Culture Magazine

An Extract from an Unpublished Novel…

By Thejohnfleming @thejohnfleming

An extract from an unpublished novel…

That night, she went to bed very early – 8.00pm – and couldn’t get to sleep until about midnight and then the nightmares started.

In her mind, she saw the quiet living room she knew so well on a quiet Sunday afternoon in a white-painted house sitting alone among trees. His idyllic home; their future idyllic home together. She had been away at a meeting in Manchester.

At a desk in the room, by French windows leading out to the large garden, the man in his thirties sat writing. Or maybe he was reading. Yes, he was reading. He liked reading at the desk, not in a comfortable sofa, because he said it did his back in. He slouched if he sat too long on sofas. So he would have been sitting at the desk, reading. Sitting in the wicker chair he felt most comfortable in. He would not have heard the man stalk up behind him on the thick white carpet. She saw the man dressed from head-to-toe in black, wearing a balaclava. Like he was storming the Iranian Embassy or delivering Black Magic chocolate to his beloved in a Cadbury’s chocolate ad on TV. The police had told her the framed photograph of her had been on the floor next to him when they found his dead body; it would have been one of the last things he saw, they said.

She hoped so, anyway. She hoped he hadn’t heard the man stalk up behind him, hadn’t turned round and known what was going to happen, hadn’t felt the fear rise within him. No, he hadn’t known until the last moment. Her picture was sitting on the desk. It would have been sudden. A black-gloved hand pulling his head back. Another black-gloved hand bringing the knife suddenly round in front of the throat, slicing from one side to the other while the blade pushed in as it cut. The sudden inability to breathe. The loss of consciousness. No, he wouldn’t have known what was happening. Then she realised he would have felt his own warm blood spurt up from his cut throat onto the underside of his chin and we would have been unable to breathe; it would have been like suffocating and she woke up screaming and drenched in sweat.

If you cut someone’s throat, it takes about ten or twelve seconds for them to die; it’s faster if you stab them through the groin – then it takes about four seconds – but that’s seldom an option. Anything over four seconds is a long time to know you’re dying. And twelve seconds is a long time to know it. You obviously can’t talk after your throat has been cut, but you hear your own gurgling and gasping and gargling sounds. You realize what’s happened; you know that, in a few brief seconds, you’re going to be dead. All your plans were pointless.

I saw a man’s throat cut in 1979 and I timed it. He ran to the bathroom, squirting blood everywhere, and managed to get a towel round his neck and then died. Took a little while. Twelve and a half seconds. I timed it when I played the footage back. Watch and learn was always my motto.

In the border town of Dundalk in the Republic of Ireland in the 1970s, in embroidery and sewing classes, little schoolgirls used to knit black woolen balaclavas; they were never told why, but it helped them learn domestic skills which were useful to them later in life.

I was brought up in a local Conservative Party Club in North West London because my parents ran the bar. My father used to tell everybody that he was a trooper in the Life Guards but that all he ever did during the Second World War was to hand out bullets and blankets. That was his War. Bullets and blankets. Nothing special. Sometimes, when he was pissed, which was most of the time, he’d get my air rifle and start drilling with it – strutting up and down in the Conservative Club bar and ‘presenting arms’ and all that. He’d put it up on his shoulder… “Who goes there?… Whose keys?… The Queen’s keys… Pass friend!”… all that bollocks. He didn’t do it to amuse me; he’d do it in the bar at the Conservative Club for the members and they’d all laugh because they were all ex-warriors and loved it. I reckoned my dad was an idiot. He hadn’t fought; he had done fuck all during the War and here he was strutting up and down pretending to be a real soldier.

Because he worked in the trade, running the bar, in those days the licensing laws said he had to close the bar at three in the afternoon and he’d have a proper sleep in the afternoons; then, later, get up and have a wash, then go down and serve drinks all evening. My mom used to tell me late in the afternoon:

“Go wake your dad”

and I used to be mortified. She wasn’t stupid; she sent me for a reason. You could shout at him – really shout – when he was asleep and he wouldn’t hear you. So you had to keep shouting louder and louder and then maybe shake his shoulder gently. But, if you touched him even a little – fuck me – did he wake up! And he woke up violent. He’d automatically swing his fist at you. Then he’d be angry that you’d made him upset and he’d taken a swing at you and he’d storm around for an hour or so. He had a terrible temper. Why I thought he’d never hurt anyone in his life I don’t know, because he’d hurt me. Physically.  A very, very dangerous man. He’d knock my mom about and then bang me and he had a hard job dealing with his own violence. Swung from aggression to remorse to aggression.

He drank 50 bottles – 25 pints – of Whitbread light ale every day. Easy. My mom counted sometimes, just to check. It was only a pale ale; not strong stuff. But he’d start at 8 o’clock in the morning when he was ‘bottling up’. Then he’d have a couple just before breakfast. He was an alcoholic, but wasn’t really visibly pissed after his 25 pints. He could function perfectly well after drinking 50 bottles but, then, he only had to stand behind the bar and serve drinks. On the other hand, if you gave him just one small Scotch after all that, then he became a lot more than a bit of a handful.

When he died, his name was put in the Life Guard magazine and one of his old mates contacted them, got my phone number, rang me up and told me what a wonderful father I’d had.

I told him, “Yeah, he would’ve been a wonderful father if he hadn’t been drunk all the time!”

And he said, “Your father never drank when I knew him.”

This bloke was putting together a scrapbook of people he had known to give to the Life Guard Association after he died, so he wanted photos of my dad. And this guy told me he had been on five ‘X’ missions behind German lines in Occupied Europe with my father, ‘doing little tasks’ – blowing something up, assassinating someone, things like that. He was, obviously, a rather military man, this friend of my father’s and he told me:

“I can tell you for sure that, with my own eyes, I have seen your father ‘cut’ eleven men. He used to kill the sentries.”

He told me my father had only got upset once.

“There was this young German looking at his pay book,” he told me, “when your dad came up behind him and slit his throat. The German dropped his paybook and it fell to the ground and your dad picked it up and inside the paybook was a picture of the German’s wife and three children which he’d been looking at when his throat was slit. And your dad handed the bloke his paybook back as he lay there dying – propped it up and, in his last split second, the last thing the young German would have seen was the picture of his wife and three children. Your dad just stood there looking down at the dead German and eventually I had to tell him, “Come on, we gotta get on!” and your dad had tears in his eyes but wiped them away… and, two minutes later, he killed another sentry. Cut his throat… He did what he had to do.”


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