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Time to Read: 8 minutes
Trigger Warning: Strong domestic violence themes.
He’d really done it this time. This time he’d gone too far. The crumpled heap in front of him gave one last shudder and lay still. Jesus, she was only 9 years old.
The blind rage that had so consumed him begun to ebb away. What had he done?
If she hadn’t been so damned incompetent he wouldn’t have lost his cool. If she’d been able to just follow his simple instructions without all this “I don’t get it” bullshit then the whole scene could have been avoided. Shit.
As the red haze lifted, he started to notice other things. The way his knuckles hurt. The drip, drip, drip of her life essence leaking out onto the white floor tiles of his kitchen. The sun cascading through the sky window to frame her lifeless body in a rectangle of bright sunshine.
The last five minutes were a blur, but snippets were coming back to him. Oh boy, had he stomped on her head?
He looked everywhere but at the mess he’d wrought. He was still breathing heavily, his teeth gritted. Again, pain pushed its way into his consciousness. His knuckles really hurt. A quick inspection showed they were bleeding. He may have even broken something. He tentatively unclenched them, wincing.
He took in a deep breath and looked up through the window to a blue summer sky that he wished he could just fly up into and be away from all this.
He closed his eyes and sighed. “Shit, fuck, mothefuck,” he whispered. But having his eyes closed magnified all his other senses. The metallic smell in the air. The muffled sound of a distant neighbour trimming their grass. The horrible dripping noise.
He opened his eyes again. He took another deep breath. Time to assess and plan. He looked down. Her body lay bent and broken on the tiles. Her arm was bent at the wrong angle and her face was just a smashed mess. A dark patch was spreading on the white tiles and soaking into her pretty Sunday dress.
Oh sweet jesus, why had he stomped on her head? He could have just given her a bit of a walloping. Just a few swift jabs to let out the rage, and then let it go. She would have been a bit banged up but still OK. Still alive. She would forgive him, she always did. Well, not this time.
He looked at her lying there and clenched his fist again.
“Now look what you’ve done you stupid bitch.”
It was scary how easily he could slip into the aggression. Like pulling on like a well-worn glove. Warm and powerful.
Her reply mocked him. Drip, drip, drip. You, did, this.
He closed his eyes again and took a deep breath. Aggression was not useful right now. With nobody here to take it out on it could only turn on himself.
He winced again. He’d been trying hard to get his anger under control. He saw a psychologist twice a week. He had done so for over a year now. He talked about his parents, his own painful and violent upbringing. The whole thing had been an extremely painful experience. But he had thought he was making progress. He had been trying so god damn hard.
What was it about her that set him off? Perhaps it was something about her incompetence, stupidity, or maybe her frailty that did it. Usually when she did that “I don’t understand” thing. For him, it was like an instant gas hot water system. He could go from cool and calm to a blood boiling fury just underneath the skin in a few seconds. If he worked hard he could keep it all hidden and eventually it would cool. The problem was that the slightest abrasion during that time frame would expose the boiling rage underneath. He would explode.
He had a vague understanding that it was just an evolutionary patterning at work – his own father would dish out a beating at the slightest show of weakness, ostensibly to “toughen him up so he can handle the real world”. Heck, he hadn’t cried in fourty years. But he didn’t want to be like that. He wanted to be different.
He sighed again. Failing. Always failing.
What had he even been so angry about? Oh, that’s right. The papers. She’d “tidied” some important documents away by shredding them.
It wasn’t the first time she’d done something stupid. She was constantly making mistakes that no competent human would ever make. Like cleaning the toilet with a dish cloth. They were little things, sure, but it was just constant.
“You idiot, this is an original, do you have any fucking idea how much hassle it is going to be getting a replacement?”
“No, sorry, I don’t know.”
“Don’t be smart with me you little shit. You fucked up, you shouldn’t have shredded those.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand,” she said, looking down.
“Let me help you to understand.”
Maybe it had been the admission guilt that made it feel he needed to meet out some justice. Or maybe he’d had enough. But that was the moment he really lost it. Everything from that moment until now was a blur.
He was still standing over her body. Shit. He should just call it in. But goddamnit what would he say? Maybe he can make it look like an accident. He had time. He needed to think.
He walked to the bathroom and cleaned the blood off his fists. When he returned to the kitchen and was shocked anew by the sight of it. He bit his lip as he leaned on the kitchen bench. He ran his rough fingers across his forehead in consternation. There were no two ways about it, it looked like a crime scene.
The little wretch was going to cause him even more trouble. He wouldn’t have thought it possible. Nine fucking years he’d been putting up with her. Nine years.
He took another deep breath. Better to not let that train of thought get away from him again. It wouldn’t do any good.
It wasn’t her fault she was slow and stupid. It’s just how she was wired up. Her programming. And it certainly wasn’t her fault that he was so messed up.
Bah, none of that mattered. Right now he needed to think. How could she have smacked her head so hard? He looked up the shaft set into his ceiling to a cloudless blue sky. Aha!
