Fiction Break II

A Humid Summer

A short story

©1985 Matthew C. Scheck

Part One: We Meet

You haven’t really experienced the pain of real humidity until you’ve spent a summer in southern Georgia along the Chattahoochee River. I spent three summers there and it got worse for me every year. The more pain it caused me, the more intensely I would fight it. Back then I was angry and intense and scared of my life, so I tried to push myself to insane limits simply because I could and because I was convinced I’d die young like my father, so what the hell, let’s make it happen. My last summer there I ran ten miles every day at four in the afternoon when the humidity was so horrible I could barely breathe after the seventh mile. What made it such a crazy test was that I couldn’t quit because the seventh mile was three-quarters of the way around Lawson Army Airfield at Fort Benning, in the middle of nowhere, and therefore I had no choice but to finish. Few of my friends would make this run and the few who tried hardly came back for a second try.

I met her during one of these crazy runs. Well, I didn’t exactly meet her on this day, since we’d already met informally at work at Martin Army Hospital, where she was a civilian registered nurse on a ward and I was an enlisted Army trooper working in pathology. But we really didn’t know each other than our understanding of our differing roles in the pecking order at the hospital.

I was just a kid, twenty-one, a bright Specialist Fourth Class who had dropped out of his honors program in college and enlisted in the Green Machine, winding up in the Medical Corps at Benning. She was thirty and married to a powerful, up-and-coming West Pointer, a major in the 197th Infantry Brigade at Benning’s Sand Hill. She was certainly the most beautiful woman at the hospital, which I’d noticed every time I saw her. Tall. Lithe. Athletic. Long, shiny, straight brown hair. Amazing blue eyes that made you smile for an hour afterwards even if they were directed at you for a brief moment. We’ll call her Jamie. Jamie McMahon. A University of Maine grad, originally from Bangor, Maine. A lovely singing voice, especially when singing Tears For Fears or Simple Minds songs, her favorite bands that summer. Her rendition of “Mad World” would make you cry.

I learned all this after I met her on that road in the middle of nowhere on one of my suicide runs in the nefarious and painful South Georgia summer humidity of 1984.

I’d tripped on a pothole and sprained my ankle, and right about when that happened she drove by in her convertible. And wouldn’t you know it I was injured and she was a nurse. So of course she stopped. My heroine, Jamie McMahon, RN. And wouldn’t you know it she’d just had a horrible fight with her horrible husband, who smacked her face and left her injured too. It was fate we became lovers. A magical, painful, humid fate.

“Hey, are you okay, Vampire?” she called out as she braked hard to a rather violent stop in front of me. She called me “Vampire” or “Dracula” because one of my duties was as a phlebotomist, so I was frequently on her ward drawing blood from her patients, and on one of these ward rounds she started calling me these silly nicknames. I didn’t mind her calling me them because she looked magnificent in her tight hospital whites. However, just because we playfully flirted on my ward rounds, I never considered having a chance with this upper-class, beautiful, magnificent, very married woman. She was far above my lowly station.

And then I tripped that day in the middle of nowhere in that god-awful humidity and there she was.

“My ankle is blown,” I replied. I was sitting on the side of road in obvious pain, covered in sweat, smelling like ass, and yet bemused she just happened upon me in the perfect time of need.

“Can you walk?”

“Hardly.”

“Can I give you a ride?”

“My hero! Yes!”

She got out of her car and went to her trunk, from which she got her first aid kit, from which she got out a chemical ice bag, with which she smacked to activate, then taped it to my ankle. “It’s not too bad, it looks like you’ve sprained it before, eh?” She said as she stood up.

“Wow, who gave you that shiner?” I asked as she put her arm around me and helped me hobble to her car.

“My beloved husband,” she sneered as she helped ease me into her passenger seat. Then she got in the driver’s seat and sat silently for a few minutes.

“I’m sorry. You need this more than I do,” I said as I took the ice bag off my ankle and gently held it to her swollen eye. She didn’t resist.

“C’est la vie,” she whispered.

I couldn’t stop looking at her during that silence. My ankle wasn’t the only throbbing extremity on my body as I leered at her in her snug Dolfin running shorts, white t-shirt, and flip-flops. I was six two and she was nearly six even; I loved tall women above all else. I stared at her the entire time she sat there without speaking. It was very quiet in the middle of nowhere. We were both beautiful and in pain. The rest just happened.

Suddenly, abruptly, she pushed the ice bag and my hand away, started the car, and looked at me earnestly. “You want to get a couple of beers and some raw oysters with me, Dracula?” she asked as we drove away. “I’m not going home and I don’t have any friends here and you’re really cute and a great guy and I like you.”

“Yeah…sure,” I mumbled.

And that’s how we became lovers. We went to Mick’s Shack on Highway 431 across the border in Alabama, where we got raw shucked oysters on the shell and drank many beers. Then we went to a dreadful motel in Phenix City, Alabama and made love until the next morning. Just like that. No awkward first date or cute meet. We just happened to be in the exact spot when we both needed each other, and from that moment forward we were inseparable.

In fact she was the love of my life. And my biggest tragedy.

Up next: Part Two: A Major Snag

Fiction Break

Suicide Requiem

A short story

©1988 Matthew C. Scheck

I had that goddamned dream again. You’re standing on the edge of a cliff looking back at me. “Catch me, you coward!” you scream. Then you jump.

It’s obvious I’m too far away to grab you before you fall, so when you implore me to catch you, what do you really mean? Do you want me to jump after you so I can catch up to you? I was never your hero so I assume you wanted me to suffer your fate too.

I can hear you call me a coward again as you vanish into the unknown; you know I won’t follow you into the abyss, ever.

I run to the edge: Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck! But you’ve vanished.

