Marty shows up to my apartment with a knife and tells me we should move into one of the model homes we had jobs cleaning until yesterday. I try to brush him off like I’m playing safe blackjack, but he was a Green Beret and I was fourth chair clarinet in my high school band.
Marty puts the knife in my hand. “A serrated blade is faster, but a smooth blade is cleaner,” he says. “What it comes down to is deciding if you want someone to feel it when they die.”
That night, we move in. Marty actually hates the homes but I love the consistency, how each one is the same until it has anything to do with anyone.
My girlfriend Quinn is ready to live together and have kids and get married whenever I am. This is backseat driving without a car.
I call her from the model home and lie about a three-week temp job at a ranch up north, one of those towns with a tongue-exercise for a name. She talks with most of a fake pearl necklace in her mouth, asks, “Do you need me to watch your apartment while you’re gone?”
“I don’t have anything that needs watching,” I say.
She calls me later that night as she’s running water at my apartment, making sure the pipes, like anything else left alone, don’t turn to rust.
Our old boss is Lydia, a name I think sounds like a tongue disease. After she fired me she said, “You have so much potential. You could get a job detailing cars. Anything.” What she meant was No one will loan you $20.
“I hope two trains derail at the same time and land on either one of her feet,” I tell Marty, storm into the living room, pick up the big cardboard plasma screen TV display with one hand and throw it on the ground.
He says, “Someone has to clean that mess up, you know,” picks the TV up and bends the edges back to perfect.
Marty spends the majority of his days doing circuit training. It’s what he did when he was Army Special Forces. He goes for hours doing the kind of squats that make me feel like a rug-burn when I see them.
I eat a cheese stick and tell him. “You can’t win exercising.”
“This is what I did to survive,” he says. “Winning came after I made sure I wasn’t dead.”
A few minutes after Marty leaves for his daily run, five miles as fast as he can go, no stopping, I take off in the same direction. I get a half-mile before I collapse with a pain between every single rib. I look up from the ground and see Marty in the distance like an apparition burning toward me.
I sleep an hour in the bathtub, an hour in the attic, an hour in the garage. I don’t answer the first six or seven times Quinn calls me. I never call her. Marty and I know the cleaning schedule for the new guys and keep moving to a new house before they show up to do our old jobs. I sleep an hour in the kitchen, an hour by the plywood desk in the hallway.
Every time we move, I get rid of one thing. Marty does the same, tells me that we’re getting close to having nothing but each other to get rid of. I keep asking him if he’s ever killed someone. The night he finally tells me that he has, I try sleeping under the coffee table, but I just lay there with my breath fogging the glass above my lips.
Lydia calls me to tell me that she thinks Marty’s lost it, that she thinks he’s living in one of the model homes. She doesn’t know anything about anything. She asks if I’ve talked to him recently and I tell her that I haven’t.
“What should I do?” she asks.
“Wait for him to leave,” I say. I look at the one bag I have left, half empty with everything I own, wondering if it’s the other half of anything.
“I bought you a plant,” Quinn tells me. “I think it really breathes in here now.”
I hang up and Marty asks me if I think this will work forever. I pick at the corner of my life and say, “Do you ever think that forever’s this idea you use to get rid of yourself?”
Cuts made with a serrated blade are sloppier than cuts made with a smooth blade. I shouldn’t have tried to stab Marty with either.
I told Marty about Lydia being onto him and he said we had to call it off. “There’s something to be said about people who know how good they have it,” he told me, and I pulled the knife out, shook it around in front of his guts like I meant it.
Marty reached out, grabbed the knife by the blade, and squeezed. It steadied my hand and blood dripped to the floor and that’s how we remain.
Marty makes an anonymous call to Lydia about himself when I’m out of the house one day. I don’t know what happens after that except Marty’s gone and I get my job back. Monday, put on an ill-fitting suit, hope it gets caught on something.
Back at my apartment, Quinn’s sleeping on the couch. I walk quietly until I see a tiny hole in the shade. I go over and twist my pinky into it and then rip down through the middle. Quinn sits up fast and we both look through the gash, the light or something worse still cutting us in half.
About the Author: Ryan Werner works at a preschool in the Midwest. He is the author of a few collections of short stories, some better than others. He runs the micropress Passenger Side Books, is on Twitter @YeahWerner, and has a website called www.RyanWernerWritesStuff.com
Story Song: "Memorize This Face" by Chavez
Photo Credit: Elisabeth Clem/Poppy and Pinecone