Short Story

Dark Rose

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Mar 5, 2009
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I wrote this one night because I couldn't sleep and was reading American Gods. A lot of random things happen this way but this is the only one to have made it on to a computer:

Call No Man Happy Unless He Is Dead

Ket was 18. Just old enough to vote, vote for any corrupt government he wanted. Except, of course, that he couldn’t. Prisons didn’t hold with that sort of liberty, they claimed that defeated the point. Ket didn’t get that. What if all the people in the prisons were the ones who were right. He knew he was right.

They had said he was a “deeply disturbed youth”, a “clever boy who’d stepped off the edge of reason”, “smart enough to be tried as an adult”. That wasn’t fair either. He hadn’t been 18 when he’d committed their “crime”. “Unrepentant, gloating and evil,” the Prosecutor has said. A short, balding man with one wife, three children, two current mistresses and a couple of bastards he refused to acknowledge, blackmailing a judge for some side gain.

“Bastard called me evil?” Ket glared at the caricature pinned on his wall. With some imagination it may have been considered a drawing of a human. It was stuck to the wall with some bent staples Ket had ripped out of a magazine. He’d rammed them straight through the prosecutor’s eyes. Laying back on the hard bed Ket sighed. “I only wanted to help them, I made them happy, I loved them; he’s the one making everyone miserable. He should be here not me.”

Ket could remember clearly, the day it had started. He had a good memory: he could remember how the blood had pooled in pretty patterns; how it had splashed across his face; how it had tasted. It had tasted happy. The policeman had said their faces were “twisted in horror”. The policeman was an idiot. His tag had been sticking out of his jacket. He had been off-duty. Shouldn’t have even been there. Nosey git. Ket knew they’d been smiling.

That wasn’t how it started. It had started with Miss Mary May. Well it hadn’t, and that wasn’t really her name, but she was born in May, and she smelled like May. Ket could remember that smell. She’d giggled as he ran his hands through her hair, kissing her neck behind the school library, smelling that smell of her. She’d said she loved him. Now she didn’t even write. Her lawyer had written though, nice man, red hair. So had some random folks saying Mary didn’t live in her house any more. Hadn’t been her parents, he knew their handwriting, there was some stranger living in Mary’s scent now. That was wrong. He loved her, she should visit, he could make her happy too.

The school bell had wrung, wrenched him away from her auburn curls and red lips. He hadn’t wanted to go to class but she made him, always made him, she knew he was clever and wanted him to have a good future, be happy. He wanted her to be happy too.

They’d been studying Herodotus. Ket liked Herodotus, he’d been an interesting bloke. The teacher had emphasised one line, asked them to think about it. She was a pretty slip of a thing, an NQT as they called them, Newly Qualified Teacher, all pinks and short skirts and bobbed hair. She made eyes at the geography teacher. He didn’t notice. He was gay. She hadn’t noticed.

“Call No Man Happy Unless He Is Dead.” Ket thought of it with capital letters. It made things seem more important, easier to remember. He still hadn’t got it. He had been happy, he had Mary May, a rich father and a mother who was the epitome of maternal qualities; she made excellent cookies. And last he had checked, he, Ket, had not been dead. Maybe Herodotus was just a miserable old sod for all he was clever.

Sometimes, as he lay watching the blank prison ceiling, Ket wished it had finished there. But he knew that was selfish. Martyrs didn’t whinge.

He hadn’t known why at the time but the line had haunted him. Slowly he’d come to understand. Miss Lafae was not happy making eyes at Mr Knowles. The smile on her lips belied by the loneliness in those pretty blue eyes. Johnny Scott was, according to the girls, “rather good looking” and had many friends, but he wasn’t very bright. Apparently he’d even had Mary, that made Key angry. Sally Jones’ older brother had died in a car crash, it made her cry to walk through the parking lot, she was the star of the netball team. Jeany was the star of the cookery class but she was too fat to be happy, Ket had decided she’d die of a coronary one day.

Still, he himself, Ket, had been happy. What was the saying? “There is an exception to every rule”? So maybe he was that exception. He’d won Mary from Johnny, he was going to Cambridge or Oxford or somewhere posh sounding like his sister was, he was athletic enough not to worry about this health.

