Linda sits on the divan near the large bay window of my apartment that overlooks the autumn foliage of the Esplanade along the Charles River and she cries because I have told her that I want to break our engagement. I am wearing the silk pajama bottoms of the ensemble she bought for my birthday and my bare chest and arms look toned and healthy.The Sunday edition of the Boston Globe lies on the floor in a pile beside me, and this, not Linda, is what occupies my mind. There are more pages in that pile than anyone could possibly read in a month let alone on a Sunday morning, and I ruminate about how most of my paper will remain unread. In last Wednesday’s Globe I came across an editorial that condemned the depletion of the rain forests and the rape of the world’s natural resources. While Linda cries I wonder how much of this unread publication will go into recycle for another Sunday edition, only to wind up in another unread pile on someone else’s living room floor. This unnecessary waste upsets me so much I have to force myself to focus on Linda and I hear only fragment of what she utters.
“Jeremy, you don’t mean what you’re saying. Please don’t do this to us. I know these past few weeks have been hard for you...”
I worry that the bone china coffee cups will stain if I do not run some warm water on them right away. The egg shell cups and some Waterford crystal were an engagement gift from Linda’s Aunt Emily, and I have no intention of returning them after I tell Linda to leave. The old woman has remained infuriatingly healthy and for over a year I have waited for Aunt Emily to die; she has a great deal of money and no other nieces. I consider mentioning this to Linda.
Instead I run some warm water over the cups.
“Jeremy, please don’t shut me out like this...”
I notice a hairline crack inside the cup from which Linda had sipped her Irish blend mocha. One Sunday morning without a word of complaint she walked thirteen blocks in a pouring rain to the harbor district to buy a fresh quarter pound of this blend, which is my favorite. I wonder if Linda is responsible for the crack in the china and why she has not mentioned this to me.
I purposely drop the cup on the kitchen floor. Linda says nothing, only stares at the pieces as if expecting a response from me. I am wondering how upset I’ll feel if Aunt Emily dies after I break the engagement.
“Please say something, Jeremy,” I hear Linda beg, “Why are you doing this to--?”
“--There’s a spot on my rug,” I interrupt.
“A spot of my rug. See? There by the stereo. God, damn it, Linda. Did your Afghan take a shit on my carpet?”
She looks at me and swallows hard. Her expression amuses me until I remember that she is no longer my fiancée. The large pear-shaped diamond I had given her remains on her finger and this has made me forget.
“Jeremy, I don’t see a spot there. I don’t have a dog.” She tells me this in a confused whimper that for a moment seems a laugh except that Linda is again wiping her eyes. She is not among those women who remain beautiful when they cry. Her eyes have become puffy, her nose red.
Picking up the pieces of the cup, Linda again stops to wipe her eyes as she drops the fragments into the trash. I wait, hoping for a shard of glass to cut her hand or maybe even get in her eye, but it does not happen.
Linda is correct. The dog that I believed had shit on the rug was not hers. The Afghan belonged to a tall blonde woman I had fucked, Cynthia or Sandra or something like that. Someone I had met while taking a walk last week on a crisp fall afternoon in the Common off Tremont Avenue. The dark spot on the carpet is not shit but the woman’s blood. Looking at the rug again I realize the spot is no longer there. But I will have the rug cleaned tomorrow anyway.
“I want you to leave now,” I tell Linda, despising her tears, deploring her utter lack of control. Like so much else I see around me, her tears are a waste, and she’s a fool to believe they will change anything.
How can I feel anything but disgust for someone like that?
“Just leave,” I repeat. I do not add the 'please.’
“Jeremy, you’re just upset. Can’t you see I only want to help?”
I consider informing her that if she does not leave quickly I will use the electric carving knife that her friend Isabelle had given us as an engagement gift. I will cut out her heart and feed it to her dog, and then kill it, too. But I remember that Linda does not own a dog. Still, I try to recall inside which drawer I placed the Isabelle’s gift.
For some reason it upsets Linda that we are strangers. Her pain over this is, of course, ludicrous. Every person I know is a stranger.
“How long have you known me, Linda?”
“How long have you known me?” I repeat in exactly the same tone of voice, hoping this might exasperate her. “Five years? Ten years? A hundred? Tell me.”
“Seven years,” she answers. “Since my senior year at Cambridge. Jeremy, you know how long we’ve--”
“And how long have we been engaged?” I ask, turning from her to look at the Esplanade through the bay window.
I could take her down to the Charles, force her head under, and drown her this very afternoon!
Without seeing her face I hear Linda swallow harder than before as if she is unsure whether I am joking. The truth is that I really do not know the answer to my question. My attention is on the shady spot along the Charles River where last week I had drowned the blonde woman’s Afghan.
“A little over a year,” she answers, too bewildered to do anything else. “A year September 20. Jeremy, listen to me. You’re distracted because of what happened at work. I know that it’s eating you up inside. You don’t mean anything that you’re saying. If you’ll just look at me, just talk to me, we can--”
I could cut out her eyes before she completes her next sentence, I could piss into the empty sockets.
Linda has triggered a concern. It is Sunday and I have not thought about my work. Do I even have a job? I remember one morning last week when I visited the park and set fire to some pigeons. Otherwise I cannot seem to remember where I go when I leave my apartment.
“What is it that I do?” I ask with such seriousness that Linda stares in disbelief.
She seems confused and does not know how to answer. Stuffing the moist tissue that she has held for practically the entire morning into her jeans, she draws from a secret source of strength that lies hidden deep inside her.
