Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Push - Little Copy Shop of Horrors, Part 1

Victorian post-mortem photo of a baby

Paulio's - 1999
9:32pm, Friday, January 8th

The apartment, four tiny rooms plus a bathroom, had the smell of baby powder, shit, and death about it.  It disgusted Edgar.  Amongst all the filth, he couldn't find his belt.  In all honesty, his disorganized mind wouldn't be able to find his belt in a bubble, but it was better to blame the stinking, dirty dishes, which, like lava from a volcano, covered every available inch of counter space, as well as the stove.  The trashcan, bulging out on the sides and teetering like the Eiffel tower, crumbled to the filthy floor as he stomped by, as if his very footsteps were an earthquake.  He looked at the clock again.  9:32pm.   I should've left by now, he thought.  God, please, please help me find my belt.  He felt his heartbeat quicken as he frantically looked all over for his fucking belt.  Dirty clothes, in piles at his feet, slowed his pace as he waded through them.  "Honey, have you seen my belt?" he asked. 
Valentina looked exhausted.  Her thin, tattered t-shirt had baby spit on it.  Her raccoon eyes were on vacation, faraway and heavy with overstuffed bags, but she wasn't dreaming about Florida anymore.  She was dreaming of a big, beautiful home, a happy marriage, and a baby that wasn't dying.  "Try the bathroom," she said.
"Thanks, honey, I found it."  He looped the worn leather belt through his khaki pants.  "Have you seen my shoes?"
"Look in the closet." she said.  "I got tired of tripping on them, so I put them away."
Except for the blinking of her eyes, Lindsay lay perfectly still in her crib.  She had oxygen tubes attached to her nose, a medical alert band advising "Do Not Resuscitate," and Death for her guardian angel.  She shit herself again.
Valentina hated that fucking baby.  She hated her for being so fucking cute, with big, bright eyes that said love me, love me, love me, and please don't let me die, Mommy.  She hated Lindsay for making her feel like such a helpless beast because she couldn't save her.  Afraid that her daughter could read her mind, she pushed the thought away. 
"Hush, little baby, don't say a word, Mama's going to buy you a mockingbird," she sang to her daughter as she changed her again.  She tried to smile at her, to coo at her, to remain strong for her.  The doctor had explained that little Lindsay's brain was a good as ever; that she was very much aware of being trapped in her body as she slowly lost all mobility.
Edgar retrieved his shoes from the closet and sat down to put them on.  His big toe went through a hole in one sock, but he didn't have time to find another, so he put his shoes on anyway.  His wife had always been depressed, but in the early days of their relationship, he was the one who could cheer her up.  Now, no one could.
It had been only six weeks since Edgar and Valentina first realized something was wrong with Lindsay.  She stopped lifting her head and reaching for toys, and then, she started choking on her infant cereal.  The pediatrician reassured them that Lindsay was probably fine, and they wanted to believe her, but they knew in their hearts that something just wasn't right.
Then, two weeks ago, just after Lindsay turned five months old, they learned what ill fate now doomed their beautiful daughter.  "She has Pompe disease," the doctor had said.  "It's caused by an acid alpha glucosidase deficiency.  It's an enzyme that helps the body break down glycogen, a complex carbohydrate that is converted to glucose for energy.  Without the enzyme, glycogen builds up in the heart and other muscles needed for breathing.  It's fatal.  Your daughter won't last more than two or three months."
"Is there nothing you can do?  Can't you just give her this enzyme in a pill or shot?"  Valentina had asked, but the disorder was so rare, the drug companies felt there would be too few customers to make it profitable, and so no treatments had ever been developed.
Edgar zipped around the room again, looking for his keys and wallet.  He was definitely going be late again.  He was almost frantic now, huffing, his mind spinning as a panic attack crept up on him.  He didn't want to ask Valentina again.  She sounded so labored by helping him, but he did anyway.  "Honey, have you seen my keys and wallet?"
"Did you look in the pants you wore last night?" she said. 
The baby's disorder was caused by a genetic defect that had to be inherited from both parents.  Even though neither she nor Edgar had any idea that they were carriers of a lethal gene, she blamed her husband.  He'd always been puny, and she'd often wondered if his seed would be sufficient.  Now, she hated the man she called her husband.  She was afraid to leave him, afraid she would regret it the instant she walked out the door, so she took no chances, but she knew she didn't love him anymore.  She did care about him.  She didn't want to hurt him, and if she left him now, during this tragedy, everyone would surely call her a bitch.  She had to stay, for Lindsay's sake.  That was why she stayed with him, not because she wanted to be with him anymore.  She thought that he probably didn't even know it, because she still hugged him, squeezed him, and kept him near her like she always had, but she didn't love him anymore.  As her resentment festered like an unclean wound, she hated him more and more each day.  She wondered if he felt the same way about her. 
"There not there," he said.
I do not love him.  I do love him.  No I don't.  Yes I do.  No I don't.  Yes, I do hate him, her conflicted mind debated.  He forces himself into my space, my time, my life.  I hate him.  Finally, she helped him look for his keys and wallet and found them on top of the refrigerator.
"Thanks honey," he said.
God, make him leave, get him outta my house, make him leave!  she thought.  She was holding in a fart, and her asshole hurt.  She managed to let him kiss her goodbye without pulling back.  She didn't know why she was so submissive to him, or why she even talked to him, when she wanted so badly for him to go away and never come back.  As she kissed him, she let the fart silently pass.
