about the author

Born in Italy, Riccardo Righi spent most of his adult life in the UK, enough to feel neither here nor there. He likes stories that push the characters to their limits and look into the ugly consequences of their actions.

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Dick’s Pic  

Riccardo Righi

His friends will speculate it was booze that did him in, but it was not. It was the lack of sleep. He could not possibly correct them, as he will not be there. They will be in a bar, or in some other sad place, like Steve’s living room, whispering about the absenter.

“Jesus Christ did you hear about...?” “And do you know what I heard...?” “Apparently he did something that...fucking hell, I can’t even say.” “Come on, say it.” And so on. Typical.

What the fuck do those turds know about sleep deprivation? Sleep deprivation has been, and probably still is, one of the most successful torture techniques. It was famously used in Hohenschönhausen by the Stasi: keep a prisoner awake for a few days, leave him to sleep for three or four hours, wake him up with a splash of water in the interrogation room. Then he will crack. Everyone would. It goes deeper than the baser instinct, it goes beyond survival. One can handle hunger, one can handle pain, but no one can handle that. When you’re being forced awake your brain takes over, and its will is stronger than a shrinking stomach or a splinter shoved under a fingernail.

Erik Van Norden got back home early, he had a job to do and he didn’t want to be surprised by his family when they arrived. But he miscalculated and finished two hours before expected. He popped the last Adderall from the night before, lit a cigarette and cracked the whisky open, the Glenmorangie he was saving for

what was he saving it for?

a special occasion. Like this.

His friends will speculate it was booze that did him in, the booze and the drugs. Erik spent the night liberally downing cocaine, MDMA, Adderall, and codeine-based painkillers. Sure it all contributed, but it was not that. It was the lack of sleep. The sleep, he couldn’t resist it. His head was spinning on the sofa, and so was the whole room: counter-clockwise around the sofa. He subsided, blaming the codeine.

The last time he had a handful of hours of sleep was a couple of days before, and it was an insomnia-waking-nightmare kind of sleep. It was the night before he found evidence. Erik had been looking for it, he knew it was there, and then he finally found it. She had hidden it in plain sight but, after months of investigations and failed attempts, he found all he was expecting and fearing and hoping for. In the kids’ tablet, on the kitchen table. He waited for when she started preparing the kids for school and went through the procedure he already honed in his head. Went straight on the email, a quick scroll, inbox, folders, tags. It was pretty easy to spot the emails by the sugary words in the excerpts and the obviously lame subject. Richard was his name, sleazy bastard. How does she call him in intimacy? Rich? Dick? Both very apt names, stupid Dick. There was no time to lose, Erik could hear the wooden floor creaking above his head: they left the bathroom, now there was the dressing and then they would descend to the kitchen. He found the perfect email with the perfect attachment. The one he would use to punish her. The same device used for playing Cookie Monster’s Challenge. The same device used for watching Dora the Fucking Explorer. The same device used to send adulterous nudities. He forwarded the email to himself, covering all the tracks. When the family, chattery and noisy, entered the kitchen he was on the sofa, watching the news with a cup of coffee in his hand.

“Watch out for that mess, Sussie.” Erik pointed with his nose at the TV, before dipping it in the steamy cup. The kids were crawling all over him on the sofa.

“We don’t live in those areas.” She could put a lot of contempt in the word those.

“I’m aware of that but they say some hoodies broke into a shop in Newington Green, only a few blocks north of here.”

She was visibly worried but she could not give in to weakness. “I’m driving them to school anyway. Then nana will pick them up and I’ll collect them tomorrow evening, on my way back.” The unnecessary repetition of details they both already knew helped her to keep control.

“I know, I’m just saying.” The fight between the kids saw the little boy lose possession of the remote, which the girl used to impose Sarah & Duck on everyone as the first act of her government. “Be careful.”

When they left he floated for a while in the calming, abrupt silence. He could hear the fridge intermittently buzz, the blood flowing in his ears, the coffee gradually adjusting to room temperature. That was it, he was on now. He lit a cigarette, right there on the sofa, a forbidden pleasure. Just enjoying the quiet before the storm, and when he got up, chucking the cigarette butt into the cold coffee, he was ready to bring the storm with his own hands.

He dozed off. How long was he out? But he heard that. Yes, it was clearly keys dangling and clinking against the door. Opening his eyes was as hard and unpleasant as if being in a chlorine- and piss-saturated swimming pool. The door opened. What was that smell? The half of the sofa to his right turned from white to a smouldering charcoal grey. That’s what happens when you can’t have ashtrays at home. You can find them even on aeroplanes, but not here.

