aristide, an aristocratic young man, is leaning pensively on a mantelpiece.
uncle gustave enters.
good morning, uncle gustave.
good morning. as you know, aristide, i am your uncle gustave, and when your parents perished in a boating accident in switzerland, i took you in and raised you as i would my own son. you proved a terrible scamp, but after many scrapes due to your headstrong nature, you turned out a fine young man, and are due to be married tomorrow to mademoiselle cecile de fontmorency, the beautiful young heiress to some of the finest estates in france.
aristide passes his hand over his brow.
oh, but uncle, something terrible has happened!
and what is that?
last night i was celebrating my impending nuptials with some of my best friends - a merry band of impetuous and hotblooded daredevils like myself. after consuming copious draughts of strong wine we repaired to a house where fast play was in progress - and it seems that when i was well gone in my cups i gave offense to the marquis de maldoror!
what! the marquis de maldoror! the most notorious blackguard, seducer, and duelist in europe! what madness!
i have no excuse, aristide stated sadly. what must be, must be.
all is not lost, aristide. the marquis de maldoror’s game is well known. a few words in the right ears - and i know just the fellows - and the marquis will be well satisfied with a few bags of gold and a few acres of land - a few of the remoter farms of the vast estates you will inherit on your marriage day.
oh uncle, how can you suggest such a thing! shameful! shameful! to be known forever as a poltroon who traded honor for a few wretched years of life! never! i would forsake the finest estates in france and walk the highways a beggar, rather be a party to such infamy!
oh, my adopted son, your noblest of hearts does your ancient house honor! but what a tragedy! how i had hoped to see our house united with the fontmorencys, to produce a lineage that would spread like a mighty oak over the kingdom.
i must leave you now, uncle. the baron de beauville, who will act as my second, awaits me.
the marquise de saint-tourelle enters.
what is all this caterwauling? i thought a pack of goatherds had invaded the drawing room after breaking into the wine cellar.
oh marquise, cried uncle gustave, you are the wealthiest, noblest, and most pious lady in the kingdom! in the name of the blessed mother you have comforted the afflictied of christendom for well nigh half a century! but you have never heard such a tale of desolation as that which i have to relate!
the marquise listened intently as uncle gustave, with much snuffling and weeping, related aristide’s case.
is that all? pooh! you menfolk, with your foolish notions of honor! but do not despair, sirs, i will set everything straight.
you will? uncle gustave exclaimed.
of course. i will intercede with st michael. that heavenly personage owes me more than a few favors, and i will insist on his redeeming them.
uncle gustave brightened visibly. we can not thank you enough, marquise!
it is nothing. it is all in the day’s work, in the service of heaven and the blessed saints.
aristide bowed gravely and thanked the marquise as well.
later, on the dueling ground, the marquis de maldoror wasted no time in putting a bullet into aristide’s heart, killing him instantly.
although the marquise de saint-tourelle never wearied of beseeching all the saints in heaven to punish him, the marquis de maldoror continued to prosper in his wickedness and in the watering holes of europe , finally succumbing to syphylis in his eighty-third year.
after a suitable period of mourning for her betrothed, mademoiselle cecile de fontmorency made a splendid match with the baron de k——————, which united their combined estates in a virtual kingdom within the kingdom. she bore the baron twelve children, one for each of the twelve apostles, and died peacefully at the age of ninety-two.
on the untended field where aristide fell, a small red flower blossoms on each anniversary of the fateful day, but only for an hour.
janey stood in front of the window, looking happy.
she felt happy, and she was happy.
she had a boy friend. joey.
and he loved her. only her.
like she loved only him, and always would.
her stupid sister, megan, was jealous.
ha, ha! well, poo on her. she didn’t even have a boy friend, and probably never would.
with her fat ass and her scrunchy face and her stupid jokes that didn’t make any sense and that nobody laughed at.
megan came into the room and saw janey standing at the window, looking happy.
“what are you looking at, with that dumb face?” megan asked.
“nothing. and what do you care?”
“thinking about your stupid boy friend?”
“maybe. and he’s not stupid.”
megan smirked. “mom told me what you asked. about inviting him over for dinner. dinner! ha, ha!”
“i don’t see what is so wrong with that. it’s what people do.”
megan fluttered her hands and stuck her nose in the air. “oh, chawles,” she intoned. “i do believe we should invite lord and lady pitbull over for dinner! tell the maid to polish the best candlesticks! it will be divine!”
“what do you care?” janey repeated, looking out the window.
“i don’t want him eating my share of the pizza, that’s what i care.”
“don’t worry, miss piggy, you can have your whole pizza. and all your fries, too. joey will share mine, it’s not a problem."
“you sure about that?” megan drawled in her most asshole way.
“of course. he loves me.” janey almost regretted saying it as soon as the words were in the air.
“ha, ha, ha! how do you know he loves you? can you read his mind?"
“i just know. when you actually have a boy friend you just know these things.”
“oh, that’s a great answer. can you crawl inside his head and see what’s in there? hmmm?”
“we don’t have to crawl inside each other’s heads.”
“no, he just wants to crawl inside your pantaloons.”
mom came into the room. “what are you two fighting about now? i could hear you down in the laundry room.”
megan rolled her eyes. “oh, we were just discussing dinner, don’t you know?”
