The Butcher, A Short Story by 8 Writers


CHAPTER 1

by Pedro Mermolia

The butcher’s apprentice was tired of being asked about his boss. Reporters had come from as far as Paris, questions posed bluntly and veiled as polite conversation.

“Crazy storm a few days ago, no?”

“My shed was struck by lightning and one of my cows died. What are the chances?”

“I hear two men from this town died. God bless them.”

The butcher’s apprentice promptly wrapped the customers’ orders and sent them on their way. He preferred not to talk about things he did not understand, like keys and locks or storms and lightning. He especially preferred not to talk about other people’s actions. That the person in question was his boss was only an afterthought, but it still held sway. What the butcher’s apprentice knew and felt comfortable talking about was beef and pork. Ask him anything about sausage and he’d be happy to oblige. He might even talk too much, until you are shuffling your feet and checking the clock and thinking up excuses to be on your way. But the butcher’s apprentice liked it that way. In his business, which might actually be his now depending on what Alyssandra decided to do, he always knew who was doing the cutting and why.

“Here’s what I know,” said the Parisian in the gray suit. “It was his daughter’s birthday. Alyssandra is her name?”

“Yes,” said the butcher’s apprentice. “Are you buying anything today?”

“No,” said the Parisian, jotting notes on a small pad. “And her husband–Daniel?”

“I’m sorry, I would rather not be quoted in any newspapers, if that’s ok with you. If you have any questions about the meats, I will be in the back.”

“This is not for a newspaper.” The Parisian reached in his coat for a badge. “I hate to do this. I prefer a nice conversation, but sometimes it speeds things along.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t take notes during the conversation.”

The Parisian inspector smiled as he rubbed his badge clean. “That’s good advice. And Daniel was a crop duster? He seems overqualified for the position, don’t you think? A veteran pilot like him.”

“I never heard him complain.”

“Did you know him well?”

“He came by the shop every morning before work and then again on his way home.”

“Did Pierre mind?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Seeing your son-in-law at home every day is enough to drive anyone crazy, but having him stop by your workplace too?” The inspector looked up with an expectant smile.

“I don’t like your tone.”

“I don’t know what you mean. Did you ever find Pierre to not like Daniel for whatever reason?”

“Pierre was very protective of his daughter. From a young age, ever since her mother died. It was the two of them, and he took great care to keep her from any more harm. Daniel was a good husband though, and I can’t imagine Pierre resented him much. If that’s what you mean.”

“Resented him much?”

“That’s not how I meant it. I’m not used to this sort of thing.”

“What sort of thing? You’re doing great. I’m just trying to put all the pieces together. Excuse me, poor choice of words.” The inspector waited a moment before continuing, “I talked to the florist yesterday. The one a few farms away. Lovely woman. She seemed to think Pierre had a temper problem.”

“He didn’t always like it when things didn’t go his way.”

“Don’t we all. She said he stopped by the shop before the storm, but she didn’t hear him at first, because she was closing up the back room, trying to rush home before the storm hit. She said the only reason she knew he stopped by is that she heard a loud clanging, and by the time she got to the front, she saw his car driving away. I guess he tried to break in, because her lock was bent. Did he have a history of stealing?”

“No.”

“Then why would he try to break into the florist’s shop?”

“Sunflowers are Alyssandra’s favorite. As you said before, it was her birthday, and I’m guessing he wanted to surprise her with a bunch.”

“Enough to break in?”

“I don’t think he meant it like that. He probably knew Celia was just in the back and couldn’t hear him. And if she wasn’t, I’m sure he would have left money.”

“I’ve got enough trouble trying to make sense of what he did without worrying about what he would have done. Did you see Daniel’s plane crash?”

“No.”

“Did you see the lightning or hear the thunder?”

“I saw a lot of lightning and heard a lot of thunder that day.”

“Right. That should do it for now. I’m staying at the inn just outside of town, if you think of anything that might help the investigation. After that, here’s my number, so you can reach me in Paris.”

The butcher’s apprentice took the small piece of paper and set it by the cash register.

“Men snap. It’s as inevitable as thunder and lightning. Understanding why helps us put these things behind us.”

The butcher’s apprentice nodded once but did not respond. The inspector left the shop, ringing the bells on the door frame. The butcher’s apprentice walked over to silence them before closing the shop early and heading home.

 

CHAPTER 2

by Michael Piel

Through the rain, Pierre could see it now, stood the shape of the house.

The truck struck a pothole and the dashboard began to rattle. He glanced down. Had something come loose? He touched the plastic with a hand, pushed down upon it, but the pressure only seemed to mute the noise. The rattling was in his arm and in his chest now. It was the sound of his poverty, inside him and everywhere at once. A problem he couldn’t fix.

He looked in the rearview at the body in the back of the truck. This he could fix.

Water gathered at the base of the house’s gate. The truck bobbed as it hit the puddle and the dashboard shook again beneath the butcher’s hand. He thought of the prayer, one he’d learned from an American service man at a bar in Montmarte. The drunk had laughed when he’d finished writing it on the back of his unpaid tab, confessing to the butcher, in broken French, that, truthfully, he had know idea what it meant. Just some pretty words. But together they gave the butcher a sense of calm.

God, give me grace to accept with serenity…

The gate swung open as the car idled. Beyond, the house’s windows shone through the rain.

How long was it since he’d been here? His daughter had been small, he remembered that. It had been summer and she loved the place; like a giant dollhouse, she’d said. Now on the rare occasion she spoke of the house, or of her rich uncle who held a seat in the country’s parliament, it was through the fog of a dream.

He closed the gate and drove up the paved driveway. What would he tell the man, and what would the man say in reply? Would he suspect the butcher had gone mad?

Lightening lit the sky and for a moment he saw the crack of his daughter’s bedroom door, a single candle inside. She had slept that way as a child, burning down the wick until the morning light filled her room, not a moment spent in darkness. But the thunder shook and the vision was split by the boy’s plane crashing to earth.

No, he had not gone mad.

His hand was numb with cold upon the front door. After a moment the house’s lights flickered, and the door opened. An elderly woman stood before him. The butcher tried to smile.

“Hello, Caroline,” he said. “Is my brother-in-law in?”

