Dialogue Only Short Story Competition - Runner Up

Tony Domaille

Runner Up
A Price to Pay
Dialogue Only Short Story Competition


Tony lives in South Gloucestershire and writes primarily for the stage. He has award-winning plays published by Lazy Bee Scripts and his drama, Me & You, won the 2020 Avon One Act Festival competition. He has been shortlisted in two previous Writing Magazine competitions and says he’ll continue to chase that elusive first place!

A Price to Pay By Tony Domaille

Take your time, James. I need you to describe exactly what happened.
Why? What’s the point?
The point is that I’m your lawyer. I can’t represent you effectively
unless I know exactly…and I mean exactly... what happened.
I told the police.
So, tell me.
You already know.
Tell me.
Alright, alright. My dad… it all happened so fast, and then he was lying
at my feet and there was blood coming from his head and his eyes were staring up at me.
Go on.
And my mum was stood there with her hand over her mouth.
Good. This is the detail I need. Go on.
Then she said, “Is he…?” but she couldn’t say it. So, I said I should call
the police, but she said, ‘Get an ambulance. They’ll help him. The police can’t help him.’
So, what did you do?
The blood from his head was running across the floor.  I didn’t want it to
get on my trainers.
What did you do, James? About making the call.
I told her it was too late. But she said…mum said, ‘He’ll be okay…he’ll
be…’ And I said, ‘For God’s sake, look at him,’ but she just kept saying, ‘Oh, God,’ and ‘Oh no,’ and she was kneeling down in the blood.’
So, you didn’t make the call right away?
I wanted to get her away from the sight of his head, but she wouldn’t
James, this is really important. Did you make the call right away?
I thought I was going to be sick. Maybe it was the blood or seeing him
dead or…yeah, I made the call.
Okay, good. Tell me about it.
How are you supposed to be when you make a call like that? Don’t get
me wrong, I knew what I felt. I was glad he was lying on a kitchen floor with his head cracked open like an egg. But you don’t say that when you call the police, do you? Know what? I actually wondered what voice would be best. A bit of panic? Sound devastated? In the end I put on a voice that sounded like I might burst into tears any moment. I knew I wasn’t going to cry, but it’s an easy voice to do.
Why did you feel you had to put on a voice?
You can’t sound calm, can you? How would it look? I told the operator
my dad was dead, and she asked me what had happened.
And I said my dad had a massive head injury and he was dead in our kitchen. Then the operator wanted me to go and check for breathing, but I told her there was no point.
How did you know there was no point?
Cos I knew he was dead. And even if he’d been breathing I would
have put my hand over his nose and mouth and held it there until he stopped.
Don’t say that to me James. And don’t ever say that in the court. Do you
Now, how did you know he wasn’t breathing?
The operator said she was going to get an ambulance and some police
to us right away.
I asked you how you knew he wasn’t breathing.
I knew…I just knew, alright? The operator asked me if I was okay and
yeah, I actually was. I hadn’t been okay for as long as I could remember, but I was actually okay.
Did you check if he was breathing?
Did your mother?
She was kneeling by his head and her hands were covered in blood. She
kept running them over his hair and then wiping them on her dress.  She kept saying, ‘Wake up, Rob. Wake up.’ She kept saying it, over and over again. He wasn’t breathing. He was dead.
What happened next?
I touched my mum’s shoulder to try and make her get up, but she swung
around and tried to slap my face. And she was screaming, ‘You! You!’
Go on.
I dodged her. I could even dodge him sometimes, so she wasn’t
going to connect. But then there was blood from her hands splashed across my chest. And I said, ‘Leave him, mum, he’s gone.’  And then she stood up and wiped her hands on her dress and she said, ‘He’s dead because of you. ‘She said, ‘This is all because of you.’
What did she mean it was all because of you?
I always got the blame. Every day ended the same. He’d be sorry he’d
lost his temper. He’d say he was sorry he’d shouted at her and hit her, but didn’t she see it was my fault? Didn’t she see that, if she showed him a bit more respect and spent less time fussing after me, things would be different? And she’d agree. She’d clean up her cuts or change her ripped clothes and tell him he was right. She’d tell him I was a bad kid and that she would put me right and put him first. She’d say, ‘You know how much I love you, Rob.’ Then he’d say, ‘You need to show me,’ and she’d go, ‘I will,’ and he’d hug her, and she’d still be flinching in case he blew again.
And you say he was like this often?
When he wasn’t there, she would tell me that dad was under pressure.
