After a while Marcello finds himself sitting in the sand, inches away from Simone’s body.
In truth, he hadn’t thought this far ahead.
He’d expected at least someone to catch sight of him carrying a body across the beach, ideally a friend from before his arrest and imprisonment, although he wasn’t picky, anyone would have done nicely. Disconcertingly, there were no eyes on him. He strained his ears for the urgent sound of a police siren far away. Oh, to be arrested again by that patronising police officer that had marched him to the station the first time! How he would laugh. Sure, he had taken the rap before, but now look! Goliath was dead. The terror of the town vanquished. He had killed him. He had done what everyone was afraid to do. Albeit in a bloody, panicked accident.
Upon reflection, there were a lot of things he’d expected to happen that hadn’t gone to plan. Maybe he’d never really expected Simone to apologise, locked in that cage and generating more fury by the second, no, he’d been naïve and coked up to expect that. But something. Like grooming an unruly dog, either he was bitten, or the dog allowed itself to be groomed. Something had had to give. Except, Simone had been relentless and uncompromising, and he had played the fool again at the last second. Of course Simone would be like that, he thinks, right until the end. Like a miserable prophecy. Nothing of substance or development had occurred, things had stayed the same, only Simone was dead now. The football team, like a mirage, had disappeared and left him here.
He put his head in his hands. What was he to do now? The reality of it all was sinking in steadily.
He spent the day searching for people. The place had always been desolated, this coastal wasteland he called home, but after walking down the road to his shop and seeing nobody, anxiety began thundering in his heart. He looked into the clouds for a moment, gaze lingering there, bargaining with a higher power.
Let me see just one kid playing in the park, skipping school, doing drugs, just one person- As he rounded a corner, he found he was the only one on the streets there, too. He scanned the shop fronts, and found they had an odd aura to them, as if they had been closed for months. Like how his beloved Dogman had looked when he was away. He thought he had seen a truck going up the road, lights flashing across his face, but now it was gone. No familiar voices drifting from a coffee house, no thugs bumming around the front of stores, (he would have welcomed even them) he was on his own amongst the backdrop of stationary cars.
The dogs were there, though, had been waiting for him all this time, when he checked the groomers. He laughed, saddened by the sight yet at home with it. Had he expected them to be gone, too? They were barking at him, hungry and impatient. The only dog that wasn’t there was Jack. It seemed Jack had ran off into the sand dunes and had yet to return. He stuck his fingers into the cage and let Toby bark stubbornly, then relent and then lick the tips of them. Toby seemed relatively untraumatized and unchanged after witnessing a man murdered in front of his eyes last night. As he scanned the cages, he counted the dogs, a nagging feeling in the back of his mind. He went to get the food for the dogs, an old ritual, and when he came back, bowls in each hand, the sight hit him. Florence was still in her cage, yapping steadily when he brought the kibble in. The dogs seemed to shy away from the kibble, even though they looked hungry, barking at him wildly instead. Florence barked at him the most, he noted, her high little dog voice seeming as if she was trying to tell him a fact that was of the utmost importance.
He realised with a crashing fear as he slid the bowl into her cage that she was supposed to be picked up today. Florence’s owner, a severe woman with her hair constantly scraped back, had been set to arrive for her. And he had forgotten! Yet it seemed Miss Abel had forgotten too. Her holiday, dog-less, was over by now. Where is the passive aggressive knock on his door and a voice calling for Florence? That woman loved her dog. Not in the way that one might adore a companion, but in an obsessive way, the way a person might find themselves devoted to a beloved possession's upkeep. He glanced at the shop front. He certainly would've gotten an earful from her if she'd arrived to pick up her dog and Marcello wasn't there, (busy hitting at the flames on a corpse) if he'd left the shop unopened. She wasn’t outside. He gave Florence an absent scratch on the ear and stepped out of the store, feeling as if a seperate willpower had been dragging him places all day. All night.
