*** continuing the serialization of the novel Tollbooth***
click here to start at the beginning
I had three strands of hair left on the top of my head. Sometimes I would look at them in the mirror, inspecting them for split ends. I’d treat those hairs with fine conditioners. I tried to show them that I loved them so very dearly in case they could spread a message and wake the ones sleeping below my scalp.
It was two days before the wedding. Sarah and I were getting married in a little church by her sister’s house, since she didn’t have a big family and all I really had was Ted. It wasn’t going to be a big wedding by any means, but our friends, mostly her friends, would try their best to fake their way through the motions, whatever.
Sarah said, “I want to take you out tonight. I want to get you real drunk and take advantage of you before I have to go to my sister’s.”
And so my Sarah, my little bride to be, took me to the local neighborhood bar, where we’d been time and time again. We sat in a booth, letting the waitress take our order.
Sarah’s long blonde hair fell across her shoulders. She kept flashing smiles. Perfect teeth. I smiled and ran my mouth, complimenting her. I was very much at the apex of my love for her then. After a few drinks, when we were being all lovey dovey to each other, the waitress said, “Thank god for a cute couple. Most people who come in here look like they want to cut each other’s heads off.”
“Well, we are getting married in two days, so I guess after that we’ll want to cut each other’s heads off.”
The waitress walked off, Sarah said to me, “You know I love you, right?”
“Yeah, I know that.” I stood up from the booth. “I’ve got to go to the bathroom.”
Sarah looked nervous.
“Hey, babe, look,” I said, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have made that joke.”
“I think we are gonna be a cute couple,” she said. “Forever.”
“I know we will be. That’s why I want to marry you.” I leaned over and I kissed her on the mouth. She grabbed my shoulders and held me there, over the table.
At that moment, the drinks came: two gin and tonics. I started to take my drink, but she grabbed my hand.
“It will still be here when you get back.”
“Oh, so this is how it’s gonna be.” I smirked as I walked off to the bathroom, feeling vaguely drunk but not that bad considering that I hadn’t had too big of a dinner on Sarah’s request that we get nice and drunk, super drunk (me especially), so that she could take advantage of me. When I came back from the bathroom, Sarah was putting something in her purse.
“That was quick,” she said.
“Most of the time, boys don’t have to sit down or lift the lid.”
I sat down at the table, and she looked away as if guilty.
“What were you doing, stealing silverware? Putting it in your purse?”
She laughed, “Me? No, of course not.”
“Oh, because I thought I caught you in some kind of criminal act.”
“No, I missed you, and I’m getting drunk, so . . . ”
“So maybe after this drink we’ll get going.”
“Yeah, I’m kinda getting in the mood. To . . . ”
“Oh, in that case!” I said, tipping my drink back, gulping half of it down. She watched with intrigue—smiling broadly.
She smiled wider when I finished my drink, took hers and drank that too.
Halfway home, the last thing I remember was Sarah saying “Jimmy, you know that I love you right?”
“Yeah babe,” I slurred, amazed at how drunk I was already, “I know . . . ”
My head slammed into the headrest, the world was a tunnel closing in on itself. Then, as it happens occasionally, the world vanished.
When I opened my eyes, I was face down in a bedspread, but I couldn’t remember whose bedspread it was, what my name was, who I was, where I was, why my mouth was so dry, or where my pants were (likewise, my shirt).
I suspected foul play.
My head throbbed viscously.
I grunted, rolled back over, “Sarah?”
I couldn’t remember that she was gone. My balls itched, and my dick was hard. Where was my Sarah when I needed her?
I had to piss. I had to scratch my nuts. When I reached down there, my balls felt funny. They were cleanly shaven. I was drooling everywhere.
I looked at my nuts . . . yeah, cleanly shaven! I didn’t remember doing that. While looking down, I also saw that my belly had been shaven of all of its fine black hair. My pubic hair was gone. So there I sat in bed, naked and without my natural defenses against the elements. That bitch!
I stood up out of bed, walked to the bathroom—the pain deadly. When I got to the toilet, there was a note taped to the lid. I lifted the lid, note and all, and pissed into the abyss of the porcelain pit.
When I finished, I closed the lid and grabbed hold of the note—surely some love letter from my beautiful wife to be.
OK look, you know I love you right?
Well I do love you, from the bottom of my heart. I’m truly sorry about last night. But it was the only way that I could go through with the wedding. You are the perfect man for me and I want to spend the rest of my life with you, but there is just no way that I could have walked down the aisle with a man with a comb over. It’s just not how I pictured my special day.
I thought long and hard about how to confront you with this, but the truth is that I could come to no easy resolution, the only way was for me to take action. I am just so very sorry that that action was against you in the way that it was.
I hope that you can forgive me for what I have done to you. I had to drug your drink and shave your head while you were passed out . . .
I looked in the mirror and let out a little shriek. I was a monster! My head was clean shaven, two shades whiter than my already white as powder face, which I might add was also freshly shaven.
“Biff, Tom, Gregor!”
I had named my last three hairs after my three favorite literary characters. Biff Loman from Death of a Salesman, Tom Joad from The Grapes of Wrath, and Gregor Samsa from The Metamorphosis.
. . . I don’t know how you feel about me now, after all of this deception, but I must let you know that it took me months to build up the courage to do it. Otherwise, I thought we had a great time last night and, I know you probably don’t remember because you were passed out, but the sex was amazing. I had a little shaving party with you and then, well . . . oh my GOD! Also, I just want you to know that I think you are so sexy with your new haircut. I know that you will be mad at me for a while, but I hope you will forgive me by the time we exchange vows tomorrow.
Your wife in twenty something hours,
PS. Attached you will find a page where you have signed a legal document agreeing not to call the wedding off, or else you will be liable for all of the costs.
