I stand where James Dean stood. Feel important. I remember when he died, can't remember when he was born. Stole a pack of cigarettes from a hitcher in Waldo.. Am down to my last one. I coughed and smoke came out. Makes me a devil? Pencil is almost broken. Don't know where to get another one.
Marion is colder than Israel. Israel is hot. Prefer Marion.
(The Diary of Jennifer L'Herbier, 25 December)
Jennifer Beatrice L'Herbier died shortly after the new year. Her body was found sleeping in a Toledo bar after the owner noticed the air had carried a toxic, degrading smell that began to upset the three customers inside. She had finished her bourbon before death.
The official cause of death was a brutal combination of starvation and possible hypothermia. She was returned to her hometown of Boston to be mourned by her family, minister, and ex-husband, Mark, all of which had not heard from her for five years. Andy Sanders, Jennifer L'Herbier's father, the first to be notified of her birth, was the first person to be notified of her death. At the first mention of her name by the Toledo officer, he knew that she had perished. Almost robotically, Andy lightly put the phone back in its charging port, lowered his obtuse body onto his knees, fell over to his right, and sat in that exact position until he reluctantly drifted to sleep six hours after.
Her mother, Margot Sanders, a neurotic and pessimistic nurse, returned from work that evening at midnight, and saw the sight of her husband curled up in a fetal position, engulfed in his own tears and dribbling nonsense in his sleep. By this point, she had received the call from Toledo through the hospital's number, and had attempted for an hour and a half to force herself to feel even a tingling of sensation anywhere in her body. It didn't need to be sadness, remorse, or nostalgia; for she had seen too many blank faces to ever disprove the fact that one grieves in their own way. But she had also known the light and slender finger of grief all too well to mistake it for something else.
So, when she saw Andy's Da Vincinian corpse sinking into the carpet. she progressively let out a deep sigh, pranced across the living room, snatched a blanket from the couch, draped her husband in it, and collapsed beside him like a forgotten soldier.
"I'm sorry J's gone." She whispered, as if apologizing for spilled milk.
"I know," He replied. He didn't budge a bit, aside from showing he was crying even still. "Is she okay?"
"Oh." He paused, turning into himself. "I've just been worried that she was cold, wherever she was. I hope she's not cold."
"Mmhm. I'm sure it's not cold."
"That's good...That's good."
They both slept until noon.
Christmas Time is here, or it has already passed. Hanukkah's long gone, I guess I missed it. That makes me sad. I love Hanukkah. Makes my world a city of lights. I'm sorry I haven't written lately, I know that's bad. I'm supposed to write everyday, I haven't written everyday. I'll start again. I'm sorry, Hanukkah.
Mark got the call around 10:30 the next morning. He was at work, filing dealership papers into a familiar cabinet until his hands were riddled with minor cuts and crevices. He had forgotten to turn off his phone, as he has consistently gotten in trouble for it in the past. The number was foreign yet familiar, presumably a telemarketer. Mark's anxieties persisted however, and eventually prevailed as he snatched the phone from his back pocket and held it to his ear. The voice on the other line was old and raspy, encouraging dusting.
"Hello?" The voice delivered, almost reluctantly. Mark knew who it was immediately, and had deduced what happened even sooner. "Mark, is that you?"
He straightened to attention. "Yea, yea. It's me," He rubbed the crease of his forehead with a certain irregularity; he felt like he could reach bone. "Hi, Andy."
"Do you know what happened?" Mark began to slump down, finding the nearest empty office chair and promptly collapsing into it.
"They found her?"
"They found her." His sweat-infused palms melded with his face, leaving him with the orange glow of skin over his eyes.
Mark curled up a fist and gave his head a strong tap.
Another hit. "What's in Toledo?"
Andy paused for a moment.
"Well, she is."
Stronger now. "How'd she die?"
"Alcohol poisoning is all they say."
Even stronger. "Sorry."
"S'alright." By this point, Mark was smashing his fist into his skull. He felt the concussive blows ring from his face to his feet. He never stopped doing this, as far as he can remember. There was never a time when this wasn't his response. The constant banging, the simulated fracturing of bone and matter comforted him to no end.
Andy hung up after some light goodbyes, hoping it was enough. They both had a mutual hatred of phones, and talking on them. They both had a mutual hatred for the voice on the other line, so maybe it was for the best. Mark put the phone down. He wasn't crying, just lightly bleeding. There were small cuts ribbed into his knuckles. He couldn't look away, how the red got more intense and more real, hellish. He could see every shade of red in this one spot, this one pore. Mark couldn't find himself. A reflection, anything, there wasn't any of himself in there. He became worried it wasn't his blood, that it was maybe hers. A shadow peered above him, an employee's girthy build. Mark glanced up, taken out of his trance and back into the one he was always trapped in.
