L Bear’s last piece for The Toast was “His Career Will Be Absolutely Fine: On Telling People About Being Molested” and if you didn’t read it then, you should read it now.
He told her casually, whilst he was washing his hands after dinner, that they could not afford for her to fly back home for a visit. She vomited when he said it, but he said nothing. After the first bout of morning sickness, her vomiting, which ran beyond dinnertime, had gone without note.
He used to go to the pub every night after work on a Friday. When he returned, with the smell of mouthwash on his beard, she would ask him where he had been and what he had drunk and how much he had drunk. He always drunk the same thing, at the same place, in roundabouts the same amount, but she asked him anyway. He told her almost boastfully. She realized he was not boasting for her benefit. He was pleased with himself that although married now, and to a pregnant lady, he could still enjoy a few drinks with colleagues after a hard week’s work.
She would ring the pub the next morning whilst he slept and ask how much the drink he had drunk had cost. The price was always around the same but she wanted to be sure in case of an increase or any special offers. She would write it down and the running total went on the right hand side.
Twice weekly she went to the only travel agents in the town and found out how much a return flight was. She kept a record of these return flights in the back of the notebook. It was a red accounting book that somebody had given her as a pre wedding present. Her actual wedding was a sad spectacle in the cold country, with three witnesses and bad food.
The day the amount of money he had spent at the pub and the amount of money it would take to procure a return flight were the same – exactly the same, down to the penny, which was an accuracy she could not have anticipated or even have hoped for – passed unnoticed. She was civil to the man – friendly even. In fact, when they were getting ready for bed, she suggested, after he made his usual enquiries, that she might not find the idea of sexual intercourse too tiresome.
After he excitedly stuck his pink and white penis into her dry as summer soil vagina, he looked concerned, and asked her discreetly if she would like to try some sort of a lubricant. She threw her head back and laughed. She had not laughed so hard since the first time she had seen him naked, and she had managed to disguise that as virginity. When she finally stopped laughing enough to speak, she said that a British Airways flight home would be a satisfactory kind of a lubricant.
He didn’t understand but he stopped when she said he was making the baby kick. He put the laughing down to a cultural difference. He was proud of himself for being so tolerant. She looked at him smiling in his sleep like a breastfed toddler and she imagined the same smiling face inside a coffin. She did not sleep all night, and not just because of the raw, rasping feeling he had left inside her genitals. In the morning she told him that she thought sexual congress was bad for the baby. He grunted.
She wondered how she had arrived at this place. She was wise. Not for her age, despite it. She knew things. Although she could not drive she had once borrowed a vehicle to run over a man’s feet because her next door neighbour claimed he smelt like a wife beater. She had rescued a baboon’s baby from drowning in a rock pool. She could smell thunder. She knew what moonlight meant. She could hot wire a train. How had she come to live in this cold country with a man who smelled of egg? He was not wise. Last week he had asked her if one could put cheese into a salad. He was unwise, and not in the charming ways that babies are sometimes unwise (not her own baby, of course. Her own baby would be a genius as soon as it fell out of the vagina, as she had been at that age), he was unwise in the way that would one day cause someone to murder him, and when it was all done and finished with, people would say, “Well, I can’t say that he didn’t have that coming to him.”
She left him little ways for him to expire early, all around the house. She once switched his cow milk with bleach and put it in the fridge. He sniffed it in the morning and said, “I’ve always wondered what gone off milk smelt like,” and poured it down the sink. She called him one morning when she was ironing one of his shirts for work. “Take over,” she told him, “I’m having Braxton Hicks contractions.” He had always made jokes about his domestic inadequacy, so she was almost certain that when she emerged from the bedroom he would have burnt himself to death. Instead he had left the iron to burn a hole in the ironing board whilst he ate cereal in the kitchen with his shirt on but unbuttoned. The sight of the slither of peach skin that ran from his chin to the top of his trousers made her vomit in the kitchen sink, but he paid this no attention whatsoever.
As soon as the baby had been born he whisked it away to show his best friend. His best friend laughed like a stalling truck. He had said the baby was small, and her husband reported this back to her. She said that the baby took after her father, and upon him protesting that he was a normal height for his age, she said, “No, its real father,” under her breath. The white lady in the bed next to hers snorted and after her husband left they laughed and laughed and then the white lady became worried that she had burst one of her stitches. The nurse had to come and check her over.
