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Authors: Douglas Clegg

Halloween Candy (7 page)

BOOK: Halloween Candy
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When she got hit by the bus in Memphis, everything changed for me, and I didn’t want to do the act again. Joey wanted to keep going, but I told him we were finished. I loved that kid. So, we quit the act, and I went to do a little entertaining in clubs, mostly strip joints. Tell a couple jokes, do a few tricks with feather fans--voila! Naked girls appear from behind my cape! It was not the grandeur of the carnival, but it paid the rent, and Joey had a roof over his head and we both had food in our mouths.

One month I was a little late on the rent, and we got thrown out. That’s when I came here, and we got the little place on Swan Street. Well, we didn’t get it, it got us.

But it got you, too, didn’t it, kid? It wasn’t just you walking in to 265, it was that you been preparing your whole life for 265. That other cop, she lives in another world already, 265 couldn’t grab her. But it could grab you, and it did, huh.

I knew as soon as I saw you under the streetlamp.

I recognized you from before.

You remember before?

81

Hey, you want to know why I killed that woman? You really want to know?

Watch both my hands when I tell you. Remember, I’m a born prestidigitator.

Here’s why: sometimes, you get caught in the doorway.

Sometimes, when the door comes down, someone doesn’t get all the way out.

You want to find the other half of her body?

It’s in 265.

Only no one’s gonna find it but you, kid.

You’re a member of the club.

4

Paul was off-shift at 2, and went to grab a beer at the Salty Dog minutes before it closed. Jacko and Ronny got there ahead of him and bought the first round.

“Shit,” Paul said, “it was like he sawed her in two.”

82

“He saw her in two? What’s that mean?” Jacko asked. He was already drunk.

“No, he sawed her in two. He was a magician. A real loser,” Paul shook his head, shivering. “You should’ve seen it.”

Jacko turned to Ronny, winking. “He saw her sawed and we should’ve seen it.”

“Cut it out. It was...unimaginable.”

Ronny tipped his glass. “Here’s to you, Paulie boy. You got your first glimpse of the real world. It ain’t pretty.”

Jacko guzzled his beer, coughing when he came up for air. “Yeah, I remember my first torso. Man, it was hacked bad.”

“I thought nothing like that happened around here,” Paul said. “I thought this was a quiet town.”

Jacko laughed, slapping him on the back. “It doesn’t happen much, kid. But it always happens once. You got to see hell just to know how good the rest of this bullshit is.”

Paul took a sip of beer. It tasted sour. He set the mug down. “He called it heaven.” But was that really what Fazzo the Fabulous had said?

83

Heaven? Or had he said you had to believe in heaven for 265 to not touch you?

Jacko said, “Christ, forget about it Paulie. Hey, how’s that little Marie?”

Paul inhaled the smoke of the bar, like he needed something more inside him than the thought of 265. “She’s okay.”

5

When he got home to their little place on Grove, with the front porch light on, he saw her silhouette in the front window. He unlocked the front door, noticing that the stone step had gotten scummy from damp and moss. The early morning was strung with humid mist, the kind that got under skin, the kind that permeated apartments and houses and alleys. Humid like an emotion. Inside, only the bathroom light was on. He walked in, glancing at her, sitting in the living room.

“Marie,” he said.

“I couldn’t get the t.v. to work,” her voice was humid. 84

“Sorry, kid,” he said, trying not to show exhaustion. “I’ll get it fixed tomorrow. You should be asleep.”

“I should be,” she said.

“Well, try and get some,” he whispered. He went into the darkened living room, careful not to trip over the books she always left on the rug, or the Coke bottles, or the newspapers open to the comics pages. As he knelt beside her, he touched the top of her head. “How was Mrs. Jackson?”

“Oh, she was something,” Marie said, and Paul was always amazed at her acerbic way of saying things. But it was nearly three a.m. on a Friday. No school tomorrow. Nothing for Marie but a vast day of nothing to do.

“How’s the pain?”

She didn’t answer.

Paul kissed his little sister on the forehead. “Well I need to go to bed. You should too.”

Marie pulled away, turning her chair back towards the window. “I hate what you did to me,” she whispered.

85

She said this more than he cared to remember.

