By Attila Zønn
Continued from HOLES:
She swerved to miss the kid on the bike and drove straight into the man selling golf balls, sitting under an umbrella by the side of the road. Death was instantaneous for the man, and his golf balls flew into the air along with him, over the knoll and down onto Albino, Manuel and Jose who were framing footings for a new house in that subdivision. The golf ball man managed to break Jose’s neck with his dead body while Albino and Manuel were pelted with dimpled projectiles as they ran for their lives screaming, “Fodas!”
Down one lot they had already started pouring concrete into the footings. The spotter became distracted by the drama and forgot he was guiding a reversing cement truck, edging precariously to the edge of an eight-foot drop. It wasn’t the reverse beeps that finally brought the spotter to the present but the crashing groan of a fully laden cement truck sliding down the embankment on its side…
George Cheese had once lived in the country, but now the country was gone, and he was in the grasp of urban sprawl.
“They’ll never get this far north,” the realtor had said thirty years ago when George wanted to disappear from the rat race. Now the rats were all around him.
Sitting on the verandah in the mornings, coffee in hand, he watches the rats come out of their all brick nests, hop in their cars and swarm out, bumper to bumper, all the way down to the Big City. And bumper to bumper they all come back before sunset.
Ah, the blessed country.
The blissful serenity of mornings.
George once lived in the Big City. He’d slogged his working days amid the glass and steel, the drafts, the lights, the honks, the people crossing on the green in herds, dazed by the thoughts of their lives.
He can understand the allure.
Downtown—the gleam, the bustle, the happenings, but also its parts of sexy decrepitude.
Downtown—the paradox; inhabited by the wealthy or the homeless.
He had been dazzled by the allure. He had been a suit and a bullshit artist.
Bullshit: if you’re good at it you’ll make lots of money. He believes from 1980 on, it’s all been bullshit. The 1970’s was the last decade with substance. When it ended the world became artificial. With the disposable razor came the disposable relationship. Everything is disposable now, and everything is bullshit.
He looks around him at the million dollar homes made of sticks and plastic and clay.
One day, it’s all going to crash—it has to, it’s unsustainable— and these houses won’t be worth the sticks they’re made of.
The developer had offered him a fortune back when George started seeing rooftops on the horizon, but he was stubborn and stupid, thinking he could stop them with his powerless ‘no’.
They went around him.
Now his white siding house on this large lot is an anachronism alongside these tight lots loaded in brick.
He should have taken the dough and moved another thirty years away.
George likes to scoff. He knows it’s not an endearing characteristic, but endearing has never been a characteristic he’s wished to bless upon the world. He likes to say—there’s no one around him to say it to, but he likes the sound of his voice cracking the solitude—”When it comes to the outside world, my fence is high.”
In the distance sirens surge from either that new hospital or the new fire station, and there is a helicopter overhead. He looks up and says, “Those news guys are quick. Jesus! They’re quick. Like Johnny On The Spot.” He looks down at his faithful black lab Mojito and says, “Like Johnny on the spot, eh, Mo?” Mojito looks up at him then lies down.
As the sirens intensify, he sees they’re from a fire truck with an ambulance in tow, then right behind, the cops.
“What the hell’s going on down there?” he says and steps off his verandah. Mojito follows him to the edge of the property. George sees the intersection blocked and flashing lights.
He says, “Stay.” The dog sits, and George crosses the road to get a better view of the commotion.
George enjoys his simple life but isn’t adverse to the excitement of human tragedy unfolding. As long as there aren’t bodies strewn across the road or pools of blood—the sight of blood gives George a sharp twinge in his groin and wrists—he likes the sight of a good smash’ em up to give him another reason to shake his head.
George hasn’t wanted to be part of society since that day he sat across from the old lady who was handing him her life savings to invest. He had perfected his kind smile and his reassuring tone. The woman wanted to grow her money so she could leave it to her grandsons when she went to see God. She had only seen them a handful of times in their lives. They lived in a distant city, and she wanted to do this because she loved them and wanted them to remember her.
An uncharacteristic loving warmth suddenly came over George at that moment, and he wanted to hold her sweet face in his hands.
He leaned across the desk and whispered, “Then don’t give your money to me or anyone else in this building.” He touched her hand and stood, walked out of the office, out of the building, and went home where he told his wife he was leaving the profession. She had a fit, but that was okay, he was done with his wife as well, and his sons, who never noticed him unless they were asking for money, and his disingenuous neighbours, and the human race and all that other…bullshit. As he drove away from that life he thought, I only have one life, and I’ll do what I want with it.
Back when they started digging holes around him, they wanted to connect him to the grid, but he refused. He didn’t want to be found because as soon as they find you, they’ll want to sell you something. He’s proud of his self-sufficiency. He’s got an excellent greenhouse. He has a lemon tree. A diesel generator powers everything—during the ice storm, he sat cosy in his self-sufficiency while the rats were scrambling to find a place to keep warm.
