You Kill Me
by Emily Glossner Johnson
Jimmy Gemini looked at his eyes in the photo on the cover of an eight-year-old issue of Rolling Stone. He could see how wasted he was. He was shirtless and had no tattoos; he’d never been much for tattoos. A pair of faded jeans hung low on his hips. One hand was in his pocket, the other in his ash blond hair, fingers laced through it.
He couldn’t remember the photo shoot or the interview he gave. He flipped the magazine open. The year had been 2005 and the interviewer called him a rock god. His guitar skill was compared to that of another Jimi, right down to his left-handed playing. His album that year was the critically acclaimed and internationally bestselling You Kill Me and his music was at its best: hard rock with enough of a pop sound to cross over to top forty and enough edge to be played on the alternative stations. His band that year played to sold-out arenas and auditoriums and large outdoor venues. Jimmy Gemini was everywhere and everything.
“Jimmy!” his mother yelled from downstairs.
Jimmy closed the magazine. “What, Ma?”
“I just saw it. It ran past the dining room doorway.”
“What do you want me to do about it?”
“Get it out of here!”
Jimmy sat on the floor of the bedroom where he grew up in the little house once occupied by his brothers and sisters Paul Jr., Ronny, Joseph, Angela, Tommy, and Gina, and his father Paul Sr., his mother Mary, and him, the baby of the Gianni family. Now it was just him and his mother in this house that he’d paid off. He’d offered to buy his mother a bigger house, but she wanted to stay where she’d spent decades with his father. He’d shared his bedroom with Tommy and Joseph, and a lot of their stuff was still there: books from childhood to their teenaged years, athletic equipment, old guitars, model cars and airplanes, trophies. Jimmy’s mother didn’t like to get rid of things, though everything had its place in the neat, clean house.
Jimmy sighed. “What is it?”
“Come down here.”
“Just a minute. Jesus.”
Jimmy had most recently hit rock bottom in July of 2012 when he was found wandering in a subway station in Queens wearing nothing but bicycle shorts and a single flip-flop. A man who’d recognized him had called a cab that had taken him to his mother’s house in White Plains. The tabloids caught wind of the incident and headlines announced that Jimmy was either near death or admitted to a psychiatric ward. The truth was more mundane. After a three-month stint in rehab, the longest he’d ever been in, he came back to his mother’s and had been there ever since, under the radar, away from the world, preparing for his comeback.
Elizabeth was through with him and didn’t want him around their kid.
“I’m clean now,” he’d said to Elizabeth the last time they spoke.
“How long will that last?” Elizabeth had said.
“I’ve heard that before.”
Jimmy knew she had, a number of times. But this time he’d been clean and sober for nine months, the longest he’d ever gone since he first started drinking and smoking weed when he was a teenager.
“How was Ashton’s birthday?” he asked her. “I can’t believe he’s three already.”
“He’s four, Jimmy.”
“Right, right. Did he have a big party?”
“Jimmy, I don’t want to do this.”
“You know what. I don’t want to talk about Ashton with you. You can’t see him.”
But Jimmy would see him. He’d show Elizabeth. He’d stay clean and make music and get back on top.
He went downstairs and found his mother in the kitchen, making pies. “I want you to get that thing out of here,” she said.
“Just get a mousetrap.”
“A mousetrap, he says! I have mousetraps. Don’t you see them? And I’ve got poison in the cupboards.”
Jimmy looked at his mother’s lined face and bouffant hairdo dyed the darkest of brown. “Well, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” he said.
He went over to the sauce that simmered on the stove and ate some of it from the spoon that was resting across the top of the pot. His mother slapped his arm. “Stay out of there. You’re putting your germs in it.”
Jimmy grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl on the counter. “Who’s coming over?” he said between bites.
“Tommy and your sisters and the kids.”
“Angela?” he said.
“I just said your sisters. Why?”
“She doesn’t like me.”