Edgar loved his wife and daughter.  He couldn't stand to see them suffer so.  He knew that when Lindsay died, it would be a blessing for his wife.  He knew she had been squirreling away money, so that she could leave him after their daughter passed.  He wouldn't try to stop her.  He loved her, and since he couldn't bring her happiness, he prayed someone else could.
*  *  *
"Can You Feel the Love Tonight" came on the radio that was by the coil binders where Grigori was working.  He knew all the lyrics, so he started singing.  He badly wanted to be a pop star like Elton John, and he really did know how to tickle the ole' ivories, but his band Rock –N- Drum Roll couldn't last.  The south didn't have much use for an Italian midget in fancy pants, and the gigs they could get were always biker bars and redneck watering holes.  Every show always ended the same way, with some drunk, fat guy in a Harley Davidson t-shirt yelling, "Play some Skynyrd, man," before chucking his empty Miller High Life bottle six inches from Grigori's head.
When he first moved to Kreepersville from Vegas, he got a job at the cell phone kiosk at the mall.  He got such a kick out of asking the yokels, "How you fucks doing?" and because he had such a thick accent, they would never notice the insult.
The job paid minimum wage plus commission, and Grigori needed cash fast if he ever wanted to get his band going, so he decided to be aggressive and seek out some potential customers.  Who needs cell phones?  he asked himself, and being from Vegas, hookers seemed like viable clientele.  So he cold called an escort service and gave them a sales pitch, promised them all cell phones to help them keep up with their appointments.
Shortly thereafter, they all came by together.  Grigori had them each fill out an application, and he faxed them in, one after the other, to the parent office, but, being that they were whores in a town where prostitution was still illegal, they all had bad credit, and not a single one qualified.  Grigori apologized, and the whores left, only to return a few minutes later with their pimp, and boy was he pissed.  He eyeballed Grigori from head to toe, memorizing his every feature.  "Listen to me, and listen to me good," the pimp said.  "Time is money.  You wasted the time of Tony's girls, and now you owe me."
"I'm sorry, man.  I didn't know they had bad credit.  I just work here, man.  I don't have any money."
"You best be watching your back, little man, 'cause I'll be catching up with you in a more private location."
However, that was years ago, and Grigori never got his beating.  Now he was the second shift supervisor of the Kreepersville Paulio's, a 24/7 copy shop.
*  *  *
Rowan set down a stack of books hot off the Docutech next to the myriad others waiting to be bound. 
"Where the hell's Edgar?  I need to go!"  Grigori said.  "Did he call?"
"Relax, he'll be here soon," she said.  She walked up to the rack labeled "B&W" and selected an envelope with an early morning due time.
Just then, Edgar walked in.  He clocked in, and walked up to Grigori.  "I'm sorry I'm late," he said.
"That's the third time this month.  I'm gonna have to write you up for this.  Why can't you just get here on time like Rowan always does?"
"I'm sorry.  The baby had a bad day.  I didn't get much sleep."
As Grigori put the coiled book atop the stack waiting for crimping, he snagged his fingernail on the edge and ripped it half off.  "Fuck, a hangnail!"  he said. 
Edgar watched in disgust as the little man chewed off his damaged nail.  He ran his tongue over it twice before spitting it onto the ground.
"Well I've got to go," Grigori said.  "Thanks to you, I'm gonna be late for my meeting with the artist whose designing my CD cover.  Finish these coil binds by 7am, and get the rest of the turn over from Rowan.  We'll talk about his tomorrow."
Rowan wiped the copier's glass with a paper towel, but the Windex just wasn't cutting through some sticky residue left by a poorly done customer paste-up.  She wanted to scrape it down with a straight razor, but the box of blades was missing.  "If I were a razor blade where would I be?" she pondered.
Purvis, who was getting up the trash before heading home, said, "If I were a razor blade, I'd be in a kid's Halloween candy."
Rowan laughed.  "You're such a silly boy.  Why are you still here?  Don't you get off at nine?"
"I need the overtime.  I'm goin' right now.  You guys have a good night."  Purvis threw the oversized, clear sack of garbage over his shoulder and said, "Ho ho ho!  I'm ghetto Santa Claus," as he headed for the back door.
Edgar's family had always had bad luck, and thus, he handled his suffering with practiced dignity, and, just like his mother had taught him, he faked a smile.  "Have a good night, Purvis.  Hey, Rowan, what's it look like in here?"
"It's not too bad tonight.  We'll get it all done.  Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I guess so.  I know I just got here and all, but can I bum a smoke?"
He was kind, helping others when no one would help him.  He helped Rowan cut up the trees in her yard after a near miss from a tornado.  "No worries," she said, handing him a Camel and a lighter.  "Do what you gotta do, man."  Hell, she would've gladly shared her weed with him, but he insisted one puff would turn him green and make him puke.
