My mind drifts back to the day it all started. After writing my history essay, I walked into a bakery and ordered a latte and a sliced bagel with cream cheese. While I was waiting for the bagel I sipped my coffee. My eyes reacted to the steamy liquid. I closed them just for a moment. At the same time my bagel got sliced and the machine made that chopping, sharp sound.
The guillotine’s blade came down smoothly. It made a chopping sound and you knew from that sound that the blade was sharp. The blood slowly seeps down the headrest. The executioner walks over to the front of the platform and picks up the head that rolled a few inches away. It is on its side with the nose up. The eyes are open and seem to stare at something that hovers above the crowd. He holds up the severed, bleeding head and the crowd erupts. The executioner has a broad smile on his face signaling triumph and with a careless swing tosses the head into a basket. Someone near that basket has a pile of linen bags. Each head gets bagged before it rejoins their decapitated torso. Then he turns on his heels and gets ready to kick the body of the platform onto a carriage that has a coffin on it. Do those severed heads always end up with the right bodies? Do they care enough to make sure? I wonder…
“Do you want the fat-free cream cheese with that bagel?”
My first instinct was to snap that it didn’t matter if your head got chopped off in the next second and landed in the wrong coffin! Then I realized that I was still in line at the bakery.
“Yes, please.” I grabbed my plate and sat down in a booth.
I hate booths. The benches are never well-maintained and you feel yourself sinking into the not well-filled cushions to the point that the table reaches too high. Your shoulders sit at an unnatural angle for eating and writing so it is no wonder we all walk around with carpal tunnel syndrome, painful shoulders, and bad backs.
I sat back and sunk even further into the bench while holding my latte in one hand. In the other, I had the tub with fat-free cream cheese. It was a little round tub with an actual lid on it. It fitted perfectly in the palm of my hand and I considered taking it back home. I could clean it and use it for travel. I turned it around with my fingers until my index finger was at the bottom of the tub. As if it was a button…
Just push that one button and it is gone. All your troubles can be over in a split second if you can just get them into the chipper.
The man in the alley reeks of old sweat, bad teeth, and a scalp fat. I wonder how long it has been since he has seen a shower. Note that I said ‘seen’. I didn’t say ‘took’ a shower. He is dressed in a shirt that would be presentable if it had been clean and ironed. Instead, it has been worn too many times, washed without soap, and hung to dry indoors so it gives off a sour odor. Under that shirt I see the rumpled and torn edge of what once was a white t-shirt’s collar. It is gray, actually. His jeans are plain and seem stiff. His shoes are worn down and the noses are so thin you can smell the socks inside those tattered shoes.
I don’t get it. He was recommended to me as THE to-go man if you wanted to get rid of someone. “Everyone knows he’s the best!” I heard that so many times that I had formed this image in my mind. Everyone paid him handsomely so he would be well off. He would be tall dressed in an Armani shirt and suit. He would be clean-shaven, well-kept, and soft-spoken. He would have that air of a man with connections. Instead I find myself looking at what seems like a twenty-something who only practices hygiene when mom and dad come to visit the campus.
While he explains the intricacies of the wood chipper and how best to load the bodies, I cannot help but watch his mouth move over teeth that have a yellowish film over them. The film moves when he talks. Instead of getting my money’s worth by listening how to pull off the perfect crime I wonder what would happen if I scraped his skin with my nails. Would my nails leave trails on his greasy cheeks?
“You better let go off that cup if you’re napping, son.”
I opened my eyes and a server was standing next to me. He was older with a friendly face and playful eyes. He held my cup upright. My hand was still around the cup but clearly, I was not holding it. I sat up, placed the cup away from me, and looked at the older man. I smiled and said “thank you.”
“What were you dreaming about, son?”
I looked at the bottom of the cream cheese tub. It did look like a button.
“I was thinking about my essay, sir. I hope to finish it soon.”
He nodded and walked away to clean the table next to me.
That’s where this all started.
I sigh, stack my papers in neat piles, and place them in my book bag. I need caffeine.
At the local coffee shop, I order a latte and a bagel. They don’t slice here. I should be safe.
I look around while I pay the cashier. The barista is busy with multiple orders at the counter next to the cashier. The espresso machine just got cleaned and he’s steaming milk. It makes a wet, hissing sound.
As soon as the sodium cyanide pellets are released they hit the sulfuric acid in the bucket beneath the condemned’s chair in the gas chamber. He is strapped down and doesn’t move. Outside, journalists are feverishly taking notes. I…
I slap myself in the face and sink my teeth in the bagel. I chew the first bite aggressively and swallow. I put my teeth into the dough again and rip off another bite. This bite feels the wrath of my molars until I realize that I might actually do harm to my teeth grinding the dough.
I really do hate bagels!