ACTION HERO’S EULOGY
By Benjamin Inks
Her Nike trainers splash by, crossing our path for the second time this misty, black morning, and she looks me in the eye (if only for the briefest of curious glances). Now I know why. Why I’m so enamored by her. My subconscious must have felt it, even if my working mind couldn’t see it. She reminds me of Esme.
My poor pup, Daisy, my grandma pug, shivers into a ball and refuses to walk further. Too cold, too wet, too old. Like me. I scoop her up and her fur is matted from the floating—not quite descending rainwater. C’mon, old girl. You have to poop at least once more.
We have a system of sorts. You live with someone long enough and everything becomes routine. She’s got inflammatory bowel disease, and if it’s anything like the irritable bowels my 74-year-old digestive system has to work with, it can’t be fun for my poor girl. Itmust be miserable actually. I couldn’t bear to put her down though, ‘cause then I’d be alone. And I know she’s got the spark for at least another four years, she’s no ordinary pug.
The spritely jogger’s backside is impressive. Tan, taut calves and hamstrings leading to bright orange running shorts. She’s got a hydration contraption, a belt with two grenade-sized bottles on her hips. Her stride: powerful, commanding. Her curly flop of brown hair sways to and fro. She’s a heartbreaker I bet. But I shouldn’t think of her that way, she reminds me of my Esme. I’ve seen the jogger almost every morning this week, and I can’t help but wonder what the hell she does and why she’s so assiduous with her early-morning exercise? With her fit, petite frame, she’s that ambiguous age where she could be anywhere from 18–33. Is she a professor? A student? This secluded trail we’re on leads to the university. Esme went there. When I walk Daisy during daylight hours, it’s littered with students. We’re popular. Sometimes we get stopped upwards of a dozen times. Sometimes there’s this clickish gaggle of giggling college girls who always have tosay hi to Daisy. They tickle my pup’s once black but now bleach-white face and unfurl her little piggy tail, rubbing her floppy, velvety ears; they feed her treats. They bend down with low-cut shirts and smiling faces and those girls I can think of that way. Call me a dirty-old man, judge me if you must. You spend your entire life young and sexy until you wake up one day middle-aged. You notice you’re out of place but you do your best to fit in anyhow. Then you wake up old. This morning I woke up a walking corpse. A few days from now I’ll wake up a ghost. My pug pup keeps me feeling young though, and besides, girls these days: their style doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Spandex yoga pants, jean shorts the length of my tighty-whities. Kinda hard not to notice!
It’s not just college kids and fashion trends, the whole world sprinted ahead and outpaced me a decade ago. Over the past year, the world’s been running taunting victory laps around me and my pup, much like the pretty, young jogger that just went by. (The girl that reminds me of Esme.) The world runs on by, and for a second it’s close enough to touch, to understand again. Then the world yells to me, running backwards on the balls of its feet, that it’s on lap 2017, and I’m still on lap 2006. 2006 was when my world stopped running.
When we return from our walk I make Daisy breakfast. The first shimmers of dawn are repelling the dying night. My trembling, blotchy hands, ruined from Agent Orange all those years ago, scoops wet-food into a tin bowl and my pup squeals with delight by my feet. Hold on now, girl. We need to add the fur and joint supplement powder. I keep Daisy’s supplements with my prescriptions. Why? I don’t know, my mind has to categorize things a certain way. Opening my medicine cabinet reveals a horde of pill bottles, standing tall like a child’s action-figure collection. Pills for pain, for blood pressure, for anxiety and depression (yes those each get a separate pill), muscle relaxers, antihistamines, pills for swelling, pills for clarity, pills for cramps, pills for the sake of taking too many pills, and other sundry medicines for anything else the ravished, aging body might need to keep itself ticking just one more day.
If I take all the pills at once—I wonder— would that be enough? Wash ’em down with a bottle of Jack? But then my poor, ancient pup would be alone, and I can’t do that to her. So I sit in my frayed leather recliner that’s facing the window and Daisy joins me after inhaling her breakfast. It seems it was only a few months ago when she was still capable of jumping on my lap. Now I have to pick her up, place her next to me. We snuggle in our chair and watch the window like it’s TV.
