DONE MY TIME
Three square meals a day, luxurious heating and air
conditioning comfort, fresh linens, hot showers – what more can a man ask for?
But I’ve done my time here.
staff slams my door shut, metal clanging and keys rattling. Blue-shirt waves good night, and I smile like
a good patient should.
Once his back is turned I surreptitiously spit my pills onto the ground. Grind them to a
fine powder with my foot, and sweep it into the dust on the floor. All they see on camera is a crazy old guy sliding his feet on the floor.
Nothing out of the ordinary.
the hall, the drone of staff giving report – shift change –
is interrupted by a burst of laughter. Applause. One of them got engaged. Goody.
hall lights suddenly dim, must be eleven o’clock. Lights out and locked
down. In the next cell over, Wayne moans. Unearthly sound.
Curtis prays – to God, or Allah, or the Devil himself, no one knows –
harsh whispers of pure gibberish. They’re
all crazy. But not me.
know what they say about me. Old Joe seems
harmless enough, wouldn’t hurt a fly. Looks a little
like my grandfather. But they don’t know.
echo down the hall. Keys jingle. I flop down on my cot and pull the blanket over my body, covering my
face like a shroud. Still, rhythmic breathing. Once the footsteps pass my cell I peek out.
on the key tonight. I wait.
the hall Dave swears at her. “Bitch.
just lost ten points.” Keys rattle.
else?” She’s standing in the middle of
the corridor, hands on her hips, laughing.
“Go to hell.”
more. Looks like you
won’t have TV for a month.” I can hear
a strangled yell and metallic clang, Dave throws himself at
the bars. Arms reaching out, flailing, trying
to grab anything within reach and drag it up to the bars. Then, you’re
Last time he got a new guy.
Nearly chewed buddy’s nose off by the time staff got there. That’s
his trick. He lures you in, insults you, pisses you off
enough so you forget where you are. And then
Me, I have my own tricks. And I never forget where I am.
I never forget anything.
It was 1975 when I got my first hitchhiker.
Sweet blonde thing, thumbing a ride on the side of the highway. She was heading out west. She
never made it.
Back then I was driving a black Dodge Challenger, my
first real car. Gleaming chrome, rear spoiler,
it was sex on wheels. Chicks dug it. I was busy that summer. I got three more hitchhikers after blondie there. Cops didn’t bother looking too hard, just called ‘em missing
persons and figured they were busy prostituting somewhere.
The last one was a royal pain in the ass.
Big girl, heavy set. Kept fighting, even after I chloroformed
her twice. Finally I got so pissed off I
just brained her with a shovel. Not much
use to me now, so I just kept chopping. Those
other girls were a little bit better. They lasted a few weeks. Then I’d get tired of having them around, crying and bleeding
and all that. So I’d finish them too.
all that was long ago. And I’ve been
keeping busy since. Always careful. Crafty, that’s me.
like Syd, over on O-8, he kept bits and pieces of his girls
lying around, like a goddamned trophy hunter. It
was the smell that finally did him in. Neighbours complained. When officers came to investigate they had to wear full hazmat suits. Betcha they were surprised to see Syd’s
living room strewn with festive garlands made of human entrails. Rotting skulls turned into ashtrays.
Full uterus complete with growing fetus in his fridge. Syd’s been here since.
Like me. But
I’m smarter. They wouldn’t have
got me except I got too soft. It was spring
of ’82 when I got that little girl. ‘Bout
four years old, cute little thing playing on her front lawn. Pretending to make
a flower garden.
told her I was looking for my lost puppy.
She never stood a chance.
the cops didn’t let up on that one. By the time they found us, there wasn’t
much left of her.
Between her parents sobbing on
the stand and the decomposed body parts some pissant
found encased in cement in my basement, I knew I was done for. Looking at life without parole in the cellblock jungles of the jail
system, getting my asshole shredded by guys named Dick, or this place. I chose this place.
not criminally responsible, by reason of insanity.
Been here since.
not a bad place, just full of crazy fuckers. Like Wayne, down the hall. Poor guy don’t know whether he’s coming
or going. Naked, covered in shit and screaming
in his room; he’s a poor son of a bitch – no hope for him at all.
But you gotta watch
him. That bastard’ll rip your eyes
He nearly got another
one a few years ago. Staff was showering him, trying to get the
piss stink off him. Wayne was tied to the
walls, screaming bloody murder. New staff
leaned in a little too close and good ol’ Wayne slipped his pinels. Soft
leather cuffs must of stretched in the water or something.
Wayne grabbed Buddy
lightning quick. By the time the charge nurse came running
down the hall, hypodermic needle in hand, a half dozen staff were slipping and sliding
in soap bubbles trying to drag Buddy away from Wayne, like taking a chew toy from a pitbull. There wasn’t much left of Buddy there, face
was munched up something fierce. Don’t
think they ever found his ear again.
Good one, Wayne. Never liked that blue shirt bastard anyway.
Now me, I know how to play nice. Staff just escort me to the shower room, hand me fresh towels, sweet
as you please. Like hotel room
I got all my levels. So I got privileges.
I get to go to the
tuck shop with staff escort. While staff chitchat, I pilfer candy
bars. Pay for a couple, then give the rest
to the boys. Poor Dave don’t get nothing
otherwise; staff say too much candy upsets his diabetes. I sneak him
a couple Milky Ways. Dave’s a good guy.
Not getting out anytime soon though. The judge doesn’t look kindly
upon crimes against family members.
Staff don’t like him too much either.
Heck, I’m practically a hero around here. It was yours truly that hit the code white button in the lunchroom
when good ol’ George went after that new charge nurse. Don’t know what she was doing sitting in the lunchroom, anyway. Guess they were short on staff that day.
Anyway, nursie was
helping pass out meal trays, and just as George was
reaching for another juice, she told him no. He had enough already.
say no to George.
I was working on my applesauce when George
went after her. Knocked her out cold with a metal tray, then
straddled her, just pounding on her. Fists
mashed her face up something good, wet slap, slap of her head hitting the concrete floor. Not much left of her.
The other staff
in the room jumped on top of George and tried to choke
him out. Blue shirt was screaming and swearing. But he wasn’t getting anywhere. George is a tough nut.
By then I had enough of dinner
theatre, and decided to call the code white. Violent person. I punched
the alarm button on the wall and the siren wailed.
The building rumbled
as all available staff filled the lunchroom. George got flattened, then marched back to his cell. They threw him in so hard he bounced off the back wall and hit the
floor. Got up, bloody nosed, snivelling and
demanding first aid.
The old blue-shirt bitch, face like a brick
wall, says to him, “You’re talking, ain’t ya?”
don’t need first aid. See you in an
Anyway, staff think
I’m some sort of hero for calling the code. I get to go for walks on the grounds with my own
personal escort, not just yard time like the rest of those poor souls walking in circles
behind razor wire. They trust me.
* * *
– Lights on.
Staff drop by my cell to make sure I’m
awake and ready to go. Big day today. I have an appointment.
You see, my hearing aid’s
been bugging me. Cutting out and all that. I only had those hearing aids for a while now,
after a couple months of saying “huh?” and “pardon” whenever staff tried to
talk to me. One trip to the audiologist later,
and I got a brand new set of hearing aids, fully paid for by the government, and that I
don’t need at all.
Today I dress carefully, taking out my best
clothes. Fill my pockets with stuff I don’t want to
leave behind. Like the razor blade I swiped
a few days back.
Old man, fumbling in the showers, it was easy
enough to con staff into giving me a second razor.
First was defective after all, missing the blade.
Funny that. Guess that’s what you
get when the government buys cheap plastic razors from Japan.
Now I have a road
trip. Two staff escorts and a driver. I’ll be wearing handcuffs and shackles. Safety precautions, you know.
