Alright, I've been hesitating on this for quite a while but damnit the right sidebar is MINE! And I'm tired of not having anything posted in the "short stories" section. Without further ado:
The room is dark. A single light shines from the wall, illuminating me in the darkness. The voice in the room, though I cannot see the source, keeps asking questions. He grows tired with me, I can tell. We’ve been at this for hours, and I don’t have any more answers for him. He asks again.
“Tell me,” he pulls a chair up to the table. “What do you know about Jim Mason?”
He beat my wife to death with a crowbar.
Is that even the right question? He’s asking like I have all the answers. I haven’t seen Jim since we were kids. I never liked him much even then. I couldn’t even begin to understand him.
“Ok, let’s try this another way,” he sits down at the tablet and leans towards me. “What do you know about Anna Summers’s death?”
That’s why the police need me. I’m at some fulcrum of understanding here, between him and Anna. Everything is this intricate machine: pieces operating independently, twirling on their own with no purpose. I’m the key though. I give it purpose. Without me, the twirling pieces would shift and fall, creating chaos. I’m the regulator. I’m the integral piece in the machine—what keeps it functioning. It’s been through so much, but my piece must keep its role. Without me, they’ll never understand the machine. Without me, they’ll never find him.
The detective looks at me from across the table. The room is cold, and the metal chair I’m sitting is starting to hurt. He hands me a cup of coffee, to ease the nerves he says. I laugh—coffee, the great medicine. I drink it to humor him.
“Anna used to make the best breakfasts,” I say, sipping the coffee. “She really did.”
He doesn’t care. Those details don’t get him any closer to finding her killer. I tell him anyway. Those little details are what keep her here with me. Without them, she’s lost.
I should have protected her. I should have known Jim would find us.
“George,” he leans over the table. “We need to focus here.” I can tell he’s getting tired of my rambling. I remember so much, but none of it matters to him.
“Let’s go over it again,” he says. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
That’s a good question.
The alarm clock barely woke me up when it went off at 6:30. It hardly ever did. We had these two gorgeous trees planted out front, by our bedroom windows. In the summer they got all leafy and you could barely see the sun in the morning. It made it hard waking up sometimes, especially that morning. The thing that really woke me up come to think of it was that cold shower. Damnit
I had fixed that damn water heater so many times. The cold needles of water pelted my back, as I braced against change in temperature. It was weird though, almost like it energized me. The shock of the cold water woke me up better than any alarm clock ever had. In some odd way, it was enjoyable. There, on that particular morning, I showered in cold water and didn’t hurry to finish. Focus George.
When I stepped out of the shower, Anna was there by the sink getting ready like she always was. She had all these things of makeup spread across the counter. Cords from her hair-straightener and blow dryer were draped across the counter. Water had been sprinkled over the sink from washing her face. That was her routine in the morning—haphazard as always. I swear she was inches from electrocuting herself sometimes. She was always that messy, or at least that’s how I saw it. Anna always said she was organized, just differently than me. Morning honey
, she called to me. She was pushing her hair to the right. She never wore it on the right.
I smiled at her, and used my towel to wipe the water off the counter. Honey, I’ll get that.
I was persistent, I can’t ignore that. I was always cleaning up behind her. It drove her crazy; made her feel like she just caused me problems. That’s not how it was. She didn’t understand damnit.
She always took longer than me to get ready in the morning. I had time to spare. I told her I didn’t mind, and that I would take care of it. She just smiled and blew me a kiss.
If only I had known. Focus George
Blue, definitely blue—my favorite. Really honey? I’ve always liked your yellow shirt.
She bought me that yellow shirt for my birthday last year, of course she liked it. I tore the price tag off of it before I took it out of the closet so she couldn’t see. The shirt made me think of her, that’s why I took off my blue shirt and changed into it. Besides, I couldn’t go to work with stains on my favorite shirt.
I pulled up to my office building that morning, full from the breakfast Anna made me. I got out of the car and saw Bill working on the sign outside. Bill was always working. His overalls were stained with grease and dirt and he was always up on a ladder or something. Really good guy you know? Honest, hard working. Never gives you any trouble or anything, always quiet and respectful. I usually stopped by to talk to him in the mornings, never had much to say though. Terribly nice guy. I really think they underpaid him there. I said hi as I walked by, and nodded at him from under the ladder. It was weird though. Before I got inside, he stopped me and asked for his crowbar back—
“His crowbar?” the detective repeated.
—yeah. I had borrowed it the night before when I left the office. Bill had this really nice crowbar; it was big and heavy, really more of a wrecking-bar. I had some work to do around the house, and I figured it would be easier than spending thirty or forty bucks on one and the hardware store. Thing was though, I had just borrowed it the night before and Bill was acting like I’d had it for a week. It’s been long enough
, he said. I’d like it back now
. He must have been just playing a trick. He kept pushing me, saying how I’d had it long enough. He was probably just messing with me. I laughed it off and told him to not to work too hard. He gave me this weird look though as I went in the building. Bill’s a weird guy. Not someone you’d trust to tell you the truth if there’s a joke to be had.
Alan kept bugging me at my desk around lunch. Alan’s probably my best friend. We’ve worked together forever, even when we both worked at the other place off Grand-Central parkway. We had this thing everyday where we would go to lunch at this one diner on the outskirts of the city. I mean every day we went to this place. Alan, he liked to change things up on the menu sometimes. You known, one day he’d order the chili and the next he’d order the ham and cheese, who does that? Who goes to the same place every day and orders different things all the time?
That day though, I was still full from Anna’s breakfast. Man she made the best breakfasts. Seriously, that stuff would keep you full all day. Come on man
. Alan took the news pretty hard. It was a ritual after all, and neither of us had ever backed out before.
