A Collection of Short Literature

Winslows Theory


The first time I hit a man, I took his jaw apart from his face. I could see the wrongness in the way the skin jutted cartoonishly from under his eyes, blurring, as it followed the rest of him towards the ground. I disconnected a portion of someone, and in a way that it doesn’t happen in movies. But it was right. I understood in that moment something about myself, about what I am, what certain parts of me were meant for. The writhing form before me, his whole murdered scream, his whole hideous gasping cringe, was the manifestation of millions of years of brutal providence. It took me a long time to understand that some people see a power there instead of a burden, but then again, normal people never shatter anything by nature. That’s for me and mine. When I dreamt that night it was of a deep watery darkness where some unnamed ancestor swam and smiled glistening knives.
The Kinko’s Tyler and I robbed is northeast of the university, behind a greasy spoon my grandparents used to take me to when I was younger. It’s part of a little yuppie strip mall, a little oasis of coffee shops and post modern corporate relaxation motifs, the closest place to the sprawling northeast suburbia where its inhabitants can go without leaving their own tax bracket to get the paper. The Starbucks to the right and the Tully’s to the left were closed, and I remember that something about the place rankled. People could have died there, a lot of people, and you would never know it. Baristas would have arrived in the morning and made terrified sobbing calls to their managers, who would have made their own trembling calls to their corporate offices. Like ravenous pupas emancipated by necessity rather than opportunity, handsome representatives would have scrubbed the parking lot to a cleansing sheen, contacted any witnesses and offered them coupons for free drinks, foamy ones. This is basically what I was thinking about when I turned off the car and got ready to help Tyler steal a printer.
I met Tyler working for Winslow, which is something I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember. I was always very big for my age, and some primordial inclination in Winslow’s slight nature compelled us into friendship before we were really capable of holding conversation.
Looking back, it’s hard to distinguish the point at which our childhood shenanigans frayed into actual criminal activity, but by the time I was fifteen and ugly, we were head and shoulders beyond absolution. My hair went grainy white at it’s roots a few months into sophomore year of high school and when I cut it short it lent Winslow a small amount of credibility by association. Age, he told me, makes people believe in reliability, reliability makes people comfortable, and comfortable people aren’t afraid to spend money. Comfortable people, he said, aren’t afraid of anything.
Winslow brought Tyler Meadows in on the Kinko’s thing for muscle, which made me nervous because there wasn’t actually any muscle on Tyler Meadows. Knowing this, Winslow kept Tyler’s involvement a surprise, so earlier that evening, when I was idling in Winslow’s alley and Tyler opened the door and threw himself mutely into the seat next to me, I kind of just assumed he was stealing all my shit.
At the Kinko’s we sat in the car. Tyler pulled a Folk Nation bandana across his mouth and I stuffed my head into a stocking. I soon found that the exhalations from under my nose, and the flecks of spittle from even the tiniest intonations, combined with the little saline droplets from squinting under the florescent lights, would all accumulate against my face, so that each breath thickened as it filtered through a miniscule layer of wetness. Plus, as Winslow pointed out, I have a distinct jaw, and stockings do little to hide distinct jaws, so the Kinko’s job was the first and last time I wore women’s underwear on my head while committing a felony.
Tyler produced an uzi. I had never seen one before, and while he wiped at the windshield so he could peer around the parking lot, I marveled at how small the thing was sitting in his lap. When he snatched it up and fumbled out into the evening I found myself picturing him in miniature, a Black Gangster Disciple of GI Joe proportions, which, I realized quietly, is how people who don’t know Tyler must perceive him.
Not that I really knew Tyler. I didn’t, for instance, know Tyler nearly as well as I know Winslow, but I’d been around him enough by the time we started working together to see that he was stupid. And I don’t think that’s a reason to begrudge a man, it’s a small thing, and nobody’s fault really, but it’s a constant liability. Tyler was always wearing colors. Black and blue every day, even when he didn’t come to class and when he didn’t graduate, he was always around with a little rag sticking out of his right pocket, smeared in six point stars. When I think about him, hold a picture of him in my head, that’s how I see him.
