Stacy had spent two hours in front of the mirror before she left her house. She had blow dried her hair, and had to call her sister for emergency advice when her short brown bob had frizzed up like a Chia pet.
“Ohh jeez Stace. Just straighten it. I left some pomade in your bathroom. Little blue tin?”
“Yeah, I see it.”
“Follow the directions. Only use a little bit! Did you pluck your eyebrows?”
“Yes,” Stacy lied.
“What are you wearing?”
“That purple dress?”
“Too fall. Wear the yellow thing you got last time you visited.”
“Okay. Thanks, Em.”
“And don’t be nervous!”
“Okay. Text me after!”
Stacy tried on the yellow dress and felt as much like a shapeless submarine as she had when her sister made her buy it. No way. Her cleavage threatened to explode out the top. It was a safety hazard. She traded it for the purple. She stashed all evidence of her thorough beautification efforts and headed out the door.
She caught a cab outside her apartment and headed downtown. The cab driver spoke in rapid Arabic to the other end of his headset. Stacy leaned her forehead against the cool glass.
She was nervous. She chewed her manicured nails. So much could go wrong on a blind date. So much had
gone wrong on blind dates. Stacy now had dating policies designed to eliminate the worst weirdoes from her league. No religious men. No past history of incarceration. But damn her biological clock was ticking like a bomb timer. Reproductive goals aside, Stacy was really hoping to get laid. Please let him be kind of normal
, Stacy prayed. And please let him not think I’m fat.
New York, for all its charm, only seemed to harbor gay men, married men, closeted gay men, and unemployed hipster men. The options were not ideal for an overweight professional woman one year shy of 40. Ugh.
She could become a sugar mama for an aspiring young actor, like any single man her age would do. But that was an absolute last resort. Let’s save that for 45
, she told herself, as they pulled up outside her destination.
The cab driver gave her a curt nod as she swiped her debit card. But his conversation hadn’t halted so he might’ve only been nodding to the voice on the other end.
Stacy teetered towards the door of a Japanese noodle bar that had lost its edginess and crowd appeal several months earlier. The food was still good, and the noise level had finally receded from heavy metal concert to frat party volume.
A slim Asian hostess with jagged bangs led Stacy towards the back. The hostess gestured to an empty seat opposite a man with a handsome wide grin, Stacy smiled back and began to shuffle towards the seat when she realized the man was smiling at someone behind her, and the hostess had actually been gesturing to the next table. Oops.
“Evan?” She asked the man at the second table hopefully.
“Hey there. Stacy?” A tall lanky man with thick glasses stood to shake her hand.
They ran through the ritual how-are-yous, discussed their relationship to the matchmaker behind this set up (Stacy’s co-worker, Evan’s friend). Evan had a kind smile, and Stacy began to wish she had worn her sluttier dress.
“Are we drinkin’ or what?” Evan teased as a tiny waitress arrived beside their table.
“I think a beer or several is in order. I had a long week.”
They settled on two Heinekens.
“So… Any weird fetishes? Blowup dolls?”
“No, I only have normal fetishes,” he leaned across the table like his fetishes were not normal. “No blowup dolls.”
“I like to get the dirty stuff out of the way first,” Stacy announced, leaning slightly back.
“Is there a form I should fill out?”
“Yes, but I’ll be running a background check on you any way.”
“Funny, I already ran yours.”
“You did not.”
“Yup. You are quite the party girl.”
“What makes you say that?”
“I read a certain blog… ‘Miss Priss.’”
“You sneaky spy. What do you do for work?”
“I’m a photographer.”
“And what do you photograph?”
“Wildlife. Just did a cool project in South Africa with National Geographic.”
“Wow. I’d tell you about my work, but I’m guessing you already know.”
“Well I certainly know about your cafeteria’s sparse dining options.”
She giggled full of guilt, “How’d you find my blog?”
“Hardly anything is anonymous these days, sweetheart.”
Stacy eyed him with suspicion as she drank her beer out of the bottle.
They ordered their meal and a second round.
“Did you know I’m divorced?” Evan announced as Stacy tried to use her chopsticks with some semblance of grace.
“Oh,” she said, unsure of the appropriate response. “Was it friendly?”
“Eh. Not exactly.”
“No it’s… it is what it is… It’s probably tougher on the kids.”
“What happened?” She sensed he wouldn’t mind her prying.
“Got married too young… Things change. I think I’m almost mature enough to try again.”
“I’ve never been married. Still not mature enough.”
“Maybe that’s why Hal and Ellen thought we’d be a good match.”
Stacy began to worry about the arrival of the check. Should she pay? Should they split? Being a photographer couldn’t be all that glamorous, and she did have a well-padded checking account. She’d been on dates with men who hadn’t even liked her offering…but Evan didn’t seem like that kind of guy.
“Would you like to check out this Italian place around the corner for dessert?” Evan inquired once they had slurped up the last of their noodles.
“How could a gal say no to that?” Stacy asked and placed her blue debit card on top of the checkbook the waitress placed in between them.
“Hey, hey, hey. Let me get this,” Evan said seriously, and put a Bank of America card inside the checkbook.
“No, I got this one,” Stacy smiled, and handed him back his card, realizing it did not say “Evan Willard” on it.
“All right. Dessert is on me. And breakfast too.”
“Excuse me?” She feigned offense, shrugging off the name, he probably used a pseudonym for his work.
They left the restaurant together and took a shortcut down an alley. Stacy liked his dorky charm.
“Any childhood traumas?” He asked.
“I feel off my bike once,” Stacy supplied. “That’s all I got.”
They walked close together along the nearly deserted road. Sometimes even the middle of the city could feel empty. A lone cab drifted down the street, sending up a spray from puddles that had collected earlier in the day.
“How old are your kids?”
“8 and 11. Two boys.”
“You don’t carry pictures?”
“Not tonight, but trust me, I’ve got piles of ‘em.”
He held open the door of the La Pasticceria for Stacy.
They admired the rows and rows of elaborate fluffy cakes and pastries in glass cases. Two older women were chatting in a table by the window. The sole server stood behind the counter texting.
“Can we sit wherever?” Evan asked.
The server nodded, looking up from his phone.
They selected a table below a tiny television, playing the 11 o’clock news.
“Do you think you could handle ordering?” Evan asked her.
“I think I got this,” she called as he dashed off to the men’s. Score!
She thought as she settled into a chair. On TV, a stern, handsome reporter stood outside a crime scene, recounting the details.
“—believed to be responsible for a recent string of burglaries and charged with two counts of first degree murder, James Albridge, is armed and extremely dangerous.”
A composite sketch filled the screen. The short dark hair, the light stubble. The shape of his ears, the Roman nose and full lips. It was Evan. God, I am so paranoid.
Stacy laughed to herself. Everything was going well. She ordered two glasses of wine and a slice of cake to share, but she began to feel a little uneasy when Evan sat back down. Was his charm part of some con act? Was he planning to rob her of all the semi-valuables she kept in her apartment?
She carried on a normal conversation over dessert, but in her mind she was wondering how long it would take her family to realize she was gone if he killed her.
“Are you feeling all right?” Evan asked.
“Yes, I’m just a pale person,” Stacy tried to smile.
“You’re looking a little green… Do you want to call it a night…?”
“Yeah, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea.”
Evan walked up to the counter to pay, and Stacy moved her keys from her purse to her jacket pocket. They were kind of sharp. She could hold her house key in her fist like they used to teach in self-defense classes. Evan held the door for her as they left. Awfully polite for a serial killer.
“I really enjoyed meeting you, Stacy. I hope you feel better,” he said as he helped her into a cab. Maybe he only likes to kill healthy people.
“You too, Evan. Take care.” Stacy dodged his cheek kiss and ducked into the cab. She watched his dark form disappear down a side street. If he were just a thief he’d still be a good catch. It’s tough to overlook homicide.
“Em, I think I just went on a date with a murderer. Save me from myself,” she confessed to her sister’s voicemail. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.
Her phone buzzed. It was a get well soon message with a smiley face from Evan. That confirmed it. What kind of grown ass man sent emoticons
The only single men left were closeted gays, and criminals. I better go get a cat.
Stacy put her headphones in and swiped into her building. She stopped to open her mailbox and noticed her cab driver had followed her into the lobby.
“Can I help you?” She asked. Can you go away?
“I like your dress,” the little mustached man whispered.
“Okay,” Stacy said, drawing out the “oh.” This was really too much for one night. She had a fluffy bed waiting for her. She had recorded some episodes of Judge Judy.
“Get down on the ground,” the little man pleaded, pulling something out of his pocket.
Stacy laughed. She was not about to take threats from an elf-sized man. She even less about to have sex with an elf-sized man in the lobby of her own damn building. So she bolted into the stairway. He pushed open the door seconds later, and Stacy tackled him.
“A fake gun? Seriously?” Stacy was sitting on an elf-man in the dirty floor of the stairway, holding the lump of plastic she had jerked out of the elf-man’s weak grip. She had tackled a cab driver threatening her with a water pistol. This was kind of a new low.
“If you do not get the fuck out of this building when I let you up, I will strangle you. Do not test me. I am not in the mood, little man.”
She listened for the click of the front door’s latch as the pervert scampered back into his cab. She would report him tomorrow.
She rode the elevator to the sixth floor, noticing a thick layer of dust down the front of her purple dress. Awesome.
“Em, if you do not call me first thing tomorrow, I will die,” she told her sister’s voicemail while she turned down her bed.
She did not turn on the television, or pick up the novel from her bedside table. Stacy lay under her covers and examined the insides of her eyelids. Never again. No more dates. And no more cabs for a while either.
She fantasized about subletting her guest room to a rugged photographer, and realized she was envisioning Evan. She had made worse mistakes before, and so far she was mostly in tact. Maybe if Evan really was a criminal she could appear on a crime program to discuss the constant terror she felt. Was a 30 second appearance on Blood, Lies and Alibis
worth risking her life? Probably not, she decided but she sent Evan a good night text any way. Just in case.
Kara Panzer is an undergraduate student at Georgetown University. She is an intern at The New York Times, where she drafts copy for posts that appear on Facebook.com/NYTimes. Her work is forthcoming in Word Riot and Vector Press.
Air Street, Piccadilly, London, 2033.
We could all see the camera feed from the dressing room, and the regular johns knew it was there. New guys talking to Annie at the front desk didn’t notice the lens in the fake chrysanthemums next to the bowl of
take-your-pick condoms. We watched all sorts: the nervous duck round the door and run, the over-confident swagger, the determined shoulders-squared I-can-do-this walk. The dodgiest punters have all tended towards normal; it's only when you look them in the eye before you lead them to a bedroom you see a hint of
something mean. After we've had trouble, we imagine a glint of darkness in every fucker for a while.
Tonight was a normal night. The last sleazebag had been weeks ago. There were seven of us working, average for a weekday, and with two girls busy upstairs, the man introducing himself as Clive had five sexy bitches to choose
"Not a first timer, but he's not done this in a while. That's my guess," said Chantalle.
"Married and isn't getting any," offered Laura from the corner. She looked bored. Laura always looked bored. She probably looks bored while she's fucking, too. Somehow, though, she's popular. I expect it's her epic breasts.
"Well, let's get this fashion parade started," I rubbed my fingertips over the base of my scalp, energising myself before I ran my fingers through my hair to add volume.
Clive sat in the 'punter chair' opposite the doorway. I slipped my stilettos on, my robe off, and sashayed into the doorway in my latest Primark lingerie. It doesn't fit so well, but who cares when it only stays on for five minutes. It's cheap and I'd rather spend my money on downloads than La Senza.
"Hi Clive." I posed against the doorframe, one leg extended, back arched.
"I'm Linda." Three-sixty turn, flash a smile, flick the hair, then saunter back into the dressing room. Anyone would think I'd done this before.
My colleagues followed suit. Clive was too nondescript for us to take bets on who he'd choose so we simply waited for the verdict, which was Boring Laura.
"Tea?" Chantalle was a mind reader.
"I'll make it," I said. "Anyone else?"
I was just filling the kettle when the girls shrieked in excitement. I imagined Annie's frown and grinned.
"What is it?"
"You have to come over here, Linda. Look at these guys. Fucking hot. And they're clones."
I dumped the kettle in the sink and peered over the other girls at the screen. Jeez. She wasn't wrong. They had that synchronicity to their movements that is a dead giveaway they aren't natural twins.
Clones are rare, even though the technology has been mainstream for a few years now. Mostly that's due to price (how many tens of thousands?) but it's also suspicion and a general sense of unease.
"Shh, I want to hear what they say."
We all fell silent and listened to the conversation at the desk.
"Well, hello, gentlemen," said Annie, and we knew she loved this. The men were tall, blond and buff, just how she liked them. "Is there anything in particular we can give you tonight?"
Blond #1 smiled and I guessed Annie’s knickers were melting.
"How much for both of us? One girl, for us to share?"
Guys want two girls together quite often but we've not had this request since I've been working here.
"One guy and one girl is £125. For both of you, it's £250. £350 if you want anal. More if you want to get kinky. Your names?"
I love Annie. Straight to the point.
"We're David. Three hundred and fifty." He pulled a wad of notes out of his trouser pocket, peeled off a few to keep and handed the rest to Annie.
"Take a seat just here, gents, and our ladies will be out to greet you in just a moment."
I slipped my stilettos back on and my gaze lingered on the abandoned kettle. Did I want tea, or did I want to get fucked in the arse by this Adonis and his clone? Tough choice, and not entirely mine to make. I did my twirl in the doorway, giving it my best shot. They were hot, and I could do with the money. There's always time for tea.
"I'm so not up for anal today," said Chantalle. "And I don't trust clones." She retrieved the kettle from the sink.
"Your loss." Mary took her turn in the doorway, and quiet Emma followed.
The ground floor was silent as we waited, with only the faint sounds of fucking from upstairs as encouragement.
"We'll take Linda."
The Davids spoke in unison, and my tummy did a casual flip-flop. That never happens with clients. Jeez. Most of the time, I take them. Lie him down, rubber him up, give him a good suck, then sit on top and give him a good fuck. Not so with the clone twins; the Davids would definitely be taking me. probably hard. Perversely, I looked forward to it.
