Darius Rucker singing a Roy Orbison classic? Sounds like a bad idea, doesn’t it? I know I shouldn’t doubt the talents of Mr Rucker, but who can do Orbison? He takes a bit of topping singing his own stuff, don’t you think? Darius is taking a lot on here, I can tell you. Darius Rucker? You don’t know him? Oh, sorry, I suppose he is a bit of an unknown to the average muzak fan. He’s the singer with a band from South Carolina who go by the fabulous name of Hootie and the Blowfish. Never heard of ‘em, eh? Didn’t think you would have. As I say, they ain’t what you would call British mainstream.
Hey, no worries, your loss.
So, anyway, there I was, sitting on a low rocker on the patio, cold beer in one hand, Hootie c.d. in the other, musing over the Rucker versus Orbison dilemma. The time was approaching 9 pm and the hot summer had never felt better. I was alone, which was good because I’m cool with my own company. I reckoned that in a couple of hours I might need a sweater, or next door’s patio heater.
Either way, hardship it ain’t.
I read the track list on the reverse of the c.d. sleeve. It was an album of cover versions, and the Orbison tune Dream Baby was track 11, not far from the end. I reached down to the right of my chair to recover my freshly sharpened kitchen knife. I sliced through the cellophane covering the jewel case, removed the disc and popped it into my portable c.d. player. I pressed Play and lounged back, simultaneously dropping an empty can and the knife down onto the red brick paviours. I fished a fresh beer from my cool box, and cracked it open, its froth cascading from the tin onto my naked torso. I took a sip, its cold sharpness welcome in the evening sun. Heaven was my back garden, bathed in sunshine and summer sweetness. My only concern was whether the Southern sour mash drawl of Darius Rucker could pull off a cover version of the Roy Orbison classic.
Then the fly fell into my ointment. Well, actually, there was no fly, or ointment. But there was water, a drip-drip that I ignored at first as if it wasn’t really there. I turned the c.d. player volume up loud. Max. The Hooties in fine form. And yet the dripping water still managed to cut through the country rock filtering through the evening heat. Better check it out and then I can get back to relaxing. I reached down once more and picked up the knife. Well, you can’t be too careful can you?
The back door was open, no need to close it on such a balmy night; but the drip was louder, harder on the ear as I walked through into the kitchen. Here I witnessed the cause of my irritation; a small puddle in the middle of the laminate floor, and if I’d owned a puppy I’d have blamed him. Then I glanced up at the small swelling that was beginning to bow my kitchen ceiling, staining the white emulsion a curious red-rust colour. The bathroom, directly above the kitchen, would be a mess, sure to need a complete re-furb. I nipped upstairs to check the damage, determined that this irritation wouldn’t ultimately spoil my evening in the sun.
The bathroom door was shut, but I could hear the water slopping and slapping onto the tiled floor. I opened the door, conscious of the knife in my hand, and my eyes confirmed what my ears had already told me. The man lying in my bath stopped thrashing around as I entered the room. He looked frightened of me; he had good right to be.
I won’t bother you with his name; I had promised myself years ago that I would never again allow his name to cross my lips, although it was etched in my mind. I had vowed one day to mete out to him what I considered to be appropriate justice. Today was that day.
The ice cold water spilling onto the floor pleasantly cooled my hot, sweaty feet. If you were thinking I should be annoyed at the mess, well you couldn’t be more wrong. The wet floor was merely a consequence of the plan that I had put in place a long time ago. Oh, if you’re wondering why my guest hadn’t just got up and out of that freezing bath, well that was because I had attached his ankles to his wrists with a series of electrical cable ties. Those ties were pulled as tight as I could manage, the plastic bands digging into his joints, causing pain at every movement. And why didn’t he cry for help? He didn’t cry for help because I had cut out his tongue.
Now he looked at me with an expression that seemed to me to be a mixture of bewilderment and fear. His soppy, sad puppy dog eyes implored mercy and forgiveness. The bruising and swelling from the beating I had given him had softened the geography of his face, the traumas tempered by the soothing water, the same water where his life would end. Naked and without dignity, exactly as I’d planned it, exactly how he had left her all those years ago. Now it was his turn to die, and it was important that he realised that this was his day. That was the reason I had cut this tongue out. I wanted him to suffer the same wanton, gratuitous violence that he had doled out in his heyday. I could have simply gagged him to keep him quiet, but that might have raised his hopes of release. No such luck, not today my friend.
Now, I had no idea what his specific cause of death might be. Hypothermia was a possibility, given he was lying in freezing cold water. He could bleed to death, I suppose, or maybe even drown. Hey, if none of these did the trick, well there was always starvation. What I did know was that his life would end where he now lay, cold, wet and alone; certain death.
I hoped he felt fear and pain, I hoped he felt the abject terror that was once his trademark. I regarded his cold, white, waxy shrivelled body once more, blood spilling from his mouth, colouring the water a thin pink and making him look like shark bait. Then I shut the door.
I left him to his cold, dark solitary demise.
I felt good.
The puddle on the kitchen floor was growing, and I knew the dripping sound would be an irritant when I returned to the garden. I retrieved a dirty bath towel from the washing machine and placed it folded on the spot directly under the leak. The sound of the drip was now muffled, not perfect but not bad, not bad at all.
A moment later and I was back on the patio, sitting in my old, low rocker, a fresh beer scooped from the now melted ice in the cool box. The evening was losing its light if not its heat. I opened the can and took a long swig, closing my eyes as I listened to the sweet sounds coming from the beat box. Soon I was listening to the deep, soulful voice of Darius Rucker doing justice to the memory of Roy Orbison. It turned out to be a fantastic version of a great song. It seemed a shame to me that Hootie and the Blowfish hadn’t had greater success in this country, but hey, as I said earlier, your loss.
When the album ended, I simply put it on again. By now I had collected a good few empties which I lazily let gather around my feet. The sun had set and the beers had made me mellow. If I’d had anyone to talk to I would probably be slurring my words to them. From a neighbour’s garden that quintessential summer smell of lighter fuel and cremated sausages drifted from the barbeque and an over-indulgence in alcohol turned up their guest’s volume. For myself, well, I realised that for the first time in almost twenty years I was getting drunk without getting angry as well. She had been laid to rest many years ago, but my grieving processes had remained incomplete, open like a raw wound, until now; closure at last.
I sat in the gathering gloom, a can in my hand and a smile on my face. The automatic security light suddenly reacted to the darkness, clicking into life, bathing the garden in artificial light, highlighting the colourful patio planters and my pile of empties. A sparkle of illuminated mosquitoes buzzed round the luminescence and an uninterested hedgehog lumbered towards the conifer hedge; a world in order. I raised my can in a silent toast, a single tear spilling down my sun-parched cheek; the perfect end to a perfect day.
Sweet dreams baby.
Bio: Carl Carswell is a 51 year old unpublished writer and factory worker from Carlisle in Cumbria. Having dipped in and out of different writing genres over the past five years, purely for his own entertainment, he has now completed his first novel and is currently working on a follow-up, also in the horror fiction genre. He lives with his wife Claire, daughter Hannah and Zak, the best looking staffy/West Highland cross mongrel you've ever seen.