Her eyes widened. “Yes, of course.”

Caroline walked him into the living room, his boots trailing mud. She put him in an arm chair in front of the warm hearth and hurried off.

“I will get you something dry,” she said. “Monsieur!” Her voice echoed throughout the house. “Monsieur!”

The ceiling stood five or six meters above him. He sat below it, dirty and dripping onto the floor. He was too small for the furniture and felt like a child. He saw the mansion as a dollhouse, the tables and chairs not made of heavy oak but of soft, processed wood. He imagined the back of the house lifted off by enormous hands, a giant’s hands, and he, stiff with cold, as a wooden boy. The hands searched the room, blind and groping, until they found the butcher.

“Something warm to drink?” The father started. Jean had entered the room, a thin man, skin pulled tight over high cheekbones. He had never married. Besides him, the house was empty except for Caroline, and the parties the father often read about in the paper. Jean held out a cup of tea. The father took it.

“My truck stalled,” he said. Jean raised an eyebrow.

“How lucky for it to have been in my driveway?”

The father pulled at his beard, a nervous habit. Jean eased into the chair opposite him. The father searched the man’s face. The nose was the same as the sister’s had been. A delicate thing. But the eyes were not her’s. Her’s had been a deep blue, how he thought the sea looked like to a fish. Jean’s eyes were brown, almost black.

Caroline entered. She held a pair of fresh clothes and a towel. The father dried off in a bathroom. He changed into the clothes and rolled up the bottoms of each pant leg. Caroline took the wet gear as he came out. She smiled.

“It’s good to see you,” she said.

She stepped away, and stopped. “Don’t wait so long next time between visits. We miss you.”

The father watched her melt into the dim of the hall.

“Why are you here?”

The father turned. Jean held a glass of whiskey.

He opened the garage. The truck coughed as the butcher killed the engine. What would his brother-in-law say? Glad to help?

The body lay in the middle of the truck’s bed, wrapped tight in plastic. He grabbed the husband by his boots and slid him forward. Jean’s eyes widened. He brushed his bottom lip with two fingers.

“My God…” he said. The father sat on the back bumper and watched the rain hit the driveway. Everything was suddenly simple.

“It’s my son-in-law, Jean. His plane was struck by lightening this morning.”

“And he landed in the back of your truck?” he said.

She would dance at the party. She would wear a dress, and she would dance and she would laugh, and the world would be all right for one more night.

“Pierre, the police–”

“Will know,” said the father. His voice was calm. “But not until tomorrow.”

Jean pulled his eyes from the body. “You’re mad,” he said.

“Please, Jean. Just until eight, and I’ll come to retrieve it.”

“It’s impossible. I have a party.”

“Tonight?”

“My guests arrive in one hour,” tapping his watch with a finger.

“I’ll never ask another favor as long as I live.”

“You’ll be in jail as long as you live!”

Jean pushed the body away. He pulled the back of the truck closed with a dramatic flourish, but the door bounced against one of the pilot’s boots and swung open again.

Jean sighed. He sat on the back bumper, next to the father. They looked out into the rain, the lifeless body between the two living men. It was not the first that had laid between them.

“He’s not a bit of pork, Pierre.”

“Just until eight,” the father repeated. “And you’ll never see me again.”

Jean took a drink of whiskey.

The American’s prayer and its meaning became suddenly clear. The father grinned. It was not in the wisdom, for wisdom was a thing he’d given up on years ago. And it was certainly not in the serenity; the two words were but the decorative patterns on a sword. The meaning of the prayer lay in the courage. The courage to change the things which should be changed.

“You don’t owe me anything, I know that.” He gripped the sword. “But spare her the pain of another death, even if for one more night. She’s just a child.”

Quiet.

Jean leaned back, resting an elbow on the pilot’s boot. With the other hand he picked mud off the sole and flung it into the rain. “Maybe she is,” he said finally. “I wouldn’t know.”

Jean sent Caroline away to the post office. The body was already stiff with cold as they descended into the cellar. In a moment the lid of the freezer closed on the boy, wrapped as if afraid to look out from the tarp. The father held out his hand to Jean, but Jean shook his head and ascended into the house. Perhaps down here, in the cool dark, the father thought, the doll house hands could not reach him. Perhaps he had truly done this thing and had gone mad. But when the lightening cracked and the cellar filled with light, the father felt the familiar pressure of invisible fingers on his limbs once again. His legs moved to the stairs and he watched, not without a mote of delight.

He was about to back out the driveway when he saw the sunflowers. The house’s windows showed no sign of inward movement; it slept once again. He limped from the truck, clothes wet in an instant. He pulled the flowers free from the garden and was on his way. Caroline returned in time to watch the truck fade away down the road.

 

CHAPTER 3

by Joshua Florence

The rain created a rhythmic tapping on the roof of the car, slow and soft at first, like a milky sweet piano nocturne, eventually barreling louder and louder, into an allegro of chaotic tones and grandioso so loud that the car’s engine was no longer audible. It produced a viscous film on the windshield restricting Pierre’s sight to blurred shadows and ill-defined landscapes. He squinted and strained his eyes. The swales on either side of the road were hazardous, three or four feet in depth and already half full with storm water. His hands gripped the steering wheel, his knuckles white from anger and agitation. As he drove, he crept into thought, clambering through the deep dark of his brain, finally fumbling through the fleshy threshold that was his memory.

What a dark road love had been for Pierre, and how treacherous it would be for Alyssandra, too. She was so sweet, the innocence of a doe. He remembered the day she was wed. A beautiful day full of dancing and laughing, jokes and stories, love and respect, but Pierre had none of it. He was the grump in the corner picking at his fingers with a decorative toothpick. Utterly unenthused, he soaked himself in his own preferred American bourbon, russet in color, trying to forget the whole day with each pull of the bottle. Why couldn’t she stay there with him in his home, her home? Protected and safe forever.

It was everything he told himself he would not let happen to her. Love, the marriage, the independence. She was too naive to see the ill effects of love. She would find the ride up to the Castle of Love care free, full of elegant dinners together, talks of the future, what the children will look like, and the passion that encompassed everything. He had remembered it so clearly. His wife, sweet as the spring breeze, used to curl her hand around his neck and caress his face with the other so gently until he fell into slumber. It was angelic, spiritual even.

