, , , , , , , ,

by Graham Wynd

It was a ritual, she realised. All the little things you do to start the day, all the little steps you take that make everything normal. People liked to think that normal was just the way things were, but Julia knew that normal was made in a thousand little ways every day.

The way you counted the days until your next paycheck. The way you counted the coins in your pocket for the bus fare. The way you kept your eye on the clock so you could have everything ready when he got home. The way you moved quieter when he was hungover. The way you applied makeup to cover the bruises. The way you looked at your friends’ happy pictures and wondered if they hid as many secrets as yours did.

The face we show the world is always covered with concealer, shadows applied to shadows. Julia remembered her mother and her aunts, the way they’d talk in the kitchen when the men were out. Was it always this way? She thought herself so modern. But it doesn’t happen like in the movies: big fights and fists thrown.

It’s the repetition that does it.

Dave wore her down like a bar of soap, carping at every attempt to make their lot better. Called it putting on airs, told her she was getting ideas above herself. “Milady Julia,” he would mock her. She stepped out of the shower onto the little oval rug. Reached for the towel — habit, ritual, repetition — and forgot that she’d already used it that morning. Stepped out into the bedroom to grab one from the basket of clean laundry, willing her eyes away from his shape under the covers.

Quiet, that was a habit too. Everything down to a science, not to disturb or vex him because that made life easier for her. In silence she showered, dressed, brushed her teeth, made up and then made breakfast. On most days she managed to do it without waking him. Julia suppressed the desire to break into some wild bawdy song.

It would be wrong.

What for breakfast today? Could she even think of food? Her stomach had been knotted so tightly for so long, she didn’t trust its sudden return of appetite. The thought of eggs made it rumble but there was no time before work. Maybe a sausage roll on the way. Yes, that sounded good.

A reward for good behaviour, she considered it.

Stick to the ritual, the good repetition, the safe repetition. Julia glanced at the lump on his side of the bed, fearing movement. Call his boss, make his excuses again. Say he never came home, out on the lash. Yeah, that would do. Repetition helped again.

She could get rid of the body tomorrow. A little searching online would give her options. In the end repetition helped her there, too. Once she started stabbing his farting drunken body, her hand just kept up the motion like a ringing bell.

A writer of bleakly noirish tales with a bit of grim humour, Graham Wynd can be found in Dundee but would prefer you didn’t come looking. An English professor by day, Wynd grinds out darkly noir prose between trips to the local pub. Publications include Satan’s Sorority from Number Thirteen Press and Extricate from Fox Spirit Books, as well as tales in the 2016 Anthony Award–winning anthology Murder Under the Oaks and the Anthony Award–nominated Protectors 2: Heroes. Wynd’s stories have been translated into German, Italian, Polish and Slovene. See a full list of stories (including free reads) here.