Short story contest runner up: All Things Are Connected

A phrase heard as a child comes to fruition in the second-place winner of "Crime Pays."
By Orrin Hanratty | Published: September 23, 2015


stranger photo by streetwrkWhen I was ten-years old, I learned when two things meet they are forever changed.

The man who told me this had just knocked Mom up on a one-night stand. He was a nice guy. He was tall and skinny as hell, and bald shaven. On the right side of his head was a tattoo that looked like eagle wings.

I’d been up for hours eating cereal and watching cartoons with the sound off when he stumbled out of Mom’s room. He was pulling his pants up with his shirt in one hand and his shoes in the other. He didn’t know I was there until I laughed at him. He looked so ridiculous trying not to wake mom up I couldn’t help it.

“Hi,” he whispered.

“You don’t have to whisper,” I said. “After a night like that she’s out. She wouldn’t hear a bomb.”

The look on his face when I said that was priceless. He had been on the receiving ends of one of Mom’s vocal nights. It woke me up when she got home, and this guy had probably had his head spinning from the screams. She got like that when she was drunk. The set of his shoulders sagged and a frown crept down his face, and I saw something I had never seen on one of Mom’s “sleepover buddies.”

“You, uh, see this a lot?” he asked.

“Enough to know what’s going on,” I said.

“I, uh, well you’re probably too young to understand this, but your mom is a beautiful woman. And I was…well…I…”

“You don’t have to tell me what you’re doing or why you’re here. I know how Mom is.”

“What do you mean?” he said.

“Mom’s all about these crazy life sayings that she’s put together. She’s got a notebook full of them. She meets a lot of people at that bar she works at. Sometimes someone will say something that hits her just the right way, and she has a drink with them. That usually turns into a lot more than just one and then they end up where you’re standing.”

“I see,” he said. He looked all awkward with his bald head and skinny chest heaving, not knowing what to do. He rubbed his hand across the wing tattoo on the side of his head and started.

“Crap, I had hoped that part of the night wasn’t true. Why did I shave my head?” he said.

“I don’t know. Maybe you shaved it to get that tattoo. It looks like a drunk tattoo.”

“Tattoo? Where?”

I pointed to the side of my head.

“Oh that,” he said. “It’s a birthmark.” I offered him some cereal and he shrugged. We sat and watched cartoons on the couch for a while. Road Runner. I don’t know why but after a couple of quiet cartoons you feel the need to bond. So I asked him what he said to my mom.

He shrugged. “How would I know what I said?”

“‘Oh honey, I could just eat. You. Up.’” I said, mimicking my mother’s voice. His giant green eyes looked like Wile E. Coyote’s running off the cliff. He remembered.

“I said that it is an incontrovertible law of physics that when two bodies meet they are altered forever.”

“Huh?”

“Look at it this way,” he picked up the spoon from the bowl and bent it in his hands. “My hand met this object and it’s now changed. Forever. You can bend it back to what looks like the shape, but you aren’t going to be able to make it exactly the same. Maybe it’ll look like it’s exactly the same way, but the molecules within it had to be rearranged and it will never be exactly what it was before. The same goes for everything you’ve ever touched your whole life no matter how softly. It can happen if you even breathe on something. It can happen if you just look at something. It is happening all the time.”

I took the spoon back and pulled the bend out. I looked at the handle curve, and thought that it still didn’t look right. I fiddled with it for a few more minutes before I gave up. I looked up and he was gone. I dug another bite of cereal from the bowl.

Three weeks later, my mother vomited and wondered how she’d even got pregnant. She didn’t even know his name. She swore that she was done with that. And she stuck to it. Nine months after, that I became a big brother. Sara had bright green eyes and a birthmark like eagle wings on the side of her head. I knew from then on that when two things met they changed each other.

When I was fourteen, and Sara was four, I got into trouble. It was Christmas. There weren’t any toys under the tree. I never knew that there was supposed to be until about a week and a half before. I guess I saw it on TV, but that wasn’t real life, you know? I thought it was just a TV thing. I was wrong.

I went over to a new friend’s house. I had thought he’d lived on the first floor of the thing, but his family had the whole thing. I had no concept of multiple floors. It was like a strange new world to me. Their tree was one of those real ones. It was green and a million feet high smelling like a weird type of Pinesol that didn’t make you gag. I had never smelled a pine tree before. I felt four inches tall and my friend never even noticed.

I just remember on the walk home seeing a lot of little things about Christmas time I hadn’t really noticed before. People carrying bags of stuff out of shops. Tree sales. Every Santa Claus on every corner was ho-ho-ho-ing away like the world was great and not a giant crap bag. I’d never seen Mom with any bags like those, and that didn’t bother me. But I had a little sister now. She was smart. Scary smart. Those giant green eyes could read your mind. She’d start to notice the things we didn’t get from Mom.

