A Conversation With Clovis Mouton, At The Tiki Bar

GOOD TO MEET YOU, BOYD. I’M CLOVIS MOUTON. I’m buying the next round if we’re talking. What are you drinking?

(Sometime Later…)

I never lied about a fish I caught or one that got away. Not a lot of fishermen can say that. I’ve lied my ass off about where I caught fish, but I always told The Gospel Truth about everything else.

What? Why lie about where I caught fish? Think about it. If I walked into a bar like this after a day on the water, bragging to every angler within earshot about all the fish I caught, and said where I caught them, there’d be a god damn fisherman’s convention out there next weekend when I went back! Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Mais yeah, it should make sense! *laughs*

Sailfish. That’s what brings me out here to Islamorada. Captain Chuck Higgins is the guy I use. Hired him to charter me every day this week. I always hire Chuck when I’m down here. I’m not gonna tell you where he takes me. Hire him next week if you want. *laughs*

Anyway, what was I saying? Oh, right- I always lie about where I catch fish, but I always tell the truth, The Gospel Truth, about everything else. Cross my heart, Scout’s Honor, right hand to God. You believe me, don’t you? I have no reason to lie to you about anything else; follow me?

It’s important that you know I’m not bullshitting you when I tell you what I’m about to tell you. Trust me, I couldn’t spin a yarn like this one if I tried. Nobody could, not even Mark Twain. And I never told anybody about this before, not even my wife, and I tell her everything.

After all this time why tell you? Hell, Boyd, I don’t know. Maybe because I’m old, and probably because I’m a little drunk. And you just look like you’d be the type who’d understand; follow me?

It was all my fault, really. Can’t blame anybody else for it but me. I was working too much. Probably drinking too much, too. And I was lonely.

Years ago, not long after we’d gotten married, my wife’s sister’s baby boy passed away. Doctor said babies just die like that sometimes. They stop breathing, no good reason for it, and they die. Well, her sister was devastated. The daddy wasn’t in the picture. She was all alone up there in Kansas City.

I remember the phone rang at two in the morning. It was her sister. I hand the phone to my wife and she just sat there listening. Said she couldn’t live another day in a world where everything she loved would get taken away. Didn’t want to live anymore. My wife was on the next flight up there. Stayed with her and looked after her for damn-near six months. Six months, Boyd.

So like I was saying, I was lonely, I was putting-in too many hours at work, and maybe I was drinking more than I ought to have been.

Loneliness’ll do that to you. It’ll make you lose sight of The Bigger Picture; follow me?

The Bigger Picture? Okay, for example: me and my wife have been married for thirty-seven years. And damned if those years haven’t been good years. Real good years. Six months doesn’t amount to much when you look at it like that, hindsight being what it is. That’s what I mean by The Bigger Picture.

But I didn’t see things like that, back then. And maybe one mistake in thirty-seven years doesn’t amount to much either, Boyd, who knows?

Anyway, I had an affair. And I regretted it immediately. Still do. And I never told anybody about it. And I never told anybody about what happened after that either, that’s for damn sure! And that’s the most important part, Boyd.

It was with Abigail Duhon. Why she picked that dive on that Thursday night I will never know. She sat down at the bar next to me, and she wasn’t like the usual clientele who frequented that place. Most women like her drink down town; follow me? You don’t see old money being thrown around dive bars like that one. Bars like that are where people go when the money’s damn-near run out. But there she was, and damned if she wouldn’t leave me alone. Not that I made a herculean effort to fight-off her advances, either. Like I said, I was lonely.

I’ll put it this way- I missed my wife. I missed her terribly. But I missed the, what should we call it? Uh, the “connubial bliss,” I missed that more; follow me? A man can miss his wife like the French say- tu me manques, “You are missing from me,” or a man can miss his wife because a man has needs and she ain’t there to meet them. Well, that was how I justified it. “A man has needs, doesn’t he?”

I missed her too much the wrong way, Boyd.

The next morning Abigail was gone. Left me a note, “Had a nice evening Clovis, but it won’t happen again, take care of yourself” is what it said. And Boyd, do you want to know what the real irony was? I was too damn drunk that night to remember what the woman was like in bed, the next day! Not that I wanted to. I felt bona-fide horrible when the light of day shone on the decision I’d made, that morning. Horrible was all I felt.

I called my boss and told him I couldn’t come to work that morning. Told him I was sick. “Bullshit, you’re going fishing” he said. He was right of course. I’d already hooked the boat trailer up to the truck before I called him. He told me I could take the day off anyway, and I didn’t hear anything about it after that.

That’s when I met the Old Man, Boyd, down at the lake that afternoon. Christ, I still get the frissons when I think about… Him. He told me he was one-hundred and six years old, Boyd. Can you believe that? One-hundred and six years old, so help me God.

You’re going to need another drink for this, Boyd. You and me both. Tell Millie to make me another Test Pilot, and that I’d also like a Landshark with a lime, and order yourself whatever you’d like. Have her put it on my tab. I’ll be back in a minute.

I don’t like remembering him, Boyd. I thought -hell, hoped-beyond-hope- that the memory of meeting him would fade as I got on in years like all the other memories seem to, but it hasn’t; follow me? I don’t think even Alzheimer’s could erase it. God-forbid I ever get Alzheimers, of course.

I’m giving it all to you straight, Boyd. Just like I remember it, just like it was yesterday.

I was out there on the water in my old pirogue, about thirty or so yards from the bank just beyond the cypress trees and the lily pads. I hadn’t caught a damn thing all day, and it wasn’t because my mind was too wrapped-up in what’d happened the night before with Abigail, either. Nothing was biting.

Now, I’ve been fishing since I was eight years old and I know just as well as any other fisherman that days like that are why we call it “fishing” and not “catching.” So I cracked-open a beer and resigned myself to the fact that I’d be doing a whole lot more drinking than catching that day.

And that’s what brings us to him, Boyd. The Old Man. I was sitting there in my pirogue, drinking a beer, when I saw a tall, wiry-looking old man walking down the bank. He was wearing a pair of old blue jeans, a white t-shirt, and one of those bushman-style hats.

And he had a fly rod in his hand, of all things. In South Louisiana! Can you believe that, Boyd? “There’s no speckled trout within five-hundred square miles of here or more,” I thought to myself. I’d been throwing all my best lures and hadn’t got so much as a nibble all day, like walking through the TB ward and not even catching a cold; follow me?

“No way,” I thought, “is He going to catch anything with that fly rod.”

After a little while he picked a spot near the lily pads. I watched him cast a few times, that mid-air “back and forth, back and forth” way they do. A couple times he’d let that fly land on the water, and then he’d pull it off real fast and start all over again with that “back and forth, back and forth” stuff.

After a minute or two he made a cast and let the fly land on the water, right in the thick of those lily pads. I watched him strip a little bit of line, and then a little bit more, moving that fly along the surface of the water. All of a sudden, from out of nowhere, a fish hit that fly! Ever catch a bass top-water, Boyd? You see an explosion on the surface when the fish hits your popper, it’s wild! He pulled-back on that rod and I watched it bend with the weight of that fish. I watched him strip foot after foot of line until he had it on the bank, a nice little bass. He removed the fly from its mouth, inspected the fish for a moment, and then put it back in the water and let it swim away.

I opened another beer and kept on watching him. He’d cast in mid-air for several moments while surveying the water, looking for a spot he liked. Then he’d cast and let that fly land real gentle. Sometimes he’d leave the fly to sit there on the water for a minute or two and other times he’d strip some line and make it dart along the surface. And he caught three more fish that way, if you can believe it!

When he started walking toward another spot a little way down the bank from there, I pointed my pirogue at those lily pads and started making my way over to them. Damned if the fish didn’t seem to follow him though. *laughs* I tied-on one of my best popping lures and fished that spot for a damn hour, walking that lure through anywhere the way was clear, and didn’t get a single bite. And every time I’d look over at the Old Man he was turning another fish loose.

Didn’t take me long before I got fed-up with it and pointed my pirogue at the boat launch.

It was the curiosity that made me want to go talk to him. I wanted to know what the hell was on the end of his leader that the fish were so gaga for; follow me?

So after I’d gotten my pirogue back onto the trailer, I pulled my truck away from the boat launch, parked, and took-off down the bank in the direction I’d seen him walking.

When I found him he was kneeling down by the water, holding a large, bull chinquapin. Biggest one I’ve ever seen. I tell you Boyd, that sunfish must’ve weighed four pounds. He took what looked to me like a crude dragonfly out of the fish’s mouth, a then let it go.

“Nice catch” I said to him.

The Old Man didn’t say a word to me. He just stood-up slowly, and when he turned to me, Boyd I swear… The Old Man didn’t have any eyes

I said he had no god damn eyes!

Well he had, I don’t know damn it, just skin, shiny skin, scarred-like, over where his eyes should’ve been. I was staring right into his eyeless face, Boyd, and I could feel him staring back at me somehow!

No! No, I’m not kidding! I told you already, this is The Gospel Truth!

I’m trying to calm down! Where’s Millie? I need her to bring me another god damn drink.

When the Old Man turned to me, I forgot all about the fish. I forgot about Abigail Duhon and my wife, too. All I could do was stare into that eyeless face of his.

What’d the Old Man look like apart from having scarred patches of skin over where his eyes should’ve been, you mean? Well, he was a white man. And his face was long, and weathered. Tanned, too, like he’d been in the sun a lot. Strong jaw, and you could see the muscles under his cheeks when they twitched. And like I said before, he was wiry. Wiry but not frail. He was more sinewy-looking, tough. But he was tall, too, with long arms and long legs.

I don’t know how long I was standing there, staring at him, but he snapped me out of it when he spoke to me.

“Something’s bothering you” he said.

What’d I say back to him? Shit, Boyd, I said the only thing I could say back to him!

“Sir, you don’t have any eyes.”

“I know,” he said, “I burned them out, Clovis.”

Yes that’s right, the Old Man said he burned-out his own god damn eyeballs! Burned them right out of his own head! And yes he called me by my name, and before you ask- no, I have no idea how he knew what my name was!

Well of course I asked him why the hell he did it! And he told me, too! Told me the whole story and I remember it all, word-for-word:

“I met Alexandra, my wife, when I was eighteen years old. I loved her the moment I met her. I married her two months later. She gave me sixty-seven years of her life and eleven beautiful children, Clovis. And never, in that entire time, did I ever so much as look at another woman.

When she died, I swore I’d never fall in love again. I was an old man by then, didn’t think I could, anyway. But I’m still a man after all, and after she’d been gone a while, my eyes started looking. Much as I didn’t want them to, they looked. It didn’t matter where I was or what I was doing, I’d look up and my eyes would find another woman, and they’d try to make me fall in love with her.

One morning I was at church, and my eyes kept looking up at a woman who was singing in the choir, when they should’ve been looking down at the words in the hymnal I was holding. I decided right then and there that something had to be done.

When I got home from church that afternoon I started a fire in the fireplace. Once it was going real good, I left the tip of a poker to sit in there and warm-up. I said prayers while it got good and hot. And once it was glowing red, I took it out of the fire and burned my eyes out with it. First the right one and then the left one.”

I was staring right at it and I still couldn’t believe it. And I don’t know what scared me worse- the scars where his damn eyes should’ve been, the fact he’d done it to himself, or Hell, that it felt like the Old Man could still see me somehow. Boyd, I’m telling you, I’d never been so scared in all my life, and Lord I hope I never am again, I’d probably have a heart attack and die!

And get this, Boyd. After he told me that story, after I had time to think about it, process it, I asked him how the hell he got himself down to the lake that afternoon.

Know what he told me?

He said, “I thought my way here…”

No I am not bullshitting you, Boyd! This what he told me, I swear to God!

“…after I ate my breakfast” he said, “I decided I wanted to go fishing. So I sat down in my rocking chair, started rocking back-and-forth, back-and-forth real good until I was real relaxed, and then I started thinking about the lake. Thinking about it real hard you know, like I could almost see it. And before I knew it, I could see it. Not with my eyes of course, they’re long gone. I’m talking about seeing it in my mind. And before I knew it, here I was.”

I can’t make this shit up!

I told him I didn’t believe him, that it was impossible! What the hell else do you think I told him? And you know what the Old Man said to me? I’ll tell you-

“Clovis,” he said, “I’m a hundred and six years-old, and I’m blind. You don’t honestly believe that I walked all the way here from Lafayette, do you?”

That’s why I never told anybody about it, Boyd! Because of how crazy it all sounds. I was afraid they’d have me committed!

Care to know what else he told me? He said that if I ever went looking for Abigail Duhon again, or any other girl for that matter, he’d let me borrow his fire poker. Said he’d bring it to me, himself! That’s what sent me running back to my truck, Boyd. That’s what put the fear of God in me.

So do you believe me, Boyd? Or do you think I’m crazy?

Hell no I haven’t! And if Millie has a Bible under the bar somewhere I’ll swear on it! I was never unfaithful again after that. Do you understand, Boyd? never again after that! At first it was because I was terrified the Old Man would come looking for me, ready to burn out my eyeballs with that fire poker of his. But after a while I guess you could say I started looking more at what I had, and not so much at what-all was going on out there; follow me?

I didn’t want to go on another ten, twenty years without telling someone about it. I couldn’t. Hell, I’ve carried it around with me for so long already that the idea of going another day without telling somebody about it felt like it’d kill me.

Imagine going all that time after something like that, thinking nobody’d believe you. Thinking they’d call you crazy.

I knew you’d understand. Christ, Boyd, I feel like a damn millstone’s been lifted from around my neck.

(Thirty-Six Years Earlier…)

An orderly at the Maison De Lafayette rest home checks-in on her favorite resident- a blind centenarian who often regales her with stories about his deceased wife, their children, their grandchildren, and occasionally- fly fishing. Sometimes he tells her about things that haven’t happened yet, like the time he told her that her she’d become pregnant with twins. The door to his room doesn’t fit right in the jamb, and it creaks loudly as she opens it.

“Bonnie, is that you?” he calls.

“You knew it was me before I opened the door” she answers, making her way to him. She’s smiling.

He’s in his rocking chair, by the only window in his room. The window is open, and the sunlight and the breeze coming through makes the room feel expansive.

Reaching him she places her hand on his shoulder. He pats her hand gently, and smiles.

“Be a dear and hang my fishing hat up over there, would you Bonnie?”

“All done fishing for the day, are we?”

“Yes ma’am, I think so.”

“Let me put your fishing rod away for you, too, then.”

He smiles. “Thank you, Bonnie. I appreciate that.”

Once his hat and his fly rod are put away, she pulls a chair up next to him, and they begin to talk.

“Catch anything good at the lake today?”

“As a matter of fact Bonnie, I did! But I can tell you all about that later. Right now I want to hear about how your babies are doing.”

© 2016 Kenneth Atkins

A Conversation With Clovis Mouton, At The Tiki Bar

The Landlord

“GOD DAMN IT, ROBBIE DOMINGUE,” she shouted, “deposit the god damn rent check already! It’s the eighteenth for crying out loud!”

He heard her over the din blasting from his headphones. Not her exact words per-se, but the sounds she was making. He removed the cans at once.

“What’s that, babe? Everything okay?”

“NO!”

She stormed from the kitchen into his office, smartphone in-hand, on-line banking app open, account balance at-the-ready. Reaching him she thrust her hand forward, forking-over the latest evidence of their Landlord’s ineptitude for him to examine.

He took it, and after adjusting his glasses, he peered at the cool, luminescent screen.

“Oh wow, there’s almost twenty-five hundred dollars in our checking account!”

“Yeah, because once-again that lazy-ass Robbie Domingue has yet to deposit our rent check!”

He chuckled to himself and shook his head.

“It must be nice y’know, to have so much money that you could just ignore a check for twelve-hundred dollars.”

“Repeatedly.”