In the distance, he heard a motorcycle's rumble. His blood froze. It was coming his way, closer and aggressive. Marcello, trained by instinct to associate that obnoxious roaring sound of the motorcycle with Simone, flinched. As he listened to the sound grow closer, unable to see the bike as he craned his head, like a prey animal listening for the footsteps of a bigger animal in the dark, he managed to relax slightly with a simple thought: Simone was dead. This wouldn’t be his bike. He let out another laugh, small and melancholy, at how scary things seemed in the quiet, with only the motorcycle to listen to. What did he have to be afraid of anymore, in this life? He waited for the bike to pass him eventually, part of him scolding the piece of his mind that almost steeled itself. It was another person, just another person in this dreadfully quiet place. He should be relieved, if anything!
When he saw Simone on the bike he screamed. Simone, with his adidas jacket, with his feet free of duct tape and his face filled with a dull concentration.
Marcello shoved a fist in his mouth, feeling all the more vulnerable now he had let Simone know he was there, there- Simone breaked suddenly, unintentionally steering Marcello's way and almost running him down. The bike came to a sudden stop, so fast its driver went sailing over its front. There was a crunching sound as the bike fell on its side.
Simone simply got up from the pavement, brushing off an event that should’ve killed him a second time with an unconcious shake of the shoulders. A dazed expression and then his eyes met Marcello's. Rage seemed to exude itself from Simone in waves as they finally saw each other, and Marcello yelped, wanting to dash back into the groomers but finding himself without the courage, lest he see the silhouette of Simone hammer relentlessly at the door from outside, Marcello locked in and unable to get free from him.
What kind of daytime nightmare was this? Marcello felt along the front of his shop, back to it, hands shaking, fingers running over the window and all its etchings, feeling naked for a moment.
Simone’s vacant eyes were outlined in scarlet, rivers of blood pouring from the wound Marcello had inflicted on him the night before. A nasty blue and black bruise made a ring around his throat, visible above the collar of his jacket. Simone's jaw worked, seemingly chewing over a thousand things to say. Perhaps working to say them.
Reeling from the sudden appearance of the dead man, Marcello ran.
Adrenaline spurred thoughts buzzed at him like a cloud of wasps. This wasn't real. It couldn't be. Simone, not even thinking to get back on the bike, was sprinting after him with a grim, dogged determination. Feet pounding the pavement, Marcello began to wheeze, slowing, ice cold breaths gathered in the back of his throat. Simone had hurt him bad during one of the two altercations they'd had. His ribs hurt, something important felt cracked, a bone maybe, Marcello was noting for the first time. He found himself in the grips of a hysterical panic attack. What a thing to lay on somebody. A late night horror movie that never ended.
It didn’t take long for Simone to catch up with him.
Marcello’s foot snagged on an uneven bit of pavement and he went sprawling, face twisted with a powerful disbelief. He recalled a distant memory, of being young and staying home from school one week with some flu. He had been in the grips of a fever that wouldn't break (until it did) and was helpless against the onslaught of hallucinations and dreams which floated in and out of his psyche until his older sister swabbed a damp cloth on his forehead, feeling pity. Perhaps this was his own personal fever dream, diabolically cooked up by his guilty conscience.
Simone advanced on him, for a moment blocking out Marcello’s view of the clouds from his position on the ground. Shaking with terror, Marcello blurted out wildly,
“Simone! You can't be here! You're dead!” For a moment, as he spoke, he wondered if the tone he took with Simone then, almost accusatory, was the bravest tone he’d ever taken with Simone in his life. Even when he was taunting Simone in that cage, he hadn't felt as real as this.
“No.” Simone said, or maybe he didn't, and then he was hoisted up by the front of his shirt, and Marcello could feel hot breath on his face. Shouldn't be here, shouldn't be here, yet here he was. It was just his luck to be haunted by a vengeful ghost. Not least a ghost who's fists wouldn't go right through him, it seemed.
