Crisis Counseling

A Short Story


Tom Snethen

From the Novel

Do You Have a Marriageable Mother?

“Fated or Mated” – November First 2017

“Break-In to a Heart Break” – December First 2017

“Death By Fork” – December Fifteenth 2017

“Shut Out” – January First 2018

“Crisis Counseling” – February First 2018

Coming Soon: “Chocolate Killer” – March First 2018

Some Adult Language Used


I was two stories under Abernathy Memorial in a concrete box—a ten-by-twenty tomb—trapped in a grief counselling session with a jock reduced by booze, a prowling widow, a lady commando, and a fashion-plate substitute counselor. And haunted by Janet—my wife’s ghost—married to me for life or longer.

“Lighten up.” Janet, my quasi-constructive critic.

Sure, why not?

My credentials? Ryan Hogue: fifty, a family man without a family.

I’d turned off my life switch six months ago. Janet was forty-eight, cremated, and residing in a royal-purple urn. I disappeared from everyone, raised a head of wild hair, and outgrew my clothes. No one could make me reactivate that switch. No one.

Why do I want to live? Don’t know.

The group’s conversation came to a dead stop. Dead stop? Ha-Ha-HAH. I ogled widow Laura’s tits. Christ, I’m worthless.

“She wants you to look, lecher lips.” Advice from beyond.

“Can ya cook?” the other widower, Bebe—pronounced BEE-bee—asked the women. Bebe was taller than my refrigerator and nearly as broad, a retired pro linebacker gone to seed. He stank of whiskey.

“None of your fuckin’ business.” Shirley, 140 muscled pounds in sleeveless camo, verbally painted her response to Bebe on the wall. She whiffed of machine oil—or gun oil.

“I’ll cook you dinner and a surprise dessert.” Laura, a forty-something widow with bilaterally symmetrical bosoms, made invasive eye contact. She emanated fresh flowers blended with a pheromone fabricated to incite latent lust.

Too bad I’d buried mine.

“Ryan, you haven’t spoken.” Pamela, our forty-something counselor, was a gorgeously innocent substitute for the therapist who was out sick or getting laid or in rehab. Wearing civilian white with a pearl necklace, she was nice eye candy but miscast in our room of silently screaming misery.

You can’t sleep with a hard-on. You can’t talk sense either. Latent lust be damned. I stalled. “I’m not ready.”

Pamela pointed her manicured finger at Laura. “Your turn, Laura.”

Laura provided me a freebee shot down her dress while helping Bebe with his nametag. Nice tits.

Nice tits? Good god, where was my head? I was a married man.

Laura winked at Bebe. “My man died. In bed. I’m proud to say he ate well. And equally proud he died in action. I want a new one.”

Died in action?

Bebe battled back. “I’ve outlived two wives, and I’m not ready for a third.” Broken blood vessels bloated Bebe’s face. Patchy stubble obscured it.

Shirley jabbed Laura’s butt. “We’re here for grief counseling, bitch, not for shanghaiing a new playmate.”

Laura slapped a blank name tag over Shirley’s stenciled name: Packer, Shirley. “I was only helping the poor man.”

Shirley demonstrated boot-camp diplomacy. “I sensed your grief and smelled your perfume up the hall. What happened to your man?”

“He died.”

Ms. Packer marched around the table—a woman with wraparound sunglasses, an NRA belt buckle, and a large canvas purse. Her boots made clicking sounds on the hard floor. She snagged the chair opposite me and dropped her purse on the table. Thunk. “Did you smother him with your tits?”

Laura fired back. “Did you shoot yours?”

“He ran away.”

“He showed uncommon sense.”

Shirley ground out, “And Mom died.”

Have the women bonded yet? Did women bond differently than men? Ask Janet.

“Shirley, are you ready to share?” Pamela had worked her way around the group.

Shirley bit her fist and mumbled, “My mom died.”

Pamela offered textbook solace. “I’m so sorry.”

Shirley’s voice crippled my hope of peaceful dialogue. She cleaned and pocketed her glasses. Her eyes, unsoftened by makeup, scanned us as if doing recon for an invasion. “Cancer killed my mom, and my no-good, son-of-a-bitch, asshole man ran off with my slut sister.”

