Reapply another slick. The ritual calmed her – after the tension of getting the perfect line, this was easy. Too soon she would be finished here, and would be back playing cheerleader for his band. He was busy: sound checking, tuning, drinking. Maybe once or twice he would gift her a glance, or a smile. He had said she was indispensable before a gig, that he couldn’t function without his muse, his luck. That was the first lie she had discovered. She added more needless mascara to delay returning to the light stained space in front of the stage.
Later, the mirror was darker, and she was jostled by slim arms and faces, orange armoured, tipped with knife sharp hooves guarding their space. The red was missing a little from the centre of her lips. The small room echoed with excited squeals.
“How hot was the guitarist?”
“John, his name is. He’s single, you know. It was in NME.”
“I loved that last song”
“Sarah? wonder who she was.”
Sarah wiped a tiny smudge from her top lip. The greedy crowd had sucked and gobbled at their song until there was nothing left. She remembered the first time she heard the beginnings of it, woken up by the whine of the guitar. He was sitting on the only chair in the bedsit, sun lazily describing his bare skin. She had sat up in the bed, wrapped her arms around her knees and watched his hands stroke the fret. He looked up, dark hair flopped over one eye and crookedly smiled. Her heart had contracted, and she stood and danced naked in the yellow room, feet neatly avoiding the rubbish on the crowded floor.
He had the same look in his eye on stage, watching the crowd sing the refrain he had made for her. Or at least, the refrain he had made for the girl in his room that night. The red coated her lips again, and she stared at her pale and unsmiling reflection.
Early in the morning now, the lights were awkwardly bright again. Sarah sighed at the tiny lines that bled into the skin around her lips, the blotchy patches of colour. In the harsh light she could see the bags under her eyes, the fine fine lines near her mouth.
The crowd was jubilant, elated. The band were smiling, humming and wired. John had red lipstick over his mouth, and Sarah could still feel his hot hands under her dress. She wondered exactly when it was that her delight in owning him had left her. He was still the intense beauty that moved like sex onstage and held the attention of all the women and some of the men. He was still the man who only really loved his guitar and the music he created. She was still nothing, and still loved nothing.
For a moment she nearly understood the difference between himself and her. Nearly understood why she always fucked musicians, good ones. Those that lived so fucking brightly it hurt to look at them directly. But the insight vanished as she pulled the red tube of lipstick back into its black case. She was done with musicians, she decided. She had a ticket for an exhibition opening tomorrow night. Maybe 2013 was the year of the painter.
I clicked at Belle to encourage her off the ramp. She raised her proud head and her pink nostrils flared.
“Come, lass, it’s your big day. Just a few steps and a run, with little George at your side.” She was still not sure of the other horses and people, and was less bold than usual with her colt so new.
Carefully, turning into her neck so that no one saw me, I stuck my gloved hand through the neck of my fleece and into my arm pit. I pushed my sweat covered fingers into her nostrils, and she sighed and bowed her head. This meant she trusted me and would follow into the chaos, my scent calming her. My Da had me do that when she was first born, her white nose covered in foal down, me a sunburnt kid shorter even than her spindly legs. That was eleven years ago, and she still would sigh at my scent, her ears would prick and her brown eyes soften.
The mare walked off the trailer, her mini-me at her rump. The sunlight glinted through the baby-oiled black and white body. I had been up before the sun this morning, washing her in fairy liquid (the blue one bleached her white patches); combing the special conditioner through her feathers, mane and tail until the heavy hair was silky soft; scrubbing her hooves and wiping them in pig oil. I’d be for it when sis found out that I had used all her best conditioner, but it was worth it to see Belle so fine, to show them what she could do.
Da, in his best suit, the one with the narrow lapels like a gangster from the 90s, met us with her special leather halter, the one that she’d worn when she’d won at Appleby.
“She’ll do.” He said as his clever fingers worked the heavy buckles. I wanted very badly to smile at the rare compliment, but someone might see. Surely I was a bit taller. I fussed over her and the colt, fluffing the feathers that hung like flared trousers round her oiled hooves, untangling the odd knot in her floor length tail. George was scared of the other horses and people, and he kept getting in the way as he tried to stay as close to me and his mum as he could, his tiny pink tongue licking his busy chewing lips. That touch of fear would make him shine in the grading, he would float in front of the judges.
