The Andiron

By Cameron Wilson




Seeing the restaurant reminded Jacob that he hadn't eaten that day. Jacob licked his lips and could feel the scratchy texture of his beard on his tongue, right where he imagined the Italian food, pasta and garlic bread to rest in his mouth. The thought of food sauntered through his mind like the thought of heaven to a dying man able to believe only in hell.

Jacob's hands were shivering on the handles of his bicycle, and once in front of the restaurant he slid from his bicycle and coughed into his free hand, and then wiped his beard with his sleeve. Jacob looked into the restaurant window and only saw his reflection walking parallel with him, staring back with the sun above his mirrored image. Then he saw the diners just through his reflection. They looked startled and Jacob saw a man who was staring at him for a few moments, turn and begin to speak suddenly to the woman across from him. The man glanced out of the corner of his eye at Jacob.

All the cars in the lot were highlighted in yellow from the sunset. Jacob looked back over his shoulder at the window and saw that they were still looking at him. He sat down on a bench opposite the window and pulled his water bottle from the faded yellow wicker basket on the brow of his bicycle. He drank and stared at the window, but from where he sat he could only see the streaks of orange sunlight reflecting back, like tangerine peels plastered across a wall. Above the door was the Italian flag.

Jacob folded his hands in his lap and turned to look at the sun when a young couple exited the restaurant. The young man held the door open for the girl and she laughed and glanced backwards towards him, and he grabbed hold of her hand. The man smiled towards Jacob perfunctorily and turned away, and entered his car.

Jacob smiled.

Youíll thank me, he whispered towards the young couple. You and the whole world. Iím invisible, the scent of my being indistinguishable from the odor of dust and air, but when the world learns the truth, youíll thank me, he whispered. You and the whole world. Pray God save you should I fail. There wonít be anything left.

Jacob considered it all to be such a horrible mess, all tangled together, woven in shit and muck. The benefit of faith by one of them was impossible. Doubting was all that they ever did, and perhaps that wasnít so bad. If life was as shitty as it seemed, why confer faith in something and have ideology tattooed and branded across oneís flesh and forehead? Better not to worry about anything, donít look inside, look outwards at the trees and grassóno, donít look down, thatís badólook at the sky and stars.

He watched the car leave the lot and hum off into the street and out of sight. Jacob leaned his bike against the fence and turned his head away from the roaring call of the freeway. The sound and thunder of the cars distracted him, and Jacob leaned back, hands in his pockets, and watched the restaurant.

How little they knew, Jacob thought. He reached into his pocket and felt his switchblade. It fit into his hang snugly, and at the top was a small button that he could press and the blade would snap up and out like a reared head. If they knew where they were, if they understood what went on beneath their feet, they would never have eaten there, if they had know what hidden world was resting down below.

Faces were familiar but at times abstract. Jacob could remember faces of people that he had once loved later transformed into beastly things. Whether the transformation came from within or without John understood that he would never know. Circumstance or nature? John was no philosopher, but the faces were evil, perhaps even demonic. Once seen there was no going home, and he felt that each time he saw them grin from beneath the dark lips of their hoods, and through their facades that fooled everyone else.

His thumb edged slid across the edge of the button and he depressed it a little, but not enough to summon the blade. The knife felt cool in his warm hands. The chilly feel of duty, not passion. They had a weapon and were not afraid to use it and decimate the world, and Jacob knew that his conscience couldnít be tender for his duty. He had to be callous; the texture of his heart warmed to the innocent and merciful yet scabbed enough to take the lives of those who might instigate genocide. Iíll have to kill, Jacob thought.

He had seen the landlady. She knew about the weapon, whatever it wasóa bomb, an interstellar gun, a plague. Whatever it happened to be was contained within that briefcase. Innocuous enough in appearance. She pretended she didnít know. She almost convinced Jacob, but Jacob was not a fool. She was a good actor, but Jacob asked her one more time if she knew about the weapon, this time he threatened her with his knife and she said yes. Jacob had to kill her. That was how he found the restaurant. She had had a newspaper advertisement for the restaurant taped to her refrigerator.

He hadnít taken any pleasure in it. He had stumbled out into the night, coughing and weeping. He rode his bicycle the whole night until he careened off the road and crashed, and then he slept. Perceptivity was a curse for him. Being able to watch and read and see who and what they were beneath the disguises.

That evening, once the lights above the flag was the only illumination and the restaurant was closed, he strode through the shadows until he stood in front of the window looking out from the restaurant into the parking lot. There was still one car in the lot. A thin film of light drained from a back room and out into the dining area, where it stopped when it reached the tables.

Had the circumstances been different he would've enjoyed eating at a place like this. But he had to save the world. It was the burden his shoulders held and his bones rattled beneath, but it was a burden that he alone was able to carry.

Jacob knocked on the door. He saw the shadow before he saw the man, leaving the room and coming to the door.