Bingo. Shirley exuded the madness of extreme anguish coupled with a predator’s fierceness. Even commando girls would blister after a double whammy.

Janet admonished me. “Lady Commando has a problem.”

Shirley’s presentation screamed, “Armed and dangerous.” Her right hand pulled a nonexistent trigger twice—pointed once each for me and Bebe. One pissed-off woman who might have a gun outranked two men who might not. I checked the tactical situation. We were isolated with no expectation of visitors. The walls been poured in the nineteenth century—soundproof. One exit. I didn’t care.

“Ryan Hogue, straighten up,” Janet snapped from her urn inside my backpack.

This was Thursday night in Abernathy, Oregon, population 2150. I wanted to lean on a counselor’s shoulder and snarf donuts. That’s all. I couldn’t cry. My tear ducts had dried.

Shirley mesmerized me. She scared me. Her camo shirt emphasized her musculature, and I wondered if she’d ripped the sleeves off with her teeth. Keep calm, breathe deep, and slip out of the room.

I needed a summit with Pamela—I know you’re a volunteer, but you’ve got to do better. Shirley has a different looklike a time bomb out of ticks. Does the word psycho come to mind? Look at her pupils.

Shirley stood. She shifted her weight, and her boots’ steel plates clicked. “I’ve got a .32 caliber Colt in my purse. His name is Waldo. He can plug a man’s eye at thirty paces.”


“Men are cheating scum, and I’m here to lay a few out.”

Bebe faced her. “Yer crazy, lady. Guns ain’t named Waldo. Ya hear me?”

Crap. We’re dead.

“You’re close, oh lusting one.” Janet, from beyond the barrier.

Pamela snatched the wall phone. Then she scanned the numbers posted by the phone. Help might arrive late.

Shirley reached for her bag while snarling at Bebe and me. “I’ll start with you jerk-offs.”

Laura threw Shirley’s purse under the table.

There’s more to that woman than her bust.

“Finally!” Janet, exercising snarky supportiveness.

Shirley dived in pursuit of her weapon.

I locked gazes with Bebe. Without speaking, we formed a committee and voted an agenda: to wit, we wished to live.

Now what? I came to whine and now I’m in a firefight.

Bebe and I poised on Shirley’s either flank as she emerged from under the table. I walloped her with a cushion, but the soft seat scarcely slowed her. My life now depended on Bebe, the man currently nipping from his flask.

Screw this. Why fight? Shirley, fire away.

“Ryan Hogue, straighten up.” Janet lined me out. Again.

“Abandon ship!” I screamed, my words sounding like an angry bear with a sore throat. I yanked up Janet’s backpack and checked for an escape plan. None surfaced. Did getting away matter? I was brain-dead.

I rattled Pamela’s cage. “Is help coming?”

Pamela represented the classy female I was too terrified to ask out in high school. Nothing had changed at fifty. What am I thinking? Married men didn’t hypothesize about other women.

Pamela’s anticipation of the session might have been to be sympathetic and serve refreshments, but the pastries hadn’t arrived and now she had to prevent a double homicide.

Janet offered cautionary advice. “Rein in your libido, bereaved one.”

Pamela punched another number, waited, and disconnected without speaking. Then she addressed our free-for-all, “No help, men. So, scram!

Shirley reached her purse, but Bebe stomped on the strap. Standoff. I glanced from Shirley to Bebe. Run or go for the gun? Run! I nodded to Bebe, and he battered Shirley with another cushion. I dumped a water pitcher on her head and bolted.

Bebe and I and the backpack collided at the door, but the retired linebacker squeezed us through like floppy dolls. We charged into the hospital’s basement.

“Which way?” I wanted to know.

Bebe demonstrated team-leadership skills. “She’ll go toward the lobby. Let’s head away from there.”

We raced down the concrete passage and entered a section with a dedication plaque from 1895. We stopped and Bebe held a finger to his lips. He pointed for me to go straight and him to the right. Not a bad idea—Shirley would bag only one of us. I heard her click-clacks. I hoisted the backpack and hurried in my assigned direction.

