Back in the days when I was still angry and hurting, I used to write short stories. I show this because the contrast –the difference, in how I thought then to how I think and write now, is so evident in this piece. It blows my mind to think how angry I was at just about everyone. Now, I am someone who looks for the good in others and is passionate about acts of kindness. Wow. Please don’t read it if violence or alcoholism offends you. I don’t want to offend anyone – so simply skip this blog and I’ll go back to writing inspirtional stuff next blog. This is a work of fiction; a short story I wrote to get rid of the anger in me. I don’t write like this any more. Despite the ugliness of it, it is a beautifully written story. And yes, there are more like it – I tell you, I was one hurting person! Remember, I warned you.
ON THE TRAIN – a short story by Chrissy Guinery (a long time ago)
So I am sitting on this train when a couple of young hoodlums burst in. I watch them prowling and sneering, scratching their mark into the metal with a flick knife and her marking everything with her own graffiti; snarling and harassing others for the hour I am aboard. Fortunately, other than him glaring at me on the way past once or twice, they don’t hassle me. Once, while she is sitting diagonally in front of me, I read her. I can read her like a book. Suddenly I know everything. And it all pours out of the girl’s mind, through my fingers, and onto my laptop…. brace yourself, because you won’t enjoy the ride….
They knew they attracted attention, but that was part of the deal. Not all rebels were rebels without a cause. They had their cause. Their cause was a man back at home, sitting belching on the worn couch, cigarette in one hand, a beer in the other. His favourite line was, ‘I’ll give you a clip over the ear if you don’t shut-up!’ and they knew he meant it. And they also knew, after a dozen beers or so, he would clip them whether they had shut-up or not. He was a looser; disgruntled and disillusioned with his lot in life, and needed booze to dull the pain of his monotony. Unfortunately the booze also served to fuel his frustrations, and there was nobody better to blame than his ‘useless offspring’. And so, night after torturous night, he allowed the bitter seeds of his life’s uselessness to spread and grow into and upon his own offspring.
She wasn’t sure when she developed a smart mouth, but it hadn’t taken her long to realise it could serve her well. Verbally, she could give her old man as good as she got well before she hit puberty. She could never compete with him physically though. Here she was limited. He was large, round, fat and heavy – and could put all his weight behind a slap across her face, ensuring her slight form was thrown off balance and would send her reeling across the floor. But he hadn’t given her one of those for a while. As she had matured, in her own twisted way, she’d learnt it was best to fight him with her tongue. Her wit. She would serve him her choice words until she would recognise the signs of him coming to the end of his short fuse, and would run away before he could strike. He’d holler after her, cursing her and yelling threats of what he’d do to her. But by now, she knew the drill, knew the age-old ritual all too well. She knew if she stayed out in the streets long enough, he’d be asleep in his chair when she returned. Passed out, passing loud, smelly wind, snorting and snoring and useless. It was then that she would return, knowing she was free to put herself to bed, locked into her room in safety.
There were two advantages to the alcoholic, she had learned. One was that the following morning when he eventually stirred from an uncomfortable drunken, comatose stupor, he’d be full of genuine and tragic remorse for the things he could remember from the night before. The other, was what he didn’t remember – all the words she’d thrown at him. He would forget those from the night before. He always awoke riddled with guilt, believing he was the bad guy and offering excuses, apologies and assurances that her and her brother were safe to enjoy the house, he’d change his ways and a bunch of other empty promises. Sometimes that meant that the mornings were OK, really. Sometimes.
His drinking usually began with one or two wines from his cask in the morning to calm his shakes. By lunchtime he would show familiar signs of brewing up an internal storm, but often managed to keep it at bay for a few more hours before he burst. His regular pattern was almost comical in its tireless predictability. His hands would shake, he’d begin to sweat, he’d chain smoke until he could stand his reality no longer and he would pad barefoot and ugly, first to the bathroom to leave his mark, and then via the fridge for the first six-pack of the day.
Their fridge was always stocked. It never ran empty of beer. In the food department however, it was a very different story. On the rare occasions food could be found in it, it had been left to shrivel and mold until the fridge stank almost as bad as he did. Then it was her job again to clean it – which basically meant gathering everything from the fridge and dumping it into garbage bags. The days when anyone expected to find a decent meal in the house had long gone. Occasionally three-minute noodles and other quick-snack foods could be found in a cupboard, but even those had become uncommon. Nobody bothered to shop anymore. It was all too hard.
The brother and sister, shabbily dressed and walking with provocative attitude, lumbered back onto the train, stubbing their cigarette butts under heavy, worn, black boots just before embarking, with glaring, threatening looks toward any passengers who dared to catch their attention.
