Saturday, July 16, 2011

Short Story: Rejection by Annette Reader

When the police officer entered the room I knew I was going to Prison.  It wasn’t so much the expression on his face, smug though it was.  Neither was it the shape of his mouth – a sort of ‘I know what you’ve done’ grimace - but the way my lawyer pushed his chair back against the wall as if he was trying to get as far away from him as possible. 
The policeman’s presence was such that it seemed to shrink the surrounding four walls to about an inch tall, sucking all the air out of the room so that I had trouble breathing.  First impressions are what count – and if he hadn’t been wearing a uniform I would have pegged him for a professional killer.  He had an air of violence about him, like atmospheric pressure before a summer storm.  He scared me, this man.  Scared me more than Victor did and he had spent a lifetime perfecting his own brand of terror.  He made me wish I’d chosen another, safer profession – raising crocodiles or something.
 ‘Hello, Harvey.’  He tried to sound friendly, but it didn’t quite work.  He probably knew all about being “pleasant” but that’s how he treated it – a word he’d heard existed.
I exhaled and felt myself deflate, ‘Officer.’  I knew there was no foolin’ this guy; he struck me as a man who would recognise a lie no matter what disguise it took. 
‘Call me Tom,’ he said, throwing his arms wide as if we were old acquaintances, reunited after a long absence.  I tried to smile but my lips felt as if they had frozen solid.  He looked like he would skin me alive if I ever called him anything but ‘Officer’. 
‘There are a few things we need to go through, if that’s OK.’
‘That’s fine, officer.’  So, this was how it was going to be.  I’d pretend to tell the truth and he’d pretend that he believed me.  It was a game I knew well. 
‘Victor was your brother, right?’
The officer nodded whilst consulting something in his cardboard file.  It had only one page inside but he spent so long studying it I wondered if the whole of War and Peace had been printed on it in tiny writing.  ‘You both worked for the…’  He paused, moved his head closer to the file, and then made a face as if he was sucking on lemon sherbet.  ‘…the family business.  Am I right?’ 
It was my turn to nod.  We kept all our business in the family, didn’t matter that it was a million miles from legit.  As far as the authorities were concerned we were useless fuck-heads with no qualifications.  On our estate, conning the government was an art form and I was Picasso.
 ‘There’s a bit of a gap at the end of your…CV, shall we say, why’s that?’
‘Been on holiday,’ I said, leaning back in my chair and putting my hands behind my neck.  I wasn’t trying to play the smart guy; I had to do something to stop him from seeing my hands tremble.
The police officer threw the file to one side and leaned toward me in one fluid movement.  I jerked back, my head towards my chest, an involuntary reaction to protect my throat. I wondered if he was like one of them dogs that once they smelt the fear on you wanted to rip your face off. 
‘Have a little respect, Harvey,’ he said, baring his teeth.  I noticed his incisors, they were long and sharp.  A smidge longer and he’d be able to play the part of a vampire without prosthetics.  I swallowed my retort, that little gem about earning respect.  This man didn’t so much earn respect as steal it from you at gunpoint.  He drew back and then reached for the file.  ‘Tell me about Victor.’
            I hesitated. As if I could tell him anything about Victor that the world hadn’t already made up.  Take the interview from the TV last night:  Some old woman twittering on as if he’d done something to upset her.  ‘Good riddance to bad rubbish, that’s what I say.’  She finished up with a doozy that had the reporter practically jumping up and down for joy; ‘Lived violently, died violently, that’s what I say.’

