Caught

BY GEORGE SPARLING

I’m under surveillance. Nobody believes me. I’m in a gigantic store, its hundreds of aisles: one could get lost here. I grab a package of underwear, look up, and see a young man, in civilian clothes, hold a mobile device to his ear, all the while smirking at me.

Out of zillions of merchandise, he’s at my elbow.

At checkout, I pay and again see him, this time with a package of underwear. No phone. Is there a need for ambiguity to confound me? Hasn’t paranoia been done to death? Which agency has he reported me? I tug at my cap, pull it lower, now at my eyebrows, to regain poise. I want to declare him deceased, to dead him from my life.

I walk out the store and, because I stalked my ex-girlfriend, she hired a private dick to follow me following her: that lost paranoia has returned. I thought the P-antennae at an all-time high then, but after I backed off, it slackened. Now, Smirker stalks me as I get on the bus and Big P returns. He doesn’t pay. Instead, he shows the driver some sort of I.D. The Velcro case opens and its scratchy sound could’ve come from a horror movie it’s so loud. Its noise makes me jump though I’m seated five rows away.

As he makes his way down the aisle, he stares at me. I stare back, his face blurred I’m so shaken. Again, he opens the I.D., the abrasive, tearing sound of Velcro he holds against my ear. It deafens me. A strong hand grabs my shoulder from behind, and a voice whispers in my ear, “You won’t get away with it, criminal.” Fear runs through my arteries, and then shifts
immediately into rage. I’m not good at mediation, passing through stages until reaching a
conclusion. I find the will to stop my inertia difficult but turn to the right, my leg
partially on the empty seat, swivel my head, and say, “I’ve got a sixteen-gauge shotgun
with plenty of shells, Mister Surveillance.”

“I could report you for threatening me, Mel. Shits like you think they’re the center of the cosmos, too damn egotistical for a long prison sentence to happen to them,” he rasps into my ear. Early afternoon, the bus empty, seated behind me: If he had a wire, he could kill me like a pro. He could be another Burke, John Lithgow’s character in Blow Out, who garrotes a victim in a public bathroom. Why do I like films about the power of guilt so much?

I get out at my stop and he’s twenty feet behind me. Hey, how did he know my name?

Have we met somewhere before? Is he in my ancestral tree? What a coup if I murdered Smirker. I’d feel proud, a man of accomplishment, at last. I walk fast but he keeps pace. I have the nerve to stop, turn around, and give him the finger, each thrust in the air another shell into his head. He stops and speaks into his smartphone. I stand in my yard.

I continue to finger-murder him, screaming as I do. Police sirens go off, the traffic flow is far greater than normal, car radios boom, a woman with two pit bulls walks toward me, the dogs foam at their mouths. Dressed in tight, black-leather pants and jacket, the woman lets them bite the bottoms of my trousers. A menacing Nazi cliché? “I’m his woman,” she says, pointing at Smirker. “I’m his prey,” I tell her, my spit flying through the air.

A shout from across the street: “Hey, Mel, you think you’d never get caught” and from another person, “We always knew you’d go to prison.” Death metal blares from houses on either side of my home, stereophonically terrorizing me.

I see a teenage girl approach: “You won’t get away with what you did to me and my mother.” One of my daughters? Chaos, its threat, makes facial recognition impossible.

She waves a pair of men’s briefs, her middle finger waggling through the pee hole.

Smirker talks to three males in suits and ties, this a neighborhood of skinny jeans, sweat pants and T shirts. Now all four on their mobile phones as I lock my door and pull the curtains. I melt a nitroglycerin tablet in my mouth, down a Zyprexa with tequila, and turn on my computer.

Instead of desktop, I read on a white screen in large Franklin Gothic Heavy fonts, “I Do It Because I Can.” I click download, something I never do when I suspect it’s been malwared, now an action verb. Smirker sits outside, on the porch swing, his mouth jawing on the phone. I loved the creaking, rhythmical sound the swing made, but with Smirker rocking back and forth, it has lost its soul, that special something glossing reality to maintain sanity.

(“Men are so necessarily mad that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness”: Blaise Pascal)

I use online banking and find my account slashed to zero. Too jittery to have the bank investigate, never inclined to bring in cops, I’m reduced to maximum agoraphobia. It
never occurs to me that Smirker thought I was a shoplifter. He has crashed my mail.

How do I know? His name flashes on and off on my screen, “NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE” he types under his name when I clicked E-mail.

Who will believe Smirker makes videos of rocking in the swing on the porch, interfering as I shit, his smooth face and pear-shaped body swinging back and forth, bouncing off the bathroom walls. As I eat, he smoothers me with himself, his chest hairs in my soup, whiskers in the soy milk, tongue in the chicken and rice. He blinds me when I read, burns holes through printed pages, raising the heat on my Kindle reader. I have to drop it or get third degree burns.

He manages to delete faces from old family photos on the wall, a domesticated version of Stalin’s Soviet-style ideology, how those not following shifts in the party line are erased from photos in history books. I’m not unlike the disappeared Soviet, a deviant.

Why had I decided to purchase underwear? I needed more. A meaner, cleaner groin? I’ve had rave reviews, spawning five children, both exes regarding me quite the sexual athlete. But, now, as a Latin proverb states, all animals after coitus are sad. It never said how long after coitus. Substitute “grief” for “sad.” No amount of therapy can alter my newfound emotion. I can’t call to cancel the shrink’s next appointment because my Verizon phone is suspiciously dead.

I used to do complicated Sudoku, filling columns and rows with 1 to 9 digits on a grid. That’s the simple explanation. Smirker has axed that out of my online life and I feel myself get feebler and feebler, my mind no better than frozen meat thawed, turned rancid, inedible and unable to supply needed protein for cognitive processes to figure a way out.

I go to bed thinking, like a bad story’s conclusion, that it’s all a dream. I, dreamless and fatigued when I wake up at six AM, see huge metal barricades built, blocking my view. I love to see trees. No, not metal, Smirker has ordered gigantic mirrors that now surround my house so all I see is myself. Images from convex mirrors’ squish; concave ones’ stretch. Light reflected off them is not perpendicular to their surfaces. I see myself, seated or standing improbably anywhere in my house.

Bent, folded, twisted, bulged—short and fat or elongated and thinner—I loathe myself.

He has thrown up funhouse-like mirrors on a grand scale upon every wall, ceiling, and floor in my house. I find my reflections loathsome.

If I chose to blow away Smirker, prison wouldn’t look so bad. Better than this. He lurks behind those mirrors.

But the shotgun awaits, at least that much I can will. For someone.

BIO: George Sparling has been published in many literary magazines including Pittsburgh Quarterly, Red Rock Review, Hunger, Paumanok Review, Word Riot, Rattle, Pindeldyboz, nthposition and Thieves Jargon. He has had many jobs including a welfare caseworker in East Harlem, a lumberyard laborer, a placer gold miner in the northern wilderness of California. He has a degree in English from Iowa Wesleyan College, is now in early retirement and tries through prose to give all dark things the light they require to exist unconditionally.

 

 

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