“It’s time. How’do we look?” Da struck a pose, hand on hip, blue eyes laughing.
“You’ll do.” I said.
“Cheeky.” He made as if to box my ears, but I grinned and ducked away.
We walked through the other horses, mostly tall scared things that danced in their groom’s hands. Most of the owners were women, as expensive and well cared for as their horses, their grooms thin and tan. Belle was the only coloured horse here, the only one with so much hair on her head, and legs and tail. But she was beautiful, and George was beautiful and I was as proud of them as if they were thirty grand warmbloods.
When we got to the ring, I left them and Da at the entrance, and I ran to the gallery where I could watch the judging.
The mare and foal before us were both bay, with black points. The mare was a thoroughbred, but registered with the dutch warmblood society. Her foal didn’t seem to touch the ground, but ran around and around as the handler trotted up her dam. I liked them, this big brown pair. When they were finished, the two old women judges walked to near the gallery and I overheard them talking about the horse’s movement.
Then it was us. My breath caught as they came in. The sun was less bright in here, but still it seemed to light my horses as if they were in a film. They were so beautiful.
“What’s this, my big fat gypsy wedding?” The taller judge said in what she clearly believed was an quiet whisper.
“Damn pikeys get everywhere. Like rats. Do you think he last wore that suit in court?” They grimaced at each other.
Red seemed to fill my eyes, followed by tears. I could hear the blood in my veins, pounding. I seemed to be underwater, watching a man that was suddenly a stranger, in his shiny suit, and a couple of cart horses. I had to get out of there.
I ran to the van, pushing through the snooty fucking bitches and their big fucking horses. I could barely see, as I wrenched open the sliding door and huddled in the pile of rugs, against the warm smell of horses and leather and hay. It had always given me comfort before, but not today.
I had to stop crying before Da came back. He hadn’t seen me cry since I was six years old. He wouldn’t now.
I snuck out of bedroom when I Sis started snoring. Like I had so many times before when I couldn’t sleep I got out my old bike and raced to the field. I thought of nothing as my legs pumped and the orange streetlights faded into moonlight as I left the estate. I hid my bike in the hollow under the tree like always to stop someone taking it. I was glad of the silver glow of the moon, but I knew my way.
Belle and George were under the big hedge. She whickered a welcome. I petted her neck, then vaulted onto the warm back. She picked at the hedge as I lay across her, legs and arms hanging and my head cradled by her soft rump. I looked at the sky as I often had before.
The words spoken at the grading repeated through my mind. I had heard similar, of course I had, and worse, at school and in the street. But for some reason they had never touched me like this. Da had told me it doesn’t matter what they think, that George was the best we had bred, that he would stay entire and be mine. That our family lived through and with these horses and always would. That even though they had taken our roads and our caravans and forced us into static houses that we would still be us as long as we had these horses and loved them.
Still the women’s high voices rattled in my mind and I could not quieten.
My fingers jerked as George started suckling them. I tried to push him off but he reached up with his soft nose and he snuffled into my ear. After a while I stopped resisting and I watched the stars and the moon. My mare shifted beneath me and my colt breathed beside us as we waited in the dark.
This a some writing ‘around’ a potential novel set was dystopian future, where the right wing UK government had made a deal with Lovecraftian monsters from beyond spacetime… This is a doodle on one of the characters, and gives an intro into the world… I may even write it one day.
Proff started the day like usual, up at the crack of early evening. He can’t seem to sleep at night anymore. The only time he can get some quality shut eye is in the mid-afternoon; when the world has gone heavy and lazy after lunch of a piece of plastic toast and re-hydrated soup granules. He fed the rats. Molly had just given birth, which was a good sign, but the biggest one was born dead, which was bad. Proff was distraught. To make it worst, it was a precious blacky – the most holy of the soft wriggling things. All folks knew black rats were good luck.
