A while back I had the honour of having both a short story and a small book review published in the inaugural issue of The Bolo Tie Collective‘s annual anthology. While the book review takes a lighter approach to a local author’s short publication, the short story below casts a dark shadow on Edmonton’s 104th Avenue, where “Spill” takes place.
“Spill” by Jessica Barratt originally published in The Bolo Tie Collective Anthology
This room smells somethin’ terrible, like dried sweat and stale cigarettes. A few butts in the corner. Wish I had a Marlboro. Thought I had one left, but guess not. And these slack-jaws been questioning me too damn long. Keep asking for the truth. Want to know where I got my information. But I’m not telling them nothing.
See, I’d been walking home after having a few drinks by myself at the Local. It was an alright night for walking too, air nice and cool on the skin, full fat moon high in the sky. Drinks were getting to me though, and I remember them streetlights being too damn bright. Almost tripped over my own feet a couple times. Was thinking of calling Jamie for a ride, but then I heard some shouting from above. So I looked up, like anyone would, right in time to watch this guy fall from his sixth-floor balcony and spill all over the pavement in front of me. Can’t seem to forget the sound his head made when it hit. Like a bullet blasting through sick, wet pulp.
I was in shock, I mean, this guy’s skull was split right open, blood oozing down the sidewalk, eyelids flickering like flies; right in front of me! Looked real ugly laying there too, shirt half-way up his chest, legs askew, this layer of brown filth all over him like he hadn’t showered in weeks. Took a step closer and covered my nose: the guy smelled like that old butcher’s shop off 87th, like a meat freezer left open too long and everything’s started to thaw.
I looked around to see if anyone was watching, but no one was. Figured I could just leave him. Things like that happen all the time and no one ever bothers to talk about it around here. But when I took one more glance at him, something familiar about him made me feel kinda bad… So I called an ambulance on my cell, even though he wasn’t moving. Kind of like a favour to the guy, you know? The woman on the emergency line gave me a damn hard time too, probably knew I was drunk. Probably knew who I was, in a small town like this. Kept asking for my birthday, kept making me repeat the address of the building where I was. She annoyed me something fierce, but I guess if you yell “ambulance” enough times, they’ll get the picture. “We’ll be right there,” she said, “just stay where you are.” Swear I heard her whisper my name before the line went cold. Told the dial tone to hurry their ass up before sitting down to wait, but never had a chance to get settled. See, the guy started to lift his ugly, mangled head like he wanted a better look at his own flesh on the pavement.
“Thanks,” he mumbled through chattering, broken teeth.
I’m sure I was hallucinating, I mean, it’s been known to happen. There’s this one time I can think of, me and my younger brother Jedd went off the wall: smoked three packs of cigarettes between us in under an hour, like it was some kind of contest. We were seeing more than double, let me tell you, and feeling pretty sick.
Thing is, this time wasn’t like that. I’d only drank that night, no drugs I swear. There was no writing this off as some messed up dream.
“You hear me? I said thanks.”
“For calling that ambulance.”
I was sure freaked out; talking to a dead guy just doesn’t feel alright.
“You wanna tell me how you’re doing that?” I was going a little crazy by that point.
Next thing I know, he’s pulling himself off the pavement, propping himself up on bloody bruised elbows and giving me this look like he’d seen me before. Half of his head was still on the ground, and he has the gall to ask me what happened to him?
“You think I know that?”
“All I remember is fighting with my brother,” he said, squinting up at his balcony, “Doug’s always picking fights with me, calling me things like I’m some low-life idiot who doesn’t know the difference. Maybe he pushed me.”
“Well that’s your brother’s problem then, not mine. Just shut up ‘till the ambulance comes.”
“We were always fighting. He’s not been right for some time.”
He was silent finally, so both of us just sat listening to the sirens blaring in the distance. I looked at the balcony above. It was empty save for a crumbling barbecue and a moldy old lawn chair.
Then, some tough-looking guy and his girl come out of the apartment building and, seeing my status, start asking too many questions.
“Whoa, you hurt this guy?”
“Babe, you think he did?”
Go away, I wanted to tell them. Shut up. Couldn’t they see I was trying to have a decent conversation? But my man wasn’t talking anymore, too busy looking at these two women I hadn’t seen, standing just outside the apartment doors as if afraid to come any closer. There was a tall and skinny one, with faded red hair wearing a nasty old sweater. She had her gangling arms wrapped around an old, thin-haired lady. Both looked at me, then at the body and back with these horrified, accusing faces. Like it was all my fault.
“That’s Ma, and my step-sister Jamie. They come over to cook for me and my brother sometimes.”
“Must not love you very much if they didn’t stop your brother.” One of them women shuddered when I said that.
