“Welcome to the finale of Reality Addicts. I’m your host, Steve Bliss.” He flashed a quick smile. A longer shot of his artificially whitened teeth might overexpose the film. “We’re down to our last two contestants—Mary, from Tempe, Arizona, and Lars, from Boston, Massachusetts. I also have a special guest with me today. Please welcome back our champion from last season, Wally Shackleford.”
Wally sported new veneers that he had bought with his winnings. He also carried twenty more pounds than he had last year, but that was a hazard in his line of work. “It’s great to be back, Steve,” he said. “I’ve been watching this season with keen interest, and the developments have been electrifying. The contestants, and particularly our two finalists, have taken the viewing of reality television to a whole other level.”
“I think you’re being modest,” said Steve. “It was during last season that Reality Addicts became the top rated program on the air. You’re even starring in your own show this fall. Tell us a little bit about that.”
“Thanks, Steve. It’s called What’s Wally Watching and it’s an in-depth behind the scenes look at the reality of being a reality TV viewer. The motivations. The mental and physical preparations. How the emotion and drama of following so many shows affects life beyond the living room.”
“Wow, sounds riveting. I’ll be sure to tune in. But now, let’s turn to the finale of this incredible season. Wally, how did Lars and Mary get to this point?”
“Well, Steve, much of this season’s excitement has stemmed from the different strategies of these two opposites. First, there’s Lars, who’s taken a more traditional road to the final. He’s buckled down and simply watched a lot of television. Of course, there’s his new record—twenty-nine hours straight of reality TV, with no water, food, sleep, or bathroom breaks.” Wally looked into the camera with a serious expression. “For those of you watching, do not try that at home. Lars pushed it to the brink, played a dangerous game, and almost had to go to the hospital.” Wally turned back to Steve. “But the gamble paid off. He was consistently able to predict who would be voted off of a particular show each week. And, he connected. He connected with the shows he was watching. When Andy, the blind ballet dancer, didn’t make it through on America’s Got Talent and his dreams were crushed, we saw genuine, heart-rending tears from Lars. Lars also connected with the other Reality Addicts contestants. He shared information with them, helped them, and because of that, he became the most liked resident of the house. Nobody wanted to vote him off.”
“And then there’s Mary,” said Steve, who would not allow Wally to gush about Lars until the commercial break.
Wally nodded. “Mary is not the warm, outgoing, emotional person that Lars is, and she’s cocky, but she is respected for her competence and incredible technical know-how. The producers really threw the contestants a curveball when they cut the television reception one week, and then shut off all electrical power to the house another week. To our amazement, Mary overcame these obstacles. She restored the reception with some scavenged wires and tinfoil, and she kept the television running with a jerry-rigged generator powered by a homemade windmill and a bicycle. When she couldn’t gain immunity by winning a technical challenge, she avoided elimination because other contestants feared that some future calamity might prevent them from watching Keeping up with the Kardashians if Mary were not there to fix it.”
Steve gave the camera his telltale look that presaged one of his pithy summaries just before a cut to commercial. “So this week we will have an epic battle not just between two people, but between the head and the heart. The action will start right after this break.”
After some creative advertisements for laundry soap and laxatives, the flashy intro music played and Steve and Wally returned. “Welcome back,” said Steve, to the tens of millions watching him through the camera lens. “Wally, you talked earlier about curveballs that have been thrown this season. Well, for the finale this year, I think we’re going to have the biggest twist of all.”
“That’s right, Steve. The producers have scrapped the usual viewing, prediction, and challenge format. Instead, for this finale, the contestants have been given one big open challenge. They can do whatever they want. They can leave the house and go wherever they want. There are only two rules. First, they have to complete their challenge by the end of the week. And second, whatever they decide to do has to relate directly to the reality television they’ve been watching.”
“If you had faced this decision last season, Wally, what would you have done?”
“I’ve been thinking about that, Steve, and the only thing I could come with was to try to break the record that Lars annihilated earlier in the season. That’s been done now, so both Lars and Mary are going to have to find ways to step it up this week. Knowing these two, I don’t expect to be disappointed.”
“It’s time now to find out,” said Steve. “Each of our finalists had a camera crew with them during the week so that they could document their challenge. First, we’re going to watch the film made by Lars Eriskon of Boston, Massachusetts.”
The studio audience clapped, and the lights in the room dimmed. An image of Lars appeared on the huge white screen. At first glance, Lars looked like the kind of person that could provoke jealousy and rancor among fifteen male and female contestants confined to a large house. His blond hair, tanned face, and bulging biceps set him apart from the typical reality television addict. Before appearing on Reality Addicts, Lars must have watched long hours of programming outside while doing continuous curls with a heavy dumbbell. When Lars smiled, however, it became apparent why Lars had survived until the final two. His whole face exuded a warmth and honesty that penetrated those around him like microwaves.
“Hi, I’m Lars,” he said, his arms at his side, “and for the final challenge this week I would like to present this piece of paper.” He raised a sheet of paper and held it steady with both hands so that the camera could zoom in on it. The writing on the piece of paper came into focus as Lars explained. “I’ve written the names of ten different reality shows here. I’ve tried to pick a variety of programs.” He looked down at the page. “As you can see, there’s Survivor, The Bachelorette, Masterchef, The Voice, HGTV Star, and some others. Next to the show, I’ve written a person’s name. That is the person who I think will win the show. Then, come down here to the bottom.” Lars slid his left index finger down the page and thus drew the camera downward. “As you can see,” he continued, “I signed this document on February 26, exactly one week after we moved into the house and had watched the premier of these ten shows.” Lars pointed to another signature and an embossed circle below his name. “Jen, another contestant, is a notary and carries her stamp with her wherever she goes. She is my official witness that I had completed this document on February 26.”
The audience let out a collective utterance of awe as they began to realize that this was a prognostication of Biblical proportions.
Lars went on to film himself while watching the finale of these ten shows. To set up his triumphs, Lars had obtained some highlights from each of the champion’s early days on their respective programs. Some of the winners, like Jason from The Voice, who had the judges convinced during the blind auditions that he was Whitney Houston reincarnated, were obvious choices. Other picks could have made Lars a rich man had he gone to Vegas and wagered his life savings. On the first episode of Food Network Star, Marcel was a whisper away from elimination after serving an almost raw hamburger that he had dropped onto the floor during the plating process. Marcel was saved only because Randy, who thought his stand-up comedy could supplant an inability to cook, had put red pepper in his French toast instead of cinnamon. Twelve weeks later, Lars raised his arms in triumph as he watched Marcel and his beef Wellington win the grand prize.
After Lars correctly predicted that a former governor of Minnesota would win Celebrity Apprentice, the finalist himself walked onto the stage wearing a tuxedo and a copious amount of hair gel. The audience gave him a standing ovation as Lars smiled and waved like an Oscar nominee for best actor. Steve Bliss took Lars’s right hand in both of his own and hugged him as if he were a dear brother. Wally shook Lars’s hand and mock bowed as if he were not worthy to be in the great prophet’s presence. Lars, humble even now in the spotlight, tried to wave off Wally’s praise.
Steve raised the microphone to his lips. “Lars, I just want to congratulate you on an incredible season, and an unbelievable open challenge. Oh, and I need you to pick some lottery numbers for me after the show.” The audience chuckled. “But seriously,” Steve continued, “how were you able to pull that off?”
Steve held out the microphone, and Lars leaned forward. His voice was quiet even with electronic amplification. “Thank you, Steve. I know there was some luck involved, but I just watched the shows, and I just tried to read the potential of each contestant. Then I just listened to my gut and hoped for the best.”
“Well you have a rare gift, Lars,” said Steve, “and again, I want to congratulate you for a game well played.” With his left hand pressed against Lars’s back, Steve directed the first finalist to one of two chairs on the side of the stage. The camera followed Lars as he walked to his seat and smiled for a close-up.
After the commercial break, when millions of viewers had learned about the potentially revolutionary benefits of a new intrauterine device, the image of Steve Bliss again filled the airwaves. “And now, for the final challenge of the season. Let’s see what Mary Stewart, of Tempe, Arizona, was up to this week.”
The audience whooped with anticipation and the lights went down as Mary appeared on the screen. While her green eyes gave her face a touch of softness, the rest of her body was angular and stark. Neither a dab of makeup nor an ounce of body fat appeared to mar the impression that a confident, efficient woman was about to make a strong case for victory on the world’s greatest reality program. She looked ready to delve into ancient tombs and search for lost treasures. If she chose to do so, her expedition would not be at a loss for investors.
“I’m Mary,” she began, “and this week I just had to get out of that house—no offense to Lars.” The corners of her mouth turned upwards, revealing the slightest fissure in her otherwise all-business façade. “My first stop,” she said as she picked up a suitcase, “was the airport.”
The scene cut to Mary, now at the airport, boarding a flight to Des Moines, Iowa. The audience murmured as it sensed something big about to occur.
When Mary landed in Iowa, she rented a car and began driving away from the city. After the cameraman focused on a welcome sign for the same county where Murder One, the popular true crime documentary, was set, the crowd began to understand the ambition of Mary’s plan.
Mary stopped the car at the home of Ethel and Bart Grassler, parents of Joseph Grassler, the man convicted of the Maria Mulholland’s murder seven years ago. A jury had found beyond a reasonable doubt that Joe Grassler, who lived next door to his parents, had shot Maria Mulholland in his garage and then buried her in some woods behind his house. Grassler’s defense lawyers had made a compelling case that local police had framed Grassler, who was in the process of filing suit for excessive use of force during a previous arrest. Grassler was presently serving a life sentence at a maximum security prison.
A surprised Ethel Grassler opened the door after Mary knocked. Mary began to introduce herself, but it quickly became apparent that this was not necessary. “Bert, it’s that girl Mary from Reality Addicts,” Ethel said over her shoulder.
“Who?” asked a disembodied male voice.
“Just come on in,” said Ethel to Mary. “He’ll recognize you when he sees you.”
Mary and her cameraman stepped over the threshold. When Bert caught sight of his visitors, his eyes went wide. Everyone exchanged greetings and sat down, and Ethel soon brought out iced tea for all.
Mary’s film edited out the rest of the pleasantries. “Mr. and Mrs. Grassler, let me tell you why I’m here. I’ve watched Murder One, and I think Joseph is innocent.”
The Grasslers nodded. “We know he’s innocent,” said Ethel, “but a lot of people, they just don’t listen to us. The police framed him, and a few jurors bullied the rest into convicting Joe.”
“I bet that’s why you’re here,” Bert said to Mary. “I’ve seen you on TV, and you’re one smart cookie. I bet you can figure out how the police did it.”
“Well,” said Mary, “I would like your permission to spend some time in Joseph’s garage. Is there still a lot of stuff in there?”
“Oh yeah,” said Ethel, “loads of stuff.”
“Yeah,” said Bert. “We haven’t even been in there since they took Joe away. I’ve always figured he’ll be back soon and I would just let him clean it up himself.”
The Grasslers agreed to let Mary do a search, and Bert got the key from another part of the house. They all walked outside to Joseph’s garage. Bert unlocked a door and pushed it open as Mary donned a hair net, latex gloves and paper booties for her shoes. She looked into the camera and addressed the viewers. “I’m going inside, and I’m not coming out until I’ve found some evidence that will get Joseph Grassler a new trial. I don’t know how long it will take, but I will get it done.”
According to a caption on the film, Mary entered the cluttered garage Sunday at exactly 2:57 in the afternoon. The film skipped to another shot of the closed door at 6:03, then again at 11:21 p.m., 4:07 a.m. Monday morning, and a few more times until she finally emerged at 6:50, Tuesday morning. Mary did not beg for food or water, nor did she appear the least bit tired. The camera zoomed in on a Ziploc bag Mary held aloft, moving closer and closer until a thin strand of hair came into focus. “Get me to the nearest crime lab,” said Mary, straight into the camera.
On Friday morning, Mary walked down a sterile hospital corridor, sandwiched by two doctors in front and two uniformed police officers behind her. They stopped by a door and the camera operator rested his lens on the patient nameplate beside the doorknob. “Brian Wayne Ellis,” it said.
In the next scene, Mary sat alone in room beside a gaunt patient lying in his bed, oxygen tubes up his nose. “Mr. Ellis,” said Mary, “I had a hair that I found embedded in a concrete crack in Joseph Grassler’s garage tested for DNA. It matched to your DNA, which was in the database because of your previous convictions for sexual assault. Could you explain how your hair got in that garage?”
Ellis tried to inhale, but his attempt was cut short by a racking cough. “Might as well, since the doc tells me I’ll be dead in a couple of days.” The world waited on edge as Ellis hacked again. “I killed Maria Mulholland. Joseph didn’t do nothing. I planted all that evidence too. The cops didn’t do nothing either, except play right into my hands. If that don’t get Joe a new trial, then his lawyer’s a [bleep] idiot.”
Mary’s film faded to black, and a stunned audience now watched Mary, in a curve-hugging gown and full makeup, walk to the center of the stage. Steve and Wally both had worshipping looks on their faces as they shook Mary’s hand. The contestant kept her mouth closed when she smiled. Even at this stage of the competition, she was all business. The audience soon regained its senses and roared with applause, not stopping when Steve Bliss held up his hands in a plea for silence.
After Steve made several attempts to speak, the crowd finally acceded to his request. Steve repeated his question. “Mary, what made you think that you were going to find a stray hair in Joseph Grassler’s garage after all this time?”