Too upset to give the rats more than the standard shit-and-dirty-bedding-removal, and brush-and-polish with the piece of genuine 100% silk, he did his chores frowning and distracted. He did not even feel his usual spike of pleasure when running the piece of genuine 100% silk over their short velvet fur that rippled with delight; the satisfaction that came from knowing he stole it from that bitch Sue. Or maybe she’d given it to him. He couldn’t remember, and they don’t talk now anyway to ask.
A pan-op came by snooping, reporting on his movements to the Eyes. They tried to keep tabs on him, but he was too smart and too careful. This time he had hidden in Hiding Area Number 7: a small trunk which was placed over a false bottom that concealed a hole dug under the shed. He made it into the hole before the pan-op came by, but only just. This was another distress signal from usually prompt Proff to the unseeing world.
He couldn’t explain how he knew the pan-ops were coming, but he did. He always had. One of the local gangs, the Pit-Bulls had tried to use him for look out because of it. He’d made enough money that his rats and him were kept in tinned beans for weeks, before the Pits got tired of the so called false positives. They hadn’t believed him about the Eyes. The gang couldn’t see them, not even when they filled the sky with watching. They’d beaten him, but not too badly, because they know he was special. People didn’t really mess with Proff. Not just because of Tank and Spyder, neither. He’d been right about too many things too often: raids by the pigs; DWUP purges; pan-ops fly-bys; poll tax registration sweeps. Of course they said he’d been wrong a lot too: the Day the Sky Fell; the Hour of the Black Wings; and the Eyes, always the Eyes. But Proff didn’t understand how the others had missed them. The Day the Sky Fell, for example, had left him and the rats in Hiding Area 4, cramped and shaking, for uncounted hours until the eldritch shattering had past. Peg had miscarried that time, and Proff had mourned for months.
Today, when the pan-op had buzzed off back to its suited masters at Westminster, he’d crept out from Hiding Area Number 7. He had checked outside the little shed, but there was nothing in his glen in the rubbish mountain that wasn’t supposed to be there. It was a brisk day though, so he wrapped his ancient army surplus coat more tightly around his skinny frame, and tightened the piece of old twine that he used for a belt. He went back inside and stoked his little burner with some of the non-toxic rubbish, and put the kettle on. Today he added half a teaspoon of his precious powdered milk to his supper / breakfast of harsh brown tea. He needed it, the death of the little blacky shocked and upset him. He settled down to work for a few hours. He read all the feeds he could, on the small jerry-rigged black market screen Tank had given him. He sifted the news, gossip, forums and mail for patterns, shapes that concealed the Others.
He left his official Mail Feed ‘til last, when the small hours of the morning turned into the real live morning. His work had gone well, nothing that monstrous was visible. He had relaxed enough to let Scar and Rob, two of his favourites, clamber over him for a cuddle and play. Their sensitive inquisitive noses had sniffed carefully at his face, and little scratchy feel had whispered over him. But now, he had to read his Official Mail. He hated it, hated that they even knew he existed. But the penalties for ignoring it were just too high, it even frightened him. Better to read it like a good boy than be more conspicuous by disappearing from the Database. Now that did get you noticed, and it was best to keep out of sight of the Eyes.
There was a mail in his Inbox. Proff tensed, his eyes, never entirely still, darted here and there more quickly. The From entry was the DWUP. The Subject line was Important Information Included. Warning: Illegal Not to Read. He really really didn’t want to. He wasn’t even on bennies, why would they contact him? He reached for the Open touchscreen with a shaking hand. He pressed it.
The worst had happened. Well, not as bad as the Black Wings, but nearly. It was useless to complain that he wasn’t receiving benefits, that he was not on the List of the Unemployed. The Work Ticket had found him. He was going for a six month shift on the Work Gangs unless Tank and Spyder could help him.
Here – i decided this didnt fit. and it was my first go at trying to write all YA hes so hot. Not sure it worked. But i liked the rest so here you go – you shouldnt need an intro other than its 1804 London, and demons exist, and one lives inside Lizzie…
deleted scene – boxing
Sophie and Amanbir had become close enough to form a gang of two that would bother me for my own good. One afternoon, a mere week after the disastrous fight, they dragged me downstairs to the common room for tea. As was my habit so soon after his death I was glum and quiet. It seemed to me that every moment of peace or pleasure I felt would be snatched from me by the ambush of a memory. Today it was the particular flourish that Edwin used to pour the tea, by drawing it two foot high above the table. He wouldn’t bow to the tradition that said the lady should pour, as he said he did it better. I couldn’t taste a difference then, but now, this tea did taste dirtier and looked muddier.
