Flash fiction prompt 28 and the guys from yesterday’s story are back. This takes place the day after Push, told from the perspective of the other person, and long before Drowning and Drowning, Part 2.
Apart from vague mentions of violent ideation in the first paragraph, this is pretty much content warning free. For a change.
“So”, he said, past a split lip and blood-soaked teeth, “Same time next week?”. At that point, it could have gone one of three ways. An agreement, wait a week and see what happened next time. One more blow to the face, shattering the back of his skull against the wall, knowing in that moment he would have let me. And then there was the way I chose.
“Same time tomorrow”.
“Tomorrow?”. He spat blood onto the pavement, cracked his jaw, wiped his mouth on his sleeve and looked at me like he was wishing I’d said “Now”.
“Tomorrow. Same time, same place, no-one tries to kill anyone. We get a beer and we talk. Alright?”.
“Sure. But I don’t drink beer”.
“OK then, drink whatever you drink. And leave that knife behind”.
“How did you . . ?”
“Look, I don’t know how often you do whatever this is but you picked the wrong person this time”.
“Oh, no, I really didn’t”. A pause. “See you tomorrow then. And you can frisk me for weapons if you want”.
And with that he was on his way, limping slightly. Once he’d put a few feet of distance between us, he pulled the knife from his waistband and tossed it in the air with a flick of his wrist that made it spin. He caught it expertly by the blade, flashed me one last red smile over his shoulder that made my breath catch in my throat, and turned the corner out of view.
I lay awake for most of the night wondering how the hell this had happened. Sure, people tended to recognise me for at least part of what I was, but it mostly made them keep their distance, cross the road, walk a wide arc around me. Occasionally a random drunk would try to pick a fight but one solid punch would put an end to it before it even started. This one I couldn’t figure out at all. I got the feeling he wasn’t drunk and he was anything but random. I’d never met anyone who could take an impact like that and stay standing. For a brief moment I wondered if I’d finally met my match, then I shook the feeling away. I’d never been that lucky before, but I was curious. I didn’t understand any of this, but I wanted to.
The following night, I got there early, by accident but also not. With no idea whether or not he was going to show, I craved a cigarette. The last time I had a smoke was the night I quit my job and I swore off both tobacco and my previous profession for life. I quit cold turkey, smoking and killing, and it was all fine for over a year until I felt a vicious desire for both in the space of twenty-four hours. Because of him. And he looked . . . well, he looked good. I’d kind of sworn off that as well but maybe the general feeling of want was just finding its way around everything I told myself I wasn’t going to do.
My contemplation of self-imposed restrictions was interrupted by his arrival.
“You want to check me for knives?”,
“I want to trust you. Let’s play that game and see how it goes”.
“OK. You going to tell me your name?”.
“I said I want to trust you, not that I already do. Let’s go and get whatever you drink”.
It was a double vodka, straight, no ice. He didn’t even knock it back in one go. He sipped it slowly, actually enjoying the taste of the cheap spirit. I knew it was cheap because this particular bar didn’t have anything else, which was fair enough since its unique selling point was that it was open all night even though it probably shouldn’t have been. Plus, the staff were well versed in the art of turning a blind eye. We watched each other in silence across a table that had been decorated over the years by stabs and scores from countless pocket knives. I took a drink of my beer, slowly, amused that he seemed to think he could unnerve me by looking at me like that. Like that. I was not so easy to unnerve.
“So”, I said, “Tell me about that death wish of yours”.
“It’s not a death wish. It’s a near-death wish”. He smirked.
“And you saw me and thought I looked like the type to stop at near?”.
He shrugged. “I saw you and didn’t know. I still don’t. That’s why I’m here”.
“Because you want to find out?”.
“Because I like not knowing”.
And so the conversation continued. I had another beer. He had three more double vodkas and became sharper with each one. He told me he did things with computers. I told him I worked in security. Neither of us entirely believed the other, although no doubt there was a little bit of truth in each of our words. 5am arrived and I said it was time I got going.
“Why?”, he asked. “Don’t want to be late for church?”.
“Something like that”.
“So, same time tomorrow?”.
God, he looked so . . . the way he looked. Throwing caution to the wind and every other element, I suggested, “Or now. Now would work”.
He grinned—a dangerous, enticing thing—as I stood up and walked towards the door. He followed, barely a pace behind. When we got outside, I stopped and turned to face him.
“I still don’t trust you but what the hell. I’m Noah”.
And as the world shifted from deep black to a rain-drenched silvery suggestion of a dawn yet to arrive, we walked away from the bar, together, and I wondered, not for the first time, what I was getting myself into.
About the photo
I needed “a rain-drenched silvery suggestion of a dawn yet to arrive”, so…
Index of January 2017 flash fiction prompts.