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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

Heads and Tails
by George Rolph

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On the last day of his life David Tate was under pressure. He was working long hours to try to pay his mortgage and provide for his wife and two children. He was tired all of the time. When he came home his wife was invariably angry with him because he was not, "Doing enough to help me with the children." He drove his car into the driveway of his house and switched off the engine. He sat for a while staring at the front door with dread, then he dragged his exhausted body from the vehicle and locked the door.

As soon as he got in the house he hung up his coat, put down his briefcase and picked up Susan, his five year old daughter, who had run to meet him as usual. They exchanged kisses and he carried her into the lounge and sat with her on the couch. As he read her a story from her favourite story book he stole glances at Simon, his seven year old son who was colouring in a picture while simultaneously watching the TV. Simon suddenly noticed his father was home and ran to him with the book to show off his work. David gave Simon words of encouragement and tousled his brown hair. He was proud of his kids. They made his job bearable.

David had no idea that he would be dead in less than four hours. If he had known the circumstances of his death at that moment he may have regarded the event with a welcome, even, longing relief.

David's wife Jenny called to him from the kitchen to come and eat his evening meal. He kissed his children again and went through to the kitchen where he sat down at the table. As he ate the spaghetti bolognaise he glanced up at the clock high on the wall. It read 9:43 PM. He stifled a yawn and forced himself to chew. He was not hungry. He was too exhausted to be hungry. He wanted to go to bed but he dare not go too early. He dare not leave the food uneaten. If he did, Jenny would be upset and he could not take any more arguments.

Jenny left the kitchen without a word and David sighed silently with relief. He knew from the way his food had been carelessly presented on the plate. He knew from the way she had smacked the coffee cup down on the table. He knew from the way she had slammed cupboard doors and the constant sighing sounds she made, that his wife was angry, yet again. He did not know why. He had no idea what his crime was today.

Everyday for the last three years he had done something wrong. Every day he had failed to anticipate his wife's needs in some way and had endured a roasting for it. He suspected she hated him but she always denied that was true. Sometimes she would cry and apologise to him for her verbal attacks on his nature and character. Sometimes she would just turn her back on him in bed and sigh loudly or "tut" in obvious anger. Sometimes she would slap his face so hard it stung for an hour. Once she kicked him in the crotch and had badly bruised his testicles. He had been in agony for four days. Most often she would wake him in the early hours and insist on, "talking this out right now." He knew she was under some kind of internal strain but try as he might he could not find the root of it. He was not even sure that Jenny knew what it was. One time he offered to get a psychiatrist friend to talk to her. Her explosion of anger had convinced him not to suggest it again. Her rage had left broken furniture, plates, smashed windows and very frightened children screaming in the house. He did not want to repeat that exercise in a hurry.

David was confused and frightened. He felt as if his relationship was headed for the rocks. He had felt this for three years. He tried in every way he could to prevent it but it seemed nothing he did was good enough. He had toyed with the idea of talking it over with his doctor but he was worried the doctor would let the conversation slip to his wife and spark what he euphemistically called "a moment" in Jenny. He could not talk to his work colleagues about it either. It simply was not done to discuss family matters at work. He had once brought the matter up tentatively with three friends at the pub. The howling gales of laughter, jokes and put downs made him realise quickly that friends and pubs were not the best places to get marital advice.

David finished his meal and washed up the dirty dishes. Before he left the kitchen he looked carefully around. He did not want to leave a single spot of water, or any thing else, that could be interpreted as untidiness deliberately left to infuriate Jenny. He spotted that the kitchen roll was wonky on its peg and he carefully straightened it. He wiped over the kitchen table and dried all traces of water from the sink, before carefully folding the cloth and placing it back where Jenny liked it to be. When he was done, he surveyed the kitchen with a well-practised eye. Everything had to be in place. Satisfied, he walked into the hall and picked up his briefcase.

As he climbed the stairs to his study David was fighting to keep his heavy eyelids from closing. He entered the room and closed the door behind him. His gaze fell upon a photograph mounted in a small silver frame beside the computer monitor. A beautiful, calm, azure-green sea lapped against white sand. Palm trees to the left and right framed Jenny as she laughed in the foreground. It was lovely picture taken in the Solomon Islands during their honeymoon. David picked up the picture and could not stop a sob rising from deep within his chest. He quickly regained control and dabbed his eyes with his handkerchief. "How much I loved her then," he thought. The past tense of that thought escaping his notice.

Crossing the blue carpet he switched on the computer and sat down waiting for it to boot up. As the computer finished its start up routine there was a soft knock on the study door. David pulled himself together and prepared to face his children and the bed time ritual so familiar to him.

