This is a story I’ve submitted far too many times. No one seems to like it but me. Oh well.
The club is filled with more flashing lights than people and my heartbeat’s normal palpitations are being replaced by the thump of the bass, so I’m trying to leave. The club seems to be modeled after King Solomon’s mines, though, so every passageway leads to another cove of couples desperately trying to fit their heads into each other’s mouths, and my button-up shirt and jeans are ridiculous attire for this type of exploring. I should at least have one of those hats with a flashlight on the top.
I text a couple people that I’m leaving after twenty minutes of wasted spelunking and burst out of an exit, and take gulps of fresh air. I stumble on the uneven pavement and run into a girl smoking a cigarette – she’s beautiful, with shiny hair and equally shiny shirt and heels. She shines.
“Can I borrow one of them?”
“Yes, and you’re British. Are you xenophobic? Don’t give cigarettes to tea-dumping colonials?”
“You’ve got quite a vocabulary for a drunk. Here.” She searches through her purse and eventually holds a cigarette aloft. I feel like this is when the movie would start – the young, soul-searching twentysomething drunkenly stumbles out of a club and into the adventure of the lifetime. Maybe she’s some type of secret agent. I probably only think this because James Bond movies are British, but still. Anything is possible.
“Thanks.” I put it in my mouth. When she lights it, I inhale and cough.
“Don’t smoke often, darling?”
“No, trying to. I’ve always wanted to look cool.”
“Coughing is an excellent start. If you could blow your nose next, that would be lovely.”
“Have a handkerchief?” I think this is flirting. Is this flirting? It’s hard to tell. I might not even be saying words. I could be slurring. I can’t hear myself, so I have no clue. In my head it sounds suave. Maybe that’s all that counts.
“If you’re trying to flirt, you can save it. A cute guy like you doesn’t need my services.”
Services? This is when the movie starts. When the American with the heart of gold marries the prostitute and helps her to clean up her life and follow her real dream of becoming a professional ice skater.
“I suppose not. Still, maybe you’ll come to my apartment for free. You know, get the client addicted with a little taste.”
“Nice try, love. Why don’t I just call you a taxi and you can be on your way?”
Damn. This isn’t going as I planned. She’s already calling a taxi. I’m already getting in, throwing my once-puffed cigarette into the gutter, looking at her shininess through the window. I wave, she waves, and we part. Forever, probably. Maybe this is where the movie starts. I could go searching for her tomorrow.
“Have a nice evening?” the driver asks.
“Yes. No. Yes.”
“One of those, eh? Who was the girl? Meet her in the club? Did you get her number?”
I tell him my address instead of answering, and he goes on talking. I decide to let him talk. I don’t exactly know how you go and find a prostitute. Where do the prostitutes hang out in the daytime?
“You haven’t heard a thing I’ve said, have you? Still over the moon over that girl? I don’t blame you, she was a pretty one. She reminds me of my wife. Met her in a nightclub, but she was the singer.”
“Was?” I ask. Now I’m intrigued.
“She’s dearly departed now, God rest her soul.”
A singer on the radio starts crooning, “It’s a bad man’s world,” over and over, and I start to believe it. It is a bad man’s world. Only a bad man would hire a prostitute, and only a bad man would know where prostitutes hang out in the daytime.
“I miss her, you know. It’s lonely-lonelier than I could have thought. She bought me this cab, you know. Gave me the best gift anyone could have given me – self sufficiency.”
I catch a glimpse of the guy’s face in the rear-view mirror and my mind jump starts out of reverie at the sight – he’s a skeletal old man, wearing a baseball cap that keeps creeping down his forehead because it’s a couple sizes too large. His eyeballs bulge under bushy eyebrows and his skin hangs off his bones, like his skin is a couple sizes too large as well. Probably lost a lot of weight recently. He looks ill-fitted.
And his teeth are dead white. They match the whites of his eyeballs, and both keep catching the light of fluorescent storefronts so that his smile and his eyes shine and pop as he talks about his dead wife.
He’s been talking this whole time, but I just tune back in. I’m sitting forward, trying to force my brain to wrap my mind around his words because it seems dreadfully important.
“She only died a month ago, and she wasn’t dressed right. Her sister trussed up in this god-awful purple dress that made her look like a school teacher, which she wasn’t. She should have been wearing that slinky black number that I met her in. She should have been buried with a microphone. No one in her family ever came to see her sing. I still can’t believe what she saw in me. I mean, I’m tender, sure. Maybe that’s all she had wanted, you know? I tried not to question my luck while she was alive, but now I question it all the time. Why was she with me at all?”
I don’t need to talk, which is a good thing. I’m transfixed. I wonder if he tells all his passengers this. Maybe this is how the movie starts. Maybe now we go to one of those jazz clubs that stay open in the wee hours and we both get up and sing her favorite song. In my mind it’s a jazzy version of the girl who is still singing on the radio. It’s a bad man’s world.
