Friday, December 31, 2010
Jeff Somers Short Story
We all stared at the gun, leaking smoke, wondering who'd fired it, drumming up all this damned noise. Even though we could see it in his hand no one dared look at his face; then we'd know. Guessing was better and didn't we have bigger things to worry about: The smoke and the blood and the old man cold and immobile before us? The sinking lights around and the haggard rough-edged sound of our breathing spun away, the echoes elastic. It started to seem like we were waiting for him to get up and dance, grinning red and wet at us. I sighed smoke.
He didn't twitch, much less dance, but Eddie did. He jittered back, one hand stapled to his mouth, and skated into the shimmering china closet. His eyes pulled away from his face, trying to break free. The crystal unicorns and stained coffee mugs holding him up clinked hazardously, but nothing broke. Ted slummed over and pulled Eddie up, favoring him with silent, roundhouse slaps and snarling, wordless abuse. I left the job to him and listened to the crackle of dust in the air.
I put a hand on Will's shoulder, stopping him from his careful retreat, and gestured. He grimaced at me with his yellow teeth and tried to explain but I shoved him forward and he shut up.
We each grasped a frilly arm or a slack leg, pulling the old man taut between us. Someone asked me if I wanted that rare and I barked an answer, feeling sweat pop out on my brow as we lifted him and started to shuffle for the door, staggered and clumsy. Steadied, we made our way to the back, our breath in each other's faces, red skin sheened shiny and wet from the rain outside. They all had their mouths open; they suddenly all looked like strangled pigs to me and I couldn't help but smile. That pissed Ted off, so I swallowed it and stopped looking at him.
At the back door we heaved the old man out into the pour, following reluctantly with shovels in hand. We dug half-heartedly and conversation dried up, replaced by the clink clink of shovels, and slowly we were surrounded by dark mounds. Deep enough, we pulled the old man in with us; he landed in a jumble and I got mad. Take a fucking care, I snarled, wiping muddy sweat from my face with a worn, calloused hand. He was a fucking corpse and with his watery skin and butcher-paper eyes our good will was all he had left.
After, we sat by the grave and smoked dried-out cigarettes to clear our lungs. The mist started to roll in on its dusty sock feet, making us nervous. Ted got all superstitious about death and it got us all a little creeped out, his slow pleading waver fading into the ground to set root until next time. With chummy slaps on the back we pushed ourselves back into our jackets and ties and headed back to the dim silent house and the gummy blood on the floor.
We could hear Rachel upstairs testing her hangover and I offered my new fellows a drink of whatever she had left behind her. I pulled off my jacket and draped it neatly on one of the chairs, heading up with my hands in my pockets to show no harm intended. My new fellows were all making noise and it was better that way, I suppose; the thick sounds filling the rooms and rising, buoying me up on hot air and soundproofing. It was healthy to have a ruckus behind me.
As I rose her perfume filled the cracks between the noise and I could feel her light steps as they trembled on the floor.
Despite the low warning moans from below, she seemed surprised to see me.
Whirling in a small confusion of skirts she pointed a cigarette at me and smiled; we'd done this all before, in different ways. Her lips were smoky and so was her hair, and as she nuzzled my ear she whispered slow, slow over and over. I always tried to be, but it didn't always work. I tried to tell her what had happened but she kept covering my mouth with hers, my arms with hers, my legs.
We woke up early, all of us, and cooked up great slabs of bacon in the blood-streaked kitchen. We were dried-out and edgy, in loosened, stale clothes and caky faces which cracked in the light. I had her perfume all over me and it made me thickly ill.
Eddie and Ted argued over the money, spitting crumbs at each other and sipping coffee. Rachel watched them tight-lipped and sharp-eyed. It was impolite, wasn't something you argued about. I had left bloody streaks on her pale skin and bruises on her smooth legs and they made her look demonic with her sudden cat eyes.
We all got ready to leave; it wasn't our house, after all.
It took a while to gather everything together, we had scattered ourselves and forgotten most of it. Rachel showered as we searched and came down wet and sweet and rubbed pink by towels. Suddenly, she was too clean for the place, too clean for us. We sat around her with unshaven cheeks and yellowed teeth, dirt and blood on our clothes and hands, pushing through wire-stiff hair. She stayed away from us, now that she was sober. She looked at me like I'd left a film on her, a sneering look. I didn't mind. She'd be drunk again that night and we'd be friends again.
As we left, a guffawing group of new friends, she stood in the doorway and smiled brutally after us. I turned just in time to see her close the door, and briefly wondered if I'd killed the right one of them.