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A mystery story turned upside down, the killer tells you in the opening pages that he has killed, and then recounts his tale, teasing with potential victims, all people who love and befriend him.
Autobiography of a Worm
might be sniggering behind her at her lies.
The waiter arrived with the bottle of Barolo and opened it. As he
filled our glasses, Brad and Franny showed up. Brad walked in first,
Franny a few steps behind him. Susan snapped to her feet and couldn’t
take her eyes off Franny, the rival she met for the first time.
“Oh, hello. I’m Franny,” Franny said to Susan with a spastic
handshake. Franny was pretty, but a little mannish in her manner with
other women. Her voice often became loud, and she talked compulsively
long after you stopped listening to her.
Susan smiled at Franny and said, “I’m pleased to meet you. I’m
Franny then turned to me. “Ronnie, she’s so beautiful.”
I nodded that she was. A hollow silence followed as Susan fixed on
me for an opening comment. I had none. The hypocrisy felt thick and
suffocating. I filled the silence anyway. “Susan, this is Brad, a friend of
mine,” I said, trying to sound cordial. Susan acknowledged Brad, but he
couldn’t look his ex-girlfriend in the eye. “And his wife, Franny,” I
added. Both women giggled nervously that they’d already introduced
Brad sat next to me to my right directly across from Susan, so he
wouldn’t be next to her, leaving Franny to squeeze awkwardly behind
him to the seat to Susan’s left and directly across from me. As everyone
settled into their safest corners, I spoke again, “Susan works for a
“I’m the admissions manager,” Susan clarified. “They call it ‘Intake.’”
We all found our way into the menu, with a few muttered comments
about how good the food was reputed to be at Generio’s. Around the
table, a stodgy politeness buttoned us all up as we discussed some of the
options. Except for Franny. She’d come for a good time, and she was
going to have it, even if it meant creating it herself. Susan started it off.
She mentioned her biggest screw-up at the hospital. She once had a
headache at work at the hospital and sneaked off to one of the empty
bedrooms to close her eyes for a few minutes only to fall asleep for two
hours. During that time, a line up of people tried to enter and leave the
hospital, but couldn’t.
Franny picked up the cue from there. “Do you have any idea what he
does to get to sleep?” Franny asked, referring to her husband. Within
minutes, Franny was amusing Susan with characterizations of Brad.
Brad still couldn’t bring himself to face Susan, so he aimed all his
reactions at me. I ignored him while I pretended to follow Franny’s
every funny word. Brad watched me alone throughout, in the hopes I
would try to change the subject. One who didn’t know the situation
might have thought Brad’s behavior toward Susan to be rude.
At one point, Brad looked at me and said,. “Churchill, the office line
is that you’ve retired…nobody knows where you are. They call me. I tell
them you’re doing research…they say, on what? I say, pussy. What
I ignored the crack, and the women’s cackling just nosed Brad out.
“First, there’s the snack.” Franny chided about Brad’s attempts to fall
asleep. “Someone told him he’d sleep better after having a peanut butter
sandwich and some milk. So every night...that’s right, every night, out
comes the peanut butter and the bread. Then comes the sleeping pill.
Then... then...he gets into this old sweatshirt with the number 13 on it.
Has to be this sweatshirt! Nothing else will do.”
Susan goaded Franny on for more with her ready laughs at every
revelation. “It’s his Dan Marino sweatshirt and the only thing he can
sleep in.” The women’s laughter blustered like crosswinds. “That’s every
night! And he won’t let me wash it, except maybe once a month. It’ll get
Susan now wanted to hug Brad for providing the table with such
great entertainment. Brad maintained his remoteness and had now
turned his focus on his wine. Franny continued. “Then...then, he turns on
the stereo and we listen to...what’s it called...Sounds of Nature. You
know, birds singing, crickets, a river current...stuff like that. Now,
remember, I’m already in bed. Probably asleep. Until I smell the peanut
butter!” Susan laughed uncontrollably. She met only embarrassed shrugs
when she turned to Brad for confirmation.
“All right. Ha, ha.” Brad looked for a little sympathy. There was
“Wait, we’re not done yet,” Franny insisted. “Then he gets into bed,
and he has to have two pillows, but they have to be set just right. One
pillow has to be folded in half on top of the other pillow for his head to
be at just the right angle, because he read somewhere that that will create
the right position for his vertebrae!”
Susan reeled with laughter.
“I’m up now,” Franny continued. “I can feel him tossing around to
get the right pillow combination.”
“The blindfold, right?” Brad tried to sabotage his wife’s monologue
by jumping ahead, but it failed.
