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Authors: Michael Marano

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BOOK: Stories From the Plague Years
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—And when you killed Molino, you reflected his two-faced nature?

No trace of tension in his voice. In his position, I don’t know that I could be so calm.

Brought forth
might be more accurate than

—By taking a machete and giving him two faces, literally?

He spoke as one would ask,
May I come in?
I granted him entry to my trespasses.

—No. Splitting his face gave him two halves of a face. What I’d tried to do was fit a two-sided mirror in the wound, so each half-face would find a whole in the reflections. But I couldn’t get the mirror to stay in the bloody groove.

After hours near the campus, on an errand in the college town I hated. It was twilight: a time not defined by the setting of the sun, but by the shift from the vespers-shuffle of students bearing spine-curving book bags to the chugging of fortress-like SUVs, their rear windows reflecting the flicker-glow of backseat DVD players sedating trophy kids just picked up like laundry parcels from daycare.

I walk familiar streets unburdened by thick tomes, just a small valise. I worry I’ll be recognized. But though I see people I’ve taken classes with, I’m unnoticed. The face of one tossed out of grad school is a sight resented by other grad students. Bit by bit, the offending sight is pushed into invisibility, much like the long-vacant house of a suicide on a sunny street.

Sandwich shops I used to frequent are now grooming salons for men and women. Massage and aromatherapy suites have replaced a used bookstore. The wheeled suburban homes that are minivans thin out as I catalogue the changes to the town. I babble to my cancer, muttering things like, “
Soon I’ll have some payback for you
,” and “
I’m going to set right the reason you exist, yes indeedy
,” to distract myself, to keep from backing out. I walk the streets, full of the deep-gnawing uncertainty that has caused my very cells to shark my flesh. I half hope that I might get lost in my thoughts and miss Molino in his office, and thus recuse myself from vengeance.

I carry the doubt in my marrow, until I come to a reliquary of that which will keep me safe throughout my crusade of Justice and righting of Karmic wrongs. Over the span of a breath, doubt bowed in reverence to my new certainty as I tranced to the window display of a chain bookstore that doubled as a corporate coffee shop, a place like one in which I’d worked as a humiliated puppet in another life, when a future with options still seemed to stretch before me. I looked at the high-end hardbacks and paperbacks laid in a carefully posed jumble. There was no stated theme to the display, beyond the fact that all the novels had been released in the past week. Yet the cover of each book is a prayer. An idolatry to fear and sainted worry. Fear that the sacred home, and all that the home implies and the goods it contains, might be violated, might be depreciated by the stigma of a bloody boot-print on its white carpets. The razor-wielding apes and speckled bands swollen with poison that stalked the sitting rooms of more than a century ago are reborn as diabolical killers, Dark and Shadowy Men given new expression as fiends suitable for defeat by Sandra Bullock, Ashley Judd or Angelina Jolie in the inevitable film adaptations. These killers don’t merely kill. Mere killing is
, suitable for dank bars that are shown on the evening news to be full of lowlifes who might deserve to die. These mythic killers disrupt. They crack foundations. Their power to induce sweat-sweetened worry is as primordial as their capacity to induce delight. The books in the window are a sacred pandemonium. A wallow of bourgeois trinkets intended to be taken home and ultimately reaffirm the home’s safety and sanctity. But only after an investment of anxiety is offered, like the church testimonial of a hypocrite, to the shadowy figures on the books’ covers . . . ominous as the silhouettes on Neighbourhood Crime Watch signs. Lush homes with single lights left on in attic windows adorn several covers, hinting of victims inside awaiting the arrival of the Mythic Killer the same way a lascivious old aunt in an Edwardian melodrama would await her lothario. Other covers show family photos with the glass of their frames cracked, dashed to lovely hardwood floors cluttered with the remnants of violence. A bloody handprint on the window of a country cabin. A young woman whose frightened eyes are held in the sliver of light that strikes the ornately moulded closet door behind which she peers.