After the children had kissed him and gone off to bed David crossed the room to a small table in a corner and made himself a coffee. He hoped the caffeine would infuse him with the energy he needed to enter the data into his computer files. He had an hour's work ahead of him and he needed to be as alert as he could be. With the coffee made and set down on his computer table, David left the study and crossed the passage to the bathroom. Jenny was in the shower but David made no attempt to speak with her. He felt it best to allow the sleeping dogs to lie. He washed his face in cold water.

Back in his study, David opened his briefcase and looked at the reams of papers it contained. Instead of starting work and for reasons he could not have explained, David logged on to the Internet. He opened the Google search engine and stared at the small white text slot that seemed to be inviting him to type something... anything.

His thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the realisation that he was cold. He reached out and felt the radiator next to him on the wall. It was cool. He glanced down at the valve at the base of the radiator. It had been turned off again. David sighed. This was another of Jenny's tricks. Every day she switched off the radiator and every night he had to turn it back on. He knew it was done out of spite but he refused to bring the matter up. If he did, he would walk into a trap and there would be a huge row punctuated with groundless accusations and attacks on his character. The children would then appear, crying and upset and if he tried to go to them and comfort them, she would push him away and loudly accuse him of having no thought for their welfare. Then he would have to endure their accusing looks as well. He could not bear it.

He opened the valve and waited for the radiator to show signs of warming up. When it did, he left his hands on the metal and felt the heat dispel the cold in his fingers.

Looking up at the screen David typed the words, "Am I being abused?" into the slot. Half a second later the search page opened and David chose a result at random from the list. He stared at the web page in disbelief...

"Does your partner...

  • Embarrass or make fun of you in front of your friends or family?
  • Put down your accomplishments or goals?
  • Make you feel like you are unable to make decisions?
  • Use intimidation or threats to gain compliance?
  • Tell you that you are nothing without them?
  • Treat you roughly - grab, push, pinch, shove or hit you?
  • Blame you for how they feel or act?
  • Prevent you from doing things you want - like spending time with your friends or family?

Do You...

  • Sometimes feel scared of how your partner will act?
  • Constantly make excuses to other people for your partner's behavior?
  • Believe that you can help your partner change if only you changed something about yourself?
  • Try not to do anything that would cause conflict or make your partner angry?
  • Feel like no matter what you do, your partner is never happy with you?
  • Always do what your partner wants you to do instead of what you want?
  • Stay with your partner because you are afraid of what your partner would do if you broke up?

If any of these are happening in your relationship, talk to someone. Without some help, the abuse will continue."

David's quick mind scanned the list and noted, that at some point in his relationship with Jenny, every single item on this list had happened to him. His jaw dropped open and his eyes grew wide at the implications of what he was reading. He reached for the mouse and used it to hit the back button on his browser. He scanned the list of hits much more carefully this time. Every page he opened seemed to apply only to women. He noticed there were more than ten pages of hits. He opened the next page and was aware of a feeling of desperation growing in his chest.

"Surely there is something here for men? Surely we get a look in somewhere?" he thought.

He searched fruitlessly for something relating to males being abused. One site was called, "Be a real man and respect the women of the world."

He snorted in disgust. "What about the other way around?" he said, out loud.

After investigating the links on six pages he gave up and returned to the search box. This time he typed in, "Domestic violence against men." Again his jaw dropped in shock and surprise. Page after page of hits pointed him to sites where men talked about the abuse they were suffering at home. He was staggered to read some of the personal stories he found. Tales of extreme violence in the home carried out by the members of the "weaker sex" assaulted his mind. After an hour he was flabbergasted. All of the pages he read detailed the things Jenny had been doing, as if their writers had been looking over his shoulder during every moment of his marriage. Yet all of the pages, almost without exception, complained that men were not being given help by the authorities.

He discovered that the abuse of men was a widespread and a global phenomenon. From Australia to America, Europe to Hong Kong, men were being battered or emotionally destroyed and no one was listening to them. He discovered, that in Hong Kong the government had opened a shelter for abused men but in England, the government seemed to feel that men's hostels, often full of drunks and drug addicts, were suitable places to house such vulnerable men. Consequently, they had refused to offer men purpose built shelters to flee to with their children. It seemed to David that there was a conspiracy to deny male victims the same rights as women by governments all over the world. He had even discovered that a study carried out in the Pacific Islands had found that 50% of the 1,400 women studied had abused their husbands. On one site he discovered that the Government in Britain had carried out a major study in 1996 called "Home Office Study 191." To everyone's astonishment, the worlds largest study showed that three million men and three million women suffered domestic abuse every year. As he read about the study David shook his head in astonishment.

"How come I have never heard that figure about men?" he thought. "It seems like this coin has two sides."

