“I ran down this cyclist – knocked him off his bike and he may have been killed. It was dark. No one saw what happened and I just drove away.”
As Malcolm had been talking, I noticed how dark it was outside, and just how claustrophobic and uncomfortable this tiny public house had become, especially the grubby corner of the saloon bar where we were sitting.
“Why did you do it?” asked Jonathan.
“He’d cut me up at the traffic lights and it just made me furious,” Malcolm told us, shrugging to himself and frowning. “Stupid, crazy thing to do. But sometimes when I get angry, I just don’t know when to stop. I did a terrible thing. I’ve been ashamed of myself ever since.”
The four of us had met while on the Anger Management Course, and had become firm friends during the week and now, after the final session, we had gone to the local pub and were delaying our departure by sharing reminiscences of our lives as we got more and more inebriated. Sometimes it’s easier to be intimate with strangers than it is with close friends. You feel as if you can tell them anything, because you’ll most likely never see them again.
Let me tell you that no one who isn’t prone to violent rages ever quite understands how it feels when the red mist descends and you become absolutely furious and behave irrationally, and do things that ordinarily you’d never dream of doing. What a lot of people don’t realise also, is that those of us who suffer from seriously bad tempers can for most of the time be absolutely charming and great company. So the alarming change from Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde can be doubly shocking. We all have this terrible character flaw that gets us into trouble every now and again.
Which was why we had all enrolled on the course.
Jonathan was a medical doctor, an anaesthetist, and me, Brian and Malcom had already sunk a few pints and had agreed to Jonathan’s idea of injecting us all with sodium thiopental, in order to Loosen our tongues and our inhibitions. He had explained that although there is no such thing as a truth drug, sodium thiopental relaxes you so much that you can talk freely and really let your hair down and relax.
It had been Brian’s idea to ask about what was the worst thing that we had ever done in our lives, and Malcolm had been the first to admit to the ghastly possibility of killing a cyclist with his car because his temper had got the better of him.
“But I can’t be the only one who’s done something terrible,” Malcolm asked. “Surely?”
“Well, between us four, I can tell you what I did, as long as it’s in confidence,” Jonathan admitted. “When I was a medical student I got into a fight in a pub. This guy hit me, and I was suddenly so angry, that I smashed my fist into his face so hard, that he fell backwards through the window. I caught a glimpse of the back of his head covered in blood from where he’d hit the glass, and he didn’t look good. I ran away before the police arrived, and I never enquired later about what happened to him. Afterwards I heard that several people involved in that fight had been seriously injured.”
There was a long silence as we sipped our drinks.
“I may as well tell you what happened to me,” Brian said. “It was about twenty years ago. I’d just been offered this marvellous job in Germany, and I was leaving the next day. It was here in this town, by coincidence.” He looked at me. “You come from here, don’t you Fred?”
“Yes,” I told them. “This is where I was born and brought up.”
He nodded. “And this town was where I went to university, and had lots of friends. Well, the night before I was leaving for Germany, I went to a party near here in fact. I got talking to this very attractive older woman. One thing led to another and I went back to her flat. We were just about to make love, she’d led me on, telling me how she was divorced, how dreadful her husband had been, and she just went on and on. We were kissing, but then suddenly she pulled away, and said she’d made a terrible mistake, and she didn’t want to make love to me, she just wanted me to leave. Well, I was worked up, excited, and something came over me, a real furious rage.” He looked awkward and ashamed. “Well we’ve all been there, haven’t we? When the red mist comes down? You just can’t control yourself, can you?”
We all stared at him, wondering what was coming next.
“Well, I’m horrified to admit that I grabbed her around the throat and began to squeeze. Of course I almost immediately realised just what I was doing and stopped. But she felt slack, as if she was unconscious. I didn’t know what to do. So I just left her there and ran off. I assume she just woke up later and recovered, but I don’t know for sure. I left for Germany next day, and deliberately didn’t follow any UK news, because I just didn’t want to know if I’d actually killed her.” He dropped his head in shame. “I honestly don’t know what happened to her, but I hope and pray she was okay.”
My hands started shaking and I felt my heartbeat accelerating. I thought back to the hell that had been my life all those years ago when I had been nineteen and living on my own, and the police had called round and told me that my newly divorced mother had been found in her flat, strangled to death, and they had no idea who had been responsible. The murder enquiry had ground to a halt a few weeks later.
The silence at our table was even longer after this awful confession.
“When I lose my temper all I’ve ever done is shout and yell at people,” I said calmly into the silence, standing up and glaring at Brian, who was staring back at me, wondering why I was so angry. “I can honestly say that I’ve never committed any violence towards anyone in my life.”
“Until now. . .”
I grabbed an empty beer bottle from the table and smashed it against the wall, then, before anyone could stop me, I thrust the jagged edge of glass into Brian’s throat.
(Image by ArtTower from Pixabay)