Just a Thing

The Meaning of Objects

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I saw the object outside in the street, below my window. It was clearly abandoned because it was after midnight and no one else was around.

I had never seen anything like it before. I didn’t know what to make of it. I took out my mobile phone and located the camera app. I hesitated before I pressed for a picture, and then I put the phone back into my pocket. Taking a picture felt good but not enough.

I wanted it.

It occurred to me, if I was quick, I could simply go out and take it.

I grabbed my jacket and made my exit, excited and anxious to see it up close.

I took a careful, gradual approach. It was perfectly still and silent but this was the thing, I knew it was aware of me.

There was something medieval about the street lamps, they reminded me of burning torches, orange glows softening the scene with spheres of light, light that bathed the object in just enough colour that it emerged from the darkness. I stared at it. I wondered if the fact that I had noticed it meant that it belonged to me.

I was convinced the object had affected me somehow with its presence. I could feel it radiating intent. It alarmed me a little but I assumed it could not hurt me, it had a small monolithic frame, tiny protrusions and thin material strewn about it.

It looked like it might be alive but there was something plastic about it also – something of a sheen of falseness about its exterior – like a shell that was thin and brittle. In the same way that it is irresistible to poke your finger through the seal at the coffee jar’s neck, I wanted to punch a hole through the exterior to see what it harboured within. I knew that I had to drag it back into my flat before anyone claimed it.

The object was soon in my kitchen. It took considerable effort to get it there unnoticed. It was a curious shape and composition. I remember pondering on the possibility that it was alien in nature, an artefact from another world. It was starkly out of place in my kitchen.

I decided if I was to understand it, I would need to keep my eyes fixed on it all the time.

“You are something to look at,” I smirked, not quite believing my luck. This was a unique find.

There was a distinct quivering around the obelisk’s exterior surfaces that seemed to be escalating in intensity of vibration. On some level I believed it was reading me, tracking my thoughts, so I endeavoured to keep them as neutral as possible. Still, I felt it was judging me harshly.

The object moved. I didn’t like that. I could see it shaking and it began making an odd noise. The noise became shrill, louder, and I felt fear surge through me. It was trying to trap me. Panic.

I grabbed the closest weapon that presented itself, an iron propped on its end on the worktop, the one I used to smarten my shirt on the day my social worker visited.

I smashed the object hard. It changed shape, it shrank and the noises it made changed too, like it was sounding an alarm for assistance. I knew I had no choice but to silence it or I might end up in a real predicament. The idea of other objects being drawn to me was terrifying. I smashed it harder with each blow and even when its noise abruptly stopped, I kept going, just to be certain.

When the part that made the noise was crushed, I saw the object changing colours to red and purple.

Despair and frustration. It was ruined. I realised it must have been precious, belonged to someone. I had been too hasty, making decisions too quickly.

I stood up, put the iron back on the worktop and paced in a circle, as if outlining a boundary.

Despite having silenced it, I believed it was beckoning to me.

I ran my hand over it slowly and it was mostly smooth apart from where I had damaged it. It did have additional protrusions and leaks. It was strange how something so beautiful could transform into an ugly contracted thing, just by making simple decisions.

I didn’t want people to think I had stolen it and broken it. Maybe I should put it back where I had found it, out there on the street?

I felt my heart pick up its pace. I did not want it anymore – what use would it be now?

There were sharp knives for cutting meat and gutting fish lined up on a magnetic strip near the hob. I took the biggest knife and considered how I could dismantle the object, to reduce its bulk.

I dragged the object around the corner of the kitchen door, hauling it toward my bathroom. A red delta fanned out behind it. It was heavier than I imagined it would be.

The object did fit into the bathtub but there were lots of angles to accommodate and it had to be twisted awkwardly.

I had to be very careful to dice the rubber material smaller and cut what I could off. It would be easier to move it, if it was in parts.

Smell was coming out of the object, not good smell. Outside, when I had first been close-up to it, it had the most wonderful scent, like a bouquet of wild flowers, fragrance emanating outward from the object’s surface. Now the scent was gone, replaced with a gutter-like, pungent stink.

I dug out the bin bags from under the sink and pulled out the old musty suitcase tucked into the back of the wardrobe. I had only ever used it that once, when I had been made to stay at the hospital. It was unbranded and purely functional, with tatty frayed corners and a black plastic handle.

The bath was a mess.

I bent over the degraded thing, and slowly prodded it about midway up, poked it with my finger hard so my nail sunk a little into it. That was very satisfying. I’d like to find another one of these one day, maybe if I found another one, next time it would not make the loud noises and I could use it properly.

I sat with my back against the wall for a moment to think. It would be OK. The dustbin bag lining would hold the mess inside the suitcase.

I needed to get rid of the parts somewhere away from here, I could not avoid the exposure of the street.

I had to haul the bulging suitcase down the stairs, quite clumsily, dragging it past the neighbour’s door in the downstairs corridor to leave the sanctuary of the building.