Edgar sat down on the loading dock, letting his feet dangle over the edge, and lit his cigarette.  He was happy working at Paulio's.  He actually liked his job as a copy consultant.  The training, including an initial, all expenses paid trip out of town, helped him keep his brain sharp and entertained.  His job wasn't for stupid people, and Edgar liked that.  Having access to the machines allowed him to publish his own zine, and to make all sorts of art in Photoshop and print it out oversized.  He didn't mind so much that he couldn't afford art college.  He liked the work as good as anything community college had to offer, and the pay was just as good.  Paulio's believed in sharing the wealth, and all the employees had profit shares.  Once the store hit its sales mark for turning profit, everything else was money in the bank, so Edgar tried to work hard and not make costly mistakes.  The store was the number one store in the country the year before, and Paulio himself came to congratulate them and send them all on a free trip to Disney World. 
Edgar's co-workers were all fantastic people.  No one really understood what it was like to work for Paulio's, unless they worked there, and thus, they were a family.  The store manager was a fun guy.  He took care of his team, gave great pep talks, and always told everyone what a great job they were doing. 
Edgar even liked the customers.  They were amazing people who did amazing things, like direct plays or movies, or write screenplays or books.  He empowered them to create great things, and he felt very useful because of it. 
In addition, there was so much free food.  Whenever the store was so busy that no one got lunch breaks, the boss could order-in on the company dime, and there was always a hot pot of coffee.  Not to mention the free donuts and bread they'd get from trading the local bakery food for copies.  In addition, the store meetings always came with free snacks and booze.  Edgar felt like he belonged there.  He thought that perhaps he had found his calling.
A man approached him.  He looked to be homeless, but he definitely wasn't a regular.  His eyes looked bugged out, like they might very well pop out of his skull in search of his next crack fix.  He said, "Hey, you wanna buy some shampoo I stole from the drug store next door?"
Edgar said, truthfully, "No thanks.  I don't use shampoo; I just wash my hair with soap."
The crackhead kept getting closer, and Edgar was starting to feel uncomfortable by the situation.  "You got a smoke?" he said.
"Sure, they're inside, let me grab one for you," Edgar said, not planning to come back, but before he could get up, the crackhead grabbed him around his ankle. 
He said, "You look real pretty, boy.  I think I'd like to long dick you behind the dumpster."
Edgar screamed like a little girl and kicked the guy in the shoulder.  He dropped his half-smoked fag and ran back inside to tell Rowan.
The crackhead rubbed off the pain, picked up the unfinished smoke, and headed on down the back lot with his stolen shampoo.
Rowan found the ordeal to be both hysterical and unnerving.  She checked the locks on the doors, and made Edgar look at every customer she buzzed in to make sure it wasn't the pervert.  They took the rest of their smoke breaks out front and together.
Paulio's got very calm and quiet at night, far removed from the panic and disorder of first or second shift.  On third shift, Edgar could focus on the copies, not the customers, and find a quiet rhythm that produced high volumes of work.  The isolation got to him, though.  Only weirdoes were awake at 3am.  If he went to a twenty-four hour store, there was a good chance he would be the only customer there.  Third shift also left Edgar with a feeling of jet lag.  Everyone else's yesterday was his today.  He was just waking up as everyone else went to bed.  None of the restaurants served dinner when he got off work, and he was fucking sick of eggs.  All the bars were closed at the end of his workday, and his neighbors looked at him funny if he had a beer on his porch at ten in the morning.  He was always so very lonely and tired.  Even without a sick baby, it was hard to sleep during the day, no matter how thick the drapes on the window.
As the night passed, the envelopes in the jobs-in racks dwindled, while the boxes on the quality check table grew higher and higher.  When all the jobs were done, the only thing left to do was clean the store, which never took more than an hour.  They often passed the dead time surfing the internet, but tonight they were really bored, so they cut out lamination and double-stick taped it to their shoes, so that they could slide around on the carpet.  Rowan was skating around, restocking self-serve.  She was filling up one of the fishbowls full of rubber bands when the devil on her shoulder possessed her.
"It's war," she yelled, and shot Edgar in the chest with stinging rubber-band furry.  With the box of rubber bands in hand, she took cover beneath a cabinet.
Edgar grabbed a fishbowl full of rubber bands and ducked beneath the counter that divided full-serve from self-serve.  As the war escalated and spent rounds littered the battlefield, Rowan ran low on ammunition.  She made a break for the nearest supply depot.  Edgar went on the offensive, closing in and rapidly firing one rubber band after another.  Rowan was skating for her life when one of the lamination sheets folded under foot mid slide and sent her face first to the ground.  Edgar put his foot on her back, pinning her down, and unloaded his remaining shots into her bottom.  "Victory is mine!" he yelled.
"Mercy, mercy!" she giggled.  "You win!"  He let her roll over onto her back.  As his intense, chocolate eyes gazed down at her, and his long, wavy brown hair cascaded about his olive skinned face, he smiled a real, genuine smile, and Rowan found him to be quite beautiful.
Edgar wanted to make love to her, to ravish her upon the floor, to find a release from his suffering and misery, but he dare not, for he loved his wife and daughter, even if they were all but a memory.  He gave her his hand and helped her to feet instead.
It was getting early, so they stopped goofing around and started to clean up the huge mess they had made.  They collected all the evidence and returned them to their fishbowls.  While Rowan finished cleaning and stocking self-serve, Edgar vacuumed.  He vacuumed by the binders, sucking up myriad pieces of paper, perfect circles and rectangles, strewn about by hurried hands like confetti, a celebration of the next break, or perhaps the end of a long shift. 