The teens owned the streets and they owned the trains, especially this one. They rode the 8.43 train heading north so often they knew the scenery by heart, knew every sign on the carriage walls, every stain on the shabby worn carpet and every rip and tear on the puke green upholstered seats.
There were other regulars too. ‘Ladies of the night’; the homeless; dolled-up teenyboppers heading into the city to dance parties; and glitzy glamour couples in their expensive outfits, dripping in gold jewelry – flaunting their contrasting affluence.
The latter passengers clutched their expensive handbags and custom-designed leather wallets all the closer to themselves when the teens swung recklessly, purposely past them. Their happy chatter ceasing momentarily until the youth barged their way through the carriage and out of sight.
Some nights the girl and her brother would cruise the train, roaming from one carriage to the next and back again, just to harass the toffee rich. There was little pleasure in it, but something they often just ‘needed’ to do to assault the comfort of the upper classes.
Her ratty hair hung limp down her head, greasy and unkempt, covering one eye and the left side of her face, obscuring her vision. She held her head low, staring at the boots that had never seen polish, caked in mud as she put one heavy foot in front of the other. Those eyes were hard, disillusioned, cold as steel. Her jeans were a few sizes too small; way too tight, faded and frayed, and her t-shirt displayed a bold black profanity.
In her left hand she held a thick permanent marker, scrawling her logo on yet another windowsill. He wore his hair in an afro, wildly askew. The sides were messily shaved by his sister, patchy and uneven. Thick gel caused it to stick out at all angles. His pimpled face was a mosaic of acne and scars.
His heavy boots were scuffed, and the left one had a chunk out of the toe. Unlike his sister’s, his jeans were oversized, baggily hanging from his scrawny hips, displaying the band of his grey underwear and pooling denim around his boots.
He wore a padded nylon jacket with one of the latest band’s logo emblazoned across the back in yellow block letters. He flicked a cigarette lighter on and off, on and off, sparking it into flame and quenching it repeatedly. Occasionally he’d produce a mobile phone from the depths of a large pocket and the two would pour over the screen while he created text messages that sadistically amused them.
And whenever they were bored, they would leave the train and roam different streets for a while, before jumping another train later in the night. It was a tedious, boring, monotonous ritual of a life, but one they couldn’t afford to avoid or relinquish. Anywhere was better than home. Out on the streets they were menacing monsters, revolting against the supposed ‘proper’ society in which they were forced to dwell uncomfortably. Never conforming. And like their jeans, never fitting.
Back home the 8.30 movie on their beat-up old telly would be coming to an end and their father, if he wasn’t yet asleep on the lounge, snoring and snorting and coughing intermittently, would be cursing at the television screen. According to him, there was never anything good on the idiot box. And he would know, his bitter offspring would muse conspiratorially, he spent most of his sorry life sitting in front of it, staring into the screen, and abusing it for robbing him of genuine entertainment.
Every now and again he would struggle drunkenly from the chair, make a staggering, swaying trip to the bathroom where he’d miss the bowl and pool pee over his slippers and the floor; via the fridge for more beer on the way back; returning exhausted, puffing and wheezing as he collapsed again into the dirty, aging material of his domain.
Tonight the rebellious teens were in a particularly ruthless mood, egging each other into harassing a nicotine-stained toothless, frail elderly man snoring slumped against the window of the carriage. They ate lollies noisily, flicking the wrappers into his unruly hair, mocking him as a wrinkled hand would attempt to bat the candy wrappers away. Yet, even in their mean playfulness, they grew bored easily. And, flicking him hard in the right ear as they passed, they left the homeless bum to his fitful sleep, and head up the four stairs to an upper carriage, looking for new sport.
Three snobby teenage girls applying excesses of make-up posed a threat to her; she hated pretty girls almost as strongly as her loathing for the rich; so profanities flew at them as she accused them of all sorts of unsavoury behaviour. A final ‘you’re all moles’ satisfied her and her brother as they pushed through and down into the next carriage, leaving the nervous pack to re-group and apply more layers of make-up, relieved to be left alone again.
She sat down awkwardly, bored and angry. Her mark was already emblazoned in texta on the carriage wall beside her, but she traced it with her marker anyway. A middle-aged couple sat opposite them, glaring at the girl’s blatant graffiti. ‘Mind your own effin business,’ she snarled at the lady passenger.
The woman turned in her seat, facing the siblings square-on. ‘Sorry,’ she addressed the girl kindly, ‘I just thought I might borrow the marker when you’re done… wouldn’t mind leaving me own mark,’ she laughed. The brother and sister were taken aback, staring at each other in amazement. ‘No way!’ the girl said aloud, more in disbelief than disagreement, ‘that’s way cool!’ and a lopsided grin exploded across her face. She got up to hand over the tool, brushing fingers in the exchange; leaving her feeling awkward and uncomfortable. The middle-aged woman drew a delicate flower with a butterfly alighted on one petal, quite articulately considering the awkward angle and a moving train.
