This is no indictment. There is no judgment. I just have to wonder….
“Look, why are busting my balls over this?” Thomas was leaned back in his chair staring up as his wife. “What would have me to do? Change who I am because of some wacko nutcase?”
“I don’t know,” Nicole said.
She thumbed her way through her husband’s latest manuscript. He wrote them, she proofread them, and they both lived happily ever after with more than enough money to do whatever they wanted to do whenever they wanted to do it. It had worked for twenty-two novels and three collections of short stories.
“I mean, this is some really twisted stuff here,” she said. “My god, the teen-ager kills his entire family then slips through the night killing people while they sleep.”
“I know,” Thomas said. “I think it is some of my best work. I really like the part where he injects the next-door neighbor with black widow venom he has been collecting. I am really proud of that one. I did a lot of research for that. Did you know that black widow venom if 15 times more potent than rattlesnake poison?”
“Did you know that some little freak could read this and decide to try it?” Nicole said. “I mean, you have this boy made out to be a hero because he killed twenty people. Twenty people, Thomas! That’s how many people get killed in your latest book.”
“So?” Thomas said. “They’re paper people. They’re not real. It is just a story. No one really dies, Nicole.”
“No one really dies until someone with a twisted mind gets in his head that this is a good thing,” Nicole said. “And I repeat, you made him a hero! He killed twenty people and you made him a hero.”
“It is a story about a kid who gets revenge against a town that is torturing him,” Thomas said. “Of course he is a hero. He is being tortured and he finally says enough! What in the hell is the matter with that?”
“I didn’t say anything was wrong with it, Thomas,” Nicole said. “Not necessarily. I don’t know. I just look at what I read in books, not just your books, either, and I look at the movies I watch and hell, even the games our kids play, and I wonder just a little if we don’t bear some responsibility to the craziness we see in the news. All the shootings and such.”
“Are you out of your mind, Nicole?” Thomas said. “Do you seriously think that I could write a story that could somehow make someone do something like kill dozens of kids?”
“Words are powerful, Thomas,” Nicole said. “Have you ever heard of the bible? You think those words haven’t caused a few real life reactions in people?”
“But that’s the bible,” he said. “That is a religion. I write fiction. It says so right there on the first page. It is purely a work of fiction, made up in my head. Any sane person who picks up my book knows that it is just for entertainment purposes. Any sane person knows that you can’t just go out and kill a bunch of people.”
“Of course any sane person knows that,” Nicole agreed. “But what about the insane person? What about the person who picks up that book and lets it become their religion? What about the boy who reads it and decides to kill his parents because he didn’t get the birthday present he wanted. Or the little girl who decides the community is making fun of her because she is a little overweight? What about that person?”
Thomas pushed his computer aside and leaned up on his elbows to look seriously at his wife.
“You know all those cruises, the scuba diving, all that shit you really doing, comes from these little stories, right?” he asked. “I mean, I didn’t hear you getting all high and mighty when we touched down in Hawaii last summer. What has gotten into all of sudden?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I guess I just listen to all the talk on television after these tragedies and all anyone can talk about are the guns. We have to stop all these crazy people from getting guns. Then I turn on television to watch a show and eighty percent of them are shows that somehow involve guns. I grew up watching westerns and then cop shows. Someone got shot and killed almost every night in front of my eyes. And I didn’t think anything about it. I called it entertainment.”
“I still do,” Thomas said. “Because it is. I ain’t changing what I do for a living, how I entertain people because of some insane person can’t take a story for what it is.”
“You mean you wouldn’t give up your stories and movies or at least change them to keep innocent people from getting killed?” Nicole asked.
“I refuse to let a few crazy people dictate how the rest of us sane people live,” he said. “I have a right to my free speech. It is in the constitution and that is good enough for me.”
“You have the right to keep and bear arms as well,” Nicole said. “That is in the constitution as well. It is number two, right behind the right to free speech. How come that one doesn’t get you fired up? It is your right. Shouldn’t you want to protect it as well?”
“Nicole,” he said. “That’s different!”
“It’s guns! Guns were made to kill. You make a gun for just that reason. Just to kill. I don’t write stories to kill people. I write stories to entertain. That’s all. I refuse to give up my constitutional rights because of a few crazy bastards. We got to find a way to stop the crazy bastards so the rest of us law-abiding citizens can live in peace.”
“That’s funny,” Nicole said. “That’s just what the gun people say. That is their exact argument.”
“That’s different,” Thomas said. “They’re gun people.”
“Thomas,” she said. “I love you and you are a great writer, but that doesn’t even make any sense.”
“Did you come down here to ruin my day or do you have a more noble cause in mind?” he asked.
“You’ve been down here all day,” she said. “So you haven’t seen the latest news.”
“No,” he said, a slight irritation in his voice. “That’s why I come down here in the first place. No distractions. No internet, telephone or television. Just me and my thoughts.”
“A kid slit a teacher’s throat today,” she said. “She had a copy of your poem with her. You know the one. Revenge! A Little Girl’s Way Out. She told the police that the poem inspired her to act, to get her own revenge.”
“Revenge is about a little girl who is being molested by her teachers,” he said. “I say good for her. She was finally able to get that bastard to stop, then good for her.”
Nicole leaned forward.
“She didn’t even know the teacher,” she said. “She couldn’t have. She was home schooled.”
“But then why did she slit a teacher’s throat?” he asked.
Nicole put the manuscript aside and placed a copy of the poem on her husband’s desk.
“She had this,” Nicole said.
“So…” he looked at his wife, a new search for meaning, understanding clouding his eyes. “…what?…I mean…just because of a damned poem? Honey, I was half drunk when I wrote that. It didn’t mean anything.”
“Apparently now it does,” she said.
He looked at the poem the way he had always looked at guns, with contempt.
“Shit,” he said. “They are just words. I can’t stop writing just because some head case decides to go crazy.”
“But you want the law-abiding gun people to give up shooting just because some head case decides to go crazy,” she said. “I did, too, until I turned on the news this morning.”
He couldn’t take his eyes off the poem.
“I don’t know what to do,” he said.
“None of us do,” she said. “That’s why we keep talking about it.”