Anna made me this enormous breakfast this morning Alan, you should have seen it. I mean, it was huge. Well, I didn’t eat breakfast.
I’m really sorry man. It’s only one Friday though. Go on without me though. Hey, you should order my meal, the one I get every time. It’d be funny you know? Like I was there when I wasn’t. I bet the cooks would think it was me unless they saw you first. Forget it man, I’m not ordering that nasty bean soup. If you want me to order it then you’ll have to come and get it yourself.
That Alan, I never really liked him much.
I remembered that Anna asked me to stop by the hardware store on my way home. She said we had these spots on the bedroom ceiling that needed to be painted over. She had been telling me this for a while—weeks, months maybe. I didn’t even notice until this morning though. She had been going on and on forever about those spots, but I never saw them till now. She used to try to get me to bend and see them in a different light, but I never did. I didn’t really see them until this morning. This morning though, it’s like they were plain as day just speckled there on the ceiling. They looked horrible too. Our ceiling was this pristine white with no texture or anything. I hated them. They gave me headaches looking at them. I asked Anna if she had caused them. She couldn’t hear me. Funny how stuff like that can one moment feel like it’s all in your head and then just suddenly be there. I didn’t notice them until this morning though. They weren’t there before, not really. Anyways, we needed a half gallon of white paint, now that I could see them and all. I didn’t want them there now that I saw them.
The detective is holding his hand up to his head. I’ve told him a lot, but it’s not very much. I want to help, but I’m not telling him the right things I guess. Still, I’m the only hope they have of nailing this guy. Jim is good at hiding, always has been. They’re really not going to find him unless they take my help.
“George,” he says. “Can we get you something to eat? I know it’s been a while.”
“I’m starving actually,” I haven’t eaten in hours. “I didn’t have anything to eat today before I left for work. I ran out of time.”
He looks at me with a puzzled look, and I don’t know why. This guy is kind of weird anyways.
“Anna didn’t get a chance to make breakfast like she always does,” I say, rubbing my stomach. “Its shame really, but sometimes things get in the way of breakfast. Damn spots on my favorite blue shirt.”
Someone buzzes at the door and the detective gets up to talk to them. They whisper quietly so I can’t hear them. It’s a good idea too, Jim might be listening. You never can tell with him. The detective sits back down at the table.
“George, let’s try this another way,” he shuffles through a series of photos and lays few out on the table for me to see. Damn spots. I hate them. I hate seeing Anna like that too. She never parts her hair to the right. I’ll do what I can to help though—for her.
“George,” he says again. “Why did you kill Anna?”
Ms. Kuntz second grade classroom was the forth door on the left down the art hallway of Briarwood Elementary. A banner hung over Ms. Kuntz’s colorful door, displaying her name in big bold letters. Alongside it, paper apples had been cut out and colored by the students in her class, each with a student’s name on it. The main hallway in the school was normally busy with classes and noisy with the kid’s activity, but it was quiet now. Students would be lining up outside their doors getting ready to go outside or to the art room or somewhere. It was four-o-clock though and Ms. Kuntz’s class, along with the rest of the school, had been dismissed for an hour.
Inside her room though, a few people lingered behind. A child sat in a desk in the corner of the room. He looked down at his desk, drawing an invisible picture with his finger. Ms. Kuntz sat at her desk, talking in a low tone to two adults.
“What does this mean though?” the woman said. “Why is he in trouble?”
“Mrs. Summers,” Ms. Kuntz folded her hands on her desk. “Johnny, one of his classmates, was attacked during recess.” She glanced over at the child sitting in the corner. “We found him at the far end of the playground five minutes after the kids had come back in. He was crying and had small cuts and bruises on his face when the recess aid got to him.”
The woman cupped her hand over her mouth and let out a soft gasp.
“We know George was outside near the edge of the playground during recess,” Ms. Kuntz continued. “That’s where he goes every day. Usually kids don’t want play with him over there.”
“But how do you know George had anything to do with it?” the man interjected. “For all you know it could have been another kid, or anyone in the neighborhood around here for god’s sake.”
The man nearly rose out of his chair as he spoke. The woman placed her hand on his knee and he eased back into his chair.
“What did George have to say about this?” the woman asked.
The child was now coloring in his picture on the desk with his finger. He made short repeated strokes vigorously.
“I talked to George myself after we found Johnny,” Ms. Kuntz shifted in her seat. “I asked him what had happened. He said ‘Johnny got hurt.’ I asked him why, he said he didn’t know. I asked him who had hurt Johnny on the playground today, he said ‘Jim.’ I asked him who Jim was, but he wouldn’t say anything else.”
“We’ll there you go,” the man said, looking back at his child in the desk. “He told you who did it. It wasn’t him.”
Ms. Kuntz sighed and looked at George sitting in the desk, keeping his head down. “Before recess today,” she opened her desk drawer. “The class took a small quiz on a reading assignment from last night. They were allowed to leave for recess once they had finished. When I was grading them during recess, I noticed that George had forgotten to put his name on his test. His writing is so loopy and nice you know, I knew it was his. I caught him before class and asked him to put his name on it so he wouldn’t lose any points.”
Ms. Kuntz held the paper in her hand for a moment.
“Look at the name he marked,” she turned the paper around facing the parents. The writing on the quiz was unmistakably George’s—as Ms. Kuntz would say, loopy and nice; but an unfamiliar scribbling at the top of the page read Jim Mason.
The parents turned back to look at their child. He had stopped rubbing his fingers on the desk, and was now calmly looking out the window into the school yard. He turned with a smile and folded his arms onto the desk, looking back at the adults sitting on the other side of the room. At that moment though, no one was exactly sure who was looking back at them.