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Julian Manthorne
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Laying Blame


By Julian Manthorne

 

Cecil tilted his head out the driver’s side window and felt the wind run its invisible fingers through his bushy hair. The road was empty, had been for hours now, and the land around him was flatter than a token penny from a tourist trap press. Here and there thin shrubs fought for life, but mostly there was just the desert.

Cecil didn’t mind the flatness or the monotony. He had mastered the art of sorting through and switching cassettes without looking away from the road a long time ago. One tape finished, and he put in a cassette with ‘Mixtape No. 5’ written on the sticker in blue pen. In the backseat, his only good suit flapped and fluttered. He had forgotten a suit cover, he realized, and then decided it didn’t matter so much after all.

He took his foot off the gas and let his machine coast. His car had always served him well, but more than that he liked it because it seemed to have personality. It always idled high, riding 1200 rpm even after a full day of driving. Cecil liked this because when he took his foot off the brake the car would push forward like a horse that was anxious to trot. He had to hold down on the brake, really push down, to calm the beast. It took a little extra gas to get this furiosity, but he paid the price without a complaint.

He looked in the back seat to check on Addie, the baby. She was still wrapped up in her yellow fleece blanket, and still sound asleep. There was a little smudge of red on the left side of her chin. I can clean that off when we stop, Cecil thought, resting his elbow on the windowsill, and cupping the back of his neck. The vibration of the car rattled through his shoes, and it made him feel safer. It’s going to be okay, he thought, trying not to think about the fight, and how Sara had screamed at him, making the girls hide in their rooms. He thought he could hear them mumbling in there, maybe praying. She had gotten a knife from the drawer and told him to leave, and he had tried to reason with her. His eyes started to water with memory, but he clamped his jaw. Can’t cry, have to drive, he thought, and sniffled and blinked his way through the next two songs.

There was an orange pill bottle rolling around on the floor of the passenger seat among some crumpled envelopes. He wanted to pick up the pills, it was way past the time he should have taken one, but he didn’t dare take his eyes off the road with the kid in the backseat, and his whole life.

He had known something was wrong as he pulled up the car, nothing looked out of the ordinary, but he had a bad feeling in his gut. Cecil walked down to the mailbox, and was swarmed by crumbled letters that had been stuffed in until the door would just barely close. They were all from Sara going out to different people she had in her red leather address book: her mother, her sisters and brothers, Cecil’s mother and father, people that he worked with and people that she volunteered with. He took them out of the box, and making sure that no one was watching him from the house, tossed them through the open window into the passenger seat of the car. When they were out of his hands, he tore one open. It was a typed page, and obviously one of many copies that had been painfully retyped over and over.

To whom it may concern,

It takes all the courage I have to write you this letter, but you should know that Cecil Burrowitz is a lying cheating scoundrel who is not even good enough to go to hell. He cuts me and hurts the children and I can’t take it anymore. Someone needs to kill Cecil before he kills me or the babies.

Cecil’s eyes widened as he read on down the page, until he couldn’t read anymore. Tears ran down his cheeks and he felt like that horrible feeling in his stomach had swallowed him up.

He looked at the car, longing to climb inside and leave, letting the past eight years roll off his shoulders like Sisyphus throwing off his burden. He thought of his daughters, in there with a dangerous woman who looked like their mother, and ascended the stairs.

“You don’t love me!” Sara wailed, as the tip of the knife swam in front of his chest.

“I do love you, but this isn’t you.” he said, with both hands up in surrender. She had that gleam in her eye, the kind that she got when she blamed him for the scars that she had cut. “I don’t know why I let you do this to me.” she would muse absently as she traced her index finger down the long red lines, and he would make himself twenty minutes late for work, explaining that she had made the cuts herself, and she never believed him. This time, her pills were dissolving in the steel kitchen sink, and all his soothing hadn’t been enough. She bared her teeth and made a wild noise like the engine of his car, a rumble of impatient rage, and she lunged at him, taking a slice out of his shoulder, and sending him to the floor. There was a tiny squeak down the hall, as a bedroom door opened about an inch and a half to show the edge of a tiny face. Sara brandished the knife like a fencer, and saw the one scared eye looking back at her. Simone was watching the blood running down the sleeve of her father’s white work shirt. Summoning more courage than sense, she ran out of the bedroom and crouched next to him, putting her tiny worried face less than an inch from his nose. Cecil tried to push her back down the hallway, but Sara grabbed Simone by the back of her shirt and…

He winced, as he remembered the feeling of hot blood coating his shoes and slacks, the horror of seeing the still-writhing guts spill out of your own child. The police would never believe it had been self defense, the best he could hope for was criminally insane. The blood had dripped on his floor mat and stained his cushion seat. An hour down the highway, the smell had grown so strong that he became nauseated.  He pulled over and changed into his suit, minus the socks and tie, and stuffed the bloody rags in a two inch gap between a rusting overpass and the cement walls that held it up. He used a stick to push the bundle further in, so that someone would need to shine a flashlight straight on it in order to see it. He laid a woolen emergency blanket across the stain on his seat. As an afterthought, he grabbed the knife, which was covered in red from the end of the handle to the tip of the blade, and pitched it into the gap too.

      Addie was asleep when he got back in the car, and that was good. He tuned into a jazz station and turned the radio down low so he wouldn’t wake the baby. He drove north on the 104, stayed on it all night. He wasn’t sure exactly where he was going, but it felt good to put the miles behind him.


Julian Manthorne is a 24-year-old writer from Nova Scotia, Canada. He has been writing most of his life and works hard every day to continue to develop his writing skills. “Laying Blame” is his first published story.

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