“I hate it, too,” he said. Trying not to remember why she could say it in the first place. “You keep your oxygen on all day?”

She may have nodded, he couldn’t tell in the dim light.

“I hate what I did to myself,” she whispered, but he wasn’t sure. She may have said, “I hate what I do to myself.” Or, “I hate what I want to do to myself.” It was late. He’d had a couple of beers. She had whispered.

The three possibilities of what she had said played like a broken record through his mind every now and then, and in the next few days-staying up late, staring at the ceiling, hearing the hum of the machine that helped keep his beautiful twenty year old sister alive, he was sure she’d said the last thing.

I hate what I want to do to myself.

6

Clean up crew had been through, photographers had been through, the apartment was cordoned off, but not picked over much--with a full confession from Fazzo there wasn’t much need of serious evidence. 86

Paul stood in the doorway, nodding to one of the detectives in a silent hello.

He glanced around the apartment--it was trashed. Just a crazy old drunk’s shit-hole.

The bathroom light seeped like pink liquid from under the door.

He didn’t go in.

He didn’t want to.

He wanted to not think about the torso or the magician or even the lizard he’d seen scuttle into the bathtub.

But it was all he thought about for the next six months.

7

On his nights off, he’d sit in the living room with Marie and watch television. Marie loved television, and besides her reading, it was the only thing that got her out of herself. “I saw a great movie last night,”

she told him.

He glanced at her. The small thin plastic tubing of the oxygen like a Fu-Manchu mustache hanging from beneath her nostrils, hooked up to 87

the R2D2 Machine. The braces on her arms that connected to the metal brace that had become her spine and ribs. The wheelchair with its electric buzzes whenever she moved across the floor.

Still, she looked like Marie under all the metal and wire and tubing.

Pretty. Blond hair cut short. Her eyes bright, occasionally. Sometimes, he thought, she was happy.

“Yeah?” he asked.

“Yeah. It was amazing. A man and woman so in love, but they were divided by time and space. But he wanted her so badly. He sacrificed his life for her. But they had this one...moment. I cried and cried.”

“You should be watching happy movies,” Paul said, somewhat cheerfully.

“Happy or sad doesn’t matter,” Marie said. “That’s where you mix things up too much. Happy and sad are symptoms. It’s the thing about movies and books. It’s that glimpse of heaven. No one loves anyone like they do in movies and books. No one hurts as wonderfully. I saw a 88

movie about a woman in an car wreck just like ours, and she couldn’t move from the neck down. Her family spurned her. A friend had to take care of her. She thought of killing herself. Then, the house caught on fire. She had to crawl out of the house. A little boy helped her. The little boy couldn’t talk, and they became friends. I cried and cried.”

“I don’t like things that make you sad,” he said. He meant it.

“This,” Marie nodded to the machines and the walls. “This makes me sad. The stories get me out of this. They get me into heaven. Even if it’s only for a few minutes, it’s enough. You want to know why people cry at movies even when the movie is happy? I’ve thought about this a lot. It’s because life is never that good. They know that when the screen goes dark, they have to go back to the life off-screen where nothing is as good. People who have cancer in movies have moments of heaven. People who have cancer in real life just have cancer. People in car wrecks in movies and stories get heaven. In real life...”

She didn’t finish the thought.

“So you feel like you’re in heaven when you read a story?”

89

She nodded. “Or see a good movie. Not the whole movie, just a few minutes. But a few minutes of heaven is better than no heaven at all. You know what I dream of at night?”

“No machines?” he said, hoping she would not be depressed by this comment.

She shook her head. “No. I dream that everything is exactly like it is, only it’s absolutely wonderful. Then, I wake up.”

They were silent for a moment. The movie on television continued.

Then, she said, “I know why people kill themselves. It isn’t because they hate anyone. It isn’t because they want to escape. It’s because they think there’s no heaven. Why go on if there’s no heaven to get to?”

8

Paul went to see Fazzo the Fabulous on Death Row. Fazzo had gained some weight in prison, and looked healthier.

“I have to know something,” he said.

90

“Yeah, kid?” Fazzo looked at him carefully. “You want to know all about 265, don’t you? You been there since I got arrested?”

Paul nodded. Then, as if this were a revelation, he said, “You’re sober.”

