I’ve heard about these turning points in people’s lives, little moments when someone could maybe stop their future from happening. I like the idea of those moments, I’ve missed a few myself. I always wonder what goes through people’s heads after, if they try to be profound or bold, or take the moment and paint it in their head with buckets of emotion. But now that what’s done is done, and now that I’ve staggered to my car, all I can think is, Oh my god, he actually stabbed me; oh my god, this fucking hurts; oh my god, I’m going to have to pull it out myself.Author Leo Rein
The wound isn’t going to kill me. It’s easy to convince myself of that. It takes a bit more to block out the pain long enough to haul myself up and wrench the door open. I didn’t think Silas had it in him. I mumble an apology, to the car I guess, before collapsing in the back seat. That’s a lie, actually, I knew he could do it. I try to pull my mask off over my head but it catches. Part of me considers just giving up and bleeding out before a flash of anger forces me up. I’ve been through worse. I’ve done worse. I tear my mask off, breathing hard, then lean over the passenger seat to open the glove box. I take a fistful of fast food napkins and fall back in the seat, gripping the hilt of the knife jutting out of my thigh.
One. I stuff some of the paper in my mouth to keep from screaming.
Two. Deep breath.
Three. I pull the knife free and black out. Thankfully, I come to after a few seconds and put enough napkins and pressure on the wound to stop the spurting. I spit out the paper and take my shirt off, using an arm and my teeth to tear it into strands. A trick a friend showed me. I make a quick tourniquet or whatever the medical term is for the wound, and dammit, right now, I’m more proud of it than anything else I’ve ever done in my life. My life. I close my eyes and count to ten. Proudest moment of my life.
While my eyes are closed, I see Silas when we were kids. I think of that time we snuck onto the grounds of that high school for rich kids after a week or two of half-assed planning. Two fifteen-year-olds. They looked down on us, yeah, like always, ‘till we sold them those test answers. Then they gave us money as easy as smiling. When that history teacher Mr. Dalliard caught us, it was as red-handed as it could get. Handing a student test pages and taking money. But Silas finessed it. It was beautiful. Ten minutes, ten, in Mr. Dalliard’s office, and Mr. Dalliard was sweeping the bribe into his desk drawer. Our first alliance with power. I started calling him Silas the Slick after that. More and more of the right people heard about him, and by the time we were supposed to graduate high school, he was Slick Silas. Or maybe he changed it himself. He loved that story, and he told it true every time. Loved to tell it. Loved to explain how that’s when he learned, “You can buy anything. You can buy brains, you can buy loyalty, and I bet when you have enough, you can buy money for pennies on the dollar.”
I open my eyes and see red. There is blood on the window and everything else. In another of my many mistakes today, I let myself scream. I don’t know how long it lasts, but by the time it’s stopped, my throat is sore and I’ve bruised my fist and the car window next to me is cracked. That was ten, fifteen years ago? What the fuck happened? I shake out my hand and try to come to terms with the fact that I, me, am going to have to deal with this now. I think of Silas’ mantra in times like these. I can’t help myself, it’s an old habit. It’s something like, “If you’re in trouble, if you’re threatened, asking why wastes time. Your first step is to survive. Survive to ask why.” Always had the words of wisdom. Always had the ideas. Always the go-to guy, and I was always the support. The muscle? I flatter myself. His counsel? That sounds way too formal. But sure. I was his friend. I was.
My leg throbs so bad that I have to gulp down air to not puke. I try to steady my vision, focus on something on the horizon. The car’s clock reads 8:23. Long day ahead for some. I was walking down the street just fine only twenty minutes ago, wow. The timing was important. Had to be a Sunday, because nobody kills on a Sunday morning. It’s unexpected. Vicious. Underhanded. No better chance. Silas is totally unguarded on his walk to church. I told him last week that maybe, what with the tension coming from the east part of town, maybe he shouldn’t walk in broad daylight, unarmed. But then he told me, he told me, “Don’t be such an idiot. I’m safe, don’t even need a weapon. No one would be that stupid.” If he had listened, he could’ve changed my mind just like that. I could still have called it off then, but no, he had to give me that look I grew up with, that fucking look that says, “Catch up or I’ll leave you behind.”
