*We publish a new issue bi-monthly on the 1st of the month. We are here on behalf of the interest of the writers to promote them on a consistent basis. We will feature 8 new short stories every issue. Thank you and enjoy the June/July issue of SNM.
Jilted Lovers: Author's opposite sex for the M/C.
Trevor studied the walls of his kitchen, the faded wallpaper, a repeating motif of lemons and pears. He mopped his forehead with a dishtowel. It was uncomfortably hot in the house, even though it was only nine a.m. His eyes tracked to the chunky, red splatter above the stove, remnants of the tomato his wife, Penny, had thrown at his head in an act of rage.
He'd left the splotch on the wall both as a punishment as well as a motivation. The spot was still moist, thanks to the juicy Florida air, and smelled like a dirty gym sock. The fingers of the stain reached eagerly for the lemons and the pears in the wallpaper, and green mold, like the felt-covering of a pool table, blanketed the chunks of tomato stuck to the wall. Patches of bright orange poked through the frizzy mold, as if trying to escape.
He gathered the remaining tomatoes from Penny's final harvest into his lap. They were rotten and heavy, their ample bodies rawhide with fuzzy green caps.
He brought one to his nose, inhaling the patchy odor of rank vegetation laced with a hint of black pepper before taking a bite, his teeth sinking into the ruined flesh. He chewed it slowly, jaw working, distinctly bovine, savoring the familiar taste of the fruit and its startling tang.
He and Penny had shared a cramped, one-bedroom bungalow in the city for over three years now. There was no yard, no fruit trees, certainly no room for a real garden. But Penny had always bragged of a green thumb, due to her years growing up in rural Missouri, so she'd promptly gathered and grown the tomatoes in a whiskey barrel on their front porch; her plants yielding an endless supply of perfect, plump fruit. She'd spent hours on the porch with her ripe tomatoes, tending to them lovingly, while tiny lizards skittered around her feet and a black widow spider constructed a web in the corner of the porch. When he'd rolled up a used newspaper to squash it, she'd snapped at him:
Don't you dare kill her, Trevor! Spiders are friends to plants; they eat the bad bugs. Why do you have to destroy everything?
That was the day their air conditioner had suddenly stopped working.
Trevor was a hard-working guy, but he wasn't handy. With no money to pay a repairman, he tried, unsuccessfully, to fix the air conditioner himself. After two days with still no cold air, Penny left to stay at her mother's farm, complete with its acres of strawberries, sprawling vegetable gardens and fragrant fruit trees.
Trevor hated Penny's mother.
"Will you at least water my tomato plants while I'm gone?"
"Sure," he'd told her, not really hearing her.
Penny was gone for ten days and not once did he water her beloved tomato plants. He didn't do this out of spite — he'd merely forgotten. When she returned home, she knelt over the dead plants for a long time without saying a single word before going off into the bedroom and closing the door quietly behind her. She remained strangely composed and silent for hours, as she made preparations for supper.
"I can't live here any longer," she told him, standing in the kitchen's doorway. A suitcase sat at her feet. "I want a garden. I want orange trees and kumquats. And I want—” She paused, stammering. She finally turned to face him. "All you had to do was water them. Why couldn't you just water them? Why couldn't you have done that for me?”
"I forgot," he said, but quietly. Sincerely.
She frowned, reached out, picked up a tomato and hurled it at his head. It missed by inches, splattering the kitchen wall.
The stain that was still on the wall to this day.
"Fucking tomatoes," he muttered to himself, squeezing one to a pulp in his fist then shoving it into his mouth. The green fuzz powdered his upper lip and the brown juice raced down his chin. The taste wasn't so bad, like a peppery vegetable, slightly metallic. He devoured another, smacking his lips wetly after the last pungent bite.
Trevor curled up on his side in front of the open refrigerator, noisily licking his fingers. A square of sunlight from the kitchen window struck him between the shoulder blades, baking his upper back, while gooseflesh erupted on his face, chest and arms.
Penny had been wrong — very wrong. He didn't destroy every thing. It was rather the opposite. He was a creator — an artist! It was fair to say things hadn't been going well in that part of his life lately, but he was in the seeking phase — searching for the ultimate medium.
A sense of peace washed over him as he realized that was exactly what had happened. Something, he thought, had found him. Something very special.
He grimaced as the stabbing pain shot through his mid-section. His stomach made a deep rumbling sound, a bubbling creek, followed by an insistent gurgle. The muscles in his gut clenched and released, his stomach rolled, arguing fiercely with its latest cargo.
Trevor sprinted to the bathroom where the argument ended.
Trevor was on the bathroom floor, bathed in sweat, the ceramic tile cool against his cheek. He opened his eyes. He lay next to the clawfoot tub; mold, the color of emeralds, grew between its toes, and charcoal mildew smudged the grout between the bathroom tiles. Dark green stripes ran down the length of the shower curtain. This delighted him. Using the sink for support, he hoisted himself up. He had work to do.
The kitchen was packed with the day's purchases: a ten-pound bag of sugar, boxes of unflavored gelatin, jars of syrups and jams, heat lamps on metal stands and two humidifiers; devices nearly impossible to find in the state of Florida. Strings of white Christmas lights from the garage were piled haphazardly on the kitchen table. Spray bottles of colorful liquids were lined the counters.
The refrigerator was his treasure chest, packed full of colorful produce and dairy products. He unplugged the appliance. For this project, it was appropriate for the contents to be a little vulnerable.
Trevor began in the living room, brushing thick goo over the wall. The goo was a combination of maple syrup, red food coloring and orange gelatin. He closed the white drapes and slathered them with yogurt. He sprayed the carpet with lemon juice and polished it all off with liberal sprinkles of powdered sugar.
After covering the largest areas, he plugged in the humidifiers, turning them to the highest setting. He set up the heat lamps: two in the living room, one in the kitchen, and one in his bedroom, aiming each strategically at the moistened surfaces, where they cast an eerie amber light.
The heat from the lights made the house agonizingly stuffy, but he didn't mind. The lack of air conditioning was no longer an issue. He was now accustomed to the stifling temperatures. He worked shirtless, wearing only a pair of boxers and open-toed flip-flops. His mind was clean and clear; the sweat purified him; the heavy heat kept his mind open and honest.
And, it was the perfect environment for his garden.
His own special garden indoors, rather than one outside.
He would beat Penny at her own game.
He arranged the furniture, creating a narrow path from the kitchen to the living room, one branch leading to the bedroom, the other to the bath. He strung white Christmas lights from the drop ceiling. He slathered the furniture with a mixture of orange juice and brown sugar. He soaked towels in sugared water and draped them over the lamps and decorative knick-knacks in the living and dining rooms. Wonderful smells filled his home: rank sweat, rotting vegetation, and sour fruit.
He had finally found the perfect medium.
Their happy little abode was no longer a tiny, miserable box; it was a lush paradise. His project had taken on a life of its own land the mold had spread rapidly, devouring everything. The variety of colors and textures was breathtaking.
The bathroom was the easiest to cultivate. It was small and naturally damp. Wonderful things now grew in abundance around the toilet and beneath its lid, in the bathtub and within the folds of the shower curtain. The grout in the shower was stunning turquoise, and there were streaks of creamy red, like tomato bisque, inside the tub. He'd taken extra care when spraying the fuzzy mold between the toes of the clawfoot tub, and after a few days it had thickened and spread so it now appeared his tub wore fuzzy green slippers.
The sunny atmosphere of the kitchen rivaled the cozy corner of the bathroom. The kitchen's yellow tile, white cupboards and yellow curtains, had been dramatically transformed. Creeping swaths of dark blue and burnt sienna covered these surfaces. The magnificent centerpiece, Penny's tomato splatter mark, was different each day.
He kept it lively with sprays of sugar water and smears of raspberry jam.
It was his own masterpiece, really.
The keystone of the entire installation.
The living room was dark and homey, reminiscent of a heavily wooded mountain trail, evergreen scented, trunk-lined, with slivers of sunlight sneaking through cracks in the drapes. A meandering black mold covered the furniture.
It crawled over every conceivable surface, the couch, the chair, the walls, and the carpet.
The bedroom was the sanctuary. Trevor saved this room for last after he'd determined what formulas yielded Penny's favorite colors: purples, pinks and oranges. These colors, he discovered, were difficult to cultivate. It took some experimentation and hours upon days, but he eventually created a sugary concoction that created a lovely peach glow, with darker spots of mauve and scarlet.
The walls, bedspread and lampshades were now swathed in patches of these colors.
He slurped sour milk as he surveyed the room and then ate something fuzzy that may have once been a plum. It didn't matter what it had once been. It was something special now, and would bloom beautifully inside his gut, giving him strength to continue his work.
