It’s mad, really, what you can buy in a costume shop. The best items are hidden on the bushiest racks, in the middle. I often scrounge around in those caves, sometimes sit back to have a smoke and wonder if I’m going to set it all alight.
I’m a December baby, I tell everyone. Born the same month as Christ and Santa Claus. This house would look bonzo in the snow, it really would. I ring the doorbell.
The lady who opens is wearing a robe, no slippers.
“Can I help you, Officer?” she asks.
“Ma’am,” I tell her. I’m a December baby, baby. “Ma’am, I have bad news. Your husband was in a large fire last night. I’m so sorry to report that he passed away. So sorry.”
It’s seven in the morning. Exactly the time when you might think you’d get bad news. Certainly about the time of day when you’d least question something like this. She leans against the doorframe, then flops onto my chest.
“Ma’am, please. I need you to come with me to identify the body. Could you come with me please?”
She’s got her hands on her cheeks. This is the most awkward part, the one where you have to feel what’s happening to them, the vibration of it. I push her away and ask her to put on her shoes. That much she can handle.
On the way to the black car – that’s what Addie and John call it – I nod to them in their SUV. They’re parked across the street, next to a balloon hanging off a light pole, and I think to myself that you can find beautiful things in the world if you really look hard – sometimes you have to work for it, like getting up early on a Saturday morning, but it’s worth it. It’s mad how much it’s worth it.
Me and the lady pull out; Addie and John slip into her driveway. She didn’t lock the door, but so what? They’ll have a time of it in there. Less than two weeks ago, a big truck backed up to the house and dropped off box after box of stuff. Probably some of it’s still in boxes, we’ll see. I laugh to myself as I drive through the subdivision. I’m a December baby, baby. That’s right.
The lady’s taking breaths, crying. I turn up the heat. Usually they ask how it happened, but she doesn’t do that. I should have told her to change. The robe’s flopped open a bit, and I can see freckled skin in there, settling in folds. I turn up the heat some more. She keeps crying.
The subdivision is made of flowery p’s that end in the hard t’s of main roads. She should be talking by now. I say, “Ma’am, is there anyone you’d like to call?”
“No,” she sobs.
“Would you like a coffee? I can stop for one.”
“No. Why don’t you just leave me in a ditch? Let me die.”
She’s looking at me. “Let me out,” she says. “I don’t want to see his body. I don’t want to identify it. I just want to die.”
“I can’t do that,” I tell her. “I’m sorry, but I can’t.”
“Asshole,” she says. At least I think that’s what she says. I look over. Her robe’s opened up even more, and I can see most of a breast.
I keep my eyes on the road. There are parts of this that are hard. So hard. But this part’s easy: “It was a natural gas leak in his building. Pipes weren’t installed to code, and there was a rupture. When a crew came in to do repair work on the boiler, their welding torch lit it up. The portion of the building under the rupture caved in. Your husband was badly burned, and passed away in hospital.”
Her knees come up and hit the glove compartment. Head buried in the flowery pyjamas of her knees, robe fully open, she’s got her hands behind her head. “I can’t believe this,” she says, and it’s the smallest voice I’ve ever heard – not the quietest, but the smallest, as though she’s shrinking right in the car seat.
I try to talk but something won’t let me. Ahead there’s a donut shop, the one I’d planned on stopping at if she’d been of a mind to have a coffee. I drive past. Then there’s the on-ramp to the highway, and suddenly we’re on a deserted six-lane stretch of raised-up concrete, and I’m looking down on the city. And I’m trying to talk but can’t. Nothing’s coming out. The lady sits balled into herself like a scroll that’s being twisted smaller and smaller.
“Ma’am,” I finally tell her. This part I have to make up. “I do have to tell you something. Maybe something you should know. Your husband wasn’t alone in his workplace. We found the remains of a woman too.”
“I should let the doctors explain, or the investigator. But reports are that this woman and your husband have been involved for some time.” I don’t know a better word than ‘involved’, it’s funny how that is. In fact, it’s mad. “They were together.”
The lady uncurls, like a snake about to eat me. She’s staring. “Todd was having an affair? Is that what you’re telling me? He was having an affair at work?”
