||Approx. 2,700 words, 8
pages (8 ½ x 11”)
but especially “Take it Like a Man”
||I absolutely hated the
psychiatrist Mac met with. I thought she did a terrible job. I
also think that Mac needs a friend right now. Here's my somewhat
||Mac meets someone who
helps her work through some of her feelings after she kills
Mac sat in the small corner booth, nursing a cup of coffee and mulling
over the events of the past weeks. She had come here after leaving Clay
because the idea of returning to her empty apartment had depressed her
while simultaneously making her feel jumpy, as though she'd swallowed
half a bottle of those little caffeine pills that college kids take when
they're studying for final exams. She sensed her life spinning out of
control while she stood on the sidelines, watching piece after piece
slip silently away. She didn't know herself anymore, didn't recognize
the woman she seemed to have become.
Sadik had been an evil man, but he'd been a brilliant one, and he'd
managed to set wheels in motion in her head that appeared to have no
brakes. She didn't know how to stop them, how to stop thinking about the
things he'd said. She'd tried talking to Clay, but that had gotten her
precisely nowhere. He was so wrapped up in his own issues - his escape
into alcohol, his insecurities - that he couldn't even see what she
needed, much less give it to her. So here she sat. Alone again. Hanging
on to a cliff with her fingernails, and wishing that just this once
someone would come along to give her a hand up.
"Is this seat taken?" And elderly gentleman stood beside her, smiling
"No. You go ahead." Mac had assumed the stranger would take the chair to
another table, so she was surprised when instead he sat down with a long
"Ahh… It feels good to sit once in a while, doesn't it?"
"Yes, Sir, it does." She didn't want to be rude, but she wasn't sure she
wanted company right now, either.
"Please. Don't call me Sir. Makes me feel old. The name's Jim." He
extended his hand in greeting, and Mac took it, noting that his grip was
firm and strong.
"Can I get you anything, Sir?" The waitress stood beside their table,
and Jim rolled his eyes at Mac before turning a charming smile on the
tired looking woman.
"Just a coffee, please, young lady."
"Coming right up." With a bright smile, she hurried off, and Jim winked
"A little sugar goes a long way," he said. "And it doesn't hurt me a
Mac returned his smile halfheartedly before giving her attention to the
mug of coffee that sat cooling in front of her.
"Coffee that bad here?" asked Jim, gesturing toward her full mug. "Or
you just can't make up your mind what to do with it…"
"Neither. The coffee's actually quite good. Guess I'm just not all that
"Ahhh… man troubles, huh?"
Mac looked up at him in surprise.
"I've been around the block a time or two myself, young woman. I know
man troubles when I see them."
"Hmmm" she answered noncommittally, not really wanting to start a
conversation with a complete stranger in a nearly empty diner in the
middle of the night.
Jim said nothing, choosing instead to stare at her in a way that made
her vaguely uneasy.
"Excuse me," she said. "Is there something on my face?" She reached for
her napkin, but Jim stopped her with a raised hand.
"No," he said. "Nothing like that. It's just…."
"You have exquisite bone structure. Would you mind if I sketch you while
we enjoy our coffee?" He reached into the bag he had set beside him,
pulling out a sketchpad and two sharpened pencils.
"I don't know if that's such a good idea…" said Mac, embarrassed. She'd
never been comfortable with flattery, but something about the sincerity
in Jim's voice warmed her heart.
"Hey, you don't need to worry. It's just a hobby of mine – something I
do to wile away the time. I'll even let you keep the picture when I'm
done." His tone turned playful. "Please? As a favor to an old man?"
"When you put it like that, you make it hard to say no."
"That's the idea." Jim grinned at her, and in the lined old face she
spied the handsome charmer he must have been in his youth. Within
seconds, the busy scratching of pencil against paper was the only sound
at the small table.
There was a time when she might have gone to Harm with her troubles, but
he had other interests now, other demands on his attention, and she
wasn't sure how, or even if, she still had a place in his life. She'd
tried talking to Clay, but instead of really listening to her, he'd
tried to rationalize everything, talking to her like a teacher might
talk to a slightly backward student. All that had done was to make her
feel resentful and angry.
