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Fiction

Shoes

I saw him on a Sunday afternoon, a cold, cloudy day. I remember the way he looked at his Keds, his eyes bore into the white toe, like he wished his entire body could fit under the laces. He didn’t know who I was; if it were not for the steady click of my heels on the sidewalk he would have never known I existed.

    “I like it when ladies heels click.” That’s all he said, staring into his shoes. I wanted to talk to him, but his wire-rimmed glasses and misshapen haircut said enough. I wondered if his dad had a job, or if his mom was taught by her mom how to do laundry, if she did laundry at all. I knew he could feel me looking at him, and he glanced up with uncertainty. Although he spoke first, I couldn’t speak. My words were much too heavy, and would bend his tiny frame. I tried to squint my words out of my eyes. Every bit of “I’m here for you, I’ll listen, I won’t give up on you, it doesn’t matter how many times you miss the mark” rushed from whispers in my head to warm sadness streaming down my face. His tears meant different things. His tears let the world know he didn’t fit in, his tears told the world he was hungry, and his tears washed his face more often than soap.

    He was not a handsome boy, not the kind you see on the front pages of magazines or newspapers, or even on a Salvation Army poster. The view I had of him and his torn cardigan left holes in his story. The curb on Logan Avenue held him tightly. And my heels clicked by.

    I was a stomach that never knew hunger, a body that never had to stuff newspaper next to my skin to stay warm in the winter. I was inadequate to relate to him, not qualified because of the gravy I poured over my mashed potatoes, unworthy because of the breakfast I just didn’t have time to grab, and filthy because I preferred cappuccino to coffee. I was taught you can’t fix other people’s problems. But he liked when ladies heels clicked.

Every night I tried to sweep my office duties from my mind before sleeping five hours and waking up exhausted, those were getting easier to push aside, but the face of the Logan Avenue boy never left me. He had to be seven or eight but small for his age. His hunched shoulders spoke of a burden too old for him to carry, and his downcast eyes, they were so hurting, and alone. Five hours dwindled to four; my mind found it impossible to tell my heart to let him go. Even when new proposals and meetings held my attention more than even my family, I still drove out of the way every night to see if I could find him again. I never did.

Months passed with busy life and I almost forgot about the boy. While dropping of the office’s lost and found to the local thrift store, I noticed a pair of Keds, and his tear-washed face rushed back to my remembrance. I regretted not talking to him, and my guilt weighed heavily upon me. The same sadness that I felt when I fist saw him overtook me, and I rushed out of the store. Peering through wet blurs I found my way to the curb where he sat that cold day. It was a deserted place, cold, bare, unfeeling. His front yard. In my haste to make up for all I didn’t say, all I didn’t do, I reached down slipped off my stilettos. Like a sacrifice I placed then solemnly in the spot where I saw him crumpled against the city, the spot from where I heard “I like it when ladies heels click.”


Chad came home during his lunch hour from another grueling day at Chad Reagan Excavating Company.  He pulled into his driveway in his white F-350, which was camouflaged in the brown dirt from his long days of work.  With his foot on the brake, he stopped just at the edge of his drive to admire his home.  It was a marvelous house, the house of Karen’s dreams.Anything she wanted for that house she got.  She was so happy planning and decorating their new home that he couldn’t bear to tell her no.  It mimicked homes found in magazines.  Brick trimmed in white, the house had everything:  it sat on a five acre lot, with a three car garage, a full, finished basement, and a pond, everything a family would need or want to grow and be happy in life.

He leaned over to open his glove compartment in search of an aid for the day’s tensions.  Crown Royal whiskey, half full.  A calloused hand with embedded dirt beneath each nail unscrewed the gold cap to retrieve its stress-relieving goodness.  Chad was impressed with the whiskey’s ability to just get him through the day, but as of recently it just didn’t take the edge off.  Perhaps the whiskey was over worked, just as he was.

  Biting his lower lip, he continued along the drive to his home.  Chad’s head lightly smacked against his headrest after he put his truck in park in front of the garage.  A much needed sigh escaped him as he made his exit from the F-350 to his front door, placing his whiskey in the pocket of his hunter green Carhart along the way.  Fumbling through his key ring, he thought of his family, his wife and two beautiful daughters.  He remembered the day he took his family to see the place which they now called home.  He recalled the happiness and excitement in the six blue eyes that gazed at him when put the key in the front door.  He loved those six eyes more than anything, more than his own life.  Another sigh.  He opened the door.

Chad’s steel toe boots grew heavier with each step he made up the stairs.  Reaching the second story he passed Marcy’s room, a Bratz emporium that was sure to make a WalMart toy aisle envious.  Next, he came upon Margo’s room with walls cemented in Justin Timberlake memorabilia and displays of her school spirit.  Every night Chad used to enter each girl’s room and discuss the happenings of the first grade, or the high school “low-down” of who was dating who.  He used to be so close to his girls, but, as of late, other issues of his business preoccupied all of his time.

