The Play

All the world's a stage and the people merely players, 

or, perhaps in this case, victims

The Play by Benjamin Welton

“Goodnight! Such sweet and soft lips. Death is a negro slave dining on raven guts...”

The homeless man with the pockmarked face was shouting across the mostly empty room. His eyes were watery with the unfocused sentimentality of an alcoholic. His hands, although clenched tight for dramatic effect, looked weak. He was on his back, letting the microscopic bugs bite him throughout his nightly oratory.

Fran, his long-suffering wife and a sometime prostitute, had grown accustomed to these performances. Her husband had once been a famous poet, she told the young drifter that the couple had picked up at the Catholic shelter. She knew he didn’t believe her, but she kept listing off his accomplishments because it was her routine.

“He used to live in Greenwich Village after war. Everyone knew that he was the best poet there. He practically invented the whole Bohemian fad. He and his friend Herman started a publishing house, you know? They got big. The Times wrote about them, and Scott Fitzgerald apparently used them in The Great Gatsby.”

How much of this was true, she didn’t know for sure. Fran had met him on the way down, so she could only take his word for it. And he was a liar, that was the problem. He lied to landlords and he lied to the sisters at the shelter. No, I’ve given up the demon liquor, he’d tell them, I’ve decided to live the godly life. Some fib. He had never known a sober day in all their married years.

To make matters worse, he had a hot pocket and couldn’t keep money cool. Fran would always tell him to save up for food or milk, but he’d just go right out to Judge Meyer’s bookstore and buy more poetry books than he could afford. Meyer was a sap, so he kept lending him credit. Then, after coming to his senses about wasting all the money, he’d go on a bender in the Village and cry for hours about the 1920s and all the good things that could’ve been better. Fran would wait three days then come and get him.

“Gee, I don’t get it. How come a pretty young thing like you stays with an old drunk like him?”

The strange kid from the shelter talked like he was from the Bronx but had the boyish charm of a Midwesterner. Fran found him exhilarating, even if his flattery was a bit much. Fran was forty-five, so she was far from young. Still, despite the rough years, she looked fine and did her best to maintain some semblance of a figure. After all, johns don’t like them too fat or too skinny. It’s best to stay in the middle for the bigger green.

Fran figured the kid for a virgin with a little money saved up for lunch. At best she was likely to score $25. That wasn’t much, but worth a play, and after tapping twice on the rotten floorboards with her ruined sandals, she started to take her clothes off.

As expected, the kid didn’t know what the hell he was doing. He pumped with an irregular beat, while his attempts at tenderness were as awkward as a crucifix hung above a toilet. Fran stayed stoic and let the young beast sweat on her. Throughout the whole ordeal they could both her him reciting lines on the next cot.

Of course the point was to drown out his motions. The years of alcohol abuse made his hands and feet hard to control, but he found over the years that his voice could mask any accidental slips or involuntary kick outs. Tonight he didn’t have to do too much masking, for Fran had left the knife in his jacket after the last job. All he had to do was get his fingers on the handle, get the thing out in the open, line up, then close his eyes.

He got to stage four before everything went haywire. After years of running the gig successfully, a trip-up was bound to happen. He was old, drunk, and useless. Hands fumble and good ideas blur. The tongue loosens sometimes, and that makes the wrong people get wise.

“Hey, watchit. What the hell are you doing with that thing?”

“Traveller be warned: not all nights are safe for rest! Wicked ones and bad ones come....wicked ones and bad ones come and fall, they do.”

“C’mon, grandpa. She asked for it. Put that cutter away and go back to bed.”

“Sacrifice is what is needed. You can get up now, Fran. I do believe this young man is as good as ours.”

“The fuck you think.”

The young boy shoved the bleary-eyed poet backwards. The force was enough to take the man off of his feet. The knife went to the floor to the right. The young man picked it up with the type of fingers that were used to weapons, and after adjusting his grip, he took after the old man’s throat. He died tried to gurgle out something he had written in 1922.

Fran, who was in the middle of trying to get her blouse on, took the same knife in her shoulder. It was not a killing blow, but it wounded her enough to set her on her knees. From there, the young man dragged the somewhat dull blade across her windpipe.

He left the apartment without cleaning up. He dropped the knife on the stairway that lead to the street. He first went to a diner for coffee and pie (he got $1.25 from Fran’s purse), then he went to the nearest police station. He told the desk sergeant that he had killed a bunch of Communists, and that the city should give him a ribbon and a chance to talk to President Eisenhower.

They booked him later that night. In the morning, a short, fat detective asked him about similar slayings from two years prior. 

The product of northern West Virginia's identity complex, Benjamin Welton has been a student in such far-flung places as Romania, The Czech Republic, Texas, and Vermont. Mr. Welton currently works as a freelance journalist and music critic who often dabbles in short fiction and poetry. His work his appeared in Vantage Point, Schlock!, Ravenous Monster, Crime Magazine, Aberration Labyrinth, and Seven Days. His first book - "Hands Dabbled in Blood" - is currently available from Thought Catalog. He lives in Burlington, Vermont.