Gwen loves the films and music of the 1920s and 1930s. But parts of history, she thinks, shouldn’t be repeated, hence the contents of her basement…
She’s Funny That Way
By Lydia Trethewey
Leaning against the basement door, Gwen slips off her good shoes and wriggles her toes against the threadbare carpet. She places each shoe neatly side by side, admiring for a moment how the pairing makes them somehow more alive, two friendly dogs or two toy soldiers. It seems a shame that for the last few months they’ve seen nothing beyond the merciless marches to and from job interviews.
Beyond the stuccoed walls the last birds herald the slipping twilight. A single rectangle of light ends its daily pilgrimage across the floor, a sundial for the ants that scurry across the skirting. With a sigh Gwen turns her key in the lock and swings the basement door open.
An acrid smell mingling with neglected damp rises from the bottom of the stairs. Gwen descends, thinking of moss and decay, bacteria and bodily alchemy. Her bare feet on the concrete steps seem to pick up the atmospheric decomposition.
At the bottom is the light switch; impractical maybe, but dramatic. She flicks it on.
Two shapeless masses sag motionless near the far wall, bound to wooden chairs. Electric light from the naked bulb highlights the tears in the men’s suits, looking like gashes in greying flesh. Only one of the men stirs. Gwen surmises that one or both have defecated in her absence.
“Having a nap are we?” she asks, kicking the waking man.
“Tut tut, idling when you should be working. Don’t you politicians know you can do anything if you just try harder? You could get yourself out of this if you stopped lazing around!”
He stares up through unfocused eyes.
Gwen turns to the unconscious man. This one’s head lolls uselessly against his chest, chestnut brown hair hanging over his eyes. Something about the meeting of his chin and sternum, the way his clothes hang loosely from his shoulders, puts her in mind of an abandoned ragdoll. It’s almost endearing.
She turns back to the first man, carefully avoiding the dried saliva around his mouth as she unties the gag.
“What do you want from me?” he whimpers
“Oh, me, me, me. Don’t you ever think of anyone but yourselves?”
“I can give you money…”
“Money normally makes all your problems go away, doesn’t it Mr Congressman?” Do you feel helpless without it?”
“Please, I have a wife, a new-born daughter…”
“And I bet you were thinking of them when you decided to come home with me, huh?”
The man begins to sob.
“Say, Mr Congressman, have you seen the film Un Chien Andalou? It’s a surrealist piece, from 1929.”
“Well then you’re in for a surprise.”
She smiles, drawing from her pocket a small plastic-handled kitchen knife.
“Of course, in the original they used a razor so it glided through smoothly, and it was a cow’s eye not a human eye. But you’ll appreciate the homage just the same, right?”
Gwen tilts his head backwards like a barber about to perform a shave. Snot and tears roll across his lips.
“I couldn’t afford a proper razor, not now. I guess I have you to thank for that. Funny how the world works isn’t it.”
The dull blade skids across the surface of the eyeball before finding purchase as she thrusts her arm forward. Viscera gushes readily onto the man’s cheek, splattering her hand. The congressman’s mouth forms a single unending shriek as she tears the knife sideways.
~ ~ ~
The bus groans petulantly as it rolls out from the towering buildings towards the leafy suburbs. Gwen’s eyes trace the skyline, imagining tiny figures leaping into the void. The stuttering flow of history, the rumbling echo of 1929 as it makes men and their buildings insubstantial. Part of her longs for the spectacle of falling bodies to endow the limp trauma of the GFC with the historicity of the Great Depression.
House 127 on Juniper Street sits comfortably beneath flourishing maples, atop a short rolling lawn. Its white façade is flushed orange in the setting sun.
Gwen steps smartly up the steps and stands with finger poised at the doorbell. She closes her eyes and floods herself with memories: the morning she came to the office and everyone was sent home again; her mother whittled away into a white skeleton; the expressionless staff at the hospital the day she could no longer afford treatment. Hot tears fill her eyes. She pushes the bell.
A disgruntled looking man opens the door.
“Please sir,” she says in a rush “my car broke down. Nobody else is answering the door, I’m stuck here. Can I please use your phone?”
He looks wary.
“Alright. Be quick.”
The kitchen is spacious, stainless steel and glass. Even the phone shines of some expensive material.
Gwen waits, but the man stands watching her. Tentatively she presses some buttons. Her eyes brush the Japanese knife set on the marble countertop.
At that moment a loud buzzing sounds from her pocket. The muffle voice of Gene Austin singing She’s Funny That Way, hit of 1929, with the unmistakable tinniness of a ring-tone.
The man’s brow furrows, he steps backwards.
Gwen already has one of the knives in hand. Light, perfectly balanced, sharp enough to get to the bone; only the best for the man who has everything.
She advances. The man’s eyes widen.
I got a woman crazy for me
She’s funny that way