I really like the following short story. It was directly inspired by a poem I reblogged
from Souldier Girl
The story is about domestic violence, and once again I drew inspiration from a hauntingly beautiful image from Souldier Girl. I’ve called it ‘Eyes Behind Bars’. I’d like to thank and acknowledge SG for allowing me to use the image, and I’d like to encourage you to read her blog. Quoting myself 😉 on the reblog:
“Souldier Girl is a rare talent. Why we’re giving (paid) oxygen to poorly written and uninteresting shit when there are mixed media artists like her out there is beyond me. Her whole blog belongs in a high-end book on a bestseller’s list.”
So, thank you SG for all of it; the courage, the blog, and for allowing me to use what I needed. Here’s Unlocked.
“Georgie Porgie, Puddin’ and Pie,
Hit the girl and made her cry,
When the boy came out to play
Georgie Porgie had a hospital stay.”
The lock and the timber around it had been shattered beyond repair. Whoever owned this place didn’t need a locksmith, they needed a new door and frame. However, I’d been called out and this was all part of it; to do what I could in the small hours to at least make it appear to the inhabitants that they were once again safe. I quietly put down my tool bag and went to work.
You know, there are a lot of people who commiserate with the police. When things are at their worst, it’s the cops who need to be at their best. I couldn’t do their job. Hell, after all the violent break-ins I’ve been called out to do repairs after, I’m not even sure I can do my job for much longer. This violence, it’s all so … I don’t know; my emotions are so jumbled together I can’t seem to unpick them anymore. ‘Unnecessary’ might be a word I’m looking for, but it just doesn’t seem right, or right enough, to describe the world of fear and pain the victim has been beaten into.
I got on with the lock. It didn’t take long. One small, bent screw was all that was left to anchor it into the timber. I’d learned from experience to always bring some lengths of solid timber and pelmet with me when I was called out to these jobs. Usually, they weren’t as much repair as replace, so I’d use what I had to make the door secure again, at least until a tradesman arrived with a new door, after the sun came up.
A police car pulled up in the driveway and a cop sprang out of the passenger side and opened the back door. Slowly, slowly, an old woman emerged. She was bent over, and in the feeble light of a street lamp behind her I saw her pale pink hair. She had a blanket wrapped around her but I remember thinking she was so small and frail. The poor old dear. Seriously, what kind of vermin does this to a little old lady? I had to stop thinking like this; these thoughts lacerate me, and thinking them is self-cutting of the soul.
A cop came out of the house, his duty as a protector soon to be over as he was replaced by the cops who’d just arrived. Even though I was listed and vetted by the Force, and it was them who called me, I am a civilian contractor and therefore I can’t be left unattended at a crime scene.
The female officer entered first, probably to quickly debrief the officer inside. When they came back to the door and called to the victim, that poor little old lady began hobbling toward them. I forced my attention back onto my work. Personally, I’ve always believed that gawkers are vultures, less than secretly delighting in the carrion wreckage that’s befallen a victim. Dear Old Lady, not looking at you isn’t a sign that I don’t care; it’s a sign that I do. I will not make you feel like you’re a sideshow spectacle, there for my entertainment.
Jesus Christ! She wasn’t an old lady! As she hobbled past me our eyes met, and they locked. Here was a woman who was in her mid-to-late thirties, and she’d had the shit beaten out of her. In the better light coming from inside her home I could see her blonde hair was pink with blood. We just stood there, two humans together, and I guess she saw something in my eyes that affected her as much as she’d affected me. I bit my lower lip, tears springing to my eyes, and I just held her gaze.
From inside the blanket her hand reached out and she gently laid her fingertips on my arm. It was as light as gossamer and as painful as fire. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I know,” she replied, and then she was inside and gone.
I couldn’t get to sleep. I couldn’t sit still. I tried, but every ten minutes I had to get up and walk out onto my balcony, the place of greatest solitude and peace in my home. I’d bought a packet of cigarettes on the way home, even though I’d stopped smoking so long ago it felt to me as if I’d never really smoked at all. I was edgy, twitchy, and I puffed my way through cigarette after cigarette, trying to dispel what I’d witnessed and what it was doing to me.
“Come on, Ryan, get over it!” I punished myself with a harsh tone. “You don’t know anything about this woman or what happened to her, and it’s none of your fucking business!” It’s true, I’d seen worse; a lot worse. And they had gotten to me, too. I’d seen victims before and I’d been so sorry for them, but this time it was different. This time, from wherever that poor woman had retreated into herself, she had emerged with this … presence … and it reached out to me and tried to comfort me as if I was the victim!
Waking from a very fitful sleep, I knew I couldn’t keep doing this anymore. I’m a fucking locksmith; I change locks for a living. I open doors for people who’ve left their keys inside. I cut keys for people who’ve lost their own. Simple and uncomplicated. So how the fuck did I get to this? It was time for me to hand that police contract in and go back to a life that didn’t tear my fucking heart out on a regular basis. I was in danger of losing myself in all this, and I so much didn’t want that to happen. I wasn’t waving; I was drowning, and in a sea of human misery that happens but which I didn’t want to experience.
“So, if discretion is the better part of valour, is cowardice the better part of discretion?” I asked myself. My inner voice has a lot to say. It has read everything I’ve read, listened to my innermost thoughts, and it is very well versed in telling me what it really thinks, no holds barred.
I like helping people. It’s in my nature. What I don’t like is people who think they’re white knights, riding in to vanquish the dragon, when they don’t know whether the person being rescued is a damsel or a witch. “Just stay out of it, Ryan,” I said aloud, knowing as I said it that I’d already reached the decision not to.
