We were introduced to the Black Box writing technique by supervisors Silke Heiss and Paul Mason in an MA seminar that dealt with conceiving the bones and sinews of a story.
Elements are chosen randomly from five categories; character, situation/incident, place/setting, time and theme.
These selections are then used to develop the framework upon which the narrative hangs.
Character – a thief
Situation/incident – separation/divorce
Place/setting – in a house, alone
Time – a time recalled
Theme – requited love
For ten years, Malcolm pushed a button on a plastic remote, a convenience that challenged the seam of his trouser, to open his garage and enter his home.
Now, he crouched at the kitchen door, feeling ridiculous and irritated. He’d wrapped a garden rock in the the old gym towel kept in his car and it knocked against his knees as he peered into the unlit interior.
Malcolm knew no one would be at home to hear the glass give way in his inelegant burglary. Earlier that evening, while parked behind their neighbour’s van, Malcolm saw Susan dispatch their son and daughter for a sleepover at her mother’s house before that bastard Terence picked her up for the evening.
Malcolm had little doubt about Susan’s plans to bring Terence home later. Susan, the devoted mother that she was, knew better than to have her children around to interrupt her fuckery with this joke of a new-daddy.
Susan had always nagged him about improving their home security. Their community was newly-gated and he considered the additional expense an extravagance. If he’d got down to putting in the sophisticated alarm system outlined in the brochures she used to leave on his desk, he’d have had little hope of now retrieving the box that held the details of his offshore investments. He’d sooner let Terence diddle him than have Susan gut him financially in the divorce settlement.
The house looked little different from when he made his dramatic exit six months ago. Things were just marginally neater. Susan had replaced the study door with one that didn’t bear the splintered negative of his fist. His son’s schoolbooks were piled up on the kitchen table. One of his daughter’s Barbies had left its head gazing up at him on the tiles. Malcolm kicked it towards the shadows of the kitchen units as he made his way to his study.
He didn’t need the lights on to navigate through the space. Even though Susan would fight him on it, he still considered this his home.
He stopped outside the guest room. He remembered when he and Susan had first moved into the house. Before the kids, before middle-class pressures, before her fucking Terence and his fucking Stephanie. They were so young, soaked in pure foolish passion, going through the house, making love in each room, ignoring the doorbell, letting the phone ring on and on.
And then Malcolm spending hours and thousands on avocations that stuffed the garage with motorcycle parts, fishing rods, model airplanes while Susan’s eyes flooded with dripping taps, leaking geysers and gutters stuffed with leaves. And Susan wanting to know where the money was going and what investments he’d made and why he’d bought the car when he did, calling him at the office three times a day; you didn’t say I Love You when you left this morning, when are you sorting out the medical aid, why haven’t you called me back?
All that passion fizzed out to settle into a flat and grudging legal construction. Malcolm craved individuality, he needed to have his own secrets to keep him sane.
When their son came along, Susan focused all her attention onto the baby. Malcolm welcomed the strictures loosening and he often wondered if those golden days of glorious loving and fucking really happened.
He hoped Susan hadn’t discovered his papers in a fit of rage that could only be quelled by the destruction of his personal property. But Susan hadn’t touched a thing in the study. The place felt like a defective shrine. She was probably waiting for the last of the divorce proceedings before she expunged him completely from the house. He found the small box of papers where he’d left it; tucked behind bent dividers in his filing cabinet.
On his way out Malcolm felt drawn to their old bedroom; a semi-sanctuary where him and Susan found each other in rare moments of forgetfulness, before he found out about Susan and Terence and she found out about him and Stephanie.
Malcolm went about his affair with no real sense of originality. Stephanie was his moderately attractive secretary, and after he smelt a cologne that wasn’t his on Susan’s collarbone, she proved to be a convenient playing-piece in their games of recrimination and betrayal.
He only fucked Stephanie to hurt Susan, to make her feel as empty as he did.
Because in all of his rage and pain, he still loved her completely.
He knew the truth.
He was a shit of a man.
He pushed her away, never expressing the love she demanded even though he felt it acutely. He knew she didn’t understand that he kept his secrets only because he needed to have a part of himself just for himself, while she gave of herself so openly. Her turning to another man was inevitable.
Malcolm had been in the house for about an hour. He needed to leave before she got home with Terence. But before he did he needed to claim just one unsullied memory that would withstand the shit and stains from the divorce.
On the bedside table, he noticed that Susan had piled up a stack of letters next to a bottle of Aramis. Malcolm felt a cold hole forming in his belly. It was the cologne he’d worn since she’d gifted it to him on their first Valentines Day together. That scent was sacred to him and he couldn’t believe that she would debase that memory of a purer time by using it to build something new with that fucker Terence.
He rifled angrily through the bundle of letters. They were all in his handwriting.
My Dearest Susan.
Your Loving Malcolm.
These were the notes he used to send to her before they were married; verses copied out of love poem anthologies, his fantasies couched in crude erotica, anecdotes from varsity, confidences about his relationship with his father. Malcolm sat down on the bed to steady himself.
He imagined Susan lying in bed, wearing her baggy flannel pajamas, her long blonde hair piled on her head held in place with an elastic band, sniffing at the bottle of Aramis while she read his letters.
She still loved him.
She wanted him back.
She’d realised that Terence was just his understudy, that there could be no one for her but Malcolm. He would woo her again. He would show her that he loved her enough to change.
Damn the secrets, if she wanted all his money, she could have it.
Malcolm heard a weight placed on the laminate flooring.
And then the squeal of the door-hinge he never got down to oiling.
“Susan, I’m so sorry…”
His vision exploded into white as the bullet penetrated his chest. He fell backwards onto the duvet, clutching a letter where he wrote about taking Susan to Mauritius for their honeymoon. His chest seared with a heavy heat and his head rolled to face the door.
“Shit man. What the fuck did you do?”
“I panicked! Let’s get the fuck out of here!”
Malcolm gazed after the two armed men running down the passage. He tasted something metallic in his mouth and his breath felt like it was forcing itself through a mass of clots.
He wondered if Susan’s mother would mind having the kids stay with her for two weeks while him and Susan took a trip to Mauritius to start all over again.