Tensions grew as he entered his own room.  His and Karen’s bedroom.  He walked solemnly up to the king-size bed; a yellow comforter with a floral print suffocated the mattress.  The mattress where he and Karen had spent many a night in one another’s arms making love.  He did everything within his power to make her happy; he’d buy her anything and everything.  Pulling the Crown from his pocket, he took another swig.

Dragging his feet, Chad made his way over to the walk-in closet in the corner of the bedroom: a closet so big that it could’ve been a bedroom.  Inside he found the navy blue Tommy Hilfiger luggage he had purchased at Macy’s.  Karen wanted them; she always said, “You never know when you might need things like that.”  He opened the bags and began emptying his rungs in the closet and rummaging among the shelves and cupboards for his belongs.  Chad didn’t want to leave anything behind, not even a sock.  He wanted nothing of his left in that house, unless it was something his family would maybe need.  He emptied his cherry oak nightstand, and then walked into the master bathroom.

The mirror over the sink caught the reflection of a worn man.  A man whose age was quickly gaining on him.Crow’s feet clawed their way down a leather tanned face from beneath a John Deere cap.  A baby face once smooth and silky was now stubbled with brown and gray whiskers.  Chad had been so busy hiding on the inside; he didn’t even recognize his own exterior.  When did I get old? he thought to himself, opening the mirror to retrieve his toiletries.

Exiting the bathroom, Chad again came to his bed; he leaned over Karen’s spot to take her in, just one last time. His favorite place in the world to be was in this very bed at night, spooning up to Karen, with Marcy and Margo asleep in their beds.  He’d kiss Karen’s neck and then lay his head next to her.  Her hair would brush softly against him, tickling his face, but he’d never sweep it away.  It smelled amazing, like a forbidden fruit.He’d never forget that smell.  Alone on his bed, the whiskey again made its way to Chad’s lips.

It took a good two trips up and down the steps before Chad found himself in his family room, encircled by his luggage and miscellaneous possessions.  His eyes slowly made their way around the room, taking it all in, recalling all the great times he had shared in that very room with his family.  He used to be such a “happy-go-lucky” kind of man; he’d do anything to make anyone smile, especially his wife and daughters.  Chad had been raised to be a kind man, a country man, a man who never met a stranger, a hard working man who always put his family first.  He used to be that man.  In his moment of bleakness, he was glad to be going while his family would still remember him as that man.

Tears stung his eyes.  He couldn’t help but be a little angry and bitter, but he knew he only had himself to blame for his misfortunes which had forced him to this decision.Whiskey passed his chapped, dry lips again, burning his throat; he gulped until there was nothing left of his bronzed aid.Somewhat dismayed with what he was about to do, Chad took his time delivering his belongings to the bed of his truck.  He wanted to soak up what memories he could.  Before taking one last glance around, Chad walked across the red Spanish tile of the kitchen to his secret stash he had created in the recent months.  In a high cupboard above the refrigerator was one last bottle of Crown he hid from his family.  He knew he’d need it today; he’d need it to walk out the front door.

Heading to the front door he tried to make it hasty.For one brief moment he contemplated turning around, but that would be like pouring raindrops back into the clouds.  He took another step; he knew this was his way out.  Reluctantly, Chad continued out to his truck.  His heavy heart made it a bit more challenging to climb back in, but he did, and with a slam of the door he headed back to his newly finished barn where he kept all of his equipment, somewhat a ways behind his house.

A short drive brought him to his intended destination.  He poured himself out of his truck and walked slowly up to the double sliding doors.  His boots crunched the recently stoned drive as he slid open one of the heavy off-white doors.  He proceeded to pull his truck in, glimpsing at the clock: 1:56.  I’ll hide the truck in here.  If Karen and the girls come home early, they won’t know I’m home.

A little green light glowed brightly in his shirt pocket from his vibrating cell phone.He pulled the phone from his pocket only for the Caller ID to reveal that it was the ever persistent Dee from Chase Bank.  He ignored the call. Again.

 The autumn wind whistled sharply through the barn as he again exited his pick-up, leaving his luggage in the bed, and he again walked to the sliding double doors, but this time he closed the one he’d opened.  In the solitude of his barn, Chad took a deep breath in.   The smell of the barn’s fresh wood annoyed him with regret.  He retrieved his new bottle of Crown, his passenger in his short drive.  Peeling back the safety seal, he laughed a little: A safety seal on alcohol?  He just thought it was kind of odd, but none the less, Chad raised his whiskey to his lips again.  The back corner of the barn was a small office for his excavating business.  In the beginning of his drunken state he made his way back to his office.

