by Justine M Dunn
“Thomas, wake up.” I say.
He groans but remains still. I’ve just found him curled up in the fetal position in the park.
“Get up Thomas, people are staring.”
“OK, OK, give me a minute.”
“You can’t carry on like this.”
“I know whose fault it was,” I cut in, “but you’re not entirely blameless. You could stand up to him you know.”
“It always seems like a good idea at the time.”
He sounds as pathetic as he looks. His t-shirt is covered in wet grass cuttings, one of his shoes is missing, his glasses are unhooked from one ear and completely skeewiff across his face. It might be comical, if it wasn’t so tragic.
As pissed off as I am, I can’t help but worry about him. I never know what state I will find him in, but It’s impossible for me to stick around every night and babysit him. He’s a grown man, he needs to start taking responsibility for himself. Slowly he drags himself to his feet – much like a toddler would, adjusts his glasses and we take off in the direction of home. I say nothing, knowing how shit he feels is a small consolation.
Once we get home, I leave him to take a bath and sleep for a few hours. I rest and think about what I’ll say to him later, wondering how many different ways I can say the same thing.
He hasn’t always been like this, well, not as bad anyway. He struggled a lot after his parents died, being an only child there wasn’t really anyone to look out for him. Social Services do what they can, as do I, but ultimately it’s down to Thomas. Generally, throughout the day he’s OK. He likes his job collecting trolley’s at the supermarket, and we meet up a few times. It’s good that I can check in on him, but once I’ve gone for the day he’s at his most vulnerable. It angers me, just thinking about it. I need to talk to him again, now.
“Thomas, come on, wake up.” I tell him, for the second time today.
He sits up in bed, rubs his eyes and reaches for his glasses.
“You won’t sleep tonight if you sleep any more. Come on, take your pills and let’s go out.”
“I don’t want to go anywhere, it’s Saturday.”
“Please,” I beg, knowing I’ll be stronger outside on neutral ground. “It’ll do you good.”
Fifteen minutes later, we’re outside. It’s a bright day and I’m feeling good, Thomas still looks and feels like shit.
“If you don’t want to feel like crap, then don’t drink, you do have a choice you know.”
“I know, but…”
“But what? You’re a grown man Thomas, I know you have your problems, but you’re not doing yourself any favours living like this; drinking every night, being late for work, feeling like shit every day. You could lose your job you know.”
Sometimes I wonder if I make things worse for him, just another voice in his head, telling him what to do.
“I want to stop, I really do.” He sounds sincere.
“So you keep saying, but you never do anything about it.”
“It’s not that easy. When you’re here I’m OK, I know what you tell me is true, I will lose my job unless I stop. But when you’ve gone… and he comes, I can’t refuse him. He talks me into doing such stupid stuff.”
“I’d stay with you longer if I could, you know I would. But it’s not how things work.” I feel guilty, but the situation is out of my hands.
“I just wish…”
“I know Thomas, I know.” We’ve both wished a million times for things to be different.
We sit in the park, I see Thomas glance over to the area where he woke up this morning, then drop his head down in shame. He’s a good man, but he needs take control of his life. We stay there for hours, on the same bench. A few people walk by, but nobody joins us. Would you sit next to a crazy man, sitting by himself talking to somebody that you can’t see?
Behind him, the sun drops from the sky and I begin to weaken. Like the other shadows, I am thinner now, elongated. He stares down at me through sad eyes, knowing that I will be gone soon. I tell him again to be strong and that I’ll see him tomorrow. He begs me not to go and I ache for him. The sun sets and I fade away for the day, leaving him once again at the mercy of his lamplight shadow. Already I fear what state I will find him in in tomorrow.
Justine M Dunn lives in Slovenia, and has recently released a collection of flash fiction stories: The Curious Anthology Volume 1.