Qualified Entry, Second pixelhose Writing Competition. Fiction Category.
By Heidi Bolton
Dennis stood in the bushes, his eyes trained on the shed. It looked smaller than he remembered and a little more run down. It had been many years since Dennis had been here, not since his parents had sold the property, but Dennis was glad to see his old shed had remained relatively untouched.
He glanced up at the house. The lights were on but the doors were closed and it looked like the coast was clear.
Dennis jammed his hands into his pockets, put his head down and walked purposefully towards the shed. He was pleased to find the door unlocked. Before entering, he looked up at the house again to make sure no one was watching. There was no sign of movement and Dennis knew that as long as they couldn’t see him he didn’t have to worry about making a noise. The shed was far from the house, making it rather isolated. That had been the main appeal when he was a teenager. It was why he had hung out in there most days during high school.
Well, until ‘the incident’ anyway.
Once inside, Dennis flicked on his flashlight and shone it around. It was different now. It looked like it was being used as a storage area, with shelves running along one wall and filing cabinets jammed into each corner. Instead of his old couch and stereo there was a lawn mower and whipper-snipper. There were tools lined up on a bench and underneath was a box of old, long forgotten toys collecting dust.
The smell was still the same though. Still exactly the same. Dennis inhaled deeply through his nose, and closed his eyes as memories rushed at him from all sides. They were so vivid and real Dennis felt for a moment like he may have actually stepped back in time. Opening his eyes to the dust and the clutter confirmed that he was still in the present day.
He looked down at the floorboards, which thankfully were bare. When he’d lived here Dennis had kept a rug on the floor. It had been an old one from the main house that he had saved from the tip pile. The red coloring was faded and it had begun to wear through in one corner so his mother had discarded it and bought a new one. Dennis had carted it down to the shed where it had stayed until they moved.
But now he was glad the ground was bare, because he needed to lift the floorboards up in order to get to the teapot. And he needed to get to the teapot to prove his wife wrong, to show that he wasn’t worthless.
He stopped to think for a moment. He guessed he couldn’t call her his wife anymore. But they weren’t divorced so what was she? His ‘estranged’ wife he supposed. That was an odd word. Estranged.
He said it out loud, to see how it felt. “Estranged.”
Mind you, he thought as he studied the floorboards trying to remember which one was loose. She might not be so estranged once he had this teapot again. He pressed the heel of his boot against the ground, yes, this is the spot. He pulled a crowbar from inside his jacket and got to work.
He had been sitting in his armchair, watching TV when his wife told him she wanted a divorce. She said it straight out, just like that. There was no sugarcoating in Martha’s world.
Dennis stared at her, the TV suddenly forgotten. His face was unshaven and his singlet was dirty. It was Sunday night so he’d had no reason to wash himself properly. Well, it was meant to be a day of rest wasn’t it?
“What?” He demanded, an edge to his voice.
“I want a divorce Dennis. It’s over. I don’t love you anymore.”
He continued to stare at his wife while he processed the information. “Why?” He asked. “Is there someone else?”
Even as he spoke the words he knew that couldn’t be it. Martha was a dowdy woman and her wet personality matched her plain looks. But she kept the house neat, fed him and about once a fortnight she let Dennis have sex with her. It was usually only for about 5 minutes, a couple of thrusts and he was done, but it was enough to keep him satisfied.
“No,” Martha answered. “There’s no one else.” And then she smirked before she added. “Not yet anyway.”
Dennis felt his blood begin to boil, but his exterior appeared calm. “What do you mean ‘not yet?’ Do you really think you can get another man? Better yet, do you really think you can get someone better than me? Take a look at yourself Martha, you’d be lucky to be able to even pay someone to marry you.”
“You’re one to talk,” she said in her usual monotone voice. Her calm demeanor was infuriating.
“You’re a loser Dennis, a good-for-nothing loser. I deserve better than this. I deserve real love and romance … “ Martha was cut off by a sharp laugh from Dennis.
“Oh I get it now,” he said. “This has come from those bloody romance novels you’ve been bringing home. I knew I should never have let you take that job at the library. Those books are filling your head with trash and stupid ideas.”
“It’s not trash,” Martha stood up. “Those books are showing me what I’m missing out on, what my life could be like if I wasn’t married to a worthless man like you.”
She left the room, then returned two minutes later with a packed suitcase.
This shocked Dennis. He had been home all weekend; at what stage had she managed to pack a suitcase without him knowing?
Martha stopped when she reached the front door, her hand on the doorknob. She looked around at the dingy room, her gaze eventually resting on Dennis.
“Worthless.” She muttered one last time, and then she walked out the door.
Dennis hadn’t bothered to get up from his armchair when Martha was leaving, and aside from going to work each day he hadn’t bothered to move far from the armchair since.
That had been 3 weeks ago.
He had sat and stared at the TV, stewing on her words. He was not worthless!
His moping had continued until one day something on TV caught his eye.
He had been watching Antique’s Roadshow when someone had turned up with a teapot. Dennis had sat up straight. He used to own a teapot like that! Well, his family had.
It had been his grandmother’s and once she had passed away it ended up in his family home. But his mum never used it so one day a young Dennis had dug it out of the cupboard so Sarah could play tea parties with it. She had loved it so much he decided to keep it in his wardrobe, ready to pull out every time she was at his house.
He had eagerly awaited the appraisal on TV, and when they said it could fetch around £300,000 he knew if he could get his teapot back he would no longer be considered worthless. So here he was, in the garden shed of his childhood home, searching for a teapot he had once buried there.
