It's always why - Editor
by Erik Lambert
I didn’t want to blow up the hospital. It wasn’t like I was someone with a grudge who lost a son or wife or a nut job with a political agenda. I hate people. They bore me. I can find more interest in a cactus. Just let me have my shitty job in the cemetery and my shitty apartment where I eat my shitty food and I’m fine. Some people would not be satisfied with this life, but when you’ve seen what I’ve seen, you might change your tune. Regardless, the hospital never once crossed my mind, until they appeared outside my window.
If you’d see them you’d understand. When you’re a guy who has no friends, no family and a night of strolling through a graveyard in the pitch dark to look forward to, the little things make you happy. When I first saw them it was with a passing glance. As each day progressed, those glances turned to glares. At the time I had no idea why. I just felt compelled to know them. So I decided to try jogging. I got on the path at the same time as them, pumping my flabby legs and arms. The velour jogging suit would be swishing like a saw against the trunk of a tree. They would come up behind me and I would introduce myself and ask her name.
“Abigail Dresdan. This here’s Zeus,” she would say, ushering to the dog next to her in between measured breaths.
They come down the path every morning around 8:40, while there’s still mist coming off the ground as the dawn dew evaporates. It’s a matchmaker’s dream, like watching two comets streak across the night sky. She wears bright colors, ranging from pink and yellow to turquoise and cream. Zeus is paper white with a tiny tinge of black covering the tip of his tail. This makes them quite visible coming out of the furrow of dark green trees on the far end of the park. They always jog. Abby swings her arms like those scooping machines you see at construction sites, only upside down. Up-curl, down-straight, up-curl, down-straight. The leash, a black tether with teeth marks on it (I know this because I use binoculars) would be pulled tight and then fall loose. This caused poor Zeus to speed up and then slow down. It’s why he’s always in front or behind his master on the jog.
By this point in the jog, Zeus’ tongue had grown to ten feet in length and was dragging on the sidewalk, searching in vain for a puddle of water. Abby took no notice of it, lost in the realm of her music player, porcelain lips mouthing the words. The glare of the morning sun gleamed on her blue shades. Her slender physique had now bonded with the park. Some part of me has bonded with another part of me. For the first time I can relieve some stress that never seems to get tired of resting over my quivering shoulders.
At this point my perfect morning is interrupted when Abby and Zeus disappear behind the hospital. What a crap building. Built a few years ago, it is nothing but a tan concrete wart featuring bright windows and automatic doors that needed to be cauterized. It leaves me with nothing but the wailing of sirens and the smell of steam laced with fecal matter coming from two manholes down on the street. I could not stand it. When all you have to look forward to was keeping drunks from pissing on gravestones the rest of the night, waving your threatening flashlight, it becomes a matter of principle. Either I had to move or that hospital did. The decision was easy.
It’s so funny. You live your life blowing buildings up. Sometimes it’s because the foundation is too weak. The wooden support beams are infested with termites or rattled to death by endless streams of planes flying overhead. Or it was teenagers and their damn new surround systems with four million deciwatts of ear shattering screeching that passes for music. Demo album my ass. It can be in the aftermath of a natural disaster: A hurricane on the coasts, a tornado in plains, or an avalanche in the mountains. The building now sticks out like an oily pimple. It’s time to push the reset button. Strip malls. Condos. The works. Let the bidding wars begin. Thus you’re not only destroying a worn out shell, you’re putting a tough old bird out of its misery.
That’s not the right job for a man coming home from war. I was supposed to find a cushioned desk job and be a leader of people, not using skills meant to destroy the enemy, to destroy empty husks that had once been habitable. When I entered the service at sixteen, lying my way in to get away from my father, they told me I was too small to be a soldier. That didn’t matter. I was small enough to be an engineer. For six years I found every way in the book to stay overseas. If they needed someone to blow up an old fortress, I was there. If an old beaver dam was in the way of a convoy, I was there. Explosives became my calling, until I might’ve pushed it too far. They said that the rulebook clearly stated you could not use high explosives to hunt bears, especially in Colorado. I got that memo too late. That brown bear splattered nice on the billboards heading to Denver. Discharge came a week later.
When I got home my mail was full of threats and chastising letters from animal rights groups. My father would’ve laughed and wiped his ass with them. Saves money on toilet paper. I settled for using it as kindling to start my grill. There was, however, one letter from the Wainright Demolition Company who liked my style. That style turned into a begrudging life for thirteen years. In Iraq I destroyed an abandoned mosque that once housed artifacts from the Crusades. In Germany I brought down a concrete bunker that Hitler used at one time. The Japanese hired me to implode a decayed samurai castle. An American businessman sent me in to Mexico to flatten an old fishing village that claimed to go as far back as the Aztecs. I became known as the Records Reaper. Each time I saw another building fall, I kept wondering. Why am I not outraged by this? I was getting too comfortable with the profession. No man in their right mind destroys history willingly. So I retired and picked a quiet job as a graveyard watchman. My fathers’ laughing grew louder after that.
