July 7, 2016

Fiction by Jay Faulkner: "Shave"

Jay Faulkner resides in Northern Ireland with his wife, Carole, and their two boys, Mackenzie and Nathaniel.  He says that while he is a writer, martial artist, sketcher, and dreamer he's mostly just a husband and father.His work has been published widely, both online and in print anthologies, and was short-listed in the 2010 Penguin Ireland Short Story Competition.  He is currently working on his first novel. Jay founded, and edits, 'With Painted Words' - www.withpaintedwords.com - a creative writing site with inspiration from monthly image prompts, and 'The WiFiles' - www.thewifiles.com - an online speculative fiction magazine, published weekly.  He can also be found as a regular co-host on the Following The Nerd radio show–www.followingthenerd.com

Jay lives with – but refuses to suffer from – a rare genetic neuromuscular disability called congenital myasthenia which causes muscle weakness and restricted lung function; he was hoping for a better mutation, maybe something that would allow him to join the X-Men but who knows, there’s still time …For more information visit–www.jayfaulkner.com





Shave



The blood seeped into the crease in the folded paper, staining it red, before I felt the cut. As my eyes tried to make sense of the vibrant colour spreading across the letter the pain hit me. It was just a paper cut but, despite the almost invisible nature of the fine wound, it hurt.
It hurt a lot.
If only it had been a centimeter higher, at the tip of the finger rather than nearer the middle knuckle, it wouldn’t have happened; the thick pads of calloused skin would have stopped it.
“If only …” Muttering, I sucked my finger, tasting iron and salt, before forcing myself to swallow the question, along with my own blood.
Twenty-one years ago I had constantly asked that very same question, nearly driving myself mad. It had taken nearly a decade of denial and despair before I realised that – just like now – the question was pointless. “No use crying over spilt milk, Ricky.” My mother’s favourite saying, once upon a time; I hadn’t agreed with it then but had learned that it was more than a saying now, it was a way of life. It had to be.
“… or spilt blood.” I grimaced, taking the finger out of my mouth and peering at the small puckered flap of skin, still seeping gently. I knew that my mother had been right. You couldn’t spend years locked up and hope to get out with your sanity intact if you constantly looked behind you, always wishing that you could change the circumstances that had brought you to your here and now. ‘Circumstances’ that had changed me from Richard Wilkins – mother’s ‘little Ricky’ – into Prisoner 21342, Wilkins, R.
“That is the first sign of madness, you know?”
Looking around, my grimace changed to a hint of a smile as I saw the familiar face staring in through the open door.
“Officer Scott.” I nodded a welcome at the prison guard. “So what’s the first sign of madness?”
“Talking to yourself, or is it getting an answer? I never remember.” The prison guard replied with a small smile. “And call me David; you may as well, considering.”
“Considering what?” I queried through a smile of my own, though I knew it was almost hidden by the beard that covered most of my lower face.
“The momentousness of the day, I suppose.”
“Your’s or mine?”
“Well it’s the last day in this place for us both; your time’s done and I’m finally retiring, so why don’t we share it? Twenty-one years in this place and now, today, we both get to walk out of the gate for the last time, if that letter is what I think it is. Release papers?”
I nodded; knuckles whitening as my hand sub-consciously tightened its grip on the paper, protectively. A single page of A4; terse, simple words printed out in some nameless font; details of my name, number, date of birth and one other, different, important date too; today’s date. 25th July 2008. The date that I would be a free man again.
“You’ve gotten to walk out of that gate every day, though, Offic … David.”
“.. and every day I had to come back in again Richard. You may never have been allowed to leave but, in some ways, I envy you for that; I got to leave, true enough, but then I had to come back – each and every day – and face the scum of the Earth again.”
“You had a choice, though!”
“Did I?”
“Yes! No-one sentenced you here; no-one locked you in!”
“True enough, but …”
“But? Why DID you keep coming back?”
“… because they weren’t all scum, they weren’t all bad,” David admitted, quietly. “Some just made one stupid mistake in their life and were worth helping.” His pale blue eyes met my green ones as he stared across the gap between us. A gap of more than just physical difference, more than just the open door that separated us. A gap of time and circumstance. A gap of status. Prisoner and jailer.
For just a moment that gap narrowed as I understood that were just two men; equals.
Then with a small nod Officer David Scott turned and started to walk away, stopping only as I – Prisoner 21342, Wilkins, R. – quietly spoke.
“I wasn’t talking to myself, you know.”
“No? Then what would you call it?”
“Talking to old ghosts, I suppose,” I sighed. “And wishing he knew I never meant it.”