Trevor had fallen asleep on the dirt path, adjacent the entrance to the kitchen. As soon as he opened his eyes, he realized something wonderful had happened. There was movement in the garden. Sunlight streamed into the kitchen illuminating the small clouds of fruit flies that hovered above the kitchen floor. Life! Penny would absolutely love that.
The black widow spider had moved into the far corner of the kitchen, anchoring her web beneath the kitchen cabinet above the sink. The red hourglass on her abdomen caught the sunlight and winked at Trevor.
Delighted, he giggled loudly. Then, something skittered across the path near his head: a tiny lizard. Yes, they were here, as well. Perfect. And other mysterious creatures moved sluggishly in the dark corners, making wet scratching sounds, emitting curious squeaks and groans.
Things were perfect, and just in time, because yesterday, Penny had called. She missed him; loved him — wanted to see him.
She was coming home.
He woke to a pinch, followed by a gentle tickling sensation on his thigh. Penny! Playful Penny!
"Penny," he mumbled sleepily, smiling. He woke propped up against the refrigerator, his bleary eyes gradually focusing on the dark spot on his bare thigh. The black widow. There was a red welt just above his knee. It did not hurt, but the skin looked angry and raised. He stared at the arachnid, no longer afraid of her. They were part of each other now. They shared the same space. She crawled from his leg and disappeared into a hole beneath the sink.
Trevor was eager to show Penny what he had created in her absence: a garden for both of them to share. He was sure, once she saw the house, she would stay with him. How could she not resist this sanctuary grown just for her? It was proof that he truly loved and cared about her.
Penny would be there any moment, so Trevor carefully cleared a circle in the bathroom mirror. He looked at his reflection. His eyebrows had a mossy, olive look to them. His eyes were dark and bright, hair greasy and tousled.
There was a tentative knock at the front door. Trevor trotted to the foyer and pulled the door open. Penny stood there, her look of defensive coolness soon shifting into something completely different when she saw his appearance.
"Oh my G…—” she couldn't get the rest of it out, her hand covered her mouth.
"I know! Something amazing has happened! I've been working! Oh, Penny! It's so good to see you!" He grabbed her hand and drew her into the foyer. ‘The most incredible thing has happened! I've created the most wonderful garden for you. Come in and see it!"
Penny hesitated, her eyes flicking to his hair, his dirty shorts, his filthy legs. They came to rest on the oozing wound above his right knee.
"What happened to your leg?" she asked in a strangled voice. Trevor wasn't sure, but he thought he detected a hint of concern in her voice. "That looks like a spider bite."
"That's part of the surprise. Please, come see!" he insisted. "I'm fine. Don’t worry about me."
She stepped in the house. They stood side by side in the foyer, where the path leading into the living room began. Christmas lights illuminated the ceiling. The heat lamps gave off an eerie orange glow. The humidifiers blasted, while swirling particles danced through the hot, heavy air.
"See! See what I've created for you!” Trevor said. “A garden! Your own sanctuary, like The Tuileries, in Paris, remember our Honeymoon? Do you remember?"
"Oh, Trevor. Oh my God—" Penny squeaked, backing into the kitchen. He reached for her but she cringed and hopped back to avoid his touch. Her foot slid out when it landed on something chunky and wet on the floor; something that may once have been a tomato. She fell straight back, striking the back of her head on the fuzzy corner of the kitchen table.
She lay on the grimy kitchen floor looking beautiful, peaceful.
He dragged her by the shoulders to the bedroom. There, he placed her gently on the bed, a cloud of flies erupting from the coverlet.
He lay down next to her, taking her hand. He looked up at the white lights laced through the ceiling. Once again, they were in Paris, in the garden, beneath the stars.
Trevor's garden — his masterwork — created from the beautiful things that became slippery and rank, only to become beautiful once again.
He knew this would happen to his beloved wife, as well.
After all, she deserved it.
Hall Jameson is a writer and fine art photographer who lives in Helena, Montana. Her writing and artwork has recently appeared, or is forthcoming in, "Up the Staircase", "Blue Earth Review", "Redivider", and "Fractured West". When she's not writing or taking photographs, Hall enjoys hiking, playing the piano and cat wrangling. She takes 2nd Place in her SNM debut.
Johnny was a streak of black paint on a blood-red canvas surface in a porcelain smile that could melt butter and sear flesh. His hair flopped back in a greasy oil slick, denouncing his carrion-like shaped face, his beak of a nose jutting out against his smooth pale skin like the warning fin of a surfacing albino shark closing in for the kill.
The Dragon Lady was a beautiful green mistress with a gold flower blooming sickly amongst the other dying junkies in her shooting gallery parlor. She had naturally firm breasts and shapely thighs, despite having been a pretty solid heroin addict for nearly a year. Her sisters and brothers in bone and blood sprawled around her in various states of recline and decline, pale scarecrows and skeletons with bright, unhurried eyes. The pizza from the night before sat uneaten on the coffee table.
“Could someone please close the pizza box next time?” The Dragon Lady murmured, closing her eyes and turning away. “It’s making me sick just looking at it.”
The little bus boy loved The Dragon Lady with all his heart, mind and soul and told her many times, although he wasn’t sure he had actually ever spoken to her out loud. He lay on the floor, far across the room from her, barely able to make out her green bathrobe-clad form.
“I’ll get it,” he uttered. He stretched his arms out and slithered along the puke-stained carpet, each dragging movement was a tremendous, soul-sucking effort.
Johnny’s black, stud-covered leather boot suddenly blocked off the little bus boy’s vision of the elusive pizza box. The little bus boy looked and saw Johnny leaning down from an impossible height, carefully folding the box lid down.
“Got it,” Johnny said, picking the box up and heading toward the kitchen. The little bus boy collapsed, angry to the point of tears.
“I said I’d get it,” the bus boy bellowed from the floor, though he wasn't sure if his words had been loud enough to be heard.
The little bus boy started his new job the following Monday. He was to be the official guinea pig for the big shipment of heroin coming through Mexico to The Dragon Lady and her friends. She had personally recommended him for the job, recognizing him as a good judge of quality. He showed up at the aluminum- sided phallic-shaped silo behind Farmer’s hacienda a half-hour early.
Two other men lurked in the shadows as the little busboy entered the dark silo.
“Hey,” said the first, a dark troll with faded hair and skin.
“Hey,” returned the little busboy, thrusting his chest out and swaggering into the room. “Is this the party?”
“Not yet,” answered the second; a lean, tan Indian with corn- straight hair and black-blue eyes. “You the one replacing Hector?”
“Not sure,” said the little busboy. “They gave me these shoes when they gave me the job. Were they Hector’s?” He held his right foot out for inspection, pointing the toe tip of his new purple suede creepers directly at the Indian.
The man snorted, nodding his head. “Those are Hector’s shoes. You’ll only have to wear them until they know you by sight. After that, you can scrap them and wear your own.”
“I dunno,” said the little busboy, pulling his foot back. “I kind of like them. I might just keep them.”
“They’re a dead man’s shoes, boy,” warned the black man. “I think you better start wearin’ you own, soon as you allowed.”
“Don’t listen to him,” said the Indian, shrugging his hand in dismissal. “Paulson sees ghosts in everything.”
The little busboy shrugged and sat on the ground. He leaned against the hot aluminum wall and smiled idiotically at the men, stilling whatever fresh conversations were forming in their minds. He closed his eyes and thought of The Dragon Lady, of her waist-length golden hair she always wore loose; of her glazed blue eyes that glittered like ice whenever she was high; of the way her faded green bathrobe draped open before she passed out, revealing the pink areole of a perfect nipple illuminating a perfect ivory-colored, plum-sized breast; of the way her words slurred and purred in his head like a subliminal erotica, how he would die happy if he could just cup one of those perfect breasts in his palm someday.
Voices woke him from his daydream. Three men, all business-suit-clad Mexicans, pushed their way into the large room and poised stiffly in front of the trio of crash test junkies. All three carried briefcases the color and texture of sharkskin.
“You’re new,” said one of the men, glaring at the little busboy through the black panels of his sunglasses.
“I have Hector’s shoes,” he replied, again lifting up his leg and pointing the tip of his toe at the man. “I’m his replacement.”
“Ah yes, Lisa’s friend,” the first man said, nodding. “Good. I'm glad you're here.”
The little busboy cringed at the sound of The Dragon Lady’s name. He had never heard anyone actually call her by her Christian name before; not even Johnny, who fucked her on occasion. It was always The Dragon Lady to him, and nothing more.
“We don’t have a lot of time here,” said the second man, his voice and inflection nearly identical to the first. He glanced at his watch and frowned. “Shall we get to business?”