“I have to be in here. No choice. The twelve-step program of incarceration...Let me tell you, 265 is a living breathing thing. It’s not getting rented out any time soon, either. It waits for the one it marked. You’re it, kid. It’s waiting for you, and you know it. And there’s no use resisting its charms.”

“Why did you kill that woman?”

“The forty million dollar question, kid. The forty million dollar question.”

“Forget it then.”

“Okay, you look like a decent kid. I’ll tell you. She was a sweet girl, but she wanted too much heaven. She and me both. Life’s job is not to give you too much heaven. But she got a taste for it, just like I did. You get addicted to it. So,” Fazzo gestured with his hands in a sawing motion. “She got in but the door came down. I mean, I know I 91

cut into her, using my hands. I know that. Only I wasn’t trying to cut into her. I liked her. She was sweet. I was trying to keep it from slamming down so hard on her. They thought I was insane at first, and were going to put me in one of those hospitals. But all the doctors pretty much confirmed that my marbles were around. Only all that boozing I did made me sound nuts.” Fazzo leaned over. “You got someone you love, kid?”

Paul shrugged. “I got my little sister. She’s it.”

“No other family?”

“I got cousins out of state. Why?”

“No folks?”

Paul shook his head.

“Okay, now it’s clear why 265 chose you, kid. You’re like me, practically no strings, right? But one beloved in your life. Me, I had Joey.”

Paul grimaced.

“Hey!” Fazzo flared up. “It wasn’t like that! Joey was a kid whose family threw him out with the garbage. I gave him shelter, and that was 92

it. Wasn’t nothing funny about it. Sick thing to think.” Then, after a minute he calmed. “I gave Joey what was in 265 and everything was good for awhile. Joey, he had some problems.”

“Like--”

Fazzo shrugged. “We all got problems. Joey, he had leukemia. He was gonna die.” Then it was as if a light blinked on in the old man’s eyes. “You know about Joey, don’t you? It touched you in there, and it let you know about him. Am I right? When it touches you, it lets you know about who’s there and who’s not, and maybe about who’s coming soon. You know about Joey?”

Paul shook his head.

Fazzo seemed disappointed. “Sometimes I think it was all an illusion, like my bag of tricks. In here, all these bricks and bars and grays--sometimes I forget what it was like to go through the door.”

“What happened to Joey?”

“He’s still there. I put him there.”

“You killed him?”

93

“Holy shit, kid, you think I’d kill a little boy I loved as if he were my own son? I told you, I put him there, through 265. He’s okay there. They treat him decent.”

“He’s not in the apartment,” Paul said, as if trying to grasp something.

“You want me to spell it out for you, kid? 265 is the door to Heaven. You don’t have to believe me, and it ain’t the Heaven from Jesus Loves Me Yes I Know. It’s a better Heaven than that. It’s the Heaven to beat all Heavens.” Fazzo spat at the glass that separated them. “You come here with questions like a damn reporter and you don’t want answers. You want answers you go into that place. You won’t like what you find, but it’s too late for you. 265 is yours, kid. Go get it. And whoever it is you love, if it’s that sister of yours, make sure she gets in it. Make sure she gets Heaven. Maybe that’s what it’s all about. Maybe for someone to get Heaven, someone else has to get Hell.”

“Like that woman?”

Fazzo did not say a word. He closed his eyes and began humming. 94

Startled, he opened his eyes again and said, “Kid! You got to get home now!”

“What?”

“NOW!” Fazzo shouted and smashed his fist against the glass. The guard standing in the corner behind him rushed up to him, grabbing him by the wrists. “Kid, it’s your sister it wants, not you. You got caught, but it’s your sister it wants. And there’s only one way to get into heaven! Only one way, kid! Go get her now!”

9

Paul didn’t rush home--he didn’t like giving Fazzo the benefit of the doubt. He’d be on shift in another hour, and usually he spent this time by catching a burger and a Coke before going into the station. But he drove the murky streets as the sun lowered behind the stacks of castle-like apartment buildings on Third Street. The wind brushed the sky overhead with oncoming clouds, and it looked as if it would rain in a few minutes. Trash lay in heaps around the alleys, and he saw the faces of the walking wounded along the stretch of boulevards that were 95

BOOK: Halloween Candy
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