Little Cruelties

Submitted for Contest #27 in response to: Write a short story that ends with a twist.... view prompt

21 comments

Tuesday, 4th of September 2018

Even though I know you don’t care, I’ll tell you anyway:

Since you left, I’ve been asleep most of the time. I still think about what happened with you and the kids, and how I ended up like this. I’ve written it all down here, between the pages of this notebook. Who knows, they might even use it against me one day. A motive.

Yesterday, I got out of bed around one, it’s amazing how long you can sleep for if you simply lie there. The longer you lie, the more tired you become. Keeping the windows and vents sealed helps, don’t want those carbon dioxide levels to get too low. This might wake me up, or even worse, stimulate thought.

Most days and nights, no one bothers me, or at least I’m asleep or too drunk when they try. That’s why last night was such a rare one, Bryan called during a sober spell and somehow managed to coax me outside.

‘You busy?’ he asked.

I looked around the tiny apartment I call my home, my piano covered in dusty volumes I never intended to read, the sink crusted with grease and day-old phlegm.

‘Well-’

‘A night out. Come on. Few beers, few laughs.’

‘Bryan, could you just-’

‘Never know, you might pick someone up.’

‘I’m not sure.’

‘It’ll be fun, bud. The two lads out on the tear again. Like the glory days.’

I tried to remember what it was like. Two unshaven teenagers out there in the world together, eyeing women years older than ourselves as we danced around each other in uncoordinated circles. Different life, different me.

But I agreed, pulled on a pair of faded jeans and a coffee stained hoodie. We met at the closest pub, Ryan’s, the place where steroid-hungry agri students go to shout at television screens and drink themselves into oblivion.

‘Two pints of Orchard Thieves.’

‘What?’ the bartender asked as he twisted around to glance at me.

‘Apple cider.’

‘Yeah, which type? We got Rockshore, Applemans, Bulmers . . .’

‘Orchard Thieves.’

‘What, one pint?’

‘Two.’

‘Finally, an answer,’ he said as he handed back a debit card to a skinhead who was busy scratching his balls through the pocket of his camo trousers. 

The bartender with bearded face and man-bunned hair pulled the pints, charged me a ridiculous sum and I paid without protest. I lifted the pints, peeled my Nikes from the beer-soaked floor and squelched my way back to our stools.

‘There you go mate,’ I said as I put the drinks on the table.

‘Thanks bud.’

I sipped my drink and recalled why I go out so rarely. My drink tasted like someone pissed in a perfectly good glass of apple juice. I could easily imagine them doing it in a place like this, too.

‘So, how’s life?

‘Eh, you know,’ I said. ‘Alright.’

‘Kids?’

‘Wouldn’t know.’

‘That bitch Tara still keeping them from you?’ he asked as he thumbed a peanut to a fine dust.

‘Yep and it’s impossible not to think of them. I want to do something, know I’ve got to do something, I just don’t know what. It’s killing me, she’s killing me.’

‘That fucking whore. You shouldn’t have ever trusted her, you know that? I told you. I never liked her. Stuck up her own fine arse from day one.’

‘Mm.’

‘What’s the asshole’s name again?’

‘William.’

‘From?’

‘Blackrock, I think. Never met him.’

‘My woman did something like that, I’d kill both of them,’ he said as he brushed the peanut dust off the table.

No you wouldn’t, Alison’s been cheating on you for years, I thought.

The rest of the night was filled with stories of low-cut tops and high skirts, topics I was interested in when I was all of fifteen.

‘Convinced you was going to get laid tonight,’ he said as we parted ways.

‘Knew you were deluded. No one without the county colours on gets laid in that dump.’

He gave me the two fingers as he slipped into the darkness of the night.

In bed, I thought about what he had said. For all his juvenile immaturity, I had to hand it to him, Bryan was right about one thing, I never should have trusted you. Even after I discovered you cheated on me with a total stranger, I still saw you as a decent person. How could I not? We shared a bed once.

