Wednesday, 14 July 2010

NEVER SEE IT COMING by Matthew C. Funk

Never See It Coming

You never see her coming.
I was just sitting at the bench across from the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church when she came for me. I was sipping a fountain lemon-lime—my third of the day since the Depo-Provera was making my mouth dry, and the Louisa Mini Mart pours them mostly soda water. I was sitting and trying not to think Popsicle thoughts about kids.
I did one good thing in this old life—raising my son. I thought on that.
I could have been thinking about watching my back. It wouldn’t have mattered. Everybody here in Desire knows Jari gets at you anyway.
I wasn’t watching the church to see the Youth Group potluck—they just came bounding up, all the boys, innocent as tears. The smooth, soft arms cradling the tinfoil trays of food; their clothes and smiles so bright; their love unlimbered from the seriousness of the world.
I wasn’t thinking drippy Popsicle thoughts. Gentle, candy lick thoughts. And the harder thoughts—you know the kind—hot as playgrounds in summer.
Sometimes she’s waiting in your car for you. Sometimes, she’s there in the closet waiting for your eyes to close on your pillow. Sometimes she comes from behind with a brick. That’s what everybody in Desire whispers.
That day, she put a hand on my shoulder.
“Kind of close to those kids, aren’t you, Dennis?” Jari said. She has a bad voice.
“I’m not doing nothing but sitting.” And I was scared right then—she is scary like a jail shower—so I didn’t turn.
“Is that what you’d tell your parole officer?”
“I’m just enjoying the summer sun.”
“That’s what’s creasing your fucking trousers, Dennis?” Jari has a voice like hard candy that’s been burnt, burnt right through to the center. “The summer sun?”
“I’m not thinking what you think I was thinking.” I wasn’t thinking Popsicle thoughts about those boys. I was thinking about how my son won the science fair, and how my pride made that first year in prison glide by.
“The fuck you were.”
Jari uses bad words. She’s one to talk about bad thoughts. What could I even say to that?
“Look at me.” Jari said.
I looked. And I saw her brick first of all.
I kept looking up and up—though she’s not tall, it takes a long time. She wears different clothes, but always the same mean, full moon face. Jari has a face like a bad moon and gold stars trickle in tattoo down her right cheek, framed by the night of her hair.
You look at the gold stars so you don’t have to look into her eyes. Everybody here in Desire knows that.
“You look like a liar to me.” Jari said.
You always end up looking at her brick, though. She’s wrapped duct tape on it for a grip. It’s pitted and chipped in places where it’s hit bone too many times. You can’t stop counting them.
“Fucking liars make me angry.”
Sometimes it’s the last thing you see. She works on your eyes with it sometimes. Sometimes your brain. Never enough to kill you. Everybody knows that the kind of pain Jari brings doesn’t end as easy as that.
“I wouldn’t lie to you.” I wasn’t thinking of the boys slim, soft arms cradling the trays of lasagna and pot roast. I wasn’t thinking of them cradling my hips. Not anymore.
“You pled guilty on all seven counts, I hear.” Jari said as she stepped to the side of me. She knew it because she’s a cop. She’s more of a cop than most of the cops in New Orleans. On her off time, she actually stops crime. “You’ve admitted to what you’ve done to kids in the past.”
“I don’t do that thing no more.”
And just like that she had a thumb hovering above the raised hairs on my neck.
“What kind of thing?” Jari said and she said it real quiet like the worst secret.
“The bad things.”
“A boy showed up in Bywater last night. Bleeding. You mean that kind of thing?”
“I don’t know.” I did, though—I knew what she meant. The Popsicles in me were already begin to melt.
“You need me to tell you what hole he was bleeding from?”
I got the arthritis and looking into her eyes felt just like the worst of that.
“I bet you’d like me to, though.”
I still felt the Popsicles, rising red and melting, though.
And she looked so angry, then.
“I can’t even tell you how disgusted I would feel to touch you, Dennis.” Jari hissed. “But I will shake an honest answer out of you if I have to.”
And in her eyes she was already doing that and more.
“Do I have to touch you, Dennis?”
“No, ma’am.”
“The boy said five other boys had been played with—he actually said ‘played with’—too. You know what the hospital staff will do about that?”
“No, ma’am.”
“Nothing. But you know who will do something about it?”
“You are fucking right about that.”
And I got the arthritis, but it was never as bad as then, and I started shaking.
“I don’t know nothing about all that.”
“Yes.” Jari said. “You do.”
What do you even say to that?
“And you’re going to tell me.”
“I will.”
“They gave a name. Your name.”
I froze right up inside. I shook like it was winter in prison. I wanted to watch the brick but I could just see her eyes.
“They couldn’t have…”
“They did. Now you remember what I said about honest answers, right, Dennis?”
I must have nodded but I just felt like a bag of ice.
“Tell me what you named your son.” Jari said.
“Dennis Junior.”
“That’s right.” She said. The hairs on my neck bent under her thumb. “Now you tell me what you never told the courts. Probably never told your group up in Parish Prison. Tell me—did you play with your son?”
I was just a bag of ice. I didn’t feel nothing. The answer just slipped out somehow.
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Taught him your little games.” Jari’s eyes narrowed. Even though she stepped away, those eyes kept all the air to themselves. “Fucking thought so.”
“But I didn’t do nothing to no boys nowadays.”
“May as well have.”
I thought of my boy—little Dennis. He was just such an angel. How can you not share your love with someone so pure of spirit and free of worry? How, when the rest of the world is so burnt and dirty?
Jari was squinting so hard, she couldn’t see that. Nobody admits they do.
I didn’t feel sorry for what I did with Dennis. I felt sorry for what I knew I was going to do.
“Where is he now?”
“Down on Tonti Stret,” I shook out. I felt sicker by the word. I never wanted to bring something so hard and burnt on my boy. I wanted to share love—not pain like Jari brings. “Pink house.”
“It would be pink.” Jari took another step away. She looked so sick too.
I felt we might have a bond there. But then the brick shoved in my face.
“I’m going for him.” The candy of her voice crackled. “I know I’ll be back for you, though.”
She left, then. I’m still shaking. I keep feeling like I did when the headlines about what was left of Dennis Junior slapped me in the face. I keep feeling that thumb about to happen on my neck.
I keep looking over my shoulder these days and I keep my thoughts on ice.
It won’t matter, I know.
I won’t see her coming.

