This story is part of Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure’s First Ever Short Story Contest.
t must have been summer. There weren’t any clouds, or not many anyway. We were young, just kids. Danny’s front garden had a tall tree in it, the sort that has a long curved stem and leaves right at the top, splaying out all over the place. Like a palm tree, I suppose, right in the middle of the lawn.
I remember he had called to my house and we’d gone out onto the road. It didn’t take much to convince me to go out. It never did, then. By the time we got to the McAvinues’ house, Danny decided that we needed to inject a little urgency. I remember him smiling at me and then he set off running very fast into his driveway and diagonally across the front lawn, his hand raking along the palm tree as he headed towards the side passage of the house. I started running as fast as I could, but he had a good head start and the total distance to be covered was so short I knew I would never catch him, but if I could just keep him in my sights it might not be so bad. Then he disappeared around the corner of the house as I jumped over the flowerbed onto the grass. I could hear him giggling as he ran, that mix of breathing hard and laughing I heard so many times in those days.
By the time I got to the corner of the house the laughing had stopped. Danny was standing by the back door, hunched over, breathing hard. As my run slowed I wondered why he didn’t go inside. What was he waiting for? I stopped at the bin when I saw the blood. Danny was wheezing and I was scared then, confused. I couldn’t see where the blood was coming from, but it must have been coming from him, it must have been coming from Danny. Something had happened in those seconds between him disappearing around the corner and me reaching the side of the house.
I saw him reach up and put his hand on the handle of the back door. His fingers were stained with his own blood, but they didn’t tremble. The opening of the door seemed to break a spell and I could move again. I slowly made my way to the steps leading into the kitchen. Danny was standing framed in the doorway, just starting to sniffle. His mother and father were sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and reading newspapers. I suppose they didn’t look up immediately because it was just one of their children coming through the back door, as probably happened every ten minutes during the holidays.
From where I was standing it was hard to see where the blood was coming from, but I could see it dripping onto the kitchen floor. I was mesmerised by the red fluid that was flowing out from some hole in my best friend. It seemed – or it seems now, the memory of it – like everything was in black and white except for that stream of vivid colour pouring onto the floor. His father glanced up from the paper and seemed to freeze for a moment, as if he too was transfixed by the brilliant red liquid his son was spouting. Then both parents shouted different things and leaped up, grabbing Danny, dabbing carefully at the source of the blood. His father made an effort to gently but hurriedly wipe his face, wrapping him in a rug, bundling him up like he was a toddler. They asked me questions – what happened? how long ago? – but I couldn’t answer them. I just stood there watching as they carried him out the front door, shouting to me or anybody else that might have been in the house, put him into the car with urgent tenderness and drove away.
I wasn’t sure what to do then. I was standing in front of the two steps that led up to the open back door. They had blood on them. There was blood on the concrete where the wall joins the doorway; that must have been where the impact happened. I didn’t know whether or not I should close the door or leave it open. I was still standing there wondering what to do when Brendan, Danny’s older brother, came into the kitchen to see what all the fuss was about. He looked a little confused at first by the empty room with the open exterior door. Then he saw the blood and then he saw me. I could tell he assumed the two were connected somehow. I must have been the cause of this bloodletting on his kitchen floor. He asked me what had happened, but I still seemed unable to speak, as if Danny’s head injury had affected my power of speech. I remember feeling cold. It must have been getting late in the afternoon.
Brendan stood in the kitchen looking at me, standing out in the passageway. We were separated by his brother’s blood. I wasn’t looking directly at him, but I knew he was looking at me. He wanted details I couldn’t give him because I had been struck dumb. He started to get angry with me because of my silence. I felt the tears coming before they started streaming from my eyes. He was still shouting when I turned and ran away, back the same way I had run in with Danny only a few minutes before, when it was still summer, when there was no blood.
My father’s dirty green Land Rover was parked inside the gate and I had to step onto the lawn to get past it. He didn’t like me or my sister walking on the lawn, but when his big car was in the way, there wasn’t any choice. I hoped he wouldn’t see me, but even if he was watching and getting that brittle look he used to get on his face, it didn’t matter. All I really wanted to do then was get inside to my own room and try to breathe without rasping.
