Black Petals Issue #97, Autumn, 2021

The Visit
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A World of Sensations-Fiction by Michael Dority
Goddess Deva-Fiction by David Starobin
Hunting Ground-Fiction by N. G. Leonetti
Love Letters-Fiction by S. J. Townend
No Content Available-Fiction by Richard Brown
Phantom Smell-Fiction by Daniel G. Snethen
Predatory Peepers-Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
The Visit-Fiction by B. E. Nugent
The Working Man-Fiction by Christopher Hivner
The Extermination-Fiction By Dominique K. Pierce
Win-A-Burger-Fiction by Glenn Dungan
Counting Time-Flash Fiction by Ramon F. Irizarri
Terry and the Techo-Frog-Flash Fiction by Hillary Lyon
The Epistolean-Flash Fiction by Harris Coverly
Labelled Rocks-Flash Fiction by Holden Zuras
Along Side of the Road-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Beneath the Weeping Willow-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Half-Life-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Liquid Darkness-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Lost-Poem by Carl E. Reed
Succubus Seductress-Poem by Carl E. Reed
The Crime of Frankenstein-Poem by Carl E. Reed
Brother's Keeper-Poem by Cassandra O'Sullivan Sachar
Razor Beak-Poem by Jessica Heron
The Fall of Vampire Hunters-Poem by Matthew Wilson

97_bp_thevisit_duncan.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan 2021

THE VISIT

By

B.E. Nugent

 

Jack Mackey sat hunched at his plain table, his back to the corner of the room. His face was lit by the reading lamp with a cocked elbow that perched on a corner of the table. Laid out before him was a deck of cards, arranged as for solitaire but still waiting on his first trick. The shard of light revealed a half-empty coffee mug, its contents long cooled, and a pitcher of water with a plastic beaker to the side. The glow of the lamp shone at an angle across the table, casting short shadows of pitcher, beaker and mug onto the cards. Jack's freshly shaved jaw caught the light. Otherwise, everything was smothered in darkness so thick it would move if touched. Jack pressed the heel of his hand against his chest in small, circular motions.

Jack glanced towards the door, feeling a disruption to the stillness. He opened his mouth as though to speak. Without a sound, he gestured to the empty chair facing him.

The visitor crossed the room and folded his long body onto the chair.

"Mr Mackey,” he said, "it's nice to meet you."

 "I've only ever been called that here." Jack answered. "It's not a measure of respect."

He looked at the man. “Call me Jack," he said.

 "Sure", the man said as he placed his hands on the table, drumming lightly with his fingers. "How are you, Jack?"

 "Living the dream ," Jack said, twisting his lip into a grin. It was something he had heard people say. He liked the tone. It was as good a response as any.

"You don't seem surprised?" the man said.

Jack shrugged, looked to left and right. He raised his hands as though to introduce the room.

"No," he said at last, "but aren't you early?"

 "Yes, of course," the man said. "I thought we might talk a while."

Jack shifted on his chair, dropping his eyes from those of his visitor. He picked up an ace from the deck and turned it over.

"Can we come to an arrangement?" he asked after a few moments, raising his eyes. The man was certainly tall, his body lean and strong. His features were distinct, his skin smooth. His age was impossible to guess, the unblemished face that showed no sign of wear contrasted with the greying locks that swept to the shoulders. He was handsome of a sort, Jack thought, girls would like the groomed, confident look.

His question was met with a burst of laughter, loud and earthy, amplifying the silence that surrounded them. Jack searched for mockery in the man's tone but found none.

Still smiling, the man said at last, "You flatter me, Jack. I am honoured you consider me reasonable, someone ready to bargain. Unfortunately, you inflate my position if you think I have either authority or discretion in these matters. I have neither".

"There is no way?" Jack tried again, his voice little more than a whisper.

"There is no way," the man echoed, uttering each word with firm clarity.

Jack gathered the cards and shuffled.

"Let's play?" Jack said, placing two cards face down in front of his visitor.

 "Why not?" the man replied. "Just be mindful. You will win some. I will win some. It will make no difference."

"Got it," Jack said as he picked up his cards.

Minutes passed in silence. Jack stirred, tossed his cards onto the pile and sat back into the chair. He reached to a shelf directly behind and brought forward an ashtray with three crooked butts. From his pocket, he produced a small silver box. He removed two papers and a small ball of tobacco and quickly rolled two cigarettes. He offered one to his companion and placed it into the box when it was declined. From his other pocket, he removed a brass-coloured petrol lighter. On his third attempt, the wick caught light. He squinted at the bright flame as he brought it to the cigarette and drew deeply. With a cough, he cleared his throat, breathed audibly and watched the grey smoke dance around his face.

