Craine the beginning part 1. PG
A group of eleven or twelve teenagers were gathered in a loose huddle. The battle for rank amongst the younger and newer ones was obvious as they vied for hierarchical promotion. The novices were forced to the outer parameters of the quarter moon on either side of their leader by the older, settled ones. Clutching to the leaders every word, they mimicked his movements and agreed with every utterance which escaped his narrow lips. They were eager, some might say too eager, to please.
He, the leader, was a gangly string of piss. Tall, sickly thin and sporting a well-established air of indifference between two shallow and pock-marked cheeks. Being two years older than most of his disciples, he was the wise, experienced and cool one. He could be served in an off-licence. He had a girlfriend and got laid every night. The minor fact that his own piers considered him a childish asshole too dumb to enter their click mattered little.
Mr Leader could never have predicted in a few months from then most of his flock would surpass him. Nor, that they would eventually accept themselves for who they were and not for whom they should be in his eyes. In a year, or so, they would finally admit to each other the truth they each sensed all along. Then they would cease boisterously pitting themselves against one and other for his approval. The veil would be lifted and the hidden reality of Mr Leader would be clear to them all: he was a shitebag.
But not yet. No. For now, he was the dogs bollix and how the string of piss revelled his minions attention. For now, his word was law.
Craine was returning home from work. He paid no mind to the group assembled across the street from his apartment block. Feeling weary, he wanted nothing more than to crash out on his bed and cuddle up to Luanna. He sauntered on oblivious to all other things.
Suddenly, a cackle from one among the group cut through the white noise of early evening time. Its accentuated nasal tone had a unique pitch distinct from moving traffic, screaming kids and lovers squabbling.
Craine could tell with each syllable that split through his semi-conscience state that the words were more than random remarks. He was targeted. Underlining the yell was a message being sent to the youths’ circle: look at me! I’m a hard bastard, so I am.
Though this came out as, “Oye! Mister, y’er a dickhead.”
There was a moment’s pause, and then the Leader began sniggering. Soon his followers joined in feeding encouragement to the opinionated youth.
Many things troubled Craine. Being attacked by a gang of kids was only one of them. But what troubled him more was his disability. From a young age he was condemned with the affliction of never knowing how to react to others. In a blink of an eye, or a flap of a hummingbird’s wings, a multitude of responses ran through his head.
Should he ignore the remark and keep walking in the hope the group of teenagers were in fact about to attend an Attention Deficit Disorder meeting? Reasoning this was unlikely, but he never could tell. Should he hurl back a string of obscenities and infuriate the mob? Enraging them not by what he said, but because they probably would not under stand his meaning behind the insults. He considered keeping it crude.
Craine next measured the idea of walking over to the fellow voicing his opinion. In a calm and cool manner, he would stand in front of the kid, smile, and then commence pummeling the little shit. He knew he could beat up at least three or four of them before the bunch jumped him and throttle his pasty body out of loyalty to their fellow members. Yes, right! The group would jump in to save face; it had nothing to do with loyalty. Either way it would end with him suffering much pain. So far, however, after ignoring them it seemed the best option.
Then he paused.
Maybe… just maybe, he was not the intended recipient of the insult.
What kind of monster was he turning into? They were just kids after all standing there on a footpath chatting and joking amongst each other. Immediately, he felt guilty. Craine could see it broadcasted on the evening news. ‘Is this what the local neighbourhood has turned into?’ A few poor kids doing nothing wrong then suddenly some manic from across the street comes charging towards them kicking and punching the innocent children for no apparent reason.
Craine cursed inwardly. They were only children. Why was he so quick to misjudge? He did not want to be a thug no matter how hard he was pushed. If he were to do such a thing he would be shrouded in shame for the rest of his life. ‘What have you done?’ He imagined himself in years to come weeping from a drunken, regretful, guilt. ‘He was only a child,’ his words echoing through a lonely room.
Decision made. He was going to ignore it.
Craine checked his surroundings and found not another sinner was within two hundred yards of him.
“I said ye’r a dickhead!”
Okay. Craine relented. The outburst was definitely meant for him. Reflexively, he turned and made contact. A sickening feeling curled his stomach as he realised he needed to respond and quickly or else they would walk over him the next time they crossed paths.