The house had a weird feel to it as we ascended the stairs, my black faux-silk robe clinging to my arse as I led the way. For no real reason, I thought of the creepy john from two months ago who had an air of sociopath about him. He'd picked Chantalle.
"I expected him to get freaky, but he was just a bit vigorous,” she said afterwards. “Defo something wrong with him though. Creepy motherfucker."
Ugh. I wasn't picking up bad vibes from the Davids, for sure. Were their cocks as big as their egos? That’s better, Linda, mind back on the job.
I chose the Crimson Room. With their light blond hair, and mine, we could go all strawberries and cream for a colour scheme. After thoughts of Creepy John, I wanted to visualise something more light-hearted, no matter how
intense and vigorous the sex was going to be. My cunt pulsed. Bye bye, Creepy John. Hello awesome clone sex.
I pushed the door ajar and after a horrid pause, the Davids said, “Oh, fuck.”
Boring Laura with her red hair and creamy skin was the colour scheme, but her flaccid body draped off the crimson bedspread. The blood pooling on the carpet had seeped into the cream fur rug.
The front door was the only way in and out of the house, and no-one had left in the last hour. I hit the panic button on the wall, which automatically locked the front door, and tripped the emergency lighting. Couples emerged from the other bedrooms.
John number one was with Lisa, already finished and showered.
John number two and whats-her-name - Charlie? - seemed confused and annoyed. They’d been mid-shag, then.
Annie came running up the stairs, followed by Chantalle, Emma and Mary.
Where was the other john, Clive? Laura’s john. That fucking bastard.
He came out of the Green Room. With Boring Laura.
I looked back at the corpse on the bed.
Not so boring Laura after all. One of them was a clone, and one of them was a fucking corpse. And one of us was a fucking killer. Fuck.
Annie, normally so businesslike, was pale and hadn’t said a word. The Davids tried to hold Laura back, but she pushed past them, and looked anything but bored as she crumpled to the floor, shaking.
"Nobody calls the cops, nobody leaves."
I wondered who'd spoken, but everyone was looking at me. Apparently, I'm practical in an emergency. Brothels are illegal, and legal rights for clones are fucked up, like they were for blacks last century and gays a few decades ago.
"Nobody leaves until we figure this out. Chantalle, cups of tea for thirteen, please.”
Verity Caine is primarily an erotica writer who has been into things kinky for over fifteen years, and has recently enjoyed publishing success in her professional arena. She lives in a tiny village in southern England and is probably the only pervie in the village.
"Thank you for calling the Salt Lake suicide hotline. All of our counselors are busy
speaking with other callers. Please continue--" The line sputtered and clicked.
"Thank you for calling the Salt Lake suicide hotline. All of our--."
Click-click-click. "Thank you for calling the Salt
"Hello? Anyone there?" A male voice.
"Hello? Jesus Christ, am I on hold?" Slightly nasal, with a
"I doubt it, because I can hear you." A male voice, freshly dipped in
"What? Who the hell are you?"
"I got a better one: who the hell are you?"
"Oh, nice, a counselor who swears back at a
"I'm not your fucking therapist, sunshine."
"Jesus Christ, why the fuck did I even bother
"Oh, I'm guessing because you want to hang yourself, or shoot yourself, or find a
fucking bus to jump in front of. But don't let me stop you, babe, bon
"Wait, you ain't no counselor."
"And suddenly we hail the light dawning on Loser Number
"So what are you then? Somebody else who's gonna off himself? Huh? You must be smart
ass Loser Number Two then?"
"'Off himself?'" Loser Number Two replied. "What the hell, do people even say that
anymore? Don't be so stereotypically dramatic!" He
"OK, fuck it, asshole, she'll be here any minute. I'm hanging up
"So hang up already, Number One."
"OK, maybe you did hang up. Good. In that case, let me talk to the world at large. I
fucking hate you from the core of my being. I can't wait until you no longer
exist, until I no longer exist. Anyhow, I think it's best we part amiably, don't
"What? Is that you, Number One?"
"Why are you going to do it...you know...I mean, you know, the reason you
"'Why are you going to kill yourself?' Is that what you are asking? Fucking idiot, you
can't even say the words? You need to go now, asshole, because you're not
serious: you're a poser. You're not serious, you just want someone to say "ah,
poor baby, let's put a bandage on that bruised self-esteem boo-boo. Asshole.
You're just tying up a line for somebody else who might really need someone to
listen to them."
"Oh, so a moment ago you didn't give two shits about the world, and now you're
worried that some stranger might kill himself because I am preventing him from
crying to some asshole counselor? 'Oh goodbye world, I couldn't give a shit
about you!' and 'Oh my, somebody might need help and you are fucking that up!'
Who's the poser now, 'sunshine?'"
"Actually, that was pretty impressive logic for a straight
"Wait, what? You a fag?"
"Oh, Christ, me and my mouth. It's 'gay,' dumb ass, and yes, I
"Fuck, I'd kill myself too if I was a queer."
"I take it back: stick with 'stereotypical.' It's working for
"I mean, holy fuck. If I could look at a dude and fucking get excited, I'd kill
"It sounds like you've thought about this subject a lot, baby boy. You sure you're
"I sure as fuck am! I ain't killing myself 'cause I'm some damned queer
"Well, for what it's worth, neither am I."
"God made Adam & Eve, not--"
"Not Adam & Steve, yeah, yeah, yeah. I know that one. I put it right up there
with 'It's not the heat that bothers me: it's the humidity.' Fucking idiot,
parroting stupid shit you no doubt learned in church,
"Hey pal, I didn't write the Bible, God did."
"And what about The Book of Morons? Who wrote that
intellectual tour de
? Fuck you, straight boy,
I'm hanging up now."
"I didn't hear no click. You still on, fag boy?"
"Jason. My name is Jason, cracker boy."
"Why are you still talking to me, Sam? You need to tell me about the fires of hell so
you can get 44,000 of Joseph Smith's virgins and a balloon in the
"OK, Sam, that was over the top. Sorry."
"So, why did
you hold the line?"
"Maybe I'm curious."
"Oh Jesus, if it's 'Which one of you is the man and which is the woman?' I'm hanging
"Oh. Never mind then."
"Christ on a cracker! You really were going to ask me that? Fuck, why are you morally
pure people so obsessed with where other people put their
"It's just not normal, that's all I'm saying."
"Oh, and believing that magic glasses let some hick named Joseph Smith read from an
angel's iPad is?"
"Tell you what, Jason: you drop the religion talk, and I'll drop the who's poking who
"Isn't that the same thing?"
"Do we have a deal or not, ass wipe? I have an appointment with this here .357, and
you are wasting my time."
"OK, deal. No more religion bashing from me, Sam. Anyhow, what are we doing here?
What do you have to say to me, if anything?"
"I wanna know why."
"Why are you gonna kill yourself? How are you gonna do
"Sam, really, what do you care? It's just another fag going to hell, and I am very OK
"I didn't say I cared, fuck head. I was just curious what would make you want to
end it, I mean, you guys have it made, you
"OK, I'll bite: why do we have it made?"
"Are you kidding me? You don't have kids, you don't know what it's like to have to
work two jobs just so your kids have food to eat and clothes to wear. You don't
know what it's like to come home and catch your wife fucking your best friend in
your own bed!"
"Yeah, 'wow.' Fucking 'wow,' the bitch done broke my heart, you
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry to hear what happened."
"Oh, like fuck you are. Spare me."
"No, I am. Strangely, I really am sorry for you,
"Well, thanks, I guess."
"Pills, I'm using pills to check out. I figure about 30 each of some Seconal, and
Tegretol, and Haldol ought to do it. Besides, if there's an afterlife I might
get points for rhyming my meds."
"How about Tylenol?"
"You know, your naiveté is actually sweet
"Stop it right there, fag, er, Jason. I was trying to be funny. I know you can't die
from Tylenol. You just vomit and shit blood for three
"It sounds like the voice of experience talking."
"Yeah, well, it is. It's the only thing we had, and I wanted the bitch to find me on
"Or maybe you wanted your kids to."
"Leave them the fuck out of this!"
"I’m sorry, Sam."
"Just don't talk about my kids, understand?"
"I'm sorry, Sam."
"You just don't talk about some things, that's
"I'm sorry, Sam."
"OK, well this has been...interesting, Sam the cracker man, but I have a life to end.
So, thanks for the conver--"
"What's your rush?"
"Nothing. Just getting really tired, that's all."
"So you heard why I'm fucking done with life. What's your
"Not so different than yours."
"What, you come home and Romeo's packing some other
"No, you cracker dumb fuck! Was Nascar playing in the background when what's her twat
was getting some on the side?"
"Hey Jason, calm the fuck down."
"Fuck you, Sam. If you want to hurt me, I can play that game too. Some deal you
"So, Jason, what did happen?"
"He left me."
"I thought you queers--er, I'm sorry, honestly, I really am--anyhow I thought
people like you did that all the time, no?"
"You don't know people like me. There are no people like me. I am a person, not a
people. I love my partner. I'm in it for life, Jason. My heart's broken
"So why did he leave?"
"Just drop it, OK?"
"Jesus, you are a trip."
"Hey man, you were right about the Nascar, by the way. Sometimes ignorant folks
accidentally hit on some truths, you know what I mean,
"Well, you weren't far off either, about "us people" leaving each other a lot. Not me,
but a fair number of my friends fuck and flee. Want to hear a
"OK. What does a lesbian bring to a second date?"
"I have no fucking idea."
"A U-Haul truck. What's a gay man bring to a second
"I don't know."
"I don't get it."
"Nope. Didn't think you would. Had to try though."
"I envy you too, you know."
"Oh yeah? How is that?"
"Well, you'll get mad, but I miss not having kids."
The sounds of a metallic whirring noise.
"Maybe I should play Russian Roulette?"
Whir. Whir. Click.
"Sumbitch. I won."
"I guess so."
"What do you mean, you 'guess so?'"
"Well, you want to die, and you didn't, so, well..."
"I sent them away, by the way. The kids."
"You were right, what you said awhile ago."
"About them finding you."
"Yeah. I just don't feel comfortable thinking about them. I sent them away to their
grandma's house, about an hour east of Salt
"My bitch of a wife gets off work in 30 minutes. I'm waiting for her to come in so
she can see me swallow this here barrel. Will serve the bitch right, you
"You suppose. Fuck, Jason, aren't you mad about your wife--er, your boyfriend, er,
your man leaving you?"
"Of course, I am."
"Well don't you want to hurt him as much as he's hurt you? Or are you all high and
"He left me because he died, Sam. Last night we're at home, watching the Olympics
when he says we needed ice cream before the swimming meets started. He drives to
the store, only fi--fi--five, excuse me, that's 'five' minutes away, stops at
the traffic light and has an oncomin' Ford truck slam into him. At 8:35 PM, he's
rubbin' my feet, at 8:40 PM he's dead. So no, god damn it, I don't want to hurt
him. I want to hold him, you stupid fuck."
"You still there, Sam?"
"Yeah, I'm here. I just don't know what to say for
"Sam, I half sumfin' I want you to hear."
"What's wrong with your voice, Jason?"
"Listen to me, Sam. Don't do it. Divorce the bitch, but don't kill
"Seriously, dude, why are you slurring?"
"I came out to my family twenty-five years ago, and my Dad hangs himself, did I
menshun that? I'm the end of the line for our family. No grand kids. Jusht
"Did you take them pills already? Oh fuck, I'm hanging up and calling the counselors
for real, buddy."
"No time, damn it! List--listen to me, damn you. Don't kill yourself, you dumb...you
dumb...you dumb shit. It's contagious, Sam. Once a family suffers with suicide,
it echoes for genera--gener--generations. My brother killed himself the same way
not five years later."
"Hang on, Jason, it's not too late, they can pump your stomach,
"So, fine--find another way to hurt her, Sam. Don't kill your--yourself. Don't
sentence your own kids to eventual suicide. Find another way,
"Jason, no man, hang on."
"Good bye, Sam. Remem--remem--remember: love your
Click.James F. George
lives and works in Bethesda, MD. In addition to writing fiction, Mr.
George works as a consulting computer network engineer for non-profit agencies
within the entire Washington, DC metropolitan area. While he has written stories
in a multitude of genres for friends and family for many years, this is the
first story he has every tried to publish.
I hated your sister the first time I met her. No, seriously. She hated me too.
And the reason is because she was a bitch. No, stop. Don’t jump up like you’re
going to hit me. I’m married to her now, for Christ’s sake! That means you and I
– we’re brothers, too. Yeah, I know it’s only been four hours since we smooched
on the altar. And I know – I know all too well I’ve been married before. But this
is the girl of my dreams.
I can feel it. So can she.
Anyway, yeah. I hated her when we met. She was waiting tables at this pizza
place in Brooklyn that I had never been to, but my dad took me for a slice once
because he read about it on a blog or something. The pizza sucked. So did the
service. I think I wrote a shitty review about it when I got home.
Seriously, listen to how bitchy she was. I went into the restaurant alone
because my dad drove up from Hoboken and he was having a hell of a time parking
the car. It was getting close to rush hour and we didn’t feel like waiting more
than twenty minutes for pizza, no matter how good my dad’s blog said it was. So I
hopped out to get us a table before he got back from the Bronx or Peru or
wherever it was that he parked the car. Well, anyway, there was a lobby area
where this big Italian family was waiting. Actually I thought that was funny
because normally Italians don’t go out to eat – especially not Brooklyn Italians,
and especially not to pizzerias– so I thought that was a sign the food was going
to be good. Anyway,one of them motioned me through the door and said they were
waiting for a big table in the back, so I went right on through.
Now, to explain why your sister was a bitch, I need to explain the entrance to
this place. They do all the food prep right there in the front – they had this
huge brick oven and a bunch of people rolling dough and pushing around sauce and
doing that cool finger-spinny-thing they do. Anyway, there was a line going up to
a register sitting on the partition between the floor and the food prep area,
and there wasn’t a maître d' anywhere in sight. I figured I was supposed to hop
in that line.
