by Megan Fahey
10 Fun Facts from the EVIDENCE ROOM of Oxendine O’Shea
- Oxendine was born in July of 1974 to Cora and Matthew O’Shea of San Ysidro, California.
- The full name on her birth certificate is Shannon Marie O’Shea.
- She was one funky bitch.
- From 1997-2002, Oxendine was the bassist and front-woman for the Ithaca Funk Company, an alternative-funk band who toured with Incubus, Radiohead, and Collective Soul after the success of IFC’s first and only album: Veterans’ Day.
- O’Shea’s axe of choice was a 1972 semi-hollowbody Gibson painted with a ruby-red glimmer finish that matched her birthstone.
- She is most remembered for her unusual performance style, which blended her eclectic tastes with her intense displays of emotion. Many fans recall O’Shea’s sobbing musically into the microphone during live events and fainting during especially rigorous solos.
- Oxendine wore the word “GRACE” printed on a solid black t-shirt to every show, plain black wayfarer sunglasses, and huge hoop earrings that clicked against the tuning keys of her guitar and could be heard in the background of the tracks on IFC’s studio album.
- She always slipped off her shoes before taking the stage.
- On Veterans’ Day 2002, after fraternizing with a fan after a show in Columbus Ohio, Oxendine O’Shea followed him for twenty-eight miles to his home just outside Lancaster and slaughtered the fan, his wife, and his two sons with a hatchet.
- She is currently serving life in prison.
The most valuable thing Tommy Hollinger owned was a business-grade paper shredder. With a vigorous whirr of its industrial teeth, the shredder disintegrated any chance of Tommy’s personal information making it into the hands of the mysterious, malevolent, trash-diving public. And Tommy loved the way it tore. The shredder occupied a position of prominence in his home office, nestled decoratively in a nook near his desk in his at-home workstation, positioned directly beneath his empty mahogany diploma holder and an 8×10 framed photo of his parents from their latest trip to the Swiss Alps.
The shredder’s name was Victoria.
The diploma holder was empty because, even though Tommy was twenty-five years old, he had changed his college major each academic year since he turned nineteen to reflect his artistic redirection. When the wealthy friends of his parents asked what in heaven’s name he was still doing in college, he had no trouble citing instantly his love and his loyalty for art. His difficulty, then, was choosing which field.
He spent a year experimenting with watercolors, but his landscapes lacked definition and blurred unnaturally. Each of these works he ran through the shredder, whose teeth, by the end of the collection, were flecked with vibrant shades of red and orange. After a failed year in a sculpture workshop, he malleted the projects his know-nothing professors compared crassly to phalluses and let Victoria, the shredder, chew the thin strips of soft clay in order to digest them. He spent some time as a novelist and wept when his classmates labeled his work as “derivative” and “popular.” The shredder made quick work of their feedback and of his manuscript, which he fed to it page by page.
One Sunday afternoon, Tommy took it upon himself to sort the junk mail that had scattered in disorganized piles around his kitchen table. He shredded his credit card offers first, primarily in order to avoid temptation, but also since the slicing plastic made such tremendous noise. Next came the bills he couldn’t afford to pay; the federal unsubsidized loan statements he would take to the grave; and, finally, magazines. Tommy Hollinger never filled out a magazine subscription, and yet received up to three or four weekly periodicals addressed to T. HOLLINGER or TOMMY HOLGER or RESIDENT. They were mostly general readers in science and engineering slathered with high-resolution color images. Some were sports-based or automotive. Others outlined best housekeeping practices. Tommy suspected they were anonymous gifts from his father purposed to steer him clear of the humanities.
Regardless, he gave them little more than a disinterested leaf. He skimmed the subheadings of an article about an elephant painting a portrait of an elephant before tearing those pages, like all the others, and tossing them into the shredder, until he happened upon a full-page ad whose stock was unlike any he’d ever felt. The ad was thicker, sure, than a standard page, though surely not as thick as a subscription card insert, and blacker, too, as though the ink might drip right off the gloss and stain his hands and boots and jeans.
The words “EVIDENCE ROOM” were capped and bolded across the top of the page in a large, debossed serif font. Tommy ran his fingers across the text. Police badges with scowling eyes adorned both ends, and the two Os in ROOM were conjoined with a short, shiny length of chain, like handcuffs.
He dropped it into Victoria’s mouth, but it just wouldn’t shred.
“Cool,” Tommy said.
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The parcel addressed to Tommy Hollinger—his name finally spelled correctly on the label—measured 18”x7”x52” and waited outside his front door for his return from class. It was crowded inside by mint green packing nuts and sealed within two cardboard tombs, mummified in an entire roll of thick packing tape, and wrapped in an oversized, storm-gray plastic pouch that rustles when the wind slips past.
That stormy wind blew Tommy’s tufted hair behind his ears. Despite his having mailed the proper amount of money, and the filled-out personality sheet, and the added list of contact information, and despite the day’s date still falling within the ten business day window, Tommy struggled to believe his eyes. He shifted the straps of the backpack on his shoulders. He tilted his head to further examine the mailing label for clues about the box’s contents, but he kept his distance.