“Yeah.”

She was pissed.

He pushed himself and his office chair backward, then reached for her and pulled her onto his lap. She couldn’t not giggle, and her little nose crinkled when she did. He adored it when she giggled like that. Her petite body resting on his lap felt good. She nuzzled his neck with her face, and that felt good to him too.

“Babe, what are we gonna do?” She asked him.

The next track on the playlist roared from his headphones, and she stopped.

“My Lord that’s loud! What’s that ‘song’ you’re listening to?” She used her fingers to put air-quotes around the word “song” when she said it.

“That’s ‘Cashing In.'”

(Ha-ha-ha-ha, ho-ho-ho. How do you do, I don’t think that we’ve met. My name is Ian, and I’m from Minor Threat!)

She giggled again, and declared “It sounds terrible.”

He growled, then pulled-up her shirt and gave her a vigorous raspberry, right in the middle of her tummy. Her giggling turned to laughter and her nose crinkled again.

They lived in a three bedroom, two bathroom house which they referred to as The Love Nest. They rented it from one Mr. Robbie Domingue, an affable but terribly absent-minded and lazy Landlord who had never, in their entire history at that address, deposited any of their rent checks in a timely manner.

“But seriously, though! It’s like he doesn’t even want our money!”

“Who on Earth doesn’t want money?”

“Yeah. Even Ian from Minor Threat likes money!”

(I’m takin’ a walk on the yellow-brick road. I only walk where the bricks are made of gold. My mind and body are the only things that I’ve sold. I need a little money, ‘cuz I’m gettin’ old…)

She was laughing again.

It wasn’t just the fact that their Landlord was forever making a liar of their checking account, though. It was so much more than that and sadly, a lot of it had to do with The Love Nest itself, and the fact that Robbie Domingue materialized to fix the various problems they’d had with that house with roughly the same frequency as he’d materialize at the bank the first of every month to deposit their rent checks.

She’d settled into the tub one evening to enjoy a steaming-hot bubble bath after work. The tub was filling up, and he was in the kitchen, pouring a glass of wine for her, when the silence was broken by an abrupt shout-

“Oh my God I broke the hot water!”

He set the wine bottle on the counter and rushed into the bathroom. There she was, up to her neck in bubbles, while the hot water ran with reckless abandon. She was holding the knob in her hand.

“It just popped right off!”

“No problem babe, hold on just a sec!”

He dashed to the hall closet and rifled through the shoeboxes full of pictures, the shopping bags full of Christmas ornaments, and all the other sundry stuff looking for anything that resembled a useful tool.

He returned with vice grips, and torqued their toothy mouth parts down hard onto the little screw part protruding from the wall. Once secured, he gave it a few good turns, shutting off the water.

Later that evening, she’d texted Robbie Domingue about it. Not long after he answered her, apologizing. He mentioned that the previous tenants had problems with the hot water knob too, and that he’d “swing-by to fix it ASAP.”

Several months passed, and the vice grips remained the primary apparatus for turning the hot water on and off in the shower. Robbie had texted another apology a few weeks after it happened:

Hey! really sorry I haven’t been by to fix the faucet been traveling for work I’ll come by this week and fix it ASAP!!!!

But that had been it. Robbie never got around to actually coming over and fixing it. And they had never heard from Robbie about it again after that.

The twenty-fifth rolled around, and according to her on-line banking statement, the rent check had finally been deposited. The drier gave a loud buzz, alerting her to the fact that dry, toasty-warm bedsheets that smelled fantastic awaited her behind its flip-down door. She put down her cellphone, and went to unload the drier.

Moments later she walked into their room to put the fresh sheets on the bed. Entering the room she flipped the switch on the wall by the dresser. The ceiling fan began to turn, but the lights mounted below it did not spring to life. She reached for the chain suspended below and gave it a tug. The ceiling fan, the entire thing lights and all, came crashing down onto the bed, followed by a cascade of plaster dust, and little bits of pink insulation from the attic.

“Fuuuuuck!” she shouted.

He was on his way home from fly fishing when he got her text:

You won’t believe this. The ceiling fan in our bedroom fell out of the god damn ceiling a minute ago.

While stopped at a red light, he texted-back:

Oh for fuck’s sake.

And she text-replied-back with:

Yeah. Texting Domingue.

Later that evening, while he was cooking dinner, he heard her phone ding-ding twice from the table. It was a text from Robbie Domingue. He picked up her phone and walked down the hall to the bathroom with it. He gave a soft knock at the bathroom door.

“Yeah?”

“Hey baby, it’s me.”

“Yeah? Me who?”

“Me. Your husband. Do you recognize my voice?”

Giggling- “What?”

“Are you peeing?”

She giggled again, and then added “Not that it’s any of your business, but yes.”

“Well, Robbie Domingue texted you back, finally.”

“Yeah, what did he say? Will he be here to fix the ceiling fan in the bedroom ‘A-S-A-P’?”

“Winner winner, chicken dinner” he deadpanned.

She cackled. He smiled and went back to cooking dinner.

Several weeks and a smattering of text messages from Robbie Domingue begging them to forgive him for his tardiness in getting-around to fixing their ceiling fan later, an electrician friend of theirs came by the house and fixed it for them, asking for nothing more in return than an invitation to stay for dinner. They happily obliged.

Not long after, on a Friday, he was returning home from an absolutely shit day at the ponds. His Boss had given him the day off. He’d wanted to go catch fish, but hadn’t felt like driving out to Lake Martin, or to the bar pits in Henderson. He’d opted instead to visit the small, two-acre drainage ponds he was fond of, in a nearby neighborhood. Hardly anybody fished there, and most of the time he could catch blue gill all the livelong day and not be bothered. It hadn’t been one of those days though. Nothing was biting.

His sour mood lifted when he returned home and saw her ‘vette in the driveway. He knew she’d gone to veiller with her mother and aunt earlier that afternoon and figured she’d still be there.

He parked, unbuckled his seatbelt, made sure to turn the volume on the stereo down from a 42 to a 6 lest she get punched in the ears by his music the next time they got in there to drive somewhere together, killed the engine and exited the Jeep.

He came in through the back door, to the kitchen. And there she was.

On entering he announced “There’s my baby” with a happy exuberance in his voice.

She didn’t respond. She just stood there, looking up at the ceiling.

“What’s going on, babe?” he asked.

Her eyes remained fixed on the ceiling and she raised her index finger, pointing in the direction she was looking just as a large water droplet fell, landing on his head with a soft, wet thump.

“What the Hell?”

He looked up. The ceiling was soggy from the edge of the fluorescent light fixture up there, all the way to the back door.

“Something’s leaking up there!”

“Uh-huh.”

“Fuck, could it be the roof?”

“No, I don’t think it’s the roof. It hasn’t rained in a couple of weeks.”

The Love Nest’s attic was accessible by way of a panel in the ceiling of the spare bedroom. He gave the cord affixed to it a tug. It opened, and out came the fold-up wooden steps. And what piss-poor shape they were in, too. The bottom segment barely held on to the frame of the segment above it, and several of the steps on both segments were broken. It looked like nobody had ascended them to the attic in years, which made perfect sense to them because Lord knew, it’d probably take another several years for Robbie Domingue to show up and take care of which ever tenant’s request it was -probably the first, probably fifteen fucking years ago- to come and fix them.

“You’re way too heavy to get up those steps safely, babe. I’ll have to go.”

“You’re probably right. But I don’t want you on those steps, either. Look at them!”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, No problem. Here’s what we do- I’m going to lift you up, and you’re going to grab that top step up there. It looks solid. Then, I’ll boost you up by your feet, and you can pull yourself the rest of the way in. Sound good?”

“Mmmhm.”

He took his petite wife by the waist and hoisted her up overhead. She took hold of the top step and it did indeed feel solid. Next he stooped, took her by the feet, and boosted her the rest of the way in while she pulled herself up.

“Alright babe, make your way in the direction of the kitchen and see if you can find the source of the leak.”

Moments later she hollered-back to him, “Found it! It’s a little clear plastic tube. It’s all wet, and I can hear it hissing.”

“I bet that’s the line that runs water to the fridge!”

“Huh?”

“The water and the ice maker in the fridge;” he hollered more loudly, then adding “I bet that’s where it gets the water from.”

“Oh yeah, definitely! It looks like it’s coming from where the pantry is, I think.”

The water heater occupied a small alcove just off the pantry. He wasn’t a plumber, but it still made sense in a plumbing sort of way that the line which fed water to the fridge would terminate in that alcove somewhere. It also made sense in a Robbie Domingue sort of way that it would pick today to start leaking.

“Alright, stay up there and keep your eye on it. I’m gonna go see if I can find where it ends. Stand-by.”

“It’s absolutely soaking-wet up here!”

A second or two later he was in the pantry, opening the makeshift door which hid the alcove in which the water heater stood. Four clear plastic tubes like the one she’d described snaked up the wall.

“Babe?”

“Yeah?”

“There’s a couple-few down here. I’m gonna pull on each one. Shout if you see it move.”

“Okay!”

He took hold of the first and gave it a yank.

“Anything?”

“Nope.”

He tried the second. Nothing.

Then he gave the third a yank, and she shouted “It moved!”

“Okay! Stay there and keep watching. I’m gonna see if I can find a shut-off knob or something down here.”

He began to trace the tube, down the wall, part-way across the floor where it coiled several times over, and then into the wall the alcove shared with the kitchen, by way of a large, raggedy hole. He remembered seeing similar coils of tubing under the sink.

“Hang tight, baby!”

He dashed into the kitchen, opened the cabinet below the sink, and peered in. Sure enough, way in the back, were two more of those tubes. One in particular had a little metal valve on it.

“I think I’ve got it. Holler if the hissing stops!”

He flipped the valve into what he figured would be the “off” position.

“It stopped!” she shouted.

After helping her down from the attic, he sent a text message to Robbie Domingue:

There was a leak in the attic ceiling in kitchen soaked. Shut-off fridge water to stop leak. Ceiling will need to be repaired.

Several minutes later Robbie returned the volley, with:

Really sorry!!!!! In Shreveport for work till next fri

And:

will handle that for ya’ ASAP when I get back!!!!!!

And the dingy-looking brown stain on the kitchen ceiling, and the bubbled, peeling sheetrock the stain clung to, had henceforth remained un-handled, even until the day they found the dead body.

He didn’t want her climbing into, or around in, that attic ever again. If the condition of the rafters up there was anything like the shape those steps were in, he surmised, it was better that he should fall through the ceiling than her.

They had been cleaning-up the other spare bedroom, the one they called The Calamity Room. It was where they’d put old clothes, all the things they didn’t use like that old bicycle, and boxes of Christmas ornaments, stuff like that.

For want of storage space anywhere else in the house, he set about moving the bike, the bins full of old clothes, the boxes of computer parts and old CD’s, and so forth, into the attic. He climbed the decrepit steps as gingerly as he could, and was relieved when he reached the attic safely.

From below, she hoisted the boxes and bins up to him. The bicycle was trickier, but they managed.

Once finished, he stopped to have a look around. Aside from their things, there wasn’t much else up there, save for a large cardboard box or two in corner, along with an old rocking horse and a large steamer trunk. The dust and the cobwebs on them were thick, like they’d been left there the day after the house was built and were forgotten about.

“Babe,” she called up to him, “are you about done? I don’t like you being up there so long.”

“Yeah baby, I just want to check out this stuff I found over here in the corner.”

“What, that old hobby horse?”

“Yeah.”

“That fucking thing’s evil-looking.”

And it was. What he could see of it’s painted-on expression through the dust, anyway. And the scaffolding of cobwebs that arose from the beams up to it’s nose enhanced the effect. He gave it’s nose a tap and it rocked, and stirred up some dust which looked like smoke in the beam of his flashlight.

Next he turned his attention to the old steamer trunk. A large thing, it reminded him of the kind of trunk you’d see floating around in the icy water near the Titanic while it sank. There was no lock, its lid was sealed only by a film of dust, and a buckle affixed to a leather strap.

“There’s a big-ass trunk up here! I’m going to have a look inside, maybe there’s something valuable in there.”

“Okay.”

“Antiques Roadshow here we come!”

He heard her giggling. “I’m not holding my breath!”

He unfastened the buckle and removed the leather strip from it. He raised the lid, and a gentle creek emerged from the hinges. What greeted him next was the musty scent of dry rot with notes, oddly enough, of old beef jerky. It wasn’t so much a stench but rather, what remained left-behind after whatever had caused a stench had run its course.

He shined his flashlight into the trunk.

His heart stopped mid-beat and his lungs stopped mid-breath at the sight of what greeted him from inside the steamer trunk.

There before him lie what was left of the body of what appeared to be a smallish woman -definitely a smallish old woman, curled up in the fetal position, with a multicolored mumu clinging to her desiccated frame. Her head was turned sharply to the left, several degrees farther than a human head is supposed to turn. The vista of her skull, replete with empty eye sockets and patches of preserved tissue still clinging to it, looking up at him and grinning wildly, gave his mind the impetus it needed to command his brain to flood the rest of his system with adrenaline, freeing him from the suspended animation the fright had gripped him with.

With no regard for safety he bolted across the attic, negotiating each beam with wild, clumsy, ambling strides in the direction of the light which shone through the open trapdoor.

She dove out of the way of his feet and watched from the floor as the rest of his body followed, assholes-and-elbows, in a cloud of dust and cobwebs. A split second later he, too, was on the floor, and he launched his body toward the corner opposite them in a frantic lunge. Once there he stood, and pressing the palms of his hands against the walls as hard as he could, in an effort to center himself, he tried to get his breathing under control.

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” he whispered, on every quick exhalation.

She dashed to him.

“Baby, baby what is it? What happened?” she asked, with the tone of a calm-but-urgent concern for her husband in her voice.

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”

“Baby? Baby? What is it?” she asked again, with a voice still concerned, but more soothing this time, while she rubbed his chest firmly with the palm of her hand.

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck! Fuck!”

“What is it my baby?”

“Body. Fuck. Dead body in the trunk. Dead body in the fucking trunk!”

She thought of the trunk of her car first, but that wasn’t rational. Obviously he was being irrational. So she rubbed his chest harder, and squeezed his upper-arm with her other hand.

“Baby, what body? What trunk?”

He gasped and then his knees buckled. His ass hit the floor hard. He looked up at her, and after a deep breath, offered “That trunk in the attic. There’s a dead body in it, so help me God a dead body in the fucking trunk.”

He joked around with her all the time. It was one of the things she loved about him. But his demeanor was not indicative of any light-hearted bullshitting and playful skullduggery. He was telling the truth. And where the truth had rendered him scared shitless when first he glanced at it, it had now rendered him completely horrified after validating its existence up there in the attic, by speaking it out-loud.

Her eyes, which always reminded him of Princess Jasmine’s from that Disney movie, immediately became red at the edges, and welled-up with tears. Seeing this, he felt the sutures she’d fastened the fissures in his heart back together with begin to burn, and he snapped-out the horror-induced fugue. He was on his feet with a jolt, in time to catch her as she collapsed in a fit of tears against his body.

He held her for a long time. Then she held him.

Robbie Domingue set his tallboy of Budweiser down on the deck next to the folding chair he was sitting in, and dug after the vibrating cellphone in his pocket. There hadn’t been so much as a nibble on any of his lines all evening. The boat bobbed up and down gently in the water. He removed the cell from his pocket, inspected the screen, and answered forthwith-

“Hey there! How’s it going at the house?”

“Robbie *crackle* fucked, Robbie *crackle* completely *crackle* fucked!”

“What’s that? I’m sorry, I’m having trouble hearing you, I’m out here on the boat and the signal is terrible.”

“This is important *crackle* important God damn it *crackle crackle* big problem!”

“A problem? Hello?”

“Hello? *crackle* Big fucking *crackle* ass here right fucking now!”

