Difficult Questions

Hello everyone!

The following story is one I sent out a few months ago as a competition entry, but sadly it was not placed. However, I was quite pleased with it and would like to share it will you all. The theme for competition was to write a story using dialogue ONLY. I found this to be an exciting and interesting idea, and so I went for it! Have you ever tried writing a story in this way? Please do let me know in the comments section.

I hope you enjoy it, and thanks for reading!

“Come on, grandma, let’s run!”
“Slow down, please, my darling, I can’t keep up with you. Jenny, come back! Jenny! There are nasty people around these days, come back this instant!”
“Nasty people? Where, grandma? I can’t see them.”
“Oh, well, you can’t be too careful! Please come back, I don’t want to have to shout! Plus, people are looking at grandma now…”
“Grandma, why didn’t you run too?”
“I don’t think I can anymore, my darling. It’s part of getting old, I’m sorry to say.”
“That’s bad, I don’t want to get old ever!”
“Nobody does, sweetheart, but you can’t stop it.”
“How old are you, grandma?”
“Now, now, Jennifer, it’s not very nice to ask a lady her age.”
“But I’m a lady and I like it when I get asked! I’m four and a half now!”
“Yes you are, sweetheart. You’ll be catching me up soon.”
“Yeah, grandma! But I still want to run!”
“Oh, I don’t think we’ll be able to stop you! Come on, let’s go home, it’s getting dark.”
“But I wanted to play on the swings again!”
“I know, my darling, but it is getting late. Don’t pout, Jennifer, it’s very childish! I’ll tell you what, you be a good girl and I’ll buy you an ice cream in the shop. How does that sound?”
“Ice cream, before tea?!”
“Yes, before tea, but you must promise not to tell granddad. It will be our little secret.”
“Yeah! Yeah! I love secrets!”
“Then we’ll shake on it like grown-ups and…ugh, Jenny! What have you been touching? Your hand is all sticky! Dear me, you’d think that the council would keep that slide clean…”
“Grandma, when will I see my mummy again?”
“Oh. Well…she is quite busy now, my darling, but you’ll see her again before too long.”
“Is my mummy in trouble, grandma?”
“Why do you ask, my darling?”
“Cos only bad people go away, and bad people get in trouble. I think my mummy is in trouble.”
“Well…yes, I suppose you could say that…but don’t worry about her, sweetheart, she is being looked after. Now, which flavour ice cream would you like when we get to the shop?”
“I want strawberry! Strawberry and chocolate! Strawberry and chocolate and banana! Yum yum yum!”

