Stalling Someday

It was late at night, or early in the morning, depending on your point of view.  Kyle sat up in his bed, wondering what had woken him…

In the bassinet on the other side of the bed, his daughter was stretching.  Her eyes were open wide and her tiny fingers balled up into fists, stretched out as far as her arms could go against the soft lace of her temporary bed.  When she finished pushing and pulling her muscles out as far as they could go, she yawned deep and wide, taking in the cool evening air.  The moonlight from the window above her bed cast just enough soft light onto her naked belly, chest and face, to give her a soft glow in the otherwise pitch black room.

His wife had become a full-time “mommy” since their baby was born five months prior, so Kyle was not hesitant at all to jump up preemptively and hold his daughter before her mother was pulled from the rest she so desperately deserved.  He stood over the bassinet for a moment, taking in the soft lines around his child’s gray eyes and pink lips.  A smile crawled onto his face while he stared at the way her pudgy arms creased together at her elbows and knees like a old-fashioned rag doll.  He bent over, careful to wrap his large hands behind her back and then lifted her to him, moving slow and deliberate so as not to let her strain an ounce of strength.  He pulled the blanket from her bed once she was firmly against his shoulder and wrapped her in it while he made his way to the rocking chair in the corner of the room.

The wood creaked as he leaned into the old chair, a family heirloom given to he and his wife upon his daughter’s birth by his grandmother.  He watched his wife and moved slowly – her hearing had become something rivaling a dogs since motherhood, and he desperately wanted to let her sleep.  Once he relaxed into the redwood frame he let out the air he was holding in his chest and began to rock slowly back and forth.  Success – his wife was still undisturbed.

His baby looked up at him.  Kyle looked back.  Her left hand wrapped around his smallest finger.  She placed her head into her father’s shoulder and closed her eyes as they moved softly back and forth in the darkness.

Kyle stared at her face and began to relax a bit, drawing comfort from his ability to save his wife for at least one night.  As his mind melted into comfort Kyle allowed himself to do something he hadn’t yet:  he thought about his daughter’s life to come.

Kyle knew that some day soon she would be walking, then talking and eventually she would be going to school.  Kyle loved the thought of reading to her some of his own favorite books: the mathematical Carrol, some inquisitive Kipling, or the heavy-moraled Dickens.  He knew that some time after that she would be reading on her own and he would settle for watching her, just watching her as she sounded out the words, and put together the sentences – taking the wheel to her own imagination.

Some day he would have to watch as she went out with her friends, embarassed by her Mother and Father.  She would play it cool with them, quick to please them and unknowingly breaking her parents hearts.  When it happened, Kyle would be there to comfort his wife and say “it’s a stage.”  After that, at some point, Kyle would need to hold his daughter as she cried, great drops of salt streaking her make-up, weeping over the friends for whom she had hurt her parents without ever knowing it.  Once again, Kyle would hold a woman he loved, rocking her then as he was now, and whispering into her ear, “it’s a stage.”

Eventually, the baby he held in his arms would be getting married.  She would cry.  His wife would cry.  Kyle would probably cry.  A man would take her out of their house and make a home with her elsewhere.  Kyle would be there for their first year, when marriage was hardest to hold her and counsel him.  He would hold his wife’s hand, staring at his daughter and son-in-law and tell them, “love is buoy for troubling tides and temporary storms.”  They would make up and move on.

Grandchildren would come.  They’d have Christmases together.  They’d spoil them and read them stories like Carrol, Kipling and Dickens.  And maybe, just maybe, if their was time enough, Kyle would get to hold them all as he was their mother now, and whisper into their ears, “I love you.”

His wife stirred in her bed, but only turned over and continued sleeping.  Kyle looked at the small life in his hands and sighed, much like she did on occasion.  He put his left hand on his daughter’s back and rubbed it gently, more for his comfort than his own.  Then he stared at her, not blinking once in an attempt to stop time and enjoy the moment he was given, just then.

A Whore’s Favor

The whore was snoring.  Jacob pushed on her but she didn’t stop.  He shoved her once more, a little harder this time and she almost fell off the bed.  Her eyes shot open and she looked at him like he was fucking her mother.

“What the fuck, Jacob?”

“Time to go.”

“Pay me.”

“I already did.”

“Oh.  I forgot.”

“Get the fuck out.”

“See you tonight?”

“Am I paying?”