David sat back in his chair and drained his now cold coffee in one long swallow. All trace of tiredness had evaporated from his body. He felt slightly elated and realised it was because he no longer felt alone. It was as if all he had read had validated every fear, doubt and feeling he had gone through during the ten years of his stormy marriage to Jenny. He now knew the truth. He was being abused by his wife in his own home and he was not alone. David moved the mouse and hit another link thrown up by the search engine. This time a British site was revealed. There, at the foot of the home page, was a twenty-four hour help line number.

David dialled the help line. As the telephone was answered by the man at the other end of the connection, David failed to hear the tiny click of the extension being picked up in the bedroom.

David talked on the telephone with the help line operator for an hour. He poured out his heart and frequently sobbed as his feelings were confirmed as normal. His fears confirmed as reasonable. He felt huge relief sweeping his body as the voice on the help line explained that there were things he could do to ensure that he need not suffer this abuse much longer. The counsellor asked David if the line was a safe one to discuss these thing on. David assured him it was OK. "Jenny will be asleep by now," he had said, confidently. The voice reassured him that if he gathered evidence of his abuser's behaviour, he could come through this with his children, house and money intact. The advice was to find ways to record her abusive behaviour. Several creative ways were explained to David about how this might be achieved.

David was advised to remove his and his children's passports and other vital papers from the house and leave them in a safe and secure location. He was advised to close all joint bank accounts and remove any of his own money from the house, "Because," said the advisor, "abusive women will often try to leave you penniless and you need to ensure that does not happen to you." David was warned that false accusations of child abuse, domestic violence, or rape, were commonly made by female abusers as a means of discrediting their husbands and boyfriends in court during custody hearings.

By the time David had put down the telephone he felt a lot better. His mind was still reeling from the implications of all he had heard on the help line, but he was now sure he could handle the situation. He had found someone to listen to him and that anonymous person had promised to be there for him at any time. That had made him feel re-empowered.

David looked down at his still open briefcase on the floor and then up at the clock on the study wall. It was after midnight. The data could wait until tomorrow. He switched off the computer and left the study.

Crossing back to the bathroom he stripped off his shirt and filled the sink with hot water. He frowned as he saw the three vivid scars on his chest. Another sign of one of Jenny's previous "moments." He washed quickly and cleaned his teeth. As he reached for a towel David saw a small bronze statuette of a woman sitting on a dolphin on the towel shelf. He was puzzled. The statuette belonged in the bedroom.

"The kids must have brought it in here," he thought.

As he entered the bedroom, David flicked the light switch. Nothing happened. Thinking that the bulb had blown David groped his way in the dark to the dressing table and replaced the statuette, then he felt his way to his side of the bed. He felt for his bedside light switch and recoiled in shock as his hand felt human skin. It was his wife's thigh. She was standing naked in the darkness. A tiny shaft of light passed through a crack in the bedroom curtains and briefly glinted on the blade of the knife in her hand. The last thing David ever heard was his name.


David turned towards the voice and opened his mouth to speak. Before he could utter a word he felt something glide under his ribs and pierce his heart. He fell to the floor and landed on the deep pile carpet with a soft thump, the weight of his body shoving the knife so deeply into him that the handle was driven halfway into the wound. He was dead in seconds.

Jenny reached out and switched on the bedside light. She studied David's prone body for a while and then grinned silently to herself. Crossing to the door, she turned the key in the lock and stood on a chair to replace the missing light bulb in the centre of the room. After replacing the chair, she went to her dressing table and picked up the small but heavy bronze statuette. She wrapped it carefully in a handkerchief to preserve David's fingerprints. She raised it in the air and shut her eyes before bringing it crashing down into her forehead as hard as she could. The pain hit her head like a tidal wave and she sank to her knees. When the initial pain had subsided and she could stand it, she looked carefully at the wound on her forehead in the mirror. Her skin was split and blood was beginning to trickle down her face and drip from her chin. She stood carefully and threw the statuette onto the bed before replacing the handkerchief in a drawer. Then she crawled across the bed and raised one of David's lifeless hands. She straightened out his fingers and drew the nails down her face leaving ugly red scratches and tell tale skin beneath the nails of her dead husband's fingers. She lowered her face next to her husband's body and kissed him softly on the cheek.

"Bye David. Thanks for the house and money and the kids," she whispered. Then added,

"Was little diddums being abused by nasty Jenny then?"

Her mocking voice sounded hollow and dead. Like someone out of touch with her own soul.

She smiled to herself and climbed off the bed.