Whenever he requires meat, he heads over to Marta’s place. It used to be a farm, but now the rats were creeping along the fringes. He’s known Marta a long time and was great friends with her hubby Slatko, but one day the big C took the big Slav, and that ended those wonderful evenings around a bottle of Courvoisier, engaged in discussions of politics, religion, and all that was wrong with humanity.
Marta’s a lonely woman with a young son. She has chickens. Sometimes while her boy Robbie—he’s a little bit slow—runs down a chicken, George is permitted a quicky in the kitchen, and for this, he always pays much more than what the chicken is worth.
She’ll sell out soon, and George wonders where he’ll get a chicken and a quicky.
He’s entertained the idea of having Marta live with him, but he’s lived too many years in solitude that the idea of having another body sharing his space would feel like a nuisance. And she’s got a slow boy. Nothing against the kid—he’s eager, and he’s amenable, but George would have no patience with stupidity.
He approaches the intersection and sees there’s a truck with the words The Fine furniture Folks on the side. It’s ploughed into a pile of earth, and there are golf balls everywhere on the road. The paramedics are lowering a dark-haired woman from the driver’s side. Her face is bloody. She’s limp, and it doesn’t look good.
There’s a long-haired young guy with a bloody forehead walking around.
Suddenly there’s a man standing beside him. George notices he’s missing his front teeth when he says, “That’s a nasty accident,” then falls to the ground.
“Hey!” George yells to the paramedics and points to the man on the ground.
He leans down over the man and takes his outstretched hand.
“You’ll be okay buddy,” he says. The man looks up at George, and sputtering blood from his mouth says, “Will you call my sister and tell her I’ll be late for dinner?”
Jen was putting the finely crafted linen noose around her neck when she heard the commotion outside and wanted to be curious one last time in her life. In her moments of profound depression, she’s tried to think of a time when she felt even the slightest bit of happiness. But there was never a time when she was happy to be alive.
The methods for ending a life are many—she’s researched. Slitting your wrists in the bath, but that’s messy. She’s always prided herself in a sparkling bathroom. An overdose of sleeping pills, but pills of any kind had always made her gag. Jumping off a bridge? She didn’t want to feel the impact even though she knows it would only last a millisecond. She’d jumped off a low roof once, and that moment in the air had felt so liberating. She tried to land on her head, but her body decided to land on its feet, breaking an ankle. While she convalesced she’d read that not all falls from heights are lethal, so she never tried again because it could leave her paralyzed and the last thing she wanted was to sit immobile in a wheelchair and never be able to kill herself again.
The first time she tried to kill herself she was twelve, vacationing in the Kawartha’s, and immediately after a meal of hotdogs and potato salad she rushed into the lake and waited to drown but she wouldn’t drown, so she tried to inhale underwater but that caused her body to fight for air and the panic frightened her off suicide for a few years, but the urge came back in her teens, spurred on by her sense of worthlessness. Though she didn’t mind the idea of a painful death, presentation was important. Running head long into a subway train was once a thought but that wouldn’t have been practical since she wanted an open casket funeral.
Since her school days, she’s loved the words O happy dagger! This is my sheath. There rust, and let me die. She repeats these words for comfort as she goes about the house tidying and cleaning. Sometimes she puts a tune to the words and it makes her smile.
She unhooked the noose and came down from her stool beneath the light fixture in the foyer and unvelcroed the ankle weights. She had on the blue dress she wanted to be viewed in and wore a pair of Depends, because she’d read that when people hang themselves their sphincter releases and she didn’t want her hanging body to be undignified in death.
She opened the front door and walked to the bottom of the driveway. It was all happening across the street, past the square pits where houses will one day stand, that will block her view of the trees beyond—those same trees that she hurries to whenever there’s a lightning storm.
There was a cement truck with its wheels in the air, and two men with tool pouches, pacing around like they didn’t know in which direction to go and across the way was a large truck with The Fine Furniture Folks written on its side. It looked like it was stuck on a pile of earth and on the driver’s side there was a woman hanging out the window. She wasn’t moving.
Her neighbours had come out of their houses too, crossed the road and some were holding cell phones in the air.
And that’s when her husband drove onto the driveway. She sighed, knowing now she’ll have to kill herself tomorrow. He’s brought take out for dinner, and she cringes at the thought that she’ll have to endure another excruciating night of his love and devotion. She wonders what he’ll feel tomorrow when he opens the front door and sees her hanging in the foyer.
Her husband was a nice man. She wished she could love him. He deserved that at least after putting up with her sullen life.
“That’s nasty,” he says as they both look out at the happening across the way. He puts his arm around her, looks at her and smiles and says, “That’s a new dress. What’s the occasion?”
Copyright©Attila Zønn 2017