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Rob Dominelli
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unicornheader.jpg
Art by Ann Marie Rhiel 2018

Unicorn

 

By Rob Dominelli

 

When you find something good in your life, when you find your dream, you’re not supposed to give up on it are you? This is all just a big misunderstanding.

That’s what Ian tried to say, but he only managed “Your Honor…” before the duty counsel put a hand on his shoulder and interrupted him in mid-sentence.

“Your worship if I may speak to my client for a few seconds?” The old grey-haired public defender cut in.

The Judge, a small woman well into her sixties with tight grey curls a narrow face, looked perturbed.

“Did your client not hear the conditions of his release Mr. Baker?”

The crown attorney was a prim and proper-looking lady who downplayed her stunning body and long legs with a conservative white blouse and tan knee-length skirt. She was seated at the opposite table, and got to her feet. Her hair was light brown and tied back in a bun.

“Your honor, I am concerned. Does Mr. Blais not understand the severity of the charges against him? I am starting to reconsider allowing this young man out on his own recognizance now. Perhaps a surety….”

The elderly barrister raised his index finger to the crown and addressed the bench again, smiling earnestly.

“Please,” he implored. “If I may have the court’s indulgence for just a moment…”

“Very well,” The judge answered. “With haste please, Mr. Baker, there are many more people on the docket for bail court this morning.”

The defense attorney bowed his head solemnly. “Thank you, your worship.”
       He grabbed his client and led him towards the spectator benches, out of earshot of the crown and presiding judge.

He leaned in close to Ian and spoke to him in a hushed but urgent tone. Ian thought he smelled the faintest hint of rye.

“Mr. Blais, you need to understand how fortunate you are that I was able to arrange your bail at all. You broke into a girl’s apartment. The picture you left on the kitchen table was disturbing enough, but the fact that you smeared peanut-butter on all the doorknobs…well that was just bizarre.”

The old lawyer paused and cocked his head. “Are you smiling? I assure you young man, this is no laughing matter. We live in a post-O.J. Simpson world and in case you haven’t noticed, the judge and crown are both female.”

The duty counsel brushed a piece of lint off of Ian’s blue windbreaker.
“Now, when we go back there I am going to ask the judge to repeat your bail conditions, and when she finishes and asks if you understand and intend to abide by them, you will say nothing but, Yes your honor. Do we understand each other?”
Ian nodded.

When Ian Blais stood before the bench again, the Judge read out his stipulations.

        1. Not to be in contact either directly or indirectly with Astrid Comeau, and not to attend anywhere she works, attends school or worships.
        2. Stay away from 221 Eva Street, Sudbury Ontario
        3. Abstain from the possession and/or consumption of alcohol and any drugs not prescribed by a physician.
       4. Keep the peace and be of good behavior.
       This time when he was asked if he understood and could obey, Ian said he did and could.
     He wasn’t much of a drinker and had never done drugs, but Ian knew he’d break those first two conditions within hours of stepping out of the courtroom doors but that was because he had to. Nobody understood what was at stake. As he walked down the courthouse steps he thought about what was mostly the best week of his life. 
  1. 1

    The first time Ian met Astrid was less than a week before at the Kathleen Wash n Dry. She called out to him twice before he raised his head and looked around.

    “Hey, hey you!” She giggled. “You’re really into that book, aren’t you?
    Ian was puzzled at first and looked down to the paperback in his hand before looking back at her and nodding.

    She giggled again. Ian thought her laughter sounded musical. The reason Ian didn’t hear the girl’s voice at first wasn’t because of the book. It was because girls didn’t talk to him, ever. He was a chubby twenty-three-year-old with perpetually unkempt brown hair that was flat and looked lifeless. He was born with a cleft palate that a doctor repaired, but it left him with a nasty scar beneath his nose that pulled his top lip up and made him sound like he was congested every time he spoke. To say Ian Blais was unpopular with women was an understatement. In fact, the only time he remembered females attempting to get his attention was the cool girls at the popular table in high school. The day he never forgot, when the girls who’d never give a guy like him the time of day beckoned him over in the cafeteria. When he approached, they squeezed their juice-boxes and sprayed Ian down with a variety of tropical fruit juices and then burst out in cruel, mocking gales of laughter while pointing at him.

    “Bet that’s the first shower he’s had all semester!” One of them said.
    The whole lunchroom erupted in snickers and jeers as Ian hurried out the double-doors and ran down the hallway with tears streaming down his cheeks.

