The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Fiction
A Boy called Terror
Jimmy saw his grandpa sitting at the window and waved. Jimmy instinctively started to check his collar, adjust his belt. He pushed the door open, putting his free hand in his pocket and then out again to shake his hand.
“Grandpa.” He shook his hand. Still firm, almost bone crunching good. Better than all his friends. Better than his too.
“Forty years to catch up.” Grandpa said, reading his mind and winked. “You look good in that suit of yours. Your mother help you pick it out, or your lady friend?” They sat down at the table and the waiter walked over. They ordered two coffees. “Or you picked it yourself? Good taste goes with the genes.” He winked. The coffee came.
“I broke up with Beth.” He blurted out as he lifted the cup to his lips. Then he sat frozen, the cup still at his mouth.
“Either blow on it or put it down, son. You’re not a mime.” He said. Jimmy put it down.
“I figure I might as well tell you; you can always read me when I try and hold something back, anyway.” It was true. Patrick G. Haley was a walking lie detector. Plus he’d been a policeman for thirty years, which probably helped.
“That’s a shame to hear, James. She seemed like a sweet girl. On good terms?” He lifted his coffee so the steam covered his eyes momentarily.
“I don’t know. I just read the letter.” Jimmy said.
“ ‘Dear John’, eh? Some say it’s a cowards’ way out, but I’m not so sure. Sometimes you can get a lot down in a letter that you can’t say face to face. Got a few of those myself, James, I can tell you. Kept them all too. Up in the attic along with all the rest of it.”
“You kept the letters of girls dumping you? That’s kind of sadistic, isn’t it? I was planning to burn mine, to be honest.” It was true. Lighter fuel was by the sink, wet rag by the side for if he blew it.
“Well, there’s nothing ‘kind of’, about any of it; it either it is or it isn’t. I hear enough poor speech on the television my brother insists on watching, let alone from you.”
“Sorry grandpa.” Yep. Back to being twelve. May as well be wearing long shorts and a He-Man tee shirt.
“Shush. You sharpen up these words with me, you’ll set to dazzle the next girl you meet in the street, you see? Anyway, I suppose maybe it was cruel to myself, but it was a reminder, I suppose, of the mistakes I made and not to slip into them all over again. So now?”
“Now, I bag up all her sh-stuff and she collects it tomorrow while I’m at a coffee house. Then…I start over I guess.” He tried to imagine his room without all the touches she had added; he had the feeling the place was going to be colourless by tomorrow, empty without all the clutter he used to complain about.
“You know why we always get a free meal, here Jimmy? Once a year on this day?” The old man looked him over.
“Well…I’ve only wondered for nine years. I always worried if you told me it would be an anti-climax to how I imagined it. Wait; is this a pep talk to cheer me up?”
“In preference to you sitting opposite me while we eat a fine meal with a face like a smacked ass?”
“Touché. So you’re actually going to tell me?” Jimmy felt his heart speed up despite himself. He’d waited almost half his life to hear this and he only had to let his life slip into the gutter and admit to being a complete loser to get it. Sweet!
“Sure. For all the work I did, the reason the owner always leaves a note out the back, saying my name, the date, so everyone knows, was nothing more than luck. Plain and simple.” He sipped his coffee; put it out of the way.
“I was walking the beat one day, and I saw him. The Boy named Terror.”
“What? Sorry. No. What?” Jimmy spluttered into his coffee. He put it down and away next to his. They both nodded.
“You want to hear the story or not?” The waiter came over and took their order. Well, grandpa ordered and Jimmy nodded in agreement.
“And a bottle of wine. Outside the tab. Of course. This one should do.” He pointed to the menu and slipped the waiter a note. “A good drink should go hand in hand with a good story. Unless…”
“I’m all ears. I’ll do a better job than with the coffee.” Jimmy’s heart went back to pounding. He leant forward.
“Ha! Good boy. Sense of humour will stand you in good stead with that girl you meet in the street. ‘If you can’t joke about yourself, then the jokes on you.’ That’s what my first partner, Billy, used to say, God rest his soul. Who begins this story.”
The old man sat back to begin. “Well there was all this trouble with the neighbourhood back then; vandals muggings, not as bad as today but still enough to make the women nervous of walking out even in daylight. So I’d just had your father, my wife was at home and I was working all hours, trying to earn some money. I didn’t take bribes so I had to take all the overtime. That was how it worked then, see? So me and Billy, we saw all that was happening, did the best we could. Ah, here we are.”
The waiter brought the bottle over, showed it to us. He poured a little in to the glass.
“Don’t worry about pouring a sip for us savages, friend. Just pop the cork and let it rip. Thank you.” The waiter smiled and left it on the table. He had a way to make strangers laugh that made Jimmy a little envious. Along with the thousand other things he didn’t measure up to. Their food arrived and they leant back for the plates to be laid down. They pushed napkins into their shirts, began to eat.
“So we were working all hours, you see. And we were near exhausted; it was raining then, raining like you wouldn’t believe. It was like sheets of the stuff that just kept tumbling out of the sky, over and over. Every day I’d set out dry and walk in wet. Your grandma joked I was like a burst rain cloud when I walked in, half expected me to have a crack of lightning over my head like in those bad luck cartoons with the broken hearted boys…Ah- sorry.”
“No offence.” Jimmy waved his fingers impatiently, seeing his grandpa enjoying himself, stopping to sniff the wine, slowly sipping. He looked over, down to his glass. Jimmy took a swig and put it down quick.
