A LONELY BOY
The planet Earth…this side of the Milky Way Galaxy
The first punch he was able to dodge and it just clipped the lobe of his right ear, unfortunately James had to take the second in the stomach and it knocked the wind out of him. He staggered backwards, bent over double and gasped as he tried to fill his lungs with what they craved.
He lifted his head and practically snarled at the boy who had hit him, a random student from school who was looking to score respect or a laugh from their mates by singling him out amongst the gaggle of his peers.
James looked around for some support, people he used to know were watching, but not coming to his aid.
‘It’s alright - I don’t - need - your help,’ he managed to splutter and waved them away.
He stood up straight and ignored the pain, he puffed out his chest to show the other boy what he was up against.
He felt he had a fairly decent build, however that was more through luck in genetics rather than cultivated through sport or exercise. He had long, dark brown hair and large eyes that usually carried a hint that made him look like just about anything could interest him. Right now they were focusing on his opponent’s and they were small and ugly.
The other boy wasn’t frowning, he was smiling, because he was in control. His friends were egging him on, and everyone around them were staring at James and waiting for him to mess-up, not his opponent.
James hadn’t started this, he had just been minding his own business, playing an arcade game called Mighty Fists, which was in the town’s bowling alley. He had been idly controlling a robot in the middle of a battle against a lizard, throwing laser beams and explosions onscreen. Then suddenly he had been insulted, a muttered comment behind his back. Yes he hadn’t started this, but he had elevated it to the conflict it was now, elevated it from a few sniggers to an actual fight.
Now all eyes were on him, he wasn’t like he could just let it go, even if it had gone too far already.
The worst thing was that he had wasted three quid on that game he would never finish.
The crash of pins from the alley and electronic sounds from the arcade was the background music to this little drama.
‘Take back what you said,’ James ordered.
The boy scoffed, ‘nah I think I’ll just repeat it, you’re a loner,’ he said.
James rushed the boy, like a rugby player at full pelt. He didn’t throw a punch, instead he went in arms raised and started grappling with his enemy. James tried to throw him to the floor, the boy tried the same. Their arms coiled around each other, trying to find a proper place to get a grip on one another and use the leverage to gain control.
Everyone gathered around and started shouting words of encouragement, none of which were directed at James.
He felt his opponent get a sneaky punch into his chest. His anger boiled over and he stamped on the boy’s left foot. He stumbled and James kneed him, then got the boy in the head lock he had been hoping for. He took the boy down onto his knees, he was in control.
‘Don’t ever call me a loner again,’ he shouted at the boy.
I’ve won they’re going to respect me now, he thought.
But the crowd had gone silent, no one was cheering him on. James sensed the circle step back. He didn’t look up he was concentrating on the boy’s head that he had in the crook of his arm. He was thinking about wrapping it with his knuckles.
Then he was grabbed by someone by the sleeve of his jacket. James lashed out with his arm to stop the boy’s friend from breaking them apart, however it wasn’t another youth.
His flailing arm hit a heavy coat belonging to a giant of a man. The coat had the word Security emblazoned on it in large yellow letters.
James released what little remaining grip he had on the guy who had insulted him, who stumbled away and pushed at James as if he needed to retaliate and save face. The boy saw the security guard and backed away almost melting into the crowd like he was one of them, and not a part of this kerfuffle.
James looked up at the man holding him, a man who looked like he belong at the Olympic weightlifting championship.
‘You out,’ the man said.
‘Me? What about him?’ James shot back pointing at the boy, who was smirking.
‘He didn’t throw the first punch,’ the security guard replied.
‘Yes he did,’ James replied.
‘No it was him,’ several others countered pointing at him, some of whom James had once believed to be his friends.
The guard pushed him forward and walked after him blocking any return to the arcade and ushering him towards the exit.
James glared at the guard as he reached the automatic doors of the alley. They opened for him letting the cold air outside wash over him and he suppressed a shiver.
The guard stopped on the threshold of the doorway and glared back.
James snorted and turned from the guard and shoved his hands into his pockets and walked away.
He felt only regret as wandered out into the night. He had let his anger ruin his evening, again.
And then it started to rain.
James reached the front door of the house half an hour later, and felt like he had swum there.
He was soaked and uncomfortable.
