Two Little Killers—Glennis Cane
She stood there, inhaling the smoke that was billowing like a dark cloud from the rooftop of her home. She was trying to suppress her pleasure. One of the police, a woman, saw her and took the grin as a nervous reaction to seeing the house destroyed. She was only a child, she thought.
The fire brigade were busy, she heard the sirens on her way back from the library. That’s why she had walked home so slowly she wanted to enjoy the moment.
There was an ambulance, the doors were shut and the two ambulance men smoked, talking to the police about the risk of the other smoke that would soon penetrate the nearby houses.
Jane waited to be spoken to.
A car pulled up and her mother got out. She looked scared and grabbed Jane holding so tight she yelled out.
"You’re hurting me."
"Sorry, Are you alright? Where’s your Grandma?"
I don’t know, lied the girl.
Mrs.Tanner, can we have a word? Said a policeman.
Mother moved away towards him.
Jane knew she would be dead that's what they were telling her Mum. So she just waited, shivering a bit as it would soon be dark and they had moved her across the road away from the fire. The fire seemed to be subsiding which made her feel disappointed. She wanted it gone, completely gone.
A girl of about ten unbuttons the collar of her school blouse and slips a piece of string with a key attached, over her head. It’s a large old fashioned thing. She lets herself in, dumps down her satchel, and goes into the kitchen. She picks up a box of extra-long matches and lights the gas oven leaving the oven door open she then stands with her back to it in an attempt to get warm.
It’s warmer outside than in the kitchen. It’s one of those wet summer days you get in Yorkshire that leave you feeling damp and chilled. There is no other heating in the kitchen.
The house is still and quiet. She is not alone in the house though but she wishes she was.
The house is the largest in the street, one of the largest in the village.
It’s also the most dilapidated. It’s brown. The girl who lives there calls it "brown house". She hates it, even at her young age she realises how dismal it is and it’s grinding her down.
The linoleum, the worn-out carpets, the faded curtains, and the dead moths on the hallway floor are all shades and tones of brown.
The sinks, the two lavatories, and the bath which were white have turned a sickly yellow-brown over the decades.
It’s not Thursday so she can relax a little and blot out the person upstairs for a short time.
Jane and her Mother both have fine mousy hair. It’s not brown or red.
Jane puts two pieces of stale bread under the grill taking care with the matches as she lights it. When it’s suitably toasted she smothers it in brown sauce and eats it.
She remembers how, when she was perhaps four going on five she looked at the ingredients of the sauce printed in small letters on the back of the bottle. It seemed nothing short of a miracle that it suddenly made sense. Words like vinegar, molasses, and sugar seemed to jump out at her for no reason. What was molasses? How could she read a word without knowing what it was?
Reading was something she could do well, like the person upstairs.
The same thing every week. Jane climbed the stairs and gently tapped on the door.
A reply was mumbled and she went in. This was what she hated.
The brownest of all the browns.
The paternal grandma, a thin nicotine stained hag.
She was only semi-dressed as usual. Once white knee-length bloomers now the colour of chewed-up chewing gum flap around her thin and heavily varicose veined legs. The toenails are long and some are broken. The feet, rather large with bunions from wearing high-heeled shoes. Over the top of the bloomers is a semi see through, coffee coloured full slip. A once luxurious garment, now badly stained and displaying burn holes.
Her hair is grey but the ends were dyed a violent red orangey colour.
The fingers jangle with heavy gold and jeweled rings. The fingers are long and nicotine stained but the nails are painted a pretty shade of coral.
She smells of cigarettes, whisky. and expensive perfume.
The room is a tip.
The floor is carpeted with matches.
There are dozens of cigarette lighters and cans of lighter fuel.
Empty and full bottles and then those in between of whiskey, gin, brandy, and exotic liquors. Bars of chocolate, apple cores and orange peel, cold cups of tea with cigarette ends stubbed out in the fine bone china saucers.
A revolting chamber pot, with cigarette, ends in it, floating in urine.
A dressing table covered in decades old makeup and perfume bottles
Chanel number five, Max Factor, and Lily of the Valley.
A wardrobe open showing evening gowns by Dior, day dresses. chiffon blouses and fine leather shoes. This lady was rich at some point in her life.
But now she reads and drinks and stares out of the window onto the overgrown, lovely garden.
The bag and the note are over there, her voice is still strong although husky with the abuse she administers to it every day.
Jane takes the bag and note. She’s used to the weekly visit to the village library. The librarian is efficient and always has the required books ready for collection. Indeed she seems to think it’s a privilege to complete this task and obviously regards the reader as someone of importance.
