The Sharp Folly

Sharp Folly

Taritha Aines was the first to get to him. She caned her way over long before the sun coughed up its light and slapped him hard across the face. An hour later, Sam Horster punched him in the kidney before strolling to open his bakery for the day. At the start of the morning commuter rush, Nathaniel Bruge took a turn fish-hooking him so hard that the capillaries around his lips started to show through.

Carl Haddock’s head wilted against his chest. He picked it up only to see the crowd disperse to jobs with urgent emails and coffee stains. His wrists were bound to the Y, the metal monster built for punishment and planted by the bus stop in the square near the old courthouse. Rust was caking on his shirt. The smell of downtown, like old gun powder and fresh urine, was hugging him too tightly.

The Y forced his arms into a position that made him seem as though he were continuously shouting, “I’m here!” to anyone who cared to pass by to spit on him. His hips were pushed back against a bar that teenagers sometimes sat on while killing lung cells and time, ensuring that he was slightly bent over while blood and nerves were disappearing from his shoulders. He groaned as a woman in a violet pantsuit power-walked by while giving him the finger.

Sarine watched all of it. She’d been assigned to monitor the taut weasel during his day of placation. She couldn’t figure out if it was an honor, a rite of passage after transferring across the city to a new precinct, or a bit of both. Haddock was high profile. She stood, as training dictated, with him occupying only half her field of vision. Partially there. Partially forgotten. It’s not like there was any danger of him escaping.

“What’s your name?” Haddock asked, shaking away the stars.

She stayed silent and still. A fleshy statue governed by principles.

“Come on,” he said, still slightly fuzzy in her eye line. “Come on, come on. I’m here, and you’re here. This is going to go a lot better for both of us if we can talk. Unless you brought Parcheesi or something. You’ll have to move my piece for me, though.”

“I’m not supposed to talk to you. I’m only supposed to guard you.”

“That’s a funny way of putting it,” Haddock said, spitting blood on the concrete. “Not a laughing kind of funny, or anything. More like when a cat can’t get down from a sky scraper. That kind of funny.”

He spoke with a bar-drunk sloppiness, but it wasn’t because of the pain; he was pushing a loose tooth back and forth with his tongue, unable to stop himself.

“Really? Nothing at all?” he felt a nerve in the tooth snap. “They’ve got you all trained down to the gills. It’s really impressive.”

They stayed there — one standing, one hunched — for a few more moments as the strange silence of a public place invaded their inner ears. Sarine started to rock on her heels. Haddock pretended not to notice.

“Alright,” she broke. “What do you want to talk about?” Even though there was no one to see, she remained tilted away from him, surveying intently a poster for a used lawnmower being sold by its owner. Two hundred dollars. Way too expensive.

“You pick. Ask me anything you want.”


“You bet.”

“Do you regret what you did?”

“Not one bit.”


The downtown lunch crowd gave Haddock a swollen eye and a relief map of bruises printed on his legs and back. Even with one eye lid shut by pooling blood, he still noticed Sarine was standing closer.

When the pack was at its largest, a gruff slather of hair gel in a slim three-piece worked his way behind Haddock, reached around to the metal bar bearing his weight and undid the buckle on his belt. With a crass jerk, he pulled Haddock’s pants and underwear down to his ankles, looking back up to the crowd to drink their approval. He silenced them, raised his eyebrows and unzipped his own fly. Haddock felt it, heard it, saw each eye widen in front of him like blooming iceberg roses.

The man reached into his fly with a magician’s grin, then paused before whipping his empty hand back out and back up to his face. He mimed looking at a watch, yelled that he was late for a meeting and slapped Haddock on the ass to uproarious applause. Sarine decided to save her sandwich for later.

“Can I get a hand with this? It’s chilly today,” Carl asked after most of the spectators had drifted back to their hovels. Sarine continued to look away, dictated partially by protocol and mostly by a personal sense of embarrassment. A few stragglers were discussing a plan of attack for their afternoon meeting. A scruffy mess of hair and headphones biked past with late lunches to deliver.