He laughed at his own unease.
He scaled the porch stairs with a string of easy bounds and slogged inside the house, dragging the package with him into the office, near the shredder. He disappeared to the kitchen to trade his schoolbooks for a steak knife. He tilted the package on its side and punctured the outer plastic layer clean through—a deep, sloppy, vertical wound. He worked through the packing tape next, splitting the laminated cardboard at the corrugated seams and excising one layer, then the next until the top had been removed and he could hover above the box and peer inside like a god. An envelope tucked among the peanuts read “10 Fun Facts from the EVIDENCE ROOM.” Tommy read the note, then slid it into the back pocket of his blue jeans.
He breathed and forced out a laugh. It was safe, the magazine said, and legal, and couldn’t be as dangerous as it had been in the hands of its former owner, that criminal sleaze. Tommy’s arms plunged deeper into the box and rooted around until his fingers wrapped something slim and solid and shimmering ruby red: a four-string bass guitar. A tag hung from the neck, tied with thin white twine. In red ink, the words:
“so? you want to be an artist, don’t you?”
He spent the rest of the afternoon in his hickory desk chair practicing slow jazzy riffs and bluesy syncopations.
Later that evening, during a surprise visit from his parents, Tommy’s father loosened his tie and called his son’s fretwork “dog shit.” His mother pecked at her polished nails and chewed her lip.
“What are you so worried about, Mom?” Tommy said. He propped one foot on the arm of the couch. The guitar strings thunked in discord.
She whispered, “Thomas.” Her eyes darted about. “A criminal had this—a murderer.”
“You’re just afraid I might actually be good at this—that this might be a little thing called fate.”
“No, that’s not it,” she said. “A normal woman doesn’t just go around killing people with a hatchet. A hatchet, Tommy.”
He laughed. “Don’t worry, Ma. I won’t forget you when I’m famous.”
“That’s not what I—”
“And I’ll stay away from fast gangs and loose drugs and dirty women.”
“I just don’t like the idea of any son of mine playing an instrument that once belonged to some—you know—some—”
“Murderer?” his father said. “Butcher? Monster? Psychopath?”
“No one said she was a psychopath,” Tommy said. “The police never found out why she did it.”
“Sounds like a psychopath to me,” his father said.
“Whatever,” said Tommy.
“But what if she gets out of jail and finds out you’ve got her guitar?” His mother’s eyes welled up. “Or what if—what if it’s cursed or something?”
“What do you think’s gonna happen, Mom? That I’m gonna touch the guitar and turn into some kind of killer? Is that it? That it wasn’t Oxendine O’Shea who killed that family at all? It was her bass all along?” He raised it high above his head and laughed.
“Oh, Tommy,” she cried.
“I’m just messing around, Mom. You got nothing to worry about. If I start acting crazy, just tell me.”
“You’re acting crazy,” his father said.
“Shut up, Dad. This music thing—it’s really changed my life.”
Tommy’s father clicks on the television. “Yeah,” he says, “Maybe you ought to write old what’s-her-name a letter that says thanks for getting locked up.”
I hope it’s okay if I call you Oxendine; that’s just the way that I feel when I think about you—Oxendine. I know that probably sounds weird. Maybe it’s because of how your name is like oxygen. Oxygen is one of those things that makes you happy, right? I think I remember studying that in one of my science classes. I’m more of a humanities guy to be honest, but I think I remember that thing about oxygen, and that’s why your name reminds me of you—because before I knew about you, I felt like I was drowning in everything I tried, felt like I couldn’t come up for air, and then suddenly there you were: Oxendine. Fresh Oxendine.
You can call me Tommy. My full name is Tommy Hollinger, which I know sounds a lot like Tommy Hilfiger, so don’t even bother saying that because, ha-ha, I’ve already heard it my whole life. Anyway, I’m writing you because we got matched up in the EVIDENCE ROOM. Do you know what that is? I’m not really sure how long it’s been around, and how long have you been in the joint anyway? I bet you’re really popular among the inmates because of your music. Is everyone jealous of your haircut there? Do you ever sing songs to help you sleep when the lights go out?
So, good news. You know your guitar? The red one? Well, the police decided they didn’t need to keep it anymore, so they sold it to me through their mail-order catalog. I didn’t exactly pick it. That’s not really how it works. You see, I wanted to be an artist, but the trouble was I was bad at everything I tried. I never tried music before, but I’ve been messing around with the bass, and I think, with a little hard work and sacrifice, this might be my destiny. It’s only been about two weeks so far, and I’ve already almost taught myself to play most of “Smoke on the Water.” If you want, I could try to record it and send it to you. Would you have any way of listening to a cassette?
I hope to hear from you soon, and thanks again,
PS: I know you’re not innocent, but I’m sure that jerk you killed deserved it. Rock on.
TO: Tommy Hollinger
FROM: Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, San Ysidro, CA
RE: Inmate 90662-W |O’Shea
Listen here, Tommy Hilfiger.
You think you know sacrifice?
You’ll find out.
