The Idiot, The Student, The Saint
by Jane Liddle
The idiot caused a lot of problems in the neighborhood. He stole people’s newspapers from their stoops and porches and burned them. He threw patio furniture in pools. He carved swastikas in trees. His favorite activity was throwing rocks at stop signs in the middle of the night, causing a lot of noise and sleepless nights for the neighbors. They would get upset but when they confronted the idiot he would sometimes cry and hug them and act confused because he was an idiot and didn’t understand that activities that gave him joy gave others pain. It is a common mistake, even for non-idiots. One day the idiot discovered fireplace matches, the extra-long ones. This gave the idiot an enormous amount of joy. He lit them and watched them burn all the way, not even minding when he got burnt. When the matches were done burning he’d throw them at his side. Once he did this while walking through the neighborhood but the match was not fully done burning. He accidentally set a house on fire. In the fire an elderly woman died. The elderly woman had always been sweet to him and gave him lemonade, the kind from the powder, which the idiot preferred. The idiot thought the fire was beautiful and experienced joy, and was still experiencing joy when the cops arrested him at the scene and told him the nice elderly woman died. The cops found his joy evidence of remorselessness and maybe even evidence of the devil. The neighbors tried to explain to the police that the idiot was an idiot but the police found this hard to believe because the idiot had scored three points higher than an idiot normally would on a genius test. Eventually the idiot felt terrible. He was inconsolable through therapeutic means so the state consoled him through pharmaceutical means. He was consoled this way until the state executed him. No one else felt consoled.
The student waited on the subway platform. He wasn’t waiting for a train to ride but one to push a person in front of. He studied his fellow commuters. There was a father and his daughter who asked a lot of questions about the rats on the tracks, which the father answered ignorantly but with humor. There was an old lady with a cart with a single milk carton in it. There were teenage boys who were friends and careful not to stand too close to one another. There was a young man in a suit who had one of those blue tooth devices in his ear. He was talking loudly about how some club only had chicks from New Jersey. The student studied this guy and decided he would be the one he pushed on the tracks because the student figured no one good would miss him. The 7 train approached the station. The student approached the man with the blue tooth. The student pushed him at the opportune moment and the man wearing the blue tooth died quickly. The student was frozen by his own actions. He could not believe he actually carried out his plan. He regretted it immediately. When questioned by the police the student said he didn’t know what came over him. The student said he felt an overwhelming compulsion from out of nowhere and felt like his body was acting with a mind of its own. Over time the student believed his lies and expressed them convincingly and with sadness. A jury took as much pity on him as he took on himself.
The saint was always there for family and friends. If someone needed a casserole after giving birth the saint would cook it. If someone needed a ride to the cemetery to visit his mother’s grave on his mother’s birthday, she would drive him. Everyone would say, “She is such a saint,” when she left a gathering early to help paint the church or some such. The saint never expected to be celebrated but on her fifty-fifth birthday her family and friends decided to do just that. The saint thought she was going to a rec hall to help plan a retirement party for the church organist, but she was not. She was attending her very own surprise party, the first in her life. She was truly surprised. As she looked at the crowd of party attendees she was overcome with love and joy, until she noticed a man who had slicked back hair and wore a bowtie. He smiled at the saint. The saint scowled back. The saint was whisked away by friends in revelry, but she couldn’t stop thinking about the man in the bowtie. The saint decided to get a hold of herself under the pretense of going to the kitchen to see if anything needed to be done. Her friends and family joked that that was just like the saint. She was all alone in the kitchen with her hands on a metal counter. The man in the bowtie entered the kitchen and greeted the saint with a cheerful greeting that hinted at an evil triumph. He told the saint that she looked better than he thought she would. He told the saint that he hadn’t thought of her at all until he happened to catch a photo she was tagged in last week on a social media website. He told the saint that he didn’t expect her to have so many friends, because he always thought she was too shy and bad with people. He said all this to the saint’s back. The saint became more and more agitated. By the time the man in the bowtie stopped talking the saint was filled with an unfamiliar level of anger that spread throughout her brain like water in sandy soil. She picked up a butcher knife that was close by and stabbed the man in the bowtie repeatedly in various places on his torso and neck. Her friends rushed in and reacted with horror. The saint had ruined her own surprise party, the only one she’d ever had, with murder. The police were called and charges were brought. The shock of prison and her own actions gave the saint a heart attack and she died before her fifty-sixth birthday. At her memorial service many friends spoke about her sainthood and kind spirit. When they spoke of the murder it was with generous euphemism: “the upsetting incident,” “the devil taking advantage of a weak moment,” “the anomaly.” Everyone who went to the party went to the memorial service, minus one.
Jane Liddle grew up in Newburgh, New York, and now lives in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Wigleaf, Two Serious Ladies, Heavy Feather Review, Thrice Fiction, and elsewhere. She has recently finished a collection of short stories and is currently working on a series about murder. You can find her at www.liddlejane.tumblr.com or on Twitter @janeriddle.