As she had throughout the season, Mary spoke with a brash certainty. “I wrote a computer program to gauge the probabilities of who had killed Maria Mulholland. After the last episode of Murder One, my calculations were telling me it was a third party. If that was the case, that person had to have left trace evidence in Joseph Grassler’s garage. It was just a matter of finding it.”
“Well congratulations on an amazing accomplishment,” said Steve. He motioned to the chair beside Lars. Mary’s co-finalist stood up and embraced Mary with genuine warmth. The top of Mary’s front tooth even peaked out from behind her lip as she smiled during the embrace. Steve Bliss still looked a bit dazed as he said, “And we’ll get to the voting—right after this break.”
After a perplexing commercial in which a major automobile manufacturer showed its newest model battling an army of animated mud golems, Steve and Wally returned. “Welcome back,” said Steve. “While we have two very deserving finalists, there can only be one winner. To determine that winner, please welcome back our thirteen other contestants from this season.” The camera panned across a group of smiling, waving men and women, sitting in the front rows and enjoying their last few minutes of fame before being relegated to obscurity. “Earlier today,” continued Steve, “each of our contestants watched the videos from Lars and Mary and voted individually in our backstage booth. Let’s see what happened.”
On the screen, what looked like a large closet fitted with camera and microphone appeared. After a moment, Mitch entered the room and sat in front of the camera. His fellow contestants had voted Mitch off the show first because he had been caught red-handed trying to sneak an episode of Empire in the bathroom. Mitch picked up a black marker and wrote a name on a card. As he held it up in front of the camera, the audience could see that it said “Lars.”
“I wasn’t in the house long,” Mitch explained, “but in that short amount of time, I feel I made a friend in Lars. He’s also an amazingly emotive person, and the most talented reality TV viewer I’ve ever met.”
At the bottom of the large white screen, two columns appeared, headed by the names “Lars” and “Mary.” Underneath the former column, the number increased from zero to one.
Next in the booth was Amber, who was voted off in week seven because she had taken a cell phone call inside the living room during prime time. She used the marker and held up her vote for Mary. “Girl power, girlfriend,” was all she said.
Mary’s vote total changed to one.
As the voting continued, the tension in the studio audience became palpable. At one point, Lars took a four to two lead when Katrina bashed Mary’s entire strategy. “The heart of this contest is about watching reality television,” she explained. “Mary may be able to do things, but when it comes to actually watching the shows, she’s got all the emotion of a block of ice.” She held up her card with Lars’s name. “I’m voting for Lars because he is simply the best at playing this game.”
But Mary battled back. After Reynard voted, the score was knotted at four all. “I don’t know how many episodes of Duck Dynasty I would have missed if it hadn’t been for Mary,” said the massive, full-bearded crowd favorite. As if the producers scripted it, the two finalists split the next four votes, knotting the contest at six votes a piece. Into the booth walked Samantha, a gorgeous, twenty-four year old redhead who, early in the season, had allied herself with Lars. In some previous on-camera monologues, she had criticized Mary for being cold and standoffish, and had downplayed Mary’s technical feats on the show. However, last week, just before her departure, Samantha sprained her ankle during a viewing session. Gary, her favorite contestant on Dancing with the Stars, had just made it to the finals. After a joyful leap during which Samantha tried to add a full twist, she accidentally landed on the TV remote, and her ankle buckled. Mary had sprung into action, using a pillowcase as an ice bag and fashioning a compression bandage from a clean sheet wrapped with duct tape. By the end of the week, Samantha admitted that Mary’s quick action had saved her considerable pain and swelling.
Dramatic music began to play as Samantha picked up the black marker and wrote a name on the card. She was about to pick up the card and reveal the winner when the camera cut to Steve Bliss. “Find out who’s the champion of Reality Addicts, when we come back.”
The network used its baited hook to force viewers into watching commercials for double the normal time period. After an insurance company reminded the masses that elephants might one day crush their cars, Steve and Wally reappeared. “We are back,” said Steve, “about to witness the show’s climactic moment. But first, let’s take a quick look back at the highlights from this season.” Off camera, an aide emerged from the wings holding a cue card with the word “Applause!” on it. The producers had eschewed cue cards during the show except for this one moment. At this point during the first season, disgruntled murmurs had emerged from the studio audience when their realized their thirst for knowledge would not be immediately quenched. Steve Bliss had briefly feared for his safety.
The mild cue card direction encouraged the crowd to be patient through the repetitive montage as well as another slate of advertisements.
“Thanks for staying with us,” said Steve, a note of gratitude in his voice. “And now, to the deciding vote.”
The screen once again showed Samantha picking up the black marker and writing a name on it. She held the card up to the camera. In large block letters, Samantha had printed the name “MARY.”
The crowd erupted as the picture of Samantha froze on the big screen. The producers had also learned during the first season to pause the explanation after the revealing the deciding vote. Balloons and confetti rained on Lars, Mary, Steve, and Wally as they all gave each other hugs and handshakes. The crowd’s applause continued as the thirteen eliminated contestants walked onto the stage to congratulate the winner. After about a minute, Steve raised his hands and silenced the audience.
The picture on the big screen now split between Samantha in the booth, holding up her card, and Samantha in the present, embracing other contestants. Her film clip unfroze. “Lars, you’ve been my best friend in that house, and you know how I feel about you, but let’s face it—Mary has just solved a murder seven years after the fact, and most likely has saved an innocent man from spending the rest of his life in prison. I know you, Lars, and you would have voted for Mary yourself if you’d been sitting here.” The camera moved to Lars, who laughed and nodded his head in agreement.
The audience resumed its applause, and this time it was Lars who raised his hands in a request for quiet. The runner-up walked to Samantha and dropped to one knee. “Samantha, will you marry me?”
The crowd’s renewed excitement bordered on hysteria. Samantha brought her hands to her face in shock. The camera zoomed in close to catch the tears of joy trickling down her cheeks. Unable to speak, Samantha nodded her acceptance, and Lars removed a sizable diamond ring from his pocket and slipped it on her finger. Then he stood up and enveloped his new fiancée in his arms.
With only seconds to go before the show was off the air, the camera reluctantly turned to Steve Bliss and his expression of impending wit. “She denied him victory, but she did not deny him her heart. We look forward to seeing you on the next season on Reality Addicts.” The credits quickly rolled and everybody waved to the world before the network severed the feed in preparation for the next show.
Tom W. Miller lives an ordinary life in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and takes his creative spark from everyday experiences and popular culture. He has published several stories in various literary magazines including The Writing Disorder and Red Fez.
It was many years ago while I was still working at the night college when I met her. I used to frequent a small restaurant off of Coles Road and she was renting a room close by. She called herself Yahvi at the time, and her hands always smelled like burned camphor. She stopped by my table to ask for directions one evening. We spoke in three different tongues and four different colours, her matted brown hair and skin burnt squid tan, my snowy silver and antique brass .We spiraled around how charming the city was at that time of the year, with the pink and yellow flowers and the purple jacaranda carpets that were laid down beneath our feet. Finally we landed up in a muddy red field where we lost each other as I followed the sound of a sarod playing by the moonlight, and I don’t remember what it was that she said pulled her like a magnet.. a madness.
We’d meet like this often at that restaurant. I found that I ended up going there three or four times a week, after work, and early morning before it; and she would be there, carefully moving a black ink pen around a handmade notebook, one couldn’t tell if it was words or pictures. She said it was experiments, but she said lots of things.
She told me that she had travelled here first with her father when she was a child and that while on their way back from a short holiday in the hills he had died in a terrible road accident from which she suffered no injuries because of the smallness of her body and the softness of her bones. She found herself sprawled on the curve of hairpin bend number nineteen and was quickly rescued from the night, who’s darkness spoke in riddles, by the kindness of a passing stranger. Let’s change the subject, she would say and we would talk about other things like how Tuesday night dreams were always hopeful and Wednesday’s were always wet.
She had started to visit me at the college and would sometimes sit in on classes pretending to be one of the students. I found myself clenching my teeth at these times because her arrival was inevitably followed by the ribald moans of post pubescent men who responded to the presence of a foreign woman with the same abhorrent slurs that accompanied the ingestion of their mother’s chicken curry. She didn't seem to notice it, or she didn’t pay it any attention, and she would raise her hand from time to time to clarify the meaning of alpha particles and anti matter. We would sit in the canteen outside, after class, it was under some rain trees and there was great filter coffee. Here she would spin into a frenzy, she said that the air in the college changed her, she said that it made thoughts whizz through her like a swarm of impassioned bees. She would ask me strange things; what I lived for and why I lived. I would answer in all earnestness that, I did not know what it was that I lived for, but it was a desolate topic yet somehow grand. One might tell you that they live because they have to, or they may scorn the question and tell you to pull your head out of whatever orifice it was lost in; but it’s like talking to yourself in the mirror, this sort of introspection is difficult. These were the things my matted hair maverick would make me think about under the rain tree. Sometimes we would move these evenings to the room she was staying in. It was walking distance from the college. A small room hugged all the way around by a small terrace. It was rented out by an old couple who lived downstairs. One might have said it was quaint, with many windows looking onto those pink and yellow flowers. She had done up the terrace like a wonderland with flowering plants and a small fish pond. A friend had gifted her a pair of swordtails and she was insistent that they had no electricity between them since they never succeeded in procreating. She said electricity with the help of her hands, trying to indicate a magical surge of something that these fish lacked. She said that she didn’t blame them, sometimes it’s there, this surge, and it can kill you and sometimes it just isn’t, and sometimes it comes and goes like the seasons.
Sometimes we made love. I remember one afternoon you could hear the rain falling outside and the light came through her thin cotton curtains like dampened sweetness. Her body was tough around mine. We had both wanted it to be something. But it doesn’t always work out like that. Her back was torn to pieces in scars, they ripped across her like the works of some wild animal. I would sometimes move my finger along the raised skin and she would start to talk about what it might have been like if we were eternal. She said the scars were from climbing trees and forgetting about the thorns.
Sometimes she would cry, softly, turning her face from me and gathering her body into a cocoon. It wasn’t unhappiness, she said, it wasn’t anything from any thing she could remember very well or explain very well, it was a grand scheme of things kind of sadness, but it wasn’t unhappiness.
Ours was a fated thing, maybe it wasn’t the zenith of our lives, we were on our way to separate places but we travelled together for sometime. After her father had died she had gone to live with her grandmother for many years, but throughout her childhood she was miserable, she said. She would start to weep in the middle of geometry classes and was regularly sent home, initially with letters of concern, and then with ones reproaching her bad conduct. After two years her grandmother had not been able to discern whether it was the child still longing for her dead father or something else that was causing her to be so far from any sign of happiness, and she undertook the responsibility of driving her to a mental institution every Friday evening to uncover the reasons for her condition. After three sessions the doctor was certain that it was a broken heart causing her to feel this way, she has fallen in love, the portly man with the pocket glasses had told her grandmother with a grave look on his face. But what was wrong with that, everyone falls in love, it is washed away after sometime, her grandmother had objected, but the doctor insisted that this was a far more serious case than any he had seen before. This wasn’t a love that bore madness, suicide or murder this was something outside of life itself. The doctor, who was terribly intrigued by the case because of its rarity especially in someone her age, insisted that Yahvi continued to be brought back every Friday for an indefinite period of time that ended up being nearly five years. The then team of very interested young interns would run tests on her to see what chemical reactions this kind of thing produced in her brain, they wanted to note the precise amount of dopamine that surged through her blood as compared to everyone else who was in a more moderate kind of love. Until the very end of her almost five year long clinical imprisonment no one knew the object of Yahvi’s love, it was always assumed that it was someone at the school, and the teachers had often hinted at various culprits, as middle aged elementary school teachers are known to do. It was on the Saturday following her weekly visit that Yahvi’s grandmother got the call from the facility. Yahvi had remembered the very moment the phone rang because her heart stopped and her blood turned cold. When her grandmother hung up the receiver she was pale and for the rest of their time together neither one of them said another word to the other. Yahvi returned to India that summer, with nothing but an old black and white photograph of her father and a bag of dried nuts. She set out to find the love of her life for what else is there to do. She had ached for so many years for the stranger of the night who had rescued her from hairpin bend number nineteen, and had taught her to love the smallness of her body and softness of her bones.
She had mentioned him at times. She said that I reminded her of him in the way that I watched her when she spoke out loud all the thoughts that whizzed through her head under the rain tree. She joked that the both of us must have been trying to think of ways to tune out the raving lunatic who burdened us with her hopes and fears. I asked her about the scars on her body, if they were from him, she tossed her head back and looked me hard in the eye, he’s an animal, she smiled, a crooked smile, half hurt, half hope.
As the yellow flowers began to disappear from even the ground that they had fallen to, we started seeing less of each other, and when we did see each other on the street or in the cafe, it was only a brief, hello, how are you? Something had changed in her, and I think in me too. How I had judged her scars, thought them savage, how she had wept quietly, knowing this.
When she left that December she left me the handmade ink stained notebook, that she wrote all her whizzing thoughts in when no one was around to watch her give herself up to madness. From inside of it fell hundreds of pressed flowers from Bangalore’s April. I would open it to the first page, and examine her scribble of a windy road for hours. I wanted to remember her in a wholesome kind of way, in my mind I had turned her into my suitably untainted maverick who only erred within the perimeters of propriety. But we were really just two degenerates feeding off of each other’s warmth.
