Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Change of Routine by Joe Speer

The Investigating Magistrate asked Mr. Eugene Groat to explain the circumstances of his outbreak. Groat talked loudly, making wide circular motions with his arms. The magistrate listened, wrote in his file, and said, "Start before the troika appears."

"Maybe if I start before the fight. It might help explain."

"Please do," said the investigator, "start at the beginning."

"I'm not sure where to begin. I'm usually told what to do. When I was young my parents me told what to do. Teachers at school told me when to do it. In the work place the boss and company policy told me how. I never had to think for myself, you see.

"I had a job in a bookstore. Then one day the manager got onto me about zoning my area instead of reading from random books. My spleen turned mauve. That same day I had a dispute with a co-worker. Yeah, I raised my voice a few decibels. I was fired that day. All this zero tolerance.

Without direction the only places I know to go are the public library and my post office box. That was enough excitement for me, accessing my mail late at night. A press in Berkeley printed one of my chapbooks and we sent proofs and whatnot back and forth.

I was distraught so I called a friend from work. He asked, "What up? I heard you wigged out."

"Oh, my emotions are overthrown!"

I told him I'm reading "The Brothers Karamazov". It makes me so agitated and resentful. It really bothers me because Dmitri is sentenced to twenty years in Siberia. The patricide he is accused of he didn't even commit. I think the father's rigor mortis is a cleansing of the community. He is a dissolute no-count money lender. Granted, we can't have people on a busting heads spree, but the old viper used his son's inheritance to coax his own girlfriend away from him. The old bugger had 3,000 rubles with her name on it. I'm outraged over all this injustice. The whole situation has crossed the line into my everyday life. It caused the scene in the bookstore. I asked him what I should do with myself and he said I could do whatever I wanted. I thanked him and hung up.

This advice put my life in a new perspective. I was excited and rushed about the apartment doing whatever I wanted. I piled books all over my bed and urinated in the sink. I felt free, but knew I would have to test myself to see if it was a true feeling. I could feign in my own apartment because no one was watching. I had to go out into the street and see what would happen.

I promised myself for the rest of the day no one would tell me what to do.

I hadn't gone anywhere for a long time. I became excited about just exploring different parts of the city. I left the apartment and when I got to the street corner I encountered my first test - a red stop light.

Here, already I was being told what to do by a an innate object. I thought about crossing the street, but I cowered, the cars were rapid and it looked like they would not stop for a misplaced bibliophile . I pretended to search the ground for lost change. But that was only kidding myself. Besides, it was only a red light, a stupid machine, and it didn't count because I could smash the lights out if I wanted. It was only people I wasn't going to listen to. The light changed green and I crossed the street.

I tell you I was angry with the judgment against Dmitri. All the brothers knew who killed their father. I'm so sorry Ivan has brain fever. He is so brilliant, having conversations with the devil and such. After walking several blocks I saw a woman leaning against a doorway. Round, bulging breasts, thrust out onto the sidewalk, loosely fitting sack dress smiling and touching herself. She asked if I wanted a date. She put her hand on my chest, undid a couple of buttons, and began to massage my stomach. Smiling, she told me to go upstairs with her. I refused.

Well, she wasn't really telling me what to do she just moved her hand down past my navel and lead me through the doorway by my belt. A man inside said I had to pay twenty dollars for the room. I refused.

He looked angrily at me, but the girl smiled him away. I followed her up a staircase and into a little room. There was a single bed against the wall, threadbare chenille spread lay on the mattress. She told me to take my clothes off. I refused.

Her hand went to my zipper as I stood looking at putrid stains and yellow spots. She inserted her fingers into my back pocket and moved into me with her hips. I stood looking at a crack in the wall, my arms dangling flaccidly at my sides. She was perturbed and asked what was wrong with me.

Suddenly two men burst in through the door. They were big with padded shoulders, sleeves rolled up, scowling beetle-browed. One of the men asked me what was I doing with his wife. I asked what was she doing with me. He got angry and told me to give him all my money. I refused.

They started after me and the woman coaxed them away. She told them I was crazy. They let me go and I hurried down the stairs and out into the street. A couple of small boys on the sidewalk pointed and laughed at me - small, impish, laughing through missing teeth. I pulled up my zipper and walked away.

Several blocks on down the street I entered a bar. Dark, tinny music hung in the air, smoke floated over two-toppers, sounds of glasses clicking, and ice drinks stirring, audible under music. I sat on a stool at the bar and ordered a Harvey Wallbanger.

Two men in suits were next to me talking in low voices but I couldn't help overhearing parts of what they said. One man said the heist was set for ten o'clock that night and the only people they had to worry about were on his payroll, ... he stopped suddenly.

I looked in their direction and they were staring at me. The man told me to move to another stool. I refused.

He reached into his coat and the other man stayed his arm. He said I must be crazy and motioned with his head. They both walked away. I felt good, had been tested twice and found worthy, felt my brain expand, felt I could encompass all the world, felt that space was not enough to contain me.

I had a few more drinks and walked back out into the street. I cut through an alley and halfway through it I saw a gang of boys circled around someone crumpled on the ground. Fists flying, shoes flashing, blood streaming from corner of mouth, eyes swollen puffy, cruel shrieks and demonic laughter. I walked past them quickly and out through the other end of the alley.

Back on the street I saw two men standing near a car. Looking about warily, prying at vent with tool, dropping tool in disgust, crowbar, broken glass, door flung open. I walked away and circled the block so as not to pass them. I walked tiredly in the direction of my apartment. The feeling of power was gone. I felt like I no longer lived in the world much less encompassed it. The world was something inscrutable I wanted to forget. I wanted to close the door and be left alone.

I was eager to get back to the quiet of my room. I wanted to finish the novel and see if there was a chance for Dmitri to escape his character. It is the way he acts that makes him culpable. I walked on the opposite side of the street until I was about a block away from my apartment. I crossed in the middle of the block and saw the steps of my apartment and a troika appeared. A driver reined in the horses, leaned out, and asked me if I thought Dmitri was guilty. He is innocent and why wouldn't you believe the word of an ex-monk over circumstantial evidence. "Stop!" a voice shouted. I refused. A hand touched my shoulder. I swung around, my fingers in his throat. I stabbed him with my jackknife. Then I attacked a second person. I struck out against the legal system's misguided judgments. I hammered his head against a post.

There were witnesses from my own apartment building. The police found me with a copy of "The Brothers Karamazov". I had just finished the part at the funeral of the young boy. Dmitri's fate is still doubtful. It was a long shot but maybe he could be happy one day. That's all there is to tell about my outbreak."

There was a noise at the cell door and the iron bars slid back. With notebook in hand the investigator walked out of the cell. The heavy door slammed closed and he said, "Just do what you are told and we won't have any trouble."

Joe Speer


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