***

“There you are, my two favourite girls! Come in out of the cold, that’s it! Scrub those shoes on the mat before you come inside, little love. If you get mud on my nice carpet, you won’t get your tea and you’ll get a knuckle sandwich instead!”
“Argh! Grandma, help me, he’s got me!”
“That serves you right, Jennifer. You shouldn’t poke your tongue out at granddad, it’s very rude!”
“Heehee, that tickles! Stop, stop!”
“Aha! Do you give up, young madam?”
“Yes, yes! I give up! Heeheehee!”
“Victory! You are my prisoner now, so be off with you! Into the living room to await your fate! Stick the telly on, if you like, I prefer my prisoners to be comfortable. Oi, take your shoes off first!”
“You really shouldn’t overexcite her like that, Daniel. She’ll never sleep now.”
“Oh, rubbish! What’s the harm? Besides, you’ve probably had her running around like a headless chicken all afternoon, haven’t you?”
“I did very little, as it happens. That girl is like a thunderbolt, Daniel. I take my eyes off her for one second and it’s as if she was never by my side at all. It’s exhausting!”
“I’m sure it is! Come here, my love. Oooh! Your nose is cold, Barbara!”
“Well don’t give me a bear hug if you don’t like it, you great fool!”
“You didn’t have to stick your frozen hooter in my neck, did you? Come on in, I’ve made a pot already and it should still be warm.”
“Daniel, Jenny asked me about her mother again.”
“Right…how did that go?”
“She asked if her mummy is in trouble because the people who have been bad get sent away. I agreed with her, sort of.”
“Blimey, not much gets past her, does it?”
“That’s what worries me, Daniel. She can tell when we’re lying to her, even if she doesn’t understand why. What can we possibly say to her?”
“We’ll think of something.”
“She’s still so young! I don’t want her knowing about that place! How are we going to explain it to her?”
“I don’t know, Barb, honestly I don’t. But we can’t keep on dodging her questions just because we don’t like the answers.”
“Oh, I know that, Daniel! I’m not a child!”
“I know, Barb, and I didn’t mean it like that. It’s not easy, all this, but we’ll need to tell her about her mum sooner rather than later. She has a right to know.”
“Yes, you’re right, of course…did Rebecca call again today?”
“Yes, she did, about 12ish. She seems to be as well as can be expected. Quite upset to have missed Jenny again, though.”
“Well that serves her right, doesn’t it? Ooh, it makes me so angry to think about her, Daniel! How could she do it, knowing what would happen to Jennifer? To us?”
“I don’t think she was doing much thinking at the time, my love. Getting angry won’t help, so we’d better roll our sleeves up and do the best we can. Like we always have.”
“But our best has led to this…but you’re right, we must persevere. Come on, Jenny will wonder what’s keeping us if we stay out here much longer.”
“Alright, my love. Pass me your coat. I’ve already put the oven on and the chips are on the tray. I’ll just stick them…hang on, is that ice cream on your scarf, Barbara?”
***
“Hi, mum.”
“Oh, hello, Rebecca. You’re calling early today.”
“Yeah, I asked the warden for an earlier slot. I was…hoping to speak to Jenny.”
“Well, Jennifer is at school now, I’m afraid. It is a week day.”
“Oh…yeah, of course she is…I forgot…”
“Hmmm.”
“Where’s dad? I expected him to pick up.”
“Your father is in the loft. He’s seeing if there’s anything he can take to a boot sale.”
“Oh…it’s not that bad yet, is it?”
“Well it certainly isn’t easy, Rebecca, but we’ll manage.”
“Mum…I’m so sorry.”
“I should hope so, but that isn’t going to help Jennifer very much, is it?”
“Mum! Why do you have to be so cruel to me? I made a mistake!”
“Yes, you did, and Jennifer is paying for it! She doesn’t have a mother, and her father is goodness-knows-where! Do you ever think about that?”
“Of course I think about Jenny! I can’t stop thinking about her! Thinking about her is the only thing that…keeps me going.”
“…”
“Mum? Are you still there?”
“Yes, I’m still here, Rebecca. Look…I’m sorry for shouting at you. Your father and I are under a lot of pressure. We were a bit too old when you were born and this isn’t how we expected to spend our twilight years!”
“You’re not that old yet, mum.”
“That’s beside the point! I feel it sometimes.”
“Mum, how is Jenny today? Is she happy?”
“Yes, I believe so. She was singing songs from The Lion King with your father as they left this morning.”
“Oh, bless her! I always loved that film, too…”
“I remember…Rebecca, Jenny has been…asking about you. Quite often now.”
“What have you told her? What does she know?”
“Very little, but…your father thinks that it’s time that she did, and…I agree.”
“Okay…please don’t make her hate me, mum. I couldn’t bear it…”
“I doubt I could if I tried, Rebecca. That little girl adores you.”
“That’s so…nice to hear.”
“It’s the truth, Rebecca. I’ll speak to Jennifer soon.”
“Do you promise? Mum, please promise me!”
“I…promise.”
“Thank you…I love you, mum.”
“We’ll speak again soon, Rebecca. Take care of yourself.”