Jane is a small girl so she wheels the books there and back by pushing an ancient bicycle too big for her to ride.
She also gets some books from the library, she likes reading, in fact, she lives mostly to read.
Jane and her mother, who has the somewhat unusual name of Bunty, have fine, fair, mousy coloured hair. Her father and the grandmother had fair gingery hair, thick wavy hair. So pronounced that her father was known as Sandy—not William as he was christened.
Jane doesn’t really remember him as he died when she was three. He was a drunk who got run over and died by another drunk.
Bunty has told Jane that he and his mother suffer from alcoholism.
Well, he is not suffering anymore. As far as she can tell Grandma isn’t suffering either.
Bunty has to go to work because her grandmother has all the money but doesn’t give them any. Bunty tells her daughter one day they will be rich when grandma has died.
Jane does not like her mother going to work. She works in a shoe shop and complains about the long hours and being on her feet all day.
Jane wishes her grandmother would die.
Jane has a friend.
Children are cruel. Jane is an isolated child. She wasn’t allowed to invite people to her home and felt little inclination to it anyway. Not with the hag upstairs.
She has a school friend who was familiar with the situation called Christine. Their home life wasn’t the same but Christine’s was equally unsatisfactory. Christine has a facial deformity which meant she was another outcast.
Jane went to her house occasionally. If Jane’s house was one of the biggest and apart from the decor one of the most desirable, Christine’s was the opposite.
It was small, damp, and dark. There was no bathroom and the toilet was about thirty yards from the house. It was a wooden box with a hole in it, it stunk and Jane avoided it as much as possible.
By the side of the toilet was a huge pile of manure and a patch of grass.
One day Christine’s stepfather was at home when Jane called by.
Jane was frightened of him, he was a lot older than her friend’s mother and there was something about his joviality that Jane disliked.
He decided to have a bonfire as his wife had a tendency to hang on to what he called old rubbish. So, she and Christine were asked to carry piles of old newspapers, cardboard boxes, old linoleum, and such like down to the grassy patch.
Jane found this fun. A lot of the stuff was damp so the stepfather got a can of petrol which he threw randomly on the bonfire.
Stand back he shouted as he got out a box of matches from which he took out a couple, lit them and threw them onto the heap.
There was a great whoosh as the matches made contact with the petrol soaked rubbish. Bright orange flames danced high into the air, and the paper quickly turned black and then disappeared as soot into the atmosphere.
It was all over in a matter of minutes.
Jane plays with fire.
It wasn’t a plan, it was much vaguer than that. The matches were already there. She had been allowed to use them from a very early age. But she had never considered their potential. Now she was experimenting. She burnt bits of paper, newspaper, scraps of wallpaper, she cut off the corner of some old dusters noting that the pieces with polish on them burned the fastest. All this she did over the kitchen sink, she knew fire was dangerous.
She hurried home from school to try out new experiments. She stole an almost empty bottle of nail varnish from the grandmother to test its fitness to burn. She had to open all the downstairs windows one day to conceal the smell.
Her mother noticed nothing of this.
Money problems get worse.
Bunty is feeling ill. She has a bad cold, her backaches and she is depressed. She wishes she could run away. She’s thirty-five and her life is going nowhere. No one wants a woman of her age with a child. What she earns in the shop barely covers her bus fares and the food, she often has to beg her mother-in-law for money to pay the other bills. The old woman spends a lot of money on cigarettes and alcohol which Bunty has to get for her. It is only because she does this that the old woman gives her any money.
Quite unexpectedly she cries one day in front of Jane. Jane can’t remember this happening before. She says nothing as her mother tells her she can’t pay the ‘rates’ or the gas bill.
Jane confidently tells her not to worry, her mother puts this down to her child’s naivety. She takes a few days off work as she thinks things cannot get any worse. Jane is so happy to have her mother at home and so unhappy when she goes back to work.
Jane thinks her grandmother is very old when she is actually only sixty. She sees lots of money in her grandmother‘s room when there is only about forty pounds. But her grandmother does own the house and some other things unknown to Jane.
Jane has only a child’s idea of death, it’s just being asleep for a long time. She is a healthy child so has little conception of pain.
One particular Thursday she is in a bad mood, humiliated by her bully of a school teacher because she and Christine are the only two children in her class who cannot go on the school trip to Chester, their parents can’t afford it.
Christine is the more resilient of the two.
Jane fears she will cry as she walks home.
Then it occurs to her that it is library day, that her grandmother is very old and a nuisance. Her mother needs money. The die is cast.
Suddenly the sun comes out and Jane skips the rest of the way home.