“I see. So anyway, we plugged on and then one night we saw some trouble, a mugging, and set about our business. Turned out Billy collared him. So I went back to the car to report it and I saw something out of the corner of my eye; I wouldn’t have seen a thing, but I stumbled on a puddle by the car; all the things to slip on and it was that patch of water. And when I slipped, I crouched to stop myself falling and I saw him. See, I was facing this restaurant; saw a shadow stepping out of the back of the shop. Well, I called out to Billy best I could and I went on; I knew the alleyways and cut to the left, round the back, so I’d head him out at the back door where they threw the trash. Candy-Bone alley; a bad luck place to be. All junkies, betting and fighting.”
“So I got out there and he flashed by me and we went about it, running, me calling, all the rest of it. And you know, I was that wet I nearly went about calling it a day. But then I thought about the restaurant, how nice they were in there and I kept on. So anyway, the guy slips eventually, falls on his ass and I grab him by the collar, push him down, cuff him like it should be done. I drag him back and he doesn’t say a word. Which is unusual. They usually eff and blind or some such, but he was silent, so all I could smell was the food from the restaurant on his lips. So I haul him back and flag Billy, he’s waiting by the car and he goes as white as I ever saw him; stood out in the dark and the rain, his face was so pale. And he looked up to me and he says; ‘you’re holding The Terror’.
“See there was a spree of killing and looting, bad as it ever got around here. Look it up on your computers, you’ll find out about it. Google it, yes? So he was infamous; national papers infamous and we caught the break; all because he couldn’t keep out of the restaurant. They interviewed me the next day, I explained it all, about the restaurant, slipping over; well me and Billy got promoted pretty sharp, and the publicity this place got meant I got a free meal every time for thirty two years. All because I slipped on a certain patch of rain. If I hadn’t, no new house for me and the family, your father wouldn’t have met your mother and so on and so forth.”
“So I’m here because of a puddle?” He chewed on his steak. His grandpa raised his eyebrow.
“Flippant. What a fine trait you’ve inherited from your father. You’re here because of luck, just like everyone else.” He sipped his drink.
“And what about the man? Terror.” He waited and there was a long second where they were both still.
“Little more than a boy. Twenty; looked about twelve. Part of the reason he stayed out so long; he had a baby face you’d want to give sweets to. Boy named Terror, bad pun on the Johnny Cash song that was going round at the time. He got the chair for what he did. Got a sandwich from here as his last meal.”
“No way.” Grandpa’s eyebrow stayed raised. “I mean…really?”
“Yep. Baloney on rye with salad and a pop. Said the smell almost made the families almost get up from watching and go buy a snack.”
“Jesus.” His stomach rolled a little, even though the food was good.
“So it’s all fate, James, all of it. The girl you meet, the girl you lose, jobs, friends, families. There’s no logic to it. You try and understand any of it; it’ll be the first thing to drive you crazy. Like our boy Terror.” He lifted his knife, shook his head.
“So he probably walked where we’re sitting now.” His stomach stayed cold.
“I don’t doubt it. Good thing crazy’s not contagious, huh?”
“Kind of puts my piss-ant problems into perspective, I guess. So can I ask you something, grandpa?” He took a sip of his wine. He’d only drunk wine with Beth before. Little corners got to be turned first, right?
“Sure.” He stopped eating and waited.
“Why did you leave? I mean, when you did. Dad always said you loved it so much. To just stop suddenly, before the big pay off and the rest of it?”
“If I tell you will you do something for me?” He poured two more glasses, finished the bottle.
“Sure name it.” He shrugged, raised his glass.
“Not until after I tell you. That way I know I can keep you to it. Hold your word, just like your father.” He wiped his mouth with the napkin.
“After your grandma got sick, rest her. I came home to the house after the ambulance took her to the ward. Walked into the room. I saw a scrabble board from when we’d been playing the night before. We used to love playing that. Rests you, thinking about nothing but words and letters. I looked down and I realised that was the last thing we did together; not a trip or a day in the park, but a lousy board game. Because of the work I did. So she got better and we changed it. I changed it and we spent some time doing what people should do before they leave. Glad of it too.”
“Makes sense.” They sipped the drinks and finished the food.
“So…Hit me.” He put his knife and fork together, mirrored his grandpa’s plate.
“Think about you and Beth. What you did together, the time you spent and try and figure out why it went the way it did. Really try. Just for one day. Then look onwards and upwards. But take a day and think it through. Don’t burn the letter.” He lifted his glass. “Not until you remember the parts of it worth remembering. Deal?” He raised his glass. Jimmy did the same.
“Deal.” The glasses touched and for the longest time it was the only sound that carried around the empty restaurant floor.
He walked to a coffee house and sat there with his notebook. After he was done, he walked into the park, sat on a bench until the sun disappeared. He went to the library and read a passage from his favourite book. He walked around the city not paying attention to the shops. He walked until it was nearly dark. He saw a phone box up ahead and decided to ring his grandpa to let him know he’d kept his side of the deal.
As he walked he noticed a scarf on the street. It was long and handmade and green and blue. He held it up. He looked around. He saw a girl reaching into her rucksack, then look up suddenly. As she began to frantically look back to the street he called out ‘miss’ and walked over to her, explained where he’d found it.
“Lucky you were walking along, huh?” She said and smiled to him.
“Luck.” He said and smiled back.
© chris castle Oct 2012
My pa came home on the last day of summer, without fanfare, without so much as a banner ganging over our house. It made sense, I guess, seeing how he left without so much as a word; fair and level almost.
today was different... It was as if Laurie wanted to speak and he wanted to listen but something was holding it all back
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