The Paperclip (A Short Story)

Small. Innocent. But exquisitely devious.

My Great Grandmother used to have a saying. Used to not because she has lost it or left it lying on a train to be picked up by another. But rather because she is dead.

 

Please, There is no reason to apologise or pass on heartfelt condolences; she died many years ago- twenty-six to be exact and I was only four at the time. But as I say she used to have a saying:

“Good things come in small packages…” to which she would add with a devil in her eyes, “…And so does poison!”

<…>

The afternoon had dragged on: hot; lazy; tired. Naturally, a fly buzzed incessantly, infuriatingly against the grime-smeared window pane. In the distance a motorcycle droned, or maybe it was a horsefly a little nearer. Maybe someone, somewhere was cutting the lawn. It is difficult to know, such was the afternoon; it was difficult to care.

The door was propped open in a vain attempt to create a through-draft; my work lay in front of me. If I leaned forward to pick it up, my shirt, wet with sweat, would shift increasing the feeling of oppressive heat, increasing my misery. So I didn’t.

From my vantage point I could see out into the street where a child was sat at the bus stop, ice lolly in hand. She reached out and shared alternate licks with the small Boxer puppy next to her. Behind her a young woman passed, her short dress riding up her thighs, her hair matted with the heat, I shifted my position to follow her…

The distance between us was immense, vast oceans, different spheres. But then that has always been my problem. My vantage of the world has always been just that- distant voyeur. I’m missing something; social etiquette, the personality chip, the x-factor call it what you will. But the effect is the same. I am invisible…

The door behind me opened and the company CEO entered. He strode across the room, barely raising a glance. Sitting at the desk he slid a pile of documents and some envelopes in my direction. I took them quietly. He barely acknowledged the transaction as I turned to leave. Behind me I heard his pompous voice, awkwardly excited,

“I am telling you we are made…I can’t say right now but I am telling you: no more TV dinners- we will be dining with the stars. I will tell you tonight when I get home.”

I scurried away down to the cool sanctuary of the building basement.The indifference of his dismissal still stung like a slapped cheek. I put the pile of papers down face down on my desk and stepped over to the cupboard.

A fly buzzed across the room.

The fan swung lazily sending waves of warm air across my desk. It tugged at something. Orange and white fluttered, caught for a moment and dropped as the fan passed on. I looked at the small scrap of paper. Caught. Trapped. It didn’t belong there. Chance must have caught it up as it passed across the desk, unnoticed. It lay there, still. The fan swung back and picked at the paper once more. I watched as it struggled. It was as if it wanted out; out from the grips of the paperclip; out from this hot basement with no view; out from the teasing hands of the swinging fan. The fan passed by again and again. Each time it hoped, I hoped. Maybe in its escape I would see hope…

The fly buzzed onto the pile of papers and sat there. The fan began to turn again. The fly took off, free to go were it will. The paper began its fluttering struggle, but this time, just as the fan was about to pass on, the paper tore itself free from the paperclip and flew out onto the floor. I watched it swing to the ground and rest there. Waiting.

I recognized it instantly, but maybe not the significance it might have. Six number were printed across it, random numbers: 03, 12, 18, 26, 37, 42.

These numbers held no obvious immediate significance but then they were no longer numbers of chance. A glance at the paper was sufficient to confirm a half-hearted hope. These were the numbers of winners. Someone was a winner.

The fly buzzed across my desk and landed on my chipped mug. I considered the summary dismissal from an office upstairs. The indignity. The fly began cleaning its forelegs. The options tumbled out before me. I sat looking at the ticket, lying on the floor. The hour hand swung round in a giant arc. The fly had long since passed. The ticket lay on the floor. Waiting.

It was then that I made the decision.

<…>

Flash followed flash, a veritable strobe of dazzling flashes, cameras blinding me. I had never experienced such interest. In me. Candice literally clung to my arm, her blonde hair shimmering, her eyes fluttering, clandestine whimpering. I had never realized that a woman could be so … animated… Every word I spoke would change  her- the tilt of her head, the intensity of her eyes, a subtle movement in her lips…

The size of the win didn’t change me. Having money did though. I became an instant celebrity. I began receiving letters from people I didn’t know- invitations to parties; free gifts- oh the irony- credit cards, loan offers. I have kept them all. I have a scrap book- pages ripped from the local rag, photographs, mementos of my changing circumstance:

SMART WORLD’S CEO FOUND DEAD (13th June, 2011)

Mr J. Fisher of failing Financial Services company, Smart World, was yesterday found dead in his Northgate office. It is suspected that he took his own life just hours after rumours of the company going into receivership broke. Police are treating the death as a suicide. His late wife, Georgina Fisher, is reported to say that she “can’t understand it. It seemed he had good news on the phone.”

This marks the 100th suicide since the downturn began in April…

RECORD LOTTERY WIN UNCLAIMED (17th June, 2011)

The sole winner of last weekends £8 million jackpot win has not yet registered their win. The winner who bought their ticket in the Crawley area has still not registered their claim, internal sources have confirmed.

Last Year more than 30% of claims went uncollected…

LOTTERY CHANGES POST BOY’S ADDRESS(4th July, 2011)

The winner of the £8 million pound jackpot from last month’s record breaking National Lottery draw has been traced. Though his name has been withheld under privacy laws, sources have indicated that the winner used to be a post boy in a local company. He has made it clear that he will not let the seize of the win change him.

He no longer works in the post room…

And on the front of this book of various ephemera is the paperclip; small- most people don’t notice it- but that how things often start.

It had once held the lottery ticket. It had brought it to me. Maybe one day it might take it back.

