His life had been built on manners more or less, and some abilities, diffidently expressed, and a detailed crafted sense of what was right. He had a love of music, overriding in its intensity, because he knew that music never lies: that in its impersonal thrall he was free to leave his hiding place and sense a life lit up by love or loss and untouched by that engorging terror which loitered in his recollections. Sometimes, or more often than that with advancing years, away from public scrutiny, or in the depths of his solitary night, those memories of childhood cruelty when he, exposed and defenceless, endured the articulate punishments focused on a young boy by those who were meant to love and protect him, rose up in unsettling detail and mocked his frailties.
In the intervening years until now, he had buried that terror beneath layers of courtesy till those who thought they knew him intimately could only say, “Oh no, not Harry, he is the gentlest of men,” and so he was, on every normal day, until some fool had barged into him, swore at him and then ridiculed him to his entourage as if he were at fault
Out of his depths, unannounced and primitive, the anger came, but now armed by his adult fists and he struck out and hit the head of this man he did not know. The man fell back with force and hit the wall and then the ground, unconscious and soon dead: freak accident perhaps, but still he was the guilty party.
Even his wife was shocked by the event. “He’s never even killed a spider” she said to the policeman, who did not comment, and he had not. Over the years, ten, then twenty and now thirty years at least, he’d distanced himself from those memories which rose up after dark and taunted him for being just a victim: a man who never spoke out against this treatment, or those who poured it out for him in such chilling measure.
Those holiday snaps he looked at just last week, of some family, his they said, all sitting on the beach and smiling for the camera because you do, almost regardless of your mood, and eating ice-creams, a rare treat indeed, and hardly knowing anything at all, except that to be invisible is your last chance of survival, tugged at his hidden memories. And so he had become, invisible all these years, and hardly been seen beneath his cloak of courtesies and well-crafted opinions, and that well of compassion which always nourished his sympathy for the underdog.
All that was real, of course, but so was this: faced in adult years, by the blind indifference proferred by some arrogant stranger, he had lashed out at last, for reasons he could not explain, and was now the villain of the piece. He, who had never sought justice for the crimes which scarred his life, would feel the full weight of ‘Justice’ in the coming days. The thought of that irony brought him his first smile of the day. “What will be will be” came to mind: he had thought that all his life’
Some of our greatest inheritances, he reflected might come from the cruelties experienced by us when young. How, far from the camera’s lens, for which we smile and laugh with those we might call family or friends, we keep our real emotions to ourselves and sometimes from ourselves. The primitive exhibition of power shown by some children, to those more defenceless than themselves builds up a library of pain. He had drawn on that most destructively and was a the guilty party here beyond a doubt. Sentencing him would be easier than understanding him, and that remained no one’s problem but his own.