By Chris Rhatigan
“I am no longer talking to other people.”
“What do you mean by ‘other people’? People who are not me?”
“No. You are included in ‘other people.’ You are not me. Therefore, you are ‘other people.’”
“But you are talking to me right now.”
“Yes, but soon I will not be.”
“So you are taking ‘a vow of silence.’”
“You could call it that.”
I walk away. I am a person of my word. This is something other people need to know about me. If I give my word, I do not go back on it. Unless I have a good reason to. Or I feel like it. Then I go back on my word very quickly.
I go to my job. One of the requirements of the job is to wear a uniform. The uniform is uncomfortable, although I am not sure why. It is not itchy. It is not green or red or even black. It fits me well. It is not orange, yet it is uncomfortable. I cannot stop moving when I am in the uniform. I always need to have at least one part of my body in motion.
I speak with no one at work. The customers do not speak to me either. We have an understanding, the customers and I. Our understanding is that I do not speak. In exchange, they will not comment on my constant movement. So far, this is going well.
My co-workers are on board for not talking, too. They do not know it, but they comply nicely. This guy, Sucker, used to nod at me once in a while, but then he stopped doing that. This is better.
My boss is not on board with not talking.
She says things to me, such as, “Why are you sitting in a dark corner reading the back of a bag of sugar?”
She also says, “I picked your name out of a hat. Then I vomited.”
And, “You are fired. Please remove your painfully uncomfortable uniform and get the fuck out of here.”
I decide to break my vow due to emergency circumstances. “Can I collect my last pay check?”
“No. It will be mailed to you in approximately 7-10 weeks.”
“I would like to say that it does not matter that I am being fired by a woman, that this would be the same if you were a man, but, clearly, it does matter and it would be different if you were a man.”
“I am going to keep the uniform. No one else is allowed to wear this uniform.”
I wonder if the picking a name out of a hat thing and the me being fired thing are related, but I do not ask her about this.
It is sunny and warm outside. I decide to walk home. Although I do not have any choice.
I see some people, but no one tries to talk to me. This is because I have a look on my face that says, “Do not try to talk to me. I have taken a ‘vow of silence.’ I have recently broken this vow, but now I am enforcing it again. It is not that I do not want to talk to you. You may have very interesting and important things to say. Nonetheless, this is something that we will both have to live with.”
On the way, I am distracted by a public execution. The execution is in a small park. I did not know this park hosted executions, but there are thousands of decapitated heads on the ground. All of the eyes stare at me, none of the mouths talk to me.
I recognize the executioner. His name is Question Mark.
The executee is a midget or a child. Either way, the little person smokes a cigar and surveys the carnage.
“So many heads, so little time, eh Question Mark?” He jabs Question Mark in the thigh with his elbow. They both laugh for a long time. Question Mark really gets into it, doubles over and guffaws like a peasant. Then the crowd starts laughing, too, and all the heads join in, and I feel a great deal of pressure to laugh along with everyone else, it would be so obvious if I didn’t, but I know that if I try to force a laugh, it will come out all wrong, like a high-pitched squeal, and then everyone will abruptly stop laughing, and I will need to come up with a reason for why my laugh was so weird—meaning that I would have to break my vow of silence again.
Instead, I shift my weight from one foot to the other, then back again. This uniform is fucking killing me, but I have no other choice. They should just get this execution over with so that everyone can go home. I am going to write my congressperson about this ineffective public administration. What do we pay taxes for?
I am being serious. I want to know.
Question Mark wipes the tears away from his face and slaps the little person on the back. He takes out what appears to be a long strand of dental floss, wraps it twice around the little person’s neck, and yanks on both ends. The head disengages from the neck and pops straight up into the air, like a champagne cork. Blood squirts out of the neck hole. The crowd hoots and hollers, but it seems they are doing it because someone expects them to.
The little person’s head lands on top of a clump of other heads, little person eyes staring at me. I wonder where that cigar went.
Back home, I find ten dollars under the sofa and order a pizza.
The delivery guy and I have a routine that limits our contact with each other. I slide the money under the door; he slides the pizza under the door.
Maybe we do not have a routine. I never see him, so it is possible that there is a different delivery guy every time who figures out the routine on his own. That would be something.
I eat the pizza in silence. At first, I do nothing while I eat the pizza.
Then I do nothing.
Chris Rhatigan is the editor of the crime fiction zine All Due Respect and the co-editor of the anthologies Pulp Ink and Pulp Ink 2. His work has been published in Needle, Beat to a Pulp, Pulp Modern, and elsewhere.He blogs about short fiction and eBooks at Death by Killing