Schmuck with a laptop
I’m very happy as I post this. First, I’ve got my new air conditioner running (and I’m no longer quite as paranoid that it’s going to fall out of the window) and the Detroit Pistons are up 84-73 in Game Three of the NBA playoffs. But mostly I’m happy because my story for this stupid anthology that Dave keeps pressuring me into is done and I’m posting it before Midnight with like 20 minutes to spare. I love beating deadlines.
Seriously though, I now present my (hypertext free) blog short story.
SCHMUCK WITH AN UNDERWOOD
By Bryon Quertermous
Oliver Bench wallowed in his eccentricities. The edges of his long, curled toenails that hadn’t been cut in over a decade pushed against the leather of his shoes, so he kicked them off under the chair in front of him. A tall, handsome boy in a Detroit Police uniform was trying his best to be an entertaining auctioneer but was failing miserably.
Bench cracked his toenails and stroked his long beard hoping the bidding for a shiny black bicycle stayed low. He had no particular interest in the bicycle, he was more of a walker, but low bidding meant low prices he figured. The pants Bench was wearing were made of old license plates by an artist friend and made a dull squeaking noise every time he moved.
Instead of holding his breath and trying not to move, Bench itched himself and shifted back and forth out of sheer irritation. After a few of these, the auctioneer lost his concentration and gave up looking for bids, telling a woman too fat to ride a bicycle that she was the winning bidder at $5.
Excellent, Bench thought.
The auction plodded along through various pawn shop type items before finally getting to what Bench was there for.
“It’s a typewriter,” the auctioneer said.
“Damn,” Bench said to his wife sitting next to him. “I thought it was a computer.”
While Bench’s eccentricities were a deliberate and calculated part of his personality as a writer, his wife was genuinely insane. She had been diagnosed early on with a combo meal of conditions and disorders. Medicine had been a big part of her early life but she had since abandoned it, preferring the paranoid and obsessive, but clean, life she currently led. As far as Oliver knew his wife only had one personality though.
“Start the bidding at $10”
Bench raised his right hand and waved flamboyantly to the auctioneer.
“Ten dollars,” he said.
Nobody else bid against him so after a couple of uncomfortably silent moments Bench raised his hand and said, “Five dollars.”
The auctioneer coughed and leaned into his microphone while glaring at Bench.
“You can’t lower your bid,” he said.
“If it can go up, why can’t it come down?”
“This is an auction,” the auctioneer said. “Not gravity.”
Bench smiled inside because it was a funny line, but he didn’t want to encourage the auctioneer for fear that any subsequent jokes would be much less funny. Instead, he began speaking in French. Well, a sort of French.
“I can’t understand you,” the auctioneer said.
“I’m speaking in tongues,” Bench said. “Perhaps there will be a miracle.”
“This is not a Pentecostal church.”
“That explains the conspicuous absence of snakes and anointing oil.”
“Do we have $15?”
Nobody raised a hand.
“Sold to the man speaking tongues for $10.”
Bench picked his typewriter up front of the large conference room and took it, and his wife, to lunch at the Gem Diner. The diner was a couple of blocks away from the virtually abandoned administration building where the Detroit Police Department held their quarterly auctions of confiscated merchandise and used office equipment. When they were seated at the diner, Bench ordered two Diet Cokes and a bottle of oil.
“Like fry oil?” The waitress asked.
“Is that a kind of mixed drink? We don’t serve alcohol here.”
“My friend will have a Diet Coke then,” Bench said, putting his arm around the typewriter sitting next to him on the table.
“You have plenty of typewriters,” Bench’s wife said. “This one better write that next book for you.”
“I was hoping the woo-woo history of this particular machine would be explained in depth at the auction, maybe it would have netted a better bid.”
“Then you would have had to pay more for it.”
“It belonged to a serial killer,” Bench said. “A witty, literate and charming serial killer.”
“Like Sideshow Bob?” His wife asked.
“Sideshow Bob never killed anyone. He only tried. Remember when he’s in prison lamenting that attempted murder should not be considered a crime because there is no Noble prize awarded for attempted physics.”
“I’m hoping this will scare me out of my block.”
“What if it turns you into Jack Nicholson?”
“Why would it turn me into The Joker?”
“But I’m already crazy. I don’t need a typewriter to push me over the edge.”
“What if it pushes you away from the edge? Like an opposite affect,” she said.
“I’m too far out on the edge. In fact, I’m like Wile E. Coyote, over the edge and just kind of hanging in midair trying not to look down.”
“We watch too much television.”
* * *
The changes started the next day, about an hour into Bench’s marathon writing session on his new typewriter. He chose bologna and white bread for his lunch instead of his traditional organic sandwich.
“You’re eating like a grade schooler now?” His wife asked when she smelled the bologna.
“Writers get cravings. It’s best not to try and understand them.”
“I didn’t even know we had that stuff in the house.”
“Maybe the bologna fairies brought it,” Bench said. “Back to work.”
It happened again when he needed music to listen to. He put on Kelly Clarkson and then classical music instead of something from his vast jazz collection. His music taste was eclectic so it didn’t strike him as odd at first. Not until he found himself humming the Clarkson song during a fight scene.
This has got to stop, he thought.
And it did, for the day at least. His toenails were the next to get it. Whatever it was. Around noon his feet always started to hurt. Bench could only work while wearing black leather house shoes and his unruly toenails could only stretch the shoes so far before the nails started digging into the feet. After eating his bologna sandwich, this time with milk, Bench kicked off his shoes and then got the bright idea to clip his toenails.
“I told you so,” his wife said.
“There’s so much you tell me.”
“You’re clipping your nails. At least Samson had a women seduce him into giving up his power.”
“There is no power in my toenails.”
“Don’t make me get the kit,” she said.
“That kit is crap.”
“And so is your attitude. I hope you become an accountant,” she said waving her fingers in Bench’s direction.
“Keep your voodoo fingers away from me woman.”
“Go back to work. Get this book done and get that typewriter out of here.”
“I’m in love with that typewriter. We have a special bond.”
* * *
As the bond grew stronger, Bench grew more…or less actually, like himself. Of course after the toenails, the beard had to go. And then a fresh haircut from a salon instead of the bum on the corner he normally used. He could afford it because he saved a lot of money buying bologna and white bread at the chain grocery store instead of his hippie rabbit food at the local health food place. His wife moved out for the weekend, but then moved back in.
“It’s my duty to the universe to cure your aura,” she told him.
“I’m going to buy a suit,” he told her.
That’s when she decided he had to die.
She was calm when he came back from the Men’s Warehouse. He wasn’t dressed like an accountant, it was worse. He was dressed like a Republican. The typewriter was sitting on Bench’s desk and hadn’t been used for a while because Republicans wearing suits had no business requiring a serial killer’s typewriter. She used it to quickly pound out a letter to Bench’s soul guardian, explaining the situation and what was needed for the real Oliver Bench to reenter the universe.
She tried to sneak up on her husband while he was sipping scotch and reading the Wall Street Journal but when she went to put the note in his suit pocket he turned around.
“Hold this,” she said, handing him the note.
Oliver Bench took the note and then his wife hit him in the head with the typewriter. Twice.
“Schmuck,” she said.