Reaching his office, Chad plopped into his black leather chair, dust unsettling from his disruption.  Taking another swig of the Crown, Chad noticed the arms of his chair were turning grey from the useless amount of hours he spent hunched over his desk.  He reached down to the bottom drawer, way in the back, secure from Karen’s eyes, were bills and invoices.Nearly by the masses.  In hopes of finding an alterative, Chad began to do some figuring.  His worn, blue calculator mocked his efforts.

 He used to like numbers; he used to be able to count on them.  Chad no longer had that security.  Now there was never enough money to add up, there was never enough to divide among the collection agencies.  The mortgage was $360,000; a mere monthly payment of $2,000.  His own (now cursed) F-350 and Karen’s black Explorer created a combined payment of $1,050 plus gas and insurance.  The cell phones ran about $150.00 a month; credit cards were about $900 and climbing. Chad figured other monthly expenses to be roughly around $700 but that wouldn’t include recreational things at all, not to mention his business expenses.  His invoices tormented him as he tried to total the monthly cost of his business, but he couldn’t.  The numbers were just too large.  

The weight of his debt was gaining on him.  It was all he thought about; it kept him up at night and disrupted his day.  Hiding his debt from Karen was becoming increasingly more difficult.  Chad’s secrets were taking a destructive toll on his marriage.  It was becoming harder to speak to her.  Now it was difficult to even look Karen straight in the eye.  He was too ashamed.  She deserved better, so much more than Chad could give her or their daughters.  They needed a man who could provide for them and buy them the things they needed and wanted.  They deserved to have all of their desires fulfilled.

Chad had everything, but owned nothing.  It all belonged to Chase.  His truck, the barn that hid his debts, the new car Karen drove, the home that housed his family.None of it was actually his.  And there were all the credit cards too.  But worst was all of his equipment.  The backhoes, the loaders, the trucks, the pans, even his few employees, everything.  All of the items that were supposed to make him money and bring him and his family happiness were going to cost him everything.  Another glance at his debts and finances offered him no solution.  With a quick brush of his lean, farmer-tanned arm, papers flew everywhere, then fell to the ground.  Just like he was falling.

Soon the bank would begin repossessions and foreclosures on everything he considered his, because he had the worse kind of “shopper’s remorse.”  He couldn’t pay his creditors and he could never return any of the things he bought because none of those things were his.Most were items purchased for Karen and the girls (he could never tell them no).   He could see Karen’s belongings being torn from her grasp, tears and shock in her eyes while everything else was pulled out from under her.  Karen and his two daughters would be forced to sacrifice the luxuries they had grown accustomed to.  They’d be so embarrassed and none of his girls even had a clue.  Everyone would be so disappointed in him. What kind of man cannot provide for his family?  How will they live?  What will they think? Will Karen want a divorce?  Can she forgive me?  Why should she?  I’ve let everyone down!  What will people say when they read the paper?

He removed his favorite hat from atop his aching head, a khaki John Deere hat stained with dirt and sweat.  The John Deere dealership gave it to him when he purchased his equipment.Angry with this memory, Chad violently threw his hat into the far corner of the barn, causing a cloud of dust and startling a cat.  Frustrated with himself, with his life, he took two handfuls of his lush, brown hair and pulled, letting out an angry scream.  The sting of pulling his hair gave him a small bit of relief but offered no solution.

Chad’s tensions were suffocating him.  It seemed as though there was no way out of his self-inflicted dilemma.  He again grabbed his whiskey and, with great desperation, gulped it down.  From the moment it reached the back of his throat, the Crown set his throat and chest on fire, but this only made him drink more furiously, until the bottle was empty.  The empty bottle only left Chad drowning in his problems.

He took a deep breath in… bawling.  He searched for an alternative.  He loved his family; he didn’t want to leave them.  But the last few months he had a recurring nightmare about his secrets.  Every time he’d lay his head down and drifted off to sleep, his secrets would escape him.  Like the word vomit, he would spill all of his secrets.  In each nightmare he’d have to face his family and stare their disappointments and shame directly in the eye.  Then every night he’d wake up in a cold sweat to be left alone with only his secrets and lies to keep him company.

If I leave now I’d be long gone before Karen ever found anything out.  I’d never have to face her and never see that look of disappointment in her eyes.  He argued with himself that maybe it was wrong of him to “stiff” Karen like he would be, but that was the only solution he could come up with.  Someday Karen (and the girls) would understand why he left.  In time they’d realize how much he loved them and maybe one day he’d see them again.

