Winner – 2015 short story competition

Laptops and Coffin Lids

by

Sara Kellow

 

I saw you come into the study and stop, freaked out by the sight of the half-opened laptop, which you knew you had left closed. I opened it right up, slowly, and you fled. Laptops and coffin lids, some things aren’t supposed to open by themselves.

But I know that when you’ve had a coffee and calmed down and told yourself you’ve been under a lot of stress lately, what with the police asking questions and everything, you’ll come back and read this message. And I want you to know that I forgive you. Really. I float free now. The only thing the dead miss is the love they leave behind.

Try to relax, Angel Eyes, I won’t contact you again.

Farewell.

*

Surprise!! Do you realise it’s six years since we first met? We always used to surprise each other on our anniversary, didn’t we? Remember the first time we went to Paris? You told me you’d booked a back packer hotel when you’d actually reserved a room at the Champs-Élysées Plaza. The staff all sneered at my scruffy student clothes until you took me shopping. The pictures were on the old laptop. Such a shame you smashed it up.  You can’t replace your memories, or recreate the proof that we had good times.

Mum and Dad have told the police everything, not that they know everything, but they’ve seen enough to suspect the worst, and they are pressing for a proper investigation.

Be careful, Angel Eyes, they’re still watching you.

*

Found you! Love the new flat. It’s so compact, bijoux you might say and so very tidy – no bras drying on the radiator, no women’s magazines strewn across the sofa. I suppose it’s the bachelor pad you’ve always wanted. Somewhere to crash when you’re not with her. Nothing is hidden from the spirits, Angel Eyes. I know about Kate.  You didn’t waste any time, as they say. But I forgive you. Not living by the canal anymore, you’ll have missed all the excitement – the pathway cordoned off, the forensic team, the police divers. Can you guess what they found there? It lay just beneath the surface, a belt buckle snagged on a shopping trolley. Better get your story straight – I’d say you have sixty seconds before they knock on the door.

*

I can see why you like her. She’s beautiful, so poised, so glamorous – I bet she never loses her keys, or trips over in high heels. I bet she never leaves the top off the shampoo. She must be really into you to lie to the police like that. Is lie the wrong word? On the night in question she never saw you leave the pub and she never saw you come back so she’s convinced herself you never left. The police might think you followed me as I walked back along the canal in those treacherous shoes, but they’re never going to prove it now. Did you look her in the eye and swear you were innocent? Lost in the golden brown depths of your eyes, a girl will agree to anything. She will hear your promises and believe them, every last word, against all evidence and all reason. That’s why, no matter what happened, I always came back.

*

So that’s the funeral done at last – I feel like a weight has been lifted. There’s something very liberating about consigning to the flames that body, which I squandered so many precious hours on. I’ll never wax again, I’ll never cleanse, tone or moisturise. Dull and lifeless hair?  Not anymore! It went quite well all things considered. I would have liked a church service though, somewhere ancient and picturesque. Those little chapels at the crematorium are such sad places, hosting one funeral after another. A layer of grief is smeared over the building that only happier ceremonies could scour away. Still, you can’t fault the parking. I thought at first it was going to be a fiasco, (the funeral, not the parking) – you went such a ghastly colour when you saw the coffin, like you were expecting me to jump out like some bad taste kissagram. But then you rallied and you were magnificent! So forlorn and handsome in your new suit, manfully holding back the tears until they played Always on my Mind. (For the record, I prefer the Pet Shop Boys version.)  It was amazing – everybody cried! Everybody except Kate. She has such poise – I could never even see a film without those telltale black tracks trickling down my face.  I can only apologise for the family. They never did like you, but they could have been civil. They don’t know what happened.  Kate must have nerves of steel under that glossy exterior. If looks could kill she’d have needed her own coffin. They blame themselves of course. Do you remember last year, that week we spent apart? Dad came to get me from A&E and when he took me home he made me pack a bag so I could move back in with him and Mum. It was the worst week of my life, until the flowers arrived and your message: flowers and bruises fade but my love is eternal. We made promises when we got back together. I promised I would never leave you again. And I never will.

