The Man At Hand

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
What would you give to save someone you love?

Submitted: April 20, 2010

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Submitted: April 20, 2010

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“Remember, this isn’t something you should take lightly, brother. I need you to understand that before we put this to bed. Even if such caution doesn‘t necessarily further my own interests; this is how it works. HE'S a stickler for the fine print.”

The man addressed was taller than average. Heavy set too. The worn and yellow effigy of a grinning man with dreadlocked hair tipping a joint peeked out from between the folds on a blanched denim jacket like a befuddled secret agent. The shirt was a gift from Sasha. She’d given it to him just after graduation with a card that read, “For Colin, conquer the devils with a little thing called love.” That was eleven years ago last month. Sturdy fabric, that cotton.

“I can't believe it actually worked. Jesus.”

The man across came back with a flaccid, “That a joke?” His expression gave away nothing. Everything about him seemed too ordinary. Work boots, check. Dickies, check. Button down plaid, check. Gas station ball cap, check. Hell, there was even dirt under his fingernails. From what kind of job, Colin didn’t want to guess. It all hinted of window dressing. Veneer.

“No, uh, sorry. Are we finished?” Colin shifted his weight from his right foot to his left and then back again. Uneasy wouldn’t begin to describe what he was feeling right now.

“No, brother. You still have to say the word. Oh, and mean it, of course.” Somewhere closer than far, crickets and other moonlight creepers babbled a warbling chorus. “It only counts if you’re sincere.”

“How do I know you aren't lying? I mean, well...I think you know. How can I be sure you're on the up and up? That you won't back out I mean.”

“Doesn’t work that way, and piss on the reputation that pokes your doubt. What we settle together now will be just that. Settled. But only as long as we’re both on the level. Them's the rules. Besides, HE'S watching. Has been for some time now, I suppose. And after all the T’s are crossed and all the I’s are dotted, HE turns into one hell of a rigid notary too, if you ask me.”

Alabaster tufts of vapor curtained a celestial nightlight and the all around turned towards black. But not enough to blind them. Nowhere near, in fact.

“I didn’t ask.”

No more babbling creepers.

“No matter.”

Colin checked his wrist watch. Another gift. This time from Sasha’s parents. They took her diagnosis hard. Maybe even more so than Colin. No, probably. The little hand was on the twelve and the bigger hand was near the quarter hour. They’d been speaking for less than fifteen minutes.

It felt like longer.

The man across grinned something terrible. “You gotta’ be somewhere?” His teeth were a snag of sharpened enamel the color of fresh mud. Colin had never seen such a thing and stymied a shudder when the thought of what may have been scrubbed from those snarled choppers wormed to mind.

No reply.

“Fine. Sorry. My sense of humor tends to get me in trouble. Anyway, back to it. This about you or someone else?”

Reply. “Someone else.”

“Your mother perhaps? Father?

…Wife?”

Colin winced and hated himself for it.

The man across must have caught the tic because he said “Got it.” He was business now and stepped casually towards the other side. Colin’s side. They had been standing opposite each other at the junction of unpaved tracks called Prospect and Cinnamon Ridge that cleaved the once moonlit hollow like charcoal etchings. He was no longer the man across. He was the man in front. The man at arm’s reach. The man at hand.

“That’s okay, brother. I deal with this kind of thing all the time. Don’t you worry about a thing anymore. All’s about to be right again.”

The man at hand reached out and gently took Colin’s elbow. There was affection in the gesture and Colin had all he could do to not bolt screaming. But he had to stay strong. Had to power through. Come hell or high water, this was going to happen. And high water was nowhere in sight. Hell,as it was, was much, much closer.

“Could I just get more time with her?” Colin asked dumbly, already knowing the answer.

“Boilerplate details, brother. And I would kindly ask that you not try to renegotiate articles already agreed upon. Ten years is ten years. Take it or leave it.”

“That doesn’t seem like very long.”

“To be honest, in the scheme of things, stars to dust and all that, it isn’t. But right now you’re looking at what, six months? Maybe less? Sounds like the bee's knees to me. ”

Headlights dimpled the horizon north like a cat’s eyes. The car pushing them was moving fast and gaining ground.

“Well brother, time to shit or get off the pot. You in?” The man at hand snapped lean and calloused fingers and the echoing metal twang of a projector reel replaced the idle crickets.

Reflections like eight-millimeter keepsakes lit the fallowed earth around him and set all good reason ablaze as a hill fire. Colin saw a late night dinner at Arnie’s downtown. There was the road trip to Virginia Beach. The fifteen minutes he snuck out of a movie to pick up a pear-cut bauble that nearly drained his life savings. The chapel. The doctor’s office. The long walk here.

“Do I have to sign something?” Colin’s voice could hardly be called a whisper anymore.

“No brother, this signature’s all in the heart and there are no I didn’t mean to’s allowed. And believe me, if you think you can fool HIM, you’re crazy. So don’t even think about pulling that weepy “I’m so sorry and won’t YOU please take me back” kinda’ shit; 'cause boy, HE'LL scratch out your name before I light the cigar. In other words, you need to be sure. Death and the nasty ol’ tax man kind of sure. Then all you have to do is say the word. And that word is either yes or no.”

He watches their first night in the new house. Now it's the last time he held her hand.

Colin sighed his one and only word, and that would have to do.


© Copyright 2018 Eric James Pray. All rights reserved.

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