The Indian and the black man immediately began to strip, as if on cue. The little busboy watched them for a second or two before he did the same. He relaxed a bit when he saw the two other men stop short of peeling their underwear off, leaving their briefs and boxers on as they waited for the suited men to check them for wires or weapons.
The little busboy winced a bit as the thick, venomous syringe entered his body. He preferred to shoot himself up, preferred to know exactly when to expect the pinch and the ensuing rush. He felt his legs give beneath him as wave upon wave of white light engulfed him. He felt his hand reaching instinctively and catching him from falling, felt his hand push his body up into a sitting position from somewhere afar. His skull buzzed loudly, vibrating as though an even tinier man inside him was atop his head, manhandling him.
“How’s it feel?” asked the first businessman.
“What?” Johnny shouted back, confused.
“It’s a little too strong,” bellowed the black man’s voice from beyond the white mist. “I’d cut it down in half. No one wants to rush this hard, ‘specially nilla junkies.”
“I agree with the gentleman,” said the Indian to the others. The world was starting to come back into focus; black shadows reforming into the inside walls of the silo around the little busboy. He shook his head violently and stood, holding the wall for support.
“Too strong,” he said, finally. “Cut it way the hell down.”
“You okay, man?” the black asked the little busboy.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m already out. Just wasn’t expecting it to hit me so hard.”
The little busboy could stand up straight without any help from the back wall now. The black man grunted and nodded his head, satisfied.
“Get rid of the shoes as soon as you can,” the black man said. “They’ve got bad juju all over them.”
“That’s funny,” gasped the little busboy. “I could’ve swore it was puke.”
“So how was work, Honey?” slurred the Dragon Lady, barely looking up as the little busboy writhed his emaciated carcass over the threshold of Starbuck’s, his nose perking at the smell of fresh brewing coffee. He hadn’t eaten in nearly a week; the only morsel keeping him alive was s spoonful of cream he dumped into the first cup of coffee of the day.
“There's no vitamins in junk,” he declared lowering himself into a chair across from the Dragon Lady.
“You got that right.” She smiled at him as she stubbed her cigarette out on the lip of the overflowing ashtray. “If there was, I’d be Jane-fucking-Fonda.”
“I’d be Richard-fucking-Simmons,” added the little busboy. It was starting to creep through the mind that he was actually having a conversation with the Dragon Lady herself, with Lisa. He quickly downed his coffee and concentrated on the blisters forming across his tongue. He peered up at her. “Where’s Johnny?”
“Who the hell knows these days?” Another cigarette fluttered and blosomed red and orange between her fingers. “He’s a real rat bastard, you know.”
“If I was your girlfriend, would you fuck someone else?” She leaned forward, her hand nearly touching his atop the table. “I’m very good, you know. There wouldn’t be any reason to.”
“No reason at all.” She pulled her hand back and turned it into a perch for her chin instead. “No reason at all.”
The little busboy looked up and saw her eyes were unusually bright. The brightness faded a bit from the right eye as the first and only tear fell down her rouged and powdered cheek.
“Are you alright?” he asked her. “Are you okay?”
“You ever wish you were dead?” she whispered. “Or that you were someone else?”
“Of course I have. Why do you think I make all these little holes in my body?” He shook his head and bit his lip. “No, I guess I haven’t. I like being alive.”
“I wish I could go home and find a closet full of business suits and high heels; Don Johnson watching TV in my living room,” the Dragon Lady whispered. “Or it wouldn’t even have to be Don Johnson. Just someone — clean.” She raked her nails up and down her arms and winced as she actually broke skin. “Baby, I’m just so dirty. I wish I could wake up and not be so dirty.”
“I think you’re beautiful.” The words slipped out before the little busboy could stop them. He dug himself in deeper: “I think you’re beautiful just the way you are.”
So the plan was the little busboy would kill Johnny. Afterwards, he and the Dragon Lady would skip town and check themselves into rehab in Tijuana. If they were fast enough, they would slip past the border guards and into Mexico before the cops found the junkie-boy’s corpse. Once in Mexico, it was bye-bye IDs, bye-bye former shitty lives, and hello to a tiny one-acre organic farm by the ocean, hundreds of miles down the coast where no one would look for them or even know they existed. Then the children would come pouring out of the Dragon Lady’s womb, one after another, and they would all look as beautiful as their momma.
The Dragon Lady knew nothing about children, nor the farm — not even the love part — but it was a natural progression in the realm of fantasy, as the little busboy was concerned. And that was good enough for now.
The little busboy had managed to save $700 over the past few weeks — free drugs meant one major bank account drain. He idly thought about hiring someone to knock off Johnny, but random queries at “work” brought the price tag for murder far too high for the little busboy to afford.
Could he poison Johnny? There was something poetic about poisoning a junkie, something nasty and gritty. The thought gave him pause before slipping the dull needle into his receding veins, as the Mexican dealers glared at him suspiciously.
“Wha’s wrong, José?” asked the straight-looking man. “We don’ got all day.”
“Nothin’s wrong, man,” answered the little busboy, digging the spike in deeper. The world went 2-D for a moment before sliding back into place. His eyes felt heavy, too heavy, yet he shook them back open and sat the rush out. “Cut it down some more. Still too fuckin’ strong.”
“Yeah, okay. You don’t have to shout. We can hear you just fine.” But the little busboy could barely hear them at all. His ears hurt with all the other noises, the ocean pounding in his head, and far away in his mind he realized that he couldn’t do this anymore, that this was going to have to be the last ride and if he and the Dragon Lady were going to ever go away, it would have to be now or there wouldn’t be a later.
The little busboy was still walking with gigantic feet, having no peripheral vision when he made it back to his loft. His heart was singing and the sun never seemed brighter when he stumbled through the hallway to his door and found it hanging wide open. And not just unlocked but opened ajar — someone had kicked it off its hinges and splintered the door frame.
“Lisa?” he queried hopefully.
“Wrong answer, cocksucker,” snarled Johnny’s voice from far, far away. “Wrong, wrong, wrong.”
The little busboy peeked around the corner of his apartment and Johnny was coming for him, now walking across the long expanse of concrete and dirty laundry and unpaid utility bills. Halfway across the room, Johnny stopped and stood, wobbling back and forth, arms spread out for balance.
“Man, are you fucked, dude,” snorted the little busboy, as he unsteadily crossed the studio threshold. “Why don’t you sit down before you puke all over my bed.”
Johnny grinned and fell face first onto the soiled mattress at his feet. The little busboy’s heart jumped a happy little dance, thinking maybe Johnny was dead already. Moments later, though, Johnny’s voice sounded again, muffled through the thick wad of stained foam rubber.
“I thank my God for graciously granting me the opportunity of learning that death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness,” he said.
“What?” asked the little busboy, confused.
“Mozart,” Johnny said, words still muffled.
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Mozart,” stated Johnny. “Mo-zart,” he said again, dragging the words out. “That’s what he said about death, that being dead was the way to finding true happiness. What do you think? You think when we’re dead we’ll find true happiness?”
“Are you unhappy?” stammered the little busboy, his heart racing, pounding in his chest.
Was Johnny asking him to kill him? And if so, how? His eyes flew around the room inventorying things To Kill Johnny with. The loose brick in the corner. The dull butter knife in the sink. The lumpy gray pillow on his bed that always smelled like ass, no matter how many times it was run through the industrial washer at the laundromat.
His bare hands?
“I’m fucking ecstatic,” said Johnny, his voice barely audible over the roaring of blood in the little busboy’s ears. “I’m in Heaven already. My life is a dream come true. My girlfriend wants me to kill you, you know,” he added, sitting up suddenly and dangerously fast. “My girlfriend was saying what a nice guy she thought you were, that you were her friend. That’s a code for ‘kill the stupid fucking spic.’”
The little busboy lunged for the brick and the knife and the pillow all at once. He reached the knife first, the brick second, ran out of hands.
Johnny was up and lurching across the room toward the little busboy, his arms flailing like windmill blades, fingers curled like claws. Spit rolled out of the corner of his mouth and dribbled down his shirt. The little busboy swung with the butter knife, once, twice, back, forth, in, out, in and out again.
“Ow!” screamed Johnny, holding his hands to his chest. Thin scratches, a tiny hole, from the dull butter knife trickled red. “You fuck!” He swung his fist at the little busboy, caught him on the side of the head. The little busboy fell to the ground. He closed his eyes and saw the boot coming at him. He opened his eyes and saw the boot coming down.
