Short Fiction ~ Patrick Douglas Legay
Any mindful rider could sense it coming. The animal stiffens, slows gait, maybe shudders a little. Makes that breathy grunt. Every horse has his or her own little tell, and often a different one for pissing.
One after the other the horsemen yanked their reigns toward my lane, clopping over the tracks to drop dung. The rest of the thoroughfare was otherwise clear.
Sometimes I'd have to stamp both feet onto the brake to come short while some nag was lifting tail to let go. Once they trotted out of the way, some pile of shit left behind, not like I can change lanes. Just gotta plow right through it, smashing that stink up into the air. The passengers all holding their noses, saying, "Pee-yuu."
Except those kids, those rowdy devils. Upon any sudden halt, they'd swear foul curses and get all shoving each other, knocking each other's caps off, laughing, falling into the working people, and swearing even louder.
One time it went too far. Punches thrown, one kid choked the other until he got out of it, and that kid pulled a knife. I saw the glint in my mirror, so I stamped the brakes again, squealing and scraping on the rails. Lucky the kid didn't stab himself. And when we came to a stop, everything settled. I looked at him in the mirror and belted, "Look, you goddamned little devil, if you gonna kill someone, don't make it some poor dumb kid. Kill someone who deserves it. Ask Leron there." I pointed my thumb back at him. He was sitting in his spot on the bench in the middle.
Musta been one of them Widely Observed Postal Holidays, because Leron rode the trolley right from first light, then pretty much all that day. He'd get off for a spell, then wouldn’t ya know, there he'd be on the way back, running, stumbling to cross the bricks in time.
Leron looked puzzled, pointed at his own chest, and mouthed, "Me?"
"Yeah, Leron, weren't it just this morning you was telling me about someone in particular? Someone who don't deserve to live?"
"Hoh yah," said Leron. He stood up, turned to them kids carefully, and spoke slow, slurring, "Tha man ehs evil."
"Sit back down and tell them," I said as I got the trolley rolling again.
He crashed himself down, and set to telling them as best he could. Still his tongue kept pasting the words together.
Them kids all sat too, polite, listening, their dirty faces baring smiling teeth. They were dealing with him like he was a dimwit, but he wasn't. Leron was a letter carrier, and on his days off he drank and drank and went around letting loose about all of the dark and sordid details he learned about the people whose postboxes he frequented. Things he put together just by showing up, keeping an ear out, delivering their letters every day.
He slurred it out to those fiendish kids, repeating when they asked, everything he pieced together about some foreman. One who was the sort of man what put all his frustrations into his wife. And how he did beat her so bad, his pregnant wife. She miscarried and almost died, almost bled out, had Leron not gone next door and rang for the hospital carriage.
Same story he told me that morning.
"That Mikey O'Keefe's mother?" asked one kid, shrieking it from the back.
"Yesh, I guesh," said Leron. She had been crying for days, screaming murder, Leron explained with repetitions.
"Yeah, Mikey," said one of them. "They say he ran away."
"Doobel murder," said Leron, chuckling in a strange, choking way, sobbing and laughing at the same time.
And those kids laughed too, with their eyes flashing. Like it was both the most angering and most enjoyable thing they ever heard in all their young lives.
Leron tilted a little glass flask up to his mouth. It glowed in his palm until he swallowed and licked his lips, acting like he was hiding it well.
"You know the stop?" asked the kid with the knife.
He thought it through, and when he answered, Leron said it all hushed and only to them. They nodded, clapped and slapped their knees. When I slowed and called out the stop, they were up and around him, steering him off, out to the bricks, where they propped him up so he could point the way, which he did, holding his finger out, head and shoulders above them as they went. And they all got smaller and smaller in my mirrors.
Patrick Douglas Legay's writing has appeared in Adelaide Literary Magazine, Apeiron Review, and Dance Macabre.
During weekdays, and some evenings and weekends, he works for a non-profit community dispute resolution center, trying to help people resolve conflicts on their own terms.