TUESDAY: Digging Two Graves

BY MATT MATTILA

Copyright is held by the author.

THE ALLEY was darker than Susanne thought it’d be. It was too long, too deep. There were street lamps, sure, that lined the road behind her, casting a piss-yellow shade on the cracks in the sidewalk. The moon hid behind grey clouds, alone, no stars out with it.

The only light came from dying street lamps that buzzed like wasps. She looked over her shoulder at all the identical red-brick-and-mortar office buildings behind her. She looked at the number engraved on the plaque next to the front door. It matched the number on her phone. Susanne let civilization kiss her old, wrinkling face one last time.

She tried to forget that she used to be pretty. When George was alive he called her beautiful every day. Sometimes she still felt him next to her in the morning before she opened her eyes.

She shook her head and hoped the thoughts fell out. No time for memories. Tonight required nothing but focus. She held the power button on her phone until it vibrated to sleep. She walked into the darkness with a gun in her pocket.

Year-old newspapers and dirty paper bags scattered across the hard concrete. Two-stories worth of brick cast their shadow over her. Susanne knew she had planned this right. The dumpster was tucked in a recess at the far end. She could hide back there and wait for the gangster who’d killed that girl all those years ago.

She fixed her eyes on the only door here; white, rusted metal, carved above a small stoop in the right wall. She curled her ears and waited for the footsteps, the huff of breath, the door sliding open and slamming shut. She would come out from the dumpster and pull out her father’s Glock and shoot him twice in the face. Tap-Tap. His blood would splatter on his Cadillac and drip onto the pavement. He would collapse on the hood and gasp for breath. His eyes would ease shut and he would see her spit in his face before the darkness took him.

Susanne had planned all of this, perfect down to the last detail, three years ago. George had been in the ground for a few months by then. The shrink was useless. She had to will herself out of bed. The job had gone downhill and disintegrated into nothing and they sent her home for good. She’d play alarm tag for seven hours straight and stay under the sheet for 10 a day. She had given up. She saw the news enough she’d memorized the transcript when the midnight edition came on. Someone had killed a girl, the lady with the crescent moon hair said one day. He’d been found not guilty, the man in the crooked tie then said through a cloud of breath vapour outside the courthouse.

There were a hundred stories like this that Susanne had seen. This one was no different. She shrugged it off. She had enough problems to deal with.

The dead girl’s picture flashed on the screen and changed everything.

The news people didn’t need to show her name. She recognized the girl in the smiling portrait the second she saw her.

Susanne had met the girl at the grocery store. She was a young pretty thing, smarter and tougher than she looked. She was a hard worker who did crazy hours. Susanne started talking to her. They became something like friends. One of them always had advice. The girl on Susanne finding herself another good man (“George doesn’t have a brother or anything, does he?” the girl asked with a small smirk), Susanne on the girl’s new car or annoying customers or future colleges or where to open her first bank account or how much rent to pay her parents. Yeah, they were something like friends. On the outside, at least.

George had never wanted kids. He said he didn’t think he could deal with one in his house for 18 years, even if it was his own flesh and blood. Susanne thought out loud about adoption. George waved it off and said some kid shouldn’t have to come out of a broken system and a shitty childhood just to deal with him for the rest of his life. The argument was settled. The deal was done. George didn’t want children, so they would never have kids.

That girl became the closest thing Susanne would ever have to a daughter.

She dropped off the face of the Earth five months later. The manager didn’t know what had happened. A new bagger came quickly and filled the spot. Maybe the girl had to move fast. Maybe she’d just found another job in another town and quit quickly and the manager didn’t want to admit it. The new bagger girl was a stuck-up bitch. A month later Susanne switched stores. The girl never faded from her mind, she promised herself now, crawling through a back alley with a gun in her hand. She never would until that man was dead.

Susanne didn’t see her again until the news gave her 30 seconds worth of justice. A flash, a blurb, a name, a face, and she was gone forever.

Inside the brick building the man who had murdered her showered and got ready for his weekly club hop on the other, brighter side of town. For someone rich enough to buy a not guilty verdict he sure lived in a shith—

A tin can slid under her foot and Susanne slammed onto his car. Impact sucked her breath out. If the alarm sounded now the door would burst open the man’s gun blazing. Her ankle twisted. A bone felt broken. She scrambled to push herself off the slick tarp. Her left foot was too sore to try walking on it fully. Susanne tried her best to keep it level and limped toward the garbage bags at the end.

He had an old fucking Caddy. She’d never been good with cars but she’d memorized the license plate number. At the end of the back bumper she lifted a corner of the tarp enough to read it. She’d gotten it right. The night stayed silent around her. Surely the alarm would’ve made its siren song by now. Maybe it didn’t work. She kept shuffling on.

Whether or not it did she was making too much fucking noise crawling over a mountain of garbage bags. And this part of town kept itself silent 11 at night.

Two feet deep of garbage, brick wall behind two stories high, slanted tin roof lined with gutters started to drop rain on her. She was a short girl. The bags were knee high. Some torn open, see-through, bread crusts and beer cases and chicken bones out for a shower. She pretended not to smell anything. She could focus on her other senses. She had to at this point. She couldn’t see through walls but Susanne knew he was coming down the stairs.

She knew she’d have to cower behind the garbage. Find some solid ground against the wall, plant herself, get a steady aim on the doorway. It’d swing opposite of the way she wanted it to. He could use it as cover. It was too late for her to try taking him from the street. By the time she limped there he’d be training a bead on her.

