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issue 32: september - october 2002 

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bloody.The Note
Todd Sandvik

      

I was peeing against a hedge in Mr. River’s yard when I heard a girl crying in the street. I stood on my tiptoes for a look. It was Annie—Annie Turner. Her car was parked right by the hedge. Make-up ran down her cheeks, black-and-blue, and her hair, for once, wasn’t clean. She was upset like when her brother died, was reading some kind of note…
      I pissed like a champ. I hadn’t gone all day, and drank so much soda at the parking deck I thought I was gonna pop. There’s no place to pee at work except in the County Courthouse. Screw that. It wouldn’t matter if it was an arcade though, really, because the truth is I can’t pee indoors. Not even in private stalls. They call me "stage fright" at school but I’m not afraid of anything. It’s the splatter sounds.
      Annie watches my little sister Kate after school. Even though I don’t need a sitter, I still hang out over there. The Turners have movie channels, plus her brother’s video games. But Annie is the real reason I go—who the hell wouldn’t? I saw her naked once. Totally. I was playing Tomb Raider when she walked by after a shower. She didn’t turn, cover up or anything. Just smiled and went into her room.
      I didn’t want her to see me by the hedge, so stayed down. Being there felt weird, like a terrible secret. When she suddenly drove off I scrambled over the hedge, actually fell pretty hard onto the street. It was about eight o’clock when I smelled Annie’s exhaust.
      She headed straight at the sun. It was blinding. I tried to watch but all I could see was burned-out sky and I had to look away. I heard: crushing metal on metal and shattering glass followed by terrible stillness…

      Annie’s car was struck by a big, white truck. It rammed into her at the intersection of Broadway and 24th—broadside. The truck’s hood looked like a stomped can. It was still in the intersection, awkwardly twisted towards Annie’s red Civic. The Civic had flipped, and leaned up against a utility pole. It was starting to get dark. No sound but a faint buzzing coming from the truck. One of Annie’s tires was still spinning.
      I approached the truck first. The driver was an older guy, bald with a coarse, gray beard. His blood was everywhere. He wasn’t wearing his seat belt and the impact rattled him around the cab. Something hit his jaw pretty good (the wheel?) because it had nearly come off. It dangled like meat from one side of his face. And he had a chunk of glass stuck in one eye. That eye creeped me out. You couldn’t tell what color it was.
      I noticed some smokes on the floor—"cowboy killers" (that’s what my dad called Marlboros). I had to yank it pretty hard but I managed to get the driver’s door open. The buzzing sound was coming from the dash. There’s no telling what it was because everything was smashed. I reached over the driver, and depressed the lighter. Then I sat on the edge of the seat and waited… Where was everyone? I stared over at Annie’s car.
      Shit! I nearly had a heart attack when the lighter popped out. The driver didn’t flinch, but I had already figured he was dead. I lit up and hurried back to the curb. I smoked slowly, waiting again. Still nobody came…
      I climbed onto Annie’s car from the trunk. She had two bumper stickers: one said "Princess" in glitter, the other said "Boys Lie." I didn’t really get either one, but Annie had a strange sense of humor. When a pipe burst at her house, she said "it’s a real pisser" when she called her boyfriend and told him about it. Stuff like that.
      The back of her car looked alright. But man, the rest was fucked up. You could hardly tell it was a car. I crawled slowly towards her door, shaking like I was cold.
      Unlike the other driver, Annie was wearing her seat belt. But the truck had exploded into her door. She didn’t have a chance. She was dangling, limp, hunched towards the passenger seat. Her T-shirt was soaked with blood and there was a bone sticking out of her shoulder. Her hair mostly covered her face, but I could see her lips: not the slightest shiver. Blood trickled over her chin, and dripped off her nose and the ends of her bangs. The way her right arm dangled, it was like she was pointing at the pool of blood that was collecting below. But here’s the strange thing—her left hand was still holding the letter.
      I stared at it for a long time before I tried to snatch it. She held it so tight that at first all I did was tear off a corner. I heard sirens, at last. I tried a second time for the note but once again I couldn’t get it free. Then, almost like you climb rope, I took hold of the edge and cinched my hand closer and closer…until I touched Annie’s hand.
      She was really warm. There was blood there too but it only made the skin more soft and smooth. I shut my eyes, tingling all over. I stiffened my finger and slowly, easily, worked it into her palm. With the blood it glided right it. Somehow her grip seemed to tighten around my finger, so I moved it around, trying to loosen her hold. I thought I heard—
      No. It was my imagination, she didn’t say a word. She couldn’t have. I let out a huge gasp of air when she suddenly released the letter. I nearly tumbled off the car. Immediately I jumped down and sprinted into the nearest yard, where I stuffed the letter deep into my jeans’ pocket. I was crouching there when Annie died.
      The emergency crews seemed to arrive all at once. The sirens were deafening. There were police, firemen, ambulances… The intersection was blocked off, and the cops set up orange cones and hissing red flares. Everything flickered from their spinning lights.
      The bald guy was laid out first. They covered him with some kind of plastic sheet then lifted him into a van on a stretcher. They seemed more desperate with Annie, and she was much harder to get to. The firemen had to cut her door off with a torch. Everyone was waiting anxiously…