It was last week, when I realized that I had been consciously planning each of my footsteps for over a month, when I decided to read the journal in its entirety. And there it was, the thin line bordering debasement that I had taken a secret pleasure in carefully tiptoeing along for most of my adult life, it was gone, and all of myself was completely thrust into a world I knew little about.
She wrote about their first time together, she hadn’t yet known her body in that way. She wrote about remembering the slime on the inside of her underwear and how she had wondered what was wrong with her. Poor girl, I thought, how young she had been and how little she had known about the way the world works, about the way things are meant to be. Her thoughts moved from nostalgia to rage to something I can’t explain very well. She blamed him at first. Then she showered him with golden words of adoration, saying that he was unlike anything this world could conjure up again. Saying soon after that he was unlike anything she would want to be conjured up again, it was all a mistake, and then she would chastise herself for cursing him, writing a thousand times, he is the love of my life, he is the love of my life. No one would have known from her writings who she was talking about, or what she was talking about for she wrote about him as if he was human, as if their carnal desire for one another was human, as if it was normal. I knew, because I had seen the scars on her body and I had dropped her off at the bus stop in December when she set out to find him ten years after she had left him, wondering whether he was still alive, somewhere in the darkness, waiting for the scent of her. I knew because she told me that she dreamt of him, hopeful dreams and wet dreams, feeling nothing in the world but the weight of his massive body on top of hers and the clawing of her skin.
Zui Kumar-Reddy is a Biology major at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. Some of her work has been published in Out Of Print - The Short Story Online, The Peal, The Legendary - Down Dirty Word and DNA magazine. In 2015 she won the Out Of Print - DNA national competition for best short story for her piece Anagrams and Barbed Wire Jesus. Her music video GOEF JOSEF on the subject of female sexual desire in India was selected to be a part of Sandbox Collective and Goethe Institut’s Project Gender Bender 2015, and was also screened at Gallery Tally in LA and the Femmes' Video Art Festival at the Situation Room in April of 2016. Her short story Look Me in the I on the subject of sexual violence and child sexual assault was published in the Out of Print magazine issue on Gender and Sexual Violence, an issue that just won a Laadli award. She was also long listed for the Toto Funds the Arts award for Creative Writing in 2015 and is currently working on a piece of long fiction.
(Previously published in Ellery Queen, December 2009)
I am on the bus turning into Circadian Street when I see Marlow. Or I think I see Marlow, walking with his back to me on the opposite side of the road, carrying a briefcase, and talking animatedly on his mobile as he passes quickly through the swarms of afternoon Christmas shoppers. I get up and fight my way to the front of the crowded bus, struggling past a young mother with a pram, and an old man with a walking stick, all the while exclaiming to the driver to stop the bus and let me get off.
"I don't stop here," he explains in an apathetic monotone. "You can get off in a minute."
By the time the bus slows to a standstill at the station and I disembark amidst a line of slow-moving passengers, I have begun to lose hope that I will catch up with Marlow at all. But then I see him again, walking out of a High Street bank across the road and boarding the ramp up into Ward Street Station. He is on the phone again, or still on the same call as before. I quicken my pace, pushing rudely through the throngs of shoppers in the direction of Ward Street. Twice, I unintentionally slide forwards on the thin ice that has formed underfoot, but regain my balance before I fall onto my backside. I reach the curb and see Marlow turn a corner inside the station and disappear out of sight, just as a bus and three black cabs drive into my line of vision, obscuring my view across the street.
Ten or so seconds later, when the convoy has cleared, I dart across the road in the midst of more pedestrians. I reach the pavement, and push past a woman with a clipboard who wants to ask me some questions about Christianity. I then jog up the ramp, push through the crowd, and continue into the station in search of Marlow.
Initially, I see no sign of my old friend; only scattered groups of people carrying luggage and/or carrier bags full of Christmas shopping, moving at varying speeds and in different directions. The scene is chaotic and threatens to fill me with hopeless resignation, but I continue onwards, past the shops and down the escalator.
On a whim, and in my desperation to catch Marlow before he leaves town, I ask the lady at the Information desk where and when the next train to the city is due. She tells me platform 7A, but the train is at the platform now, and is about to depart. I take off again in the direction of 7A. Absorbed with my chase, I bump into a crouching busker tuning his guitar, who then shouts some indistinct profanities after me.
Increasing my pace to a careless jog now, and panting, I fish my mobile out of my trouser pocket and frantically search through the M's in my address book as I go. I dart down the steps onto the platform, and catch sight of the train--just as a muffled announcement is projected through the overhead speakers, stating that it is departing. The train begins accelerating away, and I jog alongside it as it starts to pick up speed. I push through yet another crowd, this time stationary people hovering on the platform to wave off relatives or friends. I peer into each carriage I pass, quickening my pace to match that of the train, and I receive some curious glances in reply from the seated passengers.
Finally stopping dead in my tracks, I ring Marlow's mobile number and hold the phone to my ear, my heart beating hard in my chest, my breath heavy. Surely this is hopeless? I've tried his number countless times before today. I hear an automated message stating that the person I am trying to reach is engaged with another call.
I start walking again, with the phone still held against my ear. I am muttering something into the phone along the lines of Come on, Marlow, hang up; come on. I have reached the end of the platform in a resigned stride when I do see Marlow--sitting by a rear window of the increasingly distant train, still talking on the phone, and smiling now with a distant look in his eyes. He catches my gaze and his jaw drops, the smile now vanquished from his face. All colour drains from his previously healthy-looking complexion until he resembles a corpse. His lips stop moving, but the phone remains next to his ear. I imagine the person speaking on the other end: Hello? Hello? Are you still there?
And then Marlow is gone again.
I am sitting by the window in a trendy High Street coffee shop called the Wake Up Bar, when a bespectacled middle-aged man walks in, his shoulders hunched a little from the cold and the wet. He relaxes his posture, removes his glasses to wipe away the condensation that has formed on the lenses, places them back on, and surveys his surroundings. I recognise him from the picture in his advertisement, and I sit upright in my seat, gesturing to him with a wave of my hand. His eyes continue to dart around the room--presumably searching for a man in a red scarf, and then he sees me, as I'd described myself, surrounded now by hyperactively chatting students and solemn, suited business people reading newspapers. He gestures that he's seen me with a brief nod of his head, orders a drink which he requests to be brought over to him, and then walks over to where I'm sitting. He extends his hand without sitting down, and I rise out of my seat to shake it.
"Gregory, is it?" he asks with a slight smile. We shake hands, and I make a little subconscious note of his peculiarly weak grip. The handshake ends, and I notice that he wears a dreamy-eyed expression, which also strikes me as being somewhat out of place.
"Yes," I reply, realising that I had hesitated. "Thank you for coming. Mister P. Remsley, is it? Sorry, I'm useless with names."
"Yes, that's it," he says, smiling softly still, but I am a little taken aback that he doesn't give me his first name.
He sits down. "How are things?" he asks casually, which again strikes me as peculiar, considering the nature of our meeting. My first impression of P. Remsley is that he is full of surprises.
"I'm . . . confused," I reply, and then manage a timid smile myself to match his slight grin, which now seems to be a constant mask.
"Well, yes. It's a confusing business, isn't it?" he asks rhetorically, removing his scarf and gloves without taking his eyes off me. "Give me some background information on Marlow, will you? I think that's the best course of action to begin with."
I nod in agreement, take a deep breath, and then sip my black coffee just as his decaf arrives. He thanks the waitress and fixes his smiling eyes back on me.
"Marlow and I," I begin, "we went to the same university, and studied for the same degree. We were good friends right up until we were in a serious car accident together one Christmas. Marlow went missing from the wreckage; I had blacked out in the passenger seat, and when I woke up, he was gone from the driver's seat."
"And how long ago was that now? Six years, you said?"
"A little over six years, yes. He's all but presumed dead now--all but declared legally dead, and last thing I heard, the case on him had been dropped."
"You haven't spoken to the police about it recently?"
"No. Not for about a year. Everyone seems to have moved on, including Marlow's family. It's surreal, really, considering that no body was ever found within miles of the crash."
I tell him a little more innocuous back story regarding my good friend Marlow and me. There is nothing remarkable to relate--nothing that has ever helped me to understand why he simply disappeared.
The man across the table from me sips his decaf. He's not what I had expected from a private investigator, with his lined face and his bookish demeanour--not to mention that calm, almost Zen exterior, which makes him appear lost in some distant reverie.
He asks: "Did Marlow ever live or work here in town, back when you knew him?"
"No. When I knew him, we both lived, studied, and occasionally worked in the city."
"But you're certain it was him? Walking away from Circadian Street and boarding a train at Ward Street Station?"
I pause, and try to gather my thoughts so that they don't come out in a jumbled mess. "It was him," I say. "I ended up seeing his face, and I know he saw mine too. There's really no doubt about it being him; but there is something that struck me as rather odd."
"Go on," says Remsley, blowing on his decaf to cool it down.
I say, "The reason I wasn't sure it was him at first, was because he had his back to me and he was on the phone. So I tried phoning his number, rather pointlessly because that number has been disconnected for a long time now, since the police stopped trying to track him down--not that I believe they ever did try that hard. My trail of thought at the time, was that when I called him, if it was him walking into the station, his number would be engaged--giving me some kind of proof it was him, see? It's ridiculous, I know."
"But you did get an engaged message?" asks Remsley.
"Yes, I did! I got an engaged message, right before I saw him in the train carriage. It wasn't until the whole thing was over that I realised I had dialled his old number by mistake--the one he only used occasionally, socially, and which only his close friends knew about."
"So, despite leaving his old life behind, he still uses an old phone number?" the smiling man named Remsley enquires, attempting to clarify things, but with a pointedly sceptical tone.
"Apparently, yes," I say. "Although I've been unsuccessful in trying to reach him a second time; I suppose he's finally had that number disconnected too."
"And you think that he's in town on business?"
"Hard to say. I only think that because he had a briefcase, and carried out some kind of transaction inside a High Street bank . . . It crossed my mind that he might have relocated to town, like me, but then of course I saw him on the city-bound train."
The smiling man nods.
"That's something I was going to ask you to look into actually," I say. "Could you try and find out what name he was using at the bank? Maybe track down his account details--can you do that with your resources?"
"I'll certainly try," he says, but somewhat dismissively, I feel. He even shrugs his shoulders a little, as if what he's really saying is, It's pretty hopeless, Gregory. Then, standing up, he shakes my hand and says, cryptically: "You and Marlow are in my hands now. Don't worry."
I am in a taxi heading away from Jung Street when I see Marlow again. He is on foot, wearing a long trench coat and carrying an umbrella to shelter from the falling snow. He is on the phone again. This time he carries no briefcase, but I see him in full profile for five or so seconds, and it is unmistakably my old friend.
"Follow that man," I say to the taxi driver, too preoccupied to care about the terrible cliché.
"What man?" he replies in a heavy Asian accent.
"That man on foot, with the umbrella and the phone, just across the road . . ." I lean forward and attempt to point Marlow out, just as he enters into a melee of people, mostly rowdy students let loose to survey the local nightlife.
"Never mind," I say. I pay him quickly and exit the car. I chase after Marlow on foot again.
I follow him through the whole of town, through various clusters of people who look dressed up and lively for whichever bar, club or performance they are attending. There are multiple occasions when it is just Marlow and me, walking down a side street or along a main road, beneath streetlights that illuminate my friend in a veil of falling snow; and yet I follow only from a discreet distance. I need more information. I need to compile, to research, to study the facts here. If I apprehend Marlow now, he will never simply give me those facts; I need to extract them from him against his will, without him knowing. I need to play detective myself, if I ever hope to uncover the mystery of his disappearance.
I hear his familiar slow and steady murmur as he continues his mysterious phone call, but the distance between us, plus the sounds of the wind and our own squelching footfalls on the snowy ground, all prevent me from distinguishing any words.
I continue to follow him, until he reaches a small hotel on the outskirts of town called the Sleep Easy, and walks inside. Standing outside, I see a light go on in the foyer, and assume that the scene is just my old friend and a member of the hotel staff, and if I were to follow him inside, my cover would be blown. Instead I wait five minutes, while Marlow presumably collects his key and climbs the stairs up to his room.
I am contemplating following him inside, having allowed a sufficient break in my pursuit, when I see another light come on--on the fourth floor, on the west side of the hotel. Ten minutes later the light goes off again, and I am confident in my assumption that that is Marlow's room, and that he has gone to bed.
I then begin to brainstorm. Marlow's hotel stands adjacent to another on the same side of the road, the Bedside Manor. The Bedside Manor has rooms on the east side, with fairly sizeable windows from which I might get a good view into Marlow's room--if I also book into a room on the fourth floor. At the very least, I will be able to keep track of Marlow when he leaves the Sleep Easy in the morning.
Ten minutes later, I am lying in bed in my darkened hotel room. I glance to my right, out the window, and inwardly delight at how well my plan is coming together. All I see now, by the glow of an outside streetlight, is Marlow's own dark room. But neither of us has cared to draw our curtains shut, so, if I arise when he does, I should be able to observe his movements. I start to wonder why I ever involved P. Remsley at all.
