Editor’s Note: This is a sequel to the short story The “You Don’t Have a Shot in Hell” Ray.
A good friend of mine broke up with the best-looking girl in the office. (We’ll call this girl Katie, because that’s her name.) This revelation stunned us. “You’ll never do better than Katie Newberry for God’s sakes!” we said. As described in the previous article, Katie’s beauty was almost indescribable, and when we said, “You’ll never do better than her” it was a comment exclusive to her looks.
My friend was one of the fellas, one of us, and he convinced her to go out with him for a couple months. Then, he ends it. He ended it! That just blew our minds. We couldn’t understand how one of our own could land such a fantastic woman, much less be the one that declared he didn’t want to see her anymore, and then to break up with her one week after one of her exes committed suicide in her bedroom. We considered the latter heartless, but heartless in a sick, funny, and somewhat cool way. We had no idea what happened, and we were dying to know.
Katie and I had had our difficulties, as anyone that knew about the ‘you don’t have a shot in hell’ ray she shot at me, a couple months ago at the gym, knew. As for that proclamation that I made that I would never speak to her again outside the dictates of polite protocol, I intended to follow that to the day of my death, until I ran into her in a parking lot. I said hello in a polite manner, and I had a hand up. She spotted me. She came running, her hands were out, and she was saying my name. I thought this was a comedic expression of joy at the sight of me, and I thought it was pretty damn funny, until she gave me a full-breasted hug. Women that look like her often make it a habit to pull their breasts out of a hug so the recipient doesn’t get the wrong idea. Katie didn’t appear to care about that in this one hug. I had her adjective-defying breasts all over me. This one allowance was her nonverbal act of contrition. How could I stay mad? The hug was so genuine, and she was so good looking. She also made me look good in front of a friend that had no idea what was going on.
“Those things are luxurious,” this friend said after Katie and I parted company.
“I know,” I said. I could’ve gone on and on about her breasts, and how I thought about writing about them, but I decided to play it cool and switch topics.
I did flirt with pursuing Katie, when her breasts were all over me, and she was acting so apologetic. I know it was a bold, and even a little nasty to think of a move like that, but she was so out of my league and a guy like me has so few chances at a girl like her. I didn’t do it, but if you’re a male, and you’ve ever had a gorgeous woman do something that a creative mind could get creative with, you know those images that pass through the brain, images that result in someone that prays for you doing another decade of a rosary.
I became Katie’s good friend again. Maybe we never were good friends, maybe we were just good associates. Whatever we were, we were at it again. As superficial as it sounds, I considered it a privilege to have her speak to me. I also enjoyed the prestige I gained by having others see us speak. She sat next to me at lunch, she left the lunchroom to smoke with me, and when she left for the day, she would stop to speak with me. Her acts of contrition didn’t last long, however, and they all occurred while my good friend was dating her.
When I flirted with the delusion that Katie Newberry might be interested in me, the question of loyalty to a good friend began nipping at my heels. Then he just wakes up on a Tuesday, as far as I was concerned, and decides he’s going to break with her. It seemed that arbitrary.
Those of us that sat at the same lunch table with him were obsessed with it. We wouldn’t allow him to talk about anything else, until he sufficiently answered this one question we had.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” was what he said to try to end this matter. That wasn’t good enough for some of us. We were so obsessed with this that we badgered him for weeks, until we broke the man down.
“I was there ok,” he said. “I saw the whole thing.”
He appeared to collect himself. I didn’t know why at the time, but I would learn that he was trying to be delicate right here.
“Katie called me over to her apartment. She sounded so despondent. When I asked her what was going on, she said she didn’t want to go into it over the phone.
“So I raced over there,” he said, “like a good boyfriend will. Katie Newberry, for those of you that don’t know, leads a life of perpetual chaos. I spent the months we dated jumping at shadows, fearing that if I didn’t do exactly what she said, when she said it, she would dump him like a rancid sack of cranberries. It was the price I was willing to pay if she would walk into Murphy’s Tavern with me for everyone to witness the fact that she was my girlfriend,” he said to characterize their relationship. “This was something different however. There was something different in her voice this time.