“Aw gee I’m sorry. I’m out here at my camp for the next two weeks.”

“*crackle* the fuck you are!”

“I’m really sorry about this. But listen, you or your wife just text me. Whatever it is, text me a reminder in the next week or so, and when I get back I’ll be out there to fix it ASAP!”

“You *crackle* be fucking kidding *crackle*!”

“Alright got that? Just text me a reminder! Thanks!” *boop*

*sound of dead air*

The impact against the tile floor exploded his cellphone into a million shiny pieces. It made her jump.

“Baby!”

He stretched-out his arms, extended the index fingers on both of his hands upward, and then lowered his head, and took-in an inhalation through his nose so gargantuan as to inflate his belly so much that it made him look fat. He held the air inside him, and stood motionless. Then, with a huge heave he exhaled and slowly lowered his arms, placing his hands on her shoulders gently.

“I’m really, really sorry about that, my baby.”

“What did he say?”

“Well, you’ll be relieved to know that while we’re tidying-up around the house and discovering bodies in the attic, our erstwhile Landlord is relaxing, and taking-in a beautiful evening on his boat.”

“What?”

“Yeah.”

“Where?”

“I have no idea, his signal kept cutting-out. He could be all the way out in Gulf Shores for all I know. He could be anywhere!”

“Did he say anything else? And please don’t tell me what I think he told you.”

“I caught ‘reminder in the next week’ and ‘when I get back I’ll be out there to fix it ASAP’.”

“Oh my God this is such fucking bullshit!”

Level-headed, rational individuals sometimes make not-level-headed, irrational decisions when pushed beyond their collective wit’s end and by-and-large, they oughtn’t be faulted for it. They discussed calling the Police as they sat at the table, poring-over the day’s events and what to do about them. Neither of them were thinking clearly but then, who would be? They hadn’t had much luck with the cops when trouble arose in times past, and the whole story- the house, the problems with the house, their absentee landlord, all culminating in the grizzly discovery of a desiccated corpse upstairs seemed too ridiculous to believe.

“It’s insane!” she’d exclaimed.

“Yeah, and there’s no way they’ll buy it. Getting the cops involved will probably just make it all worse.”

“Mmmhm.”

“Probably best to not report it. Just let sleeping dogs lie, y’know?”

“Yeah. But what do we do about-”

“About the body?”

“Yeah?”

“Well it goes without saying she can’t stay here!”

“I can’t believe we’ve been sleeping under the same roof as a corpse. Oh my God, I’m gonna throw up…”

He loaded the steamer trunk into the back of his Jeep. It was 1:30 AM, and the humidity still hung heavy in the air.

He opened the door for her and helped her up into her seat, then he piled-in. He turned the key, the engine roared to life, and after grabbing the volume knob on the stereo and turning it the rest of the way to zero -neither were in any mood at all for music- he flipped-on the headlights, and they took off.

She gripped his hand tight and stared straight ahead, as he drove.

Finally, she spoke-up. “Do we have anything that even vaguely resembles a plan?”

“Well, I’ve never gotten rid of a dead body before.”

“I should hope not…”

He laughed uncomfortably, then offered “That said, I was thinking we could just dump her over the swamp bridge. Hopefully what’s left of her will sink, and it’ll be like she’s been down there under the water for years if anybody finds her, and that’ll be that. So, I move that we dump her over the bridge into the Basin. What do you think about that?”

“Sounds faster than digging a hole somewhere and it gets her the fuck out of our house. I second that motion.”

“Motion seconded. All in favor, say ‘aye.’”

They said “aye” in unison.

“All opposed?”

Silence.

Several minutes later they were heading East on I-10 toward the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge. There they’d have twenty-six miles-worth of water to decide where to dispose of the corpse.

It didn’t take long for them to reach the bridge, and that was a relief. Once on it, they began to discuss where, exactly, to drop off their passenger.

“I’m thinking the Whiskey Bay Pilot Channel would be a good place,” she said.

“Sounds like a good bet, to me.”

She looked to him and they nodded slowly together, sealing their agreement.

He checked the rear-view, nobody was behind them. He brought the car to a halt cautiously, on the shoulder. He killed the headlights. A few moments passed before several eighteen-wheelers passed-by, opposite them. Things settled down not long after that, and soon there were no headlights approaching from either direction, signaling in-bound company.

Before leaving The Love Nest, after bringing the trunk down from the attic, he’d wiped it clean of dust and fingerprints. He had also grabbed a fresh pair of those yellow, rubber dishwashing gloves from the cabinet underneath the kitchen sink. He withdrew them from his back pocket and put them on.

“Stay here, baby. I’ll be back in a jiffy.”

“Please let me help you.”

“I don’t want you to have to see her. Plus, I only brought one pair of gloves and I don’t want your fingerprints on anything.”

He got down, and after he closed the door, she hopped over into the driver’s seat and took the wheel. “It’ll be way faster for us to get the Hell out of here,” she thought to herself as she buckled-up.

He removed the steamer trunk from the back of the Jeep. It was heavy, but easy enough for him to manage. He set it down on top of the concrete guardrail, and flipped the lid open. He didn’t care to see her himself, either, not again. No way.

He tipped the trunk over, and felt the weight of the contents take leave of it. Hearing a series of soft splashes below, he let-go of the trunk, and another, slightly louder splash assured him that they had once again successfully handled a problem that Robbie Domingue should have taken care of, “ASAP.”

He didn’t have to look at the Jeep to discern what she’d been thinking moments earlier. He had just to turn, open the passenger’s side door, and jump in. And just as soon as his ass was in the seat, her foot was on the pedal.

[…]

They awoke the following morning to an incessant pounding coming from the living room. He was still clutching her to him, just as he had been earlier that night when they were finally able to retire after the previous day’s ordeal. She was still clinging-fast to his arms. Neither had moved.

*bang* *bang* *bang*

They rose and made themselves relatively presentable- she in her robe and he, in his pajama pants. They went to the front door. He opened it.

They were greeted by a young couple, each twenty-something, and behind them was a large moving truck.

“Oh what’s this happy horse shit?” she inquired of their morning visitors, with more than just a dash of irritation peppering her voice.

“Hi,” the husband said, “we’re really sorry to bother you-”

His wife interjected, with “Yes! Really, really sorry, but-”

The husband continued, “I’m Robbie Domingue’s nephew, Ted. Two months ago he said we could rent this house.”

“Yes,” Ted’s wife affirmed, “Ted is Robbie Domingue’s nephew. Robbie said we could rent the house.”

“Yeah, uh, we saw your Jeep out there, and your Corvette in the driveway, and wait,” Ted peered inside, “is that your living room couch in there?”

“Has Robbie talked to y’all about this?”

“Uncle Robbie told us month before last that your lease was about to end, and that he’d tell you he’d decided to rent the house to us, ‘ASAP,’ so you’d have plenty of time to move-out and stuff. Gave us today as our move-in date, and everything.”

Staring slack-jawed at the couple, in silence, was the only response they could muster. Neither of them could believe it, but at the same time, it totally made sense. All of it.

Ted and his wife just stood there, looking at the two of them.

Answering Ted, after several more moments of gobsmacked silence, he said “No problem, just give my wife and me until noon to be out of your way.”

Ted and his wife were nodding in perplexed agreement as the front door closed on them.

He put his arms around the small of her back and held her close. She felt good pressed against him, and he gave a huge sigh. She placed the palm of her hand on his chest, and began to laugh. And after a moment, he was laughing right along with her.

© 2016 Kenneth Atkins

The Landlord

The Beekeepers

HE’D LIVED BACK EAST IN PITTSBURGH FOR FIVE YEARS before moving South to Louisiana. He stood on the patio by the back door, watching the pup as he vacillated from prancing to ambling about the yard gaily. As he watched he thought about how, in the entire time he’d lived in Pittsburgh, he’d never seen a Sunday afternoon so beautiful. He’d lived in Louisiana for one month and aside from a passing thunderstorm that welled-up to welcome him home the day after he’d arrived, there had been no slow, incessant drizzle, no soul-crushing, gray skies; just day after day of glorious sunshine. He marveled at it. A smile broke as he watched the pup chasing after a butterfly at the precise moment that the thought “And I’ll never have to shovel snow ever again” occurred to him.

“Okay! I’m just about ready to go!” her voice arose from inside, in the kitchen.

His smile widened when he heard her. He always either smiled, or smiled wider, when the silence was broken by her voice.

“Alright, babe. Let me get our little gargoyle back inside…”

He called for the pup, who’d taken to answering to his name damn-near right away when they’d gotten him, and he came quickly, assholes-and-elbows as all fat-and-happy pups do when their master calls for them, offering treats. A minute later, as she was putting the grocery list they’d been writing-up into her purse, the pup was fast asleep in his little dog bed by the sofa, snoring and giving soft barks.

She giggled at the audible wuffs and snarls and said “I love that. That never gets old.”

“He’s probably dreaming about chasing those butterflies.”

They were off and he was driving. Errands helped him learn how to find his way around, and though “shopping for groceries” probably seems like the most mundane of all the things you could be doing together on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, he was enjoying himself. She was singing along to Eva Cassidy and her hand rested on his thigh. He took her hand, and sighed. It didn’t matter much to him what they were doing, his elation that they were doing it together, finally, was all.

“Oh babe! Quick, turn Right, here-” she said as they approached the side-street that would take them the other way across town and eventually spit them out on the Interstate.

“Here? But isn’t the store the other way?”

“Yes, but we need honey and we’ll get that from the farm first.”

“Honey from the farm? Sounds like a hot ticket to me” he said, making a hard right and hammering the accelerator. Had it not been for the seatbelt she was wearing, she’d have ended up in his lap. She giggled loudly.

“Yeah, it’ll be fun, you’ll enjoy the drive out there and back.”

The sky that stretched-out above the interstate was expansive and the horizon looked to be a thousand miles away. The long stretch of flat, straight road pleaded with him to let it all unwind, go Wide-Fucking-Open, and make all those cylinders work for a living. The windows were down and the fresh air that buffeted them, and the sound of the road, and the music, had the effect of a dose of morphine administered straight to the soul, everything melted into a feeling of deep wellbeing.

Four exits whizzed-by before he rolled the windows up half-way, so he could ask where, exactly, they were going.

“You’ll be taking the next exit, and making a Left,” she told him.

“Next exit, then Left. Got it!”

Two and a quarter miles and a Left after the exit later, they were cruising down a back country road that cut through the sugarcane fields and crawfish ponds. Occasionally colorful little shotgun houses or larger Acadian-style homes would appear. Some were built-up, the result, she said, of the insurance companies demanding that they be raised after flooding had damaged them. Spanish moss and resurrection fern draped the ancient oak trees that lined the road and that stood immovable in the yards of the people who lived there. Some of them were gargantuan.

“Alright babe, what’s this place look like, what am I looking for?”

“I always get mixed-up down here, have we passed the little cattle farm yet? It’s about a mile or two down the road from there.”

“I don’t think so, all I’ve seen is cane fields and houses, and crawfish ponds.”

“Those crawfish ponds will be re-purposed into rice paddies soon as crawfish season is over.”

“Really?”

“Mmmmhm.”

“Crawfish season? That’s a thing?”

“Yep, sure is.”

“When’s it end?”

“In another month or two.”

“Well shit. We need to go eat crawfish again before that happens. Probably three or four more times at-least.”

She laughed.

“Oh! I see cows!”

She leaned forward to have a look.

“That’s the one, we’re almost there, but–”

As they approached he slowed the car. There were indeed cattle in the pasture that faced the road. From farther away, when he’d first taken notice of them, they looked as if they were lying in the field, lazing in the warm afternoon sun. But as the picture slowly came into focus the closer they got, an altogether different reality began to reveal its self.

The cows weren’t lying down relaxing. They were dead. Fifteen head of cattle in that small pasture lie there, swollen and bloated in the sun.

“That’s… That’s… “ she stammered.

He checked the rear-view, and seeing no motorists behind them, he brought the car to a halt in the middle of the road.

He answered her, with- “That’s not normal, that’s what that is.”

A small farmhouse stood at the end of a long driveway which was flanked on both sides by pasture. Pasture littered with dead cattle that looked like large red and white boulders. The front door stood open, and a Sheriff’s cruiser was parked nearby next to a large pickup truck.

“No. Not normal at all…”

He checked the rear-view. Still not a car in-sight. They could rubberneck all the livelong day it they wanted to, it seemed, and that seemed not normal to him, too. No, not normal at all, and neither of them wanted to rubberneck.

She spoke up- “At least the cops are here.”

“They’ll figure it out, whatever it is.”

He eased-off the brake and once again they were moving down the road toward their destination. The feeling in the car however, was different. The air inside felt thick. The feeling in his stomach had changed, too. Where there was once jubilance and the warmth of calm wellbeing, there was now heaviness. Thinking she might be feeling the same, he reached for her hand and took it.

He wanted to tell her that everything was probably okay, that the cops would adjudicate and follow-through with a resolution where needed, and that there was absolutely no reason to let that macabre spectacle set the tone for the rest of the day. But something in his head told him that it would be stupid to say those things. Not because they would come out sounding trite or placating, but because in all actuality everything was probably not okay, the cop was wholly unprepared for whatever it was that greeted him when he’d arrived and could not in any way, shape, or form adjudicate and resolve anything, and that things, by-and-large, would be getting a whole Hell of a lot worse, today. He opted to adjust the volume knob on the car stereo instead, bringing Otis Redding up from a 4 to an 18. He took notice of her settling into her seat. Her hand felt soft as he took it. They didn’t speak, just breathed together.

Not long after, she spoke-up- “Alright, it’s going to be coming-up on the Right. Look for the yellow mailbox. It’s coming up, it has a sign underneath it with a cute bumblebee on it.”

He took notice of it just ahead, flipped the blinker, and checked the rear-view. There was still nobody behind them.

The mailbox was a bright canary yellow, and there was indeed a sign under it.

“FRESH, LOCAL HONEY!” proclaimed the speech bubble that emerged from the smiling, chubby bumblebee with the cartoony eyes.

He steered the car into the driveway, and at her direction, drove past the farmhouse.

The house was very old, little paint remained clinging to the exterior, most of which having given-up and fallen off in ragged chunks years earlier. There was a tractor which sat in a state of extreme disrepair nearby. He kept driving.

Directly ahead of them was a large shipping container, a small wooden shack, and to the right there was a barn and several wooden boxes set side-by-side which presumably held hives.

“That shack is where they keep the honey. You can go in, fill-up as many jars as you’d like, and leave four dollars for each jar. It’s on the ‘Honor System’” she said.

He stopped the car by the shack, while she rummaged in her purse for her wallet. He looked around as she dug. It all looked relatively normal except for one thing- the faint cloud that seemed to undulate over everything.

He adjusted his glasses, thinking he wasn’t seeing things properly, and asked- “Uh, baby? Are those bees?”

She looked up from her purse, fixing her eyes on the small wooden shack.

“Yes. Yes they are, look at them all!”

He directed her attention toward the hives that sat on the ground by the barn. The cloud was thicker there.

“It looks like they’re swarming” he told her.

“Yeah, it sure does. You okay?”

“Oh yeah, I’m fine. I’m just a little confused, aren’t they supposed to be in their hive, or something?”

“It’s probably no problem babe, just wait right here and I’ll go get the honey. It’ll only take a minute.”

She reached for the latch on her door and he stopped her. “Wait!”

“What?”

He pointed at the shack. There were bees all over the two small windows, and on the door as well.

“I don’t like this. This doesn’t seem right.”

“It’s okay, babe. I’ve been here lots of times. There’s always bees around.”

“Look closer though. I mean, they’re crawling all over that shack. Hundreds of them. It’s like the God damn patients are running the asylum!”

