The Good Boy
I sat there eating my steamed fish like a good boy. No butter, a little Lo-Salt and some cracked black pepper. Then little green mound of vegetables sat on the side to finish it off. I even had a huge Spanish orange waiting on the table for desert instead of cake. By the time I’d squeezed the quarter lemon over the turbot’s back I had forgotten all about the head in the box on the chair next to mine.
Dear Sophie didn’t make for a great dinner guest. She wasn’t much of a talker for a start, just being a head in a box and all. Though her presence did make me feel at ease. I wasn’t very good when left alone you see. I do things when nobody is around to see what I’m really capable of. Especially in this huge empty house mother left me.
But I was a good boy with Sophie sitting there in that cardboard box, stained a little, deep patches of red on the corners. She knew all the tricks to make me behave. Like the healthy eating. If Sophie wasn’t there I’d have had it all, the fish sweating with fatty butter and stinging with sea salt.
The turbot’s eyes were staring at me. I needed to cut them out. I don’t like things looking at me when I eat them. Never have. You could ask Sophie that, she’d tell you. Well I guess she can’t anymore.
I was glad I’d chosen a proper silver fish knife from the cutlery. They have little points on the end, a sharp curve that lets you flick out the eyes. The flat fish that resembled a torn off human face made me feel nervous looking up at me like that. Like a judge or God or my dear dead mother. There was something different about this particular fish however. It wanted to keep hold of those hardened liquid pupils.
I gouged right in there, feeding the silver curve into the socket trying to gain purchase, twisting as it plunged. I had the knife on a thirty degree angle when I felt the eye resist. I knew then it was the right time, the perfect time. I’ve had experience with knives and eyes. I jerked the blade up.
Then the strangest thing happened. The eye sucked itself back into the socket throwing the knife from my hand. It was a tough fish alright and eating it was going to be as torturous as Santiago’s ordeal with his infamous marlin.
I ducked my head under the dining table, the pale blue lace tablecloth falling around my neck like the Madonna’s veil. I saw it there, gleaming and sharp sitting on the floorboard. It was tempting me. Knives always do that to me, it’s not my fault.
“Can’t even eat a fish without screwing it up.”
My head banged against the underneath of the oak table sending a kaleidoscope of stars spinning behind my eyes.
“Come on boy, come finish the job.”
I peered over the edge of the table, the lace like an ocean horizon in my vision, my orange a burning Mediterranean sun behind palm trees of steamed broccoli. I half expected the turbot to lift its head and talk to me like those novelty singing wall plaques. It didn’t. Much to my relief. Then the other question did raise a head, a very ugly head indeed. If it wasn’t my dinner that addressed me then who or what did?
“It was me idiot.”
Again startled though less so than the initial shock, like the second turn on a roller-coaster, I looked down at the blood stained box sitting next to me. It couldn’t be though, not my Sophie. I mean she was dead. I know she persuaded me to be good but she never spoke the words, just made me feel what I should do somehow.
“Such a good boy aren’t we.”
“Sophie, is that really you?”
“Who the fuck else is it going to be, Billy the Bass over there?”
I looked at the plate and pushed it away. Dare say I was over steamed fish forever now.
“Come on good boy open up it’s getting claustrophobic in here.”
So I did. I leant over and carefully pulled back the cardboard flaps. I never used tape; I find it too permanent. I prefer to tuck the flaps beneath each other. And there she was, my dear Sophie in her box. She smelt bad and beautiful all at once. Like the smell that made me want to fuck girls and kill them at the same time. This wasn’t a sweet smell though; this was the odour of decay.
“Yeah I’m so alive I’m fucking dancing in here.”
I did see a movement though. Something throbbing and bulging at the top of her head. I spread the hairs, snapping some that were too matted to move and looked inside. There was a wound, deep red and covered with a thick film of blood. It was pumping like the pulse of a heart. I sliced the tissue with the nail of my middle finger and pushed it in up to my second knuckle. I hoped to feel her beating. But as soon as the clot broke open a huge black bug flew out snapping its wings between my fingers. One after another they came. Possibly a dozen winged insects crawled and flew from the gash in the top of her head.
“You wanna stop playing around up there?”
“Sorry Sophie I didn’t think.”
“No you never do. You never did.”
“I’ve been a good boy Sophie, a very good boy indeed.”
“I know,” She said taming her voice. “I know you try hard to be good.”
