The Grim Shady

By Michelle Gray

e was a nice boy from the Canadian prairies, at least, he seemed like a nice boy. The folks from town and nearby farms that knew him when he was growing up said that he was double sided; a polite way of saying that he had a split personality or that he had a demon. He was mostly a decent boy but there was a darkness to him, too. He started slicking his hair down with wax and dressing in suits when he was very young without any instruction from his parents. He was very neat and unusually independent and really mainly a very good boy except there was something in his smile that wasn’t right. His parents were decent hard working people who didn’t have the time to peruse endless baby name books at the time of their son’s birth and impulsively named him after an old car repair shop near their farm called “Jake’s Repairs” which had been boarded up for a long time but still had a big old sign that swung and squeaked noisily in the dusty wind. On quiet nights Jake’s family could hear the squeaking of the sign from the house and it had become a comforting sound that reminded them of happier times rather than an annoyance. Jacob’s parents, because of their inability to understand the Hebrew language, had unwittingly given their son a name which means “he grasps the heel” or, figuratively, “he deceives”. In later years, when this was awkwardly explained to Jake’s parents by the local priest whom they had gone to consult about an exorcism for their son, they had two thoughts about it, the first being, “I wish we had picked a different name” and second, “It sure does explain a lot, though”.

 

As a boy Jake spent a lot of time in the barn alone listening to early Elvis records and practicing his guitar. Before long folks passing by that heard the music couldn’t tell the difference between the records and the boy’s guitar playing and singing. When the boy became an adolescent he went through a Punk Rock phase and spiked his hair up into a mohawk and abandoned the Elvis records for The Sex Pistols but he never stopped skulking around the barn alone and practicing his guitar. He rarely spoke to anybody but when he did it was always with a heavy lidded gaze and an aloof smile which had a tendency to fill the person that he was speaking to with uneasiness. He had a way of looking right through a person with disinterest but one could not take offense because his words were always polite and then there was his mouth always slightly turned up at the edges and baring his teeth in an almost predatory manner. For weeks before he left he was in the barn with the music blaring, swinging around on an old chain and hook that had been installed for hanging bovine carcasses, screaming. Then, very suddenly, the music stopped and he was back in a suit with his hair slicked down, a young man now, and standing in the kitchen with a suitcase announcing that he was moving to the city. After he said the words he turned and left without saying goodbye and never contacted anyone from the farm again.

 

Emma met Jake not long after she had been almost all used up by three sets of abusive foster parents and then an abusive boyfriend and Jacob, clean cut and benevolent looking Jacob in his impeccable suits, came along and used up the rest. She met him at a small garage sale that she was hosting with a friend in front of the girl’s apartment on Queen Street which was the main drag that ran through a thriving arts community. This community thrived not only with talent but with carefully crafted gossip and impolitic cruelty and one had to dress in battle armor daily or be overwhelmed by the evil of the fake feminists who would always go straight for the kill shot. The helmet that Emma had selected for that day was a child’s hat covered with cartoon characters worn backwards, her breastplate a threadbare Ramones t-shirt, and her shield a huge pair of sunglasses circa 1970. Two men walked by and Emma tried to sell them a pair of flashy men’s Thai boxing shorts that she had purchased without explanation and had never worn. The tall, clean cut one stared at her intently, apparently seeing past the hangover hiding sunglasses and silly child’s hat and detecting promise in what her ancient t-shirt was concealing and the long colt like legs that stuck out from the bottom of her fraying paint spattered cut offs, and he smiled and smiled and never released her from that stare. He had a long face and a very confident demeanor and that heavy lidded gaze and the smile that didn’t say, “Nice to meet you”; it sent another message altogether. The smile told a story of things that he had done and things that he would like to do to Emma. His friend eventually made introductions and mentioned that the tall one, Jake, was a musician that played regularly at a bar just a few blocks down the street. The musician invited Emma to come and see his show that night and she walked there in the rain. She would have walked through worse. She strode into the bar where she could hear him singing and playing his guitar and she was wearing a long hooded raincoat that had been soaked and now clung to her. She followed the sound into the backroom and she pushed her hood off exposing the long, wet tangle of her bright hair which had been darkened by the rain. He recognized her right away even though there was no earthly reason that he should. He looked at her and smiled that smile and Emma blushed.

