The Bench, a short story by Michael McCarthy at Spillwords.com

The Bench

The Bench

written by: Michael McCarthy

@FlateyeFiction

 

In the 2010s the UK was stunned by a series of sex scandals featuring several much loved stars of the entertainment world…….

‘BECKETT’
I watched the news as yet another aging celebrity proclaimed his innocence, outside a court house, in front of a battery of media baying for answers.

‘I swear on my grandson’s life that I am innocent of these trumped up and malicious charges and intend to clear my name.’

The Royal Family’s favourite comedian blustered into the fist of microphones in front of his face. Then he hugged his long suffering wife and flanked by his family, lawyers and management headed for his car.

I guess we all knew it would leak out in the end. Some of us must have genuinely believed or hoped that we would be dead before that happened. I knew what I had to do.

THE YOUNG BLOKE
It all started in summer on that bench, the middle one in a row of about ten cresting a hill in the local park. They were unremarkable benches, just brown slats in a black metal framework. I heard him approaching. That unmistakeably determined stride. I’d heard it often enough. Bang on time. I knew he’d choose this bench. He always did. A slight shuffling of the feet, a search in the pockets of his jacket, a sigh of relief, I knew what was coming. He was a creature of habit.
I heard the thin cardboard being manhandled, a withdrawal, then the metallic oiled click, an inhalation, an exhalation. I could sense him shifting his weight. He put his hand down on the edge of the bench and eased himself slowly into a sitting position to my right. I could feel him looking at me.
‘Beautiful park, isn’t it.’ His voice was soft, but with a croak, an uneven texture.
I’d committed him to memory. He was short and slim, his face was weather-beaten with sad, tired, dark eyes. His hair was thick, white and unruly. He was clean shaven, with a classic profile, long nose and thick dry lips and looked like a well educated, intellectual type. His starched white shirt was open at the collar and the sleeves were rolled up above his elbows, exposing brown arms covered with thick dark hair. He was old. I was young.
He’d tossed his jacket across the back of the bench, the top of a bulging wallet peeking out from his inside pocket.
I shook my head slightly as though waking up.

‘I’m sorry, did you say something.’ He smiled understandingly and leaned towards me.
‘Sure. Beautiful park. Isn’t it?’ He repeated.
‘Yeah. Not bad.’ I yawned.
His cigarette was in his right hand, held casually, elbow bent, hand raised, and poised at ear level. There was a copper coloured tin, beside his leg, like an empty boiled sweet container which served as an ashtray. He took a drag, he had a certain elegance to his movements, and inhaled deeply. Trails of smoke burst simultaneously from his nostrils joining a stronger more forceful plume from his mouth.
He radiated a confident air, money does that, and an inner strength, he was captivating. His face was iconic, like Samuel Beckett, that incredibly lived in, deeply scored visage. I felt quite inferior, lack of money does that, in my old shirt and jeans, my default, unkempt appearance. He looked in my direction, surprising me in my observations, nodded knowingly and resumed his reflective gazing.
I looked at his hands, smooth with immaculately manicured nails. One really stood out. The nail on his right index finger wasn’t just long it was very long, at least an inch, and filed to a point.

‘Actually, it’s just my kind of weather.’ I said.
‘It is very nice.’ He answered. Like a conjurer, he removed from his pockets a very expensive looking smartphone; one of those classic Zippo lighters and a vintage looking old fashioned watch with a fraying leather strap, which he placed beside the sweet tin.
He extinguished his cigarette in the tin, and lit another. Then, apparently as a precaution, he pulled his accessories closer to his leg. Careless, drawing attention. He smoked contentedly, tipping his ash carefully into the tin. Two girls approached from my left. Tall, lithe, their legs swishing sensuously under micro mini-skirts. They both had long, blonde hair.
Once they’ve gone, I’ll have that jacket. I thought, nervously. One covered her mouth and turned to whisper in her friend’s ear, her hair like a curtain falling silently across her face, they both threw their heads back and laughed musically. As they levelled with me, they again giggled and bent their knees slightly as they passed. I watched them go by, skirts flapping against the backs of their thighs. Self-consciously, one girl grabbed the back hem of her skirt and pulled it down. Instinctively I turned, he was watching me, watching them. I felt embarrassed, and even blushed.
‘You can’t blame me for looking.’ I said.
‘Not for that you can’t.’ He sounded strangely resigned. His eyes lingered on me, searching, seeing inside me; feeling ashamed I looked away.
‘Are you a local?’ He asked.
‘Yes. I am. Do you know The Tiger’s Head?’ I like to feel like I belong. I still miss that.
‘Yes, I do.’
‘Well, I live just down the road from there.’
‘They do a good pint there.’
‘Yes, it’s my local. I’m a beer man, in fact I drink all types of beer, lager included.’ I always start babbling when I’m nervous.
‘I’ve always been a Guinness drinker.’ He said.
‘I might pop down there later.’ I tried to sound casual.
‘I don’t usually drink during the week.’
‘Well, I’m not an alcoholic.’ I laughed. ‘I just like a pint, you know?’
‘Everything in moderation.’ His words seemed loaded with years of wisdom.
He looked up at the sky, his eyes narrowing against the fading sun, and moved his head once from side to side, as though reaching a conclusion.
‘Although I might make an exception today.’ He added. I smiled, but I don’t think he saw it.

