Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
I had never done anything like this before. Not even close. I had my troubles as a younger man but that was a long time ago. Some, if not most of those troubles were certainly against the law but this was not like that. This was something different. Something I’d never felt before. Something new. While not exactly a happy day, I welcomed the change; Although, “change” falls painfully short of doing the situation any real justice. I think “destroy” sums it up a little better; because that is exactly what I’ve done: destroyed. Destroyed everything.
And yet, all it really took was a quick message to my brain to make my right hand lash out 12 inches and change everything. 20 years of marriage, 20 years of work, 20 years of cold hard time: all voided like a bad check with one motion. Two if you count my fingers closing around the knife. And with those simple movements, I didn’t just stab that fucking weasel, Devon; I stabbed my wife, my career, my parents, my children, even my next-door neighbor who depends on me to keep his lawn and garden in order ever since his elderly body stopped letting him do it himself. I may have even stabbed myself. But it didn’t feel that way; At least not just then. In that moment, it felt to me as if the only thing I had destroyed was the cage I had been in for years. Years enough to forget there was a cage at all.
I know the worst is surely yet to come, but not yet. For now, everything is okay.
For me, anyway.
I was happy. I had a wife that outdid me heavily in the looks department, children that knew without the slightest doubt that I was, in fact, an actual superhero. I was the only adult of the whole network of parents that could keep up with the kids when they got fully up to speed. And that was something I didn’t mind a bit. Running around with kids ranging from age 4 to 8 is plenty exhausting, but pales heavily in comparison to the sickening bouts of small talk I would endure with the adults. For the people that had to put on a mask every morning for work, the weekend felt the best without ever mentioning the weather or sports or the evils of immigration, etc… Not a single man, woman or child is pleasant and concerned about their neighbor all the time; and spending the day getting shit on by emotionally distraught clients and passive aggressive coworkers is plenty for yours truly to be just about done running the race for any given day. Children never talked about the weather unless it was ruining their outdoor fun at that very second and even then, without parental interference, they would keep playing like the sun was high in the sky and singing John Lennon lyrics.
Getting roped into the occasional “casual” conversation means finding, extracting, dusting off and putting on my mask in the few seconds it takes for someone to meet my eye and make their inevitable approach. Unless, of course, I have an appointment, time to prepare my pleasant ruse of humanity; that’s when I drive the point home. The point being: I am just a normal person with normal person problems.
I’ve always spent a large percentage of my time trying to remain invisible via rigid conformity and the path of the absolute least resistance. That means vague opinions and agreements, properly placed head nods and disbelieving guffaws when any given good buddie’s story happens to have a surprise ending or particularly heinous injustice like getting caught in traffic or held up on the runway before a flight to Cabo. I can understand where anyone is coming from and offer (simulated) empathy for their misfortune or justification for their wrong-doings. As long as each smile or pat on the back brings the exit door a few inches closer, I can be (seem) very charming.
Devon Fucking Ambrose: the shit headed and charming catalyst for my tale of vengeance and growth. Even now, as I drive aimlessly, contemplating my next move, I can smell his blood drying on my shirt and it pulls me out of my satisfied euphoria, reminding me of the daunting choice ahead of me: deciding whether to drive my car off the nearest bridge or dawning my old mask and trying to make things right, however the fuck one does that in a situation like this.
Oh Devon, how he will be missed. The employee of the month wall will be lonely for a while, sure. But sooner or later, it will find another host and our dear departed Devon will live on through the modest memorial plaque that will no doubt hang on the gray walls of the life insurance firm that employed Devon and myself, providing a nice dose of irony for all who pass by. If I am truly being honest with myself, and in humble Devon’s defense, the poor bastard was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like some unlucky pedestrian that happened to be incinerated by a time bomb for no other reason than it being placed outside the door of their favorite coffee shop. He was a true blue, passive aggressive, prick, don’t get me wrong. But that doesn’t make him much different than most coworkers in such a humanitarian line of work, certainly not enough so that he deserved to be the sole casualty in my mental explosion. Thinking back to those few hours ago, it’s now crystal clear to me that it could just as easily have been Margie in reception or Jim from HR. Devon just happened to be the one that made an “innocent” comment about my showing up to the breakroom at 8:04AM instead of at the scheduled time of 8AM sharp. And he happened to make that fateful comment the very moment I brandished the butter knife that I planned to use to butter some toast as a late breakfast. It seemed whoever was working the controls in my head this morning decided that plan needed changing once Devon opened his coffee tainted mouth and instead planted the dull little knife in his eye socket.
It was when I pulled the knife out, splattering myself in the ichor of his popped eyeball and what was probably bloody bits of gray brain matter (I’m no expert), that a scream rang out from the doorway of the break room, instinctively causing me to drop the knife onto the table behind me in the breakroom. Cindy, a fellow insurance agent who just happened to have lunch with our newly, dearly departed on most days and occupied the cubicle directly next to his was passing the break room at the same moment his leaking body collapsed to the floor. She looked at me, my face splattered with gore and trying to think of something to say to justify the grizzly scene. I could see in her eyes that she either didn’t recognize me after 10 years of working together; Either that, or she couldn’t quite accept what she was seeing: the most pleasant and content of her coworkers standing over the twitching, laid out body of someone she was quite fond of. Before recognition twinkled in her eyes, some primal part of her instinctively made her pick up the bloodied knife from the table where it fell before starting into the room to offer aid to her fallen friend.
