In; flash rule, please.
|# ¿ May 20, 2015 02:11|
|# ¿ Dec 9, 2022 22:46|
Under Cover of Darkness
From the outside, the house looked to be a great place to drink away your federal assistance. The shutters were chipped, and the steps were rotting, and the storm door had long since peeled away from the jamb. It was less a home than a tomb. The curiousness of his circumstance was not lost on the man in the suit, but he did not smile, and made no wry remark to himself.
He ascended the stairs in two soundless strides, not bothering to peer through the cloudy cataract glass of the windows, and his suit folded neatly when one pipe-cleaner arm reached out to ring the doorbell. When he heard nothing, he resorted to a short series of knocks, and then sheathed his hands in his pockets like ceremonial weapons. The man's jacket was black, and his shirt was black, and his tie was black and his slacks and shoes, too. The waistcoat was black, and the belt, and the cufflinks in his sleeves.
After a lengthy half-minute, there was motion on the other side of the door, and a voice creaked like the hinges of a crypt gate. "Who's it?" the voice said; and the man in the suit sucked his teeth before replying.
"Just me," he said, and when he was met with silence he remembered himself. "Can I come in?" His accent was neutral and his enunciation perfect, which made him sound like a radio host. The dead air that followed did nothing to change his demeanor.
"Yeah," came the reply, at length. "It en't locked." There was a noise of metallic protest as bearings scraped against axles, and then the silence returned, and then the man in the suit turned the knob and stepped into the dark.
Crates in varying stages of decay made a labyrinth of the entrance, navigated deftly by the suited man and only through heroic effort by the man in the wheelchair. Where the man in the suit looked young and vital (if a little pale), the handicapped man appeared every bit as dilapidated as his home. Etched into the stone of his face were a thousand stories, and the creases of his forehead spoke to the toll he'd paid; and the sparse gray clinging to his jawline represented more of a desire to grow a beard than an actual beard.
A portrait on the wall drew the suited man's attention, and he peered at it for a few moments too long. Next to the picture of salt-and-pepper dignity that the wheelchair-bound man had once been, there was a woman with hooded eyes and hair the color of sunset. She had been a pretty ornament in a once-pretty life, and the man in the suit had never liked her, but he had not killed her, either.
"I heard," the suited man started haltingly, "and I'm sorry, Joseph."
Joseph lifted his hand in a manner that only the infirm and the newborn can manage. Everything in his being had sunk and withdrawn, and still the man in the suit thought he was beautiful. The house, too; craning his neck to stare into the rafters, the suited man envied Joseph's lack of vaulted ceilings, envied that his home did not look like individual rooms selected from a catalogue and plugged into a building like Lego bricks. Man and home together were dying, and it was beautiful.
"You en't come to talk on that," Joseph said in his oxidized voice.
"I did not."
The man in the suit sucked his teeth again, and shifted his weight from foot to foot, and beneath carefully stylized hair he lifted his eyebrows. He was handsome in the manner of news anchors and politicians - forgettably so. Joseph had never looked like someone you would forget.
"I thought I would at least try to give you the offer," the man in the suit said, doomed words carefully measured. Still, he was not pleased at how his voice had threatened to crack.
Joseph distended his upper lip with his tongue but did not hesitate. "No," he replied. "I don't think so."
"We wouldn't have to be -" the man in the suit started hastily, and he stopped when he realized his hands were balled into fists, deep in his pockets. Friends? "You'd still be you. Young again, after you..." He did not say the word fed, but it hung in the air anyway, no different from the columns of dust visible in the filtered light of the moon. The silences were beginning to twist at his gut, and he spoke just to speak, all at once and in a torrent of emotions long suppressed. "It could be like it was in the Sixties, Joseph, and you could fight again, we could fight and we could hate and it could just go on and on like that, Joseph, you chasing and me running, forever, and-"
"And," the wheelchair-bound man interrupted, "end up like you?"
The man in the suit recoiled, and feigned indignation, and his sneering warped the gentle features of his face into something far less wholesome. Dagger teeth gleamed in the half-light. "A monster?"
