There is nothing more tedious than listening to a man tell you about his dreams, and so I had resolved to kill M. (I use only his first initial so that you will not connect me to his murder and undo my—so far—perfect crime.)
I had endured enough of his long-winded tales, which always placed him at the center of some fantastic but meaningless pantomime, with characters both famous (starlets, politicians, etc.) and obscure (his aunt Loretta, his uncle Dutch) orbiting around him elliptically, coming suddenly closer, then flying off to the margins. These were recounted to me at length, in over-refined detail, with elaborate explanations of how M. felt as he witnessed the scene, rarely participating in the action, more often simply wondering at the passing parade of personages, both known and mysterious to him. As if this could be of interest to anyone but him!
Besides these sleeping dreams, there were M.’s waking dreams as well; about how he would change the world for the better. The solutions were, in his telling so simple. People were so foolish, if only they would think as he did about so many things. It was better, he said, to leave his soda cans on the street for the homeless to pick up and redeem for the five cent deposit, for example, than to bring them into our apartment where they only added to the clutter. This he would explain to those who accused him of littering our quaint little neighborhood with a rising gorge, as if he were they were the ones committing an outrage, not him.
Or he would talk of what he would do with his life as soon as he got “on his feet.” He would go on the stage, in some tasteful cabaret, where he would sing the songs he annoyed me with as he moved about the apartment. Eventually he would put together an album even though he had only a limited vocal range; he didn’t need a great voice, he told me, it was more essential that one have a personality, to be able to “put a song across” to an audience, preferably small, composed entirely of devoted admirers, of cognoscenti. It was more than a man should have to endure to listen to such idle and vain nonsense, night after night, while he stank up the kitchen with his linguini and clam sauce.
But I did, because I had to. You see, M. and I lived together, in a small apartment on the back side of Beacon Hill, down a brick alleyway. The area had formerly housed the servants of the well-to-do families who lived higher up on the hill, or on the sunny side that faced the Boston Common. I could not afford to live alone, at least not just then. I was slowly making my way up the ladder at the library where I worked, and not until my ailing mother died would I be able to live beyond the meager wages I earned there.
There you have the “why,” the “how” required much thought. There was a flight of stairs to be climbed to our second-floor garret, but the chance that M. would survive a push down them was too great to chance. I abhor guns, and while a fire could be expected to bring his life to an end, it would also destroy our little place, with its view of a hidden garden in the inner courtyard. It was rented at a reasonable rate, was walking distance to my work, and possessed a bohemian charm that was fast disappearing from the Boston I had come to a decade before, in pursuit of a long-abandoned dream of my own. (I do not, unlike M., delude myself that you would care.) But his name—not mine—was on the lease.
No, it took a great deal of research to fix upon the solution to my problem. Poison was the only practical alternative, but it is not easy to poison a man who shares an apartment with you, who eats from the same dishes as you, with the same cutlery. It would require finesse to finish him off without sickening myself in the process. And so I began the laborious task of killing him slowly, using a hypodermic needle to inject arsenic insecticide into his clams, which I would never partake of. I would poke a tiny hole in the top of each can he would buy, so that there would be no telltale leak on the pantry shelf. I began to protest loudly whenever he would fix the dish, exaggerating my disgust at the smell by keeping a separate set of dishes for myself, as if I had begun to keep kosher and did not want to mix with his treyfe.
There was no sudden change in M.’s health or appearance. I injected only minute amounts into his clam sauce, so there would be no vomiting or other obvious symptoms one would expect to see in a person who had ingested a large dosage. Over time M.’s skin darkened, but since my little career of destruction began in the springtime, he didn’t notice the change; an avid sunbather, he was happy with his bronze patina, even if he did spend more time in the bathroom.
Eventually the poison in M.’s corpus ceased to be a mere tincture and he could no longer dismiss the pain that gripped him in the abdomen as a passing affliction. He was examined by his doctor who prescribed antibiotics, which of course had no effect. When he began to develop numbness in his hands and feet, I knew the end was near. He died a quiet but painful death; I trust that he is now in a better place, and that the torment of his final days on earth is not even a memory to his immortal soul.
And so I was finally free of him. Although money was tight at first, after my mother died I was able to enjoy my little cubbyhole without worrying whether I would have enough money to pay the rent on the first of the month. M.’s parents came and removed a few personal items that apparently had some sentimental value; they left me his pots and pans and kitchen utensils, for which I thanked them profusely, then threw out on the next trash collection day with a note that said “Contaminated” so that no one else would suffer the horrible fate of my late roommate. I may be vindictive, but I am not a monster.
I would sit in the evenings at the kitchen table, looking out at the garden below, enjoying the green and the flowers, feeling the breeze cross through the apartment from the back to the front. I was contented for the first time in many years, and my only regret was that I had been unable to untangle my life from M.’s with the unpleasant business of killing him.
And then the dreams began. At first I would barely remember them in the morning, but they became more vivid with time. There was the familiar cast of characters from M.’s stories; his odd relatives, singers who were unknown to me except from his imitations, notorious public figures who, in M.’s aggrandized view of himself, would pay court to him. As if this wasn’t enough, I soon began to feel the trivial, do-good sentiments that consumed M. when he experienced a fit of moral fervor. I would become exasperated when others did not comprehend the facile solutions to the problems of the world, the nation, and our little neighborhood that entered my brain like uninvited guests. How could they not see the things that I saw?
But then came the worst. I began to sing as M. had done, but uncontrollably, and in public. Torch songs of a bygone era, vapid lover’s pleas, these would issue from my mouth at the most inopportune times: on the train, so that I would have to leave the “quiet” car; while exercising at my health club—I am told that one young man quit the club over my apparent refusal to maintain a respectful silence while on the treadmill. Finally I tried a ruse; I would wear headphones and claim I was just singing along to my music—was that so bad? Yes, it was, said the manager, who refunded my membership dues for the month when I told him I would not (I did not tell him that I could not) stop singing.
And so I am to the world the pariah that M. was formerly to me; a noxious, self-absorbed presence, a man others want to be rid of. I see old acquaintances cross the street when their eyes catch sight of my face, I feel the anxious antipathy others feel when they find themselves, by chance, standing next to me in a social setting. They want to get away from me, and I can’t blame them.
I have become the man that I hated, and killed.