She looked closer. But what captivated her attention was not the bees he’d tried to call her attention to, but an arm. On the ground, by the far corner of the shack, a human arm.

“Oh my God” she exclaimed before clasping her hands tight over her mouth and nose.

He saw it too, and gently urged the car forward, bringing it to rest adjacent to the body. It was an elderly man, wearing a pair of overalls and a white t-shirt. A green mesh trucker’s hat lie in the dirt next to his head. His other arm was bent, and his hand clutched his chest.

He urged the car forward again more quickly this time, and turned sharply, to get a better look. The elderly man was dead from what looked like thousands of bee stings. Every square inch of his exposed flesh was pocked, and his eyes were swollen shut. The legs of his overalls changed color from dark blue to brown and appeared to be alive. So did the back wall of the shack. Each was crawling with bees.

He heard her gasp through her hands.

He slammed the shifter into reverse, and nailed the accelerator while cutting the wheel hard. He was about to shift into drive and launch them back down the driveway after an abrupt stop, when she screamed.

There were three more bodies. A woman and a dog lying in the backyard, and a man on the back porch by the door. They’d been ravaged. Blood and red welts covered their skin.

The next scream came from him. It escaped his throat without him realizing it, when a teenage boy ran from the direction of the barn to the driveway and collapsed, enveloped in a violent black cloud. The boy’s arms were flailing and he whipped his head back and forth so fast and hard it looked like his neck could break. The cloud intensified in fury, and the boy’s screams, which rang out while his body heaved up and down, were audible over Otis Redding. The screams were audible over everything.

Inside the car grew an incipient dark, as if thunderheads were blotting-out the sun. Bees. They’d begun to coat the driver’s side windows, and the rear windshield. The eyes of his love, which peered out above her still-clasped hands, showed a primal terror that he was certain must be totally new to her human experience. He caught his reflection in the rear-view mirror and beheld in his own reflection that same inexorable terror.

He let off the brake and brought his foot down on the accelerator. The car shot backwards. He nailed the brake again, sending both his, and her head backward into the seat-backs. The impact brought them both to their senses immediately.

“FUCKING GO!” she shouted.

He shifted into drive and punched it. The engine roared as the car rocketed forward. It was blind, frantic acceleration and the still-darkening windows. That was it. No thought. No breathing. He swerved to avoid hitting the young man who was now lying perfectly still in the driveway, and nearly sent them careening across the front lawn into the ditch by the road. With his attention divided between the growing dark on the windows and keeping them on the driveway, he managed to right the car and finish traversing the driveway, and made a hard Left by the canary yellow mailbox with the cute bumblebee sign which hung beneath it.

Back on the road, with his foot and the pedal beneath it jammed firmly into the floorboard, he watched as the vibrating mass of bees coating the windows began to break-up. He hadn’t drawn a breath since the driveway, neither of them had, but neither of them had noticed. The adrenaline kept them from passing-out until the bees were gone, at which time the breaths came back in loud, deep heaves.

“We have to call 9-1-1!” she shouted.

“What about the cop at the cattle farm? Maybe he’s still there!”

The speedometer read 120 miles per-hour, and the farm wasn’t much farther. If the cop was still there he’d stop, and they would explain everything.

He saw the pastures just ahead, and let-off the accelerator almost completely. He moved his foot to the brake, and slowed to negotiate the turn.

The Sheriff’s cruiser was still in the driveway. And the front door of the house remained open.

It still felt not normal, to him.

He stopped the car two-thirds of the way up the driveway and shifted into park. After killing the engine he exited the car, she followed, and they began a slow walk toward the house, shouting as they went.

Nobody emerged, not a soul.

Someone was sitting in the cruiser, he stopped her and directed her attention to it. They approached the car silently, their minds collectively urging them to turn back more loudly with every step. They pressed-on, cautiously. It was a Deputy they found when they reached the car- sitting in the driver’s seat, cheek resting against the wheel, hands clutching it. The Deputy’s eyes and mouth were wide-open, frozen in a loud utterance of pain and horror. Around the Deputy’s mouth and neck were stings. So many stings. He wanted to throw up but he couldn’t- his belly had tied itself into some kind of knot that would allow no spasm at all, it just squeezed and squeezed.

And then there was a soft thump. Something hit the driver’s side window of the cruiser from the inside. It startled them both.

Then another, and two more-

Thump.

Thump, thump!

Bees.

They’d flown out from somewhere deep-down inside the Deputy’s esophagus, or worse- “Maybe his stomach” he thought to himself without actually thinking it.

Thump!

They both jumped, and then watched in horror as a waterfall of bees poured-forth from the Deputy’s gaping mouth, before taking flight and thumping against the window.

More bees emerged from underneath the cruiser.

He took her hand and bolted with her back to the car. He felt two sharp stings on his cheek and another on his neck. She swatted at her wrist hard where a tiny assailant landed, and she felt two more sting her ankles. She turned her head and beheld the cloud forming around the cruiser. It was organizing rapidly, and soon she feared, it would be on them both.

They reached the car and the swarm pursued them. The doors were unlocked -thankfully- and they wasted no time in sealing themselves inside. The engine roared loyally to life when he turned the key, the very moment when a living, malevolent quilt began to spread its self over the hood and windshield. He traversed the driveway in reverse, while she frantically inspected the both of them, as well as the interior, for bees. None had found an ingress. Reaching the road he cut the wheel, shifted into drive, and once again hammered the accelerator. The swarm which had blanked the car began to dissipate, and he kept accelerating until it was running Wide-Fucking-Open, as he was fond of saying. The bees had lifted completely, and were left as an ominous thunderhead undulating low to the ground, visible in the rear-view mirror.

Once safely on the Interstate, she called 9-1-1 from her cellular telephone…

[…]

In the days that followed they were interviewed by the local and state police, as well as by several shadowy Government people who asked a lot of questions but never said too much. They were advised not to speak about what they’d seen that day and save for talking about it with each other, they didn’t mention any of it to family members or close friends.

Several days later, as they sat at the table eating their dinner, he turned-on the television. Wheel of Fortune would be on soon. He didn’t care much about what they watched, because -again- he was happy, elated by the simple fact that they were watching it together -and that was doubly-so in the wake of certain events they’d witnessed recently, events which the shadowy Government people and the police had advised them not to talk to anybody about. The evening news was wrapping-up, and the Anchorwoman, a chubby-but-still-kind-of-pretty Latina gave a brief report of so-called Africanized honeybees swarming in nearby counties. They both dropped their forks at the exact same time. She was still chewing. He’d been in the middle of swallowing a mouthful of chicken and the sudden reminder of the bees crawling up from deep within the Deputy’s throat made him gag hard.

As he took his love’s hand, “Government scientists,” the Latina Anchorwoman said, “are working to contain the swarms.”

© 2016 Kenneth Atkins

The Beekeepers

Eileen McClain – An Unlikely Hero

IT WAS THE THIRD WEEK OF JUNE AND THE COUNTY MEDICAL EXAMINERS HAD BEEN BUSY because it hadn’t begun slowly. There wasn’t an escalation, no “Just Working It All Out” period. He’d gotten it right, right from the Get-Go! and a new body had been turning up on a weekly basis since he’d started in May. He was ravenous. Six days after examining the first victim, a prostitute found in a dumpster on the South Side, they were examining the body of a female PITT student he’d deposited in a dumpster behind a Chinese restaurant in Oakland. A week after that it was a waitress who’d been recovered from a dumpster in Polish Hill.

Each victim had been sexually assaulted before being strangled to death, and their bodies had all been disposed of in dumpsters. He hadn’t left a trace of himself behind, and his victims had nothing in common- they were not of the same age or ethnic group, nor did they share any physical similarities like hair color, weight or figure, and they all had different occupations. When the FBI Profiler delivered “What we have here is a male, white, or black, perhaps maybe hispanic but probably white, between eighteen and forty-five years old, who rapes and murders women, all different types of women…” the police officers and special agents all stared blankly at him -he might as well have been addressing a school of mackerel.

Meanwhile, a blonde accountant was on the slab down at the morgue; she’d been found earlier that morning with one leg hanging out of a dumpster in the Strip District.

[…]

Eileen McClain slipped into the back seat and after making herself comfortable, she launched the PGH Singles website on her smartphone and eagerly checked her chat messages. To her delight, JimP, a man whom she’d been trading sexy messages with during her lunch breaks that week, was “ready when U R.” She sent him a winkie-face emoticon, and waited.

JimP wasted no time at all returned the volley, telling Eileen what he’d like to be doing to her.

She responded in-kind, giggling to herself as she typed.

It’s not that Eileen needed the Internet to help her meet men. She didn’t. She was a knockout with a bubbly, charming personality and she met new men all the time at the bars she frequented, the gym, through introductions by mutual friends here and there, or Hell, even the grocery store. She liked variety and she had an insatiable sexual appetite. PGH Singles was just another avenue and it afforded her not only the convenience of “auditioning” men ahead of time, but also the exciting diversion of trading lurid messages with them on her lunch break, which always broke up the monotony of a rough workday.

JimP had quite an imagination and Eileen was swooning over his dirty, 200 character-or-less erotic missives.

“OMG I have to meet you!” She typed, and then hit “Send!”

“LUV 2 baby!” Was JimP’s response.

“Tonight. The Belgian place on Penn, 7:30. Bring Viagra, ‘cause I’m gonna fuck your dick off, Jimmy!”

[…]

The howls of laughter that echoed from Brandon Stuckey’s bedroom in the basement of his parent’s house in the North Hills were audible for a mile in every direction. He and his three chums had been snickering together throughout the entirety of the conversation and Eileen’s Viagra quip pushed them all right over the cliff. They shouted “I’m gonna fuck your dick off, Jimmmmaaaay!” in unison and fell over, chortling.

Brandon and his merry band of idiots had just wrapped-up their Freshman year of high school. None of them had ever had a girlfriend, and their only insights into female sexuality had been gleaned from Internet porn. Imagine the impression Sasha Gray makes on an awkward fourteen year old boy when he watches her lick the rim of a dirty toilet bowl while gazing seductively at the camera. Posing as grown men and trolling chat websites like PGH Singles, exchanging dirty messages with lonely women and then arranging fake dates that would leave said lonely women a little lonelier and a little more dejected when they were inevitably stood up, was good fun for them.

Brandon had created the persona of JimP specifically for this kind of tomfoolery. The best part of it though, the capper, was that he’d carefully crafted the profile in exacting detail after his former Sunday School Teacher, one Mr. James (“Jim” to his friends) Peterson. He’d even used a real photograph of Jim for the profile picture. Brandon enjoyed the idea that one day Jim Peterson might just bump into one of the broads he and the gang had been chatting-up, perhaps at the supermarket or hey, how about at church while she was dropping off her son, and she’d remember him from the photo. Oh what a laugh that would be, right?

[…]

Eileen wore her favorite white blouse, a flattering little number which showed just enough cleavage to intrigue you but not so much that she looked like a whore, her black pencil skirt, and the red pumps she’d picked up at the mall a week earlier; the one’s she’d worn for Antonio the night before. She’d styled her blonde locks like Mamie Van Doren circa “Sex Kittens Go To College,” and she felt altogether sexy and quite confident in herself. JimP was already ten minutes late but she was unconcerned. She was a reasonable woman after all, and after some brief deliberation she decided that she’d give him until 8, and if he hadn’t arrived by then she’d chat-up the smartly-dressed executive who sat nearby, proposition him for a quickie in the alley (she’d been thinking about it since seeing him when she first walked into the bar), and do her best to salvage the evening.

That wouldn’t be necessary, though.

JimP, otherwise known as James (“Jim” to his friends) Peterson, Sunday School Teacher, also otherwise known as the man who the Pittsburgh Police, the State Police, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation would very-much like to have a word with, arrived at 7:48.

And who’s eye should he catch, the moment she swiveled on her barstool to scan the crowd?

“Jimmy!” Eileen exclaimed, flashing a big, bright smile. “There you are! I thought you’d never get here!”

Jim was not prepared for this, and gawked at the leggy, blonde knockout as she giddily bounced over to him. Nope, he was not prepared for Eileen at all. He’d had no intentions of hunting when he left work, the blonde accountant he’d taken the night before last had satiated his appetite nicely, for the time being of course. All he wanted to do that evening was to drink a beer or two and unwind after a less-than stellar day at the office, before heading home to Millie. And at the risk of stating the painfully obvious, for the sake of those of you who may have been half-assedly scanning the afore-written paragraphs and not paying enough attention, he had no clue whatsoever that he’d be Eileen’s date that evening, either…

…It was Brandon Stuckey’s wet dream come-true. Too bad he wasn’t there to witness it.

And there Eileen was, looking him up and down excitedly while squeezing his upper arms and giggling. “I’ve been thinking about you all day!”

Jim backed slowly away from Eileen, and stammered-out “Uh, if you wouldn’t mind excusing me for just one minute, I uh, I need to visit the restroom.”

She advanced, sidling on up to Jim in a gentle but firm manner, and while she pressed her belly against his hip and rubbed his chest over his sport coat she asked, coyly, “Aw Jimmy, you’re not going to play hard-to-get with me, are you?”

“I, uh… I… …No?” was all he could squeak out.

“Good!” she said with another giggle. “Walk, don’t run. I’ll be waiting right there at the bar for you when you’re done. Can I order you something?”

“Ummm…”

“I’ll order you a Heineken.” she said decisively, and flashed him another of her great-big, enthusiastic smiles.

Jim ambled his way through the bar, navigating the crowd and the mental fog of bewilderment, toward the men’s room.

[…]

The cold water met Jim’s face with a friendly, refreshing splash that cleared-up his mental logjam. He regarded his reflection in the mirror and began asking himself where the Hell he could’ve met Eileen previously, how the Hell could she have known who he was, why the Hell he had no idea who she was, and how the fuck she could have possibly come under the impression that he would be meeting her there that evening. And it didn’t take long for him to ask himself what was, of course, the most pressing question of all -one which, on that particular evening, surpassed even the greatest and most important of man’s inquiries like “Is there a God?” and “Where do we go when we die?”-

“Is this bitch a cop?”

…and the realization that the answer might very well be a resounding “Yessiree!” dawned upon him and tied his stomach up in a slipknot, and the more he mentally circled the idea, the tighter it got.

Jim had been careful during each of his many expeditions. He hadn’t left clues. He never drew an inordinate amount of attention to himself when selecting, and chatting-up, a victim. He did things like wear gloves and condoms. He obeyed the posted speed limit and came to a complete stop at every stop sign whilst transporting his victims. He strangled them to death with a ligature made from pantyhose that can be purchased at any drug store. He drove his van through the maze of city streets, making sure that he was never followed, to the dumpsters he’d thoroughly checked-out ahead of time. He only disposed of his victims during windows of time in which locals would be least-likely to observe him. He was a Sunday School Teacher, a pillar of the community if you will, and he couldn’t afford to be sloppy.

And yet, somehow, they were onto him. He didn’t know how, but they had to be. “Why else would they send that leggy piece of ass out here to meet me?” he thought to himself. “Maybe they don’t have all the pieces to solve the fucking jigsaw puzzle yet, but they’ve sure got a few! Enough to follow me, study my habits and stage a meeting just like this one to bring me in and ask me questions … Fuck!”

His heart was racing. The inner monologue was causing his adrenal gland to pump what felt like nitrous into his fuel mixture and when it hit his engine, whoo-whee, his pulse started redlining.

An ache in his jaw became evident, and it began to radiate insistently down the side of his neck and into his left shoulder.

[…]

Eileen was getting antsy. Jim had been in the men’s room for nearly ten minutes and unlike him, her last conquest -Antonio- hadn’t done much to satiate her appetite at all. She glanced at her watch and noticed a slight tremor in her hand. Her anticipation was approaching a zenith, and she didn’t know how much longer she could wait for the man who’d marveled her with his wildly vivid and erotic imagination, on PGH Singles.