Frozen in time, the little busboy saw the boot coming down at his face, stopping just short of impact. Was this, as Johnny/ Wolfgang Amadeus said, the key to happiness? Was he about to find peace and comfort, Heaven, reincarnation, and rebirth? Was he about to be an angel in Heaven, or a scum-sucking lamprey seeking enlightenment in the next life?
Or would Johnny stop himself and not kill him — let him live?
“I promise….” the little busboy began. “I won’t…”
Johnny’s boot smashed hard through the little busboy’s head, smashed his face into putty, his skull into broken fragments. He stomped again and again, his eyes closed tight, not wanting to look down and see what his boot had done. He stomped and stomped until the woman who lived in the shithole downstairs starting yelling at him through the floor to stop making so much fucking noise. He did not look down at the little busboy, backed away, his eyes closed, and found the splintered door with blind, outreaching hands. He did not look down at his boots as he walked away, nor at the wake of brain and blood and bone and flesh that marked his path. The puddles outside would wash away any detritus on the soles of his boots.
They would be clean by the time he got home.
Holly Day makes her long awaited return to SNM Mag. She is a freelance writer from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She published a few music books including "Music Theory for Dummies," Music Composition for Dummies," and "Guitar All in One for Dummies." For hobbies, Holly designs 1920's era needlepoint embroidery of retro pornography as well as serial killer images. Below are two samples of her creative needlepoint serial killers.
I Need You
Alicia’s life was out of control – leaving her enraged, helpless and jealous of her simple carefree past. In fact, she loathed anyone else who led a happy life.
She was calling out to Josh for attention. She desperately feared the romance was dying in their marriage.
He didn’t care. He was content, staying at home with their girls, Amy and Rose, ages two and four. This wasn’t how a husband should behave. She believed a man should be the provider in the family. Instead, he was unemployed. He looked for work in his field of engineering, but opportunities were few and far between. For any other work, he was overqualified, or so he told her. How someone so educated could be so clueless about job hunting was beyond her comprehension. Not that she’d help him find a job. There were simply some things a man needed to do on his own. Lately, everything had been up to her.
She, at least, had been able to find a job. Easily. Even after being out of the market for five years. And, she got respect at work. It wasn’t the attention she needed from Josh, who was lost in despair, but it certainly helped to build her self-esteem.
What about my needs? She should feel cherished, adored and looked after. Should she get satisfaction outside the marriage? Her mother did. Her father certainly didn’t like it, but he never gave up, even after her mother had divorced him. That was true love.
Would she cross the line?
There was a man she liked at work. William. A young, witty, intelligent, handsome man. His advances were persistent. And welcome. She needed fun, excitement and love. Or, at the very least, the feeling of being alive again.
She went to his apartment. One visit turned into many more. She continued to get home late. She told Josh that she was at work — “business meetings, mandatory, ya know how it goes.”
Still, Josh didn’t question her. He was spineless. What kind of devotion was that?
Her mother said he was a “worthless waste of space.” On some level, she resisted that thought. Worthless in many ways, but something about her still wanted his approval. Needed his approval.
She was very upset with his lack of interest in catering to her needs. In her early years, she'd been wooed by the best of the best. Somehow, she had fallen for the one that had touched her soul…
She could change him. Make him notice. A little part of her wanted to hurt him. He deserved it.
She left a fancy shopping bag in their closet. In plain sight, near her collection of shoes.
Of course he found it. That night, after the girls were asleep, he asked her, “In that shopping bag in the closet — why is there a red string bikini?”
She could tell he was angry.
She, however, was elated. He was reacting! But strangely enough, she couldn’t tell him the truth.
“I need silk. I work long shifts and regular panties chafe me. I need it.” The lingering echoes of her marriage vows died right there.
“You need a bikini. A string bikini?”
“Yes,” she replied, annoyed at him. Actually, she wasn’t quite sure why she was so annoyed with him. Maybe she was doomed to want what she could no longer have, and that's the trusting innocence of the past.
“And massage oil? Why do you need that for work?”
She had no reply. His expression crumpled into abject sorrow.
She almost reached out to him, but caught herself just in time. He deserved nothing less for treating her the way he did.
“Look,” she said, “I’ve been considering a divorce. I’ll be moving out tomorrow.”
He stopped breathing for a second or two, simply staring at her like a fish at the edge of its bowl. He then sharply inhaled. He stared down at her, eyes wide, blinking back tears; mouth hung slightly open. His skin tone was pale.
It was exactly the response she'd been hoping for.
“Considering? Considering a divorce?”
“You know why!” How dare he play with her emotions! “There's no romance in this marriage. You don’t care about me. You refuse to work. What kind of man are you?”
He appeared to be in shock, as if she'd just physically slapped him across the cheek.
“Can’t we work this out? Counseling and—”
She shook her head. “You had your chance.”
He was clearly overwhelmed, struggling too much for words.
“Don't expect to fix this with sex,” she spat.
Now his eyes were gaping. “I wasn't going to—”
“Of course not! You're the worst lover ever. You are clumsy and inconsiderate. Stay away from me.”
She left him and shut the bedroom door. In the spare room, with the door locked, she slept very well that night.
She knew this morning was going to be awkward. She needed to hold onto the anger she'd felt boiling deep in her guts the night before. He needed to understand the true consequences of his behavior.
He’s not going to get off that easy.
She got dressed and left the bedroom. She passed the girl’s room. They were still asleep. They had woken once last night – she had heard him comfort them back to sleep.
Their apartment was sparsely furnished, so as a result, he had been sleeping on the floor, on top of some blankets. He woke up as she rushed by him, going to the front door.
“Don't bother,” she snarled as he fumbled his way to his feet. “I'll be finding a place and coming back for my things.”
She stormed out of the apartment, slammed the door and drove away.
Soon, she thought, he would understand the error of his ways and start begging for her to come back. She’d toy with him for a while, making sure she got something out of the deal, then deign to allow him back into her life. On a trial basis only. To make sure he wouldn't backslide.
Getting her apartment was easy. Her application had already been approved yesterday morning.
She wondered about Josh, left to his devices in that expensive apartment. His apartment now. He’d have to get a job. His parents could watch the girls while he worked. It was the least they could do.
She was delighted by a new revelation: now she could see the children whenever she wanted, as well as her new boyfriend, William. With sadness, she thought if Josh really cared about her, he’d stop her and William from fooling around.
It was the weekend. She finally had some free time to herself. She’d go see William. He lived nearby. She'd been there many times before, during lunch and after work, during her “business meetings.”
She pulled her car into his apartment’s parking lot. He was dressed in his pajamas, at the open door of his apartment, kissing a woman. A svelte, attractive woman in a leopard-skin body leotard.
What the hell?
The woman pranced away to her car and sped off.
He noticed Alicia glaring at him. Fuming, she got out of her car and strode to his door.
“Who was that?”
“My cousin,” he said, casually.
“Oh? Really? You French kiss your cousin?”
“I just kissed her goodbye,” he chuckled. “What are you doing here? Usually you call first if we haven't made arrangements.”
“Yeah. Well — I told him I was moving out.”
“That's great. About time you left that loser.”
She smiled. Melted inside, really. She knew she could share anything with William. He actually cared for her.
“I said I’d divorce him. Well, probably, 'cause he doesn't make love to me. Not like he used to.”
“Good for you. Come in. I’ll make some coffee. You hungry?”
Breakfast wasn’t the only thing they shared. They spent the day in bed. And, into the night, as well.
That night, she called Josh from William’s bed.
The phone rang several times before it was picked up.
“Hello?” he said.
She heard the children squealing in the background.
“This is Alicia.”
“When are you going to come back home?
She was surprised by the sadness in his voice. She became distracted. William was caressing her with expert hands.
“I’ll be there. Early in the morning. And I'll be expecting my belongings to be packed in boxes, outside, ready for me to pick up.” She hung up on him before he could reply.
“You’re finally doing it. Way to go.”
“Now we can spend more time together.”
He blinked at her. “Will you be moving nearby?”
“Not too far away. Come here...”
They didn’t get much sleep.
It was late afternoon when she arrived at Josh’s apartment. A light mist of rain floated down from the dark clouds. A pile of boxes were stacked near the door, covered by a huge blanket.
She pounded on the door. Several times. Finally, it opened and he stood there, looking worn out.
“My stuff is outside. Why?”
“You said to leave it outside.”
“It's raining. My stuff is outside.”
“It’s just drizzling. The boxes are beneath the overhang. They’re also covered with a blanket. And sitting on a wooden crate.”
“Why didn't you just keep them inside?”
“You said to leave them outside. And you were supposed to be here in the morning. It wasn’t raining then.”
God, he was so stupid!