      A woman from the ambulance tucked the hair neatly behind Annie’s ears and wiped her face clean of the smeared make-up and blood. She was shaking her head as she covered Annie. They put her in the same van as the bald guy.

      The emergency vehicles left quietly. Two policemen stayed and swept up broken glass, talked to the tow-truck drivers while the flares sputtered out. I had to pee again so I went ahead—pissed on a chain-link fence. I don’t know whose house it was but it seemed like a shell. The sky, which had once been so intense—soft darkness. I couldn’t have cared less about that fucking sky.
      I could hear my mom and stepdad fighting from our neighbor’s yard, so I crept around back and rapped on Kate’s window. In little spurts, the curtain parted. Then Kate’s tiny hands pressed the glass, and her head peeped over the sill.
      "Hey, Billy," she whispered, "do you want in?"
      She stood aside as I climbed into her bedroom. Once inside I embraced her. I wanted to tell her about Annie, but I couldn’t do it. Kate worshipped her.
      Then I noticed how tightly Kate was holding me. Kate’s a tough girl. It takes more than yelling to upset her.
      "I wish I had your daddy." She looked to the floor.
      I grabbed her shoulders, perhaps too firmly. "No—no you don’t. Trust me." I lifted her chin and stared into her eyes. "What did Jack do, Kate? Tell me."
      She shook her head. She was frightened, about to cry. I knew then I had to kill Jack. "Don’t worry, Kate. It’s over. I promise." I embraced her again, gently rocking. "I took some money from the deck today. Let’s go out for ice cream or something. Okay?" I felt her smile against my chest, which nearly brought me to tears. "Don’t worry, Kate. It’s over."
      There were magazines spread open across the floor—Vanity Fair, Vogue, Cosmo. I asked her to show me what she had been working on. She was cutting out pictures. She glues them onto big sheets of paper, then copies them. Kate can really draw—anything you want. Some day she’ll learn to paint. Not kid stuff—real painting. She already draws better than most artists, and she’s only eight years old.
      "See Billy—I’m drawing dresses. Annie gave me all these magazines yesterday and they’re full of them." She pointed proudly at her latest. It was a blonde girl in a strapless summer dress, lying on a black couch.
      "It’s remarkable." It was. I could have said how it resembled Annie. I could have told her about the crash, about how I saw Annie lying just like that but dead. I could have assured her, I’ll never let anybody hurt you. But I was choking on truths and lies.
      "I’ll be right back. I’m going to get something from my room. Don’t worry, I’ll be right down the hall."
      There was a loud thud in the living room, followed by the sound of breaking glass. Kate scribbled over the picture until the lead broke.
      "Listen to me, Kate. Tomorrow we’ll go to the art store, the fancy one, and I’ll buy you more supplies. Lots of those pencils you like. What are they called? Charcoal?"
      Her eyes momentarily gleamed. I mussed her hair, forced a convincing smile. Then I snuck down the hall to my room.
      Jack chases mom all over the house when they fight so I made sure to close my door. He says it’s because mom is a "flighty bitch." And maybe so. My real dad chased her, too.
      That’s the whole reason I can’t pee inside—that stamping around the house. I wasn’t even Kate’s age when it started. My real dad did a lot more than yell—a lot more. So my mom would run into the bathroom because the door locked. It didn’t matter if I was there or not—even if I was trying to crap. "It’s alright, honey," she would say, "just pretend I’m not here. I’m your mother. It’s alright."
      But then she kept screaming at my dad through the door—"You bastard! Go fuck yourself!" It was impossible to piss with her right there, crying, sometimes even bleeding. And with my dad beating on the door. "Open it before I break it down! Or I swear it will be your head two seconds later!"
      I quit using toilets altogether. I decided I’d rather have shitty underpants.
      I started thinking about Annie again, about the crash. There was so much blood. I went to my closet, and retrieved the box where I hide my secret things. I opened it, then fished under the Playboy—the one with the college girls—and the pictures of my grandparents and Kate. I took out the small pair of black panties…