I was wrong. That was the line for takeout orders. I was sort of coming to
figure that when this cute chick with oversized, goofy wire-rim glasses, a white
t-shirt and an apron came out, walked right by me and took this couple that
walked in after me. Now, mind you, this girl was sexy. Really sexy.
Okay! Okay! I’m sorry, stop hitting me.
But she was. So I wanted to kind of say something about how she skipped me
without pissing her off and ruining my chances with her.
I don’t care what you say. I’m married to her now, so obviously the chances of
picking up a waitress during her shift are pretty good.
Anyway, I kind of motioned to her and said, y’know, that I’d been waiting
longer than those other people, and I still hadn’t been seated. The place was
pretty crowded, so I was worried a table wouldn’t open up for a while.
She looked up at me with those big green eyes of hers, hair done in a knot – I
think she was holding a clipboard, too, but I don’t remember to be honest – and
she said, “They were here first.”
Now, you tell me how she could have possibly known who got where when – she
was in the back, probably being a nasty bitch to some other poor folks – and she
couldn’t see anything. So I said – as nice as I could be, but still firm – I
said, “Excuse me, but I saw them come in after me.” And I knew I was right
because I remembered thinking that the girl was completely out of the guy’s
league when they walked in.
And she goes – I swear to God – she goes, “If you had been waiting in the
right area, maybe I would have seen you.” That was funny because the couple was
standing about four feet to my left when she called them. And also, who are you,
the pizza police? Do you even want my business? Why are you being so nasty? It’s
seriously people like her, who impose unnecessary rules for no reason whatsoever
that make this world an evil place. Hitler was that kind of person. So was your
Apparently I said all that stuff out loud.
I guess I said it pretty loud, too, because everyone in the place was just
kind of looking at me at this point. And of course it was about then that I
caught a glimpse of my dad through the window, coming up the block, not the
slightest clue how nasty our waitress was going to be. Well, I shut the hell up
because I didn’t want him to think I had picked a fight with the waitress in the
three minutes it took him to park the car in Peru – he was always saying I was
getting in fights with people. So I said I was sorry and that I didn’t mean it
and that I would wait right there, four feet to the left, for another table to
open up. And she just kind of pouted and walked away, the other couple in
It was about then, right as my dad was pushing through the door and your
sister was turning away, that I realized that maybe she wasn’t a bitch, that
maybe she was just having a bad day – she was, I came to find out. Your mother
had just died. She was a great woman, from what I’ve heard. Sorry again about
Well, I didn’t do anything about it then, but I promised myself I’d make it up
to her by the end of the night.
My dad came through the door about the time I got done promising to myself.
The poor guy was smiling and completely ready to eat this pizza and had
absolutely no idea how big an ass I’d made of myself before he came in.
So we ended up waiting there for another fifteen minutes or so even though a
booth had opened up about two minutes after our little interchange, but finally
your sister told us to follow her to the back and she seated us right there,
pretending like nothing was wrong but staring daggers and all that. It’s kind of
like the look she’s giving me right now. Hey, sweetie.
Well, we went to order drinks, and my dad ordered a Sam Adams Winter Lager,
which they didn’t have, so he just got the Boston Lager instead. He loves Sam
Adams. I’m more of a Rolling Rock guy, and that’s exactly what I ordered. But get
this – she carded me! That’s right, your sister carded a twenty-seven year old
man out to dinner with his fifty-three year old father. I was obviously not under
the legal limit – even though I’ve always looked young (and sexy, too) – so I
asked her right then why she needed to see I.D.
“For the beer.”
That’s all she said. For the beer. Can you believe that? I wasn’t expecting
that. I was bracing myself for some nasty retort or more dagger staring or
something and this girl, without even missing a beat, goes, “For the beer.”
Well, normally I have my license on me but I had left it in the center console
of the car, which was evidently back in Peru, so I was shit out of luck on the
beer front for the evening. It was a pretty ingenious passive-aggressive comeback
if I do say so myself. So was the burnt pizza that came over a little while
It was a bit after she came by to ask how everything was, no longer staring
daggers but chipper and happy, that I saw her crying. It was an accident, too. I
went searching for the bathroom and down the same hall was a back exit. Well, she
was standing by the door, hand to her eyes, under her glasses, sniffling and
choking up and the like – and I saw my chance to make things right.
I was trying to think of something witty and appropriate to say, but nothing
was coming, mostly because I’m pretty sure there’s nothing witty and appropriate
to say in that situation. So what I did was I just gave her a big bear hug like
we’d been dating for months or she was my sister or something. Now, I braced
myself for the worst and expected her to pull away, but she kind of just sunk
into my arms and started sobbing a little harder. Quietly, but harder. I remember
standing there for what felt like forever and thinking about how her white shirt
looked pink because it was bathed in the glow of the orange EXIT sign, but
eventually I came around to saying something and when I did, it happened to be
And she said it wasn’t my fault and I said I knew that, but I also knew she
dealt with assholes like me on a daily basis and that definitely didn’t make
whatever it was any easier, so on behalf of all the assholes she dealt with all
day long, I was sorry. She laughed at that and pulled back a little bit, and I
thought that was going to be the end of it until she quoted Walt Whitman.
I thought she was pulling away from me, but it turns out she was just trying
to look into my eyes for a minute. And then she said, “What is that you express
in your eyes? It seems to me more than all the print I have read in my life.”
I said House of Leaves, and she said Leaves of Grass, and I said shit and I
knew I had fallen in love.
She said, “It’s fine. I’m a writer, I’m supposed to know that stuff.”
And I suppressed the urge to explain that actually she was a waitress and I
could prove it by all the table waiting I had seen her doing, and that I was an
actual writer, but really I just said the last part.
And she said that then it wasn’t fine and I should never again mix up Walt
Whitman with anyone,especially this Danielewski or Denulsky or Doo-hicky fellow,
so help her God.
Well that was the beginning of a really long talk we had about how House of
Leaves is actually the best piece of literature in modern American history, and
about her mom and what a great woman she was and about you, actually. And we
talked for a long, long time and after that I never called your sister a bitch
ever again, until just a few minutes ago.
And I never wrote that shitty review, by the way. My dad did, as a comment on
that blog, because the damn place burnt his pizza and didn’t serve his
twenty-seven year old son a beer and, while he was on the subject, stole his
son’s heart. But I think he took it down when he got our wedding invitation a few
months ago. Anyway, yeah. I hated your sister the first time I met her. But
that’s how things work. Now I can’t even see the slightest flaw in that girl.
She’s damned beautiful and she’s all mine and you know what? I love those goofy
wire-rim glasses she used to wear.
Will Conway is a political professional who would very much appreciate if you
would not ask him his party affiliation. He moonlights as fiction writer and has
most recently been published in Fresh Ink Literary Review. But seriously, stop
with the questions about his party. You guys are readers, right? You’re
supposed to be open to all schools of… alright, fine. He’s a Republican. Please read
his stuff anyway.
Believe me, I do not spend hours peeping out my window to see what the neighbors are doing.
While I’m almost sixty and live alone (except when my nephew Vince is here), spying on people is not my main interest in life. I belong to organizations, lunch with friends, travel and attend dinner parties. Just so you know.
What happened was this: Around 7:30 in the evening, I went to the kitchen to brew myself a cup of tea. My cat Luther was worrying something on the kitchen window sill; a ladybug had entangled itself in the curtain. While I freed it, what was going on next door caught my eye.
Karina Widner lives alone and is on the road a lot; she has some job associated with computer systems for department stores. Someone usually stops by to water her plants and keep an eye on things. She has never shown any interest in being friendly. I guess she figures a woman in her thirties would have nothing in common with one in her sixties, which may or may not be true.
She was away again, but a dull light was on in her bedroom. I saw someone moving around in there, raising his/her arms in the air and twirling. Ducking down, I made sure the blind was closed except for one slat, which I held up with a finger. The person reared up and I could see it was definitely a man.
Suddenly he bent over, stood up, then lifted one leg out straight in front of him. When I saw what he was wearing, I gasped. He had on a bra, unfastened in the back. He was tall and masculine in appearance, so this bra, this little white thing, was like a doily on a horse. Then he backed up to reveal red, frilly bikini underpants stretched tight over his “junk” as they currently call it.
Luther tried to get on the window sill and I knocked him off, which set the blind jangling, so I had to duck. By the time it settled down, Mr. Hot Pants was out of view.
After that, I needed something stronger than tea, so mixed myself a martini. Sipping it in the dark by that window was just, I told myself, because there was a nice breeze, but who was I kidding? The man suddenly popped back into view, this time wearing a dress that seemed to fit him well.
This was way more interesting than the usual way I spent most evenings, watching television and, if lucky, chatting with a friend on the phone. I’d been divorced a long time and because of how my marriage ended, had not been adventurous in looking for love. I regret that now.
My nephew who troubleshoots computer systems for schools stays here when he works up this way. He has his own room upstairs. I had almost forgotten Vince was coming that evening, until I heard his key turn in the door. Quickly, I backed away from the window.
But later, a car started up out there and though Vince was relating an amusing story, I jumped up to check. A jeep pulled out of Karina’s driveway and the license - you couldn’t miss it - said “Gunner.” What did that mean? Somebody named “Gunner” was prancing about in girly underwear?
Vince chuckled. “Spying on the neighbors, are we, Aunt Sue? Tsk tsk.”
I blushed. “Come on,” he said. “Everybody does it now and then. S’up with yours?”
I told him and he laughed.
“But who is this guy?” I asked rhetorically. “Yesterday a young girl let herself into Karina’s with her own key. Clearly, she’s the one doing the plant job, not Mr. Underwear.”
“Hmmm,” said Vince, not laughing now. "Should I report this to the police?” “How did he get into the house?” Vince asked.
“I didn’t see him come in or leave until he was already in his car.”
Vince shook his head. “Probably better to just stay out of it,” he said, clearly losing interest. “There’re a lot of weird people in the world.”
A few days after Vince left, tired out from a busier day than usual, I retired at 8:30. As soon as I flicked out the light, Luther jumped onto the window sill and set a sun catcher banging against the glass. When I reached up to steady it, I glimpsed a shadow rounding the corner of my neighbor’s house.
My bedroom is downstairs on the other side of the house from Karina’s and the neighbors on that side are the Hayden’s. Mr. Hayden runs an insurance agency on North Main and Mrs. Hayden works part-time in her brother’s chiropractic office. They’re in their forties and have two children in college. Julia Hayden is a very attractive women; one of those ethereal, dithering blondes. Mr. Hayden resembles a prize fighter forced to wear a suit. Never thought those two looked like a match.
I cracked the window and heard a man’s voice at their back door. Julie’s kitchen light was on and I saw her rush to the door. Soon she staggered backward into view in the arms of the man. I was about to fumble for my phone when I saw that they were kissing and not in any fighting-off-a-rapist way. It was more like in a romantic comedy where they rip each other’s clothes off, dropping them in a trail across the floor. No one bothered to turn out the light, so I saw pretty much everything. Who was this man? I’d seen his bare butt by now and his not so muscular arms, but I needed a clearer view.
It occurred to me to get my ex-husband’s binoculars. Somehow, in his rush to get out of here so he could marry his sleek, twenty-nine year old teaching assistant, he forgot them and they’d been living in a box in my closet for twelve years. I scrambled and was back in position at the window in a minute, fumbling to adjust them.
My God. The man was Dr. Ronald Linstrom, the psychologist from across the street!
Here he was, starkers, his long hairy arms around Mrs. Hayden, his tongue, apparently, down her throat. I couldn’t put down the binoculars. Is this how perverts are created? And where was Mr. Hayden? Then it occurred to me it was one of the two nights of the week he spends out of town checking his agency’s other branch.
I tried not to continue watching, but while I’ve been able over my lifetime to resist that extra martini or second slice of cake, I found myself taken over somehow. What was going on over there was live action, actual people I sort of know, real bodies that looked nothing like the computer enhanced ones we see in the media. Julia, though quite pretty, had flat, saggy breasts and though only in her forties, was a bit flubby under the arms. Fascinating! But alas, they dropped to the floor, apparently to finish what they’d started and the spectacle moved out of visual range.
The thought crossed my mind that it was probably best that Vince was not here at the moment. I didn’t want to hear the inevitable smirky remarks about lonely, older women watching the world from their windows. At times, he was rather condescending in the way of younger people.
Life intervened after this. As a hospice volunteer, I was assigned two patients at once. One passed quickly, but I was still needed by the other. Certain factions in the area were in an uproar over gas drilling and I got pulled into helping to organize meetings. I was so busy I almost forgot about watching the neighbors.
Then Vince injured himself running in some silly race and had to have a knee operation. Since he’s divorced, lives alone and his mother is in Florida, I volunteered to have him recover here. This involved picking him and his belongings up, arranging for physical therapy, and settling him into his room. It also included extra cooking and waiting on him; you know how men are.
Whatever the case, I was home more during his rehab and remembered the neglected binoculars languishing on the dresser. It didn’t take long to discover that the activity was still occurring next door. Soon I was back on my knees peering at Dr. Linstrom in the altogether ravishing Julia Hayden, this time on the kitchen counter. I did hope that she would wash it off before preparing food.
Next day at the hardware store, I ran into Dr. Linstrom’s wife who was looking at paint chips.
“Hi Pat, doing some redecorating?” I opened.
She started. “Why yes! Ron and I are remodeling the kitchen and possibly the dining room. I think it would be interesting to do them in Chinese red.”
She seemed so confidently wifely, though just a bit shrill. I felt a little stab in my gut. Like her, I was once the “last to know” while everyone averted their eyes as I passed by. Not a single friend had the guts to tell me what Ed was up to. Now I wondered, should I tell Pat about her husband? Tell her now?
“On the other hand, Ron thinks forest green might be better. More calming and sophisticated.”
“Mmmmmm,” I said. “I think I’m partial to the red.”
“I usually end up giving in to Ron’s preferences,” she said complacently.
I wanted to scream, but I said nothing. Why did it feel like someone had gagged me? Is this how all the people felt who didn’t tell me the truth?