I had a job and purpose once. Even after my Esme passed, I returned to work after mourning her. It was in the army I learned to box. Was pretty good too. Made something of a side-career of it, in additional to my countless other blue-collar vocations. Not 9 years ago, I had a part-time job. I was an old, beaten-down but respected boxing coach. The kids called me Uncie or Grandpa, but I didn’t mind—that was my role and they were my fighters. But life has funny way of sneaking up on you. Like with my pup: one day she goes to her favorite chair—same as always— but she finds her hind legs won’t let her jump up like they used to, so her dad has to lift her. One day I went to my gym—same as always— and the kids were rolling around on the floor, putting each other in headlocks and armbars. Then they started kicking each other like karate. Turns out my old-school brawling wasn’t enough for them. The world had outpaced me. They needed a coach with more finesse, and I couldn’t keep up. I aged out of the fight game.
My pup wakes me a few hours later, and I can tell from the angle of the sun outside that it’s past noon. She’s off the chair, ticking around the living room like she’s gotta go. C’mon, old girl, I say, grabbing her leash.
Daisy was actually Esme’s dog. She got her in college. Because I live near the university I became the designated pup sitter. Esme would jet off to study abroad or road trip with her pals, and she’d drop Daisy off with me. Esme’s mom wouldn’t take Daisy, she had her own dogs and her own new family by the time Esme was in college. At first I didn’t like Daisy. I wanted a mean, masculine dog. Something I could sic on burglars, take huntin’. Like a German Shephard, now there’s a dog! But one day Esme came home from backpacking Europe and I’m curled on the couch with Daisy. Esme beamed, Oh, my God, Dad. That dog is perfect for you. You guys are soulmates. And this goofy fawn pup was lying next to me, tongue out, smiling, and I thought: okay, pugs are alright. And then a few years later when Esme . . . when Esme . . . Well . . . I ended up with Daisy.
Our walking trail is a stark difference from the early morning. It’s a concrete path, concealed with blooming trees and lush foliage. It was dark and abandoned only a few hours prior, it felt sad, isolated. Now that it’s awake it’s a bright, diverse and active pathway. Bicycles ring by, joggers pound pavement, kids scoot along on skateboards. In the grassy areas off the trail, students are picnicking on beach towels, dripping sandwich mustard onto open textbooks and soaking up faint UV rays from the clouded sun. A group of kids halt their Frisbee game to come pet Daisy. They know her by name, but they just call me “sir.”
We take a slight curve in the trial and come face-to-face with the jogger from this morning. God, she could be Esme’s twin. She’s out of her running outfit and dressed in jeans and a comfortable purple sweater, a brown backpack slung over her one shoulder. A student, I suppose. The guy walking next to her towers over her. He’s wearing a bright red letterman jacket with a greasy mess of hair and a rabidly easy smile. I can’t tell if they are walking together or if she’s walking away from him. The jogger looks tense. The guy reminds me of a boyfriend Esme introduced me to once.
Something about the look of Esme’s first boyfriend. I saw him from the window as they were getting out of the car, and I didn’t like him. Instantly I knew. I shook his hand with a six-shooter on my hip. I’m pretty sure it freaked him out, because Esme was livid afterward. Vietnam ruined you, Dad! she had yelled. Not everyone is a bad guy for you to fight— you totally embarrassed me! I took her abuse stoically. I didn’t respond. I didn’t tell her my thoughts, my opinions. Figured she’d realize one day. I read her boyfriend’s intentions like a T-shirt slogan. I woke up old, but just a few days prior I was a young, horny punk like he probably was. One day—I reasoned—she might understand why guys like me needed to exist. Well, not any longer, I guess. Not in 2017. But I don’t know . . . Maybe I overreacted. Maybe Esme’s boyfriend wasn’t a villain after all. Anyway, I spent so much time protecting Esme from creeps and worldly dangers I didn’t think or calculate that something from within, something like disease could . . .