Sweat surged from his forehead, stinging his pale green eyes streaming down his face, dripping off of his chin, falling to his Carhart, passing his a logo of a Cat backhoe with ”C.R.C.E.” embroidered above it.  For a moment he was confused, sitting there momentarily with his back against the wall.  His heart and his head ached.  He could never face Karen again.

He grabbed hold of the desk and pulled himself up.Dizzy, Chad carelessly made his way over to the other side of the barn.  His idle hands became the devil’s play things.  He shoved his hand into the pocket of his jeans in search of his keys.  He fumbled through the key ring until he found the key to his 751 Bobcat.  

He crept over to his new machine quietly as if not to let the machine be aware of what he was about to do.  Chad crawled in and started it; the engine roared.  Pulling it forward to the open section of his barn, Chad raised the bucket as high as it would go, its inviting arms reaching towards the heavens above, and then curled it back.  With laborious breathing, he fixed the noose around his neck, the weight of the rope already suffocating him. He tightly tied the other end of his solution to the barrier on top of the cab.  He climbed slowly up the arms of the Bobcat to the bucket, his knees shook below him as he peered down at the ground.  It was close, but perhaps not close enough.If he actually did this his feet would have no chance of reaching the ground.  Even for the 6’ 2” man, it was too far down.  But that’s what he wanted; that’s what he and his family needed.  With one deep breath he stepped off of the bucket, his feet far from the ground.  

  The rope, wound with desperation and defeat, tightened around his problems, suffocating his marriage, asphyxiating his debt, smothering his children.   Happier times fought for air as his sorrows gasped one final time.Chad’s feet gave a final kick at life before delivering to a solemn standstill.  He swung gently.  Back and forth, to and fro.

 

Scene 1) Madeline sits on the rock hard, black leather couch and is looking across the small expanse of dark gray carpet between herself and Dr. Malikai, who is clearly disgruntled. She is drumming her fingernails on the stiff seat beside her, entertaining herself with the rapping noise it makes on the rough surface. There is a wall lined with windows; the sun is setting outside. There is a clock on the wall that is ticking characteristically.

 

Madeline [aside]: I thought the couches in crazydom were supposed to be comfy. Isn’t it like a rule or something? Keep the crazies comfy?

Dr. Malikai: Madeline, are you alright?

[Silence]

Dr. Malikai: Madeline?

Madeline [snapping out of thoughts]: Hmm? Yea, sorry. Is this couch new?  

Dr. Malikai [sighing heavily, puts his glasses back on to see her more clearly]: Yes, the couch is new. You seem on edge. Are you sure you’re okay?

Madeline: I’m always on edge. My mom says I’m… [loaded pause] tightly wound.

Dr. Malikai: Yes, she uh, she mentioned that. How tightly wound would you say you are? Just a vague idea to get the ball rolling.

Madeline [eyebrows rising]: Aren’t you supposed to decide that?

Dr. Malikai: Well I would like to know what you think.

Madeline: Hmm. Well, let me put it this way. I’m twenty years old and my toast popping up out of the toaster still freaks the shit out of me. Even when I’m expecting it. Pop! I just…I jump. [When Dr. Malikai doesn’t say anything, she continues, annoyed] I’m paranoid too. Famously so. I have a system, you see. When I’m in my room changing, since you can see into my windows from the ground outside…I go to great pains to make sure no one can see me…

[Dr. Malikai clears throat]

Madeline: [huffs out a long exasperated breath] Doc, I-…I really have no idea what you want me to say here.  Honestly, I really can’t even figure out why I need to be here. I’m seriously not crazy or anything. Sure, I have issues but let’s get real here.  I mean, who doesn’t?

Dr. Malikai: Madeline, we aren’t here because you’re crazy. We’re here because you mother feels that your issues are serious ones. She feels that when she talks to you, it goes nowhere. So here we are. Let’s talk.

Madeline: What makes you think that I need to talk to someone?

Dr. Malikai: What makes you think you don’t?

Madeline: Do you have issues?

Dr. Malikai: This isn’t about me.

Madeline: Well, come on now. I don’t divulge my personal problems to someone I know nothing about. C’mon, I wanna know what your issues are.

Dr. Malikai: Madeline, this isn’t why we’re here.

Madeline [Fuming]: You know what? This is bull crap, that’s what this is. I mean, I don’t get how you can sit there and act like you have no issues, and expect me to just spill all of mine. It’s patronizing and I’m not putting up with it. [aside] Who the heck does this guy think he is?

Dr. Malikai: Ms. Unrow, plea-

Madeline [still angry]: Ohhhohohoooo…first Madeline and now it’s Ms. Unrow. I see. I know what you’re doing. You’re trying to remind me, without actually reminding me, that this is a patient-doctor relationship and that we can’t be having any…cozy campfire chats and be buddy-buddy. Right? Am I right?