I was in luck. There were no drunks from the local pub and no late-night drivers returning home from overtime. I crossed over the road, making a beeline to the large industrial bin outside Booze, News & Groceries, the nearest ‘all you need’ corner shop. The shop was now closed and in a shroud of darkness, bar a single blue strip light illuminating a row of cans on a shelf inside. The street was so empty and so quiet that I felt as if I were a lumbering beast exposed on the plains. The dark squares of windows were all around me, drawn curtains like closed eyelids.

The suitcase was heavy. I heard myself grunt when I moved, little pig like noises that came with shifting a monstrous weight. Each grunt echoed slightly through the dead night. I couldn’t help it and my arms trembled.

When I reached the bin, with one hand I opened the lid and with the other, I slung the bag inside. There was all manner of discarded rubbish that cushioned its fall and my old suitcase blended into the montage seamlessly, squeezing some liquid from the zipper where it landed. The lid I had been propping, fell back with finality and I let out a wheeze and a little laugh.

The object had left me feeling vulnerable, spotlighted and judged but now it was out of the way.

The hairband

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It was 4AM when the phone chirped through the darkness of the bedroom. I knew instantly what it meant, so did not want to answer. It hadn’t been long that she was missing, and we had had words too, but I knew my own blood. Something had gone wrong, I felt it.

The phone had a small screen of blue above the number keys which lit up with the call. I could see the name YARDLEY in capitals. In the last two days I had grown to hate the phone. It was a connection to me from the world that stole my girl.

I had been drinking. My mind needed anaesthetic. I was sitting up in bed, shirt undone – shrouded by the dark, muggy from the gin. The phone stopped and then moments later began again. I could feel my lip contort – before tears could no longer resist falling.

“I’m so sorry Mr Dixon. About an hour ago we found remains of a body of a girl. Elements of which match the description of your daughter. Would you please come down to the station?”

I let the silence wash over his words.

“…Mr Dixon? Are you still there? We need you to come in.”

“Why?”, I slurred.

I didn’t like the way he said, ‘come in’.

“To identify the body… and we need to ask you some more questions, when you are ready.”

Again – silence. I held the phone for a while longer and then hung up.

The taxi ride to the police station was unbearable. The driver tried to make small talk and I could barely respond other than to grunt one-word answers.

When I arrived, Yardley greeted me with an uneasy stare, holding something familiar in one hand.

“It’s my daughter’s hairband,” I said.

“That’s unfortunate…” replied Yardley.

I held it for a few seconds, remembered it as a part of her daily ritual. She was 15. I would hear her sing Taylor Swift songs in the shower – she would hop into the kitchen for her breakfast, that hairband holding her wet hair back from her eyes. Lately, she had been going out more with friends, ignoring curfews and time limits on fun. She had been growing up.

I held it like a sacred artefact. I could feel her presence in it, her smell, her thoughts, her essence.

An officer took it gingerly away, dropped it into a transparent plastic bag and sealed the bag shut. The object was contained – its meaning mutated into a hard horror before my eyes.

“We have to keep it, it’s evidence,” Yardley explained.

I had made a silent promise with myself as most men do, when you see your new born emerge into the world, you know your single job is to protect them at all costs, the one job you are tasked with for the rest of your days. You swear it in your heart. Other people eventually appear into their lives as they grow older and you lose them by degrees. They drift away. They pull from your protective moorings and break away into the currents. The vultures and the shitheads lope from the shadows to pick at the flesh of your youngster, a bite here and a grab there. They make them afraid and they make them cry. You know you need to do something and then a day comes – they are out of sight – they wonder into a trap, oblivious to danger. You are not there, you cannot help them. You are as alone as you have ever been in your life, when you find out it is too late and that you have failed.

Yardley led me to door to the morgue slowly, as if keen not to disturb the air. He held his hand out, signalling where to go next. The double doors to the cold storage units were thick, grey, with tiny round windows, each with wire gauze netting within. I pushed them open and we edged inside the room. There was a man in white standing with hands clasped in front of him. He almost smiled but managed to refrain at the last minute, to defy the human response he clearly felt somewhere inside. The long, thin table displayed a black shiny body bag with a zip but there were lumps in it, like it had been filled with random objects.

“This is not going to be easy… You can refuse if we can locate someone else to identify the body but I am sorry, I will still need to talk to you tonight…”

Even now, I could feel the detective’s eyes searching mine for clues, despite his respectful, low key tone.

“I need to know. I need to see her,” I said. I felt the first wave of true undiluted disgust at the whole situation. This was real. The body bag, the detective, the mortician dressed in white.

Words seemed to lose all power against what I was about to witness. There was only vision, only reality, all the thin dressings of custom, ritual and etiquette boiled away to nothing against the sheer sun like gravity of a murdered girl.

The camera

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I could not drink the tea that had been offered. I could no longer meet Yardley’s awkward gaze with mine. I was empty of hope and infected with a vision. We were in a small room, with nothing on the walls and a camping table between me and the detective. My chair was small. I was aware of the camera in the corner above me, staring at me with its black lens and blinking red light.

