Sunday, August 10, 2014



*Story contains suggestions of trauma and violence*

I’ve been asked a few times now if I’d do it all over again. The answer is always the same. “Of course not.”

That’s the answer they want to hear, you see? That’s the answer that gets you the nice job at the library and the time out in the yard. What I want to say, what I’m screaming in the pit of my soul is, “Fuck, yes! A thousand times, yes.”

Even now, as I sit and stare through the window spotted with dust and splattered with pigeon shit, I can feel the rage. It’s died down, don’t get me wrong. I don’t actually crawl into my own intestines when I see his face on the television screen anymore. I do, however, still get that pulse in my right temple and the corresponding twitch in my lip.

It’s the ache though, that’s the worst thing. That hollow pain that reminds me of being hungry and knowing there’s not a thing you can do about it except lie down on your bed, tuck up your knees and hope that Mom will stop crying or Dad will sober up long enough to throw on some KD. That kind of empty.

The sun is out today at least. I’ve decided to take it as a good sign. A beacon of hope so to speak. It’s the little things, right?

I remember a time I went for months without seeing the sun. Back when everything was a blur of neon and strobe, streetlights and dashboards. Misspent youth, careless attitude, questionable morals. Seemed good at the time. God knows, and fuck did he ever, that a man is fooling himself if he believes he can drown out the screaming with bass. Or that he can blur the memories with chemicals or booze.

I spent the first two years here vehemently refusing to enter the chapel. I didn’t even acknowledge its existence. The man in the collar was just some guy; call him a janitor, a cook, the maintenance guy, call him anything you want but a priest. Well, not anything – never a guard or a warden. I refuse to allow the position any respect. Day after day, whether just in passing or by specific visit, the pastor would make a point of breaching my space to ask. Come by the chapel. Let’s sit and talk. You’ll feel better if you get it off your chest. And the words... he had no idea how those words whipped me. He had no clue how hard it was to hear him say that without reaching out and smashing my fist through his face.

Count the ceiling tiles, grit your teeth, smile and nod. Make nice. Prove the point you’ve been trying to show that you being here is all some big mistake. They echo though, the Father’s words. I’ve heard their kind before.

Broken, bruised, bleeding and weeping, with all hope lost and probably hours away from taking a chemical-enhanced leap off the tallest building I could find with an unlocked staircase, I’d followed the light. Literally. Shivering, cold and wet I’d stumbled along the gutter, drawn by the shine of a blinking cross. That fucking sign – that fucking flickering pulse of electricity not quite making the proper connection. I should have just kept to the original plan.

They tell me that they’re here to help me now. That everything’s going to be different. First the lawyer, then the pastor. Then the counsellors and the parole committee. It takes everything I have not to laugh out loud when I hear it. After all, the offer of assistance has never been my saving grace. You know what mankind should do? When faced with the amicable faces and the saviours and the martyrs? When the offers are being purred and the promises made? Run. Fucking run as hard and as fast as you can. And if you can’t run, if you’ve been backed into a corner or pressed towards the cliff’s edge? That’s when you should pull out a virtual G17, line that fucker up, and blow the brains of your supposed-redeemer out the back of his skull. Figuratively speaking, of course.

Cold, am I? Callous? Not in the least. As a matter of fact, I’m one of the nicest souls you’ll ever meet. I just happened to be foolish enough to think that everyone thought like me. That people were inherently good. They aren’t. People don’t give you shit for free. Everyone has an angle. Everybody wants something. Human beings are evil bastards.

Understand... I remember what he looked liked – beautiful, kind, sweet. And I remember how he sounded – calm, gentle, loving. “Let me help you,” he’d said, reaching out with that claw cleverly disguised as comforting hand, offering that leer masked as geniality. It’s hard to see the demon when he’s dressed himself as friend. And I, the fool I was, had not yet learned enough on those cold, dark streets to warn me. I should have, damn it all to hell and back again I should have. I know now though. Don’t you worry.