The amiable chatter coming from the entrance hall was brusquely cut off, she understood something had gone awry. “Up to your rooms kids! I’ll call you when dinner is ready.” The kids, shrieking and giggling, duly obliged but stopped halfway up the stairs. Erik surfaced from the living room, scruffy, red-eyed, preceded by the reek of stale booze and surrounded by an invisible cloud of acrid smoke.

“Kids up to your room.” Without moving her eyeballs from him she sounded less cheerful than authoritative, but the kids were petrified.

“No, let them stay.” He turned up to the kids with a grin. “Welcome back home, there’s something you need to see.”

Twenty-four hours earlier he hopped in his car, hell-bent on revenge and destruction. Actually, it was more than that, possibly thirty-six hours. Erik had a plan which he ruthlessly executed, minute after minute, running from one place to the next, always hitting a pub or a wine shop between tasks. He had absolutely no clue of what he was doing. He had a vague idea of where he wanted to get but mostly he was winging it, inspired by alcohol and rage. And by the box of codeine prescribed a few weeks before for a paralyzing pain around his left shoulder blade. The pain had ebbed away after a day of treatment so he had twenty-two pills left.

The hardest part was the photo. He couldn’t walk into a print shop, drunk, with such a peculiar request. He walked into his office instead, so big to guarantee anonymity, so late there were only two people still sitting at the desk rather than being home or, more likely, flirting and drinking in a pub. He printed fifty copies, and while the machine was heavily huffing and whirring he stole some sellotape and blue tack from the stationary cupboard. He only had to go home and decorate the kitchen now, but his wife and kids wouldn’t be home until the following evening, so he could go for a couple of drinks. Preferably in some titty bar.

They didn’t let him in at Brown’s, so he had to walk to that seedy pub on Hackney road. Worn-out strippers would do. He was waving a note to a chunky Lancashire girl when his phone rang. Rashida. It was heaven-sent Rashida. Goddess-ex-machina. He’d been drinking his way through half of East London without being able to find any decent drug, and now he was being invited by Rashida to walk through her golden gates of cocaine.

So that was it, he was facing his wife after a thirty-six-hour run around town, fuelled with alcohol and whatever substances Rashida popped into his mouth until the crack of dawn. Then, of course, he also popped something into her and her Ethiopian friend’s mouth. Yes, he did some cheating but he always supported the family. Sussie’s case was different. Sure, she was working and contributing to the family economy, but it was an unnecessary contribution, it was her choice. As it was her choice to cheat on him, her bourgeois quirk.

“What the...what is this?” She had walked into the kitchen and seen the decoration. She was furious.

“You know very well what this is.” He pulled one of the prints off the wall. There should have been fifty but he had done a sloppy job with the blue tack, and some lay on the floor or hung, partially peeled off the wall.

“This,” he turned to the kids waving the sheet of paper in front of them, “is your mom’s lover.” She ripped it out of his hands and went on clearing the walls while shouting stop it and kids go to your room, increasingly louder and squeaky. He kept on with an unnaturally calm voice, like a BBC documentary. “This huge cock dominating the photo is what she wraps her lips around day in day out. The same lips she uses to kiss you when—”

That was enough. She strode with wrath and grabbed him.


She started pushing him towards the door as his speech turned into a slur.

“And you! Up!” The kids flew up their stairs as if their lives depended on it.

Erik stumbled out of the door, which slammed after him, laughing and crying. So that was over. He swayed down the stairs into the garage, sat in his car and started the engine. He needed to sleep. He needed to sleep so much.

She was so shaken she couldn’t even cry. But she was a mother so she didn’t have time to do anything else but the right thing. She phoned up her lawyer as she kept tearing those photos off the wall, worn down by anger.

His voice was soothing, his words well picked and the questions well posed. Are you hurt? Are the kids hurt? Are you guys safe and locked up? I’ll be there in twenty minutes and we’ll order pizza. No fine, I’ll take you out for a pizza. Please keep all the evidence you can.

When he arrived he could smell attempted arson and domestic violence smeared all over the place. With just what I see and smell from here I’d say we can easily get the upper hand on this...oh, Christ. She was crouched on the kitchen floor, sobbing surrounded by fifty penises in black and white. It’s all over now, he fucked up big time and now you’ll have your life back. He hugged her briefly before going to see the kids.

“Hey hooo!” he shouted like a cheerful sailor up the staircase.

The kids ran out of their room ecstatic and jumped into his outstretched arms. Soon after they were sitting at that cosy pizzeria that recently opened at the end of their road, and they were so busy choosing which pizza to order that they didn’t notice Erik’s car shooting past. They were so busy eating that they didn’t mind the ambulance blaring with a deafening blue flash outside the shop window.

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