This story is by Victoria Kaderbhai and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
As I cast my eyes up to the cloudless blue sky I can’t help but notice that spring is finally winning in its struggle with winter. A shiver runs down my spine as an icy breeze slips inside my dressing gown, a parting shot from winter letting me know the fight isn’t won just yet.
Looking back down at the grass that tickles my naked toes, I let my nails dig ever so slightly into the softening earth and scrunch my nose up as the mud seeps under my toenails. A day like today should not be spent standing around idly, it should be seized. Shifting my World’s Greatest Teacher mug into my left hand, I use my right to fish around in my dressing gown pocket to retrieve my phone. With only a cursory glance at my phone, my fingers automatically dance across the screen until they have achieved a connection to my best friend’s phone. Lifting the phone up to my ear, I listen as the ringing begins and wait until I hear Chloe’s breathy voice on the other end.
“Hey, what’s up?” She asks sounding distracted.
Some people, on hearing her voice might guess that she was at the gym, cooling down after a session on the treadmill, or perhaps thought they had caught her halfway through lugging the shopping in from the car, but I know that this is how she always sounds, barely stretching her vocal chords to make strong, distinctive sounds, nor wasting time with trivial things such as talking at a regular pace.
“Oh nothing much, just wondered if you were free today. I have something I need a hand with and I could really do with your help if you’re up for it?” There was no answer but I knew better than to repeat myself, Chloe had heard me, she just wasn’t in a rush to reply.
“Sure. Why not? Jeremy hasn’t called and I’m not going to be in to hear his lame excuses when he does. I’ll be around in about an hour.” And with that she hung up.
Despite the fact that she lived less than fifteen minutes away on foot, she had never made it to my house on foot or in less than an hour.
True to her word, at 9.32am, sixty-two minutes after she had hung up on me, her cobalt blue Mini pulled up outside my cottage. I watched through the living room as Chloe glided out of the driver’s seat, checked that Mr Peterson next door was watching as she shut the door with a swish of her hips, flicked her long blonde hair over her shoulder, gave him a knowing smile and made for my front door. My eyes rolled involuntarily as I watched the old man drop his trowel in the freshly dug soil he had been tending to and fumble around as he came to his senses.
Without knocking, Chloe opened the front door and stepped straight into my tiny living room. She saw me and smiled, then as her gaze wandered past me and onto the sofa her smile faltered. “Ah, so this is why Jeremy hasn’t called.”
I follow her gaze over to the sofa and take in the sight that had confronted me when I came down the stairs this morning. Jeremy, a really sweet thirty-two-year-old Geography teacher I worked with. His body took up the full length of my sofa and his grey, ribbed sock covered feet stuck out over the arm rest. His right arm hung loosely by his side and his head lay at an odd angle, the skin a similar shade to his socks. His eyes were firmly shut but his mouth hung open like one of those clowns at the fair where the aim is to fill their mouths with water to fill and pop the balloon.
Turning her attention back to me, Chloe asks “Is he alive?”
“I’m not sure.” I respond, a frown forming on my brow. “I didn’t really want to check. I don’t suppose you would?” Chloe gives me a look that could only be described as incredulity mixed with exasperation, before turning away and approaching the sofa.
Delicately she presses her index and middle fingers into his neck. I watch as the soft flesh yields to her touch. Holding her fingers in place for around ten seconds, she finally pulls them away and turns to face me.
“Well you’ve done it again.” She sighs, running her long slender fingers through her hair.
I bite my lip as I raise my eyebrows at her. “Sorry.”
“It’s not me you should be apologising to now is it?” She asks in her most matronly manner.
“I guess not.” I reply, looking shyly at the floor. “Can you help me, you know?”
“Hmm, I think if you want help with that then you’re going to have to ask me properly aren’t you?”
I really hate it when Chloe speaks to me like this but I’m also painfully aware that I do not have a leg to stand on. “Could you please help me move it?”
“Move what?” Chloe asks with the hint of a twinkle in her eye.
Clenching my teeth together I try again; “Could you please help me move the body?”
“Remind me, is this the first time you’ve had to ask me that question?”
My jaw is getting so tight I’m worried it’s going to lock. “Could you please help me move the body and yes this is the third time that I have asked you to do it.” I fix Chloe with my most severe stop messing with my head stare.
She gives a little snort. “Come on then. Last time worked out pretty well. If we stick to the same technique each time we should get quicker at it.”
Looking at her as if she’s crazy, my voice comes out strangled, “This is not going to become a regular thing!”
“Sweetheart, this is the third one. It has already become a regular thing.”
