“Jimmy Five Ways” is one of the winning entries on our Hard Boiled-Down Noir Fiction Contest. Richard Thomas is the author of Transubtantiate, a neo-noir, speculative thriller. He has published over fifty stories online and in print, including Shivers VI with Stephen King and Peter Straub. Visit him at whatdoesnotkillme.com for more information.
I don’t ask him about the blood on the sheets, I just wash them in cold water while he’s sleeping. His knuckles are always torn and cracking, busted lip and swollen eyes. When Jimmy’s out cold I gingerly touch his swollen hands and place them on my face. I drove him to this, with my hopes and desires, and he made these things come true. I’m a lousy wife. I should have lied. It’ll never be enough—there is nothing he can do to fill the void.
His tools rest on the garage wall, their outline traced in permanent marker. He tells me to leave them alone. In the empty space where the framing hammer should be is the word peacemaker, scrawled in fading pencil. Sometimes at night, when he’s fast asleep, and Mom is lying with him, the washer running as if it will never stop, I take his black Mustang out for a ride. 1966, the year I was born. At the 24-hour car wash I lose myself in the spray of water, the hum of the vacuum taking me under.
Jimmy tells me it’s a release for him, things he can’t do with his wife. I understand. In the pain, the moment that my body separates from the rest of the world, there is a splitting of my mind. I tell him harder, but he’s barely here, and the hair that pulls my neck back, the sheen of sweat that coats my body in fury, it builds to a deafening glory. I tell him this is it, that we can’t go any further. And every night I fall fast sleep, reborn in the harsh morning light.
It was coming from a long distance away. I knew that much. And in many ways, it was a great relief. I thank Jimmy for being professional, for allowing me that last moment of grace. I didn’t deserve it. So many nights that we drove the city, picking up, dropping off, waiting for someone to show. We were brothers, in our lost travels, mouths at home to feed. I begged him—not the face. I asked him to check in on them when he could. He nodded, his eyes on the dirt path, pale moon overhead. I took what was coming to me.
No more mirrors, is all I can say. This isn’t what I wanted. It just happened. And when I came up for air, when the house was safe and I could sleep again, I stopped asking for forgiveness. The kitchen was filled with the smell of garlic and tomatoes, the kid in new boots and a leather jacket, the street left outside, the cold no longer a concrete conclusion, my hands trembling under warm vanilla scented soap. The prayers I sent up were in my darkest hours and I never questioned the answer. I was saved a long time ago.