She looks at the mountains at the end of the highway. “I thought so. Knew as much,” she says, and I feel a surge of relief. “I had suspicions, but he… I can’t believe he actually did it.” She’s staring at me. “What do you mean they died together?”
“I wanted to prepare you for the identification,” I tell her, breathing again. This is how it should be – a conversation amongst people. It’s mad how good this feels. “You’ll see both of them. Badly burnt and melted together in some respects, but enough of their faces still there that you can see something.”
“Died in each other’s arms. So romantic. That’s just like Todd. He was always a romantic. Always was the type that could fall in love over and over again. Knew he’d die in someone’s arms,” she says. “Knew it.”
We drive. There’s other cars out here, but not many. The sun’s coming up, out of the mountains. This is my favorite part, and sometimes I’ll take the black car and drive this stretch just to get a feel for what it’s like to be out here all alone, and when Addie and John ask why I do it, I tell them that it’s mad really, how much beautiful stuff there is in this world.
“May I borrow your gun?” she asks.
“Sorry, ma’am? What for?”
“What do you think?”
It’s not a real gun, I want to tell her. And what are you thinking, anyway, with your eyes narrow as pieces of paper and all that freckled skin exposed as though you’re trying to entice me into something.
“Where are we?” she asks. We’ve been off the highway for a while, on a long stretch of road that skims the edge of the mountains. “Where are we going?”
I stop the car. It’s a lonely place. The perfect place.
“Ma’am, please get out of the car.”
“Why? What is this?” But she opens the door and steps out.
Against the meadows of the foothills, she looks very small. There’s nothing out here, for miles around. I know that to be a fact.
“Ma’am, I’m sorry. Listen, there was no accident. No fire. Your husband’s fine.”
“No accident? No fire?”
“And you’re not a cop?”
“That’s also right.”
“Are you going to kill me?”
“Ma’am – what kind of person do you think I am? This is just a robbery.”
“And my husband – he’s not having an affair?”
“Not that I know of.”
When the wash of joy comes over her face, I pull the door closed and drive off. It’s nice to do good things for people, to bring them happiness when you can. In the mirror, she’s standing against the foothills in those flowery pyjamas. She’s tied the robe up properly, and I can still see her curls of hair. She should look tiny against the hills, smaller against the mountains, but somehow doesn’t. It’s mad, really, how big she looks, how huge, as I leave her there.
And now for the winners of A.H. Browne’s “Double Service” (http://trentlewin.com/2016/01/24/book-review-double-service-by-a-h-browne/)… I picked randomly from amongst the entrants, as I thought all entries were pretty good (and very different). Winners are Jaded and Amy Reese – if you guys already have a copy of the book, let me know and I’ll hand off to someone else. Otherwise, send me an e-mail at email@example.com and I’ll get the books over to you.
83 thoughts on “Wayholden Suite”
There really is so much beautiful stuff in the world. Like a kind pretend policeman. He leaves her smiling with her heart intact. She won’t even miss whatever they take. Clever thieves.
Cagey that way, Michelle. You might even think you’d be thankful for the experience, all your lost possessions aside. Possibly it’s even a form of therapy.
This was wicked, in all the best ways. 🙂
Wicked is wonderful, no? And thanks Rara.
Trentster… Cruelty at its finest twist, lasting way too long before the unspeakable joy… right up until she gets back home and discovers someone took her copper bonds, her granny panties… and her VS pushup bra! old gals need those … fiercely…! of course I loved it! … ps.. hope you had a lovely Valentines day! You DID remember…. uh oh…. 🙂
Cruel to be kind, Shards… or something like that, right?
Copper bonds? I’m going to have to look that up. But I’m stay away from googling granny panties… like, forever.
Great Valentines (of course I remembered! but we don’t do much for it) – hope yours was too. Seems like from your photos that the west coast is a lot warmer than what we got here.
it’s 60 right now… gorgeous out. been way too warm for spring. oh and the copper bonds were like war bonds… from a century ago… and Vday, I got candy from three men, all over 70!! woot woot! lmao I still got it! 🙂 please just kill me now!