“When I arrived at her apartment, knocking on her door,” he explained to us, while munching on his sandwich. “She answered the door all made up. I didn’t notice that she was all made up, because she was always all made up. It didn’t dawn on me, in that moment, at the door, that she should’ve looked disheveled, because she never was.” Those of us at the table knew that, but he felt a need to say it anyway. “She never went to work with so much as a hair out of place,” he said, even though we already knew that. “She never left her house without makeup, or until her hair was perfect. Even after the nasty, ‘say nothing about this to your friends’ sex we had, she had a way of always appearing all made up.” We didn’t know that.
“She collapsed into my shoulder after I entered her apartment,” he said. “Her crying shook my shoulder. She was as distraught as I’ve ever seen her. It took me about two to three minutes to calm her down enough to understand what she was saying.”
“‘He’s in the bedroom,’ she said.
“You know how a hanging body is depicted in a movie with a setting to suit the situation. Directors and lighting consultants all advise on the best way to frame a hanging body in just such a manner that directs the audience’s attention to the body and causes us all to have horrific thoughts. It’s a choreographed scene, in other words, and you get used to such manufactured settings in a manner that you’re not aware of, until you witness such a setting in real life. This scene didn’t have any choreography, of course. It was her bed, her vanity with table and bench set, her window, and a her ex-boyfriend hanging from her ceiling fan, as if he was an accoutrement of her room. As if she made a decision to hang a human to Feng Shui her bedroom instead of hanging a painting, or a Wisteria flower bush. He was wearing a brown shirt and khakis. The guy went with the room. There was nothing horrific about it, in other words, and that made it all the more horrific.
“He wasn’t swinging in the manner I expected either. I think I expected him to tick or something, but he was still. There was no music either. Maybe I watch too much TV, but I expected some kind of C.S.I. style music accompaniment to start when I happened upon the scene. That silence got to me.
“‘He knew that that window didn’t lock,’ Katie told me pointing to a still opened window. She said it in an accusatory manner, when she pointed to that window, with the implication being that this guy was a real son of a bitch for messing with her day off. ‘I found him like this when I came out the shower,’ she said.
“I pictured him picturing that window,” our friend continued after sipping on some of his juice. “I pictured him timing out her shower. I pictured him thinking about her whole morning routine, the night before that we have to assume was a sleepless one for him. Based on everything she told me, he timed his suicide in perfect harmony with her shower. He had to have been thinking about this for some time. He had to have been thinking about it when they dated, as things started to go awry.
“Most people that kill themselves do so in a blind, harried rush. Most people don’t plan their suicide in a methodical manner, based on another’s shower schedule. I looked up at him, while she spoke, and I wondered if he calculated the best moment to enter her place, based upon what he knew of her morning routine.
“She broke up with him a couple months before she met me, and he would call her. It may not have been every hour, but it sure seemed like it. It was so bad at one point, interrupting our movies and meals, that I told her I would have a word with him the next day at work. She said no. She said she would take care of it.
“So she changed her number. She avoided him at work, and she wrote him a ‘Dear John’ letter that detailed how she felt about him. It was brutal, and when I say brutal, I mean brutal,” our friend said enunciating each syllable in the word brutal. “It was so brutal that it was hysterical. I’m ashamed to say we would sit and giggle over this letter for hours. In my defense, you don’t see a girl lay a fella out like that very often, not like that. Most girls have that maternal, compassionate, and softhearted side that prohibits them from being mean to even the biggest jackass out there. Either that or they don’t want to look like the bad guy in the breakup. Not her. Katie Newberry didn’t care about any of that. I told her that the letter sounded like something a guy would write, and I didn’t mean that as an insult. If I wanted to insult her, I would’ve added, ‘and I’m not talking about a regular guy either. I’m talking a heartless asshole, in full heartless asshole mode, trying to get a girl to leave him alone.’ I can’t think of too many people that could’ve read such a letter, male or female, that could’ve lived with their ego intact, after reading it. We laughed for hours over it. You guys would’ve loved it. I have no doubt that the letter drove him to do what he did in her bedroom that morning. If it wasn’t just the letter, I think it was the cherry atop the pie.
