An Own Goal


At his trial in Glasgow, the defendant, Rory McPhee, pleaded not guilty to murder on grounds of diminished responsibility; his temporary insanity having been brought about by the unreasonable behaviour of his wife Fiona on the occasion of his sixty-fifty birthday.

Alongside the bloodstained umbrella and leather cord used to batter and strangle Mrs McPhee, lay several items provided by the defence team for the jury’s consideration. Under cross-examination, the following facts emerged.

Fiona McPhee had kept her husband on a very tight budget. He had been obliged to have everything he earned paid straight into their joint account, for which his wife held both the cheque book and the debit card. She allowed him a small amount of cash each week but made him record each purchase, however minor, in a ledger, which she checked on Sunday evenings. As she had found several mistakes in his accounts the week before his birthday, the first parcel he opened was a calculator, the cost of which was to be deducted from his pocket money.

His second present was a bookmark, quite handsome in its way with its blue enamelled butterfly, but it came with a tart reminder that all the reading matter he needed could be borrowed free of charge from the library. Whilst in the gift shop, however, a dainty silver bracelet had caught Mrs McPhee’s eye and she had decided to treat herself. It cost exactly double the amount of the magazine subscription for which the defendant had pleaded several times during the weeks leading up to his birthday.

His third present was a hefty umbrella, guaranteed not to blow inside out in the strongest gale. Mrs McPhee had announced with glee that her husband would no longer need the car now that he had retired. It would be a shame to waste it, though, and she had taken out for herself a membership to the RAC. The jury might think that there could be no greater insult for a newly retired AA patrolman to swallow, but they would be wrong.

Guilt, or maybe some vestige of Christian charity, may have inspired the gift that drove McPhee over the edge. Even to his wife’s selfish mind, the selection of presents on the breakfast table must have looked meagre and she had cast around for something to add. A piece of leather cord protruding from a kitchen drawer reminded her that the dog had brought home something useful for once and she hastily wrapped it up. The cord was attached to an old wooden medallion decorated with a Celtic cross. Mrs McPhee had scored an own goal. The defence alleged that the roars of anger let out by that poor, downtrodden man, a lifetime Rangers supporter, when he opened his final present had been heard all over Govan; as far as the Ibrox Stadium, anyway.

It took the jury five minutes to acquit McPhee of the murder charge. The foreman added that he hoped Scottish law would allow a verdict of justifiable homicide.

This story was written in response to a challenge to include five random objects in a coherent narrative.