Short Story: A Hero

25 Aug

Act 1: Loss

Loss. It usually starts with a loss, or at least ends that way. All the stories I’ve read anyway. It kind of has to, if you think about it. If the hero hasn’t lost anything or isn’t going to then where’s the plot? There’s nothing at stake. No real feeling. No fear.

I think fear is important. You can learn a lot about a person through how they act when they’re afraid. Some will run and hide, some will stand and fight and some will look on in horror. You can learn a lot about someone when they’re acting through fear, but I don’t think it’s fair to judge them.

I’m talking about fear because everyone is afraid of losing something. Respect, love, wealth, good looks, there’s always something.

Well, in this story, the hero has already lost everything that he had. Not that he had much to start with. He isn’t rich, he doesn’t have many people in his life that he can call a friend, he isn’t terribly smart or attractive either. But his friend was gone and he was sure of that. He isn’t sure of much else, though. Everything had become completely unravelled in such a short struggle. Loose threads everywhere and the more he thought about it, there was no real reason to sort it all out anymore.

But, you have to start somewhere. And our hero, no matter how terrified he is, is about to decide where.

Look at the concentration in his face as he stares towards the streetlight. Look at that nervous twitch. The cold look in his eyes. The quivering lip and the flaring nostrils. Anger, fear, loss, doubt. All raging through him. If you look hard enough you can see a trace of each one of these emotions. He’s also thinking, and hard too. Trying to figure out what his next step is. But then his brow unfurrows and he lowers his stare to the still, empty little body that he’s still holding to his chest and says, ‘I just don’t know what to do.’

Well, I guess he needs some more time. It’s not easy.

Act 2: Inner Struggle

It can take a long time to get over something like that.  It can take a long time for people to get themselves facing the right direction again. Sometimes they never do.

It may surprise you to learn that our hero is no different. Or it might not, he is just a regular guy after all. I think I’ve made that clear.

Look at him now. He’s been sitting in that same spot, watching cartoons, for nearly three days now. He hasn’t smiled once either.

His phone is ringing. It’s been doing that a lot over the past three days. He picks it up, looks at the caller and hovers his thumb over the green button. He answers. He hasn’t been doing that a lot.

‘Hello?’ He asks. Did you hear that slight tremor in his voice? I think he’s nervous.

‘Yeah, I’m fine, Dad.’ Notices how he’s fidgeting? Picking at the rag nail on the index finger of his right hand with his thumb. I think he’s lying.

‘No. No, you don’t need to come over.’ I guess his dad is thinking the same thing.

‘Right. Yeah, okay. Thanks, dad.’ He sighs, ‘Okay. Yeah, I’ll see you there.’

He sets the phone down again. He seems a little different now. He has something else to think about. Something to distract him from his recent loss. Distraction is good sometimes. He’s standing up now that he has something to do, someone to meet. Keeping busy, that’s the key. He takes a clean towel out of the hot press. It’s about time he cleaned up. Needs a haircut, too.

He’s stepping into the bathroom now. We’ll give him some privacy. It’s one thing to tell a story about a man, another thing entirely to look at his bits.

*

It’s three in the afternoon. That sound is a train pulling into the station. You can’t see it from in here, though. That other sound is our hero himself, flushing the toilet. He unlocks the door and steps out of the stall.

He looks nervous, checking himself out in the mirror, taking deep breaths. He’s even dressed up a bit. Hasn’t seen his old man in a while, I believe.

‘This is going to be awkward.’

Talking to himself now.

‘Ah, come on. It won’t be that bad. It’s only been, what? Five years?’

He thought he was talking to himself anyway.

A man had quietly entered, gently closing the bathroom door. He’s smiling, but he looks a little nervous too. He’s biting his bottom lip and rummaging around in his pockets. Our hero pauses for a second, they’ve locked eyes through the mirror. He turns.

‘Hello, dad.’

Ah.

‘Hello.’

There’s a feeling in the room as if unspoken words are being passed from person to person.

‘How are you doing?’ His father asks, breaking the silence as gently as possible.

‘I’m coping.’

There’s another silence. It seems alien, awkward, until his father breaks it again:

‘Coffee?’

His face says that finding that one word was the greatest struggle he’s had in a while.

*

The journey to the café is unusual. Two men walking in silence, neither glancing at the other, yet at the same time a strange warmth is growing between them.