Unarmed. And I believed him.
I wipe my eyes and get blood on my face. I’m going to need a hospital. I’m going to need a doctor. Fuck. I use the last of the napkins to wipe the blood off my face and hands, and pull out my phone to call an ambulance. Then I see three missed calls, two voicemails. Two calls at 8:06; the voicemail landed at 8:08. Another call and voicemail at 8:19. Three missed calls, two voicemails. All from Silas. I check the glove compartment and look round the rest of my car for anything I can get bloody. I find a bottle of water under the seat and drink most of it. I want a different sort of drink. My leg hurts. I think I broke something in my hand. I’ll have to clean my car later. I pick my phone up and put it back down. I remember I wore a belt today. I don’t usually wear belts, but I had to today. Makes me wish I hadn’t shredded my shirt but I tear some more strips off and do a rougher job changing the “bandages.” I pull the belt tight and the pressure feels like the right thing to do. I’m still happy with the work. Maybe I’m bleeding less, too? I don’t feel lightheaded and I can still wiggle my toes. I pick up my phone and put it back down.
My window’s cracked. How the hell? Did someone throw something? My leg throbs again, but not as bad as before. I think the bleeding’s better. It wasn’t a bad cut, I think. Probably. Out the window I see a gray sky starting to brighten. The car clock reads 8:30. Before I give myself another chance to wait, I tap play on the voicemail. First thing I hear is panting, then the message plays. It didn’t sound like Silas; never heard him speak like that. “Niko. Jesus Christ, Nick, I’m sorry, where are you? I was just attacked, God, I’ve been stabbed, I can’t believe it. It’s a fucking church day, too, the bastard. Dammit, you were right, it was someone from the east, he wore one of those Chester belt buckles, you know? You know, of course you know. Fuck. I’m cut but it ain’t bad. I’ll call Dr. Moss in a second, sonofabitch never sleeps, never too early for him. Ha! I got him, though, I got the guy, I always got my knife, you know? I think I got him in the ribs or the foot or, nah, the leg, yeah, he ran away limping. Fucker. I need you here, man, as soon as you can, fucking get a strike team together. We’re getting my knife back, I’m gonna need it.”
Then there is a long pause.
“Uh… should’ve listened to you, man. For once in my life, I should’ve listened to you. You and me, church together from here on out, okay? If you want, I mean. Call me back as soon as you wake up. Please. Okay, bye.” I watch my phone until the screen dims and then goes black. It’s a few seconds before I realize I’m grinning. I try to stop, but I can’t. Amazing. He said, “Please.” He actually did. I haven’t felt this good in years. I feel like Christmas morning. I feel like sex on payday. Motherfucker. Said. Please. I close my eyes and roll my head back. My leg feels like someone else’s. I sink into that feeling, immerse myself in it, hearing him say, “I should’ve listened to you. I should’ve listened to you. I should’ve listened to you.” I listen to the message again, repeating the part where he says he was stabbed over and over.
“God, I’ve been stabbed-” That was for the girl you had me hurt.
“God, I’ve been stabbed-” That was for the robbery at Andrea’s store.
“God, I’ve been stabbed-” That was for this town you fucked up, even since we were little.
“God, I’ve been stabbed-” it goes on. And on. All the people he hurt. Some fucking comeuppance at last. And it was me. Me, you fucker. I did it. I bet you never thought I could. I bet a hundred bucks.
Suddenly I’m aware my throat hurts worse than before and my ears are ringing. Did I shout again? I don’t remember. I rub my mouth and spit out some dried blood, my hands are still a mess. My phone says 8:50, weird. I take a minute to try and steady my vision; it went blurry for a second there. Everything comes back into focus, and a dollop of dopamine drives me to see what else he had to say. I open the second voicemail and hit play.
