You Will Be Impressed
Big Ed couldn’t tell you why he did it, just that he couldn’t really tell you a reason why he shouldn’t do it. While it may not have been the craziest shit Big Ed had ever done – and he’d been known to get himself involved in some pretty wild shit – it was a subtle shift in the monotony that was his day-to-day: wake up, coffee, manage a few push-ups, jerk off, shower, dress, work, come home, bourbon, jerk off, bourbon, pass out, repeat. Of course, he debated calling Joanne plenty throughout the day. Sometimes he’d give in and find himself talking to her voicemail.
The bum’s cardboard sign was propped up against an empty forty and said, You Will Be Impressed. Two dollars. That’s all it cost. That’s nothing. Not even a cup of coffee from a gas station costs two dollars. Who cares if it would end up going to booze or drugs? Not Big Ed. At least he’d have another crazy story to add to his repertoire later on when he went out with the guys. Maybe on a date, with Joanne, if she’d return his calls. Honest to God, Big Ed just knew this guy was plain nuts before he even had a chance to talk to him. The bum sat laughing to himself when Big Ed walked up and handed him the cash. The bum’s grey eyes never left the fencepost he’d been staring at, as though it required his undivided attention. Still, the bum managed to snatch those bills from Big Ed’s hand, though, with the stealth and speed of a fucking ninja. Big Ed told the bum he wanted to know his future, especially at such a low, low price. The bum asked Big Ed if he was sure. Big Ed said he sure as shit was.
The bum took out an old deck of playing cards from under his tattered blanket. Some of the backs of the cards were red. Some black. Some blue. Some had different fonts and different number and picture sizes. It looked like a collection of various cards from various decks. Big Ed imagined if the bum ever lost a card like, say, the queen of hearts, he’d just steal it from another deck somewhere else along his way. Apart from that, it was a full deck because the bum spread the cards out and gave Big Ed a quick look-see. Big Ed couldn’t understand what the bum muttered to himself because it didn’t sound like English, and Big Ed doesn’t speak anything but English. Every once and again the bum would glance up, squint an eye, and drop his gaze back down as he shuffled the deck. Big Ed checked his watch a couple times, hoping the bum would get the hint. In his prime, Big Ed would’ve just taken back his money and knocked the bum’s teeth in for testing his patience. It was late, though, and Big Ed was too damn tired to say anything. All Big Ed could think about was getting home and having a drink or two or ten.
“Is there a wolf under your bed,” the bum asked.
Big Ed told him no.
“What is the man in the big black hat?”
“I don’t understand the question,” Big Ed said.
He ignored Big Ed, removed three cards from the deck and spread them out, face down. Whispering something Big Ed still couldn’t place, he jabbed his index finger on each card several times. One by one, he flipped each card over. First card: two of clubs. Second card: two of diamonds. Third card: two of spades.
“You’ll never be alone again,” the bum told Big Ed.
Big Ed asked in what way would he never be alone again? He clutched the phone in his pocket, thinking of Joanne.
The bum shook his head. “Never. Alone. Again.” Swiping up the cards and sifting them back into the deck like all those Vegas dealers Big Ed had played with over the years, the bum’s eyes drifted back to the fencepost, and he went on laughing to himself as he had earlier.
Big Ed worked on his fifth Coke and whiskey as he walked around his apartment, shutting off all the lights before dragging himself to bed. As he flicked the switch to the front porch light, Big Ed caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror of the coat rack near the door. Big Ed stood back and observed his shape. His belly had always stuck out past his belt buckle a bit, but now it was just hanging there like a sack of meat. He studied the lines in his face, the bags under his eyes, his thinning hair. There was a time when Big Ed would have considered himself to be a handsome man, though he’d tell you he didn’t really care about all that because his big dick made up for any ugliness he might have worn. Problem now was, his big dick didn’t work the way it used to and the ugliness wasn’t anything to laugh about. He didn’t know for sure why he couldn’t get it up the way he once did. More likely than not, it had something to do with Joanne, he told himself. That woman had robbed him of that special piece of manhood when she decided to opt out for a different, younger, bigger manhood. Maybe, if he dwelt on it a bit more, it wasn’t so much that he couldn’t get it up, it was just that he didn’t want to. In all fairness, he did try. A few times with some equally desperate and sad women at a motel or two. Those attempts typically ended up with the woman saying it wasn’t his fault and proceeding to go on about how badly their kid was fucking up their lives in college the way they had before they got pregnant.
Big Ed decided to leave the windows up and sleep naked. He liked sleeping naked when it was cool outside, especially when Joanne was laid up next to him. She was short and had good meat on her bones. When he wrapped himself around her, it was a perfect fit. Even when they’d get into one of their knock-down-drag-out fights, they’d still manage to go to bed like that.