She screamed at him. He backed away from her, watching her with a tragic, sorrowful expression as she loaded up the car with her possessions. She made sure he saw how disgusted she was with him. She left without another word. She brought the boxes into her new apartment. It was a wonderful feeling — taking back control of her life.
She sorted through all the boxes and growled. They had been filled haphazardly. The least he could have done was fold her clothes neatly inside the boxes, but no...
Something was missing in her apartment’s decor. The place needed to be livened up. She needed a few domestic reminders.
She had two credit cards. They were part of a joint account. What a wonderful way to let Josh know how she felt!
She left to go shopping.
After months of living frugally, it was exhilarating to finally go on a spending spree for cheerful things, like an $800 limited-addition print by her favorite American Indian artist; a top-of-the-line vacuum cleaner and the other fundamentals, such as a TV, couch, futon, silk sheets and proper dishes and silverware.
When she maxed out the credit cards, she tried to get the limits extended, but the bank had refused her. Just as well. Anything more troublesome than $5,000 might also affect the children when he paid off the cards, like a responsible husband should.
She returned to her new apartment.
Hanging the American Indian print above the faux-fireplace quickly transformed the place into a home. That warm feeling was certainly missing from the old place. It was so quaint. They had spent almost nothing on furnishings. They always had to conserve their savings to supplement her income, until he got a job.
It was getting late. She didn’t mind the silence of her new apartment, in fact, she welcomed it. The children were precious but demanding in many ways. She could use a break. Let him experience that for once.
She slept in peace.
Before seeing the children the following morning, she went to the store.
She purchased over $100 in groceries, brought them inside and put them away in the fridge and kitchen cabinets. The children played around her like excited puppies. She paid distracted attention to them while she talked to the ex. She put the receipt on the counter and said: “That's so no one can say I never bought them any food.”
She had to leave. She hated his pathetic whipped-dog looks. She hugged the girls and walked away, leaving the front door open.
And thus, her new life had begun...
Her job became preoccupying. Collections work wasn’t easy. On the phone, she spent the days squeezing money out of clients who all had sob stories. She got serious with these irresponsible slackers.
Her ex added to her frustrations, phoning with questions like, “When can you see the girls?” He was such as dreadful bore. Eventually, she stopped talking to him.
She needed to feel alive. She started going out to parties with William. During one of the wilder nights she was introduced to drugs. Powerful pharmaceutical grade drugs, nothing exotic, just painkillers and sleep medicines. They helped control the lost disorientation she felt when the empty memories of her idyllic past threatened to overwhelm her.
Months passed by in one big blur. William had left her, so she found another boyfriend, and another, and another... It was ridiculously easy - she was attractive, funny and classy, and all men just wanted sex.
She loved being in charge of her life. The drugs took the edge off the day's work and the ready lineup of male friends kept her preoccupied. Weekends were one long blast of men, booze and drugs.
One dreary morning, her mother phoned. They hadn’t talked since Alicia asked for rent money last month.
“I’ve been trying to reach you, Alicia. I called Josh. He said he hadn’t heard from you in about eight months. Are you okay? Are you having problems with those sleeping pills? You sounded so depressed the last time--”
“I’m fine. I’ve been busy with work. And, uh, I don’t have beds for the girls yet, so…”
“You haven’t been seeing the girls, then?” Her mother sighed. “Alicia, you need to spend time with them, you have no idea what--”
Alicia yelled into the phone, “Ma! All you've ever done is ruin my life! Just leave me alone!” She hung up, furious. She stabbed numbers into the phone and dialed Josh. He picked up. It was quiet in the background. Apparently, the girls were still asleep.
“You told my mother I’m on drugs? And I'm a bad mother?”
“Huh? No…she called and asked if I knew where you were. I said no, I hadn't seen or heard from you in a long time. She was concerned. She said you sounded depressed and were having drug problems. That's all.
“You need to mind your own business, buddy!”
“Mind my own business? It’s my business when you take off for months on end, without calling or answering my calls, or seeing the girls. Do you know that Amy asked if you were dead? So don't tell me this isn't my business.”
“BACK OFF! Don't you dare tell me how to live my life and don't you go talking to my mother! Got it!?!”
She hung up.
God, he was infuriating, causing trouble. Now he was bringing her mother into this.
Still, it was encouraging that he finally showed some passion.
She took some sleeping pills, in moderation, just to prove that she was in control. Besides, she didn't want to deal with this drama.
The phone rang again. She didn’t answer it.
The drugs kicked in - they were fast acting. She was blissfully taken away from her problems into a land of dreams.
Shortly after, her latest boyfriend left her. She wouldn’t miss him; he didn’t approve of her lifestyle. Not a problem. She had yet another boyfriend within a week’s time. His name was Beau. He was young, impressionable and enthusiastic.
He was very good in bed…
They spent the day shopping. She loved the outlet stores. They were sophisticated, elegant and refined, like her.
It was a beautiful sunny day.
She was holding hands with Beau when she saw them. Her two girls, Amy and Rose, licking ice cream cones, bouncing about with the energy of youthful excitement, talking non-stop with the ex who, as usual, was dressed like a geek.
Seeing them together made her feel jealous of the good times they once had. It had been a long time since she felt like a mother, and a wife, to know what it was like to be wanted, to be the source of love in someone’s life.
Her heart broke. What have I done? She had traded away her life for what? Over time, the reality of the day-to-day grind had dulled the bright fairy tale into familiar comfort, enduring complacency and the flickering out of a once fervent flame of passion. She needed the children in her life again. She’d called Josh tomorrow.
She thought about what she was going to say. She realized that she just needed to blurt it out. She picked up the phone and quickly entered his number.
The phone rang and rang. The message switched on and played his chipper recording.
What do I do?
The recording stopped with a beep. She had to say something.
“Josh, it’s Alicia. I expect to see the girls this Saturday, ten a.m. the outlets in front of the California Chocolate Factory. Please have them dressed appropriately and ready to go. Okay? Fine, bye.”
That didn't come out right. She didn’t need to be disrespectful. She briefly considered calling him back later to confirm the pickup, but, he needed to be treated like an adult.
She called her boyfriend, Beau. Tonight would be a good night. He was going to bring over some tequila.
Work became exasperating. She had been given the difficult collection cases. She grew tired of the whiny voices pleading for sympathy. One thing she wouldn’t tolerate was belligerent behavior. One day, she had it out with an obnoxious client, tearing him a new one, screaming at him as the office hushed around her.
Her supervisor grabbed the phone from her, calmed the obviously upset client and apologized profusely before ending the call.
He told her to take the rest of the day off. Without pay.
“Fine! Be that way!” She grabbed her purse and left furious. She was the best collector they had. They can’t treat me like that!
She went home, got roaring drunk, called Beau, and got into an argument with him. She hung up on him. How dare he say he was busy!
The next day, he called back and they made up in the usual fashion: sex, drugs and booze.
On Saturday, they went to pick up the girls.
The children were dressed in pretty sun dresses with matching hats and shoes. They ran to her, clutching her legs, screaming, “Mommy! Mommy!”
He watched the children’s excitement like an outside observer. Beau’s presence must have shaken him as well.
Good, let him suffer. Let him see that she was happy, successful and making it on her own. Maybe that would get his attention.
He had a wan smile pasted onto his troubled face.
“Nice outfits. Did your mom pick them out?”
He seemed to be startled that she was talking to him.
“Yeah, but I paid for them myself. I have a job now. On the manufacturing line.” His voice sounded distant, like he was all alone in the world. She knew it must have been devastating for him to take a job outside of his field. But, at least he was working - that was good. She felt like telling him that, but then she noticed that he was now watching girls in skirts passing by, not paying attention to her.
“I’ll bring the girls back, Sunday night at six. Children, say goodbye to your father.” The girls waved half-heartedly as they walked away from him.
They were in the outlet’s parking lot when she looked back. He still stood there, staring with a tormented expression.
Hmmm…he had gotten closer to the girls while she was away. It’s breaking his heart to be away from them. She could use that to her advantage.
She forgot how much she enjoyed being with the children!
They had a great time at the zoo, amusement park and arcade. The girls were ecstatic in joy. After an exciting day of running about, they were ready to go to sleep.
They went back to her place.
The children watched their favorite cartoon on the couch while she made hot cocoa in the kitchen. Beau approached her from behind, circled his arms around her waist and nuzzled her neck with kisses. She chuckled, tickled by the feeling and all the attention. She noticed the girls watching from the living room.
“Not in front of the children,” she murmured. The children giggled. He let go reluctantly and brought the children out a plate of cookies.
After cocoa, cookies and a cartoon, the girls fell asleep on the couch. She covered them with blankets and kissed them on their foreheads while they slept. She was going to buy them some beds with her next check. If had been a while, but she knew she'd score big on another account soon.
