Every story begins in the middle, ends too close to said middle,
and describes not a jot of the real experience. When Bob is
trying to kill Janet, where is her husband, Jerry? By all the
dictates of convention, Jerry should run inside just in time to
stop Janet from being horribly murdered. Or, conversely, he's
having it off with his secretary -- who is, of course, Bob's
wife. Or sister, or mother, or aunt ... and that's the poor sad
reason Janet is soon going to be little more than two lines in
the Metro section of a newspaper that was bought out last year,
was never much good, and is dying faster than Janet.
Our local friendly (to
hoteliers and dirty cops) journalist is hoping that Bob is black
(life, maybe death). Or at least Latino (20 to 30, out in 12).
That's a story. Or, if the sad sack of shit is white (8 to 12,
out in 5) maybe he'll at least do something ritualistic or even
Satanic. Or maybe, and said journo settles his sweaty ass
further into the cheap office chair, Bob is short for Bobbie,
Roberta, it's a “Lesbian Love and Lust,” “Leather and Lace
L...,” L, L, L. There must be something good beginning with L.
Life's too short to worry
about the journalist. He'll find the thesaurus, and in years to
come he'll cover so many of these “domestic disturbance” cases
that he'll retire at fifty-two when he creates a very popular
betting line that correlates repeated domestic disturbance calls
to subsequent murders. It's not a scientific relationship, he
tells Howard Stern, and, somewhat later, Larry King, but it's
close enough to be fun for journalists, cops, medics, and soon,
everyone else. He's right. He's also divorced twice and can no
longer pay for actual sex in his city. He will try in other
cities. He will meet a woman, coincidentally named Janet, and
try to convince her that his hands are the ones she would like
to undo her bra at night. She’ll listen to him and think about
how since she had her arm surgery she always chooses bras that
snap in the front, and if that’s all he’s good for, then he
isn’t good for much.
The original Janet -- who may be the same woman, but this story
ends before we’ll find that out -- this Janet with less and less
oxygen in her blood, has realized that if she does not do
something akin to poking Bob's (white, 33, not married,
right-handed, medium-penised, one of the last of the old-time
soda jerks) eyes out, she might die. She does what she has to
While the jury deliberates over Janet, Bob breathes through a
tube in the local hospital. He is awake two hours of each day.
During those hours his muscles are worked by a physical
therapist -- who does not know anything about Bob, except that
Bob hates everyone and hopes to die rather than keep having to
do these exercises. Bob has been tried and convicted in
absentia for the attempted murder of Janet. Should he ever
be able to walk, or even move his head, he will be carefully
transferred to the federal prison system. He would still not be
married, but he might be someone’s wife. Bob refuses (grimly,
he thinks to himself, but fearfully would be much more
accurate) to think about that and waits for the next needle to
be pushed into the tube. He likes that one. It knocks him out.
In O’Leary’s Bar, on Beacon Street in Boston, the debate rages
over which prison Bob will be sent to. Throughout the fall,
Sandy’s position (last name, age, and gender withheld by
request) has been that without male genitalia, Bob is no longer
a man. On Sunday night, before the band came on, the person to
Sandy’s left had argued that that definition would not stand up
in a playground, never mind a court. Sandy asked him outside to
discuss it further, as, each time a serious opponent appeared
Sandy had done before. [This request may encourage the reader to
consider Sandy as male. It should be kept in mind that on this
Sunday evening, of the two people now outside, Sandy is the
shorter, the one more redolent of self-applied scent, the more
likely to do the laundry. You should realize that none of these
identifying quirks mean anything.]