* * *


“Did you get her number, Ricky?”
“Nah, she was a minger, that Steph!”
“You weren’t saying that when you had your tongue down her throat!”
“Yeah, well as my mum says, ‘it's rude to talk with your mouth full’.”
“Well, at least you got your birthday kiss.”
The sound of laughter filled the otherwise quiet street as the three men – little more than kids, really – strutted along in a boisterous haze of humour and alcohol. A gentle spray of rain formed rainbows under the harsh street lights. Shutters covered the majority of shop windows; signage above competing with graffiti below for prominence. The day’s detritus – discarded newspapers, Big Mac wrappers and whatever else society had decided was both not worth keeping and not worth the effort of binning properly – littered the grey slabs of the pavement.
For Ricky Wilkins, Colin Andrews and Steven Blake the town’s High Street may just have well have been Hollywood Boulevard. It was nineteen-eighty-six. They were young; they were happy; and they were very, very drunk.
“Birthday kiss?” Ricky said, making a face of disgust as he took another swill from the can he grasped tightly in one hand. “She nearly sucked my tongue out; dirty slapper!”
“Oh, did the pretty boy not like it then?” Reaching up Colin shoved his hand through Ricky’s hair, getting a vicious punch to the arm for his efforts. Ever since high school Ricky’s hair had been his pride and joy, which is when Colin had come up with the nick-name. The running joke in his house was that he was more of a girl than his mum and sister when it came to getting ready to go out; Colin had even quipped earlier that day that as it was his birthday he would need an extra three hours to gel his hair into ‘just’ the right shape. That had also got him punched.
“Though with a face like that,” Colin joked again, “are you sure it wasn’t Steve rather than Steph?”
Reaching out towards Ricky’s hair again Colin stopped short, any buzz he had had from the alcohol fully gone as he saw his face – pale and lips tight – reflected in the blade of the knife that hovered inches from his nose.
“Want to say it again?”
“Ricky,” Steven Blake stammered, staring in fear at the knife that danced in the rain between his two friends, “what are you doing, man?”
“Making this fag stop calling me ‘pretty boy’” Ricky spat out, drool hanging from his bottom lip. “Anyone would think that he wants me!”
“What are you doing with a knife, Ricky?” Colin questioned, his eyes never leaving the blade. “Are you mad?”
“You callin’ me mad now,” Ricky snarled, staggering forwards until the blade’s point almost touched Colin’s nose. “As well as gay?”
“He didn’t call you gay, Ricky,” Steven pointed out, trying – in vain – to keep his voice calm.
“He keeps callin’ me ‘pretty boy’” Ricky shouted, snapping his gaze around to glare at Steven. “It’s the same thing!”
Colin reached out for the knife but he was drunker than he looked.
Ricky saw the movement from the corner of his eye and reacted before thinking.
Colin grabbed at Ricky, pushing his arm – and the knife – away from him.
Ricky tried to fight back, not really intending to do anything, but his foot slipped on the wet paving stone.
Colin’s pale blue eyes stared into Ricky’s bright green ones. Neither blinked nor, for a moment, moved. Then, with his mouth forming a small ‘o’ of wonder Colin started to slip to the ground. Ricky tried to pull him up but couldn’t and was left, watching, as the paving stones turned crimson. He turned to Steven, about to tell him to shut up – to stop screaming – but Steven wasn’t there; He could still see his back as he ran away. Then he realised, as he looked down at the blood pouring out of his best friend’s throat, that the scream was his own.


* * *


I stood with the walls of the jail behind me, the sunlight hitting me full in the face and, for a moment, I blinked back tears that could have been caused by the bright light but – I knew deep inside – were because I was, after twenty-one years, free.
“So, what are you going to do now?”
I - Richard Wilkins, formerly Prisoner 21342, Wilkins, R. - looked back at the smiling face of David Scott, formerly Officer David Scott. Running a calloused hand over my heavily bearded face I sighed before looking out into the open, sun-drenched, street.
“Shave.”

~Jay Faulkner 

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