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Young Men's Love
As Alfrred Burch entered the diner he decided to sit at the far end of the room, at the corner towards the right side of the room. This was not his usual spot but today he decided to sit here so that she won’t be able to see him as much. He hurried past the counter, trying hard not to glance at her, but from the side of his eyes he could faintly see her figure standing there. Perhaps she was even staring at him. He did not know.
When he got to the chair he did not even look up. Then a man in an apron came up to him carrying a small notebook and pen. The man was fat and the pants he wore were a little bit too small for him so his stomach hung loosely over it. The shirt that he wore was old and worn out, and the sleeves hid his beefy hands. The man’s head was almost bald and the few strands of hair that lay neatly to the side of his head were either white or grey and the lines on his forehead made him look older.
Alfrred still did not look up.
The man scrunched his face and his brows arched. The lines on his forehead became more prominent. “What will it be boy?” he said, though he already knew what the order would be—a plate of omelets and bread with a side of milk. The fan above them whirred. A bead of sweat ran down the man’s forehead and down the side of his right cheek. He continued to look at Alfrred, his face bearing the same look of annoyance. “I said what will it be boy?” His voice was louder this time.
“The usual,” replied Alfrred in a quiet tone, his head still down a little. Parts of his hair covered the front of his face and he cast a long shadow on the wooden table.
The man chuckled and shook his head. He walked away and scoffed, “The usual. Jesus Christ…”
Alfrred did not say anything. Something inside him said that the man knew why he was here today. Perhaps the man had been expecting it for a long time now, or perhaps today he just had a weird feeling…
A few minutes later the man came back with a small plate filled with food and a glass of milk. On top of the plate, lying right next to the omelet, was a fork and spoon. He set the plate down hard and it made a light banging noise as the porcelain plate hit the table’s wooden exterior. He then pushed the glass of milk towards Alfrred and spilled some of it on the table. None of them bothered to wipe it up.
“Here ya go boy. Eat up now,” he said, and then walked away.
Alfrred looked at the plate. The usual. He picked up the spoon with his right hand and the fork with his left, and then began cutting the omelet with the fork. He took the spoon and scooped up the cut off piece of omelet and placed it in his mouth. He chewed it slowly and when he swallowed it he could feel the chewed up food run down his throat.
He took another bite but this time he ate his food more slowly, and he thought It’s like she notices me or something. She should notice me, shouldn’t she? I’ve been coming here for a long time… He glanced around the entire room. The diner was rather small. The counter that stood near the exit stretched towards the other side of the room. His eyes glanced from one person to the next. On the far side of the room, sitting at a stool near the exit was an old man. He had seen the old man here many times before, and he always seemed to wear the same white shirt and black hat. Right across the room, near the window, was a young boy. Alfrred had seen the boy here too, but he often saw him with a girl with long, brown hair. The boy was alone this time. Several men sat near the counter, talking aloud, laughing, smoke rising from their cigarettes and disappearing into the air. And then his eyes landed on her. She stood behind the counter wearing her white uniform. Her hair was long, shoulder-length, and her lips were round and smooth. Her skin was light brown in hue and her arms were small and slender. She’s perfect, he thought. And this thought had crossed his mind many times before—this was what he had thought when he first went to this diner a few months ago and had first laid eyes on her, and this is what he thought now.
Alfrred continued to eat, his mouth moving up and down, mechanically. After he gulped the food down again he felt thirsty. The milk lay a few inches away from him. He placed the fork down and took the milk, and began to drink, the liquid quenching his thirst.
He sighed deeply. He decided not to finish his food. He came here today for a reason, and that reason was to ask her out, to dinner or something like that. He did not know exactly what he would do. He did not know whether he would take her to one of the dances those or to a movie or maybe just even a walk in the park. He did not even know that she would say yes. He had never talked to her and aside from a few words they had never talked to each other.
He shook his head. The sun still shone brightly outside and its rays hit the glass windows and made small white dots on Alfrred’s face. A car honked its horn and someone on the sidewalk yelled “Watch it!”
Alfrred remembered the first time he went here. He could still see it clearly in his mind. He sat there looking at empty space, his head recollecting every detail of that day. His father had just went to help with the Holy Evangelist’s Church. His father was one of the elders in the church; one of five, since there were only over three hundred people in the town and only about fifty were Evangelists.
Alfrred and his father were there for the entire day and Alfrred had had nothing to eat. He could still clearly hear the sound of his and his father’s voice, as if the conversation was happening at the diner at that very moment.
I’m hungry pa.
Same here. But we can’t leave yet.
But we haven’t eaten all d—
No. Eating can wait. The Lord God needs us here right now.
They were help building a new backroom for the church. The pastor had been asking for money months before that day, saying that it was for the good of the church and of everyone, that it is one’s duty as a Christian to do so. “God looks kindly upon those who help the church,” the pastor had said. Everyone in the church helped out, whether it was by giving money or by help building the room itself. Many of church goers gave at the very least five dollars, scraping a part of their life savings or working overtime in the factories and shops. No one asked questions. They did not ask who handled the money or if only a part of it was going to the backroom project, or whether or not the project was necessary anyway. Questions were irrelevant whenever eternal salvation was on the line.
The Burches were poor, so they ended up helping out with the building. Alffred thought the whole thing of paying for your salvation was quite stupid, sick even, but his father seemed to think it was okay, so he did not say anything.
Again he heard the voices, clear, apparent.
