Fragments of some of our life’s firsts remain in our memory, like a pesky piece of gum on a shoe, like a C-section scar on a tummy. My first crush. My first wank. My first kiss. My first porno. My first fuck. My first kill.
Her name was Nadya, and she was cute. I’d stare at her four rows away every day in grade school. Her blond pigtails and big blue eyes brought me some sweet satisfaction I didn’t know how to describe. She paid me no mind because I was an ugly boy. My nose was too big for my face and my teeth were crooked like a broken fence. Her family left Verona after grade school. I never saw her again but didn’t dare to forget her. I dreamt she’d be my wife and we’d have lots of babies. Silly me.
Her name was Madonna and everybody knew her. Francis snuck away a copy of her book Sexfrom his stepfather’s wardrobe and brought it over to my house one summer. We pored over the pages in my bedroom, both shocked and titillated with the new world we discovered. Breasts, pubic hair, chains, dog and the lack of underwear. I scared Francis saying I’d tell his stepfather he stole the book so he’d let me have it for one night. Then I fulfilled my awakening need without spilling my boy seed. Naughty me.
Her name was Gina and you already know her. She held her math textbook while I had my notebook ready to copy her answers for our homework. Assured that Mr. and Mrs. Watson weren’t in the living room, we shared a wet kiss way before I became disgusted by it. Stupid me.
Her name was Traci and they later claimed she was underage. Francis took a VHS of one of her films from his stepfather’s golden wardrobe. “You’re going to love it,” he told me before pushing the tape in the VCR. Nobody else was in their house that time. It didn’t take long before he and I had our dongs out, beating the hell out of them while Traci got plowed by those forgettable men. Dirty me (and dirty Francis).
Her name was Antoniette and she was ugly. We were fresh college students partying at her house. We smoked a pack. I got plastered. My heart still ached from Gina’s disappearance from my life. One touch from Antoniette’s fingertips on my arm was strong enough to send us both naked in her bedroom. Her lips, her breasts, her hips, and her garden’s walls were very warm and she let me water her plants. The following week when we saw each other on campus, I realized she wasn’t really my type. Good thing smartphones and Facebook weren’t invented yet. Lucky me.
Her name was Wilma and she was crazy.
I undressed myself and threw my clothes in the trash bin as soon as I returned home from the warehouse. I hopped in the shower, turned the heater on, then turned it higher up to what my naked, cold body could take. Half the contents of the shampoo bottle went to my hair. Three times, I washed my face, with the facial wash, then the scrub and last with the wash again. My skin hurt with the long loofah rubbing I subjected it to. The towel, which I had only used once, met its untimely demise in the trash bin. I doused my dried body with baby powder and perfume before slipping into a set of pajamas and retiring in bed. Off to Sleepland, I went.
The next morning, I ate a skinny breakfast: one fried egg and a piece of toast, downed by a small cup of milked coffee. I undressed myself, hopped in the shower, turned the heater on, emptied what remained in the shampoo bottle, washed my face once, lathered soap all over my skin, dried my body with my spare towel, bathed myself in baby powder and perfume and slipped into a shirt and a pair of pants I often wore for work. As I headed out the door, I wished I was a different man.
Cynthia greeted me a “Good Morning,” which made me flinch. I reminded myself I had to get used to seeing her first every time I arrived at work. The hair on my arms felt like they had a life of their own as I made my way to my desk, avoiding laying my eyes on Wilma’s desk. She wouldn’t be occupying her chair anymore, but nobody yet knew. I cringed when an image of vultures feasting on her rotting body on the street displayed in my mind.
I am a different man.
“Where the hell’s Wilma?” Madeleine asked when she arrived at my desk for our usual lunch out.
Hell, where she belongs.
“I haven’t heard from her. Maybe you should text her and ask,” I said.
Madeleine took out her smartphone. “Exactly what I was going to do.”
You’ll never get any reply back.
Later that night at the gym, Leopold made a blatant pass at me. “You’re looking hotter lately, Herbert. New diet? New workout routine?” he asked, away from everybody’s earshot in the locker room.
“I’m a different man,” I responded, much to his confusion.
The rest of the week unfolded the same way: skinny breakfast, shower, getting used to Cynthia, work, lunch with Madeleine, work again, gym, dinner, and shower. All of that happened in the same monotonous rhythm and I trudged through it like a bored newscaster reading from a teleprompter’s script. Every night before I shut my eyes, I’d stare at the dark ceiling and mutter as if somebody was listening next to me, “I’m a different man.”
On Sunday morning, after I ate my skinny breakfast, I glanced at my face in the bathroom mirror. In my eyes, I saw both recognition and unfamiliarity. I rubbed my cheeks with slow strokes and uttered, my voice cracking, “I’m a different man. I’m a murderer.”
Herbert Novelli lives an ordinary life. Breakfast. Work. Lunch. Work. Gym. Dinner. Sleep. Plus the occasional get together with his long-time friends who entered adulthood together with him in Cinnabar City.
An unannounced visit to his apartment one ordinary night brings his ex-girlfriend Gina Watson. After leaving him with a vague letter and a broken heart in their old home town Verona, Gina’s unexpected appearance is the last thing Herbert expects to happen.
Gina hands Herbert an invitation to her wedding with another man as a strange peace offering. Herbert accepts it, a show of his willingness to bury the hatchet.
But Death has a funny way of doing his job in the city. Sometimes he makes a grand fanfare of his arrival. Other times, he comes unannounced with a wedding invitation on hand.