“Well, come over to see it when we’re done,” Pat said. “We’ll have a little open house.”
I could almost hear her mind clicking through her recipe box...what hors d' oeuvres, what desserts shall I serve my guests? I simply didn’t have the heart to tell her.
Back in the house, I unloaded my purchases and checked on Vince. He was entering the cranky, bored stage. “Is wittle Vincy getting antsy?” I asked in a Shirley Temple voice.
He gave me a raspberry noise in response. I tossed him a Science Digest. “Here, read something intelligent.”
“What I really need is some nasty gossip,” he said.
I paused. “Well....” Of course I told him everything.
“No shit,” he said. “Right down there, huh?”
“Yeah. It only happens on Wednesdays that I know of.”
He visibly perked up. “I need a little spy action. Actually, I need to get out of this room and not be working all day,” he added, and I noticed the laptop.
“Tomorrow night is the night then,” I reminded him.
Karina, meantime, had returned from her latest business trip. I was dying to speak to her, but how to go about it? When you’ve lived beside each other for nearly four years and haven’t been friends, how do you change that? From the kitchen, I could see she was in the backyard, apparently settling down to catch a few rays. I casually strolled outside and around the house, pulling a few weeds here and there.
“Enjoying the sun?” I asked, after clearing my throat.
She looked around frowning. “
Over here,” I said. “It’s me, Sue Rauch, your neighbor.”
“Oh,” she said, about as friendly as the woman at Motor Vehicles.
“Getting a tan?” I prompted.
“Upping my vitamin D level,” she said, laying her head back down.
“Well, just thought I’d say hello,” I said, feeling like an idiot.
“Mmmmm,” she mumbled.
I walked a bit closer. “Got my nephew staying here for a while. He had a knee operation, needs to recuperate.”
“Mmmmm,” she repeated.
“Well, see you later,” I said and trudged back to the house.
“Screw her!” I shouted to Vince after stomping upstairs. “I’m glad some man is wearing her underpants! Good for her! I hope he gets unspeakable germs all over them!”
“I googled Dr. Linstrom just for the heck of it,” Vince said. “Not that it relates, but there was an old article about a harassment charge.”
“No kidding!” I said. “Let me see.” I scanned the article. “You think he was guilty?”
Vince shrugged. “How would I know?”
“That would have been stressful for him and his wife,” I said. “Do you think she has a right to know what he’s doing now?”
“Stay out of it,” Vince advised.
But Vince’s indifferent demeanor changed the next evening when he saw the doctor sneak around to Julia’s back door. He bumped his way down the steps on his butt and soon was hunkered down beside me at my bedroom window.
“Why do they do it in the kitchen?” he mused.
“Maybe she has a thing about not befouling the marital bed. On second thought, they might choose there so he can make a quick getaway should Mr. Hayden suddenly arrive home. How she would explain to her husband being naked in the kitchen though, I can’t imagine.”
“This looks like a scene out of The Postman Always Rings Twice,” Vince said.
“The kitchen table one,” I said and he shot me a surprised look.
“What’s the doctor’s wife like?” he asked.
“She seems a bit nineteen-fiftyish. She mentions her husband’s name every other sentence. Must adore him. And look at him now, the bastard.” I pronounced this last word with more emphasis than necessary. Vince pretended not to notice. He knows my story.
“I can’t stand to watch it anymore,” I said, getting up. “I think I’ll go out on the front porch and call Luther in.”
But something out of sync was waiting for me there too. Before I had a chance to call my cat, I noticed a stealthy movement across the street between Linstroms’ house and that of their next door neighbor, Mrs. Genova. Only because I was concerned for Luther, I crossed the street to see what was going on.
I stopped short and ducked down behind the Lindstrom’s bushes. Pat Linstrom was pouring something from a pitcher onto Mrs. Genova’s rose bushes at the side of her house. This didn’t feel right.
Making a beeline across the lawn in the opposite direction, I stopped to catch my breath under a red maple, then darted back to my porch. From there, panting, I watched the shadowy figure disappear then reappear to pour more whatever it was onto the flowers along her neighbor’s walkway. If she was watering the plants, why would she use a pitcher? She’d use the hose, right? And why would she be doing it in the first place? I had seen Mrs. Genova early that morning watering her flowers.
Luther appeared out of nowhere and rubbed against my leg.
We entered the house to find Vince now peering through the blind of my office window. “I see that I’ve turned you to the dark side,” I said. “What are they doing now?”
“This is a better view. They’re in the dining room, sharing a bottle of something at the table. Still naked.”
I glanced at my watch. “Does Dr. Linstrom imagine that his wife isn’t home? Because she’s home, all right. I just saw her out in the dark pouring some mysterious substance on her neighbor’s flowers.”
“Huh?” said Vince.
“Try to tear your eyes away from Julia’s bod for a sec, nephew. Don’t make me change my will.”
He looked up.
“What would a person be pouring from a pitcher onto someone else’s flowers?”
“I don’t know,” he said, “plant food?”
“In the dark? I’m sorry, but something fishy was going on.” I paused. “I wonder where his wife thinks he is on Wednesday nights.”
“Maybe he tells her he’s taking a walk.”
“For hours?” I asked, but Vince wasn’t listening.
A few days later, after bringing Vince home from rehab, I caught Mrs. Genova checking her flowers and looking upset. Unable to resist, I walked over to ask if something was wrong.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “My rose bush leaves are turning brown and look at my border pinks! All curled up and dying! What could be wrong?”
She is a sweet woman - round, pink and soft. Looks like the kind who’d bake cookies for the grand kids.
I hesitated. “Um, do you ever have someone else take care of them?”
She gave me a startled look. “What do you mean? I do it all myself. Pete is housebound and never went in for gardening anyway. Though he does enjoy looking at flowers...” She went on for a while and I said nothing. Would she believe me if I did?
After returning to the house, I didn’t see Vince anywhere, so walked around to the back. My God, he was over in Karina’s yard actually talking to her! Her mouth was moving, so apparently she was speaking back and not just in monosyllables.
He came in later looking flushed. “What’s up?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he said, reverting to a sullen teenager though he is actually forty-one.
“You were talking to Ice Queen.”
“Yeah. She’s okay, I guess.”
“Really? How did you come to that conclusion?”
He shrugged. “She’s into computers.”
“Ohhhh, a fellow geek.”
He didn’t reply, so I told him about Mrs. Genova’s flowers.
He perked up. “No shit. That’s pretty weird.”
“Do you think I should tell her?”
“What? That her neighbor, the shrink’s wife, is murdering her plants? Hmmmm. No.”
“I believe in staying out of other people’s business,” he said, looking morally superior.
“So, you’re saying that if you happened to observe someone committing murder, you would just keep it to yourself?”
“Plants aren’t people and possibly yes. I wouldn’t want the murderer coming after me.”
He had a point (I was thinking of my own flowers), but....
Vince had his last official rehab and from that point on was expected to perform his own exercises at home. Which usually ended up involving me. Hospice called again and I had a patient to visit, so was out of the house more. Vince started working full time from home and I was wondering if he ever planned on leaving. Not that I minded him staying as long as he didn’t expect me to cook, which apparently he did.
He was walking much better now and startled me on a Friday night when he informed me that he and Karina were going out to dinner.
“What? You’re dating her?” I blurted.
“Not dating, just going out to dinner,” he clarified, looking put upon. “Are you being my mother, Aunt Sue?”
“Nooooo,” I snapped, “I’m just being the person who carted your butt around for the past few weeks, did your laundry and cleaned up after you. And the person who has lived next door to that piece of dry ice for several years without so much as a kind word from her. That’s who.”
He softened. “Well, I’m sorry she’s cold. I don’t think she hates you or anything. She’s a little strange, I’ll give you that.”
“Then why on earth are you taking her out?”
“I’m not ‘taking her out,’” he assured me. “Were going dutch. She insists on that.”
I shrugged. “Well, have fun. See if she knows someone has been trying on her underwear,” I said rather snottily.
While Vince was out, I sipped a cup of tea and came to a conclusion: perhaps it was my ethical duty to inform certain wronged people about how they were being wronged...Mrs. Genova that “someone” was poisoning her flowers, Cold Fish that an intruder was dancing in her underwear and Plant Poisoner that her husband was getting wildly naked with someone else. Even if she happened to be doing evil herself, there was no reason that she should go about not knowing she was being made a fool of. And what about Boxer in a Suit? Shouldn’t he be told about the fun his wife was having every Wednesday?
I could notify them all by mailing four anonymous letters from a post office in the city.
All afire, I washed out my cup, slipped on latex gloves to avoid finger prints and headed to my office to compose the letters. Printing out the envelopes took some maneuvering, but soon I had all four stamped and stored in a freezer bag tucked in my purse.
This was probably a crazy idea and Vince would be appalled if he knew. But who was he to tell me what to do? Had he ever been screwed around with behind his back? Would he want people to just laugh it off while he was being made a fool of?
Not liking myself much, I mixed up a martini and decided to check the houses on each side to see if anything was happening. This wasn’t something I would have thought of two months ago.
Karina’s house was all dark, so she was still out with Vince. Not even a somebody’s-home light on to fool burglars. Over at Julia’s I could see her and her husband at the dining room table, apparently finishing up their dinner. He was shoveling it in, head down and she just sat there, staring into space. Their body language screamed unhappiness.
I carried my half gone martini back to the living room and glanced out the window just in time to see Gunner’s jeep pull into Karina’s driveway. Underwear Man boldly climbed out and walked to the front door. Fiddle, fiddle and he let himself in. I scrambled to turn out my lights, then settled down in the kitchen to wait. But no one went into Karina’s bedroom. Was he lurking in a closet and planning to murder her when she got home? Was he a stalker and now enraged because she was out with Vince? Was Vince in danger?
I was a bit frantic, pacing around maniacally, when I decided I’d just call over there and see what would happen. He wouldn’t know where I was calling from. I located Karina’s number in the phone book, K. Widner at 442 Lynn Street, and punched it in while crouching on the floor under my spy window. Ring, riiinnnnnng.
He answered on the second one. “Hello?” His voice was deep, not one that goes with a lacy, red thong.
“Um, is Karina there?”
“No,” he said. “Can I take a message?”
Take a message? “Uh, um, do you know when she’ll be back?”
“Not really. She didn’t tell me where she was going.”
What? Why would she, I wanted to yell. “Well, I’ll just call back later or something,” I said, growing more nervous.
“Can I tell her who called?”
“No! Thanks!” I blurted, and hung up.
I returned to my martini, hands shaking. Had he gone to the bedroom? Another quick sip for courage and I checked. Nope, no sign of him. What was he doing over there?
J ust then, Vince’s key turned in the lock and he walked into a pitch dark house. “Aunt Sue? Are you in bed already?”
This didn’t look good. Old aunt sitting in the dark by one of the spy windows downing her booze. I scrambled to turn on a light. “In here,” I said.
He entered the kitchen smelling pleasantly of fresh air, a tinge of rain.
“He’s back there again,” I said rather woozily.
“Cross-dresser. He walked right in like he owns the place.”
“Well, actually he does,” said Vince, twisting the cap off a bottle of beer.
“What do you mean?”
Vince plopped down at the table, so I did too. “That’s Jan, Karina’s ex. They’re still friendly, he’s still co-owner of the house. They bought it right before they split up. He moved to Boston immediately after that, but now he’s back.”
“So....why does he come over? Does she know?”
“She knows. That’s part of the reason they split. He’s bisexual and a transvestite. For his part, he got tired of trying to get affection from someone who has trouble expressing it.”
I was experiencing a melange of feelings now. “That’s for sure.”
“Because Karina, as she explained it to me, is autistic. She is high functioning, but she has trouble with people.”
I was silent while this information sank into my martini foggy brain. “Autistic?” I finally muttered.
“Yeah, on the spectrum, as they say. But she’s very successful in her job and in fact is receiving an award at some dinner next week. She asked me to go.”
“You’ll still be here?” I blurted. “Aren’t they hammering for you to get back?”
He hesitated. “I guess you’re really sick of me.”
“Not really. It’s kind of nice having someone here. It’s just the cooking thing.”
He ignored this. “Well, um, Karina has a place for me in her company. I’d be doing similar work to what I do now. The salary is close, just a thousand under my old one and I need a change. But if I could stay here for maybe six months, I could look for an apartment and put aside cash for the security deposit. I’ll still be paying you some rent.”
“Well, okay,” I said, “but don’t expect meals every night and do your own laundry.” I was still processing this Karina business.
“So she knows he puts on her underwear?”
“I guess so,” said Vince. “Maybe that was actually his underwear that he keeps there.”
“I don’t think the bra was,” I said. “Way too small. Maybe the panties.”
Next morning, I took the Karina letter out of the plastic bag and burned it in the kitchen sink. There remained the other three. I poured myself a cup of tea and sat down to ruminate. Maybe Vince was right. None of my business what was going on with Karina and her ex. But what was the deal with Dr. Linstrom and his wife? Was it my concern that a woman was being deceived just as I once was? Are the reasons for Dr. Linstrom’s deceit the same or different from those of my ex?
Well, I survived, albeit with scars and obviously unfinished business. Maybe it was Pat’s karma to do the same.
Should I have worried that Julia Hayden might get caught cheating by her brutish husband? But how did I know he was a brute just because he looks like one? And shouldn’t she have been taking responsibility for the possible consequences of such risky behavior?
On the other hand, flowers were being damaged. Innocent flowers that had nothing to do with human mess-ups. I stood up and sent the other three letters into the atmosphere like the first one. Then I walked over to Mrs. Genova’s.
She came to the door in a flutter. “Did you see that ambulance come for Mrs. Linstrom? They took her off somewhere this morning around six.”
“No,” I said, surprised, but maybe not.
“There were no sirens, so possibly not an emergency. But you know, for some time now, she hasn’t been herself.” She leaned closer to whisper, though no one else was around. “She’s had trouble before. Dr. Linstrom has not had an easy time of it. But then neither has she.”
I thought about it a moment and then said to Mrs. Genova, “Probably none of us has had an easy time of it.”
