And Kill Them
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Purgatory"
Originally featured on 05-01-2009
As part of our series "Where the Wild Words Are (Words Gone Wild!)"

As SHE remembers:

Tommy Salome—pronounced like the sandwich meat, and yes, that’s his real name—is the kind of guy who will fart freely and loudly, and then talk about the fact that he just farted. He’s not above rating it on a scale of one to ten, comparing its intricacies to yester farts. Pontificate is his term. Although according to Tommy Salome, pontificate is a special and wonderful word in that it sounds nothing like what it means. When I asked Tommy Salome what he thought pontificate sounded like, he said that from the ages of fourteen to sixteen he had assumed it was a euphemism for going to the bathroom.

We read books together; together, as in, out loud, taking turns. I try to occupy my vision with something else while he’s reading, like brushing my teeth or folding laundry, because his lewd hand gestures that accompany dialog get old really fast. But once you get past the part of Tommy Salome that will always be Tommy Salome, reading books really does bring us closer. It’s an intimate thing, like you’d do with a young child.

It was my sister Beth’s idea. Beth does that with all her significant others. She says if two people are considering merging their lives into a shared experience, it’s wise to give cohabitation a test drive, in the vicarious vein. Reading a book is, as Beth put it, the nerd form of mutual masturbation; live in a third party’s make-believe skin for a week and see if it still feels like the two of you are on the same page. Beth is horrible with puns.

Reading books to each other was Beth’s idea. The messy part that followed was mine.

 

As advertised on post-midnight television:

There are many ways to relieve stress without spending a lot of money, and none of them are effective. You can hit a punching bag. You can beat off to magazines. You can light a fire in a designated area. If you live in the country, you can shoot tin cans. There is one way of relieving stress that is a hundred percent effective, and costs approximately as much as two month’s worth of groceries.

 

I once asked Tommy Salome, “You know how as a little kid you have irrational fears that are hilarious when you think about them now? Like stepping on the cracks on the sidewalk and falling into a bottomless depth, or if you drink too much water you’ll melt.”

He said, “You mean like when my big brother first told me what erections were and I was afraid if I kissed Amanda Queggins, the prettiest girl in the first grade, my penis would burst off my body like a rocket, go through the wall and I’d have to sneak into Mr. Schwaltzheim’s yard to retrieve it, if the dog didn’t get to it first?”

That was exactly what I meant. Tommy Salome helps you realize what your meaning is. People with inflated egos who use big inflated words, all they’re really talking about at the end of the day is, well, going to the bathroom.

Beth doesn’t like that I’m dating Tommy Salome. I tried to defend his endearing qualities, but anything endearing about Tommy gets lost in explanations. “It’s not immaturity, it’s more like, an art form. Like satire or something. But not. You ever sat and listened to a group of twelve year old boys converse the way twelve year old boys converse when adults aren’t around? They haven’t discovered sex yet, but the subject of flatulence is still a fountain of wit and discovery. Grossness is the bible. Then there’s always one boy in the group—usually the member with the fattest gut and the lowest self esteem—who’s constantly making up sing-songy rhyming chants—sometimes in iambic pentameter—to poke fun at other members of the group, with homophobia as his muse.”

Beth said, “You’re confusing twelve year olds with twenty year olds, with all men.”

Tommy is that group of unsupervised twelve year olds, uncensored and never tiring. But Beth has a point. I need to see what else he’s made of. The emotions of characters in a book can only stimulate so much discussion. I need more. So I try a little test.

 

Echo of a public-relations personality’s testimonial:

I brought the paperback myself. I was a little nervous, I’ll admit. They say it works better if you bring an old tattered tome off your grandfather’s bookshelf, preferably the copy you first read, if you’ve still got it. The brain attaches energies to physical objects in ways scientists don’t fully understand, or something.

