One day Yuri Black got to thinking about how, when you do
number two, you wipe and wipe till you come up clean. Now, that last
square of toilet paper, the proof that you're quite done, is always a
clean one -- and that's a waste. If you knew how many of those squares
you were going to use up before you got to the clean one, of course,
you could save yourself one square: you'd know it was going to be
clean, so why bother? But how to accomplish this? Yuri spent three
years and almost lost Deloris over that invention. ("If you don't stop
spending so much time in the bathroom, Yuri, as God is my witness, I'll
. . . ") In the end, he invented that time machine of his, the little
dingus that fit right inside the toilet paper tube between the spindle
and the cardboard, the thing that traveled forward in time, determined
what square of paper you'd end on, and then came back and stopped you
one short of it. You'd just feel a little extra resistance on the tug,
see, and you'd know. You'd stop. You'd stand and pull up your trousers
on a shiny bum.
Deloris, fiercer than Yuri, though a half-foot shorter, yanked
the spectacles off his nose, threw them to the floor and stepped on
them. "Why not use the time machine to handicap horses?"
He was used to it. Carrot-topped, slender as a bean pod and
similarly lumpy, Yuri had a way of grinning that unnerved his wife. His
teeth showed, and his nose wrinkled like a dried-up radish. Deloris
knew that that grin was just a wall he put up to defend his holy
cogitorium against encroachment of anything human. "Why not the stock
market? Who cares about toilet paper, you loser?"
"Deloris, you kill me!" he laughed. "You know you love me."
His TP Savers would only cost a couple of hundred thousand
dollars once they were being produced in industrial quantities, he
explained, and it would save a person, at an average of one bowel
movement per day, ten yards of toilet paper per annum. Over a lifetime,
disregarding the negligible cost of running the dingus, which was
fueled mostly by the friction of the rotating roll, you'd only be
paying two hundred fifty dollars a dump, a bargain, surely.
In bed, Deloris was a queen. She was rider, and he ridden.
Deloris was round as a medicine ball, pink and lovely, with the face of
a Raphael angel. Yuri loved being mere adjunct to her lovemaking. He
was a sperm sac, an appendage, a spider to be devoured when they were
done, although, to his disappointment, she never did that -- quite.
Instead, she smoked, she read. And he excogitated.
All Yuri had ever wanted was think time, and all Deloris had
wanted was a rack of Borgezie Stilettos and a Porsche. Her figure and
his abstraction had permitted them little maneuvering room in the
marriage department, but Deloris had thought Yuri smart, a man with
prospects, and Yuri had observed that Deloris had a job. She worked
night shift at a 7-Eleven. They married.
What, he thought, one evening post coitum, about a
Unidirectional Semicircular Windshield Wiper?
He couldn't get over how inefficient, inelegant, and downright
clunky it was to have a windshield wiper keep changing directions, back
and forth, back and forth, with a ridiculous cost in wear and tear, not
to mention all the wasted inertia. But what were you going to do, have
the thing go all the way around, under the hood and up again, in one
big circle? That seemed wasteful, too, and, anyway, it wasn't Yuri's
style. So he utilized the fifth dimension.
Yes, old Yuri invented a machine no bigger than a grain
elevator that would open up the fifth dimension and cause the
windshield wiper, any windshield wiper, your common-or-garden
rubber-bladed gas station windshield wiper, to travel through the fifth
dimension and then pop up where it had started, in one continuous
sweep. It had none of the energy drain that characterized the old
system. Yuri's Unidirectional Semicircular Windshield Wiper would only
cost a person three million and change -- and it would last a lifetime,
practically. In time, there might be vehicles big enough to accommodate
it and streets wide enough to fit them.
"Move over, Yuri. You're taking up half the bed. What are you
thinking about, anyway?"
"You know how windshield wipers . . ."
She was snoring.
One day Deloris thrust into his hands a copy of Science
and Money Magazine, and Yuri, mirabile dictum,
was in it. There was his stubbly mug. There was his hair like lint
screen detritus from a spin-dried Christmas sweater. A pencil sketch of
Yuri's Mitten Manager was featured in a sidebar with a somewhat
disordered explanation. This was the device that enabled a person to
put on both mittens with a bare hand, so one never had to tug at a
woolen cuff using fingers already mittened. It employed, as the main
body of the article penumbrally revealed, a technology similar to the
same inventor's Unidirectional Semicircular Windshield Wiper, to which
a future issue of SAM would be devoted.
