Michael J. Ryan

Fighting Back

“You listenin’ to me Albie? Yo! Anyone there?,” Pete balled his fleshy fist and made a knocking gesture against Albie’s forehead. Albie painfully forced his cloudy blue eyes to focus on Pete’s face.

“I’m sorry ... I was just thinking of something else. Go ahead with what you were saying,” Albie said distractedly.

Pete’s eyes narrowed and furrows creased the brow of his red, chubby forehead.

“You know, you ought to get some rest, Albie. You got too much going on, and it’s really beginning to show. People are talking, you know.”

“Yeah, I know. People are always talking. Now what were you saying ...”

Pete, a mason working on one of the homes Albie was building, finished his business and left Albie’s cluttered office. Then, Joe, a carpenter, knocked on Albie’s door to discuss the Angelini job, and while Albie was talking to Joe, Dave, an electrician, came and waited outside. Albie’s conversations with these sub-contractors were constantly interrupted by the ringing telephone. Suddenly, the commotion died down and Albie was left alone in his office. He collapsed heavily into his chair and glared warily at the phone, as if pleading with it to be silent. Persuaded that a moment of peace was about to ensue, Albie put his head in his hands and stared down at his feet. A familiar white static buzzed frantically in his head, blocking out all thought ... The phone rang. Albie’s head jerked up. He glanced at his watch.

Twenty minutes gone by! Shit!

Albie grabbed for the phone on the third ring. “Albie, I’m almost embarrassed to be making this phone call. I mean, you been such a good customer and all. But I have your account listed as a few days past dueand ... I know this has never happened with you before ... but my manager’s on my ass to call everybody who’s late ...”

Think ... think ... think ..., Albie rubbed the side of his head to prod his sluggish mind into action.

“Yeah, look Butch, there’s no problem,” Albie began, “I just had a customer who was late paying me. I can get the money to you by the end of the week. I’m just alittle tight right now.”

“Yeah, like I said, Albie, don’t worry about it ... I know your good for it. So does the boss, he’s just being a jerk ...”

“I know, Butch, no offense.”

“You know, Albie, nobody would even be worried about this ’cept your father was in here the other day sayin’ all kinds of crazy things about you...”

Not again ... Jesus, when’s he gonna give it a rest, Albie thought.

“Yeah, well Butch, I’ve got a beef with my old man...,” Albie countered, “I mean, you know, he’s got a few dishes broken upstairs, you know what I mean. You guys always been good to me, I’ll take care of you. Don’t worry ...”

Albie quietly put down the phone. Static twitched nervously around the edges of his mind, like a cat readying itself to pounce on an unsuspecting chipmunk.

I’ve got to break out of this, ... God, I’m losing my mind.

Albie stared down at the light brown carpet. The static swarmed over him, an angry white fog where indiscreet forms lurked just beyond his ability to see.

“How’s things going, hon?,” Cindy asked Albie when he got home, “You look tired.”

Albie vacantly stared at her for an awkward moment. Then he realized she had asked him a question.

“Huh?...Oh, fine. I’m just beat,” he lied to his wife.

I’m losing my grip, Albie thought, I’m losing ... Dear God ...

The next morning Albie dragged himself up the metal stairs to his office. He moved as if he were walking through a sea of molasses. Once he sat at his desk the static buzzed furiously and he stared unthinkingly into space. After a few minutes the static cleared. Footsteps coming down the hall. Albie straightened himself and quickly grabbed a pen so it would look like he had been busy working. Jimmy, Albie’s foreman, came into the office.

“Albie, your father’s on the warpath again. He’s down at the Reilly job telling everyone you owe him all sorts of money and how he is going to force you out ofbusiness.”

Albie’s gut wrenched. Oh, Jesus ...

“Well, just try to ignore him ...”

“Albie, this is serious. The subs are all wondering if they are going to get paid. Some of the them are ready to walk off the job until things get cleared up.”

“Just tell them they’ll all get paid. Jesus Christ, I’ve always paid them before. Those friggin’ guys ... first sign of trouble and they turn tail and run.”

Jimmy left the office to reassure the workers. Albie picked up the phone and dialed his lawyer.

“Peter, Albie Lindsay. Yeah, look, my ’dear old dad’s’ at it again. He’s scaring the subs, the suppliers, the customers, everybody. I just can’t work like this, its all going to come crashing down ...”.

“I just need to get away ... need a chance to think,” Albie explained to Cindy before they went to sleep that night.

So, even though it was October, Albie and his wife rented a home on Cape Cod for a week. It was the first vacation they had taken in years.

