Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

Akashic Books

||| |||

News & Features » March 2016 » “Tainted Love” by Max Scratchmann

“Tainted Love” by Max Scratchmann

Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.

This week, Max Scratchmann makes sure justice is served in Edinburgh, Scotland.

max_scratchmannTainted Love
by Max Scratchmann
Edinburgh, Scotland

Dorothy stumbled blindly into the lesbian bar as the last few off-season tourists perambulated the crooked streets, the evening sky a dull antimony pink behind the smoke-blackened canyon of the Cowgate, her hands wet and the bloody knife still in her handbag.

Her hair was matted and, under her blouse, her side was slowly turning black and blue from where Richard had thrown her against the kitchen wall, her lip cut and swollen from the first kick that had landed there before she could cover her head with her hands. She lay there, remembering the estate agent pointing out the thickness of the walls of the sedate Marchmont flat with its spectacular views across the city, telling them with his practiced laugh that they could rehearse the tuba in there if they wanted, not a soul would ever hear them. Good news for Richard, she thought wryly, taking another blow.

Inside the labyrinthian interior of the club they were were playing “Tainted Love”—the Soft Cell version, she thought—and in the dim light of the cavernous room she could make out the shadowy forms of women gyrating slowly to the melody, soft bodies holding soft bodies, as she glided unseen through the pink-and-red reflected neon light and slipped into the ladies’ room, stumbling painfully against the row of white sinks and letting the water run on her surprisingly guilt-free hands.

“Can I use that soap when you’re done?” a voice whispered in her ear—soft, warm, like buttered toast by the fire on a cold winter night. A girl—woman, really—with hair the color of soft bracken, eyes like robins’ eggs. Tall, straight, dressed all in black beneath a pewter coat, stark skeletal makeup like some forgotten siren of the silent screen.

Dorothy looked at her blankly. Her story sounded clichéd, but it wan’t really. The beatings had started on their wedding night. There had been no traumatic Life-Changing Event to bring them on—they’d been there all along, like rabid hounds, just waiting to be released. She was still a virgin when she married him, and he had made love to her—fucked her, if we’re being completely honest here—brutally in the honeymoon suite before she could even remove her bridal gown, punching and kicking her immediately afterward, establishing a pattern for the next three years, careful not to damage her face if he could. Though sometimes his cold rage got the better of him and she had to make up stories.

“It’s not club code,” the girl said, laughing. “I just need some soap.” But there was a hint of something more promising in her eye.

“You can have it later,” Dorothy breathed hoarsely, dragging her into a cubicle. She’d never done anything like this before, but she seemed to know what to do instinctively.

Afterward, she left the knife in the stall and went home to find the body.

*

They brought in a female detective to question her. Tall, with angular bone structure. Different without her Norma Desmond makeup, and yet those same blue eyes and sad smile.

“Last night,” she said, the tape machine paused, the standby light blinking like an old Japanese battery toy. “Last night, when I held you, you flinched, and today your face is bruised. And you were washing your hands and your hair. Blood?”

Dorothy nodded. She had no fear of prison—her marriage had already been that.

“And the murder weapon?”

“My kitchen knife. I had in my hand when he set about me. It’s in the club toilet where we . . .”

The policewoman nodded.  “I see.”

*

Walking along Princes Street in the rain, Dorothy cried to herself for the first time since it all started, the October sky a symphony in ultramarine, Christmas lights just installed, and the Castle towering on its rock in a soft floodlit red. She would not see the detective again. She knew that. She also knew that she would never return to their flat, even though the police were done with it—and her. But life is like a box of chocolates, she thought, feeling as if she had been transported into an old film, and she smiled thinly at the thought of the police detective in her pewter trench coat, rounding up the usual suspects, as she had promised that she would.

***

MAX SCRATCHMANN has been writing noir fiction since the early 1980s. He is also an accomplished performance poet, much beloved by audiences at the Edinburgh Festival and venues throughout central Scotland. His stories are featured in many anthologies ,and the first volume of his collected works, Bad Girls, is available where good books are sold.

***

Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Mar 14, 2016

Category: Mondays Are Murder | Tags: , , , , , , ,



Featured: Music/Popular Culture/Art