It's daylight. I am brushing my teeth with my finger and some toothpaste, while pacing near the window of the bedroom--and so is Marlow. It's a miracle he doesn't see me, frankly. A little later, he is sitting on his bed reading a discarded newspaper, so I sit and pretend to read a newspaper I found too, so that he doesn't catch me watching him. He then watches television. I also turn on my television, in the hope to find out what he's watching. But there are only seven channels to choose from, and there's nothing revelatory or sufficiently distracting on any of them.
Marlow eats breakfast when I eat breakfast; I wonder if we tipped room service an equal amount.
Where did you go when you left me, old friend?
I make the agonised decision to phone Marlow; it's the only way to find out what's going on. I don't need to give my name, after all. I don't even need to use my own voice--I can try to disguise it a little. I'll just phone his hotel, find out the number of his room, and--
My hotel room phone rings. I rush to the window, my eyes wide, my heartbeat and my breath heavy. Marlow is holding his mobile to his ear, and he's looking directly at me.
The phone continues to ring, so I answer it. "Marlow??" I ask, anxiously.
"Hi, Gregory. No, it's me, Remsley."
"Oh," I say, deflated. "But Marlow was making a call--" I look out of the window, but it seems that Marlow has gone. It is now impossible to see into his room--a supernaturally bright, white light fills the window frame, and I have to avert my eyes as if I were trying to stare directly at the sun.
"Marlow is gone," confirms Remsley.
"How do you know? And how did you know where to find me?" I ask.
"Don't worry. You're in my hands," he says cryptically, for the second time since I'd met him. "I'm sending over the results of my investigation," he continues. "It's a case file--it should clear things up for you, Gregory." He hangs up the phone.
I'm still sitting with the phone receiver in my hands, feeling a little bewildered, when there's a knock at the door. I place the hotel phone back on the hook and open the door--only to discover that there is no one there, just a black notebook left for me on the carpet outside.
I briefly survey both ends of the corridor where my mystery visitor would have had to flee to (unless he'd come from one of the other rooms), and then, wondering how Remsley even found out I was here, I bring the unlabelled book back into the room. Then, without taking my eyes off the case file, I absent-mindedly kick the door shut and wander back towards the bed. I sit down and open the front cover. The first page says, more drawn than written, and in a large, sloppy idiot scrawl:
START FROM THE BEGINNING AND WORK YOUR WAY TO THE END
Well, thanks, Mister Remslee, if that's how you're spelling it now. How else was I going to read this thing? Can this guy not even write, or spell?
I turn to the next page, but there are no words, only small, indistinct smudges. I turn again; more smudges. I flick through the entire book, holding the damn thing at different angles, under different lights, at different distances from my eyes. There's nothing here! I flick back to the first page, only to discover that the letters have inexplicably rearranged themselves into seemingly meaningless shapes:
TARTS ROMF HET EGINNINGB NDA ORKW OURY AYW OT HET NDE
The phone rings again and I answer it, increasingly confused now: "Remslee, what's happening?"
Remslee laughs. "I'm sorry, Gregory. I forgot you'd have difficulty reading in a dream."
"In a . . . dream?" I ask.
"Yes. Dreaming and reading are controlled by different brain mechanisms. Dreaming is a right-brain activity. Sometimes left-brain activities like reading or puzzle-solving are carried across into dreams--if they are sufficiently intellectual or addictive. But it's still very rare, and even then you only perceive that you are reading. Everyone is severely dyslexic in his or her dreams--focusing on actual words, and making sense of them, becomes impossible."
"Yes. I'm afraid you are. I hoped you'd have worked that out. Start from the beginning of P REMSLEE and work your way to the end? That's REMSLEEP. You know, R.E.M. sleep? Most of our more vivid dreams occur during R.E.M. sleep, after all. And all of those place names . . . come on! Ward Street? The Wake Up Bar? The Sleep Easy hotel? The Bedside Manor? And you and Marlow in adjacent rooms, with just those open curtains between you? In adjacent beds!"
"Okay, okay, what are you saying then?" I enquire, slightly shocked, slightly scared, wholly confused and pissed off. "A hospital ward? Adjacent hospital beds?"
"Yes," says Remslee. "You were both in the car crash that Christmas. Marlow had been on the phone while driving, and he lost control of the car on the ice. You both wound up in deep comas. Marlow has gone now, and you're not far behind. You're in my hands now--both of you were, in the grip of deep sleep. I'm afraid this is the end, Gregory. I'm sorry it's been such a jumbled mess for you, but you only have your own damaged psyche to blame, you know?"
"And who are you?" I ask calmly. "Are you my coma?"
Remslee laughs. "If you like, Gregory. It's your dream, and it's nearly over. I've just been here to help you make that last little connection."
White light fills the room.
Ryan Daff was born in 1984 in Birmingham, UK, where he still resides with his girlfriend, two cats, and his trusty acoustic guitars. Having graduated in English Literature, Ryan sought to record the kind of erudite guitar music purveyed by Radiohead and The Smiths. Sadly, fame and fortune did not come knocking. Today, he is the editor of a business and finance print magazine, and the author of an as-yet unpublished sci-fi novel about time travellers in a near-future London. His stories have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Schlock!
She was away for the entire year. Abroad. He said it with an attempt at ironic gravitas. Though she (this one) could sense the tiny tremble of pride behind the utterance. His partner was an important person. One who went on tour. One who went abroad.
Now’s my chance, she (this one) thought.
Her front porch had long been buried beneath plants of every shape and size. One had to weave between towering lilac branches and hop over geraniums to reach her front door.
Like a princess in a castle, he teased.
Like a princess in a castle, she solemnly affirmed.
She remembered the first time they’d kissed.
Her bike had rammed his off the sidewalk and into the street. When a speeding car narrowly missed hitting him, it created an indissoluble bond. We must never tell our parents, they swore in mumbles. )
She liked to burn things. Scraps of paper with sketches of unwearable gowns made of stars; report cards; toilet paper in the bathroom of an International House of Pancakes; old sneakers. Her burning made him nervous.
His parents took them to an oyster bar once. (Her parents had taken them to the aforementioned International House of Pancakes.) Intrigued, she watched them—dressed in what she at the time called “fine clothes”—slurp inelegantly. She knew the word juxtaposition but somehow realized it didn’t apply here.
One day they looked up the word caviar in the dictionary: the eggs of a large fish (such as the sturgeon) that are salted and eaten as food. Although it did not sound appealing, she decided they would still be rich like the people in soap operas.
One ripe summer day after his father had expounded on hypocrisy they threw rocks at a stained glass window until it shattered. The pastor was too old, or too weary with the weight of his own hypocrisy, to chase them.
But the first kiss—
That was in high school; that was under the bleachers like a movie; that was where the flowers came from; that was what it meant to be a teenager, she marveled; that was like one of the pop songs he made fun of her for listening to; that was like a strawberry; that was the moment when she knew if she looked into a mirror she would see, etched on her own face, the dreamy expression of his mother slurping an oyster.
His mother, who was British, said things like “go to university.”
Of course you must go to university, she said.
Of course he did, and of course while there he met her, the other she, the she with the brilliant future and the slight squint and the strawberry blond hair. The determined she who recognized in him a potential for some sort of obscure greatness. The she who rose at dawn and believed steadfastly in the power of legumes. The she his mother would lend necklaces to because—though brilliant, and diligent—she (it had to be admitted) did not understand that one might also express one’s philosophies—or socio-economic status—through one’s habillage (a word which she, this one, had looked up at age nine).
She (this one) attended what is colloquially known as a party school. Disgusted by the unimaginative sadism euphemistically labelled Greek life, she was expelled almost immediately for arson.
There are clichés for time passing. But none as effective as pure fact: she flipped houses and bought plants; he wrote a thesis and pledged himself to the other she.
But the tour. The abroad.
He was supposed to return to the quiet of his home town and work on his book. (Other she was supposed, she gently reminded him, to be one half of a brilliant and diligent couple. Not to mention, his future tours could bring in money too. Not, she stressed, that money mattered; it was the principle of the thing. Other she enunciated words like “mattered” and “principle” in a way that she—this one—would have recognized as signaling untruth.)
But working on a book, she (this she) suspected, was a tedious and time-consuming way to occupy a year. She instead enticed him to spend an afternoon, then an evening, then weeks, in pursuit of other pleasures. There were, after all, she suggested—hummingbirds; oyster bars; clean sheets; Spanish wine; the lake one town over. With his usual air of acquiescence, he began to shop at the high end grocery and eagerly read exquisitely bound volumes on the obscurest of sexual pleasures.
You could write, she suggested—one lazy afternoon in bed—a book about oysters. I can help you with your research.
A book on indolence, they joked. On frivolity. On the way the flowers on the porch burst into bloom.
(Perhaps, she thought, she’ll never return. Somewhere in Vienna might be a library so vast other she would lose herself among the stacks, devouring books in foreign tongues for all eternity.)
But tours end and people return.
“Oh no, you never wrote the book! What will she say? It’s all my fault.”
She practiced in front of a mirror.
But something had gone wrong. When she said these words to him (feeling simultaneously guilty and content) he laughed, momentarily disappeared into another room, and re-emerged brandishing a hefty stack of watermarked paper, each page filled with lengthy words.
But when did you find the time, she asked, bewildered, a stone sinking in her stomach, displacing the guilty contentedness with a flood of synonyms for the end.
While you were sleeping, he said, smiling. You sleep a lot.
The book pleased other she greatly, though it was exactly the sort of thing she—this one—would have liked to burn.
(In fact, she would like to have stood every place they’d ever stood and burn things.)
But her days as an arsonist were behind her.
She might, she thought, publish her own book—a slim volume of barely disguised memoir. In it she would chronicle the previous year, highlighting especially the sumptuous randomness of their dining habits and the profligacy of their afternoons. Other she would undoubtedly read it in secret, hide her disgust and unease, and never consider burning it, she thought scornfully. She would call it “A Year of Oysters.”
But she ultimately rejected this idea as lacking expediency. (Also practicality—she was not a writer.)
In the end, of course, there was no revenge. She was not a spiteful person, and things regained their normal proportions. (Except for the plants. There used to be a house behind all those plants, the neighbors ribbed her, the joviality in their voices contradicting the annoyance in their eyes.)
She lined the soil in the pots with oyster shells.
Eventually, his book came out. There was a tour. She bought it and read the cryptic acknowledgment with a generous smile.
As for the rest, it was unreadable.
Other she, she thought with pity, weighing the heavy volume in her hand, would undoubtedly find this an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. Other she would undoubtedly find oysters to be a disturbing extravagance. But the best part of her, this her, hoped that they at least had some fancy legumes to celebrate.
Tara Roeder is the author of two chapbooks, Maritime and (all the things you're not). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in multiple venues including 3:AM Magazine, The Bombay Gin, Hobart, Cheap Pop, and Cease, Cows. She teaches writing in New York City, where she lives with her dog and cat.
Tony hardly noticed the bumpy dirt road as Carl drove the battered pickup toward the hunting camp; he could still taste Angie on his tongue. He turned to the window and allowed himself a small grin; she wasn't much to look at, but God was she good in the sack.
Outside, the dark woods bounced past under a heavy night sky. Granville was mainly populated by trees, occasionally broken up by small plots of people. Other than Route 4, most roads eventually turned into rutted hunting paths through dense pine and maple. A few weeks earlier color was everywhere, but winter was around the corner now, leaving the maples bare and the pines flat and dull in the truck's high-beams.
Tony didn't see the trees, though. He saw Angie lying naked on his bed as he shoved his legs into his pants. Her clothes still decorated the room, but Carl was due any moment so they'd had to hurry.
She'd shown up at his door like some cat in heat twenty-five minutes before Carl was supposed to pick him up. She'd said being caught had always been a fantasy of hers.
Tony grinned again; a satisfied woman was a beautiful woman, no matter what she looked like.
"Gonna rain," Carl muttered.
"Mm," Tony said automatically.
It took a moment for Carl's short comment to sink in. Usually, Carl blabbered the whole way up and back. Tony glanced at him. "You ok?"
Carl's habitual hunch bent him toward the wheel as usual. "Sure," he said, eyes on the road.
Tony looked closer. Carl wasn't very healthy to begin with, but the bags under his eyes looked darker and his skin even more pasty than usual. "You sure? You look like crap."
"I'm fine." Carl tugged at his gloves and fiddled with the heater again. The machine made another feeble rasp and left it at that.
Tony shook his head. "You really need to get rid of this piece of junk."
Carl just grunted.
Tony looked out the window, thinking. Carl had been right on time, as usual, but Angie had finally gone out the back just before. Not that Tony really cared whether Carl knew or not. The man was barely 5'4" and thin as a rail. A stiff wind would knock him over -- aside from his being just a spineless kiss-ass, generally.
They'd all gone to high school together, along with the rest of town, but Tony hadn't noticed either of them until a couple years ago. By then, most of his football teammates had either left town looking for work that never seemed to make it as far as Granville or they'd gotten themselves mixed up with meth or heroin and ended up in jail or in a ditch.
Either way, Tony had had to scrape the barrel for entertainment, which was how he'd fallen in with Carl. Carl was a loser, but when his old man died a while back he'd left Carl their cabin on the lake surrounded by miles of prime hunting land. Angie was an added bonus -- though it had taken more than a couple 'friendly beers' from her end of the bar that first night to realize what was hiding beneath that homely surface.
He shifted around, facing out across the front windshield to keep Carl in view. Did he know? Had Angie said something? No, she wasn't an idiot. A little crazy -- he smiled to himself again -- but not stupid. She had to keep up appearances, too.