Please pa, I’m really hungry. That day was hot and they were both sweating profusely.
Fine. I think you’ve done your fair share. There’s a diner down at town. Right across from Riley’s Shop. He had not expected this reply and to this day his father’s answer still confused him.
Except for a few short trips every now and then, he had never been to the town alone before. It had excited him for some reason, some reason that he did not know at first, though years later he would say that that was the feeling a boy has when he gets the first taste of freedom.
Are you sure pa? He had tried hard to contain his joy, biting his lips so as not to smile.
Sure. His father had looked at him in a strange way that day. Perhaps he had known what was going to happen. Alfrred had heard a hint of reluctance in his voice, as if his father were trying to control something in him that had been part of his nature for years. Go right ahead. I’ll meet you back at home.
He left the church walking, but as soon as he was out of site he began to run. He went to town as quickly as his legs could have taken him. As he sat there in the diner he could still feel the wind that brushed against his face, the way his chest heaved up and down, the way his muscles went taut then lax then taut again. In his mind he could see the sun setting in the horizon and hear the chirping of the birds and the smell of dried pine that came from the fallen trees on the sides of the road. Even though the church was two miles away from town and he was able run at full speed, did not even get tired.
The diner looked exactly the same today as it had then. The old man with the white shirt and black hat had been there too, sitting at the same exact spot. An old woman was sitting behind the old man, and on the counter were men smoking and drinking. That was the day he saw her, and it was fresh in his memory.
The scene in his head continued. Well don’t you just stand there boy. Sit down. The fat man who always took his order had said this.
I said sit down, boy.
His brain brought back the mixed smell of coffee and baked bread that always came from the back room, the kitchen.
What will you have?
I’ll have the—
There was a loud slam on the table in front of him. The images in his mind disappeared and he looked up. The fat man was standing right in front of him his head was a few inches away from Alfrred’s. The man’s face was slightly red and his cheeks were somewhat puffy, and the man was breathing hard. Alfrred noticed the man’s right hand was curled to a fist, lying on the table. “You can’t just sit there boy. You either eat or you get outta here.”
“Oh,” Alfrred replied.
The fat man’s face became redder. “I really don’t like you, did you know that?” The fat man eyed him up and down, but Alfrred did not respond. “You been comin’ here for almost a year now. What’s your game, boy?”
“Nothing,” Alfrred said.
The man slammed his fist on the table again. Everyone else in the room looked towards the two of them. “Don’t you pull that crap on me boy. You’ve been comin’ here all these months, ordering the same food, and you tell me that you ain’t got nothin’ in your mind?” He slammed his fist as hard as he could for the third time. “Bull!”
Alfrred hesitated. He knew that the fat man knew why he always came here, and that the fat man was just toying him. “I said I ain’t playing any game sir.” He swallowed his saliva and gave a deep sigh. “I ain’t playing any games.”
“Sure you ain’t. Whatta bunch of bull! I know why you’re always here boy! Don’t you try to hide it from me!” He lifted his right hand off of the table and jerked his thumb backwards. “It’s because of her ain’t it?” he said in a loud voice.
Alfrred had not noticed but she had walked up behind them and was now standing a few feet away. Her hair was tied back in a bun but there were still several strands coming out of her head. She stood there silently. She glanced at Alfrred for a few seconds, and Alfrred saw that her eyes were blue.
Perfect, he thought to himself. I haven’t seen her this clearly before. She’s absolutely gorgeous.
She bent her head down.
“Answer me boy!” yelled the man. Bits of spit flew out of his mouth and unto the table. A drop of sweat ran down the side of his forehead, and he his breathing became heavier and heavier.
Alfrred was silent.
The man moved his head closer. “I said answer me boy,” he whispered. Though his voice was low, it was hard and menacing.
“Yes,” Alfrred said.
The man paused. The entire diner fell silent. Everyone was looking at the two of them now. The men in the counter had stopped talking and looked at them, and their cigarettes were turned off and their beers put down. The boy had turned his chair sideways to get a better view. The old man quietly sat in his stool, his head to the side, his ears listening to every detail of the conversation, every word. Normally, if such a thing were to happen the people around would try their best no to stare. Sure, there would be some who’d go for a glance, but that was it. However, it was not often that the people of the town heard of things like this, rarely still to see it happen before their own eyes. This is why they all sat there staring at Alfrred and the fat man, still, absorbing the scene that was happening before them.
Suddenly, the fat man broke the silence. “Get out,” he said.
Alfrred did not move at first.
“I said get out,” said the fat man in a much louder voice.
Alfrred Burch stood up. He walked towards the door. He turned his head and for a split second he peeked at her. He gave a light smile, but she did not smile back. She’s utterly beautiful, he thought. And then he moved on. When he got to the door, he placed his hand on the handle. It felt cold underneath his skin. He then opened the door and walked outside.
It was already five o’clock and the sun was shining brightly in the east, lying on top of the distant hills. The street lights were already on and some of the stores were closed. Alfrred heard the sound of footsteps to his right. He turned and saw a woman walk pass. His eyes followed the woman as she went inside a building and disappeared. He then turned to where the woman came from, and began to walk in that direction.
