This is a longer version of a story that was in that fine organ The High Horse
My grandparents had an old-fashioned sort of toilet. It sat in a room all alone, no sink, no tub, no drapery, not even elemental nods towards distraction. Your purpose there was clear. For some reason the room was always was achingly cold, even in the summertime. There was nothing interesting in there. Nothing at all. Just the bare walls and the toilet equipment and a small window containing the kind of glass you couldn’t see out of. The windowsill empty, except an air-freshener. Not an aerosol, but the block variety, a block held inside a plastic honeycomb. But the room’s smell didn’t reflect the air-freshener. It held another scent which I can’t readily describe but I think of even now. There was a moisture mixed with dust that left evidence on your fingertips and which you took away as you left.
So you would sit there in the cold, with no distractions except the air-freshener which you could piece apart and possibly marvel at the jelly-like block housed inside bearing a constitution with no equivalent. And you would wait.
The worst thing about the room was the chain. It was an old-fashioned toilet, as stated, with a cistern held high in the air by a long pipe. And rather than a handle there was a chain. A long chain about the length of a snake, with meshed together jigs of metal. The edges of the jigs were poorly rendered and felt razor sharp. There should have been a base to it, something substantial you could hang onto when pulling, something to take the chain out of the equation. But there was no base. And no story about the lack of a base. Just the chain. The coldness of the room conducted to the metal, which made the chain more dangerous, so no matter how well or how poorly your visit to the toilet had gone (and, like most things, there was always a certain amount of disappointment connected to the venture), the final daunting prospect was that icy, painful chain. Dragging across your fingers like a blunt saw and hurting them. A chilly sort of pain, the worst sort of pain. A numbness coated with a sharp kick. No blood drawn, nothing to elicit sympathy or foster an amusing anecdote. Just a welt.
So, that’s why I killed my grandparents.
And then there was Planter. He was one of those guys that would walk outside and be absolutely AMAZED to find himself there. I would drink with him sometimes and at the end of the evening we would walk out of the bar together. As soon as he was the other side of the door, his head would spin around him, he’d start to point at random objects on the street and his mouth would gape open, displaying a threatening set of yellow teeth and an expression seemed to suggest that this was the last place on earth he expected to be. Anywhere but there. Drop him in a hot-tub full of gangly, Mexican ladyboys, all got up like Edgar Allen Poe, he probably would have adopted a serene, impartial air. But the regular outside just made him giddy.
That’s why I killed Planter.
In the mid 1980’s, I became enamoured of two things greatly. The first was the popular drug meth-amphetamine, commonly known as crank, though in my town, for no reason I could ever fully discern, it was known as Herbie. My second passion in those days was the band Devo. I don’t believe that the two things were connected, though I have to admit there’s a certain degree of haziness associated with that decade.
I lived in a house with several Heavy Metal guys (those I did not kill, don’t worry). Against type, they were pleasant housemates who liked to cook and always played their music at a reasonable volume. I could not interest them in the virtues of Devo however. In fact, I felt that they considered Devo as their enemy. It hurt but it was their choice.
I used to buy my Herbie from a guy named Charlie in a part of town known as the heights. I think it bestowed this nickname on itself to add a little colour to what was a shabby and quite low-lying neighbourhood. The general cabal that bought, sold or were affiliated with the drug scene referred to me as ‘the Devo guy’. But my familiarity with Charlie did away with such generalisations and I was known to him simply as ‘Devo’. For a drug dealer, he was always very cheerful,
“Hey, Devo,” he’d say, as he saw me approach in my yellow Devo suit, which, though industrial in design, was quite fragile after a certain amount of wear. I’d smile back and hand over the money and he’d give me the Herbie.
Then one day I went to the Heights and Charlie was gone. And none of the other guys, the ones that called me ‘the Devo guy’ knew where he was. So, I didn’t take Herbie anymore. Then the Heavy Metal guys moved away. I didn’t know they were in a band.
Shortly afterwards I killed Devo. This was something I would later regret.
I got thrown out of the hospital. I was sick. I couldn’t understand it. I think I had a perfect right to be upset. So, I went over to the other hospital. Same thing happened there. So, I killed both hospitals.
