One dawn as swallows fluttered up into the dusty orange sky, two young women, Pomegranate and Cherry, were murdered in Fresh Springs. The sign which is propped in front of a palm tree says, “Smile, you are in Fresh Springs.” Detectives with fedoras cocked on their heads pounced on the door of Pomegranate’s neighbor’s villa. Their baggy suits made them look like balloon men.
Fifi was wrapped in a scarlet silk robe. “It’s 7 a.m. What do you want? I.D.?”
The detectives flashed their I.D.s, just like they’d seen in the movies. They were simple boys from the countryside who needed a job. She let them in.
“How can I help you?” she said, her hand on her hip. She wanted to get rid of these clowns since her husband’s best friend was sprawled nude on her bed.
“Do you know your neighbor next door? Pomegranate.”
“She’s a brat,” Fifi said, licking her lips. “What’s it to you? Her dog is always shitting in my yard. Dalmatian.”
Detective Hawks scratched his balls.
“Did you hear anything this morning?” Detective Falcon asked.
Fifi, who had nothing to do but go to the club, said, “As a matter of fact, I did.”
Both detectives leaned forward. Fifi crossed her legs. She enjoyed any kind of male attention. Her husband had sprouted a belly—too much smoked Salmon, Old Amsterdam Cheese, and Chivas Regal. On the other hand, Fifi looked young, but her botoxed lips were puffy, like a frog.
“What time did you hear the noise?” Detective Hawks asked.
“6 a.m.” Fifi said. “I’m sure. Why?”
“Murder,” the detectives said.
“Murder,” Fifi murmured, as if she might swoon. Detective Hawks and Falcon did not wait to catch her fall on the marble floor.
The guard at the entrance to Fresh Springs told both detectives that the neighbors couldn’t have heard anything—the villas were too far apart. Anyway, things happened in Fresh Springs that no one heard about. Not even nosy reporters from crusading, opposition newspapers.
Later that day, after her husband’s best friend had left, Fifi, called her neighbor, Susu. “I heard Pomegranate was having marital problems. I’m not saying it’s him, but it doesn’t look good for the family”
The guard said, “What do you know about real problems? I can’t even feed my family on this miserable salary. I have four jobs.”
“I heard Pomegranate and her estranged husband had a fight the day of the accident,” Susu said.
An outsider of the country asked, “Is a murder an accident?”
“You know, her mother is that famous actress—Peppermint,” Fifi said. “She thinks Pomegranate’s husband did it.”
All of the crusading newspapers had the same headlines: “Superboy Clairvoyant.” Superboy just might be a prophet.
“But Fifi, they’ve arrested a thief. He’s confessed. He climbed over the wall of the compound.”
Superboy, the thief, had climbed an orange flame tree to get up to the window of the four-story villa. Even though he could climb like a monkey up the side of any tree, shreds of his underwear dangled from the branches. Because Hawks and Falcon were ace detectives, they had also bagged the bloody knife propped next to the trunk. However, no one gave a hoot about the murder weapon; Superboy’s green and white striped underwear took hold of the popular imagination. Common folks were reminded of the rags tied to the branches of a holy tree, wishes for a saint. Soon people believed Superboy had mystical powers. Others were amazed that such a scrawny boy had such overpowering strength that he could stab two girls simultaneously. Another tale spread that Superboy was a meth addict.
Even though both detectives were overworked and underpaid, they escorted Superboy to the Halls of Justice. Superboy scratched his head. “Honorable Judge, I honestly can’t remember why I killed her.”
Detective Hawks stepped on his foot. Superboy said, “I mean them. Yes, I killed them. Both of them. I killed one for her lighter. The other had a cool mobile phone.”
Later, Superboy retracted his confession to reporters and showed them a vision of a sheep being slaughtered in the bottom of his baseball cap. All of the crusading newspapers had the same headlines: “Superboy Clairvoyant.” Superboy just might be a prophet. His eyes were fearful, but he told the truth. With a necklace of his own fingernails around his neck, he dared to say what many folks felt about the state. THE BIGGER ONES KNOW. A SHEEP IS SACRIFICED FOR THE BIG. THE BIGGER ONES CRUSH THE SMALL, LIKE ROACHES. Superboy even became the mascot of the losing soccer team in the city. The manager of the losing team asked Detectives Hawks and Falcon if he could borrow him from jail: Superboy might be the magic touch they needed to combat the team supported by the BIG. The request was denied.
Fifi still had not gotten dressed, but drove to a famous beauty shop to have her hair dyed peroxide blonde. When her hair was completely foiled and she looked like a pretzel, she declared to her hairdresser, “Pomegranate was a heroin addict.”
Pierre said, “Darling. Wrong drug. She adored acid. Once she told me the most incredible story about how she had seen Cherry with a crocodile’s head.” He chortled. “Superboy didn’t kill them. Maybe they were sleeping with someone from the BIG.”
Fifi pretended to be shocked. “No!”
“Did you like the way I did your highlights last time?” Pierre unrolled one of the pieces of foil. “Not dry yet. They weren’t angels. Not even Cherry.”
The boy with the limp said, “It’s not the thief. It’s not the husband. But someone else.”
Fifi and Pierre both said, “Did we ask you?”
He shrugged. “That’s fine if you’re not interested.”
“I have to throw away this hair,” he said, waving the dustpan at them. “She says…” He was an invisible person. But now, Pierre and Fifi were looking at him, expectantly. “A friend of mine works as a nurse at the hospital. Pomegranate whispered the name of the killer to her before she died.”
A lady who was having her eyebrows plucked, said, “Not so. I know some of the doctors at the hospital. They say the poor girl was so weak she couldn’t speak.”
