Max Watt is a militant writer and connoisseur of dark literary fiction, as well as a musician and journalist. He was previously published in two editions of The 13 Anthology (2013, 2015). Dedicating his time to creativity in all its forms from poetry, to short fiction, to creating terrible noise in various musical projects, he is fascinated by the morbid, the minimal, and the obscure.
Corpses with charred bones glare down at me from the ceiling and you, sat next to my sleeping body, cradle your knees and bawl, while the Bitch hammers through the floor.
“Shut the fuck up. Shut the fuuuck uuup,” she screams. In the beginning it was for fucking too loudly. Now because of the crying.
I get up, stand on the bed and look down at us. Me lying there with my face scrunched up in the way I warned you about – told you to wake me the hell up if ever you saw me doing it and for years you did, can’t even describe how much I appreciated it, but nowadays you’re so wrapped up in your own misery that you forget about mine – you with your head on your knees shaking with the ferocity of tears, and Piggy leaping up onto the bed and nuzzling you, offering you comfort, but even she’s getting worked up.
So pathetic. So impossibly broken. This is not how we planned it all.
Banging from downstairs.
And Piggy barks.
Suddenly in bed again I snap bolt upright with sweat drenching every inch of me.
I put my face in my hands, collecting myself. Breathing heavily. In and out. Look up at the ceiling. They’re gone. The bastards are gone. That vicious bark. Starting to scare the shit out of me. She never used to bark like that. Getting old, I guess. But she’s not that old. It makes no sense.
But there’s no time for me. Not according to you. See you reaching for me. You hunched up there in a state. Demanding my attention despite all I’ve been through. One glance at you is all it takes.
Climbing out of bed. Storming to the door. Anger thumping with every step. One-eyed Piggy, unwalked and restless, turning her bark on me as I do. Makes me walk even faster out of this shithole. With the fear of that bark. God damn thing. And as you realise what I ́m doing you leap up and chase me. Through the door. Out into the hall and down the wooden stairs that creak. Your voice following me down into the next circle of hell.
̈Where are you going? ̈
̈Getting outta here. ̈
̈But where. Please. Please. ̈
̈Don’t you fuckin follow me. ̈
Right on cue the Bitch comes out of her flat in a gown.
̈It’s three o’clock in the pissin mornin. I’m callin the council and gettin you thrown out. ̈
I storm past her growling, ̈Mind your business, bitch. ̈
The Bitch snarls at me. Piggy who’s followed us both out is barking like crazy. As I head down the stairs.
̈Inconsiderate people. Keeping the lot of us up all night. And if you can’t shut that staffy up I’ll get the council to take it away too. ̈
I stop laughing. Sleep deprived and full of hate. I turn and go back up the stairs and before she has a second to lift her finger to tell me off again I grab her by the throat and push her to the wall.
̈I said mind your fuckin business, whore. Next time I’ll break your fuckin windpipe. ̈
When I let go she slides into a coughing heap on the floor.
Burst through the front door into the cold morning. Still dark out. Run and run fast. Arrive at the riverbank and scream into the sky where the birds chirp, tears teetering on the balls of my eyes. Throwing these sticks at the ground and kicking them. And there I collapse into the earth and mud and leaves.
The door now. In my dreams. Big green thing. Massive. Looming. With the screaming noises behind it. Can’t see the fire in the windows for the door. Almost expect one of the bastards to burst through and run at me, burning up. But it’s just the door. Something building behind it. The damn thing almost animated. And I want it to stop. I need it to fucking stop now.
Warm sunshine and a cold breeze. Open my eyes up at the sound of your voice. And there you are on cue. Kneeling. Poking a face of concern at me.
̈Hey yourself. ̈
You stare at me a while. ̈Police came. I didn’t tell them where you were. Told them you ran off and I didn’t know where to. She’s pressing charges.”
“Fuck that bitch.”
“Will it be okay? ̈
̈Like I have an answer. ̈
Used to. Used to pour reassurance onto you, thick like treacle.
Now I just say, ̈Fuck that bitch. ̈
Knew I’d come here, didn’t you. There are no secrets left. And you followed me to give me pity because you knew that soon enough you’ d need mine. Put the pity in the bank. Claim it back at a later date. So go on. Give. Lie here freezing with you caressing my skin. And I start to cry. It’s my past, I assure you. You know that the present enrages me just as much, but I guess you won’t admit that to yourself. Afraid I might leave you again. Well, you’re not the only one who’s afraid. Last time I told you it wasn’t working out you took forty pills and went to hospital with your stomach pumped. Not a thing people do casually. Like you do. I can’t handle that. I’d have to shut you out completely and I’m too fucking afraid of that.
Distress exhausts itself and I seep into a peaceful sleep. You watching over me. Making sure nothing and nobody messes with it. A head full of familiar confusion and turmoil. By the river with the trees looming over us and the sun beaming through the branches.