There, amongst the confetti, was the hangnail Grigori had so casually spat out along with his corporate rhetoric.  Edgar didn't know why, but he reached out and took it like a ripe berry plucked from a vine.  He held it out between thumb and forefinger, like some glorious prize, as he examined its every detail.  Despite its tongue bath, dirt was still beneath it.  He noted the color, tarred with splotches of white.  He noticed the nature of the cut, the roughness as if never filed, and the jagged tear from being ripped off by teeth.  Everything about it fascinated him, and he just had to keep it. 
He forgot to turn off the vacuum, and it whirred away as he frantically circled the production floor, looking for a safe box to keep his treasure in.  He rounded the corner to the big machine hidden in the back, the one he wasn't allowed to use.  He took a hard, plastic, Jaz disk case from atop the machine's computer, and removed the disk from inside.  He put the fingernail in its little casket, closed it up, and slipped it into his pocket.

Saturday, January 9th

Edgar held his daughter.  Today, she had a bad day.  She gagged a lot, and trembled and shook.  He wanted to help her so badly.  He couldn't stand to see her suffer.  He could tell she wanted to live, if only to be with him, her daddy.  He imagined her future, if her life had come to fruition.  He imagined her learning to ride a bike, graduating from high school, getting married.  He wanted her to get better, to feel good again, to laugh, to smile and coo, to be happy.  He wanted her eyes to light up when she saw him like they used to.  He knew she would never get better.  She would soon die. 
He bathed her, fed her, changed her, and doted on her, all the while helpless.  Only God could heel her, and the only God Edgar ever knew had never granted him any favors.  Edgar thought she would be better off dead, be that heaven or dirt, it didn't matter.  He wondered if his own selfish greed kept his daughter's soul trapped here because he couldn't let go, or was he fooling himself into thinking he even had that much power.
Her eyes were pussy and milky today.  He thought that perhaps he had given her too much medicine, an unconscious attempt at euthanasia.  He couldn't stop thinking about this betta fish he used to have when he was a teenager.  One day, he went to feed it, and it was swimming all fucked up, as if its back was broken somehow.  He thought that perhaps it had seen its reflection in the tank glass and, like an angry bird, attacked.  He couldn't stand to see it swim around all fucked up, and he was helpless to fix it, so he covered up the tank with a blanket, and waited for it to die.  He didn't know how to save it, so he imagined it away.  He was never any good at loving anything (or anyone) broken that he couldn't repair.  Perhaps this was his karma payback. 
He had stopped by his mother's trailer for breakfast before he came home.  She made him eggs.  They were too runny, and he found one of her long, grey hairs in them, but he picked it out discretely and ate them anyway.  Afterwards, he went outside to smoke.  The day was truly beautiful.  The sun was unusually warm for the season.  A gentle zephyr stirred the dry leaves, and neighborhood children were playing nearby.  There was a snowbird digging around in the dormant flower garden.  When it hopped into the brown grass, Edgar noticed its leg was at a wrong angle and swollen.  Its wings looked okay, but it didn't fly away when he approached it.  It just hopped off.  He thought about catching it, caging it, and giving it time to heal, but he didn't have money for a vet, and, the night before, he had dreamed of setting caged birds free.  He thought for sure the neighborhood cats would kill it, and he thought it would be for the best.  The old saying "I know why the caged bird sings came to mind," but he couldn't remember how the rest of it went, and he realized he didn't know why a caged bird would sing.  Yes, death would be better, even a slow death in the toying paws of a playful cat.
He thought about the stupidest things and hated himself for the stupidest reasons.  It bothered him that the office supplies at Paulio's looked so messy.  Why did he care?  He worked third shift as a production employee; stocking the merchandise racks wasn't even his job.  He wanted to stop caring.  Other people didn't seem to care, or it would never get to be so trashed in the first place.  What did they know that he didn't?  This morning when he left, Vanessa, the morning supervisor, was still in the back eating donuts and drinking coffee.  He could've waited for her to finish, but it was time for him to go.  He was afraid someone needing to place a huge order would walk in, and he would be stuck taking his or her order for fifteen minutes, so he just clocked out and walked off, but he could've cared and stayed.  What's fifteen minutes anyway?  He could've waited to avoid the guilt that always haunted him when he didn't do his best.  Why did he care?  Vanessa didn't.  It was 8 am, and she was still in the back, taking advantage of his good nature.  Technically, the store wasn't even his problem anymore, and no customer probably came and had to wait anyway.  Nothing would ever come of it, yet it bothered him.  Why?  Why did he fucking care?  Please, dear God, save me from my own hateful mind, he thoughtHe couldn't even look at himself in the mirror because the voices in his head wouldn't be quite.
He laid Lindsay back down in her crib.  He had only gotten four hours of sleep again, but it was time to get ready for work.  He lifted up the toilet seat.  The water was brown with a few chunks of turd, backwash from a flush too weak to clean the bowl, and in this muck was a horse fly on its side, swimming around in circles like some desperate, drowning stooge, going whoop-whoop-whoop-whoop.  He felt like that fly, and he wanted to cry.  He couldn't bring himself to flush the poor creature, but he couldn't bring himself to stick his hand down in shit water to save it either.  No hand of God ever reached down to help me, he thought.  He put down the lid and took a shower.  Afterwards, when he raised the lid again, the fly was still floating there, dead.