***

“Where’s granddad gone, grandma?”
“Granddad is in his shed, my darling. He’s building some lovely things out of wood just like he used to, and maybe he’ll be able to sell something.”
“Is granddad building another chair like the one in my room?”
“No, sweetheart, I think it’s a table this time. I’m sure he will show you when it’s done.”
“Granddad is very clever, isn’t he?”
“Yes, he is, my darling. Very clever, just like you!”
“My mummy is clever too, isn’t she?”
“I…yes, she was. Very good in school, just like you, Jenny.”
“I’ll be good at school so my mummy can come home.”
“That’s…wonderful, my darling. Jennifer?”
“Yeah, grandma?”
“Would you…like to see your mum? If we can arrange it?”
“Has my mummy stopped being naughty now?”
“I hope so, my darling! She can’t come home yet but she can have visitors now, and granddad and I wanted to know if you would like to see her. What do you think?”
“Do you think mummy misses me, grandma?”
“Oh of course she does, Jenny! She misses you very much!”
“I miss mummy, but she went away. Why did she leave me, grandma? If she was naughty you could have told her off and taken her toys away, like you do with me!”
“It’s…different for grown-ups, my darling…we need to go to a different place, like a Naughty Step, but far away.”
“Did mummy know I would miss her? I don’t like missing her. I wish she would come home.”
“I…yes, I think she would have known, but…but…”
“I would like to see mummy, grandma. May I see her? Please?”
“Yes, Jenny, of course you may. We can visit her soon, I’ll need to sort a few things out first.”
“But I want to see her now!”
“Don’t raise your voice at me, young lady! You will have to wait for a little while first, and only if you are not so rude!”
“I’m sorry, grandma…”
“Hmm…Jenny, why don’t you go and draw a nice picture to give to your mum when you see her? She would love that.”
“Yeah! Good idea, grandma! I’ll get my crayons!”
“Good girl…I…need to make a phone call…and speak with your granddad…”
“Grandma, why are you crying? Did I do something bad?”
“No, my darling…I’ve just got something in my eye.”

You can find me on Twitter here @ADixonFiction

Advertisements

Fiction Fursday/A Missing Belt and Fine Shoes

Another Thursday and another story! This week I was provided with a prompt from Jason over at Aethereal Engineer. Jason has given me some great prompts before and he has done so again. His suggestion was that “a person discovers a portal to ‘somewhere else’ in their closet. What happens?” I thought that was a pretty good one!

Here’s what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it.

P.S. If anyone would like to suggest a prompt for me to use another day, please let me know in the comments.

 

A Missing Belt and Fine Shoes

By Adam Dixon

Jerry Mackintosh was drunk again, but this time he was angry too. He had slaved ten years away at the local mill only to be replaced by a machine. Jerry had walked out of the gates clutching his final wage packet and straight into the pub, and had proceeded to spend half of it on stout. Upon staggering home, he had worked himself into a foul, dangerous mood.

“Jerry, keep your voice down!” Mary, his petite wife pleaded. “You’re frightening the children!”

“Oh, I am, am I?” Jerry sneered, casting about in search of the brats. “Mustn’t do that! Can’t scare the ungrateful little sods, can I?”

“Jerry, don’t, they’re not ungrateful,” Mary said, wringing her hands together. “They don’t like it when you come home late and start shouting, that’s all…”

“I’ll do whatever I bloody well like!” Jerry shouted, balling his hands into fists. His watery blue eyes were bloodshot and angry. “I’m the man of this house, and by God you’ll all know it!” Jerry swung and punched Mary in the stomach. She doubled over, the breath whooshing from her lungs. Jerry followed it up with a backhanded swipe which knocked Mary to the ground. He towered over her, swaying and breathing heavily. Mary began to sob and curled herself into a ball; she knew this part all too well.

“Where’re those fucking kids, anyway?” Jerry cried, his voice hoarse. “I’ll get those little brats! Teach them some respect!” He rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and reached for his belt. He then realised that he hadn’t worn it that day and cursed aloud. Jerry stalked up the rickety old staircase and into the tiny master bedroom. Wrenching open the wardrobe he began searching inside it, throwing moth-eaten trousers and dresses onto the single bed. He knew it was in there somewhere! Growling and gnashing his teeth, Jerry took a step forward and tangled his foot in a pair of stockings. He bellowed as he fell, bracing for the impact of hard wood against his head.