Isabelle and Joshua were my everything and I came to see the world through their eyes. Once, it was a happy one and then, with our squabbling and angry screwing, it became a bitter, twisted one.

In the beginning, I thought I could forgive you for what you’d done but I soon realised you didn’t want forgiveness. You wanted a new man. You said there was a piece of you missing and that William filled this empty space. Dirty fucker.

Once it was over with us, you went straight to him. 

Weeks later, you gave me your word. You told me you would never try and separate me from my two beautiful children. I should hope not, I said, considering you were the one who slept with someone else, not me.

‘Stephen,’ you said, ‘you’re a good father. Why would I even think of doing a thing like that? That would just be cruel.’

I nodded and grinned as though the act you committed half a year previously was not the cruellest thing anyone had ever done to me.

The total stranger you betrayed me with, turned out the kids were fond of him. He has the unlikely occupation of banker-cum-GAA star and Joshua had an apparent blast playing Gaelic with him, something I was never co-ordinated enough to try.

At first, we shared the kids equally. It was my idea to allow you have them half the week. Even I admit I was over-generous.

When they visited, they began expecting incredible feats of talent from me. Joshua was upset because I never watched the game.

‘Daddy, William knows who won the All-Ireland last year,’ he said.

‘Nice,’ I said, flicking to another channel. ‘Sounds like a great guy.’

‘Daddy, why don’t you have a proper job?’ asked Isabelle.

‘Playing the piano is my job, honey. I’m part of an orchestra, remember?’

They both moaned at this, as though I was the most uncool father they could ever imagine. Until you slept with William, I didn’t realise fatherhood was a popularity contest.

In the ensuing months, you stopped bringing the kids around. I asked why.

‘They’re used to William now,’ you said over the phone. ‘It’s not healthy to confuse them like this.’

‘I have rights. I’ll go to a solicitor. I’ll take you to court.’

‘We’re not married, Stephen.’

‘I know but don’t think that means I’ll back down,’ I said.

‘Alright, Stephen, you go ahead. See how far you get.’

‘I will, don’t think I won’t.’

‘I don’t.’

Silence followed. My hands shook and my blood boiled.

‘You know, I bet you’re thinking of marrying that footballer of yours, aren’t you?’

‘He’s a loan manager, Stephen. And no, I’m actually not, not yet, at least.’

‘Why did you ever go with him? I thought we were in love.’

‘You’ve got to understand, Stephen, I have needs. And I don’t just mean in bed. I mean financial needs and you weren’t providing. I know it was your dream but at some point, you have to-’

‘Fuck you, bitch,’ I said and hung up.

I haven’t heard from you in months and I haven’t called either. I wonder how the kids are doing. They probably don’t even notice I’m out of their lives. I was never their father; they saw me through your eyes as the quirky musician with mussed hair and holes in his shoes. But that’s about to change.

I’m not sure if I’ll come to regret what I’m about to do. It’s possible, even likely, that I will, but it can’t be helped. I’m on their birth certs, for Christ sakes. My name is there and under occupation of father, it doesn’t say deadbeat – I bet you wish it did - it says pianist.

You brought this on, there’s no one else to blame but yourself and maybe the ripped footballer you’re banging.

I know you’re at work, so is William and the kids are in school. It must be coming to little break by now. They both have an imaginary doctor’s appointment but forgot to tell you, so they’ll have to go with me.

Right now, you’re wondering where we’ll go. You’ll try my apartment, my parent’s house, Bryan’s place and then you’ll go to the police. By the time they act, I’ll be eating dinner with Joshua and Isabelle in pastures anew.

‘Did he seem unhinged in any way?’ Bryan will be asked.

‘He was quiet, dead quiet. I knew there was something off with him,’ he’ll lie. He won’t tell them where I am, though, because he doesn’t know. 

‘He’s dangerous,’ you’ll say. ‘I think he might have intentions to . . . do something to my two . . . oh God.’

You’ll cry for the cameras and the public will side with you because you’re a woman and they’ll despise me because I’m a man.

‘A woman has a right to her children,’ housewives will say.

