Ikearotica

I’m going to be 40 this weekend. Which is depressing enough on its own I expect, but even more depressing when you’re completely alone.

And I am completely alone

And have been for as long as I can remember, really.

(I last had a girlfriend in the summer of 1998, 20 years ago, when I was 19, over half my life ago)

And strangely enough I’m a bit bored of being alone, and being filled constantly with a sort of hopeless despair, and anxious feelings of having wasted my life, by spending it all with myself, inside my own monstrous skull, peering out occasionally, at the mysterious planet beyond.

So yesterday I decided to join a dating website.

I tried joining the guardian’s one, but it’s so London biased it said there was only four women from Essex on there, and when I looked it turned out 3 of them were actually in Ipswich, and the fourth said NO BEARDS under her preferences.

But luckily I found another one, a specialist Essex one, for Essex men, and Essex women, and all the genders in between, and beyond, which was called lovessex.com (the v in the logo is some sort of strange inverted loveheart, I think).

It was incredibly easy to use. You enter your name (David) and your location (Essex), then enter some personal information on your profile. I particularly liked the little radar/spider chart thing they used for your political alignment, where you enter how strongly you identify with the three main strands of political thought (conservatism, monarchism, nationalism). Also as I’d already chosen West Ham on the Are you West Ham or Spurs? question this whole section was autofilled out to the maximum on each axis, which was a nice little time saver.

Then I just had to attach a photograph and once I’d done that it automatically showed me a list of all the girls who lovessex(.com) in my area (Essex). I clicked on the first woman on the list (essexyemma), sent her one of the little pre-prepared introductory messages (Hi, would you like to meet up and ‘discuss the royal wedding’? Regards, David, Essex) and within minutes she replied back (Hi David, I’d love to ‘go shopping at Ikea’ with you. Just tell me when and where. Emma, E).

So I said how about tonight, at Ikea, at Lakeside, and she said “won’t that be a bit busy?” which confused me a bit as she said she wanted to go there but I told her it’d be fine because it’s a Monday and no-one goes to Ikea on Monday and eventually she agreed.

I met her in the lobby, just beyond the rotating doors. She was, I don’t know, about 5 foot 6 or something, with hair, and a face, and all that sort of stuff.

“Are you Emma,” I said.

“Yes,” she said.

“Excellent,” I said. “I’m David.”

I moved closer and stuck out my hand so she could shake my hand but then I noticed I was sort of looming over her and I worried she might not like me looming over her so I stepped back again and put my hand in my pocket and said, “Did you have to come far?” and hoped she hadn’t noticed my looming or been put off by it at all.

“Yes,” she sighed. “Romford.”

I didn’t know what to say to that or to say next at all really and so we stood there for about five minutes. We were by the entrance to the creche/children’s playground and I wondered if they had a ball pool in there or if they didn’t have ball pools now because they’re probably considered unhygienic these days, aren’t they? Now you probably just get a padded floor mat and a padded miniature pouffe and maybe a box with dress up clothes in them like fairy wings for the children who might want to dress up as a fairy and also who were brave enough to dress up as a fairy even though your brothers might laugh at you and also your sister and probably your mum.

Also presumably now I’d be too big for the fairy wings anyway.

Or the ball pool.

“Shall we get some food, then,” Emma said, and I quickly agreed.

“If you’ve got an Ikea card you can get a free cup of coffee.”.

“I don’t have an Ikea card,” she said.

“Or tea,” I added, but by then she was already halfway up the stairs.

I got the lift and she met me at the top, and we walked to the cafe side by side, as if we knew each other and were friends.

I asked Emma what she wanted.

“You should get the Meatballs (10 meatballs, £4.25; 15 meatballs, £5.25),” she said.

“I’ve never had meatballs before,” I said.

What! They’re incredible,” she purred. “A total aphrodisiac!” she leered.

I was slightly trepidatious but I didn’t want to appear too staid on a first date so I got us a plate each, along with a glass of Sugar Free Cola Drink (80p, with unlimited refills) for Emma and a cup of tea for me. The woman on the till charged me for the tea and when I queried this she said it was only free with an Ikea card until 5 and it was past 5 now so it cost 70p and I was going to say well I don’t want it then but I didn’t I just paid for everything (£12 exactly) and huffed a bit inside.

I don’t even like tea.

We found ourselves a nice table by the window and admired the view of the car park spread out evocatively below us.

I didn’t know what to say again so I pointed at a car in the distance and said, “Look at that. I’d drive the shit out of that.”

I think it was a car.