I felt Janet’s spirit moving with me. Did I need an exorcist? Her prodding was the main reason I’d accepted counseling. Our daughter, Michelle, had provided another. I wandered lost in the labyrinth, hugging Janet’s urn like a lifeline. I met nobody, not a living soul. Nor any dead ones. Janet e reminded me I was alone and going nuts.

 “Sweetie, why’re you running? Weren’t you planning suicide?” Was she laughing?

“You’re dead. Why can I hear you?” I choked words out past hoarse vocal cords. Speaking was painful. So was living. Everything hurt. Why hadn’t I told her every day I loved her?

“You hear me because you haven’t accepted my death.” Janet spoke from everywhere.

“Bullshit. You surround me.”

“You exaggerate.”

She didn’t know her thumbprint’s size. I couldn’t run and argue, so I stopped moving. I heard Shirley’s boots, but screw it—I had a conversation to pursue. “Magazines addressed to you arrive daily.”

“So, cancel them.”

I would, but I’d have to find their phone numbers—and think. “I sleep on my side of our bed.”

“You have my permission to move.”

I didn’t want to change sides. She might return if I left space. “I left you room in your closet.”

“Jesus. Get a life”

I had one until you left.

I was dizzy, but I had more to unload. “I sit on furniture you bought.”

“Then buy new.”

I’d never shopped alone for furniture. I put my body in motion and wobbled along the wall. Shirley’s footwear paced me. The hallway heaved once and stopped.

Take another tack. “I try to cook in your kitchen.”

“Pay attention. You know how.”

Good cooking interfered with my master plan of knife-and-fork suicide. To hell with tit for tat—fire the big gun. “Michelle is twenty-four and walks and talks and smells just like you.”

“Our darling has grown up. You should too.”

My little girl didn’t need me. Nobody did. I examined the gray walls adorned with steel conduit—a stark reflection of life without Janet. Shirley sounded closer. Am I in the tunnel to hell?

“Do you hate yourself because I died?” Janet, jabbing.

“No. Yes. Damned if I know.” I did know. I must have missed something critical at the hospital.

“I’m gone, and I won’t be back.”

No! I’ll find a way to beat the system. “I want to bring you home.”

“Ryan, honey, I died in my own time. You can’t fight destiny.”

I can, and I will. “Not fair. I don’t want life without you.” And the truth set me free—dying appealed to me.

“You’ll find someone.”

Not a chance in hell—especially if I don’t try. “Why should I? You were perfect.”

“You have a selective memory—ask Michelle about my perfection.”

“I’m a married man. I’m scared to look for someone new.” Another truth from the man hiding from the truth.

Shirley’s voice carried from out of sight, “What do you mean, you’re his girlfriend? I’m his wife.” No other voice—she must’ve been on her cell. “He told you about me and you still dated him?” Another pregnant pause. “Slut!

No more conversation. Shirley’s mood hadn’t improved. The overhead pipes wavered.

“Are you frightened you’ll find someone better than me?” Janet refocused me.

“No. Yes. I’m afraid of finding anyone at all.” She had no idea.

“Do you think I won’t love you if you find someone?”

“No. Yes. I don’t know.” Ask me something I can answer. “Why’re you pestering me?”

“Michelle’s asking me for help I can’t provide, but you can.”

Self-assured and bossy—our daughter resembled her mother. “Michelle and I aren’t close. I’d fail.”

When all the mother-daughter BS was sorted, Michelle didn’t need me.

Then the lights dimmed. Not the hospital’s—mine. Crap. Not now.

“You told me over and over you wanted to die.” Janet sounded faint.

“Not today. What would Michelle do with my business?”

“Not your problem.” Janet was sweetly brutal.

No singing. No bright lights. No Charon on the River Styx. Just unwelcome darkness.


I escaped the black domain as Bebe shook me with my feet off the floor. His breath could dissolve steel. He offered a swig from his flask. I accepted, and he smelled tolerable. I stood unaided and heard Shirley from afar.

Bebe nodded—he heard her, too.

We reeled away. We encountered no elevators, doctors, nurses, visitors, or snack bars in our underground retreat. The corridors were vacant and sterile, dimly lit. I slung both arms through the backpack’s straps while moving. Bebe began to limp.

