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Authors: Victoria Rexroth

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BOOK: A Wonderful Life
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She shook her head no. “Maybe some day in the past that might have been possible. Not anymore. Business is slow, and the manger’s an asshole.”

“The manager has always been an asshole,” said Robert. “I, at least, remember that.”

She smiled. “Why did you come in today? You don’t usually come in until Saturday night. This is a Thursday.”

“I’m finding myself creating closure in a lot of things today. Thought today would be a good day to come in and visit.”

“Oh, so you want closure with me now? Little late for that.”

He smiled back at her. “No, not really what I meant. I just needed to see a familiar face.”

“Are you even writing anymore?”

He stared back, slightly stunned by her question. “What do you mean?”

“Every night you come in here, you keep talking about how you’re going to be writing another novel, but I’m suspecting you haven’t written a single thing in the last three years.”

“I’ve been working on a recent project,” he said. “It’s a little different from the rest of my work.”

“No science fiction aliens? No female vampires in black leather chasing the hero around?”

“No, this is different. It’s more of a psychological project I’ve been wanting to tackle for a few years now.”

She leaned on the counter on her elbows, her head balanced on her hands. “I’m intrigued. Tell me about it.”

“Well, it’s called
. It’s about a writer who decides his time is finally up, so he decides to write a story about another writer who is planning to kill himself. Kind of like a call for help, but at the same time with a cathartic spin to it.”

“That sounds kind of depressing,” she said.

“It’s not, really. It’s more about how the author has done everything he can do in his life but has never made it as an author, so he writes an autobiographical novel, like Kenneth Rexroth did in his name-dropping autobiographical novel. Except, the purpose of this novel is that the author realizes there can only be one ending to a very depressing story of one’s uneventful life.”

“It still sounds depressing.”

“It’s more about how creative types live their lives in quiet desperation, often creating their work in momentary flashes of brilliance, and then they have outlived their usefulness, to both the world and to themselves. It’s why so many creative types have committed suicide over the years. Artists, musicians, writers and even mathematical geniuses have often hit this burned out point where they realize the only thing they have left to explore is the end of life itself. It’s not always depressing.”

“But why are you writing this? Is this your call for help?”

“No,” he said. “I’m beyond any call for help. It’s more about a realization that an author has a few chances to makes himself or herself known, and if those attempts fail, then perhaps it was never meant to be. Not being successful doesn’t eliminate the burning flame analogy that so exists with creative types. They just have less to be thankful for when it comes time to make that final decision.”

“But you’ve had success. You published two novels and a bunch of short stories.”

“Short stories published in obscure literary journals that no one reads. Two books both published by crappy publishing houses that no one has ever heard of. Books that no one has ever read. That’s not success. It’s even worse than success. It’s continuous frustration at never really making it as a writer. For every Stephen King out there, there are a hundred, or a thousand, Robert Caldwells, people who grasped at the brass ring but got nothing but air. This story is pretty much for them.”

“How much of it have you written?” she asked.

“Most of it,” he replied. “Now all I’m waiting on is the ending.”

“Which is?”

“Your guess is as good as mine,” he answered. “I really wish I knew.”

“I really think you should see someone,” she said.

“I have. I’ve seen a few people, and none of them have managed to help me figure out what I needed to do. They were really good at saying: “I hear you saying so and so, but what…” and that really doesn’t get me anywhere. The last time I went to see a counselor, I was 5150’d, and they didn’t really care that I was talking larger issues than just simple life and death.”


“Haven’t you ever heard the Van Halen album called 5150?” Her face showed no recognition. “It’s a legal term to indicate that they can hold you for a period of time if they suspect that you’re going to cause harm to yourself. I went to a counselor, and she asked me if I ever had suicidal thoughts, and next thing I knew, they were processing me as a potential suicide attempter. Let’s just say that it’s not the greatest idea to go to any therapist and tell the truth these days.”

“You never told me about that,” she said.

“Never came up in conversation,” he replied. “Anyway, it’s just talk. Nothing to worry about.”


“Of course,” he said. “You know me.”

“I don’t think anyone really does know you,” she said. “We were almost married, and I never really did completely figure you out.”

“That surprises me. I always figured you were the one person who did figure me out. I kind of thought that’s why you ended it between us.”

She shook her head no. “I ended it because I just didn’t see us really moving to the next level. It was never because I couldn’t figure you out or because of anything bad you ever did.”