Tommy skipped class to hold band auditions in his at-home office. He worked up jams with dozens of drummers and one twelve-year-old boy who played the trombone, but none of them could keep time or fill in the bottom quite right. When the applicant pool ran dry, he ran a ream of old-time continuous stationary with perforated edges through his paper shredder, and riffed solos over its electric hum.
He fixed the letter from Oxendine into the empty diploma for inspiration. The first original song Tommy Hollinger wrote was a funky love ballad called “You’ll Find Out.” He played a steady chromatic scale, and fed the shredder, Victoria, a long, fat E-string. It took her two minutes and twenty-three seconds to digest. He debuted the tune at open mics along the downtown nightlife strips. After his first paid gig, he celebrated by getting blackout drunk and having the name “-Oxy” tattooed on the side of his neck. He played at just the right volume and was kind to the bar staff and applauded by the patrons. The owner of the Lava Lounge offered him a regular Tuesday night spot for a hundred bucks a week and six free beers a night.
Tommy’s cell phone rang while he paced backstage the night of his first headline show. It was his father.
“If you’re missing class for this—” he said. “—You can kiss that apartment goodbye. I mean it. I’m not fronting your rent anymore if you’re gonna shirk your studies to go off playing rock star wannabe.”
“Fine,” said Tommy. “You’ll find out.”
“Stop saying that!”
“What did he say?” His mother’s voice was far away on the phone. “Did he say it again? Let me talk to him.” A pause. “Tommy, honey. This has gone far enough. I’m worried about you.”
“Mom, I’m just having fun,” Tommy laughed.
The opening band finished packing their equipment. The emcee announced Tommy’s name and the crowd shrieked on the open floor below the stage. A “Tom-my! Tom-my!” chant went up, and Tommy shouted into the phone: “Hear that, Mom? That’s for me. They’re cheering for me.”
He slipped off his shoes before entering the spotlight. The ruby red paint on that hot guitar body reflected every last photon back into the wailing crowd. Two men headbutted and screamed in each other’s faces. A girl in front in a white ribbed tank top cried. It was the biggest crowd Tommy had ever seen—two hundred strong.
He took a nervous step backward, stumbling into a hidden, black barstool. Two ice-cold, longneck beers teetered on the seat. When Tommy picked one up, his hands jittered, and he drank the whole thing in one blast so the crowd wouldn’t notice his nerves. They cheered all the harder. His hands shook more. His mouth to the microphone, Tommy yelled, “Hello, Pittsburgh!” but he was energized and anxious and a little bit drunk, so it came out “Hullo, Piss-burgh.”
But no one cared.
“We love you, Tommy!” someone yelled.
He reached back for the other beer and took a sip before setting it on the edge of the stage and settling back onto the stool. He strummed once slowly. The crowd devoured the sound.
“This is, um—” he said. “I’m gonna start off with something new.”
He unbuttoned his shirt and fed the cuff of the sleeve through the paper shredder. It moaned slow and low, consuming his clothes.
“This is a new song I wrote called ‘Sacrifice’.”
It was an instant classic. In the middle of the hottest lick of the solo, Tommy stood up from the stool and approached the front-row fans who pawed lovingly at the soles of his feet. He crooned a line about truth and beauty to a girl with neon eye shadow and false lashes. She reached for him like his touch might save her life. He stopped playing and extended his hand to hers, but he couldn’t quite reach. He bent lower toward her, lower.
But he couldn’t keep his balance, and kicked over the bottle of beer, which foamed and dripped and splashed the board that controlled the spotlight and the speakers, and the electrical board his shredder was plugged into. The mic squealed. Smoke and sparks erupted from Tommy’s pedalboard and the power strip along the front of the stage, and the paper shredder choked on one of the shirt’s buttons and began to overheat. A small but hot white flame caught and ignited the thick black skirt of the stage. The fans screamed with dread. They rioted and moshed and shoved and evacuated.
Barefoot, bass in hand, Tommy escaped through the backstage door and hurtled to his car. The window was broken in. Glass covered the driver’s seat. His radio/tape deck was gone, but the car still ran. He accelerated through traffic lights and stop signs, straight out of town, back to the edge of the suburbs to his apartment, where his father had already changed the locks.
He ran around to the back of the building, to the window of his at-home office. He banged it with his fists, but he couldn’t break it. He hoisted the bass over his head and smashed it through the pane before hobbling his own body inside, slicing his bare chest on a rogue shard of busted glass. He sat on the clean square of carpet where his most precious item, his paper shredder, once rested. He leaned against the wall and gathered his knees to his chest and bled. He tugged at his hair.
“What have I done?” he said. His voice fractured. “This wasn’t supposed to—” he said. And, “I never wanted to—” he said.
Then a low lub-dup beat echoed softly in the darkness. It took Tommy a full minute to realize it wasn’t the sound of his own heart. There was someone else in the room.
“I thought you wanted to be an artist,” she said. She was holding the guitar. The smallest three strings were snapped. She flickered the E string with the edge of a ruby-handled hatchet.
“Tommy Hollinger,” she said. “Let’s shred together.”
Megan Fahey received her MFA from West Virginia University in 2017. In addition to having some short plays produced, her work has appeared in Southern Humanities Review, The Tulane Review, and Blinders Journal.