“Please?” he asked again. His voice had changed, the satin bravado gone. He sounded now like a small child who’d kept on misbehaving after mom had counted to three. When Sarine turned to face him, she saw bleeding frailty with its pants around its ankles. His one open eye reminded her of a Sheltie she’d rescued from the pound years before that had died within a week, already too sick to survive in a kind home.

“Someone might see,” she said, turning her face and speaking into the open air.

It was a half hour before the square emptied enough for Sarine to reach down and cover Carl back up. After she did, she ate her lunch on the bus bench — close enough to watch him, but far enough away to expose her emotions without being seen. When she returned to her post, Carl couldn’t help but notice she was standing closer.


“Can a bum a cigarette from you?”

“You know I can’t give you one. I’d have to hold it for you the whole time, anyway.”

“You aren’t supposed to be talking to me either.”

“Consider yourself as the alternative to thinking about my water bill for the next few hours.”

“You know, you’re sentenced, too. In a way. To be here for 24 hours with me. To stand around without any real purpose. To have to watch animal cruelty.”

“It’s what you deserve. You’re supposed to find it heinous.”

“What about you? What do you find it to be?”

“That’s not the point.”

“Of course it is. This violence isn’t happening only to me. It’s happening to the people who act it out and to those who watch it. You define it for yourself. Does justice feel good?”

“It sounds an awful lot like you lied to me earlier. You do regret what you did.”

“Did you read it?” Carl asked, shifting his tongue obsessively against the loose tooth.

“The department made us.”

“Did you agree with it?”

“Of course not,” Sarine said, looking around the empty square. “And I only laughed once.”

Carl worked through the last nerve, spit out his tooth and smiled.


By the early sunset, Sarine was finding it difficult to stand still. He’d asked what made her blood start pumping in the morning, what she lived for, what she wanted out of life, and it had come pouring out after a 17-hour trickle. They were, against every subsection of her better judgement, connecting.

Clinging to the dinner hour, they were surprised to see a crew of drunk men waddle up to pose for pictures with Carl. It felt far too early for the hellish home stretch. Carl had passed out once or twice during the afternoon, his arms pockmarked with grayish purples, the blood against his eye crusting like cooled lava. One of the drunken men pulled out a pocket knife.

“What do you say, Henri?” he said, looking into the blade as if a treasure map was his for the squinting. “Did you appreciate the things our man here had to say in that toilet paper rag of his?

“No I didn’t, Rem. Not one bit,” a hulking swirl of muscles replied.

“Do you feel like having a word with him?”

“I do not.”

Sarine could feel her leaden heart fall into her pant leg. Her face tightened. It was difficult to swallow.

“Then maybe a little non-verbal communication is what’s necessary,” Rem said.

“That may be right!”

The bruiser took the pocket knife which became a child’s toy in his hands. He clamored on top of the bracing bar with the help of his friends, leaned his arm against the Y and started sawing off Carl’s right thumb. The flesh fell away easy, but the bone protested. Carl screamed out with what little air his exhaustion had left him. Sarine shook and felt a trail of sweat forming on her back in spite of the cold. Her hand floated over her gun.

“Ah, Christ. I didn’t know he was going to scream like a little pussy boy. Can’t you shut him up?” Rem said, pointing to one of the drunker hyenas who dry heaved before kicking off his shoe and pulling off a plain white sock. He shoved it into Carl’s mouth and, as Henri grunted against the stubborn bone with a lazy blade, held Carl’s nose until his eyes watered like a sponge being wrung out.

Henri almost fell off the beam when the thumb came loose, but he caught himself and leapt down with a triumphant shout. The pack howled and wailed and danced around, pulling out cell phones again and grinning for happy mementos.

They each kissed Carl on the cheek and fell over each other down the street, chanting a filthy song about working at an old department store in Chicago.

As their voices turned to ghosts, Sarine’s first tears fell. She didn’t even look around before pulling the sock out of Carl’s mouth.

