Friday, April 29, 2011

Simple Gestures

It was not an uncommon occurrence for Abby to stand sit under the playground tree for ten or more minutes after school, nose propped just over her book.  The book changed every week, she was a voracious reader, but the subject of her attention did not.  Rain or shine, Calvin would sit on the curb with his friends, James and Stewart and wait for Stewart’s mom to come pick them up.  They would talk and laugh and roughhouse just a little, though Calvin was always on the losing end of any prolonged physicality; a small gut and second chin were not signs of distinguished athletic prowess.  They would carry on thusly until the silver sedan pulled up that marked freedom for all three.  Invariably following this, Abby would avert her gaze from the chain link fence and down to her book long enough to avoid suspicion.  Having a crush in the fourth grade was little more than unfulfilled longing (though this was a name Abby had yet to connect with her emotion), unrelenting ridicule, and unending awkwardness.  Abby was smart enough, and shy enough, to avoid such torments.  She had time.  Both she and Calvin would continue their enrollment at Mount Calvary up to and through the eighth grade.  She would have a chance to talk to him under more ideal circumstances sooner or later.  Until then her collection of battered second-hand books, her library card, and her confidants Jennifer and Maeve would pull her through the harsh winter. 

As per usual, her scouting trips were performed alone.  Jennifer and Maeve’s parents picked them up with a haste such as Abby had never known.  And, as per usual, Abby stood up, packed up her book and started her short trek home alone.  For all intents and purposes, she was an only child.  Nora loved Abby to death, but was nearly twenty years her elder and grew up completely separate from her younger sister.  She never had constant advice from a sibling who had been through it all before and thus she was left on her own to ponder events she had no true understanding of.  And so, with thoughts of chubby chins and bright blue eyes putting her legs into autopilot, Abby stepped in front of a speeding motorcyclist.  The front wheel pulverized her preadolescent hip bone and coccyx into an unrecognizable mass of bone shards.  Shattered bone acted as shrapnel and tore into blood vessel, arteries, and vital organs. 

Even if the biker had not panicked and accelerated off at more than twice the legal speed after righting himself, Abby would have been lucky to live long enough to be declared Dead On Arrival.  As the scene played out, no call was made to emergency rescue, no ambulance arrived to rush her to a hospital, and no doctor said “we did all we could”.  A passing jogger found her broken body some six hours later, after dozens of panicked calls from Abby’s parents, and reported it to the police.  The police arrived and identified her by the magic markered name in her backpack and called the family for official identification of the body. 

Abby’s funeral service was very private and with not but the most necessary formalities.  All parties involved wished to mourn silently and hope for closure.  They had lost a daughter, a sister, a best friend long before her life could be fully lived.  The chance to know the woman she would become was taken from all of them.  But theirs was not the only chance taken before it could grow. 

Abby had died clinging to the hope that her world would mature enough to bring Calvin into it.  Her world would never mature.  She would never better know the sweet, boy-ish kindness hidden plainly on his face.  Abby had lost more than her life. 


Calvin heard about the death of his classmate a day afterward from his edgy and slightly pushier than normal mother.  Word spread quickly in Lindenwood and the death of a polite, intelligent, and terribly young girl in what police assumed to be a hit and run was nearly the word alive.  Every mother with a child yet to reach college had heard about it and all had, to varying degrees warned them of such dangers.  Maeve’s parents had forbidden her to walk near a major road without adult supervision until the person responsible for Abby’s death was apprehended and jailed.  James’ mom had whispered careful tips on how to avoid such terrible incidents while his father lorded over a full glass with a bruised hand. 

Mary found herself horrendously unsure of how to both break the news to Calvin and to handle the conversation that would follow.  This was Calvin’s only first-hand experience with death and it could very well affect the way children his age were allowed to play, or even how he himself was allowed to simply leave the house.  After a restless night of deliberation, she rolled herself out of her misused bed and prepared all of Calvin’s school supplies, his lunch, and his after school snack.  From there she sat herself down on the sofa, hands folded neatly in her lap, and waited for six o’clock to roll around and Calvin to come hopping down the stairs.  (The child woke like clockwork, it never failed.)  Four forty-five ticked to life and Mary unfurled her hands and, after a moment of searching, found the television remote and thumbed over to the news station.   She had no interest in the news at that moment, but found the fuzzy, out of focus background noise to be comforting. 