[Dr. Malikai eyes Madeline with an unreadable expression, clicking his pen pensively]

Madeline [with curiosity]: Are you married?

[Malikai holds up his left hand, showing her the gold band on his ring finger]

Madeline: Aha! To a female, I’m assuming?

Dr. Malikai [Fighting a smile]: Yes.

Madeline: Name?

Dr. Malikai: Jean.

Madeline: Oh, Jean. Pretty. Any kids?

Dr. Malikai [Clearly wearied by her incessant prodding]: Madeline, please. Your parents are paying for these sessions and I think that out of respect for them, [Pointedly] if nothing else, we should focus on our purpose.

Madeline [Looks smug] Oh, I see. Out of respect for them. That’s why we’re carrying on with this whole charade. How very empathetic you are of my condition. [aside] He has no idea who he’s dealing with.

Dr. Malikai [Wincing outwardly]: I said if nothing else.

Madeline [Looking pleased with herself]: But that doesn’t change anything. You still imply that even if I don’t cooperate, or if indeed I didn’t need your counsel, we would continue out of respect for people not involved. Sounds to me like you don’t take your job seriously.

[Pause]

Dr. Malikai [irritated, brushes a piece of lint off of his sleeve]: I take my job very seriously, Madeline, [said like a declaration] I think the problem here is that you don’t take me seriously.

Madeline: I take you seriously, don’t worry. But let me ask you a question. What are you doing here at 7ish on a weeknight, when your no doubt beautiful wife is at home waiting for you?

[Dr. Malikai shifts in his seat, suddenly nervous]

Madeline [deductively]: Is it that you take your job too seriously, maybe? Spend a little too much time at the office?

[Dr. Malikai narrows his eyes slightly and stands up, making Madeline jump. He moves to a table against the wall and pours himself a glass of water]

Madeline: So…I take it…she’s either not waiting for you, or she is, but you keep disappointing her. Right?

Dr. Malikai [recovering]: Again, Ms. Unrow, you are making this about me, when it’s not.

Madeline [sarcastically]: Um, I’m not making it about you, it is about you. Now, anyway.

[Madeline takes the opportunity to steal his seat. The seat. She feels important and looks quite comfortable. Dr. Malikai turns and Madeline looks at him expectantly, positive that he‘s about to admonish her. She is clearly surprised when he bursts out laughing.]

Dr. Malikai: So I see we’ve traded places.

Madeline [nods, then says ironically]: I’m majoring in psychology.

Dr. Malikai [between laughs]: Well, well, well…THAT explains a lot.

[Dr. Malikai walks over to the couch and lowers himself onto it, still holding his water glass]

Madeline [sociably]: So. George, is it?

Dr. Malikai [sipping]: Mm hmm…

Madeline [putting on her best impression of Dr. Malikai]: Well George, how goes it with the little lady?

[She clicks the ballpoint pen noisily]

Dr. Malikai [pressing down on couch with both hands on either side of his hips]: This couch is really uncomfortable.  

Madeline [smirking mischievously]: Don’t make this about the couch, George. So. I’m betting that your wife is waiting for you. I’ll bet that when you get home, you give her a little kiss on the cheek and then you go about your business [said while making nonchalant gesture of dismissal]. They say you should put twice as much heart into your personal life as you do in your professional life. I bet you don’t. Hence your bad attitude.

Dr. Malikai [looks affronted]: I’m exhausted when I get home. She knows that. It’s a non-issue.

Madeline: Yea. Excuses, excuses. My dad exhausts himself every day at work, and yet [holds up index finger in gesture of emphasis] he still finds a second wind when he gets home. He finds time to show mom that he loves her. [nods curtly]

[Dr. Malikai looks at the carpet with disdain]

Madeline [eyes Dr. Malikai‘s water glass covetously, then reaches over and takes it from his hand]:  Can I have a drink of this? [Takes gulp]

Dr. Malikai [looks shocked at her nerve]: Oh, yes of course. Have at it.

[Madeline hands the glass back to him, he looks at it like it’s a traitor.]

Madeline [sits back down and crosses legs]: So…why do you think it is that you avoid her?

Dr. Malikai: What? Avoid her? I don’t avoid her.

Madeline: Well, I know you can’t be THAT exhausted. You have to be avoiding her.

Dr. Malikai [shortly]: I don’t avoid my wife.

Madeline [sardonically]: Then what do you call it?

[There is a drawn out pause, in which Dr. Malikai avoids the question and Madeline gives him a look that clearly says “yeah-that’s-right-buddy.”]

Madeline [realizing she’ll have to break the silence]: I think you don’t like confrontation. You‘re afraid that if you give her time to talk to you, she‘ll complain about how she hates that you work all the time. Am I shaving too close yet?