“No, you don’t understand him. He’s crazy, doesn’t know one thing from another. And we’d been drinking, see? That’s when you pushed me.”
I stepped backward, almost tripping over my own feet.
“What?” I stuttered, “I didn’t push you. I don’t even know you!”
The sirens became piercing then. I remember covering my ears they were so loud. The ambulance had arrived, followed by two police cars, all their lights flashing, making my headache worse. A couple of paramedics filed out the back of the ambulance, stretchers in hand, but they slowed once they saw him. One went back into the truck and pulled out a long black bag.
“You’re the one who called the ambulance?”
It took me a second to hear him, one of the police officers. I told him it was me that called, but that they’d better get this guy onto a stretcher ‘cause he was losing light fast.
Then the officer asked me my birthday.
“Damnit! You going to get to him or what?”
“Sir, there’s nothing we can do for this man. Are you two related?”
I looked down at the poor guy. He wasn’t sitting up anymore. Actually, he looked just the way he did when I first saw him, as if he hadn’t moved at all. As if he really was dead. But he couldn’t be.
“No . . . I just met him.”
The officer raised his eyebrows.
“When he fell. That’s when I met him.”
“Sir, I have to ask that you come with us,” he said, nodding at the officer talking to the others, “we have a few questions for you back at the station.”
“Says here you’ve got a record?” The one with the blonde moustache taps his fingers on the metal table between us, while the jaw who brought me here, Sal, paces the room, drinking his coffee, all relaxed like nothing’s wrong.
“Who doesn’t?” I say.
“Want to tell me what happened seven years ago?” he asks in the same cool tone.
“Any chance you’ve got a cigarette?”
The door behind me opens and closes, but Blondie keeps his eyes on me, all intense-like I hadn’t asked.
“Says here you had a son?”
Yeah, I did.
“It was her that done it. She’s crazy, that one,” my voice is shaking. I need that fucking…
“Who?” Sal asks this time, I can tell he knows who, he’s just trying to get me mad.
“And you testified against her?” Blondie again.
“She’s the one that done it, why shouldn’t I?”
“You were listed as a possible suspect.”
“Well I saw it happen.”
“Just like you saw what happened tonight?” Sal.
Suddenly a cold voice from behind me, creepy, slurring:
“Why don’t you tell him, Doug?”
I can’t move. That voice sounds too damn familiar.
“Go on, tell ‘em who killed me.”
I turn around. Wouldn’t you know it? It’s him. Still as wrecked as when I saw him last.
“Tell ‘em yourself.”
“I can’t. I’m dead, remember?”
I turn to Blondie as he gets up from his chair, this creepy look on his face.
“Sal here is going to watch you while I get you that doctor. You hold tight, okay?”
“I didn’t ask for no doctor!”
“I don’t like people getting away with things they done,” ghostie says, pacing the room, lips hanging off his face, skin grey.
“What’re you talking about?” I yell at him, spit flying.
Sal looks confused and begins to stutter an answer, but the ghost doesn’t stop talking, won’t stop talking.
“Someone had to push me, Doug. Someone’s to blame.”
Blondie opens the door for a man wearing a white jacket.
“Thank you,” the white-coat says before sitting down across from me.
“Would you please tell the Doctor how you knew the victim?” asks Sal nervously.
“Go on, Doug. Tell ‘em how you knew me, Brother.”
“Shut the hell up!”
“Who are you talking to, Doug?” asks the doctor.
“No one. I said I don’t know him, okay?”
I’m panicking, and what’s worse, these pictures start coming to my head, like memories that ain’t really mine. Jedd cutting lines. Ma in the kitchen with Jamie, frying up some rotten smelling eggs. Jedd handing me our grandma’s mirror with two lines ready. The TV’s broken, so we get to talking. Doesn’t take long before he’s on about some conspiracy shit. All high and mighty, like he knows something I don’t. He’d always been like that; didn’t know a damn thing.
“Tell ‘em how it was you who pushed me.”
The white-coat’s talking again, but I can’t hear a word.
“It was your own damn fault!”
“Awe, come on Doug. You tell ‘em the truth.”
I remember I was real agitated. It had been a tough week at the plant and I needed another cigarette, but only had one left. I asked Jedd to shut up for a second, to go buy me a pack of Marlboros, but he said he wouldn’t, that he was too tired. What a guy, talked too much and did almost nothing else. Not even above asking me to share my last smoke. And what did I do? I let him. So he grabs my last between his thick, grimy fingers and takes two of the longest damn drags I’ve ever seen. Smokes it right down to the filter. I couldn’t believe it.
The guy killed my last cigarette.
I’m not telling them nothing.