Wait just a minute, hold on. JimP’s erotic imagination, his lurid and explicit fantasies; they were all spelled-out for Eileen in sticky, graphic detail. He’d described all manner of different scenarios, had he not? He wanted her to give him a hand job at the movies. He wanted to get it on with her in the back seat of her car, in the parking garage, on her lunch break. He wanted to tie her up and spank her. And how about the time he told her all about how he wanted to bend her ass over the sink and do her in the bathroom at the Consol Energy Center during a Penguins game? (Brandon Stuckey was a huge Pens fan.)

Yes!

She’d gasped and swooned over all of those messages but man, that public restroom fantasy, wow! JimP sure knew how to push her buttons, didn’t he? And after further consideration, it didn’t take a huge leap of logic for Eileen to arrive at the conclusion that he wanted to fulfill that fantasy in particular, that very evening. It was obvious, wasn’t it?

“Well then!” she said, leaping up from her barstool. “We’re not at a Pens game, but here I come!”

[…]

Jim was having a great deal of difficulty breathing. He felt like a silverback gorilla was giving him a hug and wouldn’t let go. He didn’t notice the men’s room door swinging open just he was loosening the painfully tacky necktie that Millie and the kids had given him the previous Father’s Day. Eileen beheld him there, as he tore off his tie and fumbled at the top two buttons of his blue oxford shirt. He was heaving for breath. Jim looked up and seeing her, stopped cold. He couldn’t form words, and the fact that she’d started feverishly unbuttoning her blouse didn’t register with him at all, well, at least not in his conscious mind anyway.

“Perfect timing!” Eileen joyfully quipped, and sashayed over to him while he heaved violently for precious oxygen.

“Let me help you with that shirt, Jimmy” she cooed as she began to unbutton the rest of the buttons, pausing after each one to stroke his aching chest with her fingernails.

She pressed her belly against him and moaned “Oh Jimmy” gently, over and over, as she kissed his neck and his chin.

Under normal circumstances, a randy babe like Eileen conducting herself in this manner would drive him wild with a lustful and homicidal fury. But taking into account his current predicament, all he was able to manage was a rudimentarily serviceable erection, one which, I might add, he had absolutely no desire whatsoever to put to good use -and really, at the end of the day, who could blame him?

Eileen had engaged her sexual autopilot, and lost herself in the feeling of his body quaking uncontrollably against hers and the faint scent of his aftershave. Every tremor that issued forth from his fast expiring corpus spurred her on, and she kissed him harder.

Jim hadn’t slipped out of consciousness just yet, but he was still unable to fend her off as she maneuvered him into the stall while he gasped desperately to take-in enough air to choke out the words “Please no,” which of course, he couldn’t quite manage to do. His knees buckled, and he landed squarely on the toilet with Eileen in his lap. She pressed her bosom against his face, nearly smothering him while she hiked-up her skirt, and deftly worked at unbuckling his belt and opening his trousers.

The lights were growing dim for old Jimmy, but through eyes which in that moment showed pain and sheer terror he could still see her- wide-eyed, with that great, big, bright, winning smile, bouncing gleefully up and down in his lap while she shouted “Oh Jimmy, oh Jimmy yes!” between fits of joyful giggles. A bolt of lightning tore through his chest, just as that feeling of being hugged by a great ape felt so strong that he was positive his heart was being crushed. Eileen took no notice at all, and bounced up and down in his lap faster and harder as his body spasmed violently. The pain was unbearable and the horror was too much for his mind to comprehend. One more bolt of lightning in his chest and Jim Peterson was dead, with his pants around his ankles, and Eileen McClain in his lap, riding-out the last waves of what she would later describe as “a ridiculously amazing orgasm.”

Jim’s body slumped over toward the toilet paper dispenser, and Eileen paid him no mind at all as she dismounted him.

After a moment or two at the bathroom mirror to fix herself up, she was sashaying out of the restroom, saying casually over he shoulder “It was great meeting you, Jimmy! Message me tomorrow, I’d love to get together again, sometime!” as the door closed behind her.

After returning to her seat at the bar, her eyes fell on the smartly-dressed executive she’d spied earlier, and not another thought was given to JimP.

The police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation remain baffled.

Copyright © 2015 Kenneth Atkins
Eileen McClain – An Unlikely Hero

Desmond

IT HAD BEEN SIX MONTHS since Desmond Gilchrist jumped off the Roberto Clemente Bridge. Six months since the depression and anxiety -which he’d battled for as long as he could remember- had finally won-out and sent him to meet his fate in the frigid water. It wasn’t a cry for help like when you take a handful of Lunesta, dial 9-1-1, and then lie down and wait for the EMT’s to come to your rescue, using the time you’re suspended in that sweet twilight between semiconsciousness and total respiratory collapse, to daydream about all the visits and greeting cards you’ll get from concerned friends, relatives and other sympathetic parties while you convalesce at the hospital. No, this was Desmond’s true and sincere resignation from *everything*, awful and awesome in its totality, fully actualized as he crashed through the ice that floated on the water’s surface, late that January night.

It was a miracle he’d survived.

Desmond had been in therapy, on and off, since college. He occasionally wondered to himself if he should have started earlier, in elementary school perhaps, when he would pause and remember how he would sit shaking in his chair as feelings of terror washed over him, his heart thumping in a frenetic rhythm that felt like the clomping of racehorses in the final stretch of the Kentucky Derby. He’d ask himself “What are you worried for?” and when he could offer no answer, it would stop and he would feel better. That coping mechanism had lost its efficacy somewhere in the fog of awkwardness, confusion, and angst that rolled in around the time he’d turned thirteen, as he was negotiating the obstacle course of adolescent social acceptance, and learning what girls were all about.

Therapy for an elementary school student? No, his father would have never gone for it, and neither would his mother, for that matter. Parents didn’t take their kids to see a shrink back then. They didn’t medicate them, either. You didn’t get a trophy because you showed up, and you weren’t told that you were “Special.” You were not allowed to complain. You towed the line, and you were grateful for your clothes, the love of your parents, and the roof over your head. They tried hard, and you were happy with it. Anything having to do with an unhappiness at the present set of circumstances, was seen as the dissent of an unreasonable child and was squashed. That’s how it was for Desmond, as it was, probably, for a lot of other kids when they were growing up.

And Desmond didn’t necessarily disagree with any of that. His folks had done the best they could with what love, time, and money they had at their disposal. They had divorced when he was two years old and though they shared a bitter enmity, they tried working together to give their son some semblance of a Normal Upbringing, however suboptimal the circumstances may have been at the time.

A happy coincidence put Desmond at his mother and step-father’s apartment one weekend, on his birthday. He was in the first grade, and had been visiting his mother every-other weekend. She’d thrown him a birthday party, inviting all his friends from school. Many years later he looked at the photographs she’d taken, and noted that it wasn’t that bad of a turn-out, at all. He had friends, when he was a kid, and they attended his one, and only birthday party.

His father, who had primary custody of him, did his best as well when Desmond was young. He’d build elaborate castles and machines with Desmond, out of Lego blocks, and the Erector Set. He would occasionally take Desmond to an outing with his friends from school, but he wasn’t interested in throwing him birthday parties, nor was he interested in spending money, and time in the evenings, on things like little league baseball or soccer practice. Desmond didn’t complain, though, because aside from that, and the fact that his mother was living across town, there was “nothing to complain about,” and that wasn’t so bad, was it?

When Desmond turned five, his mother and step-father moved out of state. “It isn’t so bad, Desmond,” his mother said, “you’ll be able to come visit me in the Summer, when school is out.”

Desmond towed the line. He and his father lived like bachelors ten months out of the year, eating chicken wings and drinking Pepsi for dinner, and attending church, on Sundays. Then he’d spend his Summer vacation at his mother and step-father’s house, trying to integrate himself into their family as best he could-

Because that’s what you do, you tow the line.

and it went on like that, for the rest of Desmond’s young adult life, and into his adulthood- he towed whatever line needed towing, be it school, or work, as best he could, albeit haphazardly and reaping no joy or fulfillment from it. And the fact that for the most part, “things were never that bad” for Desmond, is what always made everything worse.

“Things aren’t that bad,” he’d say to himself, “…so what are you upset about?” But no comfort came with the inquiry as it would when he was a child. There were only feelings of intense despair, hopelessness, and an aching longing for something he couldn’t identify. It was an emptiness that felt, to him, like blood still moved throughout the network of arteries and capillaries in his body, but no heart was there to beat, for him. And he despaired, because a concept of a “heart, necessary and indeed vital, for the pumping of life-giving blood” was something wholly outside of his ability to conceptualize. All he knew was that something integral to his existence was missing, he felt empty, and he grew to feel cheated, and angry, for having been denied it whilst being kept alive somehow and for so long, by some unseen, malevolent force.

In other words, and in a very real “Bridge-Jumper” type of way, Desmond’s heart wasn’t in *anything*. For him, it couldn’t be, and it hadn’t been for a long time.

He felt selfish. “I’d get it if I were born in Haiti, grew up in a shanty, and watched my folks get killed by a warlord in front of me when I was a kid, I’d understand *that*, but that’s not me, and I honestly feel horrible that I feel this way” he’d told his first therapist- a kind, fat, black man named Dr. Willoughby.

And he’d said the same thing a few years later, to Dr. Isidro, a Psychiatrist, during his first appointment with her. After the pleasantries were exchanged, Desmond talked, filling her in, and she listened to him for a few minutes. Then she gave him a prescription for powerful psychoactive drugs. “’Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors,’ Desmond. ’SSRI’s.’ They’ll help with the chemical imbalance I’m diagnosing you with.” she’d told him.

The drugs made his hair tingle, prevented him from ejaculating, and simultaneously made it easier for him to reconcile having unattached sex with women he didn’t care about, and most importantly, they took away his ability to worry about anything-

They made it easier to tow the fucking line.

yes, as a matter of fact they did! And Desmond *loved* it.

He’d been seeing a Therapist at the time, as well. She was a tall, willowy woman who’s name he no longer remembered. He did remember that he had been making an honest effort to open up to her and speak truthfully about what he was thinking and feeling, and that she always gave him the impression that, deep down, she suspected he was lying to her -just making it all up for some reason outside the realm of her comprehension, and he was totally getting off on it.

“And how could she not, Desmond?” the intrusive thoughts would inquire. “You *weren’t* born in a shanty at the ass-end of a war-torn, Third World shit hole, where your parents were butchered right in front of you, so how could your Therapist, or, quite frankly, *anybody*, believe that an average, unremarkable, white male such as yourself could carry around such anxiety and soul-crushing despair?”

It’s worth mentioning that as Desmond reached young adulthood, the intrusive thoughts began to insinuate themselves into his daily and nightly mentations. They didn’t help matters at all, and they only worsened as he got older.

He’d stopped seeing Dr. Isidro, and the therapist Miss Always-Thinks-I’m-Lying-To-Her, in his early twenties. He’d grown frustrated with them, and after a terrible experience-

A fucking mental breakdown.

occurred when he stopped taking Paxil cold-turkey, when a prescription ran out and his lack of health insurance, and money in-general, prevented him from being able to score more-

Because that’s really what it *is*, at the end of the day, isn’t it?

he decided that throwing money away on Mental Health just wasn’t a luxury he could afford. He was between jobs at the time, and thank God for *that*, because he didn’t have the perspicacity to run a lemonade stand, back then.

Dr. Ariel Citrenbaum had been practicing Psychotherapy out of a small office in Lawrenceville, an up-and-coming, trendy, “Neighborhood On The Rise,” in Pittsburgh, for ten years. Before that, Akron, Ohio. He’d become something of a local celebrity in recent months, due to a scandal involving a patient of his, Mrs. Miriam Wasserman, and a cutting-edge “exploratory treatment” he’d developed for her which involved several hash brownies and a trip to Kennywood to ride roller-coasters.

It was a miracle that his license to practice hadn’t been revoked (that anybody *knew of*).

Desmond had started seeing Dr. Citrenbaum the Friday following his swan dive into the Allegheny River.

It had been over ten years since Desmond had seen a Therapist. He’d given up, and had tried his best to be what his father would refer to as “A Happy, Well-Adjusted, Productive, Hard-Working, God-Fearing Adult” on his own. For a while, it worked. He had a good job. He had made a friend, or two. And the intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and catatonic despair had left him alone, for the most part, during the hours he spent at work -which were long, or when he played trivia at the bar or attended Penguins games, with his friends.

Returning to his house at the end of the day, or night, was another matter entirely…

Desmond’s “house”, with appropriately-placed quotation marks, was *not* Desmond’s “castle,” in the classical, masculine sense of the word. It was not a place where he could laze on the couch in his bathrobe, drinking beer, while watching the Seminoles serve-up the Rose Bowl to the Fighting Ducks like an omelet, if he wanted to. It wasn’t a place where he could “Take Refuge,” as our friends the Buddhists would say.

No, Desmond likened his house to what Sylvia Plath’s head would be like if you moved-in there, filled it with ratty, second-hand furniture, and played Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” on repeat, over and over again, while doberman pinschers barked incessantly, speaking in human words, asking The Tough Questions in .50 BMG, rapid-fire succession.

It was like *that*. And Desmond knew not to tarry on the couch for too long, lest those dogs start barking, inquiring how the fuck a thirty-five year-old man didn’t have a family of his own, or how on Earth he hasn’t fucked-up at work and lost his job, yet. It was either that, or a wave of despair that would wash over him, hold him down, and force him to sob uncontrollably for hours.

So he washed dishes. He vacuumed his carpet. He dusted his furniture. He learned how to cook. He washed his car. He did *anything* to take his mind away from how desolate he felt, in that space.

He’d ventured out for his appointment after a particularly heinous episode. It was the kind that made him feel sad at first, the kind of sadness that leaves you in a ball on the floor of the shower while the steaming hot water burns you and you don’t notice, followed by the panic that makes you feel like you’re having a heart attack.

Desmond had felt “a little off” all morning. He woke up searching desperately for someone to hold; a soft, sweet woman sleeping peacefully with gently closed eyes, smiling with supple, closed lips, whom he could draw himself close to and embrace, a woman who would open her eyes and regard him in a state of blissful tranquility when he did it, who didn’t exist. He had woken up alone, again. And it felt awful.

He ambled his way along the sidewalk which ran perpendicular to Butler Street, toward the building where Dr. Citrenbaum’s office was located. The feelings of loneliness and utter hopelessness coated every cell in his body like a malignant pine tar.

He wanted to get better. He wouldn’t have called Dr. Citrenbaum, after locating his number on the back pages of the Pittsburgh City Paper, if he hadn’t. Surviving his suicide had jarred something loose inside his head and when he saw Dr. Citrenbaum’s number, he felt compelled to call and arrange an appointment. He’d been seeing him once a week, every week, ever since-

And his progress wasn’t that bad, either!

He passed the hip espresso bar, and not long after, the guitar shop, catching the reflection of his profile in the windows with his peripheral vision as he went. This made Desmond recall what Dr. Citrenbaum had told him regarding how important it is to “Cultivate the ability to passively observe yourself from the perspective of a non-partisan, third-party observer.”

“It’s a great Tool to have in your ‘Mental Toolbox,’ Dez.” Dr. Citrenbaum had said.

And Desmond had been working on it.

“I feel feelings of intense hopelessness, and longing.” Desmond said softly to himself.

Also, Desmond’s “dogs were barking,” as Dr. Citrenbaum called the intrusive thoughts, and he observed several, such as-

“Is this really all there is for you in life, Desmond? Because I have to tell ya’, if it is, then it really *is* ’That Bad.’ The best you could hope for at this point is a nice eulogy, and the kind of peace that only a casket buried six feet under the ground can afford you.”

and this gem:

“Why do you even *bother* with therapy? You’re too damaged for it to do any good, anyway.”

as they arose in his mind.