His mother patted his face hard. “Don’t you say that. You two are family. She loves you.”
Jimmy examined his unfinished apple; it was overripe and bruised. He threw it away. He noticed his mother’s fancy pink dress and string of pearls contrasting with her yellow apron and house slippers. It was Sunday. “How was church?” he said.
“It’s going downhill fast is where it’s going. I should switch to St. Luke’s.”
“What’s the matter with St. Ambrose?”
“That woman.” His mother ground the shortening and flour together. “She gave the sermon today. She thinks she’s a priest—”
“They call her the pastoral associate. I’m not having it. She’s conceited and she wears designer clothes.”
“How do you know about her clothes?”
She held up her hands. “Ah.”
“So go to St. Luke’s.”
She continued with the pie dough, the shortening and flour forming little balls. “Your father loved St. Ambrose. If he only knew.”
“So stay. Or go. Whatever.” Jimmy paused. “What kind of pies you making?”
She ignored the question, looked up at him and wiped her brow. Her hand left a smudge of flour on her forehead. “Did you call Mr. Daniels?” she said.
“Ma, I’m not going to sell insurance.”
“Then what will you do? It’s been a year and nothing.”
“It’s been nine months. I’ve been writing music. I’m going to get back into the studio.”
She wiped her hands on her apron and pointed at him. “That life,” she said. “That life is over.” She put a spoonful of water into the dough mixture. “Set the table.”
He set the dining room table and shoved in a few chairs from the kitchen to make room for everyone. In the living room, he put up the card table and folding chairs for the kids. When it was all done, he went out to the front porch for a smoke. It was what he had, nicotine. And caffeine. He drank a lot of coffee, black and strong. So these were it… the drugs he was allowed. He drew deeply on his cigarette.
* * *
All through dinner that day, Tommy and his brother-in-law Mark were on Jimmy’s case about calling Mr. Daniels. “What’s the matter with selling insurance?” Tommy said. “You know, you could do worse.”
“Not much,” Jimmy said.
His other brother-in-law, Scott, had always been star struck by Jimmy. He stayed out of the conversation until Jimmy mentioned going back into the studio. “That’d be great!” Scott said. “Great?” Jimmy’s mother said. “That’s what nearly killed him.”
Scott bowed his head and dragged his fork through his pasta. His wife, Jimmy’s sister Gina, patted Scott’s hand.
All the adults were drinking wine except for Jimmy. Jimmy felt as though he should have been sitting at the kids’ table.
“I think you don’t want to sell insurance because you know you can’t,” Angela said. “Look at yourself, Jimmy.”
“What?” Jimmy said. He looked down at his Pink Floyd t-shirt, skinny jeans, and Vans.
Angela straightened her silk scarf and touched her bobbed hair.
“Jimmy will be fine,” his mother said.
“Aw, Ma, you ought to let him fend for himself for a change,” Angela said. “You’ve always taken care of him.”
“Come on, Angela,” Gina said. “Leave Jimmy and Ma alone.”
“Sitting right here,” Jimmy said.
“You’ll call Mr. Daniels and get a job,” his mother said to him. “And that’s all I have to say about it.”
“I don’t need the money,” Jimmy said.
“That isn’t the point,” Tommy said. “You’ve got to do something with yourself.”
“I bet you’re writing music, right, Jimmy?” Angela said.
“I am,” Jimmy said.
“How much have you written? Truth. How much?”
Jimmy looked at Angela, ready to reply. But then he looked away.
Later that night after everyone had gone home and Jimmy’s mother had gone to bed, Jimmy picked up the peach schnapps his mother used to make her fuzzy navels. She and his sisters always drank them before dinner. He opened the bottle of schnapps and smelled it. Truth. How much? Fuck Angela, he thought, the fucking prima donna. He’d write music when it came to him—the inspiration would hit, and it would be incredible.