"I'm sorry, Dirk." He whispered to the shadow like an untold secret.
"It's alright," He said with a seductive softness. "Do you wanna clean up, Mark?"
He only nodded, still not releasing a single tear. Taken by the hand, he's dragged to a break room on the left of the building, noticing the dullness of the grays and the excitement of the occasional beige. The cubicles made the walk feel like an endless stroll, a never ending cavern of age. The breakroom itself was different yet all the same, with posters of popular caricatures that blinded the eye and the slight whirring of coffee machines in the background.
Mark was propped up onto a left cabinet by Dirk, who was now staring at the illustriously pathetic sight of his coworker, uninterrupted by blinking.
"They found her." Mark sputtered, staring into the endless void that is a square-patterned floor.
"Really?" Dirk jumped from his seat. "Where?"
"That's the one." He was now dangling his feet up and down in both anxiety and avoidance.
"Why there?" No answer, the swinging feet became more violent and focused, bumping the cupboard hard enough to make an irritating tapping. "Well, s'alright. I get it. More important things to think about. Do we need to pick her up? We can-"
"She's gone, Dirk." Hands on face, crying. Hands on face, sobbing. "Gone again. Delivering her home soon, and she's still gone. And I don't know what to do, what is there to do? She's dead, and I'm next. I'm next, I'm gonna be dead and I don't even mind."
"Jen died cuz she couldn't swim and she was cold and she couldn't feel anything anymore and I just hope she knows she's dead cuz it would be terrible if she didn't, she would never come back home if she didn't know-"
Dirk put his plump, coarse hands around Mark's skinny white corpse in the most awkward way possible as his victim cringed with a certain level of hurt. He felt trapped, confused, scared, by Dirk's careful tightening grasp. Dirk said a few indiscernible remarks that Mark had no memory of. Mark said a few answers Dirk had no memory of. All considered, they sat at that cupboard for around 5 minutes, unmoving.
I threw away my wedding ring today. It is in a campbell soup can off in the distant city of Columbus. I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway. Felt exhilarating. I am .01 pounds lighter because of it. Might as well be a million pounds. It is a beautiful thing to be lighter, I am sorry Mark. You were so so heavy. You were a thousand rings.
Mark left work that afternoon with a newfound hatred for the place itself. The world seemed to close in on itself in the building, it was so suffocating to be anywhere near it. The multiple personalities of the Cappex office workers were somewhat amusing before, but turned only to a homicidal disgust now that she was dead. Everything became a homicidal disgust at this point to Mark, and a crowded workplace was bound to create an ugly demise for all.
His car, a 1975 Ford, felt significantly less claustrophobic, fortunately. In fact, the couch-leather of the seats (fraying at the seams unfortunately) gave a new sense of ease to his general conscience. He was on the move, doing something. He was spending time with a something rather than a someone, as doing anything with anyone but her seemed heresy at the moment, a never-ending curse of disgusting guilt. This Boston road, although unbelievably crowded, did not exist on a similar plane as the one she was on. Toledo, Ohio, the West was so far away from Boston. So far away from Mark. So far away from his bashed, aching head.
The apartment arrived at his footsteps an hour later. The claustrophobia came with it. The landlord said hello, Mark didn't respond as far as he could remember. One of his neighbors had a baby, he can't remember which one, but she wanted to show him, and he pushed his palms into his ears in response, rushing to 1104, and slamming the door with the force of a thousand minutes. He fell to the floor, silently, after he truly felt safe again. After he truly felt unwanted again.
The telephone rang three hours later, he had moved to his ghastly, unkempt bed before hand. He reluctantly picked up the buzzing device from his back pocket and felt the hot glow encroach in his ear. It was obviously Andy, he deduced from the droning of a quite familiar broken radiator, but he couldn't quite tell what he was saying. His eardrum drifted to other sounds, letting his voice pass into obscurity.
"...okay?" was all Mark heard, his ear slowly waking up from the drowsy oblivion.
"Wazzat?" His mouth was obviously out of whack as well.
"This is Andy, Mark."
"Yeah, I know." He grunted, slowly perching himself up.
"Do you think you can come over?"
"Here, the house." He didn't know if he could. The parents' abode seemed to be so far away now, connected by a distant dot, no longer even in existence. He could only imagine how much mildew must have amassed in the past four years, he dreaded having to smell it all over again.
