Quill Bill

Submitted into Contest #48 in response to: Write about someone who has a superpower.... view prompt



I turned my back on him, hoping he’d get the hint.

“Why are you ignoring me?”

I twitched my worn out body away from the finger poking into my spine, causing more of the duvet to accidentally join me. The protective heaviness didn’t last long, being promptly snatched back.

“You always do this. Taking all the covers for yourself. Just goes to prove: you don’t value my feelings.”

I drew in breath. Held it there for a moment, like a billion articles I surreptitiously searched for in any free moment I managed to carve out had instructed me. Experience had taught me to be careful how I phrased things. To edit the rage and injustice twisting inside me like a rattlesnake and sugar-coat its release into the wild.

“I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to.”

He grunted.

I squeezed my eyes tightly, silently praying he’d wear himself out soon, so we could both get to sleep.

He returned his hand. My heart beat in apprehension so hard, I thought he could surely pick up the vibrations. But instead, he stroked me. Probably thinking he was being gentle, like when you see a brawny man stroke a cat, unaware he’s dragging the furred skin so much the ears go with it and the eyes protrude in near farcical distress.

“What am I going to do with you, eh,” he said tenderly, chuckling to himself. This was one of many roles he chose to cast me in. The troubled child. What was it I was supposed to have done this time? Or was he simply referring to the wandering bedclothes?

“As I was saying…”

I opened one eye, peeping longingly at my phone on the bedside table, wondering if it was worth the inquisition that would follow (“who are you texting? Am I not interesting enough? Do my opinions not matter?) if I checked the time.

“…that prick Richard completely undermined me. Kept talking over me in the meeting. Then had the nerve to take me to one side after and say I’m not pulling my weight. I deserve better than this. I’m more qualified than most of those assholes.”

A dramatic huff blew a lock of hair off my ear. I often wondered if he was autistic, such was the way he seemed to have learned theatrical behaviours from movies and TV shows, acting his way through these dramas he created.

I felt him stretch out besides me and heard him yawn. Thank god – he was tiring.

“But I’ve got to toe the line because I need this job. Got my broadband bill the other day – bastards have gone and put it up again. No word why, of course! Completely out of line with the rate of inflation…”

Oh no. One of his favourite rants. He was getting riled up again. And so was I, as I could see what was coming, as it formed the basis of one of our near-weekly arguments, a script we both knew by rote, a pas de deux performed on countless occasions.

He kicked the duvet like a child being told he had to get out of bed and start on his chores. I had both eyes open now, alert. Mouth zipped. Knowing better than to offer consolation, which would inevitably be picked up, dissected and turned around to make it seem like I had instead spewed an insult.

A few more moments of silence passed, punctuated only by the sound of my heartbeat amplified by my pillow, sounding like great guilty gulps. The stroking began again. The patch of skin he kept going over was beginning to warm and chafe.

He crooned: “If only you’d move in with me. We could halve our bills.”

I considered a great many responses for this, eventually selecting that which I deemed most innocuous.

“Bill,” I winced at how his name came out. Too wheedling. “I really have to go to sleep soon.” I elongated ‘soon’ with a yawn of my own, a nod to the acting of the master. “I have work tomorrow too.”

“Work?” he scoffed. “What you do isn’t a job.”

Grunting again, he was now the one to turn over. My feeling of relief was sullied by self-doubt, a spectre I took with me to my desk the next day, that sat quietly besides me, judging me, while oblivious colleagues clucked around me and I tried to lose myself in my not-a-job.


The weekend finally rolled round. I peered out of the kitchen window as I went to fill the kettle, watching parents chivvy children into SUVs, a man mowing a lawn, women with pushchairs. A teen on a skateboard rumbling precariously around the corner.

“Who’ve you seen out there?” he demanded.

“No-one,” I replied quickly. “Just watching the world go by.”

“Hmm.” He didn’t sound convinced. I pretended the coffee-making deserved my utmost attention, staring intently at the stains on the teaspoon as though they might tell me my future if I focused hard enough.

I went to sit opposite him at my dinky kitchen table, smoothing out the bumps of the gaudy flamingos and pineapples of the kitsch plastic cover I’d picked out in a moment of extravagance. He despised it, of course.

I attempted a fresh start. “Any luck yet?” He’d told me he’d be looking online for new jobs after he got up, and had been scrolling and sighing while I dozed a while longer. He’d glared when I put the radio on and I snapped it off again before steam came out of his ears.

“Nothing. It’s all bullshit. Bull. Shit.” He threw his phone down in emphasis, the screen already bearing multiple cracks and indentations from former outbursts.

He gawped. I followed his gaze down to my hands to see if there was a dirty mark on them or something, but it turned out it was what they were cradling that was at fault.

“Oh, thanks for asking me whether I’d wanted one.”

I burst out laughing and pointed at the mug beside him. “I could see that you were still making your way through that one.” I smiled, tentatively. Indignant fury flared in his ocean eyes. A warning to other vessels not to come near, rather than asking for help. I always tried to lighten the atmosphere. To be the sunbeam to break through the raincloud.

