FICTION: You Didn’t Do Anything by Kurt Schaefers

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Dead flies lay in the black soot from auto traffic in the space between the screen and the window. John Kneally’s wife suggested that they purchase these windows because they slide down and cantilever for easy cleaning. He was against this feature, along with the triple pane glass, due to the hefty price tag – but he always does what his wife wants.

For Kneally, this is what men do. This is what his father did. At the reception of his wedding, over a shot of Wild Turkey, his father imparted marital wisdom; “happy wife, happy life.”

The windows of Kneally’s home are a testament to this belief – from the off-white and gray jacquard curtains, to the blue marble window sills. Leaning on the sill, between the parted curtains, Kneally is as skinny as the screw driver in his right hand. His doctor told him that he is overly stressed.

A pick-up truck drives the wrong direction down his one-way alley. Not far behind, a police car drives the same direction. The police car’s lights nor sirens turn on. Kneally wipes away the fog on the window from his breath and watches car after car disobey the correct direction of the one-way alley. He takes out an orange pill bottle and eats a few pills. He exhales into the glass and his reflection disappears.

He peers above the fog at the black and white, one-way street sign loosely strapped to the wooden telephone pole. It hangs like a wilted flower. It is bent and dented from neighborhood kids throwing rocks at it. The benign nature of the sign makes his breathing shorter and more rapid.

For the eleven years that Kneally and his wife have lived here, he has never driven the wrong way down the alley. Each day, on the way home from work, he sits in traffic for an extra seven minutes to make it to the end of the block. Seven minutes.

Then drives down the correct direction of the alley to park in his garage.

Days where his breath doesn’t fog the window, Kneally waits and wants to see one apprehensive face. A face that resembles a school student trying to cheat on a test. Another law-breaker drives by. He wipes away the fog, but his reflection is opaque. It shows a forehead with scrunched lines, hair thin for a man his age and a newly emerged vein over his temple. It’s exactly how he feels. Kneally again peers above his reflection at the pathetic one-way street sign. He eats another pill.

“When do they decide to drive the wrong way?” Kneally says into the window.

“I don’t think they decide. They just start doing it one day,” his wife says from the couch in the living room.

“What if it’s not about the drivers, but the sign? Belief in the law. Shouldn’t that be enough to make a person drive the right way?” Kneally says.

Another police car, the same police car, again drives the wrong way down the street. His breathing is rapid. He needs to see the cops face but his hands, moving like windshield wipers, are not quick enough to wipe away the fog, and are not capable of wiping away his reflection. The one-way sign is clear in his peripheral vision. He rips at the curtains, tearing them from the wall.

Turning from the window, curtains clenched in his left hand and the screw driver in his right, he walks through the kitchen dragging the curtains across the floor like a bride’s train. The curtains collect shards of broken plates and glass from smashed picture frames.

“I don’t know where it went wrong. Was it something that I did?” Kneally asks.

“No. You didn’t do anything. At least this was something,” she says while sitting with her phone on the couch.

“Did I hit you?” Kneally asks.

“No,” She replies.

“I’ll clean up the broken glass when I come back in,”

Kneally says.

“Where are you going?” She asks.

“I am going to fix the one-way sign,” Kneally says.

Standing in the alley in front of the wooden telephone pole, Kneally stares up at the wilted one-way street sign. With the curtains clenched in his left hand, he puts the screw driver in his back pocket and pulls out the pill bottle, flips off the cap with his thumb and pours a bunch of pills into his mouth. He chews and chews them – working his throat to swallow the chalky white pills. He tears two strips from the curtains and ties the strips of fabric around his forearms.

A car passes the wrong direction – laughing. He wraps his arms and legs around the telephone pole and begins to climb the pole like a frail bear. He works his arms up the pole, then his legs follow. The curtains tied around his forearms and the inner legs of his blue jeans turn browner from the dirty wood the higher he climbs. He takes the screw driver from his back pocket and extends it to the screws to tighten the sign. The white and gray jacquard curtains saturate with blood. The screws are rusted. He twists harder.

The screw head snaps and the screw driver falls to the alley. His breathing grows shallow and fast. He wants more pills but he can’t free the bottle from his pocket. He yanks and mother-fucks the sign; attempting to rip it from the pole. Then his legs slip, sending him sliding down the pole. The fabric deteriorates, his forearms are ripped raw. He lay on his back on top of the curtains in the alley – the screw driver to his left, arms bloody, staring up at the sign.

The same police car, again, drives the wrong direction and stops in front of Kneally. He doesn’t turn his lights on or get out of his patrol car. His wife opens the gate and walks over to Kneally lying on the street. She wheels a suitcase into the alley. A duffle bag hangs from her shoulder.

“Did you call the cops,” Kneally asks?

“No. I’ve been seeing this man. I am leaving you John,” she says. She opens the passenger door of the patrol car.

“How long has this been going on?”

“This past year. I didn’t have to do much to hide it from you. You are always numb. Even before the pills you were numb. Mechanical. Predictable. Our sex was scheduled. I know what you will get me for my birthday before you give me my gift; a dozen roses and something for the house. That stuff worked for a while, but it doesn’t make me feel anything anymore. I need to feel love again.

“I still love you,” Kneally says.

“I love you too. But I don’t think it was ever passionate. I want to feel passion and you can’t give me that,” she says.

He thinks about reaching for the screw driver and stabbing it into the sidewall of patrol car’s tire but instead he reaches for the orange pill bottle. She gets into the car and Kneally’s wife, her lover, and the patrol car drive in reverse, the right way down the street.

Inside his bathroom he cleans the blood and splinters from his forearms. He sweeps up the broken plates and smashed glass from picture frames. Once everything is back in order he sits on the couch and dials a number into the telephone. A person picks up on the other end.

“I would like to file a complaint,” Kneally says.

“Okay sir,” the person says.

“There is a one-way street sign at the corner of Blossom Way and Foster Street. The straps have come loose and as a result people are constantly driving the wrong way,” Kneally says.

“The city will send somebody out this week to check on this issue. Is that all Sir?”

“Yes. I think that’s all you can do for me,” he says and hangs up.


Kurt Schaefers


Kurt Schaefers is a writer that focuses on the gritty realism of city life. He resides with his wife and son in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His story ‘Carp’s Wild Bill’ was published in the 2017 winter edition of the Avalon Literary review.
If you enjoyed ‘You Didn’t Do Anything’ leave a comment and let Kurt know.

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