W is for Wretched

Image source: beaherosaveahero.org

An attempt to produce a poem or story from now until the end of April (except Sundays).
The theme for the 2022 A to Z Challenge is the human condition.


Every night for a week, he would turn up about twenty minutes before sunset and sit on the bench outside the derelict mansion. He wore jeans, a leather jacket and sunglasses, which didn’t quite cover a scar under his left eye. Who he was and what he was doing here was a mystery.

But the man never spoke to anyone. He just sat in his spot until full dark, and then he would go to the bar and drink one beer. If anyone tried to strike up a conversation, he would smile, shake his head, and look away. No one minded, or to be honest, no one cared. He didn’t cause trouble, and he always left a generous tip under his empty glass.

Xavier wondered if he might be one of the Garcia boys. We laughed at this: the Garcia’s had been gone a long time now. Raoul was in the cemetery with his father, Luis in prison, and Mateo rumoured to be in Canada. But Xavier was adamant.

“Why else would he sit outside their burned-out old house?” he cried. “The next time I go to town, I will call on Mrs Garcia and tell her about the return of her prodigal son.”

“But which one?” I asked him.

“Mateo,” said Xavier, crossing himself. “Luis would not dare show his face, even after all these years. And what judge would give him parole?”

Two days later, Xavier turned up with Mrs Garcia. She wore a bright red dress and a feathered hat. The old women of the village murmured in disgust. Safe in their widows’ weeds, nothing gave them more pleasure than looking askance at any woman who showed such disrespect to her husband. And she no better than she ought to be. How dare she show her painted face and dyed hair in this place? But they bagged the best seats outside the bar to watch the evening’s proceedings.

They even invited Mrs Garcia to join them, but she declined and stood in the shadow of the church. Her mouth moved silently, appeasing the old women with the thought that she was praying. “Although,” they whispered, “all the prayers in heaven won’t save her or her precious boys from hell.”

As the sun began its descent, the man appeared, marching across the meadow from the forest. He went straight to the bench and sat down. Mrs Garcia stared long and hard at him, then she strode across the square. The man took off his sunglasses and pulled a harmonica from his pocket.

He played a song none of us recognised, but Mrs Garcia knew it. She flung back her head with a high-pitched ululation and sang of pain and loss with the mouth organ’s vibrato matching her swooping vocals. When the song finished, there was complete silence.

Mother and son exchanged no words, and neither did they hug or kiss. Eventually, the man turned away, heading towards the road that led to the new bypass. Mrs Garcia signalled to Xavier and walked over to his car. She climbed in, and let him drive her back to the city.

7 thoughts on “W is for Wretched

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