I blinked away tears, and the others, yet again, politely pretended not to see. I busied myself with cutting up bread and butter into dainty squares, but didn’t eat it.
Amanbir jumped a little, and I think that Sophie must have kicked him under the table. Gestures like these did not bode well for me.
“Lady De Courcey, at Miss Westmorland’s suggestion, that is, I am going to John Jackson’s boxing salon this evening, and would you do me the honour of accompanying me?”
I stared at him.
“I am permitted to spar in the back room, and you would be welcome as well. I explained about you to John, and although it would not do in the main Salon with the gents, you could come with me and spar with his fighters, if you wanted to.”
“You haven’t trained at all since the fight, Elizabeth,” interrupted Sophie, “I can tell you are getting agitated stuck indoors. You are not even walking with me very far.” Here she dropped her voice “and you are speeding up sometimes. You know it scares people when you do that.”
I hadn’t noticed that. It could be dangerous for me to show too much odd behaviour. People panicked if they thought a demon had possessed you. Quite understandably. I was about to agree to the outing.
“And we need you to be on form to find and kill Asundra.” Sophie said.
“I am not going to find Asundra, Sophie.” I snapped. “And if that is the reason you, at Miss Westmorland’s suggestion, of course, invited me, then I am sorry Sewader Singh, but I must decline. Edwin was not strong enough to bind her, and you and I nearly got killed as well. There is no purpose to my going after her. The Church will do it without me.”
“I asked Miss Westmorland if you would enjoy it, Eliz.. That is Lady De Courcy.” Amanbir said. “Not thinking of demon hunting, but that it may make you feel better.”
“I don’t need your charity, Sewader.” I was in a fine mood now.
Amanbir growled at me. That was new. He was usually very calm. “It is not charity. I would enjoy your company, however you are clearly not well enough.”
No Lady in that speech!
“Lizzy don’t be ridiculous.”Sophie said. “This has nothing to do with demon hunting. I have heard you say that you wished to spar against Mr. Jackson myself. This is your chance to do it.”
We sat in silence for a few moments more. I stabbed my tiny pieces of bread with the butter knife. The knife got quicker and quicker until it was a silvery blur.
How mature. I think it best for you to remain in your room, you clearly cannot control yourself in public.They are trying to help, ineptly of course. Snapping at them and lurking in your bedroom will effectively drive them away and then you will have no one but me. Good plan.
I stopped stabbing immediately. A long moment of silence passed as I stared at the mess in my plate.
“Sewader, I will come with you. I clearly need the exercise.” And the tricky bit… “I apologise for my inconsiderate behaviour to you both.”
“Apology accepted, my Lady. We should leave in half an hour or so to make my appointment with Mr. Jackson.”
“I will go and change my clothes.”
“I think a yellow sprigged muslin would be charming to box in.”Sophie grinned.
“You think it will start a fashion?” I replied. Amanbirs scimitar smile flashed against his dark beard. I decided I should leave at once. Levity made me feel guilty.
John Jackson’s Boxing Salon was in Bond Street. Women of quality were not supposed to walk or drive down that street, surrounded as it was by gentlemen’s clubs and gambling houses. I was in disguise, but it was a half hearted one. My hair was hidden under a hat, and my coat and breeches loose, but I would not pass more than a routine inspection. Sophie made me promise to tell her all about the forbidden street, but I could not see much that was interesting. There were the carriages and horses that all of fashionable London had, the loafers that flocked to street corners who had no discernible source of income, and the groups of men – young and old – that had nothing better to do than sit in windows, drink and pass comment on one another. Gentleman Jack’s looked like any other club from the front, a handsome enough white house. Perhaps the young men that lounged on the steps were more athletic than the rest of the mob, but honestly there was little difference.