"How . . ." he said, and Deloris pointed to the by-line: her
own. "Oh," he said.
"Backers, Yuri, backers. Money -- ever heard of it? Let's run
this thing up the creek and see who salutes it."
She waited for the phone to ring. It didn't.
One night in bed, she roused him in the wee hours, the hours
of factory exhalations and humming power lines and ghosts. She had been
crying. "I don't want to be poor, Yuri. My mom was poor. I'm sick of
poor. You can make us rich, I know it. I'm sick of jobs with name tags
and uniforms. I want you to make me rich."
"It doesn't matter, honey," he consoled her. "We've got each
"You've got each other. I've got shit." She kicked him. He
bled. She kicked him again. He forgave her.
Yuri's favorite invention of all was the gadget that enabled a
person to put on his pants both legs at a time. It was, in effect, an
anti-gravity machine, but Yuri was not interested in any other use of
it. "Airplanes, spaceships," Deloris pleaded, "intercontinental
ballistic missiles. Or think stevedores, willya, cargo handlers,
elevators? What's so bad about turning a buck, Yuri?" She stared at her
carefully painted toenails, picturing them on the gas pedal of an
eighty-thousand-dollar lavender Porsche Panamera, and she sighed.
Then there was the one that turned lead into gold in order to
keep a person's napkin from sliding off his or her lap at mealtime. It
tickled Yuri to have incidentally solved the old Alchemists' conundrum,
the lead into gold business, but Deloris was not interested in Alchemy.
"Just give me the damned gold," she screamed. "I can sew the napkin to
your pants. Or I can staple it to your thigh."
He laughed. "You ought to be on stage, darling, you're killing
She left his bed, cursed it, abjured it, slept in a far room.
He ambushed her early one morning. She was just home from the
7-Eleven and headed for the shower and bed. Let's talk this through,
darling, kind of thing. After all, for heaven's sake, we love each
other, Deloris. And Deloris said, "I hate you. I wish I had never
married you. You're useless, worse than useless. You've ruined my life.
"It would kill me," he said, "I can't," and he grinned.
She grinned back fiercely, mockingly. "Why do you do that?"
Chin aquiver, dimples imploding, his face shook and melted,
all the little muscles, zygomaticus major and minor, levator,
buccinator, mentalis. He would never grin again.
He tried to cobble together a machine that would make her come
back, but, for once, nothing worked. She was gone.
Yuri felt lost without the mediations of science. Not quantum
electrodynamics, not chaos theory, nor fluid dynamics availed. And
there were the phone calls. If he came upon Deloris, say, in the
kitchen at odd hours, laughing on the phone, she would give him a
vacuous side glance, lower her voice -- "Wait a minute, Lou" -- and
walk away. A door would slam. Once, spooning sugar into cold coffee as
he mulled over the fine points of thermodynamics, plummeting, with the
universe, toward heat death, he heard her say through a half-open door,
"I don't just want you for a lover, honey. I want you for a husband,"
and his heart leapt.
"Darling," standing, rushing to the door, "I am
your husband. You've got both in me, and, darling, you always will,"
before it slammed in his face. She'd been on the phone.
Some days, working the night shift, Deloris didn't come home
at all. She would be gone for two days running and slip in disheveled
and smelling funny. She wouldn't return Yuri's hello, seemed not to
notice him at all. Wraith-like, she made for the bathroom and showered
-- what was she singing in there, soft, melodious, disturbingly
cheerful? -- then vanished into her far room. Yuri would hear the door
slam and her bed springs groan, then snoring. Strange laryngeal
syllables: what did the snoring say?
Deloris ceased to eat, by and large, and she took up exercise,
splurged on a wardrobe of spandex leotards and gorgeous sweatbands.
Yuri would hear her chanting and huffing to Jane Fonda videos in the
unattainable far room, and he would smell her sweat and be filled with
longing. She slimmed, she ripened, her posture improved. Men began to
She had been gone to him, a ghost whose house he shared, whose
toothpaste puddles he found on the lip of the sink, whose ashtrays
appeared on ledges and chair arms, whose funk he smelled, whose
silhouette crossed the window at dusk in a miasma of cigarette smoke en
route to the 7-Eleven, whose voice he no longer heard -- but for that
singing in the shower -- whose eyes never lingered anymore on his, X,
X, and X, gone to him for three months, when Yuri's phone rang.