Once again you torture me. Seventeen years of this, goddamn you. It hasn’t been easy maintaining a normal life with your fucking voice screaming in my head all the time. Twice I cracked and everything fell apart. Twice I had breakdowns like a whimpering child; I am sure you enjoyed watching me crash and burn both times; how you cackled with glee as my shaking hand reached for my bottle of Ativan and I popped several of them until I passed out. But both breakdowns were long ago. Now I merely suffer in silence. Age brings wisdom and wisdom means coping without breaking. That which does not kill me makes me stronger; you’re a cruel cunt for teaching me this lesson the way you did.

You were the coward, Petra Stein; you killed yourself and blamed me. I was an untrustworthy prick and a cheating asshole, sure, but I wasn’t worth your life. What a shitty trade you made. Worse: I would never kill myself over you. And I loved you more than anyone in this entire world. Did it occur to you I was unworthy of your self-sacrifice?

So do I have to spend eternity apologizing for your self-destruction?

Did it ever occur to you I hated myself and loved you, but hating myself made it impossible to love anyone very well? My hating myself led me into the arms of others; my hating myself destroyed your love for me; my hating myself certainly wasn’t your problem, and your solution sucked ass; you correctly blamed me but punished yourself, you idiot. Leaving me wasn’t enough; you had to punish me by leaving everyone. You were supposed to be the strong one, you coward.

And always in my head I hear you sing that miserable Talk Talk song, “Talk Talk,” like you’re serenading me from hell; it’s your suicide requiem:

Well did I tell you before
When I was up
Anxiety was bringing me down
I’m tired of listening to you
Talking in rhymes
Twisting ‘round to make me think
You’re straight down the line

All you do to me is talk talk
Talk talk talk talk
All you do to me is talk talk
Talk talk talk talk
All you do to me is talk talk.

How ironic that your suicide requiem was the song playing when I first saw you; what a harbinger of doom, that song. When I first saw you the club was packed and yet I could only see you on the dance floor, long, flowing red hair, pale skin, blue eyes, full red lips, freckles, perfect body; you looked so fierce, passionate, and intense; my Teutonic tiger. You were hottest piece of ass within 1000 kilometers and everyone knew it, especially me.

Self-hating coward that I was, I couldn’t just walk up to you and introduce myself, even though you looked right at me and beckoned me with your sparkling eyes; no, I just stood there hyperventilating and convinced myself that there’s no way this goddess wants me nearly as much as I want her. How many times had my cowardice denied me love? Would my courage fail me again?

Then you walked up behind me and pinched my butt. Your fingernails dug into my ass cheeks until I looked into your eyes; even a fool like me could take a hint. You smiled; I nearly fainted. We realized right away neither of us spoke the other’s language well enough to communicate, yet it didn’t matter—we communicated with lust and touching and the anxiety of knowing now was not soon enough for both of us. I was so in love with you the moment I met you that I had a horrific panic attack; I panicked because I realized how empty my life would be if I couldn’t have you. I had to have you.

And had you I did—for a while. And in that while, we had a torrid love affair. We were two young, beautiful, absolutely hot beings; when you touched me I felt as if I was being electrocuted.

And then one night you saw me walking out of the Kino with another girl.

You never asked me why I cheated; you just blamed yourself and punished me by denying me the chance for your forgiveness. I remember your Aunt Claudia warning me that you loved me too much and I must be careful; I never imagined she meant that much.

You made your decision without consulting anyone; boy were we all surprised when you killed yourself! Not only that, but your family wouldn’t let me anywhere near your funeral; I might as well have slashed your fucking wrists, they blamed me so much. You were dead and the dead make lousy villains. So naturally I became their villain. I let them blame me because I blamed myself.

Seventeen years have passed. You’d be thirty-five now; you’d be Frau Petra, your boobs would sag a little, and there’d be lines on your beautiful face, and yet I’m sure you’d still be the hottest piece of ass within 1000 kilometers. Our kids would be bilingual wunderkinden. You’d be a doctor just like your parents. You’d never miss Germany because you always wanted to live in America. You’d be here to love me and protect me from myself.

But you’re not here. I don’t even have photographs of you; someone I dated after you died burned them because she hated competing with your memory. It didn’t matter; she lost to you anyhow. When she left me she wrote “Fuck you and fuck that dead Kraut bitch” on my bedroom wall with a magic marker.

Seventeen years.

You made it clear you’d never forgive me the moment you opened your arteries with a #10 surgical scalpel blade. What a melodramatic little ceremony, your suicide; you waited for your parents to leave for their shift at the Krankenhaus; then you filled the bathroom with dozens of lit candles like a Catholic alter during Easter; you filled the tub with hot water and bubble bath like we used to do when we bathed each other and then fucked; “Talk Talk”—your goodbye note to me—was playing on your tape deck; a framed black-and-white photograph of me in my Army uniform was perched on the sink so you could look at me as you mutilated your arms and then slowly bled to death. How clinical; how dramatic; you stupid fucking cunt.

Your family never spoke to me afterwards, so your best friend, Heike, related all the gruesome details about a year later when we ran into each other by chance in Saarbrücken at Club Gloria. Her grief over your suicide equaled mine, and we hated you so much for what you’d done that we fucked all night in your memory. In the morning Heike cried and left without saying goodbye. Did she cry out of guilt or because I called her Petra while I fucked her?

You knew I’d never love anyone ever again; you knew they’d all be mediocre compared to you; you knew I’d never let go of you; you knew I’d fall apart; you knew I’d hear your voice for eternity; you knew the emptiness I’d face without you. What were you thinking as you sat in that tub full of bubbles, bleeding profusely? Was I worth dying over?

Guess what? You killed me too, you hacked my wrists that night with that scalpel—I’m just taking longer to bleed to death than you.

See you in hell. I hate you, Petra Stein.