Beau clasped her hand and they moved toward the bedroom. She turned off the TV on the way toward the latter part of the evening.
She was awakened by raucous yelling. She had forgotten about the children's morning behavior – how they loved to wake up people, the louder, the better. They jumped up and down on the bed, having so much fun!
She laughed. The children ran out of the room. Beau wasn’t the least bit amused.
He rubbed his bloodshot eyes. “Well…I gotta be going.” He had some hard liquor last night. It helped put him in the mood.
She was disappointed. “Stick around for awhile. I’ll make you some breakfast.”
“No, thanks. I have some things to do today.”
He put his clothes on and started lacing his shoes.
“Like what? I was hoping we’d spend the day together.”
He gave her a smug grin. “You really should have some one- on-one time with your girls. See ya. I’ll let myself out.”
"Whatever," she mumbled as he left. She heard the front door open and close.
She couldn't believe it. What a callous jerk! And how dare he say that she needed to spend time with her children!
She sighed, got up and walked towards the kitchen. “So…who wants pancakes?” she asked.
She stopped when she reached the living room. The couch cushions had been reassembled into a square homemade cave at the base of the couch. She heard laughter coming from within the cushion construct.
“Hmmm…where could they be?” The children giggled.
The rest of the day went well. Even though she was exhausted, she missed the rejuvenating feeling of being around children.
She returned them to Josh.
He looked happy to see the girls. They ran to him and hugged him, then came back and hugged her, then ran off squealing into his apartment.
He stood there, looking at her, haunted, silent and sad.
She left without saying a word to him. She was angry. How could he still ignore her? She’d done everything she could to make him jealous, make him need her, beg him to come back to her. What a fool!
Time passed. She cycled through more boyfriends. She played the perfect part-time mother - she had got to see the children whenever she wanted. By comparison, nothing was happening in Josh’s life, he had a job, yes, but he had no company, only the children. She absolutely hated him for still ignoring her.
Now, whenever she interacted with him, she made a point of letting him know about her current boyfriend. Once, she’d made out with a boyfriend right in front of him. Josh’s face was pinched with pained emotions. A-ha! He still cared, she had him now!
She dropped some not-so-subtle hints about her boyfriends to the children, hoping that Josh would get the message. Until Josh did something to get her back, she’d keep on playing the field, sleeping the night away with a variety of men.
During this time, her mother called – she had sent another check to cover Alicia’s rent. She also pushed her opinions on Alicia: it wasn’t wise to be fooling around on him. She was still technically married and Josh could hire a private detective and cause some real trouble.
She told her mother to stop calling her.
Strangely, what happened the next day yielded similar results.
She was served legal papers at work. The ex wanted a divorce! How could he? Of all the nerve. She was the one who was in the process of forgiving him. What an arrogant -
She picked up her phone, then put it back down. Not a good idea to talk about this in the open workplace area. She went to a nearby meeting room, closed the door and dialed his number.
She was seething mad; a boil ready to burst.
One ring. How dare he do this?
Two rings. How could he not care about me?
Three rings. She started weeping.
He picked up the phone.
She started before he did, “I just got served papers. At work.” Her voice choked, the she continued, “how could you?”
“How could I?” Each word was spoken in syllable. “How could you? Sleeping around. When we're still married? And in front of the children! How could you expect anything different?”
She hung up.
He was right. She had gone too far. She so desperately needed his attention that…she’d do anything, even hurt him terribly. And that's when the idea occurred to her.
If she couldn’t have him, then she would make sure that he lived in hell. She would take away his reason to live. By then, he'd regret his lack of love...He made her do this.
She was tortured by the ultimate sadness of her situation and what she’d have to do to make things right. She went through the motions of existence. The only thing that kept her going was her anger.
How dare he leave her behind...why can’t life be the way it used to be?
She picked up the girls. Beforehand, she had a few shots of whiskey to help her through. She put on a friendly face and pleasant demeanor. She also wore a very sexy dress.
“Are you alright?” he asked, showing concern.
“Of course I am. Come children, we're going to have a great day!” She smiled, laughed and did a quick little dance for them. They giggled.
“Say goodbye to your father.” They hugged him quickly and ran to her car in anticipated excitement.
Fateful last words.
She flashed a carnivorous smile at him and pulled away fast, knowing he was watching.
Am I doing the right thing?
The children brought her out of her reverie.
“What are we going to do, mommy?”
“We’ll do everything!”
The children practically jumped up and down in their car seats with excitement.
It was a great day…the usual agenda for fun: the zoo, the park, shopping for toys, and, ice cream, ice cream, ice cream. It was a day to remember. She took plenty of pictures to memorialize the outing. What a nice last minute touch.
Eventually, the perfect day ended for the children with sleepy eyes, expectations sated, and tummies full of yummies.
The children could barely walk, so tired they were, when they arrived at her apartment.
The girls sat on her couch and watched a cartoon, starting to fall asleep, but resisting it.
She made cocoa in the kitchen. With a vigorous stirring, the crushed sleeping tablets mixed in well with the chocolate. She added some sugar to mask the bitter aftertaste. She also made a mug for herself – with a much, much larger dose.
She sat down and watched cartoons with the girls. Everyone sat there drinking hot cocoa. The children had fallen to a deep sleep sometime thereafter.
She cried, a horrible wracking anguish that left her soul feeling destroyed. Damn him for making her do this! She stood up, feeling wobbly, reflexes uncooperative, and found the phone, fingers fumbling, eyes unfocused.
She dialed Josh’s number, more by memory than eyesight.
She tried to talk, but was babbling…she couldn’t seem to collect her thoughts. For a long time, she heard a voice, frantically calling out her name saying something about getting help. Help coming? Then she remembered that she had to say something.
“You wouldn't love me,” her speech slurred, taking a great deal of effort. “I took them away from you. Now, you'll know just how I feel.”
This will teach him.
She collapsed unconscious to the floor, self-awareness snuffed out in an instant.
She gazed down upon her body, somehow was floating above it, near the ceiling.
Something LOUD occurred in the next room. Noise and rapid movement swarmed around her body. Faint voices said the children were okay…while a paramedic kept on trying to rouse her body.
Jeff Parsons makes his 6th return publication here at SNM, His long-term goal is to become a fiction writer. He's inspired by his Sci-Fi Literature teacher, novelist Gary Goshgarian. He loves "because they make people face their fears – what you do about it afterward is up to you." He hopes to have his first novel in print by 2039. Jeff is also an active member of the Northern California Publishers and Authors Association (NCPA) Visit the sites below for more information.
- Story of the Month -
Three weeks ago, my name was Julia. Now my name is Barbara. I used to work in HR for a start-up company in San Francisco. Now I walk dogs at Long Beach. I used to live in a very nice apartment. Now I live in a trailer that smells like shit. The sound of the ocean waves hitting the beach keeps me up at night. I often look at the nightstand and think about the pistol sitting in the top drawer. Sometimes I think about the jars under my bed, covered by a blanket. One night I put the
.30 pistol in my mouth. I fingered the trigger and drooled all over the barrel. But then I got scared and put it away.
That was two nights ago. I didn’t want to kill myself (I’m only 26) but it feels like my brain has been broken into a thousand pieces and I’m staring into a thousand tiny reflections of my past life. I didn’t want to go down that dark road again, so I grabbed a pen and some napkins and old receipts and started writing. Writing feels like gluing my brain shards back together again, just like Humpty Dumpty. Grandma used to tell me that nursery rhyme, back in Georgia. She taught me how to can peaches. How to make a peach cobbler. How to say please and thank you. How to act like a lady. She’s been dead for a long time now. Alzheimer’s wrecked her brain and she starved to death in her bed only a few days before I graduated high school.
I’ll probably burn these papers once I’m done with them. Don’t want anyone reading them. No way. My life is just starting. Well, starting over. My name is Barbara now, not Julia. Like the Beach Boys song. Ba-Ba-Ba, Ba-Barbara Ann. Ha! Wait! What am I saying? I’m a bluegrass girl.
Well, I'd better stop all of this fooling around and get down to business before I forget everything. Before that gun becomes more attractive than this pen.
My grandma used to call me a Georgia Peach before she died. "Julia" she would say, "you’re a regular peach. A Georgia Peach. And don’t you forget it." I guess I did look like a peach. My face was round with curly blonde hair dangling over my ears. I didn’t have much acne when I was growing up. My skin’s always been smooth and all those Georgia summers gave me a warm tan. My friends and family always called me a sweet girl, a regular Georgia Peach.
I wanted to be a chef and I baked a lot of peach cobblers. I changed my mind by the time I reached high school and figured that baking my life away wasn’t what I really wanted. So I went to school and got my Bachelors in Business Management from Georgia State University in 2010.
