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My heart is covered in soot. Black, like the coal in Kringle's bag. Sin didn't discolour it. It's painted in hues borrowed from the very sad, the horribly bad, and the formidably ugly. Upon my death, the pink will return and it will drift skyward.

The asphalt feels cool against my face. My breath crystalizes before me; still laced with mirth. The office party was typical of Davis, Davis, and Sons. A monumental buffet was meant to entice V.I.P. A threesome in monkey suits played soft jazz. The libations flowed freely; served by a kid fresh out of college, vying for an entry-level position within the firm. It was all very grotesque.

On the advice of our superior, we left early; before midnight. “Keep 'em wanting more, boys. That's the road to success.” We made our escape with full bellies and even fuller Rolodex, intent to climb the corporate ladder rungs until our feet bled.

 

Where is Gary?

It's too quiet. I should be hearing sirens. I should be seeing hallucinatory red and blue, behind my half-closed lids. I see nothing but her face. The sad one.

 

“Does it hurt?” she asks me.

 

“I don't feel much.”

 

“No. I mean, does it hurt? To remember what you did to me?”

 

My eyes pop open. She sits before me Indian-style in the same acid wash jeans, and pink neon sweatshirt she wore on our only date. Her sixteen year old hair is styled sky-high. Her eyes are lined in navy. She wears a smirk I've never seen before. She was always timid. It was easier that way.

 

“Well, Tom?”

 

“I'm dying aren't I?”

 

“Not yet. First, you have to remember what you did to me.”

 

“I don't understand,” I tell her. My arms and legs feel deflated, like a goddamn sex doll that's lost its groove. I wonder, again, where Gary is, and if he's fused together with the steering wheel of his new Porsche.

 

“You do. You remember. You took me to your special place. The place where you took all of your sweethearts. Tommy's Lair, the girls called it. Like it was some fucking honour to be invited into your parents' basement.”

 

She starts to cry in a most beautiful manner – quietly, and with a slight smile poised on her lips.

 

“It's funny, because I never told you something, Tom. I never told you that I didn't even like you. I just wanted to be done with it. I just wanted it to be over. You didn't even kiss me.”

 

I want to object, but I can't see my breath anymore. The half-syllable is invisible. She ignores the panic in my eyes, put there by the realization that dead men don't breathe.

 

“Pink Floyd played in the background. That was kind of cool. The bed. Oh God, the bed, though. It was merely a soiled cot. I remember thinking how grey it was. You poured your dad's liquor down my throat. The good kind. You told me I deserved it. You told me I was special. But you know what Tom? I knew you were lying. And I enjoyed every fucking second of it.

 

“You're wrong. It wasn't like that.”

 

“Liar!”

 

She looks away, down the icy street. We had taken the back roads home. I don't remember why. I don't even remember her name. I strain to listen and can hear a chain jingling, or a dog collar. Lassie, to the rescue.

 

“They're coming, Tom. Don't worry. They're coming.”

 

I try to raise my head, and succumb to the mind-numbing pain. There is nothing but darkness, and an indelible feeling of emptiness.

 

“Hey. Wake up.”

 

A guy in a suit is using my head as a soccer ball.

 

Gary.

 

A fire sears my throat. I want to lick the pavement beneath me, but my tongue won't reach.

 

“You're...you're okay...” I manage to tell him.

 

He raises a bottle of Jack to his lips. The party, it seems, isn't over.

 

“What are you doing? Help me.”

 

The pinstripes in his expensive trousers blur together. He's wearing black jeans, and the black leather jacket he never took off. Even in the blistering heat, that jacket was like a second skin. He's the tough kid from an even tougher neighbourhood. The horribly bad.

 

“Don't worry, Tommy. They're coming.”

 

“Who? Who is coming?”

 

My head hurts from twisting my eyeball towards the sky. I wish he'd sit down, but nothing could ever keep Gary down. He was always itching to go somewhere, and do something. He was always searching for the elusive escape route.

 

“I saw Old Man Watson, today. Said he'd beat the living shit out of me for stealing smokes from his stupid store.”

 

The sky shifts. I can't see it, but I can feel it. Old Man Watson crawls past me, with one arm inching his brown, emaciated shell forward.

 

“I'm dead, aren't I?”

 

“Not yet. So I told the bastard to shut the fuck up. Then I shot him. Pisssshhh...dead in the eyes,” he says, threatening me with his fingers.

 

The horror registers in my eyes. I want the sad one back. Misery loves company.

 

“I'm just playing with you, Tommy. What the fuck man! I don't own a gun.”

 

Gary does a little dance, and breathes into his hands. His breath on the air is comforting. I still can't see my own, and I'm a little worried about that.

 

“Cold as fuck out here, eh?”

 

His long, blond hair, is greasy, making it look yellower. He runs his fingers through it. Blood covers his hand. He shows it to me.

 

“Guess we got ourselves into some trouble. Eh, Tommy?” he says, wiping his bloody hand on dead cow.

“What's going on? Why aren't you talking to me? Fuck,” he swears, spitting on the ground, “you always did think you were better than me, Tommy. You always made me feel like a piece of shit.”

