Justice For Belle
There’s a gangly man who looks to be in his mid-forties sitting on the short, wrought-iron bench across from the identical one I’m wasting my afternoon on. It’s midday Sunday, so the Amtrak station is busier than regular weekdays at this time. The weekend travelers are returning to their homes and their busy lifestyles here in Flint Michigan, no doubt. I’m not going to or coming from anywhere; I’m just here to people watch. I do this often when I need inspiration.
The man is tapping his long dress shoes nervously on the dirt-colored, industrial-grade carpet beneath our feet. He’s definitely guilty of something or another, that or else he’s in an anxious hurry. Either way, he clearly wants to flee the joint. He’s probably a stabber.
I picture his wiry fingers gripped so tightly around the handle of a butcher knife that his protruding knuckles have whitened. The square shape of his jaw seems more prominent as his teeth are clenched. The whites of his sharp, ocean-blue eyes are glazed over, and one streak of crimson appears across his face.
It’s a flawless image, definitely noteworthy. I think I’ll name him Donovan. Donovan, the ex-convict, freshly escaped from the state penitentiary after being convicted of brutally murdering his family with a butcher knife and then storing their mutilated bodies in the family freezer. Yep, that’ll do just fine.
Call me weird, obsessed, paranoid, twisted, or whatever, but I have this nasty little habit of trying to guess what kind of killers people would be . . . if they were actually killers, that is. Whenever I see someone in a crowd who stands out among the rest, I see it. It all depends on their size, the way they move, the look in their eyes. Everything plays a part, and the image is usually fairly detailed. Then, I jot down my observations for future use.
My dad’s wife, Dorothy, blames it on my ‘dark, overactive imagination, rooted from the death of my mother.’ Dorothy’s a therapist, so naturally, she thinks she knows everything. My mom passed away seventeen years ago in a car accident. Two years after that, Dorothy came along, and she’s been trying to fix us all ever since. I don’t think she actually cares, though; it’s clearly all for image’s sake. There was nothing dark about my mom’s passing; accidents are reality, and life flat-out sucks sometimes.
Dorothy is obviously overeducated and very seriously lacking in the common sense department. She cares more about money and image than anything, and Dad is too passive to shut her up. I really don’t understand why anyone in their right mind would pay that woman hundreds of dollars an hour for her far-fetched opinions, or ‘help’, as she calls it. Point in fact, these people are NOT in their right mind. Therein lies the very definition of irony, I suppose. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not completely anti-therapist. For every dozen, there is a dime. I’ve even been to a few shrinks of my own. Yet here I am, still constantly daydreaming about heinous death.
To make things even more conveniently cliché for dear Dorothy, my little brother was recently accepted into medical school. At age thirty, he’s really making a comeback from our troublesome youth. I’m just waiting for Dorothy to make some crack about how his subconscious wants to save car accident victims to make up for the loss of our mother. That’s really the only thing she has to play on, that she knows of.
No sooner do I finish writing down the details of Donovan burning his bloodied clothing in a backyard fire pit than a fresh, warm body accompanies me on my bench. He sits a little too close for comfort. Close enough that I can feel the warmth from his leg and smell him. The scent is delicious. Doesn’t anyone have boundaries anymore, I think. I let my long, jet-black hair fall over my shoulder, concealing the side of my face. It doesn’t help; I can still feel the fixation of his amused eyes, searing their way through my hair’s shield. I can even sense him smiling. Who does this weirdo think he is?
“Can I help you, sir?” I ask, peeking past the edge of my loose waves so that he can see the irritated lift of my brows but nothing else.
He’s handsome, very handsome. Damn, of course he is. Probably around my age too. The barely-formed crow’s feet at the sides of his excited eyes scream early to mid-thirties. It’s moments like this that I wish I didn’t look less than half my age. Every time a man that appears to be as old as myself, or even slightly older, shows an interest, I automatically assume he’s a creep for flirting with a teenage girl. I’ll probably draw in pedophiles for the whole of my life. I could easily pass as a high school student any day of the week.
I’m sure that once I reach my sixties, I’ll be grateful for my smooth, slightly olive skin that hasn’t seemed to age since my childhood. The perks of being of mixed race to the point of not even knowing exactly where I come from. I have at least five generations of mixed heritage from all over the place. Some Hispanic, some Irish, some Italian . . . even a little Greek. Honestly, who knows what other sperm snuck its way into my family tree. We all look different. I’m not exactly dark, but I’m not white either, and my brother is as pale as one can possibly be, with fiery hair to match his freckles.
“Do I know you?” The perfect looking, boundaryless man asks.
His flawless teeth are on full display. The smile is assisted by the deepest dimples I’ve ever seen.
“Are you sure? You look extremely familiar.”
“Nah,” I answer with a mumble and turn my attention back to the notebook on my lap. “I just have a common face,” I say as I tap my pen on the page.
“No, you don’t.”
I can hear the smile behind his words. Don’t look up, Ahnia. Whatever you do, don’t give in to the charm of this irritatingly attractive stranger.
“Oh?” I ask. My gaze is glued to the notebook.
“Nope, not common at all. It’s your eyes, I think; the green is like neon . . . and your lips too. You have distinct peaks. I’ve definitely seen you before. Trust me; I have a thing about faces. Especially pretty, detailed ones like yours.”
Okay, now I’m intrigued. If nothing else, at least his approach is unique. I glance around my hair one more time. I can’t really help myself. There’s a tiny hint of stubble on the sides of his cheeks, and his hair is a wreck. It looks like he hasn’t combed it . . . well, ever. I don’t usually like the unkempt look, but for some inexplicable reason, it comes off as absolutely to die for on this man. He appears relaxed and carefree in a natural way.