“Why do you even bother…” With that thought, came the mental fog and the apathy. Desmond was familiar with those, too. To Desmond, it was like starving to death on Thanksgiving, in the sense that he felt empty, exhausted, and aching for nourishment, all while sitting at a dinner table surrounded by food, vexed with the inability to so much as lift a fork. But he kept walking down Butler Street, on his way to the safety of Dr. Citrenbaum’s office.

“It’s like with me and exercise, Dez. I don’t feel like running all the time, but I do it anyway and you know what? I always feel better after I run. So I do it. That’s what keeps me coming back…” Desmond remembered Dr. Citrenbaum saying. Dr. Citrenbaum was full of little nuggets like that one.

He kept on, and as he walked, he observed that the sidewalk toward Dr. Citrenbaum’s building seemed to suddenly go on for miles-

Fucking lightyears…

and that it appeared to wobble, in his field of vision.

“Great. The God damn ‘Fishbowl Effect,’ again, with an ‘Unsteady Ground’ chaser, for good measure.” Desmond remarked, to himself.

This perceptual distortion was something Desmond was familiar with, too. It happened all the time. “Everybody’s body tells a story,” Dr. Citrenbaum had told him, and he was no exception. His Peter Murphy-esque, rail-thin silhouette spoke to how little Desmond ate. And the swollen, dark circles under his eyes, which bulged from the sunken cheeks of what otherwise would have been a handsome face, told the world that Desmond hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in a very long time. Thus, he would experience moments of temporary weightlessness, during which his whole body would tingle and feel empty, and his field of vision would become narrow and unsteady. His fragile mental state would worsen this effect, making him feel as if the journey to *wherever* was too arduous, too fraught with uncertainty, and too *pointless* to continue on.

“When was the last time I ate anything? Must’ve been yesterday morning.”

A Port Authority bus appeared on what looked like a distant horizon. It looked miniscule. Desmond observed himself pause momentarily, and then turn right, taking two steps off of the sidewalk.

He observed an intrusive thought, “There we go, no we’re talking!”

He was on Butler Street and he observed himself taking two more steps. He also observed the bus getting larger as it approached him.

Another intrusive thought spoke up, “Don’t worry. There will be a momentary calamity but I assure you, Business As Usual will continue once they clean up the mess, and the World At-Large, save for a few Yinzers who hear about in on KDKA tonight during the evening news, won’t take any notice at all. Just close your eyes, stand perfectly still, and wait.”

The bus hadn’t slowed.

Desmond let the words “Stand perfectly still, and wait” sink in. He heard voices, and horns honking, but paid them no mind at all. He heard the bus getting closer. It sounded like *relief*. He closed his eyes, and let out a sigh that made all of the hopelessness he felt vanish. The feeling of weightlessness remained. He opened his eyes and beheld the bus bearing down on him, seeming not to have slowed down but, on the contrary- to have sped up.

Another intrusive thought told him, “There are worse ways to die, Desmond, trust me. And you know damn well you can’t continue on like this anyway…”

And then, contact. He was hit hard, with a force strong enough to jar him back to cognizance. It wasn’t the bus that was screaming its way by, but rather, a large black man, wearing work pants and a tank top. He had pushed Desmond out of the way of the bus, tackling him onto the sidewalk. Desmond stared up at him, seeing him clearly- an honest, kind face which showed concern without a hint of self-interest, and he was smiling.

“Hey, buddy? Are you okay?”

Desmond nodded, and whispered “Yes.”

The man helped him to his feet.

“I saw you walk out into the middle of the road, man, why the Hell’d you do that?”

“I, I, uh-” Desmond tried to stammer-out an answer.

The man was brushing the dirt off of Desmond’s back, and shoulders.

“I just didn’t want to *do it*, anymore.” Desmond said.

The man stopped, and put his large, bunch-of-bananas-hands on Desmond’s upper-arms, and squeezed them. “How about now?”

“I should probably be on my way to see my Therapist, now.”

“Good.”

Desmond looked around. The large, black man had disappeared, back to the anonymity of the crowd on Butler Street. He looked ahead, and noted, with a sigh of relief, that the sidewalk had returned to its normal form and distance, and that it was no longer wobbling.

Then he shuddered, and all the hair on his arms, and on the back of his neck, stood up. His body was no longer tingling, it had become a living, breathing, man-shaped beehive and the buzzing sound grew to a volume loud enough to perforate the human ear drum, and then … Silence. Silence, at the exact moment at which every synapse in Desmond’s brain fired in the precise sequence necessary to cause this one, singular thought to spring into existence-

WHAT IF I CAN’T KILL MYSELF, NO MATTER HOW HARD I TRY?

…those aren’t comforting words, not for a man who finds himself on the shit-end of an emotional and existential crisis. But the thought was seductive. And he began to *actively* think about it, and he knew what *that* meant, Dr. Citrenbaum had told him a thing or two about the thoughts that just “Spring into existence, in your head,” and “The thoughts that you ‘create’, by thinking about thoughts, or other things,” during his therapy sessions.

Considering Desmond’s lackluster track record in the “Successfully Executed (Ha-Ha!) Suicide Attempts” department, it didn’t seem all that far-fetched. And when he considered his childhood, it actually made sense-

When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed complain; it’s not that bad, just tow the line.

Now that I’m an adult, I want out but I’m not allowed; and it’s not that bad after all, so just tow the fucking line!

“Oh my God!” he screamed, pressing the heels of his hands against his temples. He threw his torso forward at his waist, and his head and hands came to an abrupt rest between his knees; he buckled, and screamed again, in agony- “Oh my FUCKING GOD!”

Whoops. Now he’d really gone and done it. He’d fucked up- he’d *acknowledged it*. First came the thought, from right out of fucking nowhere, and everything would have been just fine if he’d merely observed that it had happened (like a non-partisan, third-party observer, perhaps…) and moved on. But no, Desmond had screwed the proverbial “pooch” and had made a situation that “wasn’t that bad,” catastrophically fucking worse by acknowledging it, and then giving the thought life by actively thinking about it, analyzing it, rationalizing it, and, finally- making it make sense-

Desmond, you colossal, fucking idiot!

Now it was Real. It was Out There, in The Wild, and that terrified Desmond, because that meant that it had become something that needed to be Dealt With.

Five more minutes of walking later, followed by the climbing of a tall, narrow staircase, and a brief trip to the bathroom to splash cold water on his face, Desmond sat fidgeting, in a comfy armchair across the elegant and nicely polished hardwood coffee table, from Dr. Citrenbaum who sat “at Royal Ease” again, as our friends the Buddhists would say, in an even nicer and no-doubt even comfier armchair.

“You look a little shaken-up, today, Dez. Tell me what’s wrong.”

“A little shaken up? Look at me, I’m a fucking *mess*!”

And Desmond was a fucking *mess*, indeed. His visage was haggard, he looked like he’d been sleeping under a bridge. He’d mismatched the buttons to the buttonholes on his wrinkled, blue Oxford shirt when he’d dressed himself this morning, and one of his shirt tails was hanging free, pulled loose no doubt, during his episode on Butler Street. Exhausted though he may have looked, he was a ball of nervous, jittery energy, chewing his fingernails down to the nail bed, while his legs shook uncontrollably.

Dr. Citrenbaum shifted in his chair, folded his hands, and spoke in a calm, well-modulated tone, “Dez, you’re in a safe space, so tell me all about what’s bothering you, today. What’s going on, buddy?”

“I had a bad morning. A real bad morning. I woke up alone, just like I always do, and this time I realized that I will be spending the rest of what I’m *certain* will be a very long, and miserable life, all alone. And I had a panic attack-“

Dr. Citrenbaum interrupted with “Okay, you had a panic attack, and it sounds like those dogs were barking again, Desmond. What did we learn, about when the dogs start barking? Remember the dogs, Dez?”

“…yes I remember the fucking dogs, you just observe that the fucking intrusive thoughts happen and then you let them go, and I’ve been doing that, I swear to fucking Christ I have, but today it’s so much worse.“

“Right, because didn’t we talk about how important it is to be objective about our thoughts?”

Desmond began to weep.

“Remember how we spoke about how sometimes people will say mean, nasty things to you and you’ll hear them, but you can choose not to acknowledge them and not to dwell on them? And how your intrusive thoughts were like that, too- you can hear them but you can choose not to dwell on them, and choose not to let them disrupt your emotional equilibrium?”

“Yes, but God, it was so much worse this time, and I couldn’t just observe them and let them go. And I think I may have made a terrible, God-fucking-awful mistake, too.”

“C’mon, Desmond… What have we learned about life, and about therapy? You never make mistakes! At best, you’re simply ‘Conducting Research’ and at worst, you’re ‘Giving Yourself Opportunities For Growth And Self-Discovery,’ isn’t that right?”

Desmond was sobbing, now, and regarding the erstwhile Dr. Citrenbaum with bloodshot, glassy eyes. He choked-out “I tried to kill myself by getting hit by a bus, today. And I was saved at the last second by a large, sweaty black guy…”

Dr. Citrenbaum clapped his hands, exclaiming “Okay, good, we have a dialogue going, here! You tried to kill yourself again.”

“…right, and after the guy saved me, I had a thought.”

“And then you had a thought. Okay, and what was the thought?”

Desmond stammered, searching for the wherewithal necessary to tell Dr. Citrenbaum the thought that was unraveling him.

“Dez?”

Desmond shouted “It was ‘What if I can’t kill myself, no matter how hard I try?’”

Dr. Citrenbaum paused, adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses, and began writing down the thought in the leather-bound notebook he kept specifically for his sessions with Desmond. He made it to “WHAT IF I-“ before he stopped, and put down his pen. A shiver began at the base of his spine and wriggled its way quickly up his back, to the top of his head. An observer would not have registered this disturbance. Dr. Citrenbaum’s cool, nonchalant exterior was left unchanged. He took a long, deep breath in through his nose and let it descend all the way to the bottom of his belly, and held it there as the echoes of Desmond’s thought reverberated against the inside of his skull. The vibration made his molars hurt, but he gave no sign of discomfort. His heart was empathetic, but his mind, and his spirit, were immovable.

“Dez, did you think actively about that thought after it popped up?”

Desmond doubled-over in his chair, and with “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” the very same way the despaired did it in Matthew Chapter 13, Verse 42 of The Holy Bible, he grabbed two thick clumps of hair in his clenched fingers, and while wrenching them out, he hissed “Yes. Yes I did it, I fucking DID IT. ”

“Yes you did, Dez, didn’t you? Even though the very foundation of your therapy depends on your not actively thinking about such thoughts, you went and did it anyway! Desmond, do you realize what you’ve done?”

“Yes,” he hissed again, and then shouted “I made it fucking real by thinking actively about it!” He continued- “It’s just like it was when I was dating Anastasia. Everything was fine, but the God damn dogs in my head or whatever you want to call them would start barking at me, telling me all about how she was was fucking her friend Gary, late at night after I’d drop her off after the Pens game or whatever, and it made me act like a clingy, obsessive, jealous, neurotic idiot and I ended up pushing her away!”

Dr. Citrenbaum thumbed-back several pages in his notebook, reviewed what notes he’d taken when Desmond had spilled his guts all over the coffee table in a fit of tears about the Anastasia Debacle, and nodded in agreement, saying “Right, right Dez, and who did she end up with after she broke up with you?”

“Fucking Gary…” Desmond whispered, in a sick, guttural tone.

“Right…“

“They’re getting fucking married this Fall! He’s probably sodomizing her right now!”

“I know, Dez. And we both know that this is your pathology, this ‘Obsessing Over Intrusive Thoughts, And Making Them Real,’ don’t we?”

“Yeah, well this time it’s so much fucking worse, Doctor Citrenbaum. This time I’ve really fucked myself. I’ve never been able to really live, happily or otherwise, and now I can’t fucking *die*, either!”

Desmond had fucked himself, alright. He’d fucked himself right in the ass with a pinecone, right there on Butler Street, that gray and dreary morning. He had taken The First Step: Admitting He Had A Problem, only this wasn’t A.A., where The First Step planted your feet firmly on Salvation’s welcome mat, no. In the infernal world Desmond occupied, it served as an unholy incantation, and once he’d spoken it to himself, once he’d made it make sense, covenants were sealed and set, and he was damned.

A very small, nearly imperceptible tick bubbled to the surface on the skin just under the corner of Dr. Citrenbaum’s left eye.

“Dez, I think it’s time we pursued the treatment of your intrusive thoughts, and your uncanny ability to make them become real, on a much more aggressive level.”

Desmond sat up, slowly, and then shrank down, against the back of his chair. He then took a deep breath, and let out an exasperated sigh. His eyes burned from the tears, his head throbbed, and his jaw ached. His voice cracked as he asked, plainly, “What do we do?”

Dr. Citrenbaum stood up, and walked across the hardwood floor of his office to his gargantuan mahogany desk. “Dez, I want to see the reality of this particular thought with my own, two eyes. You’ve been speaking to me about this uncanny ability of yours for weeks, now, *months* even, but I haven’t observed it first-hand, in the confines of a controlled environment, yet. So we’re going to play a game.”

“A game! What the fuck, like Snakes and Ladders? Scrabble? Fucking Battleship?”

Cool, nonchalant Dr. Citrenbaum opened his desk drawer, reached in, and produced a bottle of Irish whiskey. He sat the bottle down on his desk. He reached into the same drawer once more, and removed from it a .38 caliber, Smith and Wesson revolver. “Tell me, Desmond, do you remember the movie ‘Deer Hunter?’”

This caused Desmond’s eyes to roll back in his head, and made his stomach perform a beautifully-executed reverse one and a half somersaults with three and a half twists, in the free position dive, straight into the pool of Personal Unconsciousness. The judges were holding up cards with “10’s” printed on them as his head hit the coffee table.

He came-to moments later. Dr. Citrenbaum had sat him upright in his chair, and was waving a teacup containing what looked like four jiggers of whiskey under his nose. “Dez. Dez? Desmond, are you with me, Dez?”

“Oh my Christ I am, but I wish I wasn’t.” he replied.

Dr. Citrenbaum handed him the cup, and then, while walking back to his chair, took his suit jacket off, untied his tie, and removed his suspenders from over his shoulders. He hunkered down in his armchair, and unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt. Next, he poured himself some of the whiskey, and whacked it down without so much as a cough. “Drink up, Dez. I need you pliable for this treatment.”

Desmond did as he was asked, and the whiskey scorched every square centimeter of his esophagus as it made its way down to his stomach. He coughed, and his stomach and anal sphincter spasmed violently.

Dr. Citrenbaum poured himself, and Desmond, another round. He raised his teacup, and furrowed his brow as he looked at Desmond, and they both took their belts in unison. Then, he lifted the revolver and freed the cylinder, emptying all six bullets onto the cover of an issue of “Omni” magazine that was lying on the coffee table. He picked up a single bullet, and squinting as he peered into the cylinder, carefully loaded it into the chamber one down, on the left-hand side. He then gave the cylinder a gentle slap, and it made a soft, metallic whirring noise, just before he flicked his hand to the right, causing the cylinder to come to rest back inside.

“Live-fire exercise, ladies and gentlemen! Gun’s hot! Please don your earphones and protective eyewear!” He put the muzzle of the revolver against his temple, and pulled the trigger-

CLICK!

“Whoo-wee!”

Desmond shouted, “Are you out of your fucking mind!”

Dr. Citrenbaum reached across the coffee table and placed the revolver in front of Desmond. He clapped his hands, “WOW!”

“Are you fucking insane!” Desmond shouted, again.

“Invigorated, Dez!” he replied. It was the most excited, and animated, that Desmond had ever seen Dr. Citrenbaum. “And I could use another drink! I bet you could, too, right about now, eh’, Dez?”