*

‘Ill have a cappuccino, love.’ His father says, answering the waitress taking their order.

‘And you?’ She says, smiling.

‘I’ll have the same, I guess. Thanks.’

She leaves them.

‘Listen, son. I know this must be hard. I’ve lost friends myself.’

Straight to business.

‘Did you hold them while they died?’ His son sounds angry, like he’s blaming his father for something that couldn’t possibly be his fault.

His father looks up as the waitress returns with their drinks. He smiles as best as he can and thanks her. His son is staring at him, his eyes quivering.

‘Look, son.’ He says, ‘I wanted to meet you for a reason.’ Hesitation? He’s acting like he’s afraid of something. Ashamed, even.

Our hero is suspicious now. He has a feeling. The instinct to run is kicking in.

‘I know why your friend died.’

Dead silence. Always to be expected when a curve-ball like that comes out of fucking nowhere. It isn’t awkward either, just cold. Cold, dead silence. This isn’t the silence of two men who simply don’t know what to say to one another. It’s the silence of one man thinking harder than he ever has before and the other waiting for his judgement.

Finally, our hero says, ‘And how do you know that?’

The father sips at his coffee, gazing at the table that seems to span for miles between them. He’s running his index finger through a small puddle of the spilt brown liquid on his saucer.

‘Well, I know because I know the men who did it.’ The father pauses and looks up at his son, ‘I Also know that they weren’t strangers to you either.’

A twist.

‘How do you know them? How the fuck are you involved in this?’

Anger flares.

‘Don’t you fucking talking to me like that, boy.’ His father snarls, ‘Not yet, anyway. I’ve got an awful lot to say to you and I’ve travelled an awfully long way to say it. So, you could at least do me the favour of keeping your mouth shut and hearing what I have to tell you.’

He turns his face away, pressing his lips firmly together. His expression reads: ‘I shall not say one more word.’ The big fucking huff.

Our hero closes his eyes and breathes deeply. Is that guilt he’s feeling?

‘Look, dad. I’m sorry. I’ve been through a lot. Just tell me what you know. I’ll… I’ll listen until you’re finished.’

Like a hostage negotiator. The sly bastard’s not sorry at all. You can almost see him biting his tongue.

‘Well, I’m having second thoughts now anyway.’

‘Just fucking telling me!’ Our hero shouts, rising from his seat and leaning closer to his father. A silence follows, louder than the yell somehow, and heads turn throughout the cafe.

‘Right. Sure. For fuck’s sake, just sit down!’ He takes another drink. ‘Your coffee’s getting cold, you haven’t touched it.’

‘Right, that’s it. I’m leaving.’ The hero stands.

‘No! Right, sit down. I’ll get to the point.’

He sits again.

‘But you have to let me finish before you start screaming at me, okay?’

Silence.

‘Do we have a fucking deal?’

‘Yeah. Fair enough. I’ll try my best. Do you have a smoke?’

‘Yeah. Here you go.’ The father produces a packet of cigarettes from his pocket. He takes one for himself, lights it and then gives one to his son. He sets the packet on the table, halfway between them.

The tone changes.

‘Right. Before I start you have to understand how much I know.’ He takes a long drag from his cigarette. ‘I know everything that you do and I also know a good bit more.’

This should be interesting.

‘I know that you and your friend were selling drugs. No, don’t say anything. Believe it or not, I don’t give a shite about the drugs. I mean you’re a fucking idiot. But, so are most people.’

He takes another long drag, our hero does the same. There’s an intensity in his father’s eyes matched only by the curiosity in his son’s.

‘I also know that the two of you, both fucking idiots might I add, decided to try and rip off the lads that were supplying you. Now, I’m assuming, and I know that you’re an idiot so I could be wrong, that you have realised at this point that that is the reason why your friend is dead. And if you’re not completely stupid you’re probably scared shitless that these guys are gonna get you next.’

Our hero nods. He hasn’t spoken in a while. What could he say, anyway? His father was right on the mark.

‘I’m going to go on, assuming you still want to hear.’ He takes another drag from his cigarette and stubs it out in the ashtray on the table. A plume of smoke rises from it. ‘If you said anything to me now, you’d either be telling me how sorry you are, and in that case I already told you that I don’t give a fuck, or you’ll be asking me how I know all this. In which case, hold your fucking horses ‘cause I’ll tell you in a minute.’