      I quit wearing underwear when I was twelve. My dad called it "the cowboy way" but I’m no cowboy. I just got tired of scrubbing shit out them. When I had to go I would sit on my ankle and hold it. But no matter how much you try to hold something in, a little always gets out. My mom would put my dried dirties in the toilet, then make me scrub them until they were clean enough for the bleach bucket. And if I didn’t finish before my dad got home—if he found my underwear in the toilet—he’d piss on them. Then he’d hit me so hard I’d nearly pass out. I wished I would pass out, because if I didn’t I would have to scrub them in his piss. He left when mom got pregnant with Kate.
      Suddenly I remembered the letter. I pulled it from my pocket and uncrumpled it. It was covered in Annie’s blood. Messy letters, black ink. Word for word:

      Anne—
      It’s over. Done. Quit calling.
      I don’t want to talk and don’t
      want to see you again. Ever.
      Get the abortion. Dylan

      I don’t know how to say what I felt. I folded the panties around the letter, and stuffed them into my pocket. I walked straight to Kate’s room, without first checking the hall.
      Kate was in her closet, but came running out when she saw me.
      "Come on, let’s go. I can’t stand the racket around here." But now the noise was in my head. He killed her. Dylan killed her. He killed them.

      The next day at work was miserable. Every single car that left the lot reminded me of the crash. Usually I’m pretty lax about tickets. People whine all the time about paying—"I was only here ten minutes" or "Come on, I don’t want to break a fifty." And usually I let them go. But not that day. Nobody got away without paying. I took plenty of abuse for it, too. The worst was some dick in a yellow Mercedes. He didn’t want to pay a dollar. One fucking dollar in a Mercedes.
      Dylan Marks was Annie’s boyfriend. I saw him at her house sometimes. His dad is a judge and his family lives in a huge brick house with a pool. Dylan went to Catholic school until he was kicked out for drinking in class. In class. He had a Mercedes. I doubt he expected to pay.
      When things slowed down I took out the panties and note. "Done." Who the fuck did he think he was? I couldn’t remember what Annie looked like without blood and make-up running over her face.
      That night mom told me what happened. She told me Annie was dead, and how the Turners were ruined with grief. She told me how Mr. Turner hadn’t stopped banging his head against the table since the police arrived with the news. She told me how Mrs. Turner had been yelling at her dead son’s picture. "How could this happen, Bill. You’re her guardian angel. Why didn’t you protect her?!"

      Bill Turner was older than Annie. He died of testicle cancer two years ago. Ever since, the Turners have been especially nice to me. I guess because my name is Billy. They liked it when I came over and played games in his room, or listened to his CD’s and stuff. Last year they gave me $100 on his birthday.
      I couldn’t imagine what they must have been going through. Mom kept saying stuff like, "Nobody should have to bury their babies," and "Why did it have to happen to their little girl?" I knew why. And it didn’t have to happen.

