Oh, the Moon
Patrick O'Brien, born in Ireland 1972 and a California resident since 1978, tried to figure out an answer for his girlfriend, Belinda, whose greatest wish was to become an O'Brien this very Christmas. 'It would be perfect with a wedding on Christmas Eve, then waking up and greeting each other with kisses and gifts as husband and wife,' she was saying dreamily. 'I mean, we can be in Vegas in a few hours!'
He did not really know whether to tell her, 'Of course!', or whether to ask her to come back in 20 years.
He was not ready. But neither could he break her heart by turning down her proposal.
'Well?' she pressed, gazing up at him with her big, lustrous brown eyes glittering like those of small children in the midst of play, eager to hear his reply.
Suddenly panicking, he said, 'Wait here.' Her smile told him she thought he would bring her a present—possibly a secretly stowed-away engagement ring, since she seemed so certain he was as impatient to marry as she was—which he was not. Frowning, he hurried out to his car and drove all the way to Los Angeles, about 50 miles from home. Anxious, and quite scared, too, he was surprised to even remember where his friend lived in his current state.
When Marty Little came to the door, he looked puzzled to find Patrick there. 'Pat? What are you doing here? I thought you were spending Christmas with Belinda …'
'I was—until she asked me to marry her,' he said, and pushed through the door. He could sense Marty staring after him.
His friend closed the door and followed close behind. 'Oh. I see.'
They sat in the living room, Pat on the sofa and Marty in the armchair. Patrick could not stop thinking about what had happened the last time. His first wife—Adrianna—had turned out to be a genuine nutcase, a real juicy fruitcake, belonging in a mental institution, deserving of her own private, padded cell. But no, she was married to Pat. You see, Adrianna had become violent. 'She tried to kill me,' Pat said, startled to once again be struck by excruciating pain, as sheer and brutal after so many years as right when it happened. 'She never wanted to harm me … Still, she tried to kill me. Just couldn't help it.'
He shook his head.
Marty kept quiet. Watched Pat with lines of concern on his forehead. He knew he was talking about Adrianna, not Belinda.
'She was so sweet, so tender … loving.'
Marty said nothing.
'She cared about me,' Pat went on. 'I mean, really cared.'
Marty stared at the floorboards. Must have known what was coming.
Patrick felt awfully bitter. 'And I killed her.'
'No, you didn't,' Marty was quick to object.
'Yes, Marty, I did. I killed her in cold blood.'
'Well, okay, you might have killed her, but it wasn't in cold blood. You were just reacting on instinct. Instinct to survive.'
'Oh, it was cold blood,' Pat insisted.
'No, it was self-defense.'
'Oh yeah? Self-defense?'
'She stabbed you with a butcher's knife, for Christ's sake! What else could you have done than fight for your life?'
'Maybe. Still, it didn't justify my act.'
'She would have killed you, Pat. God, you can be such a martyr at times. You're like a brother to me, but sometimes you aggravate me to no end … Nobody blamed you, they all knew how she was.'
'She was my wife.'
They sat in silence, contemplating the past; their actions and reactions; days of loneliness and days of family gatherings; laughter and sorrows; good deeds and selfish ignorance. Some people might have claimed Pat was right in his self-criticism, but the woman had been crazy. Therefore, it was just plain stupid to feel guilty about her death. Nevertheless, Pat remained convinced that if he had only acted differently, been nicer to her—a more loving husband—he could have prevented the inevitable and cured her.
Stupid, he thought. She would have killed you in your sleep if you'd dared kiss her goodnight.
'Have you decided what you're gonna say?' Marty suddenly asked.
Oh, of course he had to know the answer to everything. Nothing was ever too big of a decision to require a moment's thought.
The friend did not seem to notice the hostile glint in Pat's eyes. 'I'm going to say no, of course,' he bit off, indignant.
Marty looked confused. 'But I thought you wanted to marry her?'
'I never want to get married again!'
'That's not what you said last summer.'
'So I changed my mind,' Pat informed his old buddy. 'That illegal all of a sudden?'
'Then shut it.'
He shut it.
'I just don't want to hurt her.'
'You won't. She'll understand—she's bright.'
'No, actually, she won't,' Pat said miserably, leaning forward and burying his face in his hands in a gesture of exhausted defeat.
'Sure she will, she knows about old Anna, right?'
Pat remained silent.
'What? You haven't told her? Pat!' Marty made a face that would have made any religious fanatic believe that the end of days was nigh. Shame that it was wasted on Pat's ginger crown.
'And what would I have said, exactly?' Pat asked exasperatedly, raising his head anew. '"Yo, Belinda, I was married once before, but I happened to kill her." It's not exactly something you mention over dinner. Sure, throw in a few candles, some incense, and a Stevie Wonder record and everything'll be perfect!'
Marty sighed. 'Well, I didn't expect you to go all Jesse Pinkman on her, but yeah, the rest sounds lovely … You know that's not what I meant, man. But I do think you should've told her. So, what did you do, tell her you needed some time to think?'
'I told her to wait for me at home, then I came down here.'
The doorbell rang. Marty reluctantly rose from his cozy armchair and went to get it. Outside, Marcus Mecklebaum, an old mutual friend of theirs, stood, a broad smile playing on his lips. He started to say, 'Hello Martin,' but was interrupted on the 'o' as Marty said, 'What—you just left her there?'
Mecklebaum looked puzzled. 'Left who where?' he asked, stepping inside. His cheeks were a healthy red from the two mile walk from his house.