It was four in the afternoon when Leah decided she would go out for a stroll in town. Maybe even go to Old Al’s and have a drink or two, chat with the boys. She had just finished her shift and that was all that mattered to her father. She was still mad at her father; a few days ago he had yelled at some boy at their diner, and everyone was looking at them. She didn’t like it when she got embarrassed. It made her boiling mad. Sometimes she would be walking down the street and she would accidentally trip on something, and she would get angry even though she knew no one was looking. Embarrassment made her feel weak, and she didn’t like to feel weak. Weakness was one of the many things that Leah Harris abhorred.
Leah was thirteen years old when her family moved to this town. She didn’t like it at first. She still didn’t like it now, and in fact, she hated it even more, but she got used to it. News traveled fast in small towns like these, and she could rarely do anything she wanted without half the town knowing about it immediately. The town didn’t look kindly on what she liked to do, so she didn’t look kindly on most of the townspeople. They didn’t see it fit that a girl her age should go to dances and movies and such, even more so when they found out that she was going with other men. Some of the men she went with were quite older than her, sometimes even half her age. But to her it was nothing serious, just having fun.
“Do you know what they’ve been calling you?” her father had said many times before.
“Yes. I know. And I don’t care,” she had replied. And she really didn’t care. To her, she was just having fun, and that was all that mattered—fun. To her, anyone who didn’t have fun was weak and she hated those kinds of people.
And she was going to have some fun now. She did not bother to tell her father where she was going; she’ll be back anyway. She opened the door and walked outside.
The moment she stepped out a light breeze blew against her cheeks. She took a deep breath and the air filled her lungs. She turned right and began to walk but stopped abruptly when she heard someone call her name. She turned to where the voice came from. In front of one of the shops next to the diner stood the figure of a man. The man was tall and slender. He wore a jacket and ragged pants. She could not clearly see his face but she could make out that it was long and sharp. She walked closer then she realized that the man was young.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“It’s me,” he replied in a low voice.
Leah realized another thing: this was the boy from the diner, the one her father had yelled at.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
He did not reply.
She moved a few stops closer towards him. She could hear him breathing softly. A car passed by behind them, its engines roaring, and for a moment it broke the silence and drowned the sound of his light breathing. “What’s your name?” she said. “What are you doing here?”
He paused. “Alfrred,” he said. “Alfrred Burch.”
She was silent. Above them small flies hovered, appearing and disappearing in the street light’s glare. “Alfrred,” she said. “That’s an odd name. So why are you here Alfrred?”
“I said why are you here? Are you deaf or something?” she said. Her voice was a little loud, sharp.
“No,” Alfrred said in a low voice. His heart beat faster and faster. My gosh she’s beautiful. Just ask her…go on…ask her… His mind raced. Just say the words. “I was just here to ask…” his voice died down. He bit his lower lip.
She knew. She had already known but had wanted him to say it. She liked to be in charge and she viewed this as act as torturing Alfrred. “Oh,” she said. She was silent again. The entire place fell quiet. None of them said a word and the only sound came from Alfrred’s soft breathing.
She sighed. “Well then come with me,” she said quietly.
“What?” he said. His face lighted up and his cheeks raised for a smile but he stopped and bit his lip.
She still saw it. “Yes. Come with me.”
“Where are we going?”
“To Old Al’s.”
Alfrred had heard of Old Al’s before, mostly from his father. It was a bar at the far end of the town. His father called it a “place of sinners and defilers of the faith,” and the men who went there “pimps and gamblers and hookers.” The closest he ever got to the bar was when he passed by it to get some supplies for their house. He’d never actually been into the bar, but he heard many stories and rumors about Old Al. One of them was that he killed his wife in the middle of the bar and so to shut everyone up he gave them all the beer they could’ve drunk. But they were just rumors, and Alfrred did not know whether they were true or not, or whether there was at least some truth to it. He was going there now so he tried to forget all the rumors that he had heard.
“Oh,” he said.
“Yeah.” She began to walk towards the direction of the bar. Alfrred remained there for a few moments. She turned to where he was. “You coming?” she said. Alfrred heard a hint of annoyance in her voice, but he did not mind it.
“Yeah…yeah…” he said, and he followed her.
The bar was about half a mile away from the diner. It was a rundown building in the middle of two vacant lots. Its brick interior was red and there were cracks on almost every corner and some of the bricks had fallen towards the ground, had shattered into several pieces. There was a small parking lot at the back but it was empty; no one who went here had any cars, and those who did have cars parked it a few blocks away.
The smell of smoke and beer and pee filled Alfrred’s nose as he and Leah entered the bar. The bar was dimly lit, the only light coming from two light bulbs on either side of the ceiling. One of the light bulbs flickered for a moment, then came back to normal. He looked around. Tables were set randomly about the place and there were men sitting at almost every chair. Some of the men looked at both of them as they walked passed. There was a counter on the far side of the bar and behind it was a bald man who wore a white, long sleeved shirt. Alfrred over heard some of the men call him “Al.” As he passed by him Al gave him a sideways glance, and then continued on with his conversations. So that’s Big Al, he thought to himself. He ain’t that big though…
Leah sat down on a chair. Alfrred looked at her for a moment.
“Sit down,” she whispered harshly.
“Yeah, sure.” He pulled out the chair next to her and sat down.
He scanned the entire room again. Almost everyone was looking at their direction now. It was as if a child had just walked in. Alfrred looked away towards Leah. Her cheeks were rosy and her face was starting to become pink.
“You look nice,” he said.
She did not reply. She was looking at the men staring at her.
