My Loose Thread

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Fiction: Failure to Mate by Ben Marcus

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We’re parked in the hills overlooking the town. It’s dusk, or maybe not. Down there, they can’t see like they did. It’ll take them a while to figure that out. When they do, it’ll look great from here, I guess. It’s his thing.


‘Nice,’ he says. It just happened.


‘I guess.’


He has a face out of Norway or somewhere that never looks me in the eye. Other than that, he’s just a friend of my brother.


‘Are you bored?’ he says.


‘No.’ I must seem off, but I feel like myself.


‘You sure?’ he says.


When I don’t answer, he writes in a notebook. That’s him. He’s always scribbling there. No one can read what he’s written. It locks, just in case.


‘Let’s do it.’


He shuts the notebook, and fits it into his backpack. ‘I can’t remember what I did before I knew you and Jim,’ he says. Jim’s my brother.


‘Not much.’

A senior is paying me five hundred dollars to kill him. Actually, Pete got the job. But he asked me to help. I don’t know the senior’s name or what his problem is yet. I like the boy just enough to pretend like we’re friends. He’s not my thing, but he’s an awful example of someone’s, I guess. Two days ago, as a favor to me, Jude got drunk enough to seduce him. I pretended to pass out, then watched. It upset me so much that I decided to kill him already. So I guess it worked. She and I haven’t talked about any of that, but it changed me. There are little behavioral things, I can tell. Like this afternoon. Before I took off, I told her she didn’t love me enough. Then she said almost the same thing more angrily to me. After I left, I got upset about that. Maybe after I’ve killed him, I’ll shoot myself in the head. That’s different.

We’re driving to Jude’s parents’ cabin. It’s east of town in this resort where some friends of hers snowboard. She drew me a crude map. We’re still in the desert somewhere, but can see something big that’s a mountainous shape. It’s very black outside the car, except for this twinkling to the left. To me it looks like a town, but, according to him, it’s too sparse. Otherwise, we haven’t said anything in a while.

‘I know,’ he says.


‘Know what?’ I don’t see how he could.


‘I’ll tell you later.’


We decide to eat something. I want to sit down, and there’s an uncrowded IHOP. It’s just like the millions all over the country. He orders pancakes, and pulls out his notebook. I order a steak, because it takes longer to cook. Then I pretend to take a leak, and find the pay phone.


‘Pete, it’s me.’ He’s already there at the cabin with Jude, but I know she won’t fuck him. She likes tall, introverted, thin guys like myself.


‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘Wait a second. Ssh.’


‘We’re on our way.’


‘Where are you?’ he says. ‘Shut up, Jude. I can’t hear.’

A year ago, I accidentally killed my friend Rand. He’d gotten in deep shit with drugs, and had to sell me his car. But he flipped out on me about that, and I punched him too hard. No one blamed me, so I didn’t. That’s not totally true, but when Pete asked me to help him out on this thing, I was fine. The boy thinks it’s interesting about Rand. For a while, he asked me if I like hitting people. When I finally said no, he cried. He’s deep, which is why I’ve procrastinated. That’s my thing, human depth. But when I saw him fuck Jude, I realized the depths to which I’d have to go.

‘How was your food?’ I say, sitting. My steak’s here.


‘Good.’ He’s slumped down, and hardly ate or wrote.


‘What’s up with you?’


‘I’ll tell you later,’ he says. Then he watches me eat with that serious look he’s been giving a lot. I swear it’s trust. It looks like nothing else.

We’ve pulled off the highway, and onto a dirt road. We’re sitting side by side on the hood. It’s so warm. When you imagine the stars are a faraway, upside-down city at night they seem more important. I learned that trick from him, but he’s better at it.

‘I know,’ he says, after a lot of silence.


‘Know what?’


‘What’s happening,’ he says.


I’m not sure if he means about being killed, of if he means in the sky, or what. ‘Yeah?’


‘That night with Jude,’ he says.


‘So she told you.’ That seems ambiguous enough.


‘I saw it in your eyes,’ he says.




‘And now too,’ he says. He slides off the hood, then I hear the car’s passenger door creak.


‘See what?’


‘But first, will you do me a favor?’ he says. Then he hands me his unlocked notebook and a flashlight.

His notebook is so intense in some parts, I almost cried, and started skipping around. Words were my thing until Rand died, and I figured out they’re too simple. Now I only read books about death. Maybe it’s like how the boy gets off more on a pattern of lights than on what’s really lit up. I mean that I like to think books about death are secretly about life. Maybe I can’t explain it.


‘Do you hate me now?’ he says. We’re driving again, and I’m thinking.


‘You’re a good writer.’


‘Thanks,’ he says. ‘So we’re going to see Jude?’ I just told him we were.


‘I figured you’d like that.’


I guess he needs to think for a second. ‘It’s fair,’ he says.


This is hard. ‘You want to wait until tomorrow?’


‘Yeah,’ he says.


‘Because  . . .’ I can’t finish. The why’s too intense. It has partly to do with what I read in his notebook.


He waits for a second, I guess in case I do. ‘Yeah, I know,’ he says. I think he actually might. So it’s just more intense.

From what I read, the boy’s mom was a whore until somebody killed her. She never bothered to name him. I knew that. He was always the boy. When he was ten, she started selling his ass as a sideline. I didn’t know that. When his ass earned more money than hers, she got jealous and beat him. Some men freaked out, and beat the shit out of him. At some point, he freaked out, and started cutting himself with a knife. I didn’t know that. Then the damage he did got so bad the men wouldn’t pay, and she dropped him off at his grandma’s. Then she got killed. His grandma named him Bill, but it’s not legal.