”How was your day, Davey?”
“Not so good.” David is four years old, his grandpa is ageless. He sits in his grandpa’s lap. They’ve been reading a book, but it's an old one, and they both lost interest in it rather quickly. Also, David is restless, frustrated. “Why can’t I just stay here with you all day?”
“I told you, Davey—I don’t stay here all day. I have a job to go to, just like your mom. What’s wrong with Mrs. Taylor?”
“She’s mean. She yells at me all the time, even if Toby’s the one doing it.”
“Her kid. Like today, we went down into the laundry room with her, she was washing clothes, and then she left, and we stayed down there. Me and Toby did. And he had this ball? He was throwing it against the washer, making it bounce back, and I asked him if I could play, too, and he said no. So I was just watching, and then he real quick throws it over to me just when his mom comes back downstairs, yelling to quit throwing that damn ball against their nice things. And she yelled at me that she doesn’t come to my house and try to break my things, and told me I should show some respect. And it wasn’t even me!”
David bursts into tears, unable to control himself any longer. Tears of shame, of frustration, of rage. His grandpa holds him, hugs him, until the crying recedes.
“It’s just not fair!”
“Don’t you even worry about it, Davey. Some people, they don’t know about the truth, and they don’t care about the truth. And those people, you just ignore them.”
“I can’t ignore her, Grandpa—she’s my babysitter.”
His grandpa laughs, scruffs up his hair. “Just don’t let her ignorance upset you, that’s all I’m saying.”
They sit in silence for a few moments. “You know what I did, then?”
“No. What did you do?”
“I opened that washer, and I threw Toby right in there?” David smiles at audaciousness of his own fabrication.
“What did his mother think about that?”
“Well, she started yelling that she didn’t come over to my house and throw my little boy in the washer, and I threw her in there, too.”
“You threw them both in there? At the same time?”
“No, Toby wouldn’t fit in there anymore, so I threw him out the window. He landed in the yard, and then the dogs chased him.”
Grandpa laughs at this, laughs long and hard, until David’s mother finally comes in to see what all the commotion is.
“Davey was just telling me one of his stories.”
“You’re gonna tell us what we wanna know. You know that, right?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I guess I do.”
“So why don’t you just make it easy on yourself?”
“I’m telling you the truth, man.”
The man looks down at the floor and shakes his head, like this statement makes him so sad that he can barely stand it. His name is Henry “The Bulldog” Oatson. They mostly just call him Bulldog. That’s the way he likes it.
Bulldog is about six feet tall, but with all of his bulk, he still looks like a short man. Compressed. Not fat at all, just piles of muscle, topped with one of the ugliest heads God ever dropped onto the planet. His face is scarred up, as is his shaved scalp. Bulldog doesn’t care about how he looks, though. He’ll tell you, too: “I ain’t s’posed to be purty—I’m s’posed to be scary.”
And he is scary. David can attest to that—not just in the looks department, either. The man has a presence about him that makes your skin crawl. The usual rules don’t apply to this one, and there’s something deep down inside that tells you that.
Bulldog looks up, takes a step closer to David, and the chair he’s tied to. “Mr. Julius, I don’t think you understand how this works,” he says.
“Mr. Oatson? Mr. Bulldog?”
“Just Bulldog, is fine.”
“Bulldog, I understand exactly how this works. I’m not some sort of heavy, you know? I’m not out ot impress anyone, okay? I’m telling you the truth!”
“You got to see it from my side a things,” Bulldog says, dragging a chair up in front of David. He turns it around so that the back is facing David, and then straddles it, crossing his arms over the back. “Let’s say that certain…associates of mine…are, oh, I don’t know—let’s say that they’re buying a candy store, okay?”
“And let’s say that they want this to be a big surprise, right? So they go through months and months of really secret stuff, making sure that none of the secrets of the deal leak out. And then, right before the grand opening, there’s an article on the paper, telling all about it. Who all’s buying the store, who they’re going to sell candy to, how much they’re selling things for, where the store is gonna be at. Everything. See?”
