The Unstable Self

He held the spring-loaded door open with his shoulder before stepping into the street. He zipped his jacket, tight under his chin, hoping that would keep out the cold. He hated the cold. People complain a lot about the weather in Scotland, but it’s never this cold. He was about to step out, but didn’t. He saw a glass perched on the step at his feet. A beer glass. The kind you get in the pub. Like somebody had taken it from the pub and left it deliberately on his step. Clearly intended for him. He didn’t know the other people in the building, he’d never seen them in the few days he’d stayed there, but none of them seemed to be pub goers. He’d never heard anybody tramp up the stairs at closing time and had never heard any parties or music or loud talking. Not in his building. No, he was the only one who went to the pub, so the glass was obviously intended for him.

I know what you’re up to, he thinks. You want me to pick up this glass, thinking, ‘Oh, there you go, a free glass, and a nice one at that. I’ll take it upstairs and use it.’ But no way, I’m not that daft. Somebody could have peed in that glass. Maybe the guy in the flat opposite. And even though you’d washed it out thoroughly, he could still look over one night and have a right good laugh at you when he sees you drinking from it. When he sees me drinking from it.

He knows he should move the glass, in case some kid comes along and picks it up, or breaks it and cuts a finger. Or drinks those last drop of pee from it. But he doesn’t move it. He won’t touch it. I know what people could have done to it, he thinks, something much worse than peeing in it. I know that somebody could coat the glass in resin. Invisible resin that you don’t even feel but it soaks through your skin and two days later your dead. Poisoned to death. Murdered.

You wouldn’t know if somebody was out to murder you, he realises. The killer might not have told anybody else that he was going to murder you. He could keep the idea in his own sick mind, taking his time to make a plan and get you when you were least expecting it. And that’s the whole point: you wouldn’t be expecting it. That’s why you have to be careful all the time. Why you have to expect the unexpected.

It could be somebody from long ago, somebody with a long memory, and you did something to them – maybe by accident, or you were a kid and not thinking, you did something careless. Maybe you were a bully at school and that one guy that you really annoyed kept it all silently within himself and waited, got prepared. Or the idea was always at the back of his mind, but when his wife got knocked down by a car last week he flipped, and that thought is now right there, right at the front of his mind, right behind his now wrinkled forehead. But those kinds of nutters rarely have wives. It was more likely his mother that died. Or, you were the one driving the car, and his mother just stepped out without looking, and bang, you killed her. You were prosecuted, but let off because you weren’t speeding or drunk. It was 100% his mother’s fault, but the killer will never see it like that. The killer will still blame you.

He keeps the door held open with his shoulder, leans out slightly to glance along the street. He sees a guy coming on a bike. Not so unusual, not in this city, except it looks like the guy he shouted at last week for nearly running him over on the pavement. It’s a bit of a big coincidence that he should cycle along the street at exactly this moment, he thinks. And not on the pavement like last time, but nicely on the road so he would have no reason to shout this time. No reason to attract anybody’s attention. Well, he might think that, he might think nobody will shout, but I know his game. I know exactly what he’s up to. I’ll call his bluff. I’ll shout on him and he can come and pick up the bloody glass. If he refuses then he’s definitely the killer, definitely the one who coated it with the poison.

He steps out into the street, lets the door fall at his back. As the cyclist approaches, he steps between two parked cars and shouts, hands cupped around his mouth. ‘Hey! Here you. Come here. I want a word.’


(Exercise: Write a story that alternates between the  I and the she and the he)

Book editor with, considering the links between therapy and fiction at and reviewer for @bookmunch.

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