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Jefferson Ross
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Art by Paula Friedlander

What I Want I Can't Have


Jefferson Ross




      The guy wearing the silly apron just stares at me as I walk past the ice cream, frozen meats, the already-prepared meals.  Right here, in these aisles, they'll walk, they'll shop here.  My Melanie and Scott.  I run my fingers across each freezer door handle, knowing they've touched and grabbed the same handles.  Argued over what to get for dinner.  Laughed over what brand of French fry to buy.

     The bakery is too crowded, too many people, and a woman glares at me as I walk through.  She's old and wrinkly, the worst kind, and I want her to vanish, to disappear right in the middle of the store.  When Melanie comes here, she likes the domestic fruits: apples and oranges.  Scott prefers the tropical kind.  They've stood here, Scott handing Melanie another apple, Melanie dropping it in the bag with the others, weighing them.

     "Sir, can I help you?" a clerk interrupts, looking annoyed, wanting me gone.  Too long in the fruit aisle, I guess.  I shake my head and leave the store, looking back at the giant neon sign, looking at the automatic doors and the rubber mats that activate them.  These doors open for Melanie, for Scott, when they come to this place.  They pass through here, this place, their place.  They stand where I'm standing, separated from me by only a few hours or days.

     All the people outside stare at me, annoyed at me standing in their path, stopped in the doorway, blocking the entrance to their store.  I pull my jacket tight; the fall air is cool, brisk, and I leave the shopping center.

     The woman answers the door and I cut her right there on the step, right in the stomach with my knife.  Her mouth is a perfect “O” as I push her aside, sweeping her legs away from the door and closing it.  I slide the knife on her neck, gently, and she reaches for it but stops.  She's asleep.  There is a large closet by the door, a collection of coats and boxes and a vacuum cleaner and now her, rolled off into the corner.

     This house is on the right, the last one in a row of homes, so that means the left side of the kitchen shares a wall with their house.  I place my palm on the wall, knowing their space is on the other side, beautiful Melanie and lucky Scott.  I'm also lucky, the stairs turn and cross over, putting the hallway on the left, and the master bedroom on the right. 

      My hallway wall is their bedroom wall.  I touch it gingerly, the keystone wall, and oh my God, it is unbelievable.  Is it rough?  What does she do, does she scream?  Does she lay on her naked stomach, kicking her feet in the air, her perfect figure posing across the crumpled blankets?

    I pull out my camera. It wasn't hard to get.  If you tell someone you want to see through walls, they'll look at you like you're crazy.  But say it in the right Army-Navy store, or in the back of a bar to the grizzled hunter-type with one cocked-eye and a chip on his shoulder and they'll understand.  Find the right person and tell them you want the Sony that can see through walls, only better, and they'll hook you up.  For the right amount of cash, anyone will talk your language.

     I flip it on, the brief high-pitched whine confirming its operation, and I pull the viewfinder out and look through it.  Of course there is nothing, just a field of washed-out blue, and that's what I would expect. 

     I wait downstairs, a kitchen chair facing the wall, my magic camera off to preserve the battery. 

     A car door slams and I turn the camera back on, but the wrong door opens, someone else lives here.        "What the fuck?" he demands, and I walk up to take care of him and he comes at me, shoving me back, hitting me in the face.  "Where the hell is Karen?" he shouts and I nick his arm, quickly, lightly.  "You fucking freak," he says, looking around frantically, grabbing his own knife from a wooden block in the kitchen.  Ooh, he's a fighter, and he connects with my arm which allows me to get close and get his stomach, his chest, his neck and face.  He sleeps on the floor and I hear another car door outside and I rush back to the chair.

     It's Mel, all by herself, her vague reddish outline skirting around her own kitchen and living room, picking stuff up, putting it away.  The oven is on and it starts to glow, a distraction from her dancing form, and she hovers near my wall, and I put the camera right up to it, my hand outstretched over her face, so close, only inches of drywall and empty space between us. 

