Thursday, 10 September 2009

Yellow Food - - W. Jack Savage

It’s the kind of thing you remember but you’d rather not. It was not all that sinister but something you’d rather not dredge up and certainly nothing you’d want others to know. Having come forward with my theory I simply had no choice but to associate myself with the idea of yellow food. Two people were dead. They were two people I knew and believe me that crossed my mind the day I called the police too.

I suppose it’s not so terribly strange. For example I remember a girl who threw up in third grade. Christine Kittles was her name. Sad as these things are, I never knew her to be associated with any other event. She was simply “the girl who threw up in third grade” and while in more contemplative moments I have wondered what she might have become without that moniker; to be synonymous with vomit did nothing to make her more popular at school. As for myself, I forgave her almost at once but others did not. They just couldn’t get it out of their minds, somehow. But for me it was something else. For me it was yellow food.

When I read about Colleen in particular, dying in the restaurant the way she did, it occurred to me to ask what she was eating. Actually, it was the restaurant and the fact that it was morning because, well, a lot of morning dishes are yellow food. But while I did ask, the fact that Colleen had an omelet in front of her certainly would not have stood out in a crowded restaurant at breakfast. Someone behind her in another booth that nobody could remember seeing had taken what must have been a small sword with a blade of at least eighteen inches and stuck it through the back of the booth killing Colleen almost instantly. When she slumped in her seat two of her co-workers actually laughed thinking she was mugging in some way. The booth was not high but no one saw anything.

Later, when Scott was killed the first news account I saw didn’t say a thing about his eating. He was just killed, not unlike Colleen; stabbed in the back. But this time, sitting on a park bench across the street from where he was having his oil changed. I mean people die of course. But for two people you know to be killed within a month was odd enough for me to call the police.
After going down and making a list of all the people I knew associated with both people, I was the only one who knew both of them. I was about to leave when the detective said “if someone else you know dies eating dinner, we’ll be in touch”, I didn’t put it together until I was out in the hall waiting for the elevator. Then it hit me and I went back.

“Did you mean”, I began, “as in “breakfast, lunch and dinner?”

“Yes”, he said. “I’m sorry, bad joke I guess.”

“No, I mean, Scott was eating lunch?”

“Yes”, he said and shuffled some papers until he picked up one. “A sandwich.”

I just stood there for a moment.

“It didn’t say anything about that on the news”, I said. “Can I ask, what kind of sandwich?”

He looked at the notes.

“A cheese sandwich” he said. “There’s an Italian Deli down the street. He got it there. Why?”

“I’m, I’m not sure”, I said. “Isn’t it odd though that they’d both be killed while, while eating?”

“I suppose”, he said. “Does it seem odd to you?”

“Yes” I said, “it does.”

On the way home the yellow food idea seemed too far-fetched to have any connection. I hadn’t shared that curiosity with the police but by going to them and identifying myself as a person with a connection to both victims I realized I’d made myself at the very least a person of interest. I had no real alibi. During both murders I was at home but since I live alone I had no way to prove it. But they hadn’t asked me where I was during Scott’s murder: only Colleen’s.

I had an aversion to yellow food when I was a child. I had a very sensitive nose and the smell of eggs frying or especially boiled eggs in some form was very bad to me. Then, there was cheese. Cheese is harmless enough as are eggs to me now, but back then, the smell of cheese was just as bad. This had the effect of grouping nearly any yellow colored food as something to avoid. As I didn’t like and avoided yellow food, I did the same with people who liked yellow food; I avoided them. I’m sure it seemed terribly unfair that one day we were friends and the next day I was acting like a jerk. I got over all these things by my late teens but as I learned things about various social disorders such as being uncomfortable eating in front of others; I began realizing that I probably had a social disorder and when it was happening, it was like I had no choice. It was a real thing to me.

So when Andrea Bigelow from work was killed I began to feel quite sure that whoever killed her had a terrible aversion, as I had as a child, to yellow food.

“Why are you telling me this, Mr. Harrison?” he asked.