Staff will want
to stop at Tim’s, buy me a coffee. Special
treat. Laughing, maybe we can go to McDonald’s
after. I do like their Big Macs.
Staff are a good
sort, escorting me into the audiologist’s office
with a jacket neatly folded over my cuffs. Preserving my dignity and
all that. Once I shuffle inside the exam room, they’ll
remove them. Staff stand around, supervising.
is a cutie, she gently places her hand on my forearm
as she leans over to check my hearing aids. Tells me that this won’t
hurt a bit. Calls me sir.
I stare at her cleavage.
I hand over the
hearing aids and she turns her back, fiddling at a small
worktable. Replacing the batteries, just
Loose blonde curls escape a pony tail, trailing
across the back of her neck. I finger the
razor blade in my pocket. Hard edges, wrapped
neatly in a tissue, sharp and ready to go.
It would only take
one good slice, dragging it through the soft skin of
her neck – she’d bleed out before she knew what hit her. Then
staff would be on me like a ton of bricks.
I squirm in my seat. Clear my throat, “Uh, staff. Gotta pee. Old man problems.”
to the audiologist, “Where’s your washroom?”
Her back still to
us, she waves, “Across the hall.”
“Do we need restraints?”
The staff look at
each other, then me. I shrug.
walk him in there.”
Unshackled, I follow blue-shirt’s large
shoulders as his buddy keeps a firm grip on my elbow.
After staff quickly
survey the washroom – single toilet and sink,
window the size of a breadbox high up on the wall – I am allowed in.
I shuffle in and
lock the door behind me.
take much. Upside down garbage can to give
an old man a boost, window screen popped out, and I’m pulling myself through the
window. Luckily there’s no passersby
to see a scrawny old man tumble onto the asphalt below.
Bruised, but nothing
broken, I’m up and running. Across
the parking lot the driver’s reading a newspaper in the van. Following the fence line, I duck into some shrubbery and hop into somebody’s
I imagine those two blue-shirts standing guard
outside the washroom. Waiting
for who knows how long before they finally break down the door. Surprise.
But I’ve done my time.
-- THE END.
|Art by Lonni Lees © 2015
by Liz McAdams
the hell do you think you’re goin?” Mom was just warming up. Perched in her bed, surrounded by empty glasses and pill bottles, she
was queen and a steel grey man’s haircut was her crown.
wagged her head at Charlyn’s t-shirt. “And you sure as hell aren’t going out looking like that.”
wrapped her hoodie tighter across her chest. “I
already told you, I’m going out with Amy tonight,” she soothed, perched on
a corner of the bed.
Mom stared at the TV, dark brows
glowering in hawkish profile. Silence.
“Just for a
while. She wants to go for a coffee and
I’ll be back soon.
Promise. And you know Amy’s
a nice enough girl…”
still on the TV.
“But she’s been having
some problems with her folks. They’re
coming down on her. She didn’t do anything. You know how it is, like you and Grandma.” Charlyn twisted the bedspread between her fingers.
Hrump. Mom lurched onto her side, the bed groaning
beneath her bulk. “Why can’t you
just talk here? Save a few bucks. Make your own. Or is
she too fine and mighty for the likes of us?”
Mom’s head bobbed, she was itching for a fight.
Charlyn patted her mother’s
hand, reassuring, “No, she likes you, Mom. Really. It’s just nice to get out for a bit. And the coffee shop has really good cookies, you know, those chocolate
ones you like.”
you’d better watch your money, Missy. Rent’s coming due and Frank still has that car payment this month. And you know better. Even with chipping
in for groceries, we still gotta go to the foodbank next week. Not a time to throw money away.
And you’d think Frank would do somethin about getting overtime. Goddamn lazy goodfornothin.”
pushed aside thoughts of Mom’s trip to the casino
last month, when Mom said she’d break even, at least.
A sure win. Dreamed about it the night
before. Yeah, right.
Five hundred bucks in the hole before security walked them out.
Charlyn forced a weak smile. “It’s
OK, Mom. Amy said she’d treat.”
“It better not be charity. She
already looks down on us. The last time that girl was here she wouldn’t
even come in. Thinks we’re infested
with bugs or something.”
last time Amy was here Mom was screaming at Frank so loudly you could hear them
clear across the parking lot. Something about
messing with her purse. Swearing, followed
by a loud crash. Lucky the cops didn’t
Amy had knocked, and stood frozen
in the doorway while Mom raged at Frank. He just whined back. Yes, dear, I do have shit for brains, Yes, dear, you’re right,
I’m a fuck up. Eyes wide, Amy whispered
that if it was a bad time, she could just leave.
Charlyn forced a
smile, “No, she doesn’t Mom, Amy likes you guys. Really
she does. She just wants to go out.”
in bed, “Can you fix these damned pillows? My back’s killing me.”
Mom.” Charlyn reached over, fluffing and tugging
yellowed pillows. “Want me to bring you
some dinner before I go?
there’s some leftover chicken loaf in the fridge. Just a plate of that.”
“‘K. And look, your
show’s coming on.” Charlyn waved
the remote at the TV. The picture flickered.
Mom nodded absently as familiar theme music
the kitchen Charlyn cracked open battered margarine containers, scraping out cold
chicken loaf and noodles. Congealed grease
shone dully. Dumping the works on a plate,
Charlyn popped it in the microwave and punched reheat.
Two enormous grey and white cats
padded in, wrapped themselves around her ankles, purring loudly. “OK guys, here you go.”
Charlyn dropped a slab of chicken loaf on the tile floor. Splat. The cats huddled
over their prize, and purred even louder, pink tongues rasping on cold chicken loaf.
Grabbing a fork
for herself, Charlyn ate standing up, easing slimy noodles out of a margarine
tub. Cold, but not bad. She
put the kettle on to boil.
yelled down the narrow hallway, “Charlyn, are
you still here?”
“Are you doing my
and making you a tea.”
“Don’t forget my
poured a cup of tea, adding a splash of milk. Then reached for the bottle from on top of the fridge. Red and yellow warning labels plastered on
the green plastic bottle. Do
not – and May cause –
She tipped four
tablets onto a saucer; crushing two under the flat edge of a butter knife.
Cupping the two whole tablets in her fingers,
Charlyn swept white powder into the teacup. Stirred in sugar. Done.
the teacup on the saucer, two pills on the side, Charlyn arranged it on
a tray with the plate and cutlery. Carried
it into the bedroom. Room service.
reached for the teacup. It’s
her best china, bought at somebody’s garage sale years ago. Yellow roses. “Thank
you, just what I needed. That goodfornothin
Frank can’t seem to make a decent cuppa to save his soul.” Slurped the tea noisily and made a face. “Is the milk going off?”
think so. Tasted
fine to me. You want more sugar?”
“No, doctor wants
me to cut down.” Mom pointed to her
deflated abdomen and sagging bosom and nodded, “Gotta watch my weight and
huh.” Charlyn glanced around the room. “Oh look, your show’s back on.” She reached for the remote and turned up the
volume, just a little.
It sounded like the balcony, Frank must have snuck in the front, then right out
onto the balcony for a smoke. Who was he
kidding. Said he started smoking American cigarettes,
to save a few bucks. Yeah, sure.
And those definitely weren’t tomato plants he
was trying to grow on the balcony, no matter what he said about it not being sunny
enough to get any tomatoes.
cocked her head. “Is that
Frank coming in?”
don’t think so. Still
early yet. Might have been Amy knocking. I’ll check.” Charlyn nudged the cup toward
her. “You’d better drink your tea while it’s
still hot. And let me get these old
dishes out of the way.”
nodded, teacup to her lips and eyes on the TV.
Charlyn paused in
the doorway, “Oh Mom, don’t forget your pills.
I left them on the saucer for you.”