When she got home it was obvious that he did not intend to ‘babysit’ as his best friend called care of one’s own child. In fact, he was rather dismayed when he came home from work the first day to find that dinner had not been prepared for him and he said something quietly about standards slipping. She immediately got up and made him a soup. She stirred some of the baby’s urine into it, but he did not even notice, and he seemed to suffer no ill effects. She later overheard in the health food shop, which was the only place in the whole town that sold black pepper, that some people drank their own urine regularly for health reasons. After that, she stopped putting urine into his food and drinks.
The baby tended to cry all night and sleep all day, which worked out just fine for her. When the baby stopped crying at night, but she still cried at night, nobody could tell the difference, even though the baby had a spoilt little whimper and she howled her tears out like a wolf who had been kept away from the moon.
The midwife said it was safe for her to have sex again and she laughed so hard she started choking on the dry biscuit she had been eating and the midwife had to do a German maneuver to get the biscuit out. She then had to go to hospital to have her ribs x-rayed. The baby came with her in the midwife’s car. Her ribs were fine but there was a key that they found, which she had swallowed the week before. It was a key to a box that she had put some poison in. The poison was for her husband and the box lay underneath the bed. Killing him was a big decision, and not one she ought to take lightly. She decided that if she ever really wanted to do it, she would have to cough up the key.
“Get it out,” she told the x-ray man. He sent her to a surgeon who looked at the x-ray and consulted his colleague. His colleague laughed out loud. She looked at him sharply, and he explained that he was not laughing at her, “It’s just an incredible coincidence,” he said. “I’ve got a patient just next door with the same problem.”
Her name was Sally and she had swallowed her car keys. Her and Sally became friends for four wonderful weeks until her new friend laughed because she did not know what a cat flap was. She had been nursing the baby at the time but she got up anyway, the baby clinging unsupported to her breast, showing Sally the door. When Sally called her to apologise, she said to Sally, “The lady you have been friends with has been eaten by a witch,” and put down the phone.
That would teach her.
She found the key in her stools the next morning. She fished them out with a barbecue skewer and ran them through the washing machine with the baby’s nappies before using them to open the box. The poison was sitting there, gleaming back at her. She locked it back up and put the box back underneath the bed.
When the girls were getting older, around the age that she herself left school and started working, although obviously far too early for them to dream of leaving school, she started playing a little game when they got home from school. If one of them, or her husband, asked her what was for dinner, she would not eat. She would serve herself out a full plate of food but she would eat none of it. That food would usually end up getting put into the fridge or the freezer as leftovers because food waste was something that reminded him of starving children, and remembering that children starved made him feel sad.
If they asked what time dinner was going to be ready, she would not eat. She would serve herself a half plate of food and eat none of it.
If anybody ever criticized her cooking – complained that they did not like the taste of it, or that she had served them out too much, or that they hated that vegetable, or this cut of meat, she would not serve herself out a plate, and would instead sit with a glass of water at the table. She told herself that if anybody made enquiries, she would tell them that she was not at all hungry, but nobody made any enquiries. They ate whether or not she ate. Of course if she died, it would be different, there would be nobody to prepare their food, and perhaps they wouldn’t eat, or perhaps they would eat out at restaurants or cafes or eat ready meals from a supermarket that could be heated in the microwave.
After she had been playing her little game for a while, she did not have to be rushed to hospital as she had imagined, but she did faint with a sort of flair that made her feel satisfied. The first time it happened, it was in front of her husband.
“Are you alright?” he asked, looking at her without taking the cheese sandwich he had just prepared out of his mouth.
“I’ve fainted,” she told him.
“You probably got a bit dizzy,” he told her. He put the sandwich down on the counter top, and offered her his hand. She took it, although she found the feel of his sleeve coloured skin quite disgusting.
The second time it happened it was in front of the younger of the girls and her husband. The girl sounded scared and asked, “What’s wrong with Mum?” but he ruined it by saying, “Your mum’s just having one of her dizzy spells.”
From then on it was accepted that she was the kind of person to get dizzy and faint. Nobody suggested that she visit a doctor or even pop into the local chemist to chat to a pharmacist about her symptoms. When the older girl got hay fever, he took her to the doctor and he got her the antihistamine tablets from the chemist. She knew that if she made enquiries about the discrepancy in his behaviour, he would say that she was a grown woman and that she did not need him to accompany her to the doctors. He would even say that she was a strong and independent woman, that this was why he had been attracted to her in the first place. When they were first together, this kind of talk used to make her somewhat irritated. Now when he said that kind of thing she wanted to punch him in his face until his eye blood dripped soaked into the fabric of her shoes.
He was always playful with them, a hands on kind of father, admired by his colleagues and their friends for being so actively involved. When the little girl began to complain that he was too actively involved, she snorted. These children were never grateful for anything, and she meant that quite sincerely. There was not a single thing they were grateful for.
