The Hermetre Affair by Katarina Boudreaux

“I guess you are both wondering why you’re here.”

Matthew pushes record on his phone’s camera.  He looks at his audience and smiles.  “I won’t lie and tell you that it’s simple.  This may take some time.  Ten minutes, actually, give or take.  I’ve mapped the route, and I have that much storage left on my phone.  So this is happening, finally, tonight.  I”m sorry for the shock of this intrusion.”

Matthew looks around the living room.  “And can I just say that this place is incredible.  A real home.  Pictures of your son, little trinkets from vacations.  Time shared together.  You must be proud of yourselves.  I’m proud of you.  The perfect family, the perfect home.” He caresses the coffee table.  “I wanted to be sure this was the right place.  I’ve watched for weeks, waited.  And it is.  A home, I mean.” He claps his hands and then shrugs his shoulders.  “I don’t even remember my childhood home.  It was there, but I don’t remember it.  It’s like every memory I’ve ever had has been ripped from the back of my skull.”

The woman makes a distressed noise, and Matthew looks at her.  “Don’t be sad.  It was supposed to be that way.  If I remembered it, then I’d miss it.  I don’t miss it.  I miss what it could have been, but not what it was.”

Matthew leans back on the sofa.  “Nice sofa.  It really cradles the body.  I had a girl once who was like this sofa.  She left me, like all the others.  I have this way of sucking the air out from around people.” The grandfather clock chimes, and Matthew looks at it.  “Looks like a coffin, sounds like life itself waiting to be recognized.  Did I tell you I was a poet?”

The man shakes his head no.

“Well, I am,” Matthew says.  “I write down all of the thoughts creeping around in my head.  Most of them are pretty dark, pretty dark.  But they’re truth.  Like about the girl.  She lied to me, lied to everyone.  And the only way I could make her pay was with my words.  I’m Catholic, you see.” He waits, but nothing happens.  “I thought maybe I’d be struck down for saying that.  But I am.  I’m a believer, don’t think otherwise.  That’s why I’m here.”

The woman whimpers, and Matthew waves his hand.  “Father Beau explained it all to me.  So you don’t have to worry.  The Lord eschews violence.  I’m sure of it.” 

The doorbell rings, and Matthew looks at the woman, then the man.  “Did you order pizza?  Take out?” The man shakes his head no. “Well then, I’ll ignore it,” Matthew says.  “My story is what we’re here for.” Matthew stops a moment and repositions the camera.  He puts his hand to his head, then smiles ruefully.  “And I don’t have one.  A poet, a person, and I don’t have a story to tell.”

The doorbell rings again, and Matthew puts his hands over his ears.  “All I wanted to do was work with horses.  I wanted to write and work with horses.  And I tried, I applied, and when I thought all hope was lost, I got my dream job.”

Matthew laughs.  “And the girl.  The girl came with the job.  It wasn’t part of the job description, she was just there when I arrived.  And she was beautiful.  Like an untouched bowl of cream.” Matthew wipes his eyes then looks into the camera.  “But even cream turns sour.  Very sour.”

Matthew balls his fists and punches the air.  “I tried to take her down.  Her lies, the little fabrications.  I didn’t see them until it was too late, and I wanted to tell everyone dear to her exactly what she was.  I wanted to hurt her with words, strip her life bare.  But she slipped through my fingers.  Cream always does.”

A scraping sound comes from the kitchen, and Matthew turns his head.  “Oh, another member of the family.  I’ll be right back.” Matthew walks around the sofa to the kitchen and stops in front of the back door.  He slides the piece of plastic covering the pet door up.  “Is this your home?” An orange cat runs through the opening and into the living room.  Matthew carefully replaces the plastic and returns to the sofa.  “It’s good that you bring the cat in at night.  There are many predators that could hurt him.  It’s a him, correct?  All orange cats are male, if I remember correctly.” He looks at the man.  “I thought so.  It’s good to have a pet.  I never had a pet growing up.  But at the horse farm, I had thirty.”

