The Last Days of Autumn-page-001

 

An estimated 2% of the world’s population have been classified as psychopaths.

But 2% of the world’s population also have green eyes. That’s almost 140 million people.
Laura imagined there must be certain degrees of psychopathy, just as there were a wide range of greens. Charteuse, lime, seaweed; fickle, liar, narcissistic. She wasn’t quite sure if she fell toward the shallow or deep end. Psychology was confusing, a twisty road made of “buts” and “ifs”. A field of study as stable as a politician’s promise, when a person was found wading in the sea of the deranged that didn’t fall into a preexisting category, they just slapped a new name on it.

“What makes you think he’s crazy?”

“I didn’t say crazy.”

“Okay. A sociopath then.”

“I didn’t say that either. Psychopath.” Sara took a sip of her energy drink, and Laura told herself a lie; that it was actually window cleaner sloshing within that plastic bottle. Such a vibrant blue had to warrant an electric poison. Fleeting fantasy enthralling her, she crossed her arms, waiting.

“He’s apologizing on the phone.” Sara explained. “But he doesn’t mean it. His tone is heavy, which, you know, makes sense for the listener. But his eyes are smiling.”

It was through a glass window that Sara lived her life, watching people as a mind-musing, meticulous endeavor rather than a carefree hobby. Laura had yet to find a new pastime, had yet to discover a delightful, meaningful way to spend an afternoon.

Accompanying Sara was enough, for now.

Laura rubbed her brow, as though to ward off a headache. “Yeah, good one.”

The short man, nearly half of Laura’s size, muttered into his phone under a tree’s shade, browsing through a leather wallet with a flick of his thumb. Shoulders were hunched, his off-the-peg suit stained on its trousers ends, prominent lines engraved on his forehead.

She looked away.

In the limbo of holidays between Halloween and all the others, Laura tugged at her scarf; it more fashionable than functional. Copper leaves and a wintering breeze made for festive traffic, the sidewalk wide enough for street venders, spontaneous group photos, and for two women to talk amongst themselves on a stiff bench.

Sara scooted a bit closer to Laura to avoid a camera’s flash, scowling as she tried to evade becoming the background of a photo. “Why isn’t anyone at work?”

“Same reason you aren’t.” There was an abundance of kids about, but far less watchful parents. Laura eyed Sara’s son close by, lingering by the desolate ice cream vendor hoping for a free treat.

“It’s Tuesday. People don’t take vacation days on Tuesdays.”

Laura turned to face her, wondering if she had understood her own logic. But beyond Sara’s riot of blond curls, a bus had just swerved sharply a few blocks away. It drove with a sort of confidence young motorists had on an empty highway. But this was the heart of Chicago, near the entrance of its largest park.

The bus abruptly stopped then. The driver was just a bit inexperienced.

“So, what’s going on with that doctor at work? You like him?” Sara wanted to ask this for a while, Laura could tell by her pitch alone. Or maybe it was her scrubs that reminded Sara she on a lunch break. Did she look eager to leave? Laura squinted, trying to will away any enthusiasm.

“He seems nice.” Well, more than nice. Dr. O’Grady was tall, dark and had a condition called hemophilia.

“Just nice?” Sara laughed, snorting. “You’re twenty-eight, Laura. Beggars, you know…they can’t choose too.”

“How’s work?” Laura leaned against the bench’s hard back, head coming to rest on the edge. Trees and their remaining leaves swayed above her. There was an old black woman walking under a stone bridge, an equally old cane in her hand which resembled something more like a spider. Two women walked side by side to the left, not wearing sports bras beneath their spandex, nor wedding bands on chilled fingers. The wind whistled a tune against Laura’s ear, and she could feel her yellow strands of hair blowing like wheat straws. Sara crafted a text message on her phone.

“I took a day off. That should tell you.”

“No leads?”

There was a period of silence with which Sara tucked her phone away, postponing any sort of response. Laura bathed in such sweet denial, glancing to her side as a couple strolled by a large fountain. They spoke softly to one another, fingers intertwined, admiring the rusted metal as they tossed a coin. The crumbling structure had been dedicated to some old Chicago corpse, the plague bolted to it stating the fact a tad more eloquently. Laura recalled making her own sign just last month, and dumping a few liters of fresh blood, still nearly warm, into the water. It was diluted the next day, so weakened in fact, officials thought it to be a Halloween hoax carried out by teenagers. The water was never tested, only cleaned.

“The guy’s good.” Sara sighed. “He’s stupid, and senseless, but he’s good.” The woman didn’t see the sudden glare in Laura’s eyes before she bolted upright again. A few pigeons suddenly ambushed discarded fries nearby.

“He isn’t good. It doesn’t take a genius to stab someone.” A gentleman named Michael Bliss had been arrested on that logic alone. When John When Wayne Gacy was caught in 1978, he insisted that twelve people had keys to his house and buried the bodies in the crawl space while he was traveling on business. Inspired, Laura did just that to Mr. Bliss a few years ago, the body count much lower. The officials acquitted him due to a technicality, to her dismay.

“Shush” Sara’s head jerked in Steven’s direction. “I don’t want to talk about work around him.”

“I’m just saying most killers are caught through carelessness. Not…” She couldn’t help but smile, the idea ridiculous, “…brilliant police investigation.”

