Nancy’s Morning With Nickhttps://i1.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/36DF147A-BDE6-48FA-B340-469E81361364-e1549338328575.jpeg?fit=1381%2C1920&ssl=113811920David CookDavid Cookhttps://i0.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/dave-cook.jpg?fit=96%2C90&ssl=1
Phone book delivery day. I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite of the year—I don’t have one of those—but it’s my most anticipated. I bend, ignoring the creak of my hips, grab it from the doormat and carry it to my tatty armchair. I change the CD in the stereo. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Murder Ballads is always my choice for this day. Rob had been playing it when he left me, fifteen years ago, on his fortieth birthday.
Reading the phone directory is how I learn what’s changed in town over the last twelve months. Not much, if the a’sare anything to go by. I compare the book against my scribbled notes from a year ago. Andy Alderswood has moved to Mann Street. I met him a couple of times, before life went down the toilet. He’d been cute, but I was smitten with Rob. More fool me.
“Song for Joy” finishes and “Stagger Lee” begins. I pause as Nick inhabits the role of a preening, arrogant gunman, executing people like so much garbage. I imagine him leaving Rob face down, crimson seeping from a hole in his head, and I shudder, partly with disgust, but mainly with excitement.
Martha Peters always tells me to stop obsessing about Rob. “Don’t let the bitterness eat you alive, Nancy,” she says, but bitterness is the only company I have most days, so I’ll feed and nurse it every hour God sends. She doesn’t know I have this annual ritual, though. She’d think I’ve gone crazy. Maybe I have. Either way, I don’t want her to stop coming round. She’s my only friend.
There’s an ad for Clark’s Computers in the book. I suppose I could use a computer to do this, but I don’t know how, don’t care to learn and can’t afford one anyway.
My fingers caress the section where the r’s lie in wait. If Rob’s back, and one day he will be because you can never truly get rid of a rat without killing it, this is where he’ll lurk. But he has to wait. He isn’t the only reason I do this. For instance, I want to know where Kelly Epstone lives now. I used to work with her, back when I had a job. She seems to move every year. Oh, Fosset Street. That’s an aspirational area; people who live there aspire to leave as quickly as possible. Kelly must be down on her luck—I look around at the peeling wallpaper and the mould above the door—but maybe not as much as me.
“Where the Wild Roses Grow,” the one with the Australian woman, starts. The thought of acting out the song by bashing Rob’s brains in with a rock intoxicates me. I clasp my fingers around an imaginary stone. Bam! I catch my reflection in the cracked old mirror. I’m smiling, but I’m not showing my teeth.
By the time I reach the end of the s’s, Nick is into his fifteen-minute epic, “O’Malley’s Bar.” I lick dry lips and turn to the r’s.
And there he is.
Back, finally, like I always knew he would be. “Robert Ramshaw. 21 Tetfield Avenue.” Other side of town. But I’ll manage. I open a drawer and pull out my old revolver. Rob never knew I had this.
The CD moves onto its final track, “Death is Not the End.” I don’t know or care if death really is the end, just so long as I’m the one who brings it to that bastard who ran off as soon as I told him I was pregnant. “Too old to be a dad,” he’d said. I’d had five years on him and I hadn’t felt too old. Not like now. Now I feel about a hundred. The stress of him leaving cost me the baby and I’ve barely left the house since. Grief has trapped me here. Until now, that is. Now there’s a reason to go out. It’s time to—
—21 Tetfield Avenue?
I scrabble back to the p’s. And I see it there, the tiny writing somehow magnified now. “Martha Peters. 21 Tetfield Avenue.”
Martha. And Rob. Together.
The image makes my head hurt. My best friend, my only friend, and the man who destroyed me. I left him a message about the miscarriage and he didn’t even call me back. And Martha. She held me in her arms and listened to me howl and told me it would be all right, even though I knew it never would be again. How long after my baby died did it take them to shrug their shoulders, forget about me, and leap into bed with each other? How long have they been keeping each other warm at night while the draught from the hole in the brickwork near the ceiling freezes me to the bone and I lie awake thinking about my baby, my baby, my baby?
I remember Martha telling me, maybe a year ago, that she’d moved. “Nice place on Tetfield Avenue, you’ll have to come over,” she’d said, knowing I never would. And because I never would, I’d never discover she’d shacked up with that man. Not Nancy Stelman, hermit, weirdo. I’ve seen people scurrying past the house. I know what they think. “No wonder he took off. She’s a freak. Bet she keeps bodies in the cellar. We’ll read about her in the paper one day.” I hope they’re right about that last one. Maybe Nick will see the story and write a song about me. He can call it “The Wrath of Nancy Stelman.”
Would Martha be the one to open the door? She’d be first. Then Rob. Then, maybe, myself. I won’t know for sure about that until I get there. I slip the revolver into my purse and hobble towards the door.
The CD ends with a click, like the pull of a trigger before the gun goes off.
David Cook’s stories have been published in the National Flash Fiction Anthology, Spelk, Riggwelter Press and more. Find more of his work at
www.davewritesfiction.wordpress.com and say hi on Twitter @davidcook100. He lives in Bridgend, Wales, with his wife and daughter.