I leaned on his shoulder, higher than mine. “Which way is out?”

Bebe shook his head. “Dunno. Your pack is slowing you down.”

“I have no choice.”

“Would you have a gun in there?”

“Prob’ly not.”

“Let’s look anyway.”

Why not? I was tired. We slipped into a room where odors of mildewing books and rubbing alcohol assaulted me. The stink combined with exhaustion made me wish to slide to the floor and die. I went halfway.

I looked up from the floor and discovered the room contained the hospital’s archived medical library. Hundreds of books about surgery, medical equipment, and anatomy surrounded the space—old books with old smells. I felt as dead as the library.

Janet surveyed me. “Your shirt is stained. Your face is a filthy mop. Stand up.”

I’d proved I wasn’t a total zero—I’d grown hair unaided. My life was playing recess and nothing mattered. “Be quiet. I’m thinking.”

Bebe sipped from his flask. “I din’t say nothin’. Ya hear me?”

I examined my shirt. Grease spots separated a mustard smear from something brown. Its buttons were strained. I scratched my beard and mustache, both shaggy. Something crawled through my hair and my pants stretched again. Fuck it.

A poster of Louis Pasteur interrupted the bookshelves on the wall opposite the door—Mr. Pasteur in a black suit and busy with primitive glassware. Twelve executive chairs on wheels provided seating around a conference table.

“Are you wearing your new jeans?”

Why should she give a damn? I’d split the seats of all my old pants. The pair I had on pinched my butt. “Yes, mommy, and if I’m careful I won’t expose my ass.”

I took off Michelle’s old backpack, abandoned since high school. I’d intended to donate the bag to charity but used it tonight to carry her mother’s urn. Michelle was waiting for me to call about my counseling success.

Can I tell her the truth? Hell, no, let the town gossips do the dirty.

I plopped the backpack on the table while Bebe peered at Louis Pasteur. We were adjacent to a passage free of people and sounds—dead, dead quiet. We’d never know if WW III devastated the upstairs world.

I emptied the pack on the table and poked through the jumble. I found a sandwich bag holding something deceased, a long-overdue library book, a dry dead-black lipstick, a pair of thong panties, six condoms in light-pink wrappings, plus Janet’s urn.

Bebe lifted the urn—royal-purple with a picture of Janet in her flower garden. “She’s beautiful.”

Janet answered for me. “Thank you.”

Bebe couldn’t hear her, so I repeated. “Janet says thank you.”

The rubbers braced me. And the thong. My baby girl with condoms? Michelle and her mom had hidden them from me. I held up the panties and the rubbers. “What’s with these?”

Bebe touched the rubbers. “Huh?”

I pulled them back “Not you, Janet.”

Janet hee-hawed. “Welcome to the real world, Honey. You’re only ten years late.”

Ten years? Michelle would’ve been fourteen. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Tell you what?” Bebe remained confused.

“Not you, Janet.”

“What’s bothering you, Honey? The thong? Should I have sent her to school naked?” Janet sounded sarcastically sweet.

I didn’t waver. “Not funny. Should I give them back to her?”

“No, dear, Have fun.”

Sleepless nights and Michelle badgering me to get therapy added up—I straddled the line separating sanity from my world. “They won’t fit me.”

Louis Pasteur smiled.

Janet was quick. “My, aren’t we kinky.”

“What should I do?”

Janet offered a frivolous notion. “Hide the thong where Michelle will find it. She’ll think you have a teeny-bopper girlfriend.”

“How about my shorts drawer?”

Bebe limped around the old books. He was either giving me privacy or putting distance from a madman.

Janet’s voice attained a dancing lilt. “Honey, you’re out of shape. Michelle will know a plant. Make her work to find them. You’ve misplaced the deviousness I loved.”

I’d lost more than my underhandedness. Happiness. Her company. Reason to live. “Okay, I’ll work on the details. Now about the rubbers?”

“Safe sex,” Bebe called from Louis Pasteur.

Janet giggled. “Did you want to be a young grandpa?”

“You win. Should I give them back?”

