Eves refusal, p.1
Spring Lake Books
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This is a work of hortatory fiction. The characters and situations presented here are nothing more than inventions of the author’s imagination. If anything in this story resembles real persons, places, or institutions, it is purely the result of coincidence.
There she was on that corner again, hair filthy and matted, three ratty mufflers around her throat, oversized coat stained and torn, laces missing from her once red Chuck Taylors. And all of her uneven fingernails had black grime under them, a detail that turned Andrew Thurston's stomach, when he passed close by, almost as much as her vile body odor. He saw that her mouth was flapping open and closed and her arms were flying around in wild, incomprehensible gesticulations. She reminded him of some ragged, noisome marionette whose body had been set in motion by a mad puppeteer. He wasn't yet near enough to hear her inane idiocies, but he was certain she was "prophesying" again. Why did these people do these things to themselves?
He could, of course, go another block over to avoid all this unpleasantness. But he shouldn't have to. No, not when he and his department did everything they could every day of the week to make sure these derelicts had a decent life. And Andrew should know because he was a supervisor in the city's Social Equity and Rehabilitation Department. He had gone into social work, he kept telling himself, because he wanted to help people. But Andrew was also occasionally aware, when the memory rose to the surface unbidden, that it was in large part because his English degree hadn't prepared him to do much else.
He really couldn't understand it, though, and just shook his head. There were five new shelters within an eight-block radius. These people also got free medical and dental care, free job training and placement if they wanted it, and with the new program, they received unlimited food vouchers to use at any supermarket of their choice. This was Andrew's proudest accomplishment yet in helping the marginalized to live better lives. And to be thus taken care of, to have security and comfort, only one small thing was required of them.
It was just a minor out-patient procedure. This nearly painless sterilization procedure ensured that genetic deficiencies and mental disabilities weren't passed on. Besides that, it not only prevented unwanted children, but also ensured that there were no more suffering children, no more children going to bed cold and hungry. All these people had to do was register and begin the process. Then, after the initial minor surgery, they simply had to check in once a week at one of the satellite offices to have their progress monitored and to receive their benefits. Of course, if they didn't show evidence of satisfactory progress, they would be removed to one of the rehabilitation camps. It was the best thing for the incorrigibles and the best thing for society.
Yet some of these people refused the registration and the procedure and so, as a consequence, the help they could get. It truly baffled Andrew. How could they prefer to eat garbage and sleep in the cold, chained to a life of poverty and filth? And most of the refusers spent their nights curled up with a bottle of Thunderbird. Why?
So Andrew, feeling a slight pang of pity and convinced he should try to do some little thing to help, willed himself to overcome his revulsion and walk up to this filthy woman. Half a block away he could hear her. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand! Blessed are the poor!" And so on and so forth. The scattered applause and voices from the small crowd gathered around just egged her on. "You cannot serve God and Mammon. Repent!" Andrew again shook his head slowly.
He stopped a few feet from her, upwind. As she shouted her religious exhortations, now and then one of the bystanders—most of whom were dressed much like the woman—would dig out some change and throw it in the coffee can on the sidewalk in front of her. Close beside her, Andrew noticed for the first time even though he passed by almost every weekday morning, was a little statue of some sort. It was about two feet high and seemed to be the likeness of a little bald man in a long robe with a rope around his waist. He had a bird on his shoulder, and there was something wrong with the upturned palms of his hands. Most of the paint had pealed or been chipped off, so it was easy for Andrew to see the statue was made of concrete. The woman kept glancing down at it as if for encouragement or in fear that someone would steal it or both maybe.
Anyhow, Andrew felt sorry for her. So, thinking "Oh, what the hell," he shifted his Starbucks to his right hand and dug in his left pocket for some change. The woman stopped shouting and watched him closely with, it seemed, some kind of recognition, but that was impossible Andrew reminded himself. He pulled his left hand out of his pocket full of tarnished silver. He approached the coffee can. As he did, the woman snatched up the statue with surprising ease and held it in front of her across her chest as if it were some kind of weapon. She continued to eye him warily.