She sat, wound up with more motherly concern than could possibly be healthy, and tried not to watch the clock tick.


Calvin rolled out of bed.  His entire room was cast in the early morning fuzz that came from too much sleep in one’s eyes and waking during one’s REM cycle (though Calvin was years away from even being offered the chance to study such things in classes).  He balled his fists and buried them into his eye sockets until all the offending gunk was out of his eyes and the world before him was filled with the usual spots that came with pushing one’s eyes and the unfamiliar blurriness of a poor night’s sleep.  Calvin looked over at his clock, it read 6:03.  Not an unusual time for him to awake, but he had never been one for nightmares, nighttime antsiness, or any other impediment to a healthy night’s sleep.  He had woken twice during the night for no apparent reason, but thankfully had been able to roll over and fall back to sleep straight away.  He had not dreamt that night either, which was quite peculiar.  Calvin was not known for having brilliant and vividly artistic dreamscapes, but dreams of some sort were a staple of his nightlife.  This concerned Calvin slightly, his Mom had read in one of her magazines that dreaming while you sleep was a very good sign and often meant you were sleeping well and were off to a good start to the day. 

However Calvin’s resilient optimism worked at a second grade level and by the time he had zipped up his khaki slacks and pulled his polo shirt over his spastic mop of blonde hair, he was ready for another day with his friends and football during recess.  Calvin was not terribly athletic, as his figure would lead you to believe, but he loved James and Stewart and they loved football and Calvin loved that he was friends with two of the coolest kids in class.  They were good to him.  They would throw him passes even knowing that he would probably drop them, and even if he did catch them he would be tagged down with great rapidity.  And on the frequent occasions that he did drop the pass, they were always the ones to tell the other kids to shut up if they start snickering.  They were great friends.  They whispered and joked with him through boring classes and let him concentrate on his notes when he found a class interesting.

Calvin trotted down the stairs, mulling over his breakfast choices:  cereal or oatmeal.  Cinnamon Apple oatmeal from the packet was an absolute delicacy in Calvin’s mind and thus cereal rarely won the day.  His entrance into the kitchen on this day was different from most other days.  Mary was pacing rapidly around the kitchen, performing her morning chores with a speed Calvin found alarming.  What little he could see of her facial expression was pinched and cloudy.  Calvin briefly thought on the date and, realizing that was not the source of his Mother’s agitation, wondered if there was another possible connection to dad he was not thinking of.  Hesitant to make his breakfast while his mother was so distraught and guilty for not knowing why, Calvin went to his ace in the hole:  he took two quick steps towards his Mother and wrapped his arms around her stomach as tightly as was appropriate and nuzzled his face against her rib cage.  


Mary nearly jumped out of her skin when Calvin clamped his arms around her.  She had been so distracted by the coming conversation they would have that she had not even noticed his entering the room.  She stood rooted in place for a moment before realizing that Calvin was trying to comfort her.  She knew it did not matter how long he had been standing there watching her, she was nervous enough and he had seen her in distress often enough that he knew something was wrong.

Mary returned her warmest and most motherly hug and decided that being up front with him would be best in the long run.  She had to parent enough for two and it was hard enough without trying to candy coat and euphemize the world.


Calvin was noticeably more withdrawn during the drive to school the next day.  Thankfully he had drawn front seat rights and was at a slight distance from the horse play in the back.  His mind was far from the coming day’s events.  His thoughts were firmly entrenched in a hazy nostalgia he was years too young for.  He was not quite sure why his mind was sifting through what limited memories of Abby he had, but it was.  Answering questions in class, looking over at them during recess and lunch, always a little bit shy, she seemed like a nice enough kid—for a girl.  What few memories he had, floated in and out of his mind for the entire drive to school, much to the chagrin of his friends, who kicked his seat and jabbed the back of his neck with their fingers hoping to grab his attention. 

And so it was for the entirety of the school day.  Calvin went through his daily paces moderately distracted but never fully knowing why.  It was odd to look to the back of the room and find her seat empty.  It gave him goosebumps and more than once he felt himself shiver. 