 

Their relationship was very physical but there was something else; some kind of secret and primeval connection. They didn’t do a lot of talking but not much needed to be said. It was like they had been mates in feral cat colony long ago and had been separated for a time and having found each other again they just picked up where they left off. They fell into an easy routine like Emma had always been there in Jake’s apartment and he in hers. He guessed her birth date on the first night that they spent together which was only two days away from his. They would run into each other all the time all over the city. They were like two mittens on a string except you couldn’t see it and the string kept the two of them on a constant collision course. It could have been magical if he had been another man and she another woman. It was a strange business and it went on and off for two years and, by the end, had all the magical twisted out of it. The base animal pleasure and the painful longing and the masochistic sickness of their attachment tattooed itself all through Emma changing her in way that was intended to make her belong to him forever. She knew that she was not his only woman. He told her and not the others which made his intention unclear. In these rare moments of confession Emma would wonder, “Is it because he trusts me or because he thinks I’m enslaved and wouldn’t dare say anything?” She didn’t know how the others could have missed it because he was not careful about hiding her at all. She was his glittering prize not unlike the mementos taken by serial killers from their victims, a ring for one, a finger for another. He had selected her carefully. Emma was a very damaged girl and, like Jake, she didn’t care too much about hurting people’s feelings or what they thought about her. Unlike the others, he didn’t just want to have Emma, he wanted to own her. Jake was too full of hubris to detect the reserve of strength that Emma had treasured away deep within. She was numb but not weak. She was still on the ropes from a lifetime of trauma but if he had looked carefully into her eyes he would have seen it, “You will never.”

 

During this period Emma watched Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” over and over again relating to the good girl gone bad character because the creature has some bizarre power over all of the objects of its desire. Emma would watch the film and say, “Oh, you silly sluts” in reference to all of the creature’s whores, knowing that she was just like them, and would drink Pernod and pretend it was absinthe. She drank a lot of Pernod then and would soak sugar cubes in her glass of the yellowish liquid just like in the film when the creature is telling its lover about the fairies that live in the absinthe. This was Emma’s favorite part and so she ended up with a lot of headaches from the Pernod and the sugar cubes which are not actually supposed to be consumed with this pastis liqueur. In this scene the creature still seems a mysterious and charming young prince and the young woman allows herself to be swept away unaware, as yet, about the evil that is about to swallow her up in death. When drunk enough, Emma would lie her head on the kitchen table and look through her glass of the powerful intoxicant imagining fairies in it swaying sickly and an image of Jake on the other side of the glass, distorted but still handsome and charming, and his mouth smiling and lying and somehow promising love one day without ever saying it and really only ever lying. First she drank what he offered her and then she swam in it and then she almost drowned in it and, although she was suffering and he knew it, he was always smiling that smile on the other side of the glass. Emma wondered how many others he had hugged patronizingly with that icy silence when each woman inevitably and foolishly blurted out, “I love you”. Emma could picture him standing on the top of an escalator that lead to nowhere and an endless line of weak and bewildered women traveling slowly up the moving staircase like cattle awaiting the killing floor and preening in preparation to see him then when it’s finally their turn he says to each woman, “You are the only one for me, sugar” and then the woman falls off the other side of the escalator into an abyss.

