Ruinous Sleep

Reach into the bag — “Allez.” Set the point in line, let him take the center. He pauses — good. Goes for my blade, misses my disengage but keeps coming, lunge, EEEP EEEP. Dammit, got him on the edge not the point, ref calls it right we’re done; right hand extends out, he’s giving it to me! Other guy’s arguing about the point but the ref’s not agreeing, dunno if he doesn’t know the rule or didn’t see how I hit, but I’ll take it.

A quarter mile from the Pizza Place, Double-J steered his coupe left, towards the center of the town which he and The Bird called, with more resignation than satisfaction, home. By this early evening hour, the streets of Bark Bay were mostly deserted, the majority of businesses and even most of the restaurants and gas stations closed, sidewalks empty of pedestrians, isolated vehicles crawling along the roads like stray animals. For The Bird it was a familiar scene, especially in winter, but experiencing it with Double-J inspired her to speak, saying it looked like the entire town was sleeping.

“Good.” He wiped his black mustache with the back of his right hand. “If they knew any better, they’d stay that way. They’d do less damage, and it’d make it easier to put them out of their misery.”

The Bird was accustomed to Double-J’s bombast, and while this latest statement was hardly uncharacteristic, she decided a challenge was necessary, asking if he was actually proposing murder. The sound that came in response seemed a combination of sneeze, cough, and growl. “Not worth the effort. ‘Sides, would make them martyrs. No, better let them all die quietly, be killed by their own ineptitude. Implode, rather than explode.”

Even Rex? Her bold question surprised even The Bird.

From behind the steering wheel, Double-J’s eyes narrowed, lips drawing back. Her latest question had clearly upset him, a fact which demonstrated to The Bird that she was moving in the right direction.

“Rex — ” Double-J ran his tongue across the bottom of his mustache — “his family, they’re victims. Been punished all their lives by this town’s hypocrisy. We’ll help you, but only if you can prove — ” he jumped on the coupe’s brake pedal, nearly passing a red light — “The churches, all those charity organizations, they ain’t nothing but tax dodges. Helping people like Rex’s family, this town has no interest in paying what it takes to do that.” The traffic light turned green, Double-J revving the coupe forward. “Rex and his family, are examples of how this town can grind people down to ruin. When they’re awake.”

[“Gray Metal Faces,” March 16]

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