He walked calmly to the garage and brought a ladder back into the kitchen. He set it up so that it was below the skywindow. He went to the laundry and brought out a cloth and some cleaning spray. He climbed up the ladder and then dropped them to the ground. The spray bottle clattered away a few metres from the body and the yellow cloth landed softly near her head. One corner was beginning to soak up some of the mess, turning the cloth black.
It was passable. She had been cleaning the window and had fallen, hitting her face on the kitchen bench, and breaking her arm during the fall. He kicked over the ladder so that it clattered to the ground next to her.
It would have to do. If he let too much time pass, they’d know that he’d tampered with the scene.
He quickly looked up the number he needed to call. It was no emergency, not really. Not now anyway. He dialled the number.
“Uh, hello? Yes, there’s been a bit of an accident,” he began.
“No, no, she’s dead,” he said.
“Nope. Nothing,” he said.
“Uh, no, I don’t think that’s possible,” he said.
“Can you send someone?” he said.
“How long will they be?” he said.
He hung up the phone. Apparently, it was a quiet morning for them and they would be there within 20 minutes.
He marvelled at how cool and calm he felt now that the wheels were in motion. He knew enough about his psyche to understand that he only felt this way because he’d switched his emotions off. Numbed them. Well, to be honest, that worked for him right now. Behind that dam wall were sadness, guilt, shame, and fear. He didn’t need them right now. It was better to leave it all cooped up until he saw his psychologist again. If he saw her again. He winced. This was part of the problem after all. He kept all his emotions bottled up and then they exploded everywhere in a big mess. Cycles, cycles, everywhere. He was really trying to break this one. He had been trying to break this one.
All of a sudden the thought of being in the same room as the body was repulsive. He marched out of his front door and sat on his front stoop in warm sunshine. He ran his hands through his hair and tried to breath deeply. It was a stunning day. The birds were flittling from branch to branch. So alive. So real. A complete contrast to the still death waiting back inside his front door. He didn’t want to go back in. Maybe he could just stand up, walk off, and never, ever come back? Other “solutions” hovered in the back of his mind. Dark, permanant ones.
His reverie was broken by a van pulling into his driveway. A white van. Not quite what he was expecting, but the driver was in uniform and greeted him with a nod.
“You, umm, Alfred Granger?” said the man, checking his tablet as he stepped from the vehicle.
“Yep, that’s me.”
“Alright, sir, my name is agent Stevens. Let’s go and see what we can see.”
Alfred showed agent Stevens into the house, carefully looking anywhere but at the body. Agent Stevens however was like a fly to shit. He approached the body and gave a low whistle.
“Oh boy. She’s real messed up. Would you like to tell me what happened? I’m going to take some vid and record your responses OK?”
“Sure. Well, I wasn’t here see. I asked her to clean the window in the ceiling up there. I was off in the bedroom and there was a crash and there she was. Just like that,” he said.
“Just like that eh?” he said, panning his phone. Recording the gore. He put the camera right up the head wound. Alfred felt this was a bit much. It was downright disrespectful. This kid was like a voyeur or something. There should be rules against this.
Agent Stevens panned the phone around to point at Alfred’s face again, then dropped it down his body, pausing at about knuckle height, and finally ending on his shoes.
“Do you have insurance sir?” he said.
“Insurance? No?” said Alfred. He didn’t know anything about insurance.
“Now I know you’re in your warranty period, but I’m sorry but this won’t be covered.”
Alfred was about to give his best indignant repost when the man simple raised one eyebrow. As if daring him. He stood for a second with his mouth open before Stevens continued.
“Says here this is your third model in the last fifteen years. All have had errm… falls.
“Look I don’t want to get involved, but I have to let you know that they’ve passed laws to stop this now. We won’t even be allowed to sell you a new model. You might see this here as a machine, but the law is more and more seeing them as sentient beings. Hell, they probably feel emotions stronger than you or I.”
“Oh… I… I didn’t know.”
It felt like a chasm had opened up beneath him. He’d been so worried about saving money under some dubious warranty claim that he had never even considered that he might never get her back again. The scattered electronics and plastic were suddenly more than just pieces. They were her. His partner for the last nine years. He felt his whole world teetering. His emotions pushing against a dam wall that he had spent a lifetime building.
Agent Stevens looked up at him and his face softened.
“Hey. Look, I get it. I’ll get this unit out to the van. There’s a chance I can fix it up on site. Her face will never be the same but I won’t say what’s happened and it won’t be a black mark on your name. I have to be clear though, it’s not under warranty. I will have to bill you for it.”
“Yes, please, anything,” he breathed, “I didn’t mean it, I need her back, please bring her back. I swear I won’t do it again.”
Agent Stevens stopped at the still-open door, one hand on the door frame. He turned and gave Alfred a hard look. Then he turned and walked through the front door mumbling something that might have been “I’ve heard that before”.