    After that day and for the rest of his time in school, Ian ate his lunch alone in a stall in the boys bathroom.

    This girl was short and on the heavy side, but Ian didn’t particularly notice that. She had a heart-shaped face and delicate features. Her skin looked smooth and unblemished and Ian was particularly drawn to her bright green eyes.

    She didn’t so much as walk but sort of bounce over to him from the row of spinning industrial dryers, smiling and full of bubbly excitement. She grabbed the book in his hand and tilted it up to see the cover.

    “Stephen King!” She exclaimed, smiling wider and showing a row of slightly crooked but perfectly white teeth. “Wizard and Glass,” she said, “You’re a tower-junkie too?”

    She was referring to the larger story the novel belonged to, King’s sprawling post-apocalyptic spaghetti-western called The Dark Tower. “Tower-junkie” was how one of the main characters described what he and his travelling friends had become, a ragtag band of misfits pulled out of time in order to journey to this mysterious and mythic tower that stood at the nexus of all dimensions and once there, stop the evil Crimson King who threatened to unravel all of reality itself.

    Ian smiled up at her before he realized he was doing it and quickly stopped because smiling accentuated the scar above his lip and revealed the top of his gums.

    “Yeah,” He said while pretending to be suddenly interested in his shoes.

    “Well then,” she said. “I’m Astrid Comeau, what’s your name?

    “Ian Blais,” he answered.

    And then she did something that made Ian giggle.

    Like the people in the book, she curtsied and said “Hail, Ian Blais, Gunslinger! Would you happen to have some fabric softener for a damsel in distress?”

    Ian couldn’t help smiling this time as he dug through his canvas green packsack and produced the bounce sheets she requested, but he pulled his lips closed into a wide grin as not to reveal his disfigurement.

    They talked for the next forty-five minutes about King’s books and the various connections in his different novels all tying into his larger tower epic. Ian discovered she was a horror film enthusiast like him and a fan of comic books, not the super-hero variety but the more intricate dark-fantasy Sandman stories of Neil Gaimen, which he also enjoyed. She was twenty-one and had just split with her boyfriend of four years after stumbling on some facebook messages from other girls that revealed he was unfaithful.

    “I told him to grab his stuff and get the hell out!” She said as they were folding their laundry together.

    “That’s dumb,” Ian said quietly.

    She put her hands on her hips and looked at him.

    “Hmm? What’s dumb?”

    “Your boyfriend cheating on you is dumb,” he said. “You’re the coolest girl I’ve ever met.”

    Astrid put the white bath towel she was folding down and bounced over to him.

    “You’re sweet,” she said, getting on her tip-toes and kissing him on the cheek.

    Ian felt the blood rush to his face and he got dizzy. He grabbed the corner of the folding table and looked at his shoes again.

    Astrid giggled and grabbed his chin with her soft fingers. She raised his head to look at her and he instinctively put a hand over his mouth to hide the hare-lip.

    “Oh,” she cooed. “You’re blushing! That is so cute!”

    And then she moved the hand away from his mouth.

    “You don’t have to hide your smile, you know. Not from me.”

    Ian went to look down at the floor again but she stopped him.

    “My daddy had a scar,” she said softly. “Just like the one you have…and he was the sweetest man I’ve ever known.”

    When they were done with the laundry they exchanged numbers. As it turned out, they lived in the same neighborhood, he had a small bachelor apartment on Bessie Avenue and Astrid rented a little one-bedroom house just two streets over.

    “Did you want to come to my house later tonight and watch a movie?” She asked.

    Ian said he would and they agreed to meet at the Donovan Fresh Mart after dinner, one of the few convenience stores in town that still rented DVDs. Astrid told him she never seen John Carpenter’s science-fiction horror classic The Thing, and Ian remembered passing it on the shelf many times while picking up snacks for work.

    “Tell you what,” she said as they walked through the doors of the fresh mart a few hours later. “You get the movie, I’ll buy the munchies. You know what I want? Peanuts. My ex was deathly allergic to them. Do you know how hard it is to find good junk-food that doesn’t have that little may have come into contact with nuts warning?”

    Ian grinned as he watched her bounce down the confection isle, grabbing Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups and corn chips and giggling all the way.

    When they got to her place Ian noticed many of her ex-boyfriend’s belongings strewn around. A black motorcycle helmet sat on a chair by the entrance with a pair of steel-toe work boots beside it. His razor and cologne were still on the counter in the bathroom. Ian deduced that the break-up must have been fairly recent.

