An extract from Anthony Good’s debut novel, Kill [redacted] , published by Atlantic Books in February 2019
Should I tell you, then, about the man I hate? Would it help me, to describe the colour of my feelings (black) when I imagine the things I imagine? Would it help you?
Christ invented Forgiveness in order for the victim to get on with his day, to enable him to carry on, to not be consumed by grief. Forgiveness, then, is an escape from Victimhood. Perhaps I can learn to forgive, and escape – but that’s not the question. The question is, What is Right?
Some man blows up your wife, in an action co-ordinated with other men, blowing up other men’s wives. Whom can I blame? Not the man, who’s dead, or men, who’re dead.
Besides, I don’t hate those dead men – or at least, less than I hate the bombs they made. Blaming them is like blaming the soldier’s gun for killing. It’s true, in the most literal sense, in the shallowest logical sense, in the most worthless sense.
Because if you removed the man who blew himself up, there’d be another. Some other blameless mad person. They are like guns – less than guns. They are parts. The triggering mechanism for a bomb. A mode of transit, a light sensor and a sound sensor. They are less than the bombs they carry. They defer to the bomb.
Then there are the men who make the munitions, the bombs – and they, too, are more parts. Drones of a higher order, following instructions, committed to replication. They don’t originate anything.
And then there is the man I hate. The man who, when I think about it, actually did it. Who moved the parts – who moved the bomb-makers and the bomb-triggerers. Who set things in motion. Who is mad himself, in a way. Utterly loopy, in a way. But only in a way.
There is a line – at one end there is my wife being blown up. And at the other end – him. And where do I in, on this line?
And there isn’t just my wife, on that line, connected with that awful man.
(Awful is the wrong word.)
Poor Paul is connected, as well. Poor Paul, whose misfortune I’m even more culpable of, perhaps, than that terrible man.
(Terrible, too, isn’t right.)
Paul, whom I came to look upon almost as a son. The only boy, I think, who ever looked to me for guidance, really. He who started life unjustly, confined and mistreated, or at least morally neglected, which is the same. He was often late to school because he needed to look after his infant brother while his parents ran some errands, and I came to understand that his parents accorded school a low priority in the boy’s life. Over the months and years I built up an image of his father as someone who used violence for the gratification of his short temper, rather than a means of control.
At first I sought to reform Paul. But in fact there was nothing to reform – he was like a plant, just needing space and light to grow to the correct proportions.
Paul, who went to a foreign country to get destroyed, and did so, nearly.
I sent him away, in a sense. I sent him to that country. I moved the parts, set things in motion. I planted a seed in young Paul’s mind. But I didn’t tend it correctly – didn’t take enough care.
So, who is to blame most? The man who makes the war, or the man who makes the soldier?
Can you imagine what I said to the boy’s were braver than me, or more demented – they were endlessly strong, or seemed so.
They thanked me for visiting. They were kind, far kinder than I thought them capable. Kinder than they’d been to the lad his whole life.
It wasn’t one hundred per cent my doing: I could see that although had accepted my preaching wholesale, perhaps in the end he’d still sought to be recognized by his mother and father.
And my preaching amounted to this: You must make something of your life. What shoddy, ill-defined terms. I spent so much effort encouraging noble thoughts in Paul’s young mind that I never considered where, actually, I was leading him. I never reached a summary. I dealt only in the moment-to-moment bits and pieces. I put him off littering (a triumph), I made him attend (imperfectly) to his punctuality, I told him the value of honest labour, of applying one’s intellect, which he slowly warmed to. These were the Basics, I thought. But I never taught him how to be wrong – how to understand it and make amends. How to identify a compromised position when one is in .
The thing I spent so long cultivating in my daughter Amy – the capacity for being wrong, for accepting misjudgement as inevitable – I absolutely neglected in Paul. I had no time, of course. I never really understood my position with him, the role I’d unwittingly taken – until it was all too late. So I drew out in him a general can do attitude. It was, perhaps, the very opposite of what I’d (again unwittingly) done to Amy.
