My work places me inside people’s homes. They invite me in with haste, flustered and babbling and talking with their hands. And once I’m in–after the pooch huffs and puffs, sticks a snout to my crotch–it’s back back to the routine. Forget all about the quiet guy fixing the leak or putting in that vessel sink in the half bath.
I observe the way people treat each other. I pick up nuances. The tones and sighs. The way people take it all for granted. Like the next day is set in stone. And it had better be sunny.
People are too lazy to take precautions. And yes, I’ll generalize. They leave Bank statements amidst the junk mail on the counter. Receipts, notes on the fridge, schedules. I’m keen to it all. Pictures on the wall speak volumes. Sports and leisure, entitled brats on family vacations at the beach, plastic smiles stretching red sun-burned faces. They don’t fool me. People are selfish and deplorable, for the most part, treat their spouses worse than a stranger off the street. Sure, I’m a lowly plumber, not much to look at and terrible at small talk, but I can sum up a family within minutes.
I don’t claim to be better than these people, because I have my own issues. Thoughts are like shadows, some darker than others. Mine tend to be wicked, menacing things that go bump in the night.
All this was cluttering up my thoughts as I pulled up to the small two-story house near the college on a sticky July afternoon. I checked my notes before knocking, glancing at the mail by habit. My three quick raps on the door managed to set off a barrage of frantic barking and fussing. I’m not much on people, social anxiety I think it’s called, so I tried to calm the twitching under my eye when the door opened and a scathed smile appeared.
“Oh thank God! Please come in. Sorry about the mess, I’m potty training two dogs.”
The chaos in the background saved me from bumbling through an introduction. I nodded as Abigail Elliot, according to my notes, opened the door. She was blonde, mostly, with a tawny layer of roots behind her ears. Early to mid thirties I guessed. At one time attractive, at least before the deep, dark circles under wide-set brown eyes.
Fans worked from the windows. Newspapers flapping on the hardwood floors, the smell of urine swirling around the room. No TV. Ms. Elliot, (please, call me Abby), showed me to the small, cramped kitchen.
An uneven cherry wood pub table swallowed a corner, its surface covered with colorful artwork in various stages of completion. Some finished, others just getting started. A few others disregarded altogether on the floor. At my feet was a painting of a dog lying under half a tree. Like he was waiting for his shade.
Abby waved a hand to the sink. “The drain is clogged. I think the garbage disposal is kaput. I’ve tried to plunge it….as you can see it didn’t work.”
A ring of waterlogged tomatoes framed the stagnant, rust colored water in the sink. On the counter laid a straightened coat hanger, a wet pair of pliers, and a blow dryer. Seriously.
I squatted to take a look under the sink, hoping my shirt was tucked in.
“Ms.—uh, Abigail, you don’t have a garbage disposal.”
“Well that explains a lot.”
The job was cake: remove the noodles from the drain. Abby sat in the kitchen, her stained feet dangling from the nicked up pub chair as she asked questions while I lied on my back and restored the flow of water.
“I should have learned a trade. Did you go to plumbing school?”
Her posture was like that of a child. Only there was a luring sadness in her eyes, as if she had been squeezed dry. But she seemed nice enough to be around, even with all the talking.
“Do you have kids….I’m sorry what did you say your name is?”
“Is that short for Jason?”
“No, just Jay.”
“Do you want a beer Jay?”
She produced two beers, some sort of dark hippie lager that had to be opened with a bottle opener. She used the drawer handle, under which the wood was notched and splintered.
“You must think I’m an idiot, huh Jay?”
I did not. Maybe a bit of a flake, way too trusting of strangers, but no, not an idiot. She caught me chuckling and laughed. It was nice, as most of my interactions with people are awkward, going back to when I was a kid with horrible acne and a squeaky voice. Anxiety and all.
The beer was good. My tongue loosened on the second round and I inquired about the hair dryer. Had to.
“I was thawing the freezer. Not a banner week in the kitchen Jay.”
My heart stuttered at the sound of my name. When she hopped up to run to the bathroom and check on the pooches whining in the other room. I wiped my brow. Get it together, Jay.