Victor had raised me.  Okay, so it was more dragged up than raised but he was the only member of my family to show me any semblance of love.  To me, a clip round the ear meant he cared.  I’ve lived with indifference and let me tell you that that can hurt more than a few bruises. 
            ‘C’mon, tell me about Victor.’
‘He’s not feeling himself at the moment.’
His face spasmed, a ghost of a smile rising to the surface like dead fish in a poisoned lake.  ‘Being dead does that to a person.’
 ‘Can’t win ‘em all.’  I shrugged trying to dislodge the fear that had appeared from nowhere to caress the back of my neck sending an army of goosebumps marching down my spine.  I glanced over at my lawyer who had engrossed himself in his notebook; I peered at the overflowing bin in the corner, then back at the Police Officer – I was desperate to see something other than the image that threatened to impose itself on me.  I knew if I gave into it it would take over me like some sort of body snatching alien and I would no longer be in control of anything I did.  I closed my eyes, but the smell of blood made me open them again.  I blinked, convinced that someone in the room had cut themselves, badly from the stench, but it was just a phantom aroma, dredged up from the recesses of my mind.  Perspiration trickled down my temples.
‘I understand that Victor had been ill.’
I nodded, unable to speak.
‘Seriously ill.  Something to do with his heart.’  He chuckled.  ‘Didn’t think he had one.’  My hands curled themselves into fists.  I forced them to relax.  ‘Says here in his medical notes the doc told him he would have more chance of winning the lottery than a suitable organ becoming available - and hey! What do you know?   One just happens to come along.’
‘Must’ve been his lucky day.’
He nodded slowly, watching me carefully.  ‘The Pathologist says it wasn’t complications from the surgery that killed him.  So, how did Victor die?’
 ‘Natural causes.’  The words shrivelled up before me.  It wasn’t the look the copper was giving me, filthy though it was; it was the image from earlier, returning with what seemed like reinforcements.  I cleared my throat.  ‘I don’t know how he died.’  The police officer nodded, carrying on the pretence of believing me.  ‘All I know is that I found him.’
‘Uh-huh.  Let’s go back to the time after Victors’ operation.  Major thing like that must have affected him somehow.’
            ‘A bit.’  I studied my fingernails - scraped clean by forensics.  The illness itself changed him but the operation altered him even more.  I’d read an article in the paper on how the recipient takes on the traits of the donor.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not exactly Mr Commuter reading my daily news - it had been wrapped round some gear.  It was there, I read it, full stop.  Anyway, they get cravings for favourite foods or suddenly dislike something they loved before.  But Victor’s reaction was nothing as simple as no longer drinking coffee or having a burning desire to go and see Auntie Mavis whom no-one had ever heard of – his change was not just physical but deeper,  something almost…I dunno, almost spiritual.   And then there were the nightmares.  Before he used to boast that he could sleep without dreaming.  After, he was afflicted by such vivid dreams it got to the point where he was too afraid to go to sleep, but never once would he tell me what they were about.  I can’t imagine what terrors stalked his nighttime hours or why they took so long to find him.
‘Must’ve been hard on you.’ I ignored the sarcasm, swallowing the huge dry ball of emotion that had welled up from nowhere.
‘A bit.’
When he told me he wanted to go straight, to sell the business that we’d both built up, I could have dropped dead with surprise.  When he told me why, I could have killed him there and then.  But I didn’t because he was my brother.  I didn’t because even though he wanted to do something which went against every belief I held in every atom of my being, a tiny part of me wanted to follow what he was doing – the way I had always followed him – the way I always would.
It was all to do with his heart.  The one they’d given him.  When they took out his old diseased one and put the brand new pumping organ inside him they transplanted something else as well; the essence of the old owner or who that person was. 
Sometimes he’d complain of an ache inside his chest.  He said he felt his heart pumping against his rib cage.  Other times, he’d grasp at his left side and stand there panting.  When I asked what was wrong, the terror in his face made me take a step back from him.  Raw naked fear.  Something I’d never seen before, and I thought I’d seen everything.  Men about to die, whether they’re begging for their lives or sitting in quiet acceptance – none of them had an expression like that.  From the way he would grasp his chest it looked like he was trying keep something inside.
Other times the ache wasn’t physical.   He’d be seized by a melancholy, and would brood for days.  He could never tell me what was wrong with him, but he’d wander the house opening and shutting cupboard doors as if he was searching for something to fix it – a thirst he couldn’t sate, a hunger he couldn’t feed – something that wasn’t there.  A longing for something he couldn’t define.

‘How do you account for the marks on his body, Harvey?’
I looked up so fast, my neck hurt.  ‘What marks?’
‘The marks on his chest.  Looked like something clawed their way into his chest.’  He hesitated, studying me the whole time like I was a bug under a microscope.
‘Why did you kill your brother, Harvey.  Was it something he said?’

He told me he’d found God, as if He had been hiding around the corner and all it took was for Victor to look in the right place.  At first I thought he was joking, that the Internet sites for seminary school he’d marked off in his Favourites were just an elaborate joke to wind up his brother. I adored him, I wanted to be just like him – hell, I wanted to be  him and if he decided that he needed to do something to make him feel alive then I would do exactly the same.  No matter what it was.

The police officer watched me carefully a while before he finally spoke as if he was a predator and I was his next meal.  I knew this would be his final sentence.  I closed my eyes knowing that there was nothing else to say.

I found my brother on the floor of his bedroom.  He was lying facedown in a pool of blood, from his posture; he looked like he had been trying to crawl somewhere.  His hands were like claws and were covered in blood and fleshy bits of gore.  I knew he was dead, but I still went to him and felt for a pulse.  I turned him over thinking that even if he had no pulse I could give him mouth-to-mouth.  Then I saw his chest and I stopped.  I could breathe into his mouth all I wanted but that air weren’t going nowhere.  His chest had been opened up; his ribs had been ripped apart so that only gristle and bony splinters remained. 
Where his heart should have been there was nothing.

‘Where’s his heart, Harvey?  What did you do with it?’

As they led me back to my cell all I could think about was all them drugs Victor took to stop his body rejecting his new heart, yet there wasn’t a single one to prevent it rejecting him.

…the Priest, who died yesterday, was in his early thirties.  He was attacked whilst walking home.  An eyewitness stated that three men hit him over the head several times with what appeared to be a cricket bat and then left him to die in the street.  The attack appeared to be completely motiveless. 
‘He was a good man, all heart,’ his house-keeper said, tearfully.  ‘All he wanted to do was help people, that’s why I’m not surprised he wanted to donate his organs for transplant.  It’s what he would have wanted.’   Police are appealing for more information.

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