The stimuli of the covers are Pavlovian as the glowing, gaunt-cheeked faces on magazine covers that beam next to article teaser-lines like “Pathogens in Your Handbag?” The books nurture a loving blend of envy and worry: envy for their comfortable settings and the lifestyles of their protagonists, and worry that those settings and lifestyles might be invaded. The delicious treat awaiting the buyer is the reassertion of normalcy after the Shadowy Men have accepted the adulterous invitation to trespass. The books are narcotics, as carefully marketed and tested as the soothing greens of the carpets between the bookstore shelves and the opiate greens on the logo of the coffee mugs sold in the adjoining café.

The sight of the books, totems of what I would channel, crystallized a kind of armour around me. I felt safe—a walking vessel of potential. Where doubt had been, the dark angel of our times now entered, much in the way New Age charlatans are said to take their Atlantean and Alien “Walk-Ins.”

I turned from the reliquary, and saw with a quiet laugh that a theatrically fine rain had begun to fall. The town I hated acknowledged my return in a way no former colleague on these streets could. I cloaked myself as a shadowy figure, a Dark Man backlit by halogen street lamps as I entered the walled campus. My shadow was long and looming on the beaded grass as I looked up and saw that the light was still on in Molino’s office.

I used my old key to enter the department, and climbed the gorgeous oak staircase, leaving damp footprints with second-hand shoes bought that afternoon from a vintage store. Portraits of former department chairs looked at me with contempt. I was an excised tumour returning to their sacred body. I expected a rush of memories as I walked to Molino’s door. But I had tunnel vision, focused only on the task ahead.

I knocked, unsure if the ache in my stomach was a last twitch of nerves or the cancer that nursed on my guts.

“Come in.”

The room had changed. Molino had changed.

His new wife, a former student less than half his age, had made her loving Electra mark. I’d expected to walk towards Molino’s desk under the eyes of intellectual Patriarchs, not under eaves of ferns hanging rain forest-like from the ceiling. Gone were the oak-browns, blacks and greys. The colors of sand and deep-forest moss dominated the room. Through surgery or exercise or both, Molino had less of a paunch to sit into. His bottom-feeder face had become even less expressive. His moustache was trimmed. When his awful gaze focused on my face clumsily, the way an infant’s gaze finds the eyes of a stranger standing above its crib, it was as if it was a struggle for his face to express the disdain he wished it to.

“Mr. Garrison,” he said, his voice accentuated by the gurgle of the tranquility fountain by his desk, “I think you should leave.”

I don’t know why he said that. Perhaps others he’d screwed over had confronted him at night. Maybe scenes like this were something a crawling shit like him got used to.

I dropped my shoulders, gave him the body language of submission, the posture of a whelp backing from a grey alpha wolf, in this, his forest-themed office.

I reached in my overcoat, closed my fingers around the damp wood handle.

I’ve no memory of bringing down the machete, only of the blow’s shuddering up my wrist and the twinge it cracked in my elbow. There was connection between us, a
passing through the blade that tingled in the brass rivets of the handle.

His eyes still had their air of authority, though his right brow arched, as if some aspect of him were offended by the awful Truth that he was not a Prince, infallible in his reign, offended that he was nothing more than a fuck whose time had come. The death rattle seeping from his split mouth sounded like an objection, a refusal to accept the situation. The trickle of his expiring incontinence made harmony with his tranquility fountain. His face at last found its desired expressiveness as his severed, botox-soothed muscles contracted and relaxed.

At last, with his wandering left eye separated from its twin by a steel blade, his gaze didn’t offend me.

—There was nothing about a mirror in the police report.


My body had gifted me with the memory of how it had felt to glide to Molino’s desk, to move like a breeze with ecstatic, ballet precision, and kill by way of symbol as a symbol. I knew as I crafted his wound that many people walk away with injuries more dire than what I inflicted. Molino was hurt, though not as hurt as he’d be by a windshield striking him at sixty miles per hour. He
could have
lived. He
could have
required another blow from my blade. But I’d become aware of myself as we were joined by the machete. I was aware of how I would look from the campus lawn below: a shadowy, irresistibly dark figure framed in the window of a comfortable space on a rainy night.
was the instant I’d felt Molino die, the instant that the vibration of the handle soothed with his surrender to the symbol of his wound, to the flattery of the wound’s baroque iconography. It was the instant his flesh accepted as fatal that which his Id-deep imagination had dreaded and welcomed, as if his body were a fetish doll I’d stabbed with pins.