Franny went on. “Wait! There’s more. He puts on a blindfold!”
This is a compelling story about a man suffering from depression and repressed rage, leading him to a strange and psychotic climax.
The following week, late in November, Susan called me at work. She
asked me to come and pick her up at Phoenixville Hospital for a short
“lunch” at her place. We drove to her place in about ten minutes. I felt
curious about the occasion. Susan stripped off her blue suit jacket in a
hurry and dragged me into her bedroom. I still hadn’t spoken. She tried
to rush, but I slowed her down. I decided I wanted to unbutton every
button slowly, remove every garment patiently and indulgently,
something I’d missed doing over the last two weeks. Susan’s eyes
remained wide while she kissed me everywhere. My body remembered
each kiss for a long time.
Susan finally opened her eyes and rolled her head my way,
interrupting my serenity. “Do you ever wonder what it’s like for a
woman?” she asked me. “You know, when we make love?”
I could’ve made up an answer that she would have liked. But lovemaking
made me stubbornly honest. “No,” I said.
“Men...you’re so self-centered. You have no curiosity about what it’s
like to be a woman? What we experience. What we feel. Women are
always wondering about men and what you feel.”
I didn’t reply. I was comparing Susan to Allison.
“Do you want to know what it’s like?” she asked me again.
I came wearily to a sitting position on the side of the bed cradling my
head in my hands. Susan crawled up behind me and began stroking my
back teasingly with her finger tips.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“What’s this ‘afternoon delight’ all about?” I wondered where Brad
Shorter was in her thoughts? Was he a filmy memory she shrugged off
and forgot? Or had he burrowed so deep into her soul that she never
forgot him? The answer to all I wondered about crashed in on me with
Susan’s next remark.
“You’re never going to guess what!”
I could and did. I knew what she was going to say before she said it. I
sensed it from the moment I saw her. Susan continued, “Brad made
reservations for us to go out, the four of us! Genario’s.” She scrutinized
my face for honesty. “Well?” she probed.
“I’ll go. I said I’d go,” I said. I wasn’t pleasant about it.
“We don’t have to go,” she insisted, dishonestly.
“Yes, we do,” I said. “Or he’ll badger you until you do.”
“I think he’s afraid to ask you.”
“Maybe,” I said. I knew that wasn’t the reason he didn’t ask me. Brad
Brad wanted to see what kind of reaction he’d get from Susan. That was it,
plain and simple. He was investigating whether she still wanted to see
him. For me, I just wanted to get Brad’s crazy idea of a date behind us. It
also gave me a sense of how attached Susan was to Brad now that I was
in her life. I liked Susan enough to let her make this gradual withdrawal,
because she was good for me. She made me feel good about myself and
good about us. This would definitely be the only time I’d agree to a
double date with Brad and Franny.
I arrived at Susan’s early and she let me watch her dress. I don’t
know what she’d done to her face, but she looked special and new. She
wore a tight-fitting, peach-fuzz Kashmir sweater, large circular gold
earrings an inch and half in diameter with a tiny, veil-dancing Erto
figurine pirouetting along the inside perimeter. Her hair too was newly
shaped, layered and short. She also wore a pair of high-sheen leather
pants and exquisite peach suede shoes. All special. The theme for the
evening, ‘I’m special. Don’t dare forget me.’ I was pissed off already.
During the time it took to drive to the restaurant, a small Italian place
featuring northern Italian food, Susan tried to joke about the evening,
but I wasn’t in the mood. I felt Susan tamping down her nervous
excitement, and I wanted to ask her to shut up or take a pill or
something, because she was too happy. When we arrived at the
restaurant, she sat down adjacent to me at the table selected for us by the
restaurant owner. Brad and Franny hadn’t arrived yet. A violinist
strolled among the tables of the small, elegant restaurant, playing Italian
arias and smiling a gentle, earthy smile that made the playing all the
more seductive. Susan couldn’t wait to request a bottle of wine. She
ordered a Barolo, even before I looked at the wine list. The waiter hardly
noticed me from that moment on because he figured the lady was the
boss, and I deserved only an off-handed obsequious smile.
I stared at Susan until she became uncomfortable enough to speak her
first words to me since we arrived. “You don’t mind the Barolo, do
you?” I shook my head, she smiled at me. “It’s just another night out,”
she said. “Let’s just enjoy it.”
I nodded. Susan continued with her feigned disbelief. “Brad, I don’t
know where he gets these ideas. Double dating with his old girlfriend!”
Susan let a napkin settle onto her lap. She became more and more
nervous in anticipation, looking about skittishly as though strangers