I got cleaned up under the sink, putting my tools away when she returned.
“Well I guess I should get going.”
“What’s the damage?” she said from the doorway. Damn nice figure too. Normally the job would run north of $100. I decided not to charge her for the labor. She hadn’t charged me for the beer.
“Are you sure?” She asked, rummaging through a tattered cloth bag while I searched for a joke. Not too corny, yet not condescending, but not too forward.
”Yeah, we run a special on Spaghetti.” Lame.
“Oh really? Lucky me”
“Yeah, well, thanks for the beer.”
In the living room, I stopped at the pile of books on the floor, turned and she nearly ran into me.
“Oh….Sorry,” I said, newspaper stuck to my shoe. Mr. Cool I’m not.
“No, that’s my fault. I really need to clean up around here.”
“Okay. Well, have a good one.”
“Wait, say Jay, do you dance?”
Who talked this way? I felt like donning a fedora, lighting a cigarette and saying something like Look kid, it would never work between us…I ‘m trouble.
“Uh, no. I don’t really…”
“It’s eighties night at Riley’s. I really want to check it out.”
“I’m really…I don’t dance.”
A roll of the eyes. “Okay, but you’re missing out.”
I forced a nod and turned for the door.
For the rest of the day Abby lingered in my head. At my next job, as I was elbow deep in shit, a slight beer buzz clinging to my blood while I debated which of the two screaming toddlers I would pummel first, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Quirky and scatter brained, I pictured her hair pulled in a side tail while she bobbed to Duran Duran.
Then she called. The very next day. Holy shit. Just to say thanks but we ended up at her place, sipping more hippie beers and talking music.
“Who’s the best drummer of all-times?”
“Easy, John Bonham,” I’d said, and Abby thought that was the funniest thing she’d ever heard. According to her the correct answer is the drummer for Rush. I can never remember the guy’s name.
We were making a beer run when Abby mentioned the ex-boyfriend’s drug problem. Typical piece of shit. A thief. He pawned and abused. I had put most of this together during our first visit, but hearing her say it made me want to hunt him down.
Abby was a throwback. Like me. We both loathed social media, reality television, and sports. We carried an equal hatred of country and rap music. She didn’t seem to care that I’m balding and have no sense of style, or that I have disgusting purplish scars from the aforementioned acne.
I wondered if she’d care that I get these urges to kill people. Oh by the way…
“So what do you normally do on Sundays, Jay?”
Let’s see, on Sundays I drive out to Westover to make sure things are in order. Things I want to remain unbothered.
“I like to take a drive.”
Her hair was crazy in the wind. Like it was trying to dance off her scalp. We were driving out to Westover because I was being careless. I had thirty minutes to come to my senses. Abby flipped through my CD’s while my eyes scanned the seats and floorboard for anything out of place. I’m not used to company and cannot remember the last time a living, breathing person rode in my truck.
Abby held up a CD, sending a blinding glare of sun from the disc. “Nineties much?” She flashed a gorgeous peek of happiness my way then slid the disc into the player. The simple, choppy drums to Anna Begins by The Counting Crows filled the cabin.
She leaned her head back into the headrest, closing her eyes. “I haven’t heard this song in ages.” The skin on her neck was tight and smooth with a perfect indentation where it met her collarbone. I set my eyes back on the road.
The song cut through the wind. We listened, floated down the two-lane road before us. The trees were full and green, striking against the electric blue sky, a few puffs of white. I understood the risk but I couldn’t stop myself. I wanted her to see.
When the music faded Abby turned to me, her eyes wide with sadness. “I tried to kill myself once.”
I racked my brain for a suitable response. She grabbed a hold of her hair and continued. “I was 16 and my boyfriend died in a car accident. We had been dating almost a year and had planned out our whole lives together.” She set her hair free again, turned her arm over and traced a pink line on her wrist with her finger. “Young love.”
