The Tale of Jack

Chapter 5

Jack flung open the front door and rushed inside, heart pounding.

“Mama! Mama, you okay?!”

A sound from the living room caught his attention, and he yanked the door open, hard.
His Mama was sitting in her arm chair, one arm stretched out, as Dr Atieno fastened the blood pressure cuff around it. They both stared at him with matching expressions of surprise as he stood there.

“I’m...I’m an idiot,” he managed, feeling his pulse begin to slow back to normal.

“Oh, sweetie, what’s wrong? Did you see the car and panic?”

Jack nodded sheepishly and stepped into the room, sinking down onto the edge of the window seat. Dr Atieno gave him a warm smile, then turned back to checking his Mama’s blood pressure. Jack knew he shouldn’t get so worried; it was widely agreed that Dr Atieno was a great doctor and that he could have gotten a much better, more prestigious place than the surgery in their little town. But he said he liked the quiet life, the sense of community. He’d been quite the sensation when he first came to work there. Jack had been about eleven years old and even he remembered. In their mostly white, mostly lived-there-for-generations little town, a black doctor with a Kenyan surname and a slight French accent was quite a culture shock. But people had gotten used to it, once they realised how lucky the town was.
Jack trusted Dr Atieno absolutely. If he said Mama was in no danger, she was in no danger. The only trouble was, they couldn’t afford the treatments that would make her entirely better, and that was after the doctor had helped them through endless insurance applications, research and pleas, even calling in favours from his medical colleagues to try and find some help. The man was one in a million.

Dr Atieno undid the cuff and turned to put it back in his case, catching Jack’s eye as he did so in a way that Jack immediately recognised as ‘I want to talk to you, young man’. He nodded, just slightly, and started to think of an excuse to get them both out of the room. He watched his Mama breathe into the thing that tested her lung capacity, and by the time she was done, he’d thought of something.

“Would you like a cup of coffee, doctor?” he asked.

Immediately Dr Atieno stood up. “I’d love one Jack, thanks. Let me come and help you.”

His Mama was too relieved to have heard that everything was okay to fuss about him letting a guest help with coffee, so the two of them slipped quickly out of the living room and into the kitchen, closing the door behind them. Jack switched on the electric kettle and got the jar of instant coffee out of the cabinet.

“You promised me every three months, Jack. It’s been nearly five!” Dr Atieno said softly, and Jack cringed, feeling guilty.

“I know, but we just...I...”

“You can not play around with your health Jack, especially not when your mother relies on you so much. What’s the problem?”

Jack bit the bullet. “We’re really bad for money right now. A load of new problems cropped up with repaying Dad’s debts, and what with Mama’s medical bills know how it goes. I’m sorry.”

Dr Atieno nodded, watching quietly as Jack spooned instant coffee and sugar into the mugs.

“A sexual health check isn’t that big a deal, money wise. At least, not from my surgery’s point of view. As you’re in an...unusual situation, I can certainly make an exception and-”

“No! I know you mean well, but I don’t want to be a charity case.” Jack sighed and leaned back against the counter. “I’m sorry, I appreciate the offer, I really do. I’ll get some money together. I have a few old things I was meaning to sell. And you’re right that I need to be careful.”

“Thank you,” Dr Atieno said, sounding truly sincere. He reached out and placed his hand on the back of Jack’s neck, a soothing gesture that always made Jack think back to tetanus shots when he was a kid, and flinching before the needle had even touched him.

He picked up two of the mugs, nodded Dr Atieno towards the last one, and they headed back into the living room.


Jack was thinking about his conversation with Dr Atieno while he wandered through town that evening. The guy always went above and beyond, really. There was no need for him to have come out to the house to give Jack’s Mama her check up, especially as he hadn’t known about them selling the car until after he’d arrived. And there was no need for him to keep such a careful eye on Jack either, certainly not for him to offer to do an expensive medical test for free. He was a good guy. There were far too few of those.

In fact...all the good guys Jack knew were pretty much Dr Atieno and Finn. And Mr McElgar, he was a sweet guy. Oh, and the nice man in the antique store! So that was four...and he guessed the vet who’d let him cuddle the chinchilla had been pretty cool too, Dr Prince...

Maybe people weren’t so bad.

He paused his musings long enough to tell a guy leaning out the window of a Suburban that he didn’t go in cars, then continued on his way as the guy cussed him out.

He guessed that, with the exception of Mr Golightly, who was a shitbag, not even his customers were bad guys, or at least most of them. Sure, some of them were married or something, which wasn’t a nice thing, but they weren’t cruel to him and he’d hardly ever had anybody try to cheat him.

The two guys he’d gone with that evening for example; one was an older guy who he thought was some kind of academic or something, who’d wanted to put his cock between the tops of Jack’s thighs and spent the whole time telling him that that’s how the Ancient Greeks had done it with beautiful youths. Jack took it as a compliment. The other had been a cop, in uniform but off duty, who’d had Jack suck him off in a bathroom. He kept his eyes shut and panted a name over and over again, which Jack thought was probably his ex-girlfriend. Neither of them bad guys, both paid up, didn’t hurt him or talk down to him, just got on with it.