“Got’em.” Eyes still on the TV, Mom rolled
the tablets between yellowed fingers, dropping them on her outstretched tongue. Chased with a swallow of tea.
walked out of the bedroom balancing a stack of dirty
dishes. Dumped the pile in the sink and blasted
them with water. Now she just had to wait.
She looked out the
living room window. Smoke drifted off
the balcony. Frank’s home.
at her watch. Amy was supposed to be here
in half an hour. Said she wanted to go
out Christmas shopping. Charlyn tiptoed back
to the bedroom and paused at the doorway, and listened for rhythmic
breathing. Counting down…
“Charlyn?” Mom called.
you startled me.
Didn’t see you standing there. Can
you take my plate?”
“Sure. How about another cup of tea?”
“Yeah.” Yawn. “I’m kinda sleepy.”
Mom squinted at the radio alarm clock. “Weird. It’s still early.”
“Don’t worry, just
relax. You said you were up a lot last
night. Your back was hurting.”
“Yeah,” Mom turned
to the TV, profile slackening in flickering light.
Charlyn carried the plate to the
kitchen. Frank was still on the balcony,
clouds of smoke hung around his head.
She turned the kettle on to boil. Crushed two more tablets, and swept them into
an empty teacup. Added a dollop of honey,
gooey amber mixed with white powder. This oughta
walked into the bedroom, cup cradled in her hands.
Mom snored softly,
head sagging. Charlyn put the cup of tea
down on the bedside table. Mom’s purse
is in the bottom drawer. She likes to keep
an eye on it, doesn’t trust Frank.
over, Charlyn riffled through the purse, pocketing a
couple twenties and a fifty. Other bills,
mostly fifties and hundreds, crowded together; all from the insurance settlement.
big windfall. Mom
said it was just like play-acting. Charlyn
limped to the stand, the judge’s eye on her cast and neck brace. She pointed a finger at the driver, and burst
into tears. So what if Frank’s car was a
write-off. The lawyer said the money was
hers. Pain and suffering. Mom
said she’d hold it, in trust. The lawyer
raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
Charlyn rose, patting the slight
bulge in her jeans. Mom won’t miss
it right away. And even then she’ll
just blame Frank.
drawer, Charlyn picked up both tea cups – one empty and one full – to dump in
the kitchen. Don’t want the cats to get
turned in the doorway. Startled
by a large figure. Teacups clattered.
Frank, I didn’t see you standing there.” Charlyn held out the still warm cup.
“Here, I made you a cup of tea.”
|Art by Noelle Richardson © 2016
it’s not like she had a lot of friends. Or was even remotely popular. Goth artist brandishing a sketchbook, you
could say she was kinda cool. But not at
this school, social pariah hanging out with other misfits was more like it.
Still, she had friends. Or used to.
Like Sammy, whose purple-inked doodle in her sketchbook kicked
the whole thing off. Purple hearts,
BFFs, XOs. They were inseparable.
Went to all their classes together, partners
in PE. It was their only defense against
Every high school has them. The popular crowd. Those who are ‘in’ and those who wannabe exist just to
make life miserable for those poor suckers who don’t stand a chance.
If she and Sammy
were lucky, they were simply ignored. They survived that way for years, eating
packed lunches under the stairs outside the library, so they could get a head
start on studying during their lunch hour.
drew, filling her sketchbook with black-inked drawings. Other geeks joined them,
and they’d sit at the long tables talking about the latest WoW adventures. The librarian nodded at the no-talking rule,
relieved to have somebody using the library at all. They went undetected;
all the cool kids were out having a smoke anyhow.
Until her final year.
It was one of the wannabes that started it. Chris Clarence snapped a photo during the lung capacity science lab,
her lips pursed and face puffed out blowing up a balloon.
One trip through Photoshop later, she’s
sucking an enormous cock. Of course, it
Next day at school she walked down the hall to catcalls and
illicit offers. They called her Blow
Job, BJ for short. Six months later, the
nickname still stuck.
Six months of running
to class after the bell, so she wouldn’t see anyone in the empty halls; hiding in
the washrooms; enduring snickers and giggles as she walked into class. Six months. And now she’s
class was the tipping point. She slid her
latest charcoal sketch over for Sammy to gush over – the shading was killer, if she
did say so herself. Sammy promptly started
doodling on a blank page, cutesy hearts and arrows.
When Terrance Shorn asked to see it too, Sammy didn’t think, and just handed
the sketchbook off.
was near tears when Terrance passed it back. The entire book was filled with
black-Sharpied drawings of various acts of fellatio.
Who knew there were so many different positions?
Her freaking book looked like a perverted
Karma Sutra, with a serious oral fixation. All her sketches and Sammy’s
purple heart were scribbled over, and the words ‘blow
job’ appeared on every page. If only
Terrance applied himself this way in Art class, he might not be spending next year catching
up on missed credits.
coldly took the book and slid it into her backpack. Didn’t want him to
see her cry.
said to tell the teacher, or try to draw everything again.
Maybe get a new sketchbook.
She shook her head.
It’s gone far enough. Time
to take matters into her own hands. And besides,
the teachers never did anything anyway – not when she was shoved into lockers, her
backpack snatched and tossed about, not when whistles and calls of BJ followed
her down the halls; not for the million little barbs she faced every day. Nothing.
was surprised when she said she wanted to go to the Valentine’s formal, that they
could go stag and hang with the few brave geeks who dared cross the threshold of cool. Sammy agreed, secretly thrilled to try on satiny
dresses and parade in high heels.
They were busy in the short weeks leading up to the dance.
She and Sammy went shopping, bought fancy dresses and tried various hairstyles and
accessories. Sammy chose a tiny sequined
clutch, she decided on a substantial shoulder bag.
Sammy tried to convince her of her fashion blunder.
She held tight to the big bag.
While Sammy scrolled through pictures of the latest updos
and nail trends, she surfed darker corners of the web. She searched for recipes involving household
chemicals, stuff lying around the home and garden. Box of nails,
sack of fertilizer, leftover plumber’s pipe.
When she and Sammy arrived that night, the Vice Principal
conducting bag searches raised an eyebrow, and let them pass by.
Sammy waved her tiny clutch at him, and she gripped
her bag tighter. Standing off to a corner,
Terrance was holding open his suit jacket to a rent-a-cop, saying he didn’t know
what was in the silver flask, must be his dad’s.
The gym was decorated with streamers and balloons, posters
from the Student Council were taped to the cinderblock walls –
Happy Valentine’s! Friends forever! Be mine!
All you need is love!
the refreshment table a trio of bored-looking teachers stood
beside a table lined with chips and an enormous punchbowl, obviously guarding
the punch. Students straggled across the
dance floor, couples wrapped around each other while small groups danced together.
popular crowd was already here, and the wannabes were hanging on. Air kissing, fake tans squealed over fresh manis. Guys flexed muscles and straightened ties. No hope for any of them.
Chris Clarence looked like a gorilla in pin stripes, Katie
Simpson was his date. She wasn’t even
looking at him, eyeballing somebody across the dance floor instead. Katie
stole her gym clothes back in grade nine. Bitch. A couple was slow
dancing, already sucking face. She couldn’t
tell who they were. No matter.
She smiled. It’ll
all be done soon.
Sammy waved at a couple of friends, and asked if she wanted
had to put her bag down first.
See, I told you it’s too big, Sammy said.
What do you have in there anyway?
she tucked her bag under the bleachers. Let’s dance. They joined the geeks on the dance floor.
Dancing with thumping bass, surrounded by friends, no matter
how nerdy they were, she was actually enjoying herself. Surprise. Sammy’s
arms waved in the air, her updo a rat’s nest in the heat.
But she had to carry
it through. She glanced at her watch.
Soon, she started rubbing her temples. Said
she was getting a migraine. Sammy was disappointed
when she begged off, saying she wanted to go home.
