by Cori Lynn Arnold
day started out just the same as any other, except for his cough
and sore throat. The naked man, the marching band, and Mrs.
Naylor covered in blood, they would all come later.
wife wasn’t in bed when he got up. Her drive was long and
she occasionally went to the school early to grade papers or meet
with parents or students to go over issues they were having.
Teaching, he knew, was never ending, but she poured herself into
work to escape.
brushed his teeth in front of the mirror. Every day the chipped
mirror reminded him of the promise he made to his wife to fix it.
And every day he was reminded of his lack of commitment to so
many promises. When he combed his hair he tried not to notice the
decreased resistance from the back of his scalp. He liked to
think he was only losing some hair, enough to make him seem
mature, but not old. At thirty-eight he wouldn’t be
considered old, except by children.
still hadn’t stopped by the store to get more razors, so he
felt each stubble pulled up by the root as he shaved. For each
stroke he thought about whether or not to tell her, like a girl
picking petals from a flower, “Ask her for more razors.
Don’t ask her for more razors.” He feared upsetting
her after all they’d been through.
cough he woke up with was definitely a sore throat, probably a
summer cold. He rooted around in the drawers in the bathroom for
some throat lozenges. He stumbled upon his wife’s purple
diaphragm case. He held it up to the light, but the hard plastic
revealed nothing inside: not the fear they’d had in the
early years, nor the hope and excitement in the middle years and
certainly not the depressing last few years. There was a fleeting
thought about opening it, but instead he stuffed the case even
further back in the drawer. He hoped his wife wouldn’t
stumble upon the forsaken device like he had.
found one cough drop stuck to the bottom of the drawer. It’s
sugary existence oozed onto the bottom of the drawer like smooth
ropey Pahoehoe lava from a long ago erupted volcano. His father,
an amateur volcanologist, dragged the whole family to view
volcanoes when Ben and his sister were teenagers. The only
benefit he had ever found in learning that much about volcanoes
was taking his lovely new bride on their honeymoon to Hawaii. Her
eyes seemed to get bigger every time he used a Hawaiian word like
‘Pahoehoe.’ He hadn’t even known from where
those words sprung. Nine years later those words were only good
for describing the cough drop’s oozing state of decay.
used his fingernail to release the drop from the bottom of the
drawer and popped it in his mouth. Ben felt his forehead with the
back of his hand. Was he feverish? How can anyone really tell? He
was hot, but maybe that was just because of the sticky
Connecticut late spring? Was it summer when the temperature
reached the high eighties, even if the calendar didn’t say
walked the twenty blocks to the office. He used to drive, but his
wife made him start walking when he tipped the scale at
two-fifty. Now his pants were uncomfortably loose. He had to make
an extra hole in his belt. Pretty soon he’d have to go to
the store and buy a new belt and new pants.
block away from his office the naked man was standing at the
corner. He sighed. As the local lawman, it was his job to deal
with vagrants, but he really didn’t want to get involved
with a naked vagrant. He pulled out his cell phone.
picked up on the first ring, “What’s up, Ben?”
a naked man standing at the corner of Main and Maple.”
was a long pause before Debra said: “Why?”
don’t know why, he’s just, there.”
not going to ask him, Debra. It’s our job to get him off
the street. Come over here. Now.”
stood there staring at the naked man. The man’s muscles
were so well defined he looked like he might have been a statue,
except for the subtle movements. If he was trying to be a statue,
like those buskers from big cities, he wasn’t very good at
few minutes later other people from Dullbury stood staring at the
naked man. Before long, the bystanders were blocking his view and
he couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or bad. Good,
he decided. While Ben had lost weight, he wasn’t nearly as
physically fit as the man standing on the side of the road.
stopped her car next to Ben and then rolled down her window.
“Where is he?”
pointed down the road, toward the crowd. Why couldn’t she
see the throng of people created by this trespasser?
in,” she said.
got into her car. The smell of stale, rotten grease gave his
stomach a lurch. He wished for another cough drop, either to
sooth his throat or hide the smell, maybe both. He thought about
asking her for one, but decided he didn’t want to put
anything in his mouth that came from her car. He’d sucked
down the cough drop from the bottom of the bathroom drawer, but
this car was worse than a toilet.
car barely rolled to a stop at Maple when Ben jumped out like he
was on fire. But he stopped just a few feet away from the car, as
he didn’t want to accidentally bump into the naked man.
naked man looked even more naked from up close. From a block away
he couldn’t see the man’s penis, but this close he
couldn’t stop seeing it. He was young, probably
mid-twenties. This was a guy that could get his wife pregnant.
walked around the front of her car. “Hey, you gotta wear
clothes here, mister.”
looked straight at her, “I’m waiting.” When he
spoke everyone in the crowd stepped back a few inches. The mime
illusion was broken.
car,” he said. His faraway voice gave Ben the willies.
any other day at six thirty a.m. in Dullbury there were no cars.
