The Other Man

It was just shy of eleven in the evening and he felt defeated and useless. He had been writing for a few hours, but what he’d written did not have the desired effect. It was not suitable as a balm for a fractured soul. The words were simply acknowledgements of what and who he was.

His father, a merchant marine who was rarely home, had beaten him once with a board through which the sharp ends of nails barely protruded through the wood. He remembered hoping the tool for the beating would be the one more commonly used, the thick strap of black rubber sliced from a used tire. But the angry bastard had chosen the board, a two by four laced with roofing nails.

That memory, as acrid and suffocating as thick black smoke filling his lungs, had haunted him from the time he was seven years old. It was the only time his father had beaten him that mercilessly, but the recollection stuck. Even after the old man died two years later, the boy was afraid of him. And that fear lasted into adulthood and beyond.

The torture his mother inflicted on him was different from what his father had done. She screamed, but never struck him. Her words, and the way she delivered them, he sometimes thought, were worse.

Words can explode like missiles, propelling emotional shrapnel deep into the chests of innocent victims, bystanders whose only crimes were birth and compassion. A decent person, a person who had any hope of being honorable or retrieving goodness from an ugly heart, cannot recover from having launched such shrapnel. By the time the weaponry has been released, by the time the innocent target has been brutally and permanently wounded, the damage is irrevocably done.

No amount regret can withdraw the words. No utterance can retract the hatred contained in words spewed in rage.

Nothing she could do could ever repair the damage she had done, and continued to do. She was who she was.

His hours of writing, though, had not been about his youth nor about the attacks of abusive parents. Instead, he wrote about the pain he inflicted on the other man who lived inside his head. It was odd, he thought, that he could be two people who hated each other so much.



About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to The Other Man

  1. Thanks, Juan. I think the merchant marine paragraph and the two or three that follow are hollow and contrived; but I like the same elements of the vignette that you do.

  2. jserolf says:

    I love the first paragraph….nice sense of depth and works the reader right into the piece. I get a little questionable about the merchant marine father….?

    But, paragraphs 5 through 8 are golden!

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