    Astrid turned the lights low and sat very close to him on the big blue sofa when the movie started. She buried her head in his chest during the particularly scary scenes featuring the shapeshifting alien doppelganger. This was the closest Ian had ever been to a female who wasn’t his mother. She must have heard his heart hammering, but she didn’t mention it and that was good. When she took his hand in hers, she didn’t comment on how clammy it was. She kissed him. Her lips were soft and her breath was warm and she tasted sweet. For the first time of many that night, Ian wondered if he might be dreaming.

    After the movie was over she led him to her bedroom. There were unicorns everywhere. Pictures of them adorned the walls, little ceramic unicorns were on her nightstand, two heavy brass unicorn head sculptures bookended her collection of Stephen King and Dean Koontz novels on her dresser in front of the mirror.

    When they were naked on the bed and she guided him into her, that’s when he felt it. That’s when he knew. Their meeting wasn’t just happenstance. It was no chance encounter. She was meant for him and he for her. He knew she felt it too because after they had made love she held him and stroked the side of his head and they fell asleep in each other’s arms.

     

    2

    Now, Ian crossed Elm Street and walked beneath the underpass that would lead him back to her little house on Eva, because the bail restrictions listed on the paper in his back pocket were meaningless. Ian was sure the connection they had transcended any man-made laws.

    That’s how he knew that when she stopped returning his phone calls and ignoring his text messages, something was wrong.

    Ian replayed the days that followed his meeting Astrid in his mind, how he began taking walks to her house, sometimes eight or nine times a day. When he saw the motorcycle parked in the driveway, it confirmed his suspicions. Her ex-boyfriend had somehow wormed his way back into her life and was manipulating her. Of course.

    When the boyfriend came running out of the house one night and confronted Ian, he came off affable and sounded reasonable. That’s how he was fooling Astrid, sounding reasonable and using his charm. It had to be.

    “Listen bro,” he said as he approached. The guy was dressed in a white designer track suit, his yellow hair was slicked back against his skull and a gold chain hung over his top. Teenage acne had left pock-marks on his cheeks and his breath smelled of cigarettes. He was tall and very thin.

    “I understand you and my girl got to know each other over the time the two of us were fighting. I ain’t mad at you. She’s a good girl and I fucked up.”

    He paused then, maybe expecting Ian to say something, but Ian had nothing to say.

    “You gotta stop this walking by the house shit, okay?” He put a hand on Ian’s shoulder. Ian looked at it, and then back into the guy’s dark brown eyes. Although Ian heard Astrid mention her ex’s name many times on that perfect day they spent together, he couldn’t actually remember what it was. He wasn’t a man to Ian. He wasn’t even a human being. He was just an obstacle, something that stood in the way of their perfect union. It’s funny how you can go through your life and not even know that something is missing until you actually found it.

    “You need to stop this stalking shit, you understand me? It’s not cool.”

    “Is there a reason she can’t tell me that?” Ian asked.

    “If that’s what it takes bro, I’ll have her call you. She’s at work right now but I’ll have her call you when she’s home. Then this stops.”

    Without saying another word, Ian slid the hand off his shoulder and walked around Astrid’s ex-boyfriend. He continued on his way.

    Astrid did make contact that night, but it was by text message, not a phone call like Ian had hoped.

    Ian,
    I am sorry but I can’t walk away from a relationship after four years without doing everything in my power to make it work. I am so, so sorry. You’re a sweet guy Ian and I did not mean to lead you on. You deserve better than me.
    Goodbye
    Astrid

    Part of him wanted to believe it was a ruse, that Astrid’s ex had gotten a hold of her smartphone and composed the text himself. After hours of staring at his cell, reading and re-reading the short message over and over and thinking about the encounter earlier that day, Ian decided the man didn’t look literate enough to spell every word correctly or articulate enough to differentiate between words like your and you’re. No, Astrid wrote the text, he was sure of that. Just as sure as he was that it was all part of her ex-boyfriend’s design.

    The next night was when Ian broke into the house with the jar of peanut butter and the drawing in his coat. He wanted to leave a note for Astrid telling her how much the night they spent together meant to him and that he knew that in her heart, she felt the same way as he did. It was that snake of an ex-boyfriend. Somehow, he was confusing her. Only Ian couldn’t stand the thought of him reading it, so instead of writing a heartfelt plea for her to come back to him Ian drew a picture of a unicorn like the ones in her bedroom. It was pure white, as pure as the love they had for each other. The horn on the majestic beast’s head was piercing a heart. The peanut butter on the doorknobs was meant as a warning to her ex. Ian wanted the bastard to know he was aware of his weakness and there was nothing he wouldn’t do to free Astrid from the spell he had her under.