‘BECKETT’
He was about twenty five, quite a bit older than the usual ones, but that had been a long time ago, I reflected as I pulled his worn, tatty clothes off him.
But he exuded a boyish air, even in this condition. Perfect.
Although slim, his body had no defined muscular form, it was soft and white and slowly going to fat, nothing remarkable about it. His head suddenly jolted to the side, maybe as a reaction to the smell of his vomit, contained in a bucket beside the sofa on which he lay.
Now totally naked, sprawled on my sofa, his vulnerability, hinted at in the park, defined him. He moaned and protectively adopted a foetal position. He’d be out for a while yet, the amount he’d drunk.
I rifled through his jeans’ pockets; penknife, keys, coins and a ball of damp tissues. I dropped everything on the floor.

He was actually smiling in his sleep or rather stupor. He was quite good looking in a scruffy manner, his black hair greasy and shaggy and he needed a shave. I crouched down and ran the nail of my index finger along his thigh, increasing the pressure gradually, until I drew a trail of blood. His body shook and he snorted loudly, as his hand ineffectually tried to bat away the attack.
Pity. Another time, another place? Yes, it doesn’t pay to mix business and pleasure. I took a blanket off the chair and carefully covered him, tucking in the sides. I stroked his hair, it was almost brittle to the touch. He stirred and I withdrew my hand.
What’s done is done. You can’t go back. There’s no undoing what I’ve done. I never thought I’d feel that way. But, times change.

THE YOUNG BLOKE
I stank. It was a mixture of vomit, stale sweat and urine. And my head ached like I’d never known it before.
It was dark and I knew straight away, I wasn’t at the squat. I sat up and the intense throbbing in my head increased and I felt another wave of nausea wash over me. Automatically I reached out and grabbed the bucket. Obviously not for the first time.
And then I puked a stomach voiding, throat burning eruption. As I lifted my head I was sure I saw the glowing tip of a cigarette in the all pervading darkness and, despite the putrid stench from the bucket, the smell of cigarette smoke, and a memory started teasing the edges of my mind. Then I must have passed out again.

‘BECKETT’
He’d seen me as a potential victim. I’d smelt his intentions.
They secrete something as the excitement mounts, something in their sweat or in addition to their sweat, and it lingers. I can always smell it. Nothing can mask it. The act of moving my possessions closer to me on the bench had had a psychological effect on him.

THE YOUNG BLOKE
I had never been so scared, petrified in all my life. Well I had, but not since my pre-teen years. But that was long behind me. Wasn’t it?
I stumbled around in the pitch black till I crashed into what felt like a coffee table and fell back onto the sofa and a blanket that had been wrapped around me. My eyes slowly became accustomed to the dark and I could see I was in a small room. I crawled to the door and twisted the handle but it was locked and the windows were covered by thin curtains, which allowed in slivers of light.
I made it back to the sofa and tried to let the frustrating fragments of memory coalesce.

