by K.M. Zahrt
The following is an excerpt from Odd Man Outlaw by K.M. Zahrt. Get a copy of the ebook at Amazon or at Smashwords. The print edition will be available through all the major retailers. Also, order your Odd Man Outlaw t-shirt from Midwest Lint now!
It was easy for Eddie to combine his two favorite hobbies – studying and studying Alice – because Alice shared the same drive and they often studied together at the library. The campus library had tables hidden amongst the book stacks, isolated to the point where they were difficult to find. Eddie and Alice spent every weeknight together at a table deep in the stacks on the third floor, way in the back corner – the furthest table from the entrance. Most of the students who went to the library never ventured all the way to the third floor and they certainly didn’t make it deep enough into the stacks to take Eddie and Alice’s table. When I went to the library, if I couldn’t find an open table in the first few minutes my studying was doomed.
It sure was a bitch to get up there if I needed to talk to Eddie about something. That fool never carried a cell phone. He said he didn’t want to be distracted from the people he was with by people he wasn’t with. That was part of a larger problem we had during our junior year; we had communication gaps. Even when we all got together, Cecilia and I would have our inside jokes, and Eddie and Alice would have theirs. Half of the time we didn’t know what they were talking about, nor they us.
One time, Eddie and Alice showed up to dinner trying to communicate with each other through a series of farts and taps – kind of like Morse code or something.
Eddie said, “Fart. Tap. Fart-Tap-Fart.”
Alice said, “Fart. Tap. Tap-Fart-Tap.”
And then Eddie got fake-offended and said, “How dare you call me an idiot?”
And she said, “What kind of person hates chocolate milk?”
This would get them into hysterics.
I said to Cecilia, “Do you want to ask or should I?”
“I will. What the hell are you guys doing?”
Alice replied, “It’s from a book we’ve been reading when we procrastinate at the library. Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. Have you guys ever read it?”
We said no.
“In the book,” Eddie explained, “there’s an alien creature named Zog who comes to earth to warn earthlings.”
“He could only communicate through farts and taps,” Alice added. “We’ve been having fun with it.”
“We see that,” Cecilia said. “Fascinating.”
Eddie said, “Cid, you should read his books. You’d like them.”
“Yes,” Alice said. “He’s only the greatest living American writer.”
I remember that conversation with the tapping and the farting so vividly now, because of what happened on April eleventh, 2007 – two and a half weeks before our graduation. That’s when everything changed. For all of us.
That night I was hanging out at our apartment with Cecilia. We had just finished watching a movie and we had the local news on. There was a graphic on the screen of an old man who kind of looked like Mark Twain. The newscaster’s voice was slow and deliberate. He said, “Unfortunately, we must end on a sad note tonight. The New York Times reported today that celebrated writer Kurt Vonnegut has passed away at the age of eighty-four. His works include Cat’s Cradle, Hocus Pocus, and Timequake – among others. He is most well-known for his novel Slaughterhouse-Five, a harrowing account of surviving the firebombing of Dresden during World War Two. His death comes after suffering what doctors are calling, quote, ‘irreparable brain injuries suffered in a fall at his home,’ unquote.”
Then an image of another man appeared on the screen. The caption read, in big letters: VONNEGUT DEAD AT EIGHT-FOUR, NOT TO BE FORGOTTEN. And, in smaller letters: Billy Phillip, Professor of Literature, NYU.
Professor Phillip said, “I knew Vonnegut personally. He was the epitome of human potential as a man and a novelist. He will never be forgotten.”
Eddie came home not long after that.
“Did you hear about Vonnegut?” I asked.
Eddie just looked at me. There must have been a tone in my voice that said it all. He waited for me to say it.
“He died today.”
I watched as the news registered on his face. He stood motionless for a long moment. Then he said, “So it goes.”
I didn’t understand.
He went into his room and shut the door. When I went to bed late that night, his light was still on, and I could hear Eddie typing in random spurts. He was instant-messaging someone – Alice I assumed.
The next morning, when I got up around eleven, I ran into Alice and Eddie in the hallway. They were both wearing black t-shirts with handwritten messages in Wite-Out on the front that read: SO IT GOES.
“What’s that?” I asked.
Eddie slapped a book into my chest – a tattered copy of Slaughterhouse-Five – and said, “Will you get off your ass and read something?” And they left the apartment without saying more.
That was the first time in a long time that I saw Eddie and Alice together, but I didn’t see either of them again for a couple days after that. Eddie didn’t even come home at night. When he finally re-emerged, he was still wearing the same black t-shirt. He looked like hell, and he smelled like ass. I told him, “You’re still wearing that t-shirt.”
He shrugged and sat down on the couch next to me.
“You look like hell.”
“And you smell like ass.”
“What’s the point?” he said.
“What are you talking about, man?”
“Vonnegut was right, man. This world is fucked. We spend our whole lives trying to rationalize a world that’s unreasonable. What’s the point?”
I didn’t know what to say.
Eddie got up and walked down the hallway toward his room. He stopped. “I guess Vonnegut was lucky enough to be successful and recognized in his own time.” He shrugged, then kicked at the carpet. “But now he’s dead, and nobody cares. We’re all just machines, going through the motions.”
“So it goes,” I said.
Eddie shook his head.
“I read the book, Eddie,” I said. “I skipped class. Read it all day. I get it now.”
“It doesn’t even matter,” he said. “What do we do with it? With life?”
“I don’t know. Do your best, I guess.”
“I guess that’s it. When life gives you lemons…” Eddie walked into his room, leaving the saying hanging in the air, incomplete. Before he closed the door, he said, “Cid?”
“I love you. You know that, right?”
“Yeah, I know. Love you too, bro.”
When Eddie shut the door, a thought flashed in my head. I saw myself discovering Eddie’s dead body in his room the next morning. I tried to shake the image out of my mind. Eddie wouldn’t do that, I thought. He didn’t. But that’s what happens in those weird moments, when somebody tells you how they really feel about you, you wonder if it was some kind of warning. And if you didn’t act on it, you’d have to think about that moment for the rest of your life, wondering if you could’ve prevented a tragedy.
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