"Yeah, I can come…" He reluctantly whispered into the phone.
"I can come! I can come…"
"Okay, alright, jesus."
"When, Andy, when should I come?"
"Oh, around 11 tomorrow. How about 11?"
"11's fine. It's all fine. I'll see you then." He quickly hung up after a few empty goodbyes. "11…" he whispered, as if it makes it real. "11…"
He collapsed on the bed once again, falling sound asleep and drifting into another new hellish dream, about a faraway land named Toledo.
Third day on the bus. This is my last quarter, so next day is hitchhiking. I've never hitchhiked before. I am intensely excited. I have heard from the driver it is not so bad. You just need to be pleasant. I can be pleasant. If I am not pleasant I am very sorry to the next ride, for I am very very tired.
Mark drove around the block once more. Going into the house immediately was not an option, he decided in bed last night. No, there was no way he could just go in, he had to go in at the right time: at 11. He knew Andy well enough to recognize that early wasn't a concept he deemed likeable or even necessary. In the past, the burly father wouldn't answer the door for appointment, neighbor, friend, or foe unless they were strictly supposed to be there at that exact moment. It embarrassed Jennifer to know end, especially when Mark was the subject.
The car parked in the perfectly paved driveway, finally, after a few minutes of careful monotony. Its occupant took a deep breath, not letting go of the steering wheel, then releasing it from his sweaty grasp. He kicked open the door, and made the short trek to a door with paint slowly but surely peeling off to make room for an ugly wooden exterior, then knocked with contempt. There were heavy, laborious footsteps in response, an indeterminable screaming toward a distant void, a scoff at a different, emptier void, a continuation of footsteps, and a swinging of the door handle. She came out, nightgown clad and with hair that seemed to be attempting to escape her scalp. She was the first woman Mark had seen for an endlessly long time; he was the first young man she'd seen for four years.
"You called?" He said, feigning wit. She was not amused.
"He called." The jewish woman plainly spat back, then letting Mark in with an abhorrent sigh, a piece of unkempt hair danced on his jacket on the way in. "At least your on time." The house was the same as it had been four years ago, without a lived-in feel, replaced instead with the certain feeling of a hole, a never-ending black void in which you were always so very close to an ultimate ledge, just barely missing your doom with every step. The paintings and windows and mirrors all seemed to be at a downward slant, if at all possible, leading one in like stairs to hell. "It's so often that people are never on time." The house always felt like Cocteau's masterpiece. "He'll be down in just a moment, make yourself at home." He nodded back, the claustrophobia already clouding his psyche. He was ready, as ever, to punch.
Mark sat down, almost with reluctancy, on the stained, decidedly flaking white couch near the center of the living room. His legs began to bounce from side to side at an alarming pace, crashing into each other violently. After around thirty seconds, Andy stomped laboriously down the stairs with a certain "umph" to his step. He presented himself without any contempt, only a blank face juxtaposed by the ready-to-sigh countenance of his wife. They both approached the couch in perfect unison of movement, and sat down in two opposite chairs that clearly Mark was supposed to sit in. They all exchanged pleasantries, and plopped back down. Andy drooped with a certain deflated sigh that acted as an indicator of his age, like rings on a stump.
Mark stared downward. The silence was unbearable to him, a nauseating smell of citrus flavored brutality. Ms. L'Herbier ceased it.
"Well, I suppose the first thing in order is to mourn, however we've done that over the course of three years," she bluntly pushed. Andy darted his head to her in disbelief. "What? It's true! There hasn't been a moment in these years that wasn't filled with thoughts of her, and where she could possibly be," this, of course, filled Mark with a sullen, indescribable guilt. He did not glance up, even for a second. Andy did the same, turning his neck as so to not even notice the words coming from his wife's lips. "So, I suppose, we need to go to the funeral proceedings."
"When does her…" Mark began, "when does she arrive in Boston?"
"3 days is what the police said. They're moving 'er by road, apparently. My baby, back of a truck from Ohio."
"And when are we thinking about a funeral?" He then asked, as he wanted to avoid the ever nearing silence of pensive contemplation.
"About a week, I'd say, is appropriate. Gives May's side of the family time to get here, if they even bother." Andy mouthed with loathing discontent.
"Oh, sha! My family's gonna make it, just wait, alright?" She proclaimed. Andy rolled his eyes in response and began looking to the east once again. "Well anyhow, we of course need to go over payment and such."
"I don't know how to talk about this right now." Mark admitted, face still drooped to the floor. "Isn't there something we should be doing, saying?"