“I didn’t have butter. Or salt, not real salt.”
“Okay I know you’re a champion. If I had hands I’d stick a great big gold star on your chest. Top of the class for you.”
I smiled not knowing if she was being factitious or gracious. I never could work her out.
“Do you need anything? I mean can you eat or drink maybe?”
“I’m dead. You killed me. How do you suppose I can eat or drink?”
Her voice was angry again and the smell from the soggy box made my head spin. I wanted to touch her, to slide my finger back inside that hole, to search for more insects in her brain with my brown nail. To scrape away her memories, dig them right out of there.
“I’m sorry. Yes you have been a good boy. You didn’t try to fuck my head once you cut it off. That’s something I guess.”
“Yes that is something.” I agreed not really connecting with her words.
“You didn’t mind using the torso though.”
I felt the red flush to my cheeks then. I didn’t know that she would be aware of that. I’m not sure how she could be. I stuttered searching for words before she interrupted.
“Don’t worry I didn’t feel anything. No matter where you stuck it.”
I ducked my head back under the table again, not to search for silver fish knives but to throw up. The taste of lemon turbot clung to my lips like a greasy sin. I dare not come out from that hiding place.
“Come on I forgive you. I know you can’t help yourself.”
She was right that sister of mine. I couldn’t stop myself from doing those things. I tried, oh how I tried but the smell, that sweet honey and earth. That sea salt, that lemon, that fish.
I threw up again.
“Look if it’s any comfort I died with peace.”
“How could you? I mean the things I did. The violence, the rage, the tearing of things.”
“I gave myself up long before you could do your worst. I learnt from watching the others not to struggle, to pour ice on the anger.”
“So why are you back now?”
“I’m not dear brother. You haven’t let me go.”
I scraped away the remains of my dinner into the compost bin in the kitchen. The lemon slices fell on her fingers, the fish eye stabbed by a nipple buried in a half full baked beans can. I decided to sort it out in the morning, I was too tired, exhausted from the whole damn mess of it. I drew a glass of water and drank until it was empty. I did this again two more times before taking another glass to my bed. I was confident I’d wake up wet in one way or another that night.
I set the alarm on my watch. The one Sophie had bought for my eighteenth birthday five years ago. That beautiful twin sister of mine. I switched off the lamp and watched the glowing green hands ticking for a while before turning over. My pillow was cool and refreshing. I looked across the bed into her eyes. They were dead, glazed over and white. Yet she looked straight at me, through me. The wound from the top of her head stained the Egyptian cotton pillow.
“So I guess you’ll let me go then?
“I guess so.” I said watching to see if there was any movement of skin or muscle as she spoke. “First thing in the morning. I promise”
“Well that’s good. For both of us I mean. You can’t live like this and I can’t stick around forever. Neighbours will start complaining about the smell.”
But her words only served to remind me. I took in a deep breath and filled my lungs with her. The decay, the lemon, the honey, the earth and the death. The death most of all. It swam through my veins riding on my blood cells, filling my body with the stuff.
“Yes the smell. “ I said. “It makes me want to fuck or kill. I never do know which to choose”
I lifted the head from the pillow astonished how heavy it suddenly felt. Yet all I could think of was that wound full of hard blood and insects.
“As you’re already dead I don’t have to make a choice, not this time.”
I lowered my dear dead sister under the fresh white cotton cover.
I let her go the next morning. She was compost for my allotment along with the rest of them. I sat in my shed after digging and turning. I drank a mug of hot tea to cool me down as the sweat dried on my skin.
All the time I was thinking about my dear Sophie and the smell. I suddenly felt very hungry, hungrier that I had in a long time.
“Steamed fish tonight,” I said standing. “No today I’ll have fried fish with plenty of butter and chips on the side instead of vegetables. And cake for desert, with thick whipped cream.”
I pulled on my coat and walked out across the allotment, only stopping to dig out some potatoes with my hands. The smell lifted with them. I saw an eye peeking through the soil so I pushed it in with the toe of my boot and walked off home to my empty house for dinner.
“And I’ll have lots and lots of salt.” I said taking in the air around me. “I’ll start being a good boy again tomorrow. I promise.”
Anthony has plenty of stories published online and in print anthologies. He's currently working on a urban horror novel and a themed anthology of short stories for Kindle due later this year. You can find out more by visiting his blog at http://anthonycowin.blogspot.com/ Or follow him on Twitter on @TonyCowin.