As most know, the ascent to love will raise you high and hold you there, for years even, dangling you from the thinnest of strings. But a single snap and the plummet down will deem grueling and treacherous. You will try and grab on to whatever you can but to your dismay the fall is too fast and there is nothing around to clutch. You will flap your arms like a featherless bird as you bullet down into Earth’s crust, you fall face first, breaking each and every bone, feeling the gelatinous mess that is now what’s left of your face, scraping against the cold soil. It’s not over. You crash deeper through layers of moist humus as you enter the burning mulch of Hell’s garden, where you are now a seed that waits to grow into plentiful fruit for Satan himself to pick and eat. When the time comes, he puts you in his mouth and you feel each crunch until you are nothing but churning bile in his sloppy, wet stomach. That’s the fall from the high Castle of Love. Pierre slipped from the castle when his wife died. He still felt the fall. He was still falling. No parent would be foolish enough to let their child feel the suffering and the agony. But Alyssandra was wed, and Pierre wept.

And now she must feel the fall, just as he had. It was everything he worked for to keep her away from. She mustn’t feel the stint of pain in each heartbeat, she should never have to get used to the everyday wrench that you feel in the pit of your stomach, as if you have digested a spoiled cut of lamb. If only she saw his fall, she would have locked herself in her room, never to come out but for meals and a hot bath. It was all too much for him to bear.

Tears fell into the corners of his lips, Pierre tasted the salty solution and wiped furiously with his dampened sweater sleeve. He began cursing and tensing up, as he did when his anger took over. The road was now completely beclouded by his tears and the pelting rain. With his left hand on the wheel, he clenched his dominant right hand into a fist, and with all of his strength, forced an upward motion into the roof above his head, creating a thunderous SPSHHH sound, like the first forte cymbal crash in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. The sudden exercise of force caused his left hand to jerk down towards his left knee, the car careening quickly with it, down into the deep, pooling ditch below.

It was the feel of cool water around his knees that made him come to. He forced his eyes open and looked down tumultuously, to see himself submerged waist high in water. His chest rested gracefully upon the steering wheel and his feet seemed to be tangled around the cars pedals. He thought to himself: ‘if this isn’t a presage for the rest of the evening than Lord knows what is. Let this be the last misfortune of the day.’

He glanced to his left to see the sunflowers soaking in a bath of dirty storm water, the stems sinking to the bottom of the car and the petals rocking on top of the water like small row boats moored in the bay. For an instant there was an awkward serenity to this sight, but when he remembered the task of gathering the sunflowers for his daughter’s birthday, he grimaced and cursed, splashing his hands in the water, creating rippling waves that forced the petals underwater to drown with their Green Stem Brothers.

He inched himself outside of the driver’s side window and grabbed a strong rooted tussock on the hill. He hoisted himself so he was able pull himself through the broken window, shards of glass prickly on his underbelly. He then fell to his stomach on the hill. He was a worm above the earth, slithering on the ground in which he feared, hoping a ravenous crow would pick him up, swallow him, and end this misery.

Pierre hobbled to his feet and felt a burning sensation shoot through his right calf. He shrugged it off and put the majority of his weight on his good foot. He turned around to see the mechanical mess that was smoking and clinking as it lay in the muddy pool that he had just crawled out of. Pierre knew there was a slim chance he would be able to rescue the car from its doom and drive it home for Alyssadra’s celebration.

There he was. No sunflowers, no transportation, and not a home within miles. He fumbled through his coat pocket and found an old lock that he used on Alyssadra’s door when she was a girl, the key still lodged in the key way. He pulled the key out and inserted it back in turning it to the right, rewardingly unlocking the hinge from the shackle. He continued for several minutes. ‘CLCKK CKKKK’ it sounded as he gently re entered the key into the key way. ‘CLKKK CKKK.’ A soothing sound amidst the chaos behind him. His knuckles still trickling blood from the forceful PUNCH into the roof of the car. He felt like a fool. He placed the cool, damp shackle of the lock on his raw knuckles and felt instant relief. He locked the shackle back to the hinge pin and spun the lock around his finger, like an outlaw before a quick draw. He gave the lock one last turn and threw it into the muddy pool where his car lay, dead and still smoking. It fell with a distinct ‘ploop’ into the murky swale and Pierre followed its lustrous trail as it sank slowly towards the bottom.

How Alyssandra would slip from the Castle of Love’s high tower and begin her descent. He felt himself slip back down, creeping into the swale. He was content with lying in the muddy pool all night, allowing it to consume him and end his never ending fall from the Castle’s high tower.

“I can’t let her find out,” he said to himself, practically yelling. “I have to make it back to town.”

And as if some higher power had heard him through the cacophony of the storm, Pierre turned his head to see a vehicle rolling towards him at a slow enough speed at which he could flag them down. Pierre threw his hands in the air signaling the car to stop. It slowed down, wipers blasting black and forth and came to a sliding stop, inches from Pierre’s anxious feet.

The window slowly made its way down.

“Car troubles I presume?” came the voice from the car.

“You guessed it, couldn’t see a damn thing out there. I lost control and ol’ Beauty found her way into the swale,” said Pierre, not dare explaining his lapse of concentration, his dazed jog down memory lane, or his Marcel Cerdan uppercut that caused the vehicular eyesore that sat behind him.

“Want a lift into town? That’s about all I can offer,” the driver used his index finger to point east towards town.

“That would be much appreciated, I’ll surly repay you anyway I can.”

“That won’t be necessary,” the driver insisted. “Hop in, it’s really coming down out there.”

And with that Pierre took to the passenger’s seat as they headed towards town. He couldn’t help but notice how slow the driver was going, but soon thought, ‘maybe I should have cautioned my speed in such hazardous conditions, such would prevent future damage and save me from my own embarrassment. “Duly noted,” Pierre whispered to himself as the atonal symphony of the storm rang in his ears with illustrious fervor.

