backhand stories the creative writing blog

Sitting above a crossbar of steel, high above the roaring New York, so staggering a view, I knew a man, though he was not my friend. He stayed isolated from the group, working the harder jobs along the trim steel, hauling wires and jumping rails, as if he dared God to let him slip. When the boys ate their lunches hundreds of feet above the solid concrete, he drank from a small silver flask, the only sustenance we ever saw him ingest. But that man, alone atop the blaring city, rivaled the memory of Hercules.

Watching him work, you could image him beating raw ore into form. A brute who a thousand years ago would have been hailed a God, only to be the grunt, the fat ant doling out his life. Knowing him made me scoff at TV; boxing, bare knuckle, even famed blood sports paled in comparison.

One night with my wife I sat eating quietly in a diner adjacent to a club notorious simply for the patrons who frequented. Out of the blue He came, flask peaking out of his jeans. His eyes took sight of the club and he gave a roar, his body launching him through the door. Gunshots fired, quickly overpowered by the sound of fists packing meat into the floor. I watched as minutes later he poured out of the door, his chest slipping blood from entry holes, his fist still gripped tight to one man’s neck.

He spent the next at work free falling from one railing level to another. Some starred in wonder, question why any man would tempt death so much.

Why wonder, I say.

He was a gladiator at his prime, hauling metal. A small child had better education than this titan. None had right to judge.

Men who claimed him a degenerate stared in awe when his fists swung, both exhilarated and demeaned, for the could never match up.

Women who recoiled in disgust lived in a fantasy at the quiet hour, a world where his arms wrapped tight around them and their breath left in ecstasy.

For 25 years I knew him, without ever knowing him. At 45 he had a heart attack at the 20th floor of a building and fell. The concrete spilt beneath the impact of his incredible mass. Ribs cracked, bones shattered, and still he attempted to rise only to spit blood. It took medics twenty minutes to even cut far enough to drain the blood from his lungs, but by then it was too late.

He was laughing though. A rolling laughter till the last moment, the final chuckle echoing.

In all those years, the only thing I’d ever heard him utter was, “I’ve got no time for dreams or wishes. You can’t fell nuthin’ in em’ anyhow. Pain is real.”

People ask me where the heroes are nowadays. I laugh and say we killed them.