The truck bounced over a large rock and Tony knocked his head hard against the roof. He swore and Carl gave a short, wheezy laugh.
"Not funny, smartass." Tony scowled and rubbed the spot where the button of his ball cap had jabbed the top of his skull. "What's the rush? We got four whole days up here."
Carl grunted again.
"What the hell's eating you?" Tony snapped. "Ain't you getting any lately?" It was out before he thought about it, but he kept his face annoyed and watched Carl from the corner of his eye. Carl kept his eyes on the road.
"Angie's been . . . tired."
Tony saw an opening. "You still letting her go to that supermarket over in Paxton? Gotta watch your goods over there. I should know."
"I know you know."
The reference to Britney put Tony's mind at ease. Tony had screwed around with the sexy little cashier a few times and Carl had always been jealous.
Tony settled back in his seat. This was familiar territory; Carl was just in a mood.
Just then, a doe appeared in the road ahead, frozen by the headlights.
Carl immediately gunned the engine.
Tony shook his head. "Carl . . ."
Carl's shoulders hunched further. "Gotcha, you little..."
Tony reached for the handle over the door. "Carl."
Rocks pinged off the undercarriage like gunshots.
Tony put his other hand on the dashboard. "Carl, seriously."
Carl raced the truck across a washout in the road. The truck pitched down and then back up again and Tony barely avoided biting off his tongue.
The doe had bolted, though, white tail flashing into the trees. Carl hauled the steering wheel hard after her, lifting the truck onto two wheels.
Tony braced as well as he could, knowing it was pointless, as the road rose to meet him. Then it all dropped away again as the truck fell back onto all fours with a shuddering bounce. It slid to a stop kissing the trunk of a thick pine. Spiny branches scratched against the windshield.
Tony felt the truck rock to stillness, even as his heart pounded away. He stared at his hand on the dashboard. It was shaking. He thought of the seatbelt hanging a few useless inches to his side. He'd been absolutely certain he was going to die.
Because Carl had gone nuts over a doe?
He turned on the stupid little idiot, but stopped short when he saw the pistol aimed at his face.
"Get out," Carl snarled.
Solitary raindrops began to plunk against the roof, punctuating the sudden vacuum in Tony's stomach, but he fought against its twisting pull. Carl couldn't know. He hadn't seen anything. He was a loser. This wasn't happening.
"What the hell, Carl?" He tried to sound angry. "What're you --"
"Shut up and get out!" Carl opened his door and slid out backwards. The cab's ceiling light came on, shadowing his face, but the pistol was still pointed squarely at Tony. "This way!"
Tony knew he should say something, do something, but he could only stare in dumb shock. Under the light, he immediately recognized the scratches on the nose of the gun. It was the M9 Beretta that Tony had gotten off a kid over in Wilmot a couple months ago.
The kid had gotten screwed up in Iraq and needed cash for another hit, so Tony had done the world a favor getting it out of his hands -- not to mention getting a sweet deal -- but now he wished he'd never laid eyes on it.
Carl's thin screech and the tense shake of the pistol jarred Tony's body into action.
He slid across the cab and out onto the empty road. His mind raced in circles, getting nowhere. Drops of chill rain hit his hair and slid down his neck, but he hardly noticed. He kept staring at the gun.
Carl must've grabbed it when they were packing the truck. Tony had been too distracted with Angie in the apartment to pay much attention, but now he thought back to Carl's silence during the ride -- he had known. He'd known even before he'd shown up at the apartment.
Shivers of more than cold began to shake Tony's body and his knees threatened to buckle beneath him. The rain was picking up but he felt like the world was suddenly covered in oil; everything was moving too fast, slipping apart. He needed to get his bearings, to --
"Kneel, you son of a . . ." Carl's voice strangled itself in emotion.
The barrel of the gun wobbled from Tony's face to his chest to his groin and Tony dropped to the ground instinctively.
The impact shook him, though, forcing his thoughts into order. He wasn't dead yet. There was a way out of this. He just needed to think. Carl was the most pathetic loser he'd ever met. He wasn't a murderer. He was bluffing. He had to be. He didn't know anything; not for certain, anyway. He couldn't. Tony just needed to get him talking, get him distracted.
He raised his hands slowly, palms out. "Listen, Carl. Just relax. We--"
"What?" Tony blinked against the rain. "Carl, talk to me, for --"
"I said strip!"
The gunshot flashed the scene in angry black and white. Tony saw raindrops frozen in mid-air, the barrel of the gun pointed at the sky, the shadows of Carl's sunken eyes against his pasty skin.
The vacuum in Tony's stomach opened wide, sucking away the last sparks of anger and confidence. Fear ran down his cheeks and belched from his mouth, sputtering and gagging and screeching.
"Shut up!" Carl shouted.
Tony couldn't stop himself.
"Shut up!" A bullet dug a wet hole a foot from Tony's knee.
Tony squeezed his mouth shut with both hands while his body shook.
"Jesus!" Carl stomped away, glaring and waving the gun at Tony and the trees and the rain and the night. "Jesus Christ!"
Tony watched and kept himself very quiet. Carl was just going to leave him here. It was all just a scare, just a stupid threat.
He suddenly felt incredibly light. That was all it was. Carl was playing the big man, but that was all. Tony was going to be fine. He--
Carl turned on him, his face a dim mask of shadows in the reflected headlights.
"How long." His voice was dark and quiet this time and he had raised the gun to Tony's face again.
Tony didn't move a muscle. He just had to let Carl vent, let him say whatever he wanted. Carl didn't know anything for sure. This was a bluff. That was all. Just a bluff. Tony just needed to--
Carl stepped back up in front of him, the gun barely a foot from Tony's nose. "Come on, you bastard! How long you think you could screw my wife before I found out? You think you're so smart, nobody'd ever catch you. Not dumb little Carl, that's for sure. So why not have a go with his wife, huh? What the hell, right? It's just Carl. He'll never do anything, so who cares, right?"
Tony couldn't stop himself from opening his mouth, but Carl shrieked at him.
"Shut it! You got no idea what you done! No goddamned idea!" The gun shook, but it still pointed at Tony's face.
Tony cringed and his insides turned to liquid, but he could not close his eyes or look away.
"Your wife decides you're not worth screwing anymore and she's going somewhere else to get it. Right under your nose, too." Carl's voice had fallen to a thin, tired whine. "You ain't got nothing anymore, nothing at all, and everybody makes fun of you 'cause they all know."
For several moments, the only sound was the rain.
Slowly, Tony lifted his eyes from the gun to Carl's face. The rain was steady now and both men were wet through, but Tony could see that Carl was crying.
The terrifying hole in Tony's stomach began to shrink. He didn't make a sound, but he can feel the blood pumping through his veins, the sensation of cold, rain-soaked fabric on the hairs of his arms and legs, the smell of the leaves moldering beside the road.
He was going to make it.
"Oh, yeah," Carl was saying, "everybody knows. And you know everybody knows. Laughing at you every time you turn around -- at work, at the store, waiting at the goddamned light -- everywhere, because you ain't got crap to give her and even if you did it don't matter, cause she don't want you no more. You're just a mangy dog scratchin' at the door of your own house."
Tony kept his face a mask of fear, but inside he was smiling. He could hear the low hiss of rain turning to steam on the truck's hood as if he was leaning over it; he could see every curl and plume of Carl's heated breath in the chill air as if it was full daylight; he could feel every stone beneath his kneeling legs as if he was holding them in his hands. He had never felt so alive.
Carl lowered the gun a bit and looked at Tony evenly. "You want to know the worst part, though?"
Tony knew better than to speak.
"I'll tell you the worst part," Carl continued. "The worst part is that you don't get to know any of this until she's already going out on you. For how long? You don't know. You can't ask, 'cause if you ask, then she'll tell you and she'll probably smile about it, too, and then you'll know it's all true and there'll be no way of pretending it ain't."
"Except," his thin shoulders slumped and the gun hung at his side, "except you already know it's true. Just like everybody else does."
Tony watched the gun. There was only a few feet between them now and he thought about trying to surprise Carl, but it was still too risky, what with Tony still on his knees and all. Besides, Carl was talking himself down as it was. No reason to push things.
"Has she been faking it?" Carl was saying. "She been screwing both of you? Cause she still gives in once in a while if you beg enough, but she ain't really there and you both know it. But you're too damned scared to say anything, because something's better than nothing, right?"
Carl looked at the gun in his hand.
Tony held his breath, but Carl kept talking.
"But you can't get it out of your head, eating away at you every day, asking yourself the same damned questions over and over again: Does she screw him before you? Does she go down on him when she won't go down on you? Does she," the anger that had been growing in his voice suddenly faded, "does she say she loves him?"
Those last words surprised Tony. Angie love him? God, he hoped not. She was good for a bang, but that was it. He didn't want her hanging around all the time.
For an instant he considered telling Carl the same, but he was pretty sure Carl wouldn't believe anything he said now -- truth, lie or otherwise -- and opening his mouth would only remind Carl that he wasn't alone.
"I mean, he's way better looking than you," Carl continues, "and he's funny, too, and he's so damned clever, and you're just this useless, ugly little troll she got saddled with 'cause she was too bored to hold out anymore."
A breeze blew along the road, sending the rain against Carl's back and into Tony's eyes. Tony blinked and squinted, but kept the rest of himself still, almost reveling in the discomfort. He just needed to hold it together while Carl wound himself down. Everything was going to be fine.
Carl sighed. "But you lie to yourself, right? You tell yourself that even doing what she's doing, even screwing some other guy, she's still partly yours, right? She's still with you, right? She hasn't actually left you, right?"
He pointed the gun at Tony, but his voice had grown flat, even tired. "Am I right?"
Tony wanted to say 'yes', to agree, to say something, anything, but the emptiness in Carl's eyes, the blank, emotionless face, the rock-steady level of the gun in his hand, held him captive. Tony's mind refused to accept it, still desperately looking for a way out, but his body felt the truth and had given up.
"Angie was the only thing I ever had worth having," Carl said. It was just a statement, not a furious shout or a vengeful curse -- just a thin wisp of grey fact shredded by the rain -- and Tony knew.
As Carl took his next breath, Tony crammed his eyes shut.
One deafening moment later, Tony knelt in the rain and mud, blinking at Carl's lifeless body stretched out before him.
Bill Blais is a technology liaison with a degree in Medieval Studies (because that makes sense, right?). During the wee hours of the morning, he writes.
“You're fucked,” the public defender said. “District Attorney’s case is locked tight as a jail cell door.” Dee’s cell lit up to Mick Jagger howling Monkey Man. She tapped ignore. “Prick wants my car as collateral for bailing me.”
“You’re lucky the judge didn’t remand you,” the lawyer said.
“I’m not entirely free; got this electronic ankle jewelry clamped to me,” Dee replied.
“Twenty-two FTA’s; prostitution, loitering, paraphernalia, vagrancy, public nuisance,” the lawyer said. “Shouldn’t skip court dates, Dee. DA’ll hold that against you at trial.”
The massive oak double doors to Court Room Three swung swiftly open. A cuffed and shackled prisoner flanked by two marshals palming their holstered pistol grips shuffled out. All three had just emerged from the convict’s sentencing. He hobbled down the court conclave hall, his chrome steel ankle chains beating the polished marble floor with wrecking ball gusto. He looked in Dee’s direction and said, “Hey babe; How ‘bout a conjugal visit later?” The marshal to his left slapped the back of the prisoner’s head and said, “Shut the fuck up asshole, death row inmates don’t get visits.” All who heard the exchange laughed, even the condemned man.
“You’ve already done time twice before,” the lawyer said. “A deuce for possession with intent and a nickel for burglary. Now, you’re up for selling rocks to three different undercover cops in a week.”
Dee shifted to her right hip on the unforgiving pew style bench and rested her weight on the other cheek. She crossed her silky sculpted legs. Her black satin mini skirt hiked further up her thighs exposing charms tricks emptied their wallets to see. “They knew,” Dee said. “The fucking cops knew. Some dope fiend hoe snitched.”
“The cop that tagged you also charged you with possession.”
“This is bullshit,” Dee said. “Sounds like you’re pleading the DA’s case. Why trust you? You and the DA are on the same payroll, same team, same game, just like those three cops: Right?” She waved her palm back and forth past his line of sight. “Who’s working for who here?”
“Metro searched your apartment downtown while you were in holding,” Dee’s lawyer said. “They found near a kilo of smack.”
“I heard. Kissed off five-thousand dollars on that.”
“You’re also indicted for trafficking,” the lawyer said.
“I’ll deal, give up people, set up a big buy, strap on a wire, anything.”
“There’s more,” the lawyer said. “You qualify for the “Three Strikes” law; career criminal, habitual offender, the Big Bitch, twenty-five to life. Add that to your five felony counts.”
The courtroom opposite Dee’s bench emptied quickly, some walked out smiling, quiet, content with the verdict, others passed, some mumbling vengeful oaths, others regret, the rest deer in the head lights stunned the jury’s verdict opened the sluice gate of justice, and Hell rushed out. The opposing female lawyers followed last. “My calendar is free the rest of the day,” one said.
“Mine too,” said the other. “Let’s get a martini and wash down our sins.” Their spiked heals stabbed the stone floor loud as driven nails.
