“What’d you think about me in high school?” Jack was grinning like a simpleton out a broken window at every piece of train graffiti that stuttered past.

The man shrugged beneath the weight of chains.

Jack squinted at him and wagged a finger. “No, no. No bullshit. Don’t avoid the question because I have you chained up in a barrel. Be honest.”

The man licked his lips and tasted gasoline. “You were kind of a bully. I mean, you were funny and all when it was somebody else, but …”

Jack’s eyes bulged. “Did I bully you?”

The man tried to breathe slowly through his nose, but the fumes made it onerous and nauseating. He had to take deep, burning lungsful past his broken teeth to keep from vomiting. “You called me Gary Fairy.”

Jack’s laughter echoed in the abandoned warehouse. “I don’t remember that.”

The man laughed, spuming sweat and gas. “Yeah. Pissed me off.”

Jack raised his eyebrows. “I bet it did.” He flicked at his nose with a thumb. “Was I good at stuff?”

The man looked around. “I don’t know. You were good in welding class.”

Jack nodded and frowned at his boots. “Yeah, I took it up for a while, you know? Good money. Is that what you thought I’d do?”

“Yeah. Or military. Never expected to see you in a suit and tie.”

Jack examined his clothing. “Yeah, well, dress for the job you want, right? When you came in my office to hire me, surprised the shit out of you, right? Were you impressed?”

The man smiled and nodded. “It looked really professional, Jack.” He started to cry.

“Now, don’t—” Jack cocked his head at him and grimaced. “This girl—this girl, Fairy, she—” He raised one eyebrow and curled his lip. “You hear that? Shit. Forgot all about it, but in conversation … came right back to me. Yeah, I was a prick. I’m real sorry, man.”

The man hung his head. “It’s OK.”

Jack patted his cheek. “This girl don’t want nothing to do with you, man. I followed her—looked all into her life. Know what I found? She moved on. It’s like me and Sara, really. So I get it. I do. You keep holding on and holding on and trying to see something in it that ain’t there. What she really needs—like Sara, what Sara needs—she needs you to go away. So I can’t give you what you wanted—what you paid for. And I can’t do shit for Sara. But this girl? I can give her what she needs. Cause this is it.”

The man’s lips smacked with a white paste. “This is what?”

“What I’m good at. Making people hurt. It’s all I’ve ever been good at.”

The man thrust out his words and his gummy lips like a delirious child. “Why?”

Jack went back to the window and lit a cigarette. “When I was little, my sister and I raked the yard one day. Got it all in this big ass pile to jump in. I was excited as hell. Ran inside to get this Superman cape my grandma made me for Halloween. My sister helped me get all dressed up and shit. By the time we came back outside, you know what we found? My dad. He’d gathered all those fucking leaves up into a barrel. Was standing over it with a beer and a cigarette watching them burn. When I started crying, he ripped off my cape and threw it in the fire because he said it made me look queer.”

The man nodded rapidly. “So you know what it’s like. And I know what it’s like. And I get it now. I get it, and I won’t do anything anymore, and I won’t mess with her or anything. You wanted me to get it, didn’t you? That’s why you told me the story, wasn’t it?”

Jack frowned at his cigarette and blew on its tip to stoke the orange glow. “No, Gary. That’s not why I told you the story.” He flicked his cigarette into the barrel and turned back around to watch the trains.

~ fin ~

Matt Coleman lives in Texarkana, Arkansas, with the love of his life and their two daughters. They have four rescued dogs, three rescued cats, and a fish who refuses to die. He has worked in education for fourteen years. His writing has appeared in numerous places, including apt Literary Magazine. He also spent three years as a writer for the comedy podcast, The City Life Supplement. His first novel, Juggling Kittens, will be released by Pandamoon Publishing in 2015.