The Devine Comedy (short story)

Timothy Q. Gorman sat in the lone chair in his foyer. He was appreciating a quick cup of tangy Hawaiian fruit punch. He was not yet sixty-five, and had just received his first pension—he had retired from his position as the proprietor of Fairview Brewery. His position had been appointed to a young man by the name of Edward Schmidt. He took another sip of Hawaiian Punch.
Timothy would have been drinking a Coors if it weren’t for his family history. His father and grandfather, as well as one of his three sisters, had died of alcoholism. He was as abstinent from beer as he was from sex. Yes, this man of sixty-four was as much of a virgin as the Pope. The one love of his life, Jessicka Schneider, had rejected him back in junior high. “I’ll only go out with you if you shave your legs,” she told him. He only had platonic love for every girl after Jessicka.
The doorbell rang. Timothy steadily sprung out of his chair, his scoliosis kicking back in. His aging clumsiness caused the cup of bright red liquid to spill onto the carpet of the elegant foyer.
The doorbell rang again. Timothy looked out the tiny peephole with his moderately myopic eyes. All he saw was an untrimmed, uncombed beard. One of those Jewish missionaries, thought Timothy, who had not gone to college but instead had entered the job market at eighteen. He opened the door, revealing a stooped figure with much hair.
“No thanks, I’m Episcopalian…” began Timothy in his gurgling snarl.
This was no Jewish missionary. This was a vagrant. His frostbitten claws were covered in ripped green gloves matching his bare feet, and they were grasping a cassette tape marked: “Rubber Soul.” Damn hippies, with their hairy faces, distorted music, and no jobs. Damn homeless hippies, thought Timothy Q. Gorman. The hobo was actually mumbling to himself like one of those bloody schizophrenics.
“Get off of my property or I’m calling the police!” roared Timothy, whose Hawaiian Punch mess was even visible to the homeless man.
“My name is Joe…” started this hobo.
“I don’t give a monkey’s stomach what the hell your name is! Get off of my property!
“Are you deaf? Out!”
Well, this God-forsaken hobo ran like a maniac off of Timothy’s third-acre of land. He was actually sprinting, his filthy bare feet being cut like butter on the pavement and asphalt.
“I love bums,” snickered the angry Timothy with all the sarcasm he could fit into three monosyllabic words.
He then cleaned up the sticky nonalcoholic mess, and hosed his porch.
* * *
Joe clenched Rubber Soul. He had heard the album countless times. He bought it at a ghetto garage sale along with a tacky set of black headphones and a black cassette player.
Joe had spent his entire life on the streets. As a boy, he lived in Mission Park. As a teenager, he lived under the seats of a subway going from Fairview to Longview. At the time that his peers were attending colleges, Joe had spent two years in a dinky, dumpy Texas jail—for stealing a butter knife from an Albuquerque pawn shop. He had literally taken the wrong turn in Albuquerque.
His next victim would be a man by the name of Ralph Devine, who lived two doors down from Mr. Gorman. He skipped one house, which was a fraternity joint with a flagpole displaying a grubby pair of boxers and a black flag at half-mast. Joe’s mother, who taught him how to walk, talk, and shoot heroin, had also told him to avoid the houses with the Greek letters because that was where the Gypsies lived.
Ralph Devine opened the door before Joe could preach about his unpleasant situation. His house was a dull gray color. Two cats sneered at him from the kempt yard, making Joe feel unwelcome.
Ralph spoke to Joe like a spoiling parent spoke to their toddler, slow—with emphasis on “big words.”
“My name is Ralph Devine. I work at the zoo. I’m a zookeeper,” Ralph said with ease.
“My name is Joe. I have no home. I’m a wanderer. Can I live with you?” Joe stammered in his monotonous drawl.
“I can tell,” laughed Ralph Devine. “Yes, you can live with me.” Ralph turned to his disgustingly-obese cats. “Julia, Michelle, we have a new boarder. Meet Joe—what is your last name, Joe?”
“Michelle,” muttered Joe, reading the limited track listing for “Rubber Soul.”
“Joe Michelle. Good girls.” Julia, who was in actuality a neutered tomcat, vomited a blonde hairball as Ralph Devine stroked her pelt.
“Come inside, Mr. Michelle,” Ralph coolly stated, holding Joe’s shoulder in his hand.
“That’s not my…” began Joe, but he was cut off and never finished that thought.
“Help yourself to anything in the fridge except the London Broil!” said Ralph. Joe was pleased. That old man hated him, but Ralph Devine was nicer. Ralph was probably the most generous person Joe had ever met!
“Why not the London Broil?” wondered Joe, shrugging his weak shoulders.
“It’s…for tomorrow’s guests,” said Ralph Devine. “The Leonards. Perhaps you’ll get to meet them. Heck, I’m sure you will.”
Joe helped himself to some rice pudding. He had never tasted anything so rich! He had lived off of the Latino children’s piñata favors as a child, off of that questionably processed jail food as a young adult, and off of pretty much nothing but crumbs as a teen. But to taste something so sweet and rich—it was like digestible heaven for Joe!
“What’s that in your other hand? Is that—it is!” laughed Ralph. “That’s a Beatles album. Their sixth. Released Nineteen Sixty-Five. ‘Rubber Soul.’” He acted as if Joe was illiterate, while Joe had spent four years in elementary school—from kindergarten to second grade. He could read as thoroughly as J. Danforth Quayle, not that he would recognize that name.
“Joe, I’m a little short on provisions. Oh! Let’s go to the restaurant, shall we? Ever been to Weenie Wednesdays?”
Joe shook his oversized head, his beard fluttering like an ungraceful moth. “Never been to a restaurant.”