He was stunned when he landed sprawling on the ground. He lay blinking and felt gravel under his fingers and an unpleasant smell under his nose. He raised his head and glanced around him. He appeared to be in a small village, surrounded by people bustling to and fro, all of them wearing strange, dirty clothing. Jerry got to his feet with some difficulty as his anger gave way to confusion. It had been dark when he’d gotten home, so why was the sun burning down on his bald patch? Glancing around he saw wooden houses with thatched roofs leaning against one another and cobbled streets littered with straw and excrement. Jerry rubbed his temples. He didn’t realise he was that drunk!

Jerry’s attention was drawn by giggling nearby. He turned and saw two grubby children, a boy and a girl of roughly the same age, dancing around in a puddle. Jerry’s confusion was forgotten as his rage rose up once again like dead leaves touched by a flame. Sod the belt, he was going to give those brats a good hiding! He snarled and lumbered towards them. As his shadow fell across them the two children looked up. If Jerry hadn’t been so drunk or so angry he might have realised that both children had brown hair, whereas his children had blond hair. But he didn’t, and he cuffed them on their ears, knocking them into the murky puddle. Jerry heard gasps from people close by but he ignored them.

“Take that, you little shits!” Jerry said, towering over them as they sat up. The boy was rubbing his head and staring at Jerry in disbelief and the little girl began to cry.

“Don’t you give me those crocodile tears, young lady!” Jerry raged, seizing the girl by her hair and hauling her upright. The boy protested, getting to his feet and clinging to Jerry’s wrists. Jerry knocked him down again with his free hand and held the girl with ease.

“Ha, that’ll teach you!” Jerry said. “You’re not a man yet, sonny-Jim!”

“Oi, what d’you think yer doin’?” A voice called. Jerry turned, still gripping the young girl’s hair. A woman in a dress which may have been yellow once was staring at Jerry, her eyes wide in shock. There were other women in similar dirty clothes next to her, wearing the same horrified expression.

“None of your bloody business!” Jerry retorted. “Stay out of this, whoever you are!”

“I shan’t!” the woman replied. “Who d’you think you are to come waltzin’ in our village with yer fancy clothes an’ beatin’ our children? You wait til Big John hears about this!”

“You’ll shut your mouth if you know what’s good for you!” Jerry said. He turned back towards the children but was caught by surprise when a skinny man with a white beard stepped forwards and shoved him in the chest. It was a weak shove by all accounts, but Jerry was so drunk that it threw him off balance and sent him stumbling into a fence. He gripped the fence and eyed the old man with contempt.

“Oh, you’re in for it now, old fella!” he said. The old man swept his bony arms around the children and hugged them tight. His mouth was a thin line of anger and his eyes blazed.

“I dunno who y’are, stranger, but no-one attacks my grandchildren!” the man wheezed, gritting his blackened teeth. “My boy’ll have yer guts for this!”

As Jerry’s stout-addled brain tried to process this information, a huge man with a black beard and a leather apron came charging towards him. Jerry had just enough time to stand up straight before he was lifted from his feet. Jerry was a tall man, but this brute was almost a giant. He choked as a gloved hand gripped his throat and lifted him two inches off the ground. He was brought close to the face of the bearded man and looked into furious green eyes.

“NO-ONE TOUCHES MY LITTLE’UNS!” the man said, tightening his grip. Jerry struggled and gasped, catching the sooty smell of the man’s apron and the sweat on his brow. The man grunted and threw him across the street. Jerry bounced off the cobbles and landed in a heap next to an empty wooden trough. He tried to stand but the man beat him to it again, hauling him to his feet. Stars exploded in Jerry’s eyes as the man hit him hard in the cheek. He felt the skin tear and was dimly aware of blood flowing down his neck. Jerry grasped the man’s wrists with shaking hands.

“No more!” he said, suddenly sober through fear. Like all bullies, Jerry was a coward when challenged. He knew he was in big trouble.

“I THOUGHT YOU WERE A MAN!” the man said, punching him again, this time in the ribs. Jerry thought that his chest would cave in if he had to endure another hammer-blow like that. The man walloped him on the other cheek before dragging him down the village, his feet drawing meandering lines through the straw.

“You’re goin’ to the Town Watch!” the man said, throwing in another punch for good measure. “That’ll teach you! Beat up my little’uns, will ya? Yer a disgrace!”