Pierre lit up a cigarette. “If you ask me, they were playing with fire. Drugs, sex, and betrayal.”
The eyebrow lady said. “Pomegranate’s husband is related to someone from the BIG. So even if he did it…”
The boy with the limp answered, “I have a friend whose balcony looks right into the courthouse.”
“You have more connections than any of us,” Pierre said, unrolling one of the foil wrappers on Fifi’s hair.
“Don’t just stand there like a stone. Tell us what your friend saw,” Fifi said.
The boy with the limp took his time. Fifi never tipped him.
“The D.A. told the judge that the knife with Superboy’s fingerprints has disappeared.”
“No surprise,” Fifi said.
“The judge bellowed like a lion,” the boy with the limp said. “Isn’t the judge your boyfriend?”
Fifi gasped, as if a man had suddenly pinched her ass in the street.
Pierre laughed. “Darling, everyone knows.”
That night, though, Fifi dreamed that Superboy visited her, instead of the judge. Superboy satisfied even her most voracious desires. Unable to contain her secret another moment, she called Susu. To Fifi’s surprise, Susu was also euphoric. “He’s much better than that expensive vibrator I brought back from Germany. I can’t even find the right batteries here,” Susu gushed. Fifi and Susu soon discovered that Superboy had visited scores of horny wealthy women. No one could explain his exceptional virility. Word trickled out from the jail that he wolfed bull testicle sandwiches for breakfast. Nobody knew how he flew out from his cell at night and returned by morning.
In the meantime, the journalists’ union issued a formal letter of apology to the famous actress, Peppermint, for their coverage of the story. They were sorry if they had not reported the facts.
The crusading newspapers had done their best to report stories of people done wrong.
For example, they covered Superboy’s previous scrape with the Halls of Justice: he had also been falsely accused of burning down the State Theatre. After six months in jail, he was released due to lack of evidence. At last, after hundreds of hearings and delays, the judge had named the arsonist: destiny. The case was closed.
Dear reader, while the journalists were penning their apology for Peppermint, the actors in this drama have been ordered backstage by someone from the BIG in the state’s charred theatre: Superboy, Pomegranate, Cherry, Pomegranate’s husband. Even Peppermint, who has enjoyed being photographed in her Gucci gilded sunglasses.
But look, Detectives Hawks and Falcon have stripped off their balloon suits on stage. They’re mooning the audience.
The audience is throwing door handles from old taxis at them. “We want Superboy. We want Superboy. We want Superboy.”
Detective Hawks announces, “We hope you enjoyed the show. But the play’s over.”
The guard from Fresh Springs yells, “Why don’t you make an honest living like the rest of us?”
Detective Hawks asks, “What did you say?”
The guard whispers, “Thugs.” He had seen Detective Hawks hand the garbage man a victim’s mangled big toe in a plastic bag.
The audience has become unruly and dissatisfied. The boy with the limp who is usually timid shouts with all his might, “What have you done with Superboy?”
Detective Falcon, who is completely nude, except for a cheap wide red necktie, bows. “The People have been given the true story of Fresh Springs. It’s now time to go home. If you persist, we will have to call out the speckled Chihuahuas.”
Even though the Chihuahuas appeared cute, they had been trained to chew off the big toes of all complainers.
Detective Hawks rattled a cage.
The audience shivered. They had seen the feet of complainers who were forced to become beggars. Complainers could not even walk once the speckled Chihuahuas were finished with them. Was their curiosity worth it?
The boy with the limp asked the guard from Fresh Springs, “Were Pomegranate and Cherry brats?”
“Definitely,” the guard said.
“They got what they deserved,” the boy with the limp said.
“My boy, no one deserves to die. Even brats,” the guard said. “They were my daughter’s age.”
“Poor Superboy,” the boy with the limp said. “He was plucked from the street.” He knew that if he were plucked from the street no one in his family was strong enough to fight for him. Pierre would deny that he had worked at his beauty shop for the last five years.
Detective Falcon took a draconian skeleton key out of his pocket and inserted it into the lock of the speckled Chihuahuas’ cage.
“We better go,” the guard said. “You’re young. Better to avoid having your big toe chewed off.”
The audience stampeded out of the state’s charred theatre. Frustrated and enraged, they kicked ruined velvet seats, scattered in the middle of the aisle—the only way they could express themselves.
The story of Fresh Springs, however, did not vanish. For years afterwards, people tied bits of green and white cloth to flame trees in the city when they had an impossible wish. They would ask each other every holy day, “Hey, whatever happened to Superboy?” No one seemed to know. Certainly, everyone disapproved of murder, but no one could remember the names of the two girls from Fresh Springs—weren’t they Banana and Apricot? No, no. That’s not it. Mango? Pineapple? Never mind. One downtown bookseller, who specialized in religious books, made a fortune on Superboy’s sayings: A SHEEP IS SACRIFICED FOR THE BIG. Many swore on their mother’s graves that they had seen Superboy, soaring above the Craggy Mountain in the poorest part of the city, a swallow in the early dawn.
Gretchen McCullough earned her MFA from the University of Alabama and was awarded a Fulbright Lectureship to Syria 1997-1999. Stories and essays have appeared in The Texas Review, The Alaska Quarterly Review, Archipelago, National Public Radio, The Barcelona Review, Storysouth, and Storyglossia. Her translations with Mohamed Metwalli have been published in Banipal, Jacket, Brooklyn Rail in Translation, and Nizwa. Currently, she is a Senior Instructor at the American University in Cairo. Published work is posted on her website, www.gretchenmccullough.com
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