They had me strip down to my bathing trunks and submerge myself in this tank of freezing cold water, and I read the book to myself. The entire book, out loud. They held it in front of me and turned the pages. After a few scenes, you don’t feel the freezing water. It’s some kind of hypnosis, but not external hypnosis, not the superficial kind—we’re not talking smoke and mirrors. It’s literally something in the water, a current for all I know. I don’t know. All that matters at this point is the magnificent liberty of landscapes and possibilities.

You do things in the book that you can’t do any other way, any other where or how.

Most people living on this planet have never followed a single emotion to its endpoint.

 

As HE remembers:

She looks at me like her face is not just the part of her body above her neck; her face is something that extends down through her feet, the floor, up into the furniture, the walls and the windows. The whole house, even the ceiling fan is her face, and it is all looking at me humorlessly and telling me, “We have to talk.”

I wonder if she’s expecting me to sit down (my undies have been giving me a wedgie today, so I’d kind of welcome an excuse to sit down), or if she’s expecting me to speak. I’ve never heard her say that phrase, and I’ve never heard her say any phrase in that way. I would be surprised if she’s ever said anything to anyone quite like that. Quite frankly, she’s never spoken in a manner that’s distracted my eye from its topographical survey of her tits. I mean, for a second here, I forgot she even had tits. No conversation should ever start that way.

Her face changes. The bottoms of her eyelids start to smile but the rest of her face resists like a hand gripping a leash pulled by a dog. She says, “This has been a test of our emergency broadcast system,” in imitation of a gay radio announcer, an octave and a half lower than her natural speaking voice. “In the event of an actual reason to talk, the signal you just heard will be followed by you wiping that stunned look off your face and fucking listening to me.”

I put my hands on my hips, as I do when I’m ready to listen. “What’s wrong?”

“You weren’t listening to me. I said this was a test of our-”

“Babe, I’ve won trophies for belching entire phrases. Like Shakespeare sonnets. Don’t you think a guy who can spin beer-throat-gas into classical verse deserves some credit? Babe, my ear listens better than an asshole splayed open on fishing hooks.”

Her mouth twitches, holding in the laughter like it’s vomit. All I have to do is look at her and she convulses to a rubble of smiles on the floor. It’s easy to make her laugh. Laughing is like a fragment of orgasm. I love seeing women laugh; everyone is attractive when they’re laughing, when they’re really going good. I think it’s the opposite for women; most women I’ve known have a fetish for seeing men cry. There’s no faking either. People will fake orgasms, but never a counterfeit laugh or cry.

“I’m just saying,” I add with a dumb look on my face.

She’s stopped laughing. Her head shakes slowly from side to side, the way it does in the moments before she realizes she’s doing it. “Am I the only one who might want to talk about something?”

I shake my head, unsure of what answer I’m implying. My attention is now restored to her chest, and the outline of what I believe to be an orange bra beneath her sweatshirt.

She starts making herself a sandwich. “What do you want to talk about?”

“Nothing. Um. What’s all this talk about…talking? What’s going on?”

She spreads mayonnaise on one slice of bread and honey on the other. “Remember in elementary school how a few times a year a loud buzzing noise would go off in the hallways, you’d all cover your ears and proceed to the nearest exit in single file and congregate outside with your class? Fire drills prepare you for dealing with fire.”

I stare at the honey on the knife. It tells me nothing.

She places three slices of ham on the mayonnaise slice. “This is a relationship drill.”

 

As SHE comes to a decisive proposal:

This is a relationship drill? Stupid. I sound like…I don’t even know what I sound like. Stupid. Totally missed the point. We both did (although Beth did have a good point). With Tommy Salome, you just have to let Tommy be Tommy; that’s the only way to be with him. He came in telling an anecdote from the gym, how he squatted however many hundred pounds and some chick was eyeing him, then he went to the locker room to rinse off, and some guy was standing at the locker next to his and the guy’s genitalia hung about an inch from Tommy’s combination lock—Tommy’s a riot when he tells these pointless little stories about his day—and Tommy had this internal monologue, do I wait, or do I tap the guy on the shoulder and say pardon me, can you move your cock n’ balls, or do I put my first-rate problem solving skills to use and—without saying anything—slide my hand carefully along the locker door and defuse that combination lock like it’s a bomb… why did I interrupt him to have a serious moment?

