A bored police officer misses that little bit of crazy in his life.
|As he does every morning, Wayne Jarvis wakes up when his ex-girlfriend’s black cat stirs on his chest and begins wailing that breakfast is long overdue. Wayne grunts fiercely, rolls over and cocoons himself in the quilt his grandmother made him when he became an Eagle Scout. But robbed of his nightly perch, the cat only yowls the louder. Wayne has been dreaming of when he first learned to ski, the jubilance of swooping down the kiddie hills falcon-like, the subsequent broken legs and glasses. He whacks the cat in the face in lieu of a snooze button, but knows he can’t go back to sleep. The cat is too used to his roughness to be alarmed. He seems to be aware of his uncomfortable position in the house, a constant reminder of Mary. But there is also an unspoken kinship, a common jilted maleness that grants the cat a berth in Wayne’s lonely Queen bed and occasionally a bite of bacon at breakfast. He continues his tirade fearlessly, having seen the way Wayne tears up when watching The Lion King on lazy Friday nights. Wayne absent-mindedly rolls off the bed, taking the quilt sprinkled with black cat hair and the cat himself down with him. Typically graceless.
Wayne winces at the throbbing in his tailbone, wonders whether he should never move again and be frozen immaculate as the winter wears on. But no. Recovered from his fall, the cat is still complaining insistently. No sense giving up on life if you can’t do it with dignity. Now that he thinks about it, falling out of bed and never getting up isn’t very dignified in the first place. He shakes his head free of the quilt and off-white sheets, composes his daily to-do list: get through work with as little human contact as possible, call mother afterward, pick up a case of beers on the way home, drink as many as necessary to stop thinking, get rid of the damn cat. He knows the last item he won’t accomplish today or any of the following days that he conceives of. When drunk, he really quite likes the cat, and even calls him by the name Mary gave him: Socrates for his pensive eyes like smoke in a pine forest and the likelihood that one day Wayne would poison him. She had they needed a black cat so she could play the part of the witch Wayne’s mother had none too subtly assigned her. Wayne had shrugged silently and decided that a cat was a small price to pay for the occasional presence of a woman with legs that long and hips that inviting.
He hauls himself heavily off the floor, rubs his eyes, feels the extra weight he no longer has the drive to run off. He rifles through the knotted sheets for his slippers and reaches under the bed. His searching hands find the foreign textures of torn lacy lingerie and socks best left undisturbed, a few pair of small flip flops in neon colors that show even in the skimpy dank light under the bed. He realizes that most everything forgotten there doesn’t belong to him.
Overused brown slippers finally captured, Wayne shuffles into the kitchen, hugging his shoulders against the cold leaking in under the back door. A blanket of discarded newspapers flutters in his wake. The cheap plastic countertops are peeling off, bending under the pressure of vagrant travel guides, cookbooks, articles Mary printed off the Internet, costing him a fortune in paper and ink (again, worth it). After a while he tired of the inevitable towers of plates filling the sink, and now uses paper plates exclusively. Most weeks he cares enough to take out the trash. Poisoned insects are piled up in the corners, swept aside when noticed, and many of their hardier fellows hide under mounds of laundry, exercise equipment, cardboard boxes sheltering unwanted tokens of sentimentality: old photo albums, elementary school art projects, his puppy’s first collar (but no second because someone stole him out of the yard while wearing it), the pack of condoms his uncle gave him as a graduation present which he was never desperate enough to use, some sappy little figurines of boys fishing from his mother. The only object to which he is attached is the dog-eared copy of the National Geographic Guide to America’s National Parks mounted atop a throne of shitty romance novels. Mary always liked the ones rife with immortals and shape shifters and refused to read him even the juicy parts, saying he would just make fun of them and ruin them for her. Similarly, he did not share the Parks guide with her, though she surely caught him reading it when she came in late, right before he gave up on her and went to sleep. She would say ‘How are you so tough. You’re so tough!’ and laugh maniacally. He would shrug and turn out the light, silently worrying and wondering what she was high on tonight.