His tone is calm, polite. “Hey Nick. Can you meet me in the west end? I was thinking Parkland. You know where it is. This takes some planning, I’ll need your — actually that’s pretty close to a church, meet me on Maple by the park instead. I’ll wave to you when you get there. See you soon.” Feels like embers in my heart and ice in my lungs. I swallow a lot of thoughts at once. My arm throws my phone across the car and I hear something break, then I feel my stomach give and I barely manage to open the door before I throw up on the pavement. I try and breathe but can’t catch my breath, there’s something gripping my windpipe and gripping my stomach and pumping my heart. It’s a little while before I notice I’m crying. Haven’t done that since I was eight. I go to finish the water, but it’s gone. I don’t remember doing that.
Unarmed. A laugh bubbles out. I guess I still trusted him. God help me. Even if I managed it, even if I took over, I don’t think I could have made it. The work would’ve eaten me alive. I almost wipe my eyes with a bloody napkin, then I grab my phone. The screen’s shattered. I try to bring up the first voicemail but it’s dead, the phone’s dead. I wait for nothing, then lay in the back seat in the blood and foul air, gripping my leg. I try and shut my emotions up for a minute, like Silas would. But I can’t. I can’t do that like he does.
Because I can’t believe he stabbed me.
I didn’t scream when he did, just like he didn’t scream when I cut him. I could’ve killed him with a gun, easy. But I don’t regret choosing a knife. He deserved it. I don’t regret shouting his name before, either. He earned it. My leg hurts. Goddammit, this really fucking hurts. There must have been a time I could have said no. That’s what life is, right? You can choose? You can take advantage of one of those little moments? I wonder when mine was, the moment I acted when I could have stayed put. If I’m sure of anything, I’m sure it was before today.
I try to think of a memory. My mind’s more than a little foggy. After a minute, a memory comes forward. It’s that night off… off Tempus, Tempus Avenue. He got… someone to get the address of… someone important. He told me what to do, it was a new thing. Nothing hard, but I didn’t understand why I had to. So I slashed the tires of half the cars on the block and he set fire to half a dozen, and to save my life I can’t say why we had to or why I felt great after. And then, after we spent a few blocks joking, with the sirens behind us dealing with what-have you, it was quiet for a while. It was dark, but when I looked at him I could make out his expression. He wore this, this look of casual pride, and he said, “You and me, that’s it. We’re gonna be known, trust me, by the right people. We’re together from here on out, you hear? This city’s ours. Follow me close and this city’s ours.” I asked if he was serious. Quick as that, his expression changed to that look, that old, goddamn motherfucking look, and I heard him say, “What kind of life do you want to live?”
Blood drips between the fingers gripping my leg. I didn’t know. This life, I guess. I remember walking next to Silas, and I remember it being quiet, and then I remember someone screaming. Really screaming. Silas put his hand on my back and kept me walking, saying “Head down. Head down.” Maybe that was the moment. That and about ten thousand other ones since. A moment where it turns out someone got hurt.
I know where he is. He probably knows where I am. There’s not much I’ve been able to hide from him. Maybe he knew what I was going to do, maybe he heard. Fuck, who am I kidding, of course he knew I was planning something. But what I want is that maybe, maybe he didn’t think I was going to do it. Not because he thought I couldn’t, but because he thought I wouldn’t.
It feels like a long, long time before I get up. My leg bleeds on the center console and everything else as I drag myself to the front. I scoop up the keys from the driver’s seat and steel myself up for the next step. I’m dizzy and sick and in pain. He calls and I show up to help. That’s how it works. How it’s always worked. And it’s not like I can hide this fucking wound. Old habit makes me check the back seat through the rear-view mirror. It scares me for a moment. Doesn’t look like my car anymore. Looks like something died. I grip my leg as I push on the clutch and start the car. Then I start making my way to where Silas already is.