He stared at her. Her face was getting redder so the redness of her cheeks started to disappear. “Listen, I’m sorry ‘bout the other day…with your father yellin’ at me and all…I didn’t think he’d…” His voice died down. She turned towards him, her eyes blue eyes shining in the dim light. Her hair rested on her shoulders and her mouth was small and her lips smooth.
“It’s okay,” she said coldly.
He did not respond. He just stared at her, his eyes going through every inch of her face, every wrinkle and crevice. Her skin was white and smooth and he noticed that she had a tiny dark spot on the side of her forehead, right next to her hairline.
He opened his mouth to say something but closed it.
“What?” she said.
“You’ve never been here before have you?” Her lips raised a little to the right to form a smirk. “Have you?”
“No,” he said.
“Oh.” They were both silent. The men in the bar had resumed their talking and only one or two were looking at them now.
Alfrred ran his hand across the back of his head and he slightly pulled his hair. He liked the feeling of his hair being drawn backwards. “Why are they looking at me like that?”
She shook her head. “We better get outta here.” She got up to leave. He followed her. He gently grabbed her hand. For a moment she felt her pull away, but for some reason she stopped. They both passed by Big Al.
“Have fun boy,” he said. He gave a loud, booming laugh. And everyone beside him laughed as well. “Have fun!”
The two of them continued to walk. He felt her grip tighten and she began to move faster. He could still hear the men laughing. They said something that he did not exactly hear, but when they said it her grasp tightened even more. She opened the door and walked out, and as the door closed behind him the sound of men talking and laughing slowly faded until it was gone.
The sun was already gone and the street was empty. The moon shone brightly overhead and a cool breeze began to blow from behind them. Above them was a florescent sign that read “AL’S BAR.” On either side of them were street lights that cast circles of light on the ground.
“Look, I uhm…” He was at a loss for words. “I uhm…I wanted to ask you—“ He stopped.
“You what?” her voice remained cold, lifeless.
He sighed deeply. But no words came out.
She shook her head. “I see…I see…” Above them the sign that said “AL’S BAR” flickered on and off. “Pick me up on Friday.” She turned and walked away. He watched her go. Her feet made tapping noises as they hit the cement sidewalk. He continued to watch her as she turned left and disappeared behind a building.
Alfrred knew that it was already late, so he walked him. He had never been out this late before. He was not used to the site of the town engulfed in utter darkness. The stores that were usually open were now closed and the streets were black instead of grey and dark brown. He passed by a few drunks and they laughed and screamed at him, but he continued to walk, trying hard not to look at them. A woman dressed in a red and black walked up to him and ran her hand against his neck, then his chest, but he did not say anything and walked away as fast as he could.
He passed by the Evangelist Church. The entire church was empty. He knew that he was close to home now, only about a mile away. Sweat beaded down the side of his cheeks and neck and his shirt was wet.
When Alfrred arrived at his house it was nine o’clock. The moon was now covered by thick grey clouds, but the darkness seemed to be the same ever since he had left the bar. He walked up to the front door and entered the house slowly. He tried hard not to let the front door squeak. He went inside and closed the door behind him, his hand holding the knob tightly.
“Where were you?” said a man’s voice.
Alfrred turned to where the voice came from. He saw a dark silhouette standing a few feet away from him and he immediately knew that it was his father.
“Out,” he said.
Alfrred looked away, as if his father could see his face in the darkness.
“You went to Al’s didn’t you?”
“Answer me boy.” His voice was stern, hard. “Did you go to Al’s?”
“No.” This was the first time he had ever told a lie. It surprised him a little that it came to him this easily. He did not know exactly why, exactly what made him tell this lie. All he knew was that he said it, and now he had so stick with it.
“I see,” his father said. Alfrred knew that his father recognized the lie as soon as it had come out of his mouth. He was breathing hard now. “I see…”
“I’m going to sleep pa,” Alfrred said, and walked upstairs.
His father did not say anything. He just stood there, and under his breath he was muttering, “I see…I see…”
When Friday came Alfrred waited for her outside again. He stood at the same place, out of sight from the diner. The sun was high in the sky and a few birds flew overhead. A red car was parked right in front of the diner. He knew that this was Leah’s car, but he did not want to go near it or anywhere in view of the diner for that matter; he did not want to see the fat man again, Leah’s father. He did not want any more trouble.
When Alfrred left his house that day he told his father that he was going to come home late because he had something to do. He did not say what he was going to do or what time he was going to come home, and his father had had no time ask; Alfrred rushed out of the house as fast as he could. What Alfrred did not know was that his father was watching him through the upstairs window as he ran towards the direction of town.
Alfrred did not tell his father about Leah because did not know whether his father would like Leah or not, but something told him that he would hate her. He had once told Alffred that women were God’s way of testing man, and that it was women’s fault that man had fallen form God’s eternal grace. He had then asked why his father had gotten married, to which his father answered, “Because it is the will of God.” Alfrred had not said anything about it after that.
He continued to wait for Leah. Every now and then the diner door would open and someone would walk out. The first time it opened a woman carrying a child walked out, and then after that two men in white, clean shirts and black pants. Mormons, Alfrred had thought. Then there was an old tramp who drank out of a brown bag. There were many others that when Leah came out Alfrred did not expect it to be her.
She walked up to him. “Ready?”
“Yeah,” he said.
