by Richard C. Rutherford
Marge likes to look in windows. When she does, she talks about the things she wants: food, clothing, furniture, cars, a house, a husband, but especially food. Just inside the window, people are eating. Marge gets irritated by the way people eat.
“Look at ‘em in there, Runt. They get a piece of meat on their fork and they just start waving it around like it’s some kind of magic wand or something.” She put her face close to the glass and yells, “If you’re gonna’ eat, eat.” The lady with the fork looks at us and shakes her head, so maybe it isn’t food.
Food is nice, but I like to look on the surface of windows. My reflection is on windows. I’m still getting used to the way I look. I have a blue hat that I can rotate to shade the sun. My coat has a collar that turns up around my ears. I would have preferred a smoother texture. This material gets snagged easily and the stuffing comes out. But it has big pockets and I like green.
“Yeah, bitch, I’m talking to you.” Marge pokes her finger on the window. “Eat your food.”
A man opens the door and tells us to move along or he’ll call the police. Marge tells him to have sex with himself and starts walking. I turn my head, but keep my eyes on my reflection. Marge has a small nose. Mine is much bigger. I practice a smile. Smiles feel different than they look.
I’m lucky I found her. I know all the definitions, but Marge knows the applications. She knows the rules. She blends in. She has command of her body, moving with ease, lifting her feet just enough to take the next step. She tells me I walk like I’m marching and that I draw too much attention to myself. Marge keeps her head still, shifting her eyes instead. She says I talk too loud. Marge can mumble.
I catch up, dragging my heels. Marge turns down an alley. She says, “You’re not going to shit your pants today, are you?”
“You better not. I can’t have no man shits his pants.”
I liked those pants. They had big pockets.
I’m still surprised at the difference between the fronts of buildings and the backs. In front, you have to pay money for everything you take out. But in the back, everything is free. On sidewalks, you have to be in a hurry, but in back you can take your time. Privacy is easier; two nights ago, I watched as this body I’m wearing rolled out of a moving car. I had time to repair the liver and fix the puncture.
Marge stops. “Whoa. I smell fries.” She leans over a dumpster and sniffs. “Runt. Get in there and get me those fries.”
I stand on my toes and look in, smelling for fries. She sniffs again. “No stupid, over here. Get in there.” I put my hands on the edge, jump up, and swing a leg over. Marge pushes me in. “Right there. In that bag. Give it to me.” I crawl over, find the bag, and hand it out. She snatches it from me and starts eating, talking about French fries and ownership.
Since I am in the dumpster, I look around for anything useful. I find a flat magnet stuck to the side, a small battery containing some electricity, and a narrow cardboard tube about the size of my little finger. I put these tools in one of my coat pockets, find three loose fries and eat them before Marge can take them from me. I stand up. In the dumpster, I am taller than Marge.
“Marge, there’s never any money in dumpsters. Look at all the stuff people throw away.” I push some bags around. “But there’s never any money. Seems like there would be some old, used money in here. How come people don’t throw away their old money?”
She stares at me but doesn’t answer. She doesn’t answer a lot of my questions. She looks into the empty bag, hands it to me, and walks away. I catch up with her at the sidewalk and remember to drag my heels. I don’t want to tell her my secret: I want to surprise her. But my time will run out; there are things I don’t understand and I need help.
“Marge, you probably noticed that I’m different from other people.” She keeps walking. I manage to keep up, side-stepping while dragging my heels. Two men are coming down the sidewalk, but they don’t look at me.
“See Marge, I was on this ship,” I wave my hand at the sky, “in space. Naturally it matured, outlived its usefulness, and ejected me.” She doesn’t respond. I say, “So here I am.”
Marge stops and put her hands on her hips, leans over. “What are you talking about?”
“I need to build another ship and get back out there.”
People don’t like it if you stand in the middle of the sidewalk. It makes me nervous and I know Marge is upset. I say, “I’m an alien. I can’t stay here. I need money to build a ship.”
“Get a job.” She starts walking.
I have my first laugh. I call to her, “I’m not gonna work.”
Someone walking past me says, “No shit.”
When I catch up with her, I say, “Look Marge, everything I need is at K-mart. But they won’t let me have it without money.”
“You’re building a spaceship? You need a lot of money. Rob a bank.”
Of course. Some of the simplest solutions don’t occur to me. That’s why I need Marge. Okay, I am making progress. I hadn’t thought of that.
When I catch up again, she iss mumbling something. “What?” I ask.
“You don’t have a gun.”
“Simple. I’ll build one.”
She seems like she is trying to look tired. “Out of …?”
I trace my memories back through trash piles and dumpsters. “I’ll see you at the soup kitchen this afternoon. And, I’ll have a gun.”
“Well, don’t leave for outer space without me.”
“Marge. I’m taking you with me.”
She mumbles again and walks away. I turn back for the alley.
In a trash pile, I find something I can use. A bathroom scale. With both hands, I hold it in front of me and squeeze. The gauge registers pounds of pressure. Perfect. I find an empty bottle and break the thick bottom out of it. I need some adhesive and a grinder, so I head back to the sidewalk. There is a good spot by an empty storefront. I sit down to build my gun. It is easy.
I’ve been a crystal maker for six generations. The bottle bottom was the key. I hold it up to the light and calculate the angles. Then I use the cement curb to grind the edges into facets.
I peel gum from the sidewalk and chew them together for adhesive. I break my magnet in half, connect it to the battery with aluminum foil, and use the gum to attach them, the crystal, and my small cardboard tube. With a nail, I bore a hole in the front edge of the scale. I line the tube up with the hole, pull a hair from my head and calibrate the gaps. Then I carefully reassemble the scale.
