The Quaint Neighborhood Of Mr. Allan Redfish
Allan Redfish, who signed himself A. Redfish, stepped out his door and headed toward the store. He needed cigarettes, some orange juice and a lucky ticket to start the day off right. He always got the cigarettes, usually the juice and never the lucky ticket. Well, the ticket, he got. The lucky went home with someone else.
Today was no better, no worse. He won two dollars back on the ticket and pocketed it for his bus ride later that day. If you didn't count the money he spent on the tickets, the money he made back paid for most of his transportation out and about. He pulled his left shoe tighter before he stepped off the curb and went over to the library.
He was working his way through the back issues of military magazines. His guns at home were oiled and kept just so, out of reach but in reach, at once. He was not the marrying kind so rugrats manhandling them was not an issue.
He found page forty-seven where he'd left off yesterday. Numbers, he was good at. Speech, not so much. He'd had a hard time speaking as a child. Still as an adult, the first words of a conversation would get stuck in his throat. It was like someone else had to wind up the situation, get it ticking, and then he was fine.
It was a physical issue, the timing of his breath, his speech and whatever in his brain managed speech but no one thought of it that way. Some people had a need to think he'd snubbed them and he fit the bill for those in the neighborhood who had a need for rage.
The thousand conversations he never started were returned to him by pebbles then rocks thrown at his car. What used to be his car. It was dismantled bit by bit over the years. It stood in his side yard now, a monument to the desperate vices of his neighbors.
While he sat at the library reading his magazines, fingers would point lovingly at dings and dents on its door. I did that. With the pride of fine craftsmanship. Only it wasn't a trade they had learned but more of an addiction.
Of course, evil does not view itself as evil. Hitler didn't stay up nights pondering his failings. He went joyfully through his day, demolishing lives. His neighbors never admitted their actions and if they did, fibbed to themselves about why. The physical acts mirrored the destruction of their souls, but they always turned the mirror outward, hoping to flash the brightness toward someone else's faults.
Sometimes the brightness took the form of harassing phone calls. His vegetable garden being overturned. His good dishes broken and the handles left in the sink with his cigarette butts. They were intent on putrefying his life to the deep level of dredge in their souls. It was quite a task and one they did not accomplish over night.
The third year in the neighborhood, his home was vandalized and a large A painted on his door. No one knew his name was Allan, as no one had asked. They did rifle his mail and saw that his bills came to A. Redfish so to them, that is what he was. A red fish to be speared, fried in cornmeal and eaten. They were not polite enough to wipe the crumbs off their lips afterwards.
This was not something that troubled their mamas as their mamas made excuses for them. Their sons and daughters were mischievous. Or going through a stage. Or under the influence of someone older.
No mama ever looked into her own heart and said This, this is what I created.
As the children, and by children I mean people as old as ninety-two, grew their hate for him grew as well. They had never learned to grow anything else so their impulses for gardening or model plane building were thwarted and warped until they twined their way up his arms and into his life.
Over the years, the vines became a jungle filled with parrots and wild birds without names. He grew used to the shade of his jungle and after awhile didn't know how to function outside of it.
This is the day he stepped into when he left the library. The sun was bright and he lifted his arm to shield himself. His skin was pale and could've used the sun but not his eyes. They were tired and by now he had taken to wearing sunglasses to have respite from the town's stares as he practiced his daily life.
I say practice as nothing he did ever turned out right. It didn't use to be this way. Once, but when, he used to live a normal life. But that was not even in the rear view mirror anymore. He was not even sure how to find that life.
The clerk from the gas station watched him cross the street. She fingered the seventy five dollars in her jean pocket his lucky ticket had awarded her that morning. The girls had decided long ago, the day he took two packets of matches at once, that he owed them something.
And, so they began. So far, Tara's daughter had tap lessons and Mary's son had wooden blocks, the expensive old fashioned kind that cost more than they were worth, but looked nice. Like you cared about your kids. She liked that.
This clerk, Nora, was planning a holiday weekend with her boyfriend. Seventy-five bucks might not buy everything, but it would be gas to the next town over, dinner and maybe some flowers. She hated paying for her own flowers, but if her boyfriend wouldn't pony up for them himself, she would have to.
She watched him turn the corner to his street. She waved at Landry, the nice man on the corner who kept his yard so neat. He waved back then reached down for his trash can and pushed it out to the curb to get ready for tomorrow.
As Allan Redfish stepped up the cement to the sidewalk, Landry wiped his face of sweat and the trash can fell at Allan's feet. Allan did not jump back, but looked Landry in the eyes, stepped over a banana peel and continued his walk. A year ago, he might have jumped. Two years ago, he would have offered to help the old man pick it up. Now, he just walked.
He walked for miles though it was only a few steps until he was back at his own home. The paint which had been nice when he moved in had peeled the tiniest bit each time he left. His wooden steps wore away at the corners with more steps than he had ever taken. Inside, his cake mix would have a tiny pebble in it and his favorite plant would be caught in the window.
He locked his door more out of happenstance than any belief it kept him safe. He kept himself safe, or rather God did. The devil is in the details he thought, as he set down to polish his friend. It glimmered back at him the way a pond does when a pebble breaks the surface and the ripples continue on til they lap the banks and brush up against the toes of a frog.
Later on, the news would say a strange man had come out of nowhere and shot the nicest man on the street. The shooter was a stranger, whom no one knew, but who had lived there for longer than the ones who were interviewed for their opinions by the news.
There were two life insurance policies tied with a greasy string in his left jacket pocket when Mr. A. Redfish took his last afternoon stroll. One benefitted the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the other, Mr. Landry's cat Hubert.
Author: Meriwether O' Connor