JAMIE L. DYSON - DOWNWARD
Jamie’s writing takes ordinary people and places them in unusual, unwelcome, and often unsettling situations. Blogging and flash fiction happens at www.semperite.wordpress.com and tweets @OhDearJamie, while he embarks upon his first novel.
By Jamie L.Dyson
Nobody other than the owner and waitresses knew that I drank coffee in the Weir Street café every day. I hadn’t spoken to any of my family members for some years, and friends seemed like a waste of my energy, as well as theirs. Aside from those who poured me hot drinks and had long since given up attempts of conversation, there was nobody to wonder why I chose that place, why I stared out of the window for hours, or why a woman of my age would leave and walk the streets of such an undesirable neighbourhood, come rain or shine.
I had no need to work for a living. My husband, Gerry, was a wealthy man and when he was killed I profited handsomely from his life insurance. I’d worked very little before that anyway truth be told, with he being a proud traditionalist wanting to us to be one of the few couples clinging onto the man and wife clichés of generations gone. The one missing part of our happy fifties myth, was children. It’s not that we didn’t want them, we both did, I think. We just never got around to it. Although we married later in life than I would have liked, I always thought that we had all the time in the world, what was the rush? I’m sure he felt the same. Then he was killed, and there were no children. I’m not sure if it was a blessing to not be a single mother. Perhaps if I had had the responsibility of bringing them up, I wouldn’t have taken such an unhealthy interest in the boy that killed my husband.
It always shocked and confused people when I used that term, killed. ‘Your husband was a hero!’ they would say, and I agreed with them, but not for the reason that they believed him to be. He was my hero, and the day that our paths crossed with that of the boy, my hero was taken away from me forever.
Walking along the sea front was a nice escape for Gerry, so we tried to do it as often as we could. I hated when the wind would lash the rain upon us from all angles, cutting into our faces like tiny diamonds and causing streams of snot to flood from my nose; most unattractive. He seemed to prefer it when it was like that. ‘Bracing’, he would say with a mischievous glint in his eye as he pulled at my arm to beckon me along. I would take rain and snot every day if it meant we could be there together again. The only times I visited that place following his death were to follow the boy.
It was somewhat of a finer day when it happened. Still too early in the year for the beach to be bustling, but there were families with dogs and people flying kites, the ice cream van had been brought out of hibernation and the clouds dispersed at acceptable intervals. The boy was eight years old at the time and had been separated from his mother as he chased an inflatable football along the water’s edge. I remember how he caught my eye as he scurried along, the ball blowing slightly out of his reach just as he was about to scoop it up, over and over. It was cute.
I pulled my sweater up around my neck as a chilly gust whipped around us, and I saw that at the same time the boy’s ball was lofted high into the air and out a few feet into the waves. With what seemed to me to be no thought or hesitation, the boy followed it, trotting playfully into the breakers. I could see that the child’s actions were also being carefully observed by Gerry, and the contented look he had been sporting all day was replaced with a concerned grimace.
‘Just wait here a second darling,’ he said, as he broke his hand away from mine and paced down towards the sea. I waited, as instructed, and watched as the small boy began to bob up and down, in and out of my view, becoming smaller with each dip. Gerry’s canter became a jog, then a sprint, then a dive and a swim. The boy was nowhere to be seen, just the splashing arms of my husband heading towards the horizon.
Another man, much younger than Gerry, galloped past me and flopped into the waves, joining the frantic pursuit of the vanished boy. My husband sank beneath the surface for what seemed like eternity, then rose, child aloft in his arms, both gasping for air. The other man had caught up with them and wrapped an arm around the boy, then swam on his back towards the beach. My husband however did not swim back to the beach. He returned to the spot from which he had claimed the boy moments before, and sank down to the sand beneath.
The coroner said heart attack. I was too empty to listen.
When you lose someone, the way that people talk to you becomes tiresome very quickly. Particularly when you lose someone the way that I lost Gerry. A hero, saving that boy’s life, selfless, a worthy death saving someone with a whole life ahead of them. They made him sound God-like, as if that would be some kind of consolation to me. For a while, I hated him. He had left me alone, ended our life together without so much as a goodbye. Why couldn’t he have let the boy drown?
That was not my husband. He did the only thing that he could ever have done in that situation and to have done anything less would not be in his nature. After a year or so, I made my peace with him and his actions, visited his grave every day, but intently considered taking the easy way out - staring hopelessly at the service revolver that Gerry had inherited and so proudly maintained. Wondering if it would work as well after all these years as he always claimed it would.
