Read by Clive Greenwood
Birthdays don’t mean much to a fella once he’s hit the big 2-1, can purchase a beer in any bar in town and raise it to his lips in plain view. Not that Davey had waited until legal age to sit up at the bar and sip a beer. Davey Senior liked to drive down to Willie’s, with little Davey on his lap. Small hands under his on the steering wheel. Once there, he’d pull up a stool and toss around a little banter. (The kind of thing that would have been called gossip if the women said it). Little Davey would steal a sip, while his Pa pretended not to see.
Davey still keeps his father’s stool, since Davey Senior isn’t around to sit in it any more. He raises a glass to his reflection behind the bar. 6-0. Now that’s a biggun. Same age as his Pa was when he passed. Davey came close to Death himself once, didn’t he? Stood right up and looked it in the eye. Yes, it had only one.
The door swings open and the fellas are in, held up by their girls. Four young men in denim, jeans and jackets both. Each with an arm slung wide around a pretty girl’s shoulders. The girls’ eyes are glazed tired, and their legs look cold with so little to cover them. They wear lipgloss in that frosted pink that makes Davey think of cotton candy and other sticky, sweet things. Things made for the sight, not for the taste.
The fellas crowd around Davey, girls still attached. Levi, Connor, Mason and Jackson. It’s on account of him not having any offspring of his own that catches Davey in that hinterland between wise old man and compatriot. They like to show off their girls, as if a pretty, young girl is something Davey might secretly want. He doesn’t. Sally, though. Davey likes the lines that play with Sally’s eyes when she smiles.
Sally hears Davey thinking about her, and glides over, one foot after the other, like walking on thin ice. Sally always smells like fresh tumble-dried cotton. Davey never can understand how that’s possible in a nicotine box like this. Her hair is too blonde but sometimes she lets the roots grow in and Davey can see the red she belongs to.
Davey runs a fingertip to the edge of his glass. He heard one of those entertainers once. The ones that play tunes with glasses and varying amounts of water. Pretty smart, that.
‘What you doing there, Davey?’ Levi says.
‘Just thinking about playing a tune.’
‘Is that so,’ says Connor.
And their words say old fool, but felt in that tender way.
Sally pours four beers for the fellas, and one more for Davey. Davey likes to sip slow. Not gulping without tasting. He’s the same with his food. Once Sally had laughed, called him a sensuous man. He’d laughed too, and wondered how she’d thought up a word like that. It was what he was. The fellas watch him drinking and all they see is the stomach-swell, the chin-sway. He knows.
Levi nudges Jackson, prompting a question.
‘Why don’t you go hunting no more, Davey?’
Now, who have they been talking to? Davey shrugs his shoulders loose to the air. ‘No reason.’
‘Folks might be saying you lost the knack.’
Davey laughs hollow. ‘Why would folks be talking about me? I ceased being infamous a long time since.’
Hadn’t he been able to catch anything? Anything living and hiding, out there in those woods. Now, Davey’s just the old fella who keeps the bar company each night. Funny how quickly people forget who you once were. Hadn’t the townsfolk seen him? Gibbering and broken, coming out of those woods. The day he saw Death.
That figure, twice his size. There, but not real. Pushed him without touching. It was waiting for him, right there, where the earth got loose, and it threw him headfirst to where solid ground met ravine. Davey was plunged downwards, through a head-smash of rock and fistfuls of grit. He started a prayer that hit the dirt when he did.
He pulled his injured weight back up that ravine, goodness knows how, but he did. Death watched out of that eye all the way. Close enough to breathe on his neck. Mess with his head a little more.
Davey hadn’t been into the woods since. Even after the nightmares stopped, and Death’s face became like a thing he’d made up. The change in him was sudden. But only where he could see it. Outside he was still readjusting, becoming his true self.
The fellas don’t know about that time. Too young.
‘So it is true. We was just thinking, just saying, how folks must have got it wrong. You ain’t the hunting type.’
Maybe it’s because Sally is listening, but this burns Davey a little. ‘I was once.’
‘He was a legend around these parts,’ Sally says. She’s smiling just for Davey. ‘Oh, I’m old enough to remember.’
The fellas laugh, disbelieving. Not at Sally’s youthful looks, but that this mild, sensuous man could hunt anything.
‘Won’t you prove it?’
‘Yeah, Davey. Show us.’
‘Can’t say I care to.’
‘Ah, come on, Davey. We dare you.’
They’ve got magnetic, twinkling eyes. Davey can’t look away.
‘What is it you want me to catch?’
‘I know just the thing for a master hunter such as yourself. A …What was the name of that thing?’ Levi nudges Mason this time.
