I killed a man last night. I know that sounds evil and macho and extraordinary, but it was really one of the most mundane and embarrassing things I’ve ever done. The more judgmental among you are formulating words such as “murderer” in your heads now, and recoiling a bit at the connotations. You’re imagining a handgun, a struggle before someone takes a bullet in the heart perhaps, or five or six bullets pumped into his back. “Murderer”. It’s a word which for the narrow-minded has a lot of ready-made images associated with it, just like “virgin”.
I’m 34 years old and I am about as ordinary, as dull, a person as you could ever fear meeting. Well, I call myself dull, and that might be the way you’d characterize me if you met me and I told you about myself, but the fact is I consider myself a valuable person. I’m attentive. Probably the most significant and most common detail I’ve noticed about most people is that they are oblivious to the abundance of minute facts and events that are bombarding us all every second. Maybe that’s a good thing, a necessary thing for them. It makes life a little easier to deal with.
I’m a bit of a nervous sort, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I’m not able to screen out sensations the way other people do. I walk down the street, or I meet someone for the first time, and it all feels like fireworks, things going off around me everywhere. I’ve tried to calm myself, tried to lie on my couch late at night in the dark, tried to breathe slowly and feel comfortable, but I always end up sensing the outside world seething and throbbing around me.
The first time I met Jeff I was bowled over. I wasn’t attracted to him but the strength of his character was so intense that I could hardly speak. He said hello and shook my hand and touched me casually on the forearm. I stood there staring, blinked furiously for a few seconds before I could utter a barely audible grunt.
“I don’t think I’ve seen you in here before,” Jeff said.
I regained some composure and eventually replied, carefully, “No. I’ve been keeping to myself a lot lately, not going out. I think the yuppies call it ‘cocooning’.”
Jeff laughed, touched me again on the arm. He looked around the bar then, scouting a waitress or a friend, and I took advantage of his inattention to watch him. He wore a silk shirt, exquisite, which hung naturally. His blond hair was impeccable, set in place with gel but moving luxuriously as he turned back to me and caught me staring. In the half-second before he smiled and I looked away, I noticed that his skin shone.
It is not the absolute truth to say that I was not attracted to him. A more accurate way of putting it would be to say that I was determined not to be attracted to him. I was here to escape the rigors of my thesis research. The complications that an alcohol-induced attraction could bring held no appeal for me.
“What are you drinking?” Jeff asked.
“Gin and tonic,” I said, and he held up two fingers to the waitress as he told me that that was his drink of choice, too.
“It’s the most beautiful of combinations,” he said. “The aroma is distinctive but subtle — Jesus, I’m starting to sound like one of those pompous wine-tasters. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it is simultaneously pure and luxurious. Transparent, and complicated to just the right degree by the tonic and the slice of lime and the squeeze of lime juice which gives it just the right amount of texture. Sorry, I’m babbling, and I’m not expressing myself very well.”
“No, not at all, I think I understand what you mean,” I said.
He shook his head. Our drinks arrived and Jeff stirred his and licked off the stick.
“Here’s to new faces and new adventures,” he said, clinking his glass against mine. We sipped.
“Ahhh, delicious,” he said. “So, why have you been doing so much cocooning lately? Do you have a wife and a dog and 2.37 kids at home, and do you all spend your weekends in front of the tv?”
“No, no, not at all. I live alone and it’s just that I’ve been spending most of my time working on my thesis, alternating between the library and my apartment. I’m compiling a bibliography of Canadian mystery novels. But I really don’t want to talk about that. It’s pretty tedious work, really, and besides, the main reason I came in here was to get away from all that.”
“Well, that’s a switch,” Jeff said. “Most people just come in here to get laid.”
We stood on opposite sides of the bed, pillows symmetrically placed, bedspread as taut as a trampoline, stood and watched each other undress. I placed my clothing methodically on the chair but Jeff’s shirt and pants and underwear just disappeared as he removed them and simply dropped them onto the floor. I was surprised that someone who dressed so carefully, undressed so carelessly. He put his watch (a slender all-black Seiko) on the night-table, bent over apparently to remove his socks, pulled the covers down to reveal pristine sheets whose clinical smell wafted to my nose, and then lay on his side without covering up, facing me. I got into bed and completed the symmetry.
I remember a crazy kaleidoscope of details and images. Tufts of hair of diminishing thickness on the inner joints of toes from big to small … Dry skin like parchment on kneecaps … His open palm cupping the whole side of my bicep now … The facts are really quite simple and unalluring: we kissed, we fellated each other, he held me for a while.