“Okay.” She walked towards the red car and opened it, and he followed her and went inside. She turned on the car and its engine’s roared and whirred, and she began to drive. She drove through the town, past the shops and old apartments, past Old Al’s bar and the car repair shop right across it. She drove until they were out of the town. Alfrred looked at the side view mirror and in its reflection he could see the town get smaller and smaller as they drove farther away. He did not know where she was going to take her, and he did not care. He liked to be with her. He turned to her direction. His mind was filled with thoughts of her. God she’s beautiful. I can’t believe it…I’m with her right now…God she’s beautiful…I better ask her what to do…No, no, don’t…She’s beautiful…Just keep quiet….
Dust rose from behind them as the car’s rubber wheels grinded against the sandy ground. They passed by old farms and abandoned shacks. The road they were on was surrounded by tall trees and acres of farmland that stretched as far as the eye could see. Every now and then there would be an occasional farmer with his tractor who would stop his work and look at them as they drove passed.
It started to get dark. Alfrred could no longer see the side of the road so he looked forward. They had not talked all this time. She sat there on her seat, her eyes never leaving the road, her breathing light, rhythmic.
About a half hour later Alfrred saw lights glowing in the distance. He squinted his eyes and ran his hand across his head, pulling his hair again. As they got closer Alfrred could hear the sound of music and the faint hum of people talking and laughing. She continued to drive and entered a small road that lead to where the lights were, and when she got there she parked the car next to an oak tree. The lights came from a building surrounded by trees. Behind the building was a field, right in front of it, dozens of parked cars. Painted on the building’s front wall were the words “Jefferson High School.”
They both got out and began to walk towards the building. As they got closer the sound of music and laughter got louder and louder until it was a deafening noise in Alfrred’s ear. They entered and disappeared into the crowd.
Brent Richards was a young man—twenty three—was muscular in build and had short blonde hair that was always combed to the side. He was half Irish half Italian, but his Irish side was more prominent than the Italian; he loved parties, and he would often go to two every weekend. He enjoyed them and never got tired of them.
He drank a lot in the parties too. His face would turn red and he would scream and most of the time they’d have to drag him out. He would drink as much as he could and would limp home drunk, or sometimes he would fall next to a tree or on an empty lot and he would sleep there until morning came or until the cops found him. His love for the feel of being intoxicated mixed with his clairvoyance always got him into many fights. Most of which he’d win by hitting his enemy by a beer bottle or by delivering an upper cut to the chin. Sometimes he’d lose too, but that rarely happened.
All of his fights were started because of women. When Brent got drunk he did not have an inkling of self respect left, let alone respect for others. Whenever he got drunk he called women many names. They would slap him on the face or spit at him but he would just take another gulp of his beer and continue as if nothing had happened. And this happened at every party, every, single, time.
He was at another party this time. His friends had invited him even though they knew what happened. His friends found it interesting to see him drunk, hilarious even. Especially when Brent got the living daylights beaten out of him. “Sometimes,” his friends said behind his back. “You just love to see his ass get handed to him.”
It was in a school this time. There were people coming in from everywhere. Brent was standing in the back, watching the people who passed by him: an young skinny girl, then two boys wearing plaid shirts, then another skinny girl, then a fat girl who’s dress was too small for her. Brent laughed at the sight of the fat girl. She looked at him, wide-eyed, and he laughed even harder.
“Damn cow,” he said to her. He gave another guffaw as he listened to the girl’s heavy breathing. He coughed a few times, then took another drink. “What are you starin’ at? Get outta here you damn cow.”
The fat girl hurriedly walked away, mumbling something under her breath.
Brent shook his head in amusement. Girl’s like that shouldn’t be wearing dresses. They make them look like napkins for Chrissake! The image of the fat girl wearing a napkin dress passed through his mind and he chuckled. He shook the thought away. “Di—disgusting,” he mumbled in a slurred voice. He drank again.
His head began to spin. He started to sweat profusely and his face turned a pinkish red. Everyone started to become a blur that passed by him, back and forth and back and forth, white or black or yellow or blue splotchy figures of people who snorted and cackled and talked and snorted and cackled some more.
Someone walked up to him and started to say something, but he could not quite understand what it was. To him, the person’s voice was distant, irrelevant, just a sound that was there and had no meaning whatsoever. What Brent didn’t know was that it was one of his friends urging him to come home. He could hear parts of the sentence, but that was it.
“Le’ go of me,” he said in his slurred voice. He saw another figure walk up to him. “Wha? Home?” He stared at them with his mouth wide open. He began to drool from the side of his mouth. “No, lemme go! Home? I don’t wanna go!” He pushed them away with all his force and began to walk towards the crowd of people. He pushed through the thick masses of bodies. Everyone looked at him incredously, but they knew he was drunk so they did not do anything. Trouble was the last thing anyone wanted.
Brent caught sight of two people dancing in the middle of the crowd. There was something funny about the girl’s face, something annoying that urged for him to come and insult her. He did not know what it was at first; her face was fine, beautiful even, and there did not seem to be anything wrong with her body. He stopped in the middle of the crowd and looked at her up and down, and it took him a while to realize what it was. His eyes landed on the boy she was dancing with.
He grinned and walked up towards the two of them.
Leah and Alfrred continued to dance and did not notice the sound of people talking. They did not hear the sound of Brent’s laughter. In fact, if Brent did not grab Alfrred and pushed him aside, none of the two would have noticed Brent’s presence. Alfrred stood to the side, his eyes wide open. Leah stopped dancing. They both looked at Brent who stood right next to them. The crowd had formed a circle around them.
“Yes?” Leah asked, staring Brent right in the face.