*

Oh, Angel Eyes, an exorcism!!! What were you thinking? Did you really expect that to work? If you did, I’m a little hurt to be frank, but I suppose I can forgive you. I’ve forgiven you everything else, after all. What are you going to do now? Complain to the diocese? Perhaps you have to believe in something for it to work. Do you believe there’s an afterlife now? Can it really be me that has changed your mind – the girl who was told never to disagree with you in public? So exactly what do you believe anyway?

  1. Which of the following best describes your attitude to life after death?
    1. There is no afterlife.
    2. There is an afterlife but how we live has no bearing on it.
    3. There is an afterlife where the bad deeds we do in life are punished.
  2. Which of the following best describes your attitude to ghosts?
    1. I don’t believe in ghosts.
    2. I believe in ghosts but do not think they have any influence on the living.
    3. I believe in ghosts and am afraid of their power to do me harm.
  3. Which of the following best describes your character?
    1. I am kind, loving, honest, generous and compassionate.
    2. I am basically a good person with the occasional lapse.
    3. I am a violent psychopath.
  4. Which of the following is true?
    1. My girlfriend tripped and fell into the canal while walking back from the pub alone.
    2. My girlfriend threw herself into the canal after an argument at the pub.
    3. I pushed her.

Answers:

  1. Mostly As

Really?

 

  1. Mostly Bs

Wishful thinking.

 

  1. Mostly Cs

You will pay with your soul.

Soon.

 

*

What’s the matter, Angel Eyes? You don’t seem like your normal self. I can tell something’s bothering you. You haven’t shaved for a few days now. You’re not taking care of yourself. You used to be so fastidious about your appearance. Did I get to you with my last message? I’m sorry – it was only a bit of fun to get you back for the exorcism. I didn’t think you’d fling your new tablet at the wall. How many have you smashed up now? I don’t have to use these devices, you know. I could write in blood on the walls for the proper house of horrors effect. I could pour myself into your ear and nestle in the folds of your brain, sending dreams instead of words. Don’t worry, I won’t. I don’t think you appreciate that I am here for you, that I’m on your side, because I still love you. I used to wonder what you saw in me when I always wore the wrong clothes or said the wrong things and drove you mad with my untidiness. I see it now. I was a kind of filter for your dark side, absorbing the rage and disappointment in secret, reflecting back a better version of yourself. You’re finding it hard now seeing yourself as you really are. It’s a strain hiding your true nature from Kate. You know that if you ever turn on her, if you ever show her that anger that appears out of nowhere like thunder on a summer’s day, then she will know. You’ll never get a second chance from her.

So I am watching you constantly, struggling to live your life without me. I saw what happened in the bedroom on Saturday night, what didn’t happen, I mean, and I really felt for you. I’m sure she’ll be more understanding next time, if there is a next time, of course. You’ll work it out I’m sure. I hope this helps!

Take care.

xx

*

Angel Eyes, I know that you hate nagging, but you really are drinking too much coffee. If you want to sleep at nights, cut down. Whisky won’t help. Is it any wonder she’s avoiding you? I told you once that nothing is hidden from me. Why don’t you ask me where she is?

*

There’s someone else. 17a Wellington Road. Garden flat.

Please don’t do anything rash, Angel Eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

About our winner, Sara Kellow:

I studied English Literature and French at the University of Leeds sometime in the last century, after which I worked in the glamorous world of European Self Drive Travel (caravanning in France).  The birth of twins put a stop to all that, but the experience of working long hours for no pay turned out to be excellent practice for what I really want to do, which is writing. I’ve had stories shortlisted by Mumsnet, The Bridport Prize and Writing Magazine, but this is my first win.

Sara KellowSara Kellow

4 thoughts on “Winner – 2015 short story competition”

  1. Jules McKeen said:

    I absolutely love the winner’s story. It drew me in. Delighted to have come second to hers; it actually spooked me!

  2. Ellen Evers said:

    A worthy winner! So clever. A story I wish I had written.

  3. I’m so pleased to have come upon this story by chance following Christopher Fielden’s competition website. I agree it is fantastic writing, clever, subtle and refined in style. Bravo Sara.

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