The first time stung; a black eye and bloody nose – it wasn’t so bad.
They’d moved to the city from Maple Bay, a beautiful and tranquil seaside village, where the serenity of the surroundings matched the temperament of the inhabitants. He’d had a lovely group of friends, but his mother said it wasn’t enough. He needed to have more experiences she had said, so they moved. The immensity of the city had scared him, he worried about getting lost and never finding his way home. Or kidnapped. Or killed. His life in Maple Bay hadn’t prepared him for the transgressions of city life.
His mother enrolled him at a local school and it soon became clear that his name was going to be an issue: Meredith. For the first few days it was harmless name calling, the sticks and stones hadn’t heard about the new kid yet. When they did, Meredith, that’s a girl’s name; a black eye and bloody nose – it wasn’t so bad. His mother wasn’t outraged, she knew how kids are, Meredith seemed fine, his father had gone through the same.
Over the next few months it got worse, fight after fight, beating after beating, the school called a meeting. We need to do something they insisted, but his mother wasn’t convinced, so he moved school. It was fine for a few days, then it started again. Meredith would come home covered in blood. Boys will be boys she thought. Meredith knew they couldn’t do him any real harm, they were just kids; they could hurt him a little, but they didn’t have the strength or guts to do any real damage.
Then one day the police showed up.
They said a shopkeeper had called them because Meredith had wrecked his shop and tried to start a fight, he’d mentioned something about his name, and he’d gone mental the shopkeeper had said. His mother sat him down and with a resigned gentleness she said I think you need to stay with your grandmother for a while. Deep into the countryside she sent him; away from people and prying eyes.
The grassy hills rolled into the distance, as he arrived on his grandmother’s farm, she was waiting for him, I told your mother it was time she said. Instead of leading him into the house, she held his hand and led him into the barn. Visiting her, the barn had always been off limits and now he realised why. As she swung the barn doors open both sides of the barn were flanked by raking, reaching up to the vaulted ceiling; the racking held a cornucopia of sharp edges and ropes. Your father, grandfather and every male side of the family have all gone through it. It’s a family curse, she sighed. You’ve got a lot to learn. The seasons rolled by and Meredith got stronger, learnt more, grew in confidence; they used the space of the barn, but never anything from the raking – All in due course she would say.
He returned to the city on his 18th birthday, as the first snowflakes of the year fell; when the grey sludge pooled on the pavements, he had his first real fight. Lean and fit, the postman was new to the area. Meredith saw him coming and opened the door to receive the mail. This one needs to be signed for by the recipient the postman said. It’s for Meredith, so your mother? he asked. Meredith’s eyes lit up I’m Meredith he said with a smile. The postman sniggered That’s an unusual name for a… he began, as Meredith’s fist landed cleanly on his nose. The postman reeled back and Meredith advanced, fists up and waiting. It didn’t last long, Meredith gave as good as he got and the postman did well, but when it was over Meredith sighed.
The next fight came a few days later, in a bar. Meredith walked in and the barman asked for his ID – that one was brutal. Their fists went flying as the barman used every dirty trick he’d learnt from years of bartending. A bottle smashed over Meredith’s head and he staggered but stayed up. Punch after punch landed on his face, blood splattering the mirror behind the bar as Meredith laughed his way through the beating, He dropped his fists and let the onslaught continue, spitting blood as he roared, one more bottle to the head finished him.
Waking up in the alley behind the bar he lay there sated.
That’s better, he said, into the darkness.
A few days later, he drove too fast, an ID check later – he was face down on the floor with a taser to his head. A sweep to the legs and the policeman was sprawled face down next to him; Meredith saw his chance and grabbed for the taser. The policeman gained consciousness to see Meredith standing over him with a bloody smile on his face. He traced the gun down from the policeman’s head to his stomach, then to his crotch, then his kneecap, then his foot – then shot himself in the foot and howled with pleasure. He threw the taser on the floor as the policeman drew his truncheon and went to work on him.
An embarrassed policeman and a lenient judge, he was out in a year and went straight back to the barn. I’m ready now, grandma he said.