Jack the Lad
By lisa h
Jack the Lad
I didn’t like him. I handed him the gloves and he nodded. I didn’t like that smirk. He said nothing, just turned away, his broad back mocking me.
Tomorrow, I promised myself.
That night there was a storm – violent, tropical. Lightning rent the sky, thunder crashed and rain sleeted down, oppressive. I couldn’t sleep, thinking of the next day, as the water gurgled in the gutters and pipes.
As a growing blush in the east overpowered the night, paling the sky, I slid out of bed. The smell from the day before lingered on my skin, no amount of scrubbing could remove the stink. Dressed in my blue jean overalls and the workmen boots he had provided, I snuck into the field leaving snail-like trails in the dewy grass.
Outside, along one side of a barn, a glorified pigpen contained half a dozen horses. Intended to house a nursing sow and her litter of curly tailed, squealing piglets, the current inhabitants stood almost shoulder-to-shoulder. They swayed and bumped, jostling against each other in the restricted space. There had been seven, but one fell ill, and later died. I knew what killed the poor thing.
Jack was the proverbial lad. He drank hard, and he played harder. But, he was also a stickler for routine. This was going to be my ticket out of this place. The small package in my pocket pressed against my thigh. Distracted, I pinched and rolled it between my fingers, releasing it only to ease the latch up and over the gate and let myself in.
The horses came to me. They liked me, I scratched them behind the ears and fed them with the ends of carrots and any other scraps I managed to bring with me. Jack said I was soft, flicked me behind the ear and almost shoved me headfirst into a pile of manure when I suggested they needed more space.
This morning, I headed into the pen and towards their enormous piles of droppings. The sun still hung low in the sky, bleeding warmth onto the tops of the clouds. The horses bumped into me, nosed me like affectionate dogs. If I landed on my knees now, the game would be up, so I felt my way along the inside edge of the fence, the mares nudging and sniffing for treats.
“Later,” I whispered and pulled the small package from my pocket. This was the tricky part. He had the gloves, and the mask, come to think of it. My face wrinkled in disgust as I placed the package, warm from hiding in my pocket, on a large pile of dung. In my other hand, I held a stick, carefully selected for its smooth edges. I prodded my little gift, my ticket away from Jack, deep inside. The smell rose up and threatened to gag me. Moving quickly, I sculpted the surface of the manure back to something like its original design. The clouds were losing their arterial red, glowing a washed out, streaky pink. Time to go.
I lay awake in my bed, counting cobwebs on the ceiling; until Jack staggered up to my door and threw it open.
“Time to get up,” he grunted.
Counting cobwebs must be like counting sheep.
“Oi, Lucy. Time for breakfast.” He stomped up to me, shoulders rounded, head hung low.
I wasn’t really asleep, just playing a bright Technicolor movie in my mind – the grisly end of Jack the Lad. My eyes flickered generally in the direction of the window, but the view involved death. At that moment, when he picked up a corner of the bedstead and slammed it down, I was planting a sour kiss on his greying lips. He jolted me just as our skin connected, freezing the image for the rest of the day. Each time my eyes closed, his face, grey and waxy, appeared ghost-like across my vision. In my dream, his eyes held a horrific, certain knowledge of his death. Like one of those unsettling posters they put on billboards, his eyes followed me about, with each closing of my eyelids.
“I’m awake.” I rolled over and stuck my tongue out. “I think you should do the work today. I stink of horse.” Inside, my guts shrank up so my stomach disappeared like an extreme yoga exercise.
“Ha!” He walked out of the room, still hunched. He needed his medicine. Routine kept Jack the Lad in a party mood.
He gave me the gloves and mask by the gate to the pigpen. The horses neighed to me, blowing hot breath through their nostrils. They could smell the broccoli stalks stuffed down the front of my overalls. I didn’t really know what horses could or couldn’t eat, so I figured I trod a thin line between spoiling and killing them.
“Go on, Lucy-loo.” He pushed me into the pen.
“Don’t call me that,” I said, turning especially to sneer at him.
“Oh, Lucy-loo, how I like you, don’t you know, when you’re not here, I’m soooo blue,” he sang out across the crisp morning.
Unable to help myself, I punched him in the arm and said: “Shut up, or I really am going to make you do this.”
He grinned a dirty wide smirk, and opened his mouth for another verse.
“No, really. I mean it. And no more ‘Lucy-loo’, you great galumph.”
He finally shut his trap, but continued to hum as I worked my way around the pen.
“First one, Lucy-loo. I want the first one,” he said from the other side of the fence.
“Yea, I’ll give you the first one,” I sniffed. You better believe it.