Janet is not convicted. Once the judge admits Bob’s tape of his
and Janet’s night together into evidence the jury goes from
expecting her to be fried (even though Massachusetts has ceased
revenge killings in return for previous crimes) to exonerating
her and wondering if they can award damages. The judge strikes
down the jury’s multi-million dollar award, explaining that
Janet will have to take Bob to court for a civil trial for that
to happen. The jury are disappointed, and a little angry at
Janet. Janet’s family and friends are haunted by attorneys for
weeks on end.
co-conspirator’s name was Arnold. He lived some miles from Bob,
but they often fished together. He had seen Bob naked more than
anyone else on the planet, although neither Bob nor Arnold ever
talked about this, and both would have been horrified if the
other had. Their success at fishing was limited by their
tendency to talk for hours. Theirs was a friendship based on
sentences with an infinite number of clauses.
Arnold had never met Janet, nor her sister, and was not married
into the journalist’s family, either. He had met Bob at a gas
station. They had both complained about the lack of
window-washing fluid. They complained long enough that Mike, the
19-year-old attendant had filled the
trash-can-cum-fluid-dispenser, breaking a 13-month streak of
non-filling that had thrilled all the other attendants. Mike
soon quit the job, bitter about his failure to ignore Arnold and
Bob. He realized that if he listened to the muzak at the station
and had to deal with customers any longer, he’d either kill
someone or become just like Bob. And he hated Bob. Bob filled
his gas tank every Tuesday and Friday. On the third Friday of
every month he changed his oil. Mike had gone as far as paying
off his shift boss so that he would never work on Tuesday and
Friday. It killed his schedule, but he was happier. He could go
to work, not looking forward to it, but no longer hating it. All
that came back when Bob came in on a Saturday, met Arnold, and
managed to make Mike refill the window-washing fluid. It made
Mike so mad he couldn’t think.
Later, when he retired from his advertising business, Mike found
he missed the gas station more than his office. Hardly any gas
stations survived. The shift to electric had killed them, and
Mike had happily done his bit to change the national
infrastructure. The future is quiet, had been one of his
lines. Too, You’re cleaning the air she breathes (above a
picture of a very cute kid). His had been very hopeful slogans.
They had taken him from local shops to margarine to cars and
spacelines. He was closer to Bob there than he’d ever know.
Neither would ever want to know.
That kid, the one in the ad, wasn’t Janet’s relation either. Not
her long-lost child or a frozen embryo twin born long after her.
She wasn’t even Bob’s relation.
Arnold moved to Boston while Bob was still in the hospital.
Years later in bars and gas stations, queuing with the other
slow-on-the-uptake drivers, he told people the girl was his
nephew. “Which girl?” they’d ask.
Arnold was confused, he’d never really had a niece or nephew,
he’d forgotten which was which. Nephew had that soft ‘f’ sound
in the middle, it sounded feminine to him, so he’d say, “See
her, on the side of the bus? That kid? That’s my nephew, Alis.”
He drank more, now that he didn’t fish. Maybe Mike was Arnold’s
son. Maybe Arnold was just another married and divorced failing
father figure. Maybe he was just in the sun a little too much.
Drinking a little too much.
Bob hadn’t meant to kill her, Janet, so perhaps he was fortunate
when she caught at him, clawed at him, tore at his face. He
pushed her back, and who could say what he meant to do then?
If he had been stopped, he would have shaken his head (knowing
from books and films that that is how the head is cleared), and
said, “W’at? Wassat?” When another moment or two had passed and
a disembodied voice asked Bob what he had been doing, what he’d
meant to do, he would have been unable to answer.
However, he wasn’t interrupted. He was at home with a woman he
had asked into his house to look it over. He had told her he
wanted to sell it.
Janet had been in real estate for nineteen years. She owned her
house and two small duplexes in the next town. She liked the
renters in all but one of the units. They didn’t know she was
the owner, and so when she did her weekly driveby, they never
waved, never stopped her and asked her in for a coffee. None of
her other tenants did, either. She’d been thinking of stopping,
While she was recovering from Bob’s attack, Janet’s house was
broken into. The burglars did not treat the house too badly:
they rifled her papers, pulled pictures off walls while looking
for her safe (it was in the kitchen, under a square of black
linoleum), dumped her clothes out of the drawers. They did not
eat a sandwich (leaving half on the table for DNA analysis),
leave fingerprints, break the windows, or shit on the bed, as
had happened to one of her coworkers.
