“You don’t know all the cruel and unhealthy things that a dude like that might do.” Ned grabs a napkin off the table where we’re having beers, wipes sweat off his neck, dabs at his brow. “Everybody in the neighborhood runs scared of the man like he’s a walking piece of Evil on Earth. Have you seen those prison tats on his arms, and on the knuckles of his hands? Hey, I’m sorry that he’s beating his wife–but when he stomps over to your place the next day and smiles, saying It’s quiet around here while giving you the gun finger, shaking it in your face–then let me tell you, brother, you’ve gotta stay quiet. You don’t get involved. And get a For Sale sign on your lawn, soon as you can. The thing is, he’s a bad man. Know what I mean?”
I gave myself a week to process the information. I’m touched by Ned–his genuine fear for the neighborhood, plus his concern on my behalf–the way people should be. Caring. Looking out.
But the thing is, Neddie, you don’t need to worry about me. I’ve been living in the midst of all these sins for a while now, and after due consideration–I’ve made my kind of peace.
The thing is, I don’t expect apologies for the rudeness, the injustice, the overt fallacies of superiority that loaded and lode-stone people strut around with, magnetized for money, drama, selfishness. The tart tongues, the unthinking dismissals, the laughs at a lesser person’s expense. They see you as the little piggy living in a house of sticks, act like they’re the big bad wolves who huff hot air and dare more than you.
The thing is, and the thing I will never tell you, Ned: I’m the middle school kid who put twenty Ex-Lax pills in Mr. Johnson’s coffee pot after he wrote me up for cheating when I didn’t. I’m the teenager who slipped the proverbial turd into the punch bowl at Lily Beazley’s Sweet Sixteen party a month after she made fun of my zipper being down. I’m the college waiter big shot customers impolitely bark at–who goes into the kitchen’s shadows and spits into his fashionable bowl of ancient grains and salad greens. I’m the one my nepotistic boss fires, dismissing me when it was actually his impatient son who made the colossal and costly mistake for his family’s business–I’m the premeditated individual who one year later happily discovered the old man’s vintage sports car didn’t have a modern locking cap that might have prevented the fine pour of sugar into the gas tank.
I’m the simple fella who knows how to navigate the nets, both light and dark. I’m the wanna-be chemist who searches for and finds the perfect fix-it recipe: Drano, tin foil, and a little water. The guy who wears gloves and plucks a used but still-capped plastic drink bottle out of a random person’s garbage can–along with DNA that isn’t mine. The one who carefully plants it on the front lawn of Mr. HELL tattooed across his right-hand knuckles, FIRE inked across the left. I create a sweet spot of foreign waste right outside his door.
The one who doesn’t rush the process, who doesn’t make a peep while slowly combining it all together, who sets it just so and then drives on, past sleeping dogs–losing gloves, shoes, foil, and the Drano can down various sewer grates of the moon-shady city. I’m the calm soul who reads the over-editorialized paper the next morning, about how the poor man found this odd bottle with liquid on his grass, cursed litter bugs and rubbish, lifted the irritating, innocuous bottle; I serenely read how he shook it uncomprehendingly, confused by the solids inside. I perused the newspaper’s extra feature box with its dire words of caution, warning good citizens about how the insides build up, then explode with enough force to remove your extremities. The paper corroborated every volatile detail I’d stirred up–about how such a wrongful mix will scald and burn with the intensity of an inferno. I go back to the main article, to the writer’s documentation of how Mr. HELLFIRE’s eyes boiled to tears, how he no longer has hands–to announce himself with, to beat anyone with, to point fingers in malice and judgement.
The thing is, dear Ned, the world is full of men. All types. You just never know who a bad man might be.
Scott Hutchinson’s previous work has appeared in Liquid Imagination, Reckoning, The Raven Review, Weirdbook, and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. New work is forthcoming in Flash Fiction Magazine, Fiction Southeast, Vestal Review, Hearth and Coffin, and Slipstream.