“Simone- Sim- you’ve got to understand, you're dead. Your body is somewhere! I don't know!" Marcello babbled insistently, not sure what point he was trying to make considering there Simone was animated again, in the flesh, holding him in a vice grip and ready to beat the pulp out of him. Deja vu. Marcello's mind laughed madly. We've been here before, it echoed. Oh, absurdity. Relentless pain now as Simone adjusted his grip for a precarious moment and held him by the neck. He held his hands up to cover his face hopelessly, saying over and over a word that had become such a sizable part of his vocabulary almost overnight.
"Simone, listen to me, Simone put me down, Simone-" A strange look came over Simone’s face then, as if he had been almost lulled by the steady repetitions Marcello was breathing with such brainless panic. Simone glanced briefly at a blood stain on the sleeve of his coat as if noticing it for the first time, the sleeve on his hand, said hand connecting to Marcello's neck. An odd sensation of disorientation overcame Marcello, as if the ground was coming up to meet him. Marcello was dropped unceremoniously onto the hard floor, scraping his knee on the unforgiving ground. Simone eyes were narrowed, zeroed on somewhere around his midsection now, but Marcello noted they were not radiating his signature look of hostility, but a mood more pensive.
Marcello swallowed, not wanting to prompt any rash movements and staying silent, happy with where he was on the ground, where he was safe from most of Simone’s violent movements. They stared at each other, each examining wounds and gashes on each other’s faces in a charged handful of seconds. Time flowed like hot treacle.
"I locked you in that dog cage, Simone, and you wanted to kill me for it. I had to do something! Even- even when I was trying to help you wanted to kill me!"
There was a pause. The man turned as if bored by Marcello's words. He was looking out into the streets now, leaving Marcello discarded, and Marcello envisioned cogs turning slowly in Simone's mind. Marcello read the emblazoned words "Uncle Sam" on the back of his tracksuit. He'd never seen that before. Maybe things were coming back to him. The events of last night.
And when they were recalled, what would he do with him? Marcello thought miserably. He should have never met Simone. He should've set up shop elsewhere, intuitively away from every bit of the man's collateral damage.
Simone appeared to be searching the horizon for people to witness their confrontation. Whenever he had fought in the past, there were always people watching: bystanders, drunken cohorts, or police, on a few occasions. Always an audience. Sometimes they looked on and cheered, but nobody dared intervene. Now it seemed there wasn't anybody to intervene. Nobody at all. A cool wind blew.
Simone said something quickly with a growl that Marcello didn't catch, his face turned away, jaw tightening, teeth gritting. Processing. Looking at his hands, turning them over. His words are hard to understand, hard to hear, and when Simone speaks Marcello sees snapshots of the man from the past. Marcello’s mouth was dry when he spoke next.
"I deserve it. I deserve all of it." He spoke as if he were waking up groggily from a hangover, murmuring and tired. Everyone was gone. He thought of his daughter, and where she was. He wondered if he'd ever see her again. He exhaled white clouds of air raggedly, sitting uncomfortably on the ground yet too unsure of his position with Simone to stand yet. When he finally dragged his eyes up from the patterns the wind was making in the sand, he watched Simone repeatedly thumb at the bruise on his throat, pressing into it, deep and uncomfortable, and then do it again. He furrowed his brow.
"I'm sorry, Simone. Really. I didn't mean for any of this to happen." It struck him, even now, after all had that had happened, that yes, he was sorry for it. It really wasn't meant to play out like this, things had spun so out of control so quickly he had no hope of keeping up-
"Simone." He said suddenly, head lifting. Like a great dam fighting rising water, Marcello felt something cave in and break inside. Great feelings bubbled up, made thick in his voice by the distinct anger and regret he jostled to contend with.
"Do you hear me?" He got to his feet, finally pushing himself off the ground to talk to Simone's back, convinced of what he had to say next. He took in a breath. Simone hadn't even turned around to acknowledge him, perhaps deaf to his words, or staying silent in bitter defiance. His body shook.