She didn’t respond anyway which was probably just as well in case she asked me anything at all about cars so I picked up one of my meatballs and popped it in my mouth and bit into it and chewed and it was mostly gristle and I chewed and I chewed and it seemed to expand in my mouth with every bit and it was awful and oh god I was going to have to spit it out I was going to throw up oh god what was she going to think of me christ what would I think of me so I chewed again and chewed and I chewed and I swallowed and it was gone except for the taste and all the bits trapped up between my gums and my cheeks and the bits between my teeth and the residue of it still coating my tongue.

Emma laughed

not unkindly

well maybe a bit unkindly

but she laughed

and said, “You don’t chew them! You have to swallow it all down in one go. Look!”

She rolled a meatball neatly onto a soup spoon and then brought the spoon to her mouth and then opened her mouth and rolled the meatball in and tilted her head back and swallowed it all in one smooth motion and it was beautiful, like seeing a magician at work, the elegance and ease of it.

“Now you try,” she said, and handed me the spoon.

The first one was quite difficult and I almost gagged and brought it up again but I kept it down somehow and then the second one was easier and by the 28th I’d got it all down to a fine if slightly inelegant art.

The sun was just going down now and the haziness of the light over the car park gave it all an evocative nostalgic air. I smiled at Emma and she smiled at me and while she smiled at me she traced a happy face into the uneaten mash on her plate with her finger. I downed my tea all in one go and she left her cola drink untouched and neither of us had thought to get a tray earlier so we just left our plates and glasses on the table for someone else to clean up.

We walked together into the labyrinth of the store, past the sofas and the beds and the cupboards and the kitchens.

“It’s so spacious,” she said, as we wandered through the 25m² show home, and I remembered then that technically, of course, she wasn’t Essex at all, she was London, and had been since 1965.

But it didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter at all.

Nothing mattered and everything was okay.

We looked at the desks in the office equipment section. Emma sat on a chair and I spun her round, her legs splayed out in a V, her arms thrust up towards the ceiling, spun her around and around forever, nobody there to tell us to stop but we wouldn’t have stopped even if there was and even if they did.

“Malm,” I said, pointing at the name tag on the desk (MALM, £95). “MALM. MMAAALLLLMMM.”

“Malm?” Emma said.

“Malm,” I said. “Malm. Go on, say it.”

We both said “malm” together.

It feels so beautiful to say,” I said. “The sound of it. The feel of it, on your tongue, on your lips. MMMMMMMMMMMMMAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLMMMMMMMM.”

She spun round again on her chair and squealed “MALM” in the way you’d say “Wheeeeee!” if you were coming down a slide in a children’s book, and then she leapt off the chair right at me and leant up towards my ear and I bowed my head a little and she whispered “Malm” in to my ear and then ran off, coquettishly, past the the beds and the wardrobes and the chests of drawers, deeper into the maze.

I caught up with her in children’s section, all out of breath from trying to keep up with her, found her looking at a bedroom lamp that was just an unshaded light bulb attached to what looked like the sort of cable they shoved into you during a colonoscopy (BLÅVIK, £8). She was idly moving the cable up and down, undulating its stem in mesmeric waves with her deft, commanding fingers.

We didn’t say another word for several minutes, just stared at the thick responsive shaft of the lamp gripped in her hand.

“I wonder if the price includes the bulb,” I said at last.

She shrugged her shoulders as if to say it doesn’t really matter and it didn’t really matter did it and then we strolled out of the showroom section and into the marketplace bit where you could actually start buying things instead of just looking at them.

The meatballs were definitely kicking in now. Everything throbbed and pulsed in time with our hearts.

I got us a trolley and we started filling it with all manner of shit – little octopoid peg hanger things for putting your socks on the washing line; a vase shaped like a bulb; light bulbs in packs of three that almost certainly didn’t fit any light socket known in my house; several small cartons of lingonberry juice; a vase shaped like a demijohn; a plastic segmented box, each segment containing a handful of slightly different screws; a vase shaped like a cube; some wine glasses shaped like a vase – both of us overcome with pure orgiastic consumerist lust, every product’s curve, every bulge, every smooth white plastic surface suggestive of

of

I don’t know what

but suggestive

and irresistible.

I stroked my hand up and down the vacuum sealed quilts (GRUSBLAD, £22) and tried to articulate my thoughts.

“There’s something so… so… I don’t know exactly… suggestive? about quilts all packed up like this,” I said. “The softness and the solidity, the feel of it beneath your fingers but also the knowledge – the anticipation – that inside, waiting, is something so much bigger, something that’s ready – aching – to burst out as soon as you rip away the flimsy covering that’s holding it back.”

“Are you thinking about tits or cocks?” she asked with a lascivious giggle, laying bear the tawdriness of my mind.