“I wondered what those past couple months must’ve been like for him. I felt horrible for laughing at that letter the way I did. I felt inhuman in that I didn’t consider the ramifications of it in the truest sense of the word. I just thought it was hilarious that a girl would tell a guy to go to hell in so many creative ways. I wondered if she hadn’t been so creative, if he would’ve just sulked, but that the creativity of her writing just pierced his soul. I wondered what would’ve happened if I hadn’t laughed, or if I had said something along the lines of, ‘This is great and all, but you can’t send it. It will destroy the guy.’
“The truth is I wanted him destroyed … on an emotional basis that is,” my friend said. “I wanted him to leave us alone. I also thought it would add to the hilarity when I knew he read it. I thought his desolation would be delicious, until I saw it hanging above her makeup stand.
“I also couldn’t believe that the ceiling fixture would hold him,” he said. “And I studied it all. I thought it might’ve had something to do with the reinforced beams that the apartment complex owner put in to prevent people from pulling it down. I almost touched the guy, I almost pulled on him a little to test the strength of the ceiling fixture, but I realized how cold-hearted it was to think of this matter in terms of the engineering and physics involved.”
My friend told us that after studying the science of the hanging guy, he began badgering Katie for details. He said he wanted her to give him a minute-by-minute walk through of her morning routine. He said that they went through her story four different times, until she exploded on him.
“‘Why do you keep asking me about such stupid shit about what happened here?’ she asked.
“The subtext of her question was that I was trying to find her guilt in this matter,” he told us. “I didn’t think her role in this matter involved criminality in any way, but I was concerned with the details of her morning routine, details she considered the stupid shit. For me, it was all about the stupid shit. The stupid shit, for me, was when did she get out of the shower, when did she first see the body, and what did she do? Because, I told her, these details are going to be vital when the police arrive. They’re going to ask you for a minute by minute walk through.” He told those of us at the lunchroom table that that was a bit of a soft lie. He told us he did want her prepared for the questioning that the police would put her through, but more than that, he wanted her to tell him what she did after discovering the body.
“The police wouldn’t have been over-the-top concerned about the details of her morning, and I knew that,” he said. “It wasn’t her fault, not in a criminal manner. If she did things different, on a personal level, she may have been able to prevent it, but that wasn’t what drove me to question her. It wasn’t why I focused my questions on what she called the “stupid shit”.
“I know she did it,” he continued. He provided us a dramatic pause right here, as if to allow us to soak in that comment for a moment. We did. “She wouldn’t tell the cops she did it, and she wouldn’t tell me, but I know she did it.” He said this in the form of whisper as if he was talking to himself, but I think his goal was to mimic the pitch and tone of a witness to a horrific crime on a TV show. He paused again. He watched too much TV, we all did, and this was why we were on the edge of our seat when he provided such dramatic pauses in his detailed walk through. We knew the formula, and he appeared to mimic their propensity for dramatic lead-ins to a commercial break, to break up statements, and keep an audience tuning in while the network made its money back for the show. As I said though, we were all as addicted to TV as he was, and TV formulas, and our instinct was to fast forward through these dramatic pauses to get to the conclusion of his statement.
“Did what?” I finally asked from the edge of my seat. I was sure he was going to say she had something more to do with the man’s death than he cared to admit. I was chomping at the bit, and I could tell that the rest of the table was too. You can’t say ‘I know she did it’ like that, and then pause like that in the midst of it. It isn’t good for a healthy imagination.
