Authors: David Zimmerman
“You best be sure your mama gets this.” Marty pulled a grey business card out of his jacket pocket, placed it on my palm, and then closed his fingers around my hand and squeezed it tight to make sure this little scrap of cardboard stayed put. I didn’t even look at it. “You tell her this: You can fool your old Unkie Marty once, but you try to do it twice and by God you’ll be sorrier than you ever thought you could. The deal has changed. You got that?” He shook me. My head jiggled atop my neck like a bobblehead doll. “Every day he don’t come through with them pills, the vig doubles. You got that?”
“What’s the vig?” I asked, and then wished I hadn’t before the taste of the letter
even left the tip of my tongue.
Marty pressed my arms against my sides and slid me up the wall until I was a good three feet off the ground and the two of us were eye-to-eye, a hand’s breadth apart. I know it don’t sound all that bad, especially when you compare it to the other things he’d just done to me—slapping me and squeezing me—but his eyes were not a place any sane normal person would like to dwell for long. I knew it wasn’t so, that it couldn’t be true, but it felt like he was sucking something important out of me, something that lived way down deep, something I needed to keep. I did my best to stare at his forehead instead, right between his eyes.
“Why won’t you leave?” I said, the words sounding odd and misshapen to my ears. “Ain’t you done yet?”
“Not quite, little pullet.” Marty tried on a smile. He wore it like
a bad-fitting suit, something several sizes too small, painful and slightly disturbing to look at.
I went away for a spell. Somewhere gray and fuzzy. When I came to, I was flat on my back.
“Look at me, girl,” he said, kneeling in front of me now, his voice loud but not quite raised up to a shout. “You awake? You all the way here? I lost you for a little bit. Worried me some. You remember what happened?” He didn’t seem all that worried to me, squinting down as though sizing me up for something, a noose, maybe, or a body bag. I didn’t like the feeling one bit.
“Hey, quit playing possum. I know you’re awake. Let’s not make this any tougher, huh? You remember that message for your mama I told you before?”
I must of paused too long to suit him. Marty sat me up against the wall again and gave me a shake. Not as hard as before, but I had more hurts than before, too. The tears came gushing out again. They kept coming and coming until my chin dripped like the broken showerhead in our bathroom. I’m still embarrassed I cried so much. I wish I could tell you I acted different, braver, but I can’t.
“Oh, the waterworks again.” He sighed. “Let’s try this one more time. You look like one of those smarty-pants kids the teachers are always cooing over. Pretend it’s a spelling test. Tell it back to me.”
I did. Stuttering with sobby little sucks of breath between the words. I thought for sure my shoulder was about to come off in his hand like the wrenched-off arm of an abused Barbie doll. The pain was such I could barely think my way through it. It took all the brain I had left to reply to this simpleminded request to recite his orders back to him.
“Fucking A,” he said when I’d finished, and then he let loose of me.
I collapsed into myself and slid to the floor. Not caring anymore. You’d of thought I’d run out of tears by now, but there were
plenty left for me to squeeze out, and I did. My sodden shorts felt cold and nasty and the stink of my own pee came up and shamed me just that much more. He had got me and broke me down. That much was sure. But tell me this: what kind of accomplishment of bravery is it for a large and fully overgrown man to reduce a young and skimpy girl like myself to shoulder-squeezed crying fits? Not much, I say. Not much at all.
“Good,” he said finally, with all the airs of a man who thinks a job well and truly done. He shot the cuffs of his sports coat and dusted off some imaginary dirt he got on him from squeezing me. “Remember, he and your ma got till tomorrow. After that, anything bad happens, it’s their own damn fault.” And then Marty did something really strange. He barked at me and growled like a dog. “You do that to Hayes and see what he does.” Whatever this meant, it cracked him up something ferocious. He laughed a few long and ugly seconds about it. Then that mouth-breathing troll turned around and walked off into the sunshine. Not even bothering to shut the door.
