Author: Timothy Connolly
Illustration: Mark Smith
That night he dreamed of Krakow. He walked. His footsteps ringing like bells. The streets empty. Not a soul in sight, and the chill hinting that there were none to be seen. The neon lights passed him. Red. Green. Pulsing. Arterial. Made up of gas‐flame blue. With a silver hue. Covering him in its dew.
He passed a nun on a mobile phone. Incongruous in her hands, as she ordered the newest magazines. Her face melted. Flames covering her head to heel to leave blackened flesh a falling.
The priest looked at him with a light in his eyes and covered with the soot of his betters.
He passed a school. A child watched him go by as she ate her ice‐scream with a spoon.
He walked and could feel it following him. All this time. Since he had left. He heard the sigh in his ear. The nails on his back. Its hand sliding in between his legs. Firm breasts pressed against him.
Soft lips touched him with the sharpness of its teeth.
He looked up to see the woman’s great black eyes.
The hammering at the door woke him. 5:00 am. On a goddamn Saturday morning. Fuck his life. Who was this? He stumbled out of bed and cursed the day he was born. Couldn’t he get one night’s rest? Couldn’t he deal with that dream in peace? The hammering increased and he could feel it like a blow to the head. His anger grew. First that woman, then that priest and now this fool at the door. He was sick of this shit. He was a plumber, for Christ sake, not a detective, with a drinking problem and an ex‐wife.
He flung open the door.
‘Do you want something?’
The man came in stinking of alcohol, dirt and day old aftershave. Stubble marred his chin. His hair like grease on his head. Marcin sized him up. Muscles knotted his frame. Bones showed in his face. Needle marks, healing, but not healed, bloomed on fresh skin. Marcin would have thought he was a football hooligan, but he knew, on some level, that this guy was some special kind of prick.
‘Why the fuck are you in my home?’
The football hooligan stuck a yellow finger in his face, ‘Listen here, chap. Me brother and me sister had a chat with ya, but you can’t see your arse from your elbow. But, I’m here – ’
‘Son, you’re about to get your ass whooped good and proper.’
The brother fumbled in his pocket, but Marcin was already on him. A knee to his balls sent him gasping and he followed it up with an elbow to the back of the head. Marcin grabbed his ear and, the hooligan shrieking all the way, he opened the door and chucked him into the hallway.
‘Tell your sister and your brother who did this to you. I am sick of this shit.’
He slammed the door. Fury bubbled in him. He couldn’t rest. He couldn’t relax. He couldn’t even sleep. That goddamn lump of metal had crashed into his life and uprooted everything. He flung the chair into the table. Sat down. Goddamn, but he was going to show them what he was made of. He’d figure this out. That woman wouldn’t know him as a fool, and that priest wouldn’t treat him like a little child.
He looked at it. Really, really looked at it. What could have caused those marks? Something curved. Something with a little bit of leverage. But, here, what’s this? The scrapes went wild. What was that? Something had happened. Something had changed. Something had… broke.
The dawning truth almost blinded him.
He stood up from the table. The day turned to night, the shadows grew, and the sun died.
Marcin found himself at that apartment again. It opened at his knock. The smell of cinnamon wafted out. He stared, with that same lead in his stomach, at the person who opened the door.
She was barely five. No marks marred her skin and there were no shadows under her eyes. Clean hair. Immaculate clothes. And none of that smoggy muck that filled your senses as you walked out the door.
‘Is your mommy here?’
‘No, but big sis, big brother, and mean brother are here.’
He wondered who was who, but, before he could ask, she opened the door. She led him in. The three figures in that blood‐red room watched him and told the child to play outside. They watched him as he walked in. They watched him as he dragged a chair from the corner. They watched him as he sat.
‘I know what happened.’
The thug had bruises like blooming lips. The priest stood in the shadows of the sky. The woman’s figure filled the room like a burning cross.
‘It was the spoon. It bent. As if this,’ he took that damned piece of metal out of his pocket and threw it on the floor, ‘had broke it. I can see what happened. She was playing, or not, and it slipped, or not. It bent. It broke the safety valve and gas began to seep out. That immigrant couple came here, they slept here and they died here. All because of that goddamn rusted spoon.’
The priest licked his lips, ‘Can we punish a child for what she did not know?’
‘If it kills somebody…’
‘Listen here, you mess with me sister and you won’t be safe no matter where you go.’
Marcin almost stood up, but the woman broke past all of them.
‘Who cares? Really. You’re asking me to care about an immigrant couple? While my little sister’s future is at risk? You are worse than a fool if you think I will do that. You are worse than the lowest of the low, worse than druggy mothers and garbage fathers. You are worse than anything.’
‘People are dead.’
The priest banished Marcin’s words with a raised hand.
‘We are at a crossroads. Like all people in life. We have three roads to walk upon. One down. One up. And one leading only God knows where. You have to make your choice Marcin. You have to choose what to do. I will not choose for you, my sister will not persuade you, my brother will not force you and God will not show you. It’s your choice in regard to my baby sister’s life.’
‘Perhaps this will help your choice,’ she threw a package on Marcin’s lap with a glint in her eyes.
The envelope spilled crinkled bills on his faded pants. He could buy his ex‐wife a dinner with that. Of sumptuous steak and red wine. No, open a business. Keep his body warm in winter. Have his belly full and his throat wet.
He looked at that woman, with her jewels, her hair, all the trapping of wealth. She must have ties. People to talk to. People to see. People to help him get on his feet. And all he’d have to do is…
He shook his head and stood up. The money fell in a fan around his figure.
‘No. Keep your coins, woman. Keep your god, priest. Keep everything that you could ever offer me. A couple is dead.’
‘If you won’t take me sister’s money, perhaps I’ll take your ‐ ’
‘Stop brother. We all have to make our own choices.’
‘I ain’t letting her end up like m – ’
‘Let him go,’ the priest’s cloud grey eyes watched him, ‘We all have our choices to make.’
Marcin walked out of that red rimmed room into this frozen world. Shadows walked about in coats. The snow fell. Blackened trees reached for the skies. The streetlight had soft curves that stroked him as he passed. What should he do? What could he do? A child’s life lay in his hands. Accident or not, she had killed somebody. He walked on frozen grass. It crunched underneath. But did he have the right to ruin her life?
It was as if he were walking up a gradient. The lights of the city below, the stars above, and darkness everywhere. A burning pillar blazed toward the sky. A recess led into the deep‐dark earth and, when he walked between, his soul trembled.
He smelt smoke. The neon hurt his eyes as he entered the pub. The bar felt slick to the touch. The drinks were harsh. The drinkers worse. Throughout the laughs, the shouts, the screams, the television played the usual torrent of evil. He turned to the man next to him and asked what was going on in this world. The stranger had the tired eyes of a day‐time drinker.
‘Nothing new, my friend. Absolutely nothing new.’