And as he was turning to reach for something on his night-table — his watch? some matches? — I turned in the opposite direction, removed the handgun from my inside jacket pocket, turned back exactly as he did, and shot him in the nose.
If you have gleaned from television and movies most of what you know about what is vaguely referred to as “violence”, then you are really pretty ignorant about the facts. I don’t mean that the world is not as violent a place as television might lead you to believe, or that there is exaggerated distortion, but rather that violence is more gruesome for the victim and easier for the perpetrator than the televised portrayal of the most blood-soaked shooting by the coolest of killers could ever hope to suggest.
For example, I killed Jeff last night with one Winchester 115-grain jacketed hollowpoint bullet fired at point-blank range from a SIG Sauer P226 9mm semiautomatic handgun. The bullet left a hole about the diameter of my index finger where his nose used to be, expanded as it went through, and came out the back of his head, leaving a hole about twice the size of the one in his face. There was a lot of blood, and some bone and brain exposed at the back. It was nothing like those neat little pinpoints we are used to seeing on tv. The sound, too, was closer to a pop or a clack, not that brash booming sound you hear when cops or bad guys or innocent victims are gunned down on some badly done show.
Jeff probably died, as they say, instantly. His only terror may have been the half-second when he turned back to see that handgun barrel pointed directly at him.
I can state based on my own experience that there is no great moral debate or hesitation when you kill someone, and there is no incredulous shock, no anguished panic afterwards. I had bought the gun six weeks before with the express purpose of shooting whoever my first lover would be. The decision to kill had therefore been made in the most rational and mundane of circumstances. I decided that I wanted to have sex with a man. I decided that I also wanted to kill that man. The anti-climactic events themselves were just the sum on the other side of the equation.
As Jeff lay there dead, I set the gun down on the bed and got dressed. I put the gun back in my pocket, and walked out of the room without looking back, closing the door briskly behind me.
Some of you will precipitously call me cold-blooded or inhuman when I say that I then went to a nice Italian café and had a delicious cappuccino. But please remember: the decision had been made weeks before and I felt no more agitated than I usually feel, say, after watching a good movie.
Please suppress your groans anticipating, apprehending, tedium, as I prepare to tell you about my childhood.
There are no cliché extreme facts to report, no accountant father who routinely buggered me, no buxom mother who pampered her pretty little boy, no younger brother whose girlfriends giggled at the front door while I puzzled over cosines in my bedroom upstairs.
I don’t remember much about my life before I started to attend school. During an evening of shared gin and tonics last month my mother told me that my father had abandoned her and me when I was about 3 years old, so that he could spend Christmas with his girlfriend. My mother matter-of-factly got a job as a waitress, and I started on my string of babysitters.
The average of all my year-end averages through grade school was 96 percent. I know that sounds high but I was a fanatic for study, loved to memorize and absorb facts. I remember studying for my physics final in grade 10 by reading over and over again the passages in the text about force and mass and power. I eventually grew so familiar with chapters I had read five or six times that I recognized turns of phrase and anticipated formulae.
I never had any trouble with cosines.
I had my first taste of alcohol during the first weekend of my first term at university, some dreadful whisky that everyone was downing straight to show that they were hard drinkers. I never drank again for six months when, on the first date I ever had, Sheila introduced me to the concept of mix.
I started university with the intention of majoring in math, switched to philosophy and then English, and eventually finished off with a degree in Canadian studies. The average of my averages was 92 percent, and I was conscious of my slippage.
And now, of course, I am working on my master’s thesis on the much-neglected Canadian mystery novel. It’s dull, really, but it will be valuable to people who are interested in such things. The idea of bibliography is appealing, though: to produce a list of the titles of all the mystery novels ever published in Canada. I like the fact that the end result can be something which is perfectly comprehensive, a list in which absolutely nothing is missed. That is a rare thing in life. For example, there might have been a point, say, 30 years ago when it would have been possible to summarize me, to reduce me to a few choice sentences of description. Since then, though, so much has happened, so many small events, heartbreaks, disappointments, brushes with people in everyday life — so much has happened that it would be impossible to sum it all up now.
The trick is to learn and to accept that everything is arbitrary, that nothing is any more valuable or desirable than anything else. Within that context you make a few choices. I could have spent two years searching out a passionate woman with integrity, got married, found a job, and lived contentedly, even happily, until I died: but I just could not be bothered. I have been so busy scouring obscure periodicals and formulating citations as precisely and consistently as possible, that I only had time to buy the 9mm and take one night off to get it all done. Later today I will return to the library refreshed and dive back into my research.
My life has been an organized and uneventful one so far, and I like it that way.