By Attila Zønn
“I don’t know what to do,” Karen says.
“Why? What’s wrong?” Joanne says.
“I don’t want to get into it. It’s so upsetting.”
“I’ll try to help if I can, but if you don’t want to talk about it—”
“I felt sick. I wanted to throw up. The man I’d been married to all these years—”
“Did he cheat on you? The bastard. I always—”
“No, it’s worse. Oh, I don’t think I’ll ever get over this. We’ve had our troubles, and we’ve worked them out, but this—”
“Take a deep breath, and tell me.”
Karen raises her hand and summons the waitress.
“Can you top up my coffee?” she says to the waitress.
“So tell me,” Joanne says.
Karen holds up a hand and looks around her. She whispers, “Let’s wait till she brings the coffee.”
The waitress returns and fills their cups.
Karen watches the waitress walk back to her station then leans across the table towards Joanne. Joanne leans towards Karen.
“You know Tom thinks he’s a writer,” Karen says.
“You told me he writes.”
“Yeah, he writes, all the time. Comes home from work, goes into that room, and I don’t see him again til bedtime, maybe.”
“Is he? Or has he got something else up his sleeve?”
“What do you mean?”
“He doesn’t show me what he writes anymore. He used to, and I was happy to read it. If that’s his dream, I want to help him. English was my best subject. I didn’t want to be critical, you know, but he had run on sentences all over the place and spelling mistakes galore. I’d point that out, and he’d get upset. ‘Overlook the spelling and grammar,’ he said. ‘I fix that later. What about the story?’ The story. Right. The story. One story was about a woman drowning her retarded kid in the bathtub. Another one was a woman who’s husband blamed her because she wasn’t watching their daughter and the kid gets run over by a car in a parking lot. They divorce, then two years later, the lady gets a phone call in the middle of the night. On the other end, she hears, ‘Mommy?'”
“Yeah. Interesting, but weird. Not Tommy-ish as I’ve known him. He’s got a story set in the 1800’s about a deformed man, who all day just thinks of the many brutal ways he can kill his old father because the father beats him all the time.”
Karen laughs. “He has a story about Elvis, still alive and living in a trailer park, afraid to go out on August 16 because he thinks people will recognize him. Elvis has a cat, and the cat tells Elvis he has to man up, go out, and get him some cat food. I laughed at that one. I couldn’t help myself. It was so funny. Tom ripped the papers out of my hands and said, ‘It’s a fantasy, not a comedy.’ He hasn’t shown me anything since. I felt bad. He’s never been touchy about anything in his life, water off a duck’s back, but he’s somebody else with his writing.”
“The burgeoning artist.”
“Burgeoning, right. I felt so bad about laughing at his story I wanted to make it up to him. While he was at work, I thought I’d give his writer’s room a dusting. He’s got the shade pulled down in there, and there’s papers all over the desk, and it smells.”
“Plates of half eaten food are piled up on a chair in the corner. I opened the window and started straightening out his desk, and there it was, under all the clutter.”
Joanne gives Karen a quizzical look.
“There was a book,” Karen says. “Titled The Demon Haunted World.”
“My husband’s a devil worshipper!”
“No way! Tommy? I don’t believe it.”
“Then why does he have this book?—and it’s written by somebody named Carl Sagan. Sagan. Right, like that’s going to fool anybody.”
“How do you mean?”
Joanne smiles and reaches out to hold her friend’s hand. “I’ve heard of Carl Sagan,” she says. “He’s not Satan. Did you open the book?”
“I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. There might be images of human sacrifice or blood drinking. The good Catholic woman that I am? That would ruin my day.”
“Maybe he’s doing research. Writers do research so they can get their facts straight.”
“Or maybe he’s a devil worshipper, and this book is a manual on how to become the king wizard.”
“The title of a book doesn’t mean anything. You have to look inside.”
“He goes out in the evenings. He never used to do that. He used to come home, we’d have dinner, then watch some TV. He doesn’t tell me anything about where he goes. Once I caught him at the front door putting on his shoes. He looked guilty about something. I asked him, ‘Where you going?’ He said he was blocked—what does that mean?—and needed to free his mind. He said driving around helps him ‘unblock’. Ever since he started this writing thing, he’s not the same man. His mind’s always some place else. I feel alone. I feel like he’s cheating on me with his thoughts.”
“You should talk to him.”
“He scares me. I’ve seen Rosemary’s Baby. It was on the other night. I asked him if he wanted to watch it.”—Karen nods and winks—”Just to see if I’m on the right path. He said, ‘Why? I’ve seen it. It’s all bullshit.’ It’s all bullshit because he knows better now. They say the smartest thing the devil ever did was convince us he doesn’t exist.”
“Talk to him. Do you want me to look at this book?”
“Would you? I can’t. I just can’t.”
Copyright©Attila Zønn 2018