“The Last Fact” by Douglas Light
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, Douglas Light journeys through the East Village and Chinatown, solving a mysterious morning one fact at a time. Next week, Bronwyn Mauldin takes us to Charlotte, North Carolina, where there are so many churches you’ll die before you can see them all.
An explosion of splinters stabs up his spine. Carrick’s eyes shutter open. Where the fuck am I? he thinks. His face is hard to the floor. The whale-gray carpet reeks of foot powder and fried fish. A circus of pain makes its way through his body.
Lifting his head, he finds his cheek fused to something sticky on the carpet. It tears free like cotton congealed to a wound.
He sits heavily on the bed, his stomach roiling. The taste of low tide floods his mouth. The sun rages hard into the room, cooking the trapped air. Dizzy, he dips his head between his knees, holding it there like he learned long ago in Boy Scouts.
“Okay, okay,” he says. His voice startles him, sounds foreign, frightened, not his own. “Start with a fact.” Breathing deeply, evenly, he opens his eyes and realizes the first.
Fact one: I’m naked. But why?
He rewinds his memory of last night, grasping for the last clear image. Acid eaten snapshots click roughly together: his wife Sabine’s favorite Indian restaurant. 6th Street. The East Village. A sliver of a space that flickered and glowed with strings of tiny lights year round.
She was in a mood.
“Is this about your name being misspelled on the junk mail?” He was deep into his third—fourth?—vodka tonic.
It was about something else.
He’d failed her.
“Failed you? How?”
“All I want is one thing.” She wrestled a pair of chopsticks through her chicken vindaloo. “Where are the forks in this place?” She hailed the waiter. “It’s Indian for fuck’s sake, not Chinese.”
Carrick reached out for her hand. She wrenched back. “Oh, no. I’m not some bullshit scratch-off lotto ticket. There’s no another dollar, another try.”
He laughed. “Come on, Sabine. Talk to me.”
“I have been. I encode, you don’t decode. Just fucking listen.”
Another vodka tonic. A fork. The waiter smelled of processed garlic and soured milk. Sabine flashed a face of disgust at him.
“You’d be terrible at poker,” Carrick said.
“Just . . . I’m listening. Tell me what you want,” he said, adding, “Again.”
Sabine stabbed a cut of chicken, held it up. Her nails, freshly done, were a raw tuna red. “Okay,” she said, and then told him.
But what? The time between then and now is damp cigar ash, a thick mess of gray. He remembers drinks and more drinks. Shouting. Then here. A Chinatown hotel.
An urgent thought punches through the static in his head. She kicked me out.
Her request—her demand.
God, she wants a divorce, he thinks, sitting up. No. She’s not getting one.
His eyes latch onto the carpet. Dark as freshly turned earth, the stain makes him think of Thanksgiving. Tilting his head slightly, he sees why. The mark forms the silhouette of a turkey, one big enough to feed a family of six.
He laughs, the noise hollowing out the tiny room. But his laughter wilts. Is that blood? He looks at his hands, holds them out like a magician before a large crowd—except the trick is over. His sticky palms are the color of rust. His knuckles are scrapped and raw.
Fact two: I’m bleeding.
Carrick gropes the bathroom wall for the switch. Tink tink tink goes the fluorescent halo, mustering a milk blue light. Scarred linoleum floor, dingy toilet with the lid down, a tiny basin.
He sees himself in the murky mirror. His face is dappled, a Rorschach of red, his hair matted and gooey. Running the faucet, he scrubs his hands and splashes his face. The sink, sluggish, pools with water the color of grapefruit. He dips his head, douses his hair, and combs his fingers over his scalp, feeling for tenderness.
He studies the mirror.
Wet. Clean. Swollen from too much drink. But no cuts or gashes on his face. He looks at his hands. Battered, they too are cut-free. Then where did the blood . . . ?
His heart hammers to a cold stop. “Fuck.”
Carrick turns back to the cramped room. A bed, a TV bolted to the wall, a small nightstand scarred with cigarette burns. The bedspread is heaped on the floor, the sheets torn from the mattress. He’s alone. Whoever’s blood this is, they’re no longer here.
Unless . . .
He drops to his knees. Under the bed, wedged hard beneath the frame, he finds another fact. Fact three. The last fact.
A widower can’t be divorced.
DOUGLAS LIGHT cowrote the screen adaptation (The Trouble with Bliss) of his debut novel East Fifth Bliss. The film stars Michael C. Hall, Brie Larson, and Lucy Liu. His story collection Girl in Trouble won the 2010 Grace Paley Prize for short fiction and was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in the fall of 2011. His work has appeared in the O. Henry Prize Stories and Best American Nonrequired Reading anthologies as well as numerous publications. For more information, visit www.douglaslight.com.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Jul 7, 2014
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