We ran the distance between the van and the Kinko’s. There were people in the windows, waists rhythmically silhouetted by humming photocopiers. A fifty something woman leaned over the counter while a thick looking kid in an orange sweatshirt grabbed at himself through a pair of pleated khakis. A haggard looking businessman stood staring at us, eyes unfocused and wrapped in crooked pinstripes. Two employees wandered sleepily around the back of the shop, one glancing wearily at the woman above the counter while the other spun mundanely in an office chair. I stepped over the curb and gave a quick glance up and down the sidewalk. A little bell chimed as Tyler opened the door in front of me. I took it as a good omen because the Michael Sanders thing had started with a bell.
Sanders, this big Mick, had come dressed as a Vice Lord for Halloween. He was at a chicken place across from school when Tyler blew in with the wind behind him, so that the napkins and receipts on the floor milled around for a moment or fluttered where they were pinned on tables. The lopsided oscillations of the paper scraps and the jingle at the back of the restaurant made me glance around and lock into Tyler. He picked his way politely through the counter line and the people in between started getting out of the way, dissipating in recognition of the potential for violence. Then he tapped Michael on the shoulder like a child pleading for attention, and when the bigger man looked down from the pictures above the counter, sinewy chords grinding against the rigidity of his jaw, he saw that nobody was moving. He staggered around, shoulders squaring in surprise, and all the color stumbled from his cheeks to his ears. Michael had to strip down to his to his boxers before Tyler let him go.
It sounds cute, but there were a thousand ways that the Michael Sanders thing could have gone wrong. Tyler kind of waded through them in the telling of the story, as if there were vast and singular forces bent on the petty degradation of Michael Sanders, and he was simply enacting their will. In Tyler’s chicken spot, in Tyler’s Michael Sanders thing, Tyler was untouchable. To my surprise, it was those same grinning tones that poured out of Tyler and into the Kinko’s. He bounded across the floor and up onto a chair, waving his uzi and screaming obscenities with no discernable purpose.
The carpeting was a perverse grey and orange gradient, which cascaded slowly into thicker and thicker swirls of blossoming ginger, like nebulous vomit in zero g. It reminded me of an airport. Tyler was still yelling as I moved to the back of the shop. The bathroom and the manager’s office were empty. I pulled a banana out of the community fridge in the break room. I walked slowly from machine to machine, comparing their model numbers to the list Winslow had had me write on my forearm in felt-tipped pen. I peeled the banana and pulled the stocking up over my mouth and bit off a chunk. The fifty something was huddled with her doughy son behind a machine in the corner, glaring angrily at Tyler, who refused to make eye contact with her. The employees, unsure of what to do, remained by the counter, leering over its edge in equal parts perplexity and fear. The businessman in pinstripes had finished making copies, but didn’t move, and instead stood noncommittally above the older woman and her boy. I pulled the bottom out of the banana peel and rushed my hand over the model number I was looking for.
The machine was heavier than I anticipated, it’s wheels token slabs of black plastic. I pushed low on its frame and rumbled resentfully over the hideous carpeting and all the way to the base of the door’s sill. It caught hard, and I ran the side of my face brutally across its surface, leaving a trial of mucus against the bland coloring.
A Kinko’s employee teetered as his stomach fat ballooned on the pressure of the counter. “Those things those things are fucking terrible, you need some help?” I looked up at Tyler, but he was frantically bouncing his concentration across the business man and the doughy adolescent. I tried at the thing for a couple more seconds, and then shrugging, beckoned for him to join me. Tyler’s uzi frantically traced him as he crossed the room to where the photocopier was stacked on the door frame. I climbed awkwardly over the machine as he spat on his palms, and while he pushed I lifted the little front wheels, so that the whole hard plastic mess could shift suddenly against my forehead.
I stumbled backwards, somehow relieved that I’d been struck, and also aware for the first time of the traffic passing on the street beyond me. The Kinko’s employee wrung his hands. Tyler continued to pivot on his chair, shifting his weapon from witness to witness as if one of them might explode into a SWAT team at any moment. The dragging machine sung down the wheel-chair accessible ramp. As the copier jostled across the parking lot, I found myself enjoying the vibrations that traveled up my forearm. Approaching the van, I briefly considered my options.