We both advance towards the sofa; Chloe aiming to take possession of his head and shoulders, and me in charge of sliding my hands under his thighs to heave him off the sofa and towards the garden.
“On three.” Chloe begins but just as we’re about to put our backs into it, the doorbell rings. We freeze and just look at each other.
“Who the hell is that?” Chloe asks, trying to see through the netting on my window.
“I don’t know, I can’t see them either. Just stay still and maybe they’ll go away.” I reply, saying a silent prayer, my hands still positioned under Jeremy’s thighs.
“Excuse me, young lady. I say, you appear to have left your window down on your car. I wouldn’t want the weather to change and for your lovely little car to get flooded!” Mr Peterson’s clipped accent calls clearly through the door.
Staring at each other, completely frozen, Chloe is the first to break the silence with a high-pitched giggle. “Well that’s just the worst thing I could imagine happening to me today!” She exclaims, starting to shake with laughter.
“Stop it!” I beg. “This is serious. He’s not going to go away. What are we going to do?”
Chloe slips her hands back out from under Jeremy’s head and picks up the blanket from the arm chair, deftly she billows it open and it comes to land softly over Jeremy’s body. “Right, he’s asleep. I’m just hanging out and you’re going to get rid of your friendly neighbour as quickly as possible. Go!” With that, she flops down into the arm chair and watches me expectantly.
My hand shakes as I reach for the door handle, my fingers slip as they attempt to pull the door open and I hear Chloe tut behind me. Ignoring her, I take a deep breath and force myself to calm down. Trying again, I manage to pull the door a quarter of the way open and come face to face with my nosey neighbour.
“Hello Mr Peterson. Everything ok?” I ask in my most polite young lady voice.
“Oh yes dear, I was just wondering if your friend was about? The one with all the hair?” He asks, looking straight past me and peering inside, hoping to get a glimpse of Chloe.
“Yes she is, can I pass on a message?” I smile at him. I turn as I hear a sneeze come from inside the room. I am just in time to see Chloe delicately patting at her nose.
“Oops, excuse me. Must be my allergies.” She giggles with a final dab at a nose I suspect is causing her no grief whatsoever. My momentary lapse in concentration is enough for Mr Peterson to take advantage and he saunters through the door, “Bless you dear. Plenty of things going around at this time of year to set one off. Do you need my handkerchief?” He asks, producing a white cotton cloth from his front trouser pocket.
“That’s very kind of you but it seems to have passed.” Chloe says, looking directly at me and smirking. In that moment I swear I could kill her. Strange that she would push me when I clearly have priors in this department.
The old man edges further into the room, hoping to get closer to Chloe, freezing suddenly; spotting Jeremy’s body on the couch. His gaze swings between Chloe and myself for answers. I stare dumbly back at him.
“Don’t worry about him. He had five or six too many last night and is dead to the world this morning.” Chloe dazzles him with her biggest, flirtiest smile. Mr Peterson gets lost in her hypnotising green eyes for a moment, then comes to his senses. “Poor man. Not everyone can hold their alcohol. I, on the other hand can drink a strong Scotch with the best of them.”
Clearly he felt that this little boast would be enough to make Chloe swoon, a quick glance shows me she is unmoved.
“Anyway, your car window is down, I just thought I would warn you, according to the radio there’s a chance it may rain this afternoon.” He tells Chloe, eagerness painted all over his face.
“Great, thanks for the news. Really urgent, considering it’s not even ten in the morning.” Chloe stands up and walks over to him, putting her hand on his back as she guides him back towards the front door, opening it with her other hand, softly pushing him through and closing it behind him before he even knows what’s happening.
I flop down onto the floor and bury my head in my hands. I feel Chloe slide down beside me and put her arm around my shoulder. “Can we talk about how this is the third guy I’ve been seeing that you’ve killed?” She asks sympathetically.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me! It was me that set you up with Jeremy.” I motion to him and instantly regret it as my hand brushes against his leg.
“He was such a nice guy at school, I figured he’d be good for you after the jackasses you’d been seeing.”
“Yes and didn’t you handle your disgust of them brilliantly. If I’d known Jeremy was in danger I’d never have agreed to go out with him.” Chloe replies looking thoughtful. Not a usual look for her. “Anyway, we’ve gotten rid of the nosey neighbour, now let’s slip Jeremy’s body into the outhouse, we’ll wait until dark and then take him out to the lake. Then I think after that you and I need to have a sit down and a little chat about why it is you feel the need to kill any man that I get close to. Sound good to you?” She asks kindly.
“Sounds good.” I agree, letting my oldest and best friend help me to my feet. We walk to opposite ends of the sofa.