Wayne opens the squeaky refrigerator door and leans on it like a crutch. The smell of molding parmesan cheese overwhelms everything else. All the breakfast food has been demolished, the only remnant an empty tub of butter left on the shelf. He has always loved breakfast. But failing anything else, he feels around the back for something unconventional. Her mashed sweet potatoes are still there, and the cupful of urine she stole back from the drug testers at the pet salon where she worked. It doesn’t even occur to him to remove the urine; it hasn’t for months. Reluctantly, he seizes the floral patterned Tupperware holding the sweet potatoes, throws it in the microwave and smashes the sensor button. He surveys his kitchen while he waits.
She left without packing a single thing, and though it’s been months she still hasn’t called about them. Her absurdly pink trench coat is still slung over the back the armchair, the canvas bag with the cartoon bear still lying in the corner of the living room, buried in beer bottles. Though usually a tidy sort of man, Wayne has moved scarcely anything in the house since she left, as if worried that she will come back and want everything to be just as it was. It’s not some kind of sentimental comfort, Wayne deflects to himself and anyone who asks, just that I don’t have anyone to impress anyone anymore. His friends and the pizza delivery guy blink slowly and stare at him pityingly. He halves the pizza guy’s tip and smirks a little bit. His friends say, ‘Hey man, let’s get a few drinks in you and see what happens then, huh?’ He says, ‘So long as you’re paying.’ Usually about this time he realizes that this is the only reason he’s friends with these people. Once he’s drunk enough, he misses Socrates.
Wondering what crazy-ass assignment the insecure and ever-chuckling sergeant has given him today, Wayne eats his breakfast with his fingers, squirms into his City of Madison police uniform that is too short at the ankles, locks the door as an afterthought, and follows the ruts he’s left in the road over the past ten years to work.
He watches the dull, squat houses that make up his neighborhood with a little disdain. He doesn’t like the sappily smiling little matrons still wearing their Christmas sweaters, waddling out the front doors to squeak good-bye to their dead-eyed, beer-belly-shoved-in-a-suit-husbands. They’ll go to a nondescript workplace and no later than after the first meeting they’ll jerk off in the bathroom and hate themselves just a little more. The wives will dress the shrieking, grimy children whom they can’t persuade to bathe, pack them on a school bus, and spend the rest of the day watching reality TV and wishing their lives were clean and beautiful. Wayne does not want to be counted among these people, and thus does not answer the door for census workers.
The station is only a fifteen minute drive from his house and the scenery is no better. All of his fellow policemen are frustrated middle-aged men who like to think that Wayne is out in the world doing all the fucking for them. ‘Hey blondie!’ one of them will call and then laugh uproariously when Wayne walks in (ten minutes late as usual). ‘You got a bitch at home or something blondie? You been a little busy this morning, eh?’ The sergeant is hooting at this point, dripping hot coffee on his powder blue shirt. Wayne scoots past them all to his corner desk, shoulders tight with irritation. Usually he ignores his coworkers, but it’s been a good while since he had sex and he feels more mocked than anything else.
‘Yeah, yeah’ Owen chuckles, ‘must be that bitch what come by here looking for him a while back, said they had a lunch date! She have a good breakfast this morning, blondie?’ More laughter. Wayne grinds his teeth. ‘That was five months ago,’ he growls, suffocating his pen. The sergeant pipes up: ‘I would never forget a girl like that!’ Disturbingly sincere assent travels the room. Wayne’s face heats as he listens to them all undressing Mary in their heads, thick grubby fingers like sausages rummaging through her many-layered skirts. He wants to burn the building down, rubs his neck vigorously in an attempt to keep his hands otherwise occupied. But instead he asks the sergeant for his assignment, is no longer appalled at how ridiculous it is, and briskly leaves the station, that lusty laughter still cloying to his ears. Most mornings Mary doesn’t come up in their wishful teasing, but when she does Wayne feels capable of violence, a knot of pent-up frustration in many forms. Fingers surely denting the wheel, he speeds towards the south side of town, where he has to question a dance instructor who was attacked in his home by a crazy man with a stun gun.