Although Sewader was not dark complexioned, he was still not allowed in the front chambers – I wondered if Tom Molineaux, the Black Ajax, would have been accepted. I was likewise unwelcome. So we walked round the corner and into the back entrance where the tradesmen went in and out. I was irritated, more on Amanbir’s behalf than mine. I could be no more than a curiosity, and would not enjoyed being watched by that crowd. But there was no reason for Amanbir’s exclusion – he was a gentleman after all. More so than John Jackson!
As long as he is a gentlemen then. They must surely beat each other bloody with more decorum than the unwashed mass of humanity.
I did not have an answer to that, so I kept quiet.
“Good to see you again sir! Jack’ll be with you anon.” The man who opened that door was the very picture of a boxer, powerful shoulders, red kerchief, nose crooked from many fights. He glanced at me, openly curious. I pulled my hat lower and followed Amanbir’s broad back inside.
In the room there were a few men sparring, or shadow boxing. All were muscular and quick, although their size and weight varied from a vicious looking bantam to a giant of a heavyweight.
When Jackson walked in the energy in the room changed. He was a big man, but had not run to fat despite the nearly ten years since he was Champion. He dressed as a Corinthian, all sharp tailoring and neat calves.
“Mister Singh. And is this the curio?” His voice was cultured, but slightly off to my ear, like his tailoring.
“Mister Jackson, may I present Lady De Courcy?”
It was as if all attention was suddenly on me. I heard a snigger and a crude comment. Jackson stared at me for a second as if unsure what to do. I gave him my hand and shook it like a man.I wished acutely that I was back in my quiet bedroom at the hotel.
“Shall we spar first, Mister Singh?” The man actually winked. “Give the lady time to see what goes on here, and to change her mind if needs be. It’d be no disgrace.”
I flushed red. He smiled encouragingly at me, taking it for embarrassment. It was rage.
“I understood that Mister Singh explained about me?” I snapped out. “I am happy to spar with whomever you suggest, you will not be stronger or faster than a demon.”
Too late I realised that this was an insult to both the Sewader, and to the boxer. Equally the demon comment could apply to my opponents or to myself. Amanbir’s brows lowered.
I could not apologise. Jackson barked out a laugh.
“She’s a prickly one. I’m not one to hit a girl. But Reilly will, won’t you?”
Reilly jogged lightly over. He was on the smaller side, with a look of a street smart fighter to him. He grinned.
“Me ma used to hit me until I taught her better. Recon her left hook would have felled most of these smart gentlemen you give love taps to upstairs, Jack!”
I grinned at him. In slums all over you got women who would street brawl as well as men. He wouldn’t hold back with me. And I realised that I needed this. All these hours of sitting and crying and feeling helpless were not me. I wanted violence, craved it. I wished that I could say it was all Himself, but I feared that this will to inflict pain was one reason I coped with him so well. I understood him.
“Sounds like my kind of woman.” I said. After a second there were more guffaws from behind me, and I realised that it sounded as if I went with women. Sigh.
Reilly’s grin grew sharper and he opened his mouth. I knew something unsavoury would come out of it, and I didn’t want Amanbir to hear it.
“You going to stand here jawing all day, or are we going to fight? I understand if you have had second thoughts, you’re a bit on the small side…” I said quickly. Laughs from the sidelines followed, but at least I was in on the joke.
“Small side! Hark at her. Ay, then lets fight. For that I won’t go easy on you.”
My smile changed to something more hungry. His eyes widened, nearly imperceptibly, but I caught it. No, this one would not accord me quarter for my sex. I removed my jacket and handed it to Amanbir.
“Are you sure?” He said softly.
“You and Sophie were right.” I said, matching his tone “I’m wound so tight I can’t breathe. This will help.”
He backed away with Jackson. The other men drifted across until they surrounded the ring, betting on one of another of us, joking and laughing.
I jumped and lighted into the square marked in the dirt on the floor.I rolled my head from side to side, and bounced and threw a few punches. I watched Reilly like a hawk, noticing that he lead with his right side, that he was balanced and secure in his walk, and that his eyes had the slightly flat look you often saw in fighters that had grown up where there were no rules.
Jackson boomed from the sidelines.
“Normal rules apply, no blows below the belt, you can yield at any time, no bites or kicks. Let’s keep this scientific!”