“Tits!” I said, too quickly, too loudly. “Always tits. Tits.” Thinking about cocks would be awful. Huge, massive, haunting cocks. “It was tits I was thinking about.”

I went quiet for a bit and we wandered over to the candles.

“You know,” I said “I went to the zoo recently, and there was a tapir there, and it was standing there, walking around, its snout rooting around in the dirt, and it’s cock just suddenly started distending, down from between its back legs, down, down, longer and longer, huge, this never ending inexorable growth, until it was about two foot long, longer than its legs, and the tapir carried on walking around, even though by now the last six inches of its cock were being dragged along the ground. It was… It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It wasn’t even aroused, as far as I could tell. Just eating.”

She looked at me with blank confused eyes for a second, then diverted her gaze back to some candles that came in a little drinking glass for some reason (SINNLIG, £0.85).

“Its bellend looked like a fucking hoof. It was incredible. Imagine if you could extrude a huge cock like that.”

“I don’t have a cock,” she said.

“I know. But imagine.”

I looked back at the quilts section, at all that potential stored up tightly inside those sheaths.

“I might buy this, I think,” she said, running her fingers nimbly up and down the side of a candle that looked exactly like all the other candles (FENOMEN, 15cm, £1.50). “You don’t think it’s a bit small do you?”

I didn’t answer, just threw a bunch of them into the trolley and carried on marching on. Our trolley was so full now I could barely push it and then, when we were on the escalator down towards the end, I could barely it hold it back as gravity threatened to pull it away from me and down the ramp and into the a display of cactuses that I never saw the prices of.

But I held on it was okay everything was okay.

In the warehouse, she pushed me down onto a stack of flatpacks (BILLY bookcases, £55 Aisle 10, Loc 4) and we fucked with the urgency and suddenness of electric shocks, our legs kicking out, cramps in my calfs, a stray foot kicking our trolley over, the contents spilling out and flowing down the aisle like the wave after a dam has burst.

We lay there for a bit, me trying not to scream as the muscles spasmed in my leg, while next to me she wiggled her pants back up and straightened out her skirt.

We walked past the tills and I stopped to buy us a hot dog each (HOTDOG, 60p).

“I’ll see you outside,” she said.

But by the time I got outside she was nowhere to be seen.

Beneath the orange haze of the streetlights I ate the hot dogs, threw up on my shoes, and limped back to my car.

This customer testimony has been provided by the author free of charge without any inducements and/or incitements by lovessex.com or its employees, nor any of its associated websites, shell companies, car parks or vending machines. Furthermore, neither can they be held liable for the cost of any damages caused by the opinions provided.

__________

Notes:

1. Written between May, 2017 and June, 2018
2. I’m not sure why it took a year to write but it did
3. All the extensive product research, I suppose
4. Which was 100% accurate at time of initial publication
5. Just like all the other information contained within
6. I don’t like to mislead

__________

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The Essex Executioner

David N. Guy is a gentle man, or so his admirers say. And yet he kills for a living. Simone Piss investigates.

The moment stretches out forever.

It’s Monday. A lazy summer afternoon in the small Essex village of Woodham Walter. The sun shines over the village green. There’s a small queue at the tombola table, and a slightly larger one at the cake stall. Children jump endlessly on the bouncy castles. A couple of grandmothers slumped half asleep in deck-chairs. Morris dancers jig in time with the rhythmic futtering of a sprinkler watering a nearby lawn.

And up on the makeshift stage at the centre of it all David N. Guy raises his axe towards the sun and prepares to swing it back down onto the neck of the man tied to the butcher’s block.

Onto, and through.

_______

The first time I came across the name David N. Guy, I was amazed I hadn’t heard of him.

It was a small report hidden in the mass of political wailing in the aftermath of the EU Referendum, a piece of end-of-programme fluff designed to let you leave the 6 o’clock news feeling vaguely uplifted rather than suicidally despondent, announcing cheerfully that David had become the first Essex executioner for 600 years to notch up 5000 county-sanctioned killings. (I got the feeling that the county-sanctioned modifier was probably quite important for the saliency of this fact.) And with the report a grainy reproduction of a picture of an unremarkable man in a stained and grubby t-shirt, his arms crossed over his voluminous slab-like breasts, his expression blank beneath his beard.

How could someone have managed to kill 5000 people without me (or, indeed, any of my friends or colleagues) having heard of them? How could a county apparently so close to civilisation (Essex being, surprisingly, less than 30 miles from London) still have its own executioner? And how could its people not only tolerate him but venerate him?

I became, it must be said, quietly obsessed with the man over the next few weeks, and I set out to find out as much about him and his work as I could.

