There were no neighbors to rush over investigating screams and the lunatic glare of gasoline-fed flames. There were no nosey cops sticking their nosey noses into other people’s business. They got their mail at a post office box in town like all the other outlying residents did; milk delivery was something on a TV show from the 50s. There still wasn’t cable, either, but they had a dish. The Reddison’s could watch Turkish soap operas, Chinese children’s shows, and Kenyan farm reports, but they didn’t have a local channel to catch tomorrow’s weather report. Once a week, a newspaper appeared in their PO box whether they paid for it or not and they always paid anyway.
Max would always regret that fight but was grateful for the solitude. Still, considering his wife and considering the fact that she was 13 days dead on the night of their last fight and considering that the fight in question was more like Max’s frantic struggle to stay alive while simultaneously trying to come to emotional terms regarding the undead behavior Olivia displayed nearly two weeks after her funeral and just when he’d started thinking about going back to work.
Max’s regret was more than understandable. As it was, there was no one but startled crows there to witness the recent lunatic Max dancing blood-smeared in that fire’s light or to see what he held in his hands and for that Max would be always grateful. Crows might talk, but they weren’t snitches. As awful as that sounds, it was the only thing his shattered brain could think toward the end of the evening’s commotion: how to hide what happened and never think of it again.
What appears to be the end of a story is often the beginning of another and even as the blood-covered Max danced the bloody sun up from the eastern forest’s horizon, up into the sky for some clean white cleansing light, he knew that this story was never going to end and he’d seen where it was leading, which was Hell, and he wasn’t happy about it at all. It was a bleak future.
The ending of every story is the beginning of another and another and another; a cocktail party is a bad place to start a story. The chatter of voices, the mix of people makes it hard to determine voice, point-of-view, plot, or protagonist. Trying to unwind the thread of a narrative from the ebb and flow of a party’s ice-rattled chatter is confusing; the branches and eddies of overlapping topics and relationships can be overwhelming. Suffice to say that one story was already ending as Olivia and Max stood at the doorway waiting to enter their friends’ home and that another began as they crossed the threshold.
Alcohol did things to them and, even drunk, Max knew Olivia shouldn’t be drinking in her condition. It just wasn’t done.
“Hey, you fat slut,” he reminded her. “You wanna have a retard baby or somthin’?”
“Fuck you, Mr. Einstein,” she replied.
Their friends began to move away, to cough, and to look around a little white-eyed for their coats and keys. It looked like it was going to another of those Reddison kind of nights.
“The fucking whore thinks shots of Ketel One are fucking prenatal care,” Max continued. And continued. “Jose Cuervo’s her pediatrician. Dr. Daniels…paging Dr. Jack Daniels. You’re wanted in the maternity cocktail lounge...Merlot if it’s a boy; Chablis if it’s a girl...I’m not even sure if the kid is mine. She’s been spending a lot of time with Evan Williams and Jim Beam.”
There were many such comments. A response was almost mandatory.
“Unlike your dirty dick, at least liquor is antiseptic, you filthy shit,” she rejoined and, everyone had to admit, she had him there. Max had let himself go.
“Fucking fuck fuck fucker fuck,” Max exclaimed.
“Oh, shut up,” Olivia told him and he did.
The accident was almost inevitable; that Olivia and the surely severely brain-and-body-damaged fetus would die was almost a relief to anyone with an eye to how such stories unfold and knew what to expect as Max and Olivia grew old and a child grew up.
That Max survived unharmed and was awaiting trial on charges of driving while grossly impaired, two counts of vehicular homicide enhanced by his intoxicated state, and a host of smaller, add-on charges to express the district attorney’s and the people’s indignation was almost obligatory. His tortured and preferably both protracted and brutal death in prison was the popular demand that would surely be satisfied. One way or the other, everyone wanted Max dead on just principle alone. Still, he was released on bail because, really, where was the filthy shit going to go?
“Fuck it,” Max found himself saying almost continuously. “Just fuck it and fuck them.”
That Einstein crack Olivia’d made still smarted and he found himself trying out rejoinders he’d no longer ever have the opportunity to use.
“How about instead of E=MC2, I say E=URA fat pig,” he would think.
Or, “It’s all relative, you fucking drunken slut.”
Or he would imagine himself smashing Olivia’s jaw with a heavy tumbler of Stoli neat, saying, “Atoms for peace, bitch.” Something witty like that to really shut her up.
So, it was with mixed feelings that Max attended the funeral. Awaiting the start of his speedy trial, Max stood far in the rear of the crowd gathered while the festival of grief for mother and child unfolded graveside. Listening to their eulogies, he was amazed to learn that Olivia was looking forward to being a mother and had decided to turn her life around, was going back to college, was getting her shit together finally. Incredible. He’d had no idea.
The hostile glances from the mouth-breathing members of Olivia’s family made him decide to skip the reception after the graveside services. No one was going to speak to him anyway and he was likely to be beaten up just on principle alone.
