by Troy James Weaver
Each moment of finding is a getting lost.
The fog is thick over the dockyards, seagulls bursting over me in unseen flurries. Smells of fish and barnacles and salt, putrid and silvery—the alcohol that ran thick in his blood. The sailors and dockworkers are moving in and out of their positions, getting ready for what the day will bring them much in quantity and repetition, the sun not yet there, just a faint glow through the mist, always the same.
I take the bloodied shirt from my torso, wrap it around a large stone, heave it into the water from the pier and pull the jacket I stole from a man drunk on a bench around my shoulders. I push my way through the morning, which is becoming loud with activity. I brush into a few folks along the way toward the shops and housing buildings, yet I remain unconcerned. There’s no way they can make out this face, clean and sweet as it is. I’ve been told I’m remarkably handsome, childlike even, and even though the sick feeling of age webbing over me has hampered my idealism as of late, nobody ever cares who one passes, just a another face in a ugly cluster of faces.
There’s something heavy in my pocket. I reach to locate it. Nothing’s there. Phantom limb, I guess, my hand searching for the knife I left in the heart of Abelard. I’m fairly certain I washed myself clean in the ocean, though I feel a tinge of something that tells me I didn’t do anything of the sort, just located a sense of cleanliness through the entire third act, the act of mercy. Or was it revenge? Vengence? Jealousy? What’s the difference? I killed him.
The fog begins to lift little by little as I edge across 7th Street toward the little boarding house I sleep at from time to time, when the begging permits a few coin to lay for a bed. I got five one dollar pieces from Abelard’s satchel, along with the little notebook, which I’ve since discovered is held in my armpit, smashed there between my left arm and my body. I can feel the thuds there, my heart vibrating the pages—can’t wait to get to my room and discover its contents, hopefully stuffed thick with truths about me and what Abelard took me for, if his quest in this world even had a name—what was it in life he deemed disposable?
From the beginning Abelard was a real honest to god wonder to me, tall and incredibly powerful, bearded, with a deep set of eyes, a tattoo of a dagger and a skull on his forearm, soft spoken but firm in his language, in what he wanted, and about twenty years older than I.
He approached one afternoon at the docks and sat down uncomfortably close as I watched the sailors move about, admiring their chagrined beauty—it couldn’t be bothered about—gripped my thigh, and said, “You know, these boys, they like what you like—shouldn’t be afraid to give them a shake. Got any money?”
I shook my head ‘no,’ then I thought about it, nodded ‘yes,’ and told him I had a bill, though a small one, and was considering its use for a loaf of bread.
He opened up the bag he was carrying about his shoulder and said, “I’ll give you a bite,” pulling out a loaf. “Save the bill for what you really want, kid.” He ripped the loaf in half, wrapped it in some newspaper scraps, and handed it to me.
I was uneasy about it all, but I just kept nodding, a slim smile coming up and piercing dimples into my cheeks, as I took the bread into my hands.
“You mean you?” I asked.
He remained silent, then stood up, studying me, and reached his hand out to help me to my feet. I followed behind him. He led me into a tight space between cargo containers and began unbuttoning me. That’s how I came to know his name.
“Abelard,” he said later, wiping his mouth as we walked back up toward the bench.
“Joe,” I said, reaching out a hand, blushing. “Pleasure.”
He didn’t say anything, just kind of shook his head, grinning, as I turned to take my leave of him.
“You’re forgetting something, my boy,” he yelled after me. “The bill.”
A boy selling papers on the street is shouting shrilly and the smells of morning meals are filling me with desire. My stomach churns in pain. I haven’t had a meal in a day and a half and there are now coins in my pocket, clinking—the small sounds of reprieve. I’d forgotten nearly they were there at all. It isn’t easy, this thinking, I just keep on going and forgetting. Everything feels as though a dream. No small wonder I left the knife in place. I’m an idiot, damn right. Got my bloody fingers all over the thing and left it there like a stupid admission.
I buy a crepe from an old hag of a lady, a few hunks of fish, and eat as I walk along through the morning. I keep thinking about his face. He looked like I must’ve looked every time he led me to the space between the cargo containers. It was a look of release.
Stomach settling little by little it seems as I’m rounding about to find the little house I stay at. I’m disoriented, feel lost—quite intuitively sense I’m close but far, still far. The eyes of people swim all over me, though maybe that’s just a feeling one gets at when one doesn’t want to be caught. Who knows, I don’t, but I feel this thing in me, this feeling, and it’s covering the whole of me like a film.
I stop and rest against the side of a brick tavern, the legs and the mind giving way to fatigue. As I’m there, I follow the path of an ant, all alone, marching across the mortar. I’m intrigued by the way he keeps going in circles, like he’s looking for a partner within his retreat. Maybe he is fleeing from something himself, or from himself inside himself, like me, and is confused, though happy, more so paranoid than anything, and still hungry though meal-done, and he’s just aimless in his looking for the place he knows is his to lay his head until the dawn comes and surprises with a newness that’s all the same. I press down on the ant with my thumb. When I look up, I see that I’m leaning against the tavern cattycorner my rooming house. I make for it with speed, crossing the street, combing my brackish hair back with a knot of fingers against a slight breeze.