‘BECKETT’
I turned on a lamp. His head swiveled round.
‘Wake up, sleepy head.’ I whispered.
He’d actually been out all morning and into the afternoon. ‘What the fuck….?’
Unsteadily he swung off the sofa and holding the blanket tightly around him, moved towards me, weighing me up as he approached. I could see the fear and confusion in his eyes. Before he could say anything else I told him how it was going to be,
‘Do as I tell you and everything will be O.K.’
He stopped, eyed me up for a further second then nodded, eager to please. He had no fight in him, like a whipped dog.
‘Drop that.’ I ordered, gesturing to the blanket.
He hesitated. I raised an eyebrow, it was enough, and the blanket fell to his feet, and his hands moved to cover his modesty.
‘No. Hands by your sides.’
There he stood, his hands balled into fists. Nakedness is a great humbler.
I stood directly in front of him, the top of my head brushed against his nose. I ran my special nail down from his throat to his groin, not deep enough to draw blood. But enough to increase the fear he was radiating. He flinched and I saw his eyes well up with tears. Not of pain, I knew.
‘You and I are going to get along just fine. If you do as I say. Do you understand?’
He swallowed heavily.
‘Yes. But…..’
‘You need a shower.’ I turned him around and pointed out the bathroom to him.
‘Take your time. There’s a dressing gown in there for you. I’ll be waiting.’
I gave him a gentle slap on the buttocks, just to let him know he was in my power. He recoiled and hastened into the bathroom.

THE YOUNG BLOKE
It was a small bathroom, functional, just like the room I had woken up in. Apart from the usual amenities there was just one small cupboard. I took as long as I could. Although the water was almost scalding I couldn’t wash away what I feared had happened. I didn’t want to know if he had done something to me. Or if I had done something to him. Thankfully, I just couldn’t remember.
But I felt violated. I knew that feeling. Nobody would be looking for me. They wouldn’t miss me at the squat. Well they would, they wouldn’t have anybody to bully and abuse. I left the bathroom tentatively and there he was in the same place standing and waiting.
‘Where am I?’
‘In my flat. Not too far from the pub.’
‘What happened?’
He laughed. ‘You tried to show me what an accomplished drinker you were.’
‘Did anything else happen?’
‘What do you think?’
‘I don’t know. I’m worried……’ ‘Would it be so bad?’ I couldn’t hold his stare.

‘BECKETT’
‘So all you have to do is sit on that bench. He’ll come to you. He only comes once a month these days. That way we are able to avoid meeting. He used to sit there every Wednesday, come rain or shine. For some it’s still known as his bench, has been for decades. If you’re a local, you must have heard the rumours.’
His eyes bored into me.
‘I have.’ I muttered. I didn’t like to think about what I’d heard.
He patted my cheek. I cringed. He returned to his subject,
‘He sits there sipping from his hip flask, imagining he’s the subject of admiring glances. He’ll take you to a cottage. It’s not too far. But you’ll be safe.’

‘BECKETT’
My brother couldn’t get our parents out of the cottage, and into an old people’s home quick enough. That cottage assumed legendary status for a certain generation of household name entertainers. I don’t excuse my role. In mitigation, I didn’t abuse any of the younger victims, girls or boys. But I often delivered them. Barney, though, he became even more depraved. I told him we had to stop, all of us. He was having none of it. So I quit. I’d been his manager. After that his career just went downhill. Sure he remained in the public eye but he was just coasting along. I’m not saying, I was a bystander, but I only went for the older ones, above the age of consent. I had children of my own, for goodness sake. But they’re long gone now and their mother. On the other side of the world. I also admit that if this whole thing hadn’t been dragged under the harsh spotlight of the media a couple of years ago, I could have lived with that knowledge and guilt.
It was the culture of the times. They, we, thought we were untouchable. We were.

‘BECKETT’
‘It’s that simple. You’ll be well paid for your efforts.’
‘Who is he?’
‘My brother, Barney.’ He said after a pause.
‘Your brother! This sounds fucking…….’
‘I promise you’ll be safe.’
‘But, your brother….’
‘It’s not for you to worry about the morals of the situation. As I said, you’ll be safe.’

THE YOUNG BLOKE
He made it sound so simple. And it was. I was to go there. To seduce his brother. And I did. But that’s where it would end. We went back to the cottage, off the beaten track, conveniently. If I played my part, I’d be well rewarded, ‘Beckett’ had promised me.
His brother didn’t look a bit like ‘Beckett’. He did look familiar, or else like an old man who looked a bit like somebody I knew. Tall, bald, patrician, with the exaggerated habit of stressing certain vowels, stretching his arms and looking down his nose, like he was playing a part. Then I thought I recognized him and was filled with a gut churning dread that I’d been lured here. But, strangely enough perhaps, I trusted ‘Beckett’. I let Barney strip me and then I lay on his bed and watched him undress. By now I was even more anxious, but ‘Beckett ‘ had assured me.