Everybody liked sex. Jack was a service provider.

The idea made him laugh to himself, the sound a little too loud in the quiet night time street. A left turn took him towards the bar he’d been in the last evening he’d gone with Mr Golightly. That was a nice thought; the last time. It was usually a good spot, looked pretty well occupied tonight too. Jack was actually feeling okay this evening too, if not exactly happy. Just a little more money and he’d have enough to last the week, then another night and he could pay his for the check up.

Walking down the street, listening to the wavery strains of classic rock creeping from the bar’s closed doors, he missed the sound of the car slowing down as it neared him. And the sound of it pulling over.

He didn’t miss the sound of the door slamming.

He hadn’t even turned all the way round when he heard the shout.

“You little fucker! You know what you’ve done?!”

It was Mr Golightly. Jack had never seen him like this though. He was dishevelled and his eyes were reddened, everything about his posture and expression screaming ‘drunk’. This couldn’t be good.

Jack glanced back over his shoulder. The door of the bar was only about fifteen yards away. Mr Golightly was pretty close, but there was no way he could run fast in that state. If Jack kept backing up, waited for an opening to make a dash for it...

“You’ve fucking ruined me you little whore! You know what you did? Ruined!”

“Wha?” Jack gasped weakly.

“My Goddamned wife...she says she’s divorcing me...for having an affair! You believe that shit?”

Yes, Jack didn’t say. He shook his head desperately, kept edging backwards.

“ missing...found cum on my pants leg...said she put two and two together. Two and fucking two! She knows shit!”

She knows plenty, Jack thought. Kept edging. Ten yards now, maybe. Almost safe and sound.

“I’ll...tell her it’s not true?” Jack tried.

FUCK you! You’re the fucking problem!”

Jack took a staggering, panicked step backwards, stumbling on the uneven sidewalk, as Mr Golightly rushed towards him, forgoing running to make a low dive at Jack’s middle, knocking him down. Jack yelped as he fell, his left arm jarring painfully underneath him, kicking and struggling as Golightly grabbed at him. Drawing a breath as deep as he could, he screamed, hoping desperately that somebody in the bar would hear it.

Golightly’s elbow struck him across the jaw, and the older man let out a crowing guffaw as Jack reeled from the sudden burst of pain, feeling his mouth fill with blood. One arm trapped underneath him, the other in Mr Golightly’s grip, the heavy, drunken body kneeling across his thighs, he was trapped.

The door of the bar opened, and Jack’s heart leapt with hope at the spill of noise and light.

“Help!” he screamed, or tried to scream, spluttering blood and spittle onto the concrete. Twisting, he could just about see two guys emerge from the doorway, leaning companionably into each other, both faces suddenly turned towards him.

Above him, Mr Golightly managed to sputter out a vague laugh.

“My…my friend’s a little drunk, gennlemen…” he called across to them. “Jus’ ignore him, kay?”

One of the guys, not wholly sober himself, grinned at them and turned away towards the parking lot…
Mr Golightly grunted, satisfied, turned his attention back to Jack and shook him hard by the shoulders, smacking the back of his head against the ground. Jack yelled again, feeling more spittle fly from his lips.

“Oops,” Mr Golightly crowed, happily.

Jack struggled, his heart thumping at the inside of his ribs, his blood pounding in his ears, when over the horrible sound he heard-

“Is that blood? Dude!”

Somebody walking towards them from the bar. Mr Golightly’s head shot up to see. “No no, it’s just that he’s had a little too-”

With a dizzying heave Jack twisted his body and managed to throw Mr Golightly’s weight off him. Struggling to his feet, he felt a hand claw at the back of his shirt, but staggered away, stumbling dazedly, and began to run.

Behind him he could hear yelling, but his ringing ears couldn’t work out which voice it was. A hundred yards and he was so out of breath that his head was swimming and his throat was sore, but he kept going, kept running like his life depended on it, until finally he found himself standing in amongst the little cluster of birch trees at the edge of the park.

The park was good. It wasn’t too well lit, but Eastgate didn’t have quite enough freaks to make that dangerous. Walking through the little gap in the fence where a gate had hung many years ago, he found a wooden bench and perched on the edge to take stock.

The back of his head was sore and felt a little swollen, but didn’t seem to be bleeding, though both of his elbows were a bit bloody. His hip hurt from where he’d hit the floor and when he pulled the waistband of his jeans down he could see the red smudge of the forming bruise.


He couldn’t believe he’d thought Mr Golightly wouldn’t give him any more trouble. How fucking naïve could he be?

What was worse, he couldn’t believe he’d thought he’d be safe someplace just because it was crowded. Those two guys, they hadn’t helped! There he was, getting beaten up on the fucking ground, it had to have been obvious even to drunk people.

Nobody cared enough to even help him.

‘It’s that Jack guy, he’s bad news. Don’t go help him, folk’ll think you’re gay.’

Jack’s chest hitched and he gripped the front edge of the bench seat, digging his fingers into the worn old wood.

Fucking worthless.