Janet cried and cried when her friend Cheryl told her about the
burglary. She cried easily now. She could no longer listen to
92.9, The Wave, once her favorite station. Every second song,
tears would well up. Just thinking about some songs made her
That thing about Bob and Arnold seeing each other naked, it
sticks with you, makes you wonder. What can it mean? Did they
meet at lonely lay-bys across the state? Perhaps they liked
cards, but didn’t like for money to come between them. So maybe
they played strip poker, or blackjack?
That person in the bar, Sandy, remember him? (Or her.) Let’s say
him, then her, instead of them. Them is a bit odd when used for
only one person. Sandy had another theory -- Sandy had so
many ... but think of all the theories you don’t have to listen
to -- relieved?
Sandy’s theory about Bob and Arnold went like this, “They’d been
probed by aliens, you see,” Sandy said. There was a Red Sox game
on, but they were losing 4-3 in the third inning. It was going
to be a long game and people were willing to listen in the
meantime. “It happens all the time,” Sandy said, and the
bartender grinned. Forget the bartender, sorry he was brought
up. We know him already. He’s slick, Irish, likes his stout and
his whisky, dances like the moon over the heather. Won’t be here
next year, but someone very like him will be.
“I had a friend who knew someone who got taken up, and not just
once, maybe, um, at least a dozen times. See those guys probably
don’t even remember. They just know something’s going on, but
But the Sox were doing better and no one was listening.
“Probes,” said Sandy. “Aliens?” Bob and Arnold weren’t talking.
Someone waved at Sandy, “Shh!”
Janet could hear someone running down the hospital corridor. She
could imagine their heart, beating wildly, breathing in huge
gulps, the hands of the security staff reaching for phones and
guns -- did they have guns in hospitals? -- or stretched out
just an inch behind the shirt of the runner. It would be a
bright pink shirt, with ugly green parrots, and a silly phrase
on it, she thought. “Go Bananas at Cabana's.”
The door to her private room burst open and a woman ran in.
Janet struggled to sit up, but couldn’t.
The woman looked at her, said, “You’re not Andrew!” and ran out.
Janet began to cry.
She cried because her husband, Jerry, had been screwing her
sister, Melissa, while Bob had been lying on the floor wishing
his genitals could be reattached.
Janet hadn’t known about Melissa and Jerry until she was in the
hospital. They came to visit her together. Jerry sat on one side
of her leg cast, out of arm’s reach. Melissa sat on the other
side, stroking it. Janet knew immediately and pushed the
morphine button. She didn’t want to cry in front of them, would
rather drool in her sleep. Jerry moved in with Melissa so that
no one was living in Janet’s house when it was burgled. Or maybe
her nephew was? She couldn’t remember.
Bob had never been married. He figured that his twelve years at
Joe’s Juke Joint had shown him the best and worst of marriage.
He thought men fools. Except Arnold, who was married to a
world-class woman, Lettie, who Bob had never seen naked, despite
more than one attempt.
How Arnold and Bob saw each other naked was one of those things
that Bob, now that he had no genitalia, never thought about.
Bob had managed to sweet-talk a number of women into his
apartment, especially ten years ago, straight out of the army,
muscled and cute -- his description -- and working for the
moment at his dad’s friend’s diner. None of the women had stuck
around for any length of time. Nona had lasted the longest, but
she had left her buyer’s job at J.C. Penney’s and moved to
Pennsylvania to get an MBA.
Bob thought about her on Valentine’s Day every year. He had once
spent nearly $300 on dinner for her, the most he had ever spent.
About a week’s salary for some steak, some wine. He thought he
must have been pretty stupid, then.
Janet never knew that she was so strong. She’d thought she was
going to black out, she’d been convinced that of all the dumb
things to have happened in her thirty-eight years, this was the
dumbest. Not even getting pregnant and dropping out of her
women’s college seemed so dumb, now.
