The Quiet Ones

By: Betsy Reavley

For Trinidad and Stephen

& my brother, Harry.

Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade

just as painting does or music. If you are born

knowing them, fine. If not, learn them.

Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself.

Truman Capote

I swear from the bottom my heart I want

to be healed. I want to be like other men,

not this outcast whom nobody wants.



Every step I take seems to be in slow motion, almost as if it’s happenin’ to someone else. The thump from the door as I close it behind me sounds muffled and distant. The smell from the alcohol and bleach still lingers, stingin’ my nose.

I watch myself take a large stride away from the house where all that filth took place. I’m not leavin’ until it’s all over - until every last thing has turned to dust.

I sit down on the cold, damp, concrete curb opposite, with my arms folded across my chest and my legs stretched out into the narrow street. Bein’ out in the open feels cathartic. This place isn’t my home but it might as well be since I don’t have one. I live in the shadows, the place where guilt and anger converge.

London is strangely calm and quiet or maybe that’s just how it seems to me. Next to the growin’ angry flames, everythin’ else fades into insignificance. It occurs to me that the houses either side might burn down. But I shrug it off. What does it matter? No one’s fuckin’ innocent. Not really.

For a moment, I look up at the sky. It’s clean and white. The rain has gone, leavin’ a soggy world behind. It looks like snow might be in the January air. It’s cold enough. At least it would be, if it weren’t for the burnin’ building opposite.

The speed at which the flames lick up the walls smotherin’ everythin’ is the loveliest thing I’ve ever seen. I can’t take my eyes off the fire. So many colours. Whoever knew destruction could be so beautiful?

I slip my hand into my black nylon jacket pocket and fumble with the box of matches. An erection stirs. The noise the match made when I struck it was hypnotic. The way it burst into life. Somethin’ born out of nothin’. Like me.

I’m watchin’ the heat warp the glass in the front window. The pressure builds before it smashes and flames burst through, feedin’ off the fresh air and climbin’ further up the brick to reach the lip of the roof. It’s as if the fire has hands. It searches every surface, feelin’ where to go next.

The noise is deafenin’. The crackle of wood, the breakin’ glass, the meltin’ screams of other unknown fabrics all sing together like a choir while the roar conducts the tune. And somewhere in the distance, I hear the faint wail of sirens. I knew she’d call the police. I’ve been expectin’ them.

Maybe I should have killed her. It would have been good to watch her bleed. But it’s too late now. That ship has sailed. I suppose I could run and save myself. But I can’t tear myself away from watchin’ it all comin’ to an end. I’ve got nowhere left to run. I’m too tired, now. Tired of hidin’. The police are gettin' closer. I can hear them. This is where it ends. But to understand how I ended up here, you’ll need to go back to the beginnin’.

Closin’ my eyes for a moment, I relish the burnin’ heat on my face. It wasn’t meant to end like this but life has a funny way of surprisin’ you.

The sirens are so close now. I can almost see them. Openin’ my eyes again to have one last look, somethin’ grabs my attention. A large puddle on the tarmac by my boot is movin’. I look at my reflection in the water but see someone else lookin’ back. A less good version of the person I wanted to be.

February 3rd

The phone rings and I know it’s her. I push my chair away from my desk putting distance between my body and the telephone. Frozen and staring wide-eyed, the shrill sound grows louder. Charlie pokes his head around the doorframe and looks at me. He has a tea towel in his hands and is wiping a white plate. I shake my head. He nods and returns to the kitchen. The phone continues to jangle. It seems never-ending, but eventually stops.

My legs feel like jelly as I get up and go into the kitchen. Charlie is standing over the sink with his back to me. By the shape of his shoulders, the angle of his head, I can tell he’s deep in thought. He’s a tall man with a thick head of dark curly hair, grey around the temples. He senses me and turns round. As I approach him, he stretches out his arms and wraps them around me. I feel safe again. He smells like washing up liquid and freshly baked biscuits and I bury my face in the woollen fabric of his cable-knit jumper. His large hands are damp and I feel the wetness soaking through the clothes on my back.

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