Darby Riley

This short story was written for a contest a friend of mine entered and was a short-list finalist.  It’s called 1010 because you can only use 1,010 words (no more, no less) and the winner gets $1,010 as the prize. This is NOT his story; it’s mine.  I was so intrigued by the idea, I thought I’d give it a try.  I have not submitted it for this year’s contest, don’t know yet if I will.  I have, however, written about six more stories about this same group of people. Please let me know if you like it, and if you’d like to read more.

He was a drunk.  Now, Doc Lam’d fancy it up, saying it was alcoholism and a disease, but the plain, simple truth is that Darby Riley was a drunk.

Not that he didn’t have cause to take a drink or two sometimes, what with his mother having died of female cancer just before his fourteenth birthday, and his Da working two jobs to feed and clothe the five boys, never mind going off fishing and hunting with his brother Jake and Big Dougie when he weren’t working.  And of course there was the truck accident and what happened to Red George, but there’s a difference between balm and bombed, and Darby was always crossing that line.

Darby was the second eldest of the five.  His older brother, Daniel, is a policeman, and the three younger ones all own and run the big hardware-outdoor store at the edge of town.  They asked Darby to come in with them, but he said no.  He liked doing what he was, a little carpentry, a little plumbing. So he helped the brothers out, and he made a living, and if we weren’t always sure he paid his taxes, we all knew there was no retirement fund either, and that just seemed to suit Darby real well.

Being a drunk isn’t an excuse for what happened that evening, and I don’t think Darby really was drunk anyway, but I am the only one who saw exactly what happened and you’ve asked me about it so I’m gonna tell you what I saw.  I was at Daniel’s farm, boxing up the lunch they ordered from Daddy’s café for the hunting trip.  Daniel and Darby and the other three were there, along with Uncle Jake and Daniel’s brother-in-law John.  They were cleaning the guns, laughing a lot, sharing a few beer, when I felt it, like I do sometimes.  Funny thing was, I couldn’t tell who.  I just knew that, well, it was there.

I looked around the room, saw only smiles and anticipation on everyone’s face, but it was still there.  Of course, knowing what I did about Darby, I looked most carefully at him but I was still confused.  I have to say, I did notice, in a way I never did before, how pretty his hands were.  Funny thing to say about a man’s hands, isn’t it?  Still, they were.  Pretty, I mean, with long tapering fingers and clean nails.  But then, after a while, I also saw something I hadn’t seen in a long time, a kind of hooded appearance to his eyes.

Most people think that Darby looked a lot like his Da, maybe his Uncle Jake, but I always saw a lot of his mother in him.  And he certainly had inherited her beautiful cat’s green eyes.  You could always tell when Darby was happy and laughing, even if he didn’t make a sound, because his eyes would shine like he was lit up from inside.  But when the laughter would go away, so would that light, and a, a veil, sort of, would come down and fog up the greeniness of those eyes.

So now it seemed pretty sure I knew who it was.

I suppose I could have said something, maybe to Jake who never likes to be alone in a room with me because he says I give him the heebie-jeebies but he might’ve listened.  Daniel might’ve too.  He’s always been the real responsible one in that family.  Well, he had to be, didn’t he?  But what could I have said that they would’ve really understood?  And besides, when I feel it, it does happen, sooner or later, so saying something that evening might not have made much of difference.

From Daniel’s kitchen, out the side door, there’s a big utility porch that leads to the garage.  Both doors, kitchen and garage, have big windows, so standing on the porch, putting away the boxes of sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies, ready for them to take hunting the next day, I could see Darby and John gathering up all the guns and cases.  They walked past me, to the garage, where they turned on the lights and put away most of the guns in their travel boxes before the phone rang.  It was for John.  When he went to answer, Darby was left alone in the garage.

Now, I know I said I saw exactly what happened, but it would be more accurate to say I saw what happened, but I’m still not sure how he did it.  I asked Daddy about it, and he said that if the shotgun is left loaded, and put on the right sort of angle, and the right pressure is applied, well, it could be done.

Standing by the fridge, looking to my left, I saw a brightly lit and warm kitchen filled with big men, enjoying each other’s company, looking forward to good hunting the next day.  To the right was the darker, cooler garage, where Darby stood beside the truck, holding one of the guns.  His hand rubbed up and down the barrel, as if he were trying to get some feeling out of it.  For a moment, those hands almost hypnotized me, and then Daniel turned his head.  His green eyes were lit up, glistening, almost joyful, but I knew, it wasn’t really joy.

The next thing I know, there are two awful noises filling my head – the sound of a shotgun going off in a contained space, and me screaming.  The men all came running, shouting stupid questions.  It was John who grabbed me, pulled me away from the door, but I’d already seen it of course.

I can feel death coming sometimes, and that’s what I felt that evening at Daniel’s farm.  The hood coming down over his eyes shivered me up, but the look Darby gave me is what pained my heart.  Life is hard, but death is ugly, and even when you feel it coming, it don’t matter.  After death, there is still, always, grieving.


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