Today there were no cars. Debra’s car, parked across three
metered spots, was the only exception. Ben was surprised there
were even so many people on the street. He rarely saw another
human being for the entire walk to work each morning. But then
again, news travels fast. The smaller the town, the closer
communication was to light speed. Communication in Dullbury could
at least break the sound barrier.
ignored Debra’s stares. He didn’t want anything to do
with the naked man.
worked hard on stifling the cough forming in the back of his
throat. He wanted to swallow, but knew that would only make the
scratching feeling worse.
huffed. “Sir, either go get some clothes on or we are going
to have to take you into the station.” ‘Station’
was just a word that they liked to throw around; it was a closet
in the town hall. The room was so small Debra and Ben had to take
turns sitting at the desk.
pulled out her handcuffs. The whole process of handcuffing the
naked man and then stuffing him in the car took no more than a
minute. Ben was surprised by the efficiency.
let Debra complete the booking while he walked two more blocks to
the pharmacy. The pharmacist looked up when Ben walked in the
door. “Mornin’, Ben.”
Joe,” Ben grumbled and coughed.
you see that naked guy a few blocks down?” Joe asked. His
reading glasses were slipped to the bottom of his nose. His white
hair was wild in every direction.
we brought him in.”
seen him before. Never going to forget him either,” he
laughed. “I haven’t seen Margret in a while, did you
finally knock her up?”
Joe,” Ben mumbled.
walked over to the alcove marked with a sign that read: ‘Cold
/ Flu Remedies.’ He swallowed and then coughed.
yourself a summer cold, then?”
So it was summer.
stepped from behind the counter. His aching joints hampered his
staggered walk. “Try that tea thing. It’ll sooth your
throat and break up the phlegm.”
he found the box, with a teacup and steaming tea on the cover he
heard a sound, like a little kid doing a solo on a triangle from
the back of the orchestra. “What is that?”
is what?” Joe asked.
sound. Is there a radio playing?”
wouldn’t be able to hear it if there was.”
sounds got louder. Soon there were horns and whistles too.
ran outside with the cold remedy tea box still in his hand. Off
in the distance he saw flags flying through the air. The
drumbeats got louder as clashes of symbols struck like a
thunderclap. Pretty soon the marching band was close enough to
see. Women in the front waved turquoise flags wearing seashell
bras and had sequined fins trailing behind them. He wondered how
they didn’t trip on the fins. The band marched to a tune
Ben didn’t recognize. The horn section synchronously swayed
left and right, up and down.
mind was hypnotized, but his stuffy head was throbbing with pain.
He walked back into the pharmacy before the drum section got even
early on a Tuesday for a parade isn’t it?” Joe said.
Ben paid for the tea, aspirin and three bags of eucalyptus cough
he was walking back to the station he popped an aspirin and then
one of the cough drops in his mouth. He turned sideways to put
the wrapper in the magical four thousand dollar solar trash
compactor the town purchased last year in an attempt to clean up
the streets of Dullbury. Litter has never been, and would never
be, a problem in Dullbury.
of the corner of his eye he spotted a man in a wet suit and tutu
crossing the street. Ben gave the man credit, for he was agile in
the crossing despite the two-foot long rubber fins.
me,” the man said. The snorkeling mask covering his nose
distorted his voice.
looked around, thinking the man might be talking to someone else.
you seen it yet? Did it already go by?”
parade?” Ben asked.
the car.” The man turned his head to look down the road.
street view car.”
all finally made sense, the naked man, the mermaid marching band
and this guy with a wetsuit and pink tulle.