Max spent the next 13 days listening to the telephone’s squawk or the doorbell’s occasional clang and drinking from the vast storehouse of liquor in which Olivia and he had invested. Max planned to take negative steps or “steps,” and he wanted to work through the AA process in reverse until he was completely despised, reviled, and hated by every person on the planet and God in Heaven Himself if not even Christ, His really forgiving Son, more so than he already was, if such a thing was possible and Max wanted to find out. He wanted the outside fury to match the inner self-loathing that kept him going.
Despite the local weekly’s righteous editorial, despite the obscenely violent phone calls stacked up on the answering machine, despite the hate mail forming drifts in the unopened and uncalled-upon post office box, despite the fact that no merchant in town would sell him anything making even the simplest purchase of anything impossible without driving even more miles in the opposite direction of town and therefore not worth the effort, despite all that and more, Max still felt the world wasn’t hating him quite enough. Perhaps if he shat himself in court, appeared hung-over and unrepentant, he could provoke the proper loathing.
He thought about his unborn child a lot and, even when rational thought was beyond his impaired abilities, had taken to calling it the Tadpole in his head. He’s say things aloud, things like, “Poor little fucking Tadpole.” Or, “Wanna go fishing, you fucking little Tadpole?” Or “That’s no way to hold a fucking knife, you fucking little sweet baby Tadpole,” like he was practicing to be a dad or something.
The night of the day after Max opened up the third case of vodka, after drinking at least a solid quart of the former Soviet Union’s finest distilled spirit every single day plus ingesting additional other liquors and fermented beverages for almost two weeks, he was primed for the absolute worst night of his life since the night of the accident, a night which was, in its own special way, worse than the accident itself. He was pickled, stewed, trashed, thrashed; he was a stumbling, shaking, shivering, dry-heaving drunk, and he’d soaked both pants and sofa with urine. He loved every hateful minute of it. And he hated himself even more fiercely for that affection.
There was nothing that was ever going to help him not feel horrible for the rest of his life, so Max decided to get it the fuck over with. He had decided, in his alcoholic stupor, to plead guilty to every charge, to confess to things they didn’t even know about, to declare himself a very bad man. He had no intention of defending himself against any charge; he would just play for time until the public fever for his blood reached its crescendo. Max had no intention of serving another minute in incarceration; the two nights he’d spent in county jail before he’d raised bail had convinced him that state prison was out of the question. He would die first and with meaning rather than as rat-meat at the end of some convict’s shank or cock.
Drinking himself to death was not possible in so short a time, though it was helping. Max knew his own character well enough to know that, after a certain amount of heavy, heavy drinking, he would probably be able to blow his brains out. And tonight, lucky 13, 18 days from the accident, one day less than two weeks from the funeral, and one day short of tomorrow’s hearing, Max was going to chug-a-lug a whole bunch of clear, antiseptic booze and put a pistol in his mouth. Didn’t work out that way, though.
When he first heard the scratching, Max figured it was another one of his former so-called friends coming over to kick his ass. Only his former so-called friends tended to drift away after ten or twenty minutes of knocking, hooting, peeking through windows, and breaking shit outside. The scratching sound, however, did not go away. Ten, twenty, thirty, and finally forty-five minutes of steady scratching finally pulled Max up from the sofa, sticky with piss, and into a duck-walking and stumbling, slit-eyed search for the source of the sound.
His front door and windows were silent and showed no signs of visitor. All the front rooms were silent. Toward the back of the house, the sound grew louder and Max finally located the source of the scratching sound at the kitchen’s back door and, drunk as he was, he just opened up the door and flipped on the light. Let them come, whoever it was.
“Ma’sh,” it said through sewn and waxed lips. “Oh, Ma’sh. Ahm shorry. Ahm sho, sho shorry.”
“Ack,” Max replied, drunkenly backpedaling and flapping his hands to end up falling backwares on his ass. “Ack, ack, ack.”
Olivia or, rather, Olivia’s corpse stepped into the kitchen. In the light, he could see what she was holding, how it squirmed, how it reached for him.
“We can be fam’ly, Ma’sh,” the late wife continued. “We can be fam’ly forever and ever and ever.”
That’s when Max reached for the knives, for the chairs, for the pots, for the pans, for anything he could lay his hands on. Even drunk terrified, vomiting, and pissing himself again, he could still beat up, cut up, and burn up a corpse. The fucking bitch. And the poor fucking little Tadpole, too.
So, Max showered, shaved, brushed his teeth, used a half-bottle each of mouthwash, eye drops, and liquid cold medicine. He stepped out of his home and he waited, the smell of barbeque still hanging in the early morning stillness. Max’s lawyer was coming to pick him up and they would drive silently into town for the first of what was going to be a lot of painful and protracted court procedings. Max had decided to stick it out, to change his plea to “not guilty,” to roll the dice with a jury trial. He could afford it if he sold the house and all the land, cars, furniture, and fixtures. Even if he lost, Max figured prison couldn’t be any worse than the Hell he’d learned was awaiting him. He just didn’t want to die anymore. Not ever. Max would not go gently into that cold grave.
Max lost his case and it turns out he couldn’t have been more wrong about prison. But that is a completely different story.
Originally published in Black Petals, Wichita, Kansas [#35, Spring 2006]: http://www.blackpetals.net/