Lovedog: A Seven Days Story
Posted By: SeverianofUrth
Date: 30 April 2009, 9:02 pm
Lovedog: A Seven Days Story
In which memory fails our narrator.
Watching my life pass before my eyes, Ben, was like watching a movie with good intentions but bad actors.
My teacher lived in the outskirts of Praden, a city famous for its Whoretown, which, as you may have guessed already, was a collection of brothels catering to mostly legal tastes. Next to the tall buildings where men and women stood naked against the glass windows like mannequins, his house was a little thing of red bricks and ship-grade insulation. Admittedly, that appearance was quite deceiving, for he had a large basement under the house that was easily three or four times the size of the home itself--like onions, it had layers. There were cells down there, along with the dentist's chair by which I'd learned my craft. Not fixing teeth, although I did on occasion pry them out of some unfortunate bastard's mouth. You did it with pliers and a little hammer, Ben, and there was a certain trick to wiggling them out of their sockets. He had taught me to start with the canines... but I digress.
I arrived there at dawn, after a long train ride across half the planet; aboard the Rhaetian express, the fare had cost me most of that day's wages. The train ride itself had been quite dull, although I felt tired, having been unable to sleep at all. The purpose behind my trip to Praden wouldn't let me; it made me wonder, think, wonder, imagine, obsess--all the small details, the gun in my bag, the dominica, the letter, the invitation, all those things catalogued over and over as I tried to avoid thinking about the real reasons behind me making the trip. Then I would go--yes, I am here to kill him. Or rather, I would send him on his way. I could probably refer to it as an involuntary walk under the ladder, with the destination a hole six feet deep. Looking out the window, seeing the ruins of Plessur pass by, the sky dark and empty of stars, the winds carrying snow and ashes.
The thought of killing my own teacher was very depressing. It wasn't that I had no experience in such things. Naturally, it was because of the bond we shared, teacher and pupil, and although the subject he taught me had at times left me numb to the sight of blood or death, still, he was, as he was fond of saying--oddly, as he was a black man from the Ethiopian conglomerate--my sensei, or in Korean, sunseng. And I liked him, as a human being. He was a good man in his own way, and even to the very end,
I got off the train and was struck by just how cold it was. Utica, as you may have expected, was the kind of place where 'summer' is but another word for more snow, but still, it always made me stop for a second to breathe in the knife-chill air.
So the sun was setting, but my day was just beginning. My boots chomped through the ankle-deep snow, and the wind swept up loose flakes of snow and sent them through the streets like a flurry of white confetti. The train station was conveniently located next to Whoretown, which, in turn, was next to my teacher's home. I appreciated the subtle genius behind the decision to let those looking for good times do so efficiently. In my mind, I again went through the contents of my bag: my pistol, the bottle of cheap wine, and his letter, handwritten with black ink on a yellow sheet of paper, asking me to come. Requesting my services, as it happened to be.
Would you like the tea buttered, sir? I couldn't help but remember my train ride, and the tea service at noon. This was so absurd--me, coming here like some hitman, with a gun in my bag and dread in my heart, here to deliver a piece of lead to someone's head, shatter that skull open like a watermelon.
It took me half an hour to reach his house, a long walk through the slush and snow, through the colorless streets and the long rows of empty buildings, some boarded up and others nothing but rubble.
I looked around, and noticed a young girl staring at me through the window high up in her building, with no shirt on. She mouthed something at me--beckoned me to come up--but I pretended not to notice. I knocked. There was no answer, and I knocked again, my knuckles hurting a bit as I rapped it against the plastic surface. It was getting hard to ignore all the other windows around me, with their merchandises displayed so prominently. Tall, sleek buildings, the brothels of Utica, high-tech places catering to the modern human being with low-tech services. I don't know why I was so bothered by them. Maybe, as I sit here now thinking about it, me dead and you still alive--probably, hopefully--I was just horny and they were there, in my reach. So simple to get up there and be satisfied. No fear of ostracism because there were hundreds of other patrons doing the exact same thing to men and women and dogs and god knows what else.
Finally, I heard footsteps lazily coming up to the door. It creaked open--and there I saw that old familiar face. My teacher hadn't aged--or rather, had aged remarkably well. A small black man. Wrinkles. One eye. I bowed, and he motioned for me to come inside. As I followed him in, I was struck by two things--the casual formalness of what were his last living moments, and also, the smell of hotcakes. He led me into the kitchen, and there they were, little things the size of my hand, still steaming in the cold air.
Their smell made me pause, remembering all those mornings where I'd wake up to the scent of breakfast and the sight of dead men hanging on bathroom hooks. We did much of our work in bathtubs. The tub kept the waste in and the showerhead made it easy to wash after the work was done. I would wake up on the bathroom floor because I'd faint, being young and accustomed to such misery. After waking up, the work would begin, and I would clean out the past night's work with one hand on the showerhead and the other firmly clamped on my mouth, trying not to vomit.
We didn't exchange pleasantries, because nothing that day was pleasant to us, and we didn't talk about the weather, because weather on Utica was always shit.