—The police report on Molino’s death mentioned nothing about a mirror.

His hand rested on a file at the far left of his desk; I guessed it was the file holding the report. It was as if Doctor Johansson tested the reality of the file as its contents were proving to be untrue or incomplete. How disconcerting it must be, to face the fallibility of what on cop shows provides irrefutable plot points and exposition.

I smiled as my arm twinged an echo of what it had felt through the handle of the machete.

—That’s no surprise. The cops in that town never have to deal with anything worse than a co-ed getting her purse snatched. Place makes Stepford look like Fort Apache. Before I left Molino’s office, I spread fake evidence . . . cigarette butts with lipstick on the filters, a surgical glove, photocopies from the
Satanic Verses
for the sake of old-fashioned, pre-9/11 paranoia. I left the mirror in Molino’s office closet. Probably still there.

—It could be.

He lifted his hand from the offending file, put the cold, smokeless pipe back in his mouth and rubbed his palms. The lens that would allow my hypocrite brother to watch our Second Act recorded all that we said from behind the one-way glass that dominated the east wall. It will be the one-day foundation of my twin’s perhaps Stanislavsky-based performance. Even with such a complete record, transcribed from videotape by an intern from the Psychology department of the nearby state college, all the information I just presented to Doctor Johansson would have to be sorted and analyzed in new reports he’d have to file in triplicate. I’d just increased Doctor Johansson’s investment in our drama. My hypocrite twin will use the drama of this one-room setting to craft further drama. Aristotle taught us that drama cleanses. But at a price: participation. Investment. I craved, I
, the full catharsis of this theatre. I needed such cleansing to complete my pauper’s grave escape. I increased my investment to match that of Johansson’s.

—It’s from Dante, I told him . . . in hard and shadowed words.

The air trembled in the gel of my eyes, as if from the heat of a furnace.

—Pardon me?

I found, even as the shaking air took the aura of a late summer field about to know a hail-bringing storm, that I felt a certain loneliness. Doctor Johansson’s judgment-free questions, so short and uninvolved, made me miss his more active conversation. The catharsis of this theatre brought a kind of isolation. I might isolate myself further as I added detail to the mask I wore.

—My ideas about Justice and how it needs to be poetic. In
The Inferno
, the punishments of the damned fit their crimes. Gluttons wallow like pigs, tyrants boil in rivers of blood. Dante struck me when I read him. His vision of Justice is very profound. Beautiful.

My words further changed the space of our drama the way aromatic woods burned as offerings change a place of worship. The words, unlikely by virtue of their dramatic force, made themselves more likely by my speaking them.

—I’ve never read Dante, he said. But I’ve meant to. Could you explain more?

How would my twin nurture his own work when he viewed the tape of this exchange? I wonder if he, through his craft, could feel or express the river-ice fragility of the reality I knew . . . the reality I crafted that allowed me to speak as I did without sounding mad.

—I killed through myth. I killed
myth. I used myth to become as invisible and deadly as the bogeymen that stalk our culture. Dean,
, the dying schmuck without health insurance, couldn’t do what I’ve done. I set aside Dean and became myth. Part of the mythology of one who kills is an obsession with myth. Paintings by Blake. Poems. Hogarth illustrations. Dante. Milton. The Old Testament. Look at late night cable TV for my mythic forebears. My templates. Just graze on through the channels. To kill mythically, you have to tap the mythology of the killer. And you have to tap all the myths that such a mythic killer taps. It seems all airy and ethereal, I know. But the clothes and shiny jewellery I wear now are an iconic part of that mythology, too, and they’re real enough to chafe me. Ideas like the ones I just talked about are part of the myth too, and they’re real enough for you to hear them.

Could I know, as I spoke from my twilight of the real and the unreal, whether I changed the day-lit realm in which Doctor Johansson heard me? Could I know if I were to view the tape of what I’d just said?

—Why the myth of Dante? Or . . . the myth . . . the myth of the killer who uses Dante? Is that . . . more correct?

BOOK: Stories From the Plague Years
9.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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