He looked at the bottle, the label, and then in a rush, brought it to his mouth and took a big swallow. It was sickly sweet but pleasantly warm going down. He took another swallow, and another. Then he stopped. He put water in the bottle to bring the level back to where it was and returned the bottle to the buffet.
So much for nine months.
* * *
It was one bottle of vodka—just one—and it was his own, not his mother’s schnapps. He bought it that morning. Grey Goose, his favorite. It stood on his little desk in his old bedroom; sunlight through the window blinds created stripes across it.
Just one bottle. No one would know and he’d get his fill after getting a taste for booze from the schnapps the night before.
He sat down at the desk and ran his fingers down the bottle. He remembered meeting Elizabeth at a party after a show in 2007.
“So are you really a Gemini?” That was the first thing she’d said to him.
“No,” he said. “A Scorpio.”
She laughed and it lit up her face, her blue eyes.
“Then why not Jimmy Scorpio?”
“Why not indeed?” He said. He was floating on a cloud, high as the sky. He’d been shooting up in the largest laundry room he’d ever seen with some guys he didn’t know. Then he’d done a little coke and had a few more glasses of champagne.
Elizabeth had just started modeling then so she wasn’t famous. She was as tall as Jimmy. When he kissed her later that night, he loved that their faces were right across from each other’s and that their lips met with such ease.
She’d been a trooper when Ashton was born. She wanted to give birth naturally—no drugs or epidural—and it overwhelmed Jimmy to see her extreme pain. But fortunately Ashton didn’t take long to come out, and then there he was—Jimmy’s son.
He missed the kid. He missed Elizabeth. He wasn’t always faithful to her and she knew it. A few times, she even left him for a while, but she always came back. Other girls he fucked meant nothing and she must have known it—she had to have known it. His extracurricular fucking was a compulsion like the booze and drugs. Elizabeth wanted to help him; she was wired that way. And so he’d done a little time in rehab here and there, talking about his addictions, getting clean for a while and being devoted to Elizabeth. But then it would start up again and finally she’d had enough and didn’t want to help him anymore. “It’s futile,” she said, and she left with Ashton.
He wrapped his hand around the bottle of Grey Goose. One bottle. That would be all. Then he’d work on getting back to the studio with the guys and making some awesome music.
* * *
A week later, Jimmy woke up with his head at the foot of his bed; he was in his clothes he had worn the day before. He rolled onto his side and looked at the three empty Grey Goose bottles lined up next to the desk.
There was a fourth and fifth bottle next to the bed, unopened, waiting. On his nightstand were a few packs of peppermint gum and a tin of Altoids. Between these and his cigarettes, his mother couldn’t smell the alcohol on him. And she never came into his room, not after that first time when she cleaned and made the bed and he nearly lost it.
“I’m not twelve!” he had said.
“I try to help and this is what I get?”
“All I ask is that you give me my privacy, all right? I can make the bed and clean the room myself.”
She sighed and left the room and he stood there for a while, his hands fisted in his hair. Man, he had wanted a drink.
Now he opened one of the bottles and took a big swig. He lay back on the bed and lit a cigarette. Staring up at the ceiling, smoking, he thought about the music he was going to write. But his mind couldn’t focus and nothing came to him.
* * *
Jimmy woke at 3:26 a.m., his mouth dry and his head spinning. He went downstairs to get a glass of water. A corner shelf in the kitchen held his mother’s cookbooks on the lower shelves, and knickknacks, his mother’s rosary, several magazines, and some mail on the upper shelves. Jimmy heard scratching from beneath the shelf. Then a peep, and another peep.
On his hands and knees, Jimmy looked under the shelf and saw two shining eyes. The mouse. With him there, it had no escape. He could capture it, but he needed something to put it in. What could he use? The water glass. He stood and downed the water and then got on the floor with the glass.
“Come on, buddy,” he said to the mouse, holding the glass under the shelf and moving it in sync with the mouse’s back and forth scurrying. “There’s nowhere to go. I’ll get you away from the old lady’s traps.”