The jogger that looks like Esme locks eyes with me and offers a thin smile and quick nod. Does she recognize me from this morning? or the countless other mornings for that matter? Perhaps seeing me in a different light she realizes I’m not such a bad guy after all. She’s rigid, moving quickly. The big guy in the red jacket glides next to her, talking into her ear, but she doesn’t appear to be listening. Maybe next to the big guy, I’m a warm, familiar face. Someone for her to take solace in. That makes me nervous for her. My pup and I watch as she sinks further and further down the trail. Her pace quickens, and the guy in the jacket stops altogether. She slips away and he turns around, furious. The big guy walks by us and flashes his wolfish grin. I spit on a bush. I notice my old, wise pup at my feet: she’s growling, fur on edge. C’mon, old girl, I say, heading home.
They say 93 percent of conversation is non-verbal. The expression and slight nod the young jogger gave me when we passed on the trail, what was she trying to convey? Was it just a simple, polite greeting? A curtesy of the trail? I spend the night mulling it over and fall asleep to Jeopardy reruns on my dusty, leather recliner. Daisy’s curled up on my lap, snoring.
In my reoccurring nightmare, I’m drowning a Vietcong fighter in the Perfume River with my bare hands. This dream comes and goes, but it’s by far the most powerful, the most salient. The ones I killed with my M16 I don’t remember too much. Something about proximity. With a long rifle, you’re disconnected, a minimal effort for a maximum impact. Struggling with that man in the river, my entire body felt it. Every muscle contributed to his demise and my complete concentration was focused toward extinguishing his life. But they don’t need people like me anymore, not in 2017. Now we have buzzing fly-on-the-wall drones and cyberwarfare. Ha! Cyberwarfare. I hope that becomes the new norm. Sounds cleaner, friendlier, whatever it is.
I wake just before 5 a.m. and my sweet pup is off my lap, pacing the living room and pawing at the front door. Gotta go? Sometimes she lets me sleep in. Other times we’re out the door and on the trail at the ass crack of dawn. This morning is the latter. The whole week’s been the latter. But like they say: happy wife, happy life? Better to stick to her schedule; my carpet’s will appreciate it. I know she’s just a dog, and I’m not gross or anything, but just like Esme said: Daisy’s the closest I’ll come to a soulmate. Although I swear my landlady might be interested in me. She’s a retired accountant. She drives a Prius, and I think she wears a wig.
On the trail the sun’s straining to make an appearance. Blotted out, once again, by bouncer-like clouds wearing tight-fitting black T-shirts with bear crossed forearms. With the shrubbery, the trail is still very dark. My little pup’s leash jingles as she waddles along beside me. We stop every few feet in search of the best patch of grass to pee on.
My eyes are still dim with sleep but my heart lurches in place when I spot what appears to be a large man wearing a ski mask, hiding in the bush. He’s about fifty meters back—Daisy and I must have passed him on the trail. In the winter months, I wouldn’t think twice—it gets COLD out here— but being that it’s springtime, that’s an odd sight. But is that even a man? Am I seeing things? My eyes weren’t what they used to be. I study the figure for a few minutes and conclude that no, that’s not a person. Nobody can stay that still, I don’t care who you are. Well, maybe a sniper could.
I round the corner and take my pup to a nice dewy-green spot. She squats and relieves herself. It comes out a hearty, brown soup. I’d pick it up ‘cause I’m a conscientious dog-walker, but you can’t pick this up—you’d need a baster. My poor girl.
I see Esme and blink twice before I realize it’s her jogger doppelganger, steaming toward me with her perfectly paced stride. She’s out here just like the past few mornings, just like clockwork. She slows down and smiles this time; I must be winning her over. It’s a warm, bright smile full of positive energy. Her grin alone could will my heart to keep pumpin’ for at least another decade. She flicks her finger in short wave, a friendly gesture of recognition. I nod back, forcing my rusty jaw muscles to execute a reciprocal smile, I hope it doesn’t scare her. The jogger—my Esme— bounds the trail’s curve and out of my day.
Come on, old girl, I gently tug on Daisy’s leash.
A piercing scream echoes around the corner, rattling my nerves and stilling the air. I nearly hit the dirt on instinct. Daisy and I amble around the trail’s bend, and back where that tall, ski-masked figure was, is a tall ski-masked figure. He’s almost certainly the letterman-jacket guy from yesterday. He’s crouched on top of the jogger. She’ been yanked off the trail, wedged in the dirt between two barberry shrubs. He’s fighting with her muscular legs as she kicks up at him from the ground. Quick as jackal, he slams her legs down and drops over her in a full mount. She grips ferociously at his crouch, and he screams in agony before clamping her thin wrists. His thick mitts could snap her arms like brittle tree branches. Then he flashes that less-than-human smile.