Save some candy for me!
I gave it to a 70 year old lady and told her it was for her!!! my coworker… lmao I do NOT need candy! Trying to get my big butt down to size for spring flying… can’t weigh too much or I crash land! Really hard! 🙂
All right. I totally get it. Do NOT crash on us, Deb.
Ha! I might head your way this year, and just land in your back yard…. where is your back yard??? lol
Ontario – kind of far from you, but if you manage to get that much air, it’ll be a ride for the ages. Plus I’ll have a meal ready for you when you get here.
I’ll let ya know… might be a feat to get over those mountains…lol. Might be next year… what with my skills. Maybe I’ll just wait until your famous book tour heads this way… then I’ll be a groupie! lol
I’m so glad you write this stuff out instead of acting it out …
Agreed. There is some therapeutic value to this writing activity. Also to drinking scotch… and when combined – voila!
Or he could start a business scripting elaborate heists and selling the scripts to the highest bidder.
Most excellent. I like the way you find small details and bring them into the story in a meaningful way. The balloon hanging from a light pole. A peek or two inside her loosening robe. These little things that give the piece a much bigger imprint.
Thank you Mark… this was a bit of a disposable piece for me, but I thought it was kind of different. I’ve hung many balloons off many posts myself.
Disposable pieces have their place as well and your disposable pieces are still well written and worth the read.
I think I will try to do better on the next one, though.
No worries. I think my point was that, as writers, we can learn just as much from the disposable pieces. Also, not everything can be earth-shattering.
Totally agreed. I always feel a bit let-down by the diminuitive pieces, as though I got something better somewhere.
I just wrote one that I think is better. It’s amazing, life, isn’t it? How you can struggle for the time and for the inspiration, and then you turn your back and boom it’s there. It’s everywhere. I guess I’m saying I like the new one, but I’m obviously a bit biased on the topic.
I look forward to the new piece. I have something percolating in my head that may make its way out.
This one’s a keeper; I knew it was going somewhere along a winding road, but you took it somewhere unexpected, and you know how I love it when you surprise me. Nicely done, Lewin.
Love it when you share.
Thanks Jones. Here’s to winding roads!
You devil…I had so many thougnts and feelings while reading. The costume shop was a huge reveal. So glad that she was not killed. The part about not gonna kill you what kind of person do you think I am made me chuckle. Based on her reactions, my money is that he thinks twice about his next swindle…maybe.
I think he might think twice, yeah. Unless he thinks he did her a service by the end, and starts to think he’s the good guy in all this… I guess that’s possible.
I do so love a happy ending.
It’s amazing, really, how much beauty there is… when we take a moment to look.
While dark, this felt much lighter than some of the others you’ve written recently. Isn’t it funny how quickly we can get used to a person writing a particular fashion, and then surprised when that changes even slightly? Anyway, that was a tangent to say: brilliant as always.
Thanks Matticus… I try not to write the same too often, I kind of like exploring. For the record, I think you offer more variety in writing than I do, I’m in a fairly narrow genre but you seem to move about quite a bit.
This really didn’t strike me as up to your usual standard. It’s an intriguing idea, but I just don’t buy the thief leaving her in the middle of nowhere in her jammies
As ever, though, the dialogue is crisply evocative, and you know how I do love me some dialogue that works.
Good on you for offering some constructive, non-judgmental criticism. That’a actually kind of hard to do.
Trent and I go way back. He’ll not be upset.
And good on Trent for that. There are too many wilted flowers in blogland. Can you imagine leveling such a critique in someone who requires trigger warnings? It’d wreck their day.
He and I have been sniping for over three years. But here’s the deal. When either of us gets it right, the other on goes, ‘Neat job. Well done. Great story.’
I think that’s called détente.
Or maybe entente cordiale. Either way, we get along.
I figure, Mark, that you have that right. I’m no white flower. And I’m no person that needs reassurance or propping up. Either what I put out there is good or it’s not, prefer to know from people one way or the other – but that hardly ever happens.
Bang on, Duncan.
