We Need to Talk about Karen – Dorothy Cornish

“So you take him on Thursday, yeah? Four thirty it starts. And then do something healthy for dinner because he’s going round Mandy’s on Wednesday and she always plies him with ice cream. Are you listening to me? Yes, I do think it smells very nice but it would have smelt even nicer fifteen minutes ago when you said it would be ready. God forbid we eat on time when I’ve got to be up early. Oh shit, did you throw out the paper? What? Oh never mind, there was just this absolutely crazy story I thought you’d like.”

*

“Now, I need you to speak slowly and clearly. Take your time. And I’m going to write it down here and then show you at the end and you’ll have to read through and then sign. You recognise how extremely serious this is? I mean, you can see how it looks from our side, right? Good. Yeah. Sure. Michele, would you get her some tissues? Now, in your own words, tell me what happened.”

*

“I’d say that in the three years we were at UCL together she went from being straighter than me to being just about gayer. At least on the outside. There was a lot of movement, spectrum-ly. I still remember her in halls. She had these ridiculous clothes, all short skirts and boob tubes and what not, and so much makeup, oh my god. I mean, you know what northern girls are like. But she wasn’t particularly feminine, which interested me. It was more like she was just doing it because she thought it was the done thing. She couldn’t believe it when we went out in Brighton. Girls in jeans, on a night out, who would have thought…”

*

“She isn’t coping at all, to tell a man the truth. There’s a lot of… strain. She’s taken what happened with Karen very hard. I ain’t never seen her like this, never in her life. I can’t make head nor tail of her moods. Some days she doesn’t get out of bed at all, just lies there, I… I don’t know where to start with her, I really don’t… Yeah go on then, I shouldn’t but I will. Don’t have much of a home to go to now anyway, no fucking dinner waiting for me… No, that would be too much to ask. I’m on the Badger’s Foot. No, wait, didn’t you say the porter was good? I’ll try the porter.”

*

“I don’t know when I first realised, to be honest. Oh wait that’s a lie, there was this one time. You see what we used to do is go to Westfield every Wednesday, because I was off in the afternoons. We called it Westfield Wednesdays, obviously. So we’d pooter around the shops and then get bubbles in one of those tacky places that tries so hard to be classy but is just, you know, awful, and sit and chat about this or that and laugh at all the silly people. Anyway, and I do remember this quite distinctly now, we were talking about that thing with the lack of black people at the Oscars, or just talking about film representation generally or something. I mean, it is my background, but I was probably running my mouth as per. Anyway, she goes something like ‘and how long do I have to wait until there’s a lesbian protagonist who isn’t defined by her sexuality?’ and I just start on about the fallacy of representation, winding her up really, saying ‘well where’s all the beautiful and precious Jewish girls with fucking great legs and a cunning intelligence’ etc., etc., when I actually realise what it is she said and I go ‘hold the phone, did you say lesbian protagonist?'”

*

“I don’t actually know if the other girls in the house knew about it. Maybe they did, I never asked them. We sort of began to drift after the whole… er… situation. At first, I was a little sad to think that she didn’t feel like she could talk to us about it. I took it personally. I mean, I thought we shared everything in that house. Obviously not.”

*

“No, that’s got nowt to do with it. I told police at the time it’s got nowt to do with it. All the trouble started when she went London instead of Leeds. I don’t know why she couldn’t just go Leeds, her course and all the stuff she wanted to do she could have done up here instead. She got in with a bunch of bad ‘uns down there, they were doing all sorts, coming back at Christmas with nose piercings and god knows what else… Oh it’s a horrid place! And I could count the times she come back up in a year on one hand… I’m sorry, I’m sorry… I’ve cried enough this year gone to last a lifetime, I really have. Oh, I’d love one. Ta. Just check if we have milk before you put the kettle on, there should be some in the fridge.”

*

“That’s the thing though, isn’t it? Even when you think something’s happening you don’t necessarily bring it up. Everyone has their own shit, right? I did catch her once though. So she would always go on these long ‘walks’, right, at some stupid time and then come back with a story about how she stopped in at this or that pub and just read her book or something. Well one day I checked what page she was on before she left. And she goes and it’s the same story about a walk and needing some air and whatever. When she gets back, her book is on the same page. I mean the same page is turned down. She hasn’t read a word. So I tell her this and she gets all flustered and changes her story and says she went to see a film and then runs to her room. It was like she was a teenage boy and I was a mum walking in when he’s watching porn. And then like two weeks after that the thing happened.”