“Listen” I said. “Poor Andrea was brutally stabbed by someone who took the time to open what was left of her egg salad sandwich and smear it on her face. I’m not saying killing her was somehow normal but doing that afterwards, to me smacks of something else”.

“Such as?” he asked.

“Listen”, I began, “I know it sounds a little crazy. But today, people are treated for things like this. Back when I was a kid, for example, I grew up in Minneapolis. I did well in school in the fall and in the spring. But in the dead of winter, those long cold and mostly dark and overcast skies got me down real bad. Today they call it Seasonal Dysfunction Disorder and they treat it with light. There are special “daylight lamps” for these people. My point is it’d be worth looking into some of these support groups and outpatient studies going on that deal with social disorders and just see if they’ve come across someone with an aversion… even a psychosis connected to yellow food.”

“Did you and Ms. Bigelow get along, would you say?” he asked.

“Yes’ I said. “For the most part we did. She could be a bitch but on those days you just tried to avoid her. She’d even say, “Just leave me alone for a while”, sometimes. We worked at M. J. Dunn together for over a year. I don’t think we ever, you know, other than the Christmas Party, ever socialized. But this, this is just terrible.”

“There is one other fellow we’ve found with a connection to all three victims” he said; “besides yourself I mean."

“There is?” I said. “Who? I mean, can you tell me who?”

“An author," he said, “A William Elgin.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Is something wrong?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said getting up. “I’m William Elgin. That’s the name I wrote my book under. I was excited. I gave copies to everyone; cost me a small fortune. It’s self-published.”

“Really?” he said and looked genuinely surprised. “That’s not what the author’s biography says”.
“The authors biography”, I began, “not unlike the author himself, is full of shit. Or at least was when he was in his, “Renaissance man” period.”

I sat back down, “And before you even ask, I have gone over in my mind everyone I can remember from M. J. Dunn and no one was capable of this. It would have to be someone outside: one of our vendors perhaps but no one in that company. And there’s something else.”

“Your connection to the victims?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “But more than that even. What are the odds that the one person with a connection to all three victims has a theory about the killer based on his childhood experience with a similar affliction.”

“Pretty long odds, Mr. Harrison,” he said. “Very long indeed. How do you account for it?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “But there’s only one person, say, outside of yourself and you’re off the hook because I just told you about it, who knows what I just told you about me as a child and yellow food.”

* * *

“Yes, I know Burt Harrison,” said Doctor Blum. “He was a client some years ago. He became very angry with me for some reason. He finally stopped coming”.

“Do you remember any of the circumstances of that falling out?” he asked.

“As a matter of fact I do,” said Dr. Blum. “Burt was basically a fairly well adjusted neurotic. Bit his fingernails down to the quick… not an alcoholic in my judgment but would overdo it now and then. He occasionally felt bad about, well, everything really and we’d talk. Finally one day, he came in and said I wasn’t doing him any good and he was better before he started coming to see me. I didn’t say anything but I actually agreed with him. I never heard from him again”.

“We were wondering about the possibility of a social disorder,” he asked.

“Actually,” he said, “calling Burt a well adjusted neurotic, albeit somewhat facetiously, is more information then I’m willing to share about a former client. But I can say that I saw no signs of anything like that”.

“You said,” he began, “that he became very angry with you. Might I assume that digging up the past into the here and now tripped off some of that hostility?”

There was a pause. “You could fairly assume that, I think. Actually there was one event during his early school days that was somewhat pivotal to his hostility. But while it came up quite often and now that I think of it, he would find ways to bring it up, it became such a flash point for his anger that I suggested he see another therapist at one point. This he took as my somehow, evading my responsibility. That’s not uncommon…turning the tables like that. On balance though, I never got the feeling Burt was dangerous in any way; to himself or others.”

“I see,” he said. “One other question Doctor, may I ask if the event had any connection to…yellow food, in some way?”

“After a fashion,” he said. “Vomit actually and yes, he described it as yellow”.