 

One day another man, an older and more experienced predator than Jake, stole Emma from Jake and whisked her away to Costa Rica. This new predator had a prettier cage and when Emma returned from Central America and Jake came sniffing around she turned him down. She didn’t think a woman had ever said “no” to him before. He told her that he respected her for it and he might have been telling the truth about that, too, although mingling with the alien feeling of respect under his ribcage were probably also feelings of nausea, astonishment and blind rage. Something that Jake had hunted and toyed with and petted for a long time had been taken from him. During the second trip to Costa Rica the older predator got drunk one night and punched Emma and strangled her and she left him because only stupid women stay. The whole thing was worth it though, the pain and the sadness and the humiliation, all worth it just to get free of Jake. Even though the last one had laid his hands on her in that bad way, when she tallied everything up, he still treated her better than Jake ever did. When Emma got home from Costa Rica the second time she would lie there at night and remember the blows from the last one and how each of his blows drove a piece of Jake out of her forever. It cleansed her from Jake and from all the rest of them, too, and over time she became something else.

 

Several years later when Emma was living on the island of Oahu Jake suddenly came to her mind really powerfully out of nowhere as though he was singing to her like a male siren trying to lure her back to his deadly, rocky shores. She checked him out on the internet. Jake had moved to Texas and had started a new band called “The Grim Shady”. Looking at his website was as disturbing as attending an open casket funeral. He was barely recognizable with long black hair and a black beard and looking older than he should have for his age. His pale face and his gaze, cold and menacing now, were mostly hidden by a big black cowboy hat and a glut of ghoulish Southwestern Tex-Death symbols. His alter ego had finally reared its ugly head and had given itself a creepy new name and had started a creepy new band. Emma wondered what had happened to make him move so far away and change his life so drastically. Maybe he wanted to get away from all of the people that he had used on his way up the ladder to a somewhat lukewarm echelon of success including the members of his trio that he had dumped without a backward glance. Maybe a lynch mob showed up at his door one night with torches blazing and the broken, angry remnants of his past started to bust their way in. Emma read that he had gotten married and she had to laugh. Never had there been a man so unsuited to a lifetime of monogamy. It was probably for her U.S citizenship or to advance his career in some other way via her money or her contacts or whatever else she had to offer. Poor thing probably didn’t know what hit her until it was too late. He told Emma once that he didn’t think he would ever be able to be true to just one woman and she thought that this careless remark was probably one of the only times that he ever told her the truth about anything. Emma was surprised to find herself feeling upset about the marriage news. She said to herself, “But why should I be surprised? He is mine, after all. My other mitten.” Emma started to laugh and then she angrily shoved her laptop off of her desk on to the floor with a crash.

 

Emma had never met anyone so focused on getting what he wants and then always getting it but always wanting the wrong things. If it was just the U.S citizenship he was after he could have married Emma but, oh, what a blood bath that would have been. Jake coming home at 3AM with the stink of slut number two hundred and twenty nine on him and playing the innocent and she with her Irish temper palming something cold, heavy and cast iron and sitting calmly by the door ready to pulverize his skull. Nevertheless, Emma immediately hated this fake wife, this interloper, and she blamed her for Jake’s change in appearance and manner. She blamed her for all the black and the creepiness. For example, Jake’s hair had always been naturally brown as were his beard, his sideburns and eyebrows. This meant that he’d been going to a salon once a month or more to dye all of the hair on his body black or that one of his new slaves had been doing it for him. Emma could picture it, unfortunately, as she could picture so many things that she didn’t want to; the slave with her little brush doing touch ups to his roots, and Jake ordering her with frustration to, “hurry it up, bitch.” Maybe they dyed each other’s hair simultaneously poking and pulling at each other with the drug store brand accoutrements like brain damaged howler monkeys. Time went on and the shock wore off and Emma bought herself a new laptop and forgot about them. That is what she told herself, at any rate.