He grabbed his cup and took a swig. “S’gone cold now.” His brows knitted, as though the contents had said rude things about his mother.

He got up and tried to stomp around, as much as one could in about two square metres. “But that’s just typical. Nobody cares about my needs.” I sipped on my coffee, being careful not to slurp.

“I’m going to shower,” I said, after watching him pace a while. The way it came out made it sound like I was asking permission, and I hated myself for it. I squeezed past where he stood in the doorway, staring glumly at a hole in his sock, puffing away on his vape. I kissed one of his stubbled cheeks. “And then I’m going upstairs to work on my story.”

“Oh? I thought we were going to do something together this weekend?”

“But I reminded you yester-”

“It’s never about what I want to do, is it?”

I pretended to obediently listen while he spun the record of yet another favourite complaint, while fantasising about what I’d like to scream back at him. This time I was a death metal star bursting in on a talk show host’s political satire.

After the last note sounded, I hovered in the doorway while he caught his breath, wondering whether it was okay to go.

“C’mere,” he said. “I’m sorry, baby. I know this is important to you, I just don’t like how it takes you away from me. Gis a kiss.” Before I could consent, his lips had covered mine and his tongue thrust into my mouth. I hoped he was finding all the caffeine he wanted. I congratulated myself for not having brushed my teeth yet.

His hand wormed under my dressing gown and began kneading my right breast.

“Bill,” I pleaded, squirming in a way I hoped was coquettish, rather than a display of distaste. I tried to sound appreciative but firm. “The deadline’s noon.”

He stuck his hand in his pocket and looked so comically hard done by it was an effort not to laugh.

“Promise me we’ll have a bit of time together later then? Feels like I’ve hardly seen you all week.”

It didn’t feel that way to me. We worked in the same building, so travelled in together, met up for lunch every day and had travelled back three times that week back to mine where I’d fed him dinner while listening to the latest workplace grievances.

I smiled sweetly and kissed the tip of his nose. “Sure.” I started climbing the stairs and in the anticipation of being alone in the shower, then alone with my pen, tried hard not to run up them.


I’d only been writing for an hour before I could hear the sound of him coming up to join me. I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth, allowing my face to wear my feelings before I reclothed it in beige, silky neutrality.

I felt his fingers on my shoulders as he slid into the unasked for role of attentive masseuse.

“How’s it going baby?”

“Okay thanks,” I said in a sing-song voice to disguise the terseness. His shadow fell over me as he craned his neck to see.

“Marc, huh?”

“Hmm? Oh yes, new character.”

“Why did you choose that name?”

I clenched the fist that wasn’t holding the mouse under my desk, where it couldn’t be detected.

“The same way I always do. I went to Facebook and took a name off the first post I saw.”

Grunt. “And did you see my post?”

“No; I didn’t look for long, I just needed a name.”

“Well, Beth commented on it. So did Dawn. At least some people care about my problems.”

I marvelled again at how quickly loving tenderness and support morphed into spite. I stared at the mouse, looking at the light under it, wishing I could crawl under there into that glow.

“You’ll never make it as a writer.”

Those are the words that beat in my head now whenever I open a blank document. It doesn’t matter how many motivational neon notes I decorate the outskirts of my screen with.

He left a year ago, yet I play the reruns over and over on many sleepless nights. Memories burst open in technicolour by something as inoffensive as the sound of boiling water being poured over coffee grounds. Or by noticing how the paint peeling off in the kitchen doorway in the spot he used to lean the weight of his worries and resentments. Even turning over in bed and having the book I’d sleepily discarded nudge into my hip can bring it all back.

But I’ve found my superpower. It’s called carrying on. And before I know it the pages have been filled, fantasies become real, and the ghost of my nemesis grows ever more transparent.

July 03, 2020 10:28

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D. Jaymz
04:52 Jul 08, 2020

An excellent story. Realistic. once I started it, I needed to finish it. The imagery rolled my emotions over a graveled road of darkness that let your words sink in, cut in, to bleed to an exquisite satisfaction. Word choice, dialogue, metaphors, and pace are well used. I enjoyed reading it and look forward to your future work.


Karen McDermott
12:24 Jul 08, 2020

Thank you so much. This appraisal has made my week.


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Emma Lin
16:50 Jul 05, 2020

Welcome back Karen! Good story! :)


Karen McDermott
20:11 Jul 05, 2020

Thanks! :)


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E. Jude
08:36 Jul 07, 2020

Great story!!!! It was so realistic and it kept me glued. Bill, made me so angry because he's such an idiot. I love this line: "Probably thinking he was being gentle, like when you see a brawny man stroke a cat, unaware he’s dragging the furred skin so much the ears go with it and the eyes protrude in near farcical distress." Your word choice is gorgeous and you've got some really punchy metaphors and phrasings. Your dialogue is tense (in a good way), authentic, and sounding like something you would hear from a movie. I also like the interpr...


Karen McDermott
10:53 Jul 07, 2020

Thank you so much for the considered feedback :) I really struggle with story titles and metaphors the most, so I am so pleased to have them described as 'punchy'. I will head over to read one of yours ASAP. x


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