He poured them each another.

“Okay Dez, I just beat the odds at one-in-six! Now here we go, Desmond’s coming through with the big one-in-five, ladies and gentlemen!” He gulped-down his whiskey, and clapped his hands again. “Go for it, buddy, c’mon!”

“This is fucking ludicrous!” Desmond shouted.

“It’s *FUCKING FANTASTIC*!” one of the dogs barked back, at him.

Dr. Citrenbaum replied, “I don’t see how that’s true, Dez. It’s a perfectly scientific experiment. And if what you say is true, and we both know that it probably is, the only one of us who’s in any real danger right now is me. And it’s not as if you, yourself, shot me, now is it? No! If I fuck up and blow my brains out all over my office, you can walk away! The County Medical Examiner will think it’s a suicide, case-closed! Of course, you’ll have to do the leg-work finding yourself a new therapist, but other than that, I really don’t see any cause for concern here, Desmond. Now stop being a pussy, and pick up the gun and pull the fucking trigger!”

“Yeah, Dez, tow the fucking line for fuck’s sake and do it!”

God damn dogs barking again…

Desmond drank his whiskey, and fought-back the cough. When he was certain that he wasn’t going to empty what little was in his stomach all over the coffee table, he reached for the revolver. It was cold, and it felt like it weighed as much as a bowling ball. He lifted it begrudgingly and placed the muzzle against his temple. Dr. Citrenbaum was staring at him calmly. He pulled the trigger-

CLICK!

Desmond’s eyes widened and he took in what seemed like all the air in the office in one, Herculean gasp, before slamming the weapon back down on the coffee table with a trembling hand.

“Nice work Desmond! WHOO!”

Despite the fact that he’d been clenching down, hard, since the moment he pulled the trigger, Desmond felt the warm, wet, telltale signs of shit leaking out of his rectum. He had soiled himself-

Shit, man, who wouldn’t have?

“Way to go, Dez! I guess that means it’s my turn again” Dr. Citrenbaum said as he retrieved the gun from the coffee table. “Here we go, folks, I have a one-in-four chance, aaaaand-“ with the muzzle pressed against his temple, he squeezed the trigger-

CLICK!

“Ha-Haaaa HAAAAA!” Dr. Citrenbaum danced a jig and laughed like a starving hyena circling the first rotting wildebeest carcass he’d seen in weeks. “Holy shit Dez! What a rush! Do you hear me talkin’ to ya’! Are you getting this?”

“I really just, oh fuck-“ Desmond shifted in his soiled seat, and while fighting-back the new tears that were emerging from his eyes, implored “…I really just want to go back to my house.” His voice had failed at the word “house”, he’d merely mouthed the word, with “se” as the only syllable, and it was barely audible. And though this would have tugged at the heart strings of other so-called “Therapists,” Dr. Citrenbaum remained unmoved and wholly unsympathetic.

“Here we go, big guy, it’s all you with the formidable one-in-three! Let’s see if you can make it happen!” He stood up, and in a swarthy manner tossed the gun from his right hand to his left, and flipped the butt around, toward Desmond, and passed it confidently, across the table, in his direction.

Desmond was quickly approaching his boiling-point. He wasn’t there yet, but God damn it, he was close. He jolted himself up onto his feet, snatched the revolver from Dr. Citrenbaum’s hand, brushed his hair away from his temple, pressed the muzzle against it, and then he leaned forward, toward Dr. Citrenbaum. He widened his dead eyes, and opened his mouth, unleashing what sounded like the battle cry of some kind of aboriginal warrior, and squeezed the trigger with an insane fury-

CLICK!

Dr. Citrenbaum flung his upper body backwards, threw his arms in the air, and shouted “FUCKIN’ A! Oh my God, Desmond! Jesus Fucking Christ that was incredible!”

Desmond had begun to shake, again, and as what breath remained in his lungs seeped out through his mouth, he shuffled his tired, strained body backwards to his chair.

“Well Dez, it doesn’t take a genius to understand what’s going to happen next. In just a moment I’ll either be dead, and you’ll be shopping for another Therapist, or you’ll be proving, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to both of us, that not only can you *not*, under any circumstances, kill yourself, but also, and probably more importantly, that you can make whatever you want to happen, *happen*, just by thinking about it.”

And with that, Dr. Citrenbaum put the gun to his head, again, for what would be the last time. He was perfectly calm.

“…wait.”

Dr. Citrenbaum raised his eyebrows, and peered down at Desmond.

“Wait…”

“Yes?”

“Dr. Citrenbaum, where do my thoughts come from?”

“Oh Dear Lord you have *got* to be kidding me, Desmond.”

Desmond slinked his shaking body out of his chair to his knees, nearly collapsing over the coffee table. He pushed it out of his way and lurched forward, holding an out-stretched hand at his Therapist, a man whom he had, in a very real and sincere way, come to like, during the course of his Treatment. “Please listen to me, Dr. Citrenbaum. I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to play, anymore, and I don’t want to live my life this way, anymore. Please, just stop, just fucking stop and tell me where my thoughts come from… Please tell me, if the intrusive thoughts, the barking dogs, come from the same place where MY OWN thoughts come from…”

“For fuck’s sake, Desmond, it’s all just images in a fucking window! The intrusive thoughts, the thoughts you think-up yourself, the people you see on the God damn street, all of it! It’s ALL happening and you’re just a byproduct of it that just sort of *magically happens*, too, now calm down, you’re compromising the experiment!”

“No Dr. Citrenbaum, wait-“

BOOM!!!

It was ear-shattering, but to Desmond, the smell of gunpowder mingled with scorched flesh was worse. He didn’t hear the thud that Dr. Citrenbaum’s body made as it hit the hardwood floor of his office, but he felt the vibration. It was only shock that prevented him from throwing up. He wanted to, he wanted to throw up badly, to purge himself of the noxious stew of emotions that was boiling deep in his belly. He smelled that, too, within himself. It was acrid and metallic, like the petrochemical plants near San Jancito, in Texas-

“Chemical Alley,” they called it.

He felt something, too. A feeling that he hadn’t felt in so long he’d forgotten about it. It was his heart, and it was racing. He felt his pulse, like a jackhammer, throughout his entire body, all the way up to his forehead. He began to breathe, and to steady himself. He began not to feel his heart beating but rather, he began to simply observe it happening. And as he did so, he observed himself, Desmond, happening, too. He observed himself nodding his head in calm agreement, with eyes wide and full of wonder.

He observed himself exiting Dr. Citrenbaum’s office.

It was 9 AM the following morning. The clock-radio on Desmond’s nightstand had sprung to life, and Pittsburgh’s favorite morning radio personality, the one and only Johnny Palladini, was belting out “When there’s lightning, you know it always brings me dooooooown” right along with his producer, and the members of Scattergun, a punk rock band who’d been tear-assing their way through clubs and dive bars in Western Pennsylvania, recently, along with a few other folks who’d joined them in the studio. They were singing along with Ronnie James Dio. It was Johnny Palladini’s schtick. It’s a curious fact, about Pittsburgh, that on any given morning, you can tune in to any of the local rock radio stations, and within an hour, you’ll hear a Dio song. Desmond had woken up to Rainbow The Dark.

He did not look for a woman who didn’t exist, because there was no reason to. He *knew* that he would be meeting a real woman, soon enough- a kind, smart, beautiful-in-a-girl-next-door-type-of-way woman, and that they would cherish one another for many years to come. He turned off his clock radio, and headed to the bathroom to perform his ablutions. After he washed, and brushed his teeth, he got dressed, and combed his hair.

Desmond’s breakfast was a toasted english muffin, with butter and marmalade. He took it along with him as he left.

The sun greeted his face in a warm and welcoming way. It was not gray outside, as Pittsburgh usually is, and it wasn’t not that bad, either. It was, in point of fact, positively radiant, and so was Desmond as he embarked on his walk toward Lawrenceville, where his Therapist’s office was located, feeling better, probably, than any unremarkable, white male should legally be allowed to feel. And he had complete faith and trust in everything that he had made make sense, down to the finest detail-

And it should be noted that of all the sounds that greeted him as he walked along the sidewalk that ran perpendicular to Butler Street, the sound of barking dogs was not among them.

He paused by the window of the hip espresso bar, and gazed at his own reflection. The dark circles under his eyes had already begun to fade, no doubt the result of last night’s slumber. He moved on, and noted that the length of the sidewalk was normal, and that it wasn’t wobbling at all.

Desmond didn’t need to splash cold water on his face before he entered the sanctum of Dr. Citrenbaum’s office, this day. No, it wasn’t necessary. He simply opened the door and stepped inside, with all the confidence and self-assuredness of a man who *knows* that he doesn’t need to tow the fucking line.

Dr. Citrenbaum, sitting “at Royal Ease” in his comfy armchair, looked up from his morning newspaper and regarded Desmond with an adoring jubilance, “Desmond my boy, nice to see you! I thought we might play chess, today!”

Desmond smiled. “That’d be just fine, Dr. Citrenbaum, and it’s fantastic to see you, too.”

Copyright © 2015 Kenneth Atkins
Desmond

The Party

“I REALLY CAN’T THANK YOU ENOUGH for agreeing to this,” Ginny said as
she took Jonathan’s hand and led him down the flagstone walkway which traversed the soon-to-be wedded Travis and Gretchen’s well-manicured front lawn. “I know these get-togethers aren’t your cup of tea. Thank you for taking one for the team tonight, Teddy Bear. I promise I’ll make it up to you later on.”

Jonathan, clearing his throat and detecting a hint that sex could be in his immediate future – not the kind of sex he and Ginny had before they moved-in together, of course, but SEX none the less – nodded and replied, “It’s no problem, Gin. It’s fine. I just, you know, it’s nothing personal against your friends. They’re great and all… I just, you know, feel like I need a few Jell-O shots and a Xanax just to be around them sometimes.”

(That wasn’t actually true. It was personal, and it had everything to do with the fact that to Jonathan, none of Ginny’s friends were “great” at all. And that went double for Gretchen and her fiancé, Mr. What’s-His-Name. And he needed a whole lot more chemical assistance than a few Jell-O shots and a Xanax to handle being around them without wanting to put his head in the oven.)

“I know, Teddy Bear,” Ginny replied, giving Jonathan her cute pouty face. To her Jonathan looked like a teddy bear. Well, a skinny, well-worn teddy bear.

“Especially Gretchen, fuck…”

(Gretchen taught Second grade elementary school and tended to speak to everyone in that same slow, condescending, “talking down” manner that she used when she spoke to her students. She also listened to National Public Radio.)

“I know, Jonny. She can be a little uptight, a little condescending, but I’ve known her since Junior High and…”

“I know Gin, and I said it’s okay. Just, you know, point me toward the alcohol as soon as we’re through the front door and I’ll be fine.”

“Uh, there’s no drinking tonight, Jon. Travis, remember…”

(Jonathan did not, in point of fact, remember Travis, or What Travis Had Done, beyond a vague concept of “some guy who’s, uh, engaged to Gretchen, I think,” which he’d picked up from half-listening to Ginny when she spoke, ad-nauseum, about her friends while he smoked pot and played Diablo III on the computer.)

“Uh, Travis?”

“Gretchen’s fiancee, Jon! For Christ’s sake get it together! Fuck!”

“What’s wrong with…. uh, Travis?”

“Gretchen made him quit drinking… REEEMEMBER!? He was drunk at the recital and felt-up the mother of one of her students.” She smacked Jonathan on his forehead, “Ring a bell!?

(That was actually the edited-for-content version of the story that Gretchen told her friends and family. It garnered her the sympathy she wanted from the unfortunate people who had to listen, and spared her the embarrassment of telling them the Gospel Truth, which was that Travis had taken the afternoon off work, had gotten obliterated at the bar before meeting Gretchen at the recital, and upon being introduced to the leggy blonde-with-the-Yoga-ass mother of one of Gretchen’s students after the show, he didn’t just “feel her up.” No, he had boomed, “Pleased to meet you, baby!” at her as he reached for her, grabbed her ass, kissed her, and while grinning wildly, rubbed his crotch up and down against her hip with the smirk of a randy schnauzer humping a pillow into a pile of tattered cloth and feathers.)

“Oh, yeah. Yeah! Travis…” Jonathan cleared his throat, “He’s uh, yeah, he’s in that Twelve Step Thing now, what was it?”

“A.A.”

“Uh…?”

Alcoholics Anonymous! Jesus Jonathan!”

“Yeah…”

(Ginny was losing her patience. She hated it when Jonathan wasn’t as present as she wished, and knew that he could be, if he wanted. But in her heart, she understood.)

It occurred to Jonathan that saying as little as possible from that point on was the best course of action to take considering the circumstances and what was at stake for later on, so he apologized and kissed Ginny on the cheek. Ginny smiled and thanked him once again, for coming along.

The house that Gretchen and Travis had mortgaged themselves out the ass for three months ago was sterile on the inside. To guests it looked as if happy, well-adjusted people lived there, at least at first glance. But upon closer inspection, Jonathan’s subconscious would discover evidence that the whole thing was painstakingly
manufactured, down to the most minute detail.  Feelings of extreme uneasiness would manifest themselves along with vague, but insistent inclinations that something just wasn’t right, here.

Jonathan picked up on it almost immediately. He wasn’t attending a bad party with a rabble of people he’d rather not talk to anymore, oh no. It was so much bigger than that, now. It was as if he was a contestant in some kind of fucked-up television game show. “Gretchen smiles exactly the same way in every single picture I see her in,” he said. Indeed, in all fifteen of them on the mantle alone, Gretchen’s expression was identical – a big, toothy, brilliant-white smile like a shark who’d been seeing a Hollywood Dentist, the kind of Hollywood Dentist who only works on A-List celebrities. She was wearing different clothes in each photo, and she was surrounded by different scenery, but her face, and that smile, were identical in each one. “And ‘Mr. What’s-His-Fuck The Pervert Alcoholic’ looks terrified in every one of the photos he’s in. What the fuck is that about?”

Ding-ding-diiiing! Jonathan has just won round two, Ladies and Gentlemen, with another correct observation! Yes, Travis did look terrified. He was smiling in all the pictures, too, and that’s what made it so unseemly. Unlike Gretchen’s smile, which was a pantomime that had been expertly rehearsed over the years to express jubilation under even the most dire of circumstances, Travis’ smile came-off as forced and gave the impression that it was masking sheer terror. It was the way you smile in the pictures they take of you at the amusement park when you’re riding the roller coasters and you’re terrified of them. That’s how Travis looked in the engagement photos, all elegantly framed and prominently displayed on the credenza.

Time for round three! Will our contestant notice it? Is he gonna pick up on it, folks?

Jonathan meandered into the kitchen. “Christ, you could perform brain surgery in here,” he thought to himself.

A few of the guests had congregated by a large punch bowl on the center island. They took notice of him and acknowledged him with half-smiles. He returned the smiles in equally half-assed measure.

He stared at that kitchen for a long time.  Then it came to him. “Nobody fucking cooks in here!” he blurted out, surprising the punch bowl crowd.

“This kitchen hasn’t been cooked in since it was fucking remodeled! I can still smell the paint!”

DING DING DIIIIING! We have a winner, Ladies and Gentlemen! Tell him what he’s won, Jimmy!

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Jonathan Weissman has just won a bowling ball made of depleted uranium! And he’ll be carrying that big fucker around with him in his stomach for the duration of the evening, feeling nauseated and uncomfortable! HA-HA! Back to you, Craig!”

That’s fantastic!

It was then that Jonathan realized he was badly in need of a drink. Probably even many drinks. This wasn’t something that could be resolved by walking back out to the car, getting inside, smoking a joint and listening to Portishead on the stereo. Not by a longshot.