“If the jury finds against you D.A.’s gonna push each conviction be served consecutive plus the Bitch as a kicker after. You’ll serve half your sentence in the grave.”
“The fuck wants to keep the body!” Dee said.
“And your soul,” the lawyer said. “District Attorney won’t deal. Offer up the Mayor, and he still won’t. Truth is, if your peers convict you, which they’re sure to do, it won’t be for these current charges, rather, their verdict will be a between the lines statement condemning you for living a wasted life. To the jury, you’ll be a pulp crime novel they’d rather not read.”
“So I’m a born again Bonnie Parker: Where’s Clyde when I need him?” Dee said.
“Let’s say I’m not on the same payroll as the D.A.,” the public defender said. “Instead, you’re the money: I’d still paint the same bleak picture.”
“I’m fucked,” Dee said.
It had been three months since her trial; guilty on all five counts plus the Big Bitch. The landlord locked her out of her apartment, her belongings and the car disappeared too. The judge’s sentence shadowed her last day free.
It was perfect weather for tuning up a faded tan, passing the time, dwelling on the past, the future, luring one last trick up to her skid row room. Dee sat on a worn thin vinyl covered chair atop the balcony outside her door. She had slumped back, her sculpted legs crossed at the ankles, and propped her shoeless feet on the aged wobbly wood rail protecting her from the world forty feet below. Braless, Dee wore a man’s tight fitting white Guinea Tee. She had cut a generous V well past the neckline that tapered just below her breasts. The customized undershirt exposed as much of her cleavage as the law allowed. Her erect nipples stabbed the ribbed cotton competing to escape their shroud. Dee twisted the top off a pint of Wild Berry Mad Dog 20/20, tossed the cap over the rail measured three fingers worth and washed down four Xanax. She lit a primo joint stuffed with low-grade Mexican pot laced with twice stepped on cocaine. She drained the Mad Dog and mused, Is this how it ends? Stepped on twice?
Dee stood up, grabbed the post securing the wobbly wood rail. She climbed up from the chair onto the flat side of the horizontal two-by-four banister. The rotting wood verticals supporting her moaned in terror under her slight female frame. She married both feet together, toe to toe, heal to heal, dangling her toes over the edge. She let go of the post and crooned Good night Irene, good night, see you in my dreams, lifted her heels and teetered far enough forward to measure how close to the brink she had come.
Steve Prusky is a native Detroiter who has called Las Vegas home the past 30 years. His work has previously appeared in our publication as well as The Foundling Review, All Due Respect, A Twist of Noir, and others.
"You believe this shit?" Larry said, flopping the local rag onto the table.
Walt lowered his mug of decaf and said cheerfully, "Hey, Lar!"
Larry eased himself down on the chair opposite. "Don't hey Lar me." He stabbed at the paper with his stubby index finger. "You seen this thing yet? Rapist. Fucking pedophile rapist. Moved right on in to Stony."
Walt pushed his bifocals up his nose, then turned the paper around and studied the front page, frowning as he read, so that his bushy white eyebrows conjoined.
"It don’t say anything here about rape." He went on frowning at the page. "The man just had pictures on his computer."
"Oh, excuse me. Just pictures. Just pictures of naked children on his goddamned computer. That's all right then. Jesus, where's your head at, Walt? You got a grandkid. She visits you now and then. You comfortable letting Ginny play in the street, knowing this asshole's moved into town?"
The waitress came over holding two half-empty coffee decanters, one in each hand.
"Mornin, Lar. Regular for you?"
Larry righted his mug and slid it to the edge of the table.
"Mornin, Allison. Better make it a decaf. I'm all stirred up about this goddamn pedophile."
She poured from the left decanter, slopping a bit of watery coffee onto the table. "I know, it's terrible, ain't it? What's the world coming to? I'm just glad my husband ain't around. Can you imagine the trouble? He woulda rounded up a posse, run this dirtbag outta town."
"He was a good man, your Andy."
"Well…" The waitress shuffled off.
Walt was still absorbed in the paper. "I wonder who the guy is. I don’t see a name anywhere."
"The editors wouldn’t print it. Buncha cowards. They say he was still a minor when he was convicted."
Walt nodded, then looked up suddenly. "Gosh, you know Lar, the MacDonalds’ house down the street from me just sold. You think it could be this same guy?"
Larry stared at him. "Jesus Christ, Walt. The MacDonalds’ house? That's what - three doors down from you? That's way too close for comfort. We can't stand for that. No sir. So what are we gonna do about it, huh? What are we gonna do?"
"What are we gonna do," Walt repeated mechanically.
Larry took a sip from his mug. Then he reached across the table, gripping the plaid cuff of Walt's shirt. "Finish your coffee, Walt. You and me’re gonna pay him a visit."
It was a bright afternoon in mid-December. Walt and Larry stood on the sidewalk in front of the MacDonalds’ house. It had been decorated for Christmas. Coloured lights were strung around the pine tree out front, a holly-and-mistletoe wreath was hanging on the door, and a Santa sleigh with a team of reindeer was set up on the roof.
"Very festive," Larry scoffed. "Must be trying to lure more kids."
"What’s the point of this, Lar?" Walt stamped nervously in his boots. "He’s just gonna slam the door in our faces."
"Not if we talk our way inside. Relax, will ya, Walt? I sold farm equipment for twenty-six years. Hustled my way into more Hutterite living rooms than you can imagine. This here’s nothing. Just you follow my lead."
They went up the driveway and climbed the front steps. A doorbell glowed on the frame. Larry pushed it with his thumb. The first bar of Greensleeves chimed out inside. He gave a snort. A few seconds passed. Then they heard footsteps, and the door opened to reveal a young-looking brown guy in sweatpants and a retro Blue Jays t-shirt.
"Hello?" the guy said, looking from Larry to Walt.
They were taken aback - there were no brown people in Stony - but Larry recovered himself and said, "Afternoon. I'm Larry Duff and this is my friend Walter Ribke. We both live around here and seeing as you’re new to Stony Plain, we thought we'd drop by and welcome you to the neighbourhood."
"Really? That's so nice. I’m Rajees. My friends call me Raj." He reached out to Larry and Walt and shook their hands in turn. "You guys wanna come inside?"
They filed past him into the foyer. He'd obviously just moved in. A dozen or so boxes were stacked against the wall, and the floor was covered with thick plastic sheeting.
"Don't worry about your boots," said Raj, closing the door behind them. "The movers put this plastic down everywhere. Come on through."
He led them down a hall into a combined kitchen-living room. There were more boxes in here, piled on countertops and stacked against the island. He walked into the living area and motioned to a black leather couch.
"Have a seat. You guys picked the right day to come. My furniture just showed up this morning. I spent the last two nights camped out on an air mattress. Can I get either of you a drink? Diet Coke, apple juice? Or how about a beer?"
Larry grinned. "I think a beer would hit the spot right about now. What do you say, Walt?"
He shook his head no.
Raj moved off to the kitchen. They heard him rummaging in the fridge, and a moment later he came back into the living room.
"Cheers," he said, offering a bottle by the neck. Larry took it and frowned at the unfamiliar label.
"Flying Monkeys," Raj explained. "It’s a craft brewery in Ontario."
Larry shrugged. "I guess Molson's always been good enough for me."
Raj seated himself on a U-Haul box opposite the couch.
"God," he said, glancing back at the kitchen. "I’ve got so much unpacking to do. Twelve large boxes, and that’s just for one room. There must be a hundred more upstairs. I feel like I'll never be finished."
Larry twisted off his cap. "Well, it might seem like a lot now, but I'm sure you'll have the place tidied up in a few weeks. You've got a real flair for decorating. Walt and I were admiring your Santa sleigh out front."
"Thanks. That was my first project when I got here. I wanted to be a good neighbour, get into the season and everything. Plus it’s great for the kids. They look so happy when the Christmas stuff comes out. I just love seeing their faces."
"I bet you do." Larry took a swig of his beer. "Let's cut to the chase, Raj. Stony Plain’s a good community. Nice churchgoing people, family values. I'm gonna say this as plainly as I can: you're not welcome here."
Raj blinked. "Excuse me?"
"Come on, Raj, don't play dumb with us. If you think Walt and me are gonna stand by with our hands in our pockets while someone like you moves into town, well, you've got another thing coming."
Raj stared at them in bewilderment. Then he rose from the box and folded his arms across his chest. "Get out of my house," he said calmly.
Larry smirked. He set his beer on the floor, stood up and squared himself with Raj. He was at least four inches taller. "That how you wanna play this?"
Raj took out his phone. "I'm going to start counting," he said in an even voice. "If I get to ten and you guys are still here, I'm calling the police. One..."
"Smug little fucker." Larry strode through the Home Hardware, scanning the overhead signs. "Thinks he can just go to the cops."
Walt trailed behind him like a forgotten toddler. "You sure he's the guy, Lar? The paper didn't say he was Indian."
"‘Course it didn't." Larry veered up one of the aisles. "Bad public relations. These days you gotta be politically correct. A’right, here we go." He halted in front of a shelf and took down a coil of nylon rope.
"What’s that for?" Walt said, pushing in the bridge of his bifocals.
"The chat was plan A." Larry grinned. "Now it’s time for plan B."
They waited until nine o’clock. It was dark out - no moon, no stars - and Larry killed the lights on his old Chrysler LeBaron a block away from the MacDonalds’ house. He backed it into the driveway.
"Remember the plan," he said, shutting off the engine. "Soon as the door opens, we’re going in hard. I’ll handle our friend. You stay on my heels and close the door behind me."
Walt gave a sheepish nod.
They got out of the car, shutting the doors quietly, and made their way up the front steps. Larry glanced at Walt, then banged his fist on the door, so hard that the wreath came off its nail. As soon as the door cracked, he checked it with his shoulder. It rebounded off the body on the other side. He pushed it open, and they piled into the house. Walt, stumbling on the wreath, managed to shut the door behind them.
Raj was laid out on the tarp in a purple nightrobe, clutching his forehead and groaning.
"Well lookee here," said Larry.
He grabbed the collar of Raj’s nightrobe and hauled him up into a sitting position. Raj’s hand fell away, revealing a coin-size mark on his forehead that was already starting to swell. Larry forced his arms to his sides and began winding the rope around his trunk, the way they tied people up in cartoons.
"Don’t just stand there," Larry barked at Walt. "Get me something to cut this."
Walt stumped off to the living room. There weren’t as many boxes; Raj must have done some unpacking. A retractable utility knife was lying on the floor. He picked it up, and was on his way out when he noticed a framed diploma hanging above the couch. It hadn’t been there earlier. In blocky, ornate lettering, it read, "By the authority of the board of trustees of Ryerson University, Rajees Sritharan, having passed the examination and fulfilled all requirements prescribed by the Public Accounting Act is registered by the University as a Certified Public Accountant."
Back in the hallway, Larry was tying off the rope, knotting it just below Raj’s shoulder. Raj was looking dazed. His head lolled to one side, and a thread of drool hung from his lips. Walt stumped over and cleared his throat. "Say, Larry--"
"Shut up, will ya?" Larry snatched the utility knife, clicked out the blade, and sawed it through the rope. Then he retracted the blade and put the knife in his pocket. "Grab his legs. We’ve gotta make this quick."
They bundled Raj out of the house, Larry hugging his chest from behind, Walt with a hairy ankle in each hand. When they got to the LeBaron, Larry opened the trunk, still gripping Raj with one arm. They folded him inside.
"Little shit’s heavier than he looks," said Larry, seating himself on the bumper.
Again Walt cleared his throat. "I tried to tell you, Lar. In the living room just now? I saw this diploma thing hanging on the wall. It got me thinking - maybe he ain’t the guy."
"‘Course he is, Walt. Shit, you don’t think a rapist can pass a few tests? So he went to some community college. Big deal. For all you know, he got that diploma on the inside."
Walt looked down at Raj. His eyes were closed and he was whimpering faintly, as if he were in the midst of an unpleasant dream. "Well, I don’t care if he is a pedophile. I don’t wanna hurt anybody."
Larry stood up. He put his arm across Walt’s shoulder. "C’mon, Walt," he said in a low voice. "What do you think I am? We ain’t hurtin nobody. We’re just gonna scare him a little. Take him out to the woods, have a serious chat, and then we let him go. That’s all it’ll be - okay?"
Walt nodded. Larry patted him on the back, then turned and slammed the trunk.
They pulled into the entrance of Chicakoo Lake Provincial Park. There were no other cars in the lot, and Larry drove right up to the path. He parked the LeBaron and the two of them got out and went around to the trunk. They opened the lid. Raj was curled up in the fetal position, either asleep or unconscious.
"A’right, precious," Larry said, slapping Raj’s cheek. "Rise and shine."
Raj’s eyes squinted. "Racist pricks," he spat.
They hauled him out of the trunk and got him to his feet.
"This ain’t about your race," Larry said, gripping Raj’s lapels. "This is about what you did to those kids."
"Kids? What kids?"
"Don’t try it, Raj. You think we’re fucking stupid? You shoulda listened to us when you had the chance. Now move."
Larry gave him a shove, and they started along the path. It curved around Chicakoo Lake, which spread out to their left in a flat expanse of ice just visible through the trees.
"Are you going to kill me?" Raj said over his shoulder.
Larry winked at Walt. "What do you think, Raj?" He took the utility knife from his pocket and clicked out the blade with menacing slowness.