If you asked me then how I got myself to the point of what most would say is terrorism, I couldn’t have said. Now, looking back, I think it started when I was six. All those hot days in the factory yards playing with friends in the abandoned warehouses was my first escape before Uncle Sam came calling. We played hide and seek. We smashed old windows. I even kissed my first girl in there. One day we were heading back to go exploring when we saw bulldozers rampaging across the yard. The old tin sidings were no match for the rugged scythe-like scoops as they cut their way through. Our playground was falling away. I hadn’t known at the time it had also been where thousands of tanks had been stored before shipping off to fight the Nazis. Why were they trampling it like that? You could say my love for destruction and history both began that day.
One good thing that came out of me going to high school was the discovery of my brilliant understanding for chemistry. For that reason alone I snuck by the recruiting officers. The moment I dazzled them with atomic numbers and elemental knowhow, I was off to be all I could be. I reveled in the endless sessions of being called every sissy name in existence while running for miles and dropping for pushups. Whenever I got to drinking with my comrades at any local bar in Korea we could pile into, I would schmooze the waitresses with my deconstruction of a bottle of beer down to the atomic level, in Korean of course. Then when their boyfriends started fights that tore up the place, I would continue to have a chance encounter with a lady MP and her blood hound. Her name was Elmira. The blood hound was named Thor. Me being new to things, Elmira kind of took me under her wing; those angled elegant wings that I bet could bring a man to death and orgasm in the same instance. Thor was brown and black; face drooped low in a permanent frown but nose always sniffing something.
They’d take me to the base to sleep it off. She would make hair pin turns on the dark streets. Her thin voice would cut through the wind.
“You have to remember that you represent the army now. People use you as a reflection to all of us. Do me this favor and try to behave, alright?”
I would nod, catching the length of her wired legs on the driver side in the street lights. The hound would be sitting on the hump in between us, his nose roaming around my face. That wide tongue would lather my ear.
I enjoyed those rides so much that I started hanging out with soldiers I knew would start fights. That way I knew I would see her. Every time she had one of those pressed smiles on her face, knowing I was up to my usual tricks despite her best lectures. I didn’t know at the time, but Elmira was the first woman I could talk to and watch without her getting offended. I imagine Thor being there to watch had some effect on that but it didn’t matter. I never thought about sex with her, though she had those long legs and sleek hair that made most men shake in their underwear. Her company on those ten minute drives tending to my bleeding lips and black eyes was worth all of it. Then I was discharged.
It wasn’t the act I regretted most. It was that I wouldn’t get another ride from Elmira anymore, the one the good thing in my life. The only good thing. Those fleeting minutes in the jeep hearing her talk while dripping dog drool from my chin brought the rarest thing out of me. They made me smile. The one thing I had left of her was an old pair of 3D glasses she had used when we went to see a movie together. It had been the one night of my life absent of explosions or violent brawls. I made sure to keep them in my shirt pocket wherever I went. Nothing could make me lose this wonderful feeling I had. Then my discharge came. I became lost, drifting through jobs without purpose or direction, a bottle floating in the ocean.
Abigail changed that.
Thus, in honor of her, I created something called the “Abigail Cocktail.” I wish you could smell it. Picture a pan of fresh lasagna steaming on your kitchen table, then pour at least a gallon of gasoline on it. A witch’s brew of hydrochloric acid, black powder, nitro, and uranium. That last part came courtesy of an old friend who retired from the service to be a nuclear physicist. It was a trace amount, of course. No one in their right mind would remove whole pellets from a live reactor. These were the equivalent of “shavings” like the metal flecks when you strike a flint. Harmless by itself. But get it in the hands of a master of the KABOOM and we have the secret ingredient to the Abigail Cocktail. When it’s all nice and rancid smelling, I pour the contents into my favorite Scooby thermos.
I’ve had it since I was five. The blue and green colors have long since faded but the head of that lovable Great Dane remains there to smile at me every morning. My mother gave it to me for Christmas, right before she went outside and lay down in front of a snow blower.
“I’m going out for more whiskey,” were her last words.
We were the only house on the block with red snow that day. When my father got home, stinking of fresh asphalt and liquor, his first question was not “What happened?” or “How did it come to this?” His question was “Why aren’t you crying?”
I had no answer. Every time he asked, all I could give him was a blank stare. He complained that I must not have any tear ducts. “I have juss ze remedy,” he said. “A son should cry for his mudder.”
