Highly Commended Entry
Just Me Being Normal by Sam Morris
Richard appears on my doorstep as the sound of his bus roars away in the distance. He has a huge bunch of flowers and he’s beaming at me, like when we first started dating. He was such a charmer, before he went all weird on me.
It’s still a bit odd though, to be honest. He normally drives over to see me and he’s got on this baseball cap that he never usually wears.
‘Hello, beautiful,’ he says. ‘What’s up?’
I make a blank face, snatch the flowers and head inside.
Richard follows me into the kitchen and leans against the wall, grinning like a cat.
I begin to cut the stalks and fill a vase. ‘Come on,’ I say. ‘Out with it. What have you been up to?’
‘What do you mean?’ His eyebrows push together as if worried by a stray thought.
‘The flowers? If a man gets you flowers, he’s apologising for something. Even if you don’t know what it is yet.’
‘They’re just flowers. I saw them and they reminded me of you.’
‘That a fact, Casanova?’
I thrust them roughly into the vase, though I can tell it’s an expensive bunch.
Then we set off in my car to a restaurant. Really, I’m just happy that he’s being nice. How sad is that?
It’s six o’clock in the evening and the news comes on. Normally, Richard loves the news. He turns it up and shushes me down. This time it’s something about another murder a couple of towns away. It’s one of three local murders in the last year or so. They’ve found some young woman buried by the main road. They are calling it a spate of killings now.
To my surprise, Richard turns it right down. ‘Nasty Business,’ he says. ‘Depressing.’ He falls silent, though I can tell he wants to say something else.
‘What is it?’
‘I want to apologise.’ He shuffles in his seat. ‘I want to say I’m sorry.’
‘Sorry? About what?’
‘About, you know, being a bit off lately.’
‘Off?’ I say. If he wants to apologise, I’m not going to make it easy for him.
‘You know.’ He looks out the window. ‘Being a right grumpy so-and-so.’
‘Oh,’ I say. ‘Do you mean all the moody silences. The moaning and the not returning my calls.’
‘Work has been such a nightmare. I got stressed out. I’m sorry.’ He pauses and his eyes twinkle. ‘Promise I’ll be better from now on?’
‘Tell you what,’ I say, ‘at the end of the night I’ll give your behaviour a mark out of ten, and we’ll take it from there. Sound fair?’
‘Oh, god,’ he says, ‘you’re not going to take that clipboard out are you, the one you use in your interviews at work?’
‘I like that idea,’ I say and we both laugh, though it sounds a bit forced.
I look out of the window at the trees and the fields, everything speeding past in a blur.
We get to the outskirts of town and Richard turns towards me. ‘I’ve got another confession to make.’
‘Here we go,’ I reply. ‘Let me guess. You used to be a woman called Rachel?’
‘Yeah, you got me. But also, I couldn’t get us a table.’
‘What? At any restaurant? In the whole of town?’
‘No, at any decent restaurant. I’ve had a different idea.’
‘That’s one mark off to start with, right there.’
‘Nine out of ten?’ He nods. ‘I can live with that.’
About an hour later we’re driving away from town. We’ve got an Indian takeaway, more food than we could ever hope to eat.
Richard tells me to turn up this little track. ‘It’s a beautiful spot,’ he says as we bump down the lane.
‘It flippin’ better be,’ I reply.
To be honest, I’m enjoying this little game of Richard trying to be nice to me. I wasn’t that bothered about going to a fancy restaurant. A takeaway in the woods sounds perfect. As we drive, trees bend over the track so it’s like we’re in a tunnel. I can see birds and squirrels and who knows what else. Apart from the rumble of our tyres, there’s almost no sound at all.
We stop in a clearing. It’s towards the top of a steep rise and I can see the river glinting in the distance.
Desperate for a wee, I wander into the trees to let nature take its course.
When I come back, Richard has laid a blanket on the ground and spread everything out. There’s even champagne in an ice bucket. Must have got it from the takeaway.
‘Ta-da.’ Richard looks pleased with himself. ‘Tuck in.’
It’s nearly nine and I’m bloody starving. I eat until I begin to feel uncomfortably full.
All the time I’m aware of Richard glancing at me. It’s only when I feel him stare that I look back.
‘Do you love me?’ he says.
The air has got cooler and I shiver.
‘I didn’t think so,’ he says.
‘What do you mean? It’s only been two months.’
‘I’ve tried hard for you, you know,’ he says. ‘I don’t think you appreciate any of it.’
‘If I’d known you were going to be all moody again,’ I say. ‘I’d never have come.’
Stupidly, there are tears in my eyes and I look away into the trees. I don’t notice Richard get off the blanket.
I jump when he says, ‘You’re all alike, you women. You take what you want and give nothing in return.’
Before I realise it, a cord goes round my neck and pulls tight.
I’d like to say I fight back. The truth is, I am so stunned that I do almost nothing at all. It’s happening so quickly, it doesn’t feel real.
Next thing I know, it’s completely dark. There’s fear and a pain in my throat, but also I feel like such an idiot. I never saw it coming. Isn’t murder something that happens to other people?
I reach out and feel carpet. There’s the dull roar of an engine. I’m in the boot of my own car. He is driving me to wherever he’s going to dig a shallow grave, like he did for those other girls on the news, and throw me in.
Maybe the mistake I made is to imagine that murderers stand out from the crowd. That you can tell them apart from everyone else. That there would be clues. There would be odd behaviours and violent tendencies. You would be able to tell.
Not true at all. Take it from me.
I wriggle and my hand strikes the spade that Richard is going to bury me with. Did he get it when he got the curry? I feel the metal edge at the bottom and my eyes open wide in the dark, though I can’t see a damn thing.
The look of surprise as I leap out the boot is priceless. I swing the spade at his head with all my strength. I hit him again and again. By the end there’s not much left of where his head used to be. It doesn’t exactly look like self-defence.
I dig his grave way deeper than the shallow ones he digs for those girls. He lands with a thump and I fill in the hole. Then I drive home and I go to bed.
The next morning, I phone Richard’s mum to ask if she’s seen him. I tell her I’m worried and he’s been acting a bit strange recently.
His Mum admits he’s been acting oddly for a while now. That he’s disappeared before. ‘Don’t worry,’ she says. ‘He’ll be back.’
Not bloody likely, I think.
I’m almost in shock. Isn’t it meant to be harder than this? Then I realise that Richard did most of the hard work. He didn’t book a restaurant so nobody would see us. He went into the Indian alone. He wore that stupid baseball cap so nobody would recognise him.
Sometimes I do wake up in the night though, panicked and sweating. It’s the same dream. Richard has that cord back round my neck. Then I remember he’s dead. I remember that I killed him and he deserved it. I close my eyes and fall back to sleep.
The police interview me eventually, after Richard’s been gone for over a month. There’s no body and Richard is a missing person. They don’t suspect me of anything. I’m nobody in particular. Just like you. I tell them we were going out for a couple of months, then he disappeared and I never saw him again. Which is sort of the truth.
I’m like most murderers. Normal. Maybe you’re friends with me. You could even be my new boyfriend. You’d never suspect a thing. I’m not dangerous. Not usually. Just don’t mess me about. That’s all I’m saying. Do you understand?