Edgar made it to work in the nick of time.  He had hoped Grigori would be in a good mood and forget all about writing him up, but he didn't.
"You, come into my office," was the first thing Grigori said, with no pleasantries beforehand. 
They went into the small office shared by both of the supervisors.  "Have a seat," Grigori said, so Edgar did.  Grigori shut the door and then sat down at the desk.  He looked at his reflection in the dark monitor of the sleeping computer, took a hairbrush from the center desk drawer, and ran it through his hair a few times.  The man enjoyed his power, and he wanted to look good while chastising his underlings.  He laid the brush down on the desk and retrieved his special write-up clipboard he used for such an occasion as this.  He handed Edgar the clipboard.  "This explains that you have a pattern of being late.  I have recorded the dates and times you have been late.  If you are late again in the next thirty days, you will be terminated.  You need to sign this form, acknowledging that you have been informed of this."  He shuffled around some papers on his desk, looking for a pen.  "Ow!" he said.  He pulled his hand up to examine it, and his forefinger was bleeding from a thin cut.  He put it to his mouth and sucked on it.  He moved the papers to find a razor blade hiding amongst them.  "I thought I put that away already," he said, shaking his head.  "I'm gonna get a bandage.  Be right back."
Fucking cocksucker, Edgar thought.  I wish I could drag that razor blade across his fucking throat.  In his head, he heard his mother's voice say, "Give your anger to a demon in hell, for it is something it needs and something you don't need.  Leave it in your belly, and the fires of hell will burn through you to get at it."  However, he couldn't let it go.  He got up and picked up the hairbrush.  It was full of hair with a little dandruff mixed in, as if Grigori had never once cleaned it.  He pulled the hair from the brush, careful not to take too much, and put the brush back exactly as it had been.  He put the hair in the little casket with the fingernail and slipped it back into his pocket.  He signed the write-up and left it on the desk before going out onto the floor to work.
Around midnight, a homeless man came into the store.  Any later, and the doors would've been locked.  He was one of the regulars.  He always wore dirty blue jeans, a flannel shirt, and a jean jacket.  He had long, grungy, wavy, sandy brown hair, and thus the locals called him Kurt Cobain.  He once passed out across the door to Paulio's, and customers had to step over him to get inside.  One man said he thought a woman was in trouble, but Rowan explained to him that it was just a local drunk, and the cops had been called.
Kurt Cobain seemed agitated.  "Do you have any water?" he asked.
"There's a water cooler right there," Edgar said, pointing in the direction.
The bum took one of the triangle shaped paper cups, filled it up, and ran out the door. 
"Now what in the hell is he up to?"  Edgar asked.  He and Rowan followed him outside. 
Kurt ran two doors down, to the table area in front of Corners Cafe, were the big blue trashcan was on fire.  He poured the water on the fire, and then dropped the cup in too.  The water had no effect on the blaze, and the paper of the cup actually made the fire flare up with green flames.
Just then, a Corners employee ran out with a fire extinguisher yelling, "Hey, what are you doing?"  as he put the fire out.  

Sunday, January 10th

Around midnight, Rowan offered to drive to the 24-hour grocery store to buy them some lunch.  She had just started across the deserted lot towards her car when she saw Kurt Cobain walking quickly towards her.  With others around, she wasn't very fearful of him, but here at night, where no one could hear her screams, she turned around and high tailed it back into Paulio's.
Edgar had just started helping a beautiful lady with dark chocolate skin and dark, soulful eyes.  She said, "I emailed in a file earlier, and the edges got cut off.  Can you fix it?"
"Sure, not a problem.  Do you have the bad ones with you?" he said.
 "I don't have but a few left 'cause I used them all."
Rowan walked in and loudly said, "Edgar, do you mind walking me out to my car?  That bum that set the trashcan on fire is out there, and I'm afraid of him."
Edgar chuckled.  "Yeah, sure.  Help me get the line."  He turned his attention back to his customer.  "Do you have a receipt, or an order form, or anything?"  As far as Edgar knew, she never even purchased anything here.  He couldn't find any of her paperwork and didn't know if she declined the proof or not.
"Look, I already talked to Purvis on the phone, and he said you'd redo it for free."
Edgar thought she might be scamming him, but he gave her the benefit of the doubt.  "Yeah, sure.  You can pick it up in the morning."  Just then, the door opened up and in staggered Kurt Cobain.  Edgar turned to Rowan and said, "Looks like he followed you."  All the customers, even those using the self-serve machines, turned around to see the pyromaniac.
"Anybody got a match?"  Kurt yelled out.
"No!" all the customers yelled in unison.
"Whatsa matter?  Ain't nobody got a match?  I just wanna light a cigarette."  One by one, he came face to face with each customer.  Each person shook his or her head and backed away, eyes wide with fear and sour look across the face from having smelled such a lowlife degenerate.
"Nobody's got anything for you, man.  You need to go on, or I'll have to call the cops," Edgar said.
"Fuck you all," he said, giving them the bird with both hands as he walked backwards out the door.
Edgar and Rowan cleared out the line.  Then, Edgar walked Rowan out to her car, went back inside, and put the magnetic locks on.  He went to work on a mounting job with an early due time.  The blade in the cutter was leaving rough edges, so it needed to be replaced, but he couldn't find the box of razor blades.  Then, he remembered the one in Grigori's office, the one that had pleased Edgar by taking a bite out of Grigori.  He walked into the supervisors' office to retrieve the mischievous blade, when he noticed Grigori's bloody bandage discarded in the trashcan. 