She mumbled something about Jesus Christ and threw on her white bustle before walking out and slamming the thin wood door behind her.  Jacob dropped his legs of the side of the bed and stared out the window.  The sun was just peering out over the horizon ripping orange streaks across the otherwise yellow morning sky.  The red collected at the base of the mountains looked like a thin pool of blood collecting in the valleys of the desert.

After he coughed up some phlegm, Jacob lit a smoke and sucked on it while he put on his pants, shirt, boots and gun belt.  At his age getting dressed was a task in and of itself – things move slower when you’re 57.  The cigarette burned the tips of his fingers so he let it fall to the floor and kicked at it with the ball of his foot.  Then he opened the door and let the cool air drape over him.  Mornings always felt like a new beginning to Jacob, but against popular opinion, he never felt as though he needed one.

There were a whole lot of people awake, most of them looking at him, waiting for him, hating him.  He took his hat off the nightstand and dropped a dollar bill in its place.  After he felt comfortable in his appearance, he lit another smoke, set his cover firmly on his head and walked outside.  The clock tower across the street from the bank read 5:56.  He had four minutes – good thing the whore snored or he would of slept through the whole ordeal.

Jacob dragged his feet a bit as he forced himself into the street.  Down the dirt a ways, next to the saloon, Richards was already waiting.  He seemed anxious, though Jacob was used to that look.  The other men he’d offended and ended up killing looked that way too.  Jacob’s name was usually enough to keep “honorable men” from shouting out stupid defenses to whatever manor of insult Jacob was drunkenly performing – usually, but not always.  Last night he had offended this young buck by grabbing his lady’s tits.  Jacob tried to remember whether or not the whore was the same girl…  Didn’t really matter.

Richards took the time to get dressed this morning.  His nicest black suit was pressed, his mustache was waxed, and there was a fine black bowler hat atop his beady-eyed face.  A shiny piece of silver sat at Richards’ side; not a good sign for Richards.  Guns that look new usually are.  And people who own guns that haven’t been shot usually don’t do a whole lot of shooting.

A few people hissed as Jacob walked into the center of the road, mostly women.  The men mostly kept their mouths shut, lest they get dead after Richards.  But Jacob knew they were all hoping, praying that Richards would get the upper hand.  After all, Richards was a young postman, decent with his hands and thirty or so years younger than Jacob.  But Jacob had built his reputation on corpses, not hopes and dreams.  He knew, that they knew, that Richards was going to die.

Once Jacob found his place on the dirt about twenty or so feet from Richards, he yawned, stretched out his arms and shivered the remaining sleep from his limbs.  The smoke was burning his fingertips again so he let it fall down.  Jacob looked up at the clock again: 5:58.  He had time for another, so he pulled out his case and stared at the last cigarette.

“Richards?”

“Yeah?”

“You got a smoke?”

“Fuck you!”

Well, that just wasn’t very neighborly.  Jacob took the last smoke out of his case and put the tin back in his pocket.  Usually, he liked saving one for after shootings, something of a victory smoke.  It looked like this time he’d be celebrating with a trip to the General Store.  He struck the match against the hilt of his six-shooter.  Once the flame was kicking, he brought it up to his face, cupped the fire, and lit the last cigarette.  When he sucked in, he noticed a different flavor against the back of his throat.  It wasn’t dramatic, but something about the nicotine tasted… sour.

5:59

Jacob took another look around the crowd.  It seemed as though the whole town had come out to watch this time.  After Richards was done, Jacob should think about moving on.  There’s only so much death a place can take before they get to lynching, or some other sort of crazy thinking that could end up with Jacob killing a whole lot of otherwise decent folk.

The snoring whore stepped out of the crowd to his right.  She was smiling.  Why in the hell would she be smiling?  Maybe she liked last night’s fucking.  Maybe he did too.  He’d had better.  Why in the hell was she smiling?

Jacob looked up at the clock; it was six in the morning.  He could hear Richards calling out to him, “You ready Jacob?”

Jacob smiled, “Sure thing Richards, but can I ask you something first?”

“Fine.”

Jacob pointed at the snoring whore, “Does she snore when you get done fucking her, or did I just put her into a particularly deep sleep?”

Richards was scowling.  This was it.  Jacob smiled – apparently she was the same girl from the night before.

Both men drew their guns.  They shot.  And it was over.

The town doctor, Fleming, ran out with his nice gray suit and his little black bag, to make sure that the dead man was dead.  After a minute, he called it, “He’s gone.”