      Annie’s funeral was horrible. It lasted too long. Everyone had a story to tell, and a lot of the older people said stuff like, "God always has a plan," and "His ways are beyond this earth." I wanted to scream back, "Don’t blame God you fucking fools! He didn’t do it!"
      Annie’s coffin was closed but there was a picture in front of it. It was the first time since the accident that I saw her as I always had. She had a beautiful smile, such perfect blue eyes. But the more I looked at that picture, the more I felt like Annie was staring at me. The panties and note were burning in my pocket. She knew I had her secret. She knew…
      Mom told the story about the time I thought I had killed Kate. Annie was watching us. Kate was only two at the time and I accidentally dropped her on her head. I ran right out of the door, hollering I killed her! I killed her! And I kept on running, too. Annie eventually found me in Veterans Park, almost a mile away. She had Kate with her and took us for ice cream on the way home.
      My mom never knew what Annie had said when she found me in the park. She told me, "Babies are tough—especially little girl babies. But you’re her big brother. And just like my brother is there for me, you have to be there for Kate. Protect her, okay? No more running away." She smiled and I promised—I promised. Then she told Kate, "Now aren’t we both lucky to have our Billy around?"
      I thought I was going to piss my pants in the church. As soon as mom sat down I excused myself. I went outside. The wind was really whipping the trees, and my stream scattered all over the red gravel alongside the cemetery. Clouds were blowing in, the color of Kate’s pencils. I knew it would storm soon.
      I waited outside for the service to end. I couldn’t face Annie’s picture again. I kept thinking about how her hand felt while I was taking the letter. I thought about how it grabbed my finger, about how tight her grip had been. And I thought about what I had heard. She did say something. I lied when I said it was my imagination. Annie said my name. She held me and whispered, "Billy…"

      There were a lot of people at the reception: teachers, friends of the family, friends of Annie. It seemed like the whole school was there, and for once nobody teased me. But I still felt out of place, like I was naked or something. Everybody was grieving. I was so fucking mad I was shaking.
      Mr. Turner was still at the kitchen table, his head lying on his arms. He was totally limp. Mom comforted Mrs. Turner in the study. I just stayed out of the way. I stayed outside.
      A group of Annie’s classmates came into the front lawn. It was dark so I couldn’t see their faces but I could hear alright. And I heard Dylan Marks. I heard him say something about lunch the next day with the Turners. He said Annie was his soul mate. He even said he thought they might have been married some day.

      That night I couldn’t sleep. I held Annie’s panties, pressed them against my face and tried again and again to smell her. She knew…

      I didn’t just play games in Bill Turner’s room. Often I snuck into Annie’s room next door. I loved how it smelled in there—like lotion and flowers and new clothes. It was always really clean, really girly—not like anything in my house.
      I would dig through her closet, under her bed, even through her drawers—especially her underwear drawer. I wanted secrets, her most intimate things. She had the same kind of underwear as those models in her magazines. Little bikinis and matching bras made of thin, smooth fabrics. Sometimes I would take some into the bathroom. I would lock the door—make sure it was locked—then take off my clothes. And I'd put on Annie’s underwear.
      It wasn’t kinky. That wasn’t it. I just wanted to be closer to Annie. I would rub her lotion onto myself and look into the long mirror on the door. I wasn’t touching myself. I was touching Annie.
      The next morning, mom took Mrs. Turner out for breakfast. I got out of bed once Jack finally left. I called Lucy—Kate’s best friend. I spoke to her mom and arranged for Kate to spend the day. Then I helped Kate get her things together.
      But first we went to the art store. I bought her a set of acrylic paints and brushes, and a lot of heavy paper. Even one of those stands for her to put her paintings on while she works. I’ve never seen Kate so excited. I just kept telling her how much I loved her, and how she would be a famous artist some day.
      She wanted to go home and paint, but I told her since I had already talked to Lucy’s mom it would be rude not to go. It was hard for me to leave her there. I know she thought it was weird, but I kept making her promise to paint every day.
      When I got back to our house, I put together Kate’s easel—that’s what those stands are called—and set it up in her room. Then I went into my mom’s bedroom. I went into Jack’s underwear drawer…
      Dylan answered the Turner’s door. He was talking on a cellphone and dismissively waved me in. He was complaining to somebody that Mrs. Turner wasn’t home yet. I went over to Mr. Turner, who was still at the kitchen table. I put my hand on his shoulder but he didn’t even flinch. He was wearing the same clothes from the funeral. Without thinking I whispered, "She didn’t mean to hurt the baby."

