Part 3 of 3.
Rising still clothed from the settee he’d made his bed, Keith Junior 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, 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 it would be time to peel the vegetables.
Keith Senior was of the age where men had two suits, one for work and one for best. The best one, the one he wore the day they found him, was brown. When it was returned to them, his father’s glasses were neatly folded in the top pocket. His mother wanted to bag it up but Keith squirrelled it away in his wardrobe.
“You look smart today,” said Mrs Hales, “What’s the occasion?”
“Church,” he said and she laughed, disbelieving.
“How is she this morning?”
“She’s fine,” said Keith.
“Am I to fetch some dinner for her later?”
“That won’t be necessary thanks.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m doing a roast,” he said.
“Terrible business down at the Wharf,” she said, “They’re saying it’s murder.”
Keith never had truck with religion. One Sunday when they were birding in the woods his father 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 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 Bartholomew’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 being altered and trying to make out it gave us all more or less one 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 more or less with God. Scanning the room and its forty or so throng, he eventually picked out Philipa Ireson, sat 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 for the entire service but it was beginning to drag, the murmuring voices at the front punctuated by several rounds of coughing, the collar of his shirt beginning to itch his neck, 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 your husband if he’s travelled.”
Two hours later, Keith was parked in Oak Bank Close with his binoculars, viewing Derek Ireson’s neatly topiarised house a hundred yards away, waiting and watching the man leave the premises and slam into his car, grim and fresh from a row with Philipa…
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.
“She’s still not answering.”
“I told you she’s fine. Come in and see for yourself.”
Afterwards, Keith peeled the veg 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. He was a magpie, he liked shiny things and the shiny things looked nice, pinned as they were to the cork. They said he smelled, that he was disruptive, destructive, like the day he fetched in his egg collection, they said it was cruel to take a bird’s egg and blow it because that would’ve been another bird had it been left alone and nature given a chance. But for Keith, as he gazed icily at 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 would shine too. He’d be talked about and read about, reviled and celebrated, he’d be named and shamed 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 – 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 leave this woman where she bled, he would go to Knutton Wood, take his binoculars deep into its dark canopy, and fashion a noose with the strap.
The three parts will be combined, edited and published as a complete short story soon…