Tuesday, 1 September 2009

A LIVING by Gavin Bell

A Living

I sit on the edge of the bath, smoking and gazing at the straight razor resting on the sink, wondering what an antiquity like a straight razor is doing in an early twenty first century hotel room.
My dad, he used a straight razor. Every day of his life, always impeccably shaven come hell or high water. I remember the only time I saw him dishevelled – he lost his insurance job and had been out of the house for three days, drinking whiskey and wearing the same clothes. But still, from the neck up you’d swear the guy had just walked out of a Gillette ad. Right after that he got a better job and everything was fine again. My dad was a good guy. I favour the stubbly look, personally.
I take a last drag on the cigarette and toss the butt into the toilet, hearing a satisfying fizzle as it hits the water.
I was fourteen when I had my first cigarette. A Marlboro Light, given to me by a girl I was trying to impress at a party. I was expecting to cough like everyone says you’re meant to when you first try smoking, but it didn’t happen. I just got a weird feeling in my chest and a taste that was somehow like bad coffee. A few more tries and I got to like the bad coffee taste.
Things didn’t work out with the girl, but although I didn’t get laid, I did find a partner for life that night.
It’s funny how every little thing makes you think about your life at a time like this.
The first time I got laid.
That didn’t go by the cliché any more than the smoking did; received wisdom tells you it’s meant to be terrible… an experience you put behind you quickly and try to build on, but it wasn’t. I was sixteen, her name was Abigail. We had a bizarre date at a fairground in which everything that could go wrong did, starting with me losing my wallet, through to her accidentally spilling her Coke all over me. I walked her to the bus stop, but then we both realized that, bad as things had been going, neither of us wanted the night to end.
She led me by the hand up the grassy slope behind the fair and we kissed for a while. I still remember how intense everything felt; even the scent of burning hamburgers in the air and the distant, insistent beat of bad dance music seemed to enhance the experience, merely by being so detached from us. We both took our clothes off and made love on grass that was still slightly warm from the daytime.
I never saw her again. Your first time’s meant to be the worst, but not for me. I’ve been chasing that feeling all my life.
I check my watch: 11:47. Not long now.
I glance around the bathroom. Aside from the straight razor anomaly, it is exactly the same bathroom that you find in four-star hotel rooms the world over – white tiled floor; white ceramic bath, sink and toilet; chrome towel rack with towels which are nice but not too nice; some mediocre art on the wall. In this case it’s a watercolour of a naked woman sitting with her back to us at the edge of a pier, looking out at a deep blue lake under a light blue sky. I’ve seen worse, actually.
I used to be pretty good at painting. Painted pretty much every day, back when I was a teenager. I was more into expressionism though; stuff that showed what mood I was in and where my head was at, not naked women and lakes. My high school art teacher wanted me to do something with it but I guess I just let it fall by the wayside as girls and cars and work sneakily killed off my childhood the way, I guess, they do to everyone.
There I go again; even bad art makes me think about my life.
I realize it’s almost time now and stand up, smoothing out the knees of my suit as I rise. I walk over to the mirror and run a finger through my hair, then stroke the stubble I’ve accumulated. I could use a shave, but I don’t want to use the straight razor, and besides, I don’t have the time.
I hear the sound of a key-card slotting into the hotel room door and quickly turn the bathroom light out, nudging the door slightly ajar with the back of my hand, so I can see out. The room door opens, spilling a rectangle of light across the typical four-star room, and a man in a suit walks in. He’s looking tired. His suit is nice, not as nice as mine, but pretty good.
I take the gun out of my shoulder holster and quietly screw on the silencer. I open the bathroom door. The guy looks startled. I shoot him three times in the chest, and put another bullet in his head as he’s falling to the floor, still with the surprised look on his face.
As I unscrew the silencer I stare blankly at his body, dark arterial blood already seeping into the nice-but-not-too-nice carpet. This seems to be the only thing tonight that doesn’t make me think about my life.
I don’t know why he has to be dead. I don’t even know who he is. I don’t know if he has a wife, a kid. I don’t know what his dad did.
I don’t know whether he ever thought about the girl he made love to and never saw again.
I just know the money will be in a brown envelope pushed under my door tomorrow morning.
I hate this.
But it’s a living.


  1. What a powerful piece of writing - build up a sympathetic protagonist in the reader's mind and then hit them with that raw ending. Nice one, Gavin - in an horrible kind of way!

  2. Thanks Claire - "nice in a horrible kind of way" is possibly my favourite recommendation to date! :)

  3. I thought this was just fabulous and ingenius.