    The phone rings, her phone, pulling her away from me, and I can hear but can't make out the muffled conversation.  She walks to her front door, and steps across her walkway and comes right up to my door, the door where I entered just hours ago.  I'm staring right at her through the front door.  She rings the doorbell once, twice, and knocks.  "Karen!" she calls.  "Charlie, you there?"  Only me.  "Anyone home?"  She goes back to her own house and I watch her rustle in the kitchen, looking through cabinets and standing on a chair to reach the top shelves.

     There's another car door slam and Scott comes in, hugging Mel right in the kitchen, their smothered words just enough to be noticed but not heard. 

    They eat dinner, and I turn my camera off, plugging the battery into the charger, borrowing some electricity from the people lying in the front closet.  Stupid camera can't run off the plug, why couldn't they take care of that?  But I listen. I listen to the tones of their conversation, to the sound of dishes being put away, to the ups-and-downs of the TV.  Their TV is also directly on my wall and I press my body against it, demonstrating my waiting form, showing off my presence were it not for the wall.  Just a wall between us, Scott and Melanie wrapped together on a couch, and me, right next door. 

    Surely, they kick their shoes off, but what else?  Does Melanie open up a few buttons on her blouse?  Has she changed to a T-shirt?  What about things underneath?  Is it just a few inches of drywall and empty space and one thin layer of cotton between me and her raw form?  Does Scott sit on the other side of the couch or is he holding her, keeping her tight?

     The TV is off and my camera is back on, the battery charged enough and in place, lightly treading upstairs, following their every move.  There's loose movement, back and forth, arms in the air, undressing?  Or redressing?  There's climbing into bed, following by a merging of their shades, two blobs of red becoming one, and then . . . nothing.  No lovemaking tonight.  Scott is taking his life for granted. 

     I head downstairs and onto the back deck, stepping across to their deck.  The patio door is locked so I break the window, quickly knocking the loose pieces away and sliding through. 

     Scott appears, shocked at what he sees, probably thinking he's looking at the world's stupidest burglar.  Mel is halfway down the stairs, wildly looking over the railing.  

     I rush Scott and get him in his arms and his legs.  Mel screams, coming straight at us and I trip her, knocking her down the flight of basement stairs.  Scott is trying to get up and I cut in all the right places:  behind the knees, down the thighs, elbows and shoulders and hands, and finally, the Achilles.

     He groans.

     I carry Mel back up the stairs she fell down and place her on the couch.  We can wait until she wakes back up.  She does have a T-shirt on, a gray collegiate shirt, and I try to ignore her thighs, all that exposed flesh peeking out from her waist on down.  She's so perfect looking, so tender—

     My revelations are cut short by Scott.  "What the fuck do you want, man?" he moans, immobile on the floor.  "Do what you want to me, just leave her alone, OK?"  I look at him, admiring the show of worthless courage.  He can't even roll over.  He manages to hold his head up, looking straight at me.  "Hey man, if you leave now, I'll tell the cops I never saw your face, OK?  You can leave, get away, I'll say you were gone before I even knew it."  He's wasting a lot of blood.

     I walk around their living room and turn on the TV for some noise.  I pull a kitchen chair over and prop my feet up on Scott's chest.  Might as well have a front-row seat for the show.  He struggles, shaking back and forth in a pathetic, desperate manner, but there's nothing he can do.  "God, what the hell do you want?" he asks again.  "You going to kill us?  God, just don't kill us, OK?"  He can't even get that out without coughing, spitting up all over his face.  "Man, why us?  What did we ever do to you?"  He closes his eyes and bangs the back of his head into the floor.  Finally, he shrieks at me, "Say something, you freak!"

     He's so angry, I can't keep myself from blushing under his glare.  I hate blushing, it's so stupid, there's no need for it, especially not now.  I slide off the chair and sit next to his helpless form.  I clear my throat, my voice coming out so hoarse:  "What do you do?"

     "What?" he says, with a laugh.  "What did you just ask me?  What I fucking do?  You mean, as a job?"  He laughs again, like it's such a ridiculous question.  I nod.  "I work for the city.  I fix elevators and shit.  When something breaks down, they call me."

     "So you're an engineer?" I ask.