"What'd you expect this to be Mark?" He could feel her eyes shooting straight through his skull, even without looking. "We would go over the fondest memories we have of him? Sit around the table, share a good quality about him or a quirk he had?"
"That actually doesn't sound too bad-"
"We're passed that, Mark. You know that. We all know he's gone and he's been gone. We've all went over those memories time and time again. We don't need a reminder."
"She." He was now looking straight up, with intense concentration focused on the nasal region instead of the eyes.
"She. You kept using 'he' and 'him'. You know she wasn't too keen on that."
"That's...another thing we have to discuss."
"We're using...Andrew...for the name on the tombstone." Andy mumbled, his eyes still deadset on the wall.
"No." Mark shuffled his hands violently, creating an erroneous scratching noise that looked and sounded undoubtedly painful.
"We just feel like, for the sake of the family, we should show some respect to her-"
"Now, Mark. This isn't your decision to make." May interjected.
"She's gone, Mark. Please. Don't make a fool of yourself now."
"Her name's Jennifer. Not...that, not whatever else you'd like to call her."
"I told you he'd react badly. I told you." May's hand pointed straight at him, displaying the corroded nature of her finely-sanded skin.
"So was I supposed to not tell him?"
"It's nothing personal, Mark. We just...thought it would be better for everybody if we buried...her...with her real name."
"Her name's Jennifer, May. Not Andrew. She detested that name, wore it like a damnation for years. I'm not gonna let you ruin her forever." He was close chafing the skin right off his fingers, as if trying to feel the air right through his body. "I'm not gonna let you ruin her."
"Mark, please. It's her name."
"I won't say it again, her name is Jennifer. She left with that name, died with that name. It's on her blamed marriage certificate for god's sake. It's her name."
"There's one document that would disagree with you." Her slender fingers clasped together into a confident dome.
"Just because you have some old, dusty piece of paper doesn't mean nothing. This is done. This is all...so done."Mark stood upright in a flash of a second, and began stomping toward the door, his hands clamping and unclamping rapidly.
"Mark, get back here."
No answer, just loud, solemn stomps.
"Mark, please. I'm sorry."
"That's not her name," He said. "Say that's not her name." His eyes seemed to be barely open, barely able to handle the nature of what he sees.
"It's going on the stone, Mark. That's all."
"Then I don't know" him. So there's no point going to a funeral for him." Andy walked out the door and back to his car with a calm, sullen strut. The door was already open for he forgot to shut it to his dismay, he closed it, screamed with a violent sob, continuing to sputter the word "sorry", gaining the level of significance of sixth page stories in a twenty page paper, which only continued to release hot tears and fog up the side window.
I feel alone again. I don't regret leaving you, but I do regret not staying. You made it hard, harder than it needed to be.
You called me all the names you knew would hurt, and then the ones that made me feel better. You were everything in my life, and I wanted you smaller than a flea.
"I never wanted to hurt you, Mark, honest."
"Then why did you leave?"
"Because hurting myself was the only way to get at you, maybe? Because I was madder than all hell, because you called me a hot-headed little boy and you stole my right to tears away after the fact."
"Then why did you leave?" you would say again. You like repetition.
"Why didn't you?"
A few days later, Mark stopped by the department store, swaying and sidestepping akin to the undead, while it was painfully bright out. He ignored the cashier's chirp of "hello" and shifted away, arms loosely attached to his body, to a section ostensibly filled to the brim with crowbars, pliers, and other such criminal trinkets. It almost seemed to encourage breaking, pulling, stealing. Mark often detested this section, wouldn't have come near it, unless he had good reason. He scrounged around for a minute, picked the most inconspicuous looking crowbar, an orange rod, hoe-like contraption, paid for it without looking anyone in the eye, and stumbled out of the store the same way he arrived.
It was the first day of January, then, when he planned to do the deed, when he took the crowbar out of its resting place, a dreary corner of Jennifer's side of the bed, one that has gone unloved for many a night. He set the metal shaft inside a bright orange gym bag that never saw a day of use, along with a pitch-black snow cap, a newer-than-usual box of juicy fruit, and his wallet, containing a wad of cash and a sticky Pedro Gonzalez baseball card. The car started before he shuffled down the apartment stairs. Mark took a deep breath in and out before climbing into the car, and trailing off with the bag in his trunk.