It was only a day and a half later, a Saturday morning, when I drove past the house and saw the completely shit door that had been put in place. It was one of those cheap waffle board doors that look sturdy but are honeycombed with cardboard on the inside. A good kick and your foot would go through it to the other side. It looked odd and out of place on the house, which was unremarkable but nice enough. It was just a normal suburban home, a pool in the backyard, and one you wouldn’t glance at twice except for the world’s ugliest front door, unpainted. Then I saw the kids, a couple of young ones playing quietly along the side of the front yard. I wondered how much they knew, and how it would fuck them up.
I drove by and onward, sorry for this family. I’d heard the cops discussing the DV – domestic violence – while I was there, so I knew it was all about a guy who thinks his property rights extend to beating his partner, or ex-partner as it may be. There are rare times when I hate my species, but there are less rare times when I loathe my gender. Women are not punching bags, and children are off limits to everyone, regardless of their gender. It’s not a difficult concept, but the beating of women and the scaring of children remains entrenched.
“No more,” I said to myself. An hour later I was back at the house. “Excuse me, ma’am,” I said when she opened the door. “I’m the locksmith and I was here the other night. She looked a little alarmed, and I was so sorry because I figured she’d been frightened enough for one lifetime. She nodded, visibly relaxing as she recognised me, and I could see she used some kind of makeup – I think it’s called concealer – to cover as much of the bruising on her face as possible. Probably so her kids wouldn’t be frightened, I thought.
“The thing is …” I hesitated, “The thing is, I saw this new door and, no offence meant, but it’s really rubbish. A strong gust of wind and it’ll fall over,” I said, sort of smiling. “I had a good one at home from when I renovated,” I lied, “and if it’s okay with you I’d like to fix it up here. It’s solid timber with metal rods through it, for strength.”
She knew. It might have helped my story if I’d taken the price label off before I dragged it up there. “My name is …” she began, but I cut her off. I didn’t want to know; couldn’t know. “I’ll just set about this, then,” I said. “It’ll take a few hours so please just go on about your day.” I left the door and went back to the truck to get my tools.
The door was a beauty. Steel reinforced internal ribs, six bolts that levered into the rebate when you turned the primary lock, tough hinges, and a sliding grille with bars that you could open from the inside to see who was standing outside. The house would fall down before the door did. I worked methodically, priming the door before doing the necessary drilling into the brick surround where the bolts would ease into. It took a few hours and I finished it off with a coat of paint before standing back to admire it. I nodded to myself; it was a good job.
I ran through the key and lock mechanisms with her, so she knew how to do what. I showed her how to open and re-lock the security grille, and then when she asked me if I’d like a drink of water I said yes. While she was gone I quickly picked up my tools and closed the door. I made it to the edge of the porch before I heard the grille slide open. I looked, and there she was, looking back at me, and our eyes locked just like they did on that night I first came. I nodded to her, walked to my truck, and drove away.
At the end of the month I sent my invoices to the police department for payment, along with a letter informing them that changed circumstances meant I’d no longer be accepting emergency repair work. It was freeing, and it was the right decision. Sure, I’d lose the very handy money that came from it, but being able to sleep better at night made that a very small sacrifice.
“No one else to call, Ryan,” Macy, the dispatcher, said when she interrupted my sleep nearly two months later. “We can’t get hold of the guy who replaced you and, truth to be told, he’s been pretty unreliable all the way through.” I was tired and groggy, and I yawned my way through the call. “Okay, but just this one last time,” I said. Macy gave me the details and I was surprised. The location was where I’d put up the Unbreakable Door From Hell. I couldn’t let on that I knew the door was sturdy, and I was genuinely curious, so I took this one last job.
He’d tried to kick the door in, so I guessed his toes would be pretty sore or maybe even broken. Then he tried some sort of claw hammer to smash the lock and pry the hinges. No luck there, either. The door had held, just like it was meant to, but it had been damaged in the process and the officers on site didn’t know if it would hold through the rest of the night or not. They were obliged to call in someone like me.
I changed the barrel of the lock and one hinge, the hinge more for the sake of aesthetics than anything else. I heard the woman inside, talking to the officers, and I glimpsed her for a moment before I turned and began leaving. “Excuse me!” she called, and I kept on walking. “Excuse me!” she called louder, and I turned to look at her. “Thank you,” she mouthed soundlessly. It was enough.
I didn’t take any more emergency jobs after that, even though the police had asked several times and had offered to up my rate. I’m not built for guilt, and I had more sleepless nights after that last callout because I felt helpless to make more than a cosmetic difference. If there was a final solution someone else would have to find it.
Okay, I said I’m not built for guilt, and that’s true. When I came out of the night and dragged him into the shadows, I didn’t feel guilty at all. When I smashed his kneecaps so badly he’d never walk properly – or kick a door in again – I still didn’t feel guilty. When I wrecked his elbows beyond repair, so that he could never lay a blow on so much as a fly again, I remained steadfastly un-guilty. And when, in the fullness of time, I saw him hobble out of the hospital, I didn’t feel guilty that a few hours later I put him right back in it again.
He was bigger than me but it didn’t make any difference except for one. I’ve always said that if you think you’re a real tough guy, go pick on someone twice your size. He didn’t, but I did. The best man won. As for the woman he’d terrorised, I don’t know what she thought of all this. Relief, maybe. He’d never hit her again, that’s for sure. Maybe she’d be disgusted that someone like me would perpetuate violence even if it was making a victim of the man she’d been a victim of.
I know that in my heart I did a terrible thing for a good cause, and maybe I saved that guy’s next partner from a series of beatings, because people tend to repeat what’s worked successfully for them. I was never questioned. Why would I be? I’m just a locksmith. I fix things.