I’m stupefied, frozen behind a socially constructed flashing-red stop sign. Fighting against my intrinsic male instincts to charge into battle. The modern world has henpecked my masculinities into oblivion. But more than that, I’m worried I don’t fully understand what’s going on. Like if I rush to help the jogger I’ll be making a bumbling, obvious faux paus. Perhaps there’s a hidden cameraman nearby and they’re simply filming a realistic scene for some arts class? Or Something for that YouTube webpage? Maybe a college-age director will call cut at any moment, and they’ll pick each other up and high-five an acting job well done? Or maybe they truly are boyfriend and girlfriend, and this is some gross, sadistically kinky expression of love? I’ve read about such things. As they continue to struggle, I wonder if I’m a sexist cretin for assuming the jogger can’t defend herself? If she can, would it even be a fair fight? Her assailant’s as thick as the nose-end of a Dodge Ram. At least twice her height.
The bitchings, moanings, and toe-stubbing philosophies of the modern world shatter instantly with another lung-popping scream from the jogger, muffled from behind a leather glove. Now I’m running. I’m running because that’s my daughter, and I mean to murder the fucker. My left knee pops, my low back strains, and what I imagine as a 50-meter Olympic dash is probably more of a slightly athletic, hunched-over, old-guy shuffle. When I reach them, the jogger has wormed out from under his legs, nearly free of his crushing weight. The monster looks up at me from his knees, confused, scared even. Yes, you’ve been caught, you son of a bitch. I put my entire bodyweight into a wild right-hand haymaker—the only way I know how. My balled fist thumps across his iron jawbone and my smallest metacarpal snaps instantly, leaving a shard of slick bone piercing through my hand. The pain’s quick and then it’s gone. Just a sharp jolt before my body remembers that I’ve already mastered every form of physical pain (and emotional pain obliterated my identity years ago).
The creep flashes his stupid little smile and I’m pleased to see a line of blood along his crooked incisors. In my prime, that punch would have dropped Rocky Balboa in the first round, but a split upper lip will have to suffice. A slight shadow over his face, his hair knocked into his eyes. He brings himself upright with controlled apoplectic slowness and the jogger is finally freed. Get out of here! I shout to her. She looks me in the eye and her uncanny likeness to my Esme captures my attention. It’s only for a second, but I don’t see the serrated combat knife the rapist has flicked open. He steps forward and the icy steel slides easily into my gut. Again, only a flicker of pain. The jogger stifles a scream, and I command go! as the blade hits me again.
The demon before me screams, fuck you, old man! and unleashes a frenzy of slashes and stabs. Again, and again I’m hit, a full-scale prison-yard shanking. Upwards of twenty times, my innards are clipped and diced into a pâté. When he’s finished, his feral eyes are replaced by terrified, blank dots, like he suddenly doesn’t realize how he’s gotten where he is. He starts to cry, and he confusedly stumbles away, tossing the knife aside.
As I hit the ground, my tunneled eyes catch sight of the jogger sprinting off the secluded trail and toward a busy byway. Good. My last good deed, my last noble act as a frail shell of a once able-bodied man. Made complete by a final, glorious clash. I feel contented by my last shot of adrenaline receding from my bloodstream. And then I feel wet kisses upon my cheeks. Smooths strokes moisten my chin. My poor old pup’s whiskers tickle my face. I hear her leash jingle as it drags across the cement. Fear and anxiety—my finally defeated rivals—return in a flash, because I can’t think of anyone who will take care of my pup, and she’s far too old for life in a kennel, which is where she’ll likely end up. My spirit bleeds away as I imagine the many sad eyes that will inevitably pass over her cage at the city dog pound in search of a younger, healthier dog. Her puppy counterpart. I’m sorry, old girl. We both deserve better.
About the Author:
Benjamin Inks is a Seattle native who graduated Magna Cum Laude from The Ohio State University. He’s worked a diverse array of vocations including: private investigator, personal trainer, and security guard at a senior-living community. He served three years in the army and writes whenever he can, aspiring to one day turn his passion into a career.