I bent and lifted with my back, sending hot splinters up my spine and resentful beads from the pores in my forehead. A foot from the lip of the van’s rear doors I dropped the machine heavily onto the sidewalk, and felt the whole thing clatter against me as the Kinko’s employee sprinted down the asphalt and muttered, “god, are you alright?” I gave a split grin, and tried to lift the machine again. Sweat stung as it blotted across the pantyhose and onto my eyelashes. He slid under one half of the thing and helped me lift. It rose above the bumper, and there we let it connect and pivot and slowly drop onto its side. I shut my eyes tight, waiting for the report from the copier as it hit the van’s floor. The shocks fidgeted nervously. Then Tyler came careening out of the Kinko’s, and by the time he was in the van the employees and the customers were pressed against the storefront, and were whispering to each other as we pulled away. I could see the asshole that had helped me writing down our license plate number.
We drove to my grandparents’ and put the van in their garage. It was maybe five minutes from the Kinko’s, and in the time between our arrival and Winslow’s we sat in old recliners and smoked cigars. Tyler kept looking at me like he was going to say something, but never did. Twenty minutes passed and Winslow knocked smartly on the long-grained oak of my grandfather’s door, telling us we were going out for a meal.
I know Winslow Calver pretty good. As well as anybody really, because I don’t think anybody really knows Winslow Calver, least of all Winslow Calver. I don’t mean to say that the man has no idea what he’s doing. What I mean is that Winslow is so committed to the version of himself that everyone else sees, Winslow’s Winslow, his actions have become imitations of someone else, some jabberwocky of pop-culture cool and guerilla philosophy. I remember, for instance, that Winslow Calver is cruel and mostly innocent. And I also remember when I could have beat on him no problem, and it’s not that I couldn’t now, it’s just that that would have repercussions, which is what Winslow is all about really.
Winslow creates repercussions. And while the rest of us are cannonballing around existence like wasted fat bitches at a pool party, Winslow is gliding in and out of things, not producing so much as a ripple. Even knowing the things I do, that I’m not sure Winslow even remembers, I’m not capable of affecting him or hurting him in a lasting way. He simply doesn’t believe he’s that person any more, or that if he is, that person is somehow different or was always better or stronger than I believed him to be. But he wasn’t and he isn’t, because I can still see what he was nestled in him; something seething and raw and violent and pure. And I know what it feels like to watch it, a terrified tightness and a jumbled revulsion, like drunk panic.
While we waited for our food Winslow talked for awhile about the best places to sell fakes, about opening markets in different parts of the city. He wanted to know who we would need to talk to, as far as not ruffling feathers was concerned, and while he talked the waitress poured us coffee and Tyler got up to use the bathroom. After Tyler left, the conversation died and Winslow sat across from me and slurped out of his porcelain coffee cup. The food arrived. I had ordered a steak, Winslow an omelet, Tyler the French toast. Tyler came back and sat down. I cut into my steak as he poured syrup in runny circles. Winslow chewed and muttered something appreciative. Tyler took a bite, and smacked his lips and then, as if he had meant to all along, started grinning. Winslow asked him what was funny, and then suddenly there was this spark, kind of, and the way Tyler held himself shifted. He told us about King David.
King David was some unifier, some enabler from Chicago. He’d died years ago, leaving the Folk Nation, a conglomerate, in tenuous cooperation. The way Tyler told it, Folk stood for “follow our last kings,” but I doubt it; folk probably meant people. No matter who tried to fight it or how, everything was regressing: The old treaties were disintegrating and the old sets subdividing, until all that was left were clumps of boys, who believed that somehow the American dream was in their reach if they walked just-so and could run fast enough. Fears were being realized all the time now, hatreds being justified, and I just sat there and let it wash over me while Winslow blinked and took notes on his burger wrapper.
Tyler had built himself back up into invulnerability, but as he ran out of things to say his confidence trailed off. We all sat and were silent for almost a minute, while I kept cutting stake and Winslow chewed on his pen. Then Tyler said, “You just have to remember. This idea that we have, that the land belongs to us somehow, our block our city, it’s just nothing. It’s just a belief, it’s not a real thing, it’s just a belief, and all you have to do is find ways to change it.” He was emphatic about that “belief” shit, and while I shrugged it off Winslow ate it up. It resonated with him somehow, and a few times afterwards he tried to talk to me about it, but I never really held on to anything Tyler had to say.
