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‘Are you the devil?’
‘Well, these look like crossroads and you called me three times. You look confused.’
‘You don’t look like the devil.’
‘Have we met before?’
‘I don’t know. It’s just, I mean, you get this image in your head, you know, and then here you come looking like this.’
Elijah sits on his porch and watches the lake burn. Through distant trees, colored flames dance on the water surface, their glow staining the rolling clouds above a sickening shade of green. His father’s hunting rifle rests on his knees. The door creaks and Elijah says, stay inside, goddammit, and you don’t make a sound or come out until I return. The door closes, and locks slide into place. His wife had gone to a nearby settlement to tend to her dying cousin, and without her in the house the boys were getting restless. Elijah stands up, grips the rifle tight, and walks downhill toward the town’s main avenue, where the others wait.
He presented before the confessional, opposite me, and abided by the script, “Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. It’s been ___ since my last confession…”
You know the concept, of course.
He wasn’t a local of mine and I could tell by his quiver and tone he was truly living with the burden of guilt. The fact he traveled out so far to see me supported my inquiry he wasn’t just spewing some ‘let me into heaven’ malarkey. I have a reliable sense for detecting these things. I trust you’d know.
He went on about how it was an extremely dark era of his life, he was battling clinical depression, drinking excessively with over and under the counter drugs. He attempted suicide because the guilt was so demonizingly haunting. I could tell from his poor complexion, he’d been kept up consecutive nights on end, not eating, storing himself away from the sunlight and general public.
Thicker than one finger, but slimmer than two, the tall man flicks the glint of the blade across the pastor’s face. The pastor, still seated behind his desk, puts his hand up, but it’s too late. The light is already in his eyes.
The tall man came in at the start of the evening, walked right into the office because there was no one else around. The pastor had sent the church workers home to spend the Sunday evening with their families.
He intended to do the same soon after, but the tall man walked in and pulled the door behind him.
I patiently sit in the broken down bar where my mother used to whore herself. My father would beat the horny, drunk bastards to within an inch of their lives, whenever he would catch them. He always caught them, it was part of their sick little game. The bra strap that is digging into my shoulder is vying for my attention with the thong that is burrowing up my ass, so the only thing to do is down another shot of tequila and ignore the leers of my brother. Anthony. Leaning against the back wall of Nick’s, the local hangout only blocks from our home, his eyes never leave me. I think he has inappropriate thoughts about me from time to time. I don’t want his hands on me again, but for this one night all of the rules have been thrown out, in pursuit of fame and fortune, with a sprinkling of honor.
He jumped off the train and went into the station, the conductor in the gray cap. He was shriveled and hunched, like a shrimp. It didn't seem to Julie he'd be capable of doing much more than riding up and down the rails, taking tickets, but he always had a coin for Buddy, a penny the train had squashed between Mt. Dora and Winter Park. Buddy fingered the oblong copper and put it to his lips as if it were a thick shaving of chocolate. Julie slapped his hand. The heat rising up from the pavement made her short.
On Wednesdays, she and Buddy came down to the station. They stood on the tracks and waited for the rails to vibrate with the motion of the oncoming train. It made Buddy coo to feel the shimmying metal tickle the soles of his feet and he put his face next to the track, his baby flesh on the forged steel. Julie tested herself to see how long she could wait before she pulled him off, how long she could stand it. She knew it was wrong to tempt fate this way but it felt as if the palm trees and the bushes and the sun itself held her. And then one time she saw the light of the train and she quickly, with a pounding chest, snatched him by the waist. After the train stopped, the shrimp man came to where they were standing. He had eyes with uneven patches and he seemed to be watching her through a pool of opaque pebbles. She thought he was going to say something, but then he gave Buddy a coin and brushed his cheek with a curved finger.
Move in with the dark-haired girl who doesn’t like the idea of marriage, either. Not at this age, you both agree. Drive the moving truck that she wanted to pay for. Don’t worry that you haven’t known her for very long. Carry the boxes of books together. When one of the boxes slips because her arms have gotten tired, you smile at her and kiss her on the eye while you’re standing in the hallway. Clean up the books together. Return the truck and ride to your new home in her car.
Let this girl keep most of her furniture, the antique armoire, the oak desk, the electronic coffee-maker. Make the coffee for her in the mornings and leave it on her desk before you go to work. You know that she’ll drink it while she’s reading the paper in the morning.
Sitting in the woods behind her house, my ears hang onto every word she says, as if she’s God, delivering unto me the laws of the universe. This list of promises she’s made to herself. They are holy.
“Number 1:” she intones, “There is no God. You alone are most powerful in your life, so you can fly as high, or sink as low, as you please.” Complete, undeniable, and everlasting freedom is what it’s about.
We met at the movies one day, when a blind date stood her up. Fidgeting, she stood waiting for him, but I didn’t know that at the time. Wavy brown hair, slightly puffy lips, and titanium eyes, it was difficult not to stare. She was vaguely familiar, because everyone goes to the same school in this town, but we’d never officially met.
“Number 2:” she says. Her eyes are drilling into the paper, as if she’s trying to set it on fire. “If something is stolen, get it back. Then, punish them as you see fit.” Her eyes flick up to me for a moment, and linger. She once told me, in passing, that everything she has is a part of her, and if she loses something she feels incomplete.
“Don’t you lie to me, Peter Tayforth.”
The syllables swam around his head like drunken eels, and it was all he could do just to get to his knees, let alone answer.
“The truth now,” his mother said, “a man of thirty-six years old ought to know better...if you’ve been drinking, I swear I’ll –”
“Sorry,” he managed as he struggled upright against the cold bricks of their house. And he could swear before a judge that if there was such a thing as a jelly demon, it had just pointed a cursing finger at the bones in his legs. Perhaps even his eyes too, because the only thing he could see clearly as he shuffled sideways to find the door, gasping, was a huge white toad.
“Four in the morning, a crash that probably woke the whole town, and who should I find sleeping on my doorstep?” said the toad. “My own son!”
Lloyd had a swimming pool -- a real, in-ground pool with sparkling chlorinated water and a diving board. His neighbors Zelda and Johnny didn’t have such a luxury, but they made do. Most afternoons, Zelda would line up three kiddie pools in her back yard, and her two girls would hop from one to the other. Some days Zelda would join in on the splashing and playing. Other days she would lie in a lounge chair, slather on SPF 30, and periodically ask the girls to turn the hose on her.
“Hit me, girls!” she’d say. Even though Lloyd had never seen her with a cigarette, her voice was husky, as if she had started smoking in preschool. She would let out a tortured growl when the cold water hit her, and the girls would giggle.
Lloyd and his wife never used their pool. No one had used the pool since their son moved out, but he faithfully cleaned it several times a week. He spent a lot of time in his back yard, edging, tending to the rose bushes, or putting down ant poison -- any excuse to peek through the wooden slats of the fence and gaze at Zelda.
Colored Chalk content © 2006-2007 Jason M. Heim unless otherwise noted.