One day the younger girl found the poison under her bed when she was looking for her school shoes. “What’s this?” she asked her mother.
“None of your business,” she said. The girl was about to leave, so she said, “Actually, it’s poison.”
“Why would you think it was rat poison?”
“I don’t know. That’s the only kind of poison I know about.”
“It’s father poison,” she said.
“What does that mean?”
“It’s poison, to poison your father with.”
“I plan to poison him one day.”
“Well, go you!”
She poisoned him that afternoon. She made a blended fruit drink and put a lump of the poison in with it. Then on an impulse she poured it down the sink and poisoned him with undercooked chicken instead. He had a bad tummy and had to go and lie down. The next day he called in sick to work on her day off and she was forced to bring him light beverages and pieces of her apple cake. By the end of the day she was ready to kill him again so she mixed up the poison in his tea, but she caught a whiff of it as she was stirring it, and realized that even though he was very unwise, he would never drink something that smelled so awful.
She threw the rest of the poison down the toilet and flushed it and thought about better ways of killing him. If she was really honest with herself, she had imagined that somebody else would have killed him by now. He was such a source of irritation. Always talking to people at the check out of supermarkets. Why had nobody killed him yet? She remembered that if one wanted a job done properly, one had to do it oneself.
When she came home from work, the youngest girl and the oldest girl were home already from school. He had not yet returned.
“If you were going to kill your father, how would you do it?” she asked.
“Feed him to the pigs,” said the youngest girl without any hesitation whatsoever. “A girl in my class’s mother did that to her dad, and they only found her out because the pig didn’t eat the feet. Pigs don’t like the smell of leather. But if I was going to kill him, I would get him to wear plastic shoes for like, I don’t know, six months or so. Then I would hit him over the head with my radio, and chop his body into little pieces and then feed the little pieces to the pigs.”
“Where would you get pigs?” the oldest girl asked.
“The City Farm.” They had moved to the city after the youngest girl was born. It was too late.
“That’s stupid. You could never bring a cut up body to the City Farm.”
“Well, they’d say, ‘What’s in the bag?’ And knowing you, you’d say, ‘Oh, that’s my dad,’ or something equally stupid.”
“Fine. What would you do?”
She paused. Then she said, “I would just make it look like a fatal household accident. Get him to lift something heavy down the stairs, and put a banana skin there or something. He’ll fall down the stairs and the heavy thing will fall on top of him and the impact should kill him.”
She tried to make it look like a fatal household accident. She bought a hive of wild bees home and put the nest in a disused cupboard she had been asking him to remove for forever. When she heard his disgusting key in the lock, she began to scream. He ambled up the stairs.
“What is it?” he said in an indulgent voice, as if he came home every afternoon to the sound of a woman shrieking.
She pointed to the cupboard with a shaky finger. He opened it and closed it as soon as he saw the bees. “Calm down love,” he said, completely forgetting that she was not scared of bees. He had once seen her take the queen out of a hive of bees after setting her fingers on fire, but he was too enthused to recall. “Out of my way,” he said, setting the cupboard on his shoulders.
“Be careful, it’s heavy!” she whimpered, and then was worried she had overdone it.
“Stop fussing,” he said, “I’m fine.”
It was not heavy at all. She had herself lifted it once to hide a piece of ham that she found in the street. She was interested to notice that the ham was no longer there, although there was a stain on their wool carpet and a faint smell of shit.
He took the cupboard down the stairs.
“Be careful!” she sang, just as he slipped on the banana peel. She closed her eyes, hoping for the best, as he slid down the stairs with a thud.
He left hospital with a single bee sting. “Everything is superficial and will heal up in no time,” the doctor said to her soothingly. “Honestly, don’t worry.” She was crying. “Really, he will be fine.”
“I’m fine love,” he said from his hospital bed. She dried her eyes on a sterile bandage and waited for their taxi home.
He had the influenza soon after. It was a mild cold, but he called it ‘the flu’. He asked for some of her pear tart that she had made earlier that weekend. She bought it up along with some cut up green potatoes arranged to look like apples. He ate them without notice. He complained of stomach cramps later in the evening but he was still fine.
She began to give him strong liquorice tea but his doctor noticed the rise in his blood pressure before he had the chance to get heart problems and he started taking blood pressure tablets.
She ran his bath far too hot but all that happened was that he looked pink for approximately one week. His appearance was that of any white man who had fallen asleep in the sun.
She borrowed a boa constrictor from the zookeeper who desired her, but unfortunately her husband loved snakes, and had great fun handling it. This was not something she could have foreseen, she told herself, but she was angry with herself nonetheless.