 "What's it like?” he asked. He pinched the cigarette between thumb and forefinger, removed it from his mouth and blew on the lighted end. Tiny sparks flew from the smoke and disappeared into the room.

 "You will know soon enough," the man answered with authority.

 "You’ve got to give me something?" Jack insisted.

 "It makes no difference," the man said. "Nothing I could say would be of use to you. Besides, someone might believe you." The man smiled gently, raising his index finger to his nose and tapped lightly.

Jack drew deeply on the cigarette, held the smoke momentarily and exhaled. He stubbed out the cigarette and returned the ashtray behind. He was tired and raised no argument.

 "So be it," he conceded.

Outside the room, there came the sound of crisp, rhythmic steps. A flap on the darkened door was lifted. A pair of illuminated eyes looked in the darkness and asked, "You ok, Mr Mackey?"

 "All good," Jack replied and raised his thumb to confirm. The flap dropped and the crisp, rhythmic steps faded back to silence.

"Every fifteen minutes," Jack said, “seems I'm on suicide watch."

 "Go figure," the man replied as he sat back down.

 

"I like to come here, you know, on these nights," the man said, breaking the silence once more. "In here, there's theatre but no drama, no pleading, no screaming. There will be no-one shedding tears for you."

Jack looked into the man's eyes. The words held no cruelty beyond their truth, no judgement.

The man continued. "The only tears will be for a boy long gone, an anguish that is buried in time to surface briefly in a mother who has long abandoned comfort. You will be gone and she will feel no better. But my job, you understand, is uncomplicated."

The darkness seemed to deepen around the man as he spoke, stirring something in Jack's gut. He swallowed, grimacing as a rising bile threatened to overcome his efforts.

"Glad I'm making it easy for you," he said, the venom of the bile infusing his words with a bitter sarcasm.

"I said "uncomplicated," the man said. “Not easy. Never easy." The man's tone was almost soothing.

"Whatever," Jack snapped. “I think we’re done here. Maybe you should go. Leave me in peace." He started to rise from his chair but his legs did not respond.

 "I can do that. Sure. Are you at peace?"

The calmness of the man's voice anchored Jack's panic, pulling him from the swirling images that flooded his mind, scenes of violence and its aftermath, nameless faces mingling with those more familiar. He concentrated on the face of his visitor, the depth of his dark eyes transfixed. He could breathe again, the tightness in his chest eased and he felt fluid, as though only his skin held him from flowing free onto the floor.

"I'm almost done," Jack said, his voice lowered. He looked across the table and scrutinised the man's features. "I was never meant for peace."

 "That is a choice you make," the man said.

Jack turned his head, touching his shoulder with his chin, straining until he heard the clicking of his vertebrae, and then repeated to the other side.

 "Too late now," Jack said.

 "That, too, is a choice," the man said.

 "I've my whole life ahead of me," Jack mumbled, entwining his fingers as he raised his eyes to meet those of his visitor.

The man relaxed against the chair. "Where else would it be? Six years, six months or six hours. It will always come to this. It is a curious thing but people feel immortal until the very last moment. The resistance starts with knowing the end has arrived."

Jack was drawn to the soft tone, lulled by the gentle lilt in the man's accent that betrayed neither time nor place. "Go on," he said, resting his elbows on the table.

The man also leaned forward, paused briefly, then said, "I come to everyone eventually. Sometimes in shock, sometimes expected, sometimes even welcomed. I will be meeting three wardens from this place before this year is out. Two of them have no idea, so carry on with absolute confidence. Only when I stand before them will they admit my existence. You, my friend, do not have that luxury. Your fate has long been sealed by twelve of your peers."

Jack produced the cigarette box again. He offered his guest the cigarette. Anticipating the refusal, he lit the cigarette. Blowing the smoke from his mouth, he grinned as he spoke. "Name the three," he said and both men laughed.

"Do you think of him?" the man asked.

 "The boy? Yes. Every day," he answered.

 "You wish you could go back, do things differently?"

 "I think about that day every day, running it over and over of how it all happened, imagining I had gone left instead of right. I never meant to hurt him, you know. I want that to be clear. I was strung out, the sickness was really bad. I couldn’t get right until I cleared some debts. I just wanted the money. He had to be the fucking hero. He reached for a gun under the counter. I reacted, shot him first. He should've just given me what I needed."

The man sat without moving, listening without comment.

"It's the truth," Jack pressed, speaking more quietly, leaning forward so that half his face was entirely illuminated. "Bad shit happens. You know this. I know this. We all know it. At that moment, it was him or me."