She went back to the centre of the room and began to scream loudly. "No David. Don't, please!" She threw over the chair and slammed herself into the door. "Owwww!" She shouted. "Let me go. Please David. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." She hit the wall with the side of her hand causing a loud thumping sound. Then, she reached up and ruffled her hair before ripping a skimpy night dress in half and leaving it in a pile on the floor. After a short while, she heard young Simon's frantic voice calling out to his mummy and telling David to leave her alone. His voice was soon joined by Susan's. Jenny punched herself in the mouth as hard as she could and cried out in pain. There was no need to be silent now. Once more she raised her fist, this time hitting herself hard in the eye. As the fist connected she allowed her head to snap backwards and crash into the bedroom door. "Don't hit me David. Please!" she pleaded. The door handle was turned, but the locked door remained closed. "Mummy, are you OK?" Susan called out, her young voice filled with fear and anxiety. Jenny answered her daughter with a scream.

Detective Inspector Swan of the murder squad surveyed the bedroom with experienced eyes, his mind automatically recreating the events that had led up to the man's death. There had been a struggle in the centre of the room. The torn night dress gave silent testimony to that. The bed had not been occupied, but the creases in the covers seemed to show that someone had been on top of it. "Probably his wife trying to escape the bastard," he thought.

The discarded statuette seemed to reinforce the view forming in his mind. Her blood was splattered onto the dressing table and the carpet beneath. There was also a thin trail of blood leading towards the body and laying in scattered drops on the bed's crumpled quilt. Another trail led to the bedroom door. Confident that he had a rough idea of what had taken place in the bedroom immediately prior to the stabbing, he ran over it in his mind.

"He locked her in the room to prevent her escaping and the kids from getting in. Then the fight started. He ripped off her night dress and he hit her with the statuette. The blood on its base appears to show that, along with the wound I saw on her head. A fingerprint check would confirm it. The pattern of blood drops showed that she was moving towards the door. Trying to get out. She must have broken free from him and she crossed the bed to get to the knife she had hidden from the abusive bastard. Obviously, she was going to use it to keep him away while she called for help with the telephone on the bedside table. He went around the left side of the bed to stop her calling the police. She stabbed him."

Satisfied with his first assessment, he left the room and went downstairs to begin the difficult process of the first interview with the distraught Jenny in the lounge. As he reached the bottom of the stairs and crossed the passage towards the lounge, he glanced at the two female police officers comforting the children in the kitchen. He motioned with his head indicating they should take the shocked children to the waiting ambulance outside. The WPC's nodded assent and led the children away.

Detective Inspector Swan carefully and gently questioned the woman sitting and crying quietly on the couch. Almost everything she told him seemed to confirm his initial theory. When he was satisfied, he explained that they would take her to the police station and take a statement. She would be held there overnight and taken to court in the morning. He assured her that the police would not be opposing bail and she would almost certainly be free by tomorrow afternoon.

The house was empty. The technical teams had finished routine dusting for fingerprints while others took photographs of the crime scene before removing the body. Detective Inspector Swan entered the study and noticed the computer for the first time. On impulse he switched on his radio and called for someone to come and take the computer away. "We may as well see if the bastard was downloading child porn as well," he said bitterly, to the two officers who came to remove it. Swan picked up the small framed photograph of Jenny. He looked at it for a long time. Finally he spoke out loud in the empty room.

"You had no idea then who you had married, huh? That's the problem with abusers. They are great at hiding who they really are... until it's too late."

Shaking his head sadly, he replaced the photograph on the table and left the room.

Three months later, Detective Inspector Swan and Inspector Donald Wilson were deeply involved in a conversation relating to the case. They had just returned from a Domestic Violence Forum meeting attended by various members of government, including the Prime Minister's wife and several women's groups. Jenny Tate had spoken emotionally at the meeting as she related how she was forced to kill her abusive husband after years of suffering silently. The Prime Minister's wife had presented her with an award and told the assembled women that Jenny represented a "role model for today's women. By refusing to submit anymore to the terror inflicted on her by a brutal husband, she showed enormous courage in the face of repeated, savage attacks."

As the two police officers talked they were approached by a young woman dressed in a white coat. The lab technician interrupted the conversation.

"I think you need to come down to the lab sir," she said. "Something has turned up with regard to that murder a few months ago."

"Which murder?" said Detective Inspector Swan.

"The David Tate murder," replied the technician.

"That was not a murder," he corrected her. "The verdict was self defence."

"I think you had better take a look Inspector," the lab technician said, insistently.

In the lab Detective Inspector Swan listened in stunned disbelief to what the technician was telling him. The computer had played no part in the court case that cleared Jenny Tate of murder. Consequently the priority for checking the hard drive had been low. However, the order to check it had now been carried out. Swan stared at the computer screen in front of him as the contents of David Tate's last computer session slowly scrolled up the screen. The pages from the Google search engine clearly showing what links David had searched. The last one being the page with the help line number on it. Each searched link was in a darker colour than the unsearched links. The computer's log files clearly showed the times and dates these pages were accessed. The technician had said there was no sign of pornography of any description on the hard drive.

Detective Inspector Swan made a note of the telephone number of the help line and reached for the phone. Just in case...

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