Iris N. Schwartz
Vincent possessed blue-black hair, soulful-spaniel eyes. He was close-mouthed, and taller than anyone Julia knew ─ in high school or out. He looked secretive, and on the verge of catching up to his elongated body.
She met him while hanging with her junior-year friends, Jackson and Matthew. After school and on some weekends, the four of them rode all-terrain bikes, talked of colleges they planned to attend, smoked weed.
Vincent was older than Julia, Jackson, and Matthew by at least a year and a half, but was still a junior. He said he’d been left back because he was dyslexic, but once Julia overheard her parents whisper about Vincent being “sent away”.
Vincent was quiet, yes, but knew where to buy the best herb ─ pungent Hawaiian sativa that left Julia super-flushed and flirtatious. Sometimes he treated all of them; most times, just Julia.
Matthew and Jackson said Vincent wasn’t too bright, but one time she’d caught him reading a purple hardcover tome in the local library, and he wasn’t mouthing the words or pointing at them, so Julia discounted her friends’ opinion.
She wished she’d thought to ask what he’d been reading, but Vincent shut the book and splayed both large hands over it when he spotted her walking over. As she neared his table, she identified upper-case letters “DS…” on the spine; some front-cover text was discernible before Vincent whisked the book into his commodious backpack.
Vincent reminded Julia of a Rubik’s Cube, that multicolored puzzle her nerdy father said he tinkered with when he was her age. It was now also available virtually. She’d never been that interested in color, word, or jigsaw challenges, but people puzzles? Those intrigued her.
Julia felt somewhat guilty about Vincent, mostly about smoking his weed for free. On school grounds one day she asked, “If he’s stupid, why do you hang with him? Your standards must not be very high.”
Jackson: “Not when I want to get high!”
He and Matthew cackled at this witticism. Their friend flashed a smile, but shook her head. They walked off to class; Julia heard them snickering two trees away.
She decided to make a study of Vincent.
Late that afternoon, Julia got stoned with Vincent in the park adjacent to the high school. After finishing their first joint, he started pulling on the cuffs of his too-short long sleeves, and said, “You know, this has been driving me crazy for years!”
“Sleeves, pant legs, all of it!” He leapt up from the bench they’d been sharing, swatted at his arms and legs. “Julia, do you know I’m six-four-and-a-half? And I can’t get shirts, coats, or pants that are long enough!”
Julia, mystified, chewed a thumbnail and asked, “Why don’t you go to a big and tall men’s shop?”
After listening to surprisingly detailed information regarding such men’s clothiers, Vincent began: “I used to complain to my mother about my clothes. I told her how uncomfortable I was, how ridiculous I looked. Do you know how she answered me?”
He seemed to be waiting for Julia to respond.
“No, I don’t know.”
“She said, ‘Vincent, that’s the way things are. Learn to live with it.’”
“Did she really not know about clothes for tall men?”
“Every other man in our family is short ─ like five feet, five inches to five feet, seven inches.”
“Doesn’t she see tall men on the street?” Julia squinted up at her friend. “Don’t you?”
“What? Are you kidding? Are you blaming me?” Vincent’s face turned pink.
Julia started inching away on the bench. He didn’t notice.
“You know what else my mother said?” He was nearly screaming now. “She said, ‘Who do you think you are, Vincent? You think you’re so special there should be clothes tailored just for you?’” Now his face bordered on pickled-beet pink.
Julia was worried for him as well as for herself. “Calm down, please. Please, Vincent.” She was quivering.
He looked at Julia for several seconds. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I’m just so, so…angry! All these years my mother could have helped. Instead, she made me feel like a selfish…freak!”
Julia thought Vincent odd but vulnerable; she stared into his bottomless brown eyes, smoothed and caressed his shiny black hair to comfort him. Lost herself in this wellspring of soft and thick. Before she could protest or move away, he’d pulled her face to his and started kissing her.
This was not a good idea. Which was why, as a sixteen-year-old and an on-again, off-again not-quite stoner, she kissed him back. Fervent kisses, unlike those with boys her age.
Vincent wanted to hasten her to his room, in the back of his parents’ house. It would be quiet, he said. Julia felt every pore of her skin open, but understood this was the Haze, too. She kissed him, pulled away, kissed and pulled back, again. Finally: “Vincent, I have to go.” She evened out wrinkles on her blouse, patted down her hair. She needed to snap out of this…Hawaiian Haze. “I’ll see you in school.”
He stood open-mouthed, gangly, swatting at his pant legs, before she turned away.
Away from Jackson, Matthew told her, “Vincent may be smart, but he’s weird.” She chose not to worry; next time she’d talk with Vincent─nothing more.
Days later, after last class, Vincent offered that wicked-good weed again. Julia agreed to go to his house. She told herself he was just a bit strange, and she’d smoke less than half a joint. Nothing would happen. Didn’t she deserve to have fun?