‘Nice,’ the girl offered as the texta went back to its owner and the two females smiled genuine, though uncomfortable, smiles at one another. A connection formed. The eyes of the rebel showing a desperate loneliness, daring to believe for hope.
‘Where are you young ones off to so late?’ the woman offered, not nosily, just to keep the connection going by making pleasant conversation. She didn’t want to lose the connection, sensing the girl appeared to be enjoying this moment also.
‘Nowhere,’ the young girl shrugged, looking away, toward her brother for reassurance, feeling awkward. ‘Oh,’ he woman had no response to that. And in the instant the young girl spun her body back into the seat closer to her brother, the connection between them snapped. They were strangers on a train again.
The young girl wished she’d had the courage to say more; kept the lady’s attention somehow. She didn’t know why, but she regretted not being able to ever talk to anyone. Yet. it just wasn’t her fate in life, she’d learned.
Her and her brother had attitude. They purposefully repelled people. They liked to keep people at a distance. They needed to be safe, and making themselves vulnerable to strangers just wasn’t a part of that strategy. The girl simply stared at the back of the woman’s head as she talked with her partner in animated conversation, and wondered what she was like. ‘I bet her old man ain’t no deadbeat alco,’ she said aloud. Her brother hit her on the leg affectionately, ‘who cares!’ He smiled at her, reassuring her their life wasn’t so bad. Though he knew, in his heart of hearts and with every fibre of his being, that It was. Their lives were a freaking nightmare. Every frigging day. It sucked! And they hated it.
Their lives were a whole lot of pretense. How dare that woman go smiling all friendly-like to his sister and upsetting her. As if the two of them didn’t have enough to put up with. Why couldn’t she have just minded her own business? What did she have to go getting involved for? And he seethed unreasonably. And his anger gained force.
Eventually he turned and gave his sister a familiar nod. Her heart sank. She knew what that look meant. They’d done it before. Once, about a year ago, and then just a month back. She had hated it both times. She’d pretended to her brother, to impress him, that it was fun to get vengeance, but really, she totally hated to have to do some of the things they did. She allowed herself one little pang of regret, one faint second of hope that things could be different, before locking eyes with her brother conspiratorially and resigning herself to what appeared to be her fate in life. In that one instant of decision, she changed. An evil grin opened across her face, ‘let’s do it,’ she smiled adoringly at her brother’s hard face; adrenalin already pumping.
‘Tunnel coming in 3 minutes,’ he checked her face to see if she understood his silent instruction, ‘there’s a station two minutes after; and that’s where we bail.’ He looked at her questioningly, ‘you got it?’
‘I got it,’ she laughed, attempting to hide the tremor in her voice. She slapped his leg with one nervous swipe and waved the other, pointing toward his bulky nylon jacket, beckoning him.
‘Hang on a minute,’ he said, lowering his voice and his head.
They sat poised ready to strike, blood now coursing through their veins at top speed, heart rates up, pulses pounding in their temples, hands twitching as they waited. They timed it perfectly. Like professionals. Like the other times they had done this. The train went black, pitch black, as it entered and slid effortlessly and noisily through the mouth of the tunnel. A switchblade in her left hand and a razor in his right, the two of them went to work on the middle-aged couple.
Slipping behind them, catching them both totally unaware, she took the woman and had her throat slit in one easy motion in exactly the same second her brother did the man. The teens’ free hands were clasped tightly over the couple’s mouths, so not even a sigh was heard over the rumbling roar of the train.
A slit throat had always been enough in the past, but she couldn’t resist hammering the knife into the woman’s left side, just above her breast, where she guessed her heart might be, for good measure. The blackness of the tunnel lasted exactly three minutes and four seconds. By then, to ever so slight gargling sounds behind them, the siblings were on their way to the toilet to clean up.
The knife and razor were sparkling within moments and hidden deep within the lining of his jacket when the brother and sister disembarked the train at the next station.
As they walked past the windows of the bloody couple, there was a slight bounce in their step, a tinge of excitement in the air, and a cheeky smirk on both faces. After one quick, gleeful glance at their handiwork, they kept their heads down, staring at their boots as they hit the streets of the city. ‘What do ya say, sis?’ he asked jubilantly, ‘you reckon this calls for an ice cream?’
‘Double chock chip,’ she smiled, ‘the colour of them craping their dacks.’
‘Nah, strawberry,’ he shoved his head back and laughed out loud, a rare sound. ‘And we can pretend we’re vampires drinking their blood,’ and the two ran giggling toward the all-night takeaway van, happy to have broken the boredom of an otherwise uneventful evening. Proud to be working for the cause.