They rounded a bend, and the lake came into view before them. Suddenly, Raj darted off the path. Walt and Larry were so surprised, they just stood there and watched.
He slogged through the drifts, moving unsteadily in his nylon straightjacket. He got to the lake and kept on running. The tails of his robe fluttered; his bare feet slapped on the ice. Suddenly, there was a loud crack, like someone had popped a can of beer into a megaphone. A fissure opened in the lake, and Raj winked out of sight.
"Oh God," said Walt, stepping off the path. Larry grabbed him by the arm.
"You crazy, Walt? You can’t go out there."
Walt strained against Larry’s hold, fighting to reach the lake. Larry held him back with two hands.
"Use your head, Walt. The water’s freezing. You’ve got fifty pounds on that kid. I’m telling you, he’s dead."
Walt stopped straining, and for the next few minutes the two of them stood there in silence, staring out at the ice.
They met up the next morning. Larry had the paper under his arm. They took a booth in the corner, away from prying eyes, and began to pore through the news.
"It’d make the front page," Larry said, running his finger down the columns. "They must not’ve found him yet."
Walt was clasping and unclasping his hands. "I feel bad, Lar. Christ almighty, we killed the guy."
"Keep your voice down," Larry hissed. He went on more gently, "Don’t feel bad, Walt. The guy had it coming. Piece of shit rapist like that? We just beat the next man to it."
Larry turned the page. No surprises in World News, but a headline caught his eye in the Community section: "Town of Stony Plain Announces Hiring of New Financial Administrator".
There followed a short piece on Rajees Sritharan, an accountant from Brampton, Ontario. Below that was a picture of Raj decked out in a robe and graduation cap, a huge grin plastered across his face. Larry read the article through twice, letting it all sink in. Then he turned the paper around to Walt.
The waitress shuffled up with her coffee decanters.
"Mornin, boys. This ain’t your usual spot. What’ll it be? Regular or decaf?"
Walt looked up from the paper, locking eyes with Larry. There was a pause until Larry could bring himself to speak.
"Mornin, Allison. Let's make it a regular. Though I gotta say, I wish it was something stronger."
Conor Echlin holds an MA in English Literature from the University of Guelph. He lives in St. Catharines, Ontario.
Gerald Hughes’ wife Gloria dies. Now he is alone. He kisses her hands and leaves the hospital room. A nurse runs after him.
“Sir, are you going to make arrangements for the deceased?”
“Then what do you want us to do with the body?”
“That’s not our job, sir.”
“Give it to science,” he shrugged.
“Sir, you’ll have to sign papers, legal papers. They take a while to draw up. Can you wait in the guest lounge?”
“I don’t have time.”
Hughes stepped into the elevator. He needed to see Flora as soon as possible.
Going down to the first floor he reflected on his marriage. It had to be counted a success, he thought. Of course, there was the problem with John McIntyre. Gerald Hughes sometimes thought that Gloria had had an affair with John McIntyre, but at other times he doubted it. McIntyre was too shy, too gracious to be considered an adulterer. Not like Flora, his friend, with whom he had shared hotel rooms many times.
A few months later, Gerald Hughes went to the cemetery to look for his wife’s grave. There was no grave, and it occurred to him that perhaps there had been no body to bury. Still, it was the family lot, and he could honor her memory by leaving some flowers somewhere, perhaps under the bushes.
After a few years had gone by, Gerald Hughes decided he had made a mistake. He wished he had made some marker where she was-or-was-not buried. But this cemetery was the burial site of most of the townspeople, so she must be in it somewhere. He paid a visit to the cemetery office and spoke to the Director.
The Director tapped lightly on the keys of his desktop computer. He studied the screen with a squint and shrugged. “Her name was Gloria Hughes?” He said, “It doesn’t come up on my screen. But I’ll keep trying.”
“The quicker the better,” Hughes said. He still regretted his behavior at the hospital, but he had been pressed for time, having made an appointment with Flora at a small hotel down the street.
One day the cemetery called him. The Director said, “Mr. Hughes, did you say your wife’s first name was Gloria? We have a Gloria, but she has no last name. She is buried in lot 47E. I doubt if a visit would establish her identity, but you’re welcome to visit.
Gerald Hughes drove to the cemetery and was given a map. The Director had carefully marked out the path to lot 47E. When Hughes first entered the lot he saw nothing but a field of gray gravestones. Gradually a headstone marked “Gloria” came to his attention. It seemed a lighter color than all the others, almost flesh-toned.
Then he noticed the stone next to it, practically on top of it. It read, “John McIntyre 1936-2016.” On the back of the stone were chiseled the words, “requiescat in pace.” He noticed the same words – requiescat in pace – carved on the back of the stone marked “Gloria.” Then he noticed, beneath the sign marking lot 47E, a brass plaque with the words, “McIntyre Family.”
He leaned against his cane, staring at the two stones. “So there they lie,” he thought, “death has brought us hideous truth. McIntyre the shy adulterer, with his decaying putz stuck --- installed --- in my wife’s rotting pudenda for all eternity.”
He rushed home, determined to find Flora, whether by internet or mutual friends. He could resume their relationship. Perhaps she had died by now, and was buried somewhere.
If so, he knew exactly what he would do.
Dick Bentley has published fiction, poetry, and memoir in over 260 magazines and anthologies on three continents. His books, Post-Freudian Dreaming and A General Theory of Desire, are available on Amazon. His new book, All Rise, contains, along with poems and short stories, samples of his inventive “wall poetry” ---- poems that are displayed as part of paintings and graphic art. These fresh and unusual works have been shown in collections and art galleries. Dick has served on the board of the Modern Poetry Association (now known as the Poetry Foundation). He’s a Pushcart Prize nominee and was prizewinner in the Paris Review/Paris Writers Workshop International Fiction Awards. In 2012 and 2013, Dick gave readings of his poetry at the famous Paris bistro, Au Chat Noir. Before teaching writing at the University of Massachusetts, Dick was Planning Director for the Boston Housing Authority. He is a Yale graduate with an MFA from Vermont College.
I'm driving on the Pacific Coast Highway. I move into the memory lane as several automobiles' lights flash by me when I make a U-turn onto the shoulder of the opposite lane. I turn off the engine and walk to the last resting place of the one who was to be the love of my life, the Blue Hair Siren.
I sit down on the cool sand. My hands are firmly gripping the wet sand between my fingers under the spotlight of a full moon. The tide is high, and the memories of her crash with each wave in front of me. A year ago today, where I'm sitting, on November 4, 1967, the immaculate body of the Blue Hair Siren washed ashore. Her lifeless body lay on its side with her long luscious blue hair hiding her profile just like the last time I saw her lying on my lap on my sofa.
When I opened the newspaper that day the words under the headlines read that her body lay as if it was a scene in a movie and the director had just shouted "action" under the serene darkest hour before dawn. Images of the scene were captured by photographers who arrived before the police.
The memories and the waves keep crashing in front of me as if I became aware of her death just yesterday. Overlooking the ocean are the remnants of what used to be Pacific Ocean Park. Now bankrupted, the city of Santa Monica has auctioned off most of the rides to pay off the last owner's debt. In 1958 it was thriving with youthful excitement, and the mysterious Blue Hair Siren was about to become a part of it.
It was in November 1967 that I met the man who would come to solve the missing puzzle piece of the Blue Hair Siren and me.
"Thank you for coming in to identify the body, Mr. Davis," a strongly built detective says as he greets me at the county morgue. He pauses to light a cigarette and introduces himself. We walk down the hallway and the sharp sounds of our footsteps echo in the morgue's deadly silence.
"I'm Detective Ryan Barr, LAPD Homicide," he says, flashing his badge.
I shake his hand and he asks, "Do you mind coming down to the station?"
I agree and we walk across the street to the police station and go into his office.
He squints his small eyes under the shadow of his heavy dark eyebrows and asks, "So how did you meet the Blue Hair Siren, Mr. Davis? Do you know if anyone was out to get her?"
"Are you assuming it is a murder, detective?" I ask.
"Well, Mr. Davis, you did do some time in jail due to your relationship with her," he says, staring at me suspiciously.
"I haven't seen her in the past ten years, and frankly I have been trying to forget her," I say.
"You wanted to eliminate her from existing?" he asks.
"Only from my mind," I say.
It seems like hours pass in the shadowy office with its blank dark walls and metal office furnishings. During what feels like an interrogation, Detective Barr details why he could only call me to identify the Blue Hair Siren's body. There is no record of her identity, birth or how she came into existence. The only item he has found connecting the Blue Hair Siren to the world is an old case file from 1959 labeled "Blue Hair Siren vs Davis."
He sits down behind his desk across from me, lights up another cigarette and says, "I took on the case due to a hunch and reasonable suspicion of foul play after speaking to several people who came in contact with her and described her as a regular in the nightlife scene of Hollywood. I'll tell you what I got so far."
He turns on the reel-to-reel ReVox A77 MK tape recorder on his desk. It's the only decorative object between him and me. The two large reels begin to spin. He lets a minute go by and begins to speak.
"It's Wednesday, November 29, 1967, approximately 11:30pm. This is Detective Ryan Barr creating a voice recording archive for case 143023 Blue Hair Siren. In my presence is Kenneth Davis, previously involved in a relationship with the Blue Hair Siren and convicted of a violent assault against the Blue Hair Siren. Mr. Davis has served his two year in jail per the judge's recommendations and is not a suspect in this case. The only purpose of his interview is to provide details of his encounter with the Blue Hair Siren since there is not government record of her existence, just a case of a crime she reported against Mr. Kenneth Davis."
"This case was opened upon the discovery of her lifeless sand-covered body on the beach near Pacific Ocean Park on November 4, 1967."
"The Blue Hair Siren was known to frequent several clubs in Los Angeles. She was described by several bartenders and bar patrons who recall that her first appearance in the scene was around 1956. She was an exotic and seductive gal in her early 20's, natural blue hair, blue eyes, light skin, a non-drinker but heavy smoker. Her face had a look of expectancy and her body the look of a pinup."
"She used to make her rounds around several hot spots and hung out with the Los Angeles Crime family occasionally. She was a regular who liked to dance and have a good time. Her nights were spent at the Florentine Gardens, the Millionaires Club, the Moulin Rouge, Villa Capri, Interlude, Crescendo, and the Cave Des Roy's Private Club. Several men in these places were obsessed with her and wanted to own her, but she didn't belong to anyone despite what they thought. One look at the Blue Hair Siren and they were hooked."
"There was a rumor that when prominent attorney turned crime boss Dante A. DeBenedetto became the head of the Los Angeles Crime Family he played a sick joke on his underboss, Giacinto "Mozo" Abate, because he was obsessively in love with the Blue Hair Siren. One day DeBenedetto called Mozo to his mansion and informed him that he had raped the Blue Hair Siren in front of the top ranking officer. He began describing to Mozo how she screamed and cried his name to help her and he wasn't there to defend her. DeBenedetto, knowing this would infuriate and humiliate Mozo, who he despised for his lack of a back bone and loyalty to the previous Crime Boss, continued with morbid and sadistic details of the false rape against his beloved Blue Hair Siren until he pushed him to the edge of his sanity. Mozo broke down and took a gun out and shot one bullet through his head. DeBenedetto's soldiers removed Mozo's body from the mansion, cleaned up the fancy floors, and disposed of Momo's body. His decomposed remains were found by the LAPD in the San Fernando Valley six months later. There was no evidence found or witnesses who came forward to say that Mozo and the Blue Hair Siren ever did anything more than smoke a cigarette together or that DeBenedetto had ever raped her. This is what the Blue Hair Siren caused the male species: delusions, insanity, and obsessive compulsions. According the several bartenders, there were several men like Mozo going mad over her."
"Mr. Davis, how did you come across the Blue Hair Siren?" Barr asks, speaking into the tape recorder.
"It was in the summer of 1958. I was a successful civil engineer for a private surveying company. I had recently purchased my dream car, a brand new red 1958 Chrysler 300C. The first night I drove it off the lot I picked up my best friend, Johnny Perkins, and we went to the Capri Villa in an attempt to rub elbows with celebrities, which didn't work. Johnny and I did't get to rub elbows with celebrities, but we did have a great time after several cocktails and cigarettes at the bar. That's when Link Wray & The Wraymen's came on stage to play their hit."
"As they began to play 'Rumble' the room started slowly spinning when I saw the curves of a vivacious woman dancing in slow motion. All I was able to see was her back, her dance moves that she created by moving her waist and arms to the beat, and her vivid blue hair. I was subdued and in a trance from the alcohol, but my testosterone-induced attraction hit me like a bus at a 150MPH. I wanted to know her instantly, so I walked over as the song was ending and her dance moves dying down. That's when she turned around and I saw her pale face, and her intense, penetrating blue eyes accidentally meet my dull black eyes. She instantly smiled and flirted with her eyes as she realized I was interested and walking towards her. She danced alone and around me in circles."
"'Are you lost?' I remember she asked."
"I said no, that I was where I was meant to be and I asked if I could dance."
"'But the song ended, nameless man,' she said."
"I put my fingers in my mouth and created a loud whistle and screamed to the band from across the room to play it again, and several people on the dance floor cheered and joined in chanting the request. The band started to play 'Rumble' again and I saw her in slow motion. Every blink and every swift dance move she did with her body was in slow motion. "
"'We can dance, but you can't touch me, nameless man,' she said."
