G. K. Wuori
What he did then, this Ivan Carmody—a tall man, though bellied out to a good two-hundred, sixty pounds—he jerked open the passenger door of the car, got in, and said to the woman: “Get out of this car. I’m taking your car so get the fuck out.”
The woman—her name was Imelda Economy —stayed fairly calm, however.
With the sound track from The Phantom of the Opera coming out of her CD player the car was ripe with sound and Ivan Carmody thought at first she hadn’t heard him. In only a moment, though, and after turning down the stereo, Imelda quietly said, “I can’t.”
“You can’t?” said Ivan.
“Not quickly,” said Imelda, “and I’m sure you want things to go quickly here.”
Purposely, she did not look at this man sitting next to her. She’d read somewhere it was not a good idea to do that.
“Get out of this car,” Ivan repeated, “or I will shoot you in your head with this pistol gun.”
Ivan Carmody did indeed have a gun, Imelda noticed, a small revolver with a brushed chrome finish.
“Pistol gun?” said Imelda. “That’s an odd way to put it. Anyway, look at my legs, sir.”
Ivan looked under the steering wheel then and saw that Imelda’s legs were made of two metallic tubes going down to feet that looked like metal or maybe hard plastic boxes. They didn’t even look like feet or shoes at the bottom, something Ivan thought unusual. Most of the time they tried to make those things look real, didn’t they?
“What are you some kind of machine?” Ivan said.
“What are you some kind of stupid person?” Imelda said.
“All right,” said Ivan. “I’ll ignore the insults. Drive the car. Drive it right now. Get going.”
Imelda put the car in gear then. She remembered it was never good to go off with someone in a car in this kind of situation. In a car they had you and your options were limited. Still, she knew she was a surprise to him and that might help. He was off guard, a little whacky.
No, Ivan said, he didn’t want her to pull into some parking lot where she could adjust her prostheses and make a leisurely exit from the car, the car then his to do with as he pleased. No, he said, turn here, then here, then left over there. Before Imelda knew it they were out in the country.
When he said, “Take a left right there,” Imelda said, “That’s a gravel road.”
“I know that,” Ivan said.
“It’ll scratch my car,” Imelda said.
“You’re perturbing me, ma’am,” Ivan said. “I am not a man of great tolerance for perturbing.”
“Perturbing?” Imelda said. She thought her strategy here was working nicely, although she wasn’t sure exactly what it was. Mostly, it had to do with staying alive, with not getting shot with this man’s pistol gun.
“There’s a lake at the end of the road. Drive to the lake,” said Ivan. “It’s only a few miles.”
“I’m still not sure about perturbing,” Imelda said as she started down the gravel road. “I used to teach English before I became a soldier so I notice those things.”
“You were a soldier?” Ivan said.
“That’s how I lost my legs,” said Imelda.
“You were shot?”
“Oh, no,” Imelda said. “I was in the Corps of Engineers and we were building sand bunkers. I was between two bulldozers when we were hit by a mortar. The dozers came together and ended any thoughts I might have had about a pro basketball career.”
“Jesus,” said Ivan.
“He wasn’t around,” said Imelda. “Are you going to drown me in the lake?”
“Drown you in the lake?” Ivan said.
“Isn’t that what you people do?” Imelda said.
“I’m not a ‘you people,'” Ivan said. “I’m an Ivan. Just me.”
“I don’t think you should have told me your name, Ivan,” Imelda said. “Now I suppose you’ll have to kill me. Probably rape me first and then cut my throat and have me bleed out beneath the thistles.”
“You sound like you’re looking forward to it,” Ivan said.
“Could be,” Imelda said. “I haven’t been real happy since I lost my legs—as you can imagine.”
Imelda saw the road coming to an end with the small lake to her right. A sign near an old boat launching ramp read, Polluted—No Boating, Swimming, or Fishing.
“We used to come out here when we were kids,” Imelda said. “It was a nice place then and you could swim. Now it’s full of fertilizers and insecticides and herbicides.”
“Stop the car,” Ivan said.
“I take it you do get out of the car eventually?” Ivan said.
“Of course,” said Imelda. “Just not quickly. I have to adjust some things and then I’m as perky as a pickle in a cucumber salad.”
“Something my mother used to say,” said Imelda.
