Midas Brown stands at the door of his shack and spits into the rain. When the storm broke an hour ago removing the oppressive heat of the day Midas was a happy man. Now, on reflection, as he scratches his sunken belly and listens to the water drumming against the iron overhang, he would gladly take the early evening sauna over this big shitty noise.
He digs around the cracked remains of a lateral incisor, works a sliver of tobacco loose and spits again. He knows the storm outside will pass soon enough.
He is less sure about the storm within.
Midas Brown wasn’t always Midas Brown. There was a time he was just plain old Jimmy Brown with a big goofy smile, wayward freckles and a battered old orange lunch box covered in alien stickers. A throwback to a gentler time and a quieter life, Jimmy was the kind of kid all the old folk in town loved; the kind of kid who would mow your lawn for free and show his manners when you gave him a glass of lemonade, before he gulped it down not after.
Trusting. Wide-eyed. Innocent.
In short, Jimmy was the kind of kid who gets chewed up on day one of high school and doesn’t make it back.
“Aww…poor widdle baby…gimme back my wunchbox.”
Midas Brown hasn’t conjured up that name for a long time. For a brief moment he is scared down to the dark pit of his stomach. Some things have a way of overstaying their welcome.
“Give it back Petey!”
“Gwive it bwack Petey! Gwive it bwack!” says Petey jumping around and waving the lunch box above his head to the amusement of the kids gathered around. “I want to look at all my stoopid widdle aliens.”
“I just want to eat my lunch Petey. Please?” Jimmy knows his voice has got the hint of a whine to it and wishes he could take it back.
Petey’s face lights up with ugly, spiteful delight. “Awwww PWWWEEEEEEZE Petey! PWEEEEEEEZE wet me have my wunch so I can be big and stwong wike you.” Petey starts picking at one of the stickers – a lurid green arthropod with black fangs – and rips half of it away. Jimmy watches it float to the ground, hating himself for his fear and chokes back a sob. Petey doesn’t notice of course and keeps playing to the ever-expanding crowd.
“Let’s see what we’ve got for lunch today kids…oooh…peanut butter on white bread just like every other day huh Jimmy-boy? Daddy still got no money for polony?” Petey holds up a limp looking sandwich badly wrapped in wax paper and dangles it in front of Jimmy. Jimmy reaches for it but the paper unravels and it drops to the playground floor.
“Oops! Too slow Jimmy. Guess you won’t gwow up all big and stwong after all.”
“You’re right Petey. I’m sorry.” Jimmy has no idea why he’s apologising but it seems like the right thing to do. “Can I please have my lunch box back?”
“Well…I’d like to give it back Jimmy but…” Petey rubs his blunt chin. “What do you think guys? Does he get it back?”
Laughter breaks out amongst the brave-in-numbers ranks of pre-teens and someone pipes up “Nah. Make him eat it Petey.”
“Awww…come on guys,” says Jimmy. The bitter taste of humiliation is nothing compared to the sick knot of impotent anger in his gut. He blinks back tears.
“Awww…pwease guys, come on,” says Petey, “I just want to go wook at my aliens and pway with my dolls.” Petey’s smile disappears. His eyes never leave Jimmy as he bends his head and spits. Happy that it’s hit the mark he flicks the sandwich towards Jimmy with the toe of his scuffed, black shoe. “Eat it you little prick. On your knees like a dog.” He reaches out a hand to ruffle Jimmy’s hair. “Good boy.”
Jimmy gulps for air. His eyes dance along the line of witnesses to his misery and back to Petey whose smile has returned once more. Jimmy hears barking noises mixed in with the constant, hateful laughter but it is dim and removed, like he is listening to it from underwater. A tear escapes but no one notices. They are all too busy basking in their oh-so-cleverness to worry about snivelling little Jimmy and his tears. He wipes a sleeve across his face trailing snot on to his left cheek and lowers himself to his knees.
When Jimmy’s right hand touches the ground it presses against something soft. He feels it spread through his fingers and as a familiar smell reaches him he closes his eyes willing no one to notice.
“Dogshit!” Jimmy keeps his eyes closed as the crowd picks up the chant. After a time he smells the competing stink of Petey coming in close and he forces himself to look at his tormentor.
“Would you look at that Jimmy? A little doggy with his very own doggy pile.” Petey shakes his head with mock sympathy, “Ahh…Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy…seems like everything you touch turns to shit.” Petey stands up. “Just like that old king with the gold…what was his name…”
“Midas” yells some unseen girl and Jimmy bows his head.
“MIDAS!” says Petey. “That’s the fella! Well folks I guess we got our very own Midas Brown, the king of shit.”
“Mi-das BROWN! Mi-das BROWN!” Petey hops from one foot to the other as the rest of the kids take up the chorus.
Jimmy stares at his own tears hitting the floor and waits. He hears the swish of Petey’s arm and the distant crunch of his lunch box landing on the other side of the yard.
Once Midas Brown was born there was no sending him back. Jimmy endured it for as long as he could but piece by piece Midas grew, and piece by piece Jimmy was dismantled. A cat got sick in the neighbourhood – Midas Brown probably stroked him. A tree fell down in a midwinter storm – Midas Brown must’ve climbed it last summer. By the time Jimmy’s mother got cancer and died on his fifteenth birthday Jimmy Midas Brown believed he was cursed. By the time his daddy finished hitting both the bottle and his son six months later Jimmy was gone forever.
And now, twenty odd years later he squats with his head between two sets of trembling fingers trying to stay calm against the pounding in his brain. Slowly he realises that the rain has stopped, leaving behind dense humidity and the wet mineral memory of the storm.
Midas lifts his head and gets to his feet. The early evening sun is already spiriting away the puddles left behind.
It’ll be like it never happened.
With that thought in his head, Midas Brown picks up the shotgun and steps out into the world.
© 2014 Nik Eveleigh