“Most of us are only familiar with the popular image of Essex presented to us in the media,” says Professor Hugh Crabb over the phone from his office in the Department of Essex at Waltham Forest College in Walthamstow, London. “Lust-crazed vanity, bellowing bald-headed thuggery, right-wing nationalism, endless self-destructive automobile-based eroticism not even JG Ballard could have envisaged, West Ham fanaticism, that sort of thing. But there’s a dark side to Essex too.”

And nothing illustrates that better than the figure of David N. Guy himself.

_________

Arkesden, Tuesday. A farmer’s field. An audience of crows.

He lifts the heavy stone, holds it above the man on the altar’s chest, slowly lowers it down. We hold our breathe while the stone holds his.

Eventually, we breathe out. From the altar only silence.

________

The washed-out photo on the news coverage didn’t do him justice.

We had arranged to meet an hour before the first of his killings I’m lucky enough to witness, the beheading at Woodham Walter.

He looked taller in the flesh than his officially-stated 6 foot 2, heavier than his admitted 20 stone. His beard was a dense knotted mass, deep enough and wide enough to give the impression that his head was wider than his shoulders and larger than his belly.

He wore a red t-shirt, blue jeans, and a pair of brown shoes. His glasses were too small for his eyes.

His hands were a few pounds of meat. His neck was unseen.

“You’re a woman,” he says.

I nod. I’m impressed he noticed.

“I always thought Simone was a boy’s name.”

I shake his hand and it is more moist than I would like.
_______

On Wednesday in Helions Bumpstead, David peels a woman like a fruit and then dresses her in a silken shroud and together they go to the tombs like a macabre bride with her morbid groom.

_________

David has very strict rules in place to ensure the quality of his service is never negatively impacted by the demands of county’s magistrates. He will only carry out one execution a day. He needs to be fed both before and after the killing. There must be at least chair of a suitable sturdiness available for him to sit on pre- and post-slaying. And he absolutely has to be informed about the prescribed method of justice he is to administer to his “patient” at least 24 hours before he arrives in the town.

On this last point of order he reluctantly elaborates.

“I don’t want to sound critical of the various district authorities, but…,” David explains. “It’s okay here in the centre. You always know what to expect. It’s always some mundane method of death, an axe to the neck or a noose or a good old fashioned throttling. The sort of thing I could do in my sleep. But the further out you get the more esoteric their desires, and the more exacting the demands upon my skills. It’s important you know what to expect. You don’t want to get there and find out you’ve got to do something beyond your knowledge.”

He speaks in a bland Essex wail of dropped consonants and monotonous vowels which betrays no hint of excitement or disgust at what he’s describing. And in many ways I find this resigned matter-of-factness more disturbing than if he’d been a cackling gleeful mess of erotic violent desires.

What sort of thing do some of these places require?

“In Dovercourt they like you to use a spoon. In Mundon they expect ice. In Langenhoe fire. And in Bradwell once I had to cut the tip off a man’s toe and suck the blood from his body.”

He pauses and looks at me with his mesmeric bovine eyes.

“All the blood.”

Is there any methods he doesn’t like having to do. Any places he dreads to go.

“Crix,” he says eventually. “There’s many machines in Crix. I don’t like machines.”

_________

The people of Herongate require him only to watch as the victim is lowered into the churning heron pit. To watch and to witness and to confirm.

_______

How does someone go about becoming an executioner, I ask.

“Ah, they picked me out at primary school,” David says. “Said I showed great aptitude for it. Although as far as I could tell the extent of my aptitude was that I was taller than everyone else, and fatter.”

There must have been more to it than that, I say. Some inherent violence, perhaps. Or a particular dexterity in handling weapons.

He shakes his head. “Well, there was also my necklessness. The priest said it was a sign.”

A sign of what?

David shrugs his shoulders. “The beard probably helped make up their minds, too.”

_______

At Layer-de-la-Haye on Friday, I witness a sight of such staggering depravity I know not how to describe it, nor even, having witnessed it, if I can believe it to have been truly possible.
_________

For someone doing such an unglamorous job, David seems to have developed a small but dedicated following. On twitter there are two accounts dedicated to his deeds: @essecutioner, which is a somewhat prosaic list of his upcoming appearances and matter-of-fact descriptions of the method employed for each and every death; and @sexycuteoner (pronounced sexy-cute-shoner), which is somewhat less serious-minded and also inextricably erotic. There is also a related tumblr, but we cannot link to it here. His reviews on yelp are unanimously positive.

I ask him how he feels about all this attention.

“I don’t really follow all that stuff. I don’t really understand it. Mobile phones and things, it’s all just… I’m from a different generation to all that.”

He is 38 years old.

