Aphelion Issue 220, Volume 21
August 2017
 
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Pound Foolish

by Eliot Fintushel




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 other now."

"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 me!"

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. Divorce me."

"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 whistle.

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 since then."

"Further? Really?"

"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 name.

"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 you."

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, Rondaley?'"

"Meaning money."

"Exactly. Money. I hated that. It seemed --"

"-- Demeaning."

"Exactly."

"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 was distracted.

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?"

"Crime."

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 secret?"

"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."

More sugar.

***

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?"

"No."

"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 away.

"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 it."

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 again.

***

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 elevator down.

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 annulled."

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 charmingly drunk.

"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 but hearing?

"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 him off.

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 it works."

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.

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 want it."

"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.


THE END


© 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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