Over at We Drink Because We’re Poets, I hosted another Seven Day Story Challenge. In short, write a story in seven days, writing every day. Each day, a random word selected and posted that must be used in that day’s writing. The words were: simpleton, richweed, bobbysocks, judder, extra sensory, hierarchy, and albescence. Different forms of the words could be used.
Here’s my result. I started with an idea that wasn’t the same as what I ended with, which is the beauty of a challenge like this. Each day’s effort is just enough to carry the story a step or two, but not enough to plot the story out entirely. If that makes any sense. I did not know until the sixth or seventh paragraph, which was into the third day of writing, where this was really headed. And even with that, due to the daily word, each day still held surprises.
People might say that I am an angry man. They would be wrong. It is not anger that drives me. If it were my heart would be black. My soul even darker. I would be incapable of love and desire. Angry? Not I. Can I help it if I occasionally lash out with venom-laced words? If it is at times easier to choose the mad course rather than the tolerant course. I love you.
People may believe that I am a pessimist. They would be wrong. I do not believe the glass is half empty. At least not the glass that represents my future. My situation suggests otherwise. I should have given up a long time ago. That glass is full to the brim. It is overflowing. Can I help it if the glass started empty and that it has been a struggle to fill it, even to half, drop by drop. I am filled with hope even from where I sit.
People at times call me a simpleton. What do they know? Simple to them may be complex to me. Don’t we all have different calculations of simple and complex? You may think it odd that I can’t change a tire. Simple to you is, well, not actually complex to me. It’s just not interesting. It’s not a challenge. What I enjoy is what I do, not what you do.
People look at me and shake their heads. They “tsk, tsk” and keep their distance. Why should they? I wonder. I am no threat to them. I … am … not … an … angry … man. I am no more capable of harming them then they are of me. They walk by, nonetheless, along the opposite side of the hall, peering at me as though I were a museum exhibit. Every now and then, I glare back and flex my muscles and giggle as they scurry along.
People ask how I could have done it. How could I not? The man had disrespected me. He deserved it. Tomas was his name. He laughed at my woman. So I slapped him and while he was reeling, I picked up a handful of richweed growing along the side of the road and crammed it into his open mouth. I turned my back on him. How was I to know he would choke on it? And die.
People give me nicknames. Papa called me Taz like the Looney Tunes character because I never stopped moving. Mama never called me nothing since she left before my first birthday. Here they call me the Jammer because of how that man died. I’ll tell you a secret. Tomas wasn’t the only one.
People don’t know my history. Yeah, I’m serving time for Tomas. The D.A. talked of a death sentence but he didn’t go there. Death for killing a man with richweed? Not likely. He coulda if he knew about the other one. The girl I caught and killed, jamming her bobbysocks down her throat to stop her screaming. Chloe was her name. I was gonna do stuff to her but she died too quickly. I … am … the Jammer. They just don’t know the truth of it.
Here’s what I think. You don’t know me. Understand me. There are these moments when things slow down. The wind stops. People speak but I don’t hear them, their lips still flapping, hands gesturing in super slo-mo. I cannot be reached then. My brain feels all loose in my skull. And I react.
Here’s what happened with Tomas. He said hateful words, “who’s the whore you with?” My lady patted me on the arm and tried to turn me to go, but I felt none of it. I just heard those words over and over, echoing in my head making the gray matter all juddery. When it stopped quivering, when the world returned to normal speed, he lay on the ground in front of me doing his own little juddery dance. His body convulsed, his eyes bulged as he tried to spit the richweed from his mouth. My lady grabbed me then and pulled me away. And we ran. I killed the man without even knowing it.
Here’s another thing. A bar of soap can kill a man, too. That’s why I’m in this cell now. I went all juddery again. It’s like I … well, it’s like an extrasensory, out-of body, out-of-mind experience. All I could hear was the shower running. All I could feel was the cold tile floor. All I knew was that when I stopped juddering the man lay in the streaming water with a bar of soap jammed in his mouth. He was past gagging. He was past dead. The water streamed down his still face, stretched in agony, rivulets running this way and that. The smell of Dial on my hands.
Here’s why I’m where I am. I stood there until they came for me. Now I’m isolated. At the far end of a cell block. Laughing and crying. Babbling and ranting. Shuddering and juddering. When I judder now, there’s nothing for me to do but … I scratch my arms until they bleed. I try to squeeze my head through the bars. I … hurt … myself. Until I judder-on down. I know why they walk on by. They hope in their silent stares, their fearful glares, their feigned disinterest that I’ll jam myself. I won’t.
There will be a time when I’ll be free again. They can only do so much to me. Make me serve so much time. Richweed got me a veritable slap on the wrist. Heat of the moment, you know. The D.A. talked tough, but he got nothing. And I got a maximum of ten. Out in eight with good behavior. Only a few more to go.
There is that wrinkle. The man in the shower. His name was Arthur. People called him Artie the Accountant because he was a skinny white boy with glasses and greased back hair. He looked at me kinda funny. I don’t like none of that funny stuff. And then he was dead. I had soap on my hands.
There is this hierarchy to these things. Kill a man out in the world and they talk of death. When a man dies in prison, there’s a whole lot less caring. A whole lot less effort to prove it up. Soap on my hands. Well, hell yeah, I was taking a shower. They knew though. Or thought I knew. Something. That I refused to spill. I remained mum no matter their promises. Their threats. Artie the Accountant was dead. Did it matter by who?
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I am a man of love, not of anger. I am no simpleton just because I won’t speak to you. Just because when I do, I speak slowly and of things that you cannot comprehend. Like what it feels like when the world slows down and you can see your breath escape your mouth in the smallest of particles. When the world becomes albescent, like you’re surrounded by this massive blank slate and all you have to do is begin writing on it and everything … could change.
That’s my story and you can’t challenge it. I’ve told you what you need to know. I got a mind that gets juddery. Three people dead. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe there’s more. Maybe I killed my Papa. But you don’t need to know. Maybe I killed a two-bit whore who tried to rip me off, jamming the money down her throat. That would be too easy. I don’t go for easy. I go for richweed and bobbysocks and a bar of soap.
That’s my story. They call me the Jammer. My future is bright. Got a couple more years here and then I’ll be there. There’s a cup of something that’s rising to the brim. I’d like to share. I love you.