He stared at her for a long time before speaking. “Are you happy now?”

Her face showed both surprise and shock. “What kind of question is that to ask?”

“I don’t mean that in a confrontational way. I don’t mean are you happy because you broke up with me. I mean, are you happy, in general, now?”

She thought about it for a moment. “I guess I am. I date a lot, and I have a lot of fun at work. It’s not the ultimate fantasy of the perfect life, but it’s not a living hell either. So, I guess you could say I’m happy. And what about you?”

He smiled. “Well, I’m happy that you’re happy. Let’s just leave it at that.”

The conversation never got any deeper than that.


That evening, Robert Caldwell sat at his computer and continued writing the story he called
. He continued working on it for several hours, until it was complete. He realized even as he was writing it that it was one of those rare gems that would not even require a single revision, that it was perfect the first time out, and that any edit to the finished copy would take away the power of the first story’s energy.

Upon completion, Robert read over the document one last time and then printed it out on his Brother HL-2040 laser printer. He then neatly stacked the pages on his large oak desk, and then neatly tucked his leather office chair up under the desk, straightening up the papers on his desk as he did so.

Robert was having trouble sleeping these days, so he often took prescribed sleeping pills to get a full night’s sleep. Grabbing the full bottle out of the medicine cabinet, he poured the contents into the palm of his left hand and then dumped all of them into his mouth. Downing the pills with a large bottle of water, he was required to take several full gulps before he could get all of the pills down his throat. But he did.

Then he tucked himself into bed, and he went to sleep.

Several days later, they would find the neatly stacked pages of his new novel
. The first line would read:

“Some stories are autobiographies, some are biographies, and some are completely contrived through fiction. Some are
designated as one category, yet are, in reality, of another. Sometimes those designations cause great concern, as was evidenced by the whole James Frey incident with his fictionalized autobiography that caused all sorts of condemnation from the Oprah crowd. And then there’s a story like that of David Jackson, a simple writer who straddled all of the categories, yet never found solace in any one. It is his story that I wish to tell, although for the sake of austerity, I must admit that even today, I am not sure just where to categorize his life, or his lack thereof.”






There’s this Elvis song by the name of
Can’t Stop Falling In Love With You
that starts with the lyrics “Wise men say”.
That song
I hear it every time I close my eyes.

I guess you could say it’s the last thing I remember.

Funny, but the last thing I remember—is, in fact, the only thing I remember.




That song.


Nothing but that stupid song.



That song.


Wait…fists, anger, pain.


He just kept hitting me over and over….

That stupid song.


I think my name is Richard, Richard Spark. I remember that. I think.

I remember people, but I don’t know who these people are. There are four of them. They keep hitting me over and over again.

That’s when I blacked out.


I was trying to remember. It’s painful sometimes. Little by little, more memories were coming back, but they were painful, in more ways that just that one. I was in the Rec Room watching a rerun of Happy Days when a news brief came on the television.

“Today, the arraignment of one of the men charged with a hate crime in the gay bashing murder of Richard Spark took place. An alleged accomplice, Donald Bruester, entered a plea of not guilty and bail was set at $100,000.”

And then I realized I had it wrong. I couldn’t be Richard Spark. Richard Spark was dead. And then I realized I must have watched this take place. I wasn’t gay. I was…watching.

That song again.


Yeah, it was an Elvis song. I was there with my girlfriend. I remember that. There was this gay couple sitting on the other side of the place, and they were getting really close-like. It’s amazing how open this kind of stuff is these days.

Then these guys come in, and you could tell they were looking for trouble. They looked around the bar a couple of times, and all I could think was I sure hope they don’t come over to me. Then they saw the gay couple, and they walked over to them. The leader of them, this big guy, this angry character, starts yelling at the two men. One of the men stands up, and next thing I know all these guys are hitting him over and over again. His friend runs over to my table, pleading for help. I mean, I see these guys, and they’re huge, and I just ignore him because I’m not about to get involved in something like that. I mean, they brought this on themselves.

I looked away as that Elvis song played over the violence, the pain and chaos.


Things started to clear up a bit, but still didn’t seem totally right. I couldn’t put my finger on particular details, but I could on others.

I was walking through the ward when I ran into this little black kid. He was kind of cute. He smiled at me, and I smiled back. “Hey, sir, what are you in here for?”  Almost like we were in prison and we were supposed to tell each other our crimes. And then I find myself staring at him in a totally different way, wondering: “What if I’m a racist. What if I discover I hate this nice little kid?” And then suddenly I’m in the bar again.