The next thing he knew, Mark was stationed at the curb towards a local funeral home. It was a more than half-an-hour drive, but to Mark it couldn't have gone quicker. The entire planet seemed to revolve around this one moment. It never seemed to be more important, more crucial that he did this one deed. yet the truck was arriving. Oh god, he thought, I didn't know what to do, what it would accomplish, ultimately, to break a few latches on a wooden coffin. he thought, I don't know what I'm doing. None of this makes any sense to begin with. Everything has gone out of control, my life, Jennifer, everything has gone out of control.I just want you here, Jen. I really do. I just want you here but you can't be here because you couldn't swim, the truc's at the station already, it's here. There were big, yellow letters Thi don't know think of a name later. I can't be the one to do this, but no one else will, so juist do i, Mark. For her, if for anyone at all.
The truck stopped right in front of Mark, barely in sight. Mark climbed out of the car, and began to get ready. Circling around the car, he opened the trunk to reveal the mighty rod inside the neon bag. This is it, he thought. This is the finale. I'm sorry Jen. Mark began the slow dredge to the truck, as the two drivers climbed out of the put the ski-mask tightly across his face, pullingit down, as low as it could go, and thenn yelled a loud, cacophonous "freeze", with a cracking voice. The two men, muscled and fine, turned to see the insufferable little shrimp, noticing his jacket had a frightful hand fisted into his jacket pocket, resembling a fine point weapon. The two men did as they were told, and promptly froze.
"What'sa matter with you, fella?" One yelled.
"Please, I just need you to step away from the truck. It's important to me that you do."
"Fella, we're not stepping away from any truck. There's noting of value in this here truck but a poor girl's body. You don't want any of that, fella."
"Please. I need you to step away from the goddamn truck."
"That's not even a gun is it, pal?" The other noticed. Mark quickly removed his fist from his jacket pocket in embarrassment, then putting both hands on the crowbar.
"I SAID STEP AWAY FROM THE GODDAMN TRUCK."
He charged at them with the crowbar, purple with frustration, and quickly took one of the truckers by surprise, bashing and hit one of them in the kneecap.. He wailed out in pain, as the other was too dumbfounded to act. It all seemed ttoo surreal, even for Mark. When he opened his eyees once more and released the man from his crazed sight, he turned to the other trucker with a significantly disgusting grin, just for good measure.
"Hey, man, hey. I'm just a driver. You can have the body." Mark growled, and the trucker went darting out of the parking lot. It was in good benefit to Mark, who, regardless of the screaming man on the pavement, could take a breath for just a moment and think about the logical next step. After doing this, Mark quickly turned to the truck, stepping over the driver in brutal, unrelenting pain. He arrived at the truck, still panting and dazed. He opened its trunk with significant difficulty, and as he opened, the coffin came into view. It was a beautiful chestnut mahogany, laced with a gold embellishment on the front and the sides. It was almost a worthy resting spot for her, almost. The problem was, it was heavy. Ungodly heavy. Mark could barely get it out of the truck, and even while doing it he had to climb in and push it. And that he did. His twig-like arms felt swollen and slack. The chest was right in front of him, entailing forbidden treasures. Is there anything he couldn't do? He pulled the crowbar over his head, in a stance implying swanhood, positioned it at tthe crux of the coffin, and snapped it open with all his might. The hinges flew, just as he imagined it, separated into tiny screws resembling bullets and large golden tablets. Mark set the crowbar down, looking down at the shadowy sarcophagus. It was like an ocean, she was like an ocean, you were like an ocean. The world swam around us, swam around me, I could feel it. She was never so defunct, I was never so out of sorts, so distraught than deceased. Her hair was underwater, I was underwater, coarse and fluid, morbid and confused, stuck on barely with a layer of glue. It was this moment I knew for a fact, there wasn't an afterlife. It was this moment I knew for a fact, there was an afterlife. How could there be? How could there not be? Her face, the epitome of human, now a mess of hair and plaster and dust. What is wrong with me? What is wrong with you? What is wrong with this? It's the first time I've seen her in years and all I can do is criticize how she looks on her deathbed. I hope I never hear you say it again.
She lived a drinking life, she died swimming. And I can never forgive her, that's why. I can never forgive her for revealing the worst of me, and rolling with it. Letting me know it, and never speaking of it again. I can never forgive you for letting me yell at you, of all things, every single day. Because now I can't forgive myself. I can't forgive myself, and I can't forgive you and please for the love of god, help me. I can forgive you, only because you can't forgive yourself. Only because you know what you've done to me, and what you will continue to do to me long after I'm dead. I love you. I love you.
Mark carried the limp body across the parking lot, back to his truck, continuously yearning to put her back in the coffin and leave without a trace. Placing her in the trunk, he circled around the vehicle and got into the driver's seat. She lived breathing, he thought. I lived drinking. She died swimming. But I will die breathing. He took the truck out of park, set it on drive, and took off.