He reached in and picked it out.  Its long edges were rolled down and black from a few hand washings before it had frustrated Grigori enough that he said to hell with it and ripped it off with his teeth, leaving the short edges jagged.  Edgar took the disk case from his pocket and added the bloody bandage to his collection of discarded Grigori parts.
Soon, soon Edgar would have enough to make that voodoo doll, and Grigori, that ass muncher would be sorry.

Monday, January 11th

Edgar looked all over the apartment.  All he needed was one dollar and twenty-five cents.  If he could find the money, he could make it through work just fine.  Otherwise, since Rowan had the night off, he was facing a ten-hour shift without any cigarettes. 
He looked in all the usual places.  He started with the change jar, but it had been raided one too many times and held nothing but pennies.  Wait, was that a sliver of silver he just saw?  Hot damn!  A dime.  Then he checked the key basket where he was supposed to empty his pockets when he got home from work.  He found a nickel and two pennies.  He looked in the pockets of some dirty clothes but found nothing.  The coffee cup full of pens on the desk yielded another seven cents.  The couch gave up two dimes, a nickel, and a penny.  He checked all the coat pockets and found another dime and three nickels. 
He looked up at the clock.  He had spent the last thirty minutes tearing up his apartment for seventy-five cents.  Was that really what he was worth?  A dollar fifty an hour?  Out of time, he had to go to work, where they at least thought he was worth eight fifty.
He remembered back not that long ago when he had plenty of money.  It would take no time at all to scrape up cigarette money from the seat cushions on the day before payday.  Hell, he'd even find quarters, but that was before Lindsay got sick.
Poor Lindsay, he wanted her to feel good again.  She was so ill.  She almost died today.  She had a seizure or something.  They didn't take her to the hospital because they wanted her to die at home.  She didn't eat all day.  Finally, Valentina got her to drink some water.  Lindsay cried all day and didn't want to be left alone for even a second.  There was a snowbird pecking on the window all day, for the second time this month.  It worried Edgar so.  He felt an unholy pressure, like something bad was going to happen any minute now, a sense of foreboding and doom.  He started praying again.  The poor baby, he wanted her to feel so much better, to feel good again.  Please, God heal my baby, he prayed.  Just help her.  He never knew he could feel this sorry for another creature.  He loved her so much.  He wanted her to feel good.  He didn't want her to suffer anymore, and he wondered if he should end her suffering.  She was pitiful and there was nothing more Edgar could do for her. 
Lindsay wasted away before Edgar's eyes.  She had turned to bones.  Her skin hung loose on her skeletal frame from where all her baby fat had melted away.  Edgar didn't know it would take so long to die.  That snowbird kept pecking on the window, and his daughter just wasted away.  He thought about killing her, smothering her with a pillow to put her out of her misery. 
When he got to work, he found one employee and too much work.  Purvis had taken one of the industrial size trash bags and ran through the parking lot, filling it up with air.  He had tied it off so it would stay full, drew a face on it, and set it on one of the copiers.  He had made a photocopy of his nametag, changed the name to Bag of Air, and taped it to the trash bag.
"What the fuck is that?"  Edgar said.
Purvis said, "It's Bag of Air."  It was just me and Ollie today, so I made us some help."
The store was a mess.  Purvis dumped it all on Edgar as soon as he walked in the door, and then he left him there alone, with two customers in line, a ringing phone, and a ton of half-finished work.  Edgar did the best he could, and things finally settled down a bit after midnight.  Sweet Rowan had left him half a pack of cigarettes in his cubby, so he had himself a smoke. 
It was around 1 am when Grigori rang the doorbell.  Edgar buzzed him inn.  Grigori was drunk, and he had a drunken woman on his arm.  She looked cheap and southern, like flip-flops in a Wal-Mart bargain bin, flashy, with no substance, and possibly dangerous.
"Yeah, baby, this is where I work," Grigori said.
"Oh, it's bright in here," the whore said.
"Let me show you my office."
They shut the door behind them.  Edgar could hear them fucking.  They were loud with their groans and moans, as if Edgar wasn't even there.  Edgar set the folder to trifolding, but even the loud thump, thump, thump couldn't drown them out.  Ten minutes later, they came out, disheveled, sweaty, and smelling of sex.
"What the fuck is that?"  Grigori said, pointing to Bag of Air.
"Bag of Air," Edgar said.
"What?  What the fuck is it doing there?"
"Purvis put it there."
"Yeah, well it's childish and unprofessional.  Purvis is barely eighteen.  He's a fucking child.  You're a grown up.  You're somebody's daddy, for Christ sakes.  You should've known better.  You should've took that thing down as soon as you saw it."
Edgar wanted to scream.  How professional was it to bring a whore into your office for a quick fuck?  Nevertheless, he needed this job, and he knew Grigori could give a shit about that fucking bag of air; he just wanted to feel big and powerful after paying a woman for pleasure.
After they left, Edgar went into the supervisors' office.  He dug around in the trash.  Underneath a browning banana peel, he found it, a used condom, sticky with whore's pussy and full of Grigori's spunk.  He put it in the little casket.