We turned onto the drive, past my No Trespassing, No Hunting, and Private Property signs where I got out and opened the gate. It was hot and muggy and Sullivan Street hummed through the speakers. I watched my hands insert the key into the lock and pop it opened, the chain clinking against the metal. I was caught up by her confession. Now it was my turn.
I had never shown anyone. The cabin, with no power or water, sat between the hills. Nearly thirty acres of thick remote woodland that had been in my family for generations. I spent weeks at a time in those woods.
The truck dipped as I avoided the pits and deep rivets by memory. We plunged into the blackness of the dense shade, Abby only staring ahead as the trees parted around the water.
She was tense, perhaps the teenage memory. We parked and the music died, leaving us alone in the seclusion of the forest. A woodpecker rattled overhead, its hammering echoing over the ripples in the pond.
The cabin was more of a shack. Built by hunters for the sole purpose of camping over a century ago. The tin roof leaked in spots but for the most part had held up well. I watched her take it all in.
“So this is all yours?”
“It’s been in my family for years. But I’m the only one nearby.”
“Wow, so you have this all to yourself?” Her eyes darted up the driveway, around the trees towards the thicket near the pond.
“Uh, yeah, pretty much.” What else was there to say?
I bury bodies here. There are maybe five in that pond. Five more scattered in the forest. I have been killing people for over 10 years. And I cannot stop.
The hawks were out, perched on limbs in plain sight. We had an understanding.
“Can we go inside?” Abby asked. I hesitated, my mind swept the cabin for tell tale signs. I knew there was a tarp, some shovels, and the knives inside but what about the smell? I was good about cleaning, never a risk taker. But the whole day had been a risk. I took the first of the two creaky steps up to the wooden porch when I heard her bag hit the ground.
“Turn around with your hands up you sick son of a bitch.”
Her voice was sharp and articulate, far removed from the meandering sentences that roamed our conversations. I stood there, with my back to her, staring at a streak of rust escaping down the wall of the cabin. A cavalcade of thunder pounded the gravel as clouds of dust spread through the trees. The hawks took cover.
I turned to find Abbie with two hands wrapped around a nine millimeter. The pained eyes that called to me were now without a hint of weakness. Only precise focus, steeled and cold.
I was heartbroken. I thought about the noodles in the drain, the scar on her wrist, the artwork on the table. Would that dog ever find any shade?
A moment later it was all gone. An army of black jackets swarmed the cabin. A blurring wrath of force and authority. My truck was impounded, towed to a lab where it would be stripped to the teeth. Meanwhile I was taken down, cuffed, put in the back of a car and dared to make a move by a detective who was itching to rescue tax payers from having to bear the cost of a trial. His words not mine.
With each body unearthed the headlines grew larger. Details emerged, half truths along with the obligatory quotes from neighbors and coworkers. Burt told the local paper that he had always suspected something. Bullshit, he had given me a raise a week before my arrest.
Lawyers arrived. I shrugged and went through the proceedings. Reporters descended upon my apartment with an OJ-like furor. Tabloids cranked out whatever crumbs fell their way. Nancy Grace got involved, calling for my immediate execution. I read how the sting was planned for months. The houses (the house next door had been full of feds), the dogs, Abigail, or Agent Rainer rather, starring in the role of a vulnerable woman in an abusive relationship to stir my sympathies.
I received all sorts of fan mail, pictures, and marriage proposals. A twitter account surfaced, Jay the Plumber. The last I heard I had half a million followers. Following me where?
In the courtroom, amidst a circus of activity, I saw Abby. I fixed my stare in her direction, waiting for her eyes to find mine. But they didn’t, she whispered to colleagues and studied her notes. I was sure that our conversations were more interesting and I wanted her to know that I wasn’t upset. I wanted to talk. She was a great talker. I just needed her to see me.
I was thrown into seclusion until trial. In the darkness, I relived the two days we spent together for the rest of mine. We moved out to the cabin, within the safety of the woods, without distraction. I hunted the land and fished the pond. She cried about her past while I mended her heart. We sat on the porch in the evenings, the crickets calling, and I tried to keep up with her thoughts. The lightening bugs flashed as it grew dark, and I found happiness as our relationship lived on.