The Mercenary

Artyv K

He’s sitting on the stool, his back stiff and un-etherized. His head is fastened between clamps and a longbarrel stares into one eye. It’s the right eye; it’s the one he used to peer through the look-hole of a boiler to watch furnaces burn, to supply electricity to a million unlit homes and to bring food to our table. It’s the eye which roved critically over my math homework, pointing out how my 5’s looked like S’s, nagging me and prompting me to fix them.

“Don’t move,” says the lady in white.

He grits his teeth, for he’s a stubborn man, doesn’t know a fault from a weakness but follows his instructions to the letter. The gun’s still trained on the glassy eye while his hands rest on his knees; the fingers grip his thighs to assuage the pain that’s yet to come. The same hands which held mine before crossing a busy intersection. The same hands which tapped my knuckles when I made mistakes in arithmetic and forgot the carry-over.

I bite my knuckles and count the shots. The inscription on the machine gun speaks a mystic tongue; it spews chemical names and alleges a German inheritance. Nd YAG laser: a light saber furnished to save lives by the dozen. In the hands of a ruthless mercenary, I wince at every shot that follows. I wonder what she sees at the end of that smoking barrel. A fifty something adult, hairline receding. Another number in her file. Clots in the eye that she needs to unravel to have her Asclepiad duty fulfilled. A target. A victory?

What does she see through his dark, bleeding iris? Can’t she see the anastomoses of veins curling deep and pointing towards home? Can’t she look past those superficial lenses and discover the sight of a little girl’s hero?

“Don’t move,” she warns again, teeth clenched, and there’s renewed silence in the room, a clinical silence while the air conditioner breathes its last. I hold my breath, shiver, dig my teeth into my knuckles, and see the pull of the trigger. Again and again, until I lose count of the ricochets that no daughter ought to witness. The little machine wheezes in rhapsody.

I watch the recoil of his head and the redness spreading in the corners of his eye. I see the grimace and the tears that linger at the lashes. Real men don’t cry, he’d tell himself, and it’d be a stupid thing to believe. When it’s finally over, she takes a break to check her mail. She flexes her fingers in catharsis and reaches for the phone. My father scrambles out of the chair, looking winded and human. He manages a ‘thank you’— he’s old fashioned that way—and the mercenary looks up at him and nods, wondering why he bothers.

Her gaze moves to me next, expectant and bored. I wonder if she can read my eyes. Receiving my father’s arm, I nod at her.

“Thanks,” I say.

Artyv K is a writer and an eternal connoisseur of the smaller things in life. Her works have appeared in The Madras Mag and is forthcoming in NILVX.


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