“I see. I know it sounds fishy, but-”
“Fishy? Nah, Mr. Julius, it ain’t fishy. It’s bullshit.” He stands up quickly, and before David knows what’s coming, the chair is smashed over his face.
“How was your day, Davey?”
“Not so good.” David is seven years old, and his grandpa is ageless. He sits beside his grandpa on the couch, holding an icepack to his face. His grandpa sits with an arm around his shoulders, comforting. David is restless, frustrated.
“You want to tell me about it?”
“I was just walking, you know? I was just walking by, and this kid Max, he just trips me. I go flying, my lunch goes everywhere, and I land all in it. Spaghetti, all over my new shirt. Mama just got me that shirt, too. My fingers are all stinging from the tray landing on them, and everyone’s laughing at me.” He stops here, too embarrassed to continue.
He doesn’t want to cry in front of his grandpa, like he did in front of the whole cafeteria. He feels the tears at the edges of his eyes, though, and knows that if he doesn’t stop talking, he’ll start bawling again.
“Don’t you be ashamed of yourself,” Grandpa tells him. “If anyone should be feeling bad, it’s that other boy—three years older than you? He’s the one with problems, Davey. Anyone who has to pick on younger kids, there’s something wrong inside of them.”
“I stood up, and I was trying not to cry, and he kept asking what’s wrong little baby, and I told him shut up, and he hit me. He just hit me right in the mouth. I didn’t even do anything to him, you know?” His voice is shaking.
“I know, Davey.”
“And then he just kept hitting me, and all the kids were laughing, and-” The tears won’t be held back any longer, and Davey finds himself bawling his brains out for the second time today.
His grandpa holds him, hugs him until the crying recedes.
“It’s okay, Davey. It’s okay. You can’t let guys like that get to you. Be strong. And remember that just because you cry, that doesn’t mean you aren’t strong.”
“You know what I did then?” David smiles.
“No. What did you do then?” His grandpa smiles back at him.
“I grabbed his tray, and I threw it across the room, like a boomerang? It whisked out, it was making this whistling noise, and everyone stopped laughing. It whirled around, and he was just like hypnotized. And then, at the last second, he realized that it was coming for him, and he tried to duck. But he wasn’t quick enough, and it hit him right in the head. He did about twenty flips, that’s how hard it hit him.”
“At least! And then I picked him up and started spinning him like a lasso. All his friends tried to run away, but I tossed him in front of them, and they all tripped. Then I walked over and dumped apple sauce on them, and when the teachers came in they just started clapping. They gave me a medal!”
“As well they should, Davey!” Grandpa cries, laughing. “As well they should!”
“Yeah, he’s awake.”
David hears the crack of the backhand before he feels the pain in his face. He rocks back, almost tipping over, and opens his eyes. His left one immediately fills with blood.
“See? Told you he was awake.” Bulldog is still here, which is too bad. David is still here, too, which is even worse.
He tries to remember how long Bulldog has been working him over, but time has no meaning. He wonders briefly if this is what hell is like, but then he stops wondering about things because the man with Bulldog is talking.
“How’s it goin’, Dave?”
“Can’t complain,” David says, and blood bubbles out of his mouth. He’s been thinking about his grandpa again. Seems like he’s been doing a lot of that lately. “Yourself?”
“Well, to tell you the truth, I’m a little upset. My friend Mr. Oatson tells me that you aren’t being cooperative.”
“I told him what he wanted to know.”
“It ain’t no use, boss—he don’t take to the kind approach. I tried that first thing.”
“Well, it never hurts to try again, Bulldog.”
His name is Murray Harrison. He’s not a tall man, and not short. Something of an in-between, and his features are all very plain. He has a mustache, but it doesn’t set him apart at all. If anything, it makes him look even more like anyone else. Nothing is memorable about his features, and until recently, there was nothing really memorable about the man.