Cars passed by in the distance. A few sirens, not many. Coyotes yapped and howled after killing what was more likely than not one of the neighbor’s pets that got loose during the day. As the breeze moved over his bed, Big Ed’s body sank into the mattress, and just before knocking out, he thought about that bum. Well, guess what, asshole? As far as Big Ed could tell, he was still very much alone.
Big Ed shot up from his bed when he heard rapping at the window and went to check it out, cock and balls a-swinging. It was black outside. He pressed his face against the cool glass to try and get a better look. No luck. Just his faint reflection. He rubbed his eyes and walked to the bathroom to take a piss.
Over the toilet was a picture of Big Ed laughing, sitting on his old Triumph Bonneville. He must have ridden that bike all over the country. He missed that bike. Wished he hadn’t sold it when he and Joanne moved in together. But that’s life and sometimes you have to make sacrifices, Joanne had told him.
As Big Ed hosed down the inside of the commode, his memories floated across his mind when he caught something. He adjusted his eyes to focus on his reflection in the glass of the picture frame. Big Ed fell back so hard against the wall that he broke the towel rod. Piss went everywhere, on everything. Big Ed mumbled some words to himself about being drunk but not that drunk but what the hell was that and he was dreaming and snap the fuck out of it. There was no way in hell Big Ed just saw his reflection making a pouty face at himself, then smile and wink. Big Ed shook himself and bolted to his liquor cabinet. He grabbed the tumbler from the sink and the bourbon from the shelf, poured and guzzled. Closed his eyes, repeat. The blinds at his sliding door swayed back and forth. Shit, he thought. Big Ed must have forgotten to close the back screen door, maybe someone had snuck inside. Big Ed pulled the butcher knife from its stand and tip-toed toward the door. The breeze coming through the screen teased his nakedness, sending chills up his back. God, he wished Joanne was there to tell him how crazy he was being and to come back to bed and give it to her good. That’s all this was, he thought. He was just being crazy. Big Ed hadn’t really seen what he thought he saw, and no one else was in the house. He was alone. All alone. It had just been a long day. Big Ed peered again into the blackness of the night and closed the screen door. His reflection was there in the glass door, an exact mirrored image of himself. Nothing out of the normal.
Big Ed poured another drink and sat on his couch, leaned his head back, rested his eyes. The blood was coursing through his veins too quickly to make himself go back to sleep, though. Big Ed looked around for the clicker, found it between the cushions, pointed it at the television. His reflection sat on the couch, drinking. “Stop it, goddammit,” Big Ed said. He put the clicker on his thigh and watched himself on the television screen. He watched himself sit perfectly still. He watched himself lift his glass, take a sip. He watched himself do all the things he made himself do. He was in control. He sat still another moment, and watched himself do that, too. Okay, Big Ed thought, you’re okay. He raised the clicker. Except. Big Ed on the television did not. Big Ed on the television stayed still. Big Ed on the couch dropped his hand. Big Ed on the television crossed his legs, raised his glass as if making a toast, took a drink. Big Ed on the couch snatched the clicker and turned on the tube like a cowboy in a standoff. Big Ed on the television warbled and disappeared behind an infomercial selling some fitness garbage. The television went dark. Big Ed on the screen, back to doing what Big Ed on the couch did: panicking. Big Ed on the couch closed his eyes, thought about work, thought about the Dodgers, thought about Joanne, thought about anything. Joanne. Big Ed grabbed the phone from his nightstand in his room, called Joanne. Voicemail. Called again. Voicemail. Third time. Nada. Big Ed should have known. He threw the phone across the room.
Something was scratching, like nails on a chalkboard. No, not a chalkboard. Glass. Loud, sharp, piercing.
Big Ed hunted the sound. The scratching turned to tapping, the tapping to rattling. The house reverberated with a bang on every reflective surface: the steel refrigerator, the windows, mirrors, utensils and drinking glasses, the laptop and television. Big Ed thrust his back against the wall, trembling, waiting. It’s just an earthquake, he thought. The shaking stopped, then broke off into sections. Bathroom first, kitchen next, bedroom, so on. “Stop,” Big Ed screamed. It stopped.
Big Ed ran to his room and removed the robe hanging on his bedpost, threw it over his shoulders, grabbed his keys, bolted to the garage. He fumbled, trying to slip the key into his door on the driver’s side. His fat hands went limp. Big Ed looked into the window and saw Big Ed smiling back at him. Big Ed in the flesh felt a warm wetness dripping down his thighs. Big Ed in the window pointed at Big Ed in the flesh and mimed a laugh. Big Ed in the flesh slumped to the floor.