My lips stretched from my teeth. We met in the centre of the ring. He was wicked fast, but I was faster. My blows told more too, which surprised him. He was, however, better at boxing. My fighting style was taken from bits from all over, including the orient. Normally I used my whole body, including my legs and even teeth if necessary. This fighting required delicate footwork to keep up with the bantam weight, which although I was balanced and quick I was not practised in. His technique was superb. After the first flurry of blows, I could beat him senseless, or I could learn from him. I chose to learn, and so modulated my attack.
We sparred for twenty minutes. I could have gone on, but he was slowing. After the next bout I stepped back and put my bleeding hands up. I was bruised beneath my shirt, and would have a lovely black eye later on. He was wheezing, and clutching his rib. I think I may have broken one or two, but as he hadn’t called for the fight to stop, I wouldn’t embarrass him by calling attention to it.
“Uncle!” I gasped. “Enough for now!”
The cat calls had stopped early on. The betting had changed too. I think I overheard Amanbir winning a little something on me, but I pretended not to. I wasn’t sure that Sikhs were supposed to bet.
Jackson clapped me on the shoulder. It felt like a bear punched me.
“Keep your guard up! And your footwork needs work. But sound work. Maybe some more of the lads will have another go later on.”
I sat in a chair which had appeared from no where, and drank some beer. Amanbir smiled at me, almost proud looking, and I inhaled some of the beer. I coughed a lot and felt embarrassed again.
“Lets see if you have improved any, Mister Singh!” Jackson stripped off his coat, but left his high stock where it was. His arms filled his thin shirt, but I could see the start of a paunch which somehow made him less impressive.
Amanbir stripped his jacket and untied his simple cravat. He favoured loose styles that were comfortable rather than fashionable, and so this was the first time I think I appreciated how small his waist was compared to his shoulders, and how long his muscular legs were. I closed my mouth with a snap. I don’t think anyone noticed.
The two men walked into the square. Jack was a mountain of a man, Amanbir was slimmer but an inch or so taller. They both moved with the grace that came with strength and training. But I fancied that Amanbir would be a hair quicker. I could not guess who would be the more cunning. I had chased Amanbir through London, and he had fooled Edwin and I. I knew that he could be devious. Jack had years of experience boxing that would tell in the ring. But I would rather have Amanbir at my back in a real scrap.
The two raised their fists. The fight began. I started by seeing the punches, the footwork, appreciating the skill of these men. But more and more I began to notice other details. The way that Amanbir’s leg tensed under his trousers. The way that his body twisted when he landed a punch, pulling the material so that I could have traced every muscle, highlighting the lack of fat and toned strength of him. The gleam in his dark eyes, the flash of white teeth, the flush in his high cheekbones. After the normal smell of stale sweat and blood, I smelt the clean smell of fresh male sweat that was somehow sweet. Instead of analysing the skill of Jack’s punch, I was afraid for his opponent. Instead of learning the steps of feet dancing across the ground, I was partisan, rooting for one, and hoping for the defeat of the other. He landed a facer, and grinned in triumph, looking younger. His eyes caught mine, and my breath stopped for two long beats of my heart.
I came to myself. This would not do at all. Certainly not here and not now. The last man I had liked was Captain Howard, and that had gone so well. And Edwin was only just dead! What was I thinking? The rest of the bout I kept my eyes and my mind on Gentleman Jack. I would not be a fool again. I wouldn’t.
This is one of the most horrible short stories I have written. Not sure why I did. Its definately a horror story. Triggers for mental illness, discussions of sexual violence and actual violence.
I remember very clearly the moment He moved in. It was sunny, a cool promising brightness after another interminable UK winter. I was in Starbucks, drinking the first iced coffee of the year. Not one of those blended abominations, all sugar and cream. No, this was a normal latte, full fat milk, extra shot of espresso, poured over ice. The ice burnt my teeth, and the caffeine hit my grateful bloodstream. I was pretending to read the news about potential World War III in Crimea. Not much I could do about that. I was actually contemplating the cute alternative girl with the laptop, which I could do something about. That latte, that newspaper, that beautiful girl. The last moment of peace I felt.