The keys scratched the lock of the door as he fumbled with them. Water that perpetually cascaded down his face irritated his eyes and he had to keep wiping his forehead.
He finally got the key in the lock and the door opened and he stepped inside the house. Water dripped onto the welcome mat and he carefully took his jacket off, trying to prevent water droplets from flying everywhere as the sleeves swung around.
James looked around the unfamiliar hallway, to the wallpaper he knew no one in his family would ever have picked, to carpet that was faded and had stains that James didn’t know the story of. Had someone dropped food after a prank? Had someone spilt a drink? He didn’t know, he didn’t know the history of this house, he had only lived in it a year, a year since the accident. When only he and his father had moved here.
The door to the back room of the house was slightly ajar and through it James could see the strobe like effect of the TV constantly changing channels.
Although he knew the opening and closing of the front door must have alerted his father to the fact he was back, he still tried to creep up the stairs to his room, but expected to be called out.
He made it halfway and when no sound came from the living room, he scowled and thumped his way back down and into the living room.
The scene before him was one he had witnessed frequently in the last six months.
The TV was flickering from channel to channel. Projected on the cream coloured walls of the room was a rainbow of various colours as the presenters, football commentary and drama cycled around and around.
The man slumped in the chair right in front of the screen was peering intently at each new channel, carefully assessing and judging in a second or so the new face that appeared on the screen, and whether or not it was worth sticking with. None were.
His dad was a squat man with a balding head. He had a large frame that had seen a lot of weight loss recently. Surrounding his father were stained mugs, half empty fast food wrappers, books and a blanket. His dad’s life seemed to revolve around that chair now. He barely moved from that spot and when he did it was to take the phone back to its stand in the hallway, so it could be recharged for further calls for more takeaways.
There was no reaction from him as James entered the room.
The old man just blanked his son as he let himself get lost in the endless search for something to escape into, away from the world around him. A world that was emptier than it had been over a year ago.
As James starred at his dad, his first thought was pity, pity for the man who had lost a wife and was unable to cope with the loss.
But why hadn’t he moved in some fashion?
Why had James been ignored?
Why did it seem as if he too had died and his father had nothing else to live for.
James decided that it didn’t matter if he felt ashamed or not. He didn’t want to talk to the man, not when he was like this.
‘You’ve been in a fight again,’ his dad suddenly said.
James wondered how he had figured that out, he hadn’t turned towards him yet and seen his appearance.
‘No I haven’t,’ he replied.
‘You’re always getting into fights,’ his dad said as an explanation.
‘Yeah well I won, so it wasn’t so bad.’
‘You shouldn’t get into fights,’ his father said weakly, as if repeating someone else’s sage wisdom, and not even bothering to be really concerned about him.
‘They got what they deserved.’
His dad actually turned his head and his thumb halted its continuous button bashing. ‘You never used to fight.’
James’ eyes widened and his grabbed the door handle.
‘I used to have a father,’ James shot back, and then slammed the door shut.
James went back to the stairs and was ready to ascend them up to his room when his dad appeared at the door he had just closed.
He was hunched over, disheveled and wearing the blanket over his shoulders.
James paused with his hand on the banister, he glared at his dad.
There was a moment of silence between the two of them.
His dad didn’t look him in the eyes when he repeated himself, ‘you never used to get into fights.’
James looked his old man up and down. He should have seen his father, someone in pain but able to step up. Someone to share his own pain with, who would be strong and help him. Help him too take away the pain that had made him angry every day, for over a year it had made him angry. Angry at friends, no, former friends he remembered, all because they couldn’t understand, didn’t try to understand…what had happened. He felt the frustration and angst build in his skull so he forced it down. Stupid “friends” why didn’t they understand he thought.
So what he saw instead was someone who was weak and lazy, a quitter, a shell of a man.
James saw that the old man was waiting for a different response than the last one he had given him.
He was not going to oblige.
Despite the rain he plucked his jacket from the hook by the door and went outside leaving the door wide open, knowing his dad was staring out into the rain filled night, watching him walk away from their conversation.
When he reached the end of the drive he waited, listening for a sign that his dad was following.
Maybe he might have gone to him if he was.
He heard no footsteps behind him, not the sound of shoes splashing in puddles of rain, only the front door swinging shut on old, creaky hinges.
James walked off, hoping to find an answer to his problems out there in the world.