Friday, 15 May 2009



Henry's pension was meagre. But wasn't that what all pensioners say?

"There's never enough to make ends meet!"

A whinge and a moan about the price of this or the cost of that. But yet Henry still had the funds out of his weekly pittance to give the spotty stretch of piss that worked for less than minimum wage at the local cinema a shifty twenty to let him in on a Sunday morning to watch a flick all by his lonesome. This little illicit treat meant he didn't eat at Marks and Spencer, no egg-custards to suck on or meals for one to gum his way through. He gave all that up to sit there dead centre staring at the screen. No bullet strewn action movie or exotic space adventure and no badly acted teen romance with shite music from some American garage band.

Henry watched the same film, black and white and heavily dated. 'Bletcher's Penance' was its title. Henry didn't snack whilst watching, didn't sup from a flask. He just watched the show as he had done for decades from back when the flea-pit had been called Talbot's Picture House. If there had ever been credits they had been worn away long ago and all that remained was the film itself from a time before the advent of 'Talkies'. He watched the leading lady with her wavy hair shifting about her head as she went about the chore of dragging clothes from drawers, freeing dresses from the wardrobe and grabbing jewellery from the dressing table. All these she stuffed into a black and white suitcase. She had fed the suitcase too much, so much so that it was too obese to close.

The camera zoomed in. The woman looked straight at the camera and if it was possible she paled a little. A hand reached into the scene and slapped her. A right humdinger that sent her sprawling across the bed. She struggled to claw away. The sheets and blankets were loose upon the mattress and moved beneath her like she was stuck on a treadmill.

That hand grabbed for her again. She rolled away from it and fell from the bed. She clambered back up and backed away. The camera kept up with her. Stalking her, dogging each step as she delivered the defining moment of her acting career. All the way to the corner she went. It was there that she cowered, there that she pleaded, her lips forming shapes and expressions, no sound aired. The hand came into view and struck her again. Her head snapped back.

The hand flew out. Again, again and again. The actress stayed down, slumped in the corner. The hand reached to the dresser and picked up a lamp and smashed it over her head. It didn't break like the ones in the films, it broke all crooked and awkward like it was made of sterner stuff than sugar glass.

The picture flickered and halted then faded. Henry Bletcher wiped away his tears and stood up. He would come back next week with another twenty pounds and be forced to watch that memory projected from either Hell or his guilt, they were probably both and the same place.

Each week he would watch it until death took him, it was his penance. And even at the end of it he was sure there would be no real forgiveness. A "sorry" would never bring his wife back or erase that moment of pure brutality.

Lee Hughes lives and works on the Isle of Man with his wife and two fish. He is currently putting the finishing touches to his first novel. His short fiction is to appear in the upcoming Cern Zoo: Nemonymous 9 by Megazanthus Press. Not to mention regular spots on TKnC and hopes to continues with that.