Brent shook his head and did not reply. He turned to Alfrred, then back at Leah. “Stupid harlot. You hittin’ on boys, are ya now?”
The crowd began to murmur and Leah started to realize that everyone was looking at her now. Her face began to turn red and she felt she felt a surge of rage rush through her.
“Stupid harlot!” Brent continued. “What are ya doin here you harlot!” He turned to Alfrred. “How much did you pay her? How much, huh? Tell me now, so that I can get a turn with this filthy who—“
Leah yelled at the top of her lungs. Her voice was like a screech, high pitched, inhuman. The veins on her neck protruded a little and for a moment Alfrred thought he saw her face go distorted and change, but he decided that it was just the lighting. Everyone stood in shock. One moment she was standing there screaming, and the next she had leaped up towards Brent and had began clawing at his face. They both fell backwards with a loud thud. She continued to claw at his face, her nails digging into the skin of his cheeks. Blood ran down the side of Brent’s cheeks and he began to scream as well, but his screams were drowned by Leah’s shrieking.
“HOW DARE YOU? HOW DARE YOU CALL ME A HARLOT? HOW DARE YOU!” She dug her nails deeper into his face. Brent felt surges of pain as the nails continued to scratch his forehead and cheeks. He tried to push her off but it was no use; she was too heavy and he was too drunk. Saliva ran down the side of Brent’s face and mixed with the blood that gushed out of the wounds.
“HOW DARE YOU!” Leah continued. Her hands were now a bloody mess. Her eyes were wild, red, bloodshot, and her hair was thrown all over her head. The school’s once white floor was now stained in red. More blood gushed out of Brent’s wounds.
Leah opened her mouth to yell again but stopped as she felt hands wrap around her waist and pull her upwards away from Brent. She tried to wriggle herself free but it was no use; the grip around her was too tight. Her breathes came in long, deep intervals, and they sounded like whizzing noises.”Let me go!” she yelled. She knew that Alfrred was the one holding her. “Let me go! YOU! LET ME GO!” But all she felt was the first grip letting go of her to be replaced by several more hands. She shook her entire body wildly. “Let me go! Let! Me! GO!” she screamed.
Everyone continued to stand there in horror. They tried to move but for some reason they could not. It was the same reason why the people in the diner did just stood there and stared as Leah’s father screamed at Alfrred—they never saw things like these, and it interested them.
Alfrred stood looking at Brent lying on the ground. He had his hands over his face now, but the blood still dripped out through the gaps in between his palms and face. Alfrred stared at him, but he did not actually see him. In his mind he thought How dare you say that to her, how dare you… He clenched his fist and his heart beat faster. Adrenaline pumped through his veins. Alfrred’s glance went from Brent to an empty chair that stood a few feet away. How dare you say that…You insulted her…how dare you. But he knew that his anger did not only come from this. It was anger for his father as well. For a moment he thought Brent looked like his father but he shook his head and the face in front of him went back to normal. Brent groaned and rolled around the ground in pain. His hands were a wet, bloody mess as well.
“I’m gonna kill you,” Alfrred said in a quiet and steady tone, almost a whisper. “I’m going to kill you.” Alfrred walked up towards the chair and grabbed it with both hands. He then walked back and stood on top of Brent.
He looked down at Brent. Everyone knew what was about to happen but did not seem to believe it. It was as if a dream was going on in front of their eyes, a dream that felt and sounded and smelled real, but a dream all the same.
Alfrred raised the chair over his head. He hesitated and muttered, “I’m going to kill you…” His eyes looked empty, as if they were in a trance. He then mustered all his strength and brought the chair down as hard as he could on Brent’s face. Air rushed out of the way as the chair headed towards Brent’s head, and as the wooden chair collided with the hands that covered part of his cheeks there was a loud crash of cracking of bones and splintered wood. Brent screamed again and his hands lay limp on his side. Some of his fingers were bent sideways. “I’m going to kill you,” repeated Alfrred. He raised the chair and brought it down again, and there was a loud crunching sound as the chair hit Brent’s head. Each blow felt good. He brought down the chair again and again and again until Brent’s face was now unrecognizable—a clump of skin drenched in blood and hanging from broken pieces of his skull. This was it, this was the relief he had been looking for. He felt the same as he had the day his father let him go to town alone for the first time. It was the feeling of joy, of freedom. He felt like a heavy burden had been lifted off of him.
Alfrred stopped and let the chair slip through his fingers. The chair clattered as it hit the ground. Alfrred turned to where Leah was. There were still people holding her but she was calm now. The people around him did not say anything but looked on, their faces shocked, revolted, but none of them moved nor said a word.
Alfrred walked up to Leah. As he did so the people holding her let her go and she stood up straight, trying hard to avoid looking straight into people’s eyes. Alfrred grabbed her hand but she violently pulled it away. “Don’t,” she said in a loud voice. “Don’t you dare touch me!”
Silence. He did not seem to be hearing what she said.
“This is all your fault you! YOU! YOU! You came here with me, and now looked what happened!” She screamed, but he did not hear her screams. He did not feel anything. Everything in the room seemed to slow down and she seemed to be some distant glowing figure that moved. Alfrred saw more figures approach. People, his mind said, as he tried to figure out for the word. But he was not able to say it. The shock of killing a man began to sink in. Those…what are they…God, what are those…what’s the word… People, his mind repeated over and over, but it was no use. There was one thing that he heard clearly in his mind, one word that resounded in the nethermost parts of his consciousness.