He got out his old tattoo artist kit and pinned me on the floor of our house. As I tried to plead or kick him off, he began drilling the needle gun into both my cheeks, scratching at the skin over and over under my eyes. He didn’t realize there was no ink in the gun. He drew in several raggedy circles trying to make two tears. When he saw that the needle had carved the desired shapes into my flesh, he nodded and collapsed on the kitchen floor. The entire time I hadn’t realized I’d been holding the thermos to my chest. So you see it holds a very dear place in my heart.
Let me also be clear that I’m not the most attractive man: gray hair, the scars on both cheeks from my father. We’ll just say my success in social clubs remains negligible. In hind sight this worked to my advantage with the hospital. Walking through the archway and into the lobby, the nurses and security gave me no more than a glance of caution. You know, that quick peek followed by a long stare and a whisper to a person near you. I read it on all their faces: “Hobo Alert.”
They didn’t know that I was finding the sweet spot. Any building has it. That one area where a precise detonation will bring down the house, pardon the pun. The large pillars and sculpted walls lead me deeper into the building. I noticed more and more that all the weight in the foundation was shifted toward the center of the complex. My hands began to sweat against the hot surface of the thermos. Could those idiot architects have made it that easy?
A janitor was mopping the floor towards the back halls. I could smell the cleanser mixed with whatever contents a patient had decided to vomit, meat pasta perhaps. The shotgun flecks of noodle and chewed meat mixed with the green pus of stomach bile were clear indications. The poor man had a mask over his face. His hair was uncombed and he gagged with each swipe across the black tile. I saw the name tag: KAYSER in big, blue letters.
Finished, he turned his back to me and rolled his yellow bucket down the hall. He stopped at a plain brown door and stepped inside. I almost shouted at him to stop. He had just walked in to the apex room. It was my ground zero, the perfect place to put my wart remover in the thermos and now it was occupied like some airline lavatory. No. I couldn’t wait. It needed to be now. Abigail and Zeus would not abide by tardiness. Fishing my hand into the opposite pocket away from the thermos, I slipped inside.
Kayser wheeled on me when hearing the door slam. He mumbled something in a foreign language. I grabbed him by the hair. It’s long and greasy. I pulled back, saw his
A stream of blood shot out of an artery and hit me in the cheek. I went to wipe it before I realized I still held the knife. The blade gouged a half-inch gash under my husky eye. Another scar. I finally released Kayser’s hair and let him drop to the floor. It was on this day that I learned just how much blood circulates through the human neck. Like a busted dam it spewed forth onto the floor, pooling near the crack at the bottom of the door. Grabbing his mop I kept the crimson flow at bay for fifteen minutes, making sure it didn’t slip under the door and ruin everything by summoning security at the screams of some new intern who’d never seen blood in a hospital before. I wiped the sweat away from my brow and used a towel on a near shelf to clean my cheek wound. I took the thermos out of my jacket and set it on a shelf on the wall in front of a heating vent. Should I say something before doing this? Nah. A thermostat was perched next to the door. Waving goodbye to Scooby, I jacked up the heat to the maximum. Two minutes.
If you thought the glares I got walking in were condescending, try going at a dead sprint across the lobby and out the door.
“Why is he bleeding?”
I laughed out loud. I never do that. It felt like I was back on the playground being chased by my friends, both of them. By the time my apartment door flung open and the roaches skittered for the holes in the wall; ten seconds remained. I counted down like it was a new year.
Like clockwork my watch hit one and that yellow flash came through the windows. The windows blew outward, spraying pedestrians on the sidewalk. Orange plumes of fire spewed forth and black smoke came out the top. My calculations were dead on. Like a ship being sucked into a maelstrom, the building collapsed in on itself and spread a dust cloud for at least three blocks. When it at last cleared I had a pristine view of the rest of the park. The sirens were silent and the dank smell was replaced by that homey barbeque odor. For the first time I could picture Abby and Zeus strolling along that path that was laid out in front of me through the window.
I went to bed that night like it was Christmas Eve and I was a toddler awaiting the magical gifts of Santa Clause. I had the bed sheets clutched in my fists up to my chin and every few minutes I giggled in excitement. Not even the squeaks of wall rats could douse my mood tonight because come morning; my validation would come jogging down that path at precisely 8:40. Sighing with silent pleasure I drifted off to sleep. The sirens and crying people outside are lost to my fulfilling dreams.
At 8:38 the next morning I had the table set. My plate was full and the binoculars in full focus. The day was crystal clear and not a cloud in the sky. Unable to wait I began digging into some corned beef hash, allowing the coconut cream on my pancake to mingle with it on my fork before taking my first bite. The first bite went to the sixth and the sixth to the twenty-second before I realized Abby and Zeus were nowhere to be seen. I glanced back at the clock. 9:06. They were never late. I’d watched for two years and never once were they late.