The waitress came with Jim's coffee, and at a nod from Mac, freshened
her nearly full mug before leaving to tend to her other duties. Then
silence descended again, but the quiet was warm…comfortable. For some
reason, Jim's presence no longer bothered her. She stared into her mug,
slowly moving it back and forth with her cold hands, watching the liquid
slosh gently from side to side. When she finally spoke, she surprised
herself with her words.
"I killed a man last week."
"Really…" was Jim's only response as he continued to work. She couldn't
tell if he was even listening to her, but he hadn't reacted with shock.
Nor had he tried to convince her that everything would be all right, as
Clay had done.
"He was an evil man."
This time, Jim looked up, his expression one of faint surprise. "Of
course he was. What other reason could there have been for killing him?"
Mac could think of several possibilities drawn from her own interactions
with criminals over the years, but she decided not to bring them up.
"He…hurt somebody I care about." She thought for a moment, and then
corrected herself. "Two somebodies, actually."
"Ahhh…" Jim bent his head again, erasing one line and smoothing another
with the pad of his thumb.
"I'm having…some trouble with it."
"I can understand why you might," said Jim, not even glancing up this
"I didn't have to kill him."
"I see…" He didn't sound accusatory, or even particularly concerned. He
merely adjusted another line on his drawing and waited for her to go on.
Mac held her silence for a while, not sure she was ready to go any
further. Jim didn't push her. She wasn't even sure he was paying that
much attention to her words. She only knew that for some reason, his
presence felt safe, undemanding. With Jim, she didn't feel like she had
a role to play, didn't feel a need to compete or prove herself. She
could just be…Mac.
"Part of me feels like I did the world a favor. He was a killer. I'd
seen him kill, witnessed the results of torture administered under his
orders. I held in my arms a friend who almost died by this man's hand."
Jim glanced up at her, his eyes kind. "That was hard for you."
"Yes, it was. It made me angry. That a man, a human being, could be so
cruel in the name of his God…" She shook her head angrily and took a sip
of her coffee.
"Doesn't seem like it makes much sense," Jim said, mildly. "But there
are all kinds of people in the world. I've met one or two like the man
you describe, but I've met a lot more of the kind, caring type. I like
to believe those are the ones who shape our future."
Mac didn't answer, turning instead to gaze out the window at passing
traffic. Jim couldn't possibly understand what she'd been through, what
it was like to kill in close contact like that. The man sitting across
from her right now had probably never experienced anything like what she
was dealing with, and yet, somehow she felt safe talking to him, as
though she could tell him anything at all without fear of being judged
and found lacking.
Thoughts tumbled, twisted, and re-formed in her mind like some sort of
"Can I ask you a question?" Mac didn't know why she trusted this man,
but for some reason, she did, and right now she didn't have the mental
strength to question her own reasoning.
"When I killed this man, he was no longer a threat to me. I could have
turned him over to the authorities – let them deal with him. But I
didn't. I looked him right in the eye and fired the bullet that took
away his life." She hesitated, the pain of this confession and the
knife-edged question it spawned evident in her dark eyes. "Am I no
better than he was?"
Jim put his pencil down and sat up, his eyes locking on hers for a long
moment. He didn't say anything, and Mac fidgeted with her napkin
nervously. Then he moved his coffee cup aside and reached for her hand,
stilling it with his own. She glanced down at their two hands. Hers,
long fingered, carefully manicured and still smooth, rested like a small
nervous bird beneath his larger, timeworn touch. He waited for her to
look up again before he spoke.
He interrupted her.
"Do you know the difference between you and this man you killed?"
"He would never have been sitting in an all-night coffee bar agonizing
over pulling the trigger."
Mac felt her eyes fill with tears and brushed them away angrily. She
felt like she'd been crying for days, and she was getting annoyed with
herself. Jim waited until she composed herself before going on.
