Monday, 30 May 2011

THE CONVENIENT by Robin Billings

Newly revamped TKnC welcomes Robin on her debut with this beaut...

The Convenient

This one guy came into the Convenient most afternoons about suppertime, and every time he came, he bought himself some good beer, the kind in green bottles, and a couple cartons of yogurt. We only talked when I told him how much he owed when he walked up to the counter. He didn’t talk to me when he paid, he just handed me his money and waited for his change and said thanks under his breath when he was turning to go. I was used to that, because it isn’t like people who stop by the Convenient pay attention to the checkout girl. People are usually in a hurry to be gone.

I was in a really happy mood one day, though, so when the guy came to the checkout I smiled at him and said looks like you’re really into yeast. He stared at me like I was stupid for saying that, so I said, you know, because there’s yeast in your beer. And in your yogurt. Then he kind of smiled, like he’d missed a beat but then he found it, and he said did I wanna go out and maybe do something together when I got off work.

He was a tall, bony guy with a faded away look to him, kind of tired, kind of pitiful, with his light brown hair and his pasty face, but it was a Friday and getting dark outside, the time of day that makes a person wanna go out and do something new, so I said yes.

All we did when I met him outside after my shift ended was walk a couple blocks down to his apartment. But hey, I figured, what the hell. Maybe he’d like me and I’d get to do something different with him another night.

He walked us back to his kitchen, pulled a couple bottles of Heineken out of his refrigerator, and we leaned against his kitchen cabinets, drinking.

The only light in the room came from this skinny fluorescent tube over the stove that made us look like shadowy hiders in a secret place. It looked darker than dark outside the kitchen windows, because the fire escape stairs hanging outside the windows hid any lights from the street.

The guy told me he was a prison lawyer. He talked about the prisoners some, but other than that, he didn’t say much. I’m not sure he ever even told me his name. Not that I needed his name.

I was kind of mad we hadn’t done anything I was thinking we were gonna do, though, like maybe have a late supper somewhere nice or maybe have a nice drink in a bar or something. Plus the guy kept staring at me like I was a suspect at the county jail or one of those dead bugs stuck on a pin in a bug collection box. So I took a last swig of beer and said I’d better go, but when I reached down to get my purse off the floor, the guy, he grabbed hard on my arm and yanked me back to his bedroom.

It scared me how hard he held on, and him still staring.

I didn’t wanna get hurt or raped or anything so I said I’m sorry you’re mad when he pulled down hard on my jeans, and I stripped, and him staring the whole time, and then we were on the bed and he was feeling of me like he owned me and humping his ass on me in a crazy target practice. I don’t think he made it all the way inside me, though. I don’t think he went inside far enough for it to count. I think I won on that one, because someone on the other side of his front door starting hammering on it, or maybe someone was working out in the hall, I don’t know.

All I know is, the front door wobbled against the force of the mystery fist banging away out there, and the guy stopped to listen. He raised up just long enough for me to think ahead and slide away a little, so I said we’ve made so much noise, maybe somebody’s called the cops.

He kept listening and looking toward the bedroom door, because of all people, I guess a prison lawyer sure wouldn’t wanna be stuck in prison.

The banging stopped then, a chopped-off, silent sound that you could almost say was a loud noise of its own, like a train running sound, or maybe the sound of blood whooshing through your head that you could hear because there wasn’t any other sound to distract you. And that must’ve caused the guy to come back from his purpose-built trance and see me only halfway under him. All I know is, when he looked down and saw I’d moved some, he looked dead pissed.

Then the banging started again, like somebody was testing on a wall with a hammer to find the stud. I smiled up at the guy’s face and whispered maybe you better check and see who’s out there.

He must’ve agreed, because he slapped his pants on and loped out to the front door, with him probably figuring I was stuck in the bed and he was between me and the front door, so what the hell, I couldn’t get away, but I yanked my clothes up and ran back into the kitchen and out the window and just about jumped out on the fire escape.

I almost fell, but I made it down to the pavement and fast-fast around the corner, pulled my jeans back on, and then I ran. I made it down a block and around a corner and then I leaned up against this big brick apartment house to rest.

For a desperate second, I wished so hard I could close my eyes and open them again and a little room would've grown out of the side of that brick wall and I could live in that room, instantly. Living there would be clean and neat and the perfect shrubs and flower beds would stay all around it just like they looked now, leaves and pale flowers shining in the dark, looking like they grew perfect that way, from their birth, and never had needed any trimming. If a room could just appear right behind where I was standing, I would be very quiet so no one would care I was living in that room. But how would I go and ask for that to happen and who would I ask, and anyway, people would think I was crazy.


I saw that guy a couple days later, back at the Convenient. He plops his beer and yogurt down big as you please, and I’m standing above him on the platform behind the checkout counter, and he’s staring up at me with his bug eyes, then he smiles big, says he hopes I have change for a fifty, and I say yes I do, because hell, what else am I gonna say. Here’s this lawyer guy just about capturing people and making it look like a lucky date for them, and he looks good on paper, doing work for the already-captured people he calls the incarcerated, and if I say anything it’s only me against him.

So I gave him his change, but I didn’t smile. I was bone dead finished with the smiling. Plus, he didn’t know it yet, but he was close to being bone dead, too. I’d been thinking about how he left his kitchen windows unlocked.

The thing is, the thing people don't wanna think about but what is really true, is that all it takes to kill a person is to know they need killing, and not to feel bad about doing it.