Matthew leans back on the sofa.  “I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy.  I woke up early, cleaned stalls and fed horses.  I ate.  I trained horses, brushed horses.  I ate.  I held hands with a beautiful woman and tasted her lips between mine.”

The woman slides off the chair. 

“I know,” Matthew says.  “It’s too much to take.  All that sweetness…and now gone.  The farm was collateral damage.  Nasty divorce, and the property went to market.  So did the animals.” Matthew stands and picks up the woman.  He places her back on the seat.  The man struggles, but Matthew shakes his head.  “I’m not going to hurt her.  I told you, I’m Catholic.  A real believer.”

The woman leans against the back of the chair and Matthew nods.  “I think we all went to market.  Everyone of us lost something when that farm sold.  They’re developing it.  Rows of little houses instead of open fields.” Matthew pats the man’s shoulder.  “The American Dream.  That’s what they tell us.  Except I only had my dream for six months.  And I wanted more.”

The cat jumps onto the sofa, and Matthew smiles.  He returns to the sofa and sits next to the cat.  The cat studies him, and Matthew studies the cat.  “I’ve always liked cats.  And I believe this one is hungry.” Matthew stands up and goes to the kitchen.  He looks at the rows of cabinets, then at the cat food bowl.  “Maybe this one?” He opens the cabinet directly over the cat food bowl, and smiles.  “Bingo.  Or should I say jackpot?”  He holds up a can of cat food and taps the side of it.  The cat jumps from the sofa and walks to his food bowl. “Shall it be ocean tuna or chicken?” Matthew asks.  “Both are available.” The cat puts one paw up in the air and waits patiently.

“Ocean tuna, then,” Matthew says.  “I never liked chicken.”  He opens the can and dumps the content into the bowl.  The cat starts to eat, and Matthew watches him for a moment.

“If we could all be like this,” Matthew says.  “Simple.  There is a home, there is food, there is love.  It’s a beautiful existence, really.” Matthew walks to the garbage can and disposes of the can.  He returns to the sofa and faces the man and woman. 

“So here I am,” Matthew says.  “I am envious of your cat.  I am envious of you.  But I don’t want what you have anymore.  I just want out.” Strange patterns of light move across the ceiling.  “Ah, they’re here.  Really quick response this time.” Matthew walks to the window and looks out.  “Only two responders.  They must not know that I have you in here.  They may think that you are out of town and the alarm went off.  But it will work.”

He walks back to the sofa and sits down.  “I only have a few moments left.  To summarize my story, I’m just not fully formed.  I feel like somehow, God did not finish with me before he let me loose in the world.  And since I can’t remove myself from it as a Catholic, I am forced to take other actions.”

He looks at the man and woman.  “I wish you had been my parents.  It might have been different.  Maybe.  Maybe not.”  Matthew picks up the camera and looks straight into the lens.  “I have no one to leave a note for, no one to say good-bye to.  But at least there is a record of this body.” He turns the camera off and puts it on the table.  “You are my record.  And that.  I’m not posting anything maudlin on social media.  That’s not my way.”

The lady is crying and Matthew is moved.  “Thank you.  I appreciate you.  You have both been avid listeners.  Too many people listen to talk.  But, you can’t talk, can you?  Maybe we should all be gagged.  It would make conversation more tolerable.” Matthew stands and shrugs his shoulders.  “Thank you for the use of your living room.  Take care of your cat.  And your son.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a toy gun.  “This is what will get them to do it for me.  $4.99 from the local dollar store.  Made in China.” Matthew walks to the front door and opens it.  “I have hostages!” he cries and wildly brandishes the toy gun.

The woman leans forward and the man closes his eyes.  The cat tries to run out of the cat door when the shots come, but the plastic covering prevents his escape.

# # #

Katarina Boudreaux is a writer, musician, composer, tango dancer, and teacher — a shaper of word, sound, and mind. She returned to New Orleans after circuitous journeying. Her chapbook “Anatomy Lessons” is available from Flutter Press. Her play “Awake at 4:30” is a finalist in the 2016 Tennessee Williams Festival. Read more about Katrina here:

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