Show no fear. Show no fear, he pleaded with himself. His mind shuffled uncontrollably for a counter. Then in one last effort he grasped the only response which could make or break him: acceptance.
The words escaped him in an accent alien to his own ears. “Ye’re right.” He paused briefly before crudely adding, “I am a dickhead ‘cause I fuck up assholes like you all the time.” It was disgusting, he knew, but he maintained eye contact despite his growing panic.
He turned lazily and began to move away. It was more of a strut than a walk in the hopes his disrespect would be viewed as something respected in their eyes. He was a man after all, and they were nothing but little children he could easily gobble up and shit out for breakfast. Or, at least, this was the signal he wanted to send.
Only two paces later, Mr Leader (God bless him) was sniggering loudly. From somewhere within the abundance of his thought structure whilst grappling with the fundamental ideology of Cuban communism versus the wider accepted Maoism and Leninism, his words were weighed in the scale of street cred. ‘Oh, very witty mister stranger,’ his laughter seemed to say, ‘It was indeed a pleasure to witness you teaching my pupils on how to tackle such an insult in an honourable manner. I do look forward to our next encounter.’ He gestured with a knowing nod behind his guffaw.
Thankfully rest of the group joined in while pointing and laughing at the isolated youth with the bruised ego.
Craine knew if his bluff were challenged he would be running instead of calmly rambling into his apartment block. Though, it took all of his resolve to keep his legs from buckling under the trembling hidden within his grey suit trousers. Once he disappeared behind the steel sliding doors of the elevator, he took a deep breath and thanked the almighty for that one.
At three: twenty-four a.m. he finished the last of whiskey, added a final butt to the heap looming in the ashtray and relived the incident one more. I was great. I was a fool. I was lucky. No. I could have kicked the shit out of them all. No. I couldn’t. I was brave, wasn’t I? No, I’m a coward. The self-criticism continued for some time, but what bothered him most was the fact it bothered him at all. He never understood why such things did and always had.
‘Come to bed,’ Luanna called from the other room.
He started to rise then changed his mind as he ignored her grumblings. He sat back down and pulled his laptop towards him.
He pushed the buttons. A monitor buzzed and whinned. The screen flashed blue then a backdrop of The Seventh Seal materialised in front of him. He clicked, he entered, and then he typed.
Craine was indecisive by default. Like everybody else he had initial impulses to act and react upon the spur of the moment, or on a whim. But something always restrained him. It clamped him in a depression of hesitancy. Instead of allowing his basic instincts to come into play and throw caution to the wind and do whatever the moment needed, he would analyse and brainstorm ludicrous notions of possible events which could unfold.
…I was walking home from work today when a group of youths… he typed relaying what happened to the nameless and faceless readers of his blog. When he created his site he never really knew why other than to seek some sort of justification or understanding to his common pickles. Let the world scrutinize him. He had many, many replies, but he always deleted them. He never read the criticism or council of his audience. He would write and write the torturous events which plagued him, opening up his life to all, and yet, he could not bring himself to click on the comments tab and read what others replied. He hoped one day he would have the confidence to do so without the constant lofty finger of shame pointing at him. In his drunkenness, Craine typed and typed, and then hit the various buttons to send his essence out to the invisible world. He ranted about being a coward and why strangers’ opinions of him mattered and never knowing why they did. Even in his stupor, he knew he was taking things beyond his usual consumption of thoughts and alcohol.
This was not the first time he had done so, but it was the first time in an age. His confession of conflict continued…I guess I am afraid of hurting an innocent. I don’t know who I am any more. Please, won’t somebody tell me? Even those sporadic few I consider friends can’t tell which direction I am coming from. How can they? I see it in their eyes: a look of uneasiness whenever I feel competent to express to them what is bothering me when they ask. And they always wish they didn’t. Weeks, sometimes months, can pass before they decide they kept their distance long enough for me to be normal. And I am for a while. Normal, I mean. I play the part expected because it is easier for everyone, but not for me. I feel caged within a prison. The first being one of falseness the second being of belief that I am this yoke I portray myself as. I don’t have confidence then pretend and display too much all the while confusing it with competence. I only manage to stumble through life if I detach myself totally from my environment. I make a half-arsed approach to the world: acting correctly while displaying emotional responses in an attempt to be passed-off as normal without the burden of regret. It is all I can do to get through the day.