There’s a spider on the floor by my shoe. I’m torn between sliding my toe the required one inch to the left and meeting its advance with a quick slap of sole against tile, or letting it just wander forward and climb my shoe, my leg, right on up until it perches atop my head to watch the proceedings. Should I reiterate the fact that I’m a cruel and heartless being without mercy? Or let everyone think that I’m ‘at one’ with the spider and, as such, obviously as loony as Canadian coinage. The internal debate actually springs sweat blossoms between my shoulders. It’s hard to know what constitutes crazy to these people.

Instead, I’ll drift. Forget the vermin and command it away with plain ‘ol willpower. I can, I’m sure of it. My fu is strong, talisman-free and all. I’ve long since given up on the belief that a thing can help me anyway. If I can’t do it alone, it can’t be done. I used to wear a pendant though. My Mom’s sister Pearl gave it to me when I was eleven, on the day of Mom’s funeral. My Dad had already been hauled off by all three of his brothers, none of whom were in any better shape than he was, but at least had the frame of mind to realise my Dad had been about fifteen minutes and three more smart-ass comments away from ending up in the back of a patrol car. She’d pulled me aside, handed me the chain, questionably unwrapped and unboxed, and she’d told me, “Baby, this here is St. Jerome Emiliani and he’s the patron saint of abandoned and orphaned children. With your Mama gone you need to understand that there ain’t nobody in this room, hell, Baby, ain’t nobody in this whole damn city who’s going to help you now. ‘Cept maybe Jesus.” She’d patted my head and glanced over the crowd. “Can’t hurt to hope, right?”

I’ve thought about that question a lot. And yes, Aunt Pearl, it really can. It can hurt a fuck of a lot, actually. I don’t know why, but on ‘the’ day, ‘that’ day, I’d left the chain, pendant and all, coiled like a snake on his bleeding, heaving chest. In hindsight, a stupid move. It felt good though. Damn good. To say good-bye to the hope.

The questions have been fairly simple so far. I’m distracted though. The woman to the right has this ridiculous scarf, you see. The rest of her is demure, respectable and properly dark: black skirt well over the knee, black jacket done up from breakfast to neck, sandalwood nylons and low, squared pumps. And then right there, as if some insane tropical bird is trying to attack her neck, sits this bouffant of red and pink and white and yellow and blue. A rainbow of hideousness. A myriad of Crayola-worthy disgust. I can’t help but wonder the purpose of it. Her own little fuck-you to the fashion world? Her connection to that which is seen as ugly? Her attempt to show her distaste with the rest of the outfit by abusing it? I don’t understand the sentiment, but I hear it. At least I think I do. Who really knows? Still, I’ll cling to the belief. Make her my wingman. Pump myself with my conviction that I have a kindred soul sitting across from me. Someone who understands that sometimes you just have to speak up, to make the statement – to deliver the message.

I won’t make it sound like I didn’t know what he was up to. Well, I didn’t; not at first, of course. At first I thought he was just one of those people struggling to make a difference in the world. It wasn’t a gigantic church, it was a small mission, but his followers were devoted and it seemed like they were quite sincere. They radiated when they talked about their goals and their purpose. They diligently pounded pavement and collected donations. They scrubbed and buffed and polished the requisite brass and gold. They worshiped on bended knees and sang hymns at the top of their lungs. But when he started to get a little touchy-feely, when he went out of his way to come up with moments for us to be alone, I knew what he was up to. I had not spent my nights in innocence while out on the streets.

I’ll bet you, dimes to dollars, that the man sitting at the right of the table is just like him. This being, sitting here like he has the right to judge, with that look on his face... a pious sweet masquerade that he puts on and takes off at the front door every day. Do you beat your wife? Molest your children? Catch small animals and torture them in the dark? What’s your sin, old man? Which rock does your snake crawl under?

He knows I see it too. That’s why he keeps shifting his eyes to the left. That’s why he looks down at the floor when he’s talking. I know you, I tell him silently. I know you do, his eyes tell me back. It becomes a momentary sing-song in my brain. I know, I know, I know, I know. And I slip my second ace up my sleeve – by the power of guilt go I.