Once Albie drove across the bridge over the Cape Cod canal he felt the immediacy of the pressures on him subside. For the first time in years he felt , as if a buffer had been built between himself and an invisible but always present danger. The vacation home was a small cottage nestled on a quiet inlet in Hyannis. From the second floor bedroom Albie stood and looked out over the shimmering water. A family of ducks moved down the inlet, coasting with the incoming tide. Beneath the window Cindy playfully chased their children. The salty sea breeze carried their delighted squeals to their father.

Albie tried to sort through his troubles, but he couldn’t concentrate.

I’m so tired, so tired of all of this, ... why can’t I just die, Albie thought. He laid down on the bed and closed his eyes. In a few moments he was asleep. When Albie woke it was already dark outside. Relentlessly, as if it had always been speaking but never before heard, a voice inside Albie’s head repeated itself:

“You may be surprised I’m going to do this to you ...”You may be surprised I’m going to do this to you ...

“You may be surprised I’m going to do this to you ...”

The voice belonged to Albie’s father. It seemed so real that Albie’s father could have been standing in the room talking to him. Hellish memories soon joined his father’s words. Pictures of molestation, beatings. The cold slickness of ice cubes sliding against his leg on their way into his alreadyfreezing bathwater (“... can I please come out now, Daddy ...”). The sharpness of the kitchen knife his father held against his cheek when he threatened to cut him open if he told anyone (“.. .and nobody can stop me, not your mother, not your teachers, not the police, no one!”).

Cape Cod faded away and Albie found himself seeing and feeling what he saw and felt as a child. Albie’s flashbacks continued off and on for weeks, and each memory beat Albie down a little bit further. In the end, Albie just quit trying. By January he put his company into bankruptcy.

Albie’s bills were piling up, and he felt powerless to do anything about it. Although Cindy’s parent’s were helping to support his family until Albie could get back on his feet, Albie knew he could not count on them forever.

“If you’re not going to start another business maybe you should clean out your office so we can give up the lease,” Cindy worriedly told Albie.

It was the third day that week Cindy had made the same suggestion. The other days Albie had answered “Yeah, right,” and done nothing. But today he would at least go to the office. It would be good to get out of the house; maybe it would lift his spirits. And it would cheer Cindy up if Albie at least went though the motions of going to work.

It’s hopeless, Albie told himself as he drove downtown, I’ll never come back from this. I’m finished.

Albie slowly walked up the stairs to his old office. The static began to buzz, seducing him with its siren’s call of hollow numbness. It was as if his mind were a ship searching for a safe harbor to wait out a coming storm. Albie walked down a narrow hallway and stopped at his office. He fumbled with the keys and unlocked the door. By old habit, his hand brushed up the doorjamb and flipped on a switch.

Harsh florescent light filled the room. Albie’s eyes roamed slowly over the room. Papers and files were scattered everywhere. He walked past a table and his hand absently traced a line in the dust. He noticed some scribbled drawings from his daughter were still taped to the wall near his desk. The sound of Albie’s footsteps filled the lifeless office. Yet Albie’s mind rang with the echoes of ringing phones and workers rushing in and out. Powerful rumblings gurgled beneath his consciousness as if his mind were a pot of boiling water about to bubble over.

This is pointless, Albie told himself, I’m finished. Albie pulled the chair out from under his old desk and sat down.

Why bother ..., Deep, crushing sadness flooded through Albie without warning, as if a trap door had suddenly let loose and plunged Albie deep into the center of an abyss. Exhausted, Albie put his head on his desk and fell asleep.

Albie woke up. He was ten years old again, in the basement of his parent’s home.Hands. Hands coming out of space. Hands grabbing at him. Grabbing at his belt, his pants. Father. But instead of giving in like he had before, the ten year-old fought ... he fought with everything he had. He fought against overwhelming strength, but he fought anyway.

“NOOO!!! Stop it! Stop it!,” the ten-year-old kicked and screamed. Outrage exploded in Albie’s mind as the ten-year-old was overpowered.

When it was over Albie returned to the present, but the outrage remained. And with the outrage, the faintest sense of pride in himself began to grow. He had fought back. He did not win. He could not have won. But he fought back anyway. And for the first time in months, Albie felt as if it might be in him to fight again. Putting his life and business back together would be a long, painfully difficult task. Albie knew the odds were against him and he might not succeed. But he would try. He would at least take the first few steps. Albie spent the rest of the day slowly picking up the mess in his office. As he was about to leave he picked up the telephone and held it to his ear. The dial tone told him it had not yet been disconnected. Albie dialed Pete, the mason who used to work for him.

“Hey, Pete. This is Albie Lindsay ... Listen, I’m thinking of starting up again...”

The End.