Tell A Tale in 500 Words
The Broken Man By J.J. Patrick
The shouting from above woke him. A rude and uninvited rumble of Scottish profanity accompanied by a crash, the words themselves muffled by the plaster and floorboards but the sense of anger palpable nonetheless. A sigh escaped more loudly than intended as he sat up in bed, sleep now disturbed and laid to waste for the third night in a row. As he swung his legs out of the sheet and curled his toes against the distasteful sensation of coarse, stained carpet, he ruffled his hair and rubbed his crow’s feet. The roaring stream of alcoholic urine on the floor above him was inevitable as his eyes adjusted to the subtle orange glow of sink estate street-lights seeping through the threadbare beige of the landlady’s curtains.
As the sound came, a wet monsoon set to accompaniment of more forlorn yet furious cries, the broken man pulled back one drape and perched on the window sill, fumbling a cigarette from a packet on the night-stand into his mouth while he opened the creaking double glazing onto summer’s last warm darkness. Night’s air was changing as the trees took on their more jovial hue, disguising winter’s coming death in rabid, sunset beauty. The chill goose-bumped his skin as smoke plumed and dragoned from his mouth and nostrils. Lightly touching his neck, he remembered the deep bruise the noose had left on the night of his surrender. Towards the end of the life just lost. Though faded and healed, he felt it still. The rope’s soft cut. The maddening burn. The horrified stares of those who noticed.
In the darkness these sepia-toned memories flooded back to him as they always did. Clear. Untainted. The purest images his mind would ever conjure, though aged by distance. Time. How many months had it been? Almost twelve. In that passage a world had unwound to nothing. A few meagre possessions in a small room, surrounded by dilapidation and decay. In the silent night marching boots came to haunt him once more, echoes of the tomorrow yet to come. Subtle splashes in muddied rain as real as the crackling of glowing tobacco held idly in his left hand. When the time came his choice would be an easy one, for a man cannot change the deeds of his past. His life defined by action where others would take none as it was, and with his back to poverty’s wall, the decision would be an easy one. A phoenix awakening.
This too would pass, his waking mirror of a Victorian world of poorhouses which should no longer exist, only to be replaced by new trials. New darkness. A leap from the modern breadline to the modern front-line as fascism rose in jocular fashion, quietly drawing the final lines of battle. As the noises upstairs fell dormant once more, the broken man rubbed the absent scar of a past now buried and listened to the soothing onslaught of a coming oppression.
For there he would live again. In war.
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