Chaos. Makes me think back to when there was none. In the countryside years ago with the fields like graveyards. Used to run around with a stick. Mum let me for hours. And when I tired of it I sat on the ragged earth staring at the house. Growing up in this nothingness. With the long grass tickling my knees. Growing into myself. Then when I grew bored of the view I moved further afield and began my stare again. Then later I’d sit in front of the hearth in the cold quiet, mum and dad sat apart saying nothing and me between them staring into the fire as it scorched my skin. Damn thing really hurt me once. But even after that I kept sitting in front of it and staring. Getting more and more disconnected from the sensation the older I got. And the silence starting to hurt. They should’ve argued. Screamed at each other about whatever the problem was. Better than silence, surely. Silence I can’t stand.
Wake up alone by the rocks with the river noises. Get up and head through the trees. Head swimming. Like I’m dreaming. Down the street and up the concrete steps to the door. In I go. Now up the wooden stairs. Treading lightly past the Bitch’s flat. Home. Phew. Key in the door. Creaks open. Old splintered thing. And I see you sat bone-weary on the sofa with the blinds drawn against the daylight with your mousey hair all a mess. The jet-black dye all gone out of it. Sit down next to you for a while. See the empty mug there on the coffee table. Gonna make me a brew and stay here til things settle. Stand up.
̈I’m makin a brew. You want a brew. ̈
̈We need to talk first. ̈
̈Darlin, I can’t go on like this. I gotta eat, you gotta sleep. I’m makin a brew. You want a brew. ̈
̈Please. Stay here and talk this through with me. Just a second. Please. ̈ Standing with the mug in my hand. ̈I’m goin crazy here. ̈
̈The sooner we get through it the better. ̈
̈It’s almost fuckin night time. My head’s a mess. If I could just… ̈
̈If you go you won’t come back. You’ll ignore it all again. ̈
̈Well maybe that’s best for now. ̈
̈What about me though? ̈
̈What about you? ̈
̈This affects me too, you know. Sick of riding your tide. ̈
̈So fuckin selfish. ̈
̈I’m the one that always rises above and I’m selfish. Sure. Why can’t you? ̈
̈Why can’t I what? ̈
̈Get over yourself. ̈
̈Over myself. Fuck that. ̈
̈Oh. Fuck that. Is that how it is. ̈
̈Yeah that’s how it isn’t. ̈
Piggy limps into the room and barks. I look at her with a start. She’s been restless lately.
Never sits down for more than a few seconds. I tell you, ̈She’s had it.”
“No she’s not. ̈
̈She can’t see. She can barely even walk. She’s had it. ̈
̈Don’t you think about it. My Piggy is just fine so you just shut up. ̈
̈Well she needs a walk at least. Been days. Walkies. C’mon, girl. Walkies. ̈
Piggy leaps up. And so do you. And you get right in my face.
̈Don’ t you think about it. My Piggy is just fine so you leave her alone. ̈
̈Jesus, I’m just takin her for a walk, darlin. Jesus. Stop panicking. God, shut the hell up. ̈
̈Bastard. I hope you collapse into that damn river and drown. ̈
Your eyes welling up, fists beating against me.
I don’t follow when you run into the bedroom. Not even when the wailing starts up again. And Piggy’s jumping up at me. Curious thing. In some ways she’s detached from the misery.
Back outside in the grey. Walking by the road. Piggy running without her lead. Hate using leads. Don’t wanna restrain any living thing. But she just got so old so fast. Yesterday it seemed she had all her wits. And now.
Piggy runs out onto the road. A car screeches to a halt and a fat toothless wench rolls her window down pulling an incredulous face.
̈Use a lead you stupid prick, ̈ her voice is common and ugly sounding.
My middle finger in her face as I storm in front of the car, grab Piggy by the collar and drag her onto the pavement, the wench’s anger turning to shock as I smack Piggy across the face. Her knuckles going white gripping the window.
̈You cruel bugger. Leave it alone. ̈
Snapping the lead on I wrap the fabric tightly round my arm. ̈Mind your business, whore. ̈
̈They’ll pick you up. I hope they do too. ̈
Car speeds off. Traffic moves.
Piggy shaking by the road. Got you as a puppy nine years ago. Held you. Loved you. Hit you a few times when it got too much but I felt terrible afterwards. When I took your eye out I never felt so bad in my life and I’m still carrying the guilt. But you caused this. Other things too. Knocked me when I was cooking the other day. Could barely hear me when I yelled at you for it. You’d have lived to be fifteen and still had your energy in some other house and you wouldn’t have had that bark either.
Walking Piggy to the riverbank. Leaves rustling in the wind. She gets timid when I place the rock on top of the lead. Then as I step away she tries to run off and the lead reaches its limit and bounces her backwards. She tries again. Bounce. Then she stops, looking around, confused about how she’s stuck in the same place. Then she lies down. Looking at me with that one vacant eye. Damn thing. It’s a mercy. She goes quiet. Barks. Asking me to lift the rock and let her run, I guess. I bend down and pick up a smaller rock. And this rock I use twice on her.
You look at me startled through tear-riddled eyes as I slam the bedroom door closed.