She opens the back door noisily no longer caring about anything really.
She goes upstairs to grandma’s room. Grandma is in a drunken stupor, her head lols back on the pillow, a cigarette is burning down between her fingers. The books with the note are on the floor with the note for the librarian. Jane picks up a box of matches and watches the flame catch hold of a blanket.
She doesn’t wait any longer, picks up the bag and runs downstairs, shuts the backdoor properly. Loads the bag onto the old bike and makes her way to the library.
She walks home slowly she can hear some fire engines, it never occurs to her that she will be suspected or punished, and she isn’t.
Jane is eighteen and pretty she moves to London and calls herself Theresa.
He’s Jewish, he knows that because his mother told him and enough people have reminded him.
He doesn’t know if it is a good or a bad thing. He doesn’t look very Jewish but if someone told you, maybe you wouldn’t be surprised.
He is tall for his age and quite fair-haired and his father doesn’t like him.
His father doesn’t like anyone, he’s a miserable git. That’s what people say about him.
The boy, Anthony, is not a Jewish name but his father is a gentile, his mother Jewish. She is in Turkey visiting his maternal grandparents.
He is running barefoot through cold sludgy snow, his hot temper is overriding the discomfort from the cold, freezing conditions. His temper is already creating problems for him,a situation that will only get worse.
His journey began in Istanbul. He likes it there,the boat trips along the Bosphorous, the markets, the football. That is where his grandparents moved to from Russia. They no longer follow their faith. His Grandmother looks like any other Turkish old woman in her headscarf. But his eldest sister has met a Turkish schoolteacher from Elazig and has decided to stay and marry him.
Elazig does not appeal to him. Eastern Turkey is a hostile place. He finds it boring. They do nothing but watch television which he can’t understand and eat nuts. He feels sick at the thought of those pistachios, he sees young people sitting around doing nothing but eating those nuts. How can his favourite sister and protector from the worst of his father’s temper want to live here?
They are staying at the fiancé’s home. His uncle is staying there with them, he has to act as chaperone.
Normally he lives with his grandparents in Istanbul. He is a big, lazy oaf. Anthony hates him as much as he does his father back home in London.
He stops running.
He is completely out of breath. He tries to remember why he is running in this freezing cold snow without his shoes. It was the oaf, teasing and bullying him over something stupid.
He’s not sure where he is, slowly he manages to retrace his steps back to the rundown block of flats that looks very similar to all the others in Eastern Turkey.
The lift isn’t working. The school teacher says the stairs are safer anyway when they have an earthquake. Anthony tries to conjure up an earthquake, he wants this whole town to collapse and crumble.
He screws up his face, closes his eyes, and prays but nothing happens nothing shakes. He can just hear the same bloody television, the call to prayer mingles with a couple having an argument. He wants to go back to London. He gets asthma and running in the snow could give him an attack. In London, he goes to the children’s hospital when it happens.
He knows all the nurses there and he feels safer there than anywhere else in the world.
Zara, his sister, looks at him tearfully. She gets someone warm towels and makes him a cup of hot salep. She finds his inhaler which he holds tightly before taking a deep breath of the salbutamol.
You’re going home soon, she says.
I know, is all he can say before he goes to rest on the sofa.
The flat is large. The fiancé lives with his mother who never stops cleaning.
It’s turned colder. It’s February. More snow is falling. Anthony is in the bedroom he is forced to share with The Oaf.
His sister, her betrothed and his mother are watching some stupid comedy programme. The Oaf lurks from room to room he can never settle to anything.
He goes to the balcony to smoke, the mother won’t let anyone smoke in the flat.
The balcony is covered in thick ice and the railings around it are old, rusty, and loose.
Anthony gets up off the bed walks up behind him. He pushes him hard.
The railings detach from the concrete and his hopelessly uncoordinated body flops from the fifth floor to the ground below.
Silence. The only sound is coming from the many televisions in the block.
The body below isn’t moving. Anthony goes back to the bedroom and falls asleep, he feels so relaxed.
A dog barks.
Around eleven o'clock the stray dogs start to roam around the town. One of them starts to bark excitedly just as a man returns home. He shouts something and soon a crowd has gathered around the body. Zara runs down the stairwell the lift is not working again. An ambulance arrives along with the police. No one even bothers to check on the boy.
The next day Zara tells Anthony about the awful accident. He cries.
Two days later he goes home to London without her but feels quite calm.
One day on a train the two little killers meet.
Thank you Glennis for sharing your short story with us and we look forward to hearing more of them soon!
Glennis is one of our current studio residents on the 1st floor, you can see more of the studios here.