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The Visitor

by The Scholar

Part 15: Whatever Gods May Be

I sat with Tony and his father in the living room and through the window I watched the flashing lights of police and ambulance vehicles light up the street.

The police had taken somewhat hazy statements from the three of us and we could only guess that they had done the same with the driver of the car that had hit Dave, whom they had hustled into a car and driven away.

The accident had created a lot of attention and people were milling from their homes to stand and watch at close range the proceedings, others peered from behind their curtains, not wanting to get too involved, but involved enough to be able to tell their friends what they think had happened.

Police officers were seeking witnesses to back up the stories they already had, or to throw new light on the situation.

The situation! What was the situation?

I was in no position to tell. Tony said Dave blamed himself for the argument between Tony and his father and said if he left, Tony would go home. Tony disagreed, but Dave left anyway, Tony followed, Tony's father was driving away from the house and then, suddenly, there was another car - I hadn't seen what happened, not really. It all happened too quickly. I heard a screech of brakes and a thud and then I saw Dave, flying through the air and landing on the ground behind the car - Tony's father had seen Dave running - had seen the other vehicle coming along the street and then witnessed the collision. He had brought his car to a halt and jumped out to go to the aid of the boy who had been hit.

"Leave him alone!" Tony had screamed and his father had backed off, but as I ran to where Dave lay it was too late - Dave was not moving, blood was beginning to pool on the ground beneath him and his body was twisted. The boy was dead - Dave was dead!

The driver of the car could only look on, helpless as Tony was screaming Dave's name over and over, completely out of control. I had to grab him to stop him from touching the lifeless body and drag him inside.

I don't know who called the police, but they were on the scene within ten minutes, followed by the ambulance service.

Dave's body lay on the ground surrounded by uniformed strangers, but he was oblivious to them, but I wasn't, nor was Tony, who made an attempt to run back to where his friend lay, but again he was stopped, this time by a police officer.

"There's nothing you can do, son, leave it to us, now."

The officer looked around and called out, asking if anyone knew Tony. I moved forward, so did his father and I stepped back as Tony's father took his son from the officer, but Tony pulled away and ran to me, throwing his arms around me, tears falling down his face as he held me uncontrollably sobbing and his father just looked on.

I managed to get Tony back into the house and we were followed by Tony's father and two police officers who took statements before calling for a doctor to attend to a distraught Tony.

It was a nightmare. My head was spinning from the events - a few minutes in my life, in all our lives, had ended in tragedy.

Sedated by the doctor, Tony lay on his bed and I watched as he drifted off to sleep - a tired, exhausted boy who had just lost the first real love of his life. There would be others, but that was no consolation right now. I sat with him as he slept and felt the tears fall down my cheeks, before heading back downstairs.

"He's sleeping," I said, addressing Tony's father, who sat on an armchair in the living room. "I don't know what will happen when he wakes up, but I have a good idea. Has the doctor gone?"

"About ten minutes ago. I can't believe what has happened. It's all my fault."

"You can't blame yourself."

"But if I hadn't come here today none of this would have happened."

"If I hadn't gone in search of Dave, I could say that none of this would have happened. We can all take a small part of the blame, but no one is fully to blame, not even the driver of the car. Dave ran out in front of him, the driver didn't stand a chance."

"I ought to 'phone my wife, let her know what's happened."

"Yes, of course, the 'phone's in the hall."

"Thank you."

Tony's father stood and walked to the telephone and I poured a glass of whisky, which I downed in one. It felt good and I poured another as Tony's father re-entered the living room.

"Want one?" I asked. He nodded and I handed him a glass.

"My wife is on her way over," he said. "We'll take Tony home when she arrives."

"Do you think that's a good idea?"

"He's our son. I know we haven't been very good parents of late, but he needs his family."

"He needs to be with people who care," I said.

"I know you don't think much of me, but believe it or not, I do love Tony."

"I'm sorry, you're his father and you have the right to take him back with you, but this isn't going to be an easy time for him."

"We'll do our best and we'll get him all the help he needs."

When Tony's mother arrived, Tony was still sleeping. She sat with him for most of the day and when he awoke, hers was the face he saw and as the realization of what had happened came flooding back into his mind, he threw his arms around her and held her close and they wept together.

The police returned to say they were trying to locate Dave's family and to ask if we knew where they could be found. I could only tell them that his father lived in San Francisco, but I had no idea of his name.

Tony made no fuss when his father said it was time for them to go and he smiled as he walked towards me, hugging me and thanking me for everything.

"You don't have to go," I said, knowing that I couldn't really stop his parents from taking him.

"I do - what else can I do?"

"I'm always here," I said, as I pulled him closer to me. "Be strong."

"I will - for myself and for Dave, I will."

They left the house and walked to the waiting car.

"We'll be in touch," said Tony's father. "There's a great deal I don't understand and just thinking that it could have been Tony lying dead has made me realize that no matter what, I value my son. You've been a good friend to him, I know that and I know that Tony will want to see you again - he may need a friend to talk to, he may not want to talk to his mother or me, will you be there for him if he needs you?"

"Always," I said.

Tony's father climbed into the driver's seat of the car and started the engine and I saw the window next to Tony slide down.

"Henley invictus," called the boy. "You taught us in school."

And with that they were pulling away. I watched the car as it disappeared and with a final glance at the spot where Dave had fallen, I returned to my house and closed the door.

'Henley invictus' - what did it mean? I taught him in school? I was an English teacher, not a Latin teacher, but as I thought about it realization dawned and I walked to my small bookshelf and found what I was looking for. Turning the pages, there it was:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud:
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Henley's Invictus: In Memoriam. Tony could not have chosen better. I smiled.

"Whatever gods may be, may they be with you now, Tony," I whispered and closed the book.

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