It all started with a simple idea, really. One simple little resolution, made to myself in my brother’s living room as we all counted down in sync with the old wood-laminate telly. Happy New Year! We raised our glasses of lukewarm sparkling wine and Father got up to pass a plate of twiggy sticks as we pretended to be enthused about the prospect of another year.
It was supposed to lead to better things, this resolution of mine. Things better than the khaki-green carpet and stained floral wallpaper of my brother’s bungelow. Things better than the gloomy apartment I rented from Mrs. Flowersdale down the road. And although I knew it wouldn’t get my ex-wife back, I knew with just a little bit of self-improvement I could get somewhere.
How it had lead me to a cramped room at the back of a ball bearings factory with a car battery in my hands and an alcoholic tied to wooden chair, I shall never know.
“C’mon, man! I’m not asking you to attach it to any other part of ‘im! Just his nostrils. Give ‘im a bit of a jolt, is all.” Desmond was the one doing all the talking. He was my supervisor. My trainer. Bangers just stood behind me, arms crossed across his barrel of a chest and looking intimidating but I suppose that was his job. “’e knew the score; we gave ‘im plenty of time to make the repayments. We gave ‘im fair warning. Now he’s gotta face the consequences, and you, Derrick my good man, are the embodiment of those consequences . . .”
I couldn’t think of a word to say. I was frozen. I didn’t want to electrocute this sorry man whimpering in front of me; all I wanted do was be a little more assertive. That my promise to myself as the fireworks spread across the screen and we half-heartedly sang Auld Lang Syne: this year, I would learn to be more assertive. That was my problem, according to Gillian – she’d told me as much just four months earlier.
“You’re always such a push-over!” she had said to me. “You always say yes to everything, always do what everyone tells you to do. You’re just so . . . so . . . obliging!”
She was on the verge of hysterics. I couldn’t understand why – we’d been shoe-shopping for the past three hours. I’d even bought her a nice lunch, finished with a slice of baked cheesecake that we shared. I didn’t care too much for it myself, but baked cheesecake had always been her favourite.
“You’ve never once – not once! – stood up for yourself in the five years I’ve known you, Derrick Hasen. Never! Not even stood up to me . . .”
“But Gillian darling, I would never want to make you unhappy,” I said in response. And it was true. I would do anything for her. She was my sweetheart, my queen – my reason for waking every morning and putting on a shirt and tie and getting through the working day, week after monotonous week.
She laughed bitterly at that. Shook her head and let her hair fall over her face and I saw a tear she tried to hide slip down her cheek. “You have no idea . . .” she muttered. “I know you didn’t want to go shopping with me, Derrick. I know you’d rather have stayed home to watch the cricket, but you came with me anyway. And I just don’t know if I’m comfortable with the idea of spending the rest of my life with someone who doesn’t have the guts to say what he really wants . . .”
As it turns out, Yes dear was the wrong answer to that.
So come January 2nd I took myself off to the bookshop on High Street in search of some wisdom. Surely, I thought, there would be some helpful advice to be found there. The store clerk suggested Confidence for Dummies in the self-help shelves but I didn’t like the sound of that, however the business section seemed a little more useful. There was little sealing-the-deal to be done in inbound accounts but the lads in sales and marketing always seemed like the kind of guys who’d be able to handle themselves in any social situation. I couldn’t go wrong there.
But it wasn’t a book that lead me prospect of having to pull another man’s teeth with pliers with an ex-boxer glowering down at me for encouragement. Oh no, it was something more innocuous than that. There by the till sat a collection of desk calendars, innocent little boxes promising a witty anecdote or a kitten for every day of the year. Normally I would take little notice of these but one caught my eye: A-Dare-a-Day, it said. 365 fun and crazy things to open your eyes and take you out of your comfort zone, it said. Well, I thought to myself, it was worth a shot . . .
And so I embarked on my year of self-discovery flush with new-year enthusiasm. Certainly, the dares were more fun than analysing my business competitors for nervous habits and eye contact: I had now played my first office prank and tried my hand at indoor rock-climbing and competitive Twister, both activities which nearly had me hospitalised. I was even the owner of the ugliest lamp I could possibly find, courtesy of the local thrift shop and a February dare and I secretly entertained the thought of Gillian‘s reaction had I brought something like that home whilst we were married.
So by one March Sunday, a day on which I was invited to do something “completely unexpected”, I found myself flicking through the local paper over breakfast to find a copy of the absurd personal ad placed the week before (a Wednesday dare). My eyes quickly scanned the tiny text in neat narrow columns until they fell suddenly on a few simple, enticing words: STAFF WANTED – LOCAL FINANCIAL FIRM SEEKS ASSERTIVE INDIVIDUAL FOR OUTSTANDING INVOICE RESOLUTION AND ASSET RECOVERY.
I handed in my notice that Monday morning and by the afternoon I was ushered by a large man in a suit into an office above a derelict shopfront on the other side of town.
“You having me on?” The man behind the desk wore shirtsleeves and tattoos down his arms and called himself the CEO.
“No, sir,” I replied.
“You’re an accountant, and you want work for me?”
The item he fiddled with in his fat stubby fingers seemed to be a flick knife; the action didn’t seem like a nervous habit to me. My mouth was dry but I had made my choice. “Yes, sir,” I nodded, adding: “I’m a very assertive individual.” Positive affirmations. That’s what the books said. Think positive; be a positive person.
He laughed, not to himself but at me. “Alright, alright then, Mr. Office-Attire, you got two weeks. Two weeks with Desmond and Bangers to prove yourself or you owe me your retainer and any commission the three of you earn – with interest.”
We shook and he squeezed my hand and pulled me close, hissing: “Don’t even think about trying to pull one over me, ’cause I’ll find you . . . “ and by then end of that day I had already collected repayments from three little old men with poor personal hygiene. It didn’t seem so bad. Desmond did the talking at first but by the third day he was letting me do the work. Bangers never said anything.
Things were going swimmingly until Friday. What started as a normal morning ended up with us snatching a poor degenerate off the street. This was not something I had reckoned for.
I was petrified. I was out of my comfort-zone, yes, but this was too far and Bangers kept looking down at me, fixing me with a cold gaze that made my hands shake. By the time we’d tied the old wino up Desmond was lecturing me on the finer points of enforcing penalty for non-payment but I could hardly follow a word he was saying: my mind was a whirling mass of escape plans and raw fear.
I couldn’t slap him, this whimpering late-payer. I couldn’t whip him with a belt. I couldn’t even shout at him, much to Desmond’s disgust: I could barely even muster a single word, my throat was so tense.
“Well, I guess you’re not a hands-on fellow,” he said, handing me the battery. “Try this . . .”
Bangers took another step closer, so close behind me now I could feel his cold solid mass in the stale atmosphere of the room. The bare light bulb flickered above us and I thought about what Gillian would think if she saw me now and I thought about her last words to me . . .
I handed the battery back to Desmond. I was too obliging, she said. I said yes to everyone, she said. Well, not anymore – consequences be damned.
“Sorry, lads,” I said and walked away. Consequences be damned . . .
This was written for a short story competition on another website recently, where the brief was to write a 1,500 word story on a New Years’ resolution turned bad.
Anyway, this is what I came up with. Something a little light and fun, but you know, whatever . . .