When Big Ed woke up, his feet were propped up on the coffee table and a Ziploc bag of ice was atop his head. It took his eyes a minute to refocus, but he saw his reflection in the television screen mimicking his current position on the couch. His head throbbed. The lights around the room pulsated. He looked once more at Big Ed on the television screen. He was gone. His body started to convulse. His eyes rolled back and his eyelids closed.
The barroom was full of cowboys and drifters and women that looked like Daisy Duke in her short shorts and crop top. Waylon Jennings at the stage, singing about what way Hank Williams would have done this or that. Cigarette smoke swirled above the crowd. Bottles crashed alongside hoots and hollers. Neon lights flashed against the walls. Big Ed scanned the crowd. Joanne: curly red hair and big green eyes, thick thighs that’d make a man lose himself. She was propped up with her elbows back on the bar. Big Ed took a deep breath, made his way over.
“Hello, Joanne,” he said.
The entire bar went mute, Waylon and the boys included.
Joanne took in Big Ed, top to bottom. “What do you want?”
Big Ed looked over his shoulder to see the whole room watching him. “I miss you, honey. I miss you a lot.”
Joanne laughed. The entire crowd laughed along, and stopped abruptly. “Good for you,” she said.
“Where did I go wrong, Joanne? Tell me and I’ll fix it. I’m sorry. I can be better. I am better. I swear.”
Joanne scoffed, then the crowd. “I got a new somebody.” She pointed past the crowd to the entrance of the bar. The crowd parted like the Red Sea as the door opened to a bright light. A silhouette stepped into frame. With every step, his boots rattled the walls around him. The crowd cheered and applauded, reaching for him like Christ coming into Jerusalem. Joanne ran and jumped into the man’s arms, knocking the cowboy hat from his head, kissed him hard. The crowd went louder, almost violent. The man grabbed her by the ass and pulled her in tighter.
“Hey,” Big Ed shouted. The crowd hushed.
Joanne and the man separated and walked toward Big Ed. As the man got closer, Big Ed’s knees wobbled. His hands started to sweat and his throat got so dry he thought he’d swallowed sand. He knew that face, that man. The man stood a foot from Big Ed and smiled. The man: Big Ed. “I don’t want you,” Joanne said. “I got him. You’re nothing but a clown.” She pointed to the mirror behind the bar, the crowd followed suit.
Big Ed pushed his way through the crowd, stepping closer to the mirror. Around his eyes, white face paint. Under his eyes, two black lines to resemble tears. A black beard painted around the white makeup covering his mouth, shaped to form a frown. The red cowboy hat on his head had holes all over. His overalls were sagging and ragged. His checkered shirt, covered in shit. “No,” he whispered.
The room erupted in laughter. Every finger pointing to Big Ed, the rodeo clown. The laughter echoed so much that Big Ed’s head felt like it was going to explode. He dropped to his knees, grabbing at his temples.
The crowd’s laughter turned to booing and hissing. Joanne was screaming at the top of her lungs, “You’re a clown!” The crowd started kicking him, shouting things at him he couldn’t understand. Big Ed, the rodeo clown, retreated into the fetal position, crying and gasping for air. Two hands reached down and grabbed him by his collar, lifting him into the air – Big Ed, the man. The noise continued.
“Who the fuck do you think you are?” Big Ed, the man, asked.
Real tears streamed through the painted tears on Big Ed, the rodeo clown’s face. “I’m you!”
Big Ed, the man, looked him up and down. “You’re not me. You’re literal shit. You’re worse than shit. You’re a clown.”
“Let me go!”
Big Ed, the man, dropped him. As he hit the floor, the barroom became empty save the two of them and Joanne who was frozen in mid-laugh. Big Ed, the man, looked at Joanne then down at Big Ed, the rodeo clown. “You want her?”
“Because I love her,” Big Ed, the rodeo clown said.
“Bull-fucking-shit,” Big Ed, the man, said.
“You love her?” Big Ed, the man, asked. “After what she did to you? Look at yourself, clown.”
“I’m dreaming,” Big Ed, the rodeo clown, said to himself.
“Is that what you’re seeing? No, I pulled you out. I had to. Look at you!”
“Pulled me out? What? What is this? Who are you?” Big Ed, the rodeo clown, asked.
“Didn’t you say it? I’m you. At least, I’m what you were. What you should be.” Big Ed, the man, swung a fist so hard against Big Ed, the rodeo clown’s face that it echoed like thunder. “Look what this woman did to you.” He circled Big Ed, the rodeo clown. “You used to be something. Strong. Hard. She wore you down, then she broke you. She broke us!”
Big Ed, the rodeo clown, looked up at Joanne’s frozen face. “No, you’re wrong,” Big Ed, the rodeo clown, said.
“That woman is a liar. She lied to you about who you were. She made you think you were human. You’re not human.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“You are a god! We are gods! And you and me, we were a team until you let her in and gave me the goddamn boot.”