What I really meant was- what Beth meant was- no, what I meant was. I need to ascertain what he’s capable of. Not as a lover, but as a human. Beyond the stupid stuff.

 

As HE hears it:

She explained it to me in the car. “If you think of the most stirring experiences you’ve had reading a novel, the books that moved you didn’t move you because of how much you admired or empathized with the hero. The villain makes the story; a drama is only as potent as its villain’s capacity to arouse the reader’s hatred. A hero in a world without that villain would not a story make. You loved the books you loved because they evoked a primal feeling never accessed in normal life; the emotional capacity for murder.”

Then I realized that she wasn’t explaining anything to me. She was actually reading me a brochure. Whatever. If this is something she wants us to do, I’m her yes-guy.

“You remember sitting on that couch or that loft above the high school gymnasium, or wherever it was, that secluded spot you’d escape to with your favorite book, and you remember the tightness in your scalp. You get to that scene where the antagonist does the unthinkable, your hands are shaking. Your face is pulled so far back over itself your ears have contracted into wooden corks. You’ve never dared hate any person in real life this much. You have to put the book down for a minute, because your hands simply cannot hold on. Your body pulses in that couch like boiling water in a pot, and you don’t want to move a muscle because the only movement you want to make is movement that will propel your limbs into the gateway of the fictional universe wherein you can enact your detailed plans of what you would do to the villain provided the chance opportunity.”

She’s probably paraphrasing. I can’t tell. She has this greedy way of making other people’s words feel like her own. When we’re making love, in those tender moments after the spine-rattling Tommy-coaster of yeah-baby-yeah and before the cleanup, I get this uncanny feeling that my body parts are attached to her body and not mine. Strange how she does that, just momentarily takes things over. The ethereal shoplifter.

“You sit and meditate on the enormity of the events of the concluding chapter, your elbows and ribs shivering as streaks of the setting sun wander in and out of the attic window. You sit alone with the climax of the novel painting itself on your brain for an hour, two hours, staring at the wall, or at the bedroom mirror, or at the back of your eyelids. And then you get up and go for a walk outside, feeling more alive than most times you can remember. In your mind, whether you visualized it clearly or not, whether you knew you were visualizing it or not, you traveled into that book’s world,

“and you killed the motherfucker.”

 

Not conscious of why he lovingly strokes her back with the softest part of his forearm:

“What are you saying?” I think I know. I think I remember the commercials.

 

Per an editorial comment printed in a periodical:

The customer is not only hallucinating the kill. It is widely believed that the technician secretly assists the SomnambuLiterature process by procuring a restrained sacrificial animal and aiding the customer in executing it with a sledgehammer or an axe, coinciding with the customer’s perceived actions in the book world.

Some rumors have it that rodents and snakes serve as the predominant victim substitutions. Other conspirators believe that Death Row convicts are dispatched in this manner. The carcass and the weapon are removed from the room in a sealed-off Bio-Hazard bucket. Found evidence of these containers has been released, but never proven.

The technician, notwithstanding the possibility of becoming spooked by the customer’s behavior, knows full well that it is clinically impossible for the customer to be aware of their hands—and the passage of time as it pertains to their body—while under.

Even though they sometimes make eye contact.

 

Simple fact, simply stated:

A tandem SomnambuLiterature assassination costs more than most honeymoons.

Beyond the stupid stuff, Tommy Salome is a disappointment. Beyond the stupid stuff, Tommy Salome will never win Beth’s approval. When he farted on the villain’s face, she had to laugh.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project

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