I was working as an assistant manager at a hardware store for about a year before this company in California decided they liked my résumé. They hired me and soon I was on a plane heading West, feeling like the Queen of the World. Mom told me to be careful of the drug dealers and homosexuals. I was raised proper, after all.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little bit scared when I stepped off the plane at SFO. I was completely alone in a city I knew nothing about. The taxi ride into San Francisco calmed me down somewhat because the city reminded me a lot of Athens, except there was much more water. I settled into my new job just fine after the initial terror.
The office was in this building downtown on one of the upper floors. I remember walking in my first day, sitting down slowly into my chair and looking out the window. The Golden Gate Bridge was cherry red in the morning sunlight. I heard the ding-a-ling of a cable car in the streets below. “Oh, grandma,” I said, “if only you could see your Georgia Peach now!”
Weeks had gone by in a kind of flash. I tackled mountains of paperwork during the day and explored the city by night. I only went out with my new friends, though, so there was no fooling around. Well, I suppose there were a few nights when I walked back to my apartment feeling a little light-headed from having too much to drink, but even a lady needs to unwind at least once in a while.
There was one night, though, when I came home from a club and was staring up at the ceiling feeling as if there was a hole in my chest, widening until I felt like splitting in two. I started crying my eyes out. I took out my cell phone and called my mom. I told her how much I missed her and dad and how much I missed Georgia. Mom told me to be strong, told me that she loved me, and she would send me some canned peaches. ‘A little taste of home,’ she said.
After our talk I took off my clothes and enjoyed a long, hot shower. Combing my long hair in front of the mirror, I took inventory of my womanly assets. My breasts weren’t too small or too big. My hips had a pleasant curve to them. I went to the gym twice a week. The patch of hair between my legs wasn’t too unruly. It was like a well-kept lawn. Like the lawn in front of grandma’s house. Grandpa used to mow that huge lawn every weekend before he died of a heart attack.
It occurred to me that I needed a man in my life, someone like grandpa. Someone strong and loyal. I can remember washing grandpa’s feet one day and asked him when he had first met grandma. ‘At our high school prom,’ he said. ‘Your grandma was mighty fine, Julia, mighty fine.’ Bobby Cowell dated me in high school. He took me to prom and kissed me, but he wasn’t very good at it. I did like him, though; he was sweet. But then he moved to Tennessee and never called me again. I let it go, thinking that my career was more important.
But now that I had a good job and an apartment all to myself, loneliness hung over me like some kind of hurricane that refused to go away. I hated all the so-called men I saw at the bars. Half drunk, three-fourths drunk, or completely drunk. Watching the games on the TV instead of me. I couldn’t find my man at a bar. Online dating? No, I didn’t want that either. I wanted to find my man the old fashioned way. Face to face.
I’m running to catch a trolley, but I’m not going to make it. Suddenly a strong hand grabs my wrist and pulls me on. There is a handsome man attached to that strong hand. I thank him for being such a gentleman. He asked my name. I tell him. He asked me out to dinner. So I said yes. That’s how I wanted to meet THE ONE. But loneliness doesn’t play fair with your heart. I wanted — no, needed — a man so badly that I joined an online dating site one month after I cried into mom’s ears from over two thousand miles away.
Grandma and I picked peaches in her backyard when I was ten. The summer sun made all those peaches seemed to glow like smaller suns and I wanted to pop them in my mouth and taste their warmth. Grandma slapped my hand when I tried to put one of those suns in my mouth. When we were finished, I grabbed a basket full of peaches and followed her into the kitchen where grandpa was reading the paper. His feet were propped up on the table; I remember admiring how strong they looked. Then grandma and I washed the peaches in the sink and dipped them in boiling water. I complained to Grandma that I wanted to eat them now. ‘You have to wait,’ she said. ‘That’s the secret. You just have to be patient. Now reach me that knife so we can peel off the skin.’
Boys! Every time I logged into my account all I saw were boys! My inbox was full of “hey, gurl, you sexy” or “i want 2 git wit u.” Someone even sent me a picture of his erect penis. Ah! Where did all the real men go? Now I was wracked with loneliness and depression. Work went on as normal, but there were times I just wanted to leap out of my office window.
My friends offered to introduce me to some nice guys they knew. I met with these friends of my friends, but I couldn’t see myself living with them. I was a total emotional wreck after two months of pointless online dating.
Things weren’t so bad. I received five jars of canned peaches in the mail and a little note from mom saying she and dad loved me and were cheering for me on the sidelines. I placed the jars on a shelf above the sink. A little taste of home did a lot to keep me sane.
I was on my computer one evening after work. I was wearing my pj’s and busy deleting all the unread e-mails filling up my inbox. I drank two glasses of wine (or was it more? I don’t remember.) I was feeling flushed and ready for bed. My eyes came across an e-mail message and my gut told me to at least read this one before deleting it. I started reading the message. The more I read, the more awake I felt. It was like a jolt of electricity surging through me, waking me up. His name was Peter. He worked in HR for a company across town. He liked dogs, eating out, and bluegrass music.
I clicked on his profile image. My insides turned soft at the sight of his face. He had short brown hair, high cheek bones, a strong jaw, blue eyes, perfectly white teeth, and he was only a year older than me.
I stood and started pacing. Is this guy for real? I asked myself this and weighed the pros and cons of replying to his message. The wine and the crushing loneliness led me to type a response and hit SEND. What the hell, I thought. Let’s pretend that he is THE ONE, even if it is only for one night.
A new message was waiting for me in my inbox the next night. It was him. I read his message. And I replied. He sent another message the next morning. I replied. He asked if I wanted to go out for coffee sometime.
Once grandma and I finished skinning the peaches, we started cutting them in half. Grandma then had me heat and stir the vat of syrup. Peaches need that, you know. They need to be canned in syrup to stay fresh. Grandma used a lot of sugar in the syrup. I liked that. I didn’t like stirring the syrup. It was long and boring. I complained. Grandma said ‘tsk-tsk, Julia.’ And what did I predict she would say? ‘Patience. All you need is patience.’
It was a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. The city was buzzing with life all around me as I sat waiting for Peter. I arrived at the coffee shop early. Grandma told me it was better to be early than on time. ‘If you’re on time, you’re late,’ she would say. I looked around at all the people and cars rushing by. Fear welled up inside of me. What if Peter didn’t come? What if there is no Peter? I seriously thought about just getting up and leaving, but then I heard a voice calling my name.
I turned around and nearly felt my heart stop. He was more charming in person. I smiled and shook his hand (God, it was so strong!) and asked him if he had trouble finding the place. We started talking and time just seemed to stop. His eyes were so bright. I could feel warm hands closing around my heart, squeezing tighter and tighter until there was nothing left but syrup.
Peter thanked me for meeting with him and asked if we could do it again sometime. I said yes. We said goodbye. I walked back to my apartment and took a long shower. I imagined what Peter’s cock looked like, what it would taste like, what it would feel like inside of me. I started rubbing myself and felt warm inside like I had just eaten a ripe Georgia peach. When I came I remembered the last time Grandma made a peach cobbler. Grandpa had been buried for nearly a year and her brain was just beginning to fray at the edges like an old rug. She forgot to add sugar to the cobbler.
It tasted horrible!
Peter and I met at the same coffee shop the following week. We spent more time together on our second date and walked down to Fisherman’s Wharf before saying goodbye. After that Peter’s face was all I could see. At work or at home, his presence surrounded me wherever I went. I had to see him again. The next time we met I made the suggestion of going out to dinner. He thought that was a great idea and we made reservations for this nice place downtown. We ate and talked and laughed and drank.
He offered to walk me home. I said yes, I would love that. When we got to my apartment door we stood there giggling and looking around like a couple of teenagers. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I guess this is the part where I say good night.’ I put my arms around his neck and kissed him. Then his tongue (Oh, God!) slipped into my mouth. His hands squeezed my breasts then went south. We went inside and locked the door.
Soon he was on me, in me, everywhere. The pleasure shooting through my veins turned my brain into syrup. I bit his shoulder and he screamed, ‘yes, yes!’ He turned me over and fucked me so hard I thought I would burst. It was rough and it was painful, but I felt more alive than ever before. When he came inside me, all I could think about was his feet. They looked like grandpa’s.