She’d say that I really was a good kid and that dad just couldn’t see it, but he would in time and things would change. I knew it wouldn’t, though. Not as long as he was alive.
What happened next, James?
My mum said she should change her clothes.  She didn’t want people
seeing her covered in blood. And she was worried that when the police came, I would say bad things about him.
Would you have done? Said bad things?
Like he beat her up almost every day?
She said she’d upset him, and it was her fault. She said. ‘You upset him,
James. We shouldn’t have upset him.’
And she told you not to tell the police?
I told her. I said, ‘He hit you, mum. He was always upset and he always
hit you.’ And she said, ‘Please don’t tell them how he was. If you tell them, they’ll think…’
They’ll think what?
I said they’ll think he’s dead for no reason when there is, but then she
made me promise.
Promise what?
That I wouldn’t tell the police or the court what he was like.
Why? We have to let the court know what you and your mother lived
No. I promised her.
It’s the only way I can defend you.
It’s the only way I can defend her.
James, I am obligated to take your instructions, but…
‘What’s going to happen?’ That’s what she asked me when the
police got to the door, and I told her then it would be okay. That was my promise and I won’t break it. A policewoman took mum to another room and the male one spoke to me. He was like you. He just kept saying, ‘I need you to tell me what’s happened.’
What did you tell the officer?
I told him we had argued.
Who argued?
Me and dad.
And I told the copper I hit my dad with a hammer.
Did you tell him why did you hit him with the hammer, James?
But you told him you had killed your father?
But you didn’t tell him why.
He hit mum. He always hit mum.
And you?
Sometimes. Less as I got older… bigger.
But your mother is saying your father was never violent. She’s saying
her relationship with your father was good.
I know.
You don’t sound aggrieved.
That’s my mother. If you ignore it, it’ll go away.
Maybe that works for her, James, but it won’t for you. I’ll give you the
best defence I can but, let me be clear, the jury is going to hear that a teenager lost it with his dad and killed him with a hammer. Do you understand what you are facing?
You’ll go to prison. Youth detention and then prison when you’re old
enough. Is there anything you’ll let me tell the court that would help them see why you did what you did?
He’s dead. It doesn’t matter now, does it?
Your mother should be helping you.
She never said anything to defend me before…not when dad was alive…
so why start now? It is what it is.
You’re not giving me anything to defend you with, James. Detention can
be a grim place. You’ll have seen that on remand.
Time’s going quickly. Maybe the days will go as fast even after they send
me down. What was your guess again?
Minimum ten years. But it really would be less if we can show mitigation.
Whatever it is, it’s worth it.  For the first time in my life I know she’s safe
and, if that’s the price I have to pay, it’s a price worth paying, isn’t it?
You have to tell the court about your father’s violence.
She couldn’t handle it.
She’s not the one going to end up in prison.
But I don’t understand why.
You can’t tell anyone anything I’ve said unless I say you can, right?
That’s right. Anything you tell me is privileged information.
It stays with you.
It does.
Then maybe this’ll make you understand. Almost every day I’ve been
on remand, the other kids in the detention centre have asked me the same question. What was it like to kill my dad?
And what do you say?
I don’t say anything, because I don’t know. But maybe one day my mum
will tell me.

Judges Comments

Tension mounts with every line in A Price to Pay, the runner up in WM's competition for dialogue-only short stories. The conversation between James and his lawyer builds from a formal start, gradually revealing the circumstances behind the crime the youth is facing trial for.

Tony Domaille, the writer of A Price to Pay, has set out his story with control and restraint even though the circumstances of the story are grim, and lurid. It works like a successful script – each line acts as a beat, revealing another telling detail, allowing the reader to build up an incremental picture of the crime and the circumstances behind it.

Tony doesn't use formal speech marks to differentiate his two protagonists. He doesn't need to because the characters, and voices, that he's created are so distinctive. It's always possible to tell who is speaking without it having to be signposted - this shows just how effective this piece of writing is.

The taut understatement of the conversation, revealing a horrible crime in a matter-of fact way, adds to the grit of the piece as it builds to a reveal in a final line that has been skilfully timed for dramatic effect.