“yes, fatso doesn’t want to give up any of her hard-earned deep crust.”
“i already settled that,” mom said. “we will have chinese instead of pizza, it’s easier to split up, and we always have some left over anyway.”
mom had told megan of her conversation with janey about joey’s visit, and megan had found it hilarious.
“can we have joey over for dinner?” janey had asked.
“dinner? we were going to have pizza, i suppose he can have some if he wants. does he need a whole pizza for himself? is he that much of a growing boy?”
“i thought maybe we could have a real dinner. you know, like cook something.”
“cook something?” mom stared at janey. “you mean on a stove?”
“we do have a stove, you know,” janey said.
“i know, but i’ve never used it. the fucking thing would probably blow up if i tried to use it now, it’s been so long.”
“i just thought ——“ . janey didn’t know exactly what she thought. “maybe we could peel potatoes or something…”
“peel potatoes? are you shitting me? i don’t know how to peel potatoes, do you?”
“no, but i’ve seen laura’s mom do it. she peels potatoes. she cooks.”
“yeah, well take a good look because i didn’t just turn into laura’s mom.”
and so forth. now mom felt kind of bad about telling megan about it.
“why don’t you both go to your rooms?” she asked now. “and get all calmed down before our friend joey arrives.”
“but we were having such a stimulating discussion,” megan protested, “all about loooo-ve.”
“you can talk about love some other time.”
“she knows that joey loves her, even though she can’t read his mind. what do you think of that?”
“i do know it, stupid.” janey looked at mom. “and why should i have to go to my room, i was here first.”
“but she’s calling names, not me. she called me fatso and she called me stupid.”
“but i know you must have been ragging on her, the way you do. so why don’t you just go to your room, megan?”
“oh, all right. but, seriously, what do you think about that?”
“what do i think about what that?”
“that she knows brad pitt junior loves her.”
“um - um … she’s right, sometimes girls just know these things.”
“oh, bleeeagh! on that putrid note, i will leave you.”
that’s right, lardass, thought janey. go to your room and read your books, your stupid feminist books. you will never even have a boy friend. you will end up going to services at the unitarian church with the rest of the lesbians and feminists.
mom left the room too, leaving janey alone with her thoughts.
the years stretched endlessly before her. oh, how she could not wait until she could leave home and never look at either of them again. then they could talk about her behind her back to their little hearts' content.
everybody said it was hard to leave home in “today’s economy”, whatever that meant, but janey would show them.
i had called ahead and reserved room 3-h, the one i had stayed in years ago.
i paid the driver and went inside, under the same crummy old awning as before.
there was nobody behind the desk. i hit the bell.
the same old lady i remembered from before, came out.
she did not seem to recognize me. i signed in and she gave me the key, hardly looking at me.
i went up the room. it was a little smaller than i remembered.
so here i was, back in the room where it had happened.
where i had murdered shirley. exactly five years ago.
had the old lady remembered me? would she call detective jackson - if he was still alive and on the local force - or some other detective or policeperson?
i opened my little bag. i took the cheap glass vase out of it, and the red roses.
i filled the vase with water, and put the flowers in the vase and put the vase on the little table beside the bed.
i opened the drawer of the table. the same gideon bible - or a gideon bible - was in it. i did not take it out but closed the drawer.
i had done what i had come to do. but i just sat there, thinking about things.
finally there was a knock on the door.
it opened before i could get up. detective jackson walked in. wearing his same heavy overcoat, even though it was kind of warm out.
“hello, jackson, “ i said.
“hello, johnny, what are you doing here?”
“i just came to pay my respects.” i nodded at the vase with the flowers, but jackson did not follow my gaze.
“i got someone here i would like you to meet.” jackson said.
he stepped aside and a girl stepped into the room.
shirley. or her twin, or her double.
“is that you, shirley?” i asked.
“it’s me, johnny.” there was no mistaking her voice.
“then who - “ i started to say.
“who was the girl you murdered?” jackson asked. “she was a girl named gloria hardy. she just looked like shirley.”
i nodded. “so you are you going to take me in now?”
“no,’ jackson said with a smile. “you see, johnny, you were just a pawn in the game. we pinned gloria hardy’s murder on mike gaspard, a real bad guy we had been after for a long time. a drug dealer, a white slaver, a child pornographer, a money launderer for terrorists. and all that. so you served your purpose.”
“i see, “ i said. “this mike gaspard, was he really all those things?”
jackson laughed. “what do you care? the point is, it’s all over. you can go anywhere you want.”
“you are free, now, johnny,” shirley added. “free as a bird.”
i looked at shirley. “maybe - maybe we could get together again.”
“i don’t think so, johnny.”
“i never really liked you that much. you were kind of boring. and stupid.”
“yeah. yeah, i guess i was.”
“it’s been great seeing you, johnny,” said jackson. “but we will leave you now.”
they both left. shirley closed the door behind them without looking back at me.
i went over to the window and looked down.
i saw them get into an unmarked car. i had the impression they were going away together, to some place far far away, but it was no business of mine.
they drove away.
like shirley said, i was free now. free as a bird.