Haven’t seen it.” He continued on his way to the town
hall. He couldn’t wait to tell Debra what was really going
on in Dullbury.
he walked into the station he saw that the naked man still had
handcuffs on, but Debra put a newspaper on the bench and over his
privates. Her hair was frazzled, her teeth were gnashed together
and her hands held both the office telephone and her cell phone.
have you been?” she said. “I’ve got two calls
and another beeping in the background. What the hell is going on
Street View is driving through. People want to have their picture
held out the station’s phone receiver. “Here, you
explain that to Mr. Richards.”
held the phone to his ear, but didn’t really listen to the
caller. Occasionally he’d say, “Ah, huh” when
there was a break in the conversation.
walked over to the little coffee pot in the corner, dumped the
stale coffee into the sink, the grounds in the trash and then
filled the carafe with water.
Richards didn’t like the song the band played. He didn’t
think a band could march down Main on a Tuesday morning without a
huh,” Ben said.
broke open the cold remedy tea box. The smell of the stuff hit
him like slap in the face with a lemon. He poured brackish water
into a mug over the tea bag.
is that?” Debra asked with her hand over her cell phone’s
for my cold,” Ben said.
Mr. Richards said.
terrible,” Debra said.
was a sudden, frantic knock at the door. “Police?”
open,” Ben said.
Mr. Richards said.
man rushed into the office, but stopped in his tracks. ‘Google’
was embroidered into his shirt. He took one look at the naked man
barely covered with newspaper, the frazzled policewoman, and Ben
standing there with his mustache teacup. “What the hell is
wrong with this town?” His voice shook.
Richards, I’m going to have to call you back.”
clicked the talk button and put the phone on the counter.
seems to be the problem?” Ben asked.
was rolling through Pine street, okay? Then I stopped when I got
to that huge band at Main. I was scanning through the shots from
earlier on Chestnut and I found this, okay?” He pushed the
tablet into Ben’s hands.
didn’t look down at the image immediately. “Name
S-T-E-V-E. Can you just look at this picture?”
pulled out a form from the desk. He carefully selected one of the
pens he knew would write smoothly. He didn’t want to work
with a stubborn pen. “Sure, Steve. Last name?”
let out a groan. “Why did they send me to this personal
look was unwavering, expectant.
you.” Ben wrote down the name at the top of the form.
rattled off the numbers and Ben repeated them back as if he was a
parrot learning a new phrase.
what would you like to report, Mr. Lyon?”
like to report a murder.”
put the pen down. “Why didn’t you say something?”
Steve hesitated. “I’m not sure it’s a murder
exactly, but just look. It doesn’t look right, okay?”
Steve pushed the tablet in front of Ben.
was a picture of a house Ben was familiar with, the Naylor’s.
He’d been called out there by the neighbors on a number of
occasions, usually on Friday nights, when Mrs. Naylor would break
out the booze. “It’s the Naylor’s house,”
Ben said. “I don’t see a murder.”
zoom in, okay?” Steve took the tablet back and then zoomed
in with his fingers moving the picture to show specifically what
he wanted. “Look, right there.”
picture became more pixelated, but Ben could see Mr. Naylor
standing in the window with a large butcher knife. “Is
right?” Steve tapped his fingers on the screen. “Do
you think that’s a woman there?”
thought of the gorgeous Mrs. Naylor stabbed by a kitchen knife
frightened Ben, but at the same time he was excited. He wasn’t
even sure why. He stared hard at the pixelated picture. He could
see the outline of something, but he couldn’t be sure it
was a woman. “It’s a little blurry. Do you have
something with more detail?”
okay. This is as good as the picture gets.” Steve grabbed
the tablet back. “Look, I need to finish my route today and
get the hell out of this…” He stumbled, “hell.”
there anyway you can make me a copy?” Ben asked.
poked through a few items on his screen. “Email alright?”
He readied himself for the email address.
looked over to the archaic computer. He couldn’t remember
when he turned it on last, but the smoke it emitted smelled worse
than the brackish water tea he was holding. He gave Steve his
personal email account and hoped Debra wasn’t listening.
picked up his equipment from the floor. “Fine. Now I gotta
go finish this town before it finishes me.” When he opened
the door several people stood blocking his way. “Julie is
never going to believe this.”
saw a knight, a plastic robot, a heavyset woman in a super
heroine bikini and another man with white painted tires wrapped
around his body, as if the New York City Comic Con spilled out
let out a raging groan and pushed through the crowd. “Where
did you freaks come from?”
rabble started talking all at once, but Ben closed the door. He
popped another cough drop into his mouth.