Had it been just the sex my life, his life, the story itself could have been worlds different. Back then I could have opened my body for anyone. I was warm, my belly was full, and I had a dry, safe place to lay my head at night. I wasn’t listening to my parents screech obscenities from the floor below me or waiting for that thud that would silence it all. I wasn’t hiding in my closet from the beast my Dad became after Mom died. I didn’t have to worry if everything I owned was being stolen from me as I slept, or where the cops were trolling that night. If that meant I had to suck some dick or bend over, then fine. At least he was decent. Besides, he liked to watch me cum. There’s something to be said for reciprocation, you know?

The spider’s back. How I even managed to catch sight of it is beyond me. It’s a speck of nonexistence amongst a barrage of design on the tile. It has given up on its ascent of myself and opted instead to search out and scale the almost immobile male who took his place at the middle of the table. He has eyes like ice. Not the pretty, oh-my-Gosh-look-at-the-crystals kind of ice either. The real kind. The I-sunk-the-Titanic kind. So when his shoe falls, with a force about a thousand times harder than necessary, I am not surprised. Night-night, spidey; rest in peace. As left-woman and right-man, guard and warden jump, I merely catch his eyes and smile. “Yes, sir.” I answer his previously posed question with a soft voice and gentle lilt, as if the malicious destruction of innocuous life had not just happened. “I’d sure like to go on home and see my Pa.” As-fucking-if.

Do you know what it’s like? To have someone tell you that they love you? After growing up in terror and hunger and disregard? When your days are so exhausting and your nights are so brutal that the thought of sleeping on freezing concrete and sucking off strangers is a welcomed change? Do you have any idea how hearing those words can affect you? If you’ve spent your whole life being told that you’re worthless, being treated like an over-used dish-rag, being allegorically scraped off the sole of someone’s shoe like so much dog shit? It’s... boggling. I understand the you’re-beautifuls, the fuck-you-feel-so-goods. But I love you? That touches a need that you didn’t even realise you still had. It didn’t matter that his mouth was always revoltingly wet when he kissed. Or that he panted like a Labrador in August. Because he loved me. He said so.

I have an itch at the back of my scalp. Well, that’s where it started anyway. It has since wandered, crawling fingers winding their evil taunt through my hair and around to my forehead. I want to reach up and scratch it, but I’m nervous about coming across as dirty, or fidgety. While my mind screams at it, while I drive myself mad from denial, I continue to smile. And nod. Happy-happy me. Responsible, gentle, remorseful me. To quote an overused line: “Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to thank the academy...”

At nineteen I was far too young for a relationship like that. It was too complicated to manage, way too much of a yoke to bear. Confidentiality was imperative; silence a necessity. No one was supposed to know that my heart beat like war-drums if his hand brushed mine – love was for behind locked doors. I was good though. Perfect, actually. Nothing but respect and devotion shone from these eyes. I could do it. I would do it. I didn’t need outward shows of affection or spoken vows. It was enough that I knew, when he looked down at the congregation, when he spoke of love and adoration, loyalty and affection, that he was speaking to me. Me. Him and I. Our own private moments, hidden in his sermons, parroted from every set of lips around us.

They want to hear my take on the events. They want me to say it in a way that will convince them that I know how truly wrong I was. Should I tell them how my first reaction was to run and hide? To pretend I’d never seen it? For after all, if my mind refused to believe my eyes then it never happened. Should I tell them that I wanted to wait for the boy? Beat the kid for weeping and strangle the innocence off his face? Or how much I hated myself afterwards for not sympathizing? Maybe I should explain how I stood and watched because every ounce of every weight that anyone in my life had ever placed upon my shoulders all came rushing back to me at one time. How I was suddenly so burdened that I couldn’t move.

The blade of betrayal sliced me open forever that day. I vowed to return the favour.

Instead I carefully select words like “overwrought with grief”, “overcome by emotion”, “not within my right mind.” And I hasten to add, even though they have not asked that I am “reformed” and “stricken with guilt”. That I had made my “peace with my Lord” and “been granted absolution through repentance”. That it is “only through his grace” that I know “the dawn is brighter” and “better days are ahead.” Oh, yes. I was listening back then. Sermons101: Halle-fucking-lujah and Praise Be.

