Archive for the ‘Post 3.7’ Category

Sunday, March 25, 9:31 a.m.

On the third floor of the Seattle headquarters of the Washingtonian newspaper, there’s a nearly forgotten balcony that can only reached via a cluttered janitor’s closet. Jack, an old timer, remembers it. He takes me out into the fresh, cold sunshine. I give him back his pack of cigarettes and we smoke two of them.

It’s been so long for me. Jack lets me buzz a moment on the abandoned drug of my youth, then he tells me that he thinks he may have beaten a man to death outside a bar less than three blocks from his house.

It happened Thursday night, after we sat together in the 3 Coins lounge and he got completely wasted on Scotch while perusing pictures of his dead wife. He tells me he can’t remember anything after he showed me the fourth photo in his awful collection.

“Well,” he amends. “I remember snippets. Little flashes. I remember you. I remember you had a nice car. You said you love…Jesus?”

“GPS,” I say.

I take a drag off the Marlboro and sigh. Ah, my favorite brand, back when I smoked! The wind whips my hair around my face and I don’t care if it gets singed on the cigarette. I don’t care about the magnificent view of bluer-than-blue Puget Sound or the glorious sun on my face. I don’t care that I’m standing on a narrow balcony three floors above hard pavement with a possible murderer and no witnesses. How did I ever manage to give up these deadly, careless things?

“What do you love?” Jack says.

“GPS. The car had GPS. I would never have managed to get you home otherwise. You were incoherent,” I say, smoke drifting out of my mouth like a belching dragon. I’ve forgotten how to do the smoking-while-talking thing elegantly.

Jack looks desperate.

“Were you there with me?” he asks.

“Where?” I say.

“The bar by my house. I remember there was someone with me. Was it you?”

“No,” I say.

“You didn’t follow me in? To check up on me?”

I turn away from Jack’s searching blue eyes to search the blue water with mine. Dozens of white sailboats are drifting lazily. It’s a perfect day to be out on the almost-ocean. They look so free…yet so very confined, hemmed in by the condo-ridden shoreline. If they just sail north past the Space Needle and go around the corner, dodging Canada, they’ll hit open ocean. I’d love to do that. I wonder if I’ll ever get the chance.

“No, Jack,” I say. “I went home. It was a work night. You’re a grown man. I figured you could take care of yourself.”

I sound defensive even to my own ears. I glance at him. He has deflated. His forearms rest on the rusty iron railing that keeps us from falling off the three-foot-wide balcony. His head hangs low. His cigarette dangles limply over empty space between two fingers capped by horribly short nails.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “Should I have stayed with you? I didn’t think you needed me.”

It’s so very sad that I, of all people, am some kind of safe refuge for him. I don’t know him. He doesn’t know me. He’s so far beyond me in age and experience and writing ability that it boggles my mind. And yet, he thinks I could have kept him safe that night? Me? Really?

I take a deep drag, cough like a consumptive, and scrape my fingers through my hair. I don’t know what to say to him. I, the relapsed smoker out on this sad excuse for Juliet’s love nest, am nobody’s refuge.

“I got home. I got in. I don’t know how. You had my keys. Maybe Lucy left the front door unlocked? Dear God,” he shudders.

I shudder, too. His fifteen-year-old daughter, asleep in her room after midnight, with the front door unlocked? A tragedy waiting to happen…twice in Jack’s life.

“I slept till seven,” he continues. “When the alarm went off, I got up and my undershirt was covered in blood. And I had this bruise on my jaw. And my nails were all chipped and raw.”

Jack holds out a hand to show me. I don’t take it. I wince, however. I’ve seen painfully short nails like this before.

“You bite your nails,” I accuse.

“I don’t know,” he says. “Do I?”

“Yes. My daughter’s hands exactly look the same. Why do you people do that? Nibble and gnaw without noticing? Doesn’t it hurt?”

“But,” he says, his eyes confused. “I think someone punched me.”

His jaw sports an angry purple blot the size of a golf ball. He tilts it down to me, as if offering it for another punch.

“You did that to yourself. You were trying to get your keys after you dropped them on the floor at the 3 Coins. You hit your face on the table.”

Jack runs his finger along his jaw. I do not, though I unexpectedly want to.

“Really?” he says.

“Yes. I saw you do it.”

“And the blood on my shirt?”

I kill my cigarette with a last, lung-ruining suck. I exhale, cough, and exhale more. In my louche twenties, I would have carelessly pitched the butt off the edge of the balcony, or ground it out under my heel. In my non-smoking thirties, I hold the spent filter guiltily.

“Do you really think you’re capable of killing someone?” I say.

Jack’s gaze glides to mine. His eyes are reddened by hangover, cigarettes and other dark things.

“You’ve never wanted to kill someone,” he says. “You’ve hated people. You’ve said you wanted someone dead, maybe. I used to, too. Then…during the trial, I wanted to kill him. I mean, I planned it all out. They had metal detectors in the courthouse, but they didn’t search you back then. I was in there every day, either covering the trial or testifying against him. I planned out exactly how I would jump him right after testifying, as I stepped down from the witness stand. He was so close, right there, doodling at the defense table. All I needed was a very hard, very sharp piece of plastic. Which I made in my garage from the cover of an old VCR. I could have done it.”


“But,” he says. “Lucy.”

Jack stares out over Puget Sound.

“So I made it all a story. I stayed objective. I wrote unbiased articles on his testimony…precisely how he raped my wife with a homemade bayonet over and over, then cut her face and arms and breasts till she bled to death. And I went home and drank till I passed out every night.”

“Oh Jack…”

I say nothing else as he lights another cigarette, smokes it down to the quick, and pitches it off the balcony. Ten minutes of silence…I usually talk so much. Jack doesn’t look at me. He stares at the water. So close, yet so damned far.