̈Looks like you haven’t taken one glance up from that pillow since I left. ̈
You sit up sternly saying, ̈Where’s Piggy. ̈
̈Don’t look at me like that. That dog was done for. ̈
Armageddon of tears. You in my face hitting me over and over. I grab your arms trying to hold you still saying, stop it it’s okay it’s okay but I can ́t hold back the tide. And before I can regain it your fist pops me in the face. I stagger back with the blow. Blood coming from my nose.
̈You fucking wench. ̈
I leap at you returning the hit twice as hard. You landing on the floor with a thud. The Bitch suddenly making a racket screaming shut the fuck up.
Never hit you that hard before. And from it comes a feeling I know well. And I stare helplessly at the empty air with my lip quivering.
I enter the dark of the room. What else can I feel but pity. Down I go. Onto the bed. Hugging the pillows. Oh, Piggy.
And after a while you join, and our arms embrace each other.
Embrace never lets go. Not until we crack a few ribs at least. Smothered here. Telling each other it will be okay. Conditioning ourselves to feel that it will despite our better judgment so that darkness and turmoil is what constitutes as such. This black cloud we refuse to escape. Prefer to lie here feeling so distant from everyone we’ve ever known. Close only to each other. To fields of tears. See myself as a child. Aggressive love from mum. When dad would go quiet and disappear. Cold bastard when he returned. Throwing newspapers into the hearth and me staring at the flames in a dead crackling silence. This broken world in which I heard silence while other children heard traffic and playground noises. Experienced the latter once a year on Bonfire night. Dad took me every year. Can’t honestly remember why. Took me too close to the fire once and I cried. Other children climbing the fence next to the huge furnace and others leaning up against the fence watching with awe. It’s okay, dad told me. It’s just fire. Like ours. And I cried, my eyes burning. Until he took me back to the house. To the silence. The unbearable silence.
How uncomfortable it has always been to exist in this world. How unnatural. Everything an act designed to please someone. To keep them close. To avoid the lonely abyss. And you bursting into tears as I express this.
̈That’s not how you see me is it. ̈
̈No. That’s not how I see you. ̈
̈You love me don’t you. ̈
̈Yes. I love you. ̈
̈It’s not all bad is it. ̈
̈No. It’s not all bad. ̈
̈And it’s gonna be okay. ̈
̈And it’s gonna be okay. ̈
And as the sky brightens you become sleepy. Me, I won’t. I refuse to face it anymore.
Night after night. Agony after agony. They’re dead but every night I have to face them. They’re waiting for me. I must’ve been fourteen or fifteen when the hearth spilled over. One too many newspapers thrown in, maybe. Woke in the night with the smoke tickling my lungs. Knew straight away what was going on. Got up to see if they did. But the smoke was billowing from down there and so much of it already. Who knew. Went to my window, crying with the panic, and leapt. Hitting the ground. Snapping both ankles. I screamed there. On the porch with the fire coming from the windows. Once I had the strength I dragged myself across the earth as far as I could get and then sat and watched the door to see if they would come out of it and wondered, and still wonder, whether they would’ve wanted to be saved.
I place you down on the soft pillows wishing I could appreciate such things then leave the bedroom and sit down in front of the TV. Some slasher film. Teens getting decapitated. Little off the top, please. Feel nothing as they die. Hit the remote. Screen snaps to black and reflects my cold face with the cigarette smoke sneaking around my head. I head out into the hall where the lights flicker. Motion-sense. Trying to determine if I exist. Down the stairs past the door where the Bitch lives. Husband died last year. I laughed when I found out because he was an even bigger cunt than she. And out here the autumn air is crispy. See the frozen leaves on the porch. And standing in the cold I look up at the stars for a long time.
And you’re still asleep when I return. I close the door gently and go into the cupboard and grab the lighter fluid. It’s been sitting there for ages. Bought it last year. To refill empty lighters. Never used it though. Always ended up buying more lighters instead.
Pour it all over the sofa. The TV. I drench the floor. Better Piggy met her end the way she did. They’d have found her body now. With her head caved in. Didn’t bother hiding her. That riverbank. Plenty of people know us. Have seen me down there walking the dog over the decade we’ve been around here. Memories of smiling and waving. Little did they know how we suffered here, just up the road, in total darkness, sleeping the days away and crying through the nights. Lying on top of one another in an endless assurance of one another’s suffering.
Take this here lighter and click it against the floor. Whoompf. Away it goes. The sofa that took three years to pay off. Now it’s tickled by flames that grow larger the more they crawl across it. Flammable fabric. Sure to burn. Then the TV that we never paid off. Takes longer to catch on. But I won’t waste time watching. There’s only one thing I want to do.
Enter the bedroom. Undress and climb onto the bed next to you. Where your sleep hasn’t broken. Such relief. You always sleep so lightly. One wrong move is all it takes from me and you’re up, awake, telling me of some unsettling emotion. Disturbing my peace.
I put one arm around you and caress your back with the other and you make such blissful noises as I massage your dreams. As the stench of smoke starts to grapple the bedroom door. Which I watch over your shoulder as I whisper to you all the things I can’t in the heat of the day.
̈I don’t love you. I’m wasting your time. And mine. Because I don’t know who I am. I don’t know who I am. ̈
Cold tears caress my eyes, and into the dead of night you make those little sleep noises.