The attached document said:
I, James Saare agree to let Sarah Culbert shave my head so that I will look my best for our wedding day which will join
us in holy matrimony forever. I also agree to put the toilet
seat down when I am done with it and to not go out to a strip
club for my bachelor party or ever after that for any reason,
because it would really hurt my beautiful wife, who is my life.
I also agree to never look at another girl ever again or drink
out of the milk carton with my bacteria laden lips.
X JAMES SAARE
It appeared to be signed in blood. Sitting down on the bed rereading the letter, I found the band aid on my forearm, confirming that, yes, the document was signed in blood . . . my blood.
The rear end of my Subaru was hurting—hanging low—its suspension crying. Everyday, I’d throw in handfuls of pennies and quarters, nickels, dimes and Susan B. Anthonys: the change that missed the basket, bouncing down onto the concrete outside the booth.
When the jug was full, I’d take it to the bank.
The manager had to help. He didn’t like it the first time I’d brought him out to the car, pointed to the plastic vat of happy money. I said, “We need to get that out of the trunk and inside.”
He shook his head in anger, “Sorry, buddy, not my job.”
The girls who worked in the bank were hawt little things, though, watching us through the huge plate glass window.
“Come on, help lift this out. You don’t want to look weak in front of the girls do you?” I conned.
He nudged me out of the way and pulled the change vat out of the trunk. I heard a wet pop, the sound of a piece of human anatomy being dislodged. While he grunted and hefted the bulk, the lowest rank teller opened up the bank door.
I went to the automatic change counting machine. I had a plastic beach shovel and a beach chair. I sat in the chair and shoveled the change into the mouth of the machine as it emitted clanks and hums.
During those trips to the bank, I was convinced I had the best job in the world. It was all I had to look forward to in life, really, that and seeing Gena.
I missed my hatchback Volkswagen though. A car that had been taken from me, by a cruel, unloving universe. That car would have fit so much more spare change than the Subaru. I’d have been rich.
When I woke up in the morning the rain was torrential, so was Sarah. She was mad at me, but we didn’t ever talk about what was wrong. So neither of us really ever knew.
She sat by the window, whispering one-sided questions to her pregnant belly, “Are you going to be a boy or a girl; a girl or a boy?” They were almost indecipherable whispers, but seemed amplified a hundred thousand decibels.
When she caught me looking, she stood, opening the thin curtains. The muted sun was just coming up, but no one could tell; our days were ambivalent.
“It’s a pretty bad storm,” she said, “maybe you . . .”
“It sounds like the end of the world out there, but I’ll have work,” I said.
“Bring an umbrella,” she suggested, “Or call out, fuck it, right?”
I opened my mouth to speak, but she’d already left the room. The tea kettle was screaming. Or it was a pterodactyl crashing through the kitchen window to consume us in its thrashing jaws, whichever.
It was true, pregnant women do glow. It was true, Sarah had once rescued me from the bottomless pit. It was true, I’d replaced the lust in my balls for her with a lust for a trashy little whore who made photo copies in an office supply store. “I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys ‘R Us Kid,” I sang, swinging my feet out of bed, walking balls ass naked out of the room, “ . . . there’s a million toys at Toys ‘R Us that I can play with . . . ”
In the kitchen she sat staring at her steaming tea cup, waiting. I walked past, singing to her, pointing, “I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys ‘R Us Kid, they got the best for so much less . . . you’ll really flip your lid,”
I sauntered down the hallway, she laughed, “From bikes to trains to video games,” she sang with me in unison, as I turned on the shower with a flick of the wrist. I hummed the song all while I washed, but there was nothing in that steam that held anything for me, so it was quick, routine. No deviations. Strictly business. Like a fool, I expected Sarah to come in the bathroom and climb in with me.
Before this thing happened to Sarah, this horrible tragedy, she was so good to me, so willing in bed, but not anymore. Flat tire. Broken window. All systems failure. Dried-up river bed. Bones of mythic creatures bleached by an unceasing sun. Sarah why did you ever get yourself pregnant on top of my dick like that?
When I came out, she was still at the table.
“I’m not talking to you, don’t bother talking to me,” she said playfully.
“I wasn’t going to,” I said, “but you know, you did just talk to me.”
“Well, from this point on,” she said, grinning sheepishly.
She made a motion of locking her mouth shut with a key. I went to the refrigerator. There was nothing for breakfast but eggs and toast and bacon and pancakes and cereal and sausage links and corned beef hash in the cupboard and coffee. I was starving. We were all starving. I didn’t want any of it. I wanted it all—immediately.
“You hungry, babe? I thought I’d make you breakfast?” A ploy.
She opened her mouth as if to say something, then she threw the imaginary key inside. Swallowed. I hoped that key didn’t hit my unborn namesake and cause a miscarriage.
I hoped. I closed the fridge.
“Look, I don’t want to fight,” I said. “I’m sorry, and I have a suggestion. I thought of a name for the baby.” Her dark eyes brightened. I went down the hallway, got my baseball cap.
“Do you want to hear the name of the baby before I leave, or are you still going to be . . . “
She just shook her head, naaahhhhhh.
As I left, not a single raindrop was able to touch me.
Instead of driving to work, I drove downtown where I used to live. I stopped at the gas station, called work.
Larry answered, I could hear him slurping Raisin Bran at his desk, “Hey, I’m sorry to do this to you, but I’m feeling really sick today. I don’t think I can come in.”
“Yeah, not very good at all.”
“Well not to call you out or anything, but if you are too sick to come to work, why is the caller ID showing a pay phone?”
I didn’t say anything. Touché. What a chess player!
“OK, my car broke down. I’m sorry I lied . . .”
“Just stay home, OK,” he said, then hung up. What a championship boss.