Her friends, Jennifer and some girl with an “M-” name Calvin could never remember, seemed quite sad and lost that day.  Each time he passed them in the halls or in the classrooms he felt the maddeningly awkward but alarmingly irresistible urge to hug them and tell them that “it would be ok”, a strangely solemn and final phrase that Calvin took a sudden disliking to.  It was a phrase not meant for casual or friendly conversation.


The ride back home with Stewart’s mom was as uneventful as the ride with his own mother to school.  (James’ mom never drove, it was an unspoken ruling.)  James and Stewart squawked and squirmed behind Calvin’s seat, never allowing him to drift too fully from reality, but never completely breaking his nearly subconscious reverie. 

When the sedan slowed to drop off at Calvin’s home, Mrs. Cameron waved him goodbye as he exited the car and flashed a smile that made Calvin blush deeply.  Something about Mrs. Cameron had always made Calvin blush; she was very nice, very tall, and very red-headed.  Calvin had long since harbored this crush as a closely guarded secret.  She was a married woman and a friend’s mom.

Calvin waved back, smiled timidly, and, turning quickly on his heel, headed for his front door. 


Night had fallen on Lindenwood’s semi-suburban community, Tall Trees, not that such things mattered.  Hers was a world of utter grayscale and uncertain solidity.  Objects flickered in and out of existence, some faded ever so slightly and surreally, and others still grew too bright to view even through periphery.  The laws of sound were equally malleable for her.  Some noises distorted and muffled as if underwater, some drew out into unbearable whines, and whispers abound in every corner.  Whispers, however, was the wrong word and she knew it.  Some of them did not whisper.  A better word would be Voices, but even that described only her comprehension of them.  They felt worse than normal voices, somehow ugly and oily.  Some of these Voices did whisper, enticing little sentiments just out of earshot.  Others were guttural and animalistic.  She did not like to think what types of people were making these sounds.  The worse were the Voices that were very clearly human.  They gibbered and howled madly, lusting so savagely for something they could not express.  Their cries were devoid of all substance and form, but she knew to stay away from them.  She had always been a smart girl.

Smart or not, she was still very young and this new world was not a kind place.  Already it was winding tendrils of unease and turmoil in through her every pore.  She herself felt grayer, as if she were part of this dark, unstable world. 

Her only solace was his room.  His room was the furthest point from the Voices, the place where objects stayed more solid and sounds rung more truly.  She stood in doorway every second she could.  It was as close to his room as she could get.  She was not allowed in, despite all attempts to step through the door, it would not let her.  She had begun to wonder if the door was keeping her out so as to keep the Voices out or if she was not letting herself in the room in case the Voices did follow her in.  After all, one had to be careful when entering someone’s home uninvited, it was quite rude. 

She looked in on him, his sleep peaceful and still.  He was what kept the Voices out of the room.  Her wistful gaze never left him as she recited her nightly rite.  Again and again, she murmured her name to the sleeping form, her whisper mournfully enticing.  She felt the pull of this place on her and knew that she was allowing them root in her, but her ritual was a near compulsion.  It was fervent necessity.  It was validation.


Calvin woke slowly, his dreams fading to simple shapes and shades and then reforming to the dark contours of his moonlit bedroom.  His mouth tasted like a cotton wad and his legs were cramped.  He was in the process of waking himself up further when he realized it was still hours away from his six o’clock starting gun.  A sound sleeper, unaccustomed to waking at such premier hours, Calvin rolled over the side of his bed and gazed out the window.  The silent, calm of his neighborhood glazed by a waxing moon’s glow was an eerie sight to Calvin.  It was a view no young, curious child could pass up, especially not once beset with such a sudden wakefulness. 

He opened his mouth wide and ran his tongue over the far corners of his mouth, trying to wash the cotton out of his mouth.  Having achieved this goal, he found himself unable to focus on the glowing portrait painted outside his window.  Calvin found his brain completely locked in what James would no doubt colorfully dub a “brain fart”.


She had watched him wake and her murmuring was beginning to spiral out of her control.  She could no sooner stop her whispering than she could stop a speeding train.  And then he spoke.