“Are you okay?”

“I’ll be fine. I haven’t been able to feel my hands since lunch, anyway.”

Tears hung against his eyes like anchors. Sarine wanted to wipe them away.

“You’re sentenced to this, too.”

Sarine shook her head and was about to say something when a tailored young couple walked up with their 5-year-old daughter. Pulled by uneasy momentum, the couple knelt down in front of the Y and spoke in hushed tones with the girl. Standing as tall as Carl’s hips, she looked up at him with playful curiosity and took the butcher knife her mother had taken from her purse.

“Just like we said, sweetie.”

Her thin blonde hair wispy in the night breeze, puffed up like a star fish in her jacket, the girl pushed the knife into Carl’s thigh. It wasn’t deep, but it made the sound of fresh bread being sliced, and she stopped giggling when it went in.

Carl grimaced, holding the pain inside. He looked down at her and tried to imagine he was on the moon.

“You’re a good girl,” he said. “And I don’t blame you.”

Sarine didn’t notice when her hand went to her club, and she didn’t notice when she raised it over everyone’s heads, but she noticed when the little girl clung to her mother’s dress and the family backed away. Carl laughed with abandon. It was a laugh that came up from his ankles. Like his soul was coughing up mud.

“I don’t blame you! You’re a good girl!” he shouted as the family ran down the street, leaving Carl and Sarine to the hollowed public quiet once again.

Sarine threw her nightstick to the ground and scrambled to Carl. She ripped open the new tear in his pants, and then took off her uniform blouse. Struggling to rip the fabric, she couldn’t think of her training, couldn’t let it kick in the way they’d always told her it would. She tore at it with her teeth, popped buttons and attacked with her hands, and all she could see was the faucet of blood — dark against the dying light — newly formed in Carl’s leg.

Finally she frayed a seam enough to reach the softer parts and ripped into them. She tied the strips around his leg, squeezing and crying and apologizing as she went.

“We have to get you to a hospital. We have to. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry,” she said, losing herself in each clean column of fabric and each fresh, red stain. “You have to stop. You have to issue an official apology, or a promise to never do it again.

“But you said you laughed at it.”

“What does that matter? It isn’t worth all of this.”

“If my only other option is silence, then it is.”

Sarine could see then that she was going to lose him, this man she’d just met. They would kill him. Eventually. If it weren’t tonight, it would be next week or next month. She and the world were going to lose him.

“Besides,” he said with a grin. “The Council’s given me so much free time today, I’ve already written in my head what I’ll publish tomorrow.”


Sarine had stopped the bleeding. She sat in the cold in an undershirt and starched pants covered in Carl’s blood and wondering if she’d get to see him again.

“Do you know what I see?” he asked.

“What do you see?”

“All the cold, gray office buildings of this square have been washed away with water colors of every kind. That bus stop is flourishing in indigo and goldenrod. That bank’s columns are swimming in tea green and honeydew. Cobalt rays are flying from the moon. The world is so amazing. I’m glad I have someone to share it with. Thank you for talking to me when you didn’t have to.”

“That’s the blood loss talking.”

“Or the starvation, or the physical trauma. Either way, a delusion can still be beautiful. In fact, I’d argue that most beautiful things are delusions.”

At midnight, two more guards came to pull Carl down and found that Sarine had sacrificed her uniform for his life.

“They’re gonna stick you with the dry cleaning bill,” one of them said through half-closed eyes. The other snorted and suggested that she’d face at least demotion, maybe termination. If the force couldn’t trust her not to coddle the guilty, what good was she?

Free but weak, Carl couldn’t walk. Slumped on the ground, he locked eyes with Sarine and whispered, “If they put you in the Y tomorrow, I’ll come watch over you.”

“Come on, jerk off,” the snorting guard said, hoisting Carl up and yanking an arm over his shoulder. The other guard grabbed the manacles and followed suit.

“It’s only fair,” Carl said to Sarine as she watched them drag him away.


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