Martha-The Rewrite Chapter Twenty Two
After 6 months, Keith stopped going to work. He complained about his back and how he couldn’t do the things he used to be able to do. I’m sure that wasn’t much anyway.He never looked like he had actually been to work. He was meant to be some kind of builder but he never had a spot of dirt on him and he mainly smelled of Deep Heat. One time when he was meant to be at work I saw him sloping out of the high street bookies and into the pub a few doors down. He saw me but remained expressionless. Just looking at me like I was a stranger. He was only about 40 when he decided to stop bothering with the pretence that he had any useful place in the world and instead sit around in his sad pants watching the telly. That was almost exactly the age that dad was when he left. Maybe it’s just an unbearable point for weak men and they have to change something in their lives to be able to carry on. Mum had a nice council house, a job she hated but turned up for 6 days a week, so why did Keith need to bother? He was a lazy man but his laziness was so spectacular that it almost demanded respect. To watch him even climb a flight of stairs was to watch a being battle an invisible force that seemed to be dragging him back down. I started to hate him very gradually. He was taking my mum away. She was all I had. And I didn’t even have very much of her. I grappled with him for her attention, for her love. I could have forgiven him if it was just that. People living together have these things going on. families shift and separate, roll with how things turn out. I hated him because he knew what he was doing and he knew precisely how he was hurting me. He enjoyed it. The only power he had in the whole universe was to hurt a defenceless girl. I’m glad you died Keith.
When his back was supposedly playing up, he asked me to rub Deep Heat into it as he couldn’t reach it properly. I know. It was obvious. I knew then. I knew it wasn’t right that he had asked me but I didn’t fully understand why it was wrong that this man who usually completely ignored my very presence now wanted me to touch him. I squirted some of the cream onto his yellowed back and looked at it. It had formed a little pinnacle, like a dessert at a posh restaurant. I didn’t want to touch it. It looked so perfectly formed, it seemed a shame to disturb it.
“Come on, rub it in, there’s a good girl,” his voice rasped as I took a deep breath. I gulped and slapped my hand down, the cream exploding outwards and I rubbed it in as quickly as I could, my tiny hands blurred with their urgency to get this awful task done and to not have to touch this man anymore. I stopped and wiped my hands on my t-shirt.
“Is it all rubbed in?” I nodded, not realising that he couldn’t see me as I was behind him.
“Well, is it?!” That was the first time he had raised his voice to me. All my alarm bells rang at once across the town square. He turned round to me and slid his vest down over his pointed pot belly.
“Is it all tingly, on your hands?” He said, lips pursed. “I’ll rub some on you, so you know how it feels.” He stepped towards me, his right hand extended. I couldn’t back away any further as there was a chest of drawers already pressing into my back. I watched his hand get closer. He went to grab my shoulder and I bit his little finger so hard that my teeth tasted the bone. He screamed and in the chaos, I saw my mum standing in the doorway with a shopping bag in each hand. He screamed for ages whilst I just stood there with blood around my mouth. Mum held out her hand and I took it. In that moment I felt a safety, a glimpse of love perhaps. I went to the bathroom and spat Keith’s filthy blood into the sink.
I know people who didn’t bite any fingers and wish they had. Their mums didn’t come home a bit early from work just as the first attack was imminent. I was lucky. Keith never came near me again. For another 8 years he skirted around me. He stole what was left of my mum as his revenge for allowing her to see what he really was. Mum didn’t know how to leave him, they’d always left her. She carried on like neither me or Keith existed. She still went to work, she still fed me shit sandwiches at the cafe, she still cooked Keith dinner and still washed his sad pants. She became no one in that moment she saw him screaming and his blood running from my mouth.
He died on my sixteenth birthday. Colon cancer. Mum didn’t even ask me to go to his funeral. She knew I would not have gone anyway. I spent that afternoon drawing in my room like any other Tuesday in November. I went for a piss in the empty house while mum was out burying him. I washed my hands in the bathroom sink and as I was drying them I saw his most recent tube of Deep Heat on a stained wooden shelf. I carefully picked it up in some bog roll and lobbed it out the window into the garden next door. I thought of him in a wooden box, still barely alive, still clutching his back and whinging as he was lowered into the ground. I smiled and closed the window.