No wonder he has them fooled, thought Jacob, They see a small man, short with pouched cheeks and they see a harmless man. You donít fool me, he thought. The man looked out at Jacob through the door, then slowly opened it, holding his weight against it, leaving it open only a few inches. The door creaked.

"Sounds like your door could use some grease," said Jacob.

"Iím sorry, weíre closed," replied the man.

"I can fix that for you, you know." Jacob said.

"We open at ten, close at seven. Itís seven-thirty. Weíre closed."

"Caught you at a bad time, eh?"

"Unless thereís some way that I can help youÖ"

"Mind if I come in?" Jacob asked.

The man looked at Jacob and almost snarled, his cheeks weighing heavily at the sides of his jaw. "Iím sorry, weíre closed," he said and turned away, closing the door.

Jacob shot his foot into the space and blocked the door. The man turned and Jacob threw his shoulder into the door, knocking the man backwards against a table. Jacob closed the door behind him. He could smell the distant yet penetrating odor of garlic, masked in the scent of olive oil. Jacob noticed the pain of hunger in his stomach.

"I know what goes on down there," said Jacob, pointing towards the back room. Jacobís blade snapped open. Jacob advanced towards the man. "Give it up and I wonít hurt you, I promise."

"Wait just a minute!" cried the man, holding out his hand towards Jacob in resigned defense, his cheeks seemed to move on their own, dancing completely independent of the rest of his face.

"Stop shitting around; I know exactly what you people do. I put the clues together," said Jacob, tapping his forehead with his index finger, "Iím a thinking man. I think, and while you have everyone else fooled, I know about what you guys got. Give it over and I wonít kill you, I promise. I had to beat it out of your associate, but she finally fessed up. Oh yes, in the end she was crying."

The man stood up, edging backwards around the rim of the table.

"Please, I donít knowÖ"

"What Iím talking about, right? Thatís what she said. The landlady at Dutton Apartments. Thatís what she said, ĎI donít know what youíre talking aboutí," said Jacob in parody. "Whereís the briefcase?"

"Thereís money in the register. We leave the register open and thereís money, money for you. Take it, please!"

"You canít hide your secrets from the world any longer. Iím going to get proof and soon the Fedsíll be all over the place. So if youíll tell me where the weapon is, Iíll spare your life," said Jacob, waving the knife towards the man.

"Please, I donít know what youíre talking about," cried the man.

"Iíve killed before and I can kill you too. They died because they didnít want to give up the evidence, so I had to kill them. Iíll kill you too," said Jacob.

Jacob was sweating, and the terror on the manís face made Jacob take a step backwards. What if he was wrong? There were tears on the manís face.

Jacob dropped his knife and it thudded to the ground like an unguided rock, and he stared down at it. He looked back up at the man, saw the fear, saw the eyes of the landlady and heard her screams. This man didnít know.

"Forgive me," said Jacob, and he began to cry, "if Iím wrong."

As he wiped away his tears, between his fingers he saw the man pulling something out from behind him, and he realized that it was a gun just seconds before the man pulled the trigger.

----

The man lowered the gun. The old man was dead, laying flat on the ground. Bloody. A disgusting mess. Funny old man, he thought, turning the old manís head with his toe, examining the still open eyes and jaw. The man turned and walked into the back room. The fan on his desk was rotating back and forth, disturbing the pages that were trapped in the jaws of his typewriter. Other than the sound of the pages scratching, the restaurant was silent.

The man knocked twice on the wall and the door opened, revealing a passage. He stepped inside. The hallway from the door slanted downwards, dark and silent, and he walked until he reached the lower room.

The lab had been cleared, and only one desk remained opposite the bar.

"It was the old man," said the man, pouring himself a drink. "You were right about him. That couldíve been a pain in the ass if you hadnít noticed him."

A thin man with a cigarette was standing over a thin briefcase. He stared mutely, as if waiting for the briefcase to move, and if it did, he probably wouldnít have noticed.

"Sometimes I wonderÖ" said the thin man.

"What?" asked the man.

"I donít know. Just thinking."

"What, what? Youíre not going to bail on me, are you?"

"Hell, no," he replied.

"Then whatís the matter?"

"I wonder if Iím going to miss this place," he said, taking a quick drag from his cigarette, his stare remained pinned on the briefcase.

"The restaurant?"

"No. The world," he replied.

"Thereís nothing else, Joe. When the worldís gone, there nothing else. Nothing to remember, nothing to regret. You wonít exist or be or think. Youíre justÖgone," said the small man.

"You think he told anyone?"

"A homeless man?" asked the man. "No. I donít think anyone would listen to him. He wonít be missed," he said, finishing his drink. He returned upstairs and washed his hands and began to clean up the body.

The End

Copyright © 2003 by Cameron Wilson

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E-mail: the_illustrated_man@hotmail.com

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