He rented the tux to make in convincing. Actually shelled out the cash, committed to his third of the limo, and everything. Then he got “sick,” on prom night, and told everyone he hated to miss it, but couldn’t get out of bed. Cory and Dawn came by his house for a photo, but he refused.
So there were two. For the best he said, though he found himself crying like some little girl.
It was always the three of them: Cory and Dawn and Ted. All the same age and living on Hyacinth Court. They used to take naps together. Three three-year-olds lying together on a queen sized bed while their mothers drank tea and played cards.
When they were 8, maybe 9, Cory showed him pages ripped from Playboys out of his father’s closet. Ted remembers most Cory’s comment: “This is what Dawn will become.”
In September she had some kind of boyfriend they both disliked. Some good-looking-but-boring-business type. She told Cory and Ted she was thinking about losing her virginity. They negotiated that delicate matter, dissuading her without appearing jealous. Ultimately nothing happened, she dumped him, and in October they pledged to go to prom as a threesome, just like when they were 3. More like siblings than anything.
Except Cory never saw it like that. He glowed on Prom night, Dawn on his arm. “It won’t be the same without you,” Dawn said. “No, it wouldn’t,” they all knew.
Category Archives: Martin Brick
Christine told Steve she didn’t feel comfortable in the house.
“We’re new to it. Takes time.”
“No, it’s different. I can’t say why.” It was summer, and warm, but she crawled under the covers.
Hank rang the bell, 6-pack in hand. “I’m the neighbor. Welcome.”
They sat on the porch and uncapped the beer. After three Steve felt comfortable with Hank. He asked, “The house was cheap. There something I don’t know?”
“It has a troubled history. In a small town like this, everyone knows.”
“The last owner spent 5 years in prison. Unintentional homicide. He wasn’t a drinker, but left a picnic with one too many. Pure bad luck. His wife kept the house, waited patiently, and finally he came back. But he told me the house never felt right after. Couldn’t sleep. Bumped into things. Like a stranger’s house.”
“And people think it’s cursed because…?”
From the upstairs window he saw Hank’s daughter. Twenty-two, bikini, tanning. It wasn’t sexual. Five years ago, there were twinges of that, and guilt over eyeing the girl he watched grow up.
But now he just kept seeing the girl he killed. Same age. She had friends, constantly on the phone. Pretty. Fun.
Sees her every day.
The closet pole was sturdy. His belt smooth. He left a note so his wife wouldn’t have to find him.
In the morning Christine got a dress from the closet. Felt cold. “I’m going to change in the bathroom. Just… I don’t know.”
“With that cold front moving in, expect temperatures in the 50’s all week. I’d keep a jacket handy. Allison, back to you.”
“Thanks, Bruce. Guess you have to expect that during spring in Wisconsin.”
“We had beautiful weather last week, while you were out.”
“Just my luck.”
Allison used every ounce of her Miss Winnebago County (and Miss Wisconsin second runner-up) experience to keep a smile on. A producer signaled wildly with his hand and she announced the break.
“Denver, right?” Bruce asked. “Bigger market.”
“I don’t think I got the spot, if that is what you want to know. I think they are going with some blonde idiot from Bismark.”
The producer and cameraman looked at each other awkwardly, like children around freshly divorced parents.
“I’ve got another interview next week. How are your prospects looking?”
Bruce knew she didn’t just mean career path. She meant has he started dating anyone yet? Was he still in the dingy divorced-guy apartment? Has he found anything to replace the excitement of their tawdry little fling? Has he reconsidered his stance on guilt, his desire to break it off? Has he patched the anger he felt toward Allison for telling the wife about everything?
“Allison,” he said, 30 seconds to air time. “You have to do something with your hair. The dye is obvious. If you want to get out of this market, take a look at yourself.”
It was true, and he wanted to help because he needed her gone.
August day, exactly 23 years after, and identical weather. Struck Lewis as the world saying, “Oh, we remember.”
Nadine’s mother remembered too. “I didn’t expect to see you.” He wondered if she knew, if that’d be something she’d even care about now.
“Too early,” Lewis mumbled. “Barely 40.”
He’d never spent many daylight hours in the cemetery, but after dusk it was where a young man with no car and a girlfriend within walking distance could find some space.