I’m not sure exactly what I had hoped for the boy, whether the success or failure of his life would bring any satisfaction to my own. At first, my secretive observations of him were, I believe, out of pure interest. Who was this child that the universe had decided was more important than my husband? What was his purpose?
Unsurprisingly, it turned out, the child was much like any other of that age. Unremarkable in many ways, average intelligence, played video games too often, picked his nose when he thought nobody was looking, slept with the light on, walked alone to school, sometimes returning home with friends. When he reached the age of thirteen, there was little that he would do that surprised or even interested me, and I began to wonder whether my time could have been better spent. Yet I found it impossible to remove myself from the analysis of the unexceptional teenager’s existence.
I happened upon the Weir Street Café one day as the boy walked into its neighbourhood in a particularly furtive manner. He stopped outside a shop that appeared to have been closed for some time, graffiti adorning its rolled down shutters and wooden boards across its upstairs window. He had a nervous look about him, glancing up and down the street as though waiting for someone. Noticing the café looked directly upon his position, I hurried inside and sat in the front window - the first time I took the seat that would become a regular viewing position.
After a few more uneasy looks around him, the boy was approached by a group of four older looking teens, posturing and throwing their weight around as if to intimidate. One of them shook the boy’s hand, and the four of them left him standing in the street alone staring into his own uncurling fist. He had begun on a new path, whatever bagged substance was in his hand was his new direction, and I watched it unfold before me.
Over the next few years the boy used the empty shop to consume and sell his stuff, becoming more confident with each sale. He became part of the posturing elders and soon began to push around and intimidate those younger than him. It wasn’t too long before I found him indistinguishable from the rest of them, roaming in hoards and making a misery of the unfortunate lives they encountered. As he spent less and less time at home, I was forced to make trips to his house in order to get updates on his mother. I had always assumed that she was doing her best raising him alone on such a small income, but as his social behaviour descended rapidly with his teenage years, so her personal behaviour descended with middle age. I pitied her in some ways and to some extent could empathise, we were both single women struggling through life, but for very different reasons.
It was on one of my observations of his mother that things came to a head between all three of us. He had returned late from what I can only surmise was a party, or whatever they called gatherings in that putrid smelling shop he occupied. The mother had passed out drunk on the sofa and whilst I watched her from my car, I unfortunately ran out of coffee and was asleep in the driver’s seat before long. It was the first time in all of my years of following him that they boy was aware of my presence - I had finally been spotted. He rapped his fingers against my window and startled me awake from my slumber, pressing his grinning face against the glass and exposing his decrepit teeth. He simply smiled his repugnant smile, wide eyed and menacing, then banged a fist against the roof and swaggered off towards his house. Thankfully he had no idea who I was or what I was doing there, I suppose he assumed I was just another drunk, lonely old lady. He wasn’t far wrong.
When he let himself into the house, leaving the front door swinging, his mother didn’t stir from the sofa, even when he kicked at some of the empty cider cans that surrounded her. Shouting something that was no doubt horrendous made her wake, wearily. I scrutinised the scene as she cowered beneath him, reaching for her handbag and scrabbling around inside, withdrawing a note and shakily offering it in his direction.
I leaned over and opened up the glove box. A small bottle of gin rolled towards me. There was a swig remaining but little more. Looking at my tired eyes in the rear view mirror, I drank it. I felt old. I was exhausted. I’d been doing this far too long and what had I achieved?
Inside the house the boy continued to shout at his mother as she sat with her head in her hands and wept. Inside my glove box lay the implement that would end the situation for me, and perhaps all of us.
My memories of walking towards the house are vague. I could feel the alcohol and painkillers tingling around my head, and could feel the cold metal of the revolver in my palm. The firearm that hadn’t been shot in forty years being carried by the woman who hadn’t felt emotions in eight. I think I chuckled to myself – Both gun and woman, or neither, may live up to the task before them, whatever that transpired to be.
There was a slight breeze blowing the door back and forth as I pushed it open and stepped inside. The mother’s sobs rang in my ears. The boy’s thudding footsteps pounded my brain. As I entered the living room they both stopped and looked at me, equally perplexed. I raised the weapon and placed it to my temple, considering how strange it was that my hands didn’t shake in doing so. Mother and boy watched silently as this unknown woman in their house cocked the hammer. I had no idea if the gun would fire, but as I turned it away from me and towards the boy, pulling the trigger, the resulting explosion confirmed it. The bullet pierced his face and he dropped to the floor, as the antique revolver exploded in my hand, blowing pieces of flesh and shrapnel around the room. The screams that reverberated on the walls came only from the boy’s mother, throwing herself onto his body, but there were none from me. I waited, wanted, to die, and tried to calculate how much blood I would lose before the paramedics arrived.