Crystal clear in a world of distortion and unreality, his voice slammed shut the floodgates of her whispering.  The dark, oily Voices quieted and Abby stepped through the door into the room’s warm glow.

Monday, April 25, 2011

That Guy

In all the heist movies, someone always gets pinched or sick or whatever at the very last minute and everyone else has to scramble to find a replacement.  I was the replacement.  I was “that guy”.  And whenever “that guy” exists in the group there’s always someone else in the crew who has to vouches for the newbie.  Hey, don’t worry, man. He’s cool.  That’d be Dempster.  He is the one vouching for me.  Except in all the heist movies, I am not cool.  I’m a narc or a coward or a psychopath.  I am the one who fucks the whole plan to hell.  Looking around, I kind of think I deserve the title of “that guy”.  I walked into this little dress rehearsal in a slate three-piece suit of acceptable quality with a dark duffel bag holding a ski mask, gloves, and a shoulder rig for a 9mm.  The standard apparel of the room is punk rock rags, ski masks, and semi-automatic rifles. 

Yeah, I really am “that guy.”

They all have that look on their faces.  They’ve all brushed up on Bank Jobs 101. They know I’m going to be the one to fuck everything to hell.  How am I supposed to hold up my end of things if I’m worried about wrinkling my suit and I’m packing a piece of European plastic?

But Dempster knows how it is.  I’m a professional who wants to get paid.  I like the image the suit conveys and the simplicity of a Glock 9mm.  He knows I’m cool.

Dress rehearsal goes down and the unspoken hostility continues.  Sure, I got all the steps down, but I could still crack under pressure and I’ve just got that look about me.  Yeah, I’m smart and can think on my feet, but I could also get to thinking that screwing these guys over would benefit me more, I am an outsider after all.  Course Dempster vouched for me, but I’m still the weirdo in the three-piece suit.  All of this is more than enough to bury to me, but fortunately there’s not enough time to buy me a plot or fit me for cement sneakers.  They’re stuck with me if they don’t want to scrap the plan and they hate it. 


T-minus two weeks faded to t-minus two hours and four punks and a three-piece suit go over one last verbal run through the ringer before they each reenact their favorite heist film. 

The job’s a quick one.  “Get in, get the money, and haul your ass the fuck out” as Dempster described it to me.  The cops are inevitably going to get called.  No good heist works under the assumption that you can stop the police from crashing the party, so good jobs rely on delaying that 911 call or that silent alarm until you’ve started getting money shoveled into your pockets.  After that, and even more important, is getting the fuck out before the cops laid out the red carpet for you. 

We did just that.  Mostly. 

Our escape coincided with the first surge of police activities.  This was not a wholly unforeseen event and the plan was still a simple one:  scatter, ditch any black-and-white tag-alongs and meet at the designated safe point.  Anyone who cannot perform such a task within an hour of exiting the bank was then left to fend for him or herself.  Those who did were treated to a slow ride home in a cramped white cable van. 

An hour ticked by on my watch and the van rumbled gamely to life.  I made sure my duffel was secured on the passenger-side floor and those who had not performed the required task were left to fend for themselves. 


The color television set was probably the only thing that had changed in the hotel room since its construction over fifty years ago.  The big report on the news is still the bank robbery earlier today.  Four of the five suspects were apprehended.  The fifth, a man of medium height and build, was last seen in a dark suit and was said to still be at large.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Silentium Est Aureum

It was that dog.  That goddamn, motherfucking neighbor dog.  Nora had tried to talk to the little shit’s owner, but they had just credited it to a youthful exuberance that would most assuredly fade as the dog grew older.  This explanation did a fantastic job of allowing her to sleep well until the dog finally grew out of its idiot yipping. 

After talking to the family had failed, Nora had attempted to confront the problem in a more head-on manner while the neighbors were out at work.  An unemployable nurse had plenty of time to discipline the dog just one-on-one.  The problem with a strange woman trying to discipline a rambunctious young dachshund was that the little dogs could be quite aggressive.  Nora had left with a pair of bite marks on her left leg that she could not quite identify as either friendly or malicious. 

It was three nights since the bite and her attempted disciplining of the little dog appeared to have had absolutely no effect.  It was well after midnight and still the idiot yipping poured over the fence and through her bedroom window.  It was an ice pick burrowing through her skull.  Maddening did not begin to explain the sensation; it was a roiling agony sweeping through all reaches of her mind.