I poured in a cup of lemon juice into each jar so that the peaches wouldn’t go brown. ‘Be careful not to spill any of that lemon juice, Julia,’ grandma said as she took her pen and wrote on the lids. We then took a jar in each hand and walked down into the cellar so we could store them. Thick layers of dust covered jars filled with fruit canned so long ago I couldn’t recognize what was floating inside them. Just then a spider skittered across my feet. I screamed and dropped my jars. They shattered and spilled peaches and glass everywhere. I cried. Grandma shook her head and gently rubbed my shoulders. ‘Hush, child,’ she said, ‘it’s okay. That spider meant no harm. Now come on, let’s get you cleaned up.’
Peter moved in with me about a week later. We made love every other night. This time I kept hearing (no, feeling) the words HE IS THE ONE! going through my brain. Oh, I wasn’t obsessed, not at all. It’s just that sometimes your brain tells you things you don’t always agree with and you can’t make it shut up no matter what you do. So this broken record kept playing through my head as I tried to separate my love life from my work, but it was no good. I would text Peter every chance I got: at lunch, on break, during staff meetings, sitting at my desk with a week’s worth of paperwork, waiting to be signed and edited. I wasn’t obsessed. No, nothing like that. He was just a great guy. I needed him, but I wasn’t obsessed.
He was sitting on the toilet trimming his toenails one morning while I brushed my teeth. I watched his crescent-shaped nails collect in a tiny pile on the newspaper below his feet. Click! Click! Click! He tossed the nails into the garbage and finished dressing. He kissed me on the cheek and left. I was ready to go as well, but I stopped to look at the trimmings lying at the bottom of the silver trash can next to the sink. I reached in, grabbed a nail, and smelled Peter all over it. His sweat, his breath…oh, God, it was incredible! But I got scared and dropped the nail. What was I doing? I quickly left the apartment and walked to work and tried to put it out of my mind.
But I couldn’t. All I could think about was his feet. His strong, muscular feet. Just like grandpa’s.
He stood naked in front of me later that night, but his penis did not excite me. I stared at his feet. At his toes. They looked good. ‘Is something wrong?’ He asked. I got on my knees and started sucking on his toes one by one. He gasped (I think) but stayed quiet. ‘Hey,’ he said after a while, ‘I have another body part that could also use some attention.’
Grandma had lost control of her bowel movements when the Alzheimer’s ravaged that part of her brain. She shat herself while cleaning dishes one night without realizing. Excrement trailed down her leg and she walked all over it, leaving brown smears all over the floor.
What happened over the next few days will be difficult to write. Those little brain shards that recorded what happened next are still fractured and floating in space. It’s like I’m trying to catch fireflies with metal gloves. If I’m not careful I might crush them and then I’ll be left with nothing. Just have to take it slow. Slow. Slow. Okay.
One day (evening? afternoon? hard to tell, just take it slow, girl) Peter stopped returning my texts. Well, I thought, that’s fine. He's just as busy as I am. He doesn’t need to be answering every single message. So I went about my work, but as time went on I started to panic. Was he hurt? Was he lying bleeding in the street without me to comfort him? No. That didn’t make sense. Unless…
Was he seeing someone else?
That night I asked him why he didn’t return my calls. He said he was busy. Busy with what exactly? Busy with work, babe. Oh, right. Of course, of course. So we made love, but something was wrong. It was like he was distracted; faraway, checked out. The next day he left without saying a word. I was terrified. Things were starting to fall apart. He was seeing someone else! No, that’s just crazy talk. But it really wasn’t. Sometimes your brain latches onto the truth whether you realize it or not.
I was at the Farmer’s Market to pick up some groceries when I saw Peter holding hands with another woman. An anger I have never felt before came over me. I would have screamed and strangled him then and there if I wasn’t a proper lady. I tried to follow him, but he got lost in the crowd.
He stopped by later that night and I confronted Peter in the kitchen. I asked him what he was doing at the Farmer’s Market.
‘I wasn’t at the market today,’ he said.
‘Bastard! Don’t lie to me! I saw you with that woman! What’s her name?’
‘What? What are you talking about? What woman?’
‘DON’T LIE TO ME!’
Tears streamed down my cheeks. My fists shook. Peter looked at me funny and backed away.
‘Listen,’ he said, ‘I can see you’re upset. I’m going to step out for a bit so you can calm down. I’ll be back later so we can talk it over.’
He turned around and started walking for the door. I knew that once he went out that door he would never be coming back. I had to stop him. I had to make him see things my way before it was too late.
I grabbed a jar of peaches off the shelf over the sink (‘A little taste of home,’ mom said) and broke it over Peter’s head before he grabbed the door knob. I had no idea how strong I was. The jar shattered, sending glass, peaches and syrup everywhere. Peter made one small sound (ugh!) and dropped to the floor. I watched him for a moment, lying there in a pile of peaches and lies.
Slow. Slow. Okay.
If our love was as broken as that jar, fine. I didn’t need him.
Well, not all of him.
I dragged him to the bedroom and tied him down with the bed sheets. I learned a lot of knots when I was in the Girl Scouts. I made a rope bridge during summer camp of ’02 and got a badge for it.
Once Peter was secured, I removed his shoes and gagged his mouth with his socks. If he wanted to see other women, fine. I could live without him.
But first I had to take what was mine.
I went back into the kitchen and grabbed a bread knife.
Reach me that knife so we can peel the skin.
Peter was awake when I had returned to the bedroom. His eyes were nearly popping out of his head as he tried to shout through his socks. I knelt by his feet dangling off the side of the bed. He tried to kick me, but the knots held him in place. I massaged his toes as I held the knife over his ankle. Grandpa used to cut logs of wood in the backyard with an electric buzz saw. I remember the hellish sound it would make, as if the metal was screaming. I didn’t have an electric buzz saw, though, only a bread knife.
That’s the secret.
You just have to be patient.
A friend of mine took an anatomy class at Georgia State. She once explained to me that about 25% of our bones exist in our feet. The fibula, the tibia, the talus…
Slow. Slow. Okay.
Grandma’s funeral was small and quiet. Only her immediate family and her closest friends came. I looked into her open coffin and was amazed at how good she looked for someone who had just died. Later that night, I dreamed I was in front of the mausoleum where her body was laid to rest. The black door cracked and shattered as Grandma broke her way out of her tomb. Her skin was as brown as a rotten peach and falling off in places. She smelled like dust and earth. Spiders spilled out of her nose and ears when she smiled. Her voice buzzed when she spoke as if it belonged to someone else.
‘You’re a regular Georgia Peach, Julia’ she said. ‘And don’t you forget it.’
Peter passed out sometime before I was finished with his left foot. The teeth on the bread knife were worn out once I made it past the fibula. All that blood didn’t help matters, either. The handle got too slippery to hold on to. But the hard part was over. It was hanging on by only a few tendons, so I just pulled it the rest of the way off. That woke him up. His muffled scream started high and strong, then went down to a soft whimper. Finally, I grabbed another knife from the kitchen and started on the right foot.
Slow. Slow. Okay.
A regular peach. A Georgia Peach.
Patience. All you need is Patience, Julia.
Ba-Ba-Ba, Ba-Barbara Ann.
I left town as soon as I was done with him. It’s easy to disappear when you have money. There wasn’t enough time to dispose of the body, though. I’m sure they have found Peter by now and are looking for me. I shouldn’t stay in Long Beach for too much longer. Arizona will be my next stop. I may go back to Georgia sometime with a new name and a new face. I’ll go to Grandma’s mausoleum and show her the jars. Look, Grandma! Look what your Georgia Peach brought back from California!
Sometimes I take those jars out from underneath my bed and look at them. Why did I keep them? I think it was because I loved Peter’s body more than I had loved Peter. Perhaps that’s true for everyone, but no one really wants to admit it. We can only love what we can touch because there’s nothing else underneath but dust and spiders.
So...did all the king’s men put Humpty Dumpty back together again? Yes. And the horses, too. The waves crashing against the beach don’t bother me anymore. I can sleep again.
Okay. I lied. I’m going to stay in Long Beach for just a little bit longer. This surfing instructor has taken a liking to me. He’s tall, blonde and very handsome. He asked me out to dinner as I walked by the beach with my client’s dogs.
"I like your name," he said, "it reminds me of the Beach Boys Song: Ba-Ba-Ba, Ba-Barbara Ann."
I smiled. His feet were covered in wet sand. I can’t stop thinking about how strong and muscular they looked.
Just like grandpa’s.
David Matteri makes his SNM Mag debut and stuns us with SOTM. He is a 23-year old college student living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He will be graduating this June with a BA in English and hopes to find work in the publishing industry before moving on to receive his teaching credentials. He reads and reviews literary journals for newpages.com and has a piece of flash fiction published at flashesinthedark.com. Some of his favorite authors are Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, Ben Loory, Mark Twain, Terry Brooks, and Peter Straub. You can read his moments of temporary insanity at his blogspot: