Episode 012 - The Warping
Jack Murphy carried a great anger. Over time that great anger carried him.
He didn't rage at injustice or some perceived slight. He couldn't say where the anger came from. The anger just...came.
Jack was not a bright man. Nor was he a gentle man. He'd lived rough and tumble since childhood. Dropped out of school in the fifth grade. Worked as a bar-back until he grew old enough to join the navy. He had the fortune to not see combat during his duty, outside of the occasional barfight. When he got out he met a girl and almost immediately knocked her up. As a Catholic, he did the right thing and married her immediately.
Today he sat at the bar on Heatherhill Avenue, just outside the Blessed Virgin hospital in Cooperton while his wife, Patty gave birth to their child. As he sipped his bottle of Bud and crushed cigarette after cigarette a man sat beside him.
The man looked...European. His oddly long nose and face flush with redness gave him an almost comical appearance. He wore a crimson suit with a checkered pocket handkerchief.
Oh great. Thought Jack to himself. On top of everything I got a queer hitting on me.
The man spoke up, “My friend.” He said in an accent Jack could not place, “You are a military man, no?”
“Listen, fella. Whatever you’re selling, I ain’t interested.”
“No, my good sir. I am selling nothing. I am merely here to chat. Tell me...do you regret it, your part in the war?”
“I didn’t fight in the war. They kept me docked in Rota most of the time.”
“You are lucky then.”
“I guess.” said Jack, sucking on his beer.
“So what is it you regret, then? Surely you are not here in the middle of the day for a celebration.”
“I guess I wish she wouldn’t have killed the rabbit, if you know what I mean.”
“I see. Your...wife...she is...expecting?”
“Yup. That’s why I’m here. Hell. That’s why I’m even married in the first place. I’m just sitting here waiting for the hospital to call down and tell me when the kid is born”.
“If only you could turn back time, eh?” said the strange man.
“If only. Hell, all I wanted was one night. Had no idea I’d be promising to be with someone for the rest of my life.” Jack said.
“What if I told you I could take it back?”
“If you could make it so this bundle of joy is never delivered, you could live your life as you wish. No need to feel constrained to this story. You can write your own,”
“I ain’t no author.”
“No need to be.” the man said, “Just say the word and you can be free of this burden. All I ask for in return is a bit of your time.” The man offered his hand.
“Sure thing, mister.” said Jack, reaching to shake the offered hand. “Whatever you say.”
As soon as they shook hands the phone rang. The bartender answered and after a brief interaction handed the receiver to Jack.
“Mister Murphy?” came the voice from the other end.
“Yeah. This is me.”
“I’m sorry to tell you this, but the baby didn’t make it. Still-birth.”
“What the fuck?” Jack spat into the phone, “This is how you break it to me?”
“Is something the matter sir?” asked the man.
Jack turned on the man, dropping the receiver on the bar.
“You!” he growled.
“You did this. You made it happen. You killed my baby!”
“Hey, buddy, calm down.” said the bartender. “That guy was sittin’ here with us the whole time. He didn’t do nothin’.”
Enraged, Jack grasped the receiver and flung it at the bartender, cracking him hard on the temple.
“Shut the fuck up! My baby is dead and this queer faggot is to blame!”
“Son of a bitch.” said the bartender, his hand pressing against a bleeding gash on the side of his head. “Donny!” he shouted to a large man seated by the door, “Throw this bum out of here!”
The big guy got up slowly and galumphed up, behind Jack, placing a hand on his shoulder. “C’mon, buddy. You’ve had enough.”
Jack swung his elbow back, bashing the bouncer across the nose.
“Motherfucker.” snarled Donny, losing his grip on Jack’s shoulder.
“Fix it!” shouted Jack. “Make it ok. You did this. Bring back my kid.”
“I’m sorry, sir.” said the red-faced man. “A deal is a deal. I took away your little problem and you in turn must now give me some of your time.”
Donny tried to stop the swing, but the ponderous oaf couldn’t match Jack’s speed as he drove his meaty fist into the stranger's face.
“Take it back! Give me back my baby!”
The weird man laughed as blood poured out of his comically long nose, painting the lower half of his face in crimson. Jack punched him again, square in the eye, blacking and bloodying it.
Donny finally got a hold of Jack and wrapped his bulk around him.
Still Jack struggled and cried, “The deal’s off! Undo it! Fix my baby!”
“You do not listen very well.” said the strange man as he produced a small knife, “Perhaps I must open your ear.” Swifter than anyone could react, the man sliced Jack’s right ear clean off.
Jack Murphy reached to feel the gap where his ear had been, but somehow everything was fine. His ear was right where it should be, but the red-faced man was gone. Donny too. The whole bar was gone, in fact. Jack stood at the top of a flight of stairs. The basement stairs to his childhood home.
“What the fuck?” he said, but the voice coming from his mouth was that of a child.
“Jackie? Is that you? C’mon. Don’t be a pussy.” came a voice from the basement. His father’s voice.
Little Jackie crept down the stairs into the basement. His dad crouched over a cardboard box.
The puppies, thought Jack, this is the day that Queenie birthed her puppies.
“Can I see ‘em?” Jack asked.
“Yeah, come pick one.”
Something bad is about to happen, Jack’s brain told him, but he couldn’t remember what.
Six tiny beagle pups squirmed and wriggled against their mother, jockeying for a spot to drink her milk. One in particular caught Jackie’s eye. She was almost pure white, with just one bean-shaped black patch on her back and floppy black ears. She looked exactly like the dog from a comic strip Jackie had read and he fell instantly in love.
“That one!” said little Jackie.
“Alright!” said his dad, “What are you going to name ‘er?”
“Daisy! ‘Cause she’s cute and little. Like a flower.”
“Well, ok then.” dad said as he scooped up the rest of the pups and tossed them into an old satchel.
“What are you doing?”
“Taking them down to the creek. I asked around. Nobody we know wants another dog and ain’t no way we can keep ‘em all.”
“What will they do at the creek?”
“They’ll drown, son. What the hell do you think? God, sometimes you are stupid, boy.”
“No! NO!” cried Jackie. Grasping for the bag.
His dad knocked him down on the hard floor. “Don’t be such a pussy. This is the way the world is.”
“But, my baby!” shouted Jackie.
“They’re not babies. They’re just little mutts. No one will miss them.”
“My baby is dead!” shouted Jackie, grabbing the cuff of his dad’s trousers.
“What the hell is wrong with you boy?” said dad, as he kicked Jackie off of him, knocking out a bloody tooth onto the cement.
Jack clasped his hand to his mouth as if to keep the tooth from escaping. But it was gone. Most of his teeth were gone. They’d fallen out due to years of smoking, drinking, and fighting. His beer-belly had grown immense and all that remained of his hair was a pathetic comb-over.
He sat on the front stoop of his house on Cooperton Avenue with a bottle of beer by his side while his ten-year-old son Jonathan pushed tiny Marie up and down the sidewalk, on a big-wheel.
“What happened to your ear?” asked a small voice from behind him. His five-year-old, Christopher sat on the landing, poking at Jack’s scar.
“It got cut off...in the war.”
“In the war?” asked the boy, incredulously.
“Yeah. A bad guy cut it off with his sword.” Jack said, waving his hand like a scimitar.
“Cut it OFF?!”
“The doctor sewed it back on. That’s how I got the scar.”
Christopher did not question why his father engaged in sword fights in the 20th century. As far as he knew, that was how wars were fought.
Patty stepped out onto the stoop beside Christopher.
“Are you making up stories about the war again? Your father didn’t fight in a war. He lost his ear in a bar brawl.”
Jack hated when Patty would try to belittle him like this,.
“You know what?” he started, but the sudden sharp sound of Marie crying cut him off.
“Marie!” shouted Patty as she ran toward the girl, knocking over Jack’s beer.
“Stupid bitch, watch where you’re going!” he said at her before looking up at Marie.
She’d fallen off her big wheel, crashing her head onto the sidewalk. Bright rivulets of blood ran through her blond hair like grisly ribbons.
By the time Jack ran to his daughter Patty had already swept the toddler into her arms.
“We need to get her to the hospital.” Patty cried. “She’s bleeding bad.”
Jack threw open the passenger door of his car to let them in then dashed to the driver’s side.
“Take your brother inside and wait for us to get home!” Patty called out to Jonathan.
As they sped off toward the Blessed Virgin hospital Jack looked at his bleeding daughter, cradled in her mother’s arms. The cut didn’t actually seem so bad. He’d heard once that head wounds bleed more than average because of all the veins or whatever. Patty was just overreacting as usual.
“Are you sure we need to go to the hospital?” he asked her over the sounds of Maries wails and cries. “Maybe she just needs to get cleaned up...and a bandaid.”
“Are you fucking kidding me, you fucking dipshit? You were supposed to watch them. That means make sure the kids are safe. Not watch them get hurt!”
“Why the fuck are you yelling at me? You stupid bitch.” he hissed as he careened down the highway toward the hospital. “You’re her mother. You should be-”
“Just keep your eyes on the road!” she spat back at him.
Enraged, Jack swung the back of his hand at his wife, cracking her across the cheek. He must have cut her with the band of his wristwatch because he felt a tiny spray of blood splash onto him.
Jack was still in the driver’s seat of the car with Patty next to him. There was no mark on her cheek. It was as if he’d never hit her. Marie was nowhere to be seen.
“Drive faster, dammit!” Patty screeched at him.
Her belly bulged like a globe.
“You’re pregnant!” gasped Jack.
“No shit, Sherlock! Get me to the hospital. My frigging water broke.”
“Mother Mary and Joseph, the hospital is on Heatherhill Avenue! Don’t you remember last time when you were getting drunk and picking fights? There’s a big statue of the Blessed goddamn Mother on the roof. Can’t miss it!”
Jack pulled up to Blessed Virgin Hospital. An orderly was already at the door waiting to help Patty into a wheelchair.
As she entered the building Jack turned toward the bar next door.
“Oh no! Not this time. I’m keeping this one! You sit in the frigging lobby this time around, mister!”
“I still gotta park the frigging car!” he shouted back at her.
Jack pulled the car to the lot near the emergency room entrance and sat there for a second.
What the fuck is going on? He asked himself. My head is spinning so fast. I don’t know where I am. I don’t know when from what.
The bar. That’s where he met that weird European guy. The one who started all this. He had to go back and find him. Make him fix it. Jack was going to be a father. He’d be a good dad. Not like his dad was. He’d let the kids have as many god damn puppies as they want. He wouldn’t hit them. God, he promised.
Storming in, Jack saw the bartender at his station.
“Where is he?” Jack snarled.
“What? Buddy. Where’s who? We just opened. I ain’t had any customers yet.”
“That little French faggot who was just in here. He cut my ear off!”
“What? Oh...wait a minute. I remember you. You was here...what...three years ago? You started a fight with that dago in the red suit.”
“Dago? Is that what he was? Fucking Italians. I shoulda knew it. Well, where did he go?”
“Mister. That was three years ago. He’s long gone. Who knows? You was passed out on the floor. They took you next door on a stretcher.”
“Three years? No. I was just in here. And I was on the stoop drinking a beer in ‘77. And I was a little...Daisy...what the fuck is going on?”
“Mister, are you ok? I mean, did somebody hit you in the head? You think youse a little daisy? I had a cousint once who thought he was the Queen of Scotland. They gave him his own rubber room.”
“I ain’t no looney!” shouted Jack. “I ain’t. That Italian son of a bitch did something to me. He stole my baby. He messed up my...my story. He got my whole life flashing before my eyes, but he fucked up the order.”
“Well, I’m real sorry to hear that, buddy. But your dago friend ain’t here no more. He high-tailed it before the medics showed up. I didn’t even see him leave. Got outta here in no time.”
“Wait a minute...time...that’s what he said. He just wanted some of my time. That faggot stole my fuckin’ time.”
“Ok buddy. I’m gonna have to ask you to leave. The guy you’re looking for ain’t here.”
“Oh yes I am.” came a voice from a corner of the bar. There stood the strange European man with the big nose, ruddy face, and dark red suit. “Are you here to exact your vengeance upon me?”
Jack approached the man. “You son of a bitch. You fucked up my whole life. I don’t know what you did, but you better fix it now.”
