Tom Ford, the Girl, and Rejection
by Gary Smothers
part 1 of 2
Tom Ford sat in the lawn chair, the high sun slowly wasting his skin, the beautiful oppressive haze hanging before and above the distant tree line. The nightmare about the creature named Rejection — which his therapist had so aptly dubbed it after analyzing his recurring dream — had awakened him. Awakened him again, as it had done since that first visit one snowy night after a bitter argument with his wife about time spent perfecting his novel.
Rejection, the concept, was nothing new to Tom. His mother, on her death bed, had confessed that her son was a failed back-alley abortion. Tom used to think that was a kind of first success, but lately it just felt like a failure.
Smoke rose from the burn barrel across the lawn, his rejection letters — a boot box full of them disappearing — the failure from his writing. How many more rejections were out there, swirling around in the editorial atmosphere just waiting to find their way home to him?
As a writer he thought, if only for a moment, about the artistic opportunity that burning these letters could symbolize. After his wife, threatening full custody, jetted to Colorado with his son days ago for God knows how long, he’d finally become sickened with rejection. Yesterday, with his therapist, he’d come to realize that all the well-meaning clichés of parenthood had been wrong: it was not just a rough patch, it was not looking up soon enough, it was not the sun coming up tomorrow.
The distant chirr-chirring of cicada music from down by the river crept up the gentle rise of sun-baked earth, rising in intensity like a wave, then its staccato song ebbed away. Despite the scattering of catfish anglers he’d seen earlier trekking along the distant tree line towards the bottoms, their poles tipped high, Tom was all alone out here.
She’d packed her and Scotty’s suitcases in a hurry, saying she’d met a man who didn’t feel the need to spend so much time knitting bullshit yarns with nothing to show for it. He was a coal miner, a man of the earth, she’d said. The best man she’d ever met on the Internet dating site, from across the country no less. And then they’d disappeared out the door, his son’s farewells muffled through the steel. That had been days ago.
The leaves of the trees waxed tantalizing in the distance. He and the boy were supposed to be out on their Sunday morning hike through the bottoms.
At least, he contemplated, he could finally write undisturbed. For a little while. He had wanted to quit writing, for her sake. But he couldn’t. He needed to write, needed to show the world his talent. Someday, she’ll appreciate this when the royalty checks and those writer advance thingies are given.
The peculiar stench of pinkening, heated flesh hovered about him and he knew he should return inside the house. But it somehow felt good to burn. He shut his eyes and lay his head back. Soon, sleep found him and Rejection joined him, smiling like a reverend to the newly converted. A toothy, slack-jawed, enormous mouth reminded Tom of a horse’s maw. He could almost smell the foul breath, see Rejection’s deep-set, introspective eyes staring down at him, feel cooled in the shadow of this seven-foot creature as he stood, envisioned now on the deck beside him.
Maybe he should open his eyes.
Or maybe he should let the bastard kill him, eat him, whatever it chose to do with him. Instead, he did what his therapist had suggested and imagined defeating Rejection.
In the city. An alleyway. The thing stared down at him, glassy eyes widening as it realized what Tom was about to do, that he needed to die like some bovine for a jungle tribe. Suddenly Tom was hacking away with an oversized nightmare cleaver, laughing as the life spurted all about, cursing the beast as he split its face into two even segments. “Die! Die! Die!”
But it was not dead, not yet. Its eyes streamed from their sockets like snakes toward prey, toward Tom, cabled on muscles and tendons and nerves. Staring. Studying.
“Hello?” A sweet, girly voice.
Tom opened his eyes, his vision a sun-riddled blankness. A throat cleared and the voice repeated, “Hello?” The solid outline of a lithe form was taking shape.
“I’m sorry,” Tom replied rubbing his eyes and blinking, color slowly filling in the void. But, when his vision returned well enough, he could not find the speaker. He took a lap around the house, checked behind the fat Blue Spruce, then doubled back to where he’d started, but was unable to locate the her. Gooseflesh popped along his hot, pinkened arms and he returned inside, the cicada rapture seeming to taunt him from their river abode.
After showering, Tom tried to call his wife and Scotty but was unable to reach them. Or she wasn’t answering. He left a message. The abounding silence hung on him like a death sentence; Jesus, he missed the kid. She’d be back and understanding and he’d hug his boy and...
Later, stricken by the quiet and unable to write, he sat applying aloe vera cream to his skin in the dimness of his home. He thought about the sweet voice, imagined the face that could match it, then checked his imagination. She was probably one of those local meth-heads that’d been in the news for robbing the outlying homes and, subsequently, she probably had no teeth and a scabby face.
