“Anger is an acid that can do more damage to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured” – Mark Twain
The searing sunlight broke through the thin and devastated curtains. He couldn’t get rid of them though. They were Anna’s curtains. One of the only reminders of her that he still possessed. He couldn’t stand to stay in the same house with constant reminders of his failure to protect her. To protect them both. Every day he asked himself the same question: why? Why was he still here perusing a pair of curtains that did nothing but remind him of what he lost? Of what was taken from him. And every day he answered his own question instantly. He perused these curtains because they reminded him of what kept him going for the past year – revenge.
He thought it ridiculous how oft vengeance was talked about as a poison: he saw it as a sustenance – the only thing that kept their faces in his head day and night, night and day. Their faces faded when he didn’t focus on the fire that burnt inside him, and if the only thing he could do to see them again was to consume himself with rage, then he would do it. Without question.
After staring at the curtains for a few minutes he rose up, walking over to the full-length mirror in the square bedroom. He looked over his body, recounting the scars he’d accumulated over the years. There were more than a few to say the least. His eyes rested on the playful bite scar that their old family dog, Koala, gave him. Koala. He was Ellie’s favourite, and he reminisced on how she toddled around chasing him while he chased a ball around their garden. It hurt him to remember Ellie, his beautiful little girl. She was the world to him, and the day she was born changed everything for him; no longer was an unreliable husband, seeing the joke in anything and everything. He resolved to be the father and husband that his family needed, who would be there for them, who would provide for them: who would protect them. But he failed. It was a year ago today that they were taken from him, that their car had been thrust off Winnipeg Bridge and thrust to the depths of the lake below. It was also the day that rather than living for his family, he began to live for vengeance.
He could care less what the judges and the press said about John Smith. About the driver of the 4×4 who collided into his family. In his eyes, the man who killed his family was guilty and if the authorities wouldn’t step up to the plate then he would. He would be judge, jury and executioner and he would take back everything he lost. He had to. He got dressed and walked over to his desk, opening the top drawer. Inside laid the 6 shot .38 revolver that he purchased at his local gun shop, and after checking the cylinder was loaded, he tucked it into his waistband and walked to his door.
Before exiting he looked around the apartment. He didn’t intend to come back here – and his eyes rested on a framed picture of his family. It was for a moment here that his demons were suppressed, and he told himself: “Anna and Ellie would be ashamed of you”. But they weren’t here to be ashamed of him, and the only person responsible for that was the person who didn’t lose a thing that day. It almost made him choke up a laugh. John Smith had lost nothing – he carried on his life as normal. Their deaths were a blip on the scope of his world. He had lost everything. How could he not chase revenge? His choice was made from the day the Land Rover sunk to the bottom of the lake. It was madness for sheep to talk peace with wolves.
It was a perfect day in fall. The leaves blew in the wind and crunched under his footsteps; the wings of his coat lightly blowing with the breeze. He didn’t want to waste this day, he had no idea how many more he would have like this.
It wasn’t far until he arrived at the door of the man who ruined his life. He noticed the family car that sat in the driveway and refused to let it soften his resolve. He intended to let it steel it. But again the picture popped up in his head. He remembered his daughter running up to him at the door every time he came home from work, her curly hair bouncing as he lifted her from the ground. He remembered Anna’s face, obscured by her locks as it popped round the frame of the living room door, bidding him welcome; and doubt flooded into him. But the steel of the revolver was cold against his skin and he remembered what had fueled him for the past year. How could he relinquish his pursuit when for so long he had dedicated himself to this? He had long battled with his demons, just as he had long told himself that just as mercy has its place in this world, so too do cruelty and revenge. And so he told himself this again, repeating it over and over and over right up until he lifted the lion’s head knocker and dropped it once, twice, three times.
John Smith opened the door, but his attention was instead drawn immediately to the little girl that was traipsing in mud around the house behind him. John implored her to take her welly boots off before turning and greeting him at the door. He couldn’t bring himself to respond to the man who killed his wife, and instead his hand drew itself to the revolver in his waistband – drawing it out, flicking the safety and pointing it straight towards his heart.
He could feel the John Smith’s fear in the air and deemed it euphoric. The culmination of a year’s incomprehensible anguish, misery and unending pain. He had envisioned the moment to be a lot more hectic, though the man’s fear as he stared down the barrel of the revolver was the complete opposite. It was obvious that he knew who his gunman was, and so no words escaped his mouth as he silently came to terms with the fate lain before him. This moment was the antidote to it all, it had to be didn’t it? Nothing else could vanquish this pain.
Then the girl ran down the hallway, stopping at her father’s leg and looked up at the nub of his revolver, frozen in horror. The imagined agitation came to fruition at this moment, as John seized upon the distraction to plead with his assassin. Tears streamed down the girl’s cheeks as she clung to her father in confusion of the situation and he had to fight even harder to steel his will. His jaw fell open as he tried to bring himself ever closer to squeezing the trigger, but as he moved to do so, he felt a sudden warmth drop onto his lower lip. His own tears mirrored the child’s and his resolve began to shatter. He saw Ellie’s face in the little girl’s and saw Ellie’s tears in the little girl’s and he began to take John’s pleas for mercy into account. Just as he told himself that cruelty and revenge have their place in this world, so too did mercy. As he deliberated with his demons, the girl’s loud cries roused him.
He sat at his desk while he cradled a glass of bourbon in his hands. The liquor flamed his body as it trickled down, and when he finished the glass he reached down to the revolver tucked into his waistband. He emptied the cylinder onto the desk in front of him and counted out the six unspent rounds. He was increasingly sure that he had done the right thing, that to leave the man’s family without him would be a cruel fate akin to his own that he had suffered. And even so he couldn’t escape the idea that he had failed his own family – that he had dedicated himself to one goal, and he couldn’t see it through.
Shaking with an uncontrollable rage, he couldn’t escape the idea that not only did he fail to protect his family, he couldn’t even avenge them. He let this rage consume him. And as he did so, he loaded a solitary bullet into the cylinder of his revolver and brought it up to his own temple.
Title Image: ‘Strong In Love’ by Robert Longo