That Elvis song.

A couple of the guys and I went to this bar, and we were just itching for a fight. But I’m sure we wouldn’t have done anything if they hadn’t been hugging and kissing each other. I mean, it was in public, in front of me.

Anyway, there’s this man and woman sitting on the other side of the place, and they’re minding their own business, so they’re okay. But these two faggots are all over each other, kissing and hugging at their table, and, well, it was just downright disgusting. So I walked up over to them with my buddies and told them to tone that shit down.

“Look, Queer boy, don’t make me tell you a second time! Your type doesn’t belong here!”

Then he stood up, and I knew I had to do something. So I hit him, and he went down. Then before you knew it, the boys were holding him down, and I was hitting him over and over again. I felt a wave of energy come all over me as he collapsed on the floor. I felt like I was dreaming as I kept on hitting him. Then his friend ran off to get help from the other couple, but they weren’t going to help him. I remember his friend crying like the little pansy he was. I was so caught up in the fun that I hadn’t even seen the police come in.


My god. It was me. I can’t even say why I did what I did, other than I was blinded by the passion of the moment. I mean, gays shouldn’t be out in public doing that sort of thing. If they want to do their thing in private, that’s fine. But don’t flaunt it in our faces.

I’m surprised the counselors haven’t stopped by, asking me if maybe I had homosexual tendencies, something they tend to do when someone is accused of these hate things.

Come to think of it: I must have had this conversation with a counselor before because it sounds so vivid in my mind. The Freudian: “Are you a homosexual?” And my powerful denial. Then: “Do you hate homosexuals?” And again, I would deny it, meanwhile I’d know that I despise them because of their disregard for common decency, because of how they have no respect for the ambiguous state of nature and the fact that they’re out there exposing themselves to the world while the world doesn’t accept them, doesn’t want them and stands over them, condemning them, laughing at them, beating them and…killing them…..

…killing us. My god, I remember everything.


That song.

No, the song wasn’t playing when we arrived. I remember that. Richard walked over to the jukebox and selected it. It was his favorite song. He was a real Elvis fan.

This was our favorite bar. No one ever bothered us here. Anyway, there was only one other couple in the bar at the time, a straight one, and they were seated far from us.

You hear Elvis, and then these men came into the bar, and they walked right over to our table. The main guy started yelling at us. Richard stood up and started arguing with the guy, and next thing I know, they were hitting Richard over and over again. They threw him to the floor and continued hitting him.

I’d never experienced such violence before. I didn’t know what to do. I mean, I’m not a fighter.

And that stupid Elvis song kept playing about wise men and fools and falling in love.

I ran to the other couple and started begging them to help. The guy just stared back at me and kept sipping his drink, like I wasn’t even there. “You can’t just sit there and do nothing!” I said to him. But he just sat there…and did nothing.

I didn’t know what to do. Then the men stepped back from Richard. They didn’t even notice me as I walked through them and knelt down above him. His whole face was filled with blood. His nose was caved in, I could barely recognize him, and he wasn’t breathing.

Unlike the movies, I didn’t even get a few last words from him or the chance to tell him I loved him. Instead, all I got was the silence of knowing I would never heard his laugh or voice again, a silent voice filled with that infernal Elvis song that keeps going over and over again in my head.

I mean, you don’t beat someone because he’s gay. You don’t beat him because he’s different. I mean, you don’t kill somebody because he’s different. You don’t kill somebody because you don’t…understand.

Was I the only one who seemed to care? I looked up at this man, now a killer, and for a moment, I could feel the hate that he exhibited because I was feeling it now. I picked up a piece of a broken chair, and I raised it to put an end to this man who killed the only person I’ve ever loved. I had seen life through this man’s eyes once before, and I didn’t like what I had seen, maybe because it had been so easy to see it.

At that moment, I realized that the only thing separated me from this man was the wood I was holding in my hands. I could have been him. I could have hated like him. This is something he would never understand. So I tossed the wood aside. “I don’t hate you,” I said to him. “I’m nothing like you.”

And then he hit me. And that’s the last thing I remember before waking up here in the hospital.


That song again.

You know? I still hear that song every time I close my eyes.

I just don’t close my eyes as much as I used to.



BOOK: A Wonderful Life
12.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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