Editor’s Note: This is a sequel to the short story “You Don’t Have a Shot in Hell” Ray. This story is about the self-centered nature of most people, and the apathy we have for what happens to those around us.
Rated: PG-13. Some language that may have been considered R material that is now considered PG-13.
We’ll Call Her Katie
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. We were all stunned by this event. “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 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 to be heartless, but heartless in a sick, funny, and kind of cool way.
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 would never speak to her again, outside the dictates of polite protocol, that was an iron-clad conviction that I had every intention of following 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 make it a habit to pull their breasts out of a hug so the recipient doesn’t form an assumed equation. 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? This hug was so genuine, and she was so good looking, and she made me look so 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 had 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 even think of a move like that, but she was so out of my league and there are so few chances a guy like me has 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 one’s brain, 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 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 did flirt with the delusion that some part of Katie Newberry was starting to become interested in me, I had that question of loyalty to a good friend nipping at my heels. Then he just wakes up on a Tuesday, as far as I was concerned at one point, and decides he’s going to break with her. It seemed so 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 and bring this matter to a close. 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,” he said. 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 race 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 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, so everyone could see 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 said that day after munching on his sandwich nonchalantly. “She answered the door all made up.” He said he didn’t notice that right away, because Katie Newberry was always all made up. It didn’t dawn on him that she should’ve looked disheveled. Katie Newberry was never disheveled though. We 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 tears, on my shoulder, when 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 a point where I could ask her what happened.”
“‘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 see one in real life. This scene, of course, didn’t have any choreography, of course. It was her bed, her vanity with table and bench set, her window, and a body hanging from her ceiling fixture, like an accoutrement of her room, like instead of hanging a painting, or a hanging Wisteria flower bush, she decided to hang a human to Feng Shui her bedroom. He was wearing a brown shirt and khakis. He 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. And there was no music. 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 never locked,’ Katie told me pointing to that 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 sleepless. 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 who 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 seemed that often. 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. 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 soft-hearted 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. Had I been in that mode, I would’ve said, ‘and not just any guy, a total asshole looking to crush a girl for the benefit of his own ego.’ 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. It’s what drove him to her bedroom that morning. I have no doubt about it.
“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 in a construct that had to be difficult to build in the time he built it.
“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 reinforced beams that the apartment complex owner had put in to prevent people from pulling it down, and I almost touched the guy, 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 the engineering and physics aspect of all that.”
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 the stupid shit of what happened here?!’ she asked.”
“For me, it was all about the stupid shit,” he told us. “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, all 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. It wasn’t her fault, not in a criminal manner. If she had done things different, on a personal level, she may have been able to prevent it, but that wasn’t what drove me to question her about what Katie called the “stupid shit” the way I did.
“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 had watched too much TV, we all had, 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 almost 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 asked from the edge of my seat to usher him forward. 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, then pause like that in the midst of it. It ain’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 for too much imagination to creep in, and his drama was so far over-the-top that I think I needed some comic relief. So, 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. It was one of those inopportune titters that escapes your 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 she acknowledges it and laughs about it, you feel a little better. I didn’t feel better about the laugh, but my friend acknowledging it made me feel better than I would have if I had been 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 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, and that cop, and in the minutes that preceded their 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 their relationship to the cops. I had so much on my mind when she said that. I was working my way through this guy’s process, I was remembering everything they 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, to his mind, or if he was weak and susceptible to the smallest heartbreak. I wondered how close he was to doing something like this, before he met Katie, and if her breakup had 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 that morning with a day I stepped on one of those big old, mushrooms that grow wild. I did that once, and I cleaned it off, but I kept looking at the sole of my shoe. I kept smelling that funk all day, and when someone asked me about the stink, I said, “I stepped on a mushroom.” She described what I assumed this guy considered a very loving relationship in the same lifeless manner I described stepping on a mushroom.
“‘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 here. She was cold-blooded. She didn’t give a shit about this guy, and that fact was obvious to some guy, 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 things like: ‘What am I supposed to do now?’ and ‘I can’t believe that he thought this was the way to deal with a breakup,’ and then she resumed crying and hid her face in my shoulder again.
“Now it’s possible that it may have taken a bit for all this to register,” 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. You also have to consider the fact that I was so traumatized by this that I’ve been so obsessing over it for the last couple weeks, so I may be reading too much into it. When she was crying on my shoulder, I couldn’t help but think of Julia Roberts, and how Julia cries in her crying scenes, and how anytime I’m forced to watch a Julia Roberts crying scene, I know this is the crying scene. 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 there would be nothing I could do to prove to her how much she hurt me by breaking up with me. She wouldn’t care, and she might even laugh with her next boyfriend at how devastated I was.
“What could I do to top a guy hanging himself? And even if I did try, she wouldn’t care.
“As the cop got in in his car, to call the people that collect dead bodies I assume, and she continued to cry on my shoulder, I thought of her makeup mirror. That makeup mirror was in a position that would’ve placed her directly under the man, if she had decided to put her makeup on, and she did have her makeup on. I didn’t think a lot about positioning when I was there, in the room, but I was too horrified to think about it at the time. Now that I had achieved enough physical and emotional distance from it, I thought about how everything was positioned 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, and how she had just come out of the shower when she discovered 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 her to put her makeup on, in front of that mirror, without his feet touching her. Her makeup was all lined out on in front of the mirror, and from everything 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, that much I was sure of.
“I wondered if she leaned away from the dangling body, 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’ve done. The body was there. The deed was done. 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 her 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 she thought that there might be a good looking cop who took the call, and if she didn’t put her makeup on, she would be caught unprepared before a hot cop. I knew was lucky to be with her, but she was always dropping lines like: “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.”