The Place Before The Place

Sometimes all it takes is a quiet place for you to reflect.

That way you can feel the full weight of your regret.

The Place Before The Place by Beau Johnson

Wincing, you prepare, and as the car swerves hard onto the pavement your back is jabbed by the pointy end of the tire iron which is wedged and leaning at an improbable angle.  It’s not the first time this has happened.  Cursing, you can only hope the driver will ensure it is the last. 

In the dark you struggle to free your hands against the duct tape they've wrapped around your wrists behind your back.  It doesn't give, not an inch, but still you believe the strength will come.  Drenched, your hair falls into your eyes, lays matted to your forehead.  It’s hot in here, a furnace, but you know the majority of the heat is more from you and the situation you have gotten yourself into; that this, the trunk, is no more than the place before the place.

You swallow, spit, your breathing unlike anything you have experienced before.  Not from ball, from running, or even from sex. This is breathing scared. Or perhaps you’re hyperventilating and you just don’t know the difference.  Either way, it was stupid what you did, skimming.  Did you think they wouldn’t catch on?  Better yet, did you have to up the stakes?  In what world is an extra five grand a month considered chump change? 

You shake your head, unable to answer your own questions.  Instead you think of Luke, of how he will continue life without a father; that you will never get to teach him all the things never taught to you.  You well up at this, there in the dark, and just once you wish you were able to remember the face of your own father; a glimpse, a flash, a smile.  Next you envision Becka, she within your arms, and at one moment she is naked, in another she is not.   It will be the end of us, you hear her proclaim, and deep down you have always known her to be right.  The type of life you chose far from what your dreams had been.  However, there can be no blame, not upon anyone who is not you.  A man grown, choice becomes our own, each one dying and alive at the very same time--this very moment proving your entire point.  You didn’t have to get in Big Mike’s car that day. Nor did you have to agree with what he asked of you.  Opposing him would have provoked a beating, sure, and let’s face it, possibly cost your life for simply saying no.  But the choice would have been better than what you do years later, believing you deserved a little something more in addition to what the man was paying. 

There in the dark you think of these things, the story which has become your life.   You see things fast, a blur, but you also see them slow.  In one you are six and crying, fallen from your bike.  Suddenly your mother appears and like always the pain is run away.  She holds you and hugs you and whispers that things will be alright.  You believe her, hold her, and why the hell would you not?  She is your mother, your life, and not for the majority of your time together passed out on the floor.  She never hits you, not often, but when she does it’s accompanied by regret.  A chaser we’ll call it, and only after the bottle is done. 

Suddenly the car begins to slow.  You hear gravel and road and then gravel once more.  Slower now, you can make out the voices of the men inside the car but not the words they speak.  Do you really need to know what they are saying?  No, you don’t think you do.  The sudden warmth spreading about your groin tells you everything you need to know.   Stopped, all four doors open and gravel comes underfoot.   Like it’s nothing, you can hear them now, each of them shooting the shit like they don’t have a care in the world.  Benny and Bob are on about the Bucks, Carlos and Stacks smoking and nodding their heads in agreement.  Is this really happening, you think, and realize that you have been straining so hard that something lets go in your head, a pop.   It’s small, not painful, and somehow feels like the colour red.  You begin to scream and scream and thrash about the trunk.  You hear laughter, more, and then one of them kicks the side of the car and tells you to knock the shit off.  You fail to comply, which of course only speeds the process up.  They open the trunk, freedom, and you erupt upwards as the fresh air rocks you.  The taste is sweet, like butter, and oh so better than wine.  You fall forward, belched from the trunk, the dirtiest tongue
alive.  Halfway down, as your face and gravel meet, you, the middle of you, is caught by the hitch.  You groan, go fetal, and all you hear is laughter as you writhe and take the pain.  You squint, tell them to fuck right off, and then take notice of the stars, that there are none, that it is only the moon which lights the way.  One of them, Bob you think, pulls you up, throws you back down.  “Shunta did what ya done, Ricky.”  He says and then spits into your face.  The saliva is hot and gross and you picture rotting meat as it slides into your mouth.  Inside, it makes you want to run as far and fast as you possibly can.  Instead you scream and shake your head as violently as your neck allows.   A second later, before you see them, you feel the wood; all four, and then your screams begin anew.  They beat you, break you, crush you.  Swing after swing after swing.  Jagged and loose, your bones are transformed, like powder that has run to soup; all bones, to every appendage and extremity you own.  Skin is next, gone, removed and replaced by a pulp that now exists--and still you are aware!  How, you think, and understand the stupidity of your question the moment it is asked: to ensure every effort is taken in making you feel everything that comes before.  The choice is obvious, befitting your crime, as you know how the men above you work; have done the job yourself, in fact.  Bleeding, dying, you watch the end draw near.  Down, the bats obliterate your mouth, your nose and the top of your skull.  Last, they save your eyes and the truth each one has struggled to hide. Unrecognizable, you heave and spurt, your gurgling breath the only sound into the night.  You think of Luke and Becka and your mother during the times that she is real, her love sober.  As the final arc comes down and takes it all apart you can only wonder: Was this really all I am?

In Canada, with his wife and three boys, Beau Johnson lives, writes and breathes. He has been published before, on the darker side of town. Such places might include Underground Voices, the Molotov Cocktail, and Shotgun Honey. He would like it to be known that it is an honor to be here, down in the Gutter