LOOKING FOR MARIA - ANDY HENION
Originally published in December 2007 in the Australian print magazine Skive
The man comes to the house looking for Maria. He’s tall and broad shouldered and eating a package of French fries. I tell him Maria’s not around. He appraises my silk bathrobe and looks beyond me into the living room.
You the new guy? he says. This your place?
Come on in, I tell him. No big deal.
I silence the newscaster who’s blathering about the latest rash of home-invasions and take a seat on the couch. The man walks around the house eating his French fries. I hear him rummaging in the bathroom vanity, opening dresser drawers. When he returns his pockets are bulging with pill bottles. He wads up the French fry package and tosses it to the floor.
This is just a start, he says, patting the pill bottles. What Maria owes won’t fit in my pocket.
The man comes over to the couch and jabs a finger at me. It’s shiny with fry grease and shaking slightly, like the rest of him. His other hand pulls back a shirttail to reveal a black handgun.
You’re on the hook, little man. Maria’s debt is your debt.
Fair enough, I say, and very slowly reach into my bathrobe pocket and pull out a bag. I pat the couch and urge the man to sit down and partake, but he remains standing while I make the preparations. I ignite the finished product and offer it up. He motions for me to smoke first, and I do. Eventually he takes it and sucks liberally and after a few moments seems to relax. He sits down on the opposite end of the couch and looks again at the bathrobe, which is open to the waist, exposing a hairless torso. It’s a rose-patterned garment, but familiar and comfy on my slight frame.
The fuck are you, Helen Hefner?
Hah, I say. Same size as the old lady, believe it or not.
The man frowns. That Maria’s?
Our girl, I say. She loves those roses.
He nods and smokes deeply, keeping it for himself. Five minutes later, when the blunt is nearly gone, he puts his head back on the couch and closes his eyes. The shaking has stopped. His hand eases away from the gun.
I tend to fill silence with chatter, a nervous habit. I say, You hear about this maniac on the news? I tell you, I was a bit freaked when you first showed up. The way he goes from house to house? They say he ties people up, takes a knife to them and then makes himself at home while they bleed out.
The man doesn’t seem to hear me, or worse, care that a killer is terrorizing our citizenry in the privacy of their own homes. He smokes the last of the blunt and then, in a sing-song voice, says, Marr-ee-yaa ... Marr-ee-yaa. Doan do me lack dat.
What did she do, exactly?
The man snorts and sits coma-like for a good while. Finally he opens his eyes with considerable effort, pupils blooming. A sheen of seat covers his forehead and his jaws seem a bit loose. When he speaks, it’s jabberwocky.
Shtook id, jif. Leffy dowd.
Huh, I say, sliding down the couch so we’re thigh-to-thigh. I retrieve the file from my bathrobe pocket and work a cuticle, another nervous habit, as I watch his face shift and contort. At once, his chin bounces off his chest and an orange stew splatters onto his lap.
Damn, I say, wiping my bare arm on his shirt. Too much of a bad thing, fella.
He’s hunched over and unmoving, a line of rust-colored saliva hanging from his lip. I reach out and hold my palm in front of his mouth, letting it hover, feeling his wet shallow breaths, before moving it around to the earlobe. Thumb and forefinger close on the hanging flesh and remain there, caressing. Slowly, gently, caressing.
The man paws feebly for the gun and begins to weep. I move my lips to his ear and in hushed tones describe the concoction of chemicals flowing through his bloodstream and offer a snapshot of his immediate future.
Maa, he manages... Maa-ree-ah...
Who’s Maria? I whisper.
BIO: Andy's short fiction appears in Plots With Guns, Thieves Jargon, Pindeldyboz, Hobart and other publications. He lives in Michigan.