I’m going to chime in here… yes it is hard. And this is why I respect Duncan. 99.9% of the comments I ever receive are positive. Is 99.9% of my stuff really that good? No. I like the honesty, it makes me happy.
I’d agree, Duncan. And thanks for saying that – you know I appreciate it.
I love having the rug pulled out from under me. Especially at this hour of the day and especially by one of your posts. Another movie vignette.
Thanks much Mark.
Everything you write always has so much depth to it, so many layers of meaning it seems. I like to try to figure things out, and feel challenged when I read fiction, because it keeps me reading – so with that, you always hit the mark.
Don’t like that in the end she was left robbed and abandoned though… in her ‘pyjamas’ no less! But I guess in her world, where it seems her husband is the focal point, she was left happily intact.
Well, I think she’s a victim, but not really of this robber. That’s just a temporary crime. It seems to me that something has been done to her over time that is far far worse.
Yes, I extracted bits of that from the robber’s thoughts in the car… again, there are those signature layers in your writing. That kind of writing is very stimulating to me, which is why I am probably such a fan of yours.
Nice image at the top, by the way. I hope that isn’t a real doll that’s in your home! 🙂
Nope, not a doll here. But this poor lady in the story is a bit plastic, and so is the photo. The guy isn’t worth a photo.
Thanks for the words, Kelly, I much appreciate them.
Yes, I envisioned her looking like that!
And you’re welcome, Trent.
Uh… I already have a copy of my book… actually, I have like 5 copies… plus a few at my mom’s house… so we can guilt people into buying them… also, this story is, like many of your works, funny, moving, sad, unexpected, shocking, and so on. Reminds me of a joke:
A guy picks up a female hitchhiker who pulls a gun on him, robs him, steals his car, and leaves him tied up, naked… (I know how huge… [or so you keep telling us]… a fan you are of nudity)… to a stump beside the freeway, with his butt sticking in the air, just before the sun comes up. Later, a Highway Patrol officer stops, and asks him what happened. The guy, re-member… (HA!!!), is still naked and tied ass-up to a stump. He tells the cop his story of woe. The cop shakes his head, takes off his dark glasses, and begins to unzip his uniform trousers as he says…
“Well, boy, looks like this just ain’t your day”…
Oh boy… that joke should be a story in and of itself.
well… it sort of is…
It’s what now?
what were we talking about again???
I loved this!
I think your narrator thinks pretty highly of himself. I suppose this is all grand except if something were to go terribly wrong. That could make for an interesting extension of the story. I put myself in the shoes of the wife who now is inserted back into her life with the feeling that things could be, oh, so much worse! I guess that would make her feel kind of lucky! Clever story. I really enjoyed it.
And I’m thrilled I am winner! Yay! I will be emailing you. Sorry for the delay, but I was traveling.
Yeah, he’s a narcissist. By virtue of his crimes, he seems to need to think that he’s actually doing something good, and is just looking for a sign of that. Justification/rationalization.
No problem – have to get back to you and Jaded, will do so shortly.
An alive and well, non-philandering, husband only goes so far. I’d still be PISSED that your crew was stealing my shit. But maybe that’s just me. 🙂
Yeah but in exchange for that stuff, she gets back the husband that, well, she already had – but might feel okay with that? There’s the rub.
How’d they know she had anything to steal? That’s an elaborate scheme for granny panties if you ask me! Cute though…very cute.
Somewhere out there, there is a massive stash of granny panties. It’s like a mountain, covered in tarps, guarded by lions in cages. A Buddha’s sitting on top of the mountain, in quiet contemplation of all the grannies from whom he’s taken these delicates. He’s hopeful that one day, granny panties are going to be all the fashion rage, and when that happens, he’s going to come down off that mountain and sell that mountain of granny panties to the highest bidder. He’s going to make people happy, and he’s going to be rich. But even that Buddha knows that you have to start somewhere. And that’s who the narrator of this story is – a Buddha who one day wants to be on top of that mountain.