*

“Everyone at the office is talking about it. We spent about twenty minutes trying to work out whether we should offer to pay for the funeral. Decided it was too likely to come across as a publicity stunt. Young women getting killed after using your app is not the greatest news in the world for a small company though, I have to admit. I mean, I’d love to make the argument, I’d like to intellectualise it and say all we’ve done is facilitate two people meeting who wanted to meet and what they do after that is none of our business. But some things you just can’t say.”

*

“It was sexist, totally. The media were totally fixated on that. They seemed to think that lesbians couldn’t have female friends without sleeping with them. I had some really creepy comments from reporters, even this woman one who was totally friendly and nice and just, you know, put you at ease and everything, but then I read in the bloody paper all this shit about how I must have spurned Karen and that’s why she shacked up with that older bird. Trying to make it all fit this narrative. I shouldn’t get so mad. But it pisses me off. They’ve got some bloody nerve writing stuff like that.”

*

“Oh, what is it now, pet? Oh, don’t be blubbering out here, come on let’s get you to the bathroom. Clean you up. You thinking about our kid again? She’s gone, pet.”

*

“It’s your deal. I dealt last hand, it’s yours. See, I think different. Pass us that, would you? I think different. It weren’t cause of the age difference, no, not in the slightest. It was because she thought Karen was cheating on her. I know they tried to make it out like they were just fucking but come on, it’s women. I reckon she got jealous of Karen. Didn’t you read about it? Karen never let her meet her friends or nothing like that, keeps them hidden away. Of course, it’s gunna make her jealous. Her whole line is just a coverup. Who the fuck does something like that by accident? You think I was born yesterday? Got jealousy written all over it.”

*

“Hello? Hello? Yes. Yes, I am a regular listener. Always have you on for the drive home. No, got the hands-free going on. Listen, here’s the crux of it. If you’re going to bring things like that into the bedroom, you have to know what you’re doing. What? Yes, we do, yes. No, I don’t mind saying. But we do it with boundaries. Not necessarily a code word but listen, if you’re with someone you’re comfortable with and they’re comfortable as well then it can be the safest thing in the world. Me and my wife have been experimenting for years and I’m perfectly happy to say so. We’re open about it. There’s no stigma. Listen to me now, stigma is the thing that means people don’t talk about it, that means people don’t know what they’re doing, that means people get hurt.”

*

“If there is one thing I want you to take away from this lecture today it is that intent and consent exist in a complicated legal matrix. There is no simple way of defining either. Consider the following situation: two partners are participating in consensual sexual intercourse. One of them gets turned on by strangling, the other by being asphyxiated. So they’re the perfect pair. And all of this is agreed up front and, short of them signing release forms, we can assume that both know the deal and everything’s kosher. So far, so 50 Shades of Grey. Now, as they are having sex, the individual who enjoys being strangled starts shouting ‘tighter, tighter’. Yes, I know, when I became a law lecturer I did not expect to be standing in front of a crowd of people saying that sentence either. Anyway, upon hearing this… um… cry, the strangler tightens their grip. But they get carried away, they squeeze too hard, they become overcome by desire or whatever. They kill their partner by mistake.

“Now is this murder? There was intent to harm but no intent to kill, so surely not. Manslaughter? Well again, the intent was to strangle, but the question becomes is this intent diluted by the fact that the individual being strangled consented to it, encouraged it even? Raise your hands if you think it is murder. Okay. Raise your hands if you think it is manslaughter. Interesting. Raise your hand if you think it is something else.

“Now, I hope, I hope and pray, that by this point I have instilled in you the importance of precedence to the common law system. I hope, too, that I have imbued you with a strong sense of how easily juries are swayed by the emotional aspects of a case. Especially, in fact principally, when the emotions in play are strong, crime-committing emotions. Love, anger, jealousy. Keep these in your mind as I refer you to the case of Karen Bridges…”

*

“Yes, please help, please help, she’s not breathing, she was okay and now there’s been an accident and I need an ambulance and oh my god, oh my god.”

 
 
 
Dorothy Cornish has worked as a private investigator for many years, uncovering infidelity, finding lost relatives, and doing a lot of paperwork. Her interests include mycology, amateur boxing, and the works of Charles Fort. She owns a TV but no licence.
 
 

Categories: Fiction, Short Story