After shooting a man while on a bender of drugs he was supposed to sell Conrad flees the city and goes to a place where he believes no one will find him, the home of Simon Winters, an old cellmate from his years in juvenile detention. But he knows he can’t stay for long and Conrad’s greed inadvertently causes Simon to confront his past and his life in a small town where memories run deep. How will Simon survive Conrad’s path to darkness?
Everything has been put away and cleaned, Simon thought, there was no more evidence, no proof of what happened, and yet there was a pain in his stomach and his chest that had he been older he would have thought it was a heart attack. It felt almost as intense as the pain in his thighs and buttocks from the whipping she had given him upon his return. In that same place as it had been years before until the sin was beaten from him, his brain was rendered useless, and his body, his skin throbbed with each heartbeat. He had almost refused her. He had thought about fighting her, but then he thought about Heather and that he wanted to see her again. By giving in he thought he could guarantee something... if not her permission, then at least her good grace.
Why did his mother have to ruin things? Why did she have to be the way she was? No, more importantly why did she have to be his mother? We don’t choose family, he answered. We are born into it. We are a product of it. We are a part of it. And we cannot easily leave it. Her illness had gotten worse. It was one thing to take out her violence on him with beatings and spankings but this, attacking his girlfriend with a knife, was something else. Oh god, would she even still be his girlfriend? Was there a relationship after this? Could she still trust him? What about his mother? She had said to put her somewhere. Like prison? Like an asylum? She had been to a mental hospital before several times, a few when he was young and once he had her committed himself after he returned but she didn’t stay long. She could be convincing, intelligent, and aware when she needed to be. She could get out of those places.
No, the next thing was prison, but he hated the very feeling of that idea. Prisons did not change a person. Prisons were there for punishment. How much punishment did she need? One month or six months, three years or five years, and it wouldn’t be easy to slide her past the mental hospital. No, if she said the right thing his mother might not even make it to prison.
What was left? A therapist who she would visit once a week, once a month, and maybe he’d prescribe something else that her family doctor wouldn’t but he hated the idea of drugs, of doping her up so she would be more compliant. No, she hated drugs, and he hated them too. That was why she turned to the church. She went at least every Sunday, sometimes more if she felt the need, but it didn’t actually do anything for her. What god could she pray to that would leave her this way? What god would keep him beholden to her? What god that could not, did not, punish her or stop her?
No, there was no satisfaction there and he felt the compulsion again to take the knife up. Maybe he’d have to stab her or maybe he could get her to stab herself but it wouldn’t make any difference because he would be supplying the knife. Murder or suicide but there was no justice to her death. Besides the knife would be too bloody, and even if she killed herself there would still be suspicions. The town would think he did it. That would be the end of him and any hope of a relationship with Heather.
It had to be something else, like maybe falling down the stairs. He could drag her there or else wait for some opportunity. But when would be the right time? How would she fall? Would she be guaranteed to die? If she didn’t, if she was still alive, then he’d have to finish her. But how could he do that without leaving any evidence? A pillow left fibers, fingers left choke marks. And worse she could be seriously injured and completely dependent on him for everything including all of her personal care. He shuttered at the idea of bathing her, dressing her, and putting her to bed. At the very least if she died he’d still be a suspect.
No, he told himself, he had to wait it out, see what Heather said and take it from there. In some way the best thing would be for her to be locked up and then maybe he could leave her, leave town. He had his escape plan, his life raft, of nearly twenty-five thousand dollars in cash and funds in a savings account. That would be enough to start somewhere else, start over. Heather could go with him. She would have to leave her father but maybe she would do it.
They could go anywhere, maybe drive across the country until they found a place. Maybe they could start a business or she could go to college and he’d get a job somewhere even though there wasn’t much need for someone with a G.E.D. and no work experience. He’d work anywhere, he told himself, any menial job just to be away from here, and yet it was a fantasy because he didn’t even know if Heather really liked him, if she still liked him. It was a familiar pain from when his father had left him.
Eight years old at the time, and his father had moved out of the house for work. That was one thing, something he barely noticed because his father returned almost every weekend and for holidays but it didn’t feel right. It went on for a year and it felt like his father was always lying to him, especially as he gave him a number to call to talk, to ask for help. He had called only once and got a woman. There were children in the background. Was she a girlfriend? Was his father living with another woman and with children. Did he have a new family? It was only made worse as his father tried to explain away everything, tried to make him unsure of what he had heard until there was no point in arguing. He never called back.
But that was only one incident. He still came that weekend and successive weekends until there was the big argument between his parents. They were threatening each other with divorce. They were threatening each other. His father didn’t come back for a few weeks but they talked on the phone a couple of times. His father promised to stay in touch, promised to take him on vacation, and take him on trips, but they felt like more lies. And then suddenly it was over. He stopped calling. There were no more visits, no more promises and no more lies. Simon didn’t think much of it at first. After about nine months he remembered thinking about his father, trying to wish him into existence on some night he was arguing with his mother but he wasn’t there and he didn’t call that phone number. He didn’t want to speak to that other woman. Eventually he forgot about the man in his daily life, in his need for some other parent and it was just him and his mother.
His thoughts were broken by the sound of Conrad coming into the house. Simon was flat on his back on his own bed by then and he didn’t move even though he had an impulse to do so. He had an impulse to go to Conrad right then and tell him about his mother, Heather, and what happened, to try and work out some plan. But there was no plan to work out. Conrad was terrible with plans. Conrad didn’t make plans. He would only think the worst. He would worry about his own safety, maybe he’d leave or maybe he’d threaten to do something himself. He could call the police. No, Conrad wouldn’t have a solution, he told himself.
And yet the pain in his stomach felt worse, because wasn’t that what people were for, to help you in times of need. Simon closed his eyes as he felt himself about to cry. His eyes watered so he opened them again to let the tears be contained there as little pools of water until they dried out. He wouldn’t give the satisfaction of crying over something like this. He had been through worse. And yet it still hurt, he could still feel, and the worst sensation was the emptiness and the loneliness. He balled his fist and opened his mouth to cry out but there was no noise, no sense in making any. He knew he had to keep it all inside but when he closed his eyes to keep the feeling he felt the tears roll down his cheeks and he began to sob, little, almost controlled spasms that moved from his gut up into his face.
It all had been something. This life it had to mean something. His suffering had to have a reason. And yet there was nothing, no one there to witness it so it felt like it had no meaning at all.
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