Breakeven | a Short Story by Rose Ramsden

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuckity fuck fuck. His head spilled cranberry sauce onto the kitchen’s white floor. A strawberry pool was spreading like a tumour, creeping towards my fluffy socks. The smell invaded my mouth, filling it with a metallic taste, like I was sucking pennies. Wendy. She would know what to do. With shaking fingers, I grasped my phone and rang her. Voicemail. I rang again. And again. I sigh, placing it back into my pocket. No motherly wisdom or gossip column advice had warned me for such a predicament. I’d have to say it was an accident-which it was! Just needed to stay cool until Wendy got here. I had severely fucked up. ------ We’d started the night perfectly normal. Friday night, bar a short walk from the office, drinks on Wendy; it should have been fine. I spent the majority of the evening staring at him, as I’d been doing the past week. It was the flash of icy blonde hair I noticed first. I admired how it contrasted with his dark eyes, two chips of onyx. A small mole adorned his eyebrow and several silver earrings dangled from one ear. His posture was slumped, only moving to order another drink. Both seats beside him were empty. With a deep breath, I got up from my own lonely seat to join him. His eyes widened as I sat down, but he returned my smile with equal interest. We started with the small details. Names, naturally, came first. He gave his shyly, a rather bland one to the one I gave in return, Daraja. Then came work (media he answered blankly, I skipped my own answer) and whether we had children (none.) It turned out we worked only ten minutes away from one another and visited the same cafe every lunch time (I pretended to be surprised by both of these facts.) Eventually, we moved onto film which he had a degree in. I hadn’t even attended uni. When the sky began to darken, I offered to continue at mine. He accepted. The taxi ride home was blissfully short (although the price was a bit steep considering it smelled of cheese and the half-empty can sloshing beer onto my shoes.) When we reached my apartment, flat 02 of the fifth floor, I took his coat and hung it up for him. We moved into the living room, where he hovered by the sofa, unsure of whether to sit down. “My flatmate is out so we have the place to ourselves,” I grinned. “Make yourself comfortable.” He stiffly sat down. I clicked the door shut behind us before joining him, our thighs brushing together. I picked up the remote which was buried beneath Wendy’s work folders and switched on the television. It was a generic soap drama, the screen overtaken by a yelling couple. A teenage girl’s face wobbles on screen, eyes watery. I winced. “Poor thing,” I sighed. “Did you hear what happened with her?” A pause. “No,” he replied, turning away from the T.V. “It’s awful. According to The Sun, the actress was raped by a stage manager. Apparently, she tried to go to the police but her management stopped her and the guy who did it still has his job.” “You read The Sun?” “That’s not the point. Don’t you think that’s horrible.” “Yeah, of course I do. I hope he gets what’s coming to him.” “People like that always do.” A beat passed between us. I stretched, making an exaggerated display of removing my jumper. “Do you want a drink?” I offered. “We just bought a mini fridge, and honestly, best investment I ever made.” “I’ll take a Fosters if you’ve got it.” I grinned, rising, and if my skirt rose up my thighs as I did so, it was purely coincidental. I removed his drink, and a Coke for myself. “Only that, Dara?” He said, lifting an eyebrow. His accent on my name was too strong. “Oh, I want to keep a clear head.” We sipped as adverts rolled over us. I inched closer, hoping he could smell my perfume. It was a mixture between Armani’s Rose D’arabie and Dior’s Joy lotion. Judging by how his nostrils flared it hadn’t gone unnoticed. “Ah! I forgot to unfreeze the chicken! Could you help me? Wendy will freak if I forget something like this again.” Stephen nodded. We walked into the kitchen, the light’s white glare making it look like a hospital. I removed the chicken and placed it in the sink. He shifted his weight between his feet, unsure whether to look at me or the ceiling. With a grin, I approached him, placing my hands on his neck. His pulse fluttered like a frightened rabbit. “You know, when I invite someone back to mine I don’t intend to just talk…” I said. His eyes shut as I leaned forward, my lips inching closer and closer until I snapped his neck like a Toblerone. It made a satisfying crack, like finally clicking your back after hours of aching. But I’d been clumsy with the angle, and he tumbled before I could catch him, his skull shattering against marble. The time I accidentally spilled lasagna out of the microwave unhelpfully came to mind. “Fuck.” We liked cleaner methods when it came to disposal, and it went without saying that a target bleeding all over the floor was a forensic nightmare. Wendy. She was the most adult-adult I knew. She shopped at Marks and Spencers and cooked meals from scratch and ate vegetables because she wanted to and not just to avoid scurvy. I rang thrice, our signal that we needed help (although, when we could we didn’t communicate in a way that was traceable.) I had snapped more necks than I could count, and yet, blood still made me squirm. Wendy berated me for it, but it simply meant that my evolutionary responses were working. Blood was meant to be internal so if it wasn’t, I am completely justified in being freaked out. I knew better than to use the expensive tea towels, so I opted for kitchen roll, taking breaks so I wouldn’t vomit. Rationally, I knew it wasn’t that much blood. He hadn’t fallen very far, after all. But it wasn’t the amount, it was the smell that got me, a metallic tang that choked me like mustard gas. “Hassana, how did you even...You know what, nevermind,” Wendy tutted. I hadn’t heard her enter, but I supposed that was to be expected. She was the boss for a reason. “I’ll deal with this.” Feeling rather like a scolded child, I retreated to the doorway. I rubbed my arms, trying to ease the goosebumps that had risen. The rush that came after a job had simmered down after the fourth time but it would still occasionally pop up. Especially when it was inconvenient. How was I supposed to get promoted when I was still trembling like a baby deer? I sat back on the sofa, distracting myself with late night news. The same girl was the earlier programme was back, but a still frame this time. She had decided not to press charges but that didn’t matter. We had it sorted now. As the programme continued, I took notes for other cases to be dealt with. It wasn’t an easy job, what we do, but someone had to do it. Wendy sauntered in, nodding at my notes. “Can you take care of the rest? I need to shower,” she asked. Her white blouse was spotless but the cuffs of her straight black trousers were dotted with brown flecks. Shame. Those were Burberry. “Sure,” I answered, swinging my legs off the sofa. “Also, can you stop leaving these here? You know how much evidence is in there!” Wendy snapped, making a show of snatching the bulky folders off the table. I had never even touched them and yet I was always responsible. Whatever. When I returned to the kitchen it was just like normal, only with the added smell of bleach. There was also a body but details. His head poked out from the bag, and whilst it was unprofessional, I felt it was customary to spit on his face before tucking the sheet over his head, bidding him goodnight. If I deliberately kicked his body on the way to the incinerator, no one was there to prove it. When I returned, I surveyed the takeaway menu pinned to the fridge. “Wendy, do you want pizza or Chinese?” I called. “Pizza,” she replied, voice distant from the walls between us. I took the landline and dialed the number, sitting on the kitchen counter. My legs ached and a headache had begun to form. But, as they say, all in a day’s work.