Extract from This is How

M.J Hyland

We go through an entrance at the side of the cop station, then at the end of a long corridor through a door with frosted glass that says Custody Office.
We go to the counter.
‘Just stand here,’ says Davies.
The only window is high on the wall, a useless, murky porthole and the walls are covered top to bottom with posters for the missing and wanted.
‘What’s happening now?’ I say.
‘You’ll be put in a holding cell.’
‘And then?’
‘You’ll be interviewed. You’ll make a statement.’
'And then?’
‘You might be charged.’
‘Do I get a solicitor?’
‘You’re entitled to one.’
‘And what about a phone call?’
‘We’ll get to that.’
The desk sergeant comes through a door holding a black mug with steam coming off.
Davies stands close to me and I’m cautioned and put under arrest, the same as before.
‘Patrick James Oxtoby, you are being held in custody on suspicion of murder and anything you say…’
And then it happens again. The same heat all over my chest as though I’m standing in front of a fire. I lean my elbows on the desk, put my head in my cuffed hands, close my eyes.
‘You going to be sick?’ says Davies.
I shake my head.
The desk sergeant takes a noisy slurp from his mug of tea, says, ‘Give me your date of birth, address, and your father’s name.’
‘I already gave you that,’ I say.
‘Give it again.’
I tell him
‘And your mother’s maiden name?’
I’ve gone into Welkin’s bedroom and I’ve hit him on the head. It was dark out, but getting light. He was on his side, facing away from me. I hit him on the right temple, not very hard. I hit him all right, but there was no blood. But maybe there was blood, and that’s why the wrench was put in the sink.
‘Your mother’s maiden name?’
‘Collins.’
Wait a minute, I’m not sure. Maybe Welkin wasn’t facing away. If he was facing me, I must’ve hit him on the left temple. If there was blood, it came after. I don’t know how long it all took. I don’t know what the order was. I drank some water and I think I slept.
‘We can make that phone call now,’ says Davies.
I give him my mum’s number but, when I see it written on the page, I can’t do it. I can’t face it.
‘I’ve changed my mind,’ I say.
I give him the name of the café, and the desk sergeant looks it up.
‘Can I have the cuffs taken off?’
‘No.’
Davies dials the number, hands me the phone.
She takes a long time to answer.
‘Georgia,’ I say. ‘It’s me, Patrick.’
‘Hello there.’
‘Listen, I’ve gone and done something a bit stupid.’
‘What’s wrong?’
‘I hit a man in the boarding house last night and now he’s dead. I’ve been arrested. I’m at the police station.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘I haven’t much time,’ I say. ‘I just wanted to tell you I’ve been arrested.’
‘You killed somebody?’
‘No,’ I say. ‘I didn’t kill him. I didn’t mean to kill him, but he’s dead. I only hit him once.’
‘Was it an accident?’
‘It’s hard to explain,’ I say. ‘I just wanted to say I’m sorry I won’t be able to see you for a while.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘I just wanted to tell you.’
‘Do you have somebody to bail you out?’
‘No.’
‘Is that why you called? Do you need somebody to come and get you?’
‘No, that’s okay.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yeah.’
‘Have you spoken to your mum?’
I’ve got an idea.
‘If I give you the number, could you call her for me?’
She waits, thinking. ‘I’m not sure.’
‘They won’t give me another phone call.’
‘Okay, I’ll call your mum for you. If that’s what you want.’
I give her the number. ‘Will you tell my mum I’m really sorry.’
Another pause.
‘It’d be better if you said that.’
‘All right,’ I say.
‘You’ll be okay,’ she says. ‘Don’t worry. It’ll all get worked out.’
If I say much more, I’ll be sure to choke up and I’m glad Davies has stepped forward to signal that my time’s up.
‘I’ve got to go,’ I say.
‘Okay. Goodbye, Patrick.’
‘Goodbye.’
I should’ve used her name like she’d used mine. It was nice to hear it said.

Davies takes me back to the custody office and the desk sergeant’s got the inkpad ready for my fingerprints. When I’ve pressed my fingers onto the print sheet, rolled them back and forth, the desk sergeant steps out from behind the desk and puts the cuffs back on.
There’s a chair in the corner and I mean to go to it and sit, but I don’t make it. There’s no warning when it happens and it happens fast and doubles me over. The sick that is coming out of me is liquid, a bitter water, and there’s lots of it.
‘Get a bucket,’ says Davies.
The desk sergeant comes out with a bucket, says, ‘Put your head over this.’
I go to the chair and sit and put my head over the bucket.
The desk sergeant gives me some water in a paper triangle and the paper goes soft in my hand.
Davies takes me back out to the corridor, holds me by the elbow.
‘We’ll set up an interview room as soon as we can,’ he says.
‘What about some more water?’
‘In a minute,’ he says.