     "Yeah, sure, I guess.  But dude . . . "  He trails off, shaking his head again, looking at me with such desperation.  "Just leave my wife alone, OK?  She's pregnant.  Surely you can respect that."

     I laugh in his fucking face.  "Nice try."

     He coughs again, louder and wetter than before.  "Please, you don't want to hurt our baby."

     "Tell that to the tampons I found in your trash last week."  He goes silent except for his eyes.  I pat him on his chest.  "How do you do it?"

     "Do what?" he growls between bared teeth.

     "Work a regular job.  Live a regular life.  The same thing, every day?"

     "Man, I don't know, you just do what you got to do.  At least, that's how I felt till you showed up."

     "I can't do anything," I tell him.  "I'll work a job for a few months, but then something like this comes along."  I gesture at the room, the position we find ourselves in.

     "Oh man," he moans.  "Look, take whatever you want, we have some money.  Take it, take my Jeep out front, take it all and just drive off.  It doesn't have to be like this."

     I smile.  "It makes sense, you know."


     "Your job.  You see, you fix things.  You take a problem and solve it.  You're used to the control, and that's why you can't shut up.  I put you into a situation you can't fix."

     "Fuck you, man," he says, lifting his head up again.  "I shouldn't have to fix someone breaking into my house, stealing my life."

     I get up, stand over him.  "Stealing?" I ask.  "Look at your life.  I'm not the bad guy here."

     He laughs, a weak, pitiful chuckle.  "You're a pathetic freak."

     I'm down on all fours, inches from his face, screaming my words back to him.  "You know nothing!  You live the paralyzed family life, taking everything for granted, you don't know what it's like in the real world!  You have it all, you don't have to deal with anything real, you don't suffer from lust or rage or—"

     I'm interrupted.  Melanie's awake, holding herself up on one arm.  "Brian?" she asks, staring at me in a daze. 

     I stand up and Scott starts yelling.  "Honey, get up!  Get out of here!"  The look of terror in her eyes says otherwise as I point at her with my knife, letting her know she's one step away.  Scott manages to finally move, grabbing at my feet with his left arm. 

     "Fuck you, Brian!" 

     I step away and stand still, arms outstretched, showing him that calling my name gives him no power.  "Honey, you know this freak?"

     Mel looks away from me, staring at her husband.  "Brian delivers mail, at work."  Then she looks back at me.  "What are you doing here, Brian?"

     Scott laughs.  "Oh, I get it now.  You can't have it so you just come and take it?  That's your big problem, you stupid—" but I'm back on top of him, cutting him off, pushing into his neck. 

     I want to finish him, to slide across his skin, but I can't.  He thrashes, staring at me, trying to fight me, but I can't.  Melanie is pounding on my back, and she's making noise, too much noise.  I need Scott to go to sleep, but I can't, and I need Melanie to shut up.  I scrunch my eyes closed, and I stand up, opening them to see her for what she is, just another one of them. 

     I look away as I cut her neck with my knife.  I jump back, emptying my hands as she falls to the floor, and I'm cursing myself at how wrong this all went.  Scott is screaming, struggling so hard to move but he can't.  I have to get away.

     I run upstairs and hide in a corner of their bedroom, knowing well enough that Scott will soon disappear by himself.

     When I return downstairs, everything is as I left it:  TV still on, Melanie in a crumpled heap, Scott sprawled out on the floor.  He's still not fully gone.

     I lightly take care of him, cutting across his throat, doing him a favor.  He deserves it.  He just could not shut up.  Why did he fight so much?  If he could just realize that there are no answers out there, nothing that makes a difference . . . but I guess it's too late for that. 

     I shut off the TV and look around the living room, seeing the stupid, ugly place of yet two more obnoxious people.  They're no different than the rest.  What brought me here in the first place?

     I guess Scott got one thing right:  there will be another town, another stupid job.  More people just like them.

     I lock the door on my way out.

     There will always be more.


Jefferson Ross writes speculative fiction when he can and has been previously published in Atomjack, The Harrow, and Nanobison. He lives in the middle of nowhere with his wife and two cats.

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