I inherited my father’s crimes.
They arrived on a Tuesday morning. A delivery company informed me that the expected window was 0700 to 0900, and an exhausted person, who held no status as their employee, arrived at 10.55. Together we dragged the boxes down to my basement flat, two men contorting around each other in a dance of hand-smacking impatience.
Having filled the narrow hall, I struggled to shut the door again. Even in death, my father blocked my escape route. Still, with the last of my compassionate leave, I was hardly in a rush to go anywhere.
I stood in my grown-up box-fort for a while, then started sorting. It felt like a productive thing to do, healthy advice for those in mourning. Not mourning for him, you understand. Just the opportunity to say certain things while he could still listen.
He’d been a judge. Yes, wig and all. He rarely entertained other people’s opinions of him, inured by too many years of shouts from the dock. He made clear long ago that he placed no value on my opinion, but I’m sure he would have smirked with satisfaction at those multi-column obits. He left the world with the impression of respectability. He left me tackling duct tape with the sharp bit of my keys.
First I emptied the boxes of their myriad clinking contents. All various sizes, colours and materials, but I’d stacked them as neatly as I could, browsing through neat handwritten labels to understand his taxonomy of hurts and transgressions against the social contract. I sorted the ickier things – animals and minors and such – into a separate pile. When they started staining the floor I went to pour them down the sink, but on second thoughts, veered off to the little food recycling caddy. Nose averted, I popped them in, a helpful boost to ethical decay.
Eventually I had recreated his own dark little archive, which, living alone, I was free to peruse all day, still clad in my dressing gown. A millennial Arthur Dent. But drunker.
I started tentatively, taking down the small but weighty item of Distributing Illegally Downloaded Material. Inside its container, a murky solution of the criminal and civil, with the graininess of those old VHS warnings. That binge took me well into the evening, sprawled on my sofa. Next morning the vinegar smell of decaying film stock and abandoned Blockbusters still lingered on my fingers.
Eventually I ventured out for air and a bit of old-school sin. In testament (aha) to the old man, I enjoyed my time working through Adultery. Even a splash of Labouchere’s Amendment, because screw Labouchere and Dad and his sneering at my Stonewall tee-shirt that Christmas. Going back to work helped: lots of people to meet in PR of course. Drinks and hints and hotels and loneliness. I took care never to bring anyone back to mine – a mental velvet rope across the front door.
Seduction proved costly, so I turned to Theft for help with expenses. Whole meals walked out on to, money reclaimed from punished waiter’s pockets.
Emboldened, I worked my way through my jittery tower of wrongdoings relating to drugs, alcohol and tobacco. They were incoherent and rambling, their criminality so varying over time as to be rather pitiful exercises. But they generated some additional revenue.
Life got faster and I made a good use of motoring offences for a while, coming home with the smell of burnt rubber and stolen petrol and burst airbags.
I thought about stopping then. But it was him that kept me going. The memory of learning to ride a bike and at the first wobble that warning from him: to get your balance back you have to pedal faster.
So I kept going, faster, harder.
I lied. I littered. I wore a hat and never raised in it respect. I spilled wine and laughed in graveyards. I frequently and gladly misused; the semi-colon. I presented myself to clients as someone I wasn’t. I trespassed. I did not sign in. I did not sign out.
A connoisseur of crimes, I found my star in ascendance. I entered spheres of politics and big money, at home as ideas and slogans and blame were pinched and hidden and desecrated with pride. I impersonated officials, sharing trade secrets and national secrets and secrets that broke hearts and confidences.
Abuzz with confidence, one day I cracked open the Cides. Orphan and only child as I was, I had to find accomplices for the patri-, matri-, fratri-, so I whispered ‘referendum’ in those politicians’ ears and watched families implode.
I incited hatred with a hashtag. I watched people drowning and charged those who would save them. I embedded surveillance into every office and bedroom and nursery by promising bunny ears and filters and convenience. I distracted with reply-all cat pictures and scandals of milk in earl grey. I removed personhood with the swipe of a passport. I disrespected my elders through dismantled care services, induced poverty with sanctions and abandoned the young. I perpetrated harms against the person slowly and utterly through smog and false hopes and plastics and loneliness and questions about whether they really belonged. I poisoned and polluted and burned the world.
I committed crimes on purpose, crimes of strict liability, crimes of omission. Old crimes, new crimes, moral crimes, all that I could do to whittle away that legacy of careful curation.
And no one came for me. Even as I ploughed on and the collection dwindled, no clink of cuffs or rap on my door, no letter home in my backpack. I was left with a home of empty vessels, peeling labels and categories smashed of meaning into shards on the floor.
Six months after it started: only two crimes left. The only ones which came with an order of use.
So first, I forgot my father.
Then, laughing, I repeated his every mistake.
Jess Moody is a Wulfrunian in London, who likes her words and worlds on the weird side. Short and flash fiction in Reflex, Ellipsis, Lunate, and Storgy. Tweets @jessmoodhe
Image via Pixabay