Sure, I can say, “ fuck-it” flippantly. It’s easily done. Then the wee small hours of the of the early morning demanding to know my reasoning behind how I handled some mundane event.
Bless anyone who reads this rant. It’s a self-fulfilling exclamation mark. And I am embarrassed for it. I have my faults, my tics and my personality disorders, but get this, …this is what the real kicker is… are you ready!!! I know where they all stem from.
Sorry to any budding psychologists hoping to use me as a case study. Over the course of many sleepless nights, I’ve taken a long hard look at myself. (Stay with me if for a short while if there is anyone left and I will explain). Here’s just one for you to show why I couldn’t make an impulsive leap to the youth’s words and simply ignore his remarks.
When I was young I had a pet dog named Jiffy. I loved that mongrel. He had shaggy fawn hair, bad breath and a turn in his left eye. Like all dogs he would bark at night. A passing car or cat, if another dog barked or if he was hungry (which all dogs always are), and he would be off yelping. Any thing would do it.
One night Jiffy was barking his usual doggy bark. I thought it nothing abnormal so I ignored him. Nothing strange, right? The morning after he barked his usual quota of barks, I ran eagerly down the stairs, and swung open the back door to let him in for his food. It was our routine. He would come bounding in. I would tussle and grapple playfully with my woolly companion then feed him. We did the same routine for two and a half years before I had my own breakfast. This being one of the conditions my parents insisted upon after I hounded them endlessly for a puppy.
Infinite days of teaching him to sit, roll over and shit outside, fetch, come on command and not hump the furniture. Ok, possibly the trip to the vets cured him of the last passion. I walked him after breakfast and twice more during the day not to mention hours of playing with him. I kept my part of the bargain and even went beyond the call of duty for a nine-year-old boy.
But this one morning when I opened the back door Jiffy didn’t come bounding in as was his custom. No. He remained lying still on the backdoor mat with a rusty coloured sticky substance pooling by his rear. He was still alive, though, barely.
My dad drove us to the veterinarian. I sat in the back with Jiffy cradled on my lap and wrapped up in my school jumper. He died on the way there. Bleed to death from internal damage. Possibly caused by poison or swallowing a rusty nail accidentally the vet said. He offered to do an autopsy to establish the cause. My father shook his head. He was in shock too; though looking back it could have been from the price quoted for such a task. I still don’t know if it was from the missed opportunity of earning extra cash which drove him to say what he said to me then.
He said, ‘Your dog must have been in real pain. I’m surprised he didn’t wake the household up barking all night.’
Though my parents tried to reassure me it was not my fault, and it was Jiffy’s time to go, I felt they both secretly blamed me for being heartless and lazy for ignoring my pooch’s howls. I cried for days.
But, I wonder, is ignorance the right word. I deliberately disregarded the late night yelps as being something of no importance. Did I turn my back on my pooch in his time of need as I turned to my side under the warm covers of my bed? Pillow muffling the sound of my distressed hound as I wished it would stop.
I said my farewells as the veterinarian carried him away to the great room of wonder where all dead animals go. I wondered if a part of me was sickening glad. Not in a cruel way, but in a guilty, yet thankful way. I was after all rid of my burden of responsibility towards the hairy mutt. I pondered this then, and still do now.
My tears were shed out of grief, yes, but did one or two droplets twinkle with joy at having an extra hour in bed each morning? Did I realise back then I would have extra T.V. after school and more time to waste upon myself? Did the joy of kicking a football with my friends without the football assassin ending our game cross my nine-year-old?
I never asked for another pet again and my parents never suggested or surprised me with one either. I noticed shoes lasted longer. My mother’s allergies cleared up and my father took comfort in mowing the lawn absent-mindedly without having to keep a constant watchful eye on obstacles of dogshite hiding like landmines in the back yard.
Only now I remember my father’s jests some years later at having “done the dog in for all the trouble it caused.” No! Not for one moment would I entertain the notion he poisoned my dog. But…
A dwindling cigarette burned into Craine’s lip causing him to stop typing and spit it into the ashtray. Unexpectedly, he became aware of how tired he was. The screen was a blur; even if he could make out the last sentence on the page, he lost his train of thought. He hit ‘publish’ then, he deleted everything and turned off the computer.
Stumbling across the kitchen, weary and slightly scared of the world, he pushed open the bedroom door and collapsed next to Luanna on the bed.