“Avoid people at all costs.” – Zen koan
By the time he’d reached the produce vending machine, Mr. Belle was already mentally revising the sternly worded letter he planned to write as soon as he got home. Assuming he ever made it home. It was an appealing eventuality that was becoming increasingly unlikely, he thought, casting a withering eye over the street youths gathering near the door in an obvious strategy of keeping him inside until he was dead. Unlike the more colorful street youths he’d seen roaming his neighborhood in the late afternoons, with their tremendous slacks and oversized sporting blouses, the gang currently barring his exit were dressed head to toe in various incarnations of the Ralph Lauren global brand conglomerate, and appeared vastly more sinister than any Small Wayne or Biggie Pac.
Praying that some cosmic intervention would deal mortal harm to each and every member of the aforementioned violence cult by the time he was finished shopping, Mr. Belle approached the produce automat and stared at its esoteric touchpad while trying to remember how to spell asparagus. He couldn’t remember, but it didn’t matter because as soon as he’d entered the first three letters of the word a pair of Egyptian asps flew out of the machine and sunk their fangs into both of his eyeballs. Great, he thought. Just what I needed. Now that he was blind he would never be able to correctly type the word asparagus onto a touch keypad, so he removed the poisonous snakes from his eyes and put them in his basket next to the prawn and Perrier-Jouet, abandoning the idea of asparagus altogether. Groping blindly towards the bakery, Mr. Belle did his best to fight the devastating nerve pain associated with asp bites, and made a mental note to include this latest outrage in his sternly worded letter.
Perhaps while he prepared dinner for Mrs. Betelman that night he could show her the letter, and reap the praise with which she would almost certainly reward him, having marveled at not only the verbosity of his prose, but the savage cunning with which he demolished both the visual appearance of the woman at the deli counter and the effete young man who’d struggled to help Mr. Belle with his duffel bag, which was loaded as always with an odd assortment of geodes and other semi-precious stones. Of course Mrs. Betelman would have to read the letter herself, since Mr. Belle was now legally and for all other purposes totally and completely blind. Which meant she would also have the dictate the letter, and perhaps complete a few more administrative tasks for which Mr. Belle was now and for all time worthless.
He’d been watching Mrs. Betelman through his keyhole for years, but had only recently found the courage to physically approach her. He was amazed not only with her rare beauty, but her incredible size. He’d thus far seen her only through a keyhole and was under the mistaken impression that she was no more than an inch or two in height. How wonderful! he’d exclaimed while slowly looking her up and down, taking in the full five and a half feet of her. Sexual intercourse will be much more satisfying this way. If not a little quotidian.
As soon as he’d realized that she was of normal human size, Mr. Belle knew that Mrs. Betelman would be a more than adequate sexual partner, but he’d never dreamed how many of his personal needs and responsibilities she would have to shoulder now that his eyes, which had always been his only way of seeing physical things, had been utterly destroyed by snakes. Not many men would have the raw nerve to make such demands of a first date, but not many men possessed Mr. Belle’s indomitable spirit, nor his massive collection of crystals and geodes, which were like sexual catnip to women of a certain age and mien. Come to think of it, there was every likelihood that Mrs. Betelman had consented to the date for the express purpose of stealing one or more of his hand-smashed rocks. That she saw in him some redeeming quality that compelled her to entertain his company was ultimately unthinkable, considering the fact that he’d won several awards for being the least sympathetic human in the American middlewest.
His heart hardened at the thought of his collection becoming fodder for kleptomaniacal neighbors and their dark, twisted sexual fantasies, which were almost definitely darker and more twisted than his own. The bad thoughts came rushing back in, washing over him in a ferocious riptide of hatred and paranoia. This was it. He was going to be murdered. Tonight. And it was anyone’s guess how long it would take for someone to find his body, considering how far out of his way he’d gone to alienate all his friends and family. Why had he done that? He couldn’t remember. Everything seemed so far away from him now. Now that he was cold and alone and legally blind, and had nothing in the world to hold onto other than some raw unpeeled shrimp, a pair of fatigued Egyptian asps, and a bottle of actually pretty decent sparkling white wine. Why do such bad things happen to such mediocre people? He thought.
I guess we’ll never know, Mr. Belle said aloud, provoking looks of sad derision from the ancient Russian women with their rolling wire baskets and headscarves and hard-earned wisdom etched deep into the lines of their faces as they tried not to look at him. I’m too beautiful for this world, he announced to the bread line, and the wine steward, and the fishmonger, and finally to the khaki and Polo wearing goons holding vigil over the front door. I’m going to kill all of you, he said in a voice so calm and even that he had a difficult time believing it was his own.
Tucking prawn between each of his fingers to maximize the brutality of his punches, Mr. Belle launched himself at the automated doors: kicking, scratching, biting and punching anyone foolish enough to come within his reach. Punching God right in the face, as if to say: you made a terrible mistake when you deprived me of everything worthwhile in this world. And: if only I had a snack, a hammock and a friend I might not have become the homicidal gourmand/rock-hound you now see before you, growing and transforming like a red dragon of death.
He didn’t want to die. Especially not at the Fred Meyer’s. But life is never what it should and could be, and he would never whisper sweet nothings to a loved one, so he pushed into the onslaught with thoughts of Henry V plaguing his confidence. If only I could be Falstaff, he thought. Falstaff, if only for a day. If only I could relate to another human being. This project has been all but worthless, and now I rise from these wretched shores like an angel of death, and I won’t stop until the tobacco counter and carpet-shampoo rental center run red with the blood of my enemies. I am forsaken, and so I forsake thee and all those waiting in line for cigarettes and lottery tickets.
Everyone must pay the price, he screamed as the conservatively dressed hordes tore his body asunder and his teeth clacked and his organs flowed out towards the florist kiosk where the dead Christmas trees waited eternally for a loving and misguided consumer of second-rate goods. Everyone must pay.