Apple Crumble (TipsyLit)

This  is something I’ve submiitted for the TipsyLit Prompted Linkup on Insanity

It started life as an entry for a competition, evolved a bit, de-evolved, and here it is. Three hundred and sixty eight words, not counting this Introduction. 


Robert wearily took off his shabby raincoat, hung it on the hook. Breathed in the smell of cabbage and sour milk in the short, narrow, dark hallway. Reluctantly pushed open the kitchen door.

The old woman was there. She fussed around, made him sit at the table, brought him a small glass of lager. He held his head in his hands.

‘Good day, dear?’ Artificially bright and cheerful.

He didn’t respond. He remained silent as she served the dinner. Ate silently, chewing each mouthful ten times as he’d been taught. Classic FM on the radio. It was always Classic FM, with the volume turned too low.

She served the pudding. He pushed it away untouched, stared at the bowl.

‘Robert? Don’t you want the crumble? It’s your favourite. You’ve always liked it, ever since you were a little boy. Especially with custard.’

Robert raised his head and looked at her flushed, eager face, the look of longing in her eyes. He pushed back his chair, leaned his hands on the scarred table with its ancient peeling oilcloth cover, and stood. He walked behind the old woman. She half turned to watch him as he passed by the grimy sink with its dripping tap. Through the dust streaked window, he could see the small backyard in the twilit gloom.

He turned suddenly, and grasped a heavy cast-iron skillet in his right hand. Swung round and hit her as hard as he could on the back of her head. She smashed forward onto the table, her head and shoulders bouncing slightly with the impact. He didn’t stop. He hit her again and again and again. Hot, sticky blood and brain tissue splashed his face, his clothes, splattered the faded wallpaper, but still he went on pounding. The frail body lay against the tabletop. The head was an unrecognisable pulp, with a few straggles of grey hair soaking up the blood and liquids.

The smell of cabbage and stale cooking pots was now overlaid with something much more animal. A metallic reek of fresh blood, a slightly sweet meaty smell of offal – brains, eyes, skin.

‘How many times have a told you I hate lumpy custard, you stupid old cow?’

25 thoughts on “Apple Crumble (TipsyLit)”

  1. I love the title and how it ties into the ending in a sick way! Also the smells really set, keep, and change the scene throughout. Nice snap of crazy!

    • Thank you very much. I like this story in an odd way. Originally I set myself the challenge of writing a murder story in under 100 words, and in its original guise it was a mere 97 words.

  2. “Ate silently, chewing each mouthful ten times as he’d been taught.” It’s a quiet description, hardly noticeable and yet it says so much about Robert. I love how gritty the scene is, I love the frustration at the end. And Jessica’s right about the title – his world is essentially crumbling now. But if you were to lengthen this out a bit, I think I’d like a little more insight into why he snaps. Sure, he does the same thing every day and he’s sick and tired of it. But what’s the real impetus for his final unhinging?

    And I hope you know the only reason I’m giving you any critique at all is because you’re damn good, Duncan. And I’m not just saying that.

    • What I hoped to create was an atmosphere of stifling overbearing affection from the old woman (who may or may not be his mother), the desperation of a featureless life, and the tiresomeness of the squalor he faced every day of his miserable existnece.
      The breaking point genuinely is that he hates lumpy custard, and always has. It’s the last straw.
      Didn’t make it clear enough, I suppose.
      But thanks for the critique. I never take critique as negative criticism.
      And thanks for the vote of confidence in my abilities. That means a lot to me.

      • I certainly get the entire atmosphere, the questioning of who this woman is and if she’s the one who’s forced him to chew ten times, to live his life in an exhausting bubble. There’s a build up there. I see that, and I know that can be the “why” he snaps. But I think it’s because I’m a little enamored with Robert that I want to know what exactly is it about this day compared to all of his living days that makes him go “Nope, no more.”

        And I’m glad it means a lot to you. I have to say, I didn’t have a lot of time before to read everyone’s writing so I’m glad this whole Tipsy Lit is off and running because I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing what a talent you are, Duncan. Looking forward to reading more of your work!

  3. Oh man, I think I totally made a face when reading this! Reaction to the reading of it! Amazing! I am wondering—is this his mother? Is this his wife??

  4. Wow. This guy definitely lost it. I will say I feel sorry for the old woman. It was almost painful for me to read.

  5. WendyStrain said:

    Powerful story! I’m with Ericka, though. I’d like to know a bit more about what made today the day he snapped. He’s obviously tired of the meals she serves, he’s obviously had the lumpy custard before. What was today’s tipping point that he just couldn’t take it anymore? You are a very strong writer. I’m glad I’ve had a chance to stop by and read.

    • Thank you for reading this Wendy. From my point of view, this just was the day he snapped. Just the accumulation of misery and distress, the claustrophobia, the woeful inadequacy of his life. Pop! Someone pulled a wire in his head.

  6. I really loved the descriptive words you chose in this piece. I could clearly imagine the scene overall.

    • Thank you Dan. It was one of those things that simply appeared in my head.
      At risk of putting you off, here’s a link to something else seriously weird and threatening.
      One thing you may wish to bear in mind is that what you may write are stories. They aren’t you. So I could write a stroy about a psychpath, and it wasn’t about me. Some people had trouble with this as an idea. The psycho ‘must’ be me.

  7. Whoa DUDE!!! This is good. You must be working on a book, right? I can’t write fiction, I’m assuming this is fiction. Tell me this is fiction.


  8. My knee-jerk response is: “Gottdamn!”

    I have a pet theory that it is the heavy fear of prison time that has kept many folks on a quasi even keel …

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