 

An hour later, Jerry was lying in a dark, smelly cell complete with iron bars and a pile of straw for a bed. His clothes were ruined, covered in mud, dirt and his own piss. He stank, his cheek and ribs ached and his head was raging with a hangover. He had never felt so miserable and he still didn’t know what was going on. He wasn’t dreaming, he knew that much; you couldn’t dream pain so vividly.

“Why did I go into that bloody wardrobe?” he groaned, massaging his head. He knew perfectly well why and as he sat in the cold and the dark, a familiar feeling began to creep into his heart. It was an emotion which had dominated his life ever since he realised that he drank too often, ever since that frightened look had appeared in his wife’s eyes. Jerry drank to stifle that emotion but that only made it stronger the next day. That emotion was shame.

“Oh God, what have I done?” Jerry said, burying his head in his hands. He began to sob and tug at his hair, promising the cell that he would mend his ways if he could only get home to Mary and the kids.

“Do you mean that, wretch?” a sibilant voice whispered from the darkness. Jerry almost yelped in fright and scanned the cell for the source of the noise.

“Hello? Who’s there?” he called, shrinking back against the wall.

“Your cell-mate, wretch,” the voice replied. It was coming from the other side of the cell, not three steps away. “I’ve been watching you since the Watch tossed you in here. You are in a sorry state, aren’t you?”

“I deserve it,” Jerry said, wiping snot from his nose with his sleeve. “I…I’ve shamed myself with my behaviour.”

“But you wish to make amends, do you not?” the voice said. There was a scuffling of straw. “Perhaps…I can help you.”

“How?” Jerry asked, squinting. He could make out a shape nearby, but he couldn’t see any features. “Come closer.” There was a moment of silence before the figure slid closer. As the meagre light from the window fell upon it, Jerry saw with relief that it was just another prisoner like himself. The man was thin with sunken brown eyes, his clothes were ragged and filthy and he stank of stale sweat. He was grinning at Jerry, revealing a dazzling smile which contrasted weirdly with his dishevelled appearance.

“I can send you home!” the man hissed, his eyes widening. “I can see you are not from this world: that much is plain. I have met a few wretches like yourself and I have helped to send them back.”

“You…you can get me home?” Jerry’s mind raced. He wasn’t sure what the man was talking about, but he was so desperate to get out of the cell that he was willing to believe anything.

“I can,” the man said, running a dirty finger along his stubbly chin. “For a price…”

“I don’t have anything to give!” Jerry said, on the verge of tears once again.

“Your shoes,” the man replied, pointing.

“My shoes?” Jerry was perplexed.

“Yes, the Watch did not deprive you of them, but I would like to,” the man said. “The leather is very fine, better than anything I may find in this village. Give me your shoes and I will send you home.” Jerry almost twisted his ankle as he tore his shoes from his feet and thrust them towards his cell-mate. The man received with a smile, running his emaciated fingers across them lovingly.

“Ahh, many thanks, wretch,” he said. “These will aid me more than you realise…”

“Now send me home!” Jerry whined. The man nodded and placed the shoes on the ground. He stood up and walked over to the corner of the cell. Jerry couldn’t see what he was doing, but he heard a low chanting in a strange language and the padding of the man’s feet. A blast of cool, fresh air struck Jerry in the face, raising goose-bumps on his flesh and sending loose straw scurrying across the cell like fleeing insects. A glowing rectangle stretching two metres high light up the man as it pulsed on the wall of the cell. The man turned towards Jerry and flashed his smile.

“It is done,” he said. “Pass through this doorway, wretch, and you will return from whence you came. Farewell.” Jerry stood on weak legs and shambled towards the doorway. The pale glow hurt his eyes after so many hours in darkness, but he didn’t care. He moved as fast as he could and passed through the wall with a cry of desperation. A warmth seeped into his body, rejuvenating his aches and lifting his soul like a hot bath. For an instant, Jerry was blinded by intense light and at bliss…

Jerry hit the floorboards with a thud. Winded and shocked, he looked up. His heart leapt as he recognised his bedroom. He twisted round to look behind him. There was the wardrobe, with its doors flung open and clothes strewn on the floor. Jerry kissed the wooden floor and scrambled to his feet.