It was a beautiful day. Eighty-nine degrees, cool for August in Metter, Georgia, a decent northeastern breeze and not a cloud in the sky. A bird twittered in the holly tree beside the stoop, as if it were any old day. A car passed one street over. When I felt like I could stand up, I went back to the bathroom and threw up.
arty’s card was the color of a fresh-dried scab with lettering
Manager and Co-owner
Register, GA 31225
On the right was a bad drawing of a dog’s head. It was so sloppy you couldn’t tell what kind, only that it had a spiked collar and big, sharp teeth. Drool came out of its mouth in golden drops. Underneath the head were two crossed bones. All in all, sort of like a retarded version of a pirate flag.
ogan’s face looked as tight and twisted as a convenience-store Halloween mask. He sat in the far corner of the storage room gouging a circle into the plywood floor with an old tin Christmas ornament. A dented red wise man. I waited a good long time before I came back to see him. Long enough for me to round up and lash down all the escaped emotions running wild in my head. Or so I thought.
“What the fuck?” he said when he got a good look at my face.
“Not so loud, wait—” I started, worrying Marty might still be somewhere close enough to be dangerous.
“I’m going to kill him.” Logan threw the wise man across the room and stood up as much as he could in that cramped space. “Where is he? Where is this asshole? If I’d of known he was doing that, I’d of killed him right then. Even if he is your mama’s boyfriend.”
“Logan, it ain’t what you think.”
This only seemed to make him angrier, if he’d heard me at all. He closed his eyes and sucked in a furious breath. The squeaky fan in the corner did its level best to cool things down. My hands were so slick with sweat they slipped off the little doorframe as I crawled through and I tumbled in with a double thud. Logan clenched and unclenched his fists. His bare toes curled against the floor.
“Anybody who could do that to you don’t deserve to be walking around taking up space. Shit, a man who’d do that to a little girl, there’s bound to be more and worse in him.”
I couldn’t help but cringe at “little girl.”
Logan grabbed a ceiling beam with both hands and pounded his forehead against it.
“Hey, listen to me.” I took his sticky cheeks in my hands and pointed his eyes toward mine. “That wasn’t Hayes. It was somebody much, much worse. He and his are after Hayes for money or pills he owes them. He wanted Hayes. I just had the shit luck to be here when the man couldn’t find him.”
Logan stopped trying to pound his head against the beam and started to pay attention to what I was telling him. “What do you mean, not Hayes?”
It all came out then. The whole pot of shrimp. My head was still a blurry mess of a place, so it was all I could do just to spit the story out in fits and starts, sometimes having to back up to tell him a bit I’d forgotten to tell in its place. Fake dog dope, bloody ears on the door, Hayes’s chopped pinkie, Heckle and Jeckle and Unkie Marty. All of it.
When I’d finished with this sorry tale, I finally looked up to see what he made of it. I’d pretty much kept my eyes pointed at the floor while I’d told him the whys and whats and whos. Now I wanted to know what he’d say. But Logan said nothing. Instead, he cried. The tears drew jagged lines of pink skin on his cheeks. He made no sound. His eyes might of looked red and raw, but they were full of a generous kind of sad. A look that was absolutely new to me. I knew then that whatever else might happen between us after he finally left my attic storage room, good or bad or nothing at all, I would always love him for these ten tears. Ten. I counted five on each side. It didn’t matter to me what I’d just gone through to buy them. Right then, and maybe even now, they seemed to me a bargain.
“What’s his name?” Logan asked, his voice a croak.
Neither of us breathed a word about the tears. I knew this would only ruin them.
“It don’t matter, Logan. He’s gone.”
He stared at me until I looked down.
“What,” he said in slow, careful voice, “is the man’s name?”
I showed him the crumpled card.
Logan glared at it for a long time, his lips moving silently. I sat there blunt-brained. That terrible afternoon had hogged up all the space in my head. There wasn’t room for extra thoughts of any kind. I could of sat there like that for a cat’s age, all nine lives of it. I believe Logan must of said my name a few times before I heard him. He handed back that mean bit of cardboard.
“Why didn’t you tell me all this before? I could of helped. Protected you. If I was worth half a shit, I would of anyway. That fucker was slapping the shit out of you five feet away and I just sat there with my hands under my ass. I’m sorry.”