She offered me a slice of lemon poppy seed cake and I accepted. It was delicious.
“How are your roses doing?” I asked.
“Much better,” she said, “but I’m keeping an eye on them.”
“Good idea,” I said, forking in the last bite of cake. “It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on things.”
Margaret Karmazin lives in Pennsylvania and her credits include 130 stories published in literary and national magazines, including Rosebud, Chrysalis Reader, North Atlantic Review, Confrontation, Pennsylvania Review and Another Realm. Her stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine, Licking River Review and Words of Wisdom were nominated for Pushcart awards. Her story, "The Manly Thing," was nominated for the 2010 Million Writers Award. She has a stories included in STILL GOING STRONG, TEN TWISTED TALES, PIECES OF EIGHT (AUTISM ACCEPTANCE), ZERO GRAVITY, COVER OF DARKNESS and CIRCLING URANUS and a novel, REPLACING FIONA, published by etreasurespublishing.com.
Clarise in her cowboy boots, lying on the porch with that mangy dog. That's what I remember about that day. That, and her mother screaming. This is the last straw, you hear that, you freeloading sumbitch? How could I not hear? The entire county must have heard. And so I left, but as I pulled away in the beat up pickup I'd bought down at the Good Year Shoppe -- no, they weren't selling trucks, just tires, but I talked them into throwing in the truck for an extra grand -- as I pulled away, the look on Clarise's face in the rearview about tore my heart out. We were close, that girl and me. Close as feathers in a fat man's pillow.
There I go again. I got ahead of myself, which is halfway most of my problem when I think about it. I'm always reaching before I think, puckering up before I see whose lipstick I'm about to taste. It's a real issue with me, I freely admit it.
Anyway, Clarise and me. She's a chubby ten-year-old with her mom's dishwater blonde hair, and big blue eyes. Smart as sin, too. I asked her once -- I was helping her do some homework -- what was twelve times twelve, and she looks at me without blinking, and says, "Gross." Then she giggles and punches my arm. I just kind of chuckle and move on to the next problem on the page. Two days later, it dawns on me what she meant, and I start laughing so hard I have to pull the truck over. Tears on a grown man's cheeks in Texas, there's a sight you don't see too often.
I met Clarise's mom at the diner. She'd been working there for something like twelve years. I knew right away I had to have her, with those long legs and sassy smile. Three days later we were humping in a sleeping bag out back of her house. She didn't want to wake Clarise. It was the dog she should have worried about. There we were, on the verge of sealing the deal, and that dog starts woofing up on the second floor, paws spread on the inside of Clarise's window. Oof! Oof-oof!
Her mom scrambles for her bra -- "Dammit, Jim, I told you not to be so loud! -- but it's already too late. Clarise ducks away from the glass. The dog drops down out of sight too. Her mom charges inside.
I flop onto my back, smoke a Marlboro, and watch me some stars. I wonder sometimes if maybe there isn't a star out there just like Earth, with people like you and me, and animals and trees, only the women are naturally polygamous -- that means they tolerate men a whole heck of a lot more than they do here. What would life be like on a star like that? A man can dream.
A few minutes later, the screen door squeals and that scroungy dog comes charging out, dragging Clarise's mom behind it. "Walk the dog," she tells me. I got a whole other kind of dog walking in mind, but she won't have none of that. "Walk the damn dog!" And so I do, only I don't put on pants. If the neighbors complain about some guy in a cowboy hat wandering around scratching his balls, and walking a dog at midnight, she's got no one to blame but her own self. And I sure did not pick up any shit. Not this Texas boy.
So, morning came around, and there's Clarise sitting at the kitchen table, stirring a spoon around a bowl of soggy cereal, and she says to me point blank. "You ain't the first to screw Momma on the lawn."
"Didn't think I was." I like to play it cool with kids. My dad was an asshole, used to beat us six ways to Tuesday. I would never beat a child. "The thing is," I said, "I like your mom a lot, and I hope that maybe, in time--"
"You like dogs?" she said. And right on cue, the mutt's head appears above the table. He must've been laying there at her feet.
"Sure," I said. And I mostly do, too, though I can do without poodles, and those little ones with the sausage body and pointed teeth, you know, the Mexican ones.
Clarise looked over her shoulder, then to the door, then back at me. "I'm going to explain this to you one time." Her eyes got real serious. The spoon clinked against the bowl's edge and toppled over, first onto the table, then to the floor. I heard the dog lapping.
"My momma can take care of herself," she said, "but if you ever hurt my dog, I'll skin you like a rabbit."
"Sure," I said. "I understand."
"No, you don't," she said. "I don't mean I'll lock myself in my room and cry a blue streak. What I mean is I'll take this knife--" and she lifted a butcher's knife from the empty chair seat next to her "--and I'll skin you like a rabbit."
Something about the way she said that made me swallow twice.
"Good," she said, "then we understand each other." She put the knife back, and retrieved the spoon from the floor. "Cletus is my friend. Friends look out for each other."
I nodded. "I think I'd like to be your friend." It came out kind of weak, but the feeling was real strong. Clarise might be ten, but she was the woman I had been looking for all my life. Not in a sex way, mind you -- that don't turn me on -- but in a, I don't know, deeper way, I guess.
She started eating her cereal. "You want me to call you Mister Cannon, or Jim?" she said like it was the first conversation we had all morning.
"Jim," I said. "Please."
And that's how it was until I screwed things up with her mom. It wasn't entirely my fault, mind you, that other waitress came on to me. She wasn't as pretty as Clarise's mom, but she had a little fire going on down there in the caboose. "What do you want on your wiener?" she says. I mean, really, right? So I ask her if she likes her buns toasted, and the rest is history.
Well, I guess that catches you up to the present, other than the two-day binge. I'm mostly sober now. Oh, and I didn't tell you about the dog leaned halfway out the passenger window, but then you wouldn't exactly be surprised if I did, so I won't apologize for that. I have a plan. I snatched the dog while Clarise was at school and her mom was at work, and now I'm off to the print shop to have some flyers made up. What do you think about this for wording?
Found: Large dog, off-white, answers to the name of Cletus. Call 555-1212 (you're crazy if you think I'm putting my real number here). Reward: One sorry-ass guy who will never do it again.
Now, I'm not pretending Clarise's mom will pick up on that code, but I'll bet anything Clarise will figure it out. And she'll find a way to bring her mom around. That's the thing about that girl. Smart as a whip, and loyal to her friends. I may not be one of them after our little falling out, but I'm banking on Cletus.Stephen V. Ramey lives in beautiful New Castle, Pennsylvania. His work has appeared most recently in Scissors and Spackle, Spilling Ink Review, and Pure Slush. In his spare spare time, he edits the annual Triangulation anthology from Parsec Ink, as well as the twitterzine, Trapeze. You can find him at http://www.stephenvramey.com
Trouble started the muggy July morning a blue-and-white Volkswagen van pulled to the curb in front of Bill and Emily Henderson’s two-story brick house. Drunk on the heat, crickets chirped songs of unrequited love while trees, grasses, and flowers flirted with the wind. Perhaps Nate Priestly chose this house by chance or perhaps the brown Volvo with the U-of-M bumper sticker in the driveway caught his eye. Whatever the reason he got out of the van and approached Chip Henderson, who was glaring at a rusty, red lawnmower that wouldn’t start no matter how many times he yanked the cord.
“You own this place?”
“Nah.” Chip brushed his sun-bleached hair out of his eyes leaving a grease smudge on his forehead. “It’s my parents’. They’re in Taylor Falls visiting Aunt Silvia.”
“In that case how’d you like to make some money?”
Chip regarded the thin man with the sharp nose and chin. He didn’t quite trust the stranger but earning some easy money would sure as hell beat wasting his summer working at Ross’s Shoes. He looked at the van. It was past its prime but Amy, the blonde in the passenger’s seat, certainly wasn’t.
“Tell me more,” Chip said.
Once Chip agreed, it didn’t take Nate long to round up an audience. By 6:30 over thirty men crowded the Henderson’s walk-out basement after paying fifty dollars apiece. Because the house sat on a hill, the backyard sloped away, allowing the customers to enter directly through the side door without going through the upstairs. Chip had traded part of his share of the money for a seat on a wooden chair next to Dave Reilly. How could he pass up the opening night?
“You think he’ll fuck her in the ass?” Reilly asked. “I want to see him make that bitch suck his dick after he fucks her in the ass.”
Chip looked past Reilly to the painted concrete wall as if avoiding his eyes could make his meanness go away. Then the show began Chip turned to the cot set up in the center of the room.
“Sex! Coitus! The act of love!” Nate stepped out of his plush bathrobe and stood naked in front of the audience. “Fifteen hundred years ago the sages of India perfected the art of pleasure. Tonight, we will share some of the teachings they recorded in the Kamasutra.”
Chip glanced at Nate’s flaccid, uncircumcised penis, a big Italian sausage so different from his own. It began growing hard as soon as Amy made her way through the crowd to stand by her partner. She wore a dark blue robe decorated with sings of the zodiac, and her braless breasts jogged and rocked under the silk with each step.
“Often a woman can experience more pleasure when the man enters from behind.” Amy faced the audience and let the robe slip off her shoulders.
Her eyes locked on Chip’s and he was afraid to look at her body until she looked away. What a body! It was everything Chip had dreamed about – round breasts, belly flat as a drumhead except from the bulge below her navel, and dark pubic hair shaved into a tiny oval. She walked a few steps and bent over supporting her weight with her palms resting against the wall. Nate came up from behind and slid into her as if she were a pair of tight leather pants. A guy in front stood, blocking Chip’s view. All he could see was the strand of hair that fell over Amy’s forehead and how her flushed face rocked with Nate’s motion while she uttered tiny moans with each thrust.
Chip admired Amy’s shapely calves and even how her feet made contact with the concrete patio in the backyard.
“Hey, you missed a spot!” Chip pointed to a patch of long grass by the birdbath and the high-school student he’d hired swung the mower around for another pass.
Supervising gave Chip an excuse to hang around on the patio while Amy practiced yoga. She’d done her hair in a thick braid that lay over one shoulder close to where the straps of her lavender top crossed her back in an X. Chip ignored the spiritual aspect of her practice, concentrating instead on Amy’s womanly form, the flare of her hips, two ridges of muscle beside her spine, and the exposed skin on the small of her back made dewy with perspiration. How he longed to place his lips there and taste that sweet nectar.
“I’m not paying you to stand around and stare,” Chip told the high-school student. “Get back to work.” Chip turned to Amy and lowered his voice. “Sorry. Those teenagers are so immature.”
Amy nodded. “Would you go get my suntan lotion, Honey?” She squeezed Chip’s forearm before returning to her poses. “It’s in the bedroom in my purse.”
“Sure.” He circled the house to enter the basement.
His parents had set up a bedroom and living area for him down there. Chip had thought it better to sleep upstairs while his “guests” stayed below. Amy’s hemp purse was sitting on the floor next to his unmade bed. Chip removed a worn copy of the Kamasutra from inside and found a tube of sunscreen underneath. There was also a wad of cash even larger than the one Nate had given him and a tan plastic case for Amy’s diaphragm. Chip turned it over in his hands and imagined the latex disk riding inside her next to her womb. He returned everything to Amy’s purse except for the sunscreen and headed outside. He was in a good mood. There was a beautiful girl to admire and he had money in his pocket. If things kept going the way they were, he could pick up over two thousand dollars before his parents got back home. When he got to the door, a half dozen policemen were waiting.
That Sunday Pastor Robert Keneally took his place at the pulpit of the Grover’s Corners Community Church. The air conditioning had failed and several women in the congregation tugged at bra straps and fanned their cleavage with the church newsletter. Pastor Keneally was a handsome man in his early sixties with an aquiline nose and full head of graying hair. These along with his reading glasses gave him an air of serious scholarship. Despite the heat his robe, purple ecclesiastical stole, and the white cloth draped over the lectern projected an image of immaculacy.
“I see that Al Gore has won the Nobel Peace Prize,” he said.
A few of the congregation snickered.
“It’s a pity, really. He spends all his time talking about air pollution and none talking about moral pollution.”
Reed Walker fidgeted in a back pew and glanced at the exit. Could he slip out without being noticed? The pastor’s descriptions of God’s Love were pure poetry but Reed couldn’t stand his hardcore conservative rants. Sometimes Reed wondered why he came at all. If only they hadn’t been so supportive when Sylvia had left him…
“I’m talking about pornography,” the pastor said. “Just this week police arrested a nineteen-year-old boy for hosting a live sex show. Nineteen years old. Live sex show.” Pastor Keneally paused to let his words set in. “And if you think that’s not a big deal, consider this. Over ninety-five percent of child molesters started out by viewing pornography. Ninety-five percent. One in four girls will be molested by the age of eighteen. One in four.
“What about rape? Titillated by sexual imaged on TV, intoxicated by smut in movies, and brainwashed by our secular society into viewing women as sexual objects, it’s no wonder these men think they can take away a woman’s most precious possession.”
“That’s not true!” a woman in a middle pew said. “Rape is a crime of violence, not lust.”
Along with everyone else Reed stared at the slim brunette in the dark pantsuit. He hadn’t seen her there before. The rectangular lenses of her glasses were larger than the pastor’s giving her an even greater air of intellectual authority. Like an avenging archangel Pastor Keneally leaned forward from his pulpit and peered down at this, this upstart.
“You don’t think young girls dressed like prostitutes are inviting trouble?” he asked.
“That’s exactly what the Taliban says. ‘It’s women’s fault if they get attacked. Put ‘em in burkas for their own protection, of course.’ Well, no thanks!” The woman stood. “When I have a daughter, I’ll teach her not to be ashamed of her body.” Ignoring the eyes burning holes in her back she walked slowly out the door.
Reed stared with everyone else. What a woman! No one had ever stood up to Pastor Keneally before.
