He opened the door to the waiting room. Ambled in, self-conscious and uncomfortable. If he was being watched, it was for pity not because he commanded the eyes filling the antiseptic room. An aging hip had robbed him of his proud swagger.
His hand also twitched in his jacket pocket. The old man kept his hand in his pocket in public. A vanity to hide the truth that there were less and less years he could look forward to.
He introduced himself to the receptionist, surveying the room as he did. Sitting down beside the Lieutenant, he measured him in a glance.
“Hello,” he said, extending his hand.
The Lieutenant looked at him. His shoulders were broad. He was tree stump stocky, face like driftwood.
Then he returned his hand, “Hello.”
The Lieutenant was reading a magazine. His eyes drifted back to the page.
“Bloody awful magazines in these offices. Nothing a man wants to read.”
The Lieutenant didn’t notice or didn’t hear him.
“So you’re in the military, eh”
The Lieutenant gazed at the crags on the old man’s face. Water began flowing down his face in rivulets. The Lieutenant ignored the streams and responded, “Yes, I am. How did you know?”
“When you’ve been around as long as I have, you develop a keen eye for people,” the old man explained. “The razor-sharp haircut, your military bearing even though you’re not in uniform. You called me sir even though you didn’t. Pretty obvious to an experienced eye.”
The Lieutenant’s military bearing was tattooed through to the marrow of his bones. It was that tattooed marrow that kept him from going to military doctors.
“What are you here for?” the old man asked. “You look like there should be posters of you in these offices.”
“If you don’t mind me saying.”
“No. No, not at all. Thank you for the compliment,” the Lieutenant replied. “Just routine.”
The Lieutenant turned his attention back to the magazine in his hands.
“That’s a strange magazine you’re reading.”
“Excuse me, Sir.”
“Chatelaine, I mean. Can’t be of much interest to a guy like you.”
The Lieutenant hadn’t been reading the magazine. He was trying to put together a puzzle. Words floated across the page. Sentences scrambled and made no sense. He didn’t know what the article was about or what magazine he was reading.
The Lieutenant saw a photograph of a sofa. “Oh my wife wants to redo our living room. She wants me to help so I’m reading up on decorating.”
The man with the failing hip seemed to accept the Lieutenant’s explanation.
“Women are like that. Always wanting to change something. Never satisfied.”
His voice was thunder loud to the Lieutenant. His sentences an avalanche.
“Would you mind speaking a little slower? And a little quieter?” He asked. “A bit of ear trouble.”
“Oh certainly. Didn’t mean to bother you.”
“Oh no, you’re not bothering me. It just that loud noises sometimes . . .” and the Lieutenant’s voice drifted off.
“I was married once,” the man carried on. “In Spain about 25 – 30 years ago. We stuck with it for three years but in the end she couldn’t keep up with me. Tight deadlines and mad rushes to planes are a photojournalist’s life. But not the foundation of a long marriage.”
“Anyway, we had a baby boy and that made travel together unwieldy to say the least. So we went our separate ways.” He was relishing the chance to tell stories again. To someone who hadn’t heard them.
“Where’s your son now?” the Lieutenant asked out of politeness.
The Lieutenant turned his focus to him. Suddenly an exquisitely aimed pickaxe pierced him between the shoulders. Deep and through the spine. Exactly placed.
Plasticine blood seeped from the wound and slowly stained the chair he was sitting on. The Lieutenant looked at the old man’s face. Blood spittle came down his chin.
“He lives here now,” he answered. “He teaches history at the university.”
“That’s a kick in the ass isn’t it,” he continued. “My son spent years uncovering the secrets of the dead, now he’s got a living, breathing fossil right in his own home.”
“’Course I have better stories,” he laughed. The emphatic laugh of someone who enjoyed his own humour.
The Lieutenant cringed at the sound. Boulders of laughter bounced off his eardrums. “Yes, I’m sure you do. With that kind of exciting life I mean.”
The Lieutenant forced his eyes to the page, wanting to look preoccupied.
“Do you have any children?” he asked.
“Yes we have two, preschool.”
“Funny thing. I didn’t see my son for 25 years,” he said. “Now I have three grandchildren who I spoil just how I didn’t want to spoil my son.”
He laughed his laugh again.
The Lieutenant glanced up at the laugh. Blood gushed from the old man’s mouth, ran from his nose, oozed from his eyes.
“None of this is real,” the Lieutenant said, not realizing he spoke aloud.
“Pardon me,” he asked.
The Lieutenant fixed a blank gaze on him.
“I don’t think I heard you properly --- what you just said.”
The Lieutenant didn’t respond. He didn’t hear him.
A long silence --- a silence that made the old man and the withering hip uncomfortable, not in control. A cold silence. He didn’t know how long they didn’t speak.
A nurse appeared at the door to the doctors’ offices. “Lieutenant Cross? Doctor Ellis is ready for you now.”
The Lieutenant rose stiffly and offered his hand to him. It was briskly shaken. “Nice talking to you. Enjoy your grandchildren.”
“That I will,” he said. “That I will. Good luck to you. Tell that doctor to take good care of you. We need men like you.”
“Thank you sir.” And the Lieutenant crossed the room and followed the nurse.
- Submitted by Terry
i am a fraud. a convincing, conniving fraud.
i wake up a fraud.
i sleep and dream a fraud.
i eat as a fraud would. mashing food down my gullet with no taste or want.
i’m a fraud without a seed of omnipotent braggadocio.
i'm a damn good fraud. warding off suspicious eyes and ears to the ground.
but i think sometimes the opposite is true.
Then the fraudulent uprising of a life spent searching the wrong answer to the right question or the right answer to the wrong question crawls between my skin and sinew. it's a conundrum i'm still working out.
i am the fraud that i regularly wish would leave the world alone. it's a stone i drag behind me without end and every once in a while it overtakes me. telling the world profoundly, "you're just a fuckin' fraud, all make-up and no image in the mirror. you've got no capacity for any real emotion, for any dog emotion. your entire life has been dedicated to hiding behind the walls of big words, dubious intellect and smart ass sarcasm. it's just not anything that anyone should admire. your empty, shallow and a facade is quickly melting."
the grindstone, the gravestone is my burden. i roll it up the hill and i conquer it temporarily. then it rolls, carving devastation in its path. in some ancient Greek mythological nightmare this is my life. the unburied Sisyphus, the angry gods, the punishment of never ending up and down that contemplates which is worse – life or death.
call me Sys, a nickname, a shortened life, a fraudulent effort to act noble in the world of dread.
- Submitted by Terry