 

CHAPTER 4

by Brian J. K. Regan

One rivulet of sweat stalled in the small of Pierre’s back and soaked into his shirt. His shirt was already damp, and the sweat still soaked in. Another stream joined it. When you run more, you sweat more. The sun made sure of that. As much as it dried the rain, it evenly contributed to his dampness. He had a whole ride back to town to dry and he didn’t and won’t, damnit. When you sweat more, your self-esteem plummets. Feet smashing against the cobblestone because that driver couldn’t drop Pierre closer than those five blocks away because that corn would spoil in the two minutes it would take to get him there. When mad at yourself, you’re prone to lash outwards (this is called projection, Pierre thought). You irritate easily, especially at the sight of Le Mademoiselle Pan Petite, red velvet curtains swaying to rest after being untied to close, deadbolt freshly flipped; lights still on, but not to welcome.

He grabbed at the doorknob and jostled as substitution for a knock. A thin hiss of the day’s scents shot out from the doorframe, teasing Pierre– yes, there was the buttery vanilla, and Alyssandra’s sixth or seventh birthday party, draped in her new pink ruffle and giggling under her golden mop through a missing front tooth, it was all flickering for him. He jostled harder.

The proprietor and chef and lady of the manor, Sophia, slammed into the door with enough force that he wondered if she had been lent an over-eager sheepdog.

“Who is it?”

“Pierre.”

“Ah! Pierre, how do you do? All ready for the big party?”

“I’m elated, and if you could believe it, this isn’t even my last stop-”

“Well you best be on your way there! See you tomorrow!”

His hand stopped jostling and, instead, shook the doorknob in various directions– maybe the deadbolt will just slip out of place.

“You’ve made my cake, I can smell it-” (indeed, that vanilla nerve gas set a cascade of chemical reactions across his hypothalamus [is that where scent memories are located?]; now he was trying to remember the 12th birthday pony ride, was it dappled or solid brown? Would Marie have wanted a pony now? Wait, were there two? Would she want a real horse?) “-so let me pay you for a job well done and I’ll be off.” Pierre sounded a lot more resigned than his hand would suggest.

A scoff, and “I haven’t had time to make myself dinner, and this crème looks as savory as a steak.”

“Don’t you-”

“Nothing further needed to prep it, no baking, no broiling, no grilling; that was done all day, while the bakery was open, you know?”

“Sophia…”

“Since nobody thought it important enough to pick up, it must be unimportant enough for a lowly baker, slaving away.” The veins in Pierre’s hand, bulging, allowed for sweat to take some creative pathways, slipping his throttle on the doorknob.

“You’re going to eat my cake?”

“You aren’t.”

“That is- you don’t just…” The palm sweat reached critical mass, and his hand slipped free with the last yank: “how are you going to stay thin, you fat cow!?”

The door swung agape like it took personal offense at the insult– at least more than Sophia did. The horizontal line of her face greeted Pierre, smudges of yeast as eyeshadow, one cigarette in her mouth and her left hand in a beige apron pocket like she’s already reaching for the next one. But she didn’t turn him away.

“Get it before I change my mind. It’s on the table. About two minutes stale, but that’s on you.”

Sweating butterfly wings on his shoulder blades, Pierre approached the counter, imagining the damp yellow frosting. It was so at odds with the bright pink color scheme of birthday #1 that he sometime breathed a sigh of relief that sweet Alyssandra was not yet generating memories at that point- just burps.

He flipped open the cardboard top, and

“DOWN, SHEP!!”
 Pierre’s calves sprung, almost taking him from the ground, but he grit his teeth rather than yelping. He did shake free about six droplets of sweat, and they landed anywhere. Turning around to face Sophia, she only gestured back at the counter with a smirk.

At the far left end of the battered wood rested a glass bowl containing a turtle: Shep. Surrounded by rocks and foliage (thanks to Sophia’s groundskeeping), he was nonetheless just as scared as Pierre, except concentrated down into this tiny creature, now ducked within its own spinal structure. The butcher completed another rotation, facing Sophia again.

“That’s Shep. He can be real mean. Especially to late customers.”

Pierre wiped the sweat from his upper lip so that none was accidentally inhaled. Turning back to the cardboard box, he took in more vanilla vapors, deeper, richer cakey crumbly musk. It was today’s birthday, the 20th. He was in the bakery, on this day, one rivulet of sweat hitting the small of his back. One rivulet of lightning across the sky, on this day.

He lifted the box and spun one more time to Sophia.

“Thank you so much.”

Sophia provided a smile at his lack of one and glanced back at the door. Shep remained pointing the same way. Pierre followed their leads and set past the doorframe, listening to that deadbolt click into its slot and only now slowing his breathing.

The bakery’s curtains had reached stasis by now (as one would hope, since they’re curtains), as flush with the window frame as they are with their own color. The sun still out, in the sky, nowhere else. The vanilla rising from the container in his hands was sweet, sickly, rotting, baked into position, staled by– well, time. He didn’t even look at it again, but pictured the yellow of sunrise, the frosting flowers in a field of their own, a sickly, sweet image.

It wasn’t all in his head. Some yellow was lasting, in the bottom-left corner of his vision. The sunflowers, they were right there, planters set under the bakery windows, troughs that Pierre could not have noticed at his arrival. Sunflowers, fresh-cut, in a blue vase on the table, Alyssandra’s favorite ever since they were the first breed of flower she learned how to say, centerpiece at every celebration of hers, a bright burning yellow. The sundress at four. A 14 year-old’s corsage. A painting of hers from sixth year that he framed, and even though it was for school and she was not a painter and she had not mused on it in so so long, it was an explosive, kinetic sunflower, so he framed it for her and presented it to her and it was a great gift. (Damnit, the frame store! Damnit!)

He snatched a handful, dirt crumbling around the veins of his hands. He ripped them from their field and smacked them on top of the box (the only way to carry them), and their loose soil scattered faintly across the lid. And there he formed the smile that was meant for Sophia. Maybe if he’d had two more jostle-free minutes, he would have been able to make it to the florist. (He didn’t think that, it’s just my attempt at rationalization.) She can always plant more with the profit she pulled off him. (Ditto.) Alyssandra will love them more than Sophia loves anything, Shep included. (Yep.)

