That tone by Kathryn Gynn

One of a series of blog posts written by Brunel’s creative writing students, inspired by the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies.

Some individuals may find the topic covered in this blog post distressing. Should you require support please contact:

Brunel Students: Student support and welfare team

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He often found it unbearable, the tone of voice she used when she was talking to her sister. Not that it was his place to say anything; it wasn’t his sister, and she never used that particular tone when she spoke to him. But he would sit and listen to her talk on the phone, and he would hate it. She seemed to only talk to her sister when he was around, and always in that same tone. It was insincere, that’s what it was. She wasn’t an insincere person. It was one of the things he loved most about her. She was kind and gentle, and oh so genuine. She would never lie to him. But when she spoke to her sister, she would change. He didn’t like it. He didn’t like the smile that crept across her face, a cruel smile, he had decided. He didn’t like her laugh. Too sharp, too loud. He didn’t like that they talked about everything. Private things. And most of all he hated her tone. She was so sarcastic (1). When she spoke to him there was no sarcasm. Her voice matched her. She was the sort of girl who wore sundresses and cute ballet pumps. He made sure of it, throwing away anything that didn’t fit, and buying her dresses for her birthday. She didn’t know, just assumed she’d lost things.

‘Yes, I’m sure you took that red scarf to work, but you didn’t have it when you came home,’ he would say.

She’d smile, and roll her eyes at herself, asking him to remind her to buy a replacement. He never did. Her voice belonged to someone who baked cakes, which she often did, or wanted to have children, which she had agreed with him would be lovely.

‘One day,’ she had said, and he knew that day would be soon.


Her voice matched her. But when she spoke to her sister in that tone, that sarcastic tone, she didn’t sound like his girl. She sounded like someone who wore leather jackets and high heel boots, who had piercings and tattoos, and ate takeaways, and wanted to travel the world. He hated that woman, and he hated that tone of voice. That sarcastic, horrible tone of voice. Like she was having a joke. A joke he wasn’t privy to. He didn’t like those moments, his girl talking to her sister, and not including him. He had a right to be included, but whenever she asked, she just brushed him off.

‘It’s not actually funny,’ she would say. ‘Oh, you know we don’t really talk about anything.’

If they didn’t talk about anything, there was no reason they had to talk at all. It wasn’t necessary, and it made him feel uncomfortable. That tone. That sarcastic, cruel voice. Not like his lovely, sweet, kind girl. He’d tried suggesting that she didn’t talk to her sister on the phone, but she lived on the other side of the country and his girl insisted they needed to talk, to keep in touch. He’d deleted her sister’s number one day, when she was having a shower, but it turned out that she had learnt the number by heart. He blamed that on a phone glitch. He’d stopped talking about her sister, in an attempt to not remind her of her sister’s existence. None of it had worked. She still spoke to her sister. She still used that tone.

(1) ‘Autobiographical Letter’ by May Owen (2:576), p.8, in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, Special Collections, Brunel Library, Brunel University London.

© Kathryn Gynn, 2019. All rights reserved.

‘That Tone’ was inspired by ‘Autobiographical Letter’ by May Owen (2:576), in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, Special Collections, Brunel Library, Brunel University London.

Kathryn Gynn is an aspiring writer, born and raised in East London, where she still lives. She has studied English Literature with Creative Writing (BA) at Swansea University, Children’s Literature and Writing (MA) at Birkbeck University, and is currently studying Creative Writing (MA) at Brunel University, London. She also used to be a Secondary school English Teacher, but left when they started mock-GCSE exams for 11-year olds. Kathryn enjoys learning about new things, and about new ways to experiment with words, and likes writing on things that aren’t paper. She recently embroidered a short story onto a t-shirt.

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