“What do you think, buddy? Do you think you could help?”
I zoned out again.
“I think… well, I lived with her. You know? I know that she would be happier if she had been laid to rest in the form she was when she was happiest. How I like to remember her. Me in the front row, her in that slinky black dress. I think she deserves it.”
“How would I help?”
“All you would have to do is dig. My back just isn’t what it used to be, and you look like a strong enough guy. I’ll do the rest. You don’t even have to look. I’ll change her real quick and then we can be on our way. I won’t even charge you for the cab ride.” He chuckles to himself. I don’t know if there was a joke in there, but it doesn’t seem like anything he said was inherently funny.
I’m trying to keep my mind in the present but it’s difficult. He will change her. I have to dig. Do I have to dig? Maybe I do. Maybe this is how the movie starts, and we find out that there have been grave robbers and we have to find the body of his wife.
“I will help.” I think this how I should say it. I think it sounds definite. I put the emphasis on will.
The girl on the radio has stopped singing about whose world it is. He turns it off and the ride is silent, other than other cars and my breathing. I keep my eyes on his in the rear view mirror, and only once, after they flash from a car going in the other direction, do we make eye contact. It makes my heart jump, but I notice his teeth are grimly set and he’s no longer smiling. If he was smiling, I would be worried.
The car stops in a part of town I don’t know and I get out. The night is still, chilly. I wish I had brought a coat.
“It’s a bit brisk. Borrow my coat. What’s your name, by the way?” He’s reading my mind. Maybe I’m thinking out loud. I take the coat from his outstretched hand and he goes around and opens the trunk.
“Martin.” He’s grabbing a beat-up suitcase, which must hold the dress.
He leads the way and he’s thinner than I had imagined, especially without his coat.
“Let me carry that for you,” I say, and grab the suitcase. It’s a polite thing to do. I’m buzzed and I still remember pleasantries.
We reach the opening of the graveyard and look in. It’s unlit, but it doesn’t seem to bother Martin. Unburdened by the suitcase he trudges ahead, gravel crunching beneath his feet. Wind kicks up and a few leaves flit onto the path. Somewhere, a gate groans.
Oh my god.
This is where the movie starts. I’m the first victim. Martin is the grim reaper – that’s why he’s so thin. He’s a skeleton. He stole the skin off of his last victim. I stop and Martin turns around, his teeth and his eyes glinting from reflected streetlight.
“You okay? We’re here. I should have brought a flashlight, but I didn’t exactly plan this.”
He sounds truthful. He didn’t plan this. He didn’t plan this. It’s my new mantra, I’m thinking it over and over. It’s comforting. But then I can hear it, like a voice over in a trailer. He didn’t plan this. And then the strings come up and the title flickers on screen, written in blood. As I’m thinking about the title, I realize my feet have followed him, have brought me to his side.
He points to her grave – Claire Idas. Beloved Wife and Daughter. The date of her death is just a few weeks ago. He’s telling the truth. He didn’t plan this, he didn’t plan this.
I start digging. I have the shovel. He has nothing. He’s a weak old man with a bad back. I’m in charge. I’ll hit him with the shovel and I’ll run off and steal the cab and drive to my house and turn on all the lights. I look up and he’s looking down at me, his body is shaking. More leaves are kicked up by the wind, blown into the grave, and for a moment it seems like he might fall in as well. I keep digging and keep digging and my hands start to hurt. My back starts to hurt. He couldn’t have done this alone. He didn’t plan this. He didn’t plan this.
I dig further, wipe cold sweat from my forehead. I hear him whimper. He’s crying.
“Claire,” he whispers. I look down and see that I’ve uncovered a bit of pine. He lowers himself into the grave and says, through tears, “I can take it from here.”
He moves the rest of the dirt slowly, and I don’t know what to think. I’m tired and I feel sick, like I should throw up, like throwing up would get rid of my anxiety. He didn’t plan this, he didn’t plan this. Why am I still in the grave with him? I start to climb out when I hear the creak of him opening the coffin.
I look back down and I see him standing over her, feet on either side of her body, dirt spilling into the white satin of the coffin. She’s beautiful. Graceful. He’s crying and stripping her and I look away, out into the graveyard, up into the sky – which provides no comfort. I just hear his strangled sobs, and then a gunshot.
It rings out clear and my hands immediately check myself because I feel like I have been shot, I cannot believe how loud it is, my ears are ringing and my heart is pumping, adding adrenaline, and I spin round and he’s crumpled next to her in the grave, blood pouring from his head onto the white satin, a revolver gripped in his hand.
My legs almost give out. All I can hear is the ringing echo of the shot. I want to run, but I don’t. I want to scream, but I don’t. I stand and look at this graceful looking woman named Claire and her husband named Martin and then I grab the shovel. I use it to close the coffin.
When I start filling in the grave, I can’t decide – this could be where the movie starts. But it might be where it ends.