Bugs

Contributor: Matthew Konkel

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“You’d feel differently if it was your family, if it was your church.”

Louis stood stoically in the parking area staring out at the grey lake water, his back to her, hands in his pockets, listening to Sarah’s rusty metal voice. He was listening but her words were an alien language to him.

“Why did you even come with me if you were just going to stop? Why did you even pretend to care?” She was sitting in the rear of the parked car with the door open talking to his back. Her curly, storm-colored hair undulated in the wind. “You couldn’t even wear a clean suit. Or a nice jacket.”

Louis let his eyelids fall as he parted his lips and took in a breath of the cool lake air. It was much colder than it should be, thought Louis. It was June. Where was the sun? He would take his sunfish out on the water when the days finally warmed up. Sarah interjected his thoughts with more metallic corrosion.

“You’re not even a man. If you think you are. You’re not even a man. Was it too much to ask? Apparently it was too much to ask.”

Could he remember a time when he felt content, Louis inquired of himself. He felt happy for the better part of his sixty-two years, but contentment? That was something else. Sarah would continue to harangue. She usually dominated all conversations, inclined to talk about herself and her family. Her family, the certified Jesus ass-washers, as Louis referred to them.

“I could tell you something that would make you cry. I could tell you how you’ll never see light. You’re a bug. A real bug. One of those beetles that burrow into the dead carcasses of birds. They don’t hear anything beyond the dead flesh.” Sarah was leaning out of the car as far as she could now, her eyes like marbles. “You think you’re fed. You think you’ve got food to last ten lifetimes but you don’t. Because the flesh is rotting as you feed. And you don’t know it. Your home is rotting all around you. You’ll continue to eat after you’re dead. After you’re dead even. That’s how unaware you are. You’re a bug.”

Louis had heard this analogy from his wife before. It wasn’t her own. She had heard it from her brother. And he heard it from his friend Paul. Paul was dead. Sarah had never directed the analogy toward him before. He didn’t feel defensive about it. He didn’t agree, of course. He knew that it was just words Sarah was regurgitating. He knew she was angry.

Earlier, he and Sarah had picked up her friend and her friend’s sister and were on their way to Sarah’s church when it got to be too much for Louis. Their conversation about the whys and wherefores and ins and outs of their stupid beliefs within the Jesus ass-washing community was more than Louis could handle. After just five minutes in the car Louis wanted to yank the wheel into the direction of an oncoming semi-truck. Instead, he drove back to the friend’s house and made them get out. After a minute of straight railing from Sarah, Louis couldn’t stand it anymore and he pulled the car over to the curb.

Maybe it was true. Maybe he was burrowed so far into rotting flesh that he couldn’t see outside of it anymore. But if he was, then everyone else in the world was too. Sarah had broken her hip last December. She slipped on the ice. The stupid ice. Now she was reliant on Louis to get from place to place. She always went to her church alone. Louis was not about to get drawn into the Jesus cult that she called a legitimate religion.

The wind began to pick up and the lake started to get choppy. Water rolled toward the shore and toward Louis. He looked beyond the parking lot to the railing along the water where people usually fished. No one was fishing there now. It was the wrong time of day. In three hours the railing would be lined with fisher folk. Louis raised his eyes and cocked his head. Was that the sun breaking through?

“All I asked was for you to come inside this once. As a kindness to me. To the church. And you couldn’t do it.” Sarah turned her head to face the inside of the car. She talked to the green-grey seatback in front of her. “You couldn’t even do that. I never would have asked you to come if I’d known you were just gonna stop here. Do that and then stop here.”

Louis’ suit was old. The last time he wore it was for his son’s wedding seventeen years ago. It was tight under the arms and he had long outgrown the waistline. Louis had gotten older too. Had he gotten wiser as well, as the saying goes? He had definitely gotten larger, but weight had no correlation with wisdom. He removed his outer jacket. Would today finally be the day when the unseasonably cold weather finally stopped?

“You never would have treated me like this twenty years ago. I went to so many things for you and you couldn’t do this one thing for me. You couldn’t do it.” Sarah snapped her body toward Louis, a new rage building, “I’m not staying here anymore. I can’t stay here anymore—”

Her voice had suddenly stopped. Louis swiveled his head around. Sarah was now half out of the car, her shoulder on the curb, twisted in an unnatural position. Her hands flailing, groping about for something to lift herself back into the car. Louis looked at her struggling. Why wouldn’t he go over and help her? Yesterday they had both laughed because Sarah blamed the dog for her flatulence, now she was fighting to lift herself up off the ground back into the car.


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Matthew is a writer and teaching-artist who resides in Milwaukee. You may have seen his fiction and poetry in the Newer York, Four and Twenty Poetry, Paragraph Planet, Postcard Shorts or The Eunoia Review. His play Walk, Don’t Walk was recently produced by Pink Banana Theater (June, 2013). Matthew is also a screenwriter and independent filmmaker. His latest film is a coming-of-age feature titled Neptune produced by Last House Productions and scheduled for release in June, 2014.
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One Response to this post

  1. Merideth Konkel on May 3, 2014 at 3:28 AM

    Love the push and pull, along with the Milwaukee flavor, thanx for this one Matt

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