"Mr. Black, holy gee, Mr. Black, I'm -- forgive me -- I'm a
little excited here. Can we, like, meet? Can we have a cup of coffee or
whatever? I'll buy. Can we? I read about your invention in Science and
Money, and, holy gee, Mr. Black -- can I call you 'Mr. Black?' -- holy
gee, I think your Mitten Manager is inspired."
"Are you a backer?"
"No, no, I haven't got any money, if that's what you mean, I
mean, holy gee, not much. I'm a mechanical engineer and, well, an
entrepreneur, I suppose, but money? no, no money. Unfortunately."
Then Deloris would remain lost to him. He tried not to weep
too loudly. It was all about money, wasn't it? The wisp of hope that
had curled from his heart at the thought of a possible backer, the
backer his Deloris had been angling for, vanished like dew into vapor.
No matter what it was all about, Yuri was made for one thing, he knew,
and that thing wasn't money.
"My wife published that," Yuri stammered, mostly to be able to
say "my wife," syllables that warmed him like The Little Match Girl's
last stick. "Actually, it's an old version. I've taken it much further
"Yes," Yuri sighed. It didn't much matter. Deloris would be at
the 7-Eleven now. Maybe he could walk by and peek at her through the
window, maybe even buy some nachos -- she would have
to look at him then. She would have to say, "Did you find everything
OK?" and when he answered, really answered, maybe she would be moved.
Maybe she, too, would weep -- and come to him. "Yes, the new model lets
you put on each mitten with both bare hands."
"Please, I've got to meet you, Mr. Black. I've got to talk to
you in person."
When Deloris came home at three in the morning, Yuri was
sitting at the kitchen table in his pajamas, red marshmallow
snuggle-fleece hoodie-footies, staring at an empty notebook. At the
sound of her opening the porch door, he nudged up his glasses and wiped
his eyes. He turned a few blank pages to cover the sheet with the
little wet bumps.
"Yuri, I'm glad you're up," her hands, incredibly, on his
shoulders, her chin against his ear, "because I've been thinking of a
project for you." She swung round and sat beside him. She took his
clasped hands in her own and leaned close. "Why not invent a machine
that would enable a person to commit the perfect crime?"
"The perfect crime, Deloris?" -- just to be able to say her
"Yes, perfect, undetectable: robbery, murder -- whatever. A
gizmo that would make it possible to do anything at all and never be
caught, never even be accused, maybe. You could make a thing to do
that, couldn't you, Yuri?"
"Yes," seeing it now, seeing the extra dimensions it would
require, the quantum tunneling, the duct tape, the oakum, the solder
flux, the Einstein-Podelski-Rosen entanglement, "yes, I think I could
at that, Deloris."
"I thought so," she said, and Yuri knew that she meant "I love
They did not make love that night, but as he lay in bed
thinking through the matter of the oakum and flux, he heard her call
out from her bedroom down the hall, "Good night, Yuri." Then, from that
far room, like a lullaby, came the muffled sound of Deloris's voice,
sweetly, in her sleep, no doubt. Like one whose salvation has been, at
last, assured, Yuri fell asleep, happy again.
"When I was a boy," Rondaley Washington told Yuri, "I would
knock things together from, say, pressed pencil lead shavings and a
toothbrush bristle in pulverized ham hocks --"
"The transglass descrofulator," Yuri observed.
"I beg your pardon?"
"To wash the other side of a window from this side --"
"-- without opening it. Exactly! Using cosmic rays. You
succeeded with that?"
"Mm. You were saying?"
"Yes, I would show these things to my mother, and she would
say, 'And what are you going to do with it,
"Exactly. Money. I hated that. It seemed --"
"I hate that, too," said Yuri.
The two men sat over coffee in the café area of a large
department store. Rondaley was a wiry black man in a three-piece suit,
with movie-star good looks, high cheek bones, and a broad, dimpled
chin. He leaned across the table toward Yuri and sipped his coffee
through the grill of its plastic lid. He had stirred four sugars into
it, just like Yuri, except that Yuri kept adding more to his, then
more, and more. He repeatedly forgot that he'd already sweetened it. He
The spaces between the little round tables were clogged with
shopping carts and baby carriages full of howling infants. Haggard
women handicapped their coupon lists over lattes and almond croissants.