“Put her makeup on after finding the body,” he said. This would’ve been a better place for a commercial break I decided, and I laughed a little. My friend looked at me, and I backed up in apology. I couldn’t stop it. His pauses allowed too much imagination to creep in, and his drama was so far over-the-top that I think I needed some comic relief. Therefore, although I felt bad for laughing during a description of a man’s suicide, a man I knew –or I knew who he was– I held my friend’s storytelling decisions to blame, in part.
The laughter wasn’t a guffaw though. I just tittered in a way I couldn’t control. It was like a little fart escaping in front of a girl. A guy wants to pretend that it didn’t happen, but when the girl acknowledges it and laughs about it, a fella feels a little better about it. I didn’t feel better about the laugh, but my friend acknowledging it made me feel better than I would have if forced to sit in silence with it.
“That’s why I broke up with her,” he said. “So you guys can quit asking me about it, and considering me heartless and all that. I had my reasons for breaking up with her a week after her ex-boyfriend committed suicide in her bedroom, and I just didn’t feel like talking about it, until now. It was that whole ‘too soon’ thing that I couldn’t come to peace with until the last few days. I had some rough nights picturing that body hanging there, wondering what was going on in his head in the days and nights preceding that morning, and I had an even tougher time coming to grips with …” and here he looked around to see who was sitting around us, “The way she reacted to it all.”
“I realized, watching her speak to me in the minutes that preceded the cops arrival, that she didn’t care … not just about him, or me, but anyone and anything,” he said. “She didn’t care that a guy took some time out of his day to end his life before her and try to send a message to her that she hurt him.
“I knew that I was on the weak end of our relationship in that I liked her far more than she liked me, but I knew that from day one. The extent of her apathy was a revelation that occurred to me after the cops left, and they had the body taken away.
“‘He was a guy I dated,’ was how she characterized her relationship with the deceased to the cops. I had so much on my mind that I almost missed her saying that. I was working my way through this guy’s process, I was remembering everything she said about their relationship, and I was comparing it to ours. I was wondering if their relationship was as strong as I thought ours was, in his mind. Prior to that day, I considered her ex a weak individual. I considered him soft, and susceptible to the smallest heartbreak, but in that moment when she said, ‘He was a guy I dated’ without emotion, I began to wonder if he was as strong as I thought I was, and Katie broke him down. I wondered how close he was to doing something like this, before he met Katie, and if her breakup put him over the top. When she said ‘He was the guy I dated’ to the cops, I snapped out of it. I read her face. I wanted to know if she was attempting to comport her answers in an official manner that suited the officer’s official questions. It dawned on me that she had mentioned this man’s name one time, that whole day, in her response to one of the officer’s first official questions.
“For whatever reason, I associated her characterization of their relationship with a mushroom. I stepped on a mushroom once. The mushroom was one of those big old, mushrooms that grow wild. I cleaned it off, but I smelled that mushroom the rest of the day. I didn’t even know mushrooms had an odor. This one did, and it chased me around all day. Someone asked me about the stink, and I said, “I stepped on a mushroom.” I said that with as much emotion as Katie used to describe what I assumed this guy considered a very loving relationship.
“‘He couldn’t deal with our breakup,’ she said. At this point right here, the cop shot her a second glance. He was taken aback by her tone, a heartless, ‘just the facts ma’am’ tone. A cop that has to deal with the most heartless people, on a day-to-day basis, acted like her summary of the events preceding his arrival was heartless. Then he looks at me with a ‘do you know what you’re in for here buddy?’ glance that led me to believe that it wasn’t just my overactive imagination in that moment. She was cold-blooded. She didn’t give a shit about this guy, and that fact was obvious to some stranger, a cop that she had never met her before.
“The cop smiled at her when she completed her testimony, but it wasn’t a warm smile. It was an ‘I can’t believe you’ smile, and she appeared to recognize it for what it was. At that point, she cried. She hid her face in my shoulder and cried. Her face came out of that and she said something along the lines of, ‘What am I supposed to do now?’ and ‘I can’t believe that he thought this was the way to deal with a breakup.’ She then started crying again, and she hid her face in my shoulder again.