Back down the cobblestone street, he kept his pace up, but his breathing and sweat down. Jean just needed to keep today from infringing upon today until 8pm. Every time he inhaled, the pungent yellow of the cake swung through the earthy cloud surrounding those sunflowers. He just needed this cake and the gifts and the flowers for today. He drew in another deep breath of these favorite scents and he could not stop thinking of today.

 

CHAPTER 5

by Patrik Medley

Pierre is dicing parsley for huître en persillade, the rhythm of his wrist quick from the encounter with the baker, when Jean rings.

“I’ve dropped him in the garden. In the rhododendrons.”

“Dropped who in the garden?”

“Don’t be foolish.”

Pierre is still holding the knife. The blade is speckled with bits of green. He considers if he has the strength to drive it into the wood of the table that holds the telephone.

“I’m hanging up now,” Jean continues.

“We had a deal.”

“The deal is off.”

Pierre picks up the base of the telephone and backs towards the window facing the street until the wires connecting the phone to the wall go taut.

“Where are you calling from?”

Pierre puts the base of the telephone on the berber carpet. He takes a few more steps to the window before running out of handset cord.

“I’m already home.”

Pierre reaches with his free hand to pull back the lace curtain. There’s Jean at a payphone down the street, chin pointing to his chest, fedora brim obscuring his eyes. The base of the telephone lifts a few inches off the carpet.

“Why the change of heart?” Pierre asks.

“Caroline found him.”

“No she didn’t.”

“God damn, but what if she had?”

Pierre watches Jean dip into a crouch, his knees pressed to his body. Pierre sighs into the receiver.

“Help me pull him in the house.”

“I told you. I’m home.”

“Stand up and tell me that like a man.”

Jean stands up.

“I’m home.”

After a moment Jean’s sheepish gaze wanders in the direction of the flat.

“I have guests coming, Pierre.”

“So do I.”

“Then leave him in the rhododendrons.”

Pierre releases his hold on the handset and it snaps back to the telephone base. He flips the window lock and lifts the pane high enough to stick his upper body into the decaying afternoon light.

“On this day, the third Sunday of July, Deputy Jean Rimbault participated, nay spearheaded a cover up of the death of a distinguished war veteran–”

Jean is now walking briskly down Rue Charlotte to Pierre’s flat, his open palms extended in plea.

“–who dedicated the prime years of his youth to fight in a most honorable war…”

Pierre ducks back inside as Jean slams the windowpane shut.

Jean glances down the street both ways. No one on the block to hear. He rubs his hands together. He looks at the front door of the flat. He knocks.

“Who’s there?” says a muffled Pierre.

“C’est des conneries,” mutters Jean, which translates roughly to “This is bullshit” and is pronounced Say-day-KOHN-ree.

“Go around back to the garden. We’ll lift him through the kitchen window.”

Jean shuffles through the alleyway separating the flat from the neighboring building. It’s a tight fit. He manages to get in a few swift kicks to the red brick of Pierre’s.

The garden is recovering nicely from its annual death. The paper-white candytufts that govern the hard soil from mid-April through May are now joined by yellow snapdragons and the first hints of sweet peas. Pierre will wait another year to try again for sunflowers.

“Hoist him up,” Pierre says, motioning to the rhododendrons from his perch on the kitchen windowsill.

“Can’t you host the party inside?”

“Don’t be barbaric, Jean. It’s July.”

Jean sniffs and reaches an arm deep into the bushes. He finds the man’s leg with his fingertips and shivers. He pulls the leg by the trousers until the man is fully visible, belly up in the three inch grass, cloudy eyes skyward. A few petals from the bush are caught in his belt buckle.

“I wish my daughter had never met him. I tried, you know.”

Jean takes a cigarette holder from his breast pocket. He lights one and holds another to Pierre.

“You’ve practically ruined the rhododendrons,” Pierre says.

Jean nods. He puts the cigarette back in its holder. He puts the holder back in his breast pocket. He takes a drag, a second drag, drops his cigarette in the grass and is gone.

The ice box in the flat’s basement won’t close. The left arm must be folded to fit length-wise in the ice box. When folded, there’s too much height for the lid to shut.

He has already dislocated the elbow. Now Pierre is thinking. The knife is in his hand. The blade is still speckled and wet from the dewy parsley.

Inches above his head, the floorboards creak. Pierre takes a step back from the ice box.

“Jean?”

The creaking moves towards the door at the top of the basement stairs. Pierre looks at the left arm, protruding from the elbow down.

“It’s me, Papa.”

Pierre starts for the stairs.

“I’m coming up.”

“Don’t bother. I need jams from the basement. For the party.”

Pierre transitions to a tip-toe as he climbs the staircase. He carefully slides the lock right as the brass knob begins to turn. She tries twice more as Pierre descends.

“Why is the door locked?”

“Privacy is lost on the young.”

“You called for Jean, Papa. Is he coming to the party?”

Pierre takes the forearm in his hands. He pinches with his thumb and pointer finger until he finds where Daniel’s bones no longer connect.

Pierre is in many ways a confused man. But as the blade slits the ulnar nerve and moves deep into the bicep tendon, he knows he is only protecting his daughter.

“I’ll bring up a few jars for you to choose from, my dear girl.”

There isn’t even blood. It must have all settled in the feet.

 

CHAPTER 6

by Xander Moffet

The sound from above was unquestionably that of a closing door. The question, however, was which door had it been? Had Alyssandra finally left the house? Or had she just moved into another room. The front door must certainly be the heaviest door. Wouldn’t it therefore be the loudest when closing? “Yes,” Pierre thought, “yes it must be the loudest.”

The enthusiasm brought on by this shining moment of deduction was quickly cut short by the realization that Pierre did not really have a noise to compare it to. Yes, the front door was surely louder, but louder than what? Pierre finally settled on the only possible option available. He slowly opened the basement door, gradually poking his head out. He looked around, and stood silently to listen to the rest of the house. He felt comfortable that Alyssandra had in fact left the house.

Pierre walked outside with an uneasy sense of relief. He made his way around to the back yard, ducking under windows as he tried to pass by unseen. He pulled a bundle of sunflowers out from a makeshift hiding place under the back stoop. He quickly snuck back to the front of the house. He took Alyssandra’s bicycle and set the sunflowers delicately in the front basket before struggling to mount the bicycle.

