Short Story: Second Chances

Let’s make up a man. Let’s not give him a name. This keeps him faceless and detachable. Let’s make up a girl. Let’s name her Annie. This gives her an identity and attributes to her humanity.

It’s the late 1700s. People live in small villages for the most part and cell phones aren’t the greatest thing since sliced bread because they don’t exist, and for that matter neither does sliced bread. Our man, the one we made up, was walking home from his job keeping up horses. His odor and mood were both very foul and he wanted nothing more than to go home and eat and drink and fall asleep. On his way, he saw a blind boy feeling his way along the walls of the alley they were in and saw the panic in the boy’s face as he ran out of wall to guide himself along. The man did nothing though. In fact, he remained as quiet as he could so the boy didn’t sense him and ask for help. After all, the man really just wanted to get home. When the boy passed, the man continued toward his living quarters of which he was the sole inhabitant. On the way, in the village square, he saw that there was an event in the town hall. It appeared to be open to everyone so he decided to mosey in and see if he couldn’t score a hit of whiskey.

At first, the obnoxious music of a local ensemble almost drove him immediately out. Above the noise, he heard giddy town girls screaming, “Annie! Annie! Come dance with us, would you?” The girl to whom he assumed this was directed at looked up from a bench looking exhausted. The girls ran over to her and she tried to reason her way out of another dance, but ‘no’ is an optional part of any child’s vocabulary, and the girls currently weren’t adopting it. Meanwhile, our man leaned against the door with his arms folded watching this little exchange. He smirked, realizing that because of his heavy work schedule, he’d forgotten the delight girls brought him.

Suddenly, the door our man was leaning against swung open, forcing him to trip into the dancing group. The much sought-after Annie saw him backing into himself, wondering what to do with his new environment. She smiled at him, not being bold enough to actually grab him for a dance, but instead using her wordless language to encourage him to make a move. The decision was easy for both; she’d had enough preteen-girl dance partners such that the appearance of a real partner cured her earlier fatigue, and the man needed to exert himself in something besides shoveling gifts from the horses. Their dance was awkward, but enjoyable, still she grew bored of him quickly and sat back down on her familiar bench. Having had his fix of cross-gender interaction for the day, he continued for home.

The sun was just setting when he originally entered, leaving an orange cast on the town and making it look hot and dry, but now the sun had submerged itself under the horizon and the town had a light blue glow, feeling cooler but still dry. The man made it all the way home and lit a few candles and lanterns and ate a poor dinner. In place of dessert, he rifled through his liquor cabinet and withdrew some sure-fire, drunk-before-you-piss-once favorites. On his meager diet, it didn’t take him long to get totally loaded. His mind didn’t rest easily in his condition. It repeatedly revisited that girl’s face, her hair, her hips, and his imagination supplied the features he couldn’t visually access. He left the house.

Instinctively, his body dragged its way back to the village square and it appeared that the town hall was still full of activity. In an unfathomable display of twisted luck, Annie floated into his distorted vision. She was alone and did a sort of trot toward some end of town that could only be assumed to be where she resided. Despite his inebriation, our man followed skillfully. He caught up to her before she made it to any home. Apprehension filling her voice, she said, “Oh hello again. Is there something you need?” Any number of things told her that this wasn’t a good situation: his lack of response, his off-rhythm breathing, the glaze of his eyes, his scarcely-detectable tremor. It all said something was off. He made an attempt at speech, but when that failed, he jarringly cupped a hand over her mouth and picked her smallish figure up by the waste and carried her into a nearby and not so inconspicuous corner made by two adjacent buildings.

God bless her, the girl put up a fight, but even with his senses impaired, our man could hold her and undress her fairly quickly. She kept up the struggle until he put a hand around her throat and squeezed violently. He told her her didn’t need her alive for what he was about to do to her so she might as well cooperate. The fight ended there. Almost needless to be said, rape followed. Afterwards, there was an awkward post-rape garment retrieval. With tears in her eyes and an ache plaguing his head, they parted.

