UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
The Morning of the Slaughter
At our shared mirror, my roommate lathered his face with a bar of white, overly-fragrant soap in the purplish light of early morning.
I heard Laura--his girlfriend--then. She cooed to him, “I love you,” from his bed, the lower bunk, about four feet below mine. It was simple and child-like, almost as if she had said it in a dream. I thought, how could a woman say love in such a way and still actually mean it?
Jacob, apparently feeling the same as I, looked to her through the mirror. I saw from a passing car that he had blood speckled down his neck, not taking the usual care of blotting it away with my styptic pencil as he had done so reverently in the past. He asked her, “How could you say that?” and began sobbing. I heard the girl caress him and they fell into bed.
I felt arrested and clean listening to them then. Their love-making was deep and intimate, almost Godly. I breathed in heavy and stalked their shadows as they slid across the adjacent wall. Cars slicking by outside, punching light through our windows. Those shadows. Two bodies mixed with the silhouettes of our box fan; they covered each other, overlapped. Blurry in the dull light, sharp enough to see the blades whipping through in the bright. Those shadows. I fell asleep thinking of them, hoping for substance.
When I awoke, the world had changed forever. A drop of soap into the brimming water cup, so to speak. The surface tension was broken; it caused the aqua of chaos to run down the sides of the glass, down, down into a bloody pool. This is perhaps the only metaphor I see particular, peculiar enough to describe what happened to Jacob Manfred: how the man lived that day, how he lost his mind, and perhaps why all of those poor, innocent people were slaughtered that fateful autumn day some twenty-odd years ago.
He burst. Jacob Manfred blew-up and it was a bloody, silent, albeit self-reproaching burst. He killed thirty-two people without remorse. We--myself, our mutual friends, Laura and the like--could all see the firm bubble over the cusp of his glass rising before it all. We were cowards. We knew that his sanity was wearing thin, weeks, if not months, before. It was obvious. He had begun referring to himself as The Jack-legged Man. He would spend hours upon end visiting the drug lords in the South-End Philadelphia. He would eat nothing but Hershey Bars and spearmint gum and talk about his failing relationship with God. We knew that these things--among others--would come to a head, we simply couldn’t fathom that it would be so devastating.
While I do not see myself the most elegant man nor the most capable of telling the entire story of that day, I feel it necessary to explain why I have attempted some vague construct of Jacob.
For one, I was the man closest to him--if one were ever close in any sense. I was a dear friend of the famed murderer; more importantly one might argue, I was the man who saw him preparing himself the morning of October fourth, the morning of the slaughter.
In the most blunt terms: I was the man who could‘ve prevented the slaying of innocent lives.
Most do not know of my story. The reporters and pundits never asked me anything of the sort. I was told to be brief, to paint a picture of the man. And this, I would never do. I only told them that I thought he was a genius, that he was a good-natured friend. And though this appeared too tender a moment to record of a killer--or, at least, tender enough to prevent them from using my accounts in the papers--I believe wholeheartedly that no one has ever had better insight, better approaches to describing Jacob than I.
Over these long, twenty years, I’ve led myself to believe that I must assume a great, suffocating responsibility for the actions of my former roommate, for my inability to prohibit the senseless killing of many. For instance, I cried at a reading of the famed Ford Maddox Ford’s “The Good Soldier” admission:
“You may well ask why I write. And yet my reasons are many. For it is not unusual in human beings who have witnessed the sack of a city or the falling to pieces of a people to desire to set down what they have witnessed for the benefit of unknown heirs or of generations infinitely remote; or, if you please, just to get the sight out of their heads.”
Indeed, it is the cathartic practice of writing that may offer me some final peace. While I apologize for this and understand how many may deem me as pitiable and/or pathetic, know that I ask for none of this. Hordes of involuntary thoughts have been hazy, viscous, almost… perverse in their feinting of my conscious attempts to end the blows within. Though I had never the reason to question my life before Jacob’s psychotic spree, I continually asked myself: if given the choice, should a man give up thought, complex emotion, even love, to be happy? Then: Am I forever doomed to live, breath, die at the hand of blind guilt?
It was said to my younger self, by many psychologists and laymen alike, that these questions were unfounded, that my guilt was a strange and dubious enterprise. How was I to know that morning, as the lovers made good on their words, that many would die that day? They asked, How could I have seen the tenderness between those two and thought that in a few short hours, Jacob would’ve killed his lovely girlfriend, written “Black-eyed Susan” in blood on her white blouse? Was I seer enough to predict that Jacob would have then gone to a classroom with four pistols and somehow managed to kill so many before he turned on himself?
I could never have known this; and this, in the weaker sighs of middle age, I finally have admitted.
However, that is not why I write of Jacob Manfred today. I tell his story not because I am burdened with the deaths of those thirty-two victims, but because I am pressed down by the preoccupied mindset of the masses.
Jacob Manfred, at one point in his short life, was moved to tears. I am the sole witness of that. Though he may have killed many that day, I believe it somewhat ignorant to deny him his rightful claim of at least some humane quality.
I only hope in saying this that I am not estimated a martyr for his cause. Although I admit that I only wish to feel some greater sense of altruism for my friend, I truly hope that what occurred on the campus of Monlock University may never happen again.
I will say that what he did that day was--and will continue to be--disgusting. However, I will no longer concede to the idea that portraying Jacob Manfred--what all call “a monster”--in any favorable light is some kind of selfish insanity.
I ask that what was said of Jacob be questioned on some deeper level. That some one dig into his past and see what I have seen. And while I write this for reasons that might not be well recognized or well accepted thereafter, I know now that to understand…to realize that murderers were once beings of beauty too, is a release.
And to those cursing Jacob Manfred’s life so feverishly, I ask one thing to you:
Among all those beautiful people so close to your heart, among those you deem as sane and trustworthy… who do you know so well?
-Thomas R. Klein, Monlock University, Class of 1987Nick Gaudio is a recent graduation of West Virginia University. There, he studied Creative Writing. Currently unemployed in the most literal sense, Gaudio spends most of his time cursing the economy. He has a love-hate relationship with adverbs.
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