“Sir.” said the man, “I did no such thing. I merely untethered you. I told you that you are now the author of your own story. Whatever occurs beyond that is your choice, not mine.”
“You don’t make no sense. I’m just an honest guy trying to get by here. One minute I’m a kid. The next I’m old and bald.”
“Old and bald? In 1977? My sir, in 1977 you are 34 years old.”
“That don’t make no nevermind. You knocked my whole life outta whack. It’s like every time I turn around I end up in the wrong place.”
“You end in up a different place, not a wrong one. All of the places you go. All the times you find yourself. They are all times and places of your making. They are all connected.”
“I don’t need a sermon, mister. I just want my life back.”
“My friend. This is your life. This is what you choose. Every memory. Every hinging point in YOUR story is punctuated by your outbursts. Your rage. Your violence.”
“Don’t make me hurt you.”
“Enough with the violence.” shouted the bartender. “This is my establishment. I won’t be having any more fights here.”
“Keep outta this.” said Jack. “It’s between me and mister...”
“Chino. Alec Chino.”
“Alex Keno over here and me. We ain’t finished. He’s gonna give me back what he took.”
“Sir. I cannot return what you have lost any more than you can get back the puppies your father drowned, or take back the bruises and scrapes you’ve inflicted on your loving wife.”
“You lying son of a bitch! I don’t hit my wife!”
“No. Not yet. But you do in the future. You’ve seen it. And it gets worse.”
Jack lunged at the man called Alec Chino who deftly dodged the clumsy assault. Jack fell to his knees.
“Sir. I’m afraid you are just not ever going to learn. Perhaps the next generation of Murphy’s will be a bit more in control of their rage. I doubt it, though. These things are quite cyclical.”
Jack stood up and stepped forward to take another swing at the man in the red suit, but stopped when he heard the click of a revolver behind him.
“I said there won’t be no fighting in my bar and I meant it. Get the hell out of here, both of you.”
Jack spun around quick. The bartender was a little guy and that gun was heavy. A dash to the head from Jack’s hefty fist was all it took to make him drop it. In an instant Jack found himself On top of the guy, with the barrel of the gun in the bartender's mouth.
Jack held her down on the bed. The gun in her mouth. She would shut up this time. Shut up for good. He couldn’t take it any more. It used to be that women respected men. Wives respected their husbands. What went wrong with the world? Everything was fucked up now. Women wanted to take everything from men. Now women could just leave their husband for whatever spic or greaser came along and sweet talked her? No way. Not on Jack’s watch.
“Mommy no!” cried Christopher. He was eleven years old and crying like a goddamn baby.
“Shut up you little pussy. All you do is fucking cry.” bellowed Jack at his son. “You think that will help? Crying like a little bitch?”
Patty looked at him, eyes wide with abject fear. Her mascara smeared from tears streaming down her face.
Stupid bitch. He thought. I’m not going to shoot her. That’s ridiculous. I just need to show her who’s boss around here. Now she’s got the little fairy crying too.
Jack pulled the gun out of her mouth for a moment and held it up to the sky. No one ever listened to him. He was just going to fire it at the ceiling like they do in the movies. That would make a big noise and get their attention so they would all stop crying and shouting and let a man speak for once.
He hadn’t pulled the trigger. Not yet. The crack wasn’t the gun. He felt a sharp pain on top of his skull. A red trickle ran down his forehead and into his eyes as he fell over. The last thing Jack saw before passing out was his teenage son Jonathan standing over him with a baseball bat in his hand. Aluminum.
Aluminum bats are for pussies, thought Jack before the world went black.
Jack opened his eyes to the stark light of a hospital room. In walked Marie.
“Are they coming?” he asked her. Marie had been his only contact with Jonathan and Christopher for many years. His sons had abandoned him just like their mother did all those ages ago. Marie was the only one who ever stood by Jack.
“I think they’re on their way, but traffic is really bad.” she told him. She knew they weren’t coming, but what could she say?
“That’s good.” said Jack. “I was a good dad to you, right? I always put food on the table. I never let you go to bed hungry. I took you to the hospital that time you split your head open. I was good, right?”
“Yeah dad. You were good.You did your best.” said Marie as the light faded out of his eyes.