The train I used to take down there, to the hospital not to the Heights, I would walk to the Heights unless the weather was poor in which case I’d take the bus, the train I used to get to the hospital before I was ejected, was always seven minutes late. It should have been the 8.32, but every day it rolled up at 8.37. Calm as you like, with no obvious explanation. They even gave up making announcements about it, as if we were all expected to accept this state of affairs without question. No immediate symptoms for its delay. No singeing on the side of the train. No seats soaked in blood or ashen-faced passengers, their eyes mutually gripped by one particular spot, now vacant with a child’s toy abandoned under the seat. There was a smugness to it. I’d try to catch the eye of the driver as the train would pass, but his face was always moving too fast.
And the thing was, you could never alter your routine accordingly. The train would be tardy by that degree without question, but I knew if I set out just a little later, I would be greeted by the butt of the train dwindling in the distance as I stood on the platform, deflated. Early for once or just on time and happy. Either way I wouldn’t run, I won’t run for anything, it’s one of the standards I set.
Colin Murray, from my school, small kid, always had the same stuff to eat, every day. Every day I’d see him on the same spot on the wall, in all weathers, eating exactly the same thing, of the exact same size and texture.
I killed him with cancer.
There was a lady on the bus, (not the bus to the Heights, there’s more than one bus) reading the Bible, but with her bag on the seat next to her. All spread out, a protective hand dropped across it as if to say, ‘Yeah, don’t touch my bag but don’t try to sit here either’. A seat for her bag, a damn seat for her bag. So to try and sit there would provoke either pointless conversation with half your ass hanging off the seat, or no seat at all. And she was reading the Bible. Hypocrisy!
And so another one fell.
Guess my biggest one was Booboo. She took exception to many of the things I did and chose to comment on them, but I held my tongue and soldiered on. It wasn’t the personal stuff, that I’m ok with, I realise I’m not that easy to live with.
“I can’t understand why you roll your socks up when you put them in the laundry corner? I’m forever finding myself unraveling your socks.”
That was fine. I was guilty.
“Just straighten out the cushions before you get on the couch. They’re getting all bent at the edges. Just skooch them back before you sit.”
Like water off a duck’s back, no problem.
“There seems to be a pool of something forming by your side of the bed. I’m scared to go over there.”
I didn’t bat any eyelid. But the clock was ticking for Booboo. It was like one of those bombs you set and then forget about (I appreciate you don’t live the life I do – bear with me), or if you get up early by mistake, then the alarm goes off, sounding like the loudest thing you’ve ever heard. That was the tension amongst us. You see, I had a hutch. And in the hutch I held all the words that Booboo got wrong. And she was always getting words wrong. And while there was room in the hutch everything was fine. But the hutch was slowly filling and I knew one day it would burst and the inevitable would happen. (The hutch was in my mind). I’m not a snob. There’s plenty I don’t know or understand, but its laziness I can’t abide.
There was indigestion (in-gee-gestion, she would say). And also certificate (pronounced sus-tificate). She also said ‘jet-leg’ instead of jet-lag and ‘alky-hol’ in the style of a grizzled prospector. ‘Premination’ was another favourite (I still do not know what this is) and she could never remember which were the odd numbers and which were the even. She wasn’t dumb, she had a Masters in Civil Engineering and tutored ghetto kids in French. She was just very lax when it came to vocabulary (I won’t even mention her grammar, she once left me a note on the kitchen table which would have made a pedant weep). And I could feel the hutch swelling, filling with these inaccuracies, many, many more than the one’s listed here, I’m not a monster. And the dam burst. The one that did it? ‘Satisfact’ I’ll use it in a sentence. ‘He’d like me to return all those light bulbs, but I wouldn’t give him the satisfact.”
And the hutch was full. To continue would have required building a new hutch. I was tired and so Booboo was gone.
I’m in this cell now. Been here a while. Seen some changes, to me and the others and the general environment. The light changing outside the window as new buildings are built and the kids shouting louder on the street. I don’t have any regrets. More the slow, crushing palm of inevitability which peppers my whole life and has dragged me to this point and left me here. Maybe it was the wonder of the world that drove me to all these killings, I don’t know, I never question my motives. Things ain’t so bad though. I just got cable.