________

At Maldon he takes the child out into the mud on Saturday morning and when he comes back at the turning of the tide he is hauntingly alone.

_________

Only once in the week I spend with David do I wonder if he ever thinks about what his victims have done, about whether they deserve to receive his undoubtedly professional ministrations.

This is when I find him weeping two hours before the seventh (and last) execution I am to see, an old lady in Goldhangar who, I find out later, has been convicted of eating mulberries.

“I don’t like it when they’re old,” he says. “They remind me of my grandparents.”

Does he ever consider whether there crimes are great enough to justify the severity of his punishments, I ask. He says he never knows what they have done, and that it wouldn’t matter even if he did.

“It’s not for me to decide. It wouldn’t be justice if I could just arbitrarily decide whether to carry it out or not. It’d be tyranny. And besides I’m just carrying out a job, same as anyone else. It’s the magistrates who make the choice. If I didn’t do it, no doubt someone else would.”

Does he ever think about quitting and doing something else?

“No,” he says. “I’d not be very good at something else.”

But you might be left with no choice, I say. What will he do if, for example, Essex adopts the European Convention on Human Rights?

He laughs and laughs and laughs and then, when he stops, he gets up out of his chair and goes off to do his day’s work.

__________

On Sunday he carries the woman over his shoulder as he climbs up the tight spiral of the stairs in the Goldhangar church tower, and then, at the top he throws her off, much to the delight of the crowd below. Then he trudges back down the stairs (not easy for a man of his size), picks up her whimpering body, and puts her over his shoulder and carries her up again, throws her down again.

This continues for quite some time, until there’s nothing much left for him to hold anymore, nothing much left for him to carry, to throw.

____________

We have one final conversation before I go, in the pretty little garden of a quaint Essex teashop. Looking back on it, I realise I can recall nothing of what we spoke about. Instead, I have a clear image of watching him eating the trayful of cakes the heavily tattooed waitress placed reverently in front of him, “with the full compliments of the village” she said.

The first cake he eats is a slice of Victoria sponge. He separates the two halfs of it, and then scrapes away the cream and jam from the middle with a teaspoon, eating each mouthful with a shudder of pleasure. Then he carves the top half into quarters, the bottom half into fifths, and finally he rolls the pieces one at a time onto the teaspoon and from there into his mouth.

The Swiss roll he unrolls and then slices neatly into one centimetre wide strips, which he dangles down into his mouth from above like a schoolboy eating liquorice shoelaces.

A full-sized kitkat (not technically a cake) he unwraps and eats in two great big bites, not even bothering to snap the thing into fingers.

He eats a strawberry cheesecake through a straw, which unless you’ve seen such a thing done directly in front of your eyes, you’ll never believe to be possible.

With a slice of Battenburg in one hand and a slice of Madeira in the other, he pushes his hands together until the cakes have merged together into a strange paste across his palms, which he then licks at like a cat until they are clean, his tongue working at the webbing between his fingers with a peculiar ferocity.

He dips a scone into a pot of nutella, eats the chocolated scone, and then, with a knife, the rest of the nutella.

He finishes with an entire box of Tunnock’s teacakes. He unwraps each one neatly from the foil, which he flattens down into a square with the back of his hand, taking his time until almost every crease is gone and you’d never know it had once been crumpled up in a ball around the cake. On the foil he places the teacake, each one perfectly centred, until all ten are lined up before him. Then he quickly takes one cake in his right hand and pops it in his mouth, whole, crushes it down with a single chomp of his jaw, and then with his left hand he pops in another, working his way down the line from each end until, a mere matter of seconds later, all the squares of foil are empty and his mouth is full.

Oh is his mouth full.

The tattooed waitress eventually comes back and takes the empty tray away. Something in her demeanour towards David – not to mention the stylised weaponry that adorns her arms, the erotic curves of the Essex seaxes visible beneath the teasingly opened buttons at the neck of her shirt – makes me wonder if she runs the sexycuteoner tumblr, or at least enjoys it as much as I’ve come to. I follow her inside to pay for my coffee, and when we come back out together at the end of her shift David has long gone on his way.

___________

Notes:

1. Written in August 2016
2. I wrote this after reading an article in the New Yorker about some eccentric restaurant owner
3. And really liking the first line of the story
4. Which I stole
5. And used here
6. Please forgive me
7. I was suffering from post-referendum despair
8. And knew not what I was doing
9. Also this would have been an Essex Terror article
10. But Essex Terror was already dead

__________

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Picking A Pocket To Pick

This summer I’ve been working behind the counter in one of the kiosks along the seafront, selling doughnuts and bags of candyfloss and buckets and spades and everything to parents and tourists and children all day long.

