This weeks post comes to us from the talented Joe Baldwin and is the second piece to be featured from beyond the walls of Kingston.
Joe’s piece ‘Broken Mirror’ is a great example of concise and well-written flash fiction that explores one man’s painfully honest look at himself in the aftermath of tragedy.
“Who was driving?” asked the therapist.
“Me, I was”, mumbled Arthur nervously, staring at his tattered trainers.
“Why don’t you tell me what happened?” Arthur shifted in his seat and remained quiet, still looking at the floor. He had barely looked the therapist in the eye since entering the room, and he had said very little. Whenever he wasn’t examining his shoes he was staring out of the window with a pained expression on his face. The view across the bay usually calmed the patients, but this one had been tense for the whole half hour they had been sitting there. He kept running his hands through his messy hair and rubbing his eyes, as if trying to wipe away the red rings around them.
“Arthur, you know if you don’t talk to me I can’t help you,” said the therapist.
“I don’t need help” he snapped, the sound of his voice like the crack of a whip in the quiet, little room. “No, that’s not true” he said, much quieter, “but I don’t feel I deserve it”.
He blames himself thought the therapist. “Why don’t you think you deserve help Arthur?”
“It was all me. M-my fault. I took my eyes off the road for a second.” He stopped, the words catching in his throat. The therapist simply looked at him, waiting for him to continue. “If I’d stayed focused, she’d still be alive” he blurted out, standing up suddenly and walking over to the window.The therapist picked up a file from the floor.
“I have the reports of the incident here,” he said. “Several onlookers told the police that the other car involved in the crash ran a red light and hit yours”.
That’s it. Offer him a hint. Let him work it out for himself.
“I should have seen it coming. If I had I wouldn’t have collided with the other car. I’m as much to blame as the other bastard”. When he used the expletive, relief passed over his features for a second, like a light blinking on and off.
“Hmm. It seems to me that being angry at the other man takes away some of the stress. How do you feel about his death?” Arthur turned away from the window and began pacing back and forth between the window and his chair. The floorboards creaked under his feet.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I shouldn’t be happy, I know I shouldn’t, but…” he stopped. There was a guilty expression on his face.
“If he’s dead it’s his own fucking fault” he said angrily, resting his hands on the back of his chair. “I don’t see why I should have that on my conscience as well”. The therapist thought he looked uncertain. “I don’t know” he repeated wearily and sat back down.
“Let’s talk about your sleeping pattern. You look like you haven’t slept soundly for a while. How many hours a night do you get?”
“A few. Once I can be bothered to switch the television off”.
“And after that, do you go straight to bed?”
“No” he said quietly. “I tend to wander the house. I wish someone was around to talk to though. It gets lonely from time to time”.
“Well I think it’s time you started to get more sleep. You might find you feel less stressed and therefore less angry. Why don’t you tell me about the incident with the mirror? The police report I have in front of me says they found you in your bathroom sitting amongst broken glass”.
“I got angry” he replied. “I was brushing my teeth and I looked at myself in the mirror on the wall and I couldn’t stand seeing myself so alive. I punched the mirror over and over until it was in pieces. I don’t remember much after that but I do remember talking to someone who bandaged my hand. My doctor said I needed help and referred me to you”.
“You do need help,” said the therapist. “And you’ve done the right thing coming here today. Do you feel you’ve learned anything?”
“I’m not sure,” he said, his voice quivering. “It feels good to be out of the house, and …it feels good to do something”. But the guilty look had returned to his face.
“There you are” said the therapist with a smile on his face. “Admitting you need help is an important step. But one of the things I want you to think about for next week’s session is the idea that you deserve help. It was not your fault your wife died. Take that thought away from you and instead of telling yourself it was your fault, repeat over and over to yourself that you are not to blame. I’ll see you here at the same time next week”.
“Maybe” said Arthur, a little uncertainly. He started to walk towards the door. As he opened it and the sounds of the world outside began to drift into the room, he turned. “Maybe you’re right, but it’s difficult to find anyone else to blame” he said, and walked out the door.
Although only a snapshot of Arthur’s life, there is something strangely compelling about his story. Is it right for a human being to indulge in feelings of revenge or to feel happiness at someone else’s misfortune as long as they don’t act on it? Does Arthur’s attempt to justify his anger and callousness make him more or less human? Joe raises some interesting questions about human nature and compels the reader to find the answers for themselves.
We’ll be back next week with a new post, hopefully. This week there seems to be a distinct possibility that the wind is going to blow us all away.