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Classification Vignette
Length Approx. 2,700 words, 8 pages (8 ½ x 11”)
Spoilers Anything's possible, but especially “Take it Like a Man”
Rating CF
Author's Notes 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 clumsy solution.
 
Summary Mac meets someone who helps her work through some of her feelings after she kills Sadik.

 

 


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 gently.

"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 sigh.

"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 at Mac.

"A little sugar goes a long way," he said. "And it doesn't hurt me a bit."

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 thirsty tonight."

"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…."

"What?"

"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 time.

"I didn't have to kill him."

"No?"

"No."

"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 invisible kaleidoscope.

"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.

"Of course…"

"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.

"No."

"But…"

He interrupted her.

"Do you know the difference between you and this man you killed?"

"What?"

"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 guys."

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, and…humbling."

"He reminded you of your humanity."

Mac stopped talking and stared at Jim, nonplussed.

"Pardon me?"

"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 the thought.

"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 eyes.



James R. Williams
USMC 1939-1945


The End
 

 

 
 
   

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