One of the “associates” that Bulldog was referring to earlier. Mostly just a thug, but a thug with aspirations. He had wanted to climb the ladder, and was doing a pretty good job of it, until David screwed everything up for him.
“I’ve told Bulldog,” David slurs. He realizes that he’s missing teeth. He’s not sure how many, for sure, but enough so that words don’t sound right coming out of his mouth. “Some people just don’t care about the truth.”
“On the contrary, Dave. Do you mind if I call you Dave? On the contrary, Dave—we’re very interested in the truth.”
“Well that’s what I’ve been telling you,” David says.
“See?” Bulldog says. “I told you.”
“Very well. Continue.” He leans in close, right in David’s face. “You can stop this any time by telling us the truth.”
Harrison steps back, and David just has time to see Bulldog’s giant fist shooting towards him.
“How was your day, Davey?’
“Not so good.” David is thirteen years old, and his grandpa is ageless. He sits across the table from his grandpa, fiddling with a pencil. He feels frustrated, restless.
“Just between you and I?”
“There were these guys, they were smoking in the bathroom. They were leaving as I walked in. I took a leak, and was on my way out when Mr. Davis came in. He smelled the smoke, found the butts, and hauled me to the office.”
“That the truth?”
“I wouldn’t lie to you, Grandpa. I’ll tell you stories, but I’ll never lie.”
And he can tell that his grandpa believes him, which is good. That makes everything better.
“As long as it’s the truth,” Grandpa says.
“What good is the truth, if no one believes you?”
“I believe you.”
“Yeah. I appreciate it, Grandpa, but it won’t get me out of three days suspension. Mom’s going to have a fit.”
“Just tell her the truth.”
“She doesn’t have much time for the truth these days. Besides, she’ll just tell me to tell on the boys that really were smoking. The principal said that if I told him who they were, he would let me off with just detention.”
“But you can’t do that?”
“If it feels wrong, then it probably is.”
“You want to know why I really smelled like smoke?” David smiles, and his grandpa smiles back.
“I sure do,” Grandpa says.
“Well, the thing is, I saw smoke out on the horizon, and it looked to be about the same spot where that orphanage is.”
“An orphanage? I didn’t even know we had one of those in this town.”
“Well, we almost didn’t. But thanks to me-” And he’s off, telling one of his stories.
The stories always make him feel better, and he has a feeling they always make his grandpa feel better, too.
The stories keep his mind off of real life, and whatever crap it’s throwing at him at any given moment. He doesn’t have to think about how his mother is coming home from the diner where she works with a new man almost every night. He doesn’t have to think about the names that other students call her, and call him. He doesn’t have to think about his reputation, or his future, or the lack of it. And he doesn’t have to think about that aching part of himself, way down deep inside, that seems infected with shame. Shame because he’s a loser, because he’s a nobody, because everyone else is better.
“He’ll keep ya alive, you know.”
David wakes slowly, confused. He doesn’t know who is talking, or why. He doesn’t know where he is.
He knows that he hurts. He hurts everywhere. He tries to open his eyes, but they’re swollen shut, caked shut with blood. And then he remembers.
The guy talking, that’s Vinnie or Louie, or some other stereotypical mobster name. He’s the first guy tonight that David hasn’t heard of before. Hasn't read about in the papers or seen on the news.
“That will eventually start costing too much,” David mumbles, and the words don’t even sound like words to him.
Apparently, though, this Vinnie or Louie guy has had a lot of practice at this kind of thing, because he seems to understand with no problem. “Oh, no, not for Mr. Harrison. When he wants something, he gets it.”
“That’s not cliché at all.” All he can say is vowels and sarcasm. David finally manages to open one of his eyes, and he can hear the crack as the dried blood gives way. Fresh blood begins pouring into his eye, and it stings, but at least he can see.
He’s on a boat, which explains the rocking motion and the noise. He thought it a concussion.
“It’s not smart to poke fun.”