He turned and began to run. His legs moved mechanically, robotic. He did not look back. He pushed through the crowd of people, not saying anything, the only thought racing through his mind is that of going faster.
He ran out of the building and towards the thickets. He passed by Leah’s car. It sat alone and silent next to the oak tree. The words echoed in his head, clear. To him this was the only reasonable thing to do, to run, to go faster, to not get tired and stop. He jumped and disappeared in the thickets. He went on, shrugging off the scrapes caused by sharp branches and twigs. Adrenaline pumped through his veins again and his heart was beating as fast as it could and he could hear it beating in his ear, a steady, rhythmic thumping. Behind him the building was covered by pieces of leaves and was getting smaller and smaller at each step. There was a broken piece of log in front of him but he lunged on top of it and continued on.
Run. Run. Run.
He did not think of what direction he would go to. Just straight. The back of his mind repeated this as well. Just go straight, straight ahead. You’ll get there. It was as if his legs moved at their own accord and knew exactly where to go.
The cool night air brushed against his face. He saw the old barn with the farmer they passed by earlier. It was a dark outline against a pitch black background. He passed by it. It was quiet, dead, void of life. He went on.
His house was more than ten miles away from the Jefferson High School, but it only took him about an hour to run it. He had completely lost track of time, where he was or what path he had taken to get here. It was as if throughout that whole hour his mind had shut down. And perhaps it did shut down. Perhaps the shock of killing someone had overwhelmed him so much that if his mind stayed rational for that span of time he would have surely gone insane, and so his mind went into a sort of surprised state, controlling only what was necessary, going by natural instinct, by the memories of his unconscious.
And his mind continued to be in this state when he entered the house, so he did not hear his father when his father said, “Where were you?”
He headed for the upstairs, towards his room, but stopped when he felt a hand grab his shoulder. This was the first sign of life he had felt since he left the party. He turned and stared blankly at his father.
“Where in God’s name were you?”
Again, he did not hear the words. He turned and walked upstairs, his father close behind him. The floorboards beneath them creaked at each step.
Alfrred’s room was small and neatly furnished. His bed stood right next to the wall, below an open window, and right across that was his cabinet. He walked up to his cabinet and kneeled down and began to run his hand on the floor right in front of it.
His father stood by the door, glaring at Alfrred. “I knew it,” he said to himself. “It’s a woman isn’t it. I knew it all along.” He cleared his throat and walked a step forward. “Damn fool.”
Alfrred did not acknowledge his presence; he was unable to do so. His hand continued to feel the floor until he felt a small hole in between two floorboards. The hole was big enough for his finger to fit in. He opened it by sticking his middle finger inside and pulling it with all his might.
“I knew it…I knew it…”
He threw the piece of floorboard across the room. There was a hole where the floorboard had been and inside the hole was a wad of cash. This was the money he had saved from each trip to the town. He had been saving it ever since he had gone to the diner. He took it and shoved it inside his pocket. His head ached and he could hear a low humming sound coming from his right ear.
“Where’d you get that boy?” He looked at the small wad of cash that protruded from inside his pocket. “Where’d you get that money?”
He sighed deeply. “I saved it pa,” he said. “I saved it.”
Alfrred’s father sighed. “Yes. I knew it. I knew it all a long.” He walked towards Alfrred and his eyes were wide and menacing. His grey hair bounced slightly at each step.
“Well then if you knew, why didn’t you stop me?” Alfrred said coolly. He then pushed his father aside and left the room.
His father could hear the sound of Alfrred’s footsteps descending the stairs. Alfrred’s slowly walked towards the hole where Alfrred had hidden his money. “I knew it all along,” he said under his breath. He moved to the window. He brought the blinds down, his bony hands shaking a little, and he looked out into the clear night. In the distance he could see Alfrred’s dark figure running, running as fast as he could to God know where. It ran, a black speck moving, until finally disappeared out of sight. Alfrred’s father did not try to stop Aflrred; he did not want to. And he was not going to stop him now. He felt tired. All his energy had been drained out of him. He saw next to his feet the wooden board that Alfrred had thrown across. He picked it up and gazed at it like one stares at something valuable. He was tired now…really tired. He sighed deeply and moved to the other side of the room, to where the hole was, and began to put wooden floor board back in its place.
The lights to Leah’s house were still on. It was a small building at the northern part of town, a few blocks away from the diner. He had not thought of whether or not she was still at the party. For some reason, he had decided that she was at home, and he was going to get her now. He stopped in front of the house, his breathing hard and heavy. For the first time in more than two hours he began to feel tired. His muscles began to grow lax and he felt his legs tremble a little. He knocked at the door.
It took a few moments for the door to open. There stood the fat man wearing a sleeveless shirt, his body covered in sweat. He looked at Alfrred and smiled, “Well, well, look at who’s here.”
Alfrred looked back at him. “Yes sir. I came to pick Leah up.”
The man laughed loudly. “That so? Hmm…” The man ran his hand across his chest. His face was round and skin sagged on the bottom of his chin and covered the front part of his neck. “Come in boy.”
The room the fat man brought him too was modest and neatly furnished. A wooden table with a mirror stood on the side of the room, right next to the door, and on the other end was a tall cabinet. Right next to the cabinet was a bed. Leah sat on top of the bed gazing to her side towards and open suitcase half filled with clothes. But Alfrred did not see the bags. They were just mere objects that had no meaning whatsoever, that were only there for no rhyme or reason. Everything around him were like objects floating on empty space, and all that mattered was Leah.
