Full Evacuation of Evil From Mind
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Tofu"
Originally featured on 11-29-2010
As part of our series "All From These Magic Beans"

I asked you what you were laughing about. We were eating tacos at Pepi’s. Tofu habanero tacos, because you’re a vegetarian. My exact words to you—it’s important that I remember the exact words. You were wearing a sleeveless shirt with a light colored floral pattern juxtaposed with a cartoon skull. I assumed it was a logo for a heavy metal band, but I did not want to confess to being un-hip by asking who. Your hair was messy.

I questioned your laughter. You said, “I saw what that little girl did.” You lowered your voice and said, “She bumped her arm-”

I cut you off and said, “That’s funny to you?”

“You didn’t see what she did. You heard her cry, so you would assume she cried when she bumped her arm.”

“She was already crying before that?”

“No, after. When her dad went over to see if she was hurt, she pretended.”

“You’re accusing that poor girl of faking an injury?”

You crossed your arms. I think you were annoyed with me. “She didn’t fake it.”

At that point I’m pretty sure I said, “She exaggerated it for sympathy?” but I might have said something different. It’s also possible I did not say anything, but my body’s posture in the chair and hesitance to take the last bite of my taco was itself a question.

The part of the conversation I remember most distinctly is the next thing you said. “You’ve never had kids.”

I said, “I remember being a kid, and I’m pretty sure I never did that.”

The next thing you said confirmed that you were annoyed with me. “No, you don’t. You remember things that happened when you were a kid. You remember memories of being a kid, but you don’t remember being a kid. Nobody does. You can’t. The closest you can come is watching other kids and seeing what they do. I’m lucky to be facing this direction. You’re missing it; it’s the theater of our childhood. You did that, I did that. And it worked for us, just like it’s working for her.”

“You caught her in the act.”

You smiled; the muscles in your mouth did not betray movement, but your face lightened up. “Pretty funny, isn’t it?”

The conversation took a wrong turn when I said, “You want to change that girl’s life?”

I could tell by your face when I said it. I don’t know why I said it. You said, “What?”

“When we’re ready to leave, stop as we pass by that man and his daughter on our way out, look her straight in the eye and say, ‘I saw that.’ Say it just between you and her; the father doesn’t need to hear. We’ll continue on our way, you’ll never see that girl again, you’ll soon forget the interaction. But the girl will remember.”

You looked horrified, aghast. I was jesting, but maybe I wasn’t just jesting. I really don’t know. That’s why I have to remember the words. “That would be mean.”

I said, “Maybe so, but she’ll learn something. The next time she tries to manipulate someone for sympathy, a scary adult face will look down at her in her mind, and a voice, your voice, will say three words: ‘I saw that’. When she gets a little bit older and she tries to manipulate people for other things, she’ll stop and think.”

Your back was stiff, like a concrete wall had grown out of the chair that somehow contained your face. “To take away that woman’s ability to cry her way out of a speeding ticket would be like plucking the wings off a fly.”

I could have shut up at that point, but instead I said,“Three words. You have the chance right now to change her life.”

You seemed genuinely sad. “There are some things men don’t understand.” I’m not sure if those were your exact words, but in a way I hope they were.

You looked at me in a way that was scarier than any look you might have given the girl. I believe you made the whole world get rapidly larger and the two of us stay the same size so that the space between us shrunk to nothing while it appeared that we were still sitting in the same positions. “And you have the chance right now to shut up and I’ll pretend you didn’t say any of what you just said.”

I kept talking. “It would be mean, yes it would. When that girl matures into-”

“Stop.”

“What do you think I was going to say?”

“It doesn’t matter. You were fantasizing about a toddler—you need to stop. Yes, she will grow a pair of breasts, and you will not be around to see them.”

“She will grow a mind with razor sharp precision and the things she’ll do-”

“If you say one more word about that little girl,”

Your eyes followed the girl and the father as they left Pepi’s. Then we shrugged.

 

In the potential nightmare I might have when I drift off to sleep as I lie here in the dark, I will be a young boy of the same age as the little girl in Pepi’s. In the nightmare, I will speed through the years I don’t remember, and see myself as something I do not like.

Thinking of you today, having lunch, the recapturing of the event is a labor. My mind digresses to current events, and then movies, and then I remember making my first peanut butter and jelly sandwich all by myself when I was in first grade. I saw the green silky spot on the slice of bread and a sensation of dread pumped through my stomach but I went on spreading the peanut butter. My dad walked in and saw the bad spot on the bread. He made me stop and look at it. I did not understand bacteria, so he told me that it was alive, in a similar way to how he and I were. I did not understand how a green silky spot on bread could be like me and Dad, so he told me that it lived short lives, how over the course of a week generations upon generations of those tiny green fellows had lived and died and evolved. My dad’s exact words were, “Like they started at the beginning of time, by now they’ve not only got intelligent life walking around in there, in that ugly part of the bread, but they’ve already invented the game of baseball, I’ll bet.”

My older sister Gretchen who liked to appear smarter than her age walked in and added, “And written Homer’s Odyssey.”

That night I dreamt that the walls of the house had green fuzzy spots that grew and doubled every time I looked at them, fuzz reaching out to envelop me as it infected the house like a city of spider webs with no string and no spiders, and nobody else noticed them, and just before I awoke I heard the most awful sound I’ve ever heard, awake or in a dream. It was a sound of raspy breathing, a slow suffocation that gradually stopped being a human sound and became the actual sound of the green fuzz growing on the walls. When I woke up, Gretchen crouched by my bed and whispered, “Want to know the secret to never having nightmares?”

I said, “Everybody has nightmares.”

She said, “I don’t. Not anymore. I’ll teach you how.”

One’s nightmare never mirrors the exact thing one thinks about before falling asleep. That was the loophole. She taught me that if I comprehensively plucked all my feelings of uneasiness from the soil of my mind like weeding a garden and thought all the bad thoughts while I was still awake, I could sign my own get-out-of-nightmare-free card.

Gretchen was right. If I think this through, I will not dream about you again, you or the little girl in Pepi’s Tacos or the silly thing I said. I was being silly. I will not allow you a passport to my dream, and you will not trespass.

On another night, Gretchen told me that life is the same as dreams. Nothing ever goes exactly how you want it to, or exactly how you fear it might, or exactly how you imagine. Gretchen told me she had proof that imagining the outcome of a given event will preclude the possibility of the event going in the particular way you imagined. All you have to do is make movies in your mind of everything you don’t want to happen.

After I had the dream about the green fuzz digesting the house and everything in it, I dreamt about it again. In the recurrence of the dream, Gretchen was vomiting the green fuzz onto the floor, and looking directly at me while she did so.

As I lie here, I think about two things. I think about innocent little girls eating tacos and making their daddies believe they hurt themselves, and I think about mold—miasmas of gaseous, sickly colored debris spewing from Gretchen’s mouth as she maintains her cold stare. She is trying to tell me something with her eyes, to tell me that maybe I could have avoided this green fuzz epidemic, avoided the awful sound if I had stopped before making that peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Just like you were trying to tell me something at Pepi’s. Like you’re always trying to tell me something.

Gretchen never read Homer’s Odyssey.

I’ve never had kids. About that you were correct. My question remains about you.

If I don’t figure out how I feel about you now, lying here breathing and changing my position on the pillow, perhaps I will be shown when I sink into my bed and…

The instant before I drift from alpha to REM, I know how I feel about you, and I know exactly what must happen between me and you, and what I must do to enable this event.

The skull and contrasting floral pattern on your sleeveless shirt was not a logo for a band or for anything it would be un-hip of me not to recognize. It was simply your style.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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