“Ah, let’s take you to Weenie Wednesdays! Best diner in the Fairview-Longview Metropolitan Area by a long shot.” Ralph led Joe to his car, a red Honda Civic. The license plate read, “FTRMKNZ.” Whatever that meant, Joe couldn’t guess.
“I’ll let you listen to some of my other albums. ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ and ‘Let It Be’ are my favorites.”
Ralph elegantly worked the stick shift. One finger had an engagement ring with a beautiful emerald plastered onto it. Joe suspected that Ralph had been left at the altar by a wealthy woman, but that was just a guess. He was feeling a bit woozy, and closed his eyes before the duo reached their destination.
* * *
Joe opened his eyes. He was neither in the Civic or Weenie Wednesdays, that cheesy diner, Weenie Wednesdays. He was in what looked to be a stereotypical dungeon. Was he dreaming? A grey-blue unlit candelabra hung from the ceiling.
He wasn’t alone.
Sealed on the dungeon’s hard brick floor were four plaques reading, “Michelle: 1997”; “Edward: 2002”; “Julia: 1993”; and “Jessicka: 1989”. Was Ralph a mass murderer? Joe saw more plaques in a room adjacent to the dungeon. Ralph had to be a serial killer. Joe had knocked on the wrong door!
* * *
“Morning, Ralph,” greeted Timothy Q. Gorman he let Ralph Devine inside his cottage.
“Morning, Mr. Gorman. Say, you got a steak knife on you? I’m having London Broil with the Leonards today.”
“Don’t you already have a steak knife?” Timothy curiously asked.
“Nope. Just butter knives.”
“Hmmm. I’ll get one from the kitchen. Timothy turned his back on Ralph, shuffling to his clean kitchen two rooms down on his bunion-infected old legs.
* * *
“Enjoying your new room?” Ralph asked Joe, as the dishonest homeowner entered from the adjacent dungeon. Ralph’s hands were behind his back, though they were far from tied.
“Not exactly,” Joe muttered. He was staring at a fifth plaque which was located on a wall. It simply read, “Dante Devine”—probably a relative of Ralph’s.
Ralph revealed a razor-sharp steak knife in his hand. “Silly me! I forgot to give you breakfast!”
Joe surprisingly grabbed the knife. “That’s mine, Ralph.”
“Oh! Feisty now, are we? I see you’ve met my father, Dante. He thankfully built the Devine Dungeons back in the seventies. It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the Subterranean World—you know?”
Joe sighed, and flung the steak knife back into Ralph’s hand, severing Ralph’s ring finger and causing the emerald (which Joe noticed glowed in the dark dungeon) to drop to the ground and shatter into six hundred and thirteen glistening green shards.
Ralph aimed his amateurishly amputated finger’s next of kin at Joe as he stooped to retrieve the bloodstained and blunted steak knife. “Look what you did to Jessicka!”
“Jessicka: 1989,” murmured Joe.
Contemplating the spurts of blood on his four-fingered hand, Ralph Devine assumed the fetal position. “I worked long and hard in the zoo and aquarium to save up for Jessicka’s ring so that my Uncle Timothy could be engaged. But come the 1989 Swine Pox, Uncle Timothy’s dreams of marriage were no longer. Fuck you, Joe! You hobos just go through life looking for free handouts. I gave you all my food except the London broil. I’m sorry if that wasn’t enough for you! Hell, I even would have given you money for more food if I didn’t know better. You’d just spend it on one of those ugly beige cardboard signs and maybe a black Sharpie pen for scribbling desperate anecdotes upon it.”
Joe heard footsteps, and directed his eyes at the dungeon’s egress, from which the felines Julia and Michelle craftily crawled. They faintly purred as they approached the broken emeralds, and began to lap up the green jewels with their velvet tongues, much to the horror of Ralph, who feared that his pets’ mouths would be permanently cut by the jagged green edges.
But neither incisions nor scars formed inside the feline maws, though Julia soon suffered from a violent choking which signaled yet another hairball. Michelle mounted her counterpart as if to give an instinctual Heimlich maneuver, and an emerald spirit flew out of the choking cat’s mouth.
The spirit stood up on two legs and stared directly at Ralph. It resembled a bony middle-aged mother, somewhere in between the ages of Ralph and Mr. Gorman.
“Jessicka,” breathed Ralph. “Jessicka Schneider.”
“We meet again, Master Devine,” echoed the spirit. “And I see you have acquainted yourself with my daughters, Michelle and Julia Leonard.”
Jessicka’s cat children swiftly circled around Ralph and Joe, who looked at each other in fright. The spirit had begun to chant an incantation when Timothy Q. Azmogis arrived downstairs, brandishing the world’s sharpest butter knife.
“Leave Ralph alone,” yelled Timothy in the voice of a man half his age.
“Uncle Timothy! You’ve come to rescue me!” exclaimed Ralph.
“Indeed,” said Timothy. He turned to the spirit. “Exit, ghost.” Jessicka did not oblige her ex-lover.
The cats cowered away in a corner, leaving room for Joe to escape. He made a dash for the stairway to sanity. He then left town, though not before pick-pocketing $9.50, and was killed by a drunk driver that night while stumbling down Sunrise Boulevard with a cardboard sign and a black marker in his hand.
Timothy clumsily flicked a lever which caused the hologram of the spirit Jessicka to disappear. “I love bums,” he said for the second time in twenty-four hours.
“That was a great prank we played. We should do this with all the bums in Fairview from now on,” agreed Ralph.
“I love bums!” laughed Timothy, maniacally bludgeoning two cats with one butter knife.
“Those were my cats,” cried Ralph, and sprinted up to the kitchen to drown his sorrows in the London broil which was originally intended for his pets.


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