Jonathan peeked around the corner, into the Game Room. Ginny was standing by the big-ass TV, belting-out Livin’ On A Prayer into a plastic microphone, as the lyrics whizzed by on the screen, over an undulating tie-dyed background. She was accompanied by the always polo-shirted-and-khaki’d Sylvester, a guy Jonathan recalled meeting at a barbecue several months ago. Or was it the outing at Kennywood?
Jonathan was terrible at remembering exactly where and when he met uninteresting people. Jonathan sucked at all things having to do with uninteresting people.

He was keen, however, at determining whether or not Ginny was having a pleasant enough time at a social function to miss him if he vanished for a half an hour or so. And Ginny seemed to be having a blast at the karaoke jam which, Jonathan assumed, would only allow songs from a pre-approved and agonized-over playlist, decided-upon ahead of time by – you guessed it – Gretchen, herself.

Jonathan shuddered. He always hated Bon Jovi.  He made his exit.

Though he hardly ever came to this neighborhood, he navigated the twists and turns and alleyways on the drive to the liquor store as if he knew the way by heart. Jonathan, who over-thought everything,paused to consider the idea that perhaps he knew, on some subconscious level, that he would be attending a dry party all along and with the
use of his most basic, primal mental faculties, was on the lookout for nearby liquor stores the entire way there that night; and he’d been mapping-out points of stealthy egress, and plotting the quickest routes, from the moment he and Ginny arrived. All without being cognizant of it until the moment he stood at the cashier’s station, paying for the two bottles of Bacardi 151 he’d selected.

“Jesus. Had I planned this all along?” he thought to himself.  He dismissed the thought with a simple “Fuck it.” He paid, and left.

Jonathan didn’t approve of drinking and driving. At least, not most of the time. But it wasn’t difficult for him to rationalize breaking the seal on one of his bottles of high-octane rum, and gulping down three or four jiggers before buckling his seatbelt.

He grimaced and coughed hard after the mouthfuls of jet fuel hit his throat and then went tear-assing their way down his esophagus toward his stomach where they crashed, and subsequently exploded, into a fireball he could physically feel, way down there inside of him near his intestines.

He dismissed his reservations forthwith. “I don’t have too far to go, and I was sober when I got in the car. Fuck it.”

He swilled down two more mouthfuls.

Cough.

Fireball.

His testicles clenched up a little bit.

Burp!

“Whoo-wee! Fuck.”

Whistle.

Jonathan turned the key and his VW’s motor whirred to life. He paused again, considering, “Man, this must be what it’s like for alcoholics every single day, when they have to go to work, or funerals, or church picnics, or whatever…”

It had never gotten downright unmanageable for Jonathan, not enough for him to consider asking himself The Tough Questions, at least not yet. That time was still ahead of him. But he had to chuckle to himself at the irony of his thought, as he shifted into reverse, looked over his shoulder, and backed out of the parking space. And with a flick of the shifter and a brief squeal of the tires, he was on his way back toward the party, one sheet to the wind, the other two on their way up the mast.

Jonathan arrived safely back at Gretchen and Travis’s McMansion, but to his chagrin, the empty space he’d left by the curb in front of the house not more than twenty minutes earlier, was taken.

Humming along to Modest Mouse, he drove a little farther down the block, looking for a suitable place to park.

And it should be noted here that Jonathan had consumed two-thirds of his first bottle of Bacardi 151 on the drive back which, interestingly enough, allowed him to broaden his mind quite a lot when considering just what constituted a “suitable parking space.”

He brought his VW, affectionately nicknamed “Dubbs” by Ginny, to rest by a tall oak tree which resided on the front lawn of a house down the street – the middle of the front lawn. Jonathan thought nothing of it at all; the house remained dark. The homeowners either didn’t care or hadn’t heard all the noise. And he’d ceased thinking about it in the time it took to unbuckle the seatbelt, open the door, and step out onto the grass.

With his bottles of 151 in the pockets of his overcoat, he made his way back toward the party, whistling to himself as he walked.

After arriving, via slipping-in through the side-door that lead first into the mud room, which was spotless, and from there into the kitchen which was – you guessed it – still sterile and smelling of new paint, he made his way past a new group of punch bowl revelers, carefully and cautiously, so as not to appear drunk, and headed for the Game Room, to determine whether or not Ginny had noticed he’d been missing.

She had not.

He stepped in, and leaned against the wall (his legs had started feeling like spaghetti) and observed Ginny, sitting on the large couch next to Gretchen. She smiled at Jonathan and waved her hand a little at him.

He smiled back, shifted his weight away from the wall, pointed at her, grinned, and blew her a kiss.

Ginny peered back at him, quizzically, but before the physical symptoms of Jonathan’s intoxication could register, somebody handed Gretchen the microphone, and she stood up and interrupted the exchange saying, “Everybody, gather around! Travis and I are going to sing a duet. MMMHM, this is our favorite song, and ooh! OOOH! Somebody make a video of this so we can post it on our Facebook page!!”

The booze had short-circuited the little warning light in Jonathan’s head that would glow bright red any time he was about to say something stupid, so without thinking he blurted out, “You made your fiancé make a lame joint-Facebook page with you!” while pointing at Gretchen and laughing.

“OH Ha, Ha, Jonathan! All couples do that! Don’t they, TRAVIS?” Gretchen responded.

And she continued, “This is mine and Travis’s song, and we’re going to dance to it at our wedding, aren’t we, TRAVIS?”

Travis just stood there, by the TV, looking both embarrassed and defeated. Gretchen joined him, and he smiled that same, terror-masking smile, and put his arm around her.

The duet began. It was Truly, Madly, Deeply, by Savage Garden.

Jonathan winced, then laughed, and then laughed even harder, so hard he felt tears in his eyes, and in the thick of the laughter blurted out “OHHHH, MAAAAN! That song fucking SUCKS!”

Sylvester laughed. A few others chuckled, and Ginny leaped up from the couch and rushed at Jonathan like a defensive lineman and, catching him completely off guard, she maneuvered him into the kitchen while Gretchen, with her bone white shark smile, continued singing, never missing a beat.

“WHAT THE FUCK, JONATHAN! WHAT… THE… FUCK?”

“Uh… Heh…”  Cough. “Whatthefuck?”  Ginny wanted to know what the fuck was. “What the fuck what, baby?” Jonathan said, grinning and steadying himself on the center island.

“You just haaad to get drunk! Didn’t you? And how did you get drunk, Jonathan? You were sober when we got here and there’s no booze in this fucking one-point-five million dollar retarded house so what the fuck, Jonathan! How’d you get drunk?”

Jonathan pulled the almost empty bottle of 151 from his pocket, held it up, and said “Liquor store…”

Ginny snatched it from his hand, opened it, whacked-down the dregs, wiped her arm across her mouth, and said “You are soooo not getting laid tonight for this, Jonathan!”

Jonathan snickered, and then quietly moaned to himself, “Noooo…”

“Gretchen will never forgive me for this!” Ginny said, and then punched Jonathan in the arm. “You’re such an asshole sometimes!” And with that she stormed out of the kitchen.

Jonathan looked in no direction in particular and asked aloud, “I’M an asshole?”

Nobody answered. And moments later he was outside on the back deck, smoking a cigarette and replaying the events that had occurred moments earlier, trying to determine the precise moment in time at which he became “Such An Asshole.”

“Yeah, I probably am an asshole,” he muttered. “That was kind of a dick thing to say…”

“Yeah, man. That was a total dick thing to say,” a voice responded from out of  nowhere. Somebody Jonathan barely recognized through the drunken haze had come out, just as he was talking to himself. The voice surprised him.

“Yeah, I guess it was…” Cough. “An I feel reeeal bad about it, man,” Jonathan said as he reached into his coat pocket for the other bottle of 151.

He opened it, took a gulp, and said “I, uh, I apologize you had to see me acting like an asshole, man. Here, lemme buy you a drink.” And he handed the bottle over to his new friend.

Without thinking the man took the bottle from Jonathan’s hand, and then paused, staring at it. He licked his lips and then winced- “Oh, shit! I, I really can’t, man, I have a sponsor.”

“AWWW SHIT MAN, sure you can! We’re all adults here.  Drink up, Buddy. C’mon!”

“I need to call my sponsor right now!”

Hearing this, Jonathan began mincing around on the deck, flailing his arms, and mimicked him with a little girl’s voice, saying- “Waaaah! I neeeeed to caaaaall mah sponsooor, I neeeeed to caaaaall mah sponsoooooooor waaaaah!”

“Aww, Fuck it,” the man said and took two huge swigs. “Thanks, man. I fucking needed that.”

“No problem, chief,” Jonathan said and then staggered, asking, “What’d you say your name was, again?”

“Uh, it’s me, asshole, Travis. You know, the guy with the joint-Facebook page with his fiancée…”

Jonathan stood there, head cocked to one side, looking bewildered as Travis walked past him carrying his 151.

Jonathan really ought to get better about remembering who all the uninteresting people are, specifically, shouldn’t he?

“Oops…” Was the first thing Jonathan said. The second thing he said as the adrenaline hit him and immediately began to cause the rum fog to lift, was, “OHSHITFUCK!”

He stumbled toward the patio door, intent on finding Ginny and escaping with her before the shitshow (the one that he would no-doubt be held responsible for) began.

Once inside, Jonathan searched for Ginny frantically. She wasn’t in the Game Room, where Penny and Howie Marsh were warbling Friends In Low Places together. And she wasn’t among the partygoers in the kitchen, either. Travis, on the other hand, was in the kitchen, chatting-up Sylvester’s girlfriend Kaye, and she did not appear to be
amused. He had the bottle in his hand and half of it’s contents were already gone. Travis’s face was bright read, and his smile didn’t look forced at all. It looked maniacal, honest, and heavily shored-up by alcohol.

Jonathan tilted his head, watched, and gave the image time enough to let the gravitas of it sink in. “God, he looks really happy,” he thought as he watched Travis, his face
split in half by a the kind of grin you normally only see on Jack-O-Lanterns, reach to Kaye and grab her breast through her shirt. Kaye gasped but Travis didn’t balk.

Jonathan’s mouth gaped. “Oh my God, oh my fucking GOD!” he thought as Kaye threw her drink at Travis and gave his face a slap that was hard enough to replace his grin with a look of astonished bewilderment at what he could have possibly done wrong.

“What’s the matter Kaye? You’ve got some great after-market tits!” Travis shouted after her as she fled the kitchen. “They’re great, aren’t they?” he asked to the guests hovering around the center island. They hadn’t seen what happened. Not many people paid much
attention to Travis, some because they had trained themselves not to.

Jonathan tried the living room next, but Ginny wasn’t in there, either.

He headed upstairs, damn-near toppling two female guests who were on their way up to use the bathroom (the downstairs bathroom was occupied). He reached the landing and heard Ginny laughing. She was in the master bedroom with what sounded like Gretchen and two others, admiring the new bedroom furniture that Gretchen’s father had recently given to them. Jonathan burst into the bedroom and Ginny regarded him with surprise.  He was pale and sweating.  He didn’t look drunk anymore at all. He looked like he’d just seen his dog get hit by a car. He grabbed Ginny by the arm and pulled her out of the master bedroom.  In tow, she protested, “But Teddy Bear!”

“Gin there’s no time to explain right now we just have to getthefuckout! We have to leave right now!”

They were half-way down the stairs, and Ginny was still pleading “But Jonathan, Gretchen was going to show us the walk-in closet!”

“We gotta go right now Ginny, shit is totally FUCKED!”

“WHAT’S FUCKED, JONATHAN? WHAT’RE YOU JABBERING ABOUT?”

“Travis is getting hammered, and he just grabbed that chick who Brown Khakis is fucking’s tits, and it’s my fucking fault and we have to go RIGHT NOW!”

“GOD DAMN IT JONATHAN. YOU REALLY ARE AN IDIOT! YOU KNOW THAT?”

“I know I know I’m SORRY Ginny. C’mon!”

Gretchen and her two friends had followed Jonathan and Ginny after their abrupt exit. Gretchen was frantic on the inside but she did not betray her cool, almost stoic exterior, even as the series of horrible things that could be occurring downstairs looped through her mind like a Domestic Disaster Highlight Reel From Hell. Had someone spilled punch on her new carpet?

Had the downstairs bathroom flooded?

Did she remember to close her internet browser on the computer downstairs and clear the history, and if not, were ten or elven of her closest friends having a laugh at the lesbian fem-dom bondage porn she had been looking at?

Did Snickers, their labradoodle, piss all over the couch?

Was Travis behaving inappropriately toward some of the party guests?

“Whatever was going on, Jonathan had to be responsible for it,” Gretchen decided during the five seconds it took her to descend the stairs after them.

Her two bewildered friends followed her because it was 9:45 on a Saturday night and they were still sober.

Once downstairs, Gretchen observed an angered Ginny telling Jonathan that he was an idiot while he appeared to be rifling through the coat closet. She moved in their direction in long, deliberate strides, smiling only enough to make her words slow and marginalizing. “Jonathan, I want you to tell me what’s going on, right now, please.”
Only that’s not really what she was saying at all. Oh sure, that’s what the words sounded like when Jonathan heard them, but he knew that what Gretchen was reallysaying probably sounded a lot more like – “Jonathan you drunk little fuck-weasel, I know you’ve donesomething and I’m going to cut off your balls and stuff them up your ass for it! Now tell me what you did, you little shit!”

Jonathan, now pouring sweat, was in the middle of stammering “I, I, I’m so sorry, Gretchen, I fucked up!” when a crescendo of groans and mortified EWWW’s emerged from the kitchen and stopped Gretchen in her tracks.

The groans and gasps were followed by “Oh God! Travis, for heaven’s sake!” And then, “Travis what the hell are you doing! Are youdrunk?”

That was enough to turn Gretchen’s attention and anger away from Jonathan and direct them toward the kitchen. And in those same long, deliberate strides, she hurried there, determined to get to the bottom of just what, exactly, had happened, and whether or not Jonathan the Drunk-Little-Fuck-Weasel was responsible.

And what greeted Gretchen, when she arrived in the kitchen, was a scene almost impossible to relate second-hand in stories told around office water-coolers or in coffee shops among friends, and do it any justice. There, before her, was Travis, standing proudly on top of the center island, his pants and his boxers bunched around his ankles,
gulping down rum straight out of the bottle while pissing merrily into the punch bowl, as their friends gawked at him the way people normally gawk at a train wreck or a collision on the highway.

Gretchen folded her arms, regarded Travis with a curt “MmHM,” and then said, in her elementary school voice,”Travis, the punch bowl is notfor peeing in. Now pull up your pants, put you winkie away, and follow me into the den, please.”

The word “winkie” in reference to a grown man’s flaccid member made Sylvester snicker, though he tried his hardest to muffle it.

Jonathan, who along with Ginny had made his way to the kitchen in time to view the damage he’d caused, once again heard what Gretchen was really saying, “Travis, you piece of shit! Get your ass into the den rightfuckingnow. I am going to fucking KILL YOU.”

He braced himself against the wall with his hand and laughed.

Ginny took him by the arm and pulled him back, in the direction of the front door. She forced an awkward smile and quipped, “We’ve had a great evening, but we have to get going,” and then she dashed with Jonathan out of Gretchen and Travis’s McMansion, acknowledging to herself that her idiot domestic partner may have just ended any shot
she ever had about having a normal social life with her friends and colleagues. “You are such an asshole, Jonathan,” she growled at him as they dashed across the front yard. “and where’s the fucking car?”

Jonathan stopped short, waved an out-stretched hand in the general direction of where he’d left Dubbs. Then he doubled-over and threw up on Gretchen and Travis’s front lawn.
“Hey Gin, at least I didn’t throw up on their new carpet…”

Ginny shook her head and gave a small but none-the-less audible giggle.

Copyright © 2015 Kenneth Atkins

The Party