So that night I broke into my friend’s house, I’d remembered the code his mother punched into their security system, and took a five or six presents that were under there. I didn’t take them all, I didn’t want them all, I just wanted enough so that my sister would have something to open.

That was how my sister ended up with a tie, a blender, two books by some guy named Gribelski and a Wacky Wally doll and I ended up in juvey. In juvey I met Steck. And Steck taught me about weed. Six months after I stole my sister a Christmas, I got out and started dealing my sister a bicycle.

Mom didn’t ask about the money or why I did what I did. She and I had a silent agreement that Sara came first, and she got to have a happy childhood. Mine was well and truly gone, and mom… mom had no idea how to do happy. So I made sure that Sara got what she needed and was a good girl; I looked out for her. It was the only thing I could give her.

When high school ended for me, Steck was out and we got our own place. It was low-key but it had a couple floors. We did jobs, and earned. He was a mess, couldn’t keep out of his own product, but he knew what was what and who was who. I followed orders and stayed straight. We made a great team, and I was the difference between him and a lot more jail time. He was the difference between me and living the way Mom brought me up.

Mom moved to a better town and changed jobs. She didn’t want me rubbing off on her little girl. It was the first time she’d ever done something right.

Objects meeting and changing. I thought about Sara’s dad from time to time. His birthmark and his eyes. If only I had never smelled those stupid pines

When my sister was seventeen, she wanted me to meet her boyfriend. She said I was the only one she wanted to meet him, because mom was a psycho about boyfriends. She told me mom didn’t understand love and happiness. She never did anything spur of the moment.

I didn’t even laugh at her when she said it.

She brought the boyfriend over to my place, and I was shocked. He was at least twenty years older than she was, wearing a scarf and had this long salt and pepper hair, all pulled back into a ponytail. He looked all right. He was a cool guy. We sat around my table and talked all night. He knew what I was, what I did for a living and he was okay with it.

He was a professor at a local college. He’d led one of the science camp things Sara did in the summer, and they just hooked into each other. They got each other’s jokes; they knew the same movies, books, everything. He was helping get my sister’s stuff together for college applications, and was going to help her get somewhere in the world. And he clearly loved my sister. My sister loved him. That was enough for me.

We had a really great night.

“Hey, I’m going to stay at Lawrence’s house tonight. Cover for me with Mom?”

“Of course,” I said.

He held out his hand and said, “It is an incontrovertible law of physics that when two bodies meet, they are altered forever.”

I breathed.

He had bright, green eyes.

I shook his hand.

I felt so cold.

It couldn’t be.

I had to know.

I followed him home. Them home. She went into the house with him. I sat and I watched that fucking door all night. She came out in the morning and he came with her, they stood at the door and kissed, he slapped her butt as she walked away. She would take the bus home. I called Mom and told her I just put Sara on the bus. I always keep my promises to my sister.

He answered the door after the first knock.

“Hey, how did you know where I –” I put the butt of my gun into his nose and followed him in as he fell. I made sure he was unconscious.

I shaved his head and put glasses on him. Then I tilted his head to the side.

Eagle wings.

He wasn’t a bad guy. He had no way of knowing. God knows mom never told him she was pregnant. It’s not his fault.

But that doesn’t matter.

What matters is Sara, who grew up with a love-crazy mother and a monster brother in the hovels and holes of this country. She grew up clean. She grew up brilliant. She grew up hopeful. She is my hope.

One day my sister will know everything in the world. Everything but this. Never, ever this. It’s best for everyone if I’m the only one who knows this.

A gunshot.

An echo.

A splatter.

His birthmark was all gone now. His eyes stayed closed.

On his bed next to his body are his clothes laid out for him. I saw the tie I stole for her sitting next to his shirt. The tie said he was the best dad ever.


2nd place_Orrin Hanratty_300

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Orrin Hanratty lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where he works as a machinist. He recently received his MFA from Hamline University’s Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults program. This is clearly not a children’s story.

“‘All Things are Connected’ started out just as the narrator’s voice,” says Hanratty. “I knew he was going to be violent and monstrous, but I wanted that to come from a place of love. The very worst things we can do are always because of love.”

 

NOTES FROM THE JUDGE, DAVID C. TAYLOR:
“All Things Are Connected” is a bit improbable but is compellingly told. The reader is drawn quickly into the story by the second startling sentence and understands immediately the grim circumstances of the narrator’s life. The conceit that “when two bodies meet they are altered forever” is provocative and draws the reader on.

Sara’s attraction to a man who turns out to be her father seems completely truthful and real. The narrator’s solution to the problem is chilling and inevitable.


Read “A Deadly Diet” by Wendy Robertson, the first place short story.
Read “And Then – This Happened” by Judi Hill, the third place short story.

For more information about entering The Writer‘s short story contests, click here.