Unbidden, his thoughts drift to the time he was on his way to a similar task, on a hideously rainy day, when a crazy woman wearing a sari rammed her rickety sky blue pickup into his squad car broadside. Though his car fared remarkably well for being thrown off the road and into a tree, her hood was mashed up against the cab and a worrisome gash adorned her forehead. Wayne, strapped tight to his seat, didn’t feel broken at first and while trying to see past the spots in his vision stumbled over to the truck, threw open the driver’s side door, which promptly fell off. The woman looked at him askance with the kind of crazy blue eyes so pale that they can’t show emotion. She coughed a laugh and said ‘Sorry man, but I really hate cops. You gonna write me up?’ Her smirk dared him. Wayne took in her ink-stained summer dress, hanging off thin shoulders and masking breasts of a decent size for someone so slight. But it was not her smooth, slender form that made her the most beautiful, but her legs shamelessly spread, fingernails painted mismatched colors, the devil-may-care glint pacing behind her eyes. He didn’t usually meet girls like her, and chose to take advantage of this unique opportunity.
‘Don’t worry, I hate cops too,’ he responded with a little smile. ‘Want to get a drink after we go by the hospital?’ Her smirk took on a flirtatious tilt and she hopped out of the cab as if she hadn’t just been in a car accident, took his arm. ‘Sure, but leave the car. Belongs to my friend, and he doesn’t even remember that it’s his.’
Now Wayne remembers the way she always licked the peanut butter off her fingers when making sandwiches, as the Madison skyline parades unimpressively across his windshield. She would wake him up every morning crowing like a rooster, ride him hard and say she would make a morning person out of him, ask what was for breakfast. Some nights she’d be waiting on the couch, watching some shitty sci-fi show on the TV and crying when they shot the marauding aliens. But increasingly often she would come in at two in the morning, grumble something about how he needed to rise from the dead and live again, and sing and laugh raucously until she passed out. He had felt lucky, knowing that it was chance that had brought her to him, a thoroughly unremarkable suburban man, and chance and the promise of a more exciting life that would eventually take her away. It was a casual arrangement: they got together and enjoyed themselves, happened to get along otherwise. But it didn’t end as it was meant to.
She came home one morning, gone all night, and he’d been so worried that she couldn’t find her way home that he dared to ask her what she had been doing. When all she did was laugh he grew insistent, then pounded the counters in anger. Thinking about it now, he worried over where she was, whether she was in something bad, living and making her way on the streets of Chicago, languishing in some smog-filled alley. She would be really cold this time of year. That one day, when she had seen him taking an interest in her life, she cried and babbled incoherently, eventually got out that this wasn’t how it was supposed to be. She threw everything on the floor, said she was going for a walk, and slammed the door. Wayne didn’t worry too much about her coming back, and went to work as usual. But at the end of the day she still wasn’t home, and when he visited her neglected little apartment downtown, ‘GONE TO CHICAGO’ was scrawled on the door in glittery silver Sharpie.
Wayne tried not to think too much of the whole thing. He’d known all along that she was crazy, and it didn’t seem unreasonable for her to finally snap on him. But he did have the sense that he had crossed some line, that he had for at least a moment treated the fling like something else.
He found it impossible to fully return to his apathetic lifestyle, caring a little too much that Mary was gone and that he didn’t have the drive to ditch this town and go climb mountains.
Looking as far ahead as he can, hoping to catch sight of something worthwhile again, Wayne is unsettled to find himself thinking that if he had got up one morning and ran off to Montana, Mary would have come with him. She always wanted him to do something better for himself, always scolded and joked that he was wasting his life, and meant it he was sure. Thinking of the ridiculous way she would jump up on his shoulders and demand a ride, he realizes that he loves her, that he can’t turn his life around without her, and that he has long since passed where he was supposed to exit. Only the first two realizations cause him any distress.
So Wayne drives for a long time towards the southwest, hoping that soon he’ll feel the punch to his gut as some crapped-out little car that no one wants smashes into his passenger side, and by the crazy carefree timbre of her laugh, he’ll know that Mary has found him again.