There are two empty cells, one a bit bigger than the other. In the smaller one there’s a sluice in the middle of the floor and the rubber mattress sits on a low bench.
I won’t go in.
‘You’re in the big cell,’ says Davies. ‘’We’ve got a drunk ’n’ disorderly coming in. I don’t want you sharing with him.’
I don’t go in.
‘Pop yourself on the bed,’ he says. ‘Might as well take a rest.’
‘I only hit him once,’ I say, ‘and there was no blood.’
‘Best to wait for your brief,’ he says. ‘Get in and hop on the bed.’
But this is no bed. It’s only a blue rubber mat about two inches thick and it sits on a bench that’s bolted to the wall. Over the bench there’s a window, six bars in, six out, and there’s a crack in the glass letting the cold air in. In the corner of the cell, there’s a squat three-legged wooden stool and a toilet.
‘Give me your belt,’ says Davies.
I take my belt off, give it to him.
‘Now get in,’ he says.
‘I don’t belong in here,’ I say.
‘Get in.’
I go in, get on the bench, sit with my back against the brick wall.
Davies takes the stool into the middle of the cell.
‘Are you staying?’
‘Yeah.’
‘Why?’
‘It’s a routine for an officer to stay with murder suspects.’
‘I’m not a murderer.’
‘It’s routine.’
‘Can I have these cuffs off?’
‘Not yet.’
The rubber mat looks like a P.E. mat, but it’s not soft and it stinks of rotten meat.
I hang my legs over the side.
‘You can smoke if you want,’ he says.
‘I don’t smoke.’
‘There’s a packet in my pocket, in case you change your mind.’
Davies flips through the pages of his pocket book and then looks over at me as though he’s sure I’m about to do something interesting.
I get up, pull the bucket nearer the bench, put my hands to my throat and breathe deep to stop myself being sick.
‘You going to spew again?’
I say nothing.
He sits with me for an hour, maybe more.

The desk sergeant comes to the cell door, speaks through the open hatch.
‘The brief’s gonna get here as soon as he can.’
‘Okay,’ says Davies.
The desk sergeant leaves.
‘I’ll get you something to eat in a minute,’ says Davies.
‘I’m not hungry.’
‘I’ll see if I can get you something.’
Davies leaves the cell, slides the bolt across, locks me in.
I want him back.
So long as he’s here, I’m not a prisoner, not yet jailed.
I go to the cell door, try to slide the hatch open.
It’ll not budge. There’s no hope of opening it.
I go back to the bench and stand on it, look out of the window. There’s a wall about four feet away and overhead there’s a wire grille with cigarette packets stuffed into the holes.
When they let me out, I’m going for a long walk and I won’t look at the ground in front of me. I’ll pay more attention.
Almost half an hour later, Davies comes back with a sandwich on a paper plate.
I smile when I see him
I want to talk and I want him to stay. So long as he doesn’t go away, there’s still hope I might gert out of here before dark.
‘Here,’ he says. ‘Try to eat.’
I peel the bread back and look at the thick butter and slice of cheese.
‘You don’t want it?’
‘No, but thanks.’
‘Give it here.’
Davies eats the sandwich.
‘What happens now?’
‘We wait for your brief.’
I want him to know.
I want him to know there was no blood.
‘I only hit him once,’ I say. ‘It wasn’t hard and I didn’t mean to kill him.’
‘You’d better save it,’ he says. ‘You’re being held for murder. You should probably keep your trap shut for now.’
It shouldn’t take only a second to end a life.
‘I’m not a murderer,’ I say.
‘That’s not for me to decide.’
I wrap my arm round my knees.
‘Are you cold?’
‘Yeah.’
‘I’ll see if I can get a blanket.’
He goes out for the blanket, locks me in.
He comes back.
‘Sorry, we don’t have any spare blankets. I’ll get you one later.
I take a tissue out of my pocket.
He looks away, waits a bit, looks back. ‘Okay?’ he says.
He takes off his jacket and hands it over.
‘Thanks.’
I put the jacket over my shoulders.
‘I’ll need it back,’ he says. ‘Soon as I can get you a blanket.’
I look down at the concrete floor and wipe my eyes and it probably looks to Davies like I’ve got a case of remorse. But I don’t know about that, or guilt either. All I know is, I didn’t mean to kill him.