Unheeding, Andrew bent slightly at the waist and dropped the change in the coffee can. The ring and rattle made him feel good. So he straightened up and smiled at the woman who just glared at him. Andrew shrugged his shoulders and turned to go to his office. He took one step and then felt the silver he'd just given her hit the back of his head and heard the coffee can clatter to the sidewalk. His shoulders shot up and his neck contracted, turtle-like. Then he heard the woman's outraged screech: "God damn son of a bitch! Keep it!"
Andrew tried to shrug off this little incident, chalking it up to the woman's mental deficiencies and emotional instability, and was well on his way to regaining his composure when he reached his office door. When he took off his jacket, a quarter and a nickel dislodged and fell out. After hanging up his jacket, he noticed, out the single narrow office window, the woman still standing on the corner, mouth and arms still in motion. He shook his head again and turned around. His assistant was seated at his desk filing her nails. That set him back a little.
Margo, his assistant, was a full-bodied woman who wasn't fettered in any way by a sense of decorum or propriety. She wore loud, low-cut dresses that exposed lots of cleavage and just barely contained her huge breasts. It disturbed Andrew, and he generally pretended not to notice. But from time to time his eyes would be drawn inexorably to that expanse of exposed flesh. And when Margo caught him staring, she smiled and made a kissing motion with her full lips. It embarrassed Andrew terribly, especially when he felt the warmth creep up his face and the twinge in his groin. He lived in constant fear of a sexual-harassment suit.
Margo rose slowly from his desk. She dropped her nail file—on purpose, Andrew was certain—bent over with arched back to pick it up, and then addressed her boss: "I saw what happened out there, Andy. Didn't expect that, did ya?"
Andrew groaned inwardly and corrected her: "Andrew. It's Andrew."
"Yeah, well, Andy, my boy, some of them don't want it."
Feeling magnanimous, mostly because he had sneaked a surreptitious glance at her breasts before she straightened up, he decided to ignore her calculated insolence. And so, making sure he looked at her forehead, well above chest level, he asked, "Do you know anything about her? Have we dealt with her before?"
"Yep. Tried to sign her up a couple of years before you came aboard, Andy." Margo winked at him as she delivered this.
Flustered but curious, Andrew pressed on. "What can you tell me about her? Maybe we can still help her in some way."
Margo narrowed her eyes and drew in a sharp breath through her nose. "You've passed by her nearly every da
But she didn't let him finish. "Don't know much, really. Her name's Eve. She lost her husband, then her job, and then her home. She had one daughter, and Social Services took her when they hit the streets. She's refused registration and the procedure every time we've approached her about it. Had a few violent episodes too.
"Now, she spends her days standing on that corner yelling at whoever will listen. Or holed up with a jug of Thunderbird when she gets a little money. Don't know where she spends her nights."
Andrew got up and walked to the window. "Eve, huh?"
"Yep, that's what she calls herself anyway. If you want to know more, I can dig up her file for you."
"Yes, please, go ahead and do that, Margo. I'm sure we have a program that will benefit Eve. Do you have any idea why she carries that little statue around with her?"
"Couldn't say. Guess she likes it. I'll get you that file now."
Margo returned in a few minutes with a slim file folder in her shaking hands. She'd had to quit smoking to keep her job, and the cravings were still pretty powerful. But owing to random blood tests and unannounced in-home inspections, she'd been able to stick it out so far. Whenever irritableness and shakiness were about to get the better of her, Andrew reminded Margo that it was her fault for letting herself become enslaved to the filthy habit. This reminder usually elicited a sneer and a mumbled "Asshole" from her.
So Margo placed the folder on Andrew's desk, bending low over it as she did so. Andrew turned his head slightly and fixed his eyes on the wall behind her. "Thank you, Margo. That will be all for now." She wiggled her shoulders a little, straightened up, and turned around abruptly. He tried, but couldn't keep from watching her behind as she swayed out of his office.