You couldn’t really run in prison, that annoyed him. Were they trying to solve overcrowding by killing you of claustrophobia? Sure there was exercise but you couldn’t just run. One man had tried. One man had therefore been shot. And Ket wasn’t allowed out with the others. He was “dangerous”. He didn’t care if those assholes were happy or not, they could suffer for all he cared. His mother would be sad if she saw what they’d done to him. At least she couldn’t be sad anymore.

Ket had always though this family were happy too. The fateful class had been in October. His sister had come home at Christmas, just like always. Come home when he was at school. He’s come home and gone to her room to see her. She’d been crying, her green eyes red and puffy, very seasonal. She refused to tell him why. All Ket had known was that this was it, the beginning of the end. Unhappiness had breached his family. He wouldn’t let it.

So over the holidays he’d watched his sister. “Spying” the bald adulterer had called it. “Protecting” Ket had called it. The spikey haired git who’d been dating his sister had dumped her. Said so right in a letter. Not even man enough to do it face to face. Ket had never liked the man, wasn’t good enough for his sister, should have been grateful. Ket explained this to his sister. For some reason she had been mad. Then she told him he was right. Ket had been happy again, the evil of sorrow had been expelled. He’d been rather pleased with himself. He hadn’t noticed his sister’s still sad eyes. He had noticed the lock on her desk drawer. Then she’d gone back to University.

While she was away the fighting had started. Some upstart was threaten in g his father’s business. Ket understood business: money in, money out, more money in than out equals good. He’d won a gold ribbon for first place for running a “business” at school. He had helped his father with his sometimes too. This sadness, Jet had reasoned, he could fix. He didn’t know why money in/money out problems made his parents fight thought. And they were keeping him the dark. Ket didn’t like being kept out of things, he liked knowledge. “Knowledge is power” and you needed it to fix things. His mother had thrown a plate at his father. Ket had fixed it with glue. He knew how to do that. His father had smashed it again throwing it back at his mother. Ket had realised his parents needed fixing before the plate. He was no longer happy. Nor were his parents but he still loved them. He tried to make them talk, begged, pleaded, Herodotus knocking on his head the whole time.

They’d apologised, gotten on with life. His mother and father dais they’d just been stressed about money, they still loved him, they still loved each other. He knew that, his room was next to theirs and their bed had a loose spring.

But still no one had been happy. There was no money. The House went up for sale and was snatched up immediately. Miss Lafae had cried because Mr Knowles had tried it with a woman and hated it. Johnny failed his January Exams. Sally threw a rock through a car window. Jeany couldn’t even run the 400m.
Ket’s sister had come home again at Easter. Ket had noticed she getting fat and had been displeased. Still, he loved his sister, and he was happy to see her. His parent’s were not. His father had shouted, his mother had cried. His sister was pregnant they’d explained, the spikey haired father buggered off. There was no money. No money for University, no money for cookies, no money for a baby. Herodotus had kept knocking on Ket’s mind and Ket had opened the door.
They were going to move a week after Easter, one week and five days soon. A new school, new friends. No more Mary May, no more scent of her lingering on his clothes. His sister would keep the baby, it was part of the family, it was loved, they would manage. But her father had still looked tired and his mother had grey in her dark hair. Ket had loved them. He still loved them. He couldn’t let them be unhappy.

For Easter morning his mother had scrapped together some cash and made his favourite cookies. His father had whistled as he put on his red silk tie for the Special Meal as his sister laid the table with his Grandmother’s silver for the last time. Now they were happy. Ket loved them too much to let them be unhappy again. He oculdn’t let a baby be born into such a world of sorrow.

His mother had smiled as she’d hugged him, as the knife had gently slid between her ribs. He loved her most, she’d be happy first. He’d helped his sister next, baby and mother together as he knew she would have wanted. His father last. He’d been standing, frozen, waiting for the joy, you couldn’t see the blood on the red of his tie. Then they’d all looked so serene, so happy, and Ket was happy for them. The off duty policeman ruined it all, he’d broken the front door off the pretty house. He hadn’t understood. But he’d been too late to stop Ket fixing his family.

The judge and jury hadn’t understood either. Hadn’t understood that Jesus had risen on Easter Sunday and so had Ket’s family. Hadn’t understood that Ket couldn’t let his sister’s son or daughter be born to be sad.

And now here he was, a martyr for their happiness.

Alone in cell, Ket smiled.

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