I’m going to check on the Naylor’s. Can you handle
things from here?”
if I said no?”
shrugged. He took the back way out of the office.
Naylor’s house didn’t seem out of the ordinary as he
walked up to the cobblestone facade. Paint peeled off the picket
fence and empty flower box. He wondered if the Naylor’s
might employ a young Tom Sawyer to spruce up the front lawn.
stood on the moldy welcome mat that no longer spelled ‘welcome’
but ‘we com’ and knocked on the fiberglass door.
There was no answer. He started to turn around, thinking about
his next move, when he heard a piercing scream. The scream echoed
in his hears.
pulled the gun out of his holster. His head throbbed with every
pound he laid on the door. “Police! Mrs. Naylor? Are you in
knob jiggled. Ben took a few steps back. He tried to get his
shaking hands under control.
the door opened, Mr. Naylor stood staring at him with steely
eyes. “What do you want?” His hand held a stack of
papers. Ben swore they had red fingerprints on them, but maybe it
need to speak to Mrs. Naylor,” Ben said.
face contorted. “Get that gun out of my face. She’s
heard a scream,” Ben said.
need to speak to her.”
Bits of spittle flew from his mouth as he said it. The door was
left open as Mr. Naylor turned away from Ben. “Abby! That
impotent town deputy wants to talk to you.”
cringed. He put his gun back in the holster. His shoulders
Naylor came out of the darkness of the house into the doorway.
Her body was covered in blood, but she smiled like nothing was
Something wrong?” Her eyes were blood shot. Her face looked
like she’d taken a beating. Like she shouldn’t have
been standing. Her wrists bore outlines of rope marks in blood.
I… Mrs. Naylor?” Ben’s mind couldn’t
form a question.
She asked, smiling even brighter. “You look like you’ve
seen a ghost.” But her smile had a hint of wicked, or was
it just the bruises and blood?
covered in blood.” He spit out the statement with a few
coughs for emphasis. The back of his throat felt like he’d
swallowed barbwire, but he didn’t want to fish out a cough
drop in a time like this.
put her index finger on an exposed part of her chest. He hadn’t
noticed her open blouse until now. Ben winced as she brought the
finger up to her mouth. She licked off the blood. “Corn
syrup, red food coloring, corn starch and chocolate syrup. But
the real secret is the cough syrup. Without that, the smell is
mind wandered. It wasn’t Halloween, the traditional time
for fake blood.
Naylor stepped back into the darkness. But just as quickly she
reached her hand out holding a postcard. “Here. I’m
going to be in a production of ‘Bound’ this weekend
in New Haven. You should come.”
took the postcard, noticing the bloody fingerprints smeared on
that afternoon, or was it late evening? He sat at his favorite
chair drinking a beer in front of the fan. Through the white
noise he barely heard Margret walk through the door. She hadn’t
called out, probably not expecting him to be home.
stumbled upon him in the living room. “Oh. How was your
He said, a reflex.
you see it?” she asked.
looked at her, but he was too stunned to say anything.
went on. “Because the marching band had special outfit
let out the breath he didn’t know he was holding.
Julie told me her boyfriend, Steve, was coming to Dullbury…”
teeth gritted together. He looked down at the floor.
we had to get the plans together quick.”
Ben asked. His teeth gnashed together still.
the new speech therapist from New York?” she asked, but
didn’t wait for an answer. “Anyway, half of the
school staff took the morning off to go hunt down the car. Mr.
Hubbard said he was going to wear a wetsuit, but I said that had
already been done, so he planned to put his granddaughter’s
tutu over the top.”
hope he got a picture,” she said. “Are you alright?”
fine.” He reached into his pocket and then pulled out a
cough drop. The crinkling noise filled up the momentary void in
continued on. “Do you have any plans the next few days?”
jaw clenched. She’d said this same thing many times over
the past year. This is the code she’d used when the
calendar or thermometer said she was ovulating. Or when her best
friend, the aspiring astrologist, said she was in the correct
alignment with Venus or some other celestial body.
She’d known she used that phrase, the one she shouldn’t.
“I just wanted to see Mrs. Naylor in the play in New Haven.
They are doing a murder mystery, I think. I can’t remember
the name of the play, though.”
right. How’d you know?” she asked.
medicinal eucalyptus coated the back of his throat. The fire that
burned within his head cooled down to a simmer. The summer cold
would pass, maybe even before summer officially began.