Well holy hell…just for that, I’d like to donate to the cause! I can have a shipment of GPs north of the border in 2 days…I’ll do my part in the making of the next Buddha-King of Granny Panty Mountain…for if there’s one thing this granny panty wearing granny knows…it’s to NEVER throw away today that which will be back in style tomorrow! Can ya say bell bottoms and mini skirts? Tie die and Birkenstocks? So….when the Buddha that went up the panty hill comes down the panty mountain, let me know. I’ll wear my best knickers for the coronation of the crotch king! hahaha…silly huh?
SB – I think you need to spin this silly into a poem or a story for the ages. Because there is some deep truth in granny panties, and for what it’s worth, I think mini skirts have always been cool. Just not on me.
Hahaha…if those granny panties could talk eh? As for the mini…I’d have to see one on you first 😉
Never! Okay, maybe…
Maybe it is! Just in case that maybe happens…a photo IS required! I’m sure Art will agree….never happened unless there’s proof!
Also, I love it when you write narcissists.
I just wonder what this means about me… I just slapped together a new piece, will publish it shortly. Narcissistic to the core.
Doesn’t matter how often I hit refresh; I still don’t see it. How soon is “shortly?”
I wrote it! But I should actually read it, I think. Could be it makes no sense (very likely).
Wow. This was a powerful piece. I must say, when I started reading it, it felt like it had a Stephen King feel to it — so much meaning told in few words. Excellent.
Thanks Kat, I appreciate it, although I have no real affection for this piece. Some people on here have noted that this isn’t a very cohesive piece – and I tend to agree with them. Anyway, on to the next one – much appreciate your comment.
This is true. I’ve also noticed other commenters saying even the pieces you dispose are worth it. I agree with that, as it builds onto better things, like with your next one. 🙂
They’re way too nice to me, I think. But I have great blog friends, they are incredibly supportive.
The next one’s pretty good. I shudder to say that, but it breaks a bunch of rules in prose and some of the language is pretty fancy-dancy. I kinda like that, fun to write.
The blogging/writing community can be amazing. So glad to be accepted into it. I look forward to reading it. Good to test the boundaries and break a few rules.
You sick, beautiful bastard.
Now that is music to my ears.
In the spirit of some of the comments above, there is a lot to like in this. I like the main guy, his madness and use of the word mad, his desire for it to be a conversation, even if his half of it is twisted with lies. I also like the moments of beauty, or desire for them — the balloon hanging off the light pole. I like the overall idea of the thing, a great premise, fun yet demented and worth exploring, or maybe perversely fascinating. Whatever it is, it makes us want more. I love the way she stays the same size as he leaves her behind. I also liked the dialogue at the end. We don’t often get runs of dialogue from you, or at least I don’t recall coming across them, and I liked that new-to-me-at-least element. In the spirit of the 0.1%, I had a hard time getting my footing during the opening. The bushiest racks, items in the middle, cigarettes and snow and Santa and Christ — it felt discombobulated, like it could have been better if you’d spent more time on it. Is that what you mean by disposable? I’m not sure I’m reading the word the way you mean it. But to me disposable means it could have been better. I’m interested in your disposable, because it’s good, but I want your best.
I agree with you. I think the build-up is not great, and yes, I spent a grand total of forty minutes on this. Sometimes I just have to push stuff out, and oftimes I look at it and say nah, scrap it. This one was on the line for me, and I wasn’t sure exactly why, but you and others have helped me clarify that. This type of feedback is gold to me. I have zero qualms about criticism that’s helpful. Thanks much Walt – really.
This person is already broken, poor thing. Her not being careful with her robe makes her seem expectant of bad things to come, Trent. Great characterization of the criminal mind of a robber, not really caring about the victim at all.
Thanks – much appreciated.
This is one of the most witty, well written and thought provoking stories I’ve read in a long time. To think that the woman probably wouldn’t even miss whatever they stole, because the robber pushed her so far up the emotional rollercoaster, only to tell her that there was actually no drop, that she could just get out and take the lift down. It really puts things into perspective, and if I were a robber, this character would be my goals.
Hey thank you very much – that was the intent for sure, showing how far she’s been pushed and yet it perhaps doesn’t matter to her on that level, in the end. I think perspective is everything, isn’t it?