I finished my breakfast, disappointed at not being able to enjoy more than I’d wanted to. Still nothing emerged from trees on the far side of the park. No pink. No yellow. No turquoise. No cream. No nothing. Just a dull day of watching firemen pluck gray bodies out of the rubble across the street. Saddened I got dressed in my gray jump suit and grabbed my flashlight on the way out the door, wondering the entire time what could’ve become of my beloved Abby and her faithful jogging companion.
That day became a whole week. I grew so frustrated that I looked up her address I’d kept in my journal and walked twenty blocks to see what had become of her. The small apartment window at the top of her building was lifeless. Nothing but a black abyss beyond which I could not see. I thought about climbing the fire escape and breaking the window sill to get inside but it was the middle of the day and knew I’d be seen. My Abby had abdicated.
A month later and I was heading home in the late morning. The pink slip in my fist was all crumpled. My fireworks prank had apparently set the funeral procession, including the body, on fire. It was meant to be a grand send off, something to get me out of the endless chute of boredom I was in. Now I was returning to my roach motel without work where I could see the bright red eviction notices plastered over my door waiting for me.
Before reaching the front door of my building, I heard a host of people behind me. They sang hymns and held candles while a few dropped flowers or wreaths near where the entrance used to be. Such a shame. It had been the crowning laurel to my demolition years and all a waste because the prize I sought had moved away. A couple, who saw me, head down, came up to me and offered their condolences, placing their arms around me. Together we sang the next four hymns with the crowd. It helped a little, but not much. I thanked them for their kindness. Feeling somewhat better I turned to head for the dark crag of my building when the faint flicker of the candles lit up something I hadn’t noticed before.
It was a bronze plaque emblazoned near the former entrance. On it was written a message: To remember all those people that were brave enough to fight for life even in the face of death.
How corny I thought. Below the message I saw what appeared to be a long list. It was the victims. I have to admit there were far more than I thought. Hundreds of them. They even didn’t forget Kayser. My eyes wandered until I came across a large part of the list labeled STAFF. I moved through the doctors and secretaries before reaching the nurses. There in melded bronze was one name. Abigail Dresdan.
Some unseen force clocked me in the face, staggering me back on my heels. It felt as if someone was twirling a fork in my intestines like spaghetti.
“Why aren’t you crying?” I heard my father say into my ear. Both cheeks began to run hot. I felt a sharp stinging on my scars. The hymns continued to get louder. While the noon sun warmed the people around me, I got colder. When I stepped forward to the plaque and traced my finger along her name, understanding the scope of the worst kind of irony, the tears still wouldn’t come. I understood now. I knew why I didn’t cry when mom died. I knew why I didn’t cry when those buildings fell. Why I didn’t cry when Abigail’s name appeared on that plaque. It was because I had no soul, just like my father. I brushed my cheeks then, tracing the scars with two fingers. I couldn’t let him win, not this time. I had to do something.
I stood up on the plaque then, turning to face the crowd formed around it. It was large, spilling out into the street. There had to be over a hundred. The faces were all sullen, gaunt and tear soaked. I saw an old woman clutching rosary beads in her hand while pressing a photograph of a young blonde girl to her chest. Another, a black man leaning on a cane, had eyes that were red and moist while reading from a Bible. Was this my work of art? I put up my hands for quiet and slowly the hymns died away. I had no soul, so I knew what I had to do. When the crowd began to mutter at why I had interrupted their grieving, I almost let out a laugh. They had no idea the present I had for them.
“I cannot bring back those who are already gone. But I can give you something to ease the pain,” I said, feeling the burden start to lift. My eyes began to get hot.
“I blew up the hospital!”
At first the reaction was stunned silence, as if they thought I was playing a cruel joke. A few whispers started, then several shouts. Those shouts brought out raised fists and suddenly the crowd began to believe what I told them. Perhaps it was my look more than my confession, but a little faith didn’t hurt. Regardless, as they began to work up their primal fury in a rage of frothing mouths, I felt the pocket of my coveralls, feeling the hard rims of the 3D glasses for the last time. Hands began to close in around me, tearing at my clothes and hair. As they threw me to the ground and shouted their pain through nonstop kicks and stomps to my body, I finally felt moisture surface in the crease of my eyes. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to make up for all the times I missed. My soul had come back, and now it would take me home. As hundreds of fists and feet thundered into my body, robbing me of breath but granting me more tears, I wondered.
Maybe Abigail would be waiting for me.
Where I was going would be too hot for her.
That was ok, because I knew dad would be there. I hoped the tears would last until then, so he could see for himself. Then he would stop laughing.