And the tourists and the children and even the parents are fine, it’s the… fuck I don’t what you’d call them, the regulars, the arseholes and the cheats and the drunks and whathaveyou. Absolute arseholes every one of them. That’s what makes it a shit job.

That and the pay.

There’s this one guy, I see him walking up and down the seafront every day. And my boss always points him out if he’s there and says I’m allowed to take his money but never his cards.

He’s a right fucking creep, too. Not my boss, this fucking fella. He’s one of those wankers that always manages to find a way to touch you, get close to you somehow, and it disgusts me. Christ it’s just… He’ll lean over the counter and tap me on the shoulder if I’ve turned my back, he’ll pat my hands if I’m leaning on the counter at the front, put his hand round my waist if I’m standing around outside having a fag.

Actually one time I was out there smoking and I was sat on the seawall and he sat right down next to me. I mean like right fucking next to me. Closer than I’d sit next to my boyfriend when we’re at home watching something on the telly.

What did you do? I hope you fucking said something.

I didn’t do anything. Well I got up and went back to work. I didn’t say anything, though. It’s not fucking worth it. It never fucking is.

And he knows what he’s doing. It’s never obvious enough that you could tell anyone what he’s doing but well, I know what he’s doing. You’d know. But my boss… Nah.

Anyway, I went into work the other day. Wednesday, this was, or was it Tuesday? I don’t know, about then anyway, sometime in the week, and there was this girl sat on the wall there by the kiosk, bawling her fucking eyes out. This was about 10 in the morning. She only looked about fourteen or something, although tears always make you look younger, I reckon.

I asked her if she was alright and she shook her head and just kept on blubbing away. I offered her a cigarette and she actually replied to this, although she said, “Nah, “I’m only sixteen,” which threw me a bit. Seemed like a pretty random thing to say, really.

You can’t smoke until you’re 18 these days.

Yeah I know that, but still. Like that’s ever fucking stopped anyone.

Anyway she kept on crying and I left her there and went inside to work, and sat there all morning and she never stopped crying at all, not even for a minute. For like two hours!

I took her out some doughnuts when I went out there for my tea break, but she shook her head at those as well, and she’s still crying of course. Imagine how upset you’d have to be to not even accept a bunch of free bloody doughnuts.

Now, she’s got this big bag sat next to her on the wall. One of those big sturdy bag-for-life bags they try to sell you in tescos for a quid or so. She’s had it all morning, I don’t mean it’s just appeared, but anyway, it’s got some rolled up clothes in their, a jumper and a coat maybe, something like that, and sat on top of them there’s this wallet, not a purse but a wallet, a folded leather wallet, and it’s absolutely fucking bulging with notes.

“You should hide that away,” I said to her, and she’s sort of followed my cigarette to see what I’m pointing at with it, and then just shrugged again and burst into even more tears, deeper, louder tears. I had no bloody idea it was possible to cry for so long. You’d think you’d run out of tears.

The bloke I was working with that day, who was working at the other window, selling fish and chips and burgers and that, he kept muttering to me all morning and threatening to go out there and chase her away, but I told him to leave her be, the poor thing.

The poor fucking thing.

I’d spent most of my shift wondering what had happened to her. Had she run away from home? Been abandoned or stood up by her boyfriend? Maybe someone had died. Maybe she was homeless and just really fucking tired and lonely and hurt.

Maybe she’d failed her exams. Lost her phone. I don’t fucking know.

At some point in the early afternoon, about 1 o’clock maybe, that creepy fucking arsehole I mentioned earlier comes strolling down the seafront, and he clocks her straight away. Course he does. I can see his eyes light up, his whole fucking body light up, when he sees her. Like a literal shiver running through him. Expectation and delight. It’s sickening.

He comes up to where she’s sitting, and he crouches down in front of her so he’s eye level with her, just below eye level actually, so he’s looking up at her a little, ad he asks her if she’s okay, asks her what’s wrong.

I’m straining now to hear what he’s saying, practically hanging out the little kiosk window, but I can’t hear exactly what he’s saying to her, and it’s infuriating.

It’s all infuriating. I want to go out there and tell him to fuck off and leave her alone, but there’s a sudden queue of customers, then, and I have to deal with them and over the bubbling noise of boiling doughnuts I really truly can’t hear a word of what they’re saying now.

When I’ve served everyone I quickly pull down the shutter and rush out the side door to where they’re sat and he’s giving her a great big hug and whispering something in her ear. And she’s finally stopped crying, wiping the tears out of her eyes, and nodding to whatever it is he’s saying, and I’m thinking, good christ what the fuck is this?

Then she breaks off the hug and gives him a kiss on the cheek and picks up her bag and runs off down the road.

