[ToC]

 

 

5 ATROCITIES

John Dermot Woods

LIKE MY MOTHER

To explain why his mother had killed his father, a chef in Mount Vernon (who bought his morning newspaper at the same store I did and as time went on became possessed by the frantic pace and improvisational nature of his job) reasoned that his father had been such a consummate caretaker of his children that his mother had been deprived of her identity and her ability to be admired and even loved by her children, which reminded me of my own mother though she had never killed anyone, let alone my father.


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THE GOD'S HONEST TRUTH

On the corner of the block where we lived, right in front of the twenty-four hour convenience store, a long-bearded man, who was presumably homeless or in some way destitute, sat every morning, and he always had a new story explaining why he needed money: sometimes for a bus, sometimes to buy the paper to check on his investment portfolio, and, at other times, to pay greens fees at the local golf course. The charm of his ruses made it difficult for anyone not to spare him a dollar or two. He became the subject of a great deal of amused attention one morning when he stood across the street from his usual corner, in front of a gutted townhouse, halfway through a complete renovation, and ran back and forth, pointing inside, yelling that his son had fallen down a hole and that he'd never see him again, and he said that he was telling the God's honest truth. He let out a wild laugh and we all laughed in return, surprised to see the man so animated that morning. His performance attracted the attention of the police who went inside to house to appease him. Inside, they did find the body of a young boy who had fallen from at least the third story of the house and broken his neck on the cement floor of the basement. Newspaper reports confirmed that the man, a public school teacher who had been on a medically-excused leave of absence for several years, was indeed the boy's father.


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THE WAREHOUSES OF MOUNT WASHINGTON

On a walk through the neighborhood of Mount Washington, which is near the river, we decided to leave the road and slide down a decline, hoping to find water, which we did, as well as several inhabited old warehouses. We walked through the open door of one to find a full living room set up below a thirty-foot ceiling; no one was inside, but the T.V. had been left on and there was the smell of recent cooking coming from the kitchenette set up behind the couch. We inspected several of the other warehouses along the river and in each we found a similar recently abandoned domestic scene. When we returned to town, we asked one of the local residents about the warehouses, as we were considering purchasing a permanent home in Baltimore. He assured us that the warehouses were not for sale, in fact, they had been long out of use, although the authorities tended to look the other way in regards to the homeless population who had moved in. When we asked him where they had all gone when we stopped by, he said he assumed that they had stepped out for their daily group bath in the river.


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DOMESTIC UNREST

A manicurist, who-agitated by domestic unrest-lost control and strangled her husband to death (reportedly he was both a devout and angry man), was freed from police custody yesterday. To the news cameras that waited for her as she exited the station, she held up her long-fingered hands and promised that as soon as she got home she would cut them both off and have them taxidermically preserved as a symbol of her proudest accomplishment.


 

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AN UNEXPECTED WHIM

An unlicensed suicide hotline operator was charged with reckless endangerment. She was accused of encouraging a distraught man to shoot himself, based on the fact that she had hung up on him the moment before he pulled the trigger of his gun. This was only after she had counseled him and encouraged him to live for several hours. In court, the operator explained that she had been seized by an unexpected whim and that she no longer believed in the glimpses of hope that she had offered the man. Furthermore, she felt that is was her responsibility, at that moment, to share with him what she thought was the truth, to validate his desperation. She then felt that continuing to coerce the man from his will would taint the truth that she had spoken, so she hung up and, a moment later, the man (a divorced attorney) pulled the trigger of his pistol held at such an angle as to destroy his brain and the back of his skull. The fellow hotline operators who sat in the call center that afternoon testified that their unlicensed colleague simply set the phone down and walked out of the center, without saying a word. The members of the jury who heard the case all agreed that the operator's decision was reprehensible and surely contributed to the man's death. Yet, when asked by the judge, their foreman pronounced a decision of 'not guilty.' They could not find a way to understand her moral reprehensibility as criminal. The hotline that the operator worked for had the highest success rate in the city for aiding callers, despite its dubious licensing and hiring practices.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The structure and syntax of these "atrocities" are modeled on English translations of Thomas Bernhard's short fictions in his collection The Voice Imitator. Those pieces, with their brevity and absence of meandering, are singular within his body of work. My stories are about a town I used to live in. The drawings came last.