I counted segments of fence, and looked for the smooth stick that I’d left partly buried under the manure. About halfway around, I started to panic. The pigpen seemed knee deep in shit, and I couldn’t find the one I wanted. I must be three-quarter of the way along the fence, and the damn horses must have knocked my marker away.
Behind me, Jack the Lad sighed.
“Lucy-loo,” he whined, “pick one, would you? I’m sick.”
I looked back, and smiled, genuinely. Jack leaned against the fence, less than three panels behind me. His face long and drawn, the black circles under his eyes giving him a ghoulish appearance. He needed his medicine. I turned back to picking my way through mountainous piles of manures.
Finally, just as paranoia and panic began to gather speed once more, I saw it. Relief made my heart pound in chest-heaving thuds – my bleached stick, picked for its smooth end, gleamed from its half-buried position. I knelt in the mud, removed the stick, and dug into the manure with my fingers.
“Lucy, make it quick, we can’t get caught out here.” He turned in a slow circle, examining the surrounding fields. “You know what they’ll do if they find it on me.” He scratched at his stubble.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have started in the first place.” I squished a lump of manure between my fingers.
“I won’t go back to prison,” he said, his voice low.
I glanced up at Jack. He stood leaned against the fence, arms crossed, a tired pout sagging his face.
“Here’s one!” I called out, and pulled out a triple layered, stuffed condom.
Jack’s eye’s lit up. I noticed how deep and shaded they were, almost hidden in their sockets. In his trembling hands, he clutched a small tray. He held it between the posts of the fence. I placed my find there, all covered in shit. Silently – his eyes fixed on the smelly package – he turned and left.
I didn’t bother to dig anymore. The horses gathered around, bumping into me with their noses, whinnying and snorting. Forgetful of their waste on my hands, I dug in my overalls for the broccoli stumps.
Jack would be in there, in the kitchen with his scarred mirror and a razor blade. Then he’d roll up something. Maybe the remains of a shopping list, and shove one end up his nose. In my head I counted the seconds. A hundred until the deed was done, two hundred to be safe. I counted to five hundred.
I did my research. If you search hard enough on the Internet, you can find anything, answer any question. Mine was: what white substances look like coke, but aren’t?
Jack the Lad wasn’t in a party mood anymore. His head lay on the table, his arms hung loose by his sides. On the table, a pile of white powder had been piled like a miniature mountain. Its dust coated the table. On the mirror, in the middle of a small drift, an old, rusty razorblade stuck out. The roll of paper, still wedged partly in his nose, remained there with the help of a dark green bogey. I was struck by the peace on his face as I paced back and forth, trying to remember what I had planned for this moment.
He let out a deep, sonorous snore, and smacked his lips. I jumped, my heart pounding hard, my eyes feeling like they almost fell out of their sockets.
As if to scare me even further, another storm suddenly rolled in over the cottage, dark and ominous, it cracked a bolt of lightening over the roof. Half a second later, a boom, loud enough to shake the plates in the cabinet, clink the mugs on their little wooden tree, and rattle the windows, re-woke me.
My mobile, that’s what I had to do. I stroked Jack’s hair, wondering if I’d done the right thing as a faraway phone rang into my ear.
The other end picked up, the voice nervous. “Hello?” she asked.
“It’s me. I’ve done it. Poor Jack didn’t suspect a thing… Yes, I got the dose right… Just bring the car!”
I paced the room, peering into Jack’s face with each pass.
“I know, I know, I didn’t want to do it this way, either… Please, just get here quickly; I don’t want to be alone with…. I know you’re glad I did it.”
I stopped beside him, and leaned close into his face. With a grimace, I paced off again.
“Yes, I’ll call the police as soon as you’ve gone, but you need to get here first… It really was the only way to do it… They’ll fix him in rehab, I hope… I love you too. Bye, Mum, see you in a while.”
He stirred, sniffing hard. Even in deep sleep, he tried to get high.
“No more Jack the Lad,” I said, “they’ll make you just Jack again.” The words felt false and heavy. There were no guarantees. They told Mum and me that, and then made us sign endless documents that repeated the fact: no guarantees.
I sat down and closed my eyes. The vision of Jack, pallid and lifeless, floated behind my eyelids. Glassy blue eyes followed me as I leaned in for a final kiss goodbye. With a jolt, I pulled out of the nightmare, and back to a merely sleeping Jack the Lad. He shivered mid snore.
My legs heavy, my body tired, I fetched a blanket from the lounge, and draped it over my brother’s broad shoulders. The kettle bubbled, and clicked off in a belch of steam. I fixed a cup of tea, and waited for our mother.