I lay there in my room and smile upon my sagging bed. I’m all joy and nowhere to put it. I’m all suspicion, too, but what does that even mean? I’m always paranoid. I think I’ll rest, I think I’ll sleep, I think I’ll close for the day and be open by tomorrow. I’m awfully tired. But, ah yes, I the notebook—still tucked in my pit, I see, I feel it, right here, still saturated in the moisture of this morning’s adventure. I open it.
Property of Stan Abelard
Heloise, I speak your name daily. The son you left me. The blood you let me. Please now, breathe your fire.
Thus begins the notebook, which becomes apparent soon enough is merely a ledger: numbers, figures, debts owed and debts paid, all scribbled about crudely beside the initials of names. I shut it and throw it against the wall in a fit of rage, turn facedown in the pillow and scream. I’ll never know the truth. The purpose of my inquest I will never know.
I just as well could have killed a pawnbroker or an Arab or myself, I think as I drowse in and out of consciousness.
I remember watching a murder of crows circle around and pick at one with a broken wing until, after several minutes of flopping around, it finally succumbed to the multitude of beaks then died.
“Quite a beautiful thing, really,” Abelard had said.
I only now know what he meant.
And for the record, if I do decide to kill myself, after all is said and done, it won’t be out of any concern for repentance or retribution, but to elevate myself above him, because my hands, these hands alone, cleaved the way for such beautiful endings and beginnings as such, not his.
I wake up and the morning is dank with fog and light not apparent. I scratch the crud from my eyes and lips and nose and start getting dressed. I had nearly forgotten about the ledger, now angled against my shoe on the floor. I pick it up and go through its pages more carefully, cursing ever slightly beneath my breath, rank as it is. My head feels like an anvil is berthed there inside my skull.
“Whorish man,” I say, as I’m reading down the columns. They appear as such:
I keep reading on an on over the course of several pages, trying to decipher the meaning, trying to understand how he could have pleasured so many and so much and for so very little. Finally, I break it down, after a half-hour’s time or so, though it’s so stupidly obvious I start punching my cheeks and calling myself all the names I can muster.
The first column is the initials of the individual to whom services were rendered, the second the individuals sexual make, third the service/services rendered, and the fourth the amount paid or still yet due.
“Whore,” I say. “Stupid little whore.”
I close the ledger and start to feel the feel of crying, but why, I think, I hate that man and I’m glad he’s dead, and even still a single tear marks my face. I fling it off with my finger and open the ledger to the middle, randomly, thinking I should look further still, and it looks like this:
And so on over the course of five, ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty pages, straight all the way to the end. I burst into tears and fall into my pillow to muffle myself, so my neighbors won’t come knocking on my door with questions in their hearts and minds and the dirt of my deed secretly placed in their souls.
After I’ve quite calmed and dried my face, I rush out of the house and into the street. I buy a newspaper to check the date. It’s been three days I’ve lost to delirium and sleep. Three whole days, I think.
I walk briskly through the street as fast as my feet will take me, jog, then finally plod into a foolish run. Straight away I go to the police station. I burst in and find the detective in the division of murders and then he himself goes and gets the official magistrate. We situate ourselves into a tiny room. They ask me what it is that is so urgent, “What have you come about?”
“Abelard. Stanley Abelard. Three days ago, near the docks, I stabbed him to death. I’ve come to turn myself in,” I say.
Suddenly, a great relief is lifted. I start breathing normally, feel almost euphoric knowing they will lock me away and within a month or two, after the trial, I will be given my last rites and hung at the gallows.
“Mr…” the official magistrate begins.
“Heloise,” I say. “Joe Heloise.”
“Well, Mr. Heloise,” says the detective from the division of murders, “we already have the man who killed Mr. Abelard in custody. He’s made a full confession, and let me tell you, it very much matches up with the facts. We have our man.”
“But I’m telling you I…”
“Why would you want to confess to something you didn’t do? It’s absurd,” says the official magistrate. “Donally, please escort Mr. Abelard out of the building.”
This Donally grabs me by the shirt collar, “Come on.”
As we are walking out, the official magistrate says, “Mr. Heloise, I don’t want to see you in here again—you hear me?”
Puzzled and outraged all I can do is nod and allow myself to be ejected back out into the cold and empty street. I feel the feel of flies all around me though know it is the knowing that retribution for my deed will now and forever never find me, which in its own fucked way is slightly comforting.
I go to the docks, twenty paces from where I left the lone knife in Abelard’s chest, lay down on the bench where I stole the jacket from the drunken man, and drift into a dream where I’m murdering both of us—and we are warm and loving, together, two knives with skyward handles, entwined beneath a blanket of blood.
Troy James Weaver is the author of Witchita Stories, Visions, and Marigold. He lives in Wichita, Kansas with his wife and two dogs.
Image via Creative Commons.