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Between the Lines: ‘In the Hearts of Men’

Jul 30, 2015

Between the Lines: 'In the Hearts of Men'

As a kid, Bob worked with horses. He was convinced this would always be his trade. It wasn’t just a part he played, but gave him a sense of himself. Bob knew what he was doing, so he thought. There had been the family farm outside of a small town, but that was decades ago. It’s a regret of his that they — his siblings — lost the plot. Poverty and eminent domain. Now there are meth labs everywhere, and when he drives by the old land, there is no use. Past closing time at the sole bar, toothless men cough and scream. Bob doesn’t go back often. It’s as if he simply no longer agrees with the fields, the skies, the blurred moon’s half-hearted smile.

He remembers one night in particular. A spooked black stallion ran off and went off into the fields. Someone had left the gate wide open. He tells himself it wasn’t his fault. He thought he knew what he was doing. He thought he was doing things right. Bob spent weeks and months asking and looking around for the dear creature. It died of heartache near a pond, high up in the hills during a vicious winter. If a horse can expire from loneliness, what then, lies in the hearts of men?

He spoke of this one night to his lover. Muriel yawned as Bob looked up at the fan. She was not surprised. Another story of incompetence and mistakes from her fuck-by-propinquity. Muriel lived in the building. Bob often had whiskey. Finally, she found herself there most nights. She was playing a part. She couldn’t convince herself of it, though. There were numerous books she’d read next to the bed. She thought it over. The lights were nearly out, save the one lamp that bloomed yellow on the nightstand. She nearly picked up a novel while he spoke. Finally, Bob’s reminiscences were at an end. His voice no longer made a sound. A sudden, goddamned smile crept onto her lurid face.

“That’s nice, Bob. I’m sure the creature is better off than we are.”

The fan whined. In the interstices between waking and sleep, between reason and madness, dream and nightmare, Bob was certain he was going to kill Muriel that night. He did not figure the word kill as a euphemism or matter of speaking. His revolver was in the car, tucked in the glove box. He would retrieve the gun and then finish off the bookworm who never listened, who could crush him with her harangues and exaggerated rolling of eyes.

Bob missed the arms of his mother. She’d passed just after the incident with the horse. Cancer. Her fierce cough as he stared out at water that dreamed of sky. Memories of the skeletonized horse, miasmas rising like banshees off the scummy pond.

He was not there the night his mother died. He tried to speak up over the phone. He thinks of this too often. He gives it up now. He walks with a limp. Bob’s thoughtless, drunken friends laughing in the background. Time claimed her. It had its way, a new and malignant life being born inside her. His sister gave the eulogy inside the white church. When they buried her, Bob wailed out and no longer knew what he was doing. There were no manuals or books to figure this sort of grief. He had rented his suit at a shopping mall far away in the big city. He never returned it. His hands shook like leaves in neurotic gusts. Too many times. Death came, as it always would, as a surprise.

As Muriel drifted off to sleep, Bob rose and lit a cigarette. He thought of all the wasted time. He smiled, blowing smoke near her vacant face. Outside, the night had settled down and he got the Glock from the glove box. Stars shaken out from an infinite, black sheet, eleven o’clock. Wrapped in an oil cloth, it was sure to never misfire or jam. He went back into his apartment. He pointed it at Muriel’s face and waited. There was a sound and as he suddenly thought of the dead stallion, Bob’s life began again. Muriel was too pathetic to murder. She was dead to him already. You can’t kill death itself. You just can’t. Bob sat on the couch and, come morning, Muriel found him sleeping, the pistol on the coffee table. She picked up the phone and dialed 911. Her tone was bored and stiff as a corpse.

“He’s at it again. Yeah. Come and get him.”

Story based on the song "In the Hearts of Men" by First Aid Kit. Photo credit: Alyssa L. Miller / Foter / CC BY.

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Between the Lines: 'In the Hearts of Men'
Between the Lines: 'In the Hearts of Men'