‘Umm, a, errr, Spymea?’
‘Yes, that was it! I heard it escaped from one of those circuses.’
‘Yeah, that’s right. A circus came in last month, from … Europe,’ Jackson says.
‘Now you may not have heard of a Spymea, Davey. That’s because it’s a strange foreign type of animal.’ Levi nods towards Jackson. ‘European type. It’s been seen in these woods.’
‘Kimberly wants it for a pet. Ain’t that so?’ Connor squeezes the shoulder of his girl.
Levi laughs a loud bellyful. The girl nods yes, as though they’re speaking another language.
Hasn’t Davey got to go back some time? Face the thing that put the fear in him. So why not now? And don’t the fellas just have to laugh. It’s a funny thing. A make-believe animal for a make-believe hunter.
Davey goes home, checks his books. A Spymea. It isn’t there, just as he thought. He’s getting old, but he ain't getting stupid.
The fellas, they don’t let up. The joke is a morsel stuck in their teeth. It makes words for them anytime they open their mouths.
‘Still waiting, Davey?’
‘What you waiting for?’
‘Just waiting for the right time, fellas.’
‘Ain’ it the right time yet?’
Is it the cold or the fear rattling his bones? The damp undergrowth seeps into his boots, tree roots crunch loose under his feet. Each step he takes, he grows more uncertain. He’s travelling backwards. Back to being a much younger man. A few feet ahead is the ravine. Davey stumbles. His nerve is gone. What was he thinking, coming out here at night? He won’t survive another fall. Not at his age.
Davey feels it standing right behind him. He turns sharp. Stumbles back another step. Too close to the edge. Davey’s breath comes quick. Death’s dark face is the night sky, but somehow that eye is there, suspended, unblinking.
‘You’ve taken everyone I ever loved!’ Davey shouts. His voice is high, young, unbroken. ‘You’re not going to take me!’
The woods pause, breathe a slow breath. The whole scene moves in a way that isn’t possible. In and then out, like a heatwave. It’s a cold night.
Better get to living then, Death seems to say.
How his nightmares distorted the memory, put more horror to his experience. All he needs is a little courage. Davey sees. He’s not been fleeing from Death, he’s been fleeing from life.
Death as truthsayer. Who would have thought?
The fellas are in before Davey. They’ve heard tell that Davey’s been out in them woods. All eyes turn as he swings through the door. He’s got that swagger in his walk again, one last time. And a question for Sally. Perhaps two. Maybe he can tempt her back towards red.
Levi shifts in his seat. ‘Just keeping your stool warm for you.’ He laughs. The beer is already doing its work.
‘No need to move,’ says Davey. ‘I’m taking a different stool tonight.’
The fellas want to wait until Davey’s seated, but the question needs to be asked.
‘So, did you go, Davey?’
‘Was the time right?’
If they’re expecting a revelation, there’s nothing about Davey to suggest it.
‘It was, fellas,’ he says.
Davey sits. Perches, really. As if he might not be staying.
Sally is back from the storeroom. The sight of Davey puts the smile back on her face. ‘Good seeing you,’ she says. There’s a little wonder in her voice. Had she really thought she’d not see him again? ‘I’m making us some Margaritas. Let’s have a little celebration.’
‘Yes, let’s,’ says Davey.
Who is he to be now? This mild, sensuous man who has lost his fear? A Margarita-drinking man, perhaps?
Davey hasn’t forgotten the sack slung across his shoulder. The fellas lean in as he loosens the tie. There’s something moving in there. Davey rests the sack on the countertop. Tilts it a little, so whatever it is can get out.
Ears first. It has brown fur, blue-tinged, an almost electric glow. Its dark eyes watching everybody, as if they are the strange ones. Four legs, well that was to be expected. Kind of rabbitty, rodenty.
‘What in the hell is that?’
‘A Spymea,’ Davey says. ‘Just like you asked me for.’
(c) Eleanore Etienne, 2014
Eleanore Etienne is working on a short story collection, since completing her novel The Exclusions of Love. Her stories have been read at Vanguard Readings and StorySLAM:Live. She is a graduate of the Certificate in Novel Writing at City University. Her blog is at www.eleanoreetienne.com
Clive Greenwood just filmed new children's TV show Little Fergie and appears in two upcoming features: Mob Handed and Young Pretender. He returned to Kent Rep as Tranio in Taming of the Shrew last summer and co-wrote Goodbye: the (after)life of Cook and Moore (Gilded Balloon and Leicester Square Theatre). From May, he will be touring in Up Pompeii! as Lurcio, the role originally created for Frankie Howerd. email@example.com / www.spotlight.com/9094-6721-0711