The whore stopped smiling and the winner walked away.

The Final Memoir of Terry’s Thomas

My name is Thomas. I am 72 years old. I have never killed anyone before today.

I am a patient man.

I sit at the corner of 7th and Manchester, two blocks from his house. He is Jim Gilbert. He is 67 years old. His wife is Lisa and they are happy. He has three sons and a daughter, in order of birth they are: Jacob, James, Jeremy and Jenna. Jacob is 47 and has three children of his own: Erik, Steven and Kara. Erik is 23, Steven is 17, and Kara is 12. James also has three children: Toby, 22, Richard, 20 and Stefan, 19. Jeremy has one child: Moses, 15. Jenna was married yesterday and is pregnant with her first. The spouses of Jim’s four children are independently successful, all of them with bright hopes and dreams. I am two blocks from the 23 and a half people I despise more than any one in the world.

I am a patient man, but I am a vengeful man.

I have tried to forgive Jim, but it is not possible. I have spent the last 53 years of my life trying to forgive Jim, but it is not possible.

At the park where I wait a couple passes, walking their dogs: a pair of pugs. Pugs are silly dogs to own. They are riddled with health problems and have short life spans. Many people think they are cute, but those people are wrong. Pugs are not cute.

A group of young women walk by me without noticing. There are six of them, all wearing jean shorts and bathing suit tops. I feel nothing for them. What used to be the penis between my legs stays shriveled and unused where it has remained faithfully for 53 years, two months and 17 days. The girls laugh as they leave me behind taking no notice of the harmless old man on the park bench.

None of the people in this park seem to have a worry in the world. The couple with the pugs arguing about finances, the six young women and their tan-lines, not one of them concerned with relishing what truly matters: love. Real love, not modern love. Dedication. Commitment. Respect. Love.

I check my watch: it’s 12:45pm. Church is out. Jim and his family will be home in 13 minutes if they walk. I stand and smooth out the wrinkles in my khaki pants. The muscles in my legs beg me to reconsider, but I push forward, asking only for a few more hours.

The man selling sno-cones smiles at me when I purchase my cherry slush. I tell him to keep the change and he acts grateful, but moves towards the next customer. Terry loved sno-cones. Her favorite flavor was cherry.

I begin to walk towards 9th, in the direction of the Gilbert dynasty.

I am patient. I am vengeance.

When I bite into the sno-cone I taste her. I taste Jenna. I drink in the memories of sunshine on the beach. I soak up the feel of her skin on my lips and the scent of her lavender lotion. I devour the recollection of her deep brown eyes and the wrinkles at their edges when she smiled. And then, like always, I recall the blood, the taste of her blood in my mouth when I awoke from the accident.

I dump what’s left of the sno-cone into the trash.

53 years. I will not be alive much longer. The time is coming.

I cross the street and approach 3717 Manchester. I remove the key ring from my pocket and let myself in. Nobody is home yet. They’re a little late. No worries.

The house is old, at least 65 years. I wonder for a moment about who was living here when Terry died. It has five bedrooms, but only one is used regularly. Jacob, James, Jeremy and Jenna all live in their own homes, staring their own families, but Jim keeps the bedrooms the way they were left by his offspring. He feigns sentimentality, that bastard.

Everyone is in town for Jenna’s wedding. Their plane tickets say that they will all be gone tomorrow.

In the kitchen I remove a butter-knife and slice open the bread I made that morning. Jim loves sourdough. He eats two loaves a week at least. After slicing all the bread and preparing the sandwiches, I place them on a platter in the center of the over-sized dining room table. Grapes and Oranges are also scattered across the table.

I am patient vengeance.

Each of the Oranges and grapes has been injected with a concentrated sleeping formula used in WWII as an “anesthesia” for wounded soldiers. Not too much, but enough to induce a deep sleep. I was drafted after Terry died. My apathy led to me great success in battle. My plan for revenge against he who had taken Terry, led me to remember anything and everything that could be used. The bread was also made special for the occasion.

The door opens and the clattering about begins. Jim greets me with a smile and some comment about “starving.” Lisa is rambling on with Jenna and her daughter-in-laws. Jacob, James, Jeremy and William (Jenna’s husband) are talking about colleges with Erik, Steven, Toby, Richard and Stefan. Moses pretends to be interested, but stares awkwardly at Kara, his attractive cousin who trails behind the rest of the women. All of them rumble on about church, the wedding and how hungry they are. Lucky for them, I have prepared lunch.

