# 18 – Demented

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“It’s not done,” Bruce blurted before Liza could say a word.

“Good evening to you too, Professor.  What’s not done?”  Liza juggled her purse, messenger bag, a cigarette butt, and a bag of fast food.  He tried to help, but she swatted his hand away.

“I told you, you can call me Bruce.”  He eyed the fast food bag.

“Ok.  Good evening to you too, Bruce.  What’s not done?”  She thrust the bag into his hand, flicked the cigarette butt, and untangled herself from the bag straps.

“The story.”

“The story?  You mean it wasn’t the end when two of the three main characters died, and the third had a mental breakdown and became a bum?”

Bruce winced, “No, there’s another part.  More like an epilogue or a sequel.  I just didn’t write it yet.”  He was biting his cuticles.  She noticed for the first time that his nails were bitten down to the quick.  He must have noticed her noticing, because a second later he tucked his hangs under his legs.  Liza turned her head to hide a smile.  “So, you didn’t like it?” he asked.

“No, it was pretty damn weird, but I loved it,” said Liza.  “I like that you wrote it in the form of a children’s story.”

“Why?”

Why?  …this feels like a test, Professor.”

Bruce laughed and shook his head, “No, just curious.  Most people find that aspect of my stories disturbing.”

“Ok.  Hmm…I liked that part of the story because it was different.  You could have written a children’s’ story that was actually meant for children, but where’s the fun in that?  You could have told the story like a regular short story for adults, but that would have been boring.  Seeing it through Sam’s eyes was almost cruel.  You know, anyone who reads this is going to think you’re really demented.”

Demented?  Jesus.”

Liza shrugged, “I meant it as a compliment.  I really enjoyed the story.”

Liza opened the bag and took out two chicken sandwiches.  She handed one to Bruce and put the other on her lap.  She pulled a can of energy drink from her bag, cracked the top, and placed it on the bench between them.  Bruce was already halfway done his sandwich by the time Liza had hers unwrapped.  “So, speaking of demented,” she said, “are you going to explain to me how it is that I fell asleep on this bench last week, and woke up the next morning in my bed?”

# 17 – Bruce’s Story

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Once upon a time, there was a boy named Sam. Same was seven. He lived in the city in a brick row house that was covered in words. The house, the block, and the city were all a mess. There was trash everywhere. It smelled like a bathroom. Everything in Sam’s house was broken and his mom and dad were never home. His dad worked in a factory. His mom was a dancer. Sam couldn’t picture people paying her to dance. He’d seen her dance with his dad once at a wedding and it was bad.

Sam didn’t care about any of this because he spent most of his time in his tree house out back. It didn’t look very nice from the outside. The wood was old and the tree was surrounded by trash. To get up to it, you had to climb a hundred foot rope ladder. The inside was cool. The walls were bright blue and Sam had filled it with treasures he had found around the neighborhood: crates, old toys, bottle caps that he had glued to one wall, and spark plugs. A place that fixed cars was right behind Sam’s house. One of his favorite things to do was collect spark plugs from the greasy parking lot in an old orange Frisbee. He had a mountain of them in a corner of the tree house.

One afternoon, he was daydreaming as he wandered around collecting spark plugs. He didn’t notice that a little girl was watching him until he was right in front of her. She was sitting on the hood of a rusty old Nova, picking at a giant scab on her leg. The girl was wearing a seat belt as a bracelet. Her fingernails and toenails were both painted the same shade of blue as the inside of the tree house. Sam wasn’t really interested in girls yet, but he thought that if he was, he would be interested in her. She was beautiful, even with the scab and the grease stains. The girl had long, golden hair and big brown eyes.

She didn’t say a word to Sam, just hopped down and started helping him pick up spark plugs. The orange Frisbee was overflowing in no time, and she helped him carry them up to his tree house. She looked around while Sam worked on his spark plug mountain. She tried out some of the toys and studied the bottle caps. She flipped over a crate and sat down. She told Sam that she loved the tree house. Sam was happy. He didn’t have any real friends. Most people didn’t let their kids play outside because the neighborhood was so dangerous. They all thought Sam was weird anyway. 

Dixie, as Sam learned was her name, didn’t seem to think so. If she did, she didn’t care. Or maybe she was a little weird herself and didn’t notice his weirdness. Anyway, it turned out that her dad worked at the place that fixed cars. She had camp in the mornings, but a big yellow bus dropped her off there afterwards. She told Sam that her parents had named her Dixie because they had been on a trip down south nine months before she was born.

Sam and Dixie became friends instantly. They collected spark plugs and bottle caps and played in the tree house. One afternoon, they were walking back to the tree house when they heard whimpering coming from the sewer. Dixie was smaller so she shimmied through the hole. A minute later, she passed a little brown puppy up to Sam. The scrawny little dog was shivering even though it was summer. They took him back to the tree house and cleaned him off. They decided to keep him as a pet. Sam said that he needed a name. Dixie was running her finger along the bottle cap wall. She said that they should name him Miller.

So, for the rest of the summer, Sam, Dixie, and Miller spent as much time as they could playing together. But the summer went by fast, like all fun things do. Sam went to the school around the corner and Dixie went to school two towns away. She never came to stay at the shop with her dad anymore. Sam and Miller missed Dixie. They thought about her all the time. Sam wondered if he loved Dixie.

One afternoon during Thanksgiving vacation, Sam was on his way back to the tree house. He was eating a soft pretzel and holding a bottle cap that he had just found. He was excited when he found it, but it was also making him sad. The cap was red and white with a big gold D in the center. Around the top, it had the word “DIXIE”.

When he got closer to the tree house, he saw Dixie climbing up the rope ladder, and all of his sadness went away. Sam thought she looked even prettier all cleaned up with her school clothes on. He was still a few houses away, but he yelled her name and started to walk faster. Miller was peeking down over the side of the tree house, barking and wagging his tail. Dixie turned when she heard Sam call her. She had a beautiful smile on her face. Just then, she slipped off of the rope ladder. Sam felt like someone had punched him in the stomach. She caught herself after falling only a few feet, but a sound like a crack of thunder cut through the air. It was the sound of wood snapping. The whole tree house split in half. The back part remained anchored to the tree.  The front broke away.  Dixie fell to the ground, still clutching the rope ladder. She landed with a thump and didn’t move. Spark plugs rained down her. A second later Miller thumped down next to her. Then they both disappeared from view when the front half of the tree house crashed down on them.

Everything after that was like a nightmare in slow motion.  Dixie’s dad and the other men from the car place came running over. There were lights and sirens and neighbors looking out their windows. At first, Sam just stood there. He couldn’t move. Then he ran. He ran until he was on the other side of the city and his legs gave out. He collapsed on a sewer grate. Sam laid there crying for days, thinking about Dixie and Miller. He never went back again. During the day, he looked through dumpsters for food. At night, he slept on the merry-go-round at a playground. He didn’t collect sparks plugs or bottle caps ever again. He didn’t own anything but the clothes he was wearing and the Dixie bottle cap.