 

Jingle. Jingle. Jingle.

 

I want to ask him if he can hear it, but the crease between his eyes grows deeper. A cavern of disgust lies there.

 

“What are you talking about? You're my best friend...”

 

“Shut up! This is all your fault! Just like ma,” he says wistfully. “She could never shut up. I kept telling her, and telling her to just be quiet. He wouldn't be mad, if she'd just be quiet. Did I ever tell you that I'm the one who found her? Eh? Hanging from the rafters like a fucking pinata.”

 

His laugh echoes endlessly. I want to cover my ears, but I'm a goddamn cripple. His words are the salt in my wounds.

 

“I...no, Gare. You never told me.”

 

“Well, I'm telling you now. Dad never killed himself either. Just a bit of rat poison in his morning Frosted Flakes. Just a pinch. Less than a pinch. Remember that, Tommy. You don't wanna kill them all at once. Too messy, that way. Too many unanswerable questions.”

 

He walks over to me. He crouches before me. I want to flinch, but it's like I'm glued to the road. The sticky sweet taste of the whiskey sears my wind-burned lips. It dribbles down my chin, and neck. It itches, and I can't fucking scratch.

 

“Is that how you did it?”

 

“Did what?”

 

He stands tall. His shadow is non-existent. “To the Sad One.” A second swift kick to the head, and I'm lost in blackness.

 

It's starting to feel nice here. It's like sleeping, but someone opens the shutters. The blackness dissipates. There's the scent of apple in the air. It's the scent of her perfume. I can see her, on bended knee, begging me to stay. Discarded wrapping paper surrounds her like some cruel joke. I had kept my gifts simple; vulgar, even. A blender served as my parting gift. I left her my heart, too, but she didn't know it. I loved her then, I love her still.

 

“I love you too, Tom.”

 

I struggle to see through a purple haze. Saliva drips from my mouth. Maybe it's blood.

 

“You...you still love me?”

 

“Of course.”

 

The tears freeze before they can fall. She looks like an angel, sent to whisk me away. I need my body back. It's shattered, and I need it back, to be able to hold her, and kiss her, and tell her I'm sorry.

 

“I know you're sorry.”

 

She sits very close to me. Her hand inches towards my face, but she doesn't touch me – a well-deserved torture.

 

“I really hate to see you this way. You were so handsome when we first met. Do you remember?”

 

“The...video store.”

 

“Yes. I knew you were following me. I almost ran away. Then we reached for the same movie. It's amazing how the human touch can make everything different. You became real, when our hands touched. And not just some creepy guy following me.”

 

My laugh is trapped inside of me. My lips won't curl into a smile.

 

“I'm scared, Amy.”

 

“Don't worry, Tom. They're coming.”

 

“I...I hurt you.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“The firm. My work...”

 

“I know. Work was always your number one priority.”

 

“I was wrong, honey. I want you to know that.”

 

She hides behind her long, dark hair. Her cheeks are painted cherub-red. Her full lips scream for a kiss. She jerks her head towards the darkness.

 

“Did you hear that?”

 

“Chains?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I hear them. They're getting louder.”

 

She grows frantic. Her words pollute the air between us.

 

“I have to tell you something, Tom. The night before we broke up, on Christmas Eve. Remember that I was out with the girls? I didn't mean to, Tom. It was stupid. Tracy had fed me too many shots, and, I don't know. He was charming, and a very stupid mistake.”

 

The formidably ugly.

 

“You're wrong,” she says with a profound sadness. “It's not me, Tom. You're the ugly one. You're the one who took Gary's keys. You're the one who made love to the bottle. While you were driving, for Christ's sake. Jesus Christ, what were you thinking, Tom? What were you thinking swigging from that bottle as if it were your mama's breast?”

 

“No...”

 

“Yes. Poor Gary. I can see half of him,” she says, staring somewhere behind me.

 

“No. No. No...It was him. He was driving.”

 

She looks at me like Sister Mary Margaret used to when she knew I was fibbing, and would warn me about burning embers.

 

“It all ends here. They're here, Tom. They're here,” she whispers.

 

She vanishes before my eyes. She doesn't fade. She vanishes. The jingle is deafening, yet muffled beneath a chorus of growls.

 

I can see myself stumbling towards the Porsche. I can see myself reaching into Gary's suit jacket and taking his keys. I see myself pushing him into the passenger side seat. He's singing a Christmas carol off key; wasted, done. I can see myself pulling the bottle of Jack Daniel's from inside my coat. I had snatched it on the way out. I had given the kid a large tip to keep his mouth shut. I remember the impact, and the tree that came out of nowhere. I can hear Gary's scream that sounds just like my own, as Cerberus takes a large chunk of my face between its fangs.

 

My heart is covered in soot. Black, like the coal in Kringle's bag. Sin discoloured it. It's painted in hues borrowed from the very sad, the horribly bad, and the formidably ugly. Upon my death, its beat silenced, it will drift Underworld.

 

 

 

 

© Barbara Avon

 

Have a long Winter's nap.

Please don't drink and drive.