They sit around the table and talk amongst themselves some more. Most of it is idle chatter about what they are doing at work, what their children have accomplished at school, or how their vacation plans are coming for the next summer in Los Angeles.

I wait in the corner and watch them eat. All of them eat. They all gorge the lunch I place before them.

The children get drowsy first. They excuse themselves and pass out in front of the TV. Jenna, Lisa, and the wives of her sons follow suit. Each of them suggesting that, “a nap sounds delightful.” After the women leave, Jim asks me, “Edward, what did you put in these sandwiches? They are a knockout!”

He and his sons laugh. I laugh with them. I have been the Gilbert butler for over 23 years now.

“Sleeping potion sir.” Everyone laughs.

Then, in front of the TV with the children, the men all fall asleep.

I take my time, relishing every moment.

First I tie up Jim. My muscles ache and burn while I twist him around with the duct tape. His heavy breathing makes me smile.

I take a knife and cut the throats of his sons in the same order the came from the womb of his wife: Jacob, James and Jeremy.

I stab his seven grandchildren in the chest repeatedly, their eyes darting open as the blade enters between their ribs. They look at me, confused, and die. Moses takes a couple stabs when, after the first, he crawls towards his dead father in a bewildered fury. But they all die.

The women are the most brutal on my aged frame. As I slit their throats, each one shoots up gasping for air, blood spurting from their necks. They all writhe for a bit, while I wait impatiently, in the corner of the respective rooms for their hearts to quit.Then, against my neglected arms better interest, I drag them each down or up stairs, into the living room. As a final touch I set up his entire family around the room in a fashion deserving of a portrait – something to place over the mantle.

When Jim wakes up I can hear his muffled screams like a symphony from the kitchen where I wash up. I close my eyes and picture Terry the only way I can truly remember her: bloody and broken, hanging above me in tangled mass of steel that used to be my convertible. Her teeth dripping blood onto my face and her deep brown eyes flat and milky.

I stand directly behind him, out of his view and let him stare at the dead investments of his life for three hours. I do not move or say anything. I only listen. For three full hours I bathe my senses in his misery. I let his weeping wash away the 53 years of waiting, of loneliness, of death. When his ducts are dry and his breathing less sporadic I step out in front of him holding my favorite serrated blade.

He glares at me, a mixture of equal parts confusion and hate tearing at his eyes. “Jim, I have lied. My real name is Thomas. Terry’s Thomas.”

That is all it takes. Jim remembers. I see it in his face. Nobody, no matter how regretful can wipe clean a remembrance of murder. I can watch the events of his memory unfold as muscles tense on his face. He was a drunken teen. He is guilty. And he knows it.

“I was patient.”

He tried to look away, but the sight of his dead family forced his gaze back to me. I smile. My muscles stopped burning. I feel my manhood perk, not out of macabre arousal, but a more gentle life-affirming stimulation. I can hear Terry’s ghost whisper into my ear, “Thank you.” This is real love. Dedication. Commitment. Respect. Love.

Then, from overwhelming relief, I die.

Flamer

Dick and Jim thought it was a great idea, but Tobias didn’t seem so sure.

“C’mon dude, you don’t even have to do it!  You just have to promise not to tell on us for doing it!”

Tobias thought about his friends bursting into flames before his eyes.  He could see them flailing their arms as they ran down the street, two balls of flame revolving around each other like tecticles until they fell to the ground, dead.  They were going to do it anyways, but Tobias knew they’d make him go home and tease him for a week or so if he didn’t agree, saying things like, “You missed it you pussy!  It was the coolest thing ever!”

Tobias nodded and Dick ran into his father’s garage to get the gas as Tobias waited with Jim in the driveway.  It was late and nobody was outside.  The city was sleeping, which usually meant that Tobias, Jim and Dick were not.  Tobias could feel Jim’s hand on his shoulder and looked up at him.

“Don’t worry man, I’ve seen this on TV a ton of times.  It’ll be sweet.”

There was a chuckle to his side and Tobias turned to see Dick running out of the garage with a large red plastic cup like the kind you see at parties, except instead of beer, this one was full of very flammable gasoline.  Dick stopped next to Jim and handed him the cup, “You’re idea, you go first.”