I felt Paul had an immense catching up to do. I had no patience. By the time I became aware of what I must do with him – by the with Amy, outrageously, in the classroom (did I intend it? I sometimes wonder, though I can’t believe it) –
And can you imagine what I said to the mother? Though I hardly had to say anything, they treated me with such kindness. And can you imagine my private shame, when it was they (stalwart, resolute) who comforted me? I cried as if he’d died out there. I visited them before his abbreviated body – still alive – had even been returned. And wasn’t that always to be, from then, how we must speak of him? He was, from then, always the object of any given clause – not the actor, but the acted upon. He was taken back to England by an RAF transport plane. He was returned to his home. He was cared for by his still not very old, still rugged parents, who seemed to finally love him wholly now.
He’d sacrificed himself in the most violent way. The son they’d never gotten along with became a pride to them.
And do you imagine what I said to the mother, after the news had broken, but before Poor Paul was returned home? In that small, quiet front room of theirs? And that I judged them and their home as less than Paul deserved – can you imagine? – even as I was comforted by them. They understood what their son meant to me. Almost perfectly. They understood – less so, surely less so – the extra effort I’d focused upon their son. I’m sure they had no idea about Amy (Paul was too private a soul). Above all, I’m sure they were in complete ignorance as to my role in his disfigurement – as to my role in sending Paul away to be destroyed. In inspiring him in such a way –
I said I was sorry. I told them I couldn’t help but feel partly responsible.
They told me that was nonsense, of course.
I said I felt more than partly responsible.
They shook their heads, in that quiet little room, and it was only then that the mother had time enough – after my emotional entrance into their flat, insisting I wouldn’t stay long, though finally entering that small front room and agreeing to sit down, but do so without anything to drink – it was only then she had time enough to turn the television set off.
I think of how bad it must have been, watching the recurring news segment – barely a minute long, because they had no video footage, and besides no one had died – briefly describing the events that had nearly destroyed their son.
The mother let the father speak for them both. He said that Paul had done a courageous thing. He said that he’d live – they’d told him that – that he could live well, that prosthetics these days were marvellous, that given enough time he’d be able to overcome his injuries, though they were so incredibly severe (the mother closed her eyes imagining them). The important thing was this: he was alive. He was being returned to them. They’d stand by him, look after him, do whatever it took. He’d done a courageous thing.
It was as if they’d known such a thing was coming. Perhaps that was why they’d had no time for him, all the while, before – perhaps they’d been waiting for this catastrophe, waiting for their son to fulfil his dark promise. And now they loved him with full force.
The mother went to the kitchen, to make tea for the both of them, and wouldn’t I join them? Of course I would, it was very kind of them, though I only meant to stay a few moments.
I looked around the little quiet room, breathed it in. I felt as if I were a boy, in the father’s presence – in the presence of his stalwartness. I believe he judged me negatively (only a little) for crying openly in front of them both, though at the same time he was touched by it, honoured by it, in a way – in the same way that they’d forever be honoured, now, by the sanctified grief of others for their son, for what he’d sacrificed, and what I offered now – pathetic as my tears were – was a foretaste of that everlasting honour they’d been bestowed by their son’s detonation. In truth I judged myself more harshly.
I told him his son was a unique soul – I told him Paul had a remarkable character, had been quite unlike any other boy I’d taught. The father seemed to accept this as a matter of fact – he had none of the sensitivity of the mother, the sensitivity that I’d never at all suspected could exist in either of them.
I apologized for my tears – finally had resolved firmly enough against them – and he dismissed my apology, seemed to thank me for my grief.
I know how much time and effort you put into the boy. That’s a great thing, what you did with him (the mother had returned with a tray of cups and saucers, teapot – and some biscuits, even, at a time like this, I’d thought at the time, not judgingly then but astoundedly, that she could muster such mute propriety, such faith in routine conventions) and we’re both so grateful for all the help you gave him. He was such a tearaway, sometimes. We fought with him, sometimes. I physically fought him, he got so out of hand, sometimes, but you had a tremendous effect on him. You really chilled him out, if you know what I mean?
I nodded that I understood, a sided nod, to disregard the flattery at the same time.
So you should be proud, as proud as we are. And they beamed at me, as I lingered over my tea (not having the stomach for any kind of biscuit, not even being able to contemplate the things).
Both of Paul’s legs had been removed from above the knee. Half of his right arm had been removed. Blown away. He’d lost the sight of his right eye. There were, of course, broken bones, a collapsed lung, punctured organs, splintering and fracturing and shearing, snapping – but of the irrevocable injuries, that was it: both legs (or most of them), an arm (or some of it), an eye. Some of his mind, I worried then, and still sometimes do.