“I’ve been obsessed with this for the past couple weeks, as I’m sure you can imagine, and I’ve tried to be as objective as possible. I’ve tried, for example, to imagine that it might have taken a while for all this to register for Katie,” my friend continued. “I don’t want to discount the idea that she may have been in shock prior to the moments she cried, but I just didn’t think that was the case. I also considered the idea that I may have been so traumatized by this event that I may be reading too much into it. When she was crying on my shoulder, however, I couldn’t help but think of Julia Roberts, and how Julia cries in her crying scenes, and how anytime I see a Julia Roberts’ crying scene, I know this is the crying scene for her. It’s what an actor does when the director informs them that the scene in the movie requires the actor to cry, they think about something awful that has happened to them, so they can muster up the emotion necessary to cry.
“Patting her shoulder and rubbing her back, I realized that when she broke up with me, not if, that if I was lucky enough to get a crying scene, it would be just as phony as this one. I realized that the breakup scene would be just as callous as this one. What could a fella do, beyond stringing himself to a ceiling fan, to prove that he’s in pain? The depth of her ambivalence to this scene, led me to believe that if I did something as desperate as this guy did, she might even laugh with her next boyfriend at how devastated I was.
“As the cop got in in his car, to call the people that collect dead bodies, and Katie continued to cry on my shoulder, I thought of her makeup mirror. I know she did it, as I said, because that makeup mirror was in a position that would’ve placed her directly under the man, if she decided to put her makeup on, and she did have her makeup on. I didn’t think a lot about positioning when I was in Katie’s bedroom, because I was too horrified to think about it at the time. When I achieved enough physical and emotional distance from it, I thought about how she positioned the various items in that room.
“I thought about how low that body hung from the ceiling fan. I thought about her chair in front of that makeup mirror. I thought about the timeline, she laid out for the cop and me. I thought about the step-by-step timeline of Katie Newberry leaving the shower, and her eventual discovery of the body. I thought again about how low that body hung, and the positioning of her makeup mirror and chair in front of it, and I came to the conclusion that it would be impossible for Katie to put her makeup on, in front of that mirror, without his feet touching her. She lined her makeup in front of the mirror, and from what I could remember there were no signs that she did her makeup in the bathroom, and she could not have moved that mirror in any way, of that much I was sure.
“I wondered if she leaned forward, away from the dangling body, or if she shouldered that foot away, in the manner one would a pesky, silver balloon tickling their shoulder in a department store. I tried to picture her distraught when she did this. I mean, at that point, there was nothing she could do. The body was there. Her ex-boyfriend completed the task. Was it possible that she was broken up over the incident, and she put on her makeup, and mascara, for the sole purpose of occupying her time and mind, until I arrived? It was possible, of course, and I tried to explore that possibility as we walked back to the house. She’s so good looking that I considered exploring all possibilities mandatory, but I knew deep down that she considered it so important to look good that she was willing to work around the hanging body of her dead ex-boyfriend to put on makeup. I knew her well enough to know what her priorities were.
“There was a compliment in there, somewhere, in that she wanted to look her best for me, but she wanted to look her best for everyone, so that compliment was minimal. I wondered if her effort included a concern about the cop that answered the call. What if the cop that answered the call was good-looking, and she didn’t put her makeup on. The hot cop would be a witness to her unpreparedness. I knew I was lucky to be with her, don’t get me wrong, but she was always dropping lines such as “One should always look their best, no matter what the circumstance. Even when you are just running to the grocery store, you should always look your best,” she said. “You never know who you’re going to run into.” She said cliché shit like that all the time, like, “You never get another chance to make a first impression.” I remember I joked with her that I thought she’d never have a problem with that, and she never will. I think we can all agree to that,” he said looking around the table. We all did. “She’s one of those few people that could go three weeks without a shower and still make a great first impression, but it’s all those secondary and tertiary impressions that are what did her in for me, so I dumped her.”