She put smashed glass into a roast dinner but he noticed the glass underneath his fork before it had a chance to kill him. “I have to fix that dishwasher,” he said, and proceeded to not fix the dishwasher.
She read in a women’s magazine about having sexy fun with silk scarves and she attempted to strangle him the next time he attempted coitus, but once he was naked, she was laughing too hard to hold the scarf straight. One of the children ran into the bedroom to ask what the noise was, and this put an end to much murder for the rest of the evening.
She put caustic soda with bleach and bicarbonate of soda and lemon juice down the toilet, which she supposed was a fatal combination, and then asked him to unblock it. “Yes love,” he said. Unfortunately he never got around to unblocking it and all the dangerous mix of chemicals did was wear away the enamel, making the toilet harder to clean.
She heard that antifreeze did not taste poisonous at all – in fact, it had a wonderful sweet taste. She could not bring herself to purchase any. She wondered what had happened to her. Perhaps she was going soft.
A woman at work suffered an embolism after having acupuncture treatment from a man who had never trained in acupuncture. She gave the acupuncturist’s business card to her husband. Her husband returned and she hoped his healthy outward appearance was the death glow that some people experienced some hours before their demise. It was not.
“That acupuncturist is fantastic,” he said. “I’ve never felt better.”
He peeled of his shirt and demonstrated this fact by performing lunges in the kitchen. The children came home from school. “Whatever Dad’s doing is disgusting,” said the older one, with a biscuit in her hand.
“I don’t like that tone,” he said, and smacked her.
She screamed and ran upstairs. “You’re completely inappropriate!” she screamed.
The younger one said, “You’re gross,” and ran upstairs also.
“If you don’t want a spanking, you shouldn’t be so rude,” he shouted up to her.
The older one came running back down the stairs with a tear-coated face. “No amount of rudeness,” she said, “would compel an appropriate father to touch his teenage daughter’s buttocks unless he was saving her from a scorpion.” She ran back up the stairs and loudly relayed their conversation to the younger one who proclaimed that he was completely disgusting.
“These girls,” he said, laughing with incredulity, “are so hypersensitive.”
She was inclined to agree. One of them told her the other morning that she was not respecting her privacy when she walked into their room without performing the knock that both girls requested frequently.
“How important is privacy to you?” she asked. It was the youngest one.
“Very important,” she said.
“One of the most important things?”
“Right. Then give me your new coat.”
“I will knock on your door before I enter in exchange for your new winter coat.”
She could tell that the girl was considering it closely. She was not like the older one, she was stubborn and proud. Once he had kept her home from school for two days because she refused to apologise to him about something. She had not spoken for the whole time she was there. Then he said that she could not go on her residential trip at the end of the year unless she apologized. She apologized later that day, and she regretted it. She cried herself to sleep.
“Well?” she said. “Should I take this coat back to the shop or not?”
“Not,” said the girl.
She left the girl’s room. Later, after the girl had been told to go to bed, she knocked on her door and whispered that she would rather have the privacy than the coat, and tried to hand the coat to her, in its original bag, with the receipt inside.
“It’s too late,” she said.
The girl left and cried loudly into her pillow.
After five or six hours of this nonsense, she went and shouted at her for keeping the neighbours up and for having no respect for her father who had to work the next day.
“Respect has to be earned,” the girl said.
She laughed. “Respect is fear. Are you scared of him?”
“Then you respect him.”
“If I respect him, why do I not care about keeping him up at night?”
“You obviously do care because you have stopped your crying.”
She could see the girl willing her tears, the tears that had made deep valleys of salt down her face and right into her pajamas so easily in the hours before, to come back, but they would not come back.
“Thank you for respecting your father,” she said, and went to bed.
The girl was not in her bed the next day. Her father got quite excited, saying things about kidnap, and what if she had been murdered by drug lords, but she knew the girl had left out of dramatic spite. She sifted through the girl’s bedroom. Her things had been arranged artfully to look like she had left in a hurry, and there was an upturned notebook which contained a tally chart of how many times her father had smacked her in the last months. The girl had made sure to use a different pen for some of the markings, but she could see at once that it had been knocked up in a single half hour. The pen pressure was identical throughout, and the notebook looked very fresh, with none of the pages torn or folded. She knew that the girl had constructed this notebook out of spite because she had watched crime dramas in which teenage girls went missing and the police looked through items such as personal notebooks to help them with their enquiries.
She refused to make a fuss, and told her husband to not call the police. Her husband hated to look less laid back than her, so he also did not contact the police.