“I would like to say, first of all, I am so sorry you had to witness that.”

He waited but I refused to nod.

“Please understand, I have to ask these questions. We are recording your answers, I need to make you aware of that. A witness has come forward in our door to door enquiries to say they heard you having a very aggressive argument with your daughter just before you reported her missing. Is that true?”

I was above myself looking down, like the CCTV.

I began to choke on my grief. The tears rolled out from the dark hole inside me, like a seal on a tap had suddenly snapped from a surge of pressure.

“Go to hell,” I managed to whisper.

The pills

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I awoke in my armchair, to the sound of the breakfast news on TV. I hadn’t left the chair much since discarding the object. A reporter was saying that a girl had been murdered and a man was helping the police with enquiries. I leaned forward and stretched my legs to get the circulation going.

I could hear sounds of traffic outside, the engine hums that signalled the morning ritual of going to work for so many 9-5’ers. I ought to take my pills, but I didn’t want to. I didn’t like the way they made me feel. I felt like a lab rat being forced to press levers whilst men in white coats watched my every move for signs I acted differently to their expectations. I wasn’t a lab rat. I was me. The pills could stay in the cabinet. I smiled. The other night had been crazy.

I fumbled my chin. The stubble was thick and irritating. I hobbled over to the bathroom and it dawned on me there were still pink smears on the bathtub. I hadn’t been thorough. I hadn’t even changed since that night. I think I wanted to keep some of the object with me.

That’s when the door buzzer bleated. I had very few visitors. I skulked to the window and pulled the curtain across slightly to reveal the street. There were policemen and there was police tape but most unusual of all there was a large white tent over the bin I had used to put the object in.

The monster

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“She was always a spirited girl. She always wanted her way and she knew how to defy me. I loved her and she loved me, I’m her dad. We did have arguments, usually about her behaviour… I would always apologise first.”

I sipped the tea. The tears were in free-fall over my cheeks but it hardly affected my voice, like body and mind were separated.

“She still kisses me on the lips in the morning when I go to work.” It was hard to adjust. I realised I had just talked of her in the present tense. “Understand, detective, a monster did this, not me.”

Yardley broke no expression and offered no feedback. He was a sponge, filtering me and the words that trickled from my mouth.

There was a knock on the door. An officer poked his head in.

“This better be important,” snapped Yardley.

“It is. We’ve got him.”

“How?”

“A witness saw a man acting suspiciously. A routine enquiry found a suspect matching the description who, get this, came to the door with blood on his clothes.”

Yardley stood up and ushered the officer out of the room with a chastising frown.

“This is the father,” said the detective, abruptly to his colleague, without looking back at me. He was embarrassed.

He paused, turned to me and as if struggling to adjust, said “My sincere apologies, I will be back in ten minutes.”

I noticed almost immediately, the little red light on the camera turn off and die.

My breathing escalated, lost its usual pattern. Disgust turned to hate. I had to lean forward over my shoes so as not to vomit with the onslaught and intensity of raw emotions.

Somewhere in the building, maybe in a room close to this one, there was the monster, sitting on a chair, sitting there with a lawyer for protection. All I could think about was murdering the beast, ripping the flesh from his bones with my hands.

I could do it without blinking, I could do it without remorse. He had given up the right to be considered human.

The picture

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My hands were cuffed. ‘What’s normal anyway?’, I pondered, ‘what if everyone else isn’t normal and it’s just me that is?’

My mobile phone was on the table, in a plastic bag. That’s when I remembered, that I had taken a picture of it, when it was interesting, before it was ruined. Part of me wanted to see that picture again, to prove to myself I had possessed it, if for just a moment.

The room felt calm, the walls were blank, the table was functional but the fact I was there at all, it made me uncomfortable. I belonged in my apartment, where I should be watching television or looking out of the window, watching the movements and the flows.

I sighed. That object was too important to have been broken and thrown away. I realised that, now I was trapped.

“We know you killed her. We know you are ill. We do need you to talk to us about what happened. Can you do that? For the purpose of the tape recording, your solicitor is here, as is your social worker.”

I held my breath for a moment and looked up at the people looking back at me. They were all so focused. It was as if I were a television set myself, and the climax of the show was about to occur.

“It was nice. I thought…. Well, it got scared. I got scared too.”

“Why did you dismember the body?”

“I had to get rid of it.”

“There is evidence you…” A pause to recompose. “That you did things…intimate things to what remained of her body, this is after you killed her, and dismembered her. Why did you do that?”

“There were still some parts that I liked. Not all. Just some parts. I just tried to, use those parts, you know? I had them and I wanted to use them.”

They’re expressions changed. I think I said the wrong things.

“Did you do this for personal pleasure, or did you feel compelled to for a reason?”

“It was just a thing, you know?” I said.

“When did you stop your medication?”

“A long time ago. I just didn’t need it anymore.”

The detective shifted in his seat: “Why do you say that?”

“Because I was happy,” I replied.

The End

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