What goes around.
On a Sunday afternoon in late October, Stanley Jude took his young son Kyle to the cinema on Derry’s Cross roundabout. They waited in the rain for the doors to open. Stanley smoked a cigarette and finished off his cold McDonalds coffee. Kyle cupped his hands against one of the panes and peered in. The queue grew, soon beginning to get impatient. The wind picked up and drove the rain against them. The usher who opened the doors was yawning, and had stains down the front of his purple uniform shirt.
Ten minutes later, Stanley and Kyle were seated. Seven rows back from the screen, to the left of the aisle. It was a compromise. Kyle wanted to sit in the front row. Stanley wanted to sit near the back. There was popcorn and a bag of pick and mix. Stanley put their coats on the seat beside him, took out his mobile phone, and switched it off. Kyle wished that the movie would hurry up and start.
When the trailers had finished, the audience quickly settled down. The little theatre was almost two thirds full. The movie was computer animated and very funny. Everyone seemed to laugh in all the right places. No one seemed to be throwing any popcorn. Kyle went to the toilet only once, and Stanley told him what he had missed when he came back. The lad was panting slightly. Must have sprinted. Stanley imagined a puddle of pee on the toilet floor.
Two rows back, a couple sat with their toddler. Attention span spent, he had started to play his parents up. He wanted food, the toilet, he wanted to roam around. Stanley looked back, and all he could make out in the darkness was white tracksuit tops and baseball caps. A pushchair folded against the seat beside them, the flicker of the screen reflected in its still-wet rain shield. The toddler had started shouting out, and standing on his seat. The mother called him a gobby little cunt. A hundred pairs of eyes rolled in the darkness.
The whole thing continued, the shouting running crying, and Stanley left the theatre to find an usher. Heaven knew what would happen if he spoke to this couple directly. Probably tell him to go forth and multiply. Stanley approached the woman at the popcorn stand downstairs. It was unfair that a child so young be allowed into the theatre. Nothing personal, you understand, but why should paying customers have their viewing spoilt by a majority of one? Sort it out please, or at least consider a refund.
Moments after rejoining Kyle, there was a fracas two rows back. Not the toddler, but hissing adult voices. Stanley did not dare to look around. Several minutes after the fracas had ended, he finally chanced a glance. The couple and their toddler were gone. A ripple of relaxation went through the audience. A hundred grateful sighs. The rest of the movie passed by without incident. Everyone seemed to laugh in all the right places. No one seemed to be throwing any popcorn. Stanley and Kyle stayed behind to watch the credits. It would be nice to know which celebrities did which voices. Especially that imperious gorilla.
When they got outside, the sky seemed painfully bright. Their eyes took a while to adjust from the dark of the theatre. A man in a white tracksuit and baseball cap slashed Stanley across the face with something small and sharp. There was no pain. As the man ran off, Stanley put his right hand up to his left cheek. There was so much blood, it was as though he had dipped his hand in a tin of red gloss paint. He felt suddenly nauseous.
Kyle sobbed in the foyer, and the cinema staff called the authorities. Stanley sat on the stairs with a thick wad of tissue paper pressed against his cheek. There was so much blood. The woman from the popcorn stand set a bin up beside him, and several rolls of toilet paper. There was so much blood. As each new wad became sodden, she would make another and pass it across to him. There was so much blood.
‘What goes around comes around,’ she said to Stanley.
He grunted, and hoped very much it would be the case.
The police arrived some time before the ambulance. Statements were taken and Kyle’s mother was called to collect him. She was out of town and said she would go directly to the hospital. It would take her an hour at least. The female police officer was kind to Kyle, the male police officer somewhat candid with Stanley. He told him not to hold out too much hope. There was no CCTV in this part of the town. None of the cinema staff saw it happen. They would do what they could, of course, but doing what they could might not do that much.
‘And remember, what goes around comes around sir. It’s only a little comfort, I know, but it’s better than nothing. Right?’
At the A & E department, the woman police officer stayed in the waiting room with Kyle. Stanley was examined straight away. The doctor was a pleasant chap from India. Or maybe Bangladesh, not all that easy to tell. His hands were smooth and dry, like mud baked for decades in the sun. He empathised with Stanley and spoke about karma. A mainstay of most religions throughout the world, in principle. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and all that jazz.
‘It is an irreducible fact, sir, that people get their just desserts.’
When Kyle’s mother arrived, she poked her head through the flimsy curtain. Her eyes were filled with a compassion that Stanley could not remember having seen before. She told him that what went around always came around. Heaven knew what this thing would do to Kyle. Children had enough to worry about these days, without having to see their parents being assaulted.
Six months on, the scar was as good as it was ever going to get. It would never go away. The police did what they could, but the assailant was never caught. Whenever someone came into the edge of his vision, Stanley’s heart would hammer wildly in his chest. He would sometimes dream that he was walking through town, and the scar would suddenly open up. There would be a chill feeling in his cheek, and he would stop and look at his reflection in a shop window. The wound would be there, gaping open, revealing an unsightly panorama of tongue and teeth. Wide and laughing, like a dog’s mouth seen in profile.
By late July, his nerves in tatters, Stanley finally decided to get some counselling. The office was above a row of shops in a run down part of town. As Stanley peered up the narrow staircase, his assailant was leaving the newsagent to his right. They did not happen to notice one another. In the counsellor’s office, Stanley wept for the first time in goodness knows how long. His assailant rubbed off the last of a dozen scratch cards, and scooped a hundred grand.
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