I left the pub before closing time — the beer wasn’t agreeable — and cut through the park. It wasn’t a great idea and I wouldn’t have done it if I’d not been drunk. The centre of the park was far from roads and screened by trees; cries for help would go unnoticed. There had been a number of muggings and rapes over the years.
I climbed the steps to the plinth where the long-gone bandstand had stood. The night was still and almost silent. I was just about to descend the steps on the far side when I saw the body sprawled on the concrete. It was a man, apparently unconscious.
I stopped and peered into the gloom beyond the halo of lamplight, wary of an ambush. There was no one I could see. With slow steps I descended towards the prone body. I kept glancing around, into the darkness. The man appeared to be breathing. A slug of yellow phlegm hung on his cheek and I wondered if it was his. He was in his mid-twenties, blond-haired and bearded like a dissolute Viking.
“Hey,” I said and nudged him with my toe.
I leaned in and shook his shoulder, “Hey,” louder this time. His eyes rolled open.
He staggered to his feet, reeling, the coordination of his torso — which stayed perfectly upright, assisted by flailing arms — seemingly independent of his legs which, knock-kneed, careened first in one direction and then another. It was not to last, and pitching over backwards, he landed on his arse, momentum rolling him onward so that his head cracked on concrete.
Christ, I thought, he’s going to have a bleed on the brain. I knew if I left him he might die or someone might go through his pockets.
This will be a story, I thought, something to tell in the pub. I wondered how it would end, if it would be me who would decide how it would conclude. Was I to be the hero or even the protagonist?
I hauled him to his feet, ensuring his snotty cheek was on the other side.
“What’s your name?”
He turned and peered at me, confused.
“Where do you live, Josh?”
He gave me an address on the nearby estate.
It took us four times longer than it should have to get where we were going, me trying to steer and cajole him, keeping him upright. He was suspicious at first, wanting to know why I was helping, then horribly grateful, crying in gratitude, telling me what a good person I was, that most people wouldn’t have done it.
In my heart I knew he was right, but hated to admit it. I couldn’t help congratulating myself on the act of charity I was engaged in, knowing at the same time that to do so negated the selflessness of the act.
He asked about my life and I told him a bit but not too much. It was good, I thought, to keep him talking. He told me how lucky I was and I agreed, never having thought about it much before. Compared to him I was lucky. He was a recovering heroin addict, among other things. All the while, I tried to keep our physical contact to the minimum, mindful of the snot, the possibility of vomit and the suspicion that he might have pissed himself.
After half an hour and several wrong turns, we found ourselves outside his front door. I wanted to knock to let his landlord know he was in and that he might want an eye kept on him, but he begged me not to. They’d evict him, he said, and I realised this was probably not the first time this sort of thing had happened. After he’d found his key I shepherded him inside, accepted his thanks and made sure the door was closed behind him. I made my way down the steps to the pavement and watched through the frosted glass as he lurched up the stairs to the landing. He seemed to have sobered up a bit.
I walked home at a brisk pace, eager to wash my hands. I vowed to tell no-one.
Matthew Roy Davey lives in Bristol, England. He has won the Dark Tales and The Observer short story competitions and been long-listed for the Bath Flash Fiction award and the Reflex Flash Fiction competition. He has recently been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His poetry and fiction have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. His short story ‘Waving at Trains’ has been translated into Mandarin and Slovenian. Matthew is also an occasional lyricist for prog-rock weirdos Schnauser. He has no hobbies.