“Save them for when you’ll need them.”

Damn. I had no need for another woman. I wanted the original.

Bebe opened up. “My wife never talks to me, but I wish she would ’cause I miss her. Ya hear me?”

Janet had vacated the urn. Did all widowers discuss issues with their dead wives? Was she making fun of me? She’d implied I had a sexual future, but she must have confused me with somebody living.

I was afraid of Michelle’s past. Why? I was also afraid of the mail, yard work, and dining alone.

Bebe tipped his flask. “Why have counseling on Thursday nights?”

“The timing is to help us survive a lonely weekend.”

Janet swirled around me. “Bad choice of words, Sweetheart.”

Bebe had priorities, maybe a life. “I’d rather watch wrestling.”

Janet’s train switched tracks. “Is hauling my ashes around a trial run for the Abernathy Ball?”

She was on to me. The Ball—the major social event for our town. We hadn’t missed The Ball in twenty years, and I wouldn’t go alone. I had sixteen days to coax her into joining me.

“I don’t have a thing to wear.”

“You’ll find something stunning. You always do.”

I stood and Bebe followed me to our concrete maze.


We stopped at an intersection containing two desks and a counter. We hadn’t escaped Shirley’s boots. I whispered. “Do you hear her?”

Bebe analyzed Shirley’s noises. “The clicks are close together. She’s running. About the gun?”

 “No gun, but I’ve got condoms.”

Janet had been silent. “And your pack has me. Have I mentioned your ass is showing?”

I slid my hand through my jeans’ new opening—another pair shot to shit.

Bebe found humor. “If we offered to fuck for our lives, do you think she’d buy in?”

“Did you see the muscles on that broad? We’re not ready to mount Our Lady of the Big Cannon.”

Janet offered limited support. “Certainly not my cowboy.”

I resented her observation. “How do you know?”

Janet had to be real—my imagination couldn’t create her comments. “You’re still lusting over the counselor-wench, Valentine-butt. Too bad you look like shit.

I speculated about the woman who’d extracted a backwards compliment from Janet. What would Pamela look like on my arm at the symphony? She’d be the perfect size for me on the dance floor. Would Michelle approve?

Grow up! Stop that. Don’t leave the house for six months and then lust after the first woman I see?

We staggered down the corridor.

“If you need help. I’ll carry Janet.”

“We’re fine. Why’re you limping?”

“I lost half a foot to diabetes. Is living worth the sacrifices?”

Hell of a time for an intimate life-or-death discussion. “I know the feeling.”

“How’s that?”

I unloaded my secret on my friend. “I’m recovering from a baby heart attack. My daughter would micro-manage me to death if she knew.”

“As she should.” Janet retained zippo mercy.

Limping, Bebe staggered ahead. “We’re a hell of a pair to draw to, an amputee and a guy with a heart attack. Why are we huffing?”

“What did your doctor tell you?”

Bebe leaned on the wall and massaged his lower leg. “Doctors have a code stating they can never give you good news.”

I put my hands on my knees. “Mine downgraded me last time from bad to awful.”

Bebe and I had warmed to a common theme—running from the grim reaper and joking. Some people called our actions male bonding.

Janet offered an opinion. “You two are beyond counselling’s limits.”

We encountered a vacant nurse’s station with a computer and a double-beam balance scale. A wall-chart listed heights with their ideal weights, copyrighted in 1939. A sign on the windowless door read, “Do Not Enter.”

Janet interrupted. “Oh my God, please do not stop here.”

I shushed her. “Quiet, we need to hear.”

Bebe looked up the hall each way. “Could be Shirley’s stopped and listening.”

“Or she’s carrying her boots.”

“Doesn’t what I say matter? I said don’t stop here.” Janet’s voice had an edge.

I had other problems—I’d deal with Janet later. I followed Bebe around the station. “Check the computer: See the slot for a five-inch floppy?”

Bebe peered over my shoulder. “How long have those been out of date, decades?”

I scratched my ass through my new access port. “We may be alone for a long time.”

“Well, we’ll always have each other.”

I remembered Shirley rummaging in her bag. “Waldo, she named her gun Waldo.”