    Two detectives approached Ian when he was leaving his apartment for work this morning and placed him under arrest for break and enter and criminal harassment. They brought him to the police station and placed him in a room with plush carpeting, a couch and a coffee table with a bouquet of flowers on it. They sat across from him and asked him questions about what happened. Why did he break into the girl’s place? What was with that drawing of the unicorn and the peanut butter? They talked like the three of them were old friends, but Ian recognized the detectives’ demeanor instantly. They weren’t concerned friendly. They were aggressively friendly. Like the girls at the popular table back in high-school, this was just a trick.

    “Do you remember when you guys were arresting me,” Ian asked them.

    The two detectives nodded.

    “You said I had the right to speak to a lawyer without delay, right? I think I want to talk to a lawyer, and I want to do that right now.”

    Ian was brought to a telephone and given a list of lawyer’s numbers, but he had never been arrested before and every secretary who answered the phone told him the lawyer had left for the courthouse already.

    The officer in in charge of fingerprinting must have taken pity on him.
    “Look Mr. Blais,” the cop said. “After I’m done booking you, you’ll be brought to the courthouse and placed in the bullpen. Tell the court security officer you want to talk to duty counsel. Today it’ll probably be Mr. Baker. He’ll explain your options to you.”

     

    3

    Just twenty-three minutes after he swore to a judge that he would stay out of Astrid Comeau’s life and re-appear in court some three weeks later to answer the criminal charges she laid against him, Ian Blais was standing in front of the girl’s home once again.

    Ian was hoping to find Astrid alone in the house. Without her ex around it would be easier to make her remember the night they spent together and how special it was. How it felt so undeniably right. Alone, just the two of them, she would remember. She would see clearly.

    As he approached the little white house on Eva Street Ian was disappointed to see the green Kawasaki Ninja street bike parked in the driveway. Summoning all his courage, he walked to the side door and knocked. When no one answered, he put his hand to the glass and peered inside. There was no movement. He knocked again. Nothing. Ian became nervous.

    What if she is in the house and she can’t come to the door, he thought. What if he’s stopping her? What if he’s hurting her?

    He tried the doorknob and found it unlocked. Ian slipped inside and walked through the dark kitchen. The television was on in the living room, but the volume was muted. Ian turned left and entered the hallway and remembered how beautiful Astrid looked the night she led him to her room by the hand. The door to the bathroom was open. No one was in it. That’s when he heard the banging coming from behind the bedroom door that was slightly ajar.

    He was hurting her.

    Ian burst in to find the two of them in the bed where he and Astrid had become one just a few nights before. The manipulative fucker had his pants around his ankles and was forcing himself on Ian’s one and only true love, his narrow ass thrusting into her while his pale and scrawny legs writhed against the mattress. Ian tackled him off the bed and the two of them went tumbling onto the floor. Astrid screamed as her attacker’s head slammed against the wall, stunning him.

    Ian got up and went to console her but when he approached she scrambled away and grabbed her phone off the nightstand.

    “I’m calling the police,” she shrieked.

    “That’s a good idea,” Ian said. “I knew he was dangerous. I knew you feel the same way I do and that he was holding you hostage or some…”

    The first of several punches landed on Ian’s head. He staggered back toward the dresser as the ex-boyfriend kept hitting him. Blows landed on his chin, his nose and under his jaw. Ian reached his hands back against the surface of the wooden dresser to keep his balance and he felt something large and heavy. Without thinking he grabbed the object and swung it wild. He felt it connect and the punches stopped. When his vision cleared Ian saw the ex’s face and realized the man’s right eye was crossed like he was looking at his own nose while the left eye was still trained on Ian.  It was one of the unicorn bookends that he grabbed off the dresser, the brass horn had punctured the man’s temple and blood gushed down the side of his head in torrents. When Ian pulled the bookend free, the wound made a wet sucking sound. Then the ex dropped to the floor and began convulsing. Astrid screamed again.

    “He just killed him! Yes he’s still in the fucking house he just killed my boyfriend oh my god please come yes 221 Eva Street oh my god help me!”

    Ian didn’t understand.

    “Astrid, what are you doing? What are you saying?”