My mother was in the kitchen, sweeping the floor, I think, when I came in the back door. The same sort of back door that Danny had staggered through earlier. I was not dripping blood all over the lino, but I was probably more anxious than Danny had been bleeding in his kitchen. My mother looked up and asked me to mind the pile of dust on the floor – I think it was the pile of dust she mentioned – but I kept walking through the kitchen doorway into the hall. I was at the bottom of the stairs when I vomited.
I don’t know how long I was there for. I never worked it out. I remember my father looking worried as he dragged me by the hand up the stairs to the bathroom, but I didn’t know if he was worried about me or the carpet. I could smell the puke on my face and my clothes. The smell made me dizzy and I thought I might vomit again, but I managed to keep my mouth closed against the wave that pushed up into my throat from my stomach. My arm where he held me got sorer as we crested the top of the stairs and burst into the bathroom.
My father held my head down, in case I spewed anywhere but in the bowl. This made my neck sore, but the vomit didn’t last long. He let me go and I sat on the toilet floor briefly, feeling sore inside and out. I wanted water. My father pulled me over to the sink and threw water on my face. Then he told me to brush my teeth and get out of my clothes. I wanted to tell him that I needed a drink of water, but he was already walking away. I was shaking a little bit, as I started taking off my clothes. And I didn’t know whether I should put the clothes straight into the laundry basket or if they needed to be rinsed first. I didn’t do much rinsing of clothes then. Not like now.
My mother came into the bathroom as I was running water on the pukey clothes. She wasn’t happy. She told me that I shouldn’t be standing in my underpants in the bathroom because I’d get cold. I shouldn’t be rinsing dirty clothes in the bath. She didn’t touch me, though. She took the last stitch of clothes off me and put me in the shower and scrubbed me with an un-soaped facecloth. I didn’t cry, I don’t think. Or if I did, I suppose she didn’t notice because of the shower running.
Her drying was pretty aggressive. She told me my father would talk to me before I went to bed. Then she told me to get into my pyjamas. I wanted to protest that it was too early to go to bed and how come my sister didn’t have to go too, but instead I told her that I didn’t want my father to come and talk to me, I didn’t feel well. She stopped drying me and told me to get into my pyjamas right away.
I was trembling as I put on my pjs. My father would talk to me and my sister – but mostly me – whenever he or my mother decided we needed to be spoken to. I was always jealous of Danny because when his parents said they wanted to talk to him, they actually meant talk. Even if they were cross, it was still better, better than the wordless talking that my father was on his way up the stairs to do with me.
I thought about Danny. I wondered if he was in the hospital or back at home. All that blood, even my parents might be worried. When he was finished with me, my father had that look in his eye, that crestfallen look he always had right after. I suppose now it might have meant he felt guilty or a little bit sorry, but he never said anything. He just walked out of the room slowly without looking back.
I dreamed that Danny was being buried in a little white box. I still had some blood, but all of his had spilled out on the ground, the kitchen floor, the car. While the coffin was being lowered into the hole, the lid opened and inside I didn’t see Danny, I saw my father, all twisted up to fit into such a small space. He had that look on his face. I was smiling.
I woke up and saw my sister asleep in the bed across from me. She was smiling too. We must have both been having the same dream. I walked out into the bathroom. I didn’t need to turn the light on, I knew where my father kept his razor. I tried to climb into the bath to keep the blood off the floor, but my arms hurt. Then I started crying and wishing that I had just stayed in bed. I went down stairs, trying to catch the blood dripping from my arm.
The road was lit by the two streetlights between our house and Danny’s. I walked slowly, probably leaving little drops of blood and tears behind me, until I got to the back door of Danny’s house. It was hard to tell in the dark, but I think his blood had been cleaned up from the steps. I sat down, feeling sorry that I was spilling more blood and wondering what I should do. The door opened and Danny’s father was standing there with a big black bin bag in his hand. He nearly stepped on me.
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Niall Ó Sioradáin is from Dublin, Ireland. He has written for the stage, radio and television. In 2011 he was short listed for the Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award. Recently he was long listed for the Fish Publishing International Short Story Contest and was awarded third place in the Doire Press International Fiction & Poetry Chapbook Competition. This is his first contribution to Snake-Oil Cure.