“I played ball with a guy who named his dick Waldo. That’s a gun, too.”

Where the hell were we? How did you deal with a crazy woman with a gun? “I’m lost. How do we get out of here?”

Bebe pantomimed a breaststroke. “Swim toward the light.”

I stepped on the ancient scale. “This scale is wrong. It says I’ve gained weight.”

Janet snarked from her mobile tomb. “Your pants say it best, broad-beam. Have I mentioned we should leave?”

Bebe held up a hand. “I hear something.”

Shirley’s call shrilled, “I’ve got you, assholes. Time to die.”

Shit. Life or death? I’d wanted a choice.

Bebe asked the big question. “Do we fight, or run?”

I decided. “You fight. I’ll run.”

We jumped through the door marked, “Do Not Enter.”


Bebe and I charged through the heavy wood door and closed it—cutting off Shirley’s yells. My breath was visible in the still air and an odor akin to stale food permeated the area. Shadows dominated. A chill emanated from the unpainted concrete floor, ceiling, and walls.

Janet spoke up. “I’ve been here before. This place is creepy. Please leave.”

I wanted to. “We can’t.”

Bebe and I pushed a monstrous old desk to block the door.

A nearby sign read: “Autopsies must be scheduled by 12:00 PM.”

My breath expanded over one of the dozens of gurneys in the room—most with sheets covering covered human forms. The morgue—we’re hiding in the morgue. If Shirley shoots us here I won’t have to worry about how to dress Janet for the Abernathy Ball.

“Sixteen days, Sweetheart.” Janet didn’t sound worried.

I went stupid. “I see dead people. We’re surrounded by dead people.”

Janet amplified. “Bingo, Sherlock, and they’re wondering about worms and the Big Fire.”

Bebe peeked under a sheet. “I see dead people. But they’re not people anymore. They’re popsicles.”

“Like hell we are.” Janet took exception.

“Careful what you say.” I pointed to my backpack. “She’s listening.”

Bebe placed his hand on Janet’s backpack. “Janet, I don’t care if they’re corpuscles. I want to find the back door.”

“Much better.” Janet accepted his apology.

Three smaller rooms connected to the central one. In the room furthest from the main door, a massive metal door was secured by an inside card-lock. I couldn’t budge it. “Why would they lock a morgue from the inside? Who’s going to escape?”

Bebe pointed to a poster on the wall. The caption read, “Reward for Return of Runaway Corpse.”

Bebe scratched his nuts. “Do ya think corpuscles can read?”

I stepped around a gurney. “This must be a collection site for the area’s hospitals.”

“Then there ought to be an attendant along.”

Janet spoke from experience. “Don’t expect one soon. I spent a lot of lonesome time in here.”

Bebe cocked his head toward the front door. “When Commando Sure-Shot pops in, do we fight, or do we run?”

I took off my shoes and socks. “We hide. Make like a resident.”

Bebe boarded a gurney and covered up. “Don’t need toe-tags. This place uses wrist bands.”

I climbed onto a gurney, stuffed the backpack between my knees and drew the sheet to my chin. Did they change sheets between users? Was death contagious? I giggled.

Bebe’s voice reverted to the creaking stage. “What’s so goddamned funny?”

Bebe’s arm rose under the sheet to his head and returned to rest, the flask in action. “Shit, I’m out of booze and I don’t want to be shot in these clothes.”

“You’re dressed as good as anybody here.”

“I’d like to be buried in these a long time down the line. Bullet holes are messy.” Bebe poked his head out. “We got company coming and I gotta pee.”

Why do simple tasks go awry? All I wanted was to attend a grief support session and tell Michelle. She wins and so do I.

I stopped a sneeze. “Would you like a hall pass? Who farted? And I hope it was you.”

Bebe scratched his half-foot with the other. “Can a corpuscle pass gas? Sorry, I couldn’t hold back.”

The vapor travelled under my sheet and choked me. “What did you have for dinner?”

“I’m trying a new diet of grapefruit juice and sauerkraut.”

I felt nauseous. “Is it working?”

“Lost five pounds in a week.”

“Your gas will kill us if Shirley doesn’t.”