I look around. I am concerned about having a weapon in public. When I stand up, I feel conspicuous. Covering the gun with my coat, I hurry to meet Marge.
She hasn’t waited for me. Inside the soup kitchen, I find her hunched over her food like everyone else. I try to shuffle, but I am excited. “Marge,” I pull my coat back slightly, “Look.”
“Not anymore. C’mon. I’ll show you.”
“I got you a job,” she says through her food. “Get something to eat, sit down.” She gestures to the line. “Get some food.”
“Marge.” I nod down at my gun. I whisper, “I can’t sit down. It might go off accidently.”
“Everybody!” She speaks in her loudest voice, waving a piece of bread. “Everybody get back just a little. My boyfriend here has a bathroom scale. It’s loaded and it could go off at any moment.”
I tuck my head and brace myself. But when I look around I see only the shapes of people eating. Still, I feel they might suddenly grab me. I back up to the wall, then slide along the side of the room to the door and out.
I pace the walk outside. Finally, she emerges. I hurry up, but before I can speak, she says, “Be here tomorrow at three o’clock. You pass out food, then do the dishes and clean up. We get five dollars and all we can eat.”
It is going to be dark soon. I am walking backwards in front of her. “Marge, I have to show you how this works. Come on.” I turn into an alley.
“Okay, little man.”
Behind a building, I find a dumpster filled with trash. Looking around, I see no one, and pull the gun from my coat.
She breathes out. “Look, you little weasel. Tomorrow you’re gonna work at the soup kitchen. I can’t have no husband of mine hanging around alleys, shootin’ off bathroom scales.”
We are about ten yards from the dumpster. Husband?
“Marge. Watch.” With both hands, I hold the gun out before me, aim the opening, and squeeze twenty pounds of pressure. A thin beam of light shoots out, hits the side of the dumpster, creating a small dark circle, which starts smoking. Then it burns through, superheats the contents, and they blow up, splitting the sides of the dumpster and knocking it over.
I look over, smile, and raise my eyebrows.
“Do that again.”
The dumpster’s contents are strewn around the ally, burning. “See, Marge. And that’s just twenty pounds’ pressure. But now we have to go. The police might come.”
She nods. “Uh-huh, do it again.”
I aim at a garbage can and squeeze five pounds. It explodes, blowing the top off, sending shrapnel flying. I hear a siren, distant, but approaching.
“Marge, we gotta go. Now.”
I put the gun back under my coat and start walking. Marge hurries up beside me. “How’d you do that?” She pulls my coat, “Where’d you get that?”
I walk without my shuffle. Marge hurries beside me. I say, “Tomorrow morning, we’re going into a bank and get some money. Then we’re going to K-mart and buy the material we need.” I walk faster. She keeps up. “Then we’re going to that empty building on Third Street, we’ll seal it up, convert it, and,” I wave my arm at the sky, “we’re out of here.”
I pat the gun. Marge follows, breathing hard. I feel like a policeman.
The next morning, I pick out a nice bank and sit out front by the fountain. I am calm when the security guard opens the doors. I have my gun under my coat. Marge has a plastic bag to put the money in.
She can’t stop talking. “I helped my dad rob a 7-Eleven once.”
“Okay. Well, not actually rob the place. But I did stand lookout while he got a whole case of beer out the back.”
“Let’s just think about what we’re going to do.”
“Okay. I’m just saying. If you’re worried about me or if you think I can’t handle this or if you think I’m nervous—” She lifts her head and looks down the street. “—I’m cool as a cucumber. When I helped my dad that time— “
I stand up. I know what I am going to do. I know just how to do it. I say to Marge, “Okay, let’s go get some money.” My liver is beginning to leak again.
I lead us into the bank with Marge stepping on the backs of my shoes. I look up at the high ceilings, feel the spacious expanse, wishing I could convert this building instead.
I step up to the first teller, flip my coat back, showing her my gun. “I need some money.”
She is arranging paper, looks up and laughs at me. “What are you going to do with that?” I don’t have an answer. She turns away, saying, “Get help, and get a bath.”
Quickly, I side-step to the next teller, pulling my gun out. “I want money.”
She puts both hands on the counter. “Clyde, you better get your ass out of this bank. Now. And take Bonnie with you.” I look back at Marge. Bonnie?
The next teller doesn’t give me a chance to speak. “Walt!” She calls over our heads, “Get these bums out of here.”
Marge has been standing motionless. She is beside me in an instant, takes the gun, backs up to the center of the floor, and carefully sets it down. She says, “I weigh over two hundred pounds.” She shakes the bag and holds it up. “If you don’t give us all your money—right now—I’m going to weigh myself.”
I hold my hand up to her. “Marge, no.”
But the security guard tackles her from behind, knocking her down. They slide across the floor. She struggles with the guard, but he twists her arm up behind her, grabs her collar, and starts dragging her to the door.
I pick up the gun, and as I follow them, I pop the top off and removed the crystal. I look at it sparkling between my fingers, then throw it in the trash.
The guard is having trouble getting Marge out the door. She has hold of his pant leg. “Shoot him, Runt! Shoot the son-of-a-bitch!”
The scale hangs loose in my hand.
I am out of time. I will have to get in with Marge.
In 2016, Richard C Rutherford had work accepted by Fiction Southeast, Stone Coast Review, Hypertext, Red Fez, The LA Review, Squalorly, and The Tishman Review. Upcoming in Visitant. For thirty-seven years he raised cattle at the edge of the desert. He supports local bookstores and reads DeLillo when he needs a dose of humility. He has daughters, so he’s a feminist. He has a large collection of stories.