“What’re you going to do? Hit me?” He laughs, and blood dumps from his nose and mouth. Shit.
“Keep talkin’, smart guy, and you’ll get to see how much worse it gets.”
“Get the fuck out of here, you scummy piece of shit!” David gathers all of his strength and kicks out at the guy. Vinnie or Louie stumbles backwards, surprised, and bumps into Harrison.
Harrison chuckles a bit, but it’s not a friendly chuckle. “So, you still have a little life left in you, then?”
David’s head drops—it takes too much effort to hold it up. Vinnie or Louie steps back over, grabs him by the chin, and jerks his head up. Something else pops, and there’s fresh blood leaking from someplace that was congealed. Somewhere on his side, that’s as specific as he can get. He spits blood on Vinnie or Louie, and is rewarded with a punch to the nose. It’s not the first one of the night—not by a long shot—but it still hurts like a wicked bitch. More blood.
How was your day, Davey?”
“Really good.” David is twenty-one years old, and his grandpa is ageless. He sits in a rocking chair, and his grandpa sits in the recliner beside him. David is calm, at peace, happy.
“Tell me about it.”
“It’s a done deal, Grandpa.”
“All the way done. In stores tomorrow.”
“That’s excellent news, Davey. I knew you had it in you.”
“I know, Grandpa. I know you did.”
“You always did like to tell your stories.”
David reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a book. It’s a small book, but it’s a real book, and it’s filled with his words. His stories.
He opens the book. “You want me to tell you one of my stories?”
Grandpa leans back, settles into the recliner, and smiles. “Davey, I want you to tell me all of them.”
It’s the best day of David’s life.
The beatings, they all seem the same. And when they aren’t beating him, it still feels like they are. Pain, always, sometimes it’s just more intense. At one point, he opens his eyes to see them bending his fingers back, he hears the snapping, and he fades out again.
They don’t know when he does that. Or maybe he doesn’t know when he does that. In and out of consciousness, waking up to find his body mangled anymore, and they’re still demanding the truth, and he’s still demanding that he’s told it to them.
At one point, he finally decides to lie, but he doesn’t know enough, and they only laugh. They laugh and they call him a liar, and he thinks about how the truth doesn’t matter.
The truth isn’t the truth if no one believes you.
Don’t you say that. It’s his grandpa’s voice. Stern, but warm. Loving, comforting. The truth is the truth, Davey, no matter what these goons say. And then the voice is gone, and there are only the voices of these men, cold and violent and breaking him.
He can’t remember screaming, but he knows that he has been doing it—that’s why they had to move him. He can’t remember singing, but they tease him about it once in a while, so he supposes that he must have burst in to song at some point or another. He doesn’t remember shitting himself, but there it is.
The truth is the truth, no matter what.
“How’s your day, Grandpa?”
“Not so good.” David is twenty-eight years old, and his grandpa is ageless. He sits beside the bed, listening to the sighs and hisses of the machinery, listening to the beeps and the drips of the hospital room. David is scared, sad, unbelieving.
“Why can’t I stay here with you?”
“I told you, Davey—I don’t stay here all day. I have tests, therapy, procedures. Business to take care of.”
“With all of their tests, there should be something they can do! What are they doing for you?” He sounds angry, and he supposes he is, but not at the hospital staff. He’s angry at life, but mostly he’s angry at death.
“Calm down, Davey. This is how it works.”
“It’s not fair!”
“It’s fair, Davey. Come here, calm down.” David leans over, and his grandpa holds him, hugs him, until the crying recedes.
“I never told you enough, but I love you, Grandpa.”
“I love you, too, Davey. I don’t guess anyone ever says that enough.”
They sit in silence for a few moments.
“Oh, man, Grandpa, you know what happened on my way over here?” His voice is shaky, and this time the story-telling doesn’t make him feel any better.
His grandpa smiles. “No. What happened?’
David begins his story. By the time he finishes it, his grandpa is gone.
It is the worst day of David's life.