"Trying to bribe me, sir?" I asked as we walked to the dinner table. It was scuffed with knife-marks and there were holes where restraints had once been screwed into it. But now there was a plate of hotcakes and a pot of coffee, simmering on the little candlemat, smelling like cheap imitation beans.
He laughed, and I with him. I wonder now at the dignity with which he faced me. "Not at all, Ruba." He asked me to take a seat, and as I settled in on the comfortable high chair, he set up some plates and poured out a cup of coffee for me. "Eat up," he said. "You won't be having those ever again, I bet."
"Which I will regret, sir." I took out my knife and cut a piece off. Syrup oozed out when I cut into it, like blood. As I ate, it dribbled down my chin and onto my jacket.
"As always, you make such a mess."
"A drop of syrup, sir, never hurt no one."
He nodded. There was a bit of silence as I ate. Then:
"I wonder, Ruba, if you ever thought about... the things you do."
"The things I do, sir, as I was taught to do. By you."
"Of course. And I suppose we can talk philosophy and such until the time comes when you must leave, and when that times comes, I'll have the choice of sitting still or trying to resist." He smiled. "I'm too old for this shit, don't you think?"
I finished eating the hotcakes. They were, as usual, good. He always got the syrup within the cakes while frying them up, and as a result they were always hot and had the consistency of honey. I sipped the now-lukewarm cup of coffee, and as I did so, it occurred to me that he might have poisoned me--but I dismissed that thought. After all, where would he go if he killed me? None of his old contacts would help, for they were either loyal to the new cadre or dead, and there was no way to get off the planet. And I trusted him to do the 'right' thing. To submit, which he himself had initiated by sending me the letter. Getting your student to do it, I suppose, is like suicide, just one step removed--like, perhaps, the red-headed stepson in a family of black-haired Germans.
Perhaps, when I said I did not find the prospect of killing my teacher pleasant, I was lying to myself.
"How will it be done?"
'I was told to use my own judgment."
"A laser cutter, then? Perhaps you'll shoot me. Or maybe a bonesaw, although I didn't see you bring any big bags in."
I can't remember what I said to him here.
He laughed. "Who could have known? Always so imaginative." Mocking me. "Although you always left such a big mess. I remember all the shit you put me through--you never did have the patience to make it a clean job."
Perhaps he was referring to the time I botched an interrogation by confusing arsenic for hypopenta, although, it had not been an mistake and I was glad to see her die fast. I never did try such a thing again, because the second and the third and all the times that came after it numbed me, and after a while, all their agony blurred together into one meaningless mess.
Once, he'd said to me in the aftermath of such work, that people should stop asking him to find out the truth; that we were, in the end, nothing more than disciplinarians with knives. Torture, he told me, works as punishment, but for not much else.
"Would you like me to put the plates away, sir?"
"Hmm? I can--oh, I see what you mean." He shrugged. "Leave it for the dogs. Or crows. Or the whores. Do we still have them around here?"
"The whores, sir? It's probably too late to arrange a meeting with one."
"Should never have banned them," he said. "We bent over backwards for the Christians, and what'd we get?"
"Their support consisted of prayer meetings and the occasional sniper support," he replied, wryly. "And the sniper support didn't even matter, considering how bloodless the whole thing was."
I said, "still, it certainly lent weight to the movement." Then, uncertain, I asked, "the whores, sir?"
"Too bad we don't have them around here anymore. They had plans to build a big old town of them, you know?" He frowned. "On one hand, I'd love a good old-style house run by someone respectable. None of that city gutter trash. The problem, Ruba, is that bitches and whores don't have much sense of space." He started to laugh. "No sense of space at all. A cell might as well be a room, and a room a house, and a house a mansion, and a mansion a fucking city, that's how they are. Don't concern themselves with space, they just sit and bitch and moan."
I was rather confused at this point, because my last conversation with him had been nothing like this. So here my teacher became the kindly black man to whom I often attributed the voice of authority. No longer was he that biting, bitter fool; now, he was someone I loved.
"Funny thing, ain't it? Found God while you were away, Ruba. It's all sorts of comfort, believing in some spaceman who's all ready to sweep me up and away." Smiling, he poured syrup over his cakes, then cursed. "Well, hell, forgot about that damn coffee. Be right back--"
"No need, sir." I asked him to sit back down, and reached down to pull the bottle of wine out of my bag. "Got us a drink, figured you'd want something to wet your throat."
"Why, that looks like some wine." He looked surprised. "Where did you get that? Looked like you pulled it out of the--why, out of the thin air."
It was much like a magic trick. I'm sure I did something ingenious. I actually did the deed with either the pistol or the dominica, and I'm leaning towards the latter.
"Shit for tastes, sir." I grinned, and he back at me. "That amaretto and orange juice stuff smells like a trashcan, if you know what I mean."
"That's 'cause you have shit for tastes, son. Best damn drink in the world."
"Sadly, sir, all I got was this wine." I put the bottle up on the table, then stood up to fetch some cups. I noticed him examining the bottle, and his eyes, flickering up to look at the broken seal, signs of it having been opened before. He was quiet as I got two cups and poured out a good half for each of us.