“I doubt that,” said Ivan.
“You doubt my mother?” said Imelda.
“People always do that,” Ivan began. “‘My mother says this . . . my daddy always says that.’ Doesn’t wash. People don’t go around with all those bumper stickers in their head ready to come out at cute moments.”
“Okay,” Imelda said. “I said it. I just made it up. I’m ready now. Do you want me to get out of the car?”
“That’s the idea, honey,” said Ivan.
“Not honey,” Imelda said.
“I don’t think we’re ready for ‘honey’ or ‘sweetie’ or ‘fluffypuff,'” Imelda said. “You’re about to sodomize me and then cut my guts out of my abdomen so we might just be either way past or not quite at endearments.”
“Are you an insane person?” Ivan said.
“That would really mess up your day, wouldn’t it?” Imelda said.
Imelda brought the shoulder strap of her purse over her head and onto her shoulder and then opened the car door. A press of a button turned her car seat toward the door. A quick thought brought her legs up, out, and onto the ground. She stood and said, “I’m out of the car.”
Ivan came around the back of the car and over to where Imelda stood. He held the gun in his hand and motioned for her to move away from the car.
“You’re going to leave me here all alone?” Imelda said.
“Well, doll, since you rejected my ‘honey’ I don’t think we’re ready for a partnership.”
“You’re not a stupid person, are you?” said Imelda.
“Were you thinking I was?” said Ivan.
“I wasn’t thinking about you much at all other than wondering if you’d strangle me with my small intestine. It’s just that the people who do these kinds of things, you know: school dropouts, failures, people unfamiliar with macromolecular nanotechnology—they’re usually hopeless types who tend to confine their reading to matchbook covers.”
“I have a degree from a community college,” Ivan said. “Heating and air conditioning.”
“Excellent, Ivan,” Imelda said. “Anyway, what I meant by being left alone was that this is a poisoned lake. People don’t come out here anymore. I can walk a ways but when my batteries give out, poof, I’m a pillow on a feather-filled duvet.”
“You can walk on those things?” Ivan said. “I mean, like a real person?”
“Those things are my legs, sir. They serve me well —courtesy of a government that put me in harm’s way, but they’re top of the line. Like all legs, though, they have limits. Pedicures are out, and I’ve never wrapped them around the back of a rapist trying to penetrate my heart with his wiener.”
“Expensive, too,” Ivan said.
“That wasn’t something I had to worry about,” Imelda said.
“Lift up your dress,” said Ivan.
“I want to see them. Hell, I’m a taxpayer. I probably paid for them,” Ivan said.
“Maybe so,” said Imelda. “But I believe your refund is sitting behind you and that ought to be enough. It’s a V-8, by the way. Gas mileage sucks.”
“Your dress,” Ivan said. “Up.”
Imelda reached down to the hem of her dress then and brought it up to her waist. Her prostheses stopped at mid-thigh, but her thighs continued upward to hips shaped by therapy into conversational assets —the amputee, thus, well deserving of the thong panty she wore, sheer feminine excess to offset what she’d always thought of as a fairly masculine savagery.
“Velcro?” said Ivan.
“Mostly,” Imelda answered, “along with thermocouples, transducers, flash cards, and a few things whose function escapes me. By the way, has it occurred to you that with your heating degree you could probably get into something like this?”
“I’d say your legs are air-conditioned enough, and they hardly need any heat,” Ivan said.
“That’s really quite funny,” said Imelda. “By the way, are you going to rob me after you wrap me into that barbed wire fence over there?”
“I just need a car, darling,” said Ivan. “This is a pretty simple deal.”
“Now it’s ‘darling?'” Imelda said. “Oh, well. I don’t have much money, but if you rip my purse from my shoulder and go through it, be careful. There’s a gun inside.”
“Somehow I believe you,” Ivan said, “even though I know you’re lying.”
“We all have to live with those kinds of contradictions, don’t we, Ivan?” Imelda said.
“Sit down,” Ivan said. “Right there on the ground. I want you to take off your legs.”
“Ivan?” Imelda said.
“That’s quite profound.”
“I bet that never in the entire history of the world has a man who’s about to ravish and savage a woman told her to take off her legs.”
“I’m not going to . do all that,” Ivan said. “I’m going to steal your legs and then I’m going to sell them.”