Teen brides fed their unborn children on banana splits. Their young
men, sagging and swaggering, discussed minutiae of music and
international politics while sucking Baby Ruths. An anorexic store
supervisor at a nearby table was tutoring a boy in a crisp new uniform
on the fine points of customer relations. Everywhere: the jangle and
the white noise of commerce.
"What are you thinking about, Mr. Black?"
Rondaley laughed. "Well, you don't have to, sir, a person with
a genius like yours. I don't have the resources to back you, Mr. Black,
I mean, as an investor, but I'd like to work with you, I mean, if
you'll let me. I want to be Watson to your Al Graham Bell. In the end,
Mr. Black, though people like you and me may not like it, you have to
make your way in the world -- that's what I think. You have to survive,
I mean. I think I could make your inventions marketable, Mr. Black."
"If you like." He was thinking about the multiplicity of
connections in n dimensions across time and of the exact torque with
which the oakum would have to be pounded in order to deter detection
and arrest when the deed was done.
They shook hands, and Yuri imagined Deloris fingering the
little switches on his gizmo -- what color should they be? The color of
Deloris's toenails. Or he could build in a series of relays to alter
the colors according to Deloris's mood. Color was a quantum phenomenon,
after all -- lots of wiggle room there.
A small child ran to Yuri and Rondaley's table. The child was
wearing a toddlers' leash, but no one was on the other end of it. The
leash trailed behind him as he crawled under the table after a dropped
gumball. Pretty soon, the child's mother -- one hoped -- grabbed the
far end of the leash and simply dragged him out again. Now he was
crying, but a slap cured that.
"Say, Mr. Black," Rondaley, over the renewed keening of the
child with the dirty gumball, "the transglass descrofulator, I could
never it get it to work right. It always marbled the pane. What's the
"Coriolis Effect, Rondaley. Think about it." He dragged his
finger through sugary sediment and licked it.
"Mm. Let's start with that, shall we? See if we can make it
inexpensive and easy to use. Run it up the pole and see who salutes it."
"Up the creek, you mean."
"I beg your pardon?"
Yuri poured another couple of sugars into his coffee. Semiconductor
nanocrystals, he was thinking.
"This place is sad." Rondaley stood to leave. "You know what I
mean, Mr. Black? All this stuff flying from shelves to hands to the
garbage pile, and all the kids, too -- look at them. Nobody thinks
about where it's going. They just like buying stuff and they like
making kids. Then everything breaks, and it's worse than before. Maybe
you could invent a machine that let them buy things without having them
or sell things without losing them. What do you think? We could make a
difference, Mr. Black. We could make them happy."
"You're a real philosopher, Rondaley."
"Yes I am, Mr. Black."
Deloris was beside herself. "You sweetheart, the switches
match my toenails."
"Wouldn't you like to sleep with me again?"
"And the whole thing's not much bigger than a cell phone."
"It's true I haven't been such a great provider . . ."
"Does it really work? Have you tried it out?"
". . . but we're still husband and wife, after all -- what?
No, I haven't tested it exactly, but I'm sure it'll work. All the parts
of it work. The principle is really quite simple -- listen, Deloris,
Rondaley here is going to make something of my inventions, make some
serious money for us from it."
From the next room: "Did you call me, Mr. Black?"
"No, Rondaley. We're just talking in here. Deloris, please . .
She touched his cheek, and he melted. They were sitting
together in their minuscule living room, in the window seat that was
its chief and only charm. The sun was setting behind the drab peaks of
the row houses across the street. The sky began to darken and lose its
color. Wan light mottled the smeared and spattered glass. Deloris held
Yuri's forensic impunifier delicately in her right hand, smooth and
fragrant with skin cream. She looked sexy in her new body, in her new
black dress, with her new blond hair. A charm bracelet of provenance
unknown to Yuri dangled beguilingly at her knee.
Deloris's palm lingered for just a second on Yuri's cheek, and
he had to fight back tears of longing. She said, "You know how I hate
it when you beg like that, Yuri. It isn't really very manly, is it?"
"So how does this wonderful thing work?"
He started to tell her, but Rondaley interrupted them. He was
wearing a spattered kitchen apron with a heart pocket and a frilly hem.
He dragged a hose that stretched all the way back into what had become
Yuri's private room. It looked for all the world like an ordinary
vacuum cleaner hose with a funnel jerry-rigged onto the end. When Yuri
and Deloris looked up, he just smiled.
