Trapped, see, that’s my problem. I’m looking out of eyes that don’t belong to me. I’m using this shell of a body that doesn’t even match my insides. My mind is the only thing I can comfortably call my own. It’s not enough. I need the physical. I lack the key to my success. I am a child on the outside; but oh, on the inside; it is quite different.
I know he said it. I don’t need proof or evidence, I know for a fact just because that’s the way he works. He can’t take it back; it’s already done its damage. He broke the back of the mule, and now the mule seeks revenge from the grave.
When I look in the mirror, I see two lustrous eyes, a naive pearl smile, and small, angelic hands. I am a boy. The only advantage I can accept from this young body is the disguise it lends me. I can woo money off cantankerous old men. I can charm an officer into distraction and pick-pocket his gun. I possess the powers of an adult mind with the mature interworking of a wise and worldly man. Yet, at the same time, win people over with the bat of my eye and the pout of my lip.
But this man, who muttered the undoable words, will be my easiest prize yet. He is nothing but an oaf; a lumbering ogre of a beast and about as witted as a stone wall. He has tormented me, scrutinized and mocked me, belittled me as if I were some sort of creature unworthy of compassion and emotion. Now he has done it though, and I finally have an excuse to exact my revenge.
I see him, on the corner of Miller and Nodd. I have rubbed grease in my hair for a dirty bay sheen and traded my gray loafers for a tattered pair of cover-alls and a faded plaid flannel. I stare into the murky face of a puddle and revel in joy at my uncanny transformation. I dip my fingers into the water, rippling my image, and dab it on my cheeks and neck. The pungent odor of car exhaust and city absorbed in its droplets wafts to my nose and I know that my disguise is complete.
With a mock limp, I approach him; burrowed in a patched trench coat, huddled away in a damp and tearing card-board box. Hate boils in my stomach and I can taste it in the back of my throat like sour milk.
“S-sir? Sir?” My voice is meek and whittled away by abuse; my heart grins at my performance.
“What dooya want, kid?”
“Sir, there’s a woman over there, she looks hurt awful bad.”
“Whaddya mean? Hurt bad?”
“Where’s she?” He grunts and struggles from the box, his gray beard like mist brushing the puddles at my feet. I see myself grabbing the beard and ripping it from his chin, hearing the sweet sounds of his pain echoing down the streets….
“She’s right u-up there, sir, in the alley.”
He begins a quick and cock-eyed gait, his left leg dragging like wood. I trail behind him, working up tears and feeling them hot in the corners of my eyes.
“Whaddya doin’ out ‘ere all by yourself, son?”
“My dad is sleepin’ with Jesus; my mama went out for groceries three days ago.”
He clicks his tongue. “You best be findin’ somewhere to go, boy, ‘spose to be getting’ downright cold in these near days.”
“Yessir.” We reach the alley, and he looks around, frantic.
“Well, where is she?”
“Down here, sir, a ways.”
“I dunno what you were doin’ back ‘ere.” He mumbles.
The damp alley walls begin to close in, the buildings growing into the ink sky like ebony weeds. My heart beats steadily with the beats of my feet, slow and precise with a drag here and there. Pain is the greatest weapon. I can hear his heart beats, too, through his rasping, cigarette choked breathing. He wheezes and hisses as if ghost fingers are constricting he throat. He stops and leans on a dumpster. The road has disappeared from view, and the bricks of the buildings behind us melt together into a dark collage of russets and crimsons.
“I don’t see no girl, boy, what the hell is this, heh? Some kind of goddamn trick?”
“No, no sir! She’s back there, promise! She musta dragged herself to getta way from ‘im. The man said he was gonna come back after he took care of some business!”
“Yessir. He was crawlin’ on top of her, she was cryin’. Then he just left her there. Please, mister, she’s back there and she needs help.”
He stares long and hard into my eyes before continuing. Goosebumps prickle my arms with jubilance. We reach a dead end. A gargantuan cement wall towers before us and he lets out a broken sigh.
“Itsa dead end. You led me to a dead end?”
“Not on purpose, sir, no. She musta slid down that sewage hole there, tryin’ to escape ‘im.”
“You don’t think I’m goin’ down there, do ya?”
“But I can’t, you gotta!”
“Why the hell can’t you?”
“Cause, mister, I slipped down one left open, broke my leg. Mama didn’t bring me to no hospital and just tied it up ‘erself. You gotta do it, I’m too scared.”
He looks at me and I feel a tear trickle down my face. I push for more.
“Don’t get all weepy on me, I’ll go down, I’ll go down. But this better not be no joke, boy, or you’ll be seein' your pa a whole lot sooner, you got me?”
“We’re runnin’ outta time, mister!”
He turns his back to me and grasps the iron latter poking from the gaping mouth of the sewage drain. I watch him lower himself in, rung by rung, the hollow clacking of metal against cheap shoes. I hear a splash as his feet land in water, and sloshing as he walks around. Leaning over the edge, I can see his lumpy shadow turning back and forth.
“There ain’t no girl down here!” His ugly, monstrous voice echoes up. I grasp a fallen brick that lies idle by my ankle, and hold it over the sewage hole, my hand following his head as he moves about like a lost puppy. I trace out his path, I hear his tried breathing. A smile spreads across my face as I drop the brick and watch it silently fall through the acrid sewage air. It splits his head right in half, spilling scarlet blood into the grungy water. I watch for a moment, watching the blood spread like melting butter. The capsized shadow emits a low moan.
The scuttling sound of rats echo soon after. I stuff my hands in the pockets of the coveralls and strike a tune on my lips as his strangled yelp trails behind me, the rats devouring his writhing body.
I get to the street, dead and damp like the inside of catacombs. The high and happiness from his pain already began to wear away and his face becomes a blur in my memories. The moon is beginning to set and the skirts of morning peak at the corners of the obsidian sky. As I turn the corner to the street of markets and butchers, I see a young man with fiery red hair and thin, limber legs sweeping outside MacDunna’s Butchery. Disgusting hate burns holes in my stomach like ulcers. I can’t believe he said that. What a lowlife, what a fool to think that he could escape my wrath. He can’t take those words back; they've branded the air, permanently. I limp over to the shop.
“S-sir? Sir, I need your help. There’sa girl, see, she’s hurt real, real bad….”