Sammy looked concerned, and held George Greirson’s
hand. They’d been making eyes at each other for
months. Looks like George finally got
some balls. She invited them both back
to her place, an odd thing to say if she had a headache.
Sammy looked at her funny.
No thanks, I think I’ll stay here.
Are you OK to go home by herself?
She nodded, and
walked toward the exit, leaving her shoulder bag under
the bleachers. Sammy didn’t notice,
her eyes were on George.
That was the last
she saw of them. Of all of them.
The explosion followed soon after, echoing off identical
suburban houses. Neighbours wrapped in
housecoats stood on their front stoops watching the sky light up, dark smoke streaming
into the night.
She was about a block away when the first sirens screamed
by, firetrucks with flashing lights. Red
strobes painted the houses ghastly pink.
She kept walking. Cop cars,
ambulances. More firetrucks roared past,
she didn’t bother counting anymore.
took off her shoes on somebody’s front lawn, left the broken
heels lying there, and walked home in tattered nylons. The sky
glowed crimson-rose behind her.
She should have been more careful. She should have dragged Sammy out. She should have, she
though she used her step-mother’s laptop, it wasn’t long
before they found her. The Vice
Principal, who managed to escape with just a few cuts and bruises, said he saw
her enter the dance with the bag. Thought
nothing of it, the girl’s always carrying books around anyway.
“Dinner’s ready!” a hatch in the steel
door slid open and a tray appeared, dotted with multicoloured
goop. Pink plastic spoon. “Aren’t you gonna take it?”
The tray slid onto a ledge, balancing precariously.
The hatch slid shut again.
She remained sitting on the cot,
industrial mattress sagging under her weight. She
looked up at the window, sunlight streamed through the bars. Imagined drawing them, dark on light, shadows and shading. And smiled.
Blow Job. She
blew them away, alright.
-- THE END
|Art by Bryan Cicalese © 2016
ON THE RIDGE
The metal door clanged shut,
concrete walls and iron bars surrounded me. I smiled.
Home, sweet home.
overtime tonight, Ted?” the guard nodded.
“Yep, they called me in. Short or something.”
“You know the drill, sign
here,” keys jingling, the guard pointed at the
roster list. All the names going in, and out of the Ridge. The oldest and largest maximum
security psychiatric facility in the country. Only staff get to leave. The patients stay
lucky. I’m staff.
The guard unlocked a second door, metal bars slid past. I waved
as I walked down the hallway, calling over my shoulder, “Say hi to Mary for
“Will do. Have a good night, Ted.”
My footsteps echoed off marble flooring, as I passed
through dimly lit halls. Moonlight streaked through tall windows,
bars cast spidery shadows across the floor.
Graveyard shift. I’m good with that.
Worn archways carved from concrete rise overhead, the Ridge was
built nearly a century ago to house some of the worst offenders in the country.
Of course, they’re all nuts here, but you have to be extra bad to get into a
place like this.
It’s an old, rundown building, but I know its
secrets, short cuts and storerooms and all the stuff most folks forget about. Keys jangling,
I opened the supply cupboard. My office, if you will.
A sheaf of calendars are nailed to the wall,
one on top of the other with dates going right back
to 1983, back when I started in this place. You see, I’m a bit of a collector. Tally
marks and x’s mark what you might call big events around here. And I keep score.
I always do.
med cart’s ready for the night, its nearly time to deliver
medication before the morning rush. Then breakfast, lunch, dinner, followed by
the next day’s meds. Nurses tell me to fetch fresh linen, supplies, anything
what I’m asked; fetch and carry, bring ‘em stuff. Ol’ Ted’ll
do it. Reliable guy.
Staff like me.
They probably shouldn’t.
I unlocked a black iron gate, slid it open
and pushed my cart through. Locked it carefully behind
me. First delivery of the night.
“Hello Ted,” the overnight nurse looked up from her paperwork.
I squinted at the nursing station, steel countertops gleaming under bright
lights. Soft jazz’s playing on the radio, papers are stacked in officious-looking
It’s business as usual.
Keys jingled down the corridor, broad shouldered male
staff waved in greeting. I nod at him. Decent guy, we talk about sports, sometimes.
The nurse bent over her charts,
and flapped her hand at me. “Just park it over
there, Ted. I’ll get to it in a minute.”
“Sure thing, I’ll go do O-7, come back for
my cart.” The med cart rattled into place, pill bottles clattering against each
other. I turned away, back down the dim corridor.
Its lights out, essential lighting only. Patients
are sleeping. Nobody’s moving ‘round this
place, except me.
you in a bit, Ted.”
The gate clanged shut behind me.
On O-7, things are a bit different. I can hear the yelling
before I even unlock the gate to the ward. Swearing, unearthly tones. Spitting gibberish
of pure rage.
nursing station’s empty, I slide my cart into its usual
spot. Code white’s already been called. Violent patient. All hands on deck.
Down the corridor, a bunch of staff struggle
to sandbag Jimmy. As I’m standing at the station,
a couple more guards run past me, and join the pile on. Young guard gets thrown off.
I stand and watch, pretending
to adjust some bottles on my cart.
The night nurse’s barking orders, “Hold
him, lemme get his leg.” She bent over Jimmy; he’s
still thrashing something fierce.
“Goddamn mother –” one of the staff just got kicked
in the face.
Jimmy stops. Falls limp.
That sure is some powerful stuff.
staff drag poor Jimmy back into his cell and roll him onto
his bed. Door slams. Goodnight Jimmy.
Still panting, the staff walk to the nursing station.
“Did he get you bad?” the night nurse nodded at the guard.
The young guard rubbed his head,
“Not too badly. Just got my bell rung.”
“I wasn’t too sure
if we’d get him under control, until you spiked
him. Good job, Doreen,” a male nurse said.
“Yeah, tomorrow we’ll get the doc to up
his meds. Increase the Nozinan to 500 mg. Should be enough to stop a horse.”
“Poor bastard won’t
be moving with that much noz in him.”
“You say it like it’s a bad thing,”
“Oh, hey Ted. Just leave the cart here. We’ll
get to it in a bit. Gotta debrief first.” Doreen looked up from her chart,
“And could you grab the soiled linen for us?
It’s stinking to high heaven in here.”
A young blond nurse is busy checking out the
guard, holding a compress on his head. He winces, and
then looks down her top.
I turned away.
Low laughter from the nursing station while I hoisted an
oversized sack of piss-stink laundry onto my shoulder. I staggered under the
weight. Hope nothing leaks.
“OK, see you later, Ted.” Pen in hand, Doreen
picked up her chart, documenting everything.
Medication is how this place runs. And I’m
a big part of it. Patients stay nicely medicated, and
we’re all safe. Or as safe as we can be locked up with a bunch of crazy fuckers.
Patient confidentiality or not,
I know what most of these guys did. You overhear the
nurses talking, and the guards rumble among themselves. Crimes against family, kids, animals
– they’ve seen it all.
Like Syd on 0-8, crazy bastard decorated his living room with
human entrails. Or that old dude that drove the highways, picking up
hitchhikers and doing God knows what with them.
Bunch of old timers, sitting around, doped outta their
heads. Most of the time, they’re a quiet bunch, too stoned
to do much of anything. But sometimes they miss a dose, here and there, or their medication
stops working, for whatever reason.
That’s when things get interesting. Like ol’
Jimmy, gave ‘em a good what for. Good for you buddy,
I never liked that dumbass guard anyway.
Gotta give it to him, ol’ Jimmy put up a good
fight. I didn’t think staff’d be able to hold ‘em; but in the end, they
that’s just not fair.
You could say, that’s when it becomes part of my job
description. Other duties as assigned.
It was a week or so later that they called the code
blue, then put the whole place in lockdown. Nobody could move.
I stayed in the supply cupboard and did some washing up; my hands got pretty dirty doing
this gig. And I added another tally mark on my calendar.