From his bed he watched an excellent baseball game on television, the ball park lights and beaming faces of fans clattering off the walls. And then the cable went out. He threw the remote at the snow-cast screen, missed, then cursed himself for having to get up and turn the damned thing off. With a sigh, he lay down, the air conditioning unit outside his window humming its promise of comfort. Moonlight filtered in through the rectangular windows situated just below the ceiling like holes punched in the lids of mason jars.
With an alarming clatter, the air conditioning unit sounded into the night, pulling Tom from his bed with a string of curses. Out in the thick night a stagnant odor of ammonia reminding of animal piss stung his nose. Bullfrogs from the river croaked out a maddening chorus. No breeze blew in the trees.
He clicked on the flashlight. Casting the beam about the yard, he went to the air conditioning unit sitting near the deck. The light fell upon the shorn-away grate, two of the three blades sticking up at haphazard angles. “Damn.” He returned inside, locked the door behind him, then peered through the peephole, the yard taking on the nightmarish bends of another reality.
Tom grabbed a baseball bat from the closet — if there were something outside, and it certainly felt as if there was — he’d not go down without a fight. He pulled an old box fan from beneath the bed and plugged it in. The blades spun weakly, picked up some speed, then slowed to a stop. He cursed.
Later, he dreamt again of Rejection, the seven-foot bastard, peeking through his bedroom window. The next thing he knew his dreamed-up self was cleaving the son of a bitch to death. “Die! Die! Die!” The words still echoing in his mind, he awoke with a throbbing erection and went to his PC. He typed the dream, filling in details, giving it a plot. And it was good. Smiling, he printed it.
In the morning Tom climbed from bed and went out to the deck to take breakfast before the heat set in. Briefly, he thought to try calling his wife, but she wouldn’t answer. Why give her the joy of avoiding another of his calls? Today, he would write and, like last night, it would be good.
He took a satisfying sip of coffee, thinking about the dream and the subsequent story he’d hammered out, pondering on the maybe sexy or toothless woman who’d visited yesterday, when his eyes suddenly caught the glint of metal out in the yard near his bedroom window. He rose to his feet, and squinted.
Flies were buzzing at the shine in the grass. Setting his coffee down with a burning spill, he took small steps to the patch of ground. The shorn-away fan blades, smeared in red, lay at his feet. A broken stick with the remnants of lashings lay nearby. Instinctively, he looked at his hands. Dark seams of blood or mud or something were encrusted beneath his fingernails. He sniffed them.
Just beneath his bedroom window lay a massive black stain. He instantly began walking around the house, fully expecting to find a body situated in some haphazard death-throe pose. Finding no corpse at the end of his loop, he retrieved the remnants of the crude weapon and tossed it beneath the deck. The cicada’s chirr-chirring rose then fell, trailing off as if in conspiratorial possession of the details Tom desired.
Tom Ford needled his eyes and grinned. Somehow he knew. He’d killed Rejection. By damn, he had killed the bastard. But where was the body?
He needed to start submitting stories again.
Maybe his wife would answer him now.
The story he’d written, a seeming confession. But is it a crime to slay rejection? Maybe.
He dashed to his room, pulled the story from the printer and changed clothes. He took the “evidence” down to the burn barrel. Maybe he’d rewrite it later, he thought. No loss. Things were going to change, he could feel it.
As he watched the story blacken and fold in upon itself he thought of stories he’d heard about lucid dreams where people accidentally murdered, all the while believing it a harmless nocturnal trip.
But what if he’d slain a burglar? Or a meth-head. Outside of his residence. A sorry excuse for self-defense. He’d have to prove himself innocent and Tom had no desire to mess with that. It would wreck his teaching career. His child would fear him, maybe not overtly so, but in the back of his mind he would know: Daddy killed someone. Or what if it was a night fisherman or a frog gigger, injured and seeking help? After all, he’d aided an outdoorsman with a broken leg once before.
When the story was completely wasted away, he retrieved the weapon from beneath the deck and wrapped the blades in a garbage bag; crime shows had taught him this method. He threw it into the back of the car and headed toward the river.
A slimy mess of perspiration due to the sedan’s broken air conditioner and a depth of fear he’d never felt before glistened his skin and soaked his clothes. He’d roll the windows down, but the electric windows had broken the same day as the AC. He drove seven miles north to a seldom-used bridge in the countryside and tossed the weapon into the muddy, catfish-thick water below.
On the way back home, it felt as if a weight had been lifted from his life, and all the evidence was gone. He had, perhaps, probably, gotten away with killing his personal Rejection. If we can have guardian angels, why not a personal Mess-With-Your-Life Angel?