"Watch this." Rondaley pressed the funnel to the window glass
and squeezed something underneath it. The tracks of many winters' worth
of rain slowly disappeared. Spattered mud vaporized, the grit fell
away, bird droppings shimmered and were gone. If it had not been just a
few minutes too late, they would have enjoyed through the perfect and
pristine glass a magnificent sunset. "In a few days, when the parts I
ordered get here, we won't need the hose at all."
"That's very nice, Rondaley honey," Deloris gave him a
7-Eleven smile, "but Yuri was just explaining something. Do you mind?"
"Of course not. Sorry -- oh, wait. Is that the forensic
impunifier? You didn't tell me you'd finished it. How did you get the
enantiodromic engine so tiny?"
"Rondaley. . . ." Deloris, staring at him, lowered her head,
bull-like, and he nodded and repaired to the workroom. The hose snaked
in after him, one tug at a time, till man and hose were gone.
"That could make us some serious money, Deloris." Yuri tried
to hold her hand, but the forensic impunifier was in it, and she pulled
"What's an enantiohoozits engine?"
"Works by means of opposites, Deloris, like the two sides of a
coin. You flip it, and if it falls a certain way, you say heads. But
that doesn't mean that the tails has gone away. It's still there, on
the bottom. That's how the impunifier works -- enantiodromia. I got the
idea from Rondaley, actually, something he said over coffee . . ."
From the bedroom workshop: "It's Everett, really, the 'many
worlds' interpretation of quantum theory, universal wave function,
quantum decoherence, realities bifurcating and branching, coexisting in
different possibility spaces -- you give me too much credit, Yuri. . .
"Shut up," Deloris yelled. Then to her husband with imperious
calm: "You're boring me, Yuri. Just finish telling me how to use
The screen, the switches, toenail-hued, the settings for the
various levels of inculpability -- it couldn't have been more
user-friendly. It had to be: it was the vehicle of his love. He watched
her perfect plucked brows dip and wrinkle as she mastered the settings.
He expected that at any second now, overcome with his genius and his
devotion, she would throw her bangled arms around him, her faithful
husband, and make everything all right again.
But she had to get to work. She threw the dingus into her
handbag and made for the door.
"You're going to work dressed like that, Deloris? Don't you
have to put on work clothes?"
"I'll do it there." Out the door. Yuri was falling into
despair again, into the sinkhole that yawned deeper with every silent
meal, every unacknowledged hello, every night on a lonely bed, when,
with the sound of her stilettos on the porch steps, he heard her say,
across the porch, through the slammed door, "Thank you, lover!" and his
heart was gladdened. He watched the foam cushion she had been sitting
on plump up slowly all by itself. Entropy. She would sleep with him
In Lou's penthouse, lolling under the percale while her lover
sweetly snored, Deloris grabbed his shirt from beside the bed. She
smelled it and smiled. There was a fountain pen in the pocket, Lou's
favorite fountain pen, the fountain pen he wielded before his lackeys
at board meetings, the monogrammed mother-of-pearl fountain pen with
the gold nib. Sometimes, too, sly rascal, he did funny things with it
in bed. She slipped it from the pocket and stroked and stroked it,
thinking. Then she leaned down and walked her hands around on the floor
until she found her purse and, inside it, Yuri's machine. Menus and
submenus opened before her. Scenarios grew like bath bubbles,
polychrome and sparkling. Her thumbs swept the keyboard and her
fingertips the screen. At last she pressed ENTER, there was a smell of
ozone and fennel -- and she dropped Lou's pen into her purse. She
slipped out of bed, dressed, kissed her man's hirsute chest, his
cheeks, his eyes. "Oh, baby," he sighed and turned over. "You'll tell
him, right?" he mumbled into the pillow with a sleeper's laugh, his
throat was so slack that it sounded like a death rattle. She made
herself a champagne cocktail at Lou's bar of hammered zinc, swallowed
it in three gulps, threw her purse over her shoulder, and took the
Days passed, and Lou never noticed. He never complained. He
showed no distress. It worked. Emboldened, she programmed the dingus --
ozone and fennel -- hurled a rock through a jewelry store window and
wrenched from its display a magnificent tiara. Alarms sounded and
people stared and pointed. Soon a police siren keened, and Deloris's
heart raced, but nothing came of any of it. Unhurried, unmolested, she
walked off with the tiara as if it were a string of sausages.