Andrew wanted to dig into the file, wanted find out what made a human want to live like an animal, but he couldn't right then. He was scheduled, in just fifteen minutes, to conduct the semiannual Diversity Training and Religious-Sensitivity Workshop. Some of the employees had once again brought religious symbols into their offices, and the approaching holidays were always a litigious headache. Just last month, two Muslim employees had been jailed for praying on the premises during work hours. It was a necessary inconvenience.
Five hours later Andrew returned to his office, relieved that Margo was nowhere in sight, and shut the door. Settling in his chair, he eased open Eve's file. He read the dreary, bare outlines of her life, slowly turning pages and shaking his head. At length, he sighed and leaned back in his chair. Andrew rubbed his eyes with his fingertips as if to wipe off what he had just read. It simply didn't have to be this way in this day and age. But a few salient details refused to leave him.
Her name wasn't really Eve, but she refused to answer to anything else. She had lived a fairly affluent life, upper middle class at least, before her husband had divorced her. Her daughter had been only a small child when Andrew's department swooped in and hustled her off to foster care. Then she disappeared for a time, but eventually returned to the area to panhandle and "prophesy." There was even mention in her records of the little statue she carried around and jealously guarded. It was the same depressing story, with only slight variations, that Andrew had encountered many times ever since taking this job.
But Andrew was determined to do something this time, to make a meaningful difference. So he slapped the file folder closed and picked up some registration forms. He rose purposefully from his desk, grabbed up his jacket, and exited his office. He threw a last command over his shoulder at Margo as he was leaving: "I'm out for the day. Be sure and take messages if I get any calls."
She gave him a wink and said, "Sure thing, Andy hon." He winced, but didn't say anything.
Outside the building, Andrew turned up his collar and strode toward the corner where he could hear Eve. He approached her slowly, smiling, trying to avoid contact with her unkempt listeners. When he stopped in front of her, she snatched up the little statue and brandished it menacingly. Moving slowly and deliberately, Andrew drew out his wallet and abstracted a hundred-dollar bill. He stretched out his hand toward Eve who snarled slightly. But then, unexpectedly, she smiled, exposing a few blackened teeth, and accepted the money with one hand while clutching the statue fiercely to her breast with the other. Taking this as a hopeful sign, Andrew then slid a registration form into the coffee can. He turned and walked briskly up the street.
About thirty yards farther on, when he thought Eve would have gone back to her usual business, Andrew ducked into a doorway. Then he peeked around the wall, exposing only half his face, to see what Eve would do with his gifts. What he saw didn't really surprise him all that much, considering her disabilities.
Crooking a finger of the hand holding the bill, Eve motioned one of her spectators to approach her. He was obviously a wino she knew. He staggered toward her cradling a nearly empty bottle in his arms. She held out the bill to him in her open palm. He grinned, picked it up gently, and then bowed slightly to her. Eve inclined her head, and the wino staggered off to spend his newly acquired fortune. This caused Andrew more than a little discomfort. And it reminded him once again that it was always unwise to give these people cash.
Easing his head back a little so that only one eye and a corner of his forehead were exposed, Andrew watched to see what Eve would do with the registration form. She bent over and plucked it out of the coffee can, holding it between a thumb and forefinger as if it were a turd. With slow deliberate movements, she grabbed another corner with her other thumb and forefinger and began to rip. She stopped only when the last tiny piece had fluttered to the ground. Then, she turned and looked directly, disdainfully, into Andrew's exposed eye. After recovering from the shock of being caught out like this, he left the doorway, glancing back at Eve only once as he trudged to the parking garage.
On arriving home, Andrew stopped in front of his door and fished a slip of paper out his jacket pocket because he hadn't yet memorized the code for his new security system. He didn't mind the inconvenience, though. There had been three break-ins in his neighborhood in the last two months, so his new security system was an expensive necessity. It seemed that the walls around the community and the manned guard shacks weren't enough anymore. Andrew, however, was determined to hang on to everything he had bought and inherited.