“Mary!” Jerry called, his voice hoarse with emotion. “Mary! Kids! Where are you?” He staggered towards the doorway and descended into the kitchen. Mary was standing at the bottom, looking up at him with wide, relieved eyes.

“Jerry!” she said. “Where have you been? It’s been three days! Where are your shoes?”

“I’ve been away, Mary,” Jerry croaked, reaching the bottom of the stairs and pulling his astonished wife into a tight embrace. He breathed in the soapy scent of her neck and felt the flour dusting her cheeks.

“Jerry!” Mary said in surprise as he nuzzled her neck. “What’s gotten into you? Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, Mary,” Jerry said. “I’ve just realised what a brute I’ve been. But no more, I’m a changed man. I’ll never hurt you or the children again, I promise.” Mary was taken aback by the emotion in Jerry’s voice. She returned the hug, patting his back with a bewildered expression.

“That’s wonderful to hear, Jerry,” she said, pulling away from him and smiling. Jerry beamed at her and held on to her hands.

“Where are the kids? I need to tell them I’m sorry.”

“They’re at school, Jerry. It’s nine o’clock.”

“Oh, good. I’ll tell them later, I need to tell them.”

“Of course,” Again Mary was stunned by the depth of Jerry’s emotion. She fidgeted as she thought of something to say.

“Jerry, I know about the mill,” she said at last. “I’m so sorry to hear about that, really I am. But there might be a job for you in town. There’s a man who has just moved here, a stranger, and he’s set up a shop near the baker’s. He said he’s looking for hard workers to get his business going, so maybe you could speak to him?”

“Yes, yes, I’ll go right away!” Jerry said, grabbing his wellington boots and shoving them on. He walked out into the murky morning and breathed a long sigh of relief. He was home again, and now he realised what was important to him. He walked into the town, greeting astonished neighbours who had been worrying about him and assuring them all that he was very well, thank you very much. As he approached the town centre, he saw the new shop. It was a cobblers, with a freshly-painted sign boasting “Shoes of Fine Leather Inside!” Jerry smoothed his clothes before pushing the door open. A merry jingle filled the cool interior as the bell above the door was jostled. Jerry looked around and saw shoes of all sizes stacked on shelves and the almost-pleasant smell of leather filled his nostrils. He walked to the back of the shop and rested his hands on the counter, searching for the proprietor.

“Hello?” he called. “I’m sorry to disturb you, but my wife told me that you are looking for workers. I would like to offer my services.”

“Ah, I think I might have some use for you!” a voice hissed behind him. Jerry whirled and was stunned to see a familiar face. The man rubbed his now clean-shaven cheeks and flashed his dazzling smile.

“It is very good to see you again, wretch!” the man said. He threw his head back and laughed as Jerry stood dumfounded before him. He wasn’t sure what to make of this development, but it had to be better than sharing a cell. He swallowed and shook the man’s hand. For better or worse, he was a changed man now and he intended to prove it. He couldn’t help wondering what other surprises his life had in store for him now.

 

A – Z Challenge Day 10

It’s the tenth day of this April’s Blogging Challenge and sees the final prompt from Kate’s dazzling sequence! Thanks for all your help, Kate, you’ve suggested some wonderful and often taxing prompts and through them I’ve written stories which I am quite pleased with!

Today’s word is “JACKASS”. Now, this one really gave me a hard time! I just couldn’t think of anything that I liked the sound of, or anything that didn’t sound obvious or cheesy. However, I’m not one to throw in the towel so I put several thinking caps on and came out with something I’ve deemed worthy of this Challenge. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks again, Kate, you rock!