When the lockdown was lifted I went about my
usual rounds. Dayshift, the place was hopping. Staff went from cell to cell, checking locks.
Patients were pissed off; most of them missed their daytime TV programs.
And snack, shoulda heard ‘em
yellin about snack. On O-5, Jeff Keller was pitching
a fit because he missed his Mars bars.
“It’s my constitutional rights, you lousy sons of bitches.
Where’s my lawyer?”
Staff tried to reason with him. “Jeff, it’s
a chocolate bar. It’s not just you, nobody’s going
to canteen. You’ll get dinner in half an hour.”
“It’s denial of food – motherfuckers,
that’s what it is. Basic human rights. And I know
‘em, don’t you fool me. Bad enough I gotta ask for TP every time I take a shit.
No goddamned dignity in that. Where the hell’s my lawyer?”
“Look, the last time you
had a roll of toilet paper you shoved it down the toilet
and flooded the ward.” Staff continued, “Then you tried to kill yourself.”
“You shoulda let me, you
sons of bitches. It’s in the goddamned Constitution,
dumbass. My federal rights – I’m gonna get my lawyer…”
My cart squeaked as I pushed it through the gate. The
staff on the corridor waved at me, “Hey Ted, lemme call
Doreen up. She’ll take your cart right away.”
rolled it into the nursing station. Two young nurses were bent
over the desk, whispering.
“I heard that she won’t be back. Like ever. Waiting
for reconstructive surgery. Lucky to be alive.” The blond looked up, eyes wide.
“But how do you think Syd
did it? He’s locked into his ward. And she was found
in the stairwell.”
“I dunno, but staff found Syd out of his cell.
In the kitchen, stealing apple juice. He says he doesn’t know what happened, but
when he woke up his door was open and he was thirsty.”
“It happens every now and
again, one of the guys gets out, seems to go on a blitz,
then nothing for years.” The blond nodded.
“Do they know which guy?”
“Seems to be random, they get out, and then –”
“Girls, are you done charting
yet?” Doreen bustled in, looking flustered. “Ted,
thank you, I can take it from here.”
problem.” My keys jingled as I turned back down the hallway. I had one more med
run to deal with.
Back on O-6, the nursing station was in an uproar. Cupboards gaped open,
drawers pulled out, papers scattered everywhere.
The charge nurse met me at the gate, “Thanks Ted.
I’ll take the cart from here.” She frowned, “We’re doing a
bit of a spring cleaning, you know, in light of recent events.”
I took my cap in hand, and smoothed
back my hair. “Yeah, I heard about that nurse.
She gonna be OK?”
“We don’t know. Can only hope for the best.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I turned to leave.
“Oh Ted, wait up a minute,”
a young nurse came running down the corridor. “Do
you mind walking with me to the front office? Staff are under orders not to go anywhere
thing, I’m going up there anyway,” I smiled at her.
“Great, let me grab my
purse.” She glanced at her watch, “Damnit,
I’m already late.”
“You know, there’s a shortcut down the back stairwell. Nobody
ever uses it.”
“Thanks Ted, you’re a lifesaver.”
As the metal gate clanged shut behind us, I
fingered the syringe in my pocket. Time to even the
odds around here.
add another tally mark on to my calendar.
|Art by Marina Cicalese © 2016
FAITH IN TIMES OF CRISIS AND LOSS
Alice pointed at the dead maple, ancient giant towering above its neighbours, barren
limbs a grey silhouette against the sky.
Marlene wiped her gardening gloves
on her jeans and shielded her eyes from the sun. A trio of crows perched on empty branches,
their hoarse cries echoing through the backyard. Marlene shuddered. She hated birds, strange
creatures with beady eyes and reptilian claws. Pointy beaks.
in the air, black blobs hopped from branch to branch, cawing loudly. Reminded her of
priest’s robes. Marlene turned her back on them, “Let’s go water the flowers
in the front yard, honey.” She took Alice’s hand.
down her legs, Alice struggled to carry both her watering can and shovel.
honey,” Marlene reached for the watering can. “Here,
let Mommy help you.”
me.” Alice trudged to the front yard. Marlene glanced behind. The crows were still
in the tree, on lower branches now, and oddly silent. Must have flown down. Two of
them cocked their heads, as though trying to figure out a puzzle. Watching her.
ridiculous, she told herself. Crows don’t watch
people. They fly, and they caw, and, well, do whatever crows do.
at Marlene, black eyes meeting hers. Then it cawed – the voice
of nightmares – grating bray, like it was laughing or something. She shuddered.
honey, let’s hurry up. The flowers are thirsty.”
Marlene quickly shut the gate behind her, not wanting to look back.
“Daddy!” Alice raced
to the door, wrapping her arms around Rob’s legs.
my princess today?” he hoisted her onto his shoulders. “Ready for an
saw a birdie?”
it go tweet-tweet?”
we spent some time in the backyard.” Marlene called from the kitchen, “Tried
to get some yard work done.” She paused, “Think we gotta do something about
came from the living room, mingled with preschooler
“Alright, you two,
dinner’s ready. Come and get it.” Marlene carried a casserole to the table. Serving
cheesy pasta, she added, almost as an afterthought, “Oh honey, it’s time to get
somebody to take down that maple. Don’t think it’s coming back.”
thought you wanted to grow vines on it or something.”
it’s dead. Could come down right on top of us any day now.”
She pushed pasta around her plate. Didn’t mention the crows.
up from the table, surprised. “Guess I’ll get someone
to take care of it then.”
into the bedroom and smiled at the sleeping form, blond curls peeked out from
beneath a teddy bear blanket. Turning in her sleep, Alice looked up, blinking and mumbled,
“Mommy, sing the baby robin song again.”
"Sure thing sugar,” Marlene
trailed her fingers through blond curls and began, her low voice wavering, “Rock
me easy, rock me slow, rock me where the robins go.”
Alice’s voice joined in,
“Rock the branch, and rock the bough, rock the baby robins now.”
The song soon
dissolved into soft snoring; Marlene closed the door behind her.
cool your jets. Put your shoes on first.” Marlene pulled on her garden clogs.
Alice held out pink sneakers. “Help.”
to shove pudgy feet into sneakers and fasten Velcro. “Time to water the flowers!”
to the backdoor. Marlene glanced out the window. Two crows were on
the lawn, hopping through lush grass. Pointy beaks jabbed at the ground, searching for
something, worms or bugs or whatever crows eat.
suddenly looked up at her, staring through the window. Penetrating gaze into nothingness.
She shivered. It’s like they were watching her.
She looked at the tree, expecting the third. Nothing.
lawn, a dark cackle exploded, hoarse laughter as the crows called,
voices overlapping, and then launched into flight.
away from the window. “Uh, honey, let’s go out front today. Mommy has to check
on her roses.”
Alice’s lower lip threatened
a pout. Tears welled.
if you’re good, we can walk to the mailbox. You
can mail the letters all by yourself, because you’re such a big girl.” Marlene
handed her a bundle of letters.
Alice beamed. Crisis averted.
back from the mailbox, Marlene was surprised to see
an elderly couple standing on her front stoop, both dressed in black. A whitehaired man
rang the doorbell, while a lady in a heavy black skirt peered through the window. Must
be lost or something.
“Hi, can I help you?”
Marlene walked up the driveway.
The lady whipped around, as though
stung. “Oh hello, do you live here?” Beads of perspiration dotted her lip.
She must be roasting in nylons on a day like today.
Alice’s hand tighter. “Uh, yeah. Can I help you?”
hello dear. My husband and I are just visiting the neighbourhood
to offer our brochure to people. Spreading the news.” She smiled, dark eyes gleaming
“Uh, no thanks. I don’t
really need anything. Thank you.” Marlene walked toward the front door. They didn’t
move from the stoop.
stood at the bottom of her front steps, Alice twisting
beside her. Talk about awkward. How do I get into the house when they’re between
me and my front door? She thought briefly about going through the backyard.
cawed, voice like rusty nails. Marlene glanced up at the maple, bare
branches stretching above the house. Not the backyard.
know, I’m kinda busy. I got things to do.” Marlene put her foot on the step.