Vincent’s home was still. Sitting on the living room sofa after sharing one-and-a-half joints, she felt buoyant, unafraid. Vincent spoke rapidly, and loud.
Julia bounded up from the sofa; she pried Vincent’s thighs apart and stood between them. She began to giggle.
“I was talking, you know,” he said, irritation razoring the air.
Oblivious, she giggled again, but moved away from his long legs. “Ha,” Julia pointed, “you’re Vincent Long Legs.”
“I thought so.”
“I was telling you about my mother.”
“Your haberdashery-ignorant mother?” Julia giggled again, this time holding a hand over her mouth.
“One and the same.” Vincent lit up another j. “There are many good reasons to kill her. It’ll be hard to pin it down to one.”
She closed her mouth; not even a titter escaped.
“Relax, giggle-puss. I’m kidding. Fantasising. Blowing off steam.” He reached over to where she now stood, to the left of the sofa. “Come here. I’m not serious.”
Julia wasn’t sure. “Are you O.K.?”
“Of course I’m O.K. Come on. Sit next to me. Have some more Hawaiian?” He didn’t wait for her to answer; began talking as soon as a wobbly Julia sat beside him. “She burns the morning coffee. She won’t cook zuppa di pesce anymore. She screeches at me that I’m loud! On top of the too-short shirts and pants….”
“I am trying to tell you something. Shush, baby. O.K.?”
He continued: “So, you can cook Italian food, right? If you don’t know how, I’ll get a cousin to teach you. After I kill her, you can visit me in jail, bring me homemade braciole di manzo and zuppa di pesce.”
Julia was now sitting stiffly. “I’m not Italian. I don’t cook. And you’re not killing anyone…”
“Not just anyone ─ my mother!” Vincent sported what Jackson and Matthew called a “shit-eating grin”.
“I said you’re not killing anyone, and I won’t visit you in prison.”
“Just kidding. I told you. You’re the boss. If you don’t want me to kill my mother, I won’t. Come on.” Vincent stood. He pulled her up. “Come with me to my room. Can you play with my hair like you did the other day? That felt so good.”
Julia had to play for time, had to leave her high behind her and think up a way to flee. “I will, I will, but…where’s the bathroom?”
“Oh, mine’s messy. Why don’t you use the one in my parents’ bedroom? It’s upstairs and to the right. And, Julia?”
“I’ll be downstairs, down the hall and to the left after you’re done.”
“O.K., Vincent. I’ll remember that.”
Once inside his parents’ bathroom, Julia did need to use it. Could fear induce urination? She’d have to look that up. And she’d have to compose herself to figure a way out.
Reading always soothed her. There, under folded bath towels on top of a hamper ─ there was a trade paperback, green, with lettering that reminded her of... what? The book Vincent had been reading in the library! The book he’d deftly hidden in his backpack.
Julia flushed, washed her hands, secured the book, and sat down on the now-closed lid. When she turned the first page she saw “Vincenza” written in script in the lower left-hand corner. Could that be his mother?
Julia felt excitement surge through her, like electricity, like… Vincent’s lips on hers. Damn, concentrate! She turned back to the cover, then the spine: DSM-4R: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Vincent’s book had been purple, with, maybe, a different number in the title? Julia shuffled through pages, found sticky notes next to Borderline Personality Disorder, and, within that section and scarier still, Homicidal Ideation. “HI” scrawled, circled, appeared on two pages.
Before she could assimilate this information or address her urgency to leave, Julia heard drawers slamming, a woman yelling. Where was Vincent?
Julia ran part-way down the stairs─still clenching the DSM-4R─and saw a tall, middle-aged brunette, red-faced, screaming at Vincent. He was backing up, slowly. She was advancing, holding, oh my God, a large knife in her right hand!
Should Julia call the police? They might not come in time. This woman ─ Vincenza? ─ said she’d heard him, she knew he wanted to kill her! She would not let that happen! Who was Vincent to take the life of she who had given him life?
He was talking sotto voce now, telling her he didn’t mean it, he loved her, she must know that.
Vincenza wasn’t yelling, but was still waving the weapon at her son. Julia flew down the rest of the stairs. Without thinking, she hurled the hefty paperback at the woman’s head. Vincenza fell, lost her grip on the knife.
Julia told Jackson and Matthew she needed to think clearly, cut back on weed. She’d heard her parents, in their bedroom, whisper about Vincent’s mother resuming Risperidone; her son had never gone off his meds.
Vincent stayed away from Julia. Weeks later, she bought her own copy of the DSM-5. She had questions to puzzle out, and someone to care about ─ Julia.
Iris N. Schwartz is a fiction and nonfiction writer, as well as a Pushcart-Prize-nominated poet. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in such journals as A Story in 100 Words, Bindweed Magazine, Connotation Press, The Flash Fiction Press, Gyroscope Review, Jellyfish Review, Random Sample Review, The Round Up, and The Tribe Journal.