“Oh,” Imelda said. “That’s a little disappointing. It rather strengthens my point, don’t you think, about being left here alone?”
“What?” said Ivan.
“I mean I can crawl if you decide to whip me with your belt after I’ve blown you, but that’ll hardly get me down to Lenny’s BP where I can call a taxi to take me home.”
“Lady?” Ivan said.
“Lady’s all right, I guess,” said Imelda. “What?”
“I’m not interested in having sex with you. You don’t turn me on. Maybe it’s your legs. I’m sorry.”
“That’s sure a put down,” said Imelda. “I don’t think I deserve that.”
“It could be that right now I’m in charge of what you deserve,” Ivan said.
“Jesus, give the man a tampon,” Imelda said. Slowly, Imelda lowered herself to the ground.
Legless now from mid-thigh downward, Imelda carefully adjusted how she sat, the lean slightly forward, arms away from her side with balled-up fists on the ground—the tripod at rest.
Ivan noticed all of that as he picked up Imelda’s legs. Without a word, he gave her forehead a nudge with one finger. The balance—always delicate—upset, Imelda rolled onto her back. Sitting back up was not difficult, but she thought she’d wait a moment —see where Ivan was at, what he wanted.
“Humiliating someone like me isn’t difficult, you know,” Imelda said. “Getting your own pride back, though, that’s the thing.”
Ivan, after putting Imelda’s legs on the back seat of the car, turned back toward her and said, “Do you know you’re really starting to piss me off?”
“Huh,” Imelda said. “Imagine how I feel.”
She sat back up then and smoothed the skirt of her dress out so that it covered her thighs.
“You must have been quite a soldier,” Ivan said. “Quite a piece of work. There had to be at least a few cheers from your own unit when you got taken out.”
“Wow,” Imelda said. “How can you be that insulting to someone you don’t even know?”
“I’m getting to know you,” Ivan said. “So it’s not that hard.”
“Makes it harder, though, to put one of those 9 mm nipples into my head. Lot of guys used to call them that, especially when there were girls around. Anyway, my name’s Imelda. Imelda Economy. There. That’ll make it harder still. Instead of just telling yourself you sodomized a dead cripple who wouldn’t shut up, you’ll have to say, ‘I rearranged the lobes of Imelda Economy’s brain and left them lying on the dusty ground —fast food for crickets.'”
“Economy?” Ivan said.
“You bet,” Imelda said. “My last name.”
Imelda put one hand into her purse then and said to Ivan, “I need a tissue.”
“That’s a funny name,” Ivan said.
“I don’t think so,” said Imelda.
“Imelda?” Ivan said.
“The gun’s in the car —okay? I put it there a minute ago.”
“I thought I saw you do that,” Imelda said.
“So there’s going to be no shooting,” Ivan said. “Not a bit.”
“Maybe a little,” Imelda said.
“What do you mean?” said Ivan.
“I told you I had a gun,” Imelda said.
“Right,” said Ivan.
“This one,” Imelda said as she pulled her hand out of her purse. “I told you. It might have been good for you if you’d believed me. Now you might just want to get down on your knees so I don’t get all spooked by sudden movements and all of that. I have to figure out what to do now and that might take a minute.”
Ivan, on the ground, said, “Take all the time you need.”
“You’re not exactly in a position to give me things, Ivan. Especially time.”
“I was just trying to be polite,” Ivan said. “Seemed like the right attitude to have.”
“You see, if I have you go to the car to get my legs, then you’re in the car. You could grab your gun, drive off, the whole ball of string.”
“Wax,” Ivan said.
“Excuse me, Ivan?” Imelda said.
“I think the expression is ‘the whole ball of wax.'”
“Oh. I stand corrected,” Imelda said. “Thank you. Not many people have the chance to correct an English teacher on her choice of words. On the other hand, if I try to scootch my way over to the car myself, I’m pretty vulnerable. There’s all kinds of things you could try and maybe even succeed. Then where would I be?”
“Back in my power,” Ivan said.
“Exactly. Good thinking, Ivan. Didn’t much like it the first time, so I don’t imagine the second time would be much better. Actually, this is all pretty good.”
“What’s pretty good, Imelda?” Ivan said.
