The Alphabet Stories: Frank
Story by Liane Carter
Illustration by E.J. Klepinger
Frank had always thought of Charlotte as the stronger of the two of them. She was 18 months younger and yet she had protected him more than once. He’d needed it. Their father always said she should have been the boy and goodness knows he wished Frank had been anything other than what he was. Charlotte, on the other hand, loved everything about Frank and Frank adored her for it.
She would cup his cheeks in her hands and say, “Be beautiful you, Frankie. Always be beautiful you.”
She would press her forefinger against Frank’s lips, lean in and whisper in his ear, “Dad’s an alcoholic bully. Let’s be more. Let’s survive this nightmare.”
Their mum, a slip of a thing, had died in a car crash when Frank was 9 and Charlotte was 8, and the nightmare began from that day. Both Frank and Charlotte had inherited her slight frame, yet Frank had also inherited her nervous disposition.
They had left their father as soon as they were old enough. Charlotte would go and visit him until one day, in his drunken stupor, he’d thought she was Frank and nearly beat her unconscious. She had seven stitches and now had a scar like a crescent moon under her left eye. She didn’t go to see their dad again and he died a year later of alcohol poisoning. Every time Frank saw that scar he would feel guilt for existing and knew, if it had been him visiting that day, he would have been killed. Charlotte could survive monsters. She had chosen two as boyfriends, though Gary had been the worst. All would be normal and then his anger would flare from nowhere - like their dad’s used to - with or without alcohol.
So when Charlotte had asked Frank if he wouldn’t mind picking up the mail from Gary’s once she left the pig, Frank had said yes. Of course he had. Did he want to? Absolutely not. His stutter returned around Gary. Once when he’d gone to visit Charlotte, and Gary had raised his voice and thrown a mug at her, Frank had wet himself. Gary had stormed out and slammed the front door and instead of Frank comforting Charlotte, she saw what had happened and held Frank tight and rocked him and said, ‘I’m getting out, Frank. I promise I have a plan.’ And she did.
Frank felt he was being asked to do something courageous and knew he must be able to do it or Charlotte wouldn’t have asked it of him. He knew she wouldn’t. Although, she didn’t really have anyone else to ask. Charlotte phoned Frank a few times a week. She never asked about the mail, yet it hung there in the airwaves between them and riddled Frank with shame. He needed to do this for her … and for himself. He had gotten as far as Gary’s street last week before running away. And now, here he was on the drive. A few more steps and he would be at the door. He glanced right at Gary’s car and wished he had his own to make a quick escape in. Beads of sweat trickled down and tickled the back of his neck and made him shudder. At least, that is what he told himself made him shudder. He had a spare back door key in his pocket, yet Charlotte had said not to use it because if Gary saw Frank had gone in there and taken the mail while he wasn’t there, it could make him mad.
Frank stepped up to the front door and rang the bell. He waited. He couldn’t ring again. That might make Gary mad. Oh, he so didn’t want Gary to be mad. Frank closed his eyes. His finger rose to press the bell again. Just before he reached it, he heard a sound and jumped back. But the sound was behind him not inside the house. He turned and saw two guys walking by. Frank turned back to the house, his heart racing.
He couldn’t hear music playing inside or the TV. Gary always had to have noise in the background. It drove Charlotte crazy. Charlotte had told Frank a story of how she’d come home really late from work, and it was all silent and so she thought he was out, even though his car was there. Gary had been inside waiting for Charlotte that night, waiting in the kitchen in the silence and the dark to frighten her. Frank looked sideways again at the car then back to the front door. Had Gary seen Frank approach? Was he waiting inside? Frank had the back door key. He walked around the back of the house. He would do this one thing for Charlotte.
Frank fumbled with the key in the lock. He needed to use both hands to steady the shaking. He turned the key, opened the door and reached for the light switch. He turned on the light and screamed.
Lying on the kitchen floor, Gary’s eyes stared up at the ceiling, his body at an impossible angle, and still gripping the neck of a whisky bottle in his left hand, the rest of it broken glass around him. Blood had formed a congealed pool around his head. Frank saw the pile of mail on the kitchen counter. He looked back at Gary. Tears began to fall for Gary, and for the father who’d never wanted him, and with relief. He was safe. He wanted to turn away and yet he didn’t. He needed to see what Charlotte had been trying to tell him for years: that monsters were just hurt people carrying their own monsters in their minds. A calm cloaked him. He needed to call Charlotte. Of course he did. First things first though, he called the police.