Death by Midnight
by Charlie Cancel
Of course there is a gun. And of
course it will be fired and people will be killed. But, before that, let us
first understand the circumstances.
A new, garishly decorated liquor
store had appeared on Second Avenue, and so Hoffman went there. Displayed like
bowling pins near the register was the Dom Perignon. But the price — two
hundred dollars a bottle — made him choke. But look there, next to it, arranged
just as dramatically, was Dom Perignon Jr. — and for only eight dollars a
magnum. The bottles were pink. Hoffman had never been aware of a Dom fils but
Blanche had insisted on
champagne, any champagne, saying, "There's nothing like the pop of the
cork — the splort! — especially at
midnight." And so he ordered ten bottles to be delivered in time for their
New Year’s Eve party that night. For Blanche must have her splort.
After a half-day at the office,
he arrived home, where a dance song from the '80s blared on the stereo, and the
champagne had been delivered. It sat on the kitchen counter — but one bottle
was missing. When his wife sailed in, singing along with the song and holding
an empty champagne flute, he knew what had become of the bottle.
"Has the maid finished the
canapés?" she sang.
"I don’t know,
"We simply must have
canapés!" she sang.
He went to his home office,
locked the door, and some time later emerged to take a shower and then a nap.
He awoke and dressed and then the doorbell rang.
It was the Coulters. Always
lethally timely and lethally dull.
After they had been seated and
served the champagne junior, Blanche prodded Hoffman about the virtual
slideshow. Had he had time to get it ready? Yes, of course, he had. Then why in
god’s name wasn’t it playing?
Hoffman had not had the time,
nor the inclination. So, in what he felt was a display of proactive paternal
duty, he asked his oldest son, Jack Jr., to put together the slideshow to run
on the flatscreen in the living room. Blanche’s sister Sally had done a virtual
slideshow July 4 past, and, on an extra-large TV screen she had dragged to the
park and situated next to the picnic table, it played scenes from her 17-year
marriage, including first date pics, her wedding — of course — numerous
vacations, to France, the Grand Caymans, Nigeria, and innumerable selfies, as
well as, rather graphically, the birth of her three children.
Blanche was not to be outdone.
And this was the year they had carved two vacations out of their salaries — to
Miami and to Wellfleet. The trip to the Cape had been nothing more than a
weekend getaway but it had made Blanche happy, as the Cape was ecstatically,
Jack Jr., earlobes festooned
with what appeared to be checker pieces, wondered aloud: "Do you really
want it to play for five fucking hours?"
"Language, Jack, and yes,
your mother does."
"Blergh. Where are the
"My desktop. You'll find
In the living room, the Coulters
were two verses into that Dexy's Midnight Runners song, and Hoffman thought the
champagne must be very good, so he poured himself a flute. It was then that he
caught the spelling on the bottle he had not noticed before: Don Perignome Jr.
There was an illustration
of a tippling garden creature on the label. So that explained that.
his wife sang from somewhere.
Very well, thought Hoffman, too
late now. The first sip was execrable. But by the seventh, he didn’t notice.
The Michaels arrived next —
vegans, the very worst type of guest — and then the Niederkorns, dressed for a
zombie costume party they would be leaving early to attend later.
"Darling," his wife
said, after asking for more champagne, "open the bottle like you did on
our wedding night. Use your marvelous saber."
So, Hoffman took out his old
saber — an elongated letter opener, really — and, holding the bottle just so,
struck at its cork. The old blade must have still been pretty sharp, and he had
probably held the bottle the wrong way — because, just after he thrust
purposefully, manfully, at the cork, the tip of his thumb sailed across the
room artfully and decidedly into the crudités. Which was fine as long as the
Michaels hadn't noticed.
"Come. Dance with me,"
Mrs. Niederkorn said — Hoffman couldn't recall her first name — and took him by
the hands. In a stunningly form-fitting dress, painted pale and with some
sticky substance in her hair, she resembled a decaying demimonde. He was glad
for it, since the blood from his bleeding thumb only added to her ghastly
Near midnight, the party was in
full swing, with the Howells having a row in the bathroom and the Coulters
espousing the virtues of libertarianism to whoever lingered near the Swedish meatballs.
But then Blanche appeared and prodded Hoffman with his bloodied toy saber and
demanded the slideshow. So, Hoffman went to his son’s room and demanded the
same. The teen looked up from his glowing world and said he would fucking send
it wirelessly in just a
Satisfied, Hoffman blended back
into the party, just as a Cyndi Lauper masterpiece made everyone rush to the
designated dancing area.
And then the virtual slideshow
At first, there were pictures of
an ocean and a beach and a theme park. But then came the picture of the woman
in red latex with a matching leather whip. And then the oily ménage a trois of
midgets in heavy makeup. Hoffman realized quickly that these were not the
vacation pictures. Indeed, these were from another folder on Hoffman’s desktop,
one which he had neglected to tuck away. These were pictures with which Hoffman
had a relationship that we must describe in some way, so let us choose just the
one word that will carry with it all we need to know: jismy.
Behind him, another cork
exploded, its gushing foam splashing audibly on the floor.
Blanche, squiffed to the tips of
her dangling diamond earrings, seemed unfazed. "Oh darling," she
said, "at this rate, you shall never cure your carpal tunnel
Hoffman considered an apology.
He considered an explanation. But then, on the screen, emerged his favorite,
his most astonishing photo. He had used his middling Photoshop skills and
affixed his head atop the body of a faun. There were several of these, but this
was his favorite, in which a golden sun dazzled through leaves of birch and oak
and, by a dappled brook, he was passionately coupled to a giant-eyed hentai
character wearing a veil. He sighed and grew aroused. He could no longer hear
the bleat of Billy Idol nor the squeals of the crowd announcing the birth of a
new year. They would never understand the succor of the impossible, the comfort
of the untouchable. How much each of us needed a gilded forest, such a place in
which such dreams, if only for the briefest of moments, could come true.
It was then
that Mr. Farquarson, who lived across the hall in 5B, took out the
aforementioned gun and shot everyone. His in-laws had been visiting and he had
not had a chance to be alone in a month.
Charlie Cancél is
a Jersey-born, half-Puerto Rican actor/writer/poet/IT technician. He has had
work published in Blunt, Sniplits, Huffington Post, and Pulp
Modern Flash. He lives in Bayside, Queens, with his family and is
currently finishing a novel. Follow him on Twitter: @urbanurbane.