BARNEY
Not bad looking. Considerably older than I was used to. But beggars can’t be choosers.
I stared at him lying there. Waiting. I didn’t know if I was still capable. It had been a while. He looked good for a bit of fun, if nothing else. And with that almost palpable fear. Just the way I liked them.

THE YOUNG BLOKE
‘Get dressed!’
‘Beckett’ barked, as he barged into the room, as though I’d done something wrong. I grabbed my stuff and was out of there in seconds. He had presence, ‘Beckett’.
As soon as he entered that room, you could almost hear the air crackling, if ever there was a man with a mission, he was that man. I stayed at the door and listened. I could hear scuffling and raised voices.
‘….holier than thou.’ Shouted Barney.
‘Look Barney, now I’m going to try and make recompense.’
‘You can never make up for it. Even I know that.’ His brother bellowed.
‘You don’t know what I’ve got in mind.’
Then it was quiet, then some subdued grunting and tussling and then what sounded like muted screaming as though through a gag. That seemed to go on forever. Then I could smell cigarette smoke.
‘I was trying to think of something to make the punishment fit the crime. In the end, I thought I’d just leave you here, let you reflect on what you did, till you die. You won’t be able to cry out, so no one will hear you, like them.’
There was another muffled scream of apparent agony and then Beckett opened the door and then, clearly out of breath, locked it. Then he brushed past me.
‘Come on.’ He panted.
We went back to the park and the bench.
‘I’m glad he’s going to die.’ I said.
‘It’s long overdue.’ He answered.
‘He killed my mother.’ I said and I felt a never unraveled ball of suppressed emotions rise in my throat.
Suddenly I couldn’t stop talking and ‘Beckett’ listened and put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it supportively. I told him everything, how my mother was one of the silent sufferers, nobody believed them or if they did they told the sufferers to keep quiet, that time was a great healer, and he’s a household name for goodness sake, he counts politicians among his friends…….So she forgot it, only she didn’t. She married a man who listened to her story and promised to cherish her and then he beat the shit out of her and then he started on me. Eventually she killed herself and him.
She drove them off the edge of a cliff, a famed beauty spot for young lovers, like they had been. She left a note for me explaining everything, apologizing and saying she loved me, but she had to kill herself, she couldn’t take any more and she wouldn’t leave me at my father’s mercy.

‘BECKETT’
He needed to exorcise his demons, the young bloke. So I let him join me, for a while.
Next up was a game show host, we’d been as thick as thieves in the seventies. He was in a private nursing home, every day he’d stroll down to the local pub, where he held court and was considered quite the celebrity. We waylaid him.
‘Bobby.’ I shouted from under the protection of a towering oak, near the verge of the local common, as he sauntered by waving to all and sundry.
‘It’s me old man.’ I shouted again, from the distance.
‘Who’s that?’
He couldn’t see very well. I shouted again and again, wheeling him in like some malevolent fish.
‘Forgotten your old pal have you?’ I laughed.
Then before he knew what had happened we frog marched him down a tree shrouded path and into the dark heart of the woods.
‘Is this some kind of surprise show, old man?’ He asked, his voice trembling.
‘Well, you’re not totally wrong there, Bobby.’ It finally dawned on him that something was afoot. He was a picture. The blood drained from his face and he started twittering on pathetically about ‘What good chums we used to be.’ So I instructed the young bloke to shut him up. He couldn’t, even under threat.
I tied a blindfold around Bobby. By now he was sobbing, great breath robbing gasps. Then I smashed his face into a tree, that shut him up for a while. We dragged his tubby body deeper and deeper, further and further away from the place he called home.
I’d checked the area out in advance and found a disused, boarded up stables. We dumped old Bobby into an even older barn and waited in the semi darkness till he woke up.
‘Don’t you even want to know my name?’ The young bloke asked.
‘That would only complicate things.’ I answered.
I kicked Bobby to wake him up. He insisted on wearing a blonde page boy wig, like he had in his prime, over that wizened, florid face. Immediately the tears started flowing. I was sure he’d been awake for a while.
‘So that’s it, Bobby. I can’t live with my part of this anymore. Nor should you.’
He’d listened, eyes growing bigger and his mouth opening wider. That mouth, once famous the length and breadth of the land for his unstoppable torrent of catch phrases and ‘so bad they were good’ one liners. He moved his head slowly from side to side. I really believe he just didn’t get it. How this could be happening to him, of all people. It was as though what he’d done had been OK. His due. Then I told him how he would die, alone, tied up, gagged, totally incapacitated.
‘Help me! Help me! Someb….’ He screamed.
I got the gag on his mouth and the rest was easy, he just gave up. Then as Bobby lay helpless I carved some dates and names into his chest, just as I’d done with my brother. It had to be done slowly and carefully, I didn’t want to break my lovingly grown finger nail. He was twisting and grimacing, spittle was soaking through the gag. I thought his face would explode. I’d never seen that shade of red on a human before. I stopped before I was finished, I couldn’t run the risk of Bobby dying an untimely and quick death.

