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Soul Survivor

Feb 27th, 2010 | By | Category: Short Stories | 883 views

“I would hold a gun against the head of my boss and make him cry. If I could go back and do it all again, that’s what I’d do.”

Here I lie upon the cold pavement, with red corn syrup dripping down my brow and a small tear along the seam of my coat, and I hear this man confess to me how he’s wasted his life. Forty-five years he
has let people walk over him. Forty-five years and no one knows his middle name, or that he paints flowers in pretty vases and collects old war memorabilia.

He says, “There was a girl I knew. She had red hair, long, and she wore pretty dresses.”

Two hours ago, I smeared blue eyeshadow on my cheek to make it look bruised. I rubbed dirt from my garden into each palm and knuckle. Now, when I wipe my face, the corn syrup dies my fingers red. I would
have torn the skin a little on my lip, but the angle of the fall dictates no frontal face injury, only the side and the top of the head.

“I was twenty six, a young man, delivering mail,” he says. “She lived in an old town house near Bleaker Avenue. I remember it well because she had no letterbox, but instead a cast iron postal box
fixed to the wall.”

The man propping me up is called, Roland Henry Allen. When he was twelve, Roland saw a ghost. He described it has a woman wearing a long white dressing gown. She was sat under an Elm tree in the local
woodlands where he grew up with his brother, Thomas, and sister, Helen. The ghost spoke with Roland about the weather, and how cold it had been.

She read a passage from the book she held, and Roland sat and listened quietly to her sweet voice. Roland said she had red cuts along her wrist, and one across her neck, and when he asked her how she got them the ghost smiled and said she couldn’t remember. For three months, at the same time every day, he visited her under that elm and she repeated the same words, and read the same passage from her book. And every time she did her voice became a little quieter, and sadder.

“If a parcel was too big, I’d have to knock on the door and hand deliver. No matter what time of the morning, she’d open that door and look radiant. I fell in love each time, and I’d go home and I’d dream about
her, and I’d see my life ahead of me and she was there, and we were happy and in love.”

Roland’s first love was a ghost, and his second was a woman with red hair. Both were beyond his reach, and yet he had lived out his years with each.

“If I could go back, I’d knock on her door and I’d deliver her a letter, one written by myself, and in it I’d tell her she was the most beautiful woman who ever graced this planet. I’d kiss the words, and I’d kiss the envelope, and I’d know her fingers had touched me in some way, and I’d be happy with that, I would. I’d
be happy knowing how much she meant to me, and that my lips were upon her.”

Roland never married. Roland has never had a girlfriend. He became a postman after leaving school, and that’s pretty much his whole life story. Wasted, he would call it, but for the past twenty nine years, he has influenced hundreds of lives without saying one word. Owing to those tiny white and brown envelopes, he has caused tears, smiles, joy, pain, and elation, and never once did he ask for thanks, or praise. He lives a simple existence. And when the boys from work go out to the local bar for a drink each Christmas, Roland
makes his excuses: his stomach hurts; his head aches; his knee is playing up.

What Roland wants to say is he can’t go because he has to feed and bath his elderly mother, change her adult sized nappies, and take her fists, her screams. He has to watch her lift her nightgown and expose the place from which he came. But Roland never says any of this. He tells the boys he has other plans; a party with a few of his old school buddies; the slow cooker is still on, and he doesn’t want his beef casserole drying out. The next day, Roland will wear foundation and concealer to hide the scratch marks made by
his mother’s nails. He’ll wear turtle neck sweaters to hide the bruises.

“I’d get me a gun and I’d hold it against my bosses head, and I’d write that letter to the woman. I’d find that red haired woman and I’d tell her how much I love her. Yep, that’s what I’d do, for sure.”

In less than hour, Roland will die. Or so he believes.

I ask Roland why he thinks he’ll die, and he says, “I received a call last night from someone I don’t know. The man on the other end said if I wanted to live then I should stay indoors today. If I didn’t, I’d end up dead within one hour of leaving my home.”

Ten years ago when Roland fell off his bicycle while delivering mail and bust up his knee, the postal office gave him a cheque for a full year’s wage, and a cosy job working behind the counter of the sorting office. The undelivered parcel notification slip you receive through your door; Roland works at the depot you pick it up from. He’d been doing that job for three months when the red haired woman came in to pick up a box.

“I live alone; I don’t have enemies; I don’t owe anyone money. My day is just the same as the last, and the one before that. I exist… I don’t live. Why would anyone want to waste their time killing someone of no value?”

When the woman handed over the slip and her driver’s licence to prove she lived at the address, Roland said their fingers touched. For the briefest of moments they were connected. Then his boss came in. Roland described him as a wiry man with heavy lines across his face, bitter and sad. He must have seen the hesitation, Roland’s hand lingering a little too long as he went to grab that licence. For over a minute, Roland’s boss berated him for not keeping the counter tidy; for leaving boxes all over the place, and reaffirmed the postal doctrine that standards needed to be adhered too.

He made Roland look like a chump. And the red haired woman, she watched Roland shrink, turn red, and cower. She witnessed his fingers tremble as he held her license and undelivered slip. She saw him apologise and limp over to the box she wasn’t there to receive herself.

“That night I was sat in bed, and all I kept thinking about was dying. What if I did go out in the morning, would it be that bad? Would anyone really care? And you know what, mister? I actually got scared. I didn’t want to die with so many regrets.”

Roland Henry Allen is the third person I have helped. The first was an obese woman who lived in her garage because the local kids taunted her, calling her names, and throwing stones at the windows in her house. The second was an elderly war hero, too scared to venture beyond his front door. All these people share one common quality; they assume living is more difficult than dying. For these people, I allow them time to weigh their lives against the alternative. I allow them the chance to make a difference, to turn things around. I do all this with a phone call, and a tub of corn syrup.

Roland says, “I didn’t even think about the consequences of walking outside. I just heard you scream, and then I saw you in the road, bleeding. I can’t believe that car didn’t stop after knocking you off your bicycle.”

“Some people have few morals, Roland,” I say.

“Are you ready for that ambulance now?”

I tell him, no. “Just give me another five minutes of your time. I just need to sit and listen to someone talk for a while. You don’t mind doing that for me, do you?”

“Not at all, mister. Not at all.”

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