That had been bad, though. Her father had wanted to kill her.
She’d known that then, and, precisely this instant, she knew
How complex he had turned out to be, her father. He was dead
now. Two years ago -- was that all? The months went by so
slowly. It took a death like that, Janet thought, scrabbling for
something to hold onto, for time to slow down. Every year since
she’d given her baby up for adoption had been faster and faster.
She’d gone from Barnard back home to Virginia. Her hands found
something to hold on to; something that if she had taken hold of
earlier in the evening might have changed later events. But she
had thought it was the very last thing on God’s green earth that
she would ever touch. She’d gone from Virginia to her uncle in
Wisconsin and lived in the spare room for six long, horrid
months. Bob loosened his grip for a moment. His face was so
twisted Janet thought of her baby, that almost-triangular head
it had had when her aunt delivered it. But now Bob breathed out
again, maybe it was a laugh, and Janet moved her hand downward
quite fast, quite hard.
There were twelve men and women on the jury, or rather seven
women and five men. Janet’s defense had tried to get more women,
and Bob’s more men. All five men sat through the trial with
their legs crossed. If it had not been for the video, they would
have argued for the death penalty. Allan Swenson was the most
vocal of the men. He’d worked himself into a state of grace, he
thought -- apoplexy, the other’s thought -- over Janet. He knew
exactly what should be done with her and her Fascist kind. Allan
was happily (on his side) married (his wife’s position could
only be remarked as “uncertain”). He knew a thing or two about
women: the way they played men, the way they said one thing, and
meant another. The way that intentions, he shook a finger at the
other members of the jury, intentions were important! And
what could Janet’s intentions have been when she went into Bob’s
house? Allan laughed when someone pointed out that Janet was a
Real Estate Agent. Everyone knew what she really wanted, said
poor, simple Allan.
Hi-fi equipment had
become Arnold’s specialty. After fifteen years at Circuit City
he knew stereos. He’d therefore been at a loss to explain
why his boss moved him to the video section. He feared he was on
his way out. In audio he had stopped pushing the stuff in the
weekly brochure, and started pushing what he knew was good. He
thought his sell-through was still high enough to keep the boss
happy, but the headscrews higher up probably didn’t want people
to work it like that. He knew which way was better for who, but
it was a long way down to looking for a new job and a studio
apartment in a bad part of town, so Arnold sucked it up and
started learning cameras.
Mac, the fat guy says,
and the journalist spins on his chair and it makes a lot of
noise, which he thinks is good because his name isn’t Mac, but
his boss always calls him that.
Mac, I got a problem.
I’m on it, boss, the
journalist says, with his hand in his pocket scratching his
dick. He doesn’t know what his boss is talking about yet, but it’s
good to be proactive.
Good. That cunt that tore
the guy’s nutsack off . . . .
I want a story, page two,
maybe a two-page splash. Nutsack Woman Walks Free. Watch your
Nuts, Boys, She’s Loose.
Get Dave. Nah, use file,
we’ve got enough. Now piss off.
Great. Just fucking
great, thinks the journalist.
The judges in Janet’s and Bob’s cases meet once, about eight
years after the trials wrapped up (so, what? Ten years after
Janet went to look at Bob’s house?). Neither Bob nor Janet
appealed their cases, although some men thought Bob should.
Neither Bob nor Janet thought to thank the judges, but the
judges were used to that. They met while golfing at Hilton Head
in South Carolina. Neither knew about their connection, the one
night of opposing expectations and passion gone sadly awry that
had brought them together. They found each other to be good
company. They don’t belong here in this part of the story: they
did their job, listened to the arguments, and used precedent,
the juries’ instructions, and their own thoughts and reflections
on the law to pronounce the sentences. Yet they met. They
managed not to have sex, which pleased their spouses, and in
future years, they probably kept right on managing not to
consummate their relationship. Pre-agenitalic Bob could have
learned a thing or two from the judges.