“There wasn’t a blessed thing you could of done, Logan. And it was me who told you to go back. I thought I could handle him. You ain’t got nothing to be sorry for.”
“You got more than enough problems of your own to sort out. I’ve already caused you plenty of trouble. I didn’t want to give you any more to have to worry over.”
“The one who ought to be worrying is that fat fuck Marty. He comes back while I’m here it’ll be the last time. If I had a pair of pants, I’d—”
“See, that’s what I was afraid of. You’d go out and get yourself in trouble over this, get arrested or worse, and it’d all be my fault. You sure as hell don’t need a dozen more burdens loading you down.”
“You’re no burden, Lynn Marie.”
“And you’re sweet to say it, but I know a burden when I see it in the mirror.”
Logan puffed through his nose and shook his head. I saw something then, maybe in the way he set his lips or the cast of his
eyes. I had a feeling I’d made a giant mistake telling him all this. If I’d only waited a half-hour longer or at least until I’d gotten my head together a little more before I came rushing back here, looking for him to say,
oh, poor little Lynn Marie
, then I’m sure I would of had the sense to keep my mouth shut. Ten minutes ago, these two separate lives of mine, even if they were only about five feet and a piece of sheetrock apart, were completely separate, unmuddled. Each had its own problems, sure, but mixed together as they were now, they were like a lit fuse on an atom bomb. Right as he opened his mouth to keep on with this angry, self-disgusted talk and work himself up into doing something we’d both sorely regret, I cut him off.
“Listen now, Logan, honey, we already said it all. There’s no point in driving ourselves crazy with it. The egg’s been broke, the milk’s tipped over, so instead of smearing it all into a terrible mess on the floor, let’s us see if we can’t bake a cake.” This was something my mom always said and I was shocked it’d come out of my mouth. But he smiled to hear it, so I guess it was okay.
I moved in to kiss him and add a little sugar to this batter I was talking up. It will probably sound more than a tad strange considering the timing, but my body surprised me by wanting to get with Logan’s body in the worst way. But before I could make good on this, something new and drastic happened inside Logan’s head. What little color I could see under the grime on his face fled to some lower portion of his body. The pink tear trails went ashy. He took my hand in both of his. And what cold and clammy things they were, too. He looked about to puke. I feared he must of drawn some fresh and horrible conclusion from all of this crazy shit I’d unloaded on him.
“Lynn Marie,” he said, his voice a rasp so low I had to lean in close to make it out. “I know what it is now.”
is?” I said.
“I love you.” He blinked at me. “So it makes sense now, all the other stuff. The you know …”
“Me puking and all the rest.”
“Puking?” None of this made a lick of sense.
“Oh, right, you were at school.”
“What now?” I was truly alarmed.
“Which part, the puke or me loving you?” He coughed out a laugh, looking more surprised by this statement than I imagine even I was.
And I was floored, this having been the absolutely last thing I ever would have imagined coming out of his mouth at that moment.
Seeing my look, he said, “I know, I know, it’s crazy.” Logan laughed again. His color came back and then some. The blush of blood showed in his ears. “For a while I thought I was coming down with a stomach bug.”
made sure the water in the two salad bowls was warm, but not too hot, and I brought along some liquid soap that smelled like limes, and a fresh towel. It’s alright for men to smell like limes. Limes are an either/or smell. As I put together Logan’s bath kit, I got to worrying more and more about the crazy behavior of his I’d seen before Marty came. It troubled me, I’ll tell you. I couldn’t have him strolling about in the altogether for the entire world to see the next time he got it into his head to sort through my dirty laundry for disgusting headgear. I figured giving him some kind of discouraging punishment, no matter how much I hated having to do it, was even more important now that I knew Marty might come back any time.
When I came to give him his bath, I knocked Logan in the head with the doorknob by accident. For some reason he’d gone back to cowering in the corner behind the door and scratching the floor with his dented, red tin wise man. He didn’t recognize me at first, which worried me more than a little, especially after our love talk. Did that mean he was lying when he said it?