She had plastic to protect her. The dumpster a yard in front of her could have enough room for her to squeeze behind. Nothing could get through that. Susanne saw some empty space next to it, maybe a yard across and a few feet deep. Enough room to move in. She had to get off this garbage. She had to get there. She had to crawl faster.

She reached her right arm out to touch it, make sure it was real. The concrete was cold, wet, a brown film over it. She put her right foot out on it and braced her arm with it and stood up. The garbage collapsed under her and she fell on solid concrete. Her jaw bounced off of concrete. Teeth rattled. Her ankle felt broken. No time to check it. This was the only chance she had to turn herself over and crawl into a hiding place and get a good shot like they did in the movies.

A whistle. Something crashed into a brick above her. A chunk fell out and bounced off her forehead. Susanne recognized that sound immediately from a hundred movies.

A bullet.

The gun was under her. She could shift onto one side and reach for it and bring it up in time.

“You really fucking thought I wasn’t expecting nothing like this?”

She froze. His voice boomed above her. She dared to peep above the brim of garbage.

He was taller in person. His gun was bigger. He held it naturally. There wasn’t any smoke coming out of his revolver. He wasn’t wearing a bulletproof vest or a three-piece striped suit or a chain-and-overcoat. Nothing thug, really. It must’ve been 30 degrees out but nothing chilled him. His bathrobe and slippers might’ve been thicker than they looked.

“Get your head from under there or I’ll fucking end this for you right now.”

She glanced back up at him with eyes like steel knives. He stared back and let the scars do the talking. She lifted her ass up to slide her left hand out.

Her other one swung up and tried to squeeze a shot off while still moving like in that Angelina Jolie movie.

One of his bullets went into her shoulder. The terror drowned out the pain as she lost control of her arm and it slapped the ground like a dead bird. The pain rushed in. She howled. The gun fell on asphalt. It misfired and shot once into the garbage. It laid dormant, a foot away, out of reach. Her coat went red quick. Her arm burned. She still had to fight. This was the part where she swung her other arm over and angled her own bullet right between his eyes.

She turned on her right side, reaching for it. Halfway rolled over the gun was still inches from her finger tips. Rain drops fell on her forearm and reminded her she was still alive. Out of the corner of one eye she saw him still holding the gun.

He slid it down and shot her under the ribs.

That took her breath. Blood flowed slow and steady out of that hole now too. She blinked. Her eyes rimmed with tears. The blood soaked through her black sweatshirt. The rain fell on her forehead. The rain rushed down harder and bounced off of the plastic, making that tin foil sound again.

“This place ain’t anything like the movies, mámi,” he said, the gun down at his side. She flipped on her back. Now her chest burned twice as much as her arm had. She could feel the blood trickling into her lungs. Susanne didn’t try to stand up. She was stupid. She had failed. There was no point in doing anything but sit here and feel herself bleed out.

He started to shake his head. He looked dead at her and sneered.

“This is the part where you whip out pistol number two from your ankle. Or your best friend shoots me in the back.”

He faked fear and flicked his head behind and around him. He drooped and pretended to shrug. By now his slick black hair dripped with water and spiked out disheveled in places on his head. The bathrobe fit him like a towel.

“Welcome to the real world, sweetheart. You’re all alone here.”

She never said a word to him. He stood there until the wheezing stopped and the light left her eyes completely. He shut them for her and picked her up and wrapped her in the tarp and put her in the trunk. He shuffled upstairs, dried himself, got the suit on, grabbed an extra coat, drove to the riverbed, tossed her in. He was late to the club. Frankie asked what was up. He made some bullshit excuse about the shower. Frankie was a dumbfuck and fell for it. He had a good time that night, stayed sober enough to drive home.

He forgot to check his brake lines.

8 comments

  1. JAZZ

    Matt: your images, grisly as they may be, are honest and your characters finely drawn. There are many good lines in your story. One in particular that carried so much weight in so few words:
    “……..until the news gave her 30 seconds worth of justice..”
    Quite brilliant an observation.
    But I’m not sure I understood the ending. Did Susanne tamper with his brake lines yet you say she knew nothing about cars?

  2. Bev Bachmann

    This story was chuck full of so many powerful images, I was impressed by the quality of the writing. Also, I thought you had real insight into a character obviously not of your generation. However I was somewhat confused by the ending. If Susanne was the one who tampered with his brakes, how could he drive to the river with her body inside his trunk and then drive to the club? Did I miss something?

  3. Michael Joll

    Gritty. Noir. Some excellent images. The ending came out of the blue without any foreshadowing and left me scratching my head. I didn’t feel that the cuss words enhanced the narrative but they didn’t turn me off. I liked you style, Matt. I look forward to reading more by you.

  4. Matt Mattila

    I tried to keep the ending ambiguous. Remember that he asked Susanne “You really think I wasn’t expecting anything like this?” Maybe someone at the club did it. Looking back at it now I realize I didn’t explain it enough. Ambiguity can be tricky.
    But regardless, thank you for the feedback. I’m happy to be here.

  5. Frank Sikora

    Ambiguous endings are risky business indeed. If the reader doesn’t receive an emotional or narrative payoff, he or she feels ripped off. “Hey! I just gave your story 30 minutes of my precious time end you’re too lazy to properly conclude your story? Get off your Arty Ass and tell me who killed Aunt Gertrude.” As artists, we love ambiguity and irony and obscure allusions. As readers, send in the tigers and gladiators and entertain the bleep out of me.

  6. Mary Cudney

    I agree with all of the wonderful comments but in the end I think she should have killed him and then died herself from his first or second gunshot. Leaving her time to gloat over his inglorious death in bathrobe and slippers.

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