THE YOUNG BLOKE
‘Beckett’ had aged years in the last few days. I didn’t think he’d make it much longer. It wasn’t just the considerable physical strain, that would have shattered a much younger man, it was the burden he’d carted around for decades, the responsibility he’d assumed and the actions he’d felt bound to take. There’d been no indication that his brother or Bobby had been discovered, but there had been reports in the media, national and local, that Bobby had disappeared from his care home and fears were growing for his safety. His drug addict, alcoholic son appeared on TV with a heartfelt plea for anybody who had knowledge of his whereabouts to come forward. Needless to say, we didn’t.

‘BECKETT’
After a week I wrote to one of the serious newspapers, detailing what I had done and why I had done it. I told them where to find the bodies and what to expect.

The next day another victim was claimed. It had nothing to do with me. Some old fool of a singer and comedian, talentless to be honest, just disappeared after setting off for the shops. I honestly don’t know what happened. I actually think it must have been one of those bizarre coincidences that happen sometimes. I suspected he’d had enough of his wife, she would have exhausted the patience of a saint. The great irony was, he was as clean as driven snow. He was insufferable, but totally harmless and innocent. I knew. I thought it unlikely they’d hear from him again. He had one virtue, utter determination. That’s how he made a career out of nothing. And that’s why I´m sure he’ll succeed in his disappearance. He came from nothing with nothing and he’ll go back to nothing and nobody will be any the wiser.

THE YOUNG BLOKE
‘I can’t do this anymore. I’m too tired and too old. And it’s not helping me. Like a fool, I thought this course of action might work as a form of absolution. But it just makes the pain worse. And rightfully so.’
We were sitting on the bench. ‘Beckett’ had become like a hero to me. And now he was nearly broken.
‘Come on. Let me buy you a drink.’ I invited him. For a moment he remained silent, then he looked at me and seemed to slough off his burdens.
‘What a good idea. Let’s have one or two for the road.’

‘BECKETT’
The young bloke was legless again that night, he really shouldn’t drink so much.
I undressed him and laid him naked on my sofa, he didn’t mind this time, and I sat beside him. He laid his head on my lap and we chatted, but his attention was fading and his eyes were growing heavy. I was careful to blow my cigarette smoke away from him. I got up grabbed the blanket and wrapped it around him, then I eased his head back onto my thighs. Suddenly he perked up.
‘Why is your nail so long?’ He slurred.
I’d been wondering when he’d get around to asking.
‘In the old days,’ I started, but he was already asleep, ‘I used to like to leave my mark. Just a little mark, mind you. It was part of the fun. Something for them to remember me by.’
I extinguished my cigarette in the sweet tin.
Then I slit his throat. Of course he struggled, but he was too dulled from the alcohol. I’d made sure of that. I held him tight until he gave up the ghost, his life’s blood soaking into me. Then when he was at peace I stroked his hair, it was soft and shiny.
‘You know what they say,’ I said.
‘The sins of the father shall be visited on the son.’
He looked so peaceful.
‘It’s for the best.’

Michael McCarthy

Michael McCarthy

I´m British but have been living with my German born wife in s.w. Germany for 30 years. My son, born in Britain, lives nearby. I´ve been writing short stories for many years and have had many published by fictionontheweb.
Michael McCarthy

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