Matthew C. Funk is a professional marketing copywriter and social media consultant, a writing mentor and the author of several manuscripts that illuminate the beauty of human extremes. A graduate of the Professional Writing MFA at USC, his online work is featured at sites such as Thrillers, Killers and Chillers; Flash Fiction Offensive; ThugLit; Powder Burn Flash; Twist of Noir; Pulp Metal Magazine; Spinetingler Magazine; Six Sentences and his Web domain.


  1. Nice to have you back, Matthew.

    A tricky subject, handled very well.

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  3. What I meant to say was...

    Dennis felt like over-ripe, rotting fruit. All decay and fluid rubbish inside. His head needed a brick upside it.

    I love Jari's way of dealing with problems. Great work capturing her spirit.

    She is my hero and you are my favorite story teller.

  4. Difficult subject, but dealt with decently.

  5. Matthew you summon the necessary revulsion and moral shock from this subject. Jari is a powerful character and the story is a profoundly macabre piece of realism.

  6. I wonder if Jari knows that her compulsion to kill comes from the same dark place, and in her own way she's as over the edge as her prey? Ah, well, you make the best monsters, Matt, whichever side of the fence they stand on.

  7. Horribly disturbing, yet brilliantly handled. Can such a monster not feel the popsicle moments? I don't think so.

    Jari's way of carrying out justice by proxy is highly satisfying.

  8. Justice by proxy seems the best we can hope for. In light of that, thank you all for your comments. I am glad to hear that I hit a nerve without breaking it.

    It was splendid to see you engaged by the subject but not driven off by it.

    @ Pamila - Jari may think that very thing, in her darker moments.

    @ Lily - Indeed. And so what to do with such monsters?

    @ Richard - Marvelous to see the words 'macabre' and 'realism' close together. That is what I aim for.

    @ Sean - Thank you very much for commenting. It was great to earn your compliments.

    @ Deborah - Wonderful to hear in every way.

    @ Col - Thanks so much; great to be back again!