"Yuri," she said next morning, leaning at the kitchen door
while he listlessly raked his corn flakes, "we need to get divorced.
I'm in love with someone. He's in love with me, too. But if I'm not
free, Yuri, if I'm not free," craning her neck forward, pushing her
face at him like a backhoe shovel, to make sure he understood her
predicament, "he'll end it. Do you understand? I don't just want him
for a lover. I want him for a husband. If you love me, let me go, Yuri.
This is your last chance."
"What do you mean, my last chance?"
"Did I say 'your last chance?' I meant my
last chance, Yuri. You'll let me go, won't you? We can probably have it
He stood. She saw that he was going to be difficult. The paper
napkin he had tucked into his shirt collar was dripping with milk. A
few soggy flakes clung to his chin. He started to cry. "I can't. I just
can't. We belong to each other, Deloris." She hardened her face and
turned to leave. "I'm going to have money, Deloris, lots of money."
She started to open the porch door but lost her balance:
Rondaley was just coming in. He squeezed through, forcing her back
against the wall. "Sorry, Mrs. Black. Look at this, Yuri." He was
holding a sheaf of papers and a torn manila envelope. Deloris huffed
and strode out of the house, slamming the door behind her.
That night she killed him. She programmed it very carefully.
She bludgeoned him with Lou's 4 iron. There was a lot of blood, but
Deloris was confident that Yuri's impunifier would take care of
everything. She trusted her husband's genius. She never cleaned a drop,
wiped nothing, prepared no alibi. It exhausted her, however. She had
never seen a dead man. When she kicked his limp hand with a painted
toe, it flopped and fell. She nudged his mangled head the same way.
Between the blood streaks, his face was pale. One eye bulged like an
olive; the other was simply missing, and the skin where it used to be
reminded her of a butchered chicken. She staggered to the far room,
fell on her bed, and slept for an hour, something like sleep. Strange
dreams agonized her. She heard a voice speak, then discovered that it
was her own. The body in her bed was her own, too, of course, but it
took Deloris a moment to convince herself of that. She woke and walked,
or sleepwalked, to Lou's place. She wore the tiara -- why not? -- to
cheer herself up, she told herself, but she didn't really know why
except that it felt necessary, an act of closure like the triumph given
a conquering general by the Roman people. Where were her Roman people?
Lou would celebrate her arrival there, but she mustn't tell him about
this, not yet. Someday, but not yet. When they were married, surely.
She found herself traveling an unaccustomed route -- and there was the
jewelry store. They had perfectly repaired the glass already, and they
had gotten another tiara for the window display, a ringer for the
original, an absolute ringer, setting for setting, gem for gem,
amazingly. She got to Lou's building, went up to his penthouse, rang,
rang again, and waited. Lou came to the door with a leer on his face,
no Yuri, he, but a real man, a man's man, and rich. He smelled like a
man, sweat and cologne, French cologne, no doubt, because real men
aren't afraid to smell sweet. He was hot and wet all over, and
"Oh, Lou, I've been so lonely for you, honey, so very, very
lonely," her head on his shoulder.
"Just a minute, baby," coaxing her away, "I have to finish a
sentence, yes? Be right back. Come in and make us a drink."
"Sure, honey." He was wearing the pajamas she liked, the silk
ones with the Paisleys, and he had that fountain pen of his,
mother-of-pearl, gold-nibbed, in one hand. Seeing it, she looked along
her coat to make sure it hadn't gotten ink on it when they had hugged.
No, she saw, it was quite clean. Suddenly, she felt dizzy.
She opened her purse and rifled through its contents,
lipsticks, billfold, change, ibuprofen, dingus -- and that pen. "Lou,
did you get yourself another fountain pen?"
"No, why? What are you talking about, sweetie baby?" His voice
sounded muffled, and it seemed to come from the bedroom rather than his
study. Get hold of yourself, girl. She seemed to
hear laughter. Everything's going to be fine, fine.
She remembered the song that Lou's bedsprings sang when they wrestled
and groaned in his canopied four-poster -- or was she not remembering
"I thought you'd lost that pen -- or something."
"Nope. Did you ask that jerk of yours about the annulment?"
More laughter, high and low.
Shut up, mind!
She couldn't answer, couldn't find her voice. She pounded down
the little carpeted, coffered, gilt ceilinged corridor and hammered at
the elevator button until one arrived and opened. The tiara, the
fountain pen -- they were still there, just where they had been before
the dingus. Two sides of a coin, Yuri had said. Enantiodromia, he had
said. "Just finish telling me how to use it."