"I told her my name was Kenneth and we danced until the band stopped playing in about an hour. She told me she loved to dance and I offered her a cocktail."
"'I'll take a water,' she said as she took out a cigarette from her pocket book and waited for me to light it for her on the dance floor. We walked towards the bar back towards Johnny, who I couldn't miss in his black, red, and white striped coat. I asked her for her name before I could get her the water and introduce her to Johnny."
"'Blue Hair Siren,' she said."
"I thought she was joking so I asked for her real name. Johnny was speechless and in a trance in her presence."
"'I told you, Blue Hair Siren,' she said in a convincing manner."
"I introduced her to Johnny, got her a water, and Johnny and I had several more whiskeys that night. She would dance in front of us at the bar and made me light every one of her cigarettes."
"'Well I'm out of cigarettes. It's time to go home,' she said."
"I asked her if we could give her a ride. She accepted and we jumped in my brand new Chrysler 300C and drove four miles for food at Scriveners Drive-In on Sunset before dropping off Johnny."
"We dropped him off and she told me to drive towards Pacific Ocean Park because that's where she claimed she lived, so I drove her to a home she gave directions to. I pulled up in front of the house and parked. She was in a hurry to leave, but I held her hand before she opened the door handle. She removed her hand and relaxed, turning back towards me. I got closer and closer to her perfectly outlined lips and she was frozen until our lips touched and we kissed. I sensed we both felt electric. She pulled away as the feeling behind the kiss gradually increased. She opened the door, got out, slammed the door, and ran towards the house. I didn't think about what had happened between us and drove off."
Detective Barr stops the recording.
"You kissed her?" he asks.
"Everyone I interviewed said that she had never kissed or slept with anyone that they were aware of. No rumor had ever circulated about her being promiscuous. I couldn't find one person who said they kissed or slept with her out of the hundreds of interviews," he says.
"That's not all. She was a virgin," I say.
He tells me to continue and turns on the tape recorder again. I remain quiet as the reels begin to spin and he gives me a signal to begin speaking by motioning his pointer finger in circles and I begin to speak.
"A couple of months later I go back to the Villa Capri to have a couple cocktails. I'm smoking and sitting at the bar when she suddenly appears and sits next to me."
"'Hi Kenneth,' she says."
"I tell her to join me and we smoke and talk for hours. I don't notice that she's not telling me anything about herself. She just drinks several glasses of water and smokes several cigarettes as I have several whiskeys through the night. She doesn't disclose anything about her past, present, or future. I'm so lonely and isolated that I go on and on talking about myself and my life. She doesn't interrupt but listens attentively and appears interested in my drunken words. After that I pass out at the bar from all that booze until the bartender shakes me and he tells me she has been long gone. I mumble to the bartender, 'It wasn't a dream?'"
"We begin to see each other regularly, and the last time I ask her to go back to my place and she agrees. We stop at the Scrivener's Drive-in to eat and talk without checking the time.
She comes to my place, which has a view of the city strip. She goes in the apartment as she pulls a cigarette out of her blue leather pocketbook. I quickly light her cigarette, which is resting on her lips, and place an ashtray on the side table next to the sofa where she sits."
"'Can you play some music?' she asks."
"I rush to play the B side of Link Wray's new record, 'Rumble.' She stands up and everything turns slow motion as I watch her dance around with the cigarette between her fingers. I make myself a cocktail, light up a cigarette, and sit on the sofa watching her get lost in the sounds of the guitars. As the song continues to play she falls purposely on the sofa, her blue hair and head landing on my lap. She looks at me and pulls out another cigarette. I switch my cigarette to the other hand and pull out my lighter to give her a light. We are staring into each other's eyes cautiously. I take a puff and then a sip of whiskey after I exhale several smoke circles."
"'I like your place. Very cozy,' she says, puffing on her cigarette and exhaling smoke with her words."
"She sits up straight and plays the song again. She comes back towards the sofa and closer to me, teasing me by putting her face a centimeter away from mine."
"'Do you want to kiss me?' she asks."
"I don't respond and just kiss her. We continue to make out for hours and our adrenaline increases as the minutes and hours fly by."
"'We can't, Kenneth,' she abruptly says in the midst of our passion."
"I am frustrated as we continue to kiss and no matter how hard we try to hold back, our beings just gravitate towards each other deeper and deeper."
"'I don't want to, Kenneth, but I do want to, but we can't,' she continues to say in between kissing and feeling our sexual urges."
"We just can't fight it anymore and our energies unite to become one for several hours. She's surprisingly passionate and tender. My hands run over her entire just deflowered body and her scent of the ocean breeze is so calming. Then she abruptly gets up and becomes enraged."
"'Kenneth, I told you we couldn't. Why did we? I couldn't help it, but I wanted you, but I can't. We can't do this,' she says, confused and grabbing her clothes to put them back on."
"I lie on the sofa where our feeling materialized. I'm confused and paralyzed, unable to say a word as she continues her puzzling remarks."
"'I love you and feel what I've never felt before in my life, but you can't love me. I won't let you ruin your life,' she says, closing the door behind her and leaving my life forever, except for that day in court."
"So you didn't see her before the case?" Detective Barr asks.
"A month later I got a knock at the door. I opened the door and a pair of cops put me in handcuffs and dragged me into the county jail without explanation. After six hours in jail I was taken to a dark interrogation room and questioned about an alleged assault that the Blue Hair Siren had accused me of committing a month ago. She told them that the day she went to my place we had consensual sex and when she wanted to go a drunken me had prevented her from leaving and kept her at my place against her will. She said she had debilitated me by breaking a bottle of whiskey over my head, but that I managed to break both of her hands before she escaped and I passed out."
"The detective didn't let me say a word and charged me with the crime. In court she appeared with casts on both hands and hid her face behind her bright blue hair and never glanced my way, but I know she felt my eyes looking her way filled with puzzlement and pain. I had an appointed incompetent public defender and I was given two years in jail. Helpless and lost, I never stopped thinking about why she did it, why I was the target of a woman's perverse insanity. I don't know why she did it, but I love her and think about her until this day. Every night before bed I think of the night we made love and the scent of the beach breeze from her body. I dream about her like she's there speaking to me. The two years in jail went by fast. All I thought about was the Blue Hair Siren, day and night. It's all a big blur now, but I imagined her dancing in the ceiling over my jail bed. I know that she loved me and I'll never understand why she sabotaged our love. All she said was that she couldn't be loved."
Detective Barr stops the tape recorder to change the reels. I sit quietly as tears begin to stream down my face and I can't help but to continue to love her every minute of my waking day. Her being possesses my every thought. Even after my jail stint I love her and I don't know why she fled me from our love.
Detective Barr turns the tape recorder back on and speaks as the new reel starts.
"This is reel number two of the case of the Blue Hair Siren. Mr. Davis claims to be falsely accused by the Blue Hair Siren and never saw her again when he returned home from the two- year jail sentence. During my current investigation and interviews nobody has seen the Blue Hair Siren after her dramatic performance in the court case against Mr. Davis in the past ten years to the day of her death. Who was the Blue Hair Siren? At this point I don't know and I think nobody will ever know."
He stops the tape recorder and tells me I'm free to go. I get up and there's a knock at the door.
"Hold on, Mr. Davis, sit down. I was waiting on the coroner's report. This may be it," says Detective Barr.
The voice behind the door says, "Here is the Blue Hair Siren medical examiner's report" and someone hands Detective Barr the file.
"You want to hear this, don't you? I'm sure you're curious, Mr. Davis," he says.
He grabs the folder and sits back at his desk. He turns on the tape recorder and waits for the reels to begin spinning before he reads what's inside the medical examiner's file.
"This is Detective Barr, and I just received the medical examiner's report on the Blue Hair Siren. The coroner's cause of death statement reads as follows: 'The Blue Hair Siren's immediate cause of death is failure of her immune system. She succumbed to a very rare kind of pneumonia. The underlying cause of her pneumonia is undetermined after discussing it amongst our current medical experts. Due to the unidentified virus that we suspect caused her death but can't conclude, we will preserve tissue samples for future testing as medical advances are in development. Until then we will not be able to identify the underlying cause of death of the mysterious Blue Hair Siren.'"
"This concludes the case of the Blue Hair Siren."
Anoushka Schweinsteiger, German and Latin, grew deep roots in the Hollywood slums, surrounded by diversity. At age twenty-five, this restless novelist began to channel taboo topics into fiction scenarios.Having studied aviation, Schweinsteiger became fascinated with radio waves and the similarity and immeasurability of human thoughts and feelings, hence fiction stories blended with the human reality.
Kids these days with their jackets and their crop tops and their new skateboards and their old skateboards and their hula hoops and their earphones and GQ magazine. Kids these days, I can’t stand them always staring into too many screens...their television screens and computer screens and their laptop screens. Boob tube! That’s what I call it! They’re doing nothing but staring into a boob tube! It’s going to suck their brains out. You just won’t believe the kids these days, ALWAYS staring just staring into those newfangled smart phones and the Androids and the iPhones and at the ridges in the back of my head, I just can’t stand it!
Why, these kids these days they always walk around with those ridiculous names like Carl or Bob or Sam or Carol or Trish and always gettin’ into trouble, walking down the stairs of those basements where they always have their goddamn posters of all of those newfangled GARBAGE acts like Justin Beiber or Green Day or the Jackson Five, bringing down into the basement all of the (ALL OF THE) cereal and the milk and the spoons and the bowls and the newspapers and the fertilizer and the diesel and the steel cylinders and the end caps and blasting caps and tinkering all night with MY goddamn soldering iron that I paid for with MY goddamn money and listening to that rudding rock music by all of those newfangled GARBAGE acts like Justin Beiber or Green Day or the Jackson Five.
They look RIDICULOUS with their new goddamn fashions, always walking around wearing their hoop skirts and their leather jackets and their filthy tweed coats and their motheaten Goodwill sweaters. These goddamn kids. Tattoos tattoos everywhere! Dirty little needles stabbing into their chests and heads all of these mean, mean, mean slogans “DIE DIE DIE” what would I want to read that for? Why would I want to see that on your forehead? Why do they stretch their earlobes? Why do all of the men put their hair in a bun? Why do they shove so much metal into their faces? What do they learn Greek for? Don’t they know we can’t understand them when they speak Greek? Don’t they know we don’t speak a word of Greek? Don’t they see that we see them watching us as they whisper at each other in Greek, pointing at us and nodding and making those circle gestures with their goddamn painted fingers? Don’t they know the value of hard work? Don’t they know respect? Does anyone say please or thank you anymore?
In my day, kids respected their elders. In my day, we didn’t have anything and we were HAPPY for it. We had to WORK for what we got. Not these kids! They expect everything to just be handed to them without a lick of work. Handed to them on a silver platter. So entitled, these kids. Why, I would KILL to have what they have in these days . We gave them the world, what more could they possibly want?
Well, all I have to say is Judas Priest...JUDAS PRIEST, those GODDAMN KIDS! Those goddamn kids always on my lawn. Always standing on my lawn. Those goddamn kids are always running around in the thoughts in the back of my head. Always standing there, in a circle on my lawn. Holding hands. They never get off my lawn. Standing there, standing in a circle, staring at the ridges running up the back of my head. Murmuring to each other rally cries and dirty little curses and angry little songs. Why won’t those kids get off of my goddamn lawn? Can’t they see the sign? Can’t they hear the dog? Why’d they kill the dog? What do they want? What could they possibly want?
If you ask me, there oughta be a law! We oughta lock them up! We oughta round them all up and lock them up! We ought to show them mercy! They oughta go to military school! That would teach them! We need another Vietnam! That would teach them! We oughta teach them a lesson! We oughta forgive them! We oughta show them inexhaustible love! We oughta barricade the doors! We oughta push more tables against the doors! We oughta make sure they haven’t snuck anything into the floorboards! We oughta get more men to press against those doors! We oughta pass a couple of laws! We oughta hit them where it hurts! We oughta take away from them everything that’s special!
Kids these days, they just have no respect! They always sneak off in the night and write their graffiti on OUR government buildings. They think they’re so clever whenever they write their mean, mean, mean graffiti on OUR government buildings. Those arrogant punks, they think they own the world and they think they own the sidewalks, shouting those dirty slogans and filthy, disgusting limericks. I wouldn’t mind it if somebody should wash their mouths out with soap. It’s like they speak a whole ‘nother language. What’s that they say? What are those things you always hear them say? “YOLO”? What does that even mean? “Fleek”? What does that even mean? “Propaganda of the Deed”? What does that even mean? “By Any Means Necessary”? What? WHAT!? What is a means?
Just look at them! They knocked down the barricade! Such disrespect! Kids these days, they have no respect! Look at them, just look at them! They knocked down the barricade and now they’re stalking down the hallway! Don’t they have any respect? Don’t they hear the women crying? Can’t they hear them crying? Why would you make a woman cry? Look at them, those goddamn kids! What are they saying in Greek? Why are they chanting in Greek? What makes them think they could look us in the eyes?
I will never understand these kids! Why would they sharpen a screwdriver?
What could they possibly want?
What could they possibly want?
They HAD everything!
Why would they ask for more?
I’m up to HERE with those goddamn KIDS!
John Field is a stand-up comedian who lives in The Bronx with his cat Phyllis. He has been previously published in Cease Cows and the Terrible Tribune. You can tell him what you think of this story on twitter @AmericasComic.
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