Dr. Malikai: I don’t know, are you?

Madeline: I want to know what you think.

Dr. Malikai [almost amused]: Oh, you are a wily one, aren’t you?

Madeline: When was the last time you had sex?”

Dr. Malikai: EXCUSE ME?

Madeline: You heard me.

Dr. Malikai [very uncomfortable all of a sudden]: I don’t think that’s any of your business and this is getting ridiculous.

Madeline: Oh. So sorry.

[There is a long, lethal silence, in which Madeline absently clicks the pen in her hand, staring at retreating metallic tip intently. Dr. Malikai suddenly becomes very interested in a portrait on the wall that displays the character “Animal” from the Muppets in black and white.]  

Dr. Malikai [looking suddenly cowed and resigned]: Three years.

[Another long pause where Madeline does a double take and her eyes slowly widen. Dr. Malikai is ineffectively avoiding eye contact]

Madeline: Are you SERIOUS?

Dr. Malikai [looks at her with a look that says “why did I just tell you that?”]: We’re both just too busy. And you know, when there’s time, we’re just too tired.

Madeline: No, YOU are just too tired.

Dr. Malikai: She works hard too, you know.

Madeline: Yea, but I can tell you. She isn’t too tired.

Dr. Malikai: How did we get on this conversation?

Madeline [still stunned]:Three years, George! [Aside, shaking head] He’s GOT to be joking.

Dr. Malikai: Aren’t you too young for this kind of talk?

Madeline: Oh, now you’re belittling me. I don’t make cracks about your age, toupee`.

Dr. Malikai: Well I nev… [composes] hey.  This is my real hair, alright? Real.  

Madeline: Yea, yea, yea.

Dr. Malikai [kneads forehead with the palms of his hands]: I think I’ve broken every rule in my job description [pauses for a few moments and then pops his head up to look at Madeline in defeat]. Oh hell. Yes, damn it. Three years. Three looooong years.

Madeline [genuinely mystified]: How is that possible? I mean, whatever happened to weekends?

Dr. Malikai: She does charity work. It’s a constant thing. She’s busy with that on weekends too. So, I go do my own thing and we don’t catch each other.

[awkward pause]

Madeline [aside]: Poor bastard. [to Dr. Malikai] Ok. So…you don’t like confrontation…and you don’t get laid. Nice. I’m beginning to rethink my major.

[Dr. Malikai starts laughing uproariously, then Madeline starts as well. After they compose themselves, Dr. Malikai looks at the clock.]

Dr. Malikai: Okay, so we’ve gotten nothing accomplished. Can you talk to me now?

Madeline: I suppose I could get a few things out.

Dr. Malikai: Ok. So why are you tightly wound?

Madeline: I expect too much I guess.

Dr. Malikai: From people? From life? What?

Madeline: From myself. I have really low self-esteem as I’m sure my mom told you.

Dr. Malikai: Yea, she did. Go on.

Madeline [a strange look passes over her face and she hesitates slightly]: Aaaand…I don’t really trust anyone, I don’t really need anyone, and well… [aside] Dare I tell him?

Dr. Malikai: Well…what?

Madeline [smirking]: I’m manipulative.

[There is a protracted silence in which Dr. Malikai looks at Madeline with an expression on his face that clearly shows that he knows he’s been played by her manipulative tendencies and he suddenly finds himself very amused]

Dr. Malikai: Yes. You. Are…very. [Chuckles ironically] And it’s clear from today’s session that I’m not the right therapist for you…seeing as I can’t seem to keep you on task and out of my head.  

[Time is up. Dr. Malikai looks at the clock again.]

Madeline [pauses, a stricken look on her face]: Okay, no. I can’t do this on my own doc. See, the person I trust least is me, so I’m the last person I’m going to let sort my head out. Sooo, I need to talk to you. My health depends on it.

Dr. Malikai: Oh…no, no…you’ve got a good head on your shoulders, I’m sure you can figure out a way to sort through that mess [pats her on the shoulder].

Madeline [looks serious]: George, my parents are worried about me. I think that out of respect for them, if nothing else, we should continue my sessions until my issues are resolved.

Dr. Malikai [puts his head in his hands]: Oh, Lord. That’s just lovely.

[End]

Second Place
Prose
Arbuckle Award

 Professor Northrop sighed heavily and reclined his chair away from his desk. He took a picture of a woman off the wall and clutched it tightly to his chest as he hung his head low: it happened one year ago today. He closed his eyes and wondered if the heartache would ever end.

    The professor was startled back into reality when an angry student suddenly burst into his without offering a knock. It was Nathan Grantham, one his brightest, if somewhat egomaniacal seniors.