"I see," the man said. "You’re a victim in all this as well as that kid working in the store?" The tone was neutral but Jack shifted in his seat, discomforted.

"Obviously not the same," he said, "hands up I did wrong but it wasn't what I set out to do."

 "Interesting, don't you think, the lies we tell ourselves," the man said, looking straight at Jack. He casually moved forward to meet Jack’s intense gaze and rested his chin on his hand. He ignored Jack's interruption and continued, "I find it curious that we often reveal more about ourselves in the lies we choose than the truths we tell."

Jack steadied himself, holding his shoulders rigid. "It's what happened.”

 "No Jack. We both know different."

"I've admitted my crime," Jack said, his eyes moistened, catching the light. "I'm paying for it. I had no choice."

 "I was there, Jack. You know this to be true. You know I know."

 "He went for a gun..."

 "There was no gun."

"He reached under the counter... "

 "He never moved."

"He should've listened ...”

 "You never spoke."

 "I just wanted the money...”

 "You never asked for the money."

 "I'm sorry...” Jack broke off, his face contorted, his eyes clenched shut, his mouth open in a silent scream. "I'm sorry," he repeated. He buried his face in his hands and emitted a muffled groan.

The tall man placed his hand on Jack's shoulder. "I'm not here to judge," he said.

Jack looked up at the man, his eyes reddened. Barely audible, he said again, "I'm sorry."

"I know, Jack."

Jack stared at the table.

 "I went into that store just looking for money to get high," he said. "I had the shotgun under my jacket." He looked up at the man. "I'd never even held one before."

"What did you see?"

Jack lowered his eyes again.

"There was no-one in the store except the young kid behind the counter. He was talking to someone on his phone and laughed at something that was said. He was young, not even out of his teens but looked so much at ease, confident and unashamed. He saw me coming and signed off his call with "love you". He was ordinary and uncomplicated and happy. Fuck, I hated him, hated him more than I have ever hated anything. I wanted to rip him apart. I went right up to the counter, pulled out the shotgun and gave him a few seconds to see the world for what it is. He was about to speak when I pulled the trigger. There was blood everywhere. I looked down at him as he gasped for the last time and watched him die. Even then, I had no regrets, just felt a calm come over me. Here now, I'm not proud but back then…I felt sated. I walked out of the store with the shotgun held high, didn't even take the money. I thought the police would end it quickly but, here we are."

Jack reached behind again for his tobacco tin and rolled a rough cigarette with trembling fingers.

"Why Jack," the man said, smiling broadly, "it's a pleasure to finally meet you." He lit Jack’s lighter and held it to the cigarette. Jack drew in the black smoke.

Jack laughed quietly, ruefully. "Truthfully, I do regret killing that kid. I heard afterwards his mother was still on the line, heard everything. I can't imagine what that did to her. I destroyed her life just as much as his."

"That's not all that torments you tonight," the man said.

 "I think often about my mother," Jack said, feeling no urge to disguise his pain. "She had a tough life. She deserved better. Better than him. Better than me." Jack paused as his voice quivered. "I've done lots of bad things, things I wish I could change. If you gave me the choice, first on that list to change is the lie I told her as she lay dying. I promised her that I would stay clean, that I'd do it in her memory. I made a solemn vow that she could pass peacefully knowing I was okay. Even when I was saying it, I had two bags of heroin in my jacket. I went to the backstairs in the hospital and smoked one when she was sleeping. When I came back, she was dead.”

"Your mother never lost sight of you, you know," the man said, lowering his eyes to meet Jack's.

 "Yeah. She could always see through me," Jack said.

"She could, yes, but that's not the same thing. When she looked at you, she still saw the baby she had held, the little boy of six years looking through broken glass in her mother’s house while his parents were led to city vehicles with flashing lights, your father in handcuffs, your mother on a stretcher. Her heart broke every time you got into trouble and she always held herself responsible for the life you lived."

"She was the only good thing in my life," Jack said, a tear gathering at his cheek.

 "And you in hers, I imagine," the man said.

 "Will I see them...afterwards?" Jack asked, uncertain of what answer he wanted.

 "I can't tell you what is to come. All I will say is this; don't fight me."

The man rose from the chair and placed his hand against Jack's face. He wiped the tear. "Go easy," he said.

Jack was alone again. The pain had left his chest and he sat back against the chair.

He waited.

 

 

        B.E. Nugent is Irish, aged 53 years, married for 24 years with two adult children. He is new to creative writing and the above story is his first completed short story, which he started when attending a creative writing class in 2018.
       He has written a number of short stories, flash and novelettes that he will sending out for consideration. Black Petals is happy that we could give him his first publication.

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