It’s three of four o’clock when the desk sergeant comes. He’s got my solicitor. Davies leaves the cell.
    My solicitor’s about fifty and he’s got curly black hair.
    We’ve got about ten minutes,’ he says.
    'I think I need help,’ I say.
    ‘That’s what I’m here for.’
    He sits next to me on the bench and opens a red notebook.
    'My name’s Keith Pearl. I’ve been appointed by the court. I’ll be taking you through your statement and I’ll sit with you when we go into the interview room. But you might not see me again.’
    A jackhammer starts up outside.
    ‘That’s bad timing,’ he says.
    ‘Yeah’, I say. ‘It was dead quiet before.’
    ‘You’ll have to speak up nice and clearly.’
    ‘Okay.’
    He tells me that Ian Gordon Welkin was found decreased in the room next to mine and that I woke the landlady by knocking on her door and informed her that I’d ‘hit him too hard’ and that I subsequently went for a walk but didn’t resist arrest when I was found by the police about a half-hour later.
    ‘I didn’t hit him hard enough to kill him. I say. ‘And I didn’t mean to kill him.’
    ‘What did you intend then?’
    ‘I don’t know.’
    He moves his red notebook form one hand to the other. ‘But were you angry?’
    ‘No.’
    I pull Davies' jacket tighter round my neck for some warmth.
    ‘Why did you hit him?’
‘I didn’t mean to kill him.’
He crosses his legs. ‘All right, you’d better tell me what happened. Tell me about all the important details leading up to the event. Your actions, state of mind, who said what to whom.’
‘What I tell you doesn’t get told to the police right?’
‘Yes. What you tell me is privileged and you only tell me what you want me to know. Is that clear? I need to know the story as you want it told in your statement.’
‘I could lie if I wanted?’
He crosses his legs again. ‘ I didn’t say that. And I wouldn’t advise that. I’m not advising that’
I tell him the story, that Welkin got very drunk, that I went in to wake him and, when he wouldn’t wake, I hit him on the temple.
‘I can’t remember now if it was his right or left temple but I know for sure there was no blood.’
‘Didn’t the victim steal something of yours?’
‘Who told you that?’
He opens his notebook. ‘The landlady, Mrs Bowman, made a statement to the police.’
‘He took my clock but then he gave it back. I didn’t want to get revenge or anything like that. If that’s what you mean.’
I won’t mention the ball peen hammer.
‘What was the cause of death?’ I say.
'We don’t have the coroner’s report yet’, he says, ‘that’ll take a few weeks.’
‘Is that all you can tell me?’
The jackhammer fires up, and he raises his voice, moves his face in close to mine and I can feel the heat of his breath.
‘The preliminary report suggests that the cause of death was internal haemorrhaging caused by blunt impact. It appears that the time of death was about 4 a.m. That’s all I can say at this stage.’
The jackhammer stops.
‘I didn’t hit him very hard,’ I say.
He makes a note, then puts his notebook in his jacket pocket.
‘That’s what you keep saying,’ he says. ‘But I need a clearer picture of what you actually intended. I need to know your state of mind.’
‘I wanted to wake him up.’
‘Can you be a little more specific?’
I held the wrench in my right hand and struck a blow. I know that. Welkin slept, deep and drunk, and maybe I wanted to get at him while he couldn’t move or talk or strike back.
I went to my room and he was still sleeping. I don’t think I slept. I think I went straight down to Bridget.
I didn’t want him dead.
‘I’m not sure if I remember,’ I say.
‘All right. So, you hit him with a wrench, which you’d taken from your toolkit? When did you get the wrench?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Did you get it an hour before? Two hours before? Try to remember.’
‘I told you. I can’t remember.’
He crosses and uncrosses his legs. ‘Okay. Did you have the wrench when you went into his room?’
‘I think I went back out to get it, but I’m not sure.’
He makes another note.
‘Why did he die if I only hit him once?’ I say.
‘Some heads burst open like grapes,’ he says.
He smiles, shows me his big white teeth, straight and neat like white bricks.
I look at him but as soon as we make eye-contact, he looks away. 
Do you want to tell this story in your formal statement, or do you want to exercise your right to silence? Perhaps wait until your memory begins to serve you a little better?’
He looks at his watch.
‘Can I do that?’
‘Yes.’
‘Silence,’ I say ‘I think I’ll be silent.’
‘Then we’re agreed.’
He gets up, goes to the cell door bangs on the hatch, two times with the side of one first, twice with the other, and not too hard. He’s done this plenty of times before and he’ll not risk hurting his hands.
He leaves.

 

M.J Hyland is an ex-lawyer and the author of three multi-award-winning novels: How the Light Gets In (2004), Carry Me Down (2006) & This is How (2009). Carry Me Down was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize (2006) & won both the Hawthornden Prize & The Encore Prize (2007). M.J Hyland is also a lecturer in Creative Writing in The Centre for New Writing at The University of Manchester and runs regular Fiction Masterclasses in The Guardian Masterclass Programme, and she has twice been shortlisted for the BBC Short Story Prize (2011 & 2012).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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