People used to ask me, “Are you okay?” or “Why are you here?” They don’t anymore. It would be comforting to know that they don’t want to, but they do. The only thing stopping them now is their inability. Those minds I am now surrounded by are feeble, chemicals banging and surging, asking and needing, devouring. They don’t have what it takes to inquire, to feel. And how humorous it is for me to be here amongst them. Am I them? I chuckle as the thought rolls around in my head, like a marble in a box, or a cricket in a jar. Who will tell me?
I pulled up into the driveway and as I did I saw Marie was standing in the doorway. She was smiling that broken half-smile and as I got out of the car she came toward me, embracing me in her arms. I drew my head back and looked into her eyes, look down at her lips. I kissed her. I came inside and put my keys down on the hall table. Just as I did, Jean came to the door and hugged me, pressing his dark face against my chest.
And then the phone rang.
Marie walked and picked it up and as she did I took off my shoes.
“How are you Jean?”
“Good dad. How was work?”
“It was okay. Busy. You get you’re work done?”
“You finish the rest by tonight okay?”
Marie hung up the phone.
It was at this point that the world, the sky and sun, the trees, the stars, all began to shatter and crumble, like clumps of dirt that look like stones, disintegrating into dust, because as I stood, and asked “who was it honey?” she stared at me blankly, and started to cry. I tried to embrace her, tried to whisper what is normal of one’s lover to, but she only cried more.
“Go to you’re room Jean,” I whispered. He went upstairs with a frown.
“Tell me Marie. Who was it?”
“I can’t Sam. I –”
She screamed and pulled and hugged me tight.
“It’s about J-Jean.”
“Tell me Marie.”
“It’s about h-his...”
“Shh, it’s okay”
“It’s about h-h-his father.”
“It’s about me? That’s okay. It’s okay. Tell me Marie.”
“I c-can’t S-Sam.” She was hyperventilating and it was hard for me to make out precisely what she way saying, so I assumed she was just mumbling nonsense.
“Marie, if it’s about me I must know…”
“It’s not about you Sam.”
“But I’m Jeans father Marie, I must know.” But with that she looked up into my eyes, as I did hers.
“You’re not Sam. You’re not his father.”
I found myself in my car again, after breaking every photograph and piece of glass in our home. I’d taken my wallet, my coat, some clothes, a blanket, and two big bottles of whiskey.
I drove around for a while, watching people and drinking. I’ve always kept a knife lodged in the left side of the drivers seat for protection. Out neighborhood has become something less that safe these days. It’s become a habit of mine to squeeze it tightly when driver’s cut me off, or swerve through lanes. But now, my hand was clenched around it permanently, and I yelled at all the cars around me. I screamed and yelled, told them to fuck off, told them to learn how to drive.
I found myself parked outside of a park and got out of the car. It was good weather, the spring had arrived and so I laid down on a bench and wrapped my self in my blanket, cradling my bottle of whiskey.
I cried softly, sniffling and whispering, mumbling obscene things into the wind. I’m sure I saw a couple walk by, and they walked quickly, most likely thinking I was a homeless beggar. That made me cry even harder and louder. I felt like a mutilated child, a crippled puppy, a seaman in a storm.
I calmed myself, warmed my bones with the golden liquid. What was I to do? Where was I to go? How could I ever forgive her? And then I acted foolishly. “Maybe she was drunk. Or high? She always did smoke a lot of pot. Maybe it’s all a sick joke?”
Somehow I came to a neurotic conclusion. I would go back, I would ask her calmly. I would give her another chance.
My watch read 12:25 when I pulled into the driveway. My car stank like stale whiskey, as did my breath, and I could only walk by stumbling. I’ve always been good at driving drunk, and I can usually remember most things the next day. All that is inhibited is my ability to act consciously or morally. I’m an instinctive beast. This is why I hardly ever drink.
I grabbed my phone from the dashboard and dialed Marie’s cell number. She picked up.
I could tell she’d been crying.
“Where are you?”
“I want to talk to you,” I said.
Twenty seconds later she opened the door and walked out to my car. I opened the window.
“Get in the car.”
She couldn’t hear and so put her head closer to me, almost inside the car.
“Get in the fucking car Marie.”
She walked around to the passenger side, opened the door and got inside.
“Is he asleep?”
I started to back out of the driveway.
“Wait. It stinks of booze in here.”
“I’ve always been a good drunk driver.”
“Why can’t we just talk in the driveway.”
“It hurts too much.”
As I backed out, I could tell she was scared.
It's an interesting idea, this idea of a goal. When I was in elementary school, teachers would regurgitate it without any comprehension of its meaning or relevance. I say it’s interesting, because in the huff and puff of life, in the chaotic pulse of existence, it’s quite hard to have a tangible one.
As we pulled out of the driveway, I'd long forgotten the notion of "giving her another chance." I had, without contemplation, come to the conclusion that I would never, and could never forgive her.
"I think you owe me an explanation."
"I think that'd be best."
I pulled into the same spot I had before. I saw the bench where I'd previously laid. She looked at me, and I could see her lower lip quiver like it usually did when she was nervous. She let out a sigh.
"Back in college, there was a man named Pavel. He was next door to my dorm, and when I'd met him, I'd fallen in love. He was sweet; he took me to dinner, made me pancakes in the morning, and played songs for me on his piano. But he would get drunk sometimes, and when he did he would beat me. I loved him, but I was scared. He would always apologize after, and we would make up...make love. But one night we didn't. He beat me until I was unconscious, and he raped me."
As she spoke, I reached down the side of my seat where I kept my knife, and as she spoke I grabbed and squeezed it harder and harder.