The last time I worked with Tyler we were stealing a calf for Winslow, way north, near Arlington. We’d gone east from the interstate, five miles past something called an “O’Brien’s Turkey House,” when we pulled over because Winslow smelled cow. Everything was black, but we could hear a river somewhere, and not really knowing which way to walk we walked towards that noise. Away from the high beams and lit dash our eyes adjusted to that darkness you can only find outside of town. I’ve never understood how people tolerate that dark; maybe because I never knew it as a kid. The slowly undulating, fat shadows, standing still or huddled in mounds, began to separate themselves into whole shapes. Then, while Tyler sat back and smoked a cigarette, me and Winslow picked through the heard and tried to find a calf. Winslow found one near the water, and I sat for a few minutes while he examined it. Tyler worked his way over to us and asked us what we were going to do about his shoes, and when neither of us answered he started to throw a whispery little fit. He bucked his head back and threw up his hands and started swearing about whatever it was we were doing in the middle of all that cow shit, and when he was done and it seemed like all that unprovoked rage had died or shrunk away, he flung himself against a sow.
Maybe he expected it to go over, but when he hit the animal he just writhed impotently against it for a minute and then fell to the ground. The cow let out a noise of frantic protest and lurched heavily away from us. Then, to my horror, the calf’s mother gave a hostile and indignant roar from where she sat on the ground. The calf tried desperately to hide, terrified, under her right flank, but before it could duck past her udder Winslow grabbed at its legs and began pulling the frightened little thing up into his arms. The sow wheeled around, bearing down on Winslow who was clutching its bleating offspring. Tyler bolted. I followed, unsure of the ability of a deranged milk cow to distinguish between kidnappers and bystanders, and as I ran, the pasture came bubbling to life. A sea of mooing fleshy walls rose up before us, weary and wrathful.  Winslow’s sow, heeding the call of its terrified calf, came hurtling across the animals we deftly avoided, which in turn, stampeded away from the trampling hooves. I followed Tyler, not sure if Winslow was behind me, but dimly aware of where the calf’s mother was charging behind us. I fell. My whole body comically splayed in hopeless despair as the toe of my shoe caught against the back of a sleeping animal. I hit the turf and curled up as best I could and waited.
I remained still. The cowl I’d tripped over picked itself up, trundled a few yards and then collapsed back onto the ground. A breeze kicked up out of nowhere and brought a pelting mist. I stood numbly, completely disoriented; listening for an engine as the rain lightly saturated my clothing. Somewhere our truck coughed, and without seeing the headlights I began marching. I tripped once or twice without falling in that too natural darkness. Then, when I was considering walking back towards the river, I felt gravel scatter under my feet. I followed the grainy texture of the pebbles and came out on the highway. The truck, which glowed ominously thirty feet down our strip of road, was pulled onto the shoulder, waiting for me to clamber into its back seat.  I approached it quietly, opening the door and sitting down to scrape off my boots. Tyler peered through the space between the front seat and the door, passed the seatbelt and down at where I stained the upholstery. “Man,” I said, shaking my head like I knew what I was talking about, “have you ever been in some shit like that?” He scrunched his neck up and smiled condescendingly down at me and I remembered hearing somewhere that he’d raped a girl to blood in.
When Tyler died it was a mess. He showed up at a party in his stupid fucking blue, and a bunch of kids out of Southpark threw a keg at him. It broke his legs, so they dragged him outside and curb stomped him to death. I don’t think they had words before hand, I think they just did it. Tyler was still talking about the thing in the chicken spot when I left the city and by the time I came back he was dead, so when I think of him I remember him leaning on something and drunk and grinning and talking shit about Michael Sanders. Which is probably about as good a memory as anyone has of Tyler Meadows.
Winslow has this theory. The theory goes that if you dress in one of those American flag suits you can shoot someone in broad daylight. He says that after the screaming, when the police come to harass the witnesses, all anyone will remember is that you were wearing that retarded suit. Then, the theory goes, the police won’t be able to do anything but round up the racists and the faggot haters, who are the only people that wear that kind of thing. On one hand, Winslow is a master criminal, on the other, Winslow is full of those kinds of theories, and they can’t all be right.
-02/09

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Writer from the American Northwest