My head is down; eyes scan the ground. I never look up; never make eye contact. Count the successful footfalls. They must be between the lines. I am at one hundred and twenty seven when the unthinkable happens. It is only my heel that transgresses, but it still counts; rules are rules. I shudder. The imagined pain is always intense; so much more so than the reality. But I broke the rules; I have to pay.
The click of the flint animates the small lighter; blue and orange punishment springs to life. I grit my teeth, feeling my jaw tense and quiver as I play the flame back and forth across the back of my hand. You can only remove the heat when the flesh starts to burn. Those are the rules.
I move on, counting the cracks in the pavement. One, two, three, four, five… My head can only come up when I reach the pedestrian crossing. You know why by now.
I always press the button now; not like before. I press the button and smile to myself as I see the amber light come on. I love the feel; the satisfying clunk as the spring engages. Dad never let me when I was a child. He never gave me a reason; I never asked.
“Hey, Sir,” I shout helpfully. “The little man is still red; you can’t cross!”
“I’ll do what I like, young man; unhand me,” he says brusquely.
“But you can’t, it’s against the rules.”
“Let go of me or I’ll call the police.”
“Suit yourself,” I say. I give him a little push to make sure he gets the message. Rules are rules after all.
You have to wait. That’s what you do. I stand patiently until the little man turns green. The beeps are my signal to cross. They drown out the laboured breathing of the rude old gentleman. The car crushed his chest, I think. It hit him with a good bang anyway. He should have waited. And his blood is running in rivulets into the gaps in the pavement. Good job Dad is not here. He wouldn’t like that; it would offend his sense of order.
When you’re useless and fat and lazy and stupid, you do what you are told. That’s what Dad used to say. You do what you are good at. That’s what rules are for, he would say. They help people like you. Then he would smack me with a belt for good measure. To make sure I understood; I’ve always understood. I like rules. They are not messy and complicated. They are honest and true. Rules cannot be broken.
He didn’t like it when I grew, my Dad. He was small and wiry. I was large and overweight, oh and stupid of course. He used to say that all the time. To make sure I knew. But I’m scared now. There’s no direction. I’m on my own. Rules need enforcement. That’s how it works.
For the first time in my life I can see beyond the rigid boundaries of my existence. I can see a limitless horizon. I stop for a second and vomit over the wall. I am sick with fear; petrified and frozen to the spot.
He didn’t realise, you see. He was breaking the rules.
I came down the drive, counting the cracks in the pavement, head down. One, two, three, four, five… As I looked up, I could not believe my eyes.
“Hey Dad,” I shouted. “You can’t do that! Cardboard has to go in the green bin.”
He looked at me with something approaching contempt. “I can do what I like,” he said slowly and succinctly. But he knew he couldn’t. It was obviously a test. I picked up the shovel. After three smacks, I knew I’d passed. He was lying on his side but he looked sad. He should have been happy. Then I saw why. I gently cleaned his blood away from the cracks; order was restored once again.
I shake my head; the dream is over. The nice man in the blue uniform stops speaking. “Do you understand your rights as I have explained them to you?” he asks.
I nod, speechless with gratitude, a slow smile spreading over my face. I hold out my arms as the handcuffs are slipped on.
As they settle me into the back of the car, one of them says, not unkindly, “You’ll have to live by a new set of rules now, my lad.”
My smile gets wider. I wonder if they have pavements in jail?
Iain Cosgrove was born in Canada to English parents. Educated in the UK, he now works in Dublin, Ireland where he moved in 1988 with his future wife. He has three sons to show for it (the unholy trinity!). He is an IT Professional and has been writing in his spare time for the last 20 years. He has written two novels (Literary agents take note!), a large number of short stories, and is currently working on a third novel. His short fiction is published in “A Twist of Noir”, “Indigo Rising Magazine” and “EDF” of course!