The girl came back in the evening because she was hungry. She laughed at the girl. “How adorable,” she smirked. She put some food on a plate and watched the girl eat it. She could see that it cost the girl some humiliation, and also caused considerable earthly pleasure. She watched the girl’s face contorted into ambivalence, and amused herself by thinking about where she would be now if she had been born into a household of considerable opportunity and luxury like this girl had been. She might not be Prime Minister yet, but she would certainly have sowed the seeds, and she also would have written an accomplished novel. This girl did barely anything except for call her friends, a group of white girls with names like Claire, and take frivolously long baths.
He was furious, of course, because the girl had missed a day of school, and he deliberately wrote on her absence note that she had stupidly run away. She knew that of course the girl would not give in the absence note, and would forge a more suitable one of her own, which was good, because although he was a teacher and should be acquainted with such matters, he did not realize that such a note might cause alarm, even in an entitled, well fed child like her youngest daughter.
After this incident, the girl’s manner towards her father changed. She would openly praise his singing and his guitar playing, whilst laughing to her girlfriends on the telephone before his arrival home from work about the fact that he owned a motorcycle. The girl found that the more she flattered, the more generous he became. This did not set up the rift she had anticipated between the two girls. The youngest one would simply share the winnings with the oldest one, which got her wondering what it was all about. Last week the girl feigned interest in his compost heap and he was so overcome that he gave her a twenty pound note which she split with her sister. They bought teenage girl’s magazines with some of the money. He found the magazines and burned them in the back garden. He had read through them and found that they contained sexually inappropriate content.
“Pot calling the kettle a kitchen implement,” the oldest one said, but she would not produce an explanation when asked what this meant.
The youngest one started calling him Daddy again, which filled her with rage. “It’s not right for her to call you that,” she confided in her husband. She was sorry that she did, because he immediately assumed that she was jealous, and he patted her pityingly whilst at the same time remaining unable to compress the smile on his face.
She decided to call the girl’s bluff. Her husband suggested a walking holiday to France. “Why don’t you go with your dad?” she said.
The girl’s eyes widened in alarm. “On my own?” the girl said.
She laughed. “Not on your own! With your father.”
“What, just the two of us?”
“Oh no, it wouldn’t be fair on you guys.”
“I don’t want to go,” said her oldest before going upstairs to her room to sit on her bed and call her girlfriends on the wireless house phone.
“I can’t go,” she told her youngest daughter. “My knee isn’t up to all that walking. Why don’t you and your dad go? You two are so close after all.”
The youngest girl looked up, suddenly suspicious at her aspartame voice. “Yes, we are,” said the girl, in a fake sugary voice of her own. “Sounds great. Big shame for you though.”
“Yes, big shame,” she agreed.
“Excellent idea,” he said.
He counted down the days to the holiday with great delight. They would be away for a fortnight. He told her to start packing early.
“I want a tent just like yours Daddy,” she said, sounding like a toddler. Their departure date was approaching and there had been no talk of them having two tents.
It was obviously the right approach. He beamed. “We’ll get you one. Dome tents are very easy to put up, and surprisingly sturdy.”
“Why bother?” she had asked. “Your tent is big enough for both of you. And the two of you are so close.”
“Oh, I just thought it would be fun to be able to put my own tent up.” She looked crestfallen. “Never mind.” She went to her room.
Later she heard him knock on her door. “I’ve persuaded Mum to let you have a tent of your own,” he said.
“You’re the best Daddy,” the girl said, and jumped up from her bed to hug him. She vomited into her garden where she was watching them silhouetted through the girl’s bedroom window. The girl really was quite hideous. It was funny that the two girls had come out of her vagina, because they were both pretty disgusting, although the older one in a far less calculated way.
The youngest girl’s tent returned from the holiday unopened.
“We didn’t have time to put it up,” he said. “We always arrived at campsites so late.”
They had walked up a group of mountains for the whole time and then spent their last day in Paris, shopping. The girl had bought a shapeless beige jumper. Her eyes were crackled from obvious crying. “She was very homesick,” he confided to her before he went to bed.
The girl was still up. She went downstairs to tell her not to be and the girl clutched at her sleeve and said that her father touched her inappropriately during their walking holiday.
She laughed. “You can’t have your cake and eat someone else’s too,” she told her. The next day when a huge and precariously placed wooden barrel was about to slide off the top of one of the cupboards onto her husband’s head, she pulled him out of the way just in time. She was proud of how far she had come. A year or so before, she did not go three minutes without picturing his head underneath the wheel of a bus or imagining how people would pat her hand at his funeral. Now she was saving his life. Marriage took work. She understood that now.
“Who put this barrel up there?” he said. Nobody knew.