“I’m going crazy,” Big Ed, the rodeo clown, said.
Another fist to the skull. Another clap of thunder. “Snap out of it, asshole! You think this is a game? You and I have been doing this for a long time and, I swear to God, I have to drag your ass out of the same mess you’ve made. Every. Single. Time. You fall in love and I have to wake your ass up before you kill us both.”
Thick blood covered Big Ed, the rodeo clown’s face. “I don’t understand,” he said.
“Because you’ve been doing this by yourself. When you’re by yourself, trying to do whatever you’re doing, on your own, you forget. You lose it. You become human. And until I fix it and bring us back together, you keep on marching the both of us toward a grave just like everybody else, blind and dying. Listen, buddy, I get it. Love is sweet and tender and all that shit, but it ain’t for you and it ain’t for me. Never was meant for us. We have other shit to do.”
Big Ed, the rodeo clown’s eyes darted frantically around the room for an escape. The doors and windows disappeared. Joanne was gone. The walls were white, shining, like sunlight. “I don’t understand what’s going on,” he cried.
“How old do you think you are?” Big Ed, the man, asked.
He reached for a number but came up empty. He knew, but he had no fucking clue.
“That’s right,” Big Ed, the man, whispered. “In fact, you’re even older than that. When man showed up, we were already running this place. But you were warned not to intertwine, and to take care how we meddled. It’s a slippery slope. Man is diseased. They’re cursed with death. And when you allow yourself – a motherfucking god! – to sink to their level, you take some of that curse. They feed off us. Why do you think everyone you’ve ever supposedly loved ends up leaving you as soon as they feel like they’re on top of the world? They’ve gotten what they want from you. They don’t know exactly how or what it is. But they can feel it. This has happened with you more times than I can count: Aurelia. Vita. Yu Yan. Abeden. Helen. Livia. Eve. Apiyo. Sarah. Joanne. They’ve all taken some of your life, and I’ve had to come in to save you, to make it right. Or, make you make it right. I can’t do that part for you. I can only lead you there. You’ve always been the one that has to take it back from them.”
Big Ed, the rodeo clown, felt something shake loose inside him, but couldn’t tell you for the life of him what that something truly was, just that it was happening. He knew the man standing across from him was telling the truth, a truth he knew to be right, yet one he was unable to comprehend, and wouldn’t until he did whatever it was he was being told he had to do. Big Ed, the rodeo clown, pushed himself up on his knees, holding his broken ribs, and looked to Big Ed, the man. “What do you mean, take it back?”
Big Ed, the man, frowned. “I honestly wish there was another way. I’ve looked, I swear.”
Big Ed, the rodeo clown, knew, but asked again anyway, “What do you mean, take it back?”
“There’s a reason man calls it taking a life.”
Big Ed, the rodeo clown, closed his eyes and focused on the pain swarming through his body, casting a shadow over his mind, crushing his heart. “Why can’t I remember?”
“The same reason you can’t bring yourself to be with another woman yet. You got a taste of love, and you don’t want to go back. If you don’t go back, though, you die. Because that thing you’re calling love isn’t really love. It’s death. It’s the curse, feeding on you, taking its sweet-ass time. It won’t let you remember. The second you remember, death is gone. Same as it’s always been.”
“So, I have to kill Joanne?”
Big Ed, the man, chomped on a fingernail. “You bet your ass, you do.”
“And if I die, what happens to her? She lives forever?”
“Not quite. She still has the curse because she wasn’t made like you and I. Death is still in her. It’s happened before with others like us. They’ve succumbed to a false love, died, passed on a piece of themselves, and those whom they’ve loved end up going mad and wreaking fucking havoc on the earth. They live, but death spreads ten-fold. It’s the imbalance. So, that said, think about this: if you really do love her, the only thing you can do for her now is take back your life and end hers. There’s no other way around it.”
Big Ed, the rodeo clown, took a deep breath. Felt the blood in his lungs. Felt his bones begin to wither. “What do I do?”
Big Ed, the man, leaned down. “Wake up.”
Big Ed shot up so hard that the bag of ice flew across the room and knocked over the pictures on the wall. The pain in his head was gone. Sunlight shot like arrows through the blinds. Big Ed stood to his feet and walked to the bathroom, stood in front of the mirror. He stayed there, staring at his reflection for a long time. Nothing happened. No movement outside of his own. Big Ed got dressed, drank a half pot of coffee, got in his truck. His eyes rose to meet his own in the rearview mirror before pulling out onto the street. Big Ed watched as they smiled back at him.
Bio: D.T. Robbins has work in Hobart, Bending Genres, Spelk, Ellipsis, X-R-A-Y, Trampset, and others. He’s founding editor of Rejection Letters. Find out more at dtrobbins.com.