 

Emma had not seen Jake in almost twenty years when he showed up at her gate yesterday. When she finally recognized him she wanted to knock him down and scream at him but she couldn’t do it. Everyone knows that it’s wrong to kick a dog especially if it’s half dead already. The folks from back home used to say, “He is double sided.” Now it is more accurate to say that he was. For a long time he was both Jake and the darker alter ego but it seems as though the darker side of him has eaten its feeble twin and now it stands alone; sick, hollowed out by evil, and weaker than it ever thought it would be. Even so it remembered Emma’s clemency from days gone by and has dragged itself here hoping that she has more to offer. She cannot hate him now. He is a pitiable creature that has become devoid of all of the weapons that made him formidable. He is so empty and horror and mire fill all the empty places. What did you lose, Jake? What did you sell? Emma is a new creation, too. She has spent her forty years in the wilderness and she has earned her stars and she bows to no man and no man touches her. She is the steward of a junkyard for lost, forgotten and unwanted things. Jake is all of these things now and I suppose that is how he ended up here. He must have gotten hold of one of her business cards which say: “The End of the Line” and “Free Admission” then, “Knock and ask for the steward”. On the back they say, “No Smoking” and “Now serving vegetarian, vegan and non-GMO menu items!” Jake has already found an old acoustic guitar in the piles and has built himself a makeshift stage not too far from Emma’s office and is singing early Blues songs with a new rawness to his voice that reveals the suffering underneath the smile and the animals and other living things are starting to poke their heads out from their nooks and crannies and slowly creep over to join the small audience. He doesn’t seem pathetic when he is playing that guitar and she has to admit that some of that young Elvis sex appeal still emanates when he plays. She could have denied him entry but he plays really well and the junkyard is so quiet. She decides to let him stay and call him by his proper name or maybe by a better name hoping earnestly that whatever light that dwelled within him before will someday return and evict this monstrous impostor.

 

Many celebrities and the ones that worship them end up here in the junkyard. Inanimate objects end up here, too, but also many humans that got all used up. The humans have to ask permission before they enter and Emma always gives it because she knows what it’s like to be all used up and who is she to not show mercy? She is no innocent. Plus she needs help breaking down the big piles of refuse that show up here every day from who knows where. She can’t handle the job on her own so whenever a human ends up here she gives them a task. Jake is still very weak from whatever it was that happened to him on his ill advised endeavor to grab the golden ring. He can still sing and play guitar so that will be his job for now until he is strong enough to be given an occupation that is healthier for him. And what task shall Emma assign to the fake wife? She will muck out the barns and the pig pens until she learns her place. Emma will make sure the interloper is able to see her as Emma re-establishes her relationship with Jake. She will shovel filth and listen to the serenades that are not for her and never will be. She will see life return to Jake as he learns how to receive love and kindness from one that he hurt so badly but she will not be a part of it. He will learn humility and it will make him a better man. He will choose a new name and she will never hear it. He will put down his guitar and learn others skills. He will build two houses side by side that share a yard where he will plant an orchard. There will be fruit trees of every kind and Plumeria trees because he knows that they are Emma’s favorite. Their fragrance is beautiful beyond imagining but the interloper will never smell them. Emma will live in one house and Jake in the other and they will be good friends and neighbors and invite the humans in the junkyard to garden parties, everyone except for her. Jake will become well and whole and strong and Emma will not take any of it from him. They will fall back into their easy feral cat routine and pick fruit smiling contentedly. The fake wife will shovel and hiss with rage and know that her dodgy little scheme has been foiled for good. “Yes, it will be a difficult transition for the interloper” says Emma, “but he belongs to me.”

 

 

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Michelle Gray started writing in her early twenties. She has written and published short fiction pieces and poetry and has also written and performed in short comedy skits in Toronto, the city of her birth. In this city, Michelle survived a violent home invasion which changed her life dramatically and also her voice as a writer. Michelle took a sabbatical from writing in order to heal and to allow her voice to transition into one that, today, is more authentic. She started writing again in 2010 and kept on writing until she produced some pieces that were worthy of publication. Michelle was published in the literary journal Florida English (Vol. 9, Print) in 2011 http://flacea.org/FLENG/FloridaEnglish1.htm and online with Atticus Review (June 2012) http://atticusreview.org/. Michelle is a dual citizen (CAN/U.S) and has lived, attended university and worked in both countries. She didn’t learn much in university but falling in love with her Sociology professor in 2009 was the cause of Michelle starting to write again; for better or for worse.  Michelle welcomes feedback at m.gray.feedback@gmail.com.


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