Tuesday, January 12th

Edgar didn't usually work Tuesdays, but he had switched his upcoming Friday shift with another employee who needed tonight off.  He was getting ready to clock in when Grigori walked up behind him and said, "Don't bother.  Where's the disk, Edgar?"
"What disk?"
"We had a little power surge today.  When Scot tried to restart the job he was working on, the hard drive had corrupted.  Scot makes a backup of all his important jobs onto a jazz disk, and when he went to get it, guess what?  The disk was fucking gone.  Gone!  We're talking about a million-dollar account.  So the big boss started looking through the tapes, and what did he find?  You, messing with the Docutech, you know, the machine you're not allowed to touch.  God knows why, but you took the disk.  You can see that you put it in your pocket.  Where's the disk, Edgar?"
"I don't know.  I only took the case, I swear."
"Why would you do that?"
"I needed it."
"You just admitted to stealing company property.  Besides, you were the last one to have it, and you weren't even supposed to touch it.  You're fired.  Fired, fired, fired, fired, fired, fired!  Go home."
As Grigori emphasized the f each time he said 'fired', spit showered onto Edgar's face.  Edgar didn't wipe it off, but just let it sit there, soaking into his skin. 
Grigori smiled, and then reached for his coffee, which he had spiked with Kahlúa.  He took a swig and instantly realized he had picked up the wrong cup and was, instead, downing someone else's cold, chunky, non-alcoholic coffee from God knows when.  He spit it back into the cup.  He hocked in a loogie in an attempt to clear the taste.  "Uhhhgggg!" he said.  He set the cup down and then ran into the bathroom to wash out his mouth.
Edgar didn't hesitate to confiscate the cup full of spit.  He turned and walked out the front door.  He drove home, careful not to spill his liquid treasure. 
When he arrived home, he found Valentina weeping as she held Lindsay's limp body.  He set the cup down on the coffee table and rushed over to his wife and daughter.  "Is she dead?" he asked. 
"Almost," Valentina said.  "Her breathing is shallow."
Flies, not the everyday black ones, but the ones that were shiny like green chrome, buzzed around them and kept landing on Lindsay.  Valentina would wave them away, but they just kept coming back. 
Time slowed, and it seemed Lindsay would never finish dying, but finally, as the sun rose and a new day dawned, her young life expired.  As the color flushed the sky, all life drained from her, and as the sun lived again another day, Lindsay did not.
Edgar's heart broke when she died.  He tried to tell himself that death was just the shedding of the spirit's skin, but it gave him no comfort.  From then on, he felt dead himself, a zombie ambling through life with no purpose or direction. 

Saturday, January 16th

Despair and devastation permeated the space between Valentina and Edgar as thick as the dirt that now covered their decaying daughter.
Valentina yelled, "I'm angry with you, you son of a bitch!  How could you treat me like this?  How could I let you treat me like this?"
All that Edgar ever did wrong lingered just at the edge of his brain, ready to flood in.  He said, "I don't understand.  What did I do?  Why are you so mad at me?"
She felt as if his scent hung in the back of her throat, gagging her.  She screamed, "I hate you!  Why didn't I have some balls and tell you to go fuck yourself before you knocked me up?  Get away from me!  I can't do this!  I don't care if I did promise to love you forever.  I can't!  I can't look at you!  I can't speak to you!  You son of a bitch!  Pig bastard!  Die!"  She picked up a snow globe of a carrousel horse mounted on a gold pedestal that Edgar had given to her when they first started dating, and she hurled it at him.  He tried to catch it, but it hit his hand wrong and smashed to the floor, shattering and spilling its glittery insides all over.  She cried out, "I'm so angry!  You hurt me!  I wish you were still here!  Why are you dead?  Why did you die?"
Anger, hate, betrayal, the feeling he gave her now was like a bad high, nervous jittery, no self-esteem, belligerent, enraged, like talking to her rapist, reliving a bad childhood all over again.  His energy was icky stuff.  He was a creep, a loser.  She hated him.  She didn't want to be there any more.  She didn't like what he did to her.  She couldn't make him go away, and so she went away instead. 
Guilt rode in on butterfly wings.  Why did you let her go?  You could've stopped her if you tried.
He missed her already.  He wished he could make her come back.  He wanted to crawl under the covers and hide in his bed tonight, tomorrow, the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that.
Except for the venting groans of the refrigerator, the apartment was silent.  Edgar didn't know what to do with himself.  He had no one to talk to.  He could call Rowan.  Hell, she'd probably even give him a blowjob out of pity, but he wanted to be alone.  The place smelled sour with death and rot, and the smell was getting to him.  He hadn't noticed it so much before, when it was still attached to Lindsay.  It had gotten worse and worse each day, and now that she had passed and there was no longer any love attached to the horrible smell, it almost made him throw up. 
He needed to clean the place, to control the mess, to regain some type of order to his life.  He started in the kitchen.  Lindsay's little spoons and bottles made him weep as he threw them away.  A horrific odor was coming out of the sink as he loaded the dishwasher.  When he got to the bottom, he saw that the once white sink was stained brown with rust stains and that slime and gunk was clogging the drain.