Jim smiled at Dick, then at Tobias before taking the cup.  Jim reached into his jeans and pulled out a small purple lighter.  Then, without any hesitation at all, Jim put the cup to his lips and tipped his head back.  Tobias could smell the gasoline and gagged a little, but tried to hide it from the other two.  After his cheeks were fully puffed out like a chipmunk, filled with gas, Jim held the cup out to Dick and put the lighter to his lips.  He clicked it once and the small tongue of flame waited at the edge of his mouth.  Then, boom.

Tobias couldn’t be sure how Jim did it because he couldn’t see Jim.  For a second, a gloriously slow-motioned second, there was no Jim or Dick, just a giant fireball filling the space between he and his friends.  Tobias could feel the heat against his face in stark contrast to the snap of the otherwise cold winter evening.  The light was intense enough for Tobias to watch his own shadow dance up the black street.  And when it was over, Jim just stood there, smiling.

“Fucking awesome.”

Dick didn’t take long to repeat the incident, creating his own fireball no smaller than Jim’s.  For the next few minutes Tobias watched as his two best friends shot giant balls of flame out of their mouths into the night sky, like dragons belching at each other in the darkness of a cave.  It was truly awe inspiring.  Then Dick said the magic words, “We’ve only got enough gas for one more shot.”

Jim and Dick were looking at Tobias.  Neither of them said anything because they didn’t pressure people with words, they didn’t have to, that wasn’t their style.  When Jim and Dick gave you the look that they were giving Tobias just then, it was worse than all the pressure in the world – it was opportunity.  They weren’t asking you to be cool, they were giving you a chance to be great.  Only a fool skips out on a chance like that.  Tobias was no fool.

Without saying anything Tobias took the cup from Dick and the lighter from Jim.  He didn’t hesitate or think about it at all, but lifted the cup to his mouth and held the lighter near his chin.  As the hard smack of gasoline filled his mouth, he could feel the fumes coming out of his nose while he exhaled.  He had to act fast.  Tobias clicked the lighter once, nothing.  A few drops of gasoline trickled down his throat and Tobias had to do everything in his power not to cough.  He flicked the lighter a second time, but still there was no flame.  Tobias looked at his friends, both looking at him with encouraging, fascinated faces.  He couldn’t let them down…  Tobias flicked the lighter one last time as a small squirt of resistance pushed a few drops of gasoline out of his pursed lips.

It happened fast.  The small drops of gas that escaped Tobias’s lips crackled to life when they connected with the lighter, like small sparks in the air, but they were enough.  Tobias panicked and opened his mouth to scream, releasing the flood of gasoline from his cheeks.  His face grew hot and he turned his head from side to side, still able to catch glimmers of Jim and Dick as they watched Tobias through licks of flame, looks of panic on their faces.  There was a particularly strong moment of pain on the right side of Tobias’s face, hefty enough to knock him to the the ground.  As he landed in the lawn, Tobias was torn between the pressure building on his back, the tearing sensation on the back of his head and the urge to rub his face back and forth on the cool, dew-soaked grass.

A second later, it was over.

Tobias pushed himself up and rested on his knees.  Jim and Dick crept around his side and stared at Tobias wide-eyed and scared.  For a minute, nobody spoke.  Then Dick broke the silence eloquently, “That, was fucking, AWESOME!”

Jim and Dick high-fived and began explaining to each other, in the greatest detail, their roles in saving Tobias’s life.  Jim had apparently slapped Tobias in an effort to get him to stop shaking his head and spreading gas around his face, while Dick leapt on Tobias’s back after he was on the ground, grabbed the back of Tobias’s hair and rubbed his face into the lawn until there was no flame left.  They really had saved him.  Tobias owed them one.

Realizing that nothing could top what had just happened, Jim and Dick went home, leaving Tobias with the same option.  When he got to his house he went straight into his room and took off all of his clothes.  He set his alarm for school the next day, then packed up his homework so he didn’t forget it.  Then Tobias went into the bathroom to brush his teeth, he could still taste the gasoline on his teeth.  He closed the door behind him and stared into the mirror for a moment, examining his face.  The mustache he had been trying to grow for the last two months was gone.  His hairline had also been forcefully pushed back to the top of his head from the flame, creating a straight line from ear to ear across the top of his skull.  His skin was a bright red and there were already a few blisters starting under his chin.  He was a mess.

“It’s a good thing Jim and Dick are such good friends,” he thought, “I could’ve been screwed.”