Old Habits

by Nick Sweet

I was sitting out on the balcony after work, as I like to do, taking occasional sips from my vermouth and looking down at the street. It was a lovely balmy spring evening, and there is something about the quality of the light in this city that I love. Picasso commented on it, I believe. I don't know, you might call it magic...The street down below struck me as being rather like a stage-set, or a cinema screen, and there I was sitting and watching the traffic and people out walking come and go. Voices could be heard, as usual, from the bar on the corner, and this struck me as being rather quaint and in keeping with the scene. At such times I often reflect on my state of bachelordom and breathe a sigh of relief, even as I reflect on some of the near-misses in my past that came close to laying claim to my freedom. Marriage, I usually end up deciding, is not for me.

Then my eye was taken by a handsome youth who came running along the street. He was wearing jeans and a black polo shirt, and had his black hair cut very short. He gave the impression somehow -- even at this distance -- of being rough trade...the sort that I have often found myself attracted to, even at my own peril on occasion. I found myself trying to imagine the scene he had just come running from: the eager, panting young mistress, the irate husband appearing unannounced...Or perhaps his tastes ran along different lines and were more in keeping with my own...It was rather fun to be able to sit at a remove, as it were, from reality, and look down on life as though it were a stage-set and make of it a drama of one's own imagining, safe in the knowledge that none of what you saw or imagined could ever have the slightest effect on you.

But then, just at that moment, the young man came to an abrupt halt under my balcony and looked up. I was rather taken aback and affected not to notice him, only for the young man to hurl an unprintable insult at me. I decided that the thing to do was act as though I hadn't seen him; then he would surely go away...And yet even as I was thinking this, I was sorely tempted to respond in some way: perhaps this was his way of looking for business, after all...I took another sip of my vermouth, then picked up my newspaper and hid myself behind its outstretched pages...

Moments later, however, I heard someone hammering at the door. I rose and went to see who it was, only to find that it was the young man I had been observing only moments down in the street. He told me, in a heavy Murcian accent, that we had better settle this thing once and for all. But what "thing" was he talking about? I asked him. Without further ado, he brought out a knife and said we should talk about it inside, and so, finding that I had no alternative, I let him in. He was going to kill me for what I done to his sister Julia, he informed me, before he lunged...but fortunately I was able to skip to the side and evade the thrusting blade...I managed to push, and then, poking out a leg, trip him, so that he went crashing down onto the tiled floor...I threw myself down on top of him and a brief struggle ensued, during which my assailant fell on his own weapon.

He was killed instantly. I kept a cool head, and told myself that I must dispose of the body. So I dragged him out into the bathroom and chopped him up, then put the various limbs and body parts into plastic bin-liners. After that, I threw the bin-liners with the body parts in them into the deep-freeze. Then I waited...

Some eight hours later, in the middle of the night, I took the bin-liners and carried them, two at a time, down to my car, which was parked below in the street, and put them all in the boot. Then I drove out of the city, and when I got to a secluded spot, in the middle of open countryside, I turned into a field and took the number plates from the car and put them in a case I'd brought with me, before I doused the vehicle with petrol and set it alight...

It took me almost two and a half hours to walk back to my flat, on Calle -----, and when I got there, I changed out of my things and threw them into another bin-liner and took a hot shower. After that I dressed myself in clean clothes and went back out with the bin-liner and burned the contents.

That all happened two months ago. I passed a nervous few days after it happened, I can tell you. In fact, I half-expected the police to come and knock on my door any moment...But they haven't so far. And you never know, I'm even beginning to think that I might well have got away with it.

The funny thing is, I don't have even the faintest idea who the chap was -- and neither do I know of any young ladies by the name of Julia, for that matter...But then, young ladies are scarcely to my taste, of course...The lad must have mistaken me for somebody else -- the man who put his sister -- this girl, Julia -- in the club, I suppose...The whole affair really was most odd, anyway.

And I'll tell you something else: I've refrained from sitting out on the balcony and looking down at the comings and goings of the street of an evening after work ever since that night...

You never know, though, any evening now I might just get my nerve up and go and sit out there again...After all, old habits die hard.

BIO: Over the past year Nick Sweet's stories have appeared in Fertile Source, and issues 117 and 118 of Evergreen Review, all of which can be read online. Previous stories of his appeared in Cutthroat (summer 2007 -- which can be read in the archives), and Descant #106, while Nick's novel, Gemini Games (available from Amazon) was praised by acclaimed authors D.M. Thomas, Andrew O'Hagan, and D.J. Taylor. Nick's second novel, Winter Trees, was published by New Generation Press last year and he is currently redrafting this work for a new edition.