"I called the police the next morning, and they arrested Pavel. I took the morning after pill, thought everything was okay. And then I met you...”
“Why didn’t you ever tell me this! For fucks sake! I’m you God damned husband!”
“I, I don’t know, I just, it hurts to talk about it, and, I thought you’d get so angry it wasn’t worth it.”
I sighed, tried to calm down. It didn’t help.
“What was the call? Who was it?”
“I got a DNA test Tom. Jean isn’t your child.”
She began to weep.
“I didn't know, I didn't know.”
She cried, and as she cried, I pulled the knife out from the side of my seat. She began to scream, and as she did, I locked the doors. She tried to open them. She couldn't.
"You didn't care Marie."
And with that, I slid the knife into her chest, and she died shortly after.
Marie's death was quite simple for me. I'd never truly contemplated murder, and with her death, I didn't contemplate it thereafter. But as I awoke the next morning my memory took position in my mind, like an army swarming into place. I'd stood and as I did, I realized there was a puddle of golden puke on my bare chest. It had been there a while and I could tell because it was cold and drying. I looked around after standing.
I found myself within the house down the street. This house was particularly notorious for the comings and goings of several, even a dozen drug addicts who seemed to use it as a haven for their intravenous drug indulgences.
On the ground lay plastic bags, photographs, old shoes and pizza boxes, animal and human excrement, toilet paper and dog food. This sea of garbage was so encompassing that it covered the entire floor, and one was unable to see the ground. Along with the garbage the ground was also scattered with dirty needles and pipes, emptied and wet, sitting in puddles of disease and dirt. It is beyond me as to why I decided to come here, and although I couldn't, can't, or won't try to articulate it, I can feel it's presence. It's a significant feeling, this emptiness. It could be considered a kind of nausea, pain or cramp, a feeling one might expect of a situation of such caliber. But its much more unidentifiable, much more unknown.
I proceeded with my shirt in my hand, walking through the scattered garbage and paraphernalia, stepping over dirty drug addicts who were scattered along the floor in a similar manner. I realized I was in what could be considered a kitchen, and when I reached the far end, I found the front door.
The sun was blinding and as it reflected off the asphalt, my head pounded with a familiar pain. I stepped forward into the sunshine, and saw my car parked at the end of the pathway extending from the front door. I stumbled and wheezed down the path, and made my way to my black Mercedes. I unlocked it, and climbed in.
I sat and stared at the dusty, bright and empty road in front of me. The spring is usually my favorite period of the year. Nebraska seems a little less bland, and people seem to walk with a slight smile as they rush down the narrow suburban streets. I turned on the car and the radio came on. I recognized the song from college; it was Duran Duran's "Hungry like a wolf." I chuckled, turned it off, and grabbed a new air freshener from the glove box. I put the elastic around the rear view mirror.
After cleaning myself in the backseat with a towel, I changed, and decided I needed to think. I knew that Jean would leave the house for school without question. This did not depend of whether me or Marie were in or not. I was usually working till late, and because I would sleep till around 10:00, didn’t see him until the evenings. Marie sometimes, and always on Tuesdays, left for work earlier in the morning. Today was a Tuesday.
I decided to get a drink. I live near the airport, and the only active bar around is a small tourist restaurant called "the Nebraska Nook." It’s a corny family restaurant, and the waitresses are dressed in short tight cowboy outfits. When I pulled into the parking lot, I saw a man standing outside. His skin was a dark brown; he had a mustache, and was leaning against the wall of the restaurant wearing grey sweatpants and a black hoody. He was smoking a cigarette, and talking to a large Asian man who was wearing a plaid sports jacket.
I'd seen this man before. He usually hangs around the restaurant. I remembered seeing him the last year when we’d taken Jean there for dinner. He was thirteen then. The man’s name was Tuco. I was told that he sold women to the Chinese businessmen who came to Nebraska. Friends of Marie and I had been approached by him once.
I sat at a table in the restaurant stinking of whiskey, car freshener and vomit. The tablecloth was a red and white plaid piece of paper. A woman in a waitress uniform approached me, and took a crayon out of the pouch that was tied around her waist.
“Hi there.” Her accent was forced and fake.
“My name is Jenifer,” she said, scribbling her name on the plaid paper, “what can I do for you today.”
“Can I get a plate of fries, and a whiskey please?”
“Sure thing honey. And what kind of whiskey would you like?”
“Jack Daniels, no ice.”
“Coming right up.”
I looked around the restaurant. Most of the people eating were older, middle aged people, some were younger, some were children and some were teenagers. They all looked happy. They all looked foreign. I felt sick. I looked over at the far side of the room where I saw the bar. It was dimly lit, and most of the people sitting on the stools were Chinese men. A few, over at the corner, were old and white, with white beards and white hair, slouched over their drinks. I heard the door open and the bell above it ring. Tuco walked in. He approached several Chinese men sitting at the bar. I wondered why the “Nebraska Nook” would allow such a man to carry his business here. And I assumed he probably supplied them with a share of the money. He looked around the room. He looked at me and didn’t look away. I motioned my hand for him to come over. He did.
“Sit down,” I said.
“Alright.” He sat across from me.
“I hear you can sell me women.”
“People.” I was scared and my legs were shaking.
“Are you a cop?”
He leaned back and contemplated.
“What kind of women do you want? Asian, white, black, brown?”
“Who’s your best?”
“I’ll take her.”
“Come to this address at seven ‘o’clock tonight, bring one-hundred dollars, American.” He tossed a card across the table and walked away. I looked at it; it was a hotel room number. My legs stopped shaking and the waitress came and put my fries and whiskey down on the table. I finished them both and left.