 “This isn’t my regular office hours,” he offered, fidgeting with his glasses, “but is there something I can do to help you, Nathan?”

    The young man seemed only to grow angrier as he flipped a piece paper across the professor’s desk. Professor Northrop picked up the paper and examined it closely; it was a list of writing contest winners for the semester; Nathan had taken second place in the Sarah Northrop Essay Contest, a writing competition honoring his late wife, who also was an English Professor at Rosenbein University.  

Professor Northrop smiled and extended his hand to congratulate the young scholar. The handshake was not accepted.

“Do you mind telling me why in the fuck I took second!?!” demanded the young man as he postured menacingly across the desk.

“There’s no need to be upset. You wrote an excellent treatise on Aaron of Shakespeare’s play Titus Andronicus, but you lost focus on a few topics. But, admittedly, in the end, it was very neck in neck as to who would take first,” explained the growingly concerned professor.

“So, you gave it to that slut workstudy of yours didn’t you?” demanded the furious young man as a growing crowd of faculty members began to converge upon the doorway, “No, there couldn’t have been any Goddamn biased judging there! I’ll bet that dumb little whore has done all kinds of favors for you to get ahead around here!”

“There is absolutely no call for those kinds of accusations!” shouted the professor irately as he rose from behind his desk.

The much younger man quickly grabbed the professor by the collar and slammed him against the wall.

“You can take your bullshit-Mickey Mouse, second place scholarship money and shove it straight up your ass old man!” screamed Nathan as he spat into the professor’s face.

The professor’s long time friend, Professor Stanley, burst into the room and put the errant student in a choke-hold and twisted one of his arms painfully behind his back. The burly lecturer of Sociology then hurriedly escorted the young Grantham to the campus security men who had just arrived on scene.   

  “ My father will have your tenure pulled for moral turpitude. You’ll never work again!” screamed Nathan as he was pulled kicking and screaming down the hallway.

 Dr. Stanley raced back to the office. Professor Northrop was slumped into his chair, wiping the spittle from his face.

 “Oh shit, Henry, I’m so sorry,” said Dexter upon seeing the shaken professor, “This time that little prick has gone too far. This constitutes assault and battery and now they’ll have to begin expulsion proceedings, no matter how much his daddy’s donates to the university.”

    “Dex, I really just don’t care enough to care anymore,” sighed Henry from behind his desk as he glanced over at Sarah’s picture.

 “Henry, we’ve been friends for years and I know this last one has been hard since Sarah passed. Carol and I would like to have you over tonight; she…we, don’t want you to be alone tonight,” invited Dexter as he patted Henry on the back, his tone softened.

 Henry smiled, “Thanks Dex, but I just want to spend the evening alone and turn in early.”

 “Are you sure?”

 “Yes, Dex, but thanks anyway, I really do appreciate your concern.”

  The men exchanged their goodbyes and Prof. Stanley left the office and prepared leave campus for the day. No sooner did his old friend leave; another visitor came rushing through the door.

 “Oh my God, I came as soon as I heard. Are you alright?” asked the petite young blonde as she came the desk.

 “Yes, it wasn’t the best of afternoons, but I’ll manage,” sighed the professor.

 “You should get a restraining order against that jerk. He thinks that just because he’s rich he can push people around and get whatever he wants,” whispered the young woman.

 He looked into Annie’s eyes; she reminded him so much of Sarah. Yes, indeed, she did share many qualities with Sarah. When this Grantham fiasco happened, Annie didn’t care about what he said about her nor did she care about winning the essay contest; her only concern was how he was doing. He was, indeed, very fond of the young woman.

 “Tell you what Annie, I’m leaving early today, but you can sign up for your regular hours on the time sheet and get a head start on the weekend.”

    “Are you sure you don’t need me for anything?”

 “Yes, go out and enjoy this weather.”

 “Okay, but you have my cell phone number if you change your mind,” said Annie as she gave him a hug goodbye and bustled out the door.

    The professor sat and gathered his thoughts for a few moments before gathering his things and leaving for the day. His first stop was the grocery where he bought everything he needed to make his “semi-famous” seafood alfredo.  After picking out the best white wine to compliment the dish, he made his way to the flower shop on the way home where he bought a dozen red roses.

 Henry entered his home and immediately put the flowers in a vase and placed them on the mantle above the fire next to a portrait of his beloved Sarah. He smiled as he turned to the kitchen to prepare the evening meal. He baked hearty rolls, tossed a delectable salad, and prepared tangy lemon ice for desert.  After draining the linguine in the sink, he went about setting two places across from one another at the table. He lit several candles and turned down the lights before returning to the den and retrieving Sarah’s portrait from the mantle. He smiled at her as he placed her portrait in the chair across the table from his own.