So he entered the code, afterward unlocking the three deadbolts. He stepped through the door, shutting it quickly and slamming home the deadbolts, and then reactivated the security system. He sighed with relief and hung up his jacket. His gaze drifted across the artwork he had collected, the furniture, the rugs. The corners of his mouth lifted a little as he took it all in. But then a maggot of guilt wriggled into his mind and began to eat away at his tranquil satisfaction. He thought about Eve.
Settling uneasily on his couch, Andrew studied on how he could help Eve. He tried out, imaginatively, scenario after scenario. Eventually, he thought of Eve's daughter, and a plan sprang fully formed into his troubled mind. He decided to call his office though he didn't really expect anyone to be there now.
The phone rang and rang, and just when Andrew was about to hang up, Margo answered. She seemed to be out of breath and impatient. But Andrew didn't ask why she was still there or what she was doing, didn't really want to know. He just asked for what he needed. "Margo, give me the information about Eve's daughter—phone number, address, names of current foster parents. The folder should still be on my desk."
A silence followed by muted conversation and unidentifiable rustlings ensued. Then: "Sure thing, Andy." Andrew could hear the sound of pages being turned, as well as a slap, the sound of an open palm contacting bare flesh, and then a giggle. But, eventually, Margo came back on and in a strangled voice relayed the facts he wanted.
So Andrew then made the necessary phone call that would give him the leverage he needed. He went to bed that night smiling, knowing he had the key to a better life for Eve. He slept soundly.
As usual, he heard her from at least half a block away. She didn't have much of a crowd this early, though. Still, Andrew was determined. He strode up to her, squared off in front of her, and smiled a wide smile. "Good morning, Eve. Nice day, isn't it?" She didn't answer, just eyed him warily again. "I've got some good news for you."
"What?" She remained suspicious, tense.
"I've talked to your daughter, and she's willing to meet with you. I've arranged monthly supervised visits in my office—you'll only have to wear mild restraints—fifteen minutes to begin with, but more later if things go well. All you have to do is fill out this form." He pulled the form out of his jacket pocket. "And, of course, have the procedure done and agree to progress monitoring. You do want to see your daughter again, don't you, Eve?"
Once again, she snatched up the little concrete statue of the bald man wearing his rope-belted robe. But she didn't say anything, just continued to watch Andrew.
"I'm going to put the form and a pen in your can, okay?" He bent over and deposited the paper and pen in the can. He moved slowly and cautiously so as not to alarm Eve. But before he could stand upright again, he heard her familiar screech: "God damn bastard!"
The blow felled him, knocked him to his hands and knees. Andrew twisted his head up and around to see what was happening. He saw Eve with the statue raised above him to deliver another blow. "Eve, please, I'm trying to help."
"To hell with you!" She raised the little concrete man higher and shouted, "Blessed are the poor—" Thwack. And Andrew rolled over on his side, his head bleeding profusely now.
"—for theirs—" Thwack. Andrew flattened out then when the concrete image made contact with his head. He thought his skull was cracked.
"—is the kingdom—" Thwack. This time, Andrew Thurston had, during a split second of clear vision, looked closely at the little concrete man she was wielding as it descended toward his head again—and had finally recognized him. He saw that it was a statue of St. Francis. And, somehow, possessing this new knowledge made him feel lighter, freer. He also saw that the likeness of St. Francis now had spatters of his blood on its hands and feet.
"—of heaven." Thwack. Some of Andrew's brains now began to leak out of his ruined skull. His body quivered a little and then lay still.
Eve set the statue of St. Francis down beside her. She heard the wail of fast-approaching sirens. She looked down at Andrew's lifeless body and turned back to her vocation. "Blessed are the poor . . ."
* * *
Here's a sample of Michael Hearing's dystopian short story "The Thanatos Solution."
Eve's Refusal by Michael Hearing / Thrillers & Crime have rating 2.3 out of 5 / Based on32 votes