I understand completely,” the lady leaned down
to pat Alice on the head. Alice shrank away. The lady didn’t notice. “When
I had my little one at home, I barely had time to sit down, never mind talk to folks. Oh,
but time flies. Before you know it, she’ll be gone, and you’d do anything to
get her back.”
huh.” Old ladies regularly stopped her in the
grocery store, pinched Alice’s cheek, and talked about when their kids were little.
Nod and smile. They’ll move on.
The man tugged
at his tie. Droplets of sweat slid down his neck. “Why don’t you take our
brochure, read it for yourself. We can check back later. Chat then.”
great.” Marlene reached for the pamphlet, and
started up the steps. “If you’ll excuse me.”
The couple shuffled to the side. For an uncomfortable moment, all
four of them stood on the concrete stoop, and then the lady stepped down. Marlene squeezed
past. The lady raised her hand, “Goodbye, dear. Have a great day.”
too,” Marlene muttered, hand on the doorknob.
Alice inside, she tossed the brochure on the floor.
“Now, let’s see about lunch, shall we?”
Alice ran down the hallway toward the front door.
this?” Rob bent, picking up the discarded pamphlet.
“Honey, what is this?”
Marlene called from the kitchen.
into the kitchen, Alice’s arms wrapped around his neck. He
held out the brochure. Faith in times of crisis and loss.
“Oh, this old couple made me take it. Going ‘round the neighbourhood, handing
them out. I forgot it there.” Marlene reached for the booklet, “Here, give
it to me. I gotta do recycling anyway.” She set the brochure on the countertop and
smiled brightly. “You know, I don’t really feel like cooking tonight. Let’s
say we get a pizza instead?”
smiled. “The verdict’s in. Pizza it is.”
honey, ready to go outside?”
her feet in the air; pink sparkles glittered in the sunlight.
you’ll help Mommy water the flowers out front, right?”
right, you’re my big helper.” Marlene paused,
hand on the front doorknob and peered through the window. Several doors down she could
just make out two black shapes, going door to door. Not again. “Change of plans,
sweetie. Let’s go in the backyard today, OK? Check on the garden there.”
Blond curls raced toward the backdoor.
into the backyard, Marlene gasped. Everything was scorched. Her poor
garden. Peonies drooped and lilies withered; morning glories shrivelled into brown husks.
How long has it been since things were watered back here? Even the grass was
She hadn’t left it for
that long, had she?
riot of gravelly voices burst from the maple. Black
birds hopped from branch to branch, laughing at her.
up.” Marlene glared at the dead tree.
Alice looked up at her.
her temples. Her garden, her lawn; all that hard work burnt to a crisp. Time, and
money, all wasted because of some stupid birds.
her sleeve, tugging, “Mommy –”
Mommy’s thinking. Can you hush a moment, sweetie?”
the open window, the phone started to ring. Marlene patted her pockets.
Of course, she forgot her phone inside. Great. “Alice, honey, Mommy has to run inside
for a second. You wait right here, OK?”
kitchen, Marlene cast around for her phone, just a minute, she muttered,
rifling through her purse, finally grabbing it and answered it. “Hi, honey.”
voice was in her ear, “So I got a guy booked to take down
peered through the kitchen window; Alice was still wandering on the lawn, picking up dead
flowers and waving them. Her laughter floated inside.
got a pen? I’ll give you the dates,” Rob’s voice
pulled her back, “He wants everybody off the property while the tree’s coming
down. Says it can be dangerous.”
do we go?”
my mother’s,” she could hear the apology
in his voice, “Make a full day of it. You could do a couple days at my mom’s.”
“The guy said it’d
be a big job –”
Unearthly groans filled the air,
followed by a rushing noise, reminding her of a freight train. A thud shook the house,
she staggered. “What the hell?”
was that?” Panic crept into Rob’s voice.
like a truck hit the house –”
toward the kitchen window, and started screaming. Tree branches pressed up against
Marlene was still screaming when she ran into the backyard;
the tree laid on the ground, branches snapped against the roof and flattening everything
in its path.
Rob’s voice floated through
the phone, “Marlene, what’s wrong –” cutting out when she dropped it.
and bent neck intertwined with fallen branches, a small body splayed across the
lawn. Blood spatter and crushed skull; a gaping hole pulsating blood, then
slowing to a halt.
Marlene was still screaming when
Rob arrived home seemingly minutes later, and by the time the ambulance arrived she dissolved
into sobs. She stood watching ambulance attendants lift tree branches off the body, and
cover it with a white sheet.
up at the tree as they wheeled her away. Broken limb snapped off and exposing rotting
In the distance, crows cawed
The days following
the funeral were quiet ones. After the last visitor left and hushed murmurs of
condolence fell still, a silence crept over the house.
During the visitation Marlene
sat on the sofa, staring into space. It’s shock, her relatives whispered, finding
the child like that. How terrible, poor thing. No mother should have to –
poor guy, he was just about to get that tree taken down.
dragged on. Rob sat staring at the TV, sometimes talking
about getting up off the couch, and going back to work, but never moving.
launched into full housecleaning mode, mopping and scrubbing with a
fury. Leaving Alice’s room untouched. Her bed was still rumpled, stuffed animals
scattered on the carpet, dropped carelessly just a few days earlier. Marlene averted her
eyes as she walked past.
The TV echoed through the house,
the only voice breaking the silence.
That morning there was a soft
knock at the front door. Marlene opened it cautiously. Familiar figures stood on the stoop,
both still dressed in black.
very sorry about your loss. So tragic to lose such a young child. We’d like
to offer you our brochure for your consideration.”
Marlene watched a crow track a straight line across the sky, cackle of laughter
|Art by John Lunar Richey & Michael Pritchet © 2017
that the guy?” I said, through a forced smile. Dance music blared,
Janie and I were up on stage, me on my hands and knees, in booty shorts and ass in the air; Janie
had her leg wrapped around the pole, hips thrusting, and tits jiggling.
It was a good act; we did pretty well with it.
Janie twisted around, following my gaze. Fake smile
still plastered across her face, she paled, but otherwise didn’t let it show.
We were all torn up about Ruby. Bad date, my ass.
She was lucky to be alive after what that bastard did to her.
the cops didn’t listen. Just hung out at the bar, staring at tits
and asses, took some notes, and drank cheap beer.
the guy who did it wasn’t a regular; just a one off, drifting in,
and never seen again. Guys like that are just another job hazard; freaks out to hurt and kill, then
moving on to the next victim. Too bad it was Ruby.
balding businessman in a suit, flashed a gold watch to show he had money
to burn. No wonder Ruby took him on, he smelled like easy money.
Her eyes still glued on buddy across the bar, Janie was grinding
her crotch against the pole, thong disappearing into ass cheeks. My hands were wrapped around her
hips, pretending to eat her out.
rules about no sexual contact, and all that. We followed the rules, most of the
time. It was a classy establishment, after all.
the bar, buddy was watching over his beer; faint smile on his face. This
could be our in.
Song over, Janie and I walked up to him; his grin
got wider. Pop music crashed through the bar as the next pair of tits danced across the stage.
“You wanna go hang out?” Janie nodded
at the curtained-off rooms. VIP access. She smiled, “Our treat.”
Buddy sprawled on a leather sofa; Janie went to work, straddling
his thigh, shaking her tits in his face. Firm and round, perfect breasts. I leaned in, whispering
in his ear, and reached for his crotch, feeling his cock through his jeans. Already hard,
he grabbed my ass.
you ladies wanna party back at my place?” He squeezed harder, kneading me like bread
dough. “I got something goin’ on later.” He stuffed a folded bill into Janie’s
wrapped her arms around his neck, shoving her tits in his face. Perfect nipples stared
at him. Buddy didn’t stare long, rubbing his fat gob on what was offered.