It’s baffling. That’s what it is. Fucking baffling.

He turns round then and sees me standing there and he flashes me the most, the worst, the absolute worst and sickliest smile you have ever seen. And he steps toward me and puts a hand round my waist and says, “You aren’t going to be standing around out here long are you, love? I’ve got some money to spend.”

I pulled his hand off me and threw it back at him and stomped back inside and slammed the door shut behind me as hard as I could. Oh christ I was furious then, I was ready to quit right there and then, leave that stupid kiosk’s shutter down and fuck off back home. Leave the other guy there to do the doughnuts as well as the chips. Fuck em.

But I’m glad in the end that I didn’t.

Eventually I pull that shutter back up and he’s already standing there, a smile as wide as fucking fuck on his face, and he pulls out a wallet from his pocket. And it’s her wallet, obviously, absolutely bulging with money, and it’s obvious he’s nicked it, and it’s obvious that he knows I know he’s nicked it. And I was going to say he doesn’t even care, but he does care. He’s fucking proud of himself. He wants me to see. He wants me to know.

And he orders some doughnuts and a coffee and a load of sweets and whatever, picking everything he can, showing off. It’s completely pathetic. And I say, like I always say when he comes to the counter, “We can’t take cards, I’m afraid. Cash only.” And he says, “That’s okay, dear, I’ve got plenty of cash,” and he holds the wallet up for me to see, shakes it a little, for some fucking reason, then slowly opens it up and peels out a note. And it’s a blank sheet of paper. It’s all just blank sheets of paper.

And his face goes white, and I laugh and say, “I’m sorry we can’t take that, either,” and he’s stammering now and searching through his pockets and patting his jacket and searching around more and more frantically for his own wallet and it’s not fucking there.

There’s nothing fucking there.

And he looks like he’s going to be sick and he turns round looking up and down the seafront for any sign of the girl but she’s long fucking gone and I can’t stop laughing for the rest of the day.

__________

Notes:

1. Written between 17th July and 22nd July, 2016
2. Although it was outlined mostly in May
3. At the same time as A Mistake Of Identity
4. As I was trying to think of Essex crime tales
5. To submit to that competition
6. That I did not win
7. I don’t especially like this one either
8. I’m sorry to say
9. Please don’t hate me

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A Mistake Of Identity

I was home for the weekend for the first time in ages. My sister was working in the pub as usual, and I was sat by the bar and keeping her company. Which it seemed liked she needed, as the whole place was weirdly deserted, even for midweek in Maldon in the bleakest midwinter I could remember. There wasn’t even anyone listlessly emptying their pockets into the fruit machine in the corner.

She’d been telling me some new gossip about someone or other in the far reaches of our family when a couple came in and interrupted her by daring, outrageously, to buy themselves some drinks. My sister glared at them throughout the entire transaction – some good old fashioned Essex friendliness – and even, it seemed, for a good while afterwards, watching them like a hawk until they’d settled down at a table that was, unsurprisingly, as far from the bar as they could find.

“What was that all about?” I asked.

“Don’t you remember her from school?” my sister asked, motioning with her head at the woman who’d come in.

I shrugged, then looked around quickly at the woman for a second, then turned back towards my sister and shrugged again.

“Vaguely,” I said. “Maybe. Was she in your class?”

“Yeah, you must remember her. Her and her sister. The twins?”

“Oh, right, yeah. Was it… Carole? Carla? And George, maybe?”

“Yeah, Carla. And Georgina,” she said. “Georgina punched me in the mouth one time. She had to go to hospital with a broken bloody hand!”

My sister found this somewhat funnier than I did.

“So which one’s that?”

“Carla. Georgina’s in prison now.”

“For punching you in the mouth?” I said with half a smile.

“No, it’s much better than that.”

My sister lapsed into a sudden self-satisfied smile, taking her time to wipe down the counter and clear away some glasses while she waited expectantly for me to ask her to explain.

Which I didn’t.

But eventually she stopped rattling glasses around and told me anyway.

“A few months ago, well, maybe a year ago now, one of the twins – no-one knows which – walked into the offie down near the hospital waving a knife about and made the bloke behind the counter give her all the cash from the register and as many packs of fags as he could grab off the racks behind him and shovel into her bag. And then she walked out and disappeared.

“Now, she hadn’t made any attempt to disguise who she was, and it didn’t take long for the police to look at the CCTV, and ask around a bit and find someone who recognised who it was. ‘It was that Carla, wasn’t it? Or Georgina, maybe. Definitely one of those twins.’

