Continued from “Day of the Dead” and the first-draft final part of the Halloween Trilogy.
No23 stank of bleach and Keith hated it, though in these circumstances he was forced to deem it a necessary evil. Cleaning up the house was a huge undertaking and his hands were red raw and freezing cold – the four-bar gas fire in the living room barely able to take away the breath he saw in front of him. If his belly had anything inside he would chuck up, sickened as he was at the cold cummupance he’d served before the painstakingly disinfected dessert. But he’d been running on empty since the four slices of toast that had passed through him in the early hours of Saturday morning. It was now Sunday and the thought of the rich smell then taste of succulent roast beef excited him, taking the edge off his nausea. A Sunday treat to follow the next trick in his weekend of destructive vengeance.
Rising still clothed from the settee he’d made his bed, he entered the kitchen and took the joint of meat from the fridge. Carefully so as not to spill blood, he took it from its wrapper, swilled it with cold water, placed it in the tray and slotted it in the oven, turning the gas to mark 4 for it to slowly cook. By the time he’d done his work, he considered, it would be time to peel the vegetables and set them to boil.
“How is she this morning?” asked Mrs Hales, intercepting him at the garden gate.
“She’s fine,” said Keith.
“Am I to fetch round some dinner for her later?”
“That won’t be necessary thanks.”
“Are you sure?”
“I bought some beef yesterday,” he said.
“Terrible business up at the Wharf,” she said, “They’re saying it’s murder.”
Keith had never had any truck with religion. One Sunday when they were out birdwatching in the woods his father had asked if he wanted to attend Sunday School next week but he’d said no – five days a week at normal school was enough for him to be convinced by teachers and pupils alike that he was a misfit who’d never amount to anything and would inevitably go to hell – and his father had only nodded and let the matter rest as he spotted a jay in his 8×30 bins. So as he entered St Mary’s he wasn’t sure what to do, but took with muted thanks as a matter of course the pamphlet he was offered and found his pew. The service had already started, the vicar saying something about the clocks going back and trying to make out it gave all those present one more hour to thank God for. Or at least that’s how it sounded to Keith, who was only half-listening if listening at all. He was there for other reasons than an extra hour with God. Scanning the room and its forty or so throng, he eventually picked out Philipa Ireson, sitting about three rows in front of him then rising as instructed for the first hymn, He Who Would Valiant Be.
Rising himself for no other reason than to remain inconspicuous, Keith looked at the pamphlet and followed the words, pretending to sing, though it seemed to him that most of the noise was coming from the piped choir against the paucity of the warblers among the pews. Nevertheless he searched the words for meaning
Who so beset him round
with dismal stories
do but themselves confound
his strength the more is.
No foes shall stay his might;
though he with giants fight,
he will make good his right
to be a pilgrim
but by the time he’d fathomed anything it was time to sit down again.
He’d intended to remain in the church for the entire service, but after stretching his legs for the hymn he realised it was beginning to drag, the murmuring voices at the front punctuated by several rounds of coughing, and Keith was wondering if he’d just give up the ghost on this one and make a quiet and dignified exit. But suddenly there was a moment he saw his chance, when the forty of them were invited to something called Greeting, and given the dearth of their numbers they were asked to greet as many of their fellows as possible. Though never a tactile person – that wasn’t the language of his upbringing – he found himself hugging those around him and beyond, and whispering words in the ear of the person he came to see: “At school you called me Gypsy,” he said, “Ask Derek if he’s travelled.”
Two hours later, Keith was parked in Oak Bank Close with his binoculars, viewing Derek’s neatly topiarised house a hundred yards away, and watching the man leave the premises and slam into his car, looking grim and fresh from a row with his wife…
Arriving back at No23, where he knew the beef would soon be ready to baste, Keith was once again doorstepped by Mrs Hales.
“I’m very worried about her now,” she said, and he knew this wasn’t going away.
“I told you, she’s fine. Come in and see for yourself.”
Afterwards, Keith peeled the vegetables as planned, put them to boil, then took the final dart and pinned a third piece of jewellery into treble 20 before sitting in his bloody cold living room to reconcile.
All his life he’d been told he was useless, he’d never amount to anything, never be anyone. They said he smelled, that he was disruptive, destructive even. But for Keith, as he gazed icily at the blood-splattered room and the sleeping woman who lived alone and wouldn’t be missed, this was not destruction at all. His work had been painstakingly and impeccably methodical, constructed and executed. And now it was finished, or nearly, he’d be someone. He’d be talked about and read about, reviled and celebrated, he’d be named, and shamed no doubt, but named. Thinking back to the church service and the hymn he’d mimed, he tried once again to relate to the words therein, and supposed it was true – all his life he’d fought with giants and perhaps now his fight was over he’d be making good his right and heading to a special place. Because after the roast dinner he had one last trick to perform. He would go to Knutton Wood, take his binoculars deep into its dark canopy, and fashion a noose with the strap.