|5 years ago :: Oct 01, 2011 - 12:47PM #1|
Offered and Taken
The boy was angry and proud, scared, and pretty sure he was screwing up. In that awkward angry phase between boy and man where all manner of stupid things seem inescapable, and looking like he wasn’t going to live past it, Brennan knew what he had; his dad’s old service pistol, his gang colours, and no hope.
Growing up in rural Newfoundland, known affectionately as the Rock to those lucky enough to leave, offered little but unemployment, poverty, and the choice between getting out or giving up. Thrown into the mix were a surprising number of immigrants who had largely taken advantage of Gander’s status as the Soviets only non-Communist stopover to Cuba to defect, and the usual third world exiles who jumped ship from the heavy freighter traffic of the East Coast, and you had an explosive mix for angry youths.
Brennan had grown up raised by his grandmother, as his mother had not born up well when his father was killed on deployment overseas. Her stories of the old country had resonated with the ancient seeming land called Newfoundland by the Scots, French and Scandenavians who settled her, but had failed to hold his interest when he ran into trouble in school. Finding a home with a group of would be skin-heads, Brennan and his friends learned there was strength in numbers, and status in being feared. It all seemed so cool until things got out of hand. One fight led to a stabbing, and the word came down, payback was owed. Doug told Brennan he was ready to become his number one, all he had to do was take his father’s gun and get a little payback.
“Stupd, stupid, stupid, effing stupid” he cursed as he stomped through the woods to the old lake. No one ever came here, the lake was cold, small, and had a reputation for drowning people. His grandmother used to tell him stories about sea hags, and how they would snatch sailors from the ships and drag them down into the deeps when men forgot to ask for what they took from the sea; she thought one might have been storm-carried into the loch years ago. He used to come here to party with the Lords (his crew), until Jason got too stoned and drowned in the lake. Now he came here to think.
He can’t go back and face the Lords without getting payback, or he would be a punk to them, worse than nothing. He couldn’t go back and kill somebody, just because two guys got mad and got into it. He was screwed either way. He clutched at his dads gun; it was the only answer he had, even if it was a bad one. It was kind of pathetic, his father the peace-keeper left it to protect his family, now Brennan was going to use it to spark a gang-war.
He looked at the old dock where Jason drowned. They used to hop from pole to pole to get to the broken dock, but Jason must have been too stoned to make it, or the slimy poles were just too treacherous. Brennan had the courage of the lost, and grimly hopped out to the broken dock just like they used to when it all still made sense. He was so lost in thought, he never heard the old woman come, or saw her boat. There was no way someone who looked like his grandma’s grandma jumped over, and her shapeless green dress was bone dry.
“I know that look boy” That’s the feuding look. Some of the first ones had that, when they come here getting away from a bad one in the old country. The Highlanders, they brought it with them when they came too. She cackled a harsh crow cackle,
“Blood calls for blood, and never enough” “Pride boy, it’s always been worth dying for”. “Gods know its little comfort living for”.
Brennan grew angry, women never understood. It was something only men understood.
“My father lived his pride, he was a soldier”
Brennan felt a smack like a tree branch clap him hard against the back of his head; the old woman’s hand was harder than a tree root, and colder than the half frozen pier.
“Your father lived his honour, and made your mother proud” The old woman muttered to herself, but Brennan listened:
“Honour serves others, bringing peace and earning worth. Pride serves itself, bringing strife, and leaving filth. I take my price either way, so I should not care. But honour shines in my memory, blood and foolishness brings only shame.”
Brennan looked at the gun at his belt, and the swastika burned into his jean jacket, the symbol of the Lords. His father would hardly be proud of that, and there was no honour in killing some random kid just for “payback” that would only lead to more blood, more pain. He looked at the waters that took Jason, and told the old woman:
“I lost a buddy here, last springtime. Jason. He wouldn’t have hesitated, he would have got payback already. It’s a shame he died here. They say the lake takes a life every year, even it doesn’t seem to care about killing people at random, why should I!” He was nearly shouting at the end, with tears standing unshed in his eyes.
The old woman turned her dark green eyes upon Brennan and spoke clear and cold as the winter’s ice. “The lake always gets a life. Sometimes it is offered, sometimes it is taken, but she always gets her due” She poked the swastika on the jacket muttering “Sun wheel hey? Not a lot of sunshine in anybody wearing it these days. Nothing but darkness, anger and shame” Looking Brennan in the eye she tapped the gun and swastika and demanded:
“Is that your life? Killing because your too proud to admit you’re making a mistake? Or are you going to try for honour instead? It’s a harder life boy, but cleaner.”
Brennan looked at his father’ s gun, and knew he couldn’t murder with it. With a sigh he let it slip into the water. “A present for you Jason, you would have dug it” He had no idea what he was going to do. He was not going to let a war start though. He remembered Jason dying, and was not going to get used to funerals becauase everyone was too proud and stupid to stop. He’d stop them himself. Maybe that was just as stupid, but honour stupid, not pride stupid. At least it might make his mother proud he fell keeping the peace just like his dad. Decision made, he tossed his “colours” into the water too, the last ties to his old life.
The sun was going down, and he had to get home, so he bid the old woman good bye and jumped for the first pole back to shore. So long sitting in the cold had left him stiff, and he just about fell off the pilling and into the freezing water. Just as he started to slip, an iron hard claw grabbed him by the arm and slung him up onto the pier. Without seeming to move, the old woman had covered the distance between them in a heartbeat, and handled his weight like nothing.
“You already offered one life here” She said kindly
“That is so much worthier than one taken”
When Brennan jumped the last pole back to shore and looked back, the old woman was gone, like she slipped into the black water or something. He had no idea if this new life was going to last beyond telling Doug and the Lords that payback was stupid, and he wasn’t doing it. That was OK; if he had to choose between killing some innocent person, or getting hit by his own guys, at least he would die clean. The old woman was right about that too, even with his own life, it was worth so much more when offered freely trying to do the right thing, than taken randomly because he started a gang war.
The lake is still watching, silent and patient. They say it takes a life every year, but Brennan always corrects them. The lake receives a life every year. Sometimes it is offered freely, others it is taken.
John T Mainer
Sept 30 2011