"I'm sorry." He said, forcing the words out, even if it seemed to mean nothing to Simone. His palms itched, and his face was flushed as some pressure built up in him with every beat that Simone stayed silent. All his life nobody had been there to really hear him, except maybe the dogs, and now he wanted to be listened to. Truly, honestly. He didn't want respect, or an apology, or forgiveness. He just... Wanted to be heard. Simone was dead but now he was here, to hear him.
He was still speaking to Simone's back, and he knows Simone is saying something, but he still cannot hear, however much he strains. Marcelo hears the scraping of a chain when his feet meet the pavement. Every step is a scrape and a rattle ringing in his mind. I'm here! We're stuck here! There's nobody but us! He said in his mind, willing Simone at least turn around, glance at him again, even with a face (that spelled out in Simone's own internal manor of assessing things) that he hated the smaller man's guts.
"Listen to me!" The stern barrier of intimidation drew him back from reaching out and touching the man, but some yapping dog in him persisted. Oh, yes, he was being brave now. He was almost shouting. First he demands an apology from Simone for his mistreatment, then he lets him die on a dog table, and now he's demanding his attention again. Screaming for something. Even if all he got was swatted away. Blood running down a doll, neon lights in a night club, the lady who'd kissed him upon Simone's easy suggestion. These images flickered under Marcello's eyelids, feeling so far away, but the events had all been recent. The only constant factor in them being Simone. He thinks about Simone's mother, perhaps relieved, at her son's disappearance.
It was important Simone knew how much he meant what he was saying. He hadn't ever wanted his own life, nevermind Simone's, to turn out like this in the end for god's sake! He was a murderer now. And he was sorry. And Simone wouldn't even spare him the time of day. Even when he was dead.
He walks around Simone so that the man can face him when he stays in his position. He exhales through bared teeth in the cold.
"Can't you see me? Simone, come on, look at me!" He says, the words making him childish. He feels tiny now, as if the weight of Simone's gaze even if he glances at him would crush him. But he persists.
"Listen to me!"
Screw it. His hands reach out, self directed, and grab onto Simone's coat, fisting at it. "I'm here! I'm here! Look at me!" He yells.
The dam has broken and water is flooding the shop, his shop, Dogman, and the dogs are running wild now, drinking from dirty puddles and snarling and snapping at eachother in the rain. They shake their shaggy costs, ungroomed, long nails clicking on the pavement as they bound off on their own accord. They are strays now, and nobody will touch them. They chase motorbikes and cars snap at gentle hands.
"Goddamn you I'm here!" Marcello's face contorts, gashes on his face scrunching, his eyes still black and blue.
But it doesn't matter anyway because Simone won't acknowledge him. He's a wall to Marcello's grabbing and shaking. It looks almost comical, a person so unmoved by the little man's plight. He could simply knock him down, the way a bull flicks a droning insect off his ear, but he doesn't. He holds the power to do it, and even now, with Simone dead, Marcello holds none of it. Simone is playing a different game now, and he makes his move by not reacting. It's a move that wipes the opposition out. His eyes stare ahead, challenging. Marcello is not used to this aspect of Simone that has appeared to him, chased him down and looked away the moment he opened his mouth. Simone is a spectre come back half-alive, missing some essential aspect, severed away from Marcello's waking world.
Marcello still tries to read his expression but can't, all the blood that's flowing down Simone's face making it impossible to.
He ceases to touch Simone now, backing away as if his hands have been burnt the moment he grabbed Simone's jacket and arms, and he realizes his eyes are wet.
Simone says nothing to this retreat. Yet even in his silence, he is still so alive to Marcello. His arms are folded over his chest even though Marcello didn't see him move them and the sun lights on him through the grey, bleak clouds. In this moment, bloody and angry and silent, he is the picture of a martyred saint, saint of all one-man racketts and untamable dogs.
And Marcello runs his hands through his hair, talking to himself, apologising at nothing.
In the distance, Jack howls and it sounds like people shouting, far away, a spectacle of nameless people watching Marcello the dog groomer cry out.