by Kerry Hadley-Pryce
Micky Flavel aged 70, sat in seat 3A, the one at the front of the plane, First Class, extra leg room because of his dodgy knee etc. and at 35000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, decided he would kill his wife.
In the old days, he’d been known as Young Jonny Corbett, ‘the Black Country Bull with a punch like an ‘orse’. He was, it’s fair to say, and he’d say it, the best boxer in Pensnett. In Pensnett and Dudley combined, and Tipton, if you want the truth, and Halesowen. He knew how to work out where his opponent’s weak spot was straight away—he knew that was the important thing, the weak spot—and he knew how to throw a punch smack-bang into that weak spot again and again. It was no use, he’ll say, just throwing a punch and hoping for the best, and it was no use doing what these young ‘uns do these days and just stand holding each other in the middle of the ring, like a couple of gaylords, dancing. No. He knew what you did was you worked out, quick, like, where the weak spot was, and you punched it again and again and again. That was what they trained them to do in those days, see what the others could not. That was the way you did it. That was the way you won. And he did win. Have a look on the Internet. Google him: Young Jonny Corbett, The Black Country Bull with a punch like an ‘orse. First fight 1964, last fight 1983. He’d been careful with his money, being from Pensnett.
His mother wasn’t happy. ‘Our Mick,’ she said. ‘Yer name ain’t Jonny is it?’ And he said, ‘No, our Mom, it ain’t, but it’s me professional name, like.’ And his mother said, ‘Professional name? Well, I ain’t calling yer that. You’m Our Mick. It’s a saft name, Jonny is. It woe bring yer no luck.’
And now, there he was, Micky Flavel, aged 70, in seat 3A, First Class, extra leg room, 35000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, coming home.
Gwen sat beside him in seat 2A, dozing, the flight magazine, opened, probably, at the duty-free page, on her lap. Him and her had been married for thirty-five years, he knew what her shampoo smelt like, what her lipstick tasted of, what the bit of flesh under her arm there felt like. He’d met her at that last fight of his in Dudley Town Hall. She was one of the ‘Ring Girls’, a scantily clad, long-limbed, dyed blonde, big titted wench from the Priory Estate, like Marilyn Monroe. She was only nineteen to his thirty-five. When people asked, she said she took pity on him that night and the whole of their married life, he’d played this part of someone who had, literally, punched above his weight. But he’d had a hefty pay-out for that fight, and they’d got married, invested his money wisely, moved away for better air, warmer weather. In the photos of them together back then, his face all messed up, his jaw out of line, his one eye just a thin slot, he looked unfixable, but he was holding onto her like she was a precious possession that if he let go would just disappear from sight, and he was looking at her, and you can tell what he was thinking.
A Flight Attendant swung in through the curtain with a plate of slightly steaming croissants. He bent down next to Micky’s ear. ‘Sir?’ he said, his breath minty. ‘Morning pastry?’ That’s what the Americans called them, Morning Pastries. Micky wanted to say, ‘They ain’t pastries, chap. They’m cobs ain’t they?’ and he felt tempted to grab one, but he felt Gwen beside him, suddenly awake, on guard.
‘I know, I know,’ he said, to nobody, but to Gwen really, and not for the first time, he thought how diabetes was ruining his life.
Gwen sat up, and the flight attendant, like a psychic, delivered a ‘morning pastry’ in a practised flourish onto a plate in front of her. Micky was sure he felt a bit of electricity pass between them.
‘Have you got a banana?’ Gwen said to the flight attendant, her voice all soft. ‘For my husband.’
Micky hated it when she spoke to other men like that, and he hated bananas. The devil’s fruit, and she knew it.
‘It’s alright,’ he said. ‘I’d rather…’
‘Of course, madam,’ the Flight Attendant said, and his voice was all oh dear, oh dear, someone like you is married to someone like him? And he disappeared back behind the curtain.
Micky had meant he’d rather eat that magazine on her lap there, or the armrest between him and Gwen there. He hated bananas. Really, really hated them. It wasn’t the taste, no, it was the texture. If he thought about it—and he tried not to—the pulpy, sticky weirdness of it made him gag. To him, it was like the consistency of human flesh, or, say, an eye, and she knew it, Gwen did.
Gwen took a bite from the pastry, he heard the crunch and imagined the little skin-like flakes of it dropping onto her chest and her jaw moving slow, like a giraffe’s in Dudley Zoo. He thought, when she’s gone, when I’ve killed her, if I want a fucking morning pastry, I’ll have one, I’ll have two. Fuck it. Bananas, my arse. Fuck bananas. And fuck diabetes an’ all. And America, Fuck that. They’d lived there, in America, for twenty years, hadn’t been back to the Black Country in all that time. When the Californians asked where exactly he was from, he’d say ‘The Black Country’, and though they all seemed to think they knew it, none of them had heard of groaty pudding, or knew what the backlands next to the canal smelt like, and thought ‘yam-yam’ was a vegetable he’d won that last fight on points, see, and the prize had been good, the payout, but, ‘I was your best prize,’ Gwen had said to him, and he knew all along, she was right, and when she wanted to move away, well, they moved away.
Beside him, she let out a small, toady belch and dabbed the corners of her mouth with an airline tissue. The Flight Attendant returned and said something to her. No bananas. There was a God, after all. Micky could smell his aftershave, this Flight Attendant. Too close. Too interested in Gwen. For a second, maybe longer, he couldn’t help imagining them, horrified, this flight guy and Gwen, together. Micky was having none of that.
‘I saw that,’ Micky said to her under his breath.
‘Oh right,’ Gwen said, and he felt her settle down again next to him, ready for one more nap before they landed. ‘What would that be with then? Your glass eye, or your nearly blind one?’
‘I ain’t blind yet,’ he said, and he thought, I’ve never lost a fight yet, I can still make you out, just about, but the minute I can’t, I’m having nobody else see what I can’t. And he closed his good eye then. One last nap before they landed. And he thought about that last fight, the one he’d won on points. He lost an eye in that fight, and he was about to lose the other to fucking diabetes, but the compensation, the prize, he’d make sure no-one took that from him. No-one.
Kerry Hadley-Pryce was born in the Black Country. She worked nights in a Wolverhampton petrol station before becoming a secondary school teacher. She wrote her first novel, The Black Country, published by Salt Publishing in 2015, whilst studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University, for which she gained a distinction and was awarded the Michael Schmidt Prize for Outstanding Achievement 2013–14. She is currently a PhD student at the University of Wolverhampton, researching Psychogeography and Black Country Writing. Gamble, also published by Salt Publishing in June 2018, is her second novel.