      Dylan kept yakking on the phone. I went downstairs, and into Annie’s bedroom. I breathed as much of the smell as I could. It was already vanishing. I went to her dresser and slowly opened her underwear drawer. I took the black panties out of my pocket, and held them to my face for the last time. Then I neatly folded them and set them back into the drawer.
      "Hey—what are you doing in here?"
      I slammed the drawer shut, suddenly aware that I was crying.
      "You little freak. What kind of fucking pervert are you?"
      I glanced over my shoulder to make sure Dylan couldn’t back out of the room. He was approaching me. I pulled Jack’s revolver from my waist and shoved it right at his head.
      "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Easy kid—"
      "Shut up. Don’t say a word." It surprised me how cool I was. I wasn’t acting like a ‘kid.’ I motioned Dylan towards the bed. "Sit."
      He yelled a couple times for Mr. Turner, so I cocked the gun. "He knows I’m here. And he knows why. So you better shut the hell up and do as I say." He sat on the bed, confused.
      I threw the wadded note at him. He picked it up off the floor and smoothed it on his thigh. Horrified recognition erased the slickness from his face.
      "Eat it."
      "Where… where did you get this?"
      "I said eat it." I put the barrel right between his eyes. He started speaking gibberish, shaking his head. But eventually he wadded the note up tight and put in into his mouth.
      He gagged. His throat contorted, chest spasmed, and his eyes began to water. I suppose it was the blood. He swallowed the letter after only a few reluctant chews. Then he gagged some more. When it stopped, he opened his mouth, waiting pathetically for instructions.
      "Get up."
      "Why?" He became slightly agitated. "Where are we going. What are you going to do?"
      "Just move." He knew I was dead serious—he moved. "The bathroom." I waved the gun at the bathroom door. For a moment I thought of movies, of how that same gesture with the gun played out a thousand times on film. Dylan was hesitant, perhaps recalling the same scenes. "You look like you need a drink of water," I told him.
      "I swear I swallowed—look." He stuck out his tongue. It was rashy red. "Come on, you can let me go now. See?"
      "MOVE!" It was the first time I yelled at anybody. It felt perfectly natural. I was both repulsed and mildly pleased with myself.
      I stayed right behind Dylan, never lowering the gun for a second as we walked towards the door. Then his cellphone started ringing: it was on Annie’s bed. Dylan didn’t turn around, neither did I. We both stood motionless until it stopped.
      Once we were in the bathroom I directed him into the shower. He started whimpering again, saying he didn’t mean to call me a pervert, that he was only kidding—lies. "Look, kid, my family has a lot of money. I’ll pay you, whatever it takes—"
      That’s when everything went red. I turned away and pressed my eyes shut. The strange thing is that I didn’t mind the splatter sound. It sang in my mind like glorious chimes…
      The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was Annie’s toilet. Clean white porcelain. I placed the gun by a bottle of perfume. Then I raised the lid and released myself into the clear water.

2002 Todd Sandvik

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author bio

Todd SandvikTodd Sandvik was born on October 29, 1970, in the U.S. He presently lives in North Carolina. "The Note" is his first submission to a publisher. (He thanks the editors for their kindness.) He has just drafted a short novel, On Mod Arson, and is writing new stories. Contact him via tsandvik@fastmail.fm

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 tbr 32           september - october  2002

Short Fiction Adam Haslett: The Beginnings of Grief
Kate Atkinson: Inner Balance
Todd Sandvik: The Note

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