“Jeremy, you haven’t been yourself. You know that, don’t you?”
“Who have I been, then?” I ask. I’m not joking.
“Not yourself,” she repeats and expects this to serve as an answer. “Try to remember. You’ve suffered some sort of breakdown since they let you go.”
Now I am genuinely curious.
“Since who let me go?”
Linda’s hands are shaking and she places one over the other to steady both. Approaching the bay window she touches me lightly on my shoulder and leads me to the divan. It irritates me that she expects me to follow, when there is a sailboat on the Charles that demands my attention. I am thinking that if we were on board how easily I could bash her head in with the anchor.
“Until a few weeks ago you were the chief accountant for Boston Bancorp. Do you remember?”
“Of course I remember,” I lie to her. “I don’t work there anymore?”
“No. They let you go.”
“I was fired?”
“Yes. Solomon and Dorfman discharged you three weeks ago.”
“Oh God, Jeremy, don’t do this to me. Please, don’t--”
It is as if I am hearing a bizarre melodrama unfold in piecemeal, and I am the main character. There are occasional flashes of familiarity in what Linda says, so I assume she is speaking the truth, or at least the truth as she sees it.
I am close enough to wrap my fingers around Linda’s neck and squeeze hard at the tendons in her throat until I see her eyes explode.
She breathes heavily before continuing. I enjoy her discomfort, but I am not sure that I appreciate what she is telling me.
“One morning last month during a board meeting your co-workers caught you masturbating under the conference table with a photo of the Board of Director’s wife in your hand. Mr. Dorfman phoned me himself and insisted you get professional help. When you refused Solomon and Dorfman let you go. There were twelve other people in that conference room who saw you expose yourself, Jeremy. Twelve other men and women with whom you had worked for years, and suddenly out of nowhere you just--”
Linda continues talking while I am remembering this. I decide that there is no “suddenly out of nowhere”, nothing suddenly about this at all. What Linda does not understand is that I just forgot there were others present at that moment because so much was on my mind, so much always on my mind. The photograph of Lorraine Dorfman had been on Sidney Dorfman’s desk and I had taken it out of its frame, folded it, and placed it in my pocket. The woman in the photograph was not even attractive. I could just as easily have cut her throat.
Linda should understand this. She really should.
“I love you, Jeremy. With all that has occurred, I want you to understand that I want to stay here with you. I have to stay, can’t you see that? Please don’t ask me to go.”
Linda says this as if she is in love with a man she knows. But she is in love with her idea of what Jeremy is or what Jeremy ought to be. It has taken me a lifetime to become what I am. There is no “suddenly” involved in the change she is certain has occurred, no inconsistency between what I am and what she had thought I was. People do not know--they can not know--who masturbates under the table or who secretly kills pigeons in the park.
“You want to stay here with me, knowing what I’ve done?” I ask.
“Yes,” she answers without hesitating.
“...and not knowing what I may yet do?”
“Yes, I want to stay here with you. You need me, Jeremy. I don’t want to leave.”
She is pleading and her warm cheek pressed against mine remains wet with tears. Linda kisses me as she says this, and in a few minutes I know she will be lying naked beside me.
Linda wants to stay with me. She wants to see me happy. It does not matter what I ask of her.
She loves me.
Love means nothing, a wasted emotion. She should know this.
I can show her.
“I don’t want you to leave,” I tell her. I know this is what she wants me to say. I mutter something else that she doesn’t quite hear.
“What did you say?” she asks.
I am telling her the truth.
Linda covers my face with hungry kisses.
I have carefully placed the remaining bone china cup with the others inside my wall cabinet. If I can locate the catalog perhaps I will search for another cup to replace the one I broke this morning. In the meantime, I plan to drink my Irish mocha blend from my everyday set.
The Public Broadcasting Station is conducting their annual fund raising drive this week, so I remind myself to balance the checkbook. I do this from habit every Sunday evening while I sip my coffee.
In the morning I will have a great deal to do, five trips to make along the Esplanade--two for the arms, two for the legs, one for the torso. Although there was no need to remove her eyes, I wanted to keep something besides the ring I took from her finger.
There is so much to remember. For instance, I want to thank Isabelle personally for the electric carving knife.
Two arms, two legs, one torso. I have neatly wrapped each in the Sunday edition of the Boston Globe.
Tomorrow I will Federal Express Linda’s head to Aunt Emily.
“Six Ways From Sunday” is a reprint that has appeared in:
Psychotrope#5 (UK : March 1997)
Flesh & Blood #2 (April 1998)
Harrow Murder Contest 2001/Won Second Place Cash Prize (October 2001; Online fall 2001)
Post Mortem (Published in #3 February 2005)
Susurrus e-zine (April 2006)
Ken Goldman is an American writer, HWA member, and former English/Film Studies teacher with homes in Penn Valley, Pennsylvania and the South Jersey shore. His stories appear in over 500 publications. His book of six short stories. "You Had Me At ARRGH!! Five Uneasy Pieces by Ken Goldman" featuring six (count 'em) stories published by Sam's Dot Publishing is an all time top ten best seller at The Genre Mall, where (shameless plug alert!) it can also be purchased. Ken has received seven honorable mentions in Datlow & Windling's Year's Best Fantasy & Horror 7th, 9th, and 16th editions, and Datlow, Kelly Link & Gavin J. Grant's 17th, 20th, and 21st editions. A film based on his story "The Keeper" has been contracted by Precision Pictures (Australia).
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