He wasn’t crying, not really, but there were tears trying to come out, burning in the corners of his eyes. It was so fucking unfair. He rubbed at his eyes and nose and, somehow, that was enough to set him off properly, and before he knew it he was sobbing into his hands, pressing his lips together tightly to try and stop too much noise from coming out.

He wanted Finn so much. His warm hands and his sweet smile and his gentle laughing voice, even the thought of him was enough to make Jack feel a little less bad. He was so kind and tender, so understanding, and even though Jack knew that he was the only person Finn had seen in so long, it still made him feel special.

His Mama would adore Finn. She’d sit him down in the living room and bring out the photo albums, fuss about with his hair and telling him what a nice young man he was. Jack knew she worried about him not having a boyfriend.

But then, he didn’t have a boyfriend. Finn was a giant living on a farm at the top of a magic tree. And yes, he was lovely, and yes, Jack desperately wanted to be able to just…just kiss him properly even!

But it wasn’t going to happen. The whole situation was so freakish and impossible to get his head around…

Truly miserable now, Jack got to his feet and made his slow and painful way home.


Three days later and he was sitting in Dr Atieno’s office, squinting in the beam of sunlight coming in through the window and gingerly holding a cotton-ball to the inside of his elbow. A blood test, urine sample and that thing with the swab - ew - and now he was sitting by the side of the desk while the doctor got him a glass of water. The first time he’d ever given Jack a blood test, back when he was 13, he’d passed out and smacked his head off the path outside the surgery, and now he wasn’t allowed to leave until he’d had some cold water and a sit down. He supposed there were worse things to be saddled with than an over-cautious doctor, but it sometimes made him feel like a hopeless case.

And of course, he always got the talk.

Dr Atieno came back in, two glasses in his hands and a brown folder stuffed with note paper tucked under his arm. He put a glass in front of Jack with a smile, then turned to shuffle the folder into a drawer of his filing cabinet, slurping water from his own glass as he did so. Jack dropped the cotton-ball into the waste paper basket and picked up his water, already feeling guilty because he knew what was coming.

“Have you tried going to Denebrook? There’s a lot of little businesses there-”

“I already tried a couple of weeks ago. The only place that was hiring was just part-timers. I wouldn’t have made enough money to cover the travel back and forth.”

“Hrm… and nothing in the little village, ah…”

“Hobart’s Field? Naw, there’s hardly any business there anyway.”

Dr Atieno sighed. “So no luck on the job front. Is there any chance of me convincing you about the-”

“No benefits! I refuse to be a charity case when I can work,” Jack said firmly.

“Well, I admire your attitude. You and your mother’s. She said much the same thing to me the other day. Just…angrier.”

“I just…I’ll do anything before I make Mama leave her home. It could be worse.”

“It could already be worse. Wait until we get the tests back before you say anything like that,” the doctor replied gravely.

Jack gulped and nodded. He always made people use a condom, always used one himself on the rare occasions that somebody wanted him on top. Still, it wasn’t a writ-in-stone guarantee.

Dr Atieno reached across and patted him gently on the shoulder. “There are no signs of anything,” he told him gently.

“I…I’ll give up as soon as possible. It just isn’t-”

“I know.”

Jack rubbed at his face and took another sip of his water. It was late afternoon and the yellowy light was cutting through the room at a harsh angle. His appointments were always the last of the day, give them a chance to talk.

Silence reigned for a few minutes, and then Dr Atieno spoke again.

“Has something…changed? With you?”

“Huh?” Jack replied smartly.

“I’m not sure what it is, but something tells me…have you met someone?”

Jack gaped, and knew he was gaping, but couldn’t quite stop it.

“I’m sorry, that was rather abrupt of me.”

“No! No, you…you’re right. But it can’t happen.”


Given his recent feelings, Jack was surprised that he wasn’t already bawling.

“Yeah…with what I am-”

“Which won’t be forever,” Dr Atieno pointed out.

“And, well… he lives pretty far away. It’s so hard just to see him…”

“Is he worth the heartache?”

Jack glanced up and caught a brief glimpse of sadness in Dr Atieno’s eyes, just for a second.

“He…yeah. He’s wonderful. I…”

“You love him?”

“D’no,” Jack mumbled, turning his eyes to the window and half-shrugging one shoulder. “Prob’ly.”

Dr Atieno nodded. “Jack, when it comes to love, if it’s real, it’s worth an awful lot. It’s worth…yearning and longing and heartache, and whether it happens or not, it makes your life better. Do you get what I’m saying?”

Jack nodded weakly.

“It’s what life is all about.”

“Yeah,” Jack whispered.

Dr Atieno made a beckoning gesture, and they both leaned forward in their seats to put their arms around each other’s shoulders, the sides of their heads pressed together. Guy hug. Nice.

He said his goodbyes a little while later and left the surgery, still a little worried, but perhaps a little lighter at heart as well. The walk through the town was pleasant in the late afternoon sun. A group of little old men were having a good natured argument outside the library. Dr Prince was standing in the window of the veterinary centre’s reception, looking out at the street and yawning. The world seemed pleasantly peaceful.

Jack couldn’t help but think;

Was he in love?  



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