This is a dark one in response to the random title flash fiction challenge at Chuck Wendig’s blog. The title I rolled was “Doc Gurley’s Straitjacket,” and there’s probably a few places that could’ve gone, but my mind went right to revenge.
Doc Gurley’s Straitjacket
The first thing you have to know is that I watched my Mom die. I stood, and watched, and did nothing while the man we’d spent our whole life believing in like some kind of ghost who haunted us in stories, in the ragged old scar across Mom’s left cheek, and in the chocolate brown eyes of my bro and I, cut the life out of her on our kitchen floor.
JD, my bro, he was sleeping, and so was I until the shouting woke me. But I was there in time to do something. I think I could’ve. Even at fourteen, I was strong enough to clock him once and maybe give my Mom enough time to get away. I know he might’ve sliced me too, but I should’ve done something. He didn’t even know I was there. Couldn’t see anything but blood, probably. And when he was done riding that red wave of rage, he dropped the knife and ran out our back door.
I found my legs then, took after him and saw him slide out the gate and down the alley. Heard his shoes scraping the gravel as he ran out of our lives again.
My Mom. The look of her limp and bleeding everywhere. I had to be with her. I don’t know why I picked up the knife, or why I didn’t call the cops. That part’s still muddy and hard to fit together. I know that JD came in and saw me and, well, he didn’t freeze. He just started screaming and screaming and sometime after that there were lights, and big men and questions, and the neighbours wrapping JD in a blanket, and me getting driven somewhere far, far away.
The second thing you have to know is that’s when I stopped talking. It’s like that ghoul we sometimes thought of as “Dad” cut the voice right out of my throat too. I wanted to talk. I wanted to tell everyone who I saw, what I watched, that I could’ve done something and didn’t. I wanted to confess all of that, but parts of me that were fine before just stopped working that night. My words and my thoughts got all swirled and plugged up inside. When they sent me away, I guess they were hoping to fix me. I think it was supposed to help.
Honestly, some days it seemed like it was helping. I remember that nurse, Melinda, who smiled at me lots. Or maybe just sometimes, but in the grey and grim of everything, seeing her smile was surely the brightest thing. And she had hands like my Gramma used to. Not that she was old. Probably not much older than Mom. But she had spotty hands, and they were soft. I liked it when they brushed against my cheek while she was adjusting straps, or putting the sticky pads on my scalp. She smelled like oranges.
And at the start of those days there were so many people who said they were there for me. Women in blazers, guys in uniforms, my Auntie Del with her tears and even JD on special days. He stopped being afraid of me pretty quick. All of them begging me to say something, reminding me that I knew how. All of them telling me everything would be ok, if.
But when they were gone, and it was just night time in that place, and the wailing, and laughing and swearing. The lights burning my eyes when I wanted to sleep, and everything black for days when I wanted to see. And the jacket. The feeling of that jacket binding me up into some kind of protection, you said. Calming me down, you said. Wrapping me up into a neat little package for you. Your own floppy toy to mess with. I wish those parts were the muddled ones. I wish I didn’t still smell the hot stink of your breath on my face, whispering how this was all for my own good.
The third thing you have to know is that I saw your eyes the day Auntie Del finally got me outta there. I saw them as you were shaking her hand, and smiling your gap-toothed grin. Looked hard at them when you tousled my hair and said “Take care, young Michael.” You thought you’d won, Doc. You thought you’d beaten me, or tamed me. Hell, I think you thought you’d fixed me.
That look in your eyes has stayed with me every day since, Doc. Even when I can push it away for awhile. Lock it up in some old wooden chest so I can do the normal things I’m learning how to do again, like grocery shopping with Auntie Del or mowing the lawn, or playing video games with JD. But I’ve kept it close so it could help me get to here.
I see the way you’re looking at me now. Listening to me, finally. That look? It’s fear. But no shame. Do you have shame in there, Doc? Is that something you can feel? I know my eyes told you about all kinds of shame. I think it’s what fed you. I think watching you writhe around now like the worm you are is what’s feeding me. I feel more nourished now than I have in ten years. Guess you’re right about that straitjacket making me feel calm, but only when it’s you wearing it.
You can stop whimpering. Stop looking at the waves down there, and back at me. I’ve thought about this for a long time, and imagined the two of us right here. I’ve visited this cliff about a dozen times now. Paced things out. Run all the “what ifs?” around in my head.
I’ve even practiced some of this speech out loud. Imagine that, Doc? Me, talking out all big and bold. Imagine me screaming “No!” or “Stop!” or “I’m going to murder you, you sadistic, slimy bastard!” as loud as I possibly can? You tried so hard to get that out of me all those times. Well here it is now.
Are you ready? Can you feel that cold sea water sliding down your throat? It probably won’t take too long, Doc. Certainly not a whole decade.
Really, this is kinda generous, considering. This isn’t the only end I imagined for you. Not even close. But it’s the one that seems the most fitting.
But before you go down there Doc, just one more thing. The fourth thing you have to know is that I was never crazy until I met you.