Mad Man

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“To lose one’s mind is a terrible thing, but it is at least a thing.”

Junior Kane, a retired mail carrier, barbershop quartet member, Pee Wee football coach, and amateur coin collector, sat at his dining room table, running his favorite knife repeatedly over a whetstone, thinking, “I wonder what it’s going to feel like, after all these years, to actually stick this into the belly of Mr. Paul Cobb.” He had been at this task for some 20 minutes, working the knife at various angles, sometimes imagining himself a master craftsman, plying his trade in front of an admiring throng.

Except that there was no admiring throng. The only other person in the house, Junior’s wife, sat in the next room, watching Lawrence Welk while she folded laundry on the couch. Judy Kane, head of Ladies Aid Circle Four at the Coster Lane Presbyterian Church, record-holding stump cover knitter of all the Ladies Aid Circles at the church. The record was safe, as there were no more stump covers being knitted, and the Ladies Aid Circles had been whittled down to one combined Circle with a paltry membership of three remaining ladies… Judy, Pam Thrasher, and Nora Murray. Judy was the only one of the three who wasn’t widowed.

Somewhere in the basement of the Coster Lane Presbyterian Church was a large box of leftover materials from the stump cover knitting contests. Yard upon yard of yarn, in various colors, tangled up in misshapen globes, stuffed down and covered with odds and ends of pamphlets and song sheets and knitting needles. Even a box of crayons had joined the sundry collection after a little boy from Vacation Bible School had been ordered to clean up his crayons. Not knowing where he had gotten them, or where they belonged, he had stuffed them carelessly into the same box.

Had Judy thought about it, she wouldn’t have been able to remember where the box was. With a few more passing years of age, she wouldn’t be able to remember the box even existed. Someday, even the once throbbing exultation at being the Stump Cover Queen would flicker to a mere ashen spark, and then die. Then, too, she would die, and whether before or after Junior, she didn’t want to think about.

For his part, Junior was prepared to die, but only if it coincided with his taking the life of Paul Cobb that very night.

“Mother, I’m going out!” At what point, over the passage of 56 years of marriage, his moniker for Judy had turned into “Mother” was lost to time.

“Oh? Where to?”

Junior didn’t answer. He fished his handkerchief from his shirt pocket and spread it out on the table. He lay the knife upon the open cloth and folded it carefully within.

“Just out,” he said more quietly. “Unfinished business.”

Judy didn’t hear his reply. She knew by the progress of her TV show how late it was.

“It’s too, late, Junior! Whatever it is can wait till tomorrow!”

Junior scoffed to himself, “This can’t wait. I’ve waited long enough.” He patted the finished fold with his hand, “Long enough.”

He slid the covered knife up his sleeve and held his arm out to see how it felt. The knife, concealed but heavy, hung awkwardly down, like a sagging muscle. He didn’t like it.

He pulled it back out and rearranged it in the handkerchief. He thought hard about where to hide it. He tried to tuck it into his sock. He stuck it into his shirt pocket. He tried placing it on top of his head under his ball cap. The handkerchief came loose again.

“Dammit.” Junior plunked the knife back onto the table in front of him. “Damn Paul Cobb and everyone of his damn kin. Dammit all to…”

“Junior!” Judy walked in on him during a commercial break.

“Junior, what are you doing? You tell me this instant! And put that knife away before you cut yourself!” She walked past him to the sink.

Junior puffed out his chest and slapped his hands on the table, his elbows flared out at 90-degree angles.

“What am I doin’? I’m gonna go kill Mr. Paul Cobb, that’s what I’m doin’. And I’m gonna go do it tonight! You can’t stop me, Mother!”

“Junior, I don’t know what to do with…”

“Don’t try and stop me, I said. I ain’t gonna hear it!”

Judy sighed and let her shoulders slump. Her face softened, but Junior didn’t notice.

“That man stole my life, dammit, and he’s gonna pay! Him up there in the bank, just sittin’ in his big wood-paneled office, lookin’ over his important papers!”

Judy pulled out a chair and sat down beside him.

Junior continued, his face screwing up into a knot, “… lookin’ over his important papers, countin’ his damn money, and some of mine too, probably, while I’m out there bustin’ my tail drivin’ all over creation just so’s he can get his damn important papers in the first place! I carry the mail! That shoulda been me up there!” Junior banged his fist on the table.

“I know.”

“It shoulda been!” Junior looked at her, his overgrown eyebrows drawn down tight, his bottom jaw jutted out, a grizzled anvil. Judy reached over and grabbed his hand. Junior shook his head back and forth, defiant.

“That bastard ever say anything to you about it?”

“No, Junior, he never talks to me.”

“Well, he better just keep himself to himself! That’s all I got to say…” Junior let his elbows swing in to his side.

“Junior…” Judy stroked his hand gently. He stared straight ahead, his chest moving in and out quickly. His jaw retreated.

“Junior…”

In the next room, the soft tenor melody of “Moon River” started up on the TV, the orchestra’s notes floating in, wafting around the couple.

“Junior, can I read you something, honey?”

“What is it?”

“Put the knife away, and I’ll read you something.”

Junior hesitated, looked at Judy, and then down at the knife in front of him. “I guess…” He reached up and rubbed at a tear with his free hand.

Without getting up, Judy reached over to the top of the credenza and retrieved a framed newspaper obituary.

“Here it is, Junior… dated May 4th, seven years ago. Now listen: ‘Mr. Paul C. Cobb died peacefully in his sleep at home, Friday evening, May 1st, surrounded by family…'”

“Moon River” played on, and Junior sighed as Judy continued reading, finally letting his shoulders relax. He hung his head.

When finished reading, Judy asked, “Do you remember?”

Junior nodded slightly, a fearful look coming over him.

Judy replaced the obituary on the credenza and leaned over and hugged her husband.

 – Originally published in Word Gathering as “Mr. Kane’s Diversion” by John Bach

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One Response to Mad Man

  1. OmahaNews.com says:

    “Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you’ll be a mile away and have his shoes.”

    – Steve Martin

    Like

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