“But the man they robbed had no idea which one it was (I don’t think he had any idea who they were at all), and no-one could tell from the CCTV. And neither of them would admit they did it, or even implicate the other one. Both of them simply said, ‘I was at home that night, watching cat videos on youtube’ or whatever. And they stuck to that story

“The police never found any of the money either, or the bag full of cigarettes. Or any cigarettes at all. I don’t think either of them even smoke anyway.

“But anyway, the police couldn’t charge both of them. You can’t send two people to jail just because you know one of them has done it. And it was clearly just one of them holding the place up. But they both look the same and dress the same and have the same identical haircuts, and neither one of them has ever put on even the slightest bit of weight. I mean look at her. Sickeningly skinny.

“I’ve no idea if they planned it like that or not, or if they just stumbled across this… scam. Maybe one of them genuinely didn’t know anything about it all, and really had been at home all the time. I don’t even really know if you can call it a scam. A loophole. Some sort of legal stupidity, really, but you can’t convict on chance, they say, and as both of them just said, “No, I was at home” over and over again, they had to let them go. They knew – everyone knew – that one of them had done it. Just not which one.

“And so they got away with it.”

“But you said one of them was in jail, now?” I said. “So how did they get caught. It wasn’t something stupid like one of them being left handed and one being right handed, was it?”

“Mirror twins,” my sister said.

“What?”

“They’re called mirror twins when one of them’s left handed and the other’s right handed.”

“So it was that, then? That’s a bit disappointing.”

“Nah. And they’re both right-handed, anyway, as far as I can remember.”

We both glanced over towards Carla then, and yes, she was holding her pint in her right hand.

“Anyway, yeah, you’d have thought that would be that, wouldn’t you? You’ve got away with it once, you wouldn’t chance your arm doing it again. I mean the next time maybe the police’ll find some discrepancies in your stories, or catch you while you’re doing it, or just charge the pair of you out of spite. And they only got a couple of hundred quid, and some fags they probably had to dump somewhere.

“Better to just chalk that one up to luck, smile sweetly and innocently whenever anyone brought the subject up, and get on with your life. That’s what I’d have done.”

“Me too,” I said. “But then we’re not twins so what would we know.”

“Exactly. So then a month ago, one of them came in here, waved a knife around in my face, and stole a thousand pounds out the till.

“She came bursting in, all out of breath and with a nervous sort of worked up fury, screaming at me, waving her bloody blade around, pointing it at my heart and neck. It was pretty scary. Then she went sprinted off, and I called the police. I never told you about this, did I?”

I shook my head. I was slightly shocked, and ever so slightly furious. Although with my sister or with Georgina I couldn’t really tell.

“Were you alright?”

“Yeah, fine, fine. Anyway, this time the police went straight round to their flats and arrested the pair of them, and took them down to the cells and questioned them and bullied them and whatever else it is the police do to you when they’re pissed off with you.

“And Georgina told them, ‘Well, I was at home, again, watching all those cat videos on youtube’ and that’s all she would say. ‘I never left the house at all.’ Insistent on it.

“But Carla, she says, ‘Well, actually officers, I was down in the pubs by the Hythe all night, having a drink with my boyfriend.’ And they checked the CCTV and asked the bar staff and sure enough there she was, flitting occasionally between the two pubs down there. Making an almost conspicuous show of herself.

“So there’s her alibi. And there goes her sister’s. So now Georgina’s up for armed robbery, although only the one count, rather than two.”

“That was quick,” I said. “Did she plead guilty then?”

“Nah, she’s still claiming she was at home all night. That she didn’t do it all. But she can’t make bail, or they won’t give it to her, or whatever it is, and so she’s in jail while she’s awaiting trial.”

“She must be absolutely furious with her sister for fucking it all up,” I said.

“Well, it’s funny you should say that. Because, like I said, I was here that night. And the thing is, I know I was scared, but also… I know these two girls. I’ve known them for years. And I’m almost certain it was Carla with the knife that night.”

“But then, why would Georgina say she was at home when she was clowning around down the pub?” I asked. “That’s a pretty bloody stupid thing to do.”

“I don’t know. Maybe she was telling the truth.

“I tried it out the other day, you see, and you could climb out the windows in the toilets down there and no-one would see you, and then you could sprint along Down’s Road you can get here in about five minutes. Although of course you’d be pretty out of breath by the time you got here…”

“But why would you do that to your own bloody sister?”

“Well, I was thinking about that, too. I might be able tell the difference between them, but…” She glanced over one last time at Carla and her boyfriend in the corner. “There’s no guarantee that he ever could.”

__________

Notes:

1. Written on the 19th and 20th May, 2016
2. I don’t really like this that much
3. But I’ve included it here because it’s the only thing I’ve ever had shortlisted for an award
4. It didn’t win, obviously

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