He held the cup in his hand, contemplating, perhaps, the rapidly shrinking amount of time left to him. Then: "Figures," he said with a small smile to me, "that I'd go out like this. Why not--why not a gun?"
I shrugged. I didn't know what to say. I just wanted him to have an easy end. A quiet one, something normal that some old men have, a gentle fading away. He would slowly fall into a deep sleep, and then, as he slept, the poison would work through his veins and still his heart. I hoped he wouldn't feel a thing.
He drank. It started as a sip, then he gulped the whole thing down. "Man, that tasted bad. You really do have shit tastes, don't you?" A laugh. "Well, guess its over now."
I tried to grin, but something got caught in my throat. The hotcakes in front of me had grown cold, the syrup congealed on top of them like chunks of sticky pine tar, and the ignominity of his death was oddly comforting. For someone who'd ended so many lives in misery and agony, this was a blessing, perhaps. At the time, as I chatted with him, watching him slowly lose his grip, I wondered if I would have a gentle death.
As you probably know, I died very violently, but at the very least, it was quick, and we must all be thankful for small mercies.
He mentioned his son. I remembered him, a little dark boy born to a mother who didn't want him. I'd held her down at the moment of conception. I had been fourteen back then, and the sight of the rape had aroused me. Something about it made me sick afterwards. You could say, Ben, that it was one of those defining moments of my youth.
"He's coming, sir?"
He nodded. "Sure is... coming now, probably, you know, he wanted me to run?"
"And--why didn't you, sir?"
"'Cause I'd already asked for you to come, that's what." He closed his eyes, leaned back tiredly on his chair. "Think your wine is working already, cause I can feel sleep coming up on me. Just wanted to... warn you."
I asked him, gently, "You don't need to worry, sir."
"Of course I worry... don't let him see the basement, Ruba. Don't let him down. Let him see me... but not that."
I promised him that I would not let his son see his father's works. And there, I watched him die. It was slow, but eventually, he fell asleep, and then, a sudden stiffening of his body as he tried to breathe, then his heart stopped, and he crumpled to the floor off his chair, and there, I was reminded of that old comparison, one that so many others have made, at how, when a man dies, he looks like a puppet with cut strings, limbs losing all will.
He never did finish his hotcakes, and I never did start eating them. Leaving my cup of wine untouched on the table, I walked to the back of the house, where the door to the basement was, and down the dark stairs I went, down to where much of my education had taken place, skills that I hoped I had no more use for. I passed a long shelf filled with bonesaws and hammers and chisels and nails, then three cells and the dentist's chair, then at last, I came to the furnace room. I checked to see if it still ran, and it did. Although it took a while to get it started, get it started I did, and soon the flames were roaring. I was surprised, as there was no way it should have worked, and now I stand puzzled because I can't quite ever remember a furnace being there; it would have been quite an unreasonable thing to have in one's home, not to mention impractical. Utica was, like many planets in the process of colonization, had much empty space. Enough space to hide a million corpses. No need to burn them.
I went back up to where my teacher lay, dead on the floor. His body was light. A small man. I carried him down to the basement, past all the instruments with which he practiced his craft, and fed him to the fire, as we did with... not many others. I want to say many, but it would be a lie to say that I remember any particular incident where we actually did so. But I'm certain that we did.
So, he burned. Fire caught onto his skin and seeped into his bones. Soon, he'd be nothing but ashes.
I waited outside the house for his son. It was a long wait, filled with empty thoughts, thinking about random things--the weather, food, wine. All around me the empty houses and the empty towers. Utica, fiercely cold, and--what was I doing here? Freezing my ass off outside a dead man's house waiting for his son to come. Utterly without purpose except for the orders that came in once a week. Not a sound in the wind, the town unnaturally silent, because the brothels were out of business and the whores were now soldiers and the soldiers were dead as well. But I remembered the young girl staring at me through the window, when the town once bustled with business. Climbing up, waiting anxiously in the elevator, opening the door, the welcome embrace, the lights turned off save for the few cheap candles burning on the shelves. Wax dripping down to the floor as I sat up on the bed and stared out the window and tried to ignore just what I had done, so young and so lonely, ignorant, really, stealing my teacher's stipend to go fuck a whore. I looked back, and Ben, she lay on the bed with her eyes closed, thankful that it had been so quick.
We all make our wages, we all make a living. It was with such a thought in my mind that I stood in the cold, waiting.
A car pulled up. Small, black, and out came a young black man. He recognized me, and I believe that he realized he was too late. Grief on his features, he looked very much like his mother, who I'm sure he never knew. I was silent as he walked past me without a word and went inside. Outside, I stood, then I followed him in, closing the door behind me as I pulled out my pistol.
After all, Ben, I had to finish the job.
I feel tired now, Ben. Sleep tugs at me, but I'm frightened, because no matter how exhausted I am, sleep would mean something far more permanent than a nap here.
I have trouble remembering your face.