HCE received a lot of high-quality submissions for The Brutal Issue – sadly, too many to fit inside the magazine! So we offered some of our shortlisted contributors the chance to be published on our website.

Keep an eye on our social media for more great writing like this, in the run up to the release of The Brutal Issue…

The Puzzler

Stephanie Goldberg


In spite of everything, I’m having a whole heap of fun! – dancing round the kitchen, Beyoncé on the radio, Mark trying to shift in the chair. He’s struggling to speak, but I can’t hear him because of the music and the gag. I used my scarf – the one he bought me in Pittsburgh – the one that meant we’d be together forever. He looks kind of upset. He’s so cute when he’s angry!
I check the rope around his wrists is still tight. It’s good, it’s tight. I kind of smudged my nails tying those knots, which is a bummer, coz I only got them done this morning. I was almost out the door when Mark was all like “So, er Becky, when you coming back?” And I was like, “I’ll only be a couple of hours, sweetie”, and he was like “Uh-huh”. You know, like he couldn’t even bear to be without me. So I go get my nails done in the Korean place two blocks away, but the chatty one isn’t in and instead I get this mean lady who doesn’t even say one word to me, like she’s just real mean or something. She doesn’t even look at me the whole time, which is just rude. (Like, I don’t care where you come from lady, in America, people look at each other, and we smile and we say hey, how are ya and if you think you can make it here with that sour-bitch attitude then you are gonna have a whole heap of trouble). So I choose this polish called ‘Ice Maiden’, but she still doesn’t get the message.  It’s all like super-fast, like I’m on a conveyer belt or something and I think, well, at least I’ll get home early and Mark’ll be like Oh Becky, I missed you so much!  
Only, that’s not quite what happened.
He’s wriggling in his chair, perhaps he needs to pee. He’s sweating but I don’t know why, it’s not even hot. And his head’s starting to bleed again.
I say, “Look, Mark, I know this is difficult for you, but what do you think it’s like for me, huh? I know you’re hurting. I’m hurting too, sweetie, but our love is going to see us – Mark, Mark, will you just quit trying to speak! Just let me talk for once!” He’s really jumping in that chair now. There is no way I’m taking that gag off, not after what he said to me before.  
I say, “Mark, I know that moving here was the right thing, that even if you’d flown to somewhere really shitty, like, I dunno, like Detroit or somewhere, I would still have followed you. Because I know that deep down, sweetie, you would do anything to make me happy. I know that you love me, I know you’d die for me if you had to.” Okay, so sometimes, I get a bit confused – like when he slept with my cousin Martha and I stupidly thought he did it just to hurt me, but then I realised it was actually a cry for help and that he slept with her just to get close to me. And Martha’s accident was tough on all of us, but we got through it in the end, as a family. Okay, so Aunt Annie and Uncle Bill still get upset whenever they have to drive over that bridge, but come on! It was like a year ago! Just move on! I did.  
I sit on Mark’s lap and stroke his hair and soothe him. “Shhhh, honey, come on”. He looks like he’s actually going to cry.  It’s so romantic. It could be like this always, if he’d just stop being silly about stuff. Like when he bought his ticket here, he forgot to even tell me! It’s stuff like that that makes me question his intelligence sometimes. I mean, I know he’s committed, coz he’s told me like a thousand times, Becky, you know I think you’re great.  
I surprised him when I got here last month. I mean, he was literally speechless, it was amazing! I crept up behind him, put my hands over his eyes and whispered, “Guess who?” I mean, he literally screamed, he was so happy.  
So, it was kind of weird when I got home today and I call out, “Ma-ark, I’m home! Such a shitty morning, you should have seen this little bitch at the salon…” And then I walk into the bedroom.…and I see Mark. He looks a little odd.  
“You’re back,” he says.  
“Yeah,” I say.  
“I thought you’d be longer.”
And then I see the suitcase. I say, “Sweetheart, what are you doing?” and he stares at me and his mouth just opens and closes a couple of times. I look at the case and it’s full of clothes and his laptop and even photographs of his family (which I didn’t even know he still had coz he knows I don’t like them around).  
“Where you going, Mark?” I say.  
“You know I can’t tell you that,” he says.  
He is not taking that suitcase. I go to the bed, but he moves in front of it. “Mark, you’re being silly”.  
“Becky, please, can we please just stop this?”
They always think they can leave, you know? Like, they get to say when it’s over. It’s not over. He thinks he can just ruin things? He thinks that what we have means nothing? That I am nothing?
I push him, real hard and he grabs my arms, but I bring my heel down fast on his foot and he screams and lets go. I get to the suitcase, pull his stuff out of it, grab the laptop and his hand is on my arm, pulling me. I swing round and suddenly he’s on the floor. I look down and I’m holding the laptop. It’s heavy and red.  
Oh god oh god oh god. “Sweetie? Sweetie, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean…” Oh god.
He’s all like dazed and stuff and clutching his head and then he‘s saying, “Fuck! What the fuck is wrong with you? Fucking let me go!” and I’m like, er, RUDE!
I never meant to hurt him but now I’m in a quandary coz if I stand aside he might just leave, but if I hit him again he might wanna go even more. It’s a real puzzler. And I just need some time to think but he looks like he doesn’t want to give me any time, so I know that I just got to use what I got and what I got is something heavy and red in my hands.  
Now here we are and just as soon as he realises how stupid he’s being I’m gonna untie him. I got chicken in the fridge, so I can wait a while.  

STEPHANIE GOLDBERG’S work has been published in Queer Episodes (anthology), Time Out Sydney and Spilt Milk Magazine; performed at Watford Palace Theatre (UK) and White Rabbit (UK); and shortlisted for the Mslexia Short Story competition. She was recently one of two winners of the A3 Review’s ‘Woods & Forests’ writing contest and my winning piece will be published in Issue 7 of the A3 Review this coming October. Stephanie has written, performed and directed for the stage, performed her stories at dozens of spoken word events and compéred many a spectacular queer cabaret night. She lives in London.
Website: http://stephaniegoldberg.net/