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The Empty Glassby J I Baker
After a while, everything started to blur.
I felt that I’d spent hours, days, lying on the floor of this hotel room with my face against the wood and my eyes open wide as the air came through the vent near my head. The whoosh was all I heard— then the door closing, the keys in the lock, the footsteps on the floor stopping as I turned to see the patent leather shoes before my eyes, the stub of a cigarette dropped between them, burning.
And then there was the gun.
“Wake up.” Captain Hamilton pushed the Smith & Wesson into my neck. “I want you to write me a letter.”
I don’t remember when or how I did it. The three (or was it four? Or five? Or ten? I don’t remember) Nembutals had knocked me out. The captain was out of focus, going double.
He handed me the pen that she had used to write her own last words, and forced me to write mine. Reeling on the bed with his gun at my temple, I thought of the notes written on napkins and doors and windows and carpets that lined the shelves of Suicide Notes and Weapons. Now I was adding my own: Take care of Max for me. Tell him that I loved him. Tell him that whatever else his father did, he loved his son.
“That’s good, Delilah.” He loomed over me. “Now you feel good?”
“Even better.” He handed me the bottle.
I leaned forward, reached for the pills, and ended up with the gun. Ah, his shoulder had been injured, Doc. You know that.
I don’t need to tell you that I shot him. I was on my back, elbows locked. He was bending down when the gun kicked, a black dime smoking on his chest. He reared, touched the hole, and stared at the fluid that glistened like oil on his finger. “Oh, I know what this is,” he said as he fell.
I heard the sound his skull made.
I know what happens when you die.
You sigh and rub your forehead. “All right.” You shake a Chesterfield from your pack and light it with a kitchen match. You drag and blow smoke to the ceiling fan with the bulb above the table, and I notice (not for the first time) how clammy and pitted your skin is. You’re a big man, Doc, like an aging football player, with the face and waist of a small- town cop. “Let’s go over this again,” you say. You adjust your wire- rimmed glasses and check the notes that you are keeping in the book near the Sony reel-to-reel, lying on the desk like a suitcase, rolling at RECORD. “You shot him.”
“In self- defense. You see the bandages. You gave me the Novril.”
“Is it working?”
You sit on one side of the table; I sit on the other. Between us, that reel-to-reel, a stack of used and unused seven- inch tapes, a glass ashtray, a vial of Novril, and your pack of Chesterfields. There is also a box with a label reading “Fitzgerald, Ben, Psych Eval.” It contains what you call “the evidence”:
You pick up Item No. 1. “It had your fingerprints on it.”
“Like I said, I shot him.”
“Why did anyone do anything? Everything changed after she died.”
“The actress. I’ve told you this already.”
“Tell me again.”
So I do:
“I woke to the sound of the knock on the door and sat up in the light from the neon sign that snaked along the wall outside the window,” I say. “An empty carton of moo goo gai pan sat beside me; I hadn’t thrown it out. I wasn’t sure if I had dreamt the knock or actually heard it. I didn’t have a phone—”
“Hang on.” You are frowning. Something is wrong with the Sony. The wheels have stopped. You hit REWIND, then PLAY, and I hear my voice:
“—touched the hole, and stared at the fluid that glistened like oil
on his finger—”
You hit STOP and look up at me. “Like oil?”
“It glistened like oil, Ben?”
“It’s a simile.”
“Who do you think you are, Edna Ferber?”
But you can’t hear my voice on the tape anymore. This is where the recording stopped. There is nothing but static. You make minor adjustments to the machine and try it again: REWIND, STOP, PLAY.
It doesn’t work. You hit it with the heel of your hand.
REWIND, STOP, PLAY.
My voice: “Why did anyone do anything? Everything changed after she died.”
You pause the tape and look at me. “Now pick up where you left off.”
“Give me a cigarette first.”
“I thought you quit.”
“That was yesterday.”
You give me a cigarette.
And a Novril, too: for the pain.
After a while, everything starts to blur.
“Tell the truth this time,” you say.
“I already told you the truth.”
“So tell it again.”
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