There once a boy who liked to draw horses. He would draw them all day long; big horses, small horses; black ones, white ones; galloping ones and still ones. He thought about horses all day long. You see, horses were in his blood. Before he could even walk, he had been forced atop a black brood more with a delicate nature and led around the field while his mother and father watched on proudly.
But then the day came where the boy could no longer draw horses. Nor could he gallop through the fields like the cowboys in the stories his mother read to him. Just like his mother who had already gone (drowned in her own misery and the putrid water of the cut) and his father as well (a man who had long abandoned his family in seek of whores and fortune) now so had his childhood. The boy who was still nothing more than a child himself, yet the oldest of five, donned his suit and his razor blade cap, ready to prove himself in a world full of men.
And prove himself he did. Along with two of his brothers, they made a name for themselves. They were the Shelbys; they were the Peaky Blinders and they were the kings of their city. But just as they were on the up, war came knocking, reaching out with bloodied fingers, grasping and dragging and not even kings were safe from its cancerous clutches.
The boy and his brothers returned home completely changed. Everyone returned home completely changed. They were no longer boys. Each and every one had returned home as men whether they were ready to be or not. Some came back sad, others angry but one thing that united them all was that they could never explain it to those who had been left behind.
The wives, mothers, sisters who welcomed them home with pity and their eyes and relief in their hearts could never begin to understand the horrors that those boys had seen. How to explain the cold, the fear, the cries of wounded men? How to explain the blood that could never be washed away? How to explain to their youngest brother, the toddler now grown who had not seen in his brothers in four years, that war was no game to be played in the streets with friends. It was hell on earth. It was watching your comrades be slaughtered while you thanked an invisible man (a man you still weren’t certain existed. After all, how could he allow such atrocities to happen? Yet without a desperate belief what was there to cling onto? To give hope to?) in the sky that the bullet had hit them and not you.
Time passed and eventually people started to forget. Perhaps they didn’t forget, but perhaps it was easier to pretend that their men didn’t carry the emotional scars until the very end of their days. Perhaps it was easier to pretend that the anger and attempts at suicide weren’t just cries for help; the desperation of a man who had been forced to grow up to soon and couldn’t deal with the hopelessness that raged around his war and violence addled brain day after day and night after night. “He’s mad.” “He’s rabid.” “He’s a monster among men.” That was how they described him; those that didn’t know him. Yet the words that came from those who called themselves his family weren’t much better. “Let it go, Arthur.” “The war was over a long time ago.” “Stop drinking Arthur.” “Leave the snow alone.” “Deal with it like the rest of us and put it to bed.”
The words swirled around his head alongside the images of the men he’d killed, the mother’s he’d left without children, the children without fathers. They haunted his sleep, they tortured his soul. He tortured his own soul day after day and night after night. He looked to his younger brother, the man who led the family like the natural born leader he was, and felt nothing but shame and disgust at himself for being a failure. There was nothing in his life that filled him with joy.
Except for one thing. The only thing that had ever filled this hard coated soldier with the soft inside with immense pride in himself. But what did he have to feel prideful for? He had done nothing but rut between the sheets with the blonde haired angel he had thought was his saviour- the woman who brought him closer to that no longer invisible God- and poison her with his seed. It was only her purity that had born the child into one of angels and not the devil. It was only her wholesomeness that had ensured the child would become nothing like his father.
The man who was once a boy, carefree and wild, watched as his little boy drew those same horses that he himself had once drawn. His little tongue stuck out in concentration and his chubby child’s hand clutching the pencil for dear life. But his son had yet to feel the weight of a horse beneath him or the wind in his hair as he galloped without a thought for safety or propriety. His boy’s mother wouldn’t allow it. Just like she didn’t allow a lot of things. But the man who was jaded by life and scorned by the woman who had proclaimed that she and her God loved him would never allow her to take one thing away.
He folded up the drawing, all scribbles and pencil strokes, and kissed his son goodbye for the last time. She was taking him away and it was for the best. The small child needed a father not a man who loved him and tried his best, while still being completely unhinged. All his little boy needed was to keep drawing his horses. All his father needed was that crumpled up paper in his pocket; kept next to his heart for the rest of his days.