"Alone," Joseph answered. His breathing was ragged and liquid, and the man in the suit knew he had little time left to negotiate.
"Please," he said, nostrils flaring. "Please, Joseph. You were the best of them, do you understand? The very best!" Emotion climbed into the timbre of the suited man unbidden, and his words grew thick. "What can I do, now? What the gently caress am I supposed to do, now?"
The old hunter said nothing, and as the man in the suit searched his face, he found nothing. If there were profundities in Joseph's weathered granite countenance, the man in the suit lacked the code to interpret them.
And so the man in the suit slumped his shoulders and sank to the ground, spine against a box that read beach trip 1986, and he drove his fingers into his hair. "I am going to be very bored when you're gone," he said slowly. He tried to breathe in a rhythm. "I don't know - I don't know what..."
Joseph appeared to think for a moment, and he lifted a palsied hand, pointed his index finger at the man in the suit like a pistol, and asked, "Well, you got any cigarettes?"
The man in the suit exhaled, and then he smiled, and he said, "Of course."
They sat together on the porch, Joseph in his dead wife's rocking chair and the man in the suit on the decomposing steps, the wheelchair discarded and upended on the gravel of the driveway. They talked about the Red Sox, and about Joseph's father, and the near-miss when Joseph had had a stake drawn back high and only the tremors of the ship sinking had thrown his aim off. The man in the suit even showed him the scar, which never healed, and caused his left shoulder to click in its socket from time to time. They breathed smoke into the night and before he knew it, the man in the suit had only two cigarettes left in the pack.
"You could stop," Joseph offered. "En't hafta drink. Just..." And he gestured indistinctly with trembling hands. "Find a little peace."
"I could," the man in the suit replied, and nodded slowly, but as soon as the words left him he knew that he would not just stop nor find a little peace.
Joseph leaned back in his chair and it groaned at him in a wooden whine, and he coughed for an uncomfortable length. The man in the suit's eyes flashed with concern. The old man waved him off. "You know," Joseph said, "I almost did it. Almost said 'yes.'" He did not laugh so much as snort, derision aimed squarely at himself.
"I wish you would," the man in the suit said softly.
Joseph said nothing.
And in the quiet shared between them, the man in the suit only stared into the dark and saw nothing. There were no adventures on the horizon, no narrow escapes, no measuring himself against the greatest that humanity had to offer. There would be no further escapades, capers, exploits, or anything else. From here on out it was smooth sailing - just inexperienced children with something to prove, the occasional inter-familial squabble, and all the time in the world to deal with them. The man in the suit lolled his head back, looked at the low-slung moon, and thought miserably: I won.
He thought he smelled burning flesh amidst the acrid air. "Joseph?" he asked.
The last of a menthol had ashed all the way to the filter, still nestled between the old man's fingers.
So the man in the suit just sat, alone, finished his own cigarette, and slipped the near-empty pack into the other man's pocket. One for Denise, too. He reached out, and he touched Joseph's face in tenderness, and he fought back the knot in his throat. He said something inaudible. Then he was gone, slinking back down the driveway, and the darkness swallowed him up after that.
|# ¿ May 22, 2015 07:36|
Crits for ALL stories up in order of submission
Thank you for the crit/feedback.
Also, I'm in for this week.
|# ¿ May 26, 2015 14:51|
"Life appears to me too short to be nursing animosity, or registering wrongs." - an idiot
No, Blue Wher has wronged me by also being new(ish) in the same relative time-frame as myself (totally new), and if there's one thing I've learned it's "you have to be needlessly aggressive and challenge people whenever possible, no matter the circumstances."
Consider this a formal challenge, Blue Wher, and a token of my undying and borderline insane hatred towards you.
|# ¿ May 26, 2015 15:38|
As an aside, how can you hate me? That hurts me, I'm at the brick of crying.
You ever been on a ladder? Ain't nobody can climb side by side. Call it Fate, call it God. We're enemies now.
|# ¿ May 26, 2015 15:47|