The Sweater

This is just a bit of fiction I decided to write start-to-finish this morning.  6 ½ hours, 1,440 words with edits (not the Daily Post’s 10-min., no edits of today).  Set in the U.K., with U.K. English.  It’s difficult to find a good sweater image to go with this.  Does 6½ hours count as flash-fiction, or does that have to do with reading time?  I’ve also never been to the U.K., so this isn’t perfect.  Comment so if you want me to take it further.

*

Fresh out of school, though still on school grounds, Damien, walked the gravel, kicking a can down and out into the street.  The other students in the growing distance, more eager to be out, yakked away in conversation.  There was nothing more Damien hated than school, with its sharp-edge, ruler slapping teachers, its dry and humourless, and sometimes confusing work assignments, and its drawing of blood whenever something good was beginning to happen.

“Speak of the devil,” an older voice said, behind him.

“Fuck,” Damien said under his breath.  He knew whose voice it was, and it took him only a second to recognise.  It was Arthur, the bully that regulated Damien’s block of the school.  There were so many bad things that Damien preferred over Arthur.

“I hear you’ve been getting real close with Roxy on school grounds,” Art accused the can-kicker.  He had his backup—two other kids of similar age, to his left and right, short Geoffrey and roly-poly Ros.  Arthur’s male side of the family were proud winners but smart losers too.  They were professional bullies.  High-class prosecutors.  His older brother was never sent down.  They were clever, never clumsy, unless you caught them pub-crawl.

“I—”

“’You know what the cost is for boys who cross the line of public affection on school grounds?” Arthur said before Damien could defend his words, let alone his physical presence.

Damien stepped back, but the crew moved in.  They restrained him, upright.

“One beating.”

It was was but an ordinary task, like writing a cheque or scrubbing a rag.  But Arthur was brief this day.  He socked Damien in the stomach and in the face, only once each.

“You’re lucky I’m late.”  Arthur’s real job abbreviated his faux job.  He spoke with little change in tone.  He was so used to his position that his breathing had not elevated with his blows.  No child dared speak up, and it wasn’t merely because of the swift kicks; there was also blackmail.  Pros.

The two boys that held Damien in place let go.

“Bastard,” Damien said aloud.  Maybe he was fed up.  Maybe he was greedy.  But he knew of the consequences.  And he was sure as shit not going to exhaust the older sod before him.

“What did you say?” Arthur raised his voice, but in a manner as if to give Damien a chance to back out.

“What are you doing, here, beatin’ up little boys?  Do you get a kick out of it?”

A twisted smile grew on Arthur’s face.  He chuckled.  “Well, well.  Seems the little man has gathered some courage.”  He snapped his fingers at his crew, and pointed down.

“No, no,” Damien said.  “I—I was mistaken.  Please.”

They forcibly lowered Damien onto the ground, and Arthur kicked him in the ribs.

“I don’t get a kick out of anything here!” Arthur shouted, with a bit of righteous rage and contempt.  A button had apparently been pushed.  ”But you just did.  You ’better pray you don’t see my face again.”  He spit onto the ground.

The three walked away.

Damien waited until they were out of sight.  His anger returned.  He spit out the collected blood that leaked from his lips, and panted at his pain.  He cursed.

 

It would be a couple of days before Damien could meet up with Roxy again, and not for the new bruises, but for her work that kept her busy and away.  He met Roxanne in the early stages of her acting career, and despite his best efforts she hadn’t any time for him.

It was no mystery that Art knew about their amorous encounter, kissing under the shade.  Her added fame, though small, added to Damien’s pain.  But he wasn’t giving up on her.

Seth, his single-parent of a father held a washcloth to his face.

“I told you, you shouldn’t talk back.”

“But why does he always get away with it?” Damien responded, as if it never occurred to him before.

“Well, at least nothing’s broken.  And you’re out.  An old boy.”  It wasn’t as if his father could’ve done anything about the violence at the school; he’d tried.  “Just hold this to your face,” he said, as he handed over the cloth.  He had to catch the news.

“I know how to handle a washrag, dad.”

Seth was just in time.  The television screen was filled with red and white as the BBC World News animation sequence ran through.  A tabloid was under fire again.  The euro had fallen against the dollar.  Everything, it seemed, was falling.

Damien ached and grunted as he stood, and Seth glanced over at the sounds that were made.

Maybe it’s biology that the ear of the parent becomes much attuned to the voice of his child.  Seth would regularly fall asleep to a movie, and Damien would enter, and say, in normal voice, “Hey,” and Seth would sniffle and wipe the droll off his face.

They were so high up in their apartment building that it felt unreal—out of nowhere—that Seth had a job.  Then again, everything felt unreal since Damien’s mum had abruptly left them.  Now out of school, he was encouraged by Seth to get a job…in between their video gaming sessions.

Unable to find employment, Damien felt both free and enslaved.  His apartment home felt both like a snuggery and a prison.  There was enough in the insurance payout for him and Seth to slack off for months on end, but Damien wasn’t up for such sloth.

 

Four weeks into the relationship, Roxy dumped him.  She was going places, and there was no room for him, she said.  It wasn’t long before he decided to give dating another a go.  He decided to try clubbing, of all things.  Seth said that there were better ways to chase girls, but the son had made up his mind.  Seth would only allow it so long as he supervised.

A lorry with a disgusting advertisement on its sides passed before they crossed the street for clothes shopping—shopping for proper clubbing dress attire.

The go was a bust.  Only his father could really dance, and only in an old-fashioned way.  They could hear the laughter at their expense.  Plus, Seth tried to act like Damien’s wingman.

“Let’s go, dad,” the son said, embarrassed.

“Oh, I’ll catch up with you later.”

“You want to stay here?  Honestly?”

“Fine.”  They both left.  But not without Seth walking back, taking another sip of his drink.

“Don’t worry,” the father said, as they left.  “There are cafés,…book stores,…online dating, nowadays.”

“Yeah, remind me of that dead-end.”

“I’m just trying to help.”

The alcohol got to the son’s brain.  “You couldn’t help mum.”

His statement shocked his father.  “Hey, that’s not fair.  I did all that I could. …It wasn’t as if I could tell her to stay.  Try to put yourself in my shoes, Damien.”

“Well, I do know what this life is like.  Wasting away what she left behind.  Wasting away, period.”

Seth scoffed.  “I’m trying to have fun…with my son.  Don’t you want to have fun?”

“Dad, you’re in denial.”

Seth stopped walking.  With his hands loosely at his sides, he dropped his gaze to the sidewalk.  Damien noticed and stopped with him.

“You don’t think I miss her?  Every day, I think about her.  Every day…I wish to dream about her. …But she never comes.  Not in any form.”  He sniffled.  Tears were welling.  It was as if he was losing Damien too.

“Dad, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean it.”

Seth inhaled and sniffled again.  “Let’s go home.”

 

The son and the father finally went through mum’s belongings.  It was hard.  They could pretty much smell her on her belongings even after all the time that had passed.  Photos, clothes—everything reminded them of her.  Everything, that is, but an unidentified box she stowed.  They looked at each other.  Inside was a package from Emma’s aunt.  Inside the package in the box was a sweater made for her.

“Why didn’t she open this?” Damien asked.

Seth shook his head and shrugged.  But out of the suggestion that he was in denial, Seth figured he might as well just try to ask her from the unburied grave.

He looked upward.  “Emma?  If you can hear me, could you find a way to tell us why you didn’t open this package?”

It was both in a way funny and offensive to Damien, but he reluctantly went along with his father’s nutty attempt to contact mum, for such a stupid question.  He closed his eyes, and concentrated.

The phone rang.

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