These guys again. David can’t believe how old this is getting. You would think that getting killed would be pretty exciting, but it’s just getting tiresome. Even the pain has grown monotonous.
“One more time, from the top.”
“Oh, hey, Bulldog. Where you been?’
Bulldog smiles, “Had some other business to attend to. Same kind a thing as I’m doin’ here, only they didn’t hold up near as long.”
“Yeah, I tend to wear out my welcome.”
Dull throbbing pain in some parts of his body, lightning flashes of agony in other parts, stinging, aching, pulsing. David wonders if there is any sort of pain that he hasn’t experienced at this point. Bulldog steps up to the plate and gives him one more for the collection.
“One more time from the top now, Mr. Julius.”
“I’ve already told y-”
The words are cut off with a punch to the stomach. Things inside aren’t healing. Maybe that’s why they want this right now. Or maybe they don’t even know. Either way, David won’t be bleeding in the land of the living much longer.
“One more time, Mr. Julius. From. The. Top.”
He was at the bar, some bar, whatever bar—didn’t matter. Hanging out, drinking, heading outside once in a while to smoke. Just a night out on the town with some friends, you know?
And then he made the mistake of going to take a piss. Taking a piss, it’s not one of those things that you generally consider a mistake, unless you’re in bed, or still wearing your pants. But when you’re just hanging out, going to the bathroom doesn’t seem like a big deal, right?
He walked to the bathroom, dodging other patrons, realizing that he had probably had enough to drink, but then deciding that since he would be taking the subway anyway, it didn’t really matter how much he had to drink. As long as he woke up in time for his stop.
He was having a good time, for the most part.
Just as he arrived at the bathroom door, it opened up into his face. Or rather, into his foot. The door bounced back, off of the rubber toe of his shoe, and slammed into whoever was coming out. The guy that stepped out was just some guy—not really memorable at all.
Except for his temper. He grabbed David and slammed him against the wall.
“What the fuck is your problem?”
“No problem, man,” David said. “It was an accident, that’s it.”
“Don’t you tell me no problem. I’ll tell you if there’s a problem. And what I’m telling you is that there is a problem.”
The man slapped David in the face, then did it again. David thought about just knocking the guy’s shit out—he knew he could do it—but he decided that it wasn’t worth it. This was one of his favorite hangouts, and he knew that once you got into a fight here, you were no longer welcome. The guy slapped him again.
“Come on, big, man, why don’t you hit me back?”
And then it was broken up. The man was escorted outside by his friends, and David went to take a leak.
And just like he always had when he felt humiliated, or angry, or just flat-out pissed off, David began imagining, thinking up stories. The guy’s voice, that’s what had fascinated him. The guy sounded like he wanted to be a mobster.
And that’s where the story came from.
“People are always asking me where I get my ideas,” David says. “I should’a just told ‘em that I get my ideas from little dickweeds like you.”
Murray Harrison glares down at him. “You heard me in the bathroom, huh?”
“It was an accident. I think up stories when I’m angry. You pissed me off.” He realizes that his head is bobbing. He feels like he’s about to doze off, but he wants to finish this off. “I didn’t hear anything, man. I just saw you that night, and I got this idea. I write books for a living, and that's what this idea became. Just a crazy coincidence that a lot of it was true.”
“That’s bullshit,” Bulldog says.
“You’re bullshit, Bulldog,” he says. “You’re all bullshit.” He looks at Harrison. “Especially you, you short-dicked little thug—you’ll never be as good as the others, and they’ll always laugh at you.”
“How was your day?”
“Not so good. You know what happened to me today?”
“No. What happened?”
“I got kidnapped by these gangsters, right? They beat me and beat me, and they kept demanding the truth.”
“Why didn’t you tell them the truth?”
“That’s the thing, Grandpa—I did tell them the truth. But they didn’t believe me. I just kept telling them, and they kept on not believing me, and finally there was only one way to escape.”
“What did you do?”
“I made the guy so mad that he shot me.”