The mouse froze. Jimmy shoved the glass closer to it. The mouse backed into the corner. Jimmy jiggled the glass a little, wondered if he should have put some food at the bottom of it, and then suddenly the mouse was in the glass. Jimmy nearly shouted. Instead, he drew the glass back slowly and as soon as he was able, clapped his hand over the top of it. The mouse, helpless, looked up at him. “It’s okay, little guy. I’m going to set you free.”
Jimmy went down the stairs that led to the back door. Once outside, he took the mouse around to the small backyard and the row of arborvitae that stood against the fence. There, he put the glass on the ground. He shook it slightly, and the mouse bounded out and away, a dark shape leaping over the grass to the darkness under the arborvitae.
* * *
The next night, Jimmy flopped down on his bed. The room spun madly, but despite it, Jimmy, spread eagle, fell asleep and dreamed.
Elizabeth hovered before him. “Jimmy,” she said, “Did you call Mr. Daniels?”
“No. I’m writing music.”
He was in a hospital bed. “Christ, Jimmy,” Angela said. “You’re going to kill Ma if this doesn’t stop.”
If what doesn’t stop? He couldn’t remember. His memory wasn’t what it used to be. Coke. There’d been coke. And pills. And he was drunk to begin with. She hated him, Angela did, but she stayed by his bed for hours each day. And then Ma was there. She wore pearls and a light blue dress and clutched her rosary. Shit, she looked old.
“I’m going to write so much music, Ma,” he said. He’d forgotten once how to play his guitar—once, twice, a few times. A few other times, he’d sat down on stage in the middle of shows. And sometimes, he’d wandered off stage. But that was long, long ago. What were the guys doing now? Where had they gone? It didn’t matter. Back in the studio, they’d be like brothers again.
He found a girl one night and they shot up. While he was lying back, smiling, she stopped breathing. He whacked her hard on the back, twice, and she came to life again. “You died,” he said, and she laughed, and he laughed, too, and they smoked some weed and fucked, fumbling, he and this girl with dirty dreadlocks and cartoon character tattoos covering her body like bruises.
“I’ll buy you a bigger house, Ma.”
“I want you to do something with your life!”
“I am. I’m Jimmy Gemini!”
“You’re my son, James Gianni. Pray with me now. Come to church.”
He’d given a shitload of money to her church. He didn’t have to pray. He was fine. God was good. He’d call Mr. Daniels, sure—he’d call him a douche bag. Jimmy, Jimmy, you’re just going to get back into it, they said. You need to do something with yourself. Set a goal. Be a normal person with a normal life. But he already had a goal. It was a good goal and he was going to reach it.
* * *
The next morning, Jimmy looked out the living room window in time to see the white cat from across the street run by with a mouse in its mouth. The mouse, his mouse—Jimmy knew it.
“Aw, shit,” Jimmy said.
“What’s the matter with you?” his mother said from the doorway.
He turned around. “I got that mouse out of here last night.”
“Was it dead? Because if it wasn’t dead, it’ll come back.”
“It’s dead, Ma,” he said. “It’s dead.”
Emily Glossner Johnson has had stories published in Postscripts to Darkness, The Outrider Review, The Linnet’s Wings, Sliver of Stone Magazine, Lynx Eye, The Mondegreen, and a number of other literary journals. She has essays in The Ram Boutique and Amygdala Literary Magazine, and an essay in the book Parts Unbound: Narratives of Mental Illness and Health, published by Lime Hawk Literary Arts Collective. She has a poem forthcoming in The Poeming Pigeon and a story forthcoming in Masque and Spectacle. In December of 2016, The Mondegreen nominated her story “Santa Lucia” for a Pushcart Prize. She has a B.A. in English from SUNY Buffalo and an M.A. in English from SUNY College at Brockport. She lives in Syracuse, New York.