“Let us pray.” Pastor Keneally bowed his head. “Lord, give us the strength to defeat this assault on our community. And though some refuse to heed Your Message through Your Mercy bring the light of truth to all that wander in sin so that they may see the error of their ways…”
Bang! Reed gaped at the red hymnal he’d thrown into the aisle, not quite believing he’d done it. He’d seen something noble in that outspoken woman and he’d be damned if he’d let that preacher slander her character. Reed stood. Lacking any other means to show his outrage, he kicked the hymn book and followed it out the door. Shocked by his disrespect he wanted to pick up the book but feared the congregation would interpret that as a lack of commitment. Instead he hurried to catch up with the woman who’d stood up to the preacher.
Heels clicking on the sidewalk she walked past the overcrowded parking lot and continued down Elm. Distracted by the chase Reed didn’t notice Eric Jensen, Pastor Keneally’s apprentice, following him. Reed caught up the woman when she stopped at a crossing light next to a newspaper kiosk.
“That was a brave thing you did back there,” he said.
“Absolutely, somebody needed to tell that, that windbag off.”
When the woman grimaced at the word windbag, Reed turned. Eric was standing behind him. His face showed no anger.
“This whole affair has gotten everybody in town upset,” Eric said. “Why don’t you two come back and talk it over with the pastor after he finishes the service?”
“I don’t think so,” the outspoken woman said.
“Why not?” Eric asked.
“I thought your church would be different but it’s the same old patriarchal bullshit. A woman’s body is a base, sinful thing and rape victims are asking for it because they dress like sluts. Fuck off!” She held up her hand to stop oncoming traffic and dashed across the street against the light.
“I guess we all could use a few days to cool off,” Eric said. “Before you go, is there anything I can tell Pastor Keneally about this? Some way we can better meet your needs?”
“His sermon was a bit much. I mean, it’s not the nineteenth century for God’s sake.” Reed looked at the kiosk to avoid Eric’s eyes. The cover picture on the newsprint magazine showed a naked woman with dangling tits crouching as if doing it doggy style. Reed blushed and looked away. “I guess I want my church to accept the deepest part of my nature and say it’s okay.”
Eric’s eyes drifted to the fly of the vulnerable lamb’s slacks. The unwanted image of Reed’s warm cock in his mouth hovered in his mind. Eric stretched the rubber band on his wrist and let it snap to feel the pain. It didn’t help.
“Jesus accepts you just as you are.” Eric looked at the sidewalk. “But that doesn’t mean you can give in to sin.”
Two weeks later Reed shivered under an air-conditioning vent in a courtroom with dozens of other potential jurors. While the judge delivered his welcoming speech, Reed’s competitors were swarming after the CTC account. Reed’s fingers strayed to the inactive cell phone on his belt. His only consolation was that the outspoken woman, he’d last seen leaving the church, was sitting in the prosecutor’s chair. This time she wore a neat, blue jacket and matching skirt.
A man with a Supercuts pompadour and features sharp enough to cut a silk scarf sat at the defense table with his heavyset, balding lawyer. A dark suit, clearly bought from a department store for the trial, hung loosely from the defendant’s bony frame.
Soon it was time for the lawyers to introduce themselves. The prosecutor put on her glasses, stood, and walked over to the potential jurors. Her jacket showed off her hourglass figure and her skirt revealed enough leg to get Reed’s attention. He imagined lifting it over her waist and burying his hands in her pantyhose.
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Lindsey Johnson with the County Attorney’s office. I’ll be presenting the people’s case against Mr. Priestly who’s charged with three counts of performing lewd acts in public.
“Most of us have seen R-rated movies and no doubt some of you have watched adult videos in hotel rooms. Believe me. The County Attorney isn’t interested in regulating what you view in private. This case isn’t about that. It’s about a live-sex show held in a home five blocks from an elementary school.
“Some of you may be asking, ‘What’s the big deal? It’s a victimless crime.’ Wrong! There’s one group of victims no one speaks for, the women who are forced to take part in these degrading activities. We will show that like many naïve young women Amy Tibbett moved to Hollywood with the dream of a career in entertainment. When her money ran low, she applied to a modeling agency run by Mr. Priestly. You can imagine how it went from there. ‘Would you object to some topless photos?’ Then nude. Then a hardcore video and her first experience with anal intercourse. And finally traveling the country putting on sex shows in front of leering crowds.
“It’s time to draw the line against this kind of exploitation. You can strike a blow for decency right here in Grover’s Corners. Thank you.”
Reed’s eyes followed Lindsey back to her chair. After she sat down, the defense attorney stood.
“Quite a sad story. Isn’t it? A young woman forced into sexual slavery. Any decent person would want to stop that kind of thing. I would. But that’s not what this trial’s about. My client isn’t charged with kidnapping or pandering. He hasn’t been charged with these offenses because there’s no evidence he committed them. Instead my client is being charged with lewd behavior for performing an act that many of us find embarrassing but is far from sexual slavery. All I ask is that you remain calm, avoid hysteria, and keep an open mind. Thank you.”
“To begin, do any potential jurors know the defendant or any of the attorneys?” the judge asked.
Reed raised his hand. “The prosecutor and I used to attend the same church.”
“Thank you. You’re dismissed. Please see the jury coordinator on your way out.”
A block away from the Top Notch Tavern Eric Jensen’s heart began to race as if he were running a marathon. To get to the gay bar’s entrance the pastor’s apprentice had to walk a gauntlet of short-haired men, only men, smoking cigarettes and leering at him. He paused, took a breath, and pushed open the door.
Late in the afternoon the phone rang in Lindsey Johnson’s office.
“Lindsey, this is Reed Walker. We got thrown out of church together.”
“Why Mr. Walker, how nice to hear from you.” Like a cat toying with the string on a helium balloon, she wound the phone cord around her index finger.
“I hope you don’t mind me calling. I got your number from the courthouse operator.”
“Not at all.” Lindsey kicked off her high heels and leaned back in her leather chair. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this call?”
Chip Henderson touched the wrinkled sheet on the cot where Amy had sweated and writhed weeks earlier. Somehow after the arrest no one had thought to remove it from the basement. He moved his face closer to look at the threads in the light blue cotton. He knew he should strip the bed, wash away the stains from the lovers’ bodies, and put it all behind him just like he did with the plea bargain that kept him out of jail. But he couldn’t let go of her flushed skin and ecstatic face, an image that would follow him like the entry in the sex-offender database for the rest of his life.
Ganesha Lightwave hosts San Diego’s Gelato Poetry Series and is an editor of the San Diego Poetry Annual. He has published over two hundred poems in journals such as The New Orphic Review, Pearl, Pudding, and Slipstream. He has also published over fifty short stories in journals such as Space and Time, Zahir, and Tales of the Talisman. He has a Ph.D. in physics and is a longtime student of Buddhism and the martial arts. One of his poems won second place in the 2007 African American Writers and Artists contest. Another had a link on the Car Talk website.
Like so many of the heartbroken, I found my own way to deal with the loss of my wife. I didn’t know if her betrayal caused some short circuit in my brain and it broke me. I really didn’t want to have sex with her very often before she had her affair, but once I found out that she was fucking someone else, I had to have her. So, I found myself standing outside a window of the big old home we recently shared. I was on the outside looking in like a forgotten dog let out that would more likely be picked up by the dog catcher than let back in the house.
I tried to peer through the semi-sheer curtains in the living room on the side of the house. The lamp in front of the window on the end table next to the couch was turned on. Beyond the lamp I could also see that the TV was on. I could feel my heart beating throughout my whole body. I had to keep taking deep breaths, and I thought I was going to have an asthma attack, so I took a puff of my inhaler. It was a warm humid summer night, the aftermath of a rain storm, but I was shivering uncontrollably. My legs shook like Barney Fife’s.
Why was I doing this? If I couldn’t have sex with my wife anymore, did I want to see her get banged by this guy? This fantasy wasn’t new. During the last couple of years of my marriage, while I avoided having sex with my wife, I was more interested in fantasizing about another man fucking the shit out of her. Her perpetual whining and complaining merited this kind of discipline. But in my fantasy I wanted her to enjoy it, so I’m not so sure it was a discipline for her. I really wasn’t so sure what it was about, except it was further evidence of the state of my own mental health. I guess got what I asked for. My life had played out like the cliché of some weird morality story, “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.” The deviant nature of the protagonist, me, a voyeuristic cuckold, was like an anti-hero, a nemesis for a super hero like Batman. I felt a darkness in me that was akin to the super anti-hero, the Joker. With villains there’s a masochistic, as much as a sadistic, nature. Villains inflict pain on themselves prior to, and while in the process of, inflicting pain on others. Both villains and super heroes constantly experience pain on some level, but it obviously motivates them differently.
As I strained to see through the window, I didn’t feel any sexual excitement at the prospect of seeing my wife having sex with another man. I felt an anxiety with a level of energy that had to be pathological. It was excruciating, infuriating, and sad. This was nothing like the fantasies I had.
I couldn’t see anyone in the living room. It looked like they had gone to bed in a hurry and left the TV on. I stepped away from the house to view the upstairs bedroom windows. There were two of them and they faced the street. I could see dim light through the pulled shades. I imagined them doing all kinds of kinky things with the lights on. He was a guy that liked to watch.
The porch roof was below the windows. I had been up there at least twice a year: in the fall to put on the storm windows and in the spring to take them off and put on the screens. There was a ladder in the shed in the back. I could have been up there in minutes, but I don’t think I would have gone unnoticed by the passing cars on the street, as I hunched like a gargoyle on the porch roof late in the night with my nose pressed against the bedroom window.
I still had a key to the house. I walked around to the backyard. I stepped onto the deck, and the wood creaked and the nails squeaked. To my ears it was extremely loud. My senses were heightened, so everything seemed exaggerated.
I looked through the window in the door. The light was on, but no one was in the kitchen. There was an open pizza box on the counter by the dishwasher. I put my hand on the doorknob and it turned which meant it was unlocked. While I stood there for a second wondering if I should go in, I heard the pounding of footsteps along the side of the house. Before I had a chance to decide what to do, I saw some young guy launch himself over the six foot wood fence dividing the front yard and back. Right behind, and I mean, right behind him, a cop flew over the fence and tackled the guy immediately. Both the young cop and the guy panted heavily. The chase must have gone on for a while. To this young guy’s misfortune he had a physically fit cop chase him. Most of the cops I’ve seen in town or have been stopped by for a traffic violation were sporting a donut shop gut. I don’t think one of these guys would have made it over the fence.
After the cop had the cuffs on this guy, he noticed me standing on the deck watching everything. “Where’s the gate?” he asked, still breathing heavily.
“Over there,” I said and pointed to the one leading to the alley.
“Thanks,” he said and then led his suspect away.
“Holy shit,” I said to myself. I didn’t believe in signs. And I didn’t have much belief in god, but this was surely serendipitous. I might get away with entering my own house, which was now off limits to me, and in doing so discover whatever might be going on inside there and then do whatever I might end up doing, but I could also become the prey as this young man had, rather the predator I just realized I was. I quickly left through the same gate the cop had. Now completely paranoid, thinking I might hear, “Stop police!” I headed to my car. Once I was there I figured I was home free. I parked two blocks from the house, and it was, to my memory, the longest and most terrifying two blocks I ever walked. The entire way I chastised myself for my actions. I could have just stayed home feeling the pain my adulterous wife caused, but no, I had to escalate the situation with panic and fear. Apparently it wasn’t enough for me to wallow in the cesspool of spurned love. I had to risk going to jail for being a peeping Tom, a voyeur, or maybe worse, if I had mustered the courage to play out one of my hate fantasies and bash her boyfriend’s head in with any available blunt object once I was inside the house. “Oh, shut the fuck up,” I said to myself, “you don’t have the balls for that.” Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t.
I made it to my car, and at the last moment before I turned the key and drove away, I feared a tap on my window from the police, but it didn’t happen. The entire way home, I looked in my rear view mirror anticipating the unmistakable flashing red and blue lights of the law. It didn’t happen, but even after I was inside my apartment, which never felt more inviting, where I never felt more grateful to be, I still experienced anguish at the thought of a knock on my door. It never came, and a couple hours later while I was watching TV I realized I felt safe. I smiled to myself, knowing my life was no different now than it was before I decided to stalk my soon to be ex-wife, and it wasn’t a bad thing.
My phone rang. It was Angelo. We had been friends since high school, and now it almost twenty years since then. He had recently broken up with his girlfriend and was going through the hardship and insanity of his own break up. We talked a lot, supporting each other, listening to each other’s ranting.
I immediately heard how distraught he was. “I just spent the last hour sitting in the bushes at Jane’s house. I’m all scratched up and bit up by mosquitoes. She has some guy over there.”
Strangely, I didn’t know what to say. The image of my short Italian friend hunched in the bushes below his girlfriend’s window, as sharp twigs scraped at him and buzzing mosquitoes fed on him, made me want to laugh. I covered the mouth piece of my phone, as I suppressed my laughter but not completely. I had to pull it together quickly. I’m not quite sure why I thought it was so funny, except maybe it was that I wasn’t so bad that I got all scratched up in thorny bushes and eaten up by mosquitoes.
“I know what that’s like, man,” I said. “You know that behavior just makes things worse. Doesn’t it?”
“Ah shit. I just can’t seem to help it. Damn it, I could have gotten arrested,” he said.
“What were you expecting to see?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I didn’t see anything.”
“What if you did? What would you have done?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Probably nothing.”
“Seeing is believing. I guess we just want to know that it’s really over,” I said.
“Yeah, could be. I still feel like shit,” Angelo groaned.
“Well, just be grateful you’re not in jail,” I said. Next time I would have a better plan. Next time I would jack off and ejaculate on the side of the house, rubbing my cock on the warm brick, marking my territory. Next time I would have the balls to do something else.
Mike Sharlow lives in a small city on the Mississippi River. He's had three novels published. His current goal is to have 100 stories published. He has 97 to go.
The front door of my dad’s house is a storefront gate, like many of the other
front doors in North Vietnam. But unlike a normal gate’s purpose of keeping
people from coming in or going out, it’s only slightly closed at night, to show
people that the two shops at the house’s entrance are closed. The gate is never
locked, in case a family member has to enter or exit. There’s an unspoken
understanding that if you don’t live there, then you shouldn’t come in when the
gates are visible.