JACKASS

By Adam Dixon

Lawrence sat in his cell, lost in his thoughts. Introspection was all he had to while away the long hours of his imprisonment, but thankfully he was an expert at it. He sat on the edge of his bed in his orange overalls, caressing his broad, scarred knuckles with his huge hand as he stared into space. He wasn’t feeling sorry for himself, he knew why he was in prison; it was to be expected when you killed a man, after all. No, Lawrence was reflecting on the events that had led up to the man’s death and wondering where it could have been prevented. A few moments stood out, and Lawrence saw with the clarity of hindsight what an emotional fool he had been.

Lawrence had always been emotional, ever since he could remember. It came with growing up as a large male in a backwards, masculine society. He was often cajoled and ridiculed for his size when he was a child, with the other children and their parents sniggering and calling him “Bigfoot” and “Ape-boy”. He thought that it would end when he grew up and became a man, as his size offered him prodigious strength and intimidation. To his dismay he found that it had had the opposite effect as the men around him felt the need to prove themselves against him, usually with their fists. They would seek to provoke him wherever he went, attempting to find a weak chink in his armour. Because of his size they thought he was stupid and that he could be riled up with ease, but Lawrence rarely gave them the satisfaction. He knew how to control his emotions, especially his rage. Rage was an emotion he knew well, they were almost like old friends and he found its fiery presence strangely comforting whenever it welled up inside him. It made him remember that he was human, despite what the idiots threatening him would insist. But that night, he couldn’t control it.

There you are! C’mon, you big fucker, you! Fight me!”

The man’s voice echoed in Lawrence’s ears as he replayed the events of that night in his mind. It was one of the thugs he had thrown out for being too drunk at the bar, and by the looks of things he was still angry and wanted to settle a score. He’d stood in front of Lawrence’s car, an already beaten-up Ford which was now sporting two flat tyres and a smashed windscreen. The man wore an idiotic sneer, his eyes bloodshot and daring him to make a move. He wasn’t small, but he wasn’t as big as Lawrence either. Exactly the kind of man Lawrence was forced to tangle with on an almost daily occurrence. He had stared at the drunk for a moment before turning around and walking off. The guy wasn’t worth it, he’d walk home.

You deaf and stoopid? Fight me!

The man had staggered after him, yelling abuse and waving his fists. He’d had a small group of buddies with him who were jeering and shouting encouragement. Lawrence had kept walking, doing his best to shut out the man’s voice by concentrating on the sound of his footsteps on the gravel. He breathed in the humid air of the summer evening and pushed on.

Fight me, you big ape! Or are ya scared?

The man’s friends had howled with laughter at that one, praising their friend for his bravery. It was an oldie but goodie, Lawrence supposed. It rarely bothered him though, he actually found it funny too. As if he’d be afraid of a lowlife like that? The man probably couldn’t string a coherent sentence together without injecting a curse word! Lawrence strode on, feeling rage’s familiar fingers snaking up his chest. He had it under control.

C’mon you fuckin’ oversized jackass!

Lawrence didn’t know why that word had made him snap. Perhaps it was because his father, also a big man, had often called him that as a child. Perhaps it was simply the final straw laid upon his back following his resistance to everything before it. Or perhaps it was the breath-taking lack of imagination the man had displayed in choosing it, who knew? All Lawrence did know was that because of that word a man was dead and it was his fault.

Lawrence grimaced and looked down at his hands. Those large, strong hands which served drinks at a cocktail bar and had carefully turned the pages of countless books. The same hands which were always gentle when shaking another hand or touching a woman. The same hands which had gripped the thick neck of a grown man and lifted him from his feet as he struggled and choked…those same hands had crushed the life from another human being…

All it had taken was one word. Two syllables had cost Lawrence his liberty and in a few short hours also his life. Lawrence wondered whether or not he should have accepted the man’s invitation for a fight back in the bar, or even in the first instance outside. He would have easily bested him, and his lick-spittle cronies wouldn’t have had the gall to get involved. He could even have called the police and had them move the man on, rather than having him hang around until closing time. So many ways he could have avoided this outcome…

When the time came, Lawrence stood and walked out of his cell and down the hallway in dignified silence. He was flanked by a large group of prison guards, all of them on high alert should the ape-man decided to make a run for it. Lawrence would show them. He wasn’t an ape, he was a man, a good man. He’d just had enough one day, that’s all…