He was given the order over a week ago, and waited until now to act on it. He exhausted every excuse. He had to produce something.
It was that time of day when all you could hear were your thoughts and little else. His were giving him an uneasy feeling. It wasn’t the first time he had an order like this, but this time was not like the others. Things were different since his return. He still trusted his strength and his memory, but not his judgement. That part was no longer with him. It escaped somehow when he wasn’t paying attention.
To the adolescent boys of the neighborhood he was just another old man now. To the tired old men in the corner cafe passing their days in half-silence, worry beads in hand, he was one of those poor young men who would never be the same. To his wife he was sometimes no more than a foolhardy boy that made her “worry with love.” He liked knowing his wife thought of him as a foolhardy boy and that she still loved him. But when she worried and he could see it, he felt her weight on him and that uneasy feeling would return, and it would take hours alone in their bedroom – a soft dark room – for it to go away. His wife would return from her daily visit to her sister a few whitewashed houses down the dusty road and know not to ask, just to pretend with a smile on her weary face that her foolhardy boy was fine.
The light of day was beginning to penetrate the open space of his shop through its many crevices. The piece of paper with the order lay on the wooden table in front of him. He began to study it carefully. Turning on the lights would have made the task easier, but he decided against it. The order was specific and written by hand, a woman’s hand. The letters bubbled in blue ink and floated with purpose on the ashen paper. He read it once quietly to himself and then two more times aloud – the second time to make sure what he had read and what he was hearing matched, the third to memorize it. The uneasy feeling was not as strong now.
He turned his body slowly to the left to see if anyone was outside yet. He was glad to see no one. He sat there for a few minutes looking and listening to be certain. Once convinced, he turned back around to the table just as slowly, took a deep trembling breath and exhaled the order one last time in a throaty grunt. For a moment, he considered praying, but decided against it.
Lifting the cleaver from the wooden table with his left hand, he felt ready. He gripped the pearl handle firmly, then vicelike, then with such white-knuckle violence that his hand lost feeling. He lanced it at the table (almost missing it completely). The blade’s edge penetrated the wood, leaving a deep visible gash on a corner of its smooth oak surface. He could not believe how foreign it felt in his hand, as if it would never belong there again. This brought back the feeling of uneasiness, and the uneasiness amplified his doubt, and his thoughts replayed the scene of almost missing the table with his cleaver. He sat there paralyzed, his eyes fixed on the erect cleaver, the pearl handle glinting at him, mockingly, from the edge of the table.
A Soft Dark Room | Christopher Troy ©
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