Pierre only made it a minute or so before the difficulty of reaching the pedals proved to be too much of a nuisance. He checked over his shoulder to be sure he was out of view from the house before pulling over on to the gravelly shoulder. He began to fumble with the levers under the seat of the bicycle. Pierre had never welcomed the thought that his daughter had truly outgrown him. He never quite understood, in a biological sense, how one’s offspring could be taller than the person who created them. What accounted for those extra inches? Of course, the answer to this question is what quickly led to an even more unwelcome thought, Pierre’s late wife, Marie. At almost six feet in height, Alyssandra’s mother was clearly the benefactor responsible for those extra inches. In some twisted line of reasoning that Pierre had never quite been able to untangle, he felt this exchange as some sort of posthumous conspiracy, a final affront. The seat lurched down, nearly catching Pierre’s finger.

Traversing the stretch into town, Pierre was left, for the first time all day, without any immediate distractions. Of course there was the weight of the day’s dismemberment but Pierre had already nestled that memory in a fold of his mind containing other similar necessary evils. Of greater concern were all of the complications that the impromptu morning excursion had presented. He began to piece together the events of the day, both the actual events as they had occurred, and also the web of lies and half-truths that seemed to now be spinning itself. He couldn’t help but tremble at the growing number of glaring inconsistencies and gaps in logic. Pierre wouldn’t fully realize until some time later, but his only saving grace was Alyssandra’s innocent anticipation. She was more than willing to look past any inconsistencies or illogical gaps. She welcomed suspicion. Alyssandra loved surprises, why would she want to ruin that with unnecessary inspection and questioning? What Pierre thought of as potential clues to his demise, Alyssandra saw as glimmers of hope for what might be in store.

Pierre dismounted the bicycle and walked it across the street and up to a woodworker’s shop. The display in the window was full of chairs and tables and various other hand crafted objects. He leaned the bike against the front window. He looked down at the sunflowers. He normally wouldn’t consider flowers something worth stealing, but he had already disproved this theory twice today. He took the sunflowers and tucked them under his arm.

As Pierre walked into the store, his face reflected a sunny disposition not dissimilar to the flowers under his arm. Despite everything that had happened, Pierre was sure his gift to Alyssandra could right all wrongs. The moment he had come across the old photograph of Alyssandra’s mother he knew he would have it framed. What he had been less sure of was whether he could trust himself to wait until Alyssandra’s birthday to give her the gift. Although Alyssandra had only had a couple of birthdays before her mother’s death, Pierre was always the one to spoil her with early gifts. Pierre brought the picture to the woodworker a few months in advance on the strict condition that it would not be made available until the day of Alyssandra’s birthday.

The woodworker grinned as he noticed Pierre approaching the counter. “How time passes…” He walked into the back room and came out with the framed picture. Pierre set the sunflowers down and eagerly took the framed picture in his hands. The wood worker watched on thoughtfully as Pierre admired the picture.

There she was. His wife. Alyssandra’s mother. Staring back at him from within the beautiful new wooden frame. Alyssandra’s name and birthday had been carved in flowery script on the bottom of the frame. Pierre imagined this gift somehow making up for the fact that Alyssandra would celebrate yet another birthday without her mother. Somehow having this one moment captured in time was all they would need to–

“Ten francs,” the woodworker said quietly.

Pierre did not appreciation the abrupt end to his reverie. “Excuse me?”

“Ten francs.”

“No…”

“Sir?”

“Five francs. You told me five francs when I brought it in.”

“I’m sorry, it’s ten francs.”

“Sorry? Sorry for what?

“Sorry….that you are mistaken.”

Pierre handed five francs across the counter. “Don’t be sorry.”

The woodworker looked down at the five francs unsatisfied.

“I am not paying ten francs,” said Pierre defiantly.

The woodworker yanked the frame out of Pierre’s reach. “That’s fine. I will keep the frame.” The woodworker made his way into the back room. “I’ll be in until 6. You bring me the other five, then I will give you your picture.” He placed the framed picture in a shelf and walked back to sit down at a small desk.

Pierre looked on with an infuriated desperation. “Seven francs.” Pierre dropped the two francs on the counter. “This is already two more than I owe you.”

“That’s where you are mistaken. It is actually three less than you owe me. As I said before, I’ll be in until 6.”

Pierre stood quietly for a moment. He walked over to the sunflowers, put them under is arm, and proceeded to walk behind the counter and into the back room. He walked up to the shelf and took the picture.

The woodworker jumped up and lunged at Pierre. Pierre turned his body to protect the picture as the woodworker tried to wrestle it away from him. Pierre pulled the sunflowers out from under his arm suddenly and whacked the wood worker across the head with alarming force.

The woodworker instantly stopped his attack and stood for a moment in disbelief.

Pierre whacked him again, further shocking the woodworker. Pierre began to back out of the room and into the store. He held out the sunflowers as one would a sword. The woodworker watched in disbelief before rushing forward with intense ferocity. “Fils de salope!”

Pierre rushed for the door, whacking the wood worker repeatedly with the sunflowers. One particularly harsh blow caused the wood worked to keel over in pain. Pierre took this opportunity to bolt out the door and onto the street, mounting the bike as quickly as possible. He quickly gained distance from the shop and began to pedal even faster when the woodworker eventually stumbled out onto the street.

Pierre eventually settled into a slower speed when he felt more comfortable with the distance between him and the shop. He couldn’t help but smile slightly as he looked down at the framed picture. Any sense of accomplishment quickly drained when he noticed that the sunflowers had also taken a devastatingly severe beating.

Pierre began to look around in desperation and panic. Without the flowers, Alyssandra’s gift was only half complete. Pierre noticed the passing stoops and porches. Many were decorated with some type of flower arrangement. He started turning his head from right to left and back again, frantically searching.

Daisies…

Daisies…

Pansies…

Daisies…

Sunflowers.

Pierre nearly toppled over as he quickly doubled back. He got off the bike and instantly transitioned into what he considered a stealthy position. He slowly approached the porch. Pierre could see there was no one on the porch and, with a new confidence of his cycling skills under pressure, he figured even if anyone were inside they would never make it out in time to catch him.

