A Short Story – March 22, 2010 – “Stars Maligned”
A short story
by Chris Hibbard and Curtis Goodman
My friend Larry was a hell of a guy. That guy could climb higher, throw baseballs further, and hold his breath longer than anyone I have met since. More importantly though, he was the only guy I knew who went crazy and the only guy I knew who died.
One time in grade eight Larry was more odd than usual. Always a shy kid, this whole summer he was just plain off. At first, I thought that it was related to something at home with his family. Divorce wasn’t talked about much back then. But nope, Larry said he overheard his mom and dad “doing it” just a few nights ago. “They always fight, that’s nothing new,” he said, “as long as they’re doing it, it’s all right.”
At dinner in the main hall one night that summer, Larry tried to convince me to sit next to Sandy Margoles. I had had a thing for Sandy since I was in diapers. She had reddish blond hair and just the right amount of freckles. She made me squirm uncomfortably every time she entered the room.
Sandy Margoles used to sit on seat opposite mine on the school bus. She and Larry would board the bus every morning two stops before mine, then in the afternoon Larry would disembark and walk her home while I listened to LL Cool J on my Walkman for the next four blocks. Her house had disappeared behind my shoulder by the time the second verse for Mama Said Knock You Out kicked in every afternoon.
Within three years, Larry was not all right. His fighting, his yelling – it was unpredictable and it was aggravating. He could be quiet and philosophical one moment and then manic and homicidal the next. Sometimes now, Larry scared me. On those days, I dreamed that Larry would stay home sick and I could walk his hot little sister Sandy home alone.
There was one time in Grade 12 Social Studies where instead of answering the teacher’s question, Larry picked up a chair and smashed the closest window. In the principal’s office afterwards, he claimed he couldn’t remember anything about it.
By the time we finished high school I was just a shadow in Larry’s mind. We had grown apart, and he was now a different person. I don’t know if it was the drugs he bought in the parking lot at school, the pills the doctors had prescribed, or even the kids he hung out with always dressed in plaid flannel – but whatever it was, it had turned Larry into a menace.
* * *
It was 1994. I was driving my parents’ station-wagon home, having just picked up little brother Dallas from karate, and there she was – Sandy Margoles. Standing there on the side of the road in the rain, I remember it as if it were yesterday. I pulled over quickly, telling my brother to shut up and be cool.
Sandy Margoles ran to my window and said, “Kenny? Kenny! Oh Kenny, you gotta help me,” she said. I told her to get in as I leaned over to open the passenger door. She jumped in to the car and shook out her wet hair. I started to drive towards her home; it wasn’t far, on the way to my house. She told me that she didn’t want to go home right now. It was obvious by the virtual silence that she just wanted to drive around.
I drove. We were half way there when little Dallas piped up in the backseat “can you drop me off at home if you’re going to make out?”
It was blunt. I wanted to kill him at that moment.
“Shut up Dallas,” I yelled. But that’s what little brothers are for.
“Kids like you don’t last very long on the street” Sandy said.
Dallas replied, “Then can you at least put in that tape? This station sucks.”
I put the tape in, and the Police chimed on, with Sting singing about hookers under neon lights. It was my favorite album at the time. Now I hate it though, because it always reminds me of that night.
Putting the car in Park, we sat underneath the city-welcome marquee. It was missing the customary letters to make the sign legible, now it read “Welcome to LET_RI__E – Home of the Fightin’ Badgers”
For the first time under the pale interior car light, I checked Sandy out. Her pupils were enlarged and her cheeks were flushed. Her dress was clinging to her in the way the wet dresses do. Even though she looked horrendous, I had never seen Sandy look this sexy. I started to squirm uncomfortably, and then I noticed the blood.
-Two years later-
Sandy ended up spending seventeen months in the women’s facility off Chester Island. She was released on good behaviour with the condition that she undergoes psychological therapy and performs community service. The last time I saw her she was picking up leaves on the side of the highway dressed in bright green jumper. I never stopped. I wanted to stop, but she was a bunch of other forced-volunteers and it didn’t seem like the right moment to talk. Oddly enough, my little brother Dallas was in the car with me again, though he wasn’t quite so little anymore. “Hey,” he asked, turning in his seat to stare at the laboring prisoners, “isn’t that that killer girl you liked?” I said nothing. On impulse, I turned around at the next Burger King parking lot and headed back in her direction.
It was obvious that I needed to talk to her about it, to find resolution. “What are you doing Kenny,” Dallas pestered, “we’re not going back there are we?” Still ignoring him, now driving past the women in green, I slowed, with my window rolled down and called out her name. She looked up with hostility and then recognition came over her face. She dropped her leaf bag and ran towards the still moving car. I pulled over and put my hazards on. By this time she was already opening the passenger door.
She was suddenly in the car wearing her bright green jumper. I didn’t know what to do. I was looking in my rearview mirror and saw the husky female guard in black walking with determination towards my car. She was maybe 100 meters away.
“Just drive!” Sandy screamed. My foot hit the floor. With the hazard lights still flashing we were up to speed in 10 seconds.
This was the closest thing to a car chase I had ever been in, and there weren’t even cars chasing me yet. “What the hell are we doing Sandy? What kind of trouble did I just get myself into?”
Sandy sank lower in her seat and adjusted her shoulder belt. “This isn’t that bad,” she said, “I’m practically on parole.”
“Practically!? What does that mean?” I asked, not sure if I wanted to know the answer. “What was the guard doing there?”
I slammed on the brakes as I pulled over into the gravel. It spit from beneath the tires. I put the car in Park. “How could you do it Sandy? How could you kill your own brother? He was my best friend.”
“Do you have a smoke?” Sandy asked. She was fidgeting nervously with her hands.
“No, I gave that up a long time ago.”