At the front of the house is a mini snack shop that
sells things like chewing gum, chips, and cigarettes. The items are either set
up on a low table or hung from a nail on the wall. The shopkeepers rent the
spaces for their businesses. At the end of the day, they pack up their
commodities and go home. Behind the mini snack shop is a glass counter filled
with medicine, which is run by other renters. To call it a pharmacy is an
overstatement because you don’t need a prescription to buy anything. Whatever it
is, it must be legal because it’s been in business for as long as my dad can
Only a wall separates these shops from the rest of the house,
but it doesn’t stop people from wandering in farther than they’re welcome.
People regularly pop in to watch TV in the space that is considered the living
The gate, the shops, and the lack of privacy could appear
bewildering to a Việt Kiều, or Vietnamese person living outside the
motherland, like me.
As if it wasn’t hard enough to process the front
half of the house, the back of the house was even more confusing.
Besides the absence of bedroom doors and windows throughout the house, it lacked a
modern bathroom, a bathtub, sink, and flush toilet. There was an open space
towards the back of the house, with a cement floor intended for bathing. After
undressing, you used your dominant hand to scoop cold water from a well with a
pot, and your other hand to clean yourself as efficiently and quickly as
possible, before the waterfall you created ran out. If you were serious about
your hygiene like me, you’d force yourself to ask somebody to pour water on you
while you washed your exposed body with both hands.
There was a roofless section of the house with a drain and hose for hand washing clothes and
hanging them up to dry, and for urinating. Since there was no toilet paper or
trash bin around, it was clear you had to wash yourself with the hose when you
The only room with a door was what could only be called The
Poop Room. I was relieved when I first saw this door because I thought I’d
finally see something else familiar, something I assumed to be a worldwide
commonality: a flush toilet. The door was a bonus, since privacy seemed to be
such a rarity in Vietnam. I even got the good kind of chills just thinking about
how I planned on relieving myself here in privacy for the entire month we were
staying. But when I pulled open the wooden door, the chills turned into
Where was the light switch? And more importantly, where was the
toilet? The cement stairs leading up to the wooden door were a little
suspicious, but I didn’t expect to see what I saw. Behind the door was a dark
space, no bigger than two by three feet. In the middle of this cement-surrounded
space was a hole that you had to carefully position yourself over, to fill with
whatever you can manage to get out of your system while balancing yourself,
holding your breath, and trying not to get your underwear and pants
The Poop Room smelled like a combination of dank cement walls,
excrement rising from below, and the smell of your own repulsion. It sounded
like a mixture of hollow sounds produced from the closed-in space and the
orchestra conducted by your very own bowels, and sometimes the sound of yourself
gagging. As for the other two senses, taste and touch, it’s best to just forget
about those altogether.
It’s a good thing my siblings and I speak English to each other out of habit because if our family knew what we were saying, they would’ve shunned our parents for raising such ignorant children.
Our cousins were shocked to see our reaction as we stood outside The Poop Room.
In hopes of hiding our disgust and shock, we asked them questions, like, “How
deep is the hole? How do we flush? What are some strategies? What happens if the
hole is filled? Who cleans it out? Why isn’t there light?” These questions came
as a surprise to them because these were questions they’d never heard,
explanations they’d never given.
When we were done pompously interrogating them and they were done proudly answering us, they turned the
tables and asked, “How do YOU shit?”
I explained to them in my best
Vietnamese, “We sit on a white chair with a hole filled with water in the middle
that sucks in your pee and poop when you’re finished.” My response created
hilarity. They laughed at us. In our own way, we laughed at them, too.
The language barrier and intimidation made it difficult for us to bond with our
cousins. We only spoke Vietnamese to adults, so it was both uncomfortable and
unusual for us to stray from our tendencies. But the adults demanded us to
fraternize. When we began to speak the language with our cousins, we found out
they’d made a lot of funny assumptions about America, based on movies and TV
shows they’d seen. They thought Americans were wasteful because they supposedly
threw bowls and utensils away after each meal instead of washing and reusing
them. I’m not sure where they’d seen this, but it was as untrue as my assumption
that everyone in Vietnam rode in bike taxis and wore bamboo hats. They also
couldn’t understand why people left their cars outside for people to steal, not
knowing that American cars are alarmed, locked, and weigh 4,000 pounds. Of
course they had more stereotypes about America than we had of Vietnam, because
we don’t see modern day Vietnam in movies or TV shows as often as they see
A few weeks after we settled into our new living environment,
we took some family members to a beach with us for a weekend. We rented a van,
which gave everyone motion sickness, since motorcycles and bicycles are the main
forms of transportation in Vietnam. When we got to our hotel room, everyone
needed to vomit, except for us Việt Kiềus, who decided the people who
needed to pee should use the bathroom first. Since everyone was unaccustomed to
locking doors and doors in general, my cousin left the bathroom door unlocked,
which made me assume it was vacant.
Before my cousin opened the bathroom door, he probably had an image of what would be inside. There would be
a glorious hole where he could dump his nausea.
Before I opened the door, I expected to see a slightly cleaner version of the hole like the one in
The Poop Room. Instead, I was greeted by the vision of my cousin, squatting,
with a foot on each side of the flush toilet that was unfamiliar to him. He was
holding his nose as if it were the same smelly hole he’d been using all his
life. My siblings and I had an even greater laugh than my cousins had weeks
Either he’d forgotten my response to his “How do YOU shit?” or
he was too accustomed to his own way and preferred his regimen. Either way, his
position on the toilet proved that it wasn’t because the area where he lived was
poor and they couldn't afford a modern bathroom. It was because they were
accustomed to their own ways, just as we were accustomed to ours. We simply
found each other strange, and ourselves normal.
Regardless of how differently everyone poops, we’re all full of shit and we all need to get rid of
it in one way or another.
Amy Leu is a recent English major graduate from Emmanuel College in Boston.
Her works of creative nonfiction are the love children of her two desires: to
relive and share her collection of stories, which others may typically call
"life." When she is not balancing school with her non-career-related jobs, she
is exploring and inventing new laying positions in order to comfortably read
both panels of books on Oprah's Book Club List.
There was a small, blue house at the end of Swallow Lane. The house was uninhabited. The whole neighborhood knew why, but they never talked about it, except in whispers, behind closed doors, in their own homes. It happened a month ago, but these things are not easily forgotten. Still they talked. They talked about the hordes of police cars that swarmed around the blue house, and took up the entire street. They recalled the FBI agents, the forensics trucks, the eight hour investigation, and all the news cameras. They also talked about the poor father, who had paid for the house in full as a gift. Most of all, they talked about the person to whom this gift was given: the man’s son. His name was Greggory Tsidkenu, but none of the neighbors called him that. To them, he would forever be known as Bomb Guy.
The house sat in its place at the end of Swallow Lane undisturbed for some time. Nobody knew who now owned the property. Bomb Guy certainly didn’t. His father could, possibly, or perhaps the government. No matter whom it was that owned the house though, one thing was certain: at the moment, it was empty. Eventually, as anyone would have predicted it, the idea to break in and explore entered a citizen of the neighborhood’s mind. It happened to be a member of a small group of young teenagers on skateboards.
The house was easy enough to break into, there were no bars or boards on any of the windows, and there didn’t appear to be any sort of cameras or alarm system. The children met up by Bomb Guy’s house at night, broke one of the back, bottom level windows, tore the screen out, and got themselves right in.
At first the exploration was a dreadful disappointment. The dwelling was almost completely empty, although there was one bedroom that still had some furniture in it. The kids wondered if Bomb Guy’s father felt he couldn’t stand to bother it. They’d all heard of how proud he had been of his son before the unfortunate event. They speculated on the weirdness of grown-ups, and laughed together. It was not long after that, that the shortest, skinniest one took a peek under the bed, and found something that was anything but uninteresting. It appeared to be some sort of book, but upon picking it up and opening it, they realized that the book was a journal. The journal of Bomb Guy.
They made off with it. Once they were back on the street there followed a fierce argument over who would be taking the journal home to read first. In the end, the boy who found it won, and he snuck back to his house with the prize.
His joy was short-lived. He had an overbearing mother who still refused to trust him with the vast responsibility of getting up, dressed, and ready to go to school on time; even if he was thirteen years old. During this mundane routine, she discovered the journal under his bed while she was picking up his dirty clothes for him. The journal was hardback and had a brown, leather book jacket on it. She knew she had never purchased such a thing for him, and immediately began to question him. After a five minute interrogation, she declared him to be grounded. She also said that the journal must be turned over to the police system.
She left her son to have a miserable day at school with his enraged friends while she drove the journal down to the police station. The police officers gave it to the FBI, who at once began to read it. They were hopeful that such a document would offer insight to the why and how of the criminal mind. Upon opening it though, they realized that it wasn’t quite a journal, but a series of letters to someone called Alexander. This was the first page:
November 24th, 2008
I do not know how I keep having all this good luck. Well, then again, of course I do. It all comes from you. I know that. What I meant was, I don’t know how you manage it. First my father buys me a house completely free to me, then I meet these two idiots who say they’re willing to pay me rent to live in the extra bedrooms. They pay me rent while I live free! Isn’t that something? Better yet, I just got a full-ride scholarship for Washington University. I guess I won’t be going to Lindenwood next semester. Not that Lindenwood is a total waste. How many other schools would forget to lock down the lab more than once? And they might even forget to lock it a few more times before the semester’s over – but I guess we’re not sure if we should take advantage of it again. Got to keep appearances up you know.
November 26th, 2008
The first boarder has moved in. Nathon’s his name, I forget his last. He had the nerve to complain about there being no furniture in his room. Oh, I can still hear his whining, complaining voice in my head! Shut up, shut up, shut up! For crying out loud, why didn’t he bring his own stupid furniture?
I don’t know where the other guy is. He left me a message saying something about spending Thanksgiving with family. I just hope he’ll pay the full amount at the end of the month. I need to buy more supplies.
November 27th, 2008
Nathon’s already getting to be a nuisance. I heard him sneak out of my house at like two in the morning. I should have gotten up and spied on him, but I was too tired. How could I have been so stupid? I hope you’ll forgive me. But anyway, I’ll bet he sells drugs. He looks like he would. He’s got that stupid long hair and baggy jeans. He smokes constantly too. If he’s selling drugs, it’ll attract the cops. We can’t have that. Oh, and he’s got a dog too. A big, brown, ugly one. It scares Peek-a-boo, and I don’t blame her. It behaves like a brute and weighs about a hundred pounds. I had the misfortune of finding that last bit out myself when the thing jumped on me. About knocked me out. I demanded that he get rid of it, but he said he’d pay more to be allowed to keep it. I had to agree, I’m running short on food money.
November 28th, 2008
The other guy moved in. His name is Yates, I forget his first name. At least he brought furniture. I don’t think I could listen to more of that crap.
That idiotic database screening job is becoming increasingly tedious. They really don’t pay me enough. The only reason I’ve put up with it this long is because it lets me work from home.
I’m waiting for you, Alexander. When are you going to come over in person again? When? I need you now, Alexander. I don’t even know why I’m putting this in here. You don’t hear me, do you? Do you Alexander?! But what can I do? I ‘m frustrated. I can’t stand the frustration! You won’t let me call, you won’t let me e-mail, you won’t let me come to your house, you won’t let me do anything! This is all I can do! But I need you, Alexander. I need you to tell me when I can do it again.
Because I need to do it again. I need to. If I don’t, I don’t know what I’ll do. I know I need to wait for you to tell me it’s safe, so I’ll wait for you. I will. But I almost can’t stand it. That’s all. Almost can’t stand it. I need it . I need the boom. Everything should go boom, that’s what you told me. Everything should go boom. Boom. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!
(It was here that the agents noted that even the idea of writing "boom" must have greatly excited him, for every time the word appeared, it was written so badly that it was hardly legible.)
November 29th, 2008
Nathon was out at night again. This time I looked, and I saw him talking to someone in a black car. The person never came out of the car, so I have no description to offer you. Looks like drugs though.
I might as well do it. I wasn’t going to, I’ll admit it, I wasn’t going to, but I will. I must confess to you that I went down there. Yes, in our basement, I went down there. But I didn’t do anything. Before you crumple this paper all up, I didn’t do anything! I only looked at them. Especially the C-4s, the new ones you helped me steal nine days ago. I didn’t do anything, but I wanted to, oh, I wanted to.
I don’t know how much longer I can stand this! Don’t you remember your promise? Don’t you remember what you said? But you can’t hear this! You don’t know! I need to hear her progress again. I need to hear the boom. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!
December 1st, 2008
Thank you! Thank you, thank you for coming! I do not know why you didn’t want to look at my letters, but fine, Alexander, fine. I don’t care! I’m just glad we did it. I’m just glad we got it done. I don’t know how you got Nathon and Yates to go away, but you did.
You never tell me how much longer, though. You never tell me how much longer it will take for her to come back. But I can see that is isn’t going to be long now. I can almost see her. I can see her face in the flames. I can see her hair in the smoke. Her long, flowing, wavy, gorgeous hair! It’s in the smoke! The boom is her and she is the boom!
December 3rd, 2008
Nathon must die. He’s doing unthinkable, unforgivable things! Horrible things! He’s questioning. He’s letting thoughts of questions enter his mind. Why, Alexander? Why aren’t you stopping him? He wanted to know why I was in our basement for so long.
I know you told me how suspicious that would look, and I know you told me not to ever do it, but our plans were taking longer than I thought. It wasn’t supposed to take more than fifteen minutes. If I had known that it was going to end up taking more than an hour and a half, I would have waited ‘til the rat was asleep. You know I would!
But anyway, I told him never to go in our basement from the very beginning, just like you told me. But he was looking hungrily at it. When I came out and he asked me what I was doing, he looked at our basement door, and it was a hungry look. I think he wanted to go in there. I know he wanted to. I have to watch him constantly. But how am I supposed to do that? School isn’t out for another two days! Who knows what all he’ll have done by then? For a manager, he sure doesn’t work often enough. Does that strike you as fishy? I don’t see why he has to be such a bum At least Yates’s job keeps him out all day.
