The following story was originally published in Going Down Swinging #33. Grab a copy here.
The truth is that I didn’t want to write this story. I wasn’t going to, and I didn’t want to, but she sat me down and made me promise. She said: Herb. You have to write this story. Promise. So I did.
She was Mary, and she was long and beautiful with hair like the back of a hammer. She reminded me of someone I saw in a movie once, but not like an actress or anything, just someone in the background of a movie. She had black straight hammer hair and a dreadlock apparently which no-one ever saw, and glasses. She was always wearing glasses.
Herb, she said, touching her glasses. I was Herb.
Yeah I know, I said. She was talking to me. You want me to write the story.
Yeah but really, she said. I want you to really write it, not just, like, write it write it.
There was a pencil on the table and a square box, except tall, and the box had red straight lines and box writing on the front. The box said HOMEBRAND Plain Snack. We were sitting at the table. I reached inside the box.
I dunno, I said.
But you were there, too.
Yeah but, she said. She picked up the pencil. But you’re, you know.
I thought I sort of knew.
You’re Herb, she said.
Yeah, I said. I know.
And I wanna kind of… I wanna get it right, you know? I wanna write it down and get it right. And then we can have it and it will be ours and done and right. Like that. And then when we look back on it, if we ever forget and we can look back on –
But it wasn’t even that long ago, I said.
But it will be. And then, I mean it will be.
We were sitting at the table and Mary with her hair and talking and me sitting there looking at the table. There was a newspaper on the table and it was yesterday’s. The newspaper was open. In the newspaper was a picture of a man and a picture of a clothes horse and a caption underneath. The caption said FATHER KILLED BY CLOTHES HORSE. Someone had drawn a moustache on the man. Mary was all talking.
Do you reckon – I said.
Yeah, no I mean I just think it’s important – Mary said.
Do you reckon if I jumped off the Eiffel Tower – I said.
That if, because –
No I mean do you reckon, do you reckon if I jumped, off like the top say, and there was someone at the bottom –
And there was someone at the bottom. And I jumped off and sort of landed on them, I mean by accident I landed on them. And took them with me. I mean died. They died and I died. Like, collected them on the way through –
So we both die. Accidentally.
Does that make me a murderer?
Mary stopped talking and breathed hard. She sat back on her chair and she breathed. She breathed a few times, real obvious, and she looked around.
You already are a murderer, she said.
No, but seriously, I said.
Yeah. I mean –
But what –
I mean I didn’t mean to kill the guy. And I’m dead too. I just jumped. The rest was, like, an accident.
Mary drew up and in and towards me, coming close. She put her face in her palm, not looking at me. She had her face in her palm and elbow on the table and it seemed like for a moment everything was there, she was holding it all up and there close on the table, her face and everything.
You really want me to answer that, she said, looking around.
Yes, I said.
No. I mean no. I mean, would you still come to my funeral?
Even though I’m a murderer?
Well yeah. Yeah. Course I would. And I would say a eulogy and wear a hat, one of those big derby horse-racing hats, and I would say: I knew Herb as a peacock.
No really –
He was the biggest peacock I knew.
He was – what?
Come on, seriously. I’m being serious.
I would say, I would say there is one thing I would like to say about Herb. My good friend Herb. There is one thing. And I would say: there is one thing. He was the reason frogs puff up their throats.
Mary wasn’t looking around anymore. She had her face in her palm, her face and everything, and she was smiling. The smile went to about her teeth.
But Mary, I said. I’m serious.
So am I.
No you’re not.
Well what do you want me to say?
I want you to answer the question.
Well, what? Which –
The funeral one.
The one about the funeral. Would you still come? I murdered a guy, Mary, I jumped off the Eiffel Tower and killed him. Would –
Yeah, so –
So would you come? Really?
Yes, yes I would. I would go to your funeral and I would be there and I would cry. And everyone else would be there and they would cry too. And you would be dead and the other person and we probably wouldn’t care about them but we’d have to pretend but we wouldn’t. And we’d be so shocked and overwhelmed anyway and your poor parents. And we would cry. We’d all get together and be sad and forgive you and cry.
Mary stopped, full. I didn’t want to say anything because I knew she wanted to say something.
But – I said.
And you would be dead. You would be dead and we would go home and you dead and the other guy and over time we would grow old and forget about it and then we would die too. And we would all be dead.
Yeah but you –
Please Herb, Mary said. Please. Could you just write the story? You gotta write the story, she said.
I know, I said. I will.