I put my hands out in front of me in a universal sign of surrender and started to reason with her. I stammered out something that boiled down to “Cin, this isn’t what it looks like” but luckily for both of us, she appeared to have changed her mind after she got a closer look at how dead her lunch buddy really was, and ran out of the room. I thought about chasing her down, convincing her to keep quiet, but quickly decided it wouldn’t make a bit of difference and ran to my car as fast as my legs would take me.
So here I am: driving around town and waving at passersby, smiling and going back and forth in my mind between terror and relief like a schizo with nothing more than a tenuios grasp on reality. I haven’t fully taken suicide by fatal car accident off the table, but I don’t think that’s where this train is headed. After giving it some very scattered, almost incoherent thought, a new option has presented itself to me: I could go to the nearest gun shop, buy the highest powered firearm they have on the shelf before the manhunt in my honor begins, ride the momentum I have stored up after this first gig and take this show on the road. It is an appealing option. And then my mind succumbs to the topsy turvy circus tent that is my brain and starts pondering on the lack of remorse I feel for slaying young Devon; For taking every single day that would have made up the long remaining years of his life and snuffing it out like a match that has outburned its usefulness. For now, I contribute it to the shock of having murdered someone for the first time, slightly expecting, and slighter still hoping that a wave of guilt will wash over me. But I’m not quite sure that wave is going to break. Not for me anyways. Even thinking of this murder as my “first time” suggests to me that on some level, somewhere deep down in the place that hides trauma and life ruining memories, I plan on doing it again.
A convoy of emergency vehicles speeds past me in the opposite lane, giving me a jolt of solid, tangible reality to bring my mind back to my body. This is happening. This is real. And if I don’t make a choice now, one’s going to be made for me. Sirens have such a gift for making people shit their pants with fresh, visceral fear, don’t they? Or is that just specific to people who still have someone else’s blood drying on their clothes? I guess now probably isn’t the time for curiosity.
My cell phone’s ringtone suddenly cuts through my focus before my mind could go off on a full blown deflection mission and I snap out of my daze, grabbing it instantly. I look down to the screen as I drive – what can I say I’m feeling dangerous today – and see that it’s Ronnie, my (and Devon’s) supervisor on the call floor. It’s clear that this relaxing drive through town has been made up of a series of procrastinations, keeping me from making the choices that might very well have a direct influence on whether or not I’ll be ending this beautiful morning behind bars or worse. What can I say, it’s been a doozy of a morning. But now it’s time to make a choice. I answer the phone.
“Hello” I say with as little emotion as I could muster.
“Jonah, I don’t know if you’re running late or sick or what have you but it’s not like you to miss work without a call or even so little as a text.”
The confusion that wrapped me up like a hungry boa constrictor after hearing the start of the phone call may as well be sewing my lips together so, naturally, I stay silent.
“But if you were planning on coming in; Don’t. I’m sorry to have to tell you this over the phone but there’s been quite a tragedy here.” His voice wavers and catches in his throat with an audible click. “It’s a real nightmare, man.”
With some microscopic piece of realization forming, I manage to say in as believable a voice as possible, “Oh no, Ronnie. What happened?”
“It’s Devon, Jonah. He’s dead. And… And so is Cindy”
A rose of warmth and relief blooms in my stomach and I feel as though another piece of the puzzle has fallen into place. It gives me a burst of confidence that seems to make my mask of humanity flare back up and I say, “Oh, Jesus. Oh my God, Ronnie, no. What happened?” I even managed to get my voice to break a little and added a little moisture to the words as if my sinuses had filled up with the urge to weep for my fallen friends.
In the voice of a man that has already worked an 8 hour shift in the first 60 minutes of the day, he says “The police have only just started to investigate but they’re saying it looks like Cindy killed Devon and immediately ran out of the building, distraught over what she’d done. She sure must have been because she ran right out into the parking lot and into the path of the number 16 bus that runs through the city. They found a butter knife in her pocket that police say was most likely what killed Devon.”
Tingling with excitement now, I pull the car off the street and park in a patch of grass near the road, hazard lights flashing for safety. “How is that possible, Ronnie? They were best friends. Hell, we all thought they were more than just friends, didn’t we?” I say, further cementing in his mind my shock and surprise at this ghastly tragedy.
“The police are saying that most likely had something to do with it. Maybe there had been some trouble in paradise and things had gotten out of hand. A crime of passion, they’re saying.”
And it certainly was.
“I don’t know, Jonah. It’s just after 9am and I’m already exhausted. Anyways, we’re closed up for the day on a count of the entire police force stomping through the building.” Then he adds as an afterthought, “And out of respect I suppose.”
“Of course, boss. You hang in there. I’m really sorry you had to go through all that” I say, which absolutely sounds like a bit much even to me but adrenaline is seeping into my words so I hang up the phone before he has a chance to offer me the same empty condolence that I gave him. I’m almost ashamed to admit this last part, but my first thought upon hanging up the phone was one of relief at the fact that, not only would I most likely end the day as a man both free and breathing, I’d also get paid for it.
As far as first impressions go, I must say this one wasn’t so bad. With my wife never even finding out, my work washing their smug hands of it, and the police pinning the crime on a woman that did me an enormous favor by panicking her way into becoming a speedbump, it turns out dearly departed Devon was the only person I “killed” so to speak. Well, one could certainly argue that I might be to blame for Cindy’s death as well. If one knew, that is. I’ve never been anything resembling a religious man, but if there is some force out in the universe, policing human morality, balancing the cosmic scales with green checks for good deeds and scary red Xs for the bad ones, saving the damsel in distress at the very second before a train cuts her in three, they sure didn’t try too hard to stop me.
I wonder who will be the employee of the month now…
Credit: Anthony Michael Malec
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