Regret has a funny way of rising with the sun. Early the next morning, they both found themselves in a sea of self-hatred. They both sat on their beds in the same elbows-on-knees and face-in-hands fashion. The man had obvious reasons, he knew he lost himself with alcohol. He wasn’t normally that brand of individual. A century and half later he would be a diagnosed alcoholic, but in his time, he was nothing more than a scoundrel. Annie was beside herself. The worst part of her self-hatred was that she knew she didn’t deserve it, but at the same time kept thinking about how if she had left at a different time, or not associated with him at the dance, or attracted attention at her first pangs of situational-discomfort, that it never would have happened.

News of the rape traveled. The village decided that our man could remain and keep his job since it didn’t involve any interaction with other people. He was undoubtedly an outcast though; it was just understood. In his remorse, he made the first two well-mannered decisions that he had made in a good while. He cleared his liquor cabinet and thought that as a sort of repentance, he would start performing little deeds for others. Although to us, this is a very clichÃ?© course of action, in his isolated world, he thought it revolutionary.

At first the man laid low. He didn’t try anything special. He just did his job, ran what errands he needed to, and kept to himself. After several weeks of this, he tried something. He followed the girl home again, making sure to remain completely undetected. Now knowing where she lived, he started to leave the smallest fraction of his salary in a folded slip of paper by her door early every morning. He wished he could find some niche to hide in so he could see a reaction, but that was an impossibility, and he told himself he didn’t deserve it anyways. He did this and only this for several months.
Winter came and it grew frightfully cold. The man reckoned that Annie might need some wood so he started leaving that by her door as well. One day as he did this, he encountered a young girl. He didn’t know why she was out that early, quite certainly it wasn’t even 5 o’clock at that point, and it was even more so ridiculous in this weather, but she was standing outside as if it were quite normal, eyes fixed on him. He walked up to her and she said that she was lost, that she needed to find her aunt’s house. He helped her find it and it was in that manner that she become the first person whose positive side he was on.
The man continued this trend. He did little things and tried to be personable to people who barely knew him and might not be so aware of his past wrongdoing. Very slowly, over the course of more months, he had a fair slice of the population not consumed with hatred for him. Good word about him spread and even some of the people who did know what he had done had found a form of cautious forgiveness. He didn’t have very much wiggle-room, but with each season he ascended the smallest appreciable rungs on the social ladder. He felt the peak of his turn-around came when he once again came upon the blind boy, who’d grown a year, but was still very much a boy, and of course, was still very much blind. He led the boy home in a third of the time it took him to make it on his own. They exchanged pleasantries and the family was filled with gratitude for the man. His scarlet letter had faded greatly.

Reaching an apex of feelings of rebirth, our man decided that it was time to formally apologize to Annie. One evening, similar to the one when this all began, he walked to her doorstep. He stood there for the longest time, contemplating flight. Before long, she opened the door, possibly to go for a walk or meet someone or watch the sunset. She jumped at his presence and tried to slam the door as hard as she could. However, he stuck his arm out to preventing it from closing, and in the process taking the full force of the heavy wooden door on his arm. He was in obvious pain, and had it been anyone else, she’d feel terribly guilty, all this time for him though, was earn a few seconds to speak. He said, “I can’t take back or apologize enough for what I did. I’ll never have enough money to make it up to you, and I can’t think of any other way to remedy it. I can only say that I’ve changed, that it wasn’t even any sort of ‘me’ who did that to you. And, this is a very ridiculous thought but, I’d almost like to pretend we only met and danced that night, and that the subsequent events never happened. I have this obsessive thought that comes to me every night, that we might’ve gotten along very well had I not done that. And I don’t know what I’m asking for, but I think the closest term would be a second chance, or to even by neutral with you.” There was a horrendously painful silence after his pathetic dialogue. Annie had every intention of just closing the door and leaving him to rot some more, but she’d regret letting him off without some form of closure. She looked behind her into her house and said, “I was fifteen when you did that to me, you know. My youth was nearing its end, but it was still very much mine. I won’t get it back. Nothing you, or I, or anyone can do will give me back what was left of my childhood. I haven’t the ability to give myself a second chance, so how can I be expected to give you one?” She glared at him silently. He didn’t really understand how he had taken any of her youth. If she were involved in the faith enough to believe that her virginity was linked so strongly to her childhood, then that might be it, but it sounded like she meant something much stronger. Back in the house, he heard a baby start to cry. She walked back inside and closed the door.

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