Maybe now he could become an advice guru, teach millions how to slay rejection in just five easy lessons for three monthly installments of $34.95. Write a self-help book!
Wiping a sheen of sweat from his brow, he turned the radio on.
“It was the Sunday morning churchgoers who first reported seeing the man stumbling and bleeding profusely on the town square. One witness described the man as a ‘white male, abnormally tall, and extremely muscular,’ with — now brace yourselves — what appeared to be ‘a face split in two with one portion in each hand.’ It’s currently unknown if the man is still surviving or hurt somewhere and in need of assistance, as local authorities have been unable to locate the individual last seen near the I-55 East St. Louis exit ramp...”
Tom turned the radio off, pulled over to the side of the road, and leaned out of the car, his stomach retching.
Cool, pungent air suddenly blasted from the air conditioning vents of the car. Tom leaned back into the vehicle, relishing the sudden coolness. Like a shot deer, Rejection had limped off and, finally, he was dead. He’d not killed an innocent. Not at all.
Back at home, he went to the blackened spot of earth and finger dabbed at the soil. Sticky, like the texture of old chewing gum. A pungent acridity tickled into his sinuses. Standing, he took a step back, reveling at the amount of blood loss there’d been, the dark stain stretching roughly in the form of a crucifix.
The police probably wouldn’t give a damn about the score he had with Rejection. They’d probably jail him while their finest investigated. Spitting at the blackened earth, he walked with a purpose to the shed and retrieved a shovel, a garden hoe, and a bag of fertilized grass seed.
Just as the shovel first speared into the drought hardened earth, the sweet voice came to him again. “Got yourself a bad spot, huh?”
He spun to see the speaker. Instantly, she offered a vague familiarity that Tom Ford knew he’d never reclaim, no matter how hard he tried to remember, for this woman offered a beauty unfamiliar to his life and he could not imagine meeting her, much less forgetting her. And yet, somehow, he had. She had a silken head of raven hair with the lightest of freckles dotting her face, an upturned nose. Her eyes were large, green orbs of perfectly shaped happiness that seemed to hold wisdom beyond her years of, perhaps, the mid-twenties. Atop her thin, yet toned legs she wore extremely short, deep blue cut-off jeans, contrasting with her pasty skin like the garnish on a fine cuisine. She was most definitely not a meth-head.
“The grass, a bad spot.” He brought his gaze back to her wise face, her smile not seeming to belie the extent of his gawking. Oh, yes, Rejection was indeed deceased.
“I, uh, spilled a can of oil here earlier in the summer. Just trying to patch it.”
She approached, stopping at the edge of the stain. “Best time of year to plant is right at the end of summer. Fall will be here before you know it. When everything else is dying, plant that grass. Geez, you’re really sun-roasted.”
“Yeah.” Tom smiled weakly, nervous in her sudden approach out here in the middle of nowhere.
“I’m Dolly, by the way. I’s just out for a stroll down that junky old lane of yours.”
“Were you, by chance, out here yesterday? Because...”
“You thought you heard someone say ‘hello’ and then they were gone?”
“That was you! Ah. I don’t mind, but why were you in my back yard? Where’d you go?”
“Oh,” she laughed out. “I was chasing my mutt. It got away from me, I saw you there, and, well, said hello. Sorry if it freaked you out.”
“No, just had me thinking I was crazy or something.” Tom laughed, dropped the shovel, and extended his hand, “Tom Ford. Did you find your dog?” They shook hands.
“Just before nightfall, guess where? Back at home, well, my Auntie’s house in town. She’s sick and I’m homeless, what with my husband recently up and leaving me. Passing on me for his 40-year old secretary... Never mind. I see you’re married. How long?”
They were both rejected.
“Forever.” Tom bent to the shovel. “That’s good you found your pet.” He placed the shovel against the stain and pushed it into the earth. Dolly went to the hoe and picked it up, the rich odor of cinnamon wafting into the air around them. Tom dumped the dry earth onto the ground and she promptly began hoeing.
“Little help, mister? I’m the queen of growing things.”
Tom smiled pleasingly. “Okay.”
Together they turned and minced at the soil exchanging brief bios of their lives, Tom’s taking up the majority of the conversation, Dolly’s end of the discussion focusing on her living for a time in East Saint Louis before coming here to the “quiet.”
“I don’t know you, Tom, but I believe in you. I know you can do it. You can get that novel published. I can sometimes look at people and... just see that they have something special. I can see how hungry, how desperate you are for someone to see you, hear you. I can smell money on your hands, success in your breath.”
“I’m serious. Doesn’t your lovely wife say such things?”
Copyright © 2012 by Gary Smothers