They joked about the dead, about hallowed grounds, about concepts like souls, until only a week of summer remained. So they committed, there on the grass. She laughed; her blush glowing through the dark. They’d been afraid all summer – of what? – of pain, consequences, getting caught, and probably somewhat legitimately, damnation. Why test it in a graveyard?
But they pledged to repeat every night for their last week.
He walked her out, keeping the pastor’s house distant. But they spotted someone on the back porch. The priest’s housekeeper, smoking a cigarette. She saw them, and Lewis knew her face was stern, turning love to shame.
So they never went back there. Never made love again. Lewis told Nadine at a reunion how silly that seemed, what they lost from fear. He had a few drinks in him. “6 amazing nights, gone.”
The funeral party left the cemetery, and he saw the housekeeper smoking again. Could she still be alive? She still looked stern, but smug, as if thinking, “we got you.”
…because a story has conflict. David Mamet asks, Who wants what from Whom?
Here our protagonist simply noticed a Facebook post. She commented on a friend’s status. An old mutual friend. One he never tried to find, because he knows it all. Distant city. Married. Kids. The mutual friend fills him in periodically.
Years ago they had a little thing. A thing that never blossomed. Back in college, where all things that make good memories come from.
If this were a story there would be conflict now. Her picture would lead him to dwell on some complicated drama that kept them apart. But in actuality, the story is dull. He was with a different girl for a while. And when they broke up, she was with someone. Kind of back and forth like that. The time was never right.
Or better, seeing her would lead him to dwell on the current state of his life. He’d be alone. Or with some shrew. The tiny profile picture would lead him to imagine another world, some immensely better parallel existence in which they lived like those sepia-toned couples who inhabit picture frames when you buy them.
But it didn’t. Our protagonist is fairly happy with his life. Sure he misses the girl. Sure he even pours a little whiskey after telling his own wife, I won’t be up too late. Lying. Sure, he does imagine the parallel world. He’s curious. A little melancholy. But not angry. Not really enough for a story.
“Mommy, shells!” the girl called with elation, bringing them forth for viewing.
“Those are pretty.”
“I want to take them home.”
The girl’s older brother moped several paces behind, still upset that they took lunch at some seaside crab joint instead of McDonald’s. Just because of Mom’s childhood memories of the place.
The father lagged still further behind, upset that the son didn’t even touch his lunch, just picked at bread. Upset at his wife, who refused the doggy bag. “Where will we put it? It’ll just stink up the car.”
The son threw stones, aiming for innocent seagulls.
“These shells are broken,” the mother told her daughter. “Let’s look around and find whole ones.”
“But I like these.”
“You’ll like the others too. Start looking.” She tossed the broken ones into the sand and the daughter all but dove for them.
“Just let her keep the broken shells,” the father interjected.
“But they’re not pretty. I want her to have nice keepsakes.”
“She’ll put them in a drawer and they’ll get broken anyhow.”
“No, I’ll put them in a shadowbox or something. You saw the ones I have from when I was a girl.”
A gull squawked and lifted angrily after suffering a direct hit.
“I guess I just thought you bought those, or they were gift.”
“No. Those are mine.”
The warden came, personally, and brought my meal. I asked him had he heard anything more. He shook his head no. “My sister, you mean?” She said weeks ago she would not come, but I thought she’d change her mind.
“No word,” he responded plainly.
“How about the family. Any of the Empson’s?”
“You really want them there, don’t you?”
“They have that right. They deserve to see it.”
“They do have that right. They know. They chose not to come.”
“So who’s it all going to be, then?”
The warden ticked them off on his fingers. “Me. Few other prison staff. The physician. Minister. District Attorney. Your counsel. A few members of the media.”
“How many people do you want to watch you die?”
“Lots. I want a crowd.”
“Even a crowd that hates you? To curse you? To relish the second the surgeon nods?”
“Yes. Especially that kind of crowd. I want a crowd with emotion. So this matters. These people that are gonna be here – the doctor and lawyers – makes it feel like the case is over and putting me down is like putting the last box of evidence onto a shelf somewhere. Tidying up.”
“You’re not a box of evidence. Trust me, the Empson’s hate you.” He added a little chuckle. He was telling the truth, but I couldn’t help but think that the Empson’s knew just exactly how I’d feel, and my sister knew just exactly how I’d feel. They all knew.