The underlying priority of the news, the papers, was to make criminals into cunning, meticulous masterminds because the police wanted to make crooks look that way. Law enforcers didn’t want to look bad if they couldn’t catch them.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Sara’s eyes hardened and she looked away, back at Steven. Laura did so too, but her eyes landed on another child.

He was a short thing, and fat. He chased after some friends with a small basket of fries in his hand. The little boy was running toward the women, toward the curb and the hard cement of the busy road.

Laura’s ears tuned in to the roar of the impending bus. She felt the stars aligning, time slowing. It would be a masterpiece of perfect timing, the kind of challenge only God could conduct to see it work. The kid waddled fast. The bus bellowed.

Sara would feel guilt, that was certain. She’d run toward the child in her lounge clothes, instinctively reaching for her badge or belt, coming up empty handed. She would try to resuscitate the boy, scared and crying and bleeding on the road and not understanding why he couldn’t move.

Steven, from his vantage point, would see everything. He was a tough kid, but Sara would take him to a therapist after a few weeks of solitary behavior and a change in personality. Hard not to change when witnessing a human getting thrown like a bag of sand.

There’d be some screams from all around, a frantic mother in denial and delirious, gathering her son’s thrown shoes or trying to reset the bones.

And Laura would watch all that happen, and maybe she’d just be curious if the pigeons would come back for more fallen fries.

She stretched out her legs languidly. The bus and the child’s collision approached. Just a few feet away…

Her foot arched up. The child fell flat on his pudgy nose, and the fries scattered on the sidewalk. The bus zoomed by, a nearby cyclist shouted something obscured by traffic.

“Oh, whoa, hey, hey, it’s okay!”

Sara leaped from her seat, giving Laura a passing look to help, and she bent over and picked the boy back up. His nose was bleeding, mixing with the rapid ascension of tears staining his face. “Hey there, you’re all right. It’s okay. Let me clean you up, bud.”

Sara claimed she was uncomfortable with children that weren’t her own, but Laura knew that to be a lie. In fact, Laura thought herself the one who never connected with kids until they were old enough to start acting like human beings. Anything before a toddler and they were like dolls to her. Steven was probably the exception, the only one she couldn’t get enough of. Others were just boring.

A jogger stopped nearby, waiting as his dog leaned against a tree. The steaming rivulet of piss swept into a breeze that reminded Laura Autumn was ending. Soon biking trails would be desolate, parks would empty, and the exchange of her flattering athletic wear for a gym-approved bathing suit was inevitable.

“Zach? Zach!” A woman shouted little ways away. Something electric ran through Laura as the breeze weakened. A cold shiver made her eyes flick to the concerned woman. She had left a circle of young women who couldn’t be older than their mid twenties, the flow of mindless conversation stopping. The woman jogged over to the developing scene, and Laura stared. Her jeans were dark and thin glasses rested on a small nose. She had the whitest teeth, like pearls framed by Aphrodite’s own lips. No doubt her beauty was something a historian would find in an ancient Greek epic poem. The woman, the mother, swept passed Laura, looking back at her and how she was just sitting there, complacent. The woman swallowed whatever words she was going to say and looked elsewhere.

Maybe in another life, Laura would have felt that warmth overcome her and be able to label it as heartfelt attraction. But there were too many hopeless romantics in the world, too many snowflakes insisting they were unique. Laura kept staring at the woman, her own plain looks blending into the throng of park goers.

“Zach, what did you do?” Both Sara and the woman patted the crying boy down, brushing dirt off his scraped jeans. A quick reach into a purse drew out a rumbled tissue, and she did what she could about the blood dribbling into his open mouth. It did little to smother the whines. When Sara’s subtle glare went ignored by Laura, she murmured to the mother that the boy had caught his foot while running.

Laura tried to calm down. Hands fell into her lap, pinching the fabric of her clothes to ground herself.

“Thank you so much. Really, uh-”

“It’s Sara.”

Laura’s neck began to hurt from looking down at the scene, so she chanced a glance at Steven instead, the little devil still pestering the ice-cream man for a free sample, oblivious.

“Thank you, Sara. I’m Autumn. I think Zachary here is done for the day. You wanna go home, buddy?”

“I want my mom.” The boy spoke through tears, his plea garbled.

“Oh, shh, we’re heading home, okay?”

“You’re not his mother?” Laura spoke up for the first time.

She laughed to disguise the struggle of picking up the boy. “His aunt. Hi.”

There came a day in every woman’s life when she would wake up, go about her day, and realize she doesn’t turn heads anymore. Unlike Laura, that day had yet to come for this woman. In fact, Laura wondered if that day would ever come for her. It wouldn’t now, of course. So, Laura lifted herself from the bench, walked just a short step, and extended a soft hand. Introducing herself to her new pastime, she smiled as she had practiced many times in the mirror. Smile number two: warm and welcoming. “Hi, Autumn. I’m Laura.”

Everyone liked to break rules.

Most just dipped their big toe into the sea of lawlessness. Maybe they never returned that rented movie, maybe they tell their boss they’re sick when catching a game, or, like Sara, they drive over the speed limit. And some people step further into the dark waters, letting their feet submerge for a short while before it gets too cold. They let their anger get the best of them, commit petty crimes and feel like scum behind bars. And then the marginal of people, the 2%, they swim all the way out into the sea. They swim out without an anchor, without knowing the way back to shore. 2% were a lot of people who swam out into the deep end, but every single one who did so loved it.

 

Published in 2015, Writers’ Cove

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