“All of it,” Imelda said. “It’s like a movie or a factory where the workings of great forces all lead to some inevitable result. Watching all the processes crank out their destiny —that’s the fun part. We’re cranking, Ivan —that’s what we’re doing.”
“Or,” Ivan said.
“Or?” said Imelda. “We have another ‘or’? I missed a possibility here? Do tell, Ivan. This may not be a good time for keeping secrets.”
“Or I could just walk away,” Ivan began.
He raised his arm and pointed west, opposite the lake, to a field lying fallow and planted in rye grass. Then he added, “like in that direction where you could see me for a good distance. When I was far enough away, you could do your smooching . . .”
“Scootching, Ivan,” Imelda said, “a rather humiliating shuffling along on my ass that will undoubtedly ruin my dress. Scootching. It’s a word I made up. I think.”
“Scootching, then,” Ivan said. “You could get back to your car, get your legs back on, drive off. You and I then —we’re just an odd memory of something that happened. Of course you’ll tell the police, and then some reporter will probably write a nice story about how brave you were. Pretty true, actually. You got a lotta balls.”
“So to speak,” said Imelda.
“You know what I mean,” said Ivan.
Imelda took a moment to think. She looked down at the forty caliber pistol in her hand, a comfortable (and comforting) possession in steel and plastic. It had brought equality into a morning of odd balancing and counterbalancing: just a woman, waiting to be stolen —a fluff monkey. Then a woman prosthetic-bound, clearly a story Ivan would be recounting again and again, whether to friends, cell mates, or the air conditioning classes he might someday teach following a successful rehabilitation.
Still, it wasn’t often that you had the target right there, a qualified target of good quality; i.e., worthy of impact, or what they’d sometimes joked of as “invasive therapies.”
“I’m sworn to uphold and protect the Constitution, Ivan,” Imelda said.
“You can always do that tomorrow,” said Ivan. “Write today off as a training exercise: you bent, you compromised, maybe you shouldn’t have. That’s how we learn.”
Imelda didn’t suppose anyone ever actually stood there with the document in hand and shouted out, “I’m protecting the Constitution!” Not even a soldier, a cop, the president. You simply did right most of the time and that wasn’t too hard. It was only when you ran into bad things, wrong things, that it all got sticky. Truth be known, the best defenders of anything were always the tattle-tales, poopy idiots who nearly always paid a price for their heroism.
“Makes my head spin, Ivan. All I wanted out of today was something average like a good magazine, a good therapy session, a nice job done on my car down at the car wash. You ever just want an average day, Ivan? Not today, obviously. You knew today wasn’t going to be average. But other days?”
“I keep getting fired from my jobs,” Ivan said. “I don’t know why, but it’s cost me two wives so far. I guess I might have lost touch with average.”
“I have an idea,” Imelda said.
“Okay,” Ivan said. “We can move with an idea.”
“Take off your clothes,” Imelda said.
“My clothes?” said Ivan.
“Take them off,” said Imelda. “Naked is speaking to me. I think that’s where we need to go, and don’t you dare call me honey. It’s not that kind of naked.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Ivan. “Should I stand?”
“Try not to,” said Imelda.
When Imelda gestured toward him Ivan wadded up his clothes and threw them toward her.
“This is to humiliate me,” he said, “the way I humiliated you? Payback, that kind of thing?”
“No,” said Imelda, “not really. I learned in the army you just do what a situation tells you to do and you keep your damned feelings out of it. I felt a whoosh of sadness a moment ago and just put it away.”
“Sadness?” Ivan said. “Why sadness?”
“Don’t be silly, Ivan,” Imelda said.
“Imelda, I’d be shitting my pants if I were still wearing them. So do believe I’m not being silly.”
“Sadness,” Imelda said, “over shooting you.”
“You haven’t shot me,” Ivan said. “I’m quite grateful for that.”
“I know,” said Imelda. “It’s actually quite hard to do. I mean if you were to come charging at me like a banshee boy I could just go pop and that would do it. But I have you sitting there naked and quiet —Did you ever wish you were circumcised, Ivan? —and looking innocent, even boyish. That makes it a slow business. We’ve lost the élan of terror.”
“We’ve lost . . .?” Ivan began.
“Look, Ivan, if I tossed you a knife and told you that if you circumcised yourself I’d let you live —would you do it?”