Janet never enjoyed her sudden fame, and was angry with Bob for
forcing it on her. She wanted to know, she told her friend
Cheryl, why the dumb bastard hadn’t been happy jerking off at
home. Why did he have to bring her into it? Cheryl had a story
or two about men to tell Janet, but she didn’t rush her. She’d
being getting a manicure with Janet before lunch every Monday
for almost ten years. At one point Cheryl urged Janet to use her
fame and start a company selling something or other; Cheryl had
some ideas what that something could be. The next week Janet
left a message and told Cheryl she didn’t need a manicure that
week. Cheryl might have lived up to some stereotypes (died
blonde, skinny, ready to party every Friday at 4.55 PM), but she
wasn’t dumb in the way that almost every dumb cluck thought she
was. She called Janet and apologized, said, I shouldn’t have
said that. I know you didn’t want any of this and you want it
behind you. I owe you a tall one. This was smart -- Janet
secretly loved Tom Collinses. The next week they had a manicure
and a pedicure.
Arnold had seen the ads on the Internet for the tiny cameras and
thought they were pretty neat. He ordered half-a-dozen and set
them up throughout his house. He wasn’t sure why he needed them,
but he just sat and watched them for hours, waiting for
something to happen. If he could have applied this behavior to
fishing, he would have caught many more fish. He didn’t tell his
wife, Lettie, about the cameras. She left him, before the
trials, when she realized that the Bob on the news was the Bob
that Arnold fished with. She knew about his cameras, and it took
all of a minute for her to make the leap from Bob’s infamous
self-incriminating videotape to Arnold’s fascination with
cameras. “I never showed him the tapes of you. Or us,” Arnold
said, as she packed. “I just showed him how to set them up.”
Lettie made more than Arnold did. The house was in her name.
It’s the end of the story now, and there are a number of things
we’re still not sure about. Sandy’s gender, for example. But we
don’t care about that. Or Bob’s gender. One hundred people
pulled from their beds at night, marched into cells, held for a
month on bread and water, not allowed to sleep more than two
hours at once, not allowed to read, kept apart -- these people
would probably still argue that gender is important. It is
important, and it seems obvious there are more than two, but
it’s left to the daytime talk shows and the cartoon network to
try and work it out. The newspapers and magazines don’t touch
it. How could they sell adverts if their ABC1 readership was
non-gender-defined? Then, also, who gave Bob’s tape to the jury?
Bob didn’t have a housecleaner, or a good friend to watch his
place while he spent days in therapy and learning how to use a
catheter. Could it have been his mother? Or Mike? How would that
have come about?
Janet never wanted to hear the name Bob again. She also hated
the term Boston Marriage. She’d heard it a couple of times
behind her back after she moved in with Cheryl. Cheryl didn’t
mind, she had plenty of space. She’d always had roommates, she’d
enjoyed it in college, all those years ago, she liked to say,
over a tall drink in a bar with Janet. Janet still sold houses.
She was good at it, she knew, and she was nosey, and she was
still looking for that dream house she’d thought she’d find if
she was a real estate agent and got first look at houses coming
on the market. She worked out more often, and she knew Aikido
now. She listened obsessively to the weather, and carried an
umbrella on cloudy days. She never fed Cheryl’s cat, even when
Cheryl visited her mother in Atlanta.
Do I give a fuck? Get in here.
It’s probable that he went. At least for the next couple of
years, until his betting line paid off, and he moved to Vegas.
Later on, he tried writing a novel. But he couldn’t stop using
the inverted pyramid. Everything he wrote moved from big to
About the Author:
Gavin J. Grant's stories have been published in SciFiction,
Salon Fantastique, Strange Horizons, and the Journal of
Pulse-Pounding Narratives. He runs Small Beer Press (www.lcrw.net)
from Northampton, MA.
Story © 2007 Gavin J. Grant.