Then figure out how to get at them when they’re asleep or something, and have a killing something in your hand so when you do get at them, it’ll do the trick fast and pretty quiet. Like maybe a hammer. Even if you’re kind of a skinny girl, so you don’t weigh much, if you beat into a guy’s temple when he’s asleep, he’ll never wake up again, especially if you crunch down on him with it a few times, even after you know he’s conked out. And by his temple I don't mean his balls, which he probably thinks about right away when anybody mentions stuff like 'my body, my temple'. No. I mean one of the two temples on the sides of his head.

Phlap down hard, and I mean hard, on one of those two suckers, cave it in a little, basically, and he's done. Not done like having his balls hammered on. No. I mean, done done. I know this is true. It works out fine.
Robin Billings lives in Virginia, United States. She's had stories published in the Potomac Journal and in Wilderness House Literary Review. Robin can be contacted on Facebook
If you enjoyed this story, then I'm sure Robin would appreciate your feedback...


  1. Welcome to TKnC, Robin.

    Loved the voice - it read as Southern drawl, making the protag' sound somewhat simple.

    How wrong was I? The twist of menace toward the end was chilling.

    Great debut!


  2. This is powerful stuff, and like Col Bury says, it kind of lures you into a false sense of security. Like a butterfly that lands on your hand only to devour it with unexpected acid.

  3. Fantastic story. Great tone and satisfying ending. Lawyers,eh? One down...

  4. That was great, Robin. A stark slice of real life. Well done.


    Like the new look, Col. Great job!!

  5. Brrrr. Chilling is right. I was right along side her and I loved how her helplessness twists.

    All it takes to kill a person is to know they need killing, and not to feel bad about doing it.


  6. Great story, Robin, loved the voice and the twist. Nice job!

  7. Fantastic Robin. I read it with your accent!

  8. Great story Robin with a wonderful voice. Love the twist.

  9. Wow! You knocked this out of the park, Robin! With three on... This is crazy-good. I want an entire novel with this character.

  10. Thanks very much, all!

    I feel truly honored to be published here, Col.

    Whirl, the beautiful-acid butterfly - hope you use that! Love it.

    Paul, absolutely on the lawyer thing! There are several (or more) lawyers in the DC area, for a start, that would fit the bill just fine.

    Thanks, David! The stark reality of living in the world of the poor-but-working-to-scrape-by has always fascinated me, especially since I used to live in that world. So much 'bad stuff' goes on in that world and most people don't see it, right?

    Thanks, Sylvia! The voice that sounded so pat and so dead and accepting, flipped on its back, so to speak - glad it worked. Love your phrase 'helplessness twists'.

    Julie, Jan and Janey - thanks s bunch! The voice and the twist - really glad you liked them, because...

    Les, I am working on scenes for a novel with this character. I was trying to fit her in to a series I'm planning, but not sure now. She may be a standalone. Thanks for your kind words!

  11. Robin - well done on this excellent piece! Interesting perspective - I like the way your narrator delivers the facts almost in monotone. She's no dumb bimbo in the end, though!

  12. Great tone and super-chilly ending - great story!

  13. Robin, The narrative voice was great. I enjoyed seeing the slimeball lawyer get what was coming to him.

  14. It works out fine. Great last line. And great story. She thinks she wants her own little piece of utopian comfort, but really she seems exactly where she belongs. She wouldn't really be happy in that little room, not really. That's why it's only a desperate second. But it's a desperate second that makes the whole scene that much more real, dark, and gritty. Nice work as always.

  15. Robin,
    Enjoyed this very much. Great voice and tone to this story. Loved this line 'all it takes to kill a person is to know they need killing'

  16. Hi Sue, Thanks! I noticed, when I walked among them, that people on the very lowest rungs, those barely hanging on, have a voice that is the audio equivalent of the visual known as "flat affect". In other words, they tell everything, even the most painful things, in a droning on voice, as if to encapsulate themselves and steer clear of what they are telling - to hold the bad at bay, as it were.

    Thanks, McK and Pete! Glad you liked it - and I agree, Pete - she'd have taken a breather in that little room, but she knows she's meant to be where she is - systematically doing away with a certain type of man - who preys on the helpless.

    Thanks, Sean - you and Paul like that lawyer getting his 'final comeuppance'! Love it. Half of mt family comes from a poor area in Louisville, Kentucky known as 'Irish Hill' - and
    no one with what they call 'the big head' (ie lawyers, etc) is well thought of, to say the least, down at the corner tavern.

    Skees, I appreciate your liking that line. It was one of those lines that just wrote itself - I'm guessing you've had the same experience, as though the character you are writing about comes and 'has a talk within you', and their words find form. It's one of the reasons I love writing.

  17. It's the voice that does it all, of course. Robin, oh queen of voice.

  18. Spectacular. What a strong voice! Will be on the lookout for your work in the future.

  19. Gotta come down hard for a gal from my home state. That's the way us citizens of the Old Dominion State, The Mother Of Presidents, I mean V-freakin'-A! do it. Flat out and with a great deal of style. Very cool story. Very. Cool.
    (actually I was born there, grew up there until I was eight and then moved to the southern cali madness. but my heart stil sings when i hear the drawl, yaw'll.)

  20. Comment from Phoenix (blogger playing up again!).

    "I love how this piece isn't afraid to go to the heart of revenge and show us how much -- and how little -- it takes to put someone into that frame of mind. Then all it takes is a little nudge for the follow-through. Well done, Robin!
    - Phoenix

  21. Hi Robin,
    Neat story. Like most people who read this, I thought the way it started real soft, then ended in unexpected violence was great.
    best to you
    Keith Gingell