"I won the flip, both flips, all three flips, but the other
side's still there."
"What other side? Watch where you're going, would you?" the
man at the corner said. He was shabby, toothless. He pushed a stolen
grocery cart full of bags of garbage. He smelled of dung and whiskey.
He shoved her away, and she broke into a run.
Then she was slamming the door behind her and running toward
Yuri's room, the room that used to belong to them both and which now,
of course, would be hers alone. She opened his door, and there he was,
spread out on the floor, his head caved in, blood everywhere.
Everything had come up heads. She had the tiara, she had the fountain
pen, and she had her husband's corpse. Why was she not comforted?
"Deloris, is that you?" It was Yuri. He had been in the
bathroom and was coming up behind her. She grabbed the bloodied 4 iron
from the floor, swiveled round and closed the bedroom door behind her.
She lifted the club and brought it down frantically, again and again,
on Yuri's head, on the head of the man who had come from the bathroom.
Yuri raised his arms before him and screamed, but he was broken open,
bleeding and falling. Deloris ran to the porch door, but Yuri was
there. "Deloris, what's the matter?" She smashed his face with the 4
iron, then, throwing it aside, she clawed at him until he was on his
knees whimpering and coughing. She retrieved the golf club and finished
It was the same crime wasn't it, over and over? No one would
ever know. The forensic impunifier would cover it all, wouldn't it?
Tails was on the bottom. She would never be caught, never be tried,
never go to jail, because the tiara, the pen, and Yuri, though she had
stolen and killed and killed and killed, were still there.
That was the secret of the forensic impunifier.
Someone was knocking at the porch door. "Yuri? Deloris?" It
was Rondaley. Deloris stood paralyzed over her two most recent corpses.
She had reached the end of thinking, the end, in fact, of fear. She
felt as if she were bound on an altar awaiting the knife, the fire.
Rondaley pushed in, looked around, gazed wide eyed at her for a moment,
and the words whispered out of him like crepitations from a corpse, "So
Yuri came in from Deloris's far room, clutching to his cheek
an old negligee of hers, the one with the pink mesh lace from before
they were married. "Oh, Deloris, you've broken my heart." To Rondaley:
"Of course, it works -- what are you doing here?"
"I just got the papers from the lawyers." He spoke
mechanically, as if in a trance. "Your signature, Yuri, and we're worth
a cool million, for starters." He turned to Deloris again. He seemed on
the verge of tears. "You're not going to kill him again, are you?"
She said, "Yuri, I'm so sorry. Can I say that after what I've
done? I'm so very sorry." She fell to the floor crying. She pulled the
impunifier from her purse and held it before her across both open
palms, as if in supplication. Rondaley took it from her and looked to
Yuri held out one hand. "Give it to me, Rondaley."
He hesitated. "What are you thinking, Yuri?"
"You keep all the money, all the ideas. It's yours. I don't
"But Yuri . . ."
"Give me the machine."
Rondaley stepped around Deloris, as she miserably wept, and
handed the forensic impunifier to Yuri. Yuri waited till the other man
had moved back across the kitchen and then threw his gadget to the
floor. He crushed it under one foot -- ozone and a smell of fennel --
and then he vanished like a flock of starlings turning on the wing. He
simply wasn't there, nor were the two corpses on the kitchen floor, but
from the bedroom came the smell of blood and grue.
Rondaley panted at the doorway, jerking his head in all
directions as if hunted. He ran from the house as sirens wailed.
Deloris trembled, unmoving, waiting. It was tails up all the way.
Perhaps it had been Lou who had reported her to the police, or
witnesses at the jewelry store, or maybe someone had seen her through
the immaculate window, killing and killing and killing.
© 2017 Eliot Fintushel
Bio: Mr. Fintushel is a writer and performance artist. He's
published about fifty short stories, most in genre magazines (Asimov’s,
Analog, Science Fiction Age, Amazing, etc.), and two novels, Breakfast
With The Ones You Love from Random House, and Zen City from Zero Books.
He has also won the NEA Solo Performer Award twice. He once performed a
clown and mime show under the anti-aircraft gun of a German ship in NY
Harbor for an audience of UN diplomats and got to put a clown nose on
the German attaché, Jetta Gruzner.
E-mail: Eliot Fintushel
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