“Life Saver” by Mary McCluskey

City Morning
“City Morning” by Mia Avramut, wax on paper, 5.8 x 8.2 in.

The thing about living with a guy who’s just out, who’s done his time and just hasn’t settled back in yet, he jumps and twitches and doesn’t sleep, and his eyes dart left and right and he’s always turning in the street, looking behind him. The thing about living with this guy is that even when his voice is soft, a whisper, the razor blade edge of it seeps through. When he’s saying oh, you’re so hot, you’re special you are, there’s something else.

I hear it, this thing in his voice, but I think – he’d never hurt me. He just wouldn’t.

We’re watching TV late on Friday afternoon when he kicks the wall and says – let’s go out. I jump up and we walk fast, him five yards ahead of me, and right there in town there’s a charity fair. Stalls with hand-made sweaters and jams and pickles and booths with goofy games. He laughs at the old ladies and he has a go at the shooting range, just for the hell of it, and moves the gun to the right trying to whip it around as if he wants to wave it all over the place but the guy looks at him hard, and it’s chained anyway, so he can’t budge it. He wins two goldfish. One boy, one girl. Well, that’s what the old gal said. I name them after him and me – Ted and Jackie, because Jackie has this streaky bit on top, like my hair.

I buy a proper bowl for them. He says it’s waste of money. He says they’ll be dead before you get home. Turns out he’s right. Half right. Jackie dies the next day. All her colors just vanish. She’s fine at first, then there she is, floating on top of the water, her gold bleached out. The boy fish doesn’t seem to notice. Keeps swimming round her.

In the pub when I tell Ted that his fish is still swimming but mine is dead, he gives me a look, picks up his drink and drains it, his eyes all funny and contorted through the bottom of the glass.

At home, I wait until I hear the TV go on, then I pull Jackie out of the bin, flatten her out on the kitchen counter, looking for some deliberate injury. I know he killed her. Then he’s there behind me and I scramble about hiding Jackie’s body in kitchen towel, throwing her in the trash and he wants to fuck now, and he says – you’re different, nobody gets me like you do. And when he says that, as if I’m the only one in the world who does, I give in. I can’t help it. In bed, afterwards, when he seems calm, I ask him, I say – tell me what happened with that girl. Not what you told the jury. The truth.

I expect him to yell at me, say shut the fuck up but no, he wants to tell me.

Saw her in the club, he says. She was hot. Really hot. And gagging for it. I was just fooling around. I push her up against the car and she yells something and then she’s got this thing in her hand, some kind of spike and I grab it, and push it towards her neck, just to shut her up but she moves and – He stops then, turns away from me. Stupid bitch, he says.

It’s when I think of her there, all her colors bleeding out, that something goes click in my head. My body cools. I don’t want him touching me. He doesn’t notice, he’s limp now, relaxed. I want to get up and run. Run away, like she should have done.

And the next night, when he’s gone to the liquor store, I pack my bag so fast and I think – that goldfish saved my life. I don’t know how, but she did.



Mary McCluskey’s prizewinning short stories have been published in The Atlantic, The London Magazine, StoryQuarterly, London’s Litro Magazine, on Salon.com, and in literary journals in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Hong Kong.  Her novel, INTRUSION, is scheduled for publication by Little A in March 2016. She divides her time between Stratford-upon-Avon, in England, and Los Angeles.

Read an interview with Mary here.


4 thoughts on ““Life Saver” by Mary McCluskey

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