<…>

The book lay there, the newspaper clipping showed a burnt-out house. The headline read,

Fisher Widow Murdered. Police Have No Leads”. Passages of interest had been highlighted, dots to be joined…

Candice sat, a painted smile smeared across her face in vivid lipstick. I could see the newspaper articles opened across her lap, their significance at last laid bare. I could see green greed in her eyes. Her blonde hair was tied back in a loose bun and, and, here I laughed at the image that met me, she had secretarial glasses perched on the tip of her nose across which she looked at me in her triumph.

I walked across the room and placed the drink I was carrying next to her and sat myself. I couldn’t think what to say. I had imagined this moment for months and now I couldn’t imagine what to do.

She began to rise from her seat, as if scared of me, of what I might do. I couldn’t let that happen. I rose quickly and stepped away, looking for a reason to put distance between us. I began to pick up the poker to stoke the fire but could sense her fear. I replaced it quickly and turned,

“Did you see that rain today?” I enquired. It is funny how our lives all tumble out in cliches, I wanted add the lightning and thunder and a strained soundtrack but…

“I was reading.” she purred.

“Really?” Don’t sound too eager, take your time.

“You have an interesting collection of things here. I wanted to see what you consider so precious.” She stroked the edge of the book, her fingers fiddled the paperclip she had torn from the front cover, back and forth. You could see her eyes watching me trapped, like a piece of paper, unable to part from the truth.

I walked to the bureau and opened a drawer.

“Looking for this?” she asked, drawing from behind her the gun I kept there.

“No.” I answered, quite truthfully, picking up glue , I walked over, and sat across from her.

She shook her head. She was victorious. She laughed, nervously, at my anticipated discomfort. She held the gun out like a shield between us and began talking. She was so alive as she traced the story, my story, linking all the dots so carefully placed. She practically sang.

I listened to the notes of her words, a musical aria. I heard my own heartbeat pound inside my head; behind me the fire cracked as flames licked the young wood, spitting sap. The tapestry of sound was glorious. Picking up my glass I sipped the cold champagne. The bubbles danced again- for so long they merely slid across my tongue but again tonight they danced.

A clink of metal on glass brought me back,

“You might want to be careful with that.” I nodded at the gun which she waved around in front of her. She had become increasingly animated. She looked at me, sat there listening, and saw in my face the submission she so craved. Finally the words came:

“I want it all, this house, the cars; I want it all.”

“And me?” I asked.

“I want you out. I don’t want you living in the same house with me. I can’t share the house with a murderer.”

Her words sounded so convincing. I wondered how long she had practised them to give them even the hint of authenticity.

I waited. I had to let her see me consider my options, too soon and everything would fall at the last hurdle, too long and she might lose courage.

“I agree.” I said quietly.

She was shocked. I could see that but the signs of relief were all too clear. I stood up and made as if to leave. I stopped, turned and raised my half empty glass out in a toast. “To the happy times we spent together.”

She snorted contempt at such pitiful sentiment, after what she saw as her years of working at being my token wife. Oh! Such hardship! She raised her glass in her own toast

“Riddance to your pitiful presence; to your hideous face.” She downed half the glass. About to replace it on the table she thought better and raised it out once more. “To a life without your pitiful whining.” She drained her glass.

I walked towards her, instinctively she raised the gun.

“Stay back.” she warned. There was a slight tremble in her voice. She breathed heavily now.

I walked forward, as the gun touched the my chest, I stopped. There was a slight doubt now in her eyes. A question. She fell backwards still holding the gun at me.

I smiled.

“I…” she was struggling to get her words out, “Don’t make me.” I leaned forward and stroked a lock of hair out of her eyes and traced her cheek.

“My sweet Candice!” I whispered.

She looked worried now. Grasping for breathe she purposefully thrust the weapon forward. Beads of perspiration began forming on her brow.

I looked at the gun.

“Shall I?” I took it from her. She barely resisted as I uncocked the safety and replaced it in her hands.

She looked at me, confused. Her well made plans beginning to crumble. One hand gripped the gun while the other now clutched at her head. The shooting pains were beginning in earnest. The outstretched arm dropped, I held it steady as she squinted, trying to take aim; her eyes wild, scared; her breathing ragged and painful.

My breathe was calm.

She pulled at the trigger but couldn’t find the strength. She offered no resistance as I placed the gun upon the table and leaned in. She began to convulse, vomit forming at the side of her mouth. I helped arrange her more comfortably. She lay there, her hair now matted to the side of her face,  staring, shallow breathe ripping at her body.

I reached out and calmly glued the paperclip back on the front of the book, my book. Not this time.

Death gripped Candice tight, as once she gripped my arm. It trapped her to the couch, as she fluttered hopelessly. She looked at me- the question in her eyes challenging me, ripping at my core. I could feel the rot burning inside her, begin to burn in me and knew that, even as the toxin took hold in her, another, slower acting death had taken hold in me. I looked death in the face with avid curiosity and knew I could not satiate this feeling, this rot. I saw then, in her glassy eyes, the reflection of my own death.

The fire sank into the darkness of a stormy night.

<…>

And so it turns out that my Great Grandmother was right. Good things DO come in small packages. For me it was a paperclip- small; innocent; but exquisitely devious- the events here would not have happened had it not been for the scrap of paper trapped as it passed across the desk.

And she was doubly right… and so, it turns out, does poison.

MB’11

Thank you to Write Club for the inspiration.

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About Maitiu

I am a collection of aspects. A father, a husband, an uncle, a son, a teacher, an aspiring writer, an amateur photographer, a poor guitar player, a slightly better singer... Online however I am a 365er looking to find out what people make of my personal poetic musings and my photographs. Drop a penny in an old man's hat and let me know what you think... (Leave a comment!)
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2 Responses to The Paperclip (A Short Story)

  1. Babs Bradley says:

    This one stands the test of time

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