(c) Alison Dodd

CREATIVE Tiffany Murray

NWR Issue 106

Mr Bennett Regrets

It’s paper I’m after. More paper, more ink. Use my blood if I could.

If I could.

Listen, the baby’s not mine. It can’t be, see?

Do you?

You don’t know it, you can’t hear it, but I’m laughing now in this cell. The damp air’s filling me up because it’s a joke right there, a trick, but I’ll come to that in good time. ‘Keep it under your skin,’ Hannah would say to me, and I’d laugh then, too: I’m laughing now. Hollow as it is. Hollow as I am.

It’s Christmas out there. I can taste it. Christmas is sharp lemons, it burns, always has. Something acid about Christmas for the likes of me. The snow’s falling out on the street. If I stand on my straw bed I see it through the bars, thicker in the gaslight. If I raise my head and sniff, a bloodhound on the chase, I taste it. Yes, snow’s bitter.

My first wife said it was my hands that caught her, good as a net. My second wife said it was like I’d climbed out of the fresh sea I smelled that good. Said my blond hair was touched with cold and my eyes were icecaps, great and tall and so white they were blue (like the ones she saw in the picture gallery).

It was Hannah, my seventh wife, who was the practical one. (And I give pardon to numbers three to six, but you’re nothing but gone ghosts. Can’t remember a thing about you: black hair, blonde, or was it plain old brown before the roots took to grey, to white? Even your hair is forgotten, my girls.)

Hannah was auburn, bright as fire in the sun. Hannah didn’t say grand things about my hands, my eyes, about icecaps: nor was she a ghost. Hannah loved me, and she wasn’t scared like the others. It was because I’d been there since she could remember. That’s what she told me, ‘There’s never not been George, so I’m happy to stick with you.’

Hannah was the only one I wanted to hear my story, but on those nights in our small bed she’d clamp her hot hand on my cold lips to stop me. ‘George, when you was born, don’t concern me. What you were and what you are don’t concern me neither. You’re here now. That’s good enough.’

Good enough. That was my Hannah.

Of course the rub is I won’t be here much longer. That’s why I’m writing this. There’s the rope coming, but that’s not the thing that will finish me off. As if it could.

No. It’s me. I’ve chosen it. After all this time.

This is my last testament.

The thing is, you think you know me by my record but you don’t. You think you can put me into words.

Larceny. Stealing. Begging. House-breaking. Adultery. Fornication. Ha!

Like I need to break a lock. There were times I could seep through the brickwork, curl myself like trailing smoke past the gaps in the windows. Chimneys are too easy for the likes of me.

And the trinkets you’ve listed against my name. Paltry!

A pair of leggings off a line in Lampeter (and that’s leggings, not the legs, mind). A silver ferret from a boy’s hands in Brecon. The skins of thirty-seven rabbits from under the gamekeeper’s nose up on a hill in Cregrina. The black shoes of a Radnorshire minister. Beaven-Meredith. A pair of girl’s fur mittens (but these I’ll be keeping until the very end).

All that’s just skimming the surface of my collection. You don’t know the half of it, the half of me...

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