Marty closed the door on the cloudy December night, a black sky possessively hiding its precious stars from any peeping eyes. 'Oh, sorry, pal. Pat left Belinda at his house three hours ago just 'cause she proposed to him,' he explained to the newly arrived.
Marcus' eyes widened. 'She proposed? Hell, I would have run away too if I were him—marriage is suffocating. Besides, if it was a woman … I would have screamed at the top of my lungs.' Mecklebaum was gay. 'So, he's here? Can I talk to him?' He had also been 'secretly' in love with Pat for the last ten years or so. He went in and out of relationships, desperately seeking someone else to fall for, and every time he failed. He thought he hid it so well, when in fact they all knew. Eager to see his beloved, he started toward the living room.
'It won't matter,' Marty warned.
Mecklebaum turned around. 'What won't?' he asked.
Marty was about to point out that Pat still would not fall into Marcus' arms, but quickly changed it to, 'Never mind,' before the forbidden sentence could leave his tongue and put their friendship at risk.
Mecklebaum shrugged, smiling vaguely, and continued down the hallway.
Marty found him sitting opposite Pat, which meant he had to give up his armchair for a seat next to the would-be engaged man in order to keep an eye on the lovebird's attempts at seduction. It would not matter, just as he had said. Pat merely seemed amused—and flattered—by Marcus' compliments and faltering come-on lines. Marty guessed he was used to it. After all, it had been going on for ten years, ever since he met Adrianna.
Mecklebaum finally succeeded to send Pat home; his shy smiles and girlish giggling could tire out anyone. But when Pat returned, the bungalow was deserted. There was only a note that said:
Hope you're happy now, coz the wedding's off. I never want to see you again.
I'll call the police if you ever come near me again, so don't even think about trying
to get me back. Have a miserable life, asshole.
Pat was surprised at the forthright loathing conveyed in the short letter, though he knew that Belinda had a hot temper. Reading it through a second time, he thought, Okay, I will.
Days went by and turned into months. Pat was feeling all the more lonely. He missed having someone in his life, and Mecklebaum's pining was far from enough. But he was also terrified of marriage, and because of the fiasco with Belinda, he did not dare to try dating again. As if that was not enough, Pat suffered recurrent nightmares about Adrianna, vivid dreams in which she pursued him through their house—and they always ended in him killing her. There seemed to be no end to the sick imagination of his subconscious, for every night he found a new and better, more efficient way to take her life.
Everywhere he went, he saw her face on passers-by, saw her reflection in store windows, heard her voice calling out to him—but when he turned around, the ghost of his memory of her evaporated. It only got worse when he tried to ignore her. Evidently, her restless spirit had come back to haunt him, to make him pay for his sins—for murdering her. Marty unsuccessfully tried to calm him when, in the ruthless grip of hysteria, he claimed that Adrianna had returned to 'finish the job,' but never managed to convince him. Mecklebaum offered him a place to stay, a shoulder to lean on. 'Yeah, like I don't know what you're after!' he had said, and baffled the queer. He never came on to Pat again. He actually got himself a boyfriend.
Pat eventually developed a rather severe case of paranoia, but he claimed that it was nothing but an involuntary reaction to a nasty flu. None of his friends or family were fooled, only himself. He should have known better since his younger sister, Piper, had suffered from the same condition just two years prior—and she had not come out of it alive. Yet, he kept up the charade, swiftly deteriorating.
Mecklebaum stopped struggling to keep their friendship alive, but Marty was always there to admonish him when he got off track, and to encourage him when he showed signs of finding his way back.
One spring day almost exactly one year and three months after losing Belinda, Pat left town to visit Marty, but unfortunately he never arrived. His car had a flat tire halfway to LA. At first he considered calling a tow truck, then reconsidered. That could take hours if he was unlucky, and he had to get to Marty tonight. Did not know why, just felt in his bones that it was important, that he had to tell him how much he loved him—like a brother—and how much he appreciated his support and affection.
He decided to hitchhike.
Waiting for a car to stop for him, he looked up at the sky, at that big, glowing circle that hovered over the Earth like a gaunt face. Suddenly stunned at its mystical beauty, he heard himself say, 'Oh, the moon!'
The car that finally stopped was evidently driven by a man as crazy as Adrianna had been at the top of her fruitcake career. Pat did not realize it until it was too late. 'Excuse me, sir, but I was wondering if you could give me a ride to LA, I have to get there tonight. My car …' He stopped when he recognized the bloodthirsty expression on the man's face, the maniacal glint in his iron eyes, and the mirthless grin that distorted his features. Pat was presently leaning in the car window and did not have time to back away before the deranged stranger had raised a gun and fired it point-blank into his face.
He neither saw nor heard the shot burn off; he was already dead.
Marty got the call early the following morning. In the predawn stillness, he had to listen to a gruff police officer with no bedside manners to speak of explain to him that his oldest friend was dead. Murdered and left faceless on the side of the road. He had not even been aware that Pat was driving down to see him. Now he wondered if he should have done something different. Maybe insisted on him coming down to stay with him as soon as he began to exhibit the first signs of paranoia. If he had only been there for him, comforted and healed him … would he now have been alive?
But it was useless to think like that.
Pat was gone. It was all too late.
Marcus Mecklebaum mourned Pat for nearly two years, because, as it turned out, he was still smitten with the Irishman.
Marty could not help but think of the irony of Pat's tragic demise. His friend had survived one crazy wife and three years of depression. For so many years, he had been fighting the demons of the past, almost succeeding—only to be killed by another lunatic. At least it was a comfort that he had not felt any pain, that death had been instantaneous.
Thus, Patrick O'Brien, thirty-three years old, left this life for the next, and hopefully for a second chance at happiness.