‘I know. Terrible, just terrible. I don’t know what the country is coming to, I really don’t,’ the husbands will answer while they wait for the weather forecast.

You know I’m not capable of what you’ll say I am, and the lying is something you’ll have to live with. Rest assured, the kids will be safe. They’ll have a new and exciting life with me, a life devoid of bitter arguing.

I’ll stop drinking and during the week I’ll bring them to school. I might even give piano lessons once the heat dies down. On the weekends, we’ll go on trips and I’ll buy the kids whatever they want. They’ll make friends and, in time, they will forget you, Tara.

You may ask yourself how such cruelty can exist, but you know as well as I do that our lives are fuelled by little cruelties. Two more can’t hurt, can they?

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21 comments

Brittany Gillen
22:36 Feb 09, 2020

Such a sad story and so on trend right now with A Marriage Story being nominated for Oscars. A great look at the “other” option to legal action. Your descriptions are so real, especially the bar floor. I could feel my shoes sticking as we followed Stephen. Great job!

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Mark Jackson
18:24 Feb 10, 2020

Thank you so much, Brittany!

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Ollie Octopus
01:50 Feb 12, 2020

Good story, I like it :)

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20:08 May 10, 2020

I personally thought that this was a wonderfully developed story! Keep up the good work! -Anna

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Mark Jackson
20:54 May 10, 2020

Gosh, Anna, cheers for the sincere encouragement!

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12:39 May 11, 2020

I speak from the heart!

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Jeremy Rozen
03:55 Mar 05, 2020

I truly love that this is written as a journal entry, it allows us to climb into the character's introspections. This gives the reader a really unique perspective. It also forces us to empathize with Stephen without the interference of anyone else's side of the story being told. I thoroughly enjoyed your writing, it has a very easy, casual feel to it. Your story was compelling and it flowed well from start to finish. Well done.

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Shirley Medhurst
17:04 Feb 25, 2020

Great work. I especially loved the attention to detail in the bar scene.

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Mark Jackson
20:50 Feb 25, 2020

Thank you, Shirley. Great to still be getting feedback on this story. Really appreciated!

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Carol Coupland
20:19 Feb 13, 2020

Very well written.

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03:28 Feb 13, 2020

A good story

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Michelle Cardoz
05:40 Feb 12, 2020

Really amazing :)

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Helen Vantol
13:23 Feb 11, 2020

Great story. I like your opening line, and the little bits of humour here and there. Enjoyable read!

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Mark Jackson
14:13 Feb 11, 2020

Thank you, Helen. I really appreciate the feedback.

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09:48 Feb 09, 2020

I read your first story and it was fabulous. This? I really can't explain it. It's like nothing I expected. I like Tara, of course, but now that I think of it, I would do what the pianist did a million times. And we would all live in such little cruelties... Well done, Mark

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Mark Jackson
11:33 Feb 09, 2020

Again, thanks so much for the great feedback, Abigail.

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Ola Hotchpotch
10:34 Feb 07, 2020

good one.

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Obsidian Eagle
02:42 Feb 06, 2020

Grim reading from an emotional standpoint, but definitely captivating. Still a bit confused as to how exactly Stephen made off with the kids, so there's plenty of room for expansion beyond this short story. Enjoyed the colloquial dialogue!

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Mark Jackson
11:36 Feb 09, 2020

Thank you for the constructive feedback, Obsidian. I suppose, it's rather ambigious as to whether Stephen actually goes ahead with his plan or not. Perhaps, this is something I need to make clearer. Definitely food for thought, thanks for pointing this out to me.

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Sean Reiley
20:06 Feb 05, 2020

Pulls you in and never lets go. The pacing was great, the language was blunt, descriptive and, at times, humorous (especially when he's at the bar). You've written a great story that could work either as it currently stands or as something even longer. In any case, job well done, man, can't wait to read more of your work.

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Mark Jackson
21:19 Feb 05, 2020

Wow, thanks for such awesome feedback, Sean. This has made my day.

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