Edgar hadn't had a sip of booze in years, but he had never thrown out the last bottle he had bought before Valentina nagged him into quitting.  He retrieved her from the back of the cabinet, and he fell into her embrace as if she were his wife rather than the whore she was.  It didn't take long before he was shit faced, staggering about the apartment still in his funeral suit, though he had removed his coat, tie, and shoes, and he had unbuttoned the collar of his shirt. 
Grigori actually had the nerve to come to the funeral.  Edgar had overheard him talking to Rowan.  "Hey, congratulate me," he said, "I got married today."
"What poor deluded fool would marry you, Grigori?"  Rowan had said.
"A pregnant one," Grigori said, and he laughed.  "Yeah, I brought her with me.  She's in the can.  You gotta meet her."
He laughed at my daughter's funeral, Edgar thought.  He thought Grigori was talking about the whore he had fucked at Paulio's, but a few minutes later, the most gorgeous young girl he had ever seen walked up to Grigori and put her arm around him.  Edgar hated him, with his new pregnant wife, and his good paying job, and his pretense at caring.  He could've cut Edgar some slack.  He could've understood that Edgar was in hell, and that even though Lindsay wasn't going to last, she was his everything.  He could've, but he didn't, and since Edgar no longer had his daughter to fuss over, what was he to do with all his erratic emotions?  He focused them, and like coal turns into diamonds, he turned his sorrow into madness, then rage.
Edgar retrieved the disk case with all the pieces of Grigori he'd collected, as well as the coffee cup full of spit.
He needed to be tied to this man he hated.  He stood before the full-length mirror that hung on the closet door in the bedroom.  He opened the case and removed the hair.  He poured glue on the center of his head and stuck Grigori's hair to it.  Then he glued the hangnail to his finger.  Next, he cut his finger with a razor blade, exactly as Grigori had, and he wrapped the wound in the bloody bandage and taped it into place.  He touched himself, thinking the nastiest thoughts, but they always returned to Lindsay, and his cock wouldn't get hard.  He closed his eyes and thought of that night when he and Rowan had the rubber band fight, and he was standing over her looking down at her, and finally his cock bobbed to life.  Then he took the used condom.  It was almost completely dry on the outside, but the inside was still a little moist as he slid his hard cock into it.  Finally, he drank the cup full of spit and sludge.
Edgar saw himself in the mirror, but it wasn't his own reflection anymore; it was Grigori's.  "Look at me!  I'm Grigori!" he said.  "I've got a new wife and a baby on the way.  I've got a good paying job and I get to fuck people over.  I hate you, you fucking bastard!"  Edgar yelled and chucked the coffee cup at his reflection, shattering Grigori into a million pieces.  He laughed as he stomped the broken glass with his bare foot until it was so sore and bloody he could hardly stand.
Grigori was at home with his new wife.  The wooden decoration from the arm of a chair was lying in the floor, like a bed of nails, just waiting for Grigori.  He put his full body weight onto it, sticking it to the bottom of his bare foot as surely as it had been attached to the chair before.  "Arrrrgggghhhh!" he screamed as multiple nails bore into his foot, piercing flesh and drawing blood.  He reached down and pulled Satan’s shoe from his sole, but the damage was already done.
Edgar wasn't done yet.  He pulled out his hair by the root like a fungus infected cat ripping at his sores, until he had patches pulled out all over his crazy head.
 Grigori bandaged his foot, and sat down on his couch to rest.  He went to scratch his head, and for no reason he was aware of, his hair just started falling out.  Large clumps came out into his hand.  The more his head itched, the more hair fell out, until he looked as strange as an experimental drug test subject.  What's wrong with me?  he thought, and he started to panic.
Edgar had a brilliant idea.  He went into the kitchen.  With his hand, he scooped out whatever was at the bottom of the sink drain: bits of egg, a piece of spaghetti, an onion, a dollop of mayonnaise, and he ate it.
Grigori threw up.  Repeatedly, he retched, as his insides rejected the psychic poison.  As he puked, liquid shit shot out his ass.  He curled up in a fetal position.  He trembled and shook as he waited for the ambulance his new wife had called.
Edgar passed out in a pool of his own vomit.  He didn't know how long he was unconscious, but he awoke to the sound of the ringing telephone.  His body ached all over, his head felt like a mile of horse crap.  He could hear Rowan talking as she left a message on the machine.
"Hey, Edgar, it's Rowan.  Just calling to check up on you.  Did you hear?  Grigori got a bad case of food poison, and he's in the hospital.  They said it's one of the worse cases they've ever seen.  They think he might die.  Anyway, let me know if you need anything.  Bye."
"It worked!  It worked!"  Edgar cried out.  He laughed like a maniac briefly before his victory felt ever so hollow.  It didn't bring his daughter back, or even his bitch wife.  The emptiness, that giant hole in his soul where Lindsay had once been, was an abysmal well of tears eternal. 
He thought, What no one understands is that I mourn the loss of my best friend, because when I needed someone to talk to, she would listen, and when I needed a hug, she would give it to me, and when I felt insignificant, I could look into her eyes and know that I mattered.  Now, I am alone.
 His heart was broken, destroyed, and stopping its worthless beating was the only way to end his pain.  He staggered to the kitchen and took a butcher knife from the drawer.  With his last bit of willpower, he cut out his own heart, and in a nearby hospital, an unborn baby lost her father, as surely as Lindsay lost hers to the fires of hell.

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