 “I made your favorite, dear.”

 He served her first and then enjoyed his meal, reminiscing about all good times that they had shared together over the years. He couldn’t help laughing as he remembered how they had met at a frat party when Sarah and he had been forced to spend fifteen minutes together in a dark closet. Nothing happened, but they were inseparable from then on.  

  “Oh, those were good times, Sarah,” he sighed as he cleared the table.

Henry returned Sarah’s portrait over the mantle and lit a fire. The light from the flames licked her face making her almost look alive. He went to the CD player and put on some old tunes that they had listened to back in their undergrad days. The memories began to overwhelm him as Sarah’s favorites played and he made his way to the liquor cabinet and grabbed a bottle of brandy and a glass. He sat in front of the fire and began to slowly sip, as he thought on their last few days together. She had fought the cancer bravely, but in the end it wore her down until she had nothing left. Henry began slamming glass after glass as he remembered her skeletal frame lying in that hospital. He stayed with her night and day until the end came, but by then Sarah was suffering from dementia and didn’t even remember him. All she could do was cry out in pain. Henry broke into tears:

“I miss you so much!”

As Henry lay, curled and sobbing in front of the fireplace, he began to realize the he was no longer crying because of grief; it was guilt that was now troubling his mind. After Sarah passed, Henry had difficulty coping with her loss. He initially turned heavily to the bottle for solace, but eventually Henry sought out comfort in the arms of an eighteen-year-old student. And God damn that little bastard Grantham, he had given an award named after beloved, dead wife to this girl; a girl that he ethically should never have been involved with in the first place, for sexual favors.

“I’m so sorry, please forgive me Sarah…”

 Henry managed to stumble upstairs, get undressed and flopped into bed before passing out. He tossed about restlessly, his sleep tormented. Suddenly, he heard music coming from the den. It was Sarah’s favorite:

Lying beside you… here in the dark… feeling your heart beat with mine…

His eyes snapped open and he sat up on the edge of his bed.

“Damn that CD player,” he mumbled as he turned on the light on his nightstand. As he fumbled with the lamp he heard something metallic hit the floor. It was a ring. Henry put on his glasses to examine it. His blood ran cold: it was Sarah’s wedding band… she had been buried with it.

Stunned, Henry picked something off of his shoulder and examined it: it was a clump of long, blonde hair. He spun around quickly and saw the covers pulled up over someone else in his bed. Henry ripped back the sheets and screamed out in horror: it was Annie, her severed head resting on a pillow above her body. Her eyes and mouth were sewn shut and crudely cropped locks of her long flaxen hair were scattered about the room. Dexter began to stumble backwards and fall to the floor, causing the head to tumble to the hard wood floor with a sickening thud. He looked at the wall over his bed and saw a message scrawled in blood: How could you?

Dexter scrambled to his feet screaming as he darted into the dark hallway and bolted for the stairs; he shrieked in pain as the strand of barbed wire stretched across the railing ripped into his shin and sent him tumbling to the thumbtack covered stairs below. He crashed to the floor below and moaned in agony; he had broken his left ankle during the fall and the bone protruded through his skin. He was on the verge of passing out from the pain as he vainly attempted to brush away the scores of thumbtacks piercing his flesh. Henry groaned as he rolled to his stomach and faced the den; he looked up at his wife’s portrait. The flowers in the vase had withered and died and Sarah’s face was now eerily distorted and melting away…

Living without you…living alone…this empty house seems so cold…

“God, this can’t be happening!!!”

Unable to move upright, Henry crawled slowly on his belly towards the front door leaving a sanguineous trail in his wake. It seemed to take an eternity to make it there, but Henry was able to grab the knob and pull himself to his knees. He flung back the door and became paralyzed in the horror of the sight: The year old corpse of his beloved Sarah was crucified across the outside threshold with the words, “Let not your sorrow die, though I am dead,” deeply carved into her chest.

So, now I come to you…with open arms…nothing to hide…believe what I say…

 “Why, Sarah, why!?!”

Henry began rocking back and forth sobbing and laughing hysterically when a man’s voice issued forth from the front lawn.

 “If there be devils, would I were a devil,

  To live and burn in everlasting fire,

  So I might have your company in hell,

  But to torment you with my bitter tongue!”

The tortured professor slowly shifted his attention to the dark figure. The figure lit an oily rag protruding from the end of a wine bottle, the one Henry had served at dinner, and held the flame close so that that professor could see his face in the darkness: it was Nathan Grantham, an evil gleam in his eye.

“I told you that you’d never work again.”

Professor Northrop managed to cry out before the flaming bottle came crashing down in front of him.

Hoping you’ll see…what your love means to me…opens arms…

 

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