 

CHAPTER 7

by Adam Piel

INT. DAUGHTER’S HOUSE – DAY

The flowers PLOP into a water-filled vase. Two guests walk through the kitchen and PIERRE (50s, stocky, solid man with leathery skin) smiles curtly at them.

Pierre looks around the kitchen. He worriedly turns his large gold ring around his ring finger, going down a checklist in his mind: gift, cake, flowers. He finally calms, smiles, breathes deeply. Then thinks, turns his ring, frowns.

PIERRE

(calling)

Sweetie…?

INT. ALYSSANDRA’s ROOM – DAY

The door to Alyssandra’s room. A polite KNOCK, then Pierre enters, smiling. His smile disappears.

ALYSSANDRA (20, wiry, a scar above her lip) is pacing, the phone in one hand, receiver in the other. She looks up at Pierre and fakes a quick smile. Her mascara is smudged.

She puts down the phone on a small table, still talking into the receiver she picks up a glass of wine and drinks.

ALYSSANDRA

(into phone)

Well thanks for checking. If you hear anything… Yes… thank you… I know. Goodbye.

PIERRE

Happy birthday, sweetie!

ALYSSANDRA

Have you seen Daniel?

The last traces of joy drain from Pierre’s face. Alyssandra hangs up the phone and puts down the wine.

ALYSSANDRA (CONT’D)

He was supposed to get back seven hours ago.

PIERRE

I…

Alyssandra sits in a chair.

ALYSSANDRA

I’m calling the police.

She picks up the phone again. Fear on Pierre’s face. He lunges for the phone cradle (to hang it up). He knocks the glass of wine off the table, it smashes.

ALYSSANDRA (CONT’D)

PAPA!

She jumps back. Looks – the hem of her dress is stained. Frustrated, she pulls it off revealing a slip beneath.

They stand there looking at each other for a brief moment. Pierre uncomfortable and helpless, Alyssandra incredulous.

She moves, avoiding the spill, pick up the phone again.

PIERRE

You… you shouldn’t ask too many questions so close to your birthday.

She falters, lowers the receiver.

PIERRE (CONT’D)

He’s probably preparing something…

ALYSSANDRA

No.

Pierre is frustrated, and flustered by his daughter’s near nudity. He raises his voice, trying to get control.

PIERRE

(almost yelling)

The important thing is that you have a nice day! It’s all for you.

She drops the phone, walks to the closet.

ALYSSANDRA

No!

She points to a wrapped box.

ALYSSANDRA (CONT’D)

Whatever he got me is right there.

(silence)

I’ve called everyone I can possibly think of… I’m calling the police.

Back to the phone, she dials.

ALYSSANDRA (CONT’D)

If there was any kind of… accident…

That resonates with Pierre; he presses down the phone cradle.

PIERRE

The truth is… the truth is that I do know where he is.

ALYSSANDRA

PAPA!

PIERRE

You were never meant to WORRY so much.

She pulls away, grabs a rag and cleans up the spilled wine, broken glass.

ALYSSANDRA

But… seven hours? Why didn’t he tell me he’d be gone? Why did he promise he’d be back as soon as he was done in the plane?

PIERRE

Look it just came up. A spur of the moment thing. It was… He had to drive to the city.

ALYSSANDRA

What? Why didn’t you tell me? And when did you see him?

PIERRE

(kneels to help her)

He didn’t think…

ALYSSANDRA

Why would he drive to the city? I told him I needed his help today.

PIERRE

He thought you’d understand.

ALYSSANDRA

I don’t- I don’t believe you! I’m calling the police!

She raises the receiver, he grabs it, they fight for it.

ALYSSANDRA (CONT’D)

PAPA!

PIERRE

STOP IT!

ALYSSANDRA

LET GO!

PIERRE

GOD DAMN IT, ALYS-

A knock at the door, they freeze. A COUSIN pokes his head in.

COUSIN

Uncle? The police are here. They are asking for you.

INT. ALYSSANDRA’S HOUSE – DAY

Pierre walks into the living room, his face white. He turns his ring around his finger.

Party guests and family members mill around, speak in hushed tones. Two police officers stand in the living room.

PIERRE

Yes, officers? Can I help you?

OFFICER 1

Monsieur. We were told there was… a problem today at the framing store.

Relief explodes on Pierre’s face.

PIERRE

Oh yes, well I…. Umm.. I don’t plan on pressing any charges. I don’t suppose there are laws against bad service.

OFFICER 1

Monsieur, the charges are against you. I’m afraid you’ll have to come with us.

PIERRE

What!? Absolutely not. I have been an upstanding citizen in this town for decades and a TAX payer.

(looks around for support)

It’s my daughter’s birthday today and I have no intention of leaving even for a minute!

The cops exchange an exasperated glance.

EXT. ALYSSANDRA’S HOUSE – DAY

A man RAUL (early 30s, handsome but disheveled at the moment) hurriedly parks his car and gets out. He’s BREATHING fast.

He wipes the sweat from his forehead with his jacket sleeve as he jogs to the front door.

Just as he gets there it OPENS and the two officers escort a handcuffed Pierre out. Raul is distracted for a moment.

RAUL

Monsieur…?

PIERRE

UGH don’t ask. These two pissants would rather take the side of…

Raul remembers his errand and pushes past them.

RAUL

ALYS!

He comes face to face with Alyssandra. She stands in just her slip, party members around her shocked. She sees Raul’s face, they lock eyes, and she sinks the ground.

RAUL (CONT’D)

This morning… They can’t find the body but… he crashed. He couldn’t have…

She’s devastated. She looks down, looks up with eyes glistening.

Framed in the open door, she sees her handcuffed father, looking back at her with a mix of anger, disappointment and guilt. She realizes he must have known.

ALYSSANDRA

YOU!!

The police drag him away. She sobs, Raul tries to comfort her.

CHAPTER 8

by David Cumming

Should have told you, my dear girl, which is why my heart wore a bit when you ran out in that hell.

A boiling dark sky that seethed like a fish fry. The wind just felt like giving me a bad shave as the ground filled with a flood that’d make Noah shit in his robe.