My intentions when I stalked him that night, my eyes rimmed red and my hands shaking, were to kill him... (Oh, Father, what have you done?) When I ordered him to his knees and watched him beg me for forgiveness... (Why hast thou forsaken me?) For I had suffered enough for all of us, for every child, for every young man, and through this one act of retribution I could make the world a better place. (Forgive him, Father, he knows not what he does.)

How many other eyes had he looked into along the way? How many promises? How many shattered hearts? Swallowing souls with fetid flesh. Scarring lives with scattered seed. Stealing virtue with divine deviance. Had he not seen the dedication that shone in my eyes? Had he not heard the cries that came from the mouth of the boy underneath him? Of course he had. But he didn’t care! He was the chosen one, see? He could take what he wanted, plunder the fertile soil of our youth and leave us stripped and mined, destitute and useless.

They’re talking now. Talking and nodding – and I continue to smile and fight away my twitches and itches and internal bitches. I see it though. Victory. As clear as the sun in the window. As tangible as the chair underneath me.

I stabbed him nine times. And I counted aloud while I did it. One was for the pain – two for the anger. Three for the tears and four for the betrayal. For five I screamed my own name, six for the name of the boy. Seven, eight and nine I just blasted off the random names of other young men in our congregation and goddamn it if I didn’t I see the guilt shine with every one of them. I stopped because I was tired. You’d be surprised how much effort it takes to stab a man in the chest.

In my head I’m singing... “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound...” I’d like to say I’ve forgotten the words but you never do. I don’t anyway. I don’t forget anything.

I got ten years. And he got to live. I’ve only served six. For six years I have built myself into the man I am today. For six years he has portrayed himself as the all-serving, the all-devoted, the all-humble and the misunderstood. He poured the story of our affair out to anyone willing to shove a microphone in his face. He wept with remorse to wife and servant. He begged my forgiveness and prayed for my soul. But he never said a single word about the boy he held below him that night I saw him in the vestibule. No stories were leaked about the others.

And oh, how cleverly they marketed it all. How easily the story was spun on itself. The press jumped on my past, my troubles, my weaknesses and turned the whole thing around, see? I was the predator, seeking to influence the saint from his master. I was the mote that had to be plucked and discarded. But if you watch, if you’re careful, if you don’t even blink lest you miss it – you’ll see the expressions from the few. The pretty assistant that’s always at his side, watching every move he makes with adoring eyes and trembling fingers. The children set to play around him as if he were JC himself, mocking the very sanctity of morality by their proximity. So I’ll stand, and watch the flickering screens, drawn to the light just like that very time, but this time I know. This time I see you, Father.

They’ll be walking me back to my cell now. But I’m not upset. I’m not even worried. I know the looks on their faces. They are watching me with the same convinced, self-confidently pleased looks that we minions held watching the podium. Intent in the knowledge that good was still king. That honourable was the majority. That justice stood, strong and blind.

“It’ll be nice to get your ass out of this hole, won’t it?” my cellmate asks me and I send him a sweet smile and make up some comment about seeing daylight without bars.

What I want to say, what I’m muttering in my head is how sweet it will feel to plunge a blade back into that chest again. To stare into his eyes and watch the fear escalate to panic, the panic dissolve to pleading, the pleading fade to acceptance, and the final light flicker out forever. Libraries are a veritable cornucopia of wisdom. Anatomy is a precise and fascinating subject. The design of the heart is not so complicated. Quantity is far less important than quality. One strike this time. Two at the most.

For now I’ll get to finish the job I started.

My will be done.

Fool me once and all. You will not get me twice. I will not be shamed again. You see, I’m sick to death of shame. My Dad never really left me with too many words of wisdom. But I remember these... “Be careful who you choose to play your games with, boy.”

Careful, indeed.

He didn’t win. He merely postponed the inevitable. And if he’d like someone to blame for my ability to fool an entire panel of responsible citizens—for no one being able to read the lies behind my cleverly veiled responses—then he need only look into his own damn mirror.

The End

Copyright © 2011 AF Henley

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