He pauses for breath.

‘I know all of this and I know those men because I work with them.’

‘You bastard!’ Our hero shouts, clenching his right fist as he rises.

‘Sit the fuck down, boy.’ His father says. It wasn’t a suggestion, it was a command. ‘People are staring already and I’m not finished yet and I promise that you’ll want to hear all of this.’

Lowering himself back into his chair, our hero sits again. The tension between them is incredible.

‘Before you jump to conclusions, no, I didn’t kill your friend. I was told that the two of you had been marked. Now, I don’t want me own son being fucking killed, no matter how estranged we are, so I asked them to kill him instead.’

‘Jesus christ.’ Tears form in our hero’s eyes.

‘I’m not proud of it, alright? But any father would have done the same. I made a choice and I stand by it. No disrespect for the dead.’

Silence again. For a long time there are no words, only tears from our hero and a pitying stare from his father.

‘Why did you not try and save him too?’ Our hero asks, eventually.

‘I would have, but someone had to die. There needs to be a body for it to be a real message. If two lads rip you off, they need to be seen to have paid. That way, other people start thinking twice about trying the same.’

Makes sense if you think about it, I guess…

‘Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!’ Our hero brings his fist down on the table. The cups clink in their saucers. Heads turn once more.

‘I know this is all very hard to accept. And I’m sorry that it’s me delivering the message. I mean, I guess it’s better than a man in a balaclava telling you, at three in the morning, with a gun pressed to your temple. But, you have to leave. If you don’t get out of the country, you’re a dead man.’

A plane ticket appears on the table.

‘I’m sorry, son. I don’t know what else to tell you.’

‘I’m gonna kill the bastards. I’m not leaving. Get the fuck out of here.’

‘I’m leaving, don’t worry. But think about that ticket, alright? I risked a lot to even make that an option.’

‘Well, you didn’t fucking risk enough did you?’

His father begins to speak. He stands instead and puts his hand on his son’s shoulder.

Can you imagine what this lad’s going through? He knows he should get out. He doesn’t want to, but he knows. What he wants to do is pick up that ash tray and bash his father’s skull in before going on your classic action film third act of revenge. But he doesn’t. His sits there and he cries into his, by now cold, cup of coffee and he lets his dad go. The cops would have had him within minutes anyway.

So, he thinks.

Act 3: The Choice

He knew he didn’t have long to decide. He’d have to leave in the morning or kill the bastards tonight. He wouldn’t remember the long walk back to his house from the cafe or the silver car that he’d been sure was following him by the time he’d gotten home. He already had too much in his head to deal with.

He stood in the shower for more than an hour, staring at the tiles. I followed him in this time. You never know what might happen at this point in a story like this. He dresses himself and sits on the sofa. He’ll go for the gun in the coffee table. It’s for emergencies. You never know when you’ll need one in the business.

He’s glancing down at the drawer now, just under his left knee. It’d be the only option if he was gonna kill them. He reaches down, opens the drawer and lifts out the gun by the barrel. He turns it over in his hands. It’s a revolver. Anything else had seemed like overkill at the time. An AK-47 seemed perfect now.

He leans his head back and stares at the ceiling. The tears that have been welling up haven’t left his eyes yet.

I don’t envy him.

He looks down at the gun again. Its heavy.

The barrel is in his mouth at the end of a simple movement. There’s always another option. It’s messy and it isn’t ideal, but it is there.

Tears flow freely now and he pulls the gun out from between his teeth. Saliva drips off the barrel and he clenches his eyes. He take in three huge gulps of air through his nostrils.

One.

Two.

Three.

He sighs, drops the gun in his lap and leans over to the phone beside him. He picks it up and dials a number. The phone rings and rings. No answer. Weird. The message on the answering machine plays.  Our hero coughs.

‘Dad? Thanks. Thanks for everything. I’ll call you when I get… wherever. Bye.’

He sets the phone down and puts his head in his hands. He cries openly and like he hasn’t cried since he was a child..

And I suppose that’s it. Not all heroes leave a trail of blood behind them. And not all of them end up saving someone else’s life. Some of them only need to save themselves.

I reckon he’ll be alright without me. After a while.

Gavin (Originally written in 2013)

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