Despite the messy hair, his clothes are clean, pressed even. And his smell, oh my God, his smell. The longer he sits so close, the more heavenly it seems. It’s a fresh scent, like a light, rustic soap. Nothing too strong and overwhelming like most men who are trying to pick up girls in random public places like Amtrak stations. I hate that lingering aftershave scent, especially Old Spice. It makes me want to puke in my mouth.
I’m certain I’ve never met him. I’m entirely confident that I’d remember his face too. I look back down at my page, reading over my recent murder notes. I don’t think I can watch him scratch at his chin in thought for one more second without caving into my urge to lean over and take a whiff of his shirt. Just to bury myself in its freshness and try to figure out what kind of laundry soap he uses. I might even go to a department store after this and sniff around the detergent aisle. I’d kill to smell like him right now.
“Hmmm . . .” he thinks aloud in a deep, humming voice as smooth as butter.
“You figure it out yet?” I ask dryly.
“Net yet. But don’t you worry,” he giggles, “I will. Whatcha’ writing?”
I shoot him the same irritated glance as before. No words are given; I’m really just trying to build my shutout wall as high as possible. This guy is tenacious. He chuckles at me again, brushes my hair back over my shoulder, and then leans over my lap. He’s now even further into my personal space.
Who the hell does he think he is? I don’t fight it because his thumb just brushed against my collar bone in the gesture. The shocking chill it gave me has practically shut off my airwaves. There’s absolutely no room for protest, or any words really.
No matter, as soon as he reads my morbid page, he’ll go running for the hills. What better way to tell a guy to piss off than to let him read a couple of random paragraphs describing the man sitting across from us as brutalizing his family with a butcher knife.
He reads the page and then leans back casually. A completely blank expression is plastered all over his face. Again, he scratches at the stubble, and looks forward at the nervous, skinny man tapping his foot on the floor.
Any second now. I’m waiting patiently with a smirk for him to stand up and make for a getaway. Nothing. He does nothing but nod and stare. Next comes the unthinkable. He reaches for my notebook and pen. Completely disregarding any reaction I might have, he sets to work. He begins scratching out words and filling in spaces around the page’s mayhem with his own little intake on my notes.
“You had it all wrong,” he says proudly, before handing me back the goods.
I look at the page to find he’s changed the butcher knife to an axe and the scene of the crime to a holiday party. He’s also changed the ages of Donovan’s murdered kids, making them older. I think on the changes and stare at the real Donovan, whatever his name actually is. Somehow, it fits.
“I know, much better, right?” my new friend announces.
He turns to face me. Our featured inspiration is only a couple of feet away. He can clearly hear our conversation but remains oblivious to the fact that it’s centered on him.
“Wide, strong shoulders. An axe is hard to swing, and he could totally pull it off.”
I nod; it actually makes sense.
“Why the kids’ ages?”
“Grey hair, age-spotted skin, he’s older than you’ve given him credit for.”
“Maybe he’s younger than he looks.”
“Maybe he’s even older . . .” He lifts a knowing, quizzical eyebrow.
“Humph. You’re good at this.”
“I know, and I figured it out.”
He now has my full attention. I, too, turn to face him head on. We’re within inches of each other, our legs pressed together. The peppermint from his chewing gum permeates the air around me with his every breath.
“Shoot,” I say, giving the go ahead.
The space between our faces continues to shrink, and our eyes are locked. I smile back at him, but only with one side of my mouth. This ought to be interesting.
“How did you know that? I swear to God I’ve never met you.”
“Thirteen years ago. You were eighteen, and I was twenty. You accepted an award at a writing conference I attended. We didn’t exactly meet, but you left an impression. I read your book, and I remember your face.”
“That was a long time ago.” I look back down at my useless notebook in shame.
My friend crosses his arms over his chest, and his proud grin lowers on one side. It’s not even a smirk as much as an ‘I told you so’ look while waiting for some kind of explanation. One that I’ll never give for that matter. Ever.
“Your book was good.”
“I don’t write anymore,” I snap.
“Clearly,” he says while pointing a finger at my notes. “So why’d you stop at one novel? It was a bestseller, remember? Award-worthy even, and at such a young age.” Again, he scratches at his stubble. “What did they call you at that conference? A prodigy?”
“I have to go.”
I clutch my notebook tightly against my chest and push through a crowd of soon-to-be Amtrak passengers by the exit sign.
“Wait,” he calls from much closer behind me than I was hoping for.
My shoulder catches one of an elderly woman in passing. She scowls hard and lets out an angry umph. I don’t apologize, but I can hear him mutter a ‘sorry’ on my behalf. Now I’m even more irritated. He recognized me from my prime, is also a writer, has read my work, is handsome, and now he has to be courteous too? I hate him already.
“Look, I didn’t mean to cross any lines,” he speaks over my shoulder as I shove open the door.
A breeze from the light wind catches my face, blowing a chunk of my hair behind my back. Of course he keeps at it as I make my way through a tight parking lot behind the station. My only choice is to stop before reaching my fairly old Volvo, or he’ll likely help himself into the passenger seat the very second I press the unlock button. Finally, I spin on my heels to face him.
“My life is none of your business,” I snap as I pull my notebook closer to my chest.
His cheeks frame that unfaltering grin.
“Are you always so mean to your fans?”
I’m kind of caught off guard. I haven’t heard the word “fan” in over a decade.
“Your book was good.”
“Umm . . . thanks, I guess.” I can feel my eyebrows involuntarily pull to the center of my face. “Look, I really do have to go. Thanks for being a fan, Mr. . . .?”
I wait for an answer to the awkward way of my asking his name, but to my surprise, he only laughs at me . . . again.
“Mr.? Really? Do I look ninety?”
“Oh my God.” My eyes do a full circle. “Never mind.”