“He’s here to get ya,” said the fat man. “Did ya here that? He’s here to get ya.” More sweat dripped from the side of his forehead, but he quickly wiped it off.
Leah did not look up.
“Did ya here me?” repeated the fat man. “He’s coming to get you.” He chuckled.
Alfrred looked at Leah. She’s quite beautiful he thought. Her hair shone smoothly and her outlines were well defined against the light, and Alfrred could almost make out every curve of her face, every smooth lining of her cheeks, the arcs of her waist. Every inch of her seemed beautiful.
“You got her into trouble boy,” said the fat man. But Alfrred did not hear his voice.
“Come on Leah, we need to go before the cops arrive. Come on, we need to go now.”
“You don’t know yet do you boy?” continued to fat man. “Tell him,” he said to Leah.
The fat man’s words did not pierce through Alfrred’s hearing. “Come on Leah, I got all the money now. Come on. We’ll go upstate, and I’ll get a job, ya hear? Don’t worry.”
Alfrred walked up to Leah with his right hand in front of him, about to grab hers, but stopped as Leah stood up and faced him. Her eyes were calm and soft. “I’m moving,” she said. At first the words did not sink into his mind; at first they were just mere words that had no meaning whatsoever.
“What?” Alfrred said.
“I’m not going with you. I’m moving.” Her voice was indifferent, bearing no sign of emotion whatsoever.
Her words began to make sense now. He picked it out one by one. She continued on, saying, “I didn’t want to…” But it was no longer relevant. He knew her answer now, and everything began to make sense. He looked at her as she talked, not listening, just looking, and a chill ran down his spine. She droned on, her voice monotonous in his head, continuous and without meaning. The once beautiful eyes now bore something that he did not see when he had entered. He had noticed that she had looked at him strangely when she talked but he had just gone to admiring her. He now knew what she felt about him, exactly what her emotions were. He now realized what he was to her.
He was her shame.
The realization made him sick to his stomach. He wanted to gag but he had no energy to do so. He turned, but as he did he felt a fist crash against his face. For an instant pain surged through his head and ran through his body. But the pain only lasted for a moment, and then there was darkness.
Alfrred lay on the ground, half conscious, hearing only parts of the conversation that went on between those in front of him.
Yes…yes, I got the bags…no, not yet. No, the car ain’t ready yet Joe no Joe the car ain’t ready yet just wait Joe…Miriam! Get it ready! Yes!...NO! No, we’re not doing that, we’re going to the farm in Minnesota and stay there for a while…What? Move out of my way… This was a woman’s voice. Half awake, Alfrred thought that this was probably the fat man’s wife, Leah’s mother. Hurry up you you’ve got to clean up again and put on that damn shirt before…What? No, do it now we don’t have much time…Of course not they won’t know you you have a common face there ain’t one cop around here for miles anyway and the sheriff’s office is…Closed yeah that’s what I was about to say stop finishing my sentence and keep on moving right now and get that car ready What? The three voices were beginning to get muddled up in his head and they all started to seem like one long sentence said by different people. A pain moved across his cheeks.
The diner’ll be fine don’t worry about it I told Max to take care of it…yes it’s eight bucks a piece what do you think? No Max will be fine just get the car ready and I’ll be—are you ready yet? Good, good, let’s go…
Alfrred could feel two people standing next to him, but he could not quite make out who it was. One moment he would be conscious and the next he would be swept by darkness.
What do you want to do with him?
I say we better throw him out the river, he’s nothin’ but trouble now.
No…leave him. That takes too long.
It’ll be qui—
No. Let’s go.
Their footsteps started to die out. An engine went on somewhere in the distance…or was it close by…then people talking again, and then the revving of a car…
And then a calm stillness. They were gone.
Alfrred did not get up just yet. He still did not have the strength. He lay there with his cheeks against the floor, numb. The light that came from a lamp next to him shone brightly and blinded his already impaired sight. The sides of his head pulsed and there was a soft numbness coming from the edge of his lip. But there was no pain yet. Not yet, he thought. The pain comes later. Later on. Even when he grabbed the chair that stood next to him and propped himself up he did not feel the pain.
I just need to get out. That’s all I need to do for now. Just get out. He moved slowly towards the door, each step sending a dull pain to his head. There it is. There’s the pain. He was breathing hard. It took all of his strength to tread every foot. Come on…Left, right, left, right. That’s it. He groaned. It took him five minutes but when he finally got to the door he held the sides to support himself. He could feel his heart beat faster and faster until he could feel it beating in his throat.
He looked out to the darkness. He could make out the dim outline of the road. The leaves of on the willows rustled as a breeze blew by. This was it. He could not go back now. There was nothing left for him anywhere. He needed to move, to follow this road wherever it took him. He needed to move out of this town, of the county, of this state.
This was the road that he took, the road that will run for thousands of miles across the country. The road that will take him through towns and cities and abandoned houses, the road filled with many different faces. This road ran on for thirty years, through the dreary cabins in the country, through bustling construction sites and road works. He will take this road by foot and by car and by horse, and every now and then, as he will enter a city, the road will split and diverge into different smaller paths that will run towards the same place and that will eventually converge again.
This was the road that he was about to take. He stared at it and blinked a few times. Another light breeze blew and caressed his aching cheeks. He then began to walk.