From Will You Please Stop Screaming, Please?
By Ross Scarano
The guidance counselors didn’t have the necessary information.
They’d advised Todd not to drop out of high school, saying that he wouldn’t find a job, but the paint factory shut the sweater-vests up. His friends didn’t know what to say when he stopped hanging with them in half-empty parking lots, choosing the bar instead. The Oak Leaf had started serving him, not because his babyface suddenly squared off and needed shaving twice a day, but because he was part of the paint factory. Older women asked him home. His stepfather was dying and yelled at the television through an electrolarynx. Outside of the paint factory, no one spoke to him. No one knew how.
What would the guidance counselors say now, if they had the new information?
At the kitchen table, with the lights off and the clock reading past midnight, Todd shakes from a chill that runs from neck to feet. She’s screaming again. He’s sitting in his next-door neighbor’s kitchen, and she’s screaming.
He imagines sitting down before the plaid body-shaped thing that gives out career advice and telling it: “I am dating my next-door neighbor. She’s 28 years older than me. She screams a lot, was screaming the night before my stepdad died. She doesn’t scream when we have sex, but she talks to me when we’re done, saying things like you could be my baby and it makes me feel split open. She’s screaming and I know someone is going to die tomorrow, just like the last few times. Because my next-door neighbor with the pale hair is a banshee.”
“Please,” Todd says in a voice inaudible. In a tank top and black underwear he watched her buy at a drug store, Rosemary paces the peeling linoleum with her mouth open and terrible sound coming from it. Her voice won’t give out. It comes to a point, like a kettle boiling, and holds for what feels like minutes. Then it drops in volume before it rises to peak again.
“Hey,” Todd says in a voice she can’t hear, though she’s watching his lips move. She learned how to read lips. She told him that once, when she was still dropping hints about her true self. He stands, goes to the fridge for one of the beers she buys him. He cracks opens the can, drinks, wipes his mouth, stares into the fridge. He stares like the light in the fridge will give him the answer. He feels a stirring in the back of his brain, a twinge of a thought that might tell him what to do, if there’s anything he can do to make her stop screaming.
Two doors down, his neighbor Mr. Jenkins throws a ragged hand to the varnished bookcase he staggers toward. Fingers digging into spines, he pulls five hardbacks down to the ground before crumpling with them, his heart flat-lining, dead.
Back in the kitchen, Rosemary’s lips finally meet after hours of wailing. Todd shivers again. Finally, he thinks. He moves toward her with designs, extends a hand to touch her face.
The tear begins at the outside corner of her left eye and moves in an arc toward the bridge of her nose before rolling down her cheek. She’s crying soft. She says something he doesn’t catch before launching into honking sobs.
“Will you please be quiet, please,” he says and then belches and then goes back to the Formica table to massage his temples thoughtfully and think about how sad he is to have a girlfriend who cries when she isn’t screaming because she knows when people are going to die. He should’ve just dated the cross-eyed girl who read horse books.