Looks like those implants were paying for themselves.
Mine aren’t as good, more the budget version; one of a few minor surgical changes. And everything
costs big bucks nowadays.
ass is my own, and it’s sublime.
hand slid down, between my legs and jerked back. “You—you’re
quite, hon,” I smiled at him.
on the sofa, he tried to stand up; Janie pinned him, muscles in her arms
flexing. She’s still pretty strong, used to be a weightlifter before the transition.
Eyes wide, he
stared at us. “What the hell are you two?”
“Well, honey, nobody’s quite sure what
I am.” I smiled, reaching into my shorts. “Kinda like Ruby.”
“Ruby?” His face paled.
“Yeah.” Janie smiled at him. “Thought we’d
give you a little something from her.”
eyes were riveted on my hand, still inside my shorts.
“Our treat.” I pulled the semi out of
my shorts, a mini snub-nosed pistol that tucked up nice right under my ballsack, taped down tight.
Girls like me need to carry some kind of protection.
shots later and buddy slumped against the sofa, red blossoms spreading
against his chest.
|Art by Patty Mulligan © 2017
don’t you get a real job?” Brent leaned
in the garage doorway, his frame filling the pass though back to the house. “You’re
just out here all day, playing with dogs.”
“What?” I looked up at him. My
scissors still in hand, the geriatric poodle standing on my grooming table
trembled, and I turned back to her, “Shhh… it’s OK Amber.”
that gets you out of the house.”
I ignored him, and was busy
patting Amber. She stood, wide eyed and trembling; she’d be a wreck to finish
grooming, and her owner was due back in fifteen minutes. She was one of five dogs
I was working on that day, the rest were waiting in cages, in various stages of readiness.
I didn’t look up. “You gotta go, you’re scaring the dogs.”
Amber suddenly lurched sideways,
twisting off the table. Scooping her in one arm, I held my scissors away from her vibrating
body, “No they’re not, you’re gonna make me cut a dog.”
“I thought you were a pro.”
“I am –” I set down the scissors
and cradled Amber’s head, crooning, “Shh…” I glanced over at Brent,
still hanging in the doorway. “Just get out of here, let me finish.”
He turned away, “Guess I’m starting dinner then.”
“Well, yeah, I’m still busy.” I
turned back to the dog, cooing, “Shh… it’s OK, puppy,” and picked
up a brush, trying to fluff up her coat so I could finish shaping it into smooth curves
and a cute top knot.
looked up as the door slammed shut, and a chorus of
dogs started barking. Poor Amber started shaking all over again.
she’s lovely, you do such a good job,” Mrs.
Carlson beamed as Amber stood panting on the grooming table, coat finally fluffed and scissored
to perfection, top knot and pom poms in place; the classic poodle clip.
Fixing a bow, I stood up
stretching, a twinge of pain flared across my lower back. Long days on my feet
sure did me in.
a cheque’s still OK?” Mrs. Carlson smiled at me.
I nodded as she wrote out a
cheque for forty six dollars, her hands shaking in spidery script. Smiling, she
slid a folded twenty into my hand, “And here’s a little something for you, you
take such good care of her, I wouldn’t have poor Amber go anywhere else, she’s
such a sensitive little thing.”
thanks, Mrs. Carlson that’s so nice to hear,”
I stood up straighter, still rubbing my back.
“You alright, dear?”
“Yeah, just a long day on my
would be, you do a lot of work; must be a big job,”
she nodded at the plastic tub and drying table, the row of crates with dogs sitting inside,
all still waiting final touches. “You must have the patience of a saint to do this.”
I smiled, “I guess I have a way
ready,” Brent called down the hallway. I was washing
up in the bathroom; loose dog hair floated around me, and swept down the drain. Sadie,
my Rottweiler looked up at me, expectantly.
“Been a long day, eh, girl?”
She stared at me, with a look
that either meant take me for a walk or feed me; or maybe both. She was a smart
“I hope you’re hungry,”
Brent called from the kitchen. The soft hiss of a can of beer opening floated down
the hall. I wondered how many he’d had already.
Sadie followed me to the table
and lay down on the floor, looking up occasionally but scanning the floor for wayward
crumbs. Brent slid a plate in front of me, steak and baked potato drowning in butter and
I tried to scoop the sour cream
off, and remove half the butter.
nodded at me, “What, you don’t like my cooking?”
“Uh, all the dairy’s a bit
much.” I turned the potato around, trying to find a grease-free spot and
nibbled at the peel.
can just say it, you don’t like it, right?”
“Well, I am lactose intolerant…”
I trailed off.
arms shot out as he pushed his plate away from himself,
his voice already raised. “Here we go with this bullshit again. Goddamned made up
thing that everybody and his mother has. Like fucking gooten.”
well, -- whatever, fucking bullshit, that’s what
I don’t know what your problem is, but stop it.” I stared
at him. Suddenly alerted, Sadie looked up at me, then glanced at Brent. Her eyes narrowed.
Brent looked down at the dog,
and forced a smile. “Look, I don’t know what got into me, I’m just a little
uptight from work, right. Why don’t you eat your steak, babe?”
my knife, I sliced into the steak, red blood pooled across my plate. Raw
flesh that had been quickly seared and flipped; it was beyond rare. I pushed the plate
aside, “Uh, I’m not in the mood for it, got any salad?”
“Going fucking vegetarian on
no, I’m just not in the mood for it.” My
stomach growled, the last meal I had was breakfast. It had been a busy day.
Brent smiled at me. “I’m sure
your doggy friends would like it.”
the hell’s your problem?”
know, it’s time gotta get a real job, you’re
just sitting around the house all day.” He twisted his plate around and stabbed at
his steak. Blood juices ran across white porcelain as he waved a fork at me. “You
cost a lot to keep around here, babe, and you don’t bring in much.”
“But I work –”
“Yeah, right – you fucking work
your problem Brent?” I shoved my plate aside.
“It’s like you’re looking for a fight or something.”
don’t even appreciate what you got in front of
you.” His knife scraped across white china, the sound making me shudder. “Just
spend your fucking day playing with dogs.”
“But that’s my job – it’s a
all you care about, freaking dogs.” He glanced
down at Sadie, she stared back at him; clownish black and tan patches and steely eyes.
Her lip curled, slightly.
in his chair.
Brent, maybe you moving in here was a mistake.”
I stood up, “C’mon Sadie, let’s go for a walk.”
nails clicked on the tile foyer as we came back into
the house. Sounds of sports announcers drifted toward us; Brent was sprawled across the
sofa, caught in the light of the TV, and staring straight ahead. The coffee table lay crowded
with beer cans.
As I walked into the living room, he didn’t
even turn toward me. I nodded at him, “You know Brent, I’ve been thinking,
maybe you should look for another place to live.”
He ignored me.
I raised my voice. “Brent, I
think it’s time for you to move out.”
his head, he laughed, “I knew you’d say
that. What, you had a big heart to heart with your dog?”
“No, but –”
“Look, you can’t afford to stay
here by yourself; whatcha gonna do, groom dogs out of a homeless shelter?”
I could feel
my blood pressure rising, and stood silent, biting my lip.
“You wanted me here, right? I
left Jenna for you. And this is what I get?” Brent laughed. “Fucking dog
groomer – spend your days putting pom poms on poodles?”
“I mean, Jenna would always take
me back, if that’s what you wanted. So what, she’s a bit of a head case, and
thinks you’re a freak, but…”
stood staring at him.
I put a fair bit of money into this place, I should
get my share out of it. Common law. And I don’t think you can afford to buy me out.”