"Remorse, young lady. It's what separates the good guys from the bad
He pulled his hand back and picked up his pencil, ducking his head as he
returned to his drawing. Several long minutes passed while Mac
considered what he'd said. She'd denied feeling any guilt over shooting
Sadik. Denied it not only to anybody who cared to listen to her, but
also to herself. And yet, it was mostly true. She wasn't sorry that he
was gone. His shadow no longer colored her days or darkened her nights.
But she did feel guilt about the calculated way she had pulled the
trigger that second time. If that's what Jim had meant when he'd
referred to remorse, so be it.
"It feels like, in winning my war with him, I lost a part of myself,"
she said sadly. "Even in death, he took something from me – something
I'll never be able to get back."
"And what was it that he took, exactly?" Jim asked, not in a sarcastic
manner, but rather as though he really wanted to know.
"He took…" She stopped, struggling for words. "I don't know…All my life
I've struggled to be strong, to…grow a spine, I guess."
"So…he took your strength?"
"No…yes…" She ran her hand through her hair in exasperation. "I had this
image of myself as being able to handle anything. I was absolutely
convinced that nothing Sadik could do would shake my confidence in
myself, in who I am."
"And this man… Sadik? He proved you wrong?"
"Yes! The things he said to me… many of them were true, or close enough
to true that they hurt. It was obvious he'd spent months studying me,
learning everything he could about me. It was…chilling, and humiliating,
"He reminded you of your humanity."
Mac stopped talking and stared at Jim, nonplussed.
"He reminded you that you're human."
"I know I'm human!"
"You misunderstand. Let me rephrase." Jim took a sip of his coffee and
then leaned forward, his expression earnest, hands laced together in
front of him. "You told me that you'd spent your lifetime learning to be
strong, that you'd gotten to a point where you had just about convinced
yourself that nobody could shake your faith in who you are. Then, one
day, along comes Sadik, and suddenly you realize that you're not as
strong as you thought you were."
Mac tilted her head to one side, thinking. "I…guess you have a point
there," she said.
Jim grinned, suddenly. "I'll bet he'd have hated that."
Mac was puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, the last thing I think this man wanted to do was to make you a
better, more resilient, human being – somebody who knows her weaknesses,
and instead of fighting them, or denying them, turns them to her
advantage. The man must be rolling over in his grave." Jim chuckled at
"I don't understand. How does rubbing my nose in weakness and self-doubt
end up being a good thing?"
"Because it forces you to begin to accept yourself for who you are… all
of you. The good, the bad, and the ugly. It has been my experience that
people who are unable to do that are rarely truly happy. So do you see?
Sadik inadvertently gave you a gift. From what little you've told me,
I'm fairly certain that was not his intent and yet…there it is." He
continued to smile at her, and despite herself, Mac felt the beginnings
of a lightness in her heart. She would need to think long and hard about
what had been said here tonight, but somehow Jim's words made sense.
Somehow they had begun to loosen the steel bands that had encircled her
heart since Paraguay – the same bands that had tightened almost to the
point of suffocation when she'd finally shot him.
Jim tore the top sheet off of his sketchpad, startling Mac out of her
reverie. He passed it across the table to her.
"As I recall, I promised I would let you have this. I only ask that you
wait to look at it until I'm gone." He stood, fishing some bills out of
his pocket and dropping them on the table. "I'm afraid I need to leave
you now. If I stay out much later, my daughter will probably file a
missing person's report." He picked up a small leather case from the
floor next to his seat, and reached for a wooden cane that Mac hadn't
noticed hanging from the back of his chair.
"I've enjoyed our time together, and although I don't know your name,
perhaps we'll meet here again sometime and maybe, if I'm lucky, you'll
trust me enough to share that with me. Until then…" He touched two
fingers to his forehead in an informal salute, and slowly made his way
out the door. Mac watched him go, wondering at the unusual feeling of
peace she had felt in his presence.
She glanced down at the single sheet of paper she still held in her
hand, and caught her breath. The simple drawing had captured her
exactly, even to the sadness in her eyes and the tension lines around
her mouth and forehead. He had signed it in small, neat script in the
bottom right corner. As she read, new understanding dawned in her dark
James R. Williams