The radio channel inside the police car cut to static. The officer holding me down there looked up at the field and said that girl better have loved someone enough to be that stupid. I couldn’t even mumble with my teeth cut so deep in the gravel. Then he told me it takes your mind only a few moments to realize that the lightening current is burning through your nerves, but seems like a lifetime of hot hell when it cooks your brain.

I struggled under his knee in my back like a flipped cockroach, because my dear girl, I couldn’t lose you, too.

As the officer took his cuffs out, he told me you might live after the strike, but nature don’t ever let you forget.

A few flashes of white light, and I got an elbow up to his nose, which leaked brown like a rusty pipe. As he covered his face, I crawled to the car door to try and stand. As the officer slithered closer, he grabbed the bad leg, so I jumped and kicked the door back with the other. It flung back toward him, and his head split open instantly.

While he was down, I broke his jaw and told him she’s not stupid and that she’s got every reason to want to die now.

I ran out into the field after you, my dear girl, and my heart wore as my eyes filled with blood and a purple light.

A little drummer boy in my chest as I limped along. My leg slipped in the mud and I fell into a deep wet ditch. There among the mucky trench stood a small turtle taking slow steps to get out of there just as much as I wanted to.

My heart wore a bit at the turtle you took home from the river after your mother and I took you down behind the old barn. You were young and had no impression of the world. Just that it provided mysterious things and ways.

The wind made slashes in the sky. I grabbed what muddy ground I could to crawl out of that ditch.

Another flash and my heart cut open.

Eyes a bloody mess. The world a soppy nightmare. Ahead in the field, I thought you had super powers, you ran so fast for him. I yelled for you, that it was for your own good, for our own good.

A few steps toward the field, and I clenched my heart for my dear girl as the lightening struck me down.

Now I remember. The day you met the boy. When you told me he asked you out to the drive-in, I had jested that I’d sit on the front porch with a shotgun rocking up and down, toe to heel, until the boy arrived and asked for you. The gun was unloaded, of course. Merely for effect — just to get a rise out of him.

But you didn’t like that joke. Heck, I’d never used the gun before. Belonged to my uncle. I kept it locked down in the cellar for him when he went off to World War II, and, well, you remember — he never came back for it.

So I sat there that night rocking for a long while. I knew the boy wouldn’t show. My girl is too good for anyone.

Turned out the boy was in the car about a quarter mile down the road the whole time taping the flower stems together. So nervous that he got ‘em caught in the car door. He spent an hour trying to string the things together with his damn shoelaces.

Well, the first thing I asked him when he saw me rocking there was if I made him nervous. He stood there with his one drooping daisy and said it wasn’t the gun that scared him; it was that the safety lock was off and the chair I was sitting on was made by one of the poorest craftsmen in town. Another rocking, and that chair was sure to bust. I asked him what he knew about rocking chairs. He said that his father was the one who made that particular one — he could tell by the poor detail work on the arms — and that he never made a chair that lasted more than a few years for townsfolk.

The boy stood there as I rocked a few more times and told him that the gun had been unloaded and it was all for a rise. He laughed nervously as I stood up to shake his hand. But just as I put pressure on the armrest, the damn chair went to pieces and the gun fell to the floor and fired a shot on its own that could have started another universe.

From the ground I saw the boy standing there with nothing but the daisy stem in his hand. The shot took the flower clear off, missing his head by a few inches. I stood up and walked to the shell-shocked boy on the stairs. I patted him on the shoulder and told him it was his lucky day.

So I went to the field and picked a few sunflowers for the boy. I handed him the bundle. His sleeves extended to his knuckles — clearly someone else’s suit. I gave him my cufflinks and folded back the cuffs so he didn’t look like a schlep for my dear girl. I looked at him straight for a moment, and made sure he didn’t break eye contact. I patted him on the shoulder and I walked up the steps, telling him to wait inside, that you were almost ready.

And you see, my dear girl, my heart wore a bit when I saw you walk down the stairs that night.

I could smell your mother’s perfume on you as you slid your hands down lightly the banister with grace, just like her. The boy was a beam, so much that my eyes strained for a moment; the purple light stung my mind. I held my head, and you ask me what was wrong, I told you it was nothing —I’m getting to be a tired old man.

I saw you both out of the house and took the gun that was leaning against the doorframe. I locked the front door behind me and walked down to the cellar to return the gun.

My leg was all pins and needles. So I used the gun as a cane and I hobbled down the stairs. I unlatched the cellar under the house and made my way down the stairs through the murky air.

A few steps down and one collapsed under my good leg. Down and down, I tumbled for what might have been forever as the world turned in on itself.

The pain in my heart wore for a long while on the wet ground.

My eyes straining for the light as I saw the small back room where the gun closet was kept.

I inched toward the back room, and my nose stung with familiarity. My elbows became more and more damp as I crawled through the room. With the gun closet in my sight, my arms slid like a bug with plucked wings.

A flash of light, a stinging in my ears. I opened the gun closet.

A river of blood surged out, covering me on the ground. I quickly rubbed my eyes of the blood to see the contents of the closet.

The boy’s limbs were wedged inside.

But these limbs weren’t sliced clean. You see – I make better cuts than these.

I scratched my eyes of the caking blood as the boy’s head rolled out of the closet and tumbled toward my face. His forehead hit my temple, and a scorching pain overcame my skull.

Another torrent of dark red blood flew out of the closet and carried me out the door and back through the cellar. I was flung back up through the hallways of the house and every time I would scream by a room, the door would slam and lock before the bloody parade could reach the entrance.

A final push down toward the window at the end of the hallway where you were there tying your bed sheets in knots and sneaking out the window to meet the boy.

But you disappeared out the window before the flood carried me to you. Just as you were gone, I crashed through the wall and out into the field of sunflowers.

I stood up in the warmth of the flower field.

And I walked for a long, long while to find you.

There was no pain in my walk as the cold evening slowly turned into a red morning. The budding sunflowers grew over me, up into the sky. And all the while my mind felt cool, like the beginning of a rainstorm.

And just then I figured that all of these moments could have happened as the world was turning on me. But then, you see, all of these moments might have not. Sometimes I think happiness is in the remembering and forgetting, over and over again.

But when I recalled our moments, in our time, my dear sweet girl, it made me understand in some way, just before my heart wore a bit more.

Until it ever gave.