After pulling up the floorboards, Dennis dug into the dirt beneath. It was only about an inch or two deep so it wasn’t long before he reached the old blanket. Taking a corner, he threw it back. Ah, there it is, thought Dennis as he peered down at the hole in the floor. The teapot lay intact, nestled in the arms of what was now only a skeleton and some scraps of clothes. Right where I left it.
“Hello Sarah,” he said as he began to move her arms to gain access to the teapot.
She had been 16 when Dennis had killed her. He hadn’t meant to, he liked to think of it as a crime of passion. He’d had a crush on her for as long as he could remember. When they were just 5 years old his mother had started babysitting Sarah once a week. It wasn’t long until Dennis started looking forward to that day each week more than any other.
Dennis had been a shy kid even from a young age, so Sarah was his first real friend. She had a great imagination and convinced Dennis to play lots of games with her. When one day she announced she wanted a tea party Dennis had run to the kitchen and found his grandmothers old teapot at the back of the cupboard. Sarah had been enamored with it immediately and after that day she wanted to play tea party at every visit. To keep Sarah happy, Dennis kept the teapot hidden in his room so his mum couldn’t throw it away or take it off him. The look of pleasure on Sarah’s face every time she saw it was priceless.
Years later Sarah no longer needed babysitting and so she stopped coming to Dennis’ house. By the time they reached high school, they had stopped being friend’s altogether. Sarah had blossomed into a beauty, with her long red hair and the smattering of freckles across her nose. She had tons of friends and no shortage of boys chasing her. Dennis slowly faded into the background of her life, but he never stopped watching her.
One day, about a year after he had set up the shed and was spending most of his time down there he decided to make his move on Sarah. She had liked him once as a kid, surely she could like him again. He just had to remind her of how close they had once been. And once she saw his cool shed with her favorite teapot inside she would want to start hanging out at his house once more.
He had waited until she was on her own at school and quietly asked her to meet him in his shed. He was surprised when she actually agreed.
At 4pm that afternoon Sarah walked into the shed and Dennis shyly started showing her around. She looked at the place with indifference until she spotted the teapot sitting on a shelf. Picking it up she turned it over in her hands and a smile played on her lips. “I remember this,” she said. “I loved it.”
“Oh that’s right,” Dennis said, as though suddenly noticing its presence and hadn’t actually placed it there carefully just ten minutes before she arrived.
“We used to play with it every day.” He paused for a moment, waiting for her to start reminiscing but she stayed silent. “We were really good friends when we were young weren’t we,” he prompted.
Sarah shrugged and put the teapot back down. “So what’s this all about?”
Dennis cleared his throat. He was very nervous around his childhood friend. “Well, um, I was just wondering if you might want to hang out sometime? Go to the movies or something?”
Sarah crossed her arms across her chest. “Are you asking me out on a date?”
Dennis couldn’t read her tone, but the fact she hadn’t run screaming from the shed was as good a sign as any. He figured he might actually be in with a chance here. “Yes,” he answered. “I am.”
Sarah was silent as she regarded him. But after a moment, right when he began to relax, she threw her head back and laughed. “Where is this coming from Dennis? We haven’t spoken in years, we aren’t even friends anymore, and suddenly you want to ask me out on a date?”
Dennis was thrown by her reaction, but she still hadn’t said no. Perhaps she was mad that he hadn’t made more of an effort to keep their friendship going.
“I know we haven’t spoken for ages. I’m sorry about that, I should have tried harder to keep our friendship.”
“It wasn’t up to you Dennis. Did you ever consider that maybe the reason we aren’t friends anymore is because you have turned into such a freak?” She shook her head at him, her eyes full of derision.
Dennis frowned. This didn’t make sense, this wasn’t how it was meant to play out. “Then why did you come here? Why didn’t you tell me to take a hike right there on the spot?”
Sarah ran her finger along the teapot one more time. “I thought maybe you had some pot.” She said in a bored voice. “I thought maybe you wanted to smoke some with me.” Shrugging, she turned her back to him and headed towards the door.
Dennis heard the sound of blood rushing angrily through his head and before he knew what he was doing he lunged at Sarah.
She never had a chance. His hands were strong around her throat. The years of the loneliness and humiliation of being an unloved geek surged through his arms and into his fingertips into a force almost beyond his control. He couldn’t have let go even if he had wanted to.
For months Sarah’s friends and family searched for her. The police turned up absolutely nothing. It seemed she had been too embarrassed to tell anyone she was visiting Dennis. Something that had worked in his favor, as he was never even questioned. No one ever ventured near his shed so he knew it was safe, and he stayed well away from it himself for a long time until the slight smell had completely disappeared.
Now, Dennis stood up with his prized teapot. He placed it carefully on the bench beside him and turned again with the intention to cover Sarah and put the floorboards back in place.
“Silly girl,” he muttered. If she had just given him a chance instead of being so damn repulsed by him she could still be here today.
As he dug around the dirt for the corner of the rug, Dennis thought he heard something from behind him. Standing up, he turned just in time to watch the door of the shed fly open and two policemen rushed in. Oh shit.
“Stay where you are and put your hands in clear view.” One of them said sternly as the other walked closer to Dennis.
“We’ve had a report of a burglar on the premises. Can I ask just what it is you’re doing on this property?”
Dennis hesitated and glanced down at the hole. Shit, she wasn’t covered back up yet. He started talking loudly to get the officers to focus on him and not look in the hole, but it was too late. They had followed his eyes straight down onto the pile of bones.
It all happened in an instant. Both of the officers were on top of him, grabbing him roughly and shouting at him not to move or struggle. But it was human instinct to struggle a bit and as they wrestled Dennis out of the shed, his knee shot up, straight into his precious teapot. As he watched it hit the floor and break into a hundred pieces, he felt tears well up in his eyes.
And for the first time in his life, Dennis truly understood what remorse felt like.