One of the Darker Nights

by Katie James

Down in the dark, the old man sits there and rubs his face
with the palm of his hand. He’s watching the computer screen
and he’s falling asleep, when a sound comes from the case

behind him. The case that remembers a certain teen
and his brave-faced grin in that dimly lit alleyway.
Behind him, a flash of red, yellow, green.

“Wake up, old man,” he hears a familiar voice say.
“This case ain’t gonna solve itself, you know.”
He turns around, rubs his eyes, stutters, “Jay?”

“Duh. Who else would it be? You didn’t go
and give my name to someone else, did you?”
He can’t speak, nothing to say, but shakes his head no.

“Good. Because after that psycho beat me black and blue
I sure as hell hope you learned your lesson:
this isn’t exactly the kind of life you drag a kid into.

And yeah, I knew the risk came with the profession,
but I was invincible; I trusted you to keep me safe.
Don’t know what gave me that impression.”

Maybe it’s the dark that’s settled deep in the cave,
but the old man looks at this boy and he knows.
He’s seeing this orphan, this stray, this waif,

with the tears in his eyes and the tears in his clothes
and the blood that drips down his cheeks like rivers.
Split lip, swollen eyes and a broken nose.

The old man looks and the old man shivers.
“What’s wrong? Can’t look? Don’t like what you see?”
His voice is broken, tired, weak and withered.

“Right at the end I thought you’d come for me.
I thought, if I held out, if I just stayed strong,
I’d be ok. You wouldn’t leave me, would you, B?

Who knew that I could be so wrong?
I took the crowbar, I watched the countdown;
I never knew seconds could last so long.

I swear, I was convinced I was gonna drown
in blood and ashes and rubble and smoke.
And I tried not to think of that bastard clown

as I called out for you and I tried not to choke.”
The old man was broken, the old man was crying,
but he managed to speak, managed to croak:

“I’m sorry I failed you. I’m sorry for not trying
harder. I’m sorry for treating you as part of a team,
and not as my son.” Too late. The blood is drying

and the boy disappears without a smile or a scream.
The alarm wakes the old man and it’s loud like a siren.
He wipes his eyes, shakes his head, remembers a dream

of a brave-faced street kid with bright eyes and a tyre iron.

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