“It would be a big help,” he said, “if you could remember the name of the person or even the school where this happened?”

He smiled and said, “The girl who threw up in third grade. That was the title he gave her: Christine something. Christine Kittles I think.”

* * *

After a few weeks I had begun to settle back into a sense of normalcy. I had assumed the police hadn’t found any connection between my old therapist and the killings and while the whole thing was terrible and bizarre, I mean life goes on. I took a few days off after I told the detective what I thought and took the opportunity to get my life in order: store a few things and whatnot. When on a Saturday, I was down at my storage locker putting the last of it away, the detective walked up just as I was locking up.

“Hi,” I said. “What are you doing down here?”

“I’m here to see you, Mr. Harrison,” he said.

“How did you…have you been following me?” I asked.

“Just now I did, yes,” he said. “You were pulling away just as I was pulling up at your townhouse. I wonder if we could talk about another aspect of your theory that’s come to light? Do you remember a fellow student by the name of Christine Kittles?”

“Of course,” I said.

I unlocked the padlock and began raising the door.

“In fact,” I said, “It’s funny you would bring her up. I just packed away my High School yearbook and stuff. I’ve got her picture here somewhere. Why do you ask?”

“Your Doctor said you had some issues with Christine, Mr. Harrison,” he said. “I did a little research and found she had died some years ago.”

I kept looking through my pictures.

“She’d been killed, actually,” he said. “And strangely enough, she’d been stabbed.”

I pulled out the long picture of our eighth grade graduating class. “Here she is,” I said and took a step toward him.

He paused for a moment and took a step toward me to take a look. When he did I kept my eyes on her picture in my left hand and stabbed him through the heart with the bayonet with my right.

“Look at her,” I said. “You’d never know how disgusting she was from this picture would you?”

When he fell to his knees I continued showing him the picture.

“A fucking abomination really,” I said. “Eating and regurgitating yellow food for everyone to be disgusted by.”

I pulled the bayonet out and let him fall forward into the locker. Twenty minutes later I had moved enough boxes to make room for the detective’s car and backed it in. I put him in the trunk and as I was locking up again, Harry the facility manager drove up and got out.

“Good morning,” he said.

“Hi Harry,” I said. “I’m sorry about this. I sure appreciate your coming down. I closed my checking account so I hope a Money Order will do?”

“Not a problem,” he said. “I’m sure sorry to hear about mother, though.”

“Thank you,” I said. “They said a year at the most but…well, as you can see, I made it out for two years just in case. At any rate I’ll let you know before then when I get back.”

“Don’t worry about a thing, Mr. Elgin,” he said. “We’ll be here for you.”

The thing about this is, while I’m nearly powerless to do anything about it, if they’d just take me seriously to begin with they could put an end to it. God knows I’ve given them every opportunity. Short of walking up and saying, “I did it and I’d do it again and I’ll keep doing it.” I don’t know what they want from me. I mean I’m doing all the work here. I do it, I identify myself and offer a theory and tell them my connection to it and in this case even gave them a blueprint to a previous event. And what does he do? He drives over, alone and lets himself be suckered into a long-term storage facility where it’ll be at least two years before anyone finds him. I’m sorry but I’m not about to “cry for help” any louder than I have been.

Photo Credit: Arenamontanous on Flickr

About the author: Walter “Jack” Savage quit high school and spent two and a half years in Vietnam as a paratrooper and helicopter doorgunner, all before his twenty-first birthday. A life long fan of short stories, Jack began writing his own fifteen years ago while pursuing his graduate degree in film studies. He published a collection of his twelve best entitled, Bumping and Other Stories last year. ( Yellow Food is not part of that collection). Jack is a graduate of Brown Institute and Mankato State University in Minnesota and is a career broadcaster currently heard on 790-KABC Radio in Los Angeles. He is also a veteran stage actor and Associate Professor in Telecommunications and Film at California State University, Los Angeles. Jack and his wife Kathy live in Monrovia, California. You can visit his website here.