It was that night that Nora decided to reclaim the silence of the night.  That mongrel dog deserved it.  After all, the little shit had had the nerve to bite her.


The next morning, Nora roused herself at five.  She had slept little and lightly the night before and it was no problem to awake early enough to go about her preparations.  She emptied out her largest purse while starting a pot of coffee and went into the garage to lay hands on the medical supplies she had squirreled away before they had fired her.  She found what she was looking for and set them neatly in the black leather purse.  From her garage she shuffled into her kitchen, poured herself a mug of black coffee and gathered another instrument she would need. 

When eight o’clock rolled around and the neighbors had not yet left Nora felt her resolve slip.  A desperate voice of reason pushed itself forward.  What if one of them was sick and taking the day off work?  What if she was seen by a passing jogger?  Worst yet, what if this was wrong?  These doubts passed quickly as two well-dressed figures walked with linked hands to a white Toyota parked in the driveway.  This was the last time Nora’s failing voice of sanity ever spoke up.  Instead, steadfast and unbreakable surety took over.  She had been waiting for their departure for more than two hours, sitting in a battered easy chair, sipping her coffee, and peering through the blinds.

She counted out a full five minutes on her wristwatch before feeling satisfied that they had not left anything worth turning around for.  She set her mug aside and relieved herself before retrieving her bag.

Nora left through the side door.

She flicked the neighbor’s gate open.

A syringe emptied.

A paralytic activated.

A needle flashed.

Thick, black thread bit into flesh.

A crooked grin stitched over silenced jaws.

A knife tore.

The dog bled.

She flicked the neighbor’s gate open.

Nora returned through the side door.

Silence reigned. 


Noisome disturbances intruded upon silence’s ascendancy soon after. 

Within minutes of arriving home Mister and Misses Yappy Dog (Nora had never felt the urge to retain their names) had found their dog and the bitch was calling her.  Nora had been expecting no less and had thusly situated herself next to the phone in her living room, again lounging in her battered easy chair.  This time, however, the preparations were mental, not physical. 

She let the phone ring three times before picking up the handset.  It would be best that they not know she had been waiting for this very call.  No sooner had the phone reached her ear then did the furiously shrill voice of Misses Yappy Dog rip through her eardrum, all a-light with teary acrimony and quivering indignation.  The piercing voice pushed on, indignation mounting with every denial of guilt Nora uttered.  Not that it really mattered; the shrill woman on the other end of the line had nothing real to base her accusations on. 

She let the woman wail on until she had no wind with which to speak and Nora hung up quietly while the woman took pause to inhale.

The police came by shortly after Nora and her neighbor finished their discourse.  They spoke first to Mister and Misses Yappy Dog and then to Nora to investigate the dog owners’ claim.  They left soon after.  They too had nothing concrete to go on. 

And so, with the police gone and the banshee next door stewing in her own juices, Nora sat back and reveled in the silence. 


Three days had passed and Nora had received not a moment of peace since she had hung up on the blubbering neighbor bitch.  At all hours of the day she called (apparently showing up for work was not longer a priority for her).  She demanded Nora take responsibility for her dog’s murder.  Inwardly scoffing at the notion that a repulsive mutt such as that was capable of being murdered, she corrected the maddening notion mentally.  She had simply, and almost nobly, cleansed the neighborhood of that despicable mongrel, but she had absolutely no intention of sharing that information with the shrieking hag next door.  Nora continued politely contradicting the accusations and once more set the phone back into the cradle without ceremony. 


Three more days of agonizing torment ensued before Nora decided once more to reclaim the silence of the night.


Nora sat waiting in her easy chair, this time preparing herself for nightfall.  This time discipline would reach out to the source of Nora’s problem.  Not the yippy dog that had once tormented her so, but the woman—that goddamn, motherfucking neighbor woman.  Her large leather bag was once more filled with supplies from her garage and kitchen.  Now, in addition to the syringe filled with a high-grade paralytic, a heavy needle, a thick spool of thread, and long chef knife, were two thumbtacks and two small post-it notes with three words scrawled unevenly across both. 

Silence is golden.