    She looked up at him while holding the phone to her face with a trembling hand. There was a stark terror in her eyes, but something else as well. Something familiar to Ian. He had seen it his whole life when people looked at his disfigured lip. It was revulsion.

    She was in shock. That’s what it was. The poor girl was just attacked by her ex-boyfriend and then witness to an act of brutal violence. Necessary violence, Ian thought, but brutal nonetheless.

    “Listen Astrid,” he began, trying to speak calmly. She jumped out of her bed clutching the white comforter against her naked body with one hand and the cell phone in the other.

    “Stay away from me! Get away!” Her voice was hysterical.

    “We’re supposed to be together, don’t you see?” Ian pointed to the body still shaking on the bedroom floor in front of the dresser. He was only vaguely aware that he still held the brass bookend in his right hand, blood and gore dripped from it and soaked into the carpet.

    “He wasn’t going to let that happen. He was manipulating you, making you forget what we have together.”

    Astrid looked at her ex-boyfriend and then at Ian. Her face a mask of horror and sorrow. She screamed again and ran out of the room.

    “Wait,” Ian called out to her. He followed her, jogging down the hallway. He reached the kitchen just in time to see Astrid trip over the comforter she was covering herself with and collide with the side of her refrigerator. Abandoning the bedding, she flung open the side door and ran outside screaming. Ian followed out behind her.

    Ian saw the police cruiser in the driveway and the two officers with their guns drawn. They were barking at him to drop the weapon, but Ian didn’t have a weapon. Just the stupid brass bookend. Dropping it didn’t even occur to him. All that mattered was Astrid. He had to stop her. He had to make her see.

    He saw her sprinting naked across the cement path from the door to the driveway and he ran after her. He heard the loud popping sound and felt the first explosion of pain in his left shoulder blade, but that didn’t stop him, he staggered but continued running after her.

     Astrid felt it too, Ian knew it. That night they made love, the feeling of completion. That feeling of utter bliss. He had to stop her and he knew if he could just talk to her, she’d remember what her ex-boyfriend made her forget.

    The second loud pop and burst of excruciating pain in his left thigh dropped him to the pavement. The last thing he thought of was that cute bouncy way she walked over to him at the laundromat, full of bubbly energy.

    Then the world went dark.

     

    4.

    For a while, Ian didn’t know how long, there were periods of near-lucidity, bright lights and hospital smells, pain and memories of pain and persistent aches. Ian finally awoke lying on a concrete slab. A plump and stern looking woman was changing the bandages on his shoulder. The walls were white tile like a hospital, but they were dirty. Grimy. The room smelled like old urine.

    “Where am I?” Ian asked.

    “You’re in the Sudbury District Jail,” she answered. She didn’t look at him. Her eyes never left the gauze she was applying. “Medical segregation.”

    Ian closed his eyes and slept again. The next time he woke, his left leg was aching badly. How much time had passed he couldn’t say. He looked down to see that the leg was bandaged from his thigh to his knee. There was a light bulb in a square in the ceiling that was covered with a wire mesh and the light had been dimmed since the last time he was conscious. Ian yelled for the lady who tended to him earlier.

    “Hello?”

    “Nurse?”

    Nobody came.

    A shadow fell over him then, and Ian looked up to see two beady little eyes peering down from between the lightbulb and the wire mesh. It was a mouse.

    “Hey there little guy,” Ian croaked.

    “I don’t understand what happened,” he confessed to the little rodent.
    “What we had together was special. You don’t walk away from love like that, ya know?”

    The mouse didn’t respond.

    “Why would she call the police on me? Why did she call him her boyfriend to the 911 operator when he was her ex-boyfriend?

    The mouse let out a little squeak and then scurried across the mesh and out of view.

    Ian didn’t hear a squeak though, he heard two words. Two words that made him understand why Astrid behaved the way she did.

    Stockholm syndrome.

    Ian smiled. It was just a matter of time before Astrid realized the feelings she had for her captor were false. In time she’d realize what they truly had together, and that was okay.

    Ian would have plenty of time.

        When you find something good in your life, when you find your dream, you’re not supposed to give up on it are you?


Robert Dominelli discovered his talent for writing by participating in a creative writing course while in custody awaiting trial in 2005. His short fiction has appeared in the Along the 46th Anthology published by Latitude 46, and online at twistedsisterlitmag.com

Robert now lives (free) in Northern Ontario with his wife Barb and his two daughters Anna and Zoe.

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Art by Cindy Rosmus 2018

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