I told him that I wasn’t doing anything. But I don’t think he believed me.
December 6th, 2008
Thank you for coming over again. And thank you for reading my letters. Of course I will continue them. As you said yourself, they are a very valuable source of accurate information. I don’t know why you didn’t want to take them with you, but I suppose it’s best that they all stay in one place.
I’ve done everything that you advised. I’ve clearly hidden all the chemicals, silencers, tear gas, dynamite, and every other explosive we constructed together. So even if that busy-body, Nathon does break in, he won’t see a thing. You were right about the lock, it’d look too strange.
There’s a problem though. You know that wardrobe box you told me to store all the used, burned explosives in? Well, it’s getting full. It’ll overflow soon. What should I do?
December 7th, 2008
I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve already thought of a solution. I hope you like it. If you don’t, just don’t blame me. It isn’t my fault. You know it isn’t. Something had to be done now, and you just weren’t here. Why weren’t you here?
Whatever. I’ll tell you what I did. I paid some numbskull to dig a hole for me. I know it sounds like a very important job to trust a numbskull with, but I gave him careful instructions. I told him the hole must be three feet wide, and at least fifteen feet deep. He actually did it right. I had to pay him a couple hundred bucks, but it was worth it. I couldn’t do it myself, I can’t get sick and I need to maintain my quiet, squeaky clean image with the neighbors. I couldn’t let them see me come home really early in the morning, covered in mud and slush. Quiet, and squeaky clean, that’s how you get people to never suspect that you’d do anything unlawful. Of course, I do realize that our noble work shouldn’t even be thought of as "unlawful." Everything should go boom.
Anyway, I drove out in the dead of the night with a ladder strapped to my truck, and I piled the burned explosives into the hole. It only took a few minutes, the numbskull left all the dirt mounds in close proximity. No one will ever find them.
December 8th, 2008
I blew something up. I know we didn’t have anything planned. It was an accident. But the explosion was lovely. I could feel her presence getting closer, that’s how wonderful it was. I saw the sparks within the flames, and the dancing white streaks of light waving through it. They were her eyes, the light shining through her eyes. I’m sure of it.
Something else good happened, too. got a hold of a piece of Nathon’s mail. Hey, it’s really my mailbox. He got some kind of notice telling him to go to some place for his monthly testing. I don’t know. The point is, Nathon’s on probation. So if he keeps up this drug stuff, he’ll get caught while he’s at the courthouse or whatever No cops swarming in on me.
December 10th, 2008
Nathon knows. He came right in when I was making some carbon monoxide (you know how we’ve been trying to find a way to store some in a grenade). It must have been way more potent than I thought, because he started to feel the effects immediately. I had a mask nearby. He didn’t. He passed out on the floor. I stuck him in one of my empty wardrobe boxes for now. He’ll probably wake up in a couple hours. I’ll make up some lie to tell Yates, but that can’t work forever. I can’t even call his probation people on him, he looks like a snitch. I need you now, Alexander!
December 11th, 2008
Everything you said made perfect sense. I threatened him, and I got creative. I hope this is good enough: “I’ll strap a bomb to each one of your limbs. One on your leg, one on your other leg, and one on each arm. Then I’ll light them, and they’ll blow all your limbs off, but you’ll still be alive! You won’t die. Well, not at first. You’ll stay alive long enough to be in agony, terrible agony, for – for I don’t even know how long! Hours probably. Yeah, hours.” Yeah, I said something like that. Do you think that’s good enough?
Right now, I’m keeping him in the attic. He’s not allowed out. I told him so. I’m sure he doesn’t want to be blown up. BOOM! I’m going to buy a master lock for the door though, just in case.
December 13th, 2008
I told Yates that Nathon moved out, simple as that. And he did, in a way. His boss called me all yelling and hysterical, but I just told him that Nathon moved to Alaska. I’m laughing evilly right now, and you don’t know it.
But that dog of Nathon’s is a real burden. I put it in the attic with its Neanderthal of an owner, but the beast still barks all the time. I don’t know how much longer Yates will believe it’s coming from outside.
If he starts asking questions, I could always club him over the head, and stick him up in the attic, too.
Just remind me to feed him tonight, would you? Dead bodies smell.
December 14th, 2008
I am furious! I know you are too, but I didn’t get a chance to tell you how angry I truly was! I was so mad! I’m still really mad! Stupid, whimpering, fool that Nathon is! You had the grace to come into his disgusting presence with me last night, the grace! And what did he do? He completely ignored you! Did you see the way he wouldn’t even acknowledge your questions? The nerve! And then he had the audacity to interrupt our conversation to ask me right in front of you who I was talking to! What an outrage. Is he stupid, or just blind? Maybe he’s both. I’ve never even dreamed such a useless human being could exist!
And thanks again for giving me the newspaper idea. I don’t know what I would have done with that animal. Maybe we can blow it up.
You know what else I’ve been thinking? Motive. It’s kind of exciting. If I ever do get caught by the cops, I want to have a really good motive. A motive that will just blow them away. It won’t be true of, course. I’d never tell them my true motive, but I still want to tell them one. I’ll say it’s Michigan. Yeah, the state. I’ll say it’s the finger I don’t like. You know how Michigan is shaped like a glove? Well, I hate that finger part- or the thumb. Whatever. I hate it. It’d look better without it. So, my goal is to gather enough dynamite to make enough bombs to blow the whole thing up. Then Michigan wouldn’t be in that stupid, stupid glove shape, cause there’d be no thumb. It’s not true, but I like it. It’s a sick motive.
December 16th, 2008
I heard scuffling in the attic. And at night too, it was at night. It wasn’t the beast, I’m sure of it. He was trying to escape. Yates is suspicious. It’s not acceptable! I told him it was rats, and do you know what he did? He called Terminex! Without even asking! I cancelled it on time, don’t worry, but still! That was close! What should I do now? What to do, what to do? This is so hard! He’s suspicious! He asked why I cancelled Terminex when there’s rats in the attic. I said for money, and he said he’d pay for it because he hates rats! So I said well maybe it’s not rats, maybe it’s mice. And he said that he hated mice too! Mice! Man up!
But I couldn’t say that. I couldn’t. I didn’t say anything, I didn’t know what to say. You would have known what to say. Why weren’t you there?
Everything should go boom.
I told Nathon that I’d blow him up if he tried escaping again. He said he wasn’t, but it was a lie. Lie! Lie! Lie! The liar! I told him about blowing up Michigan’s thumb. I told him I would get a jet and fly him up there, and drop him down on Michigan’s thumb, then I’d blow it all to smithereens with him still on it.
December 18th, 2008
Yates told me that he was going to visit his family, or some other kind of crazy lie like that. But lies do not deceive us. I know a snitch in the formation. So I locked him in the attic, too.
I can already tell he’s going to be more trouble than Nathon. He talks more. And it’s not begging, it’s reasoning. I can’t stand the reasoning! It shouldn’t be allowed! He can’t reason with me, he shouldn’t try.
I can’t blow him up, though. I’d have to drag him to our basement, and he’s too heavy. He’s too heavy when he’s awake and struggling!
Must make more carbon monoxide. I’ll have to bring the dry ice and the coal box up to the attic. Course the temperature change may bring on some unintended complications…
Simmer, steam, fall, crash, boom!
December 19th, 2008
I’ve decided to spare Yates’s life – for now. He’s actually useful. He keeps the beast quiet. I don’t know how. Maybe it likes more company.
I could just kill all three of them. Why don’t I kill all three of them? The neighbors would never know, Yates and Nathon were hardly ever out I’ll bet they’d like to go out now, though. I’ll bet they’d give anything to be able to go outside now. See, it’s not all bad, I’m teaching them to have a deeper appreciation for life and nature. You can’t buy that crap.
Back to what I was saying, they’re a lot of trouble. I have to feed them, for crying out loud! Not that I pay for it. I dug out their sorry credit cards from their pathetic wallets, and used them to buy food. Well, not just their food. But they owe it to me, they’re still renting, and I’m providing room service. That’s going above and beyond, if you ask me, especially when it’s so cold in there. Sheesh! You’d think they’d want to thank me for even going inside that icebox they put themselves in.
They also bought me some glass soda bottles. You know- the ones we need, the ones that she needs. Do you know that no one really asks for I.D. on those things? And they don’t look at the signature you put on the receipt either. I could write freaking Donald Duck if I wanted to, and they’d still take it, give me a fake grin, and say “Have a nice day!”
Ignorance, ignorance, ignorance! I hate ignorance! But I use it to my advantage. That’s what everyone should do. Take the things that they hate, and manipulate them to a state of usefulness. That’s the true meaning of genius.
December 20th, 2008
I went ahead and tested one of our firework combinations. Went way out in some remote field, up in Creve Coeur, or around that area. You should have seen it. You should have been there! Why weren’t you there?
You should have seen it. The smoke. I saw her in the smoke, but it wasn’t just her hair this time. I saw her face. I saw all of it, I saw her whole face, and her hand. She held up her hand and waggled her finger at me. She was beckoning me. She wanted me to come to her. So I did, and she spoke to me. She actually spoke to me, just like you said she would. All I had to do was wait. She’s coming. The boom is her, and she is the boom. That’s how it was, so that’s how it has to be. She died in the flames, the gas leak, the explosion! Since she left in the explosion, in the explosion she shall come back.
She told me she is coming. She told me she would be here soon.
December 21st, 2008
The begging! The begging, begging, begging! All they do is beg! It’s intolerable, insufferable! You heard them last night, you know what I’m talking about! They beg for more water, more food, more freaking toilet paper! They beg for blankets. Hey, they’ve got that big, warm animal, what else do they need? And they beg to be out. They bargain. They’re good at bargaining! But I won’t listen. I can’t be bought. What do they take me for? It’s not just my welfare that’s depending on this, it’s hers! I won’t settle for anything but her.
Anyway, how can I take bargains from them seriously? They can’t even see you. They don’t even answer your questions. And when I order them to – or I’ll blow their sorry heads off – they just stare into space, scared. Imbeciles! I’ll kill them all as soon as I can steal some bullets. I can’t buy them, not even with their money, I don’t have a permit for my gun. More stupid laws! But, I’ll steal some, and blow their brains out. Explosives are too valuable to waste on them.
Bang, crack, thump, dead!
December 23rd, 2008
I almost had a code blue this morning. Some lady called, and she wanted to speak to Nathon. What could I do? What could I do? She was good. First she asked if this was the Tsidkenu residence, she asked that first. So I didn’t know to lie! And then, after she’d tricked me into giving her classified information, she asked to speak with Nathon. What could I do? I guess I could have said that he wasn’t home, but then she’d start the questioning. She’d want to know where and why and when he’d be back. I couldn’t have the questioning! So I improvised.
I said I’d get him, that I’d be right back. I put the phone down and got my gun. It’s still not loaded, of course, but only we know that. I charged up to the attic and took the guy down. He was scared to death, with all the pleading, “No, don’t shoot me, please! What have I done?” Blah, blah, waa, waa! I told him to shut up and that someone wanted to talk to him on the phone, but if he said one thing about the attic or the bombs, I‘d put a bullet in his guts then and there, so whoever was kind enough to call him would hear his last, dying shrieks.
He talked to her, and I stood right there with my gun and listened on the other phone (the cord reaches). I listened to their conversation, just because I wanted to, and I listened for anything suspicious, any kind of foreign language, code words, just anything I didn’t like. I didn’t hear anything. His lousy teeth were chattering. Why didn’t I make him wait for them to stop!? I don’t think it mattered, though. She did ask about it, but he made up his own lie without me helping him. He claimed he’d been shoveling the driveway. When he was done talking, I put him back in the attic.
I haven’t seen the beast move for a while now. I’ll bet it’s dead. We could blow up the body.
December 24th, 2008
I enjoyed your visit, as always. I’m so glad we didn’t waste time looking at the prisoners. And I thank you for trusting me to do as I please while you are on vacation.
I’ve already decided what I’m going to do. I’m going to take all my dynamite and equipment and blow up the whole stash. It will be magnificent.
And she’ll come out. She’ll have to.
I’ve got all the supplies ready for safe travel in my truck. I’m going off to Missouri Valley where all those cornfields are. It’ll be great, it really will. It won’t even be all that wrong to blow up a bunch of farmland, it’s just for corn. Who eats corn anyway? It doesn’t even have any nutritional value. Most of America probably knows that by now.
It will be great. You know, I actually feel this wonderful, tranquil, calm coming over me, even as I write this.You’re probably picturing me crawling out of my skin, but I’m not. I’ve been waiting a long time for this. This is it.
I only wish that you could come, but I know you can’t. And I know you won’t mind me doing this without you. Remember, you said I could choose.
I’m not bringing the dog’s carcass, it’d ruin the mood. I see it as a ceremony, don’t you?
Well, Alexander, this is it, this is going to be a great undertaking in my life. When you come back again, Loraine and I will both be there to greet you.
It was here that the journal entries stopped. On that night, Danny Yates and Nathon Whilterwool escaped their prison and told authorities about Greggory’s strange and unlawful behavior. They gave a brief description of his vehicle and physical appearance, making sure to mention that the criminal was extremely armed and dangerous.
Greggory Tsidkenu was taken to a psychiatric hospital soon after being arrested. Almost immediately after being admitted, he started raving about the beautification of Michigan, which was enough to concern any psychologist. When they were informed by his roommates that he would rant to an invisible person named Alexander on a regular basis, their views on the possibility of his recovery became even dimmer.
One minor detail that failed to make documentation was Greggory’s agonized scream as he was brought down and captured. All of the surrounding farmers had been disturbed by it while they were trying to sleep that night. They said there were words in that scream, which were incoherent. But what baffled them the most was the sound some swore they heard next. There seemed to be an answer. A voice called back; a voice that was not the screamer’s own. But maybe it was only an echo.
Meagan Hamilton is a young adult who loves her dog very much. She grew up in various states, but will always claim Ohio as her own. Being sickly with Multiple Sclerosis and mentally ill from Bipolar, she rarely leaves the sanctuary of her bedroom. Meagan sits alone and types, inspired by the sound of the winds whispering in the trees.