As I turned back down the
hallway, Sadie followed, looking up at me. Waiting for me to do something.
I was doing
some extra dogs Saturday afternoon when I stepped into
the garage, and startled at the sight of Brad standing in front of the dog cages.
“Hey, what’re you doing here?” A
steady stream of barking and whining filled the air.
“Nothing – dogs were making so
much noise – I couldn’t watch TV.”
was only gone a minute, I just went to the washroom…”
Trailing off, I glanced at the pass through door, “I guess I left it open.”
“Maybe – but the dogs were
making a godawful racket.”
circled around me, looking up expectantly, and then
looked over at Brad. I followed her gaze. He turned toward me, and smiled.
A huddled heap in the cage
behind him caught my eye.
happened to Fluffy?” Pushing past him, I peered
into a cage at the Pomeranian, now holding his foot in the air.
“What do you mean, what
happened?” Brad glanced at the dog, “It’s still there, making noise.”
The dog cowered in the back of
its cage, and whined.
shrugged. “Damned thing wouldn’t shut up.”
“What did you do to Fluffy?”
“Nothing,” he shrugged again.
“Brad –” I turned toward him.
Sadie looked up at me, then over at Brad. Her lip curled.
He glanced down at her and forced
a smile. “You know how it is, babe. Damned thing wouldn’t shut up – you
left him howling out here, making all kinds of racket, I couldn’t hear the TV.”
“What the hell did you do?”
He turned back toward the door
into the house. “Just rattled his cage a little. Knocked some sense into the
hurt him?” I stared, “Go on – get the hell out of here.”
“Gladly, smells like dog
shit out here anyway. Don’t know how you stand it.”
At the slam of the door, all the
dogs started barking; and as I lifted Fluffy out of the cage, he whimpered in
pain. “There, there,” I crooned.
Damnit, I thought, what the hell did I do to deserve this asshole
in my life?
It was Sparky’s owner that gave
me the idea. “Poor Sparky needs this before any kind of grooming, it just calms
him right down.”
said her name was, recently divorced according to Mrs.
Carleson, and here on her recommendation. I smiled at the shaggy terrier, and held out
my hand. Sparky snarled, lunging for me, quickly, I jerked my hand away. His jaws snapped
shut on empty space.
“He’s a feisty one, isn’t he?” I
looked up at Cass.
apologetically. “Sorry about that. Poor Spark’s
pretty wound up, aren’t you boy?” she patted his scruffy head. Sparky growled
I stared at the dog. “I
don’t know if I can do him like this. He’s terrified.”
“I’ll muzzle him, but I heard
you were a miracle worker, you did wonders with poor Amber. He just needs to
get used to you.”
not sure if I –”
worry, he’ll settle.” Cass slid a muzzle
over the terrier’s shaggy face; Sparky’s eyes bulged, and he panted, breathing
heavily. She smiled, “Now, I just gave him his sedative a few minutes ago,”
and held out the bottle, “Give him about twenty minutes, then it’ll kick in,
Half the time he just falls asleep.”
Sparky stared at me, bristly hair sticking out around
the nylon muzzle; he growled again.
“You’re sure about this?”
She nodded. “If he starts to
wake up, give him another tablet.” Petting Sparky, Cass looked up at me, “You
just have to be really careful, he can’t feel too much like this, he could get
lifted the dog’s head, a jagged scar ran across
his throat. “The last groomer cut him so badly the poor guy nearly bled to death
on her table.”
I stared at
the scar. “And your vet gave you those pills?”
She nodded, “The medication was
covered under his pet insurance plan.”
Cass was right,
in the time it took to bathe a cocker spaniel, Sparky
was nearly asleep. I lifted him up on the table, and eased his muzzle off, crooning, “There’s
a good boy.”
His eyes half
closed, I hurriedly clipped and scissored, then gave him a quick bath,
setting him in a wire cage with a dryer propped in front. He fell asleep in the warm breeze,
I opened Sparky’s cage, and slid in a bowl of
water, I smiled. I had a plan.
It was simple
enough, a quick call to the insurance company, to talk about life insurance
policies for common law couples, and increasing coverage for both of us; it would be tragic
if one of us was left without the other, but, as the agent said, it was good to plan
And then a
few days later at doctor’s appointment, I cried
and said how much stress I was under, and how I simply could not sleep anymore. I needed
something, anything to help.
The doctor smiled and pulled out
her prescription pad.
pharmacy with a small paper bag and bottles of tablets followed by strict
instructions to avoid operating machinery and drinking alcohol, I smiled even wider.
was surprised when he walked in the door, the table
set with wine glasses and the smell of pan fried steak in the air.
He leaned over and kissed me.
“You leave your grooming crap
everywhere, don’t you?” he nodded at a pair of scissors lying on the kitchen
“Just sharpening them.”
“So look at you cooking –
getting all domestic on me now.”
have been kind of tense between us lately,” I
smiled at him, “Thought I’d take some time to set things right.”
“Just as long as there’s no dog
hair in it.” He bent into the fridge and the soft hiss of a can of beer opening
followed. Standing up, beer in hand, he nodded at me. “Well, babe, let’s eat.”
pushed the steak around his plate. I smiled at him,
“I know I don’t do it the way you do, but I hope it’s OK.”
“Yeah, fine,” he shrugged. “Does
the wine taste off to you?”
think it just needs to breathe a little.” I sipped
mine, “It tastes alright to me.”
He tipped his glass to his lips,
I held up
my glass, “Anyway, to us.”
“To us,” he smiled, and took a
large gulp. And then another.
was halfway through my salad when I looked up and Brent
was pouring himself second glass, the first already emptied. “I’m glad you’re
enjoying the wine,” I smiled at him.
it’s not too bad once you get used to it.”
It was just like Cass said, in about twenty minutes Brent stumbled toward the couch, red faced and slurring;
he fumbled for the TV remote. Soon, the sports announcer was drowned out by loud snoring.
I waited a few extra minutes,
clearing the table, loading the dishwasher, and gave the leftover steak to
She looked up at me, gratefully,
and then meat scraps disappeared in a shower of slobber.
Brent never did like my dog. Or
When I was sure he was asleep I
pulled my scissors out from beside the microwave, the long shears that scissored
poodle legs with ease, each blade about twelve inches long. Those blades always made quick
work of pom poms.
still snoring when I stepped into the living room, my scissors in hand.
It was a pretty fast job. I
stood over him and opened the blades, dragging them across his throat and pressed
down real hard; his eyes flashed open, he gasped, burbling, and then, in a few moments,
nothing. Blood ran down from the sofa and spattered onto my living room floor.
I stepped around the puddles.
Sadie looked up at me, her tail
wagging slowly, and then followed me outside.
the mess behind, I returned to the garage; I still had
a spaniel to finish final trimming on. The dog wagged its whole back end frantically as
I opened the caged, and I smiled at him. “Aren’t you a good boy?”
He bounced around me as I washed
my scissors in the tub, I held them out of his reach as the blood spiralled
down the drain. I didn’t want to cut a dog.
would be at least an another hour finishing the spaniel;
the owner wanted a full breed clip, and I still had to scissor fluffy legs and a skirt.
At least my scissors were still sharp.
It would be quite some time before
the owner arrived on their way home from work, and then after I’d clean up my shop;
vacuuming the floor and wiping down my tools with disinfectant.
I liked to keep things clean.
After that, I’d go into the
house, and find Brent lying dead. And when I called the police, I’d let them
know his ex-girlfriend had some major issues. And Brent had some problems of
But me, my customers would say,
I had the patience of a saint.
-- THE END
Liz McAdams is a short, sharp, writer and fond
of dark things. Her work appears in the usual places, including Spelk, Near to the Knuckle, Yellow Mama, Shotgun
Honey, and scattered around Twisted Sister
lit mag. Check Liz out at https://lizmcadams.wordpress.com/.