“That’s important to you, the circumcision?” Ivan said.
“Would you do it, Ivan?”
“I’d do it.”
“Wow,” Imelda said. “I just felt a rush when you said that, a true sexual feeling that now has my stumps itching. I must say you’ve done a number on me this morning, Ivan. By the way, what’s your last name?”
“Carmody,” Ivan said.
“Carmody,” said Imelda. “A bit of the Russian, a bit of the Irish. Sounds like something you could mix for a good drink.”
“I guess I never thought of it that way.”
“We’re really quite incredible, aren’t we? So very polite, so very civilized, yet never more than a wink away from wretched cruelty. Like this.”
Imelda shot Ivan in his right knee then.
She watched as his mouth opened wide, a look of stark confusion on his face. He fell backward as a great moan, a yell came out of his mouth. Imelda knew, at that moment, she was not yet done, that a further decision had to be made.
Ivan’s life was in her hands. They were good hands, though, sensitive and well-tended, manicured occasionally but lotioned every night. Symbolically, of course, that was all she meant. Imelda used to bite her nails but basic training took care of that. They’d all been told that if you see Imelda biting her nails, just ask her, Sucking another cock, Mel?
It was only in the army that she’d been called Mel.
“Ivan?” Imelda said.
She knew the feeling, certainly, how shock and pain drove you into yourself. You sought a room and you could feel yourself crawling over cut glass and razor blades trying to find it, a small room, very quiet, with a bed and a quilt on the bed, an old quilt with Disney characters on it. Some said they could taste sounds and hear vision. The taste of brightness was often mentioned, enduring brightness that sometimes presented itself with a hollow roar. She did, however, hear a lecture one time where they were told that an impact, any impact, simply fucked up your senses, rearranged your wiring —usually temporarily —so that you could “hear” smells and all of that. What’s important, the trainer said, was to break through all of that so you could tell yourself, shit, that was only the first hit. There might be others. It was, he concluded, quite often the follow-up that killed.
Ivan raised his head off the ground and looked at Imelda. His eyes were bloodshot, his face covered with sweat.
“We had a pretty good conversation going there, didn’t we, Ivan?” Imelda said. “It started with, ‘Get the fuck out of the car,’ or something like that, and ended with my wink in the direction of wretched cruelty. I’m hardly a crime fighter, though, so I don’t know where all of this came from. Does anyone?”
It took Imelda ten minutes to make her way over to the car. Ivan hardly seemed threatening, but she never took her eyes off of him. Once at the car, however, she put her gun on the ground, turned her back to Ivan, and then painfully hoisted herself up on her stumps to open the back door.
“This is your chance, Ivan,” she said. “I’m vulnerable and I hardly ever move quickly.”
With her prostheses in hand then, she sat back down with her back to the car and began, as she liked to put it even at home, “to install myself.”
Imelda was finally able to walk over to Ivan. She had his gun in one hand and her gun in the other.
“I’m just a thief,” Ivan said. “I didn’t deserve this.”
“I know, darling,” Imelda said. “Hardly any of us deserve the things that happen to us —not the good, not the bad. That’s why we’re always talking about how hard life is and I suppose it’s true. But you had plans for me, Ivan, and they were not good plans.”
“I was just going to sell your car,” Ivan said, his voice a deep whisper.
“And my legs,” Imelda said.
“Yes,” Ivan said.
“You’d sell a woman’s legs,” said Imelda. “That’s a pimp job unlike any I’ve ever heard before, kind of like selling one of her kidneys or a lung. You made me feel like a roll of liverwurst in a deli case.”
“I’m sorry?” Ivan said. “Is that what you want to hear?”
“Do you want to know what I want to hear, Ivan? Do you really want to know?”
“Yes, I really want to know.”
“I want to hear you say goodbye,” said Imelda.
“Oh, Jesus, please, Imelda . . .”
“Say goodbye, Ivan,” said Imelda.
“Goodbye, Imelda,” Ivan said.
Imelda gathered up her purse then, along with Ivan’s clothes, and walked slowly back to her car. Once inside, and with the engine running, she looked over to Ivan. He was sitting up, his hands doing something around his injured knee as he tried to stop the bleeding.
Not a shout then, but loud enough for him to hear, Imelda said, “Goodbye, Ivan.”