Short Story: An Innocent Man

You don't choose to be a scrapper. You're simply a product of your environment.

Father wasn't much of a farmer, at least not in that wild country. Maybe back in England. But here he was too preoccupied with other things.

Mother died suddenly for no reason. There were no doctors in northern Saskatchewan. And if there was we couldn't afford one.

After that it got worse. He was always looking for a reason and it came often. The ferocity was unyielding.

When I was eleven I stopped going to school. Instead, I took the cows out to pasture every day, stayed with them, then brought them back in at night. They grew fat on the prairie grass and fetched top dollar at the market in the fall. It was the only success we had on that farm. He took all the money and the credit.

I left home at thirteen after he took the horse whip to me. Whatever fate awaited me was not worse than staying. I left that night.

I found work easily. First, I worked for room and board at a nearby farm. But as I grew larger word got around about how hard I worked I was able to survive when many men couldn't. After all, it was the depression and work was scarce.

Around this time I met my best friend, Len Cullow. We heard there was work to be had logging on the coast so we hopped a train out west.

We found work in camp. I was on a crew laying narrow gauge railway for hauling logs out of the mountains of Vancouver Island by steam train. It was heavy manual work. I carried two ties at a time, one on each shoulder. Then it took 12 men to place a rail. We'd hammer in the spikes with a sledge then repeat. I was the natural crew leader due to my presence and size. Over time I got very strong.

As I grew so did my reputation.

Len and I would head into Victoria on the weekends. We'd clean ourselves up, attend a dance, get a hangover, then head back to the bush for work.

I had a knack for speaking the truth, however inappropriate, and backing it up with my fists, when necessary, which was often. I was well known in the city as a scrapper and there was always a young bull wanting to lock horns.

Such was the case one night I got into a rhubarb at a dance. By the time I got into the city and put on my suit the dance was in full swing. I went in, bought a beer, walked over to a group of friends and started chatting. After a few minutes I noticed a group of guys looking in my direction and I knew what was coming. I put down my beer, continued to talk, and waited.

It didn't take long for someone to shoulder into me from the side. I turned and apologized. Rude words were said in response. He pushed me again then glanced at his friends for encouragement. I unloaded in the blink of an eye; the ferocity was unyielding. He flew back, landed on the floor, slid on his back under a table and came to rest with his head propped up against the wall. His lip was split open, bleeding, and he wasn't moving. His friends backed off. After a brief pause the evening continued; these types of exchanges were commonplace for the time.

The boy lay there for the rest of the night. People were saying I killed him and I genuinely believed that might be true. At the end of the dance his friends got him up and took him home but I don't know if he was ever the same.

I felt terrible. You always feel horrible and empty when the adreneline drains from your body. He didn't understand. He provoked me but it was not his fault. It was inside me waiting to come out, put there by someone else years before. I could not control it.

I stopped going out after that. I would come to the city on the weekends but I would stay in the boarding house or attend small gatherings with friends in their homes. The risk was too great. If it wasn't someone else it was going to be my turn to get laid out. I still had a long list of challengers and an even longer list of guys looking for revenge.

It was under these circumstances, with the urging of some friends, that I started carrying a snub-nose 38 revolver inside my jacket.

I was walking back alone from a friend's house late one Saturday night when it happened. I noticed a man following me in a trench coat from a distance. At first I told myself it was nothing, a coincidence. I took a few detours on the cobblestone streets downtown. But each time I took a random turn he took the same and was gaining on me. The intensity grew with each turn. I didn't know what he had under that coat and I came to the conclusion that I would have to end him before he got me. I slowly reached inside my coat, wrapped my fingers around the handle, and cocked the hammer. My next turn would be into a dark alley. I would shoot him when he came around the corner before he could react.

But he didn't come. I peaked back around to see him cross the street and walk up a set of stairs to a row house. The door cracked open and light spilled out. I saw the sillouette of a woman in a housecoat. They embraced and he went inside.

I stood there my heart pounding in my temples. Tears came to my eyes. I broke down, shaking. This man's wife had been waiting, worried about him. He, probably on his way home from working late. I, only a few steps away from ending his life for no reason.

I pulled the revolver out and looked at it. It burned in my hand. I could not bear the weight. I walked down to the harbour and hurled it into the ocean as far as possible. I could not control it.

I frequently look back on that night and how close I was to changing the course of my life. And I swear it's true; in all my days I've never touched another gun again.