“Shit, I would do anything for a smoke right now.”
I turned on the radio half-expecting to hear a breaking news report about an escaped convict. Fleeing southbound on a rural highway is what it would sound like. But they were just talking about Michael Jackson, still. I wondered briefly, ‘Why do they keep talking about this guy? Like, Thriller was cool, but come on – that was what, 1985?’
Then a light bulb flashed on in my brain. My parents owned a condo in the mountains. It just so happened that I had a full set of keys. It wasn’t much, a bedroom and bathroom and tiny kitchenette. We could hide in the mountains and live off busking and selling original paintings. Sell them to the Japanese tourists that came through.
I took Sandy’s hand and said, “Either I turn around and drop you off, or you answer my questions as we drive off and disappear.”
She looked at me and was about to say something when the AM-radio channel was interrupted by a breaking news flash. A female deejay announced “CHTL Breaking News Report: Local news authorities have begun shutting down major routes and highways and are starting to direct traffic away from all major centers, as if there is some form of evacuation procedure taking place.”
Sandy reached out and pushed in the tape, the punk rock sounds of Propagandhi filled the air.
I made an express resolution at that moment. I was going to change my life. I was going to forget about Larry, and never dwell on the fact that Sandy Margoles was a murderess. We could run, find new lives, start over and move on.
I reached in my back pocket and took out my wallet. Flipping it open, I pulled out all the cash that I had. “Here’s 65 dollars Dallas, it’s all the cash I got. You jump out here, and flag down the next car that comes by. Get to a phone and call Mom and Dad. I’ll call you when I get all this shit figured out.”
Jonas jumped out after I gave him an awkward backseat hug. “You’re going to be okay bro. I’m going to be okay. Everything’s gonna be okay. Sayonara for now, but I’ll see you soon. I promise.”
I shifted the car into Drive and took off down the highway, my brother’s form retreating in the side mirror. We were just around the next bend, when I ejected the tape and the punk rock ended abruptly, replaced by the dull sounds of AM radio.
Sandy spoke up, breaking the silence in the car, a silence that lay as thick as the dark clouds outside. “It just happened so fast,” she said quietly. “It’s not like I planned it or anything.”
I sat quietly, flicking on the car’s cruise control, still half-listening to the radio for any reports about a prison break, while waiting for her to continue.
“He sold me,” she said. “He was going to rent me out to his ‘friends’, he told me, in exchange for more dope. We were driving along, just like this, and I asked him where we were going. He said we just had to stop somewhere and pick a guy up, and then we were going to a motel to get drunk. When I started to ask more questions, he told me I was worth a fortune – that all of his friends liked me, and that we could make a lot of money together. I just freaked…I don’t even remember grabbing the screwdriver.”
Her tale was interrupted by the song on the radio being cut off – replaced by the national anthem. I said “now what, what the hell is this?” When the anthem finished playing, an unfamiliar announcer’s deep voice declared: “and now… a special message from the Premier of Alberta. This faded over to the recognizable voice of our province’s leader – a memorable voice, particularly since he had been on TV so much lately dealing with oil fields and nursing strikes.
“My fellow Albertans, ladies and gentlemen. I come to you today with shocking news. It is with disbelief and utter unfortunate consequence that I must inform you of the following facts. At 4:00 PM today, our Canadian Space Agency reported receiving intelligence of an extraterrestrial nature. Their report details how hundreds of meteors; fragments of space debris; are currently falling in a shower formation unlike any our planet has ever before witnessed. Some of these meteors are hundreds of miles wide. This meteor shower is currently on a direct course with the western coast of Canada and the United States. My fellow Albertans, this is not a drill or a hoax. This is a disaster of immeasurable proportions that will be devastating to our province, our country and the entire planet as we know it. Space Agency experts expect the impact of just one of these meteors to cause tidal waves, earthquakes and an immediate blast radius impact equal to that of ten nuclear bombs…”
There was a brief moment of static, and then the Premier’s voice returned.
“…therefore, I urge you, at this time, to contact your friends, family and loved ones and gather close – saying a collective prayer for all men, women and children in this part of the world. The repercussions from this event will be colossal and tragic on a never before experienced scale. This event has the potential to be a Mass Extinction Event, like that which killed the dinosaurs millions of years ago. The Western Hemisphere is expected to feel the impact…”
Sandy shot an arm out and flicked off the radio. “That’s just depressing news. You got any Sublime in here anywhere? Their new one is just wicked.” She was searching through the glove box, just being nosy. “So where are we going now?” she asked. “Do you think we can stop for smokes somewhere?”
My mind was racing overtime, trying to comprehend what we had just heard. I couldn’t believe that Sandy was still thinking about music and destinations, that she and I were together in the car right now, that she was wearing prison-issued coveralls, and now this, this crazy news. It was like just when the stars had seemed to be all lined up – there are suddenly these other space particles plummeting towards the earth at terminal velocity, towards the roof of our car!? I sat frozen in disbelief and noticed Sandy staring at me with her lips parted, waiting for me to say something.
I leaned over and placed by hand on her cheek, and kissed her on the mouth. For the first time since I was in diapers, I was acting on impulse with the girl I had always loved. When the kiss was over, I held her hands in mine and said, “Sandy Margoles, I’ve loved you since we rode the bus together when we were six, did you know that? I’ve wanted to kiss you like that since before I even hit puberty.” She smiled, her one dimple appearing beneath a smattering of freckles. My heart skipped a beat and she said, “I know silly. Everybody knew that. Thinking about you loving me helped me get through those months on the inside. I even wrote you a letter once, but I was too scared to mail it. But now I’m out! We’re free! Whattya say we find a place to park somewhere and kiss some more, I thought that was really nice.”
Three seconds later, the sky opened up, a shadow passed over the car and it was all over in a deafening blast.