I smelled urine. “I hear water dribbling.”

“Sorry.” Bebe sounded relieved. “If we pee at the same time we might confuse Shirley.”

“Now I know how men behave without us.” Janet’s words tap-danced on my brain.

I went to a counseling session and now I’m trapped in a morgue with a mental case and chased by Commando Shirley with her side-kick Waldo. Michelle will ask, “How did the meeting go, Daddy?” Should I tell her about the offer of dessert with a widow; my lascivious speculations about Pamela, the out-of-reach volunteer; or the grand finale of waiting for death trapped on a gurney enveloped by urine odors, sour grapefruit gas, and sauerkraut farts? Yes, Honey, I had a fulfilling night, spiced with many therapeutic insights.

I heard a boot kick a solid door. Shirley cursed as she pushed the desk away. Shit. Shirley’s boots click-clacked as she scouted the first room.

I chanced a whisper. “Shall we run?”

Bebe downplayed my question. “Can you outrun a .32-caliber bullet?”

“I can.” Janet didn’t help.

Shirley skirted the area hiding us, so I assumed she’d detoured around Bebe’s puddle—we stunk. When would she realize cadavers hadn’t generated those smells?

I peeked and saw Shirley’s back. Bebe sneezed and she twisted around. She bumped a gurney and a tattooed arm fell. Shirley examined the tattoo. Seconds passed.

Shirley moaned. “Oh god no. Floyd.”

Shirley hugged the arm hanging from the gurney. She stripped the sheet off the body, revealing a nude corpse. Then I smelled Pamela’s perfume. “Shirley, are you okay?”

Shirley cried, “May I introduce Floyd, my husband?”

Pamela, why ask if Shirley’s okay? What about us? Bebe might need bladder repair. I don’t want my autopsy done in split jeans. We’re dealing with a lot of shit, Lady, and I’m worried you’re concerned about Shirley.

Janet rescued me. Again. “Be nice, dearest, Pamela just arrived unarmed to calm a crazy lady.”

Shirley beat on Floyd’s corpse and stomped her boots, the metal plates dinging off the hard floor.

Does she want to revive Floyd or punish him?

Shirley yelled her mind. “Floyd, ya no good skirt-chasing son-of-a-bitch, ya got what’s coming to ya. asshole.”

Pamela nudged Floyd’s gurney to get Shirley’s attention. Shirley continued pounding Floyd’s cold meat with dull thwacks.

Pamela tried mollifying her. “Shirley, can I help?”

Shirley screamed. I realized she’d been too ready to assume her man had left her. Guilt had replaced divine rage, but where would her head go next?

“Floyd’s dead. I’m a widow.”

Pamela stayed right with her. “I’m so sorry. Do you still want to shoot those men?”

Don’t move until her firing pin’s been pulled.

Shirley blind-sided me. “I’m not sure. My timing sucks, but is the furry one available?”

Furry? Jesus.

“No, Shirley isn’t for you.” Always-frank Janet.

Pamela asked a fatal question. “Do you want to date Ryan, or kill him?”

“Don’t know. Depends on him.”

“Welcome to the dating world, Casanova.” Janet the matchmaker.

“Give me the gun.” Pamela wanted to pull Shirley’s teeth.


“Firearms spook the men.”

Shirley argued. “Did you see Waldo?”

“No, why?”

“I can deny everything, and you can’t file charges.”

“Go, and I won’t call the cops.”

Shirley’s taps left the room. Silence reigned. Pamela’s perfume moved away.

Pamela called out the cease-fire. “The war is over, men. No bullets tonight.”

Bebe and I sat up and carried our footwear toward the door. Bebe covered his wet crotch with a sheet and I kept one over my backside. I asked for help. “We’re lost.”

Pamela replaced Floyd’s sheet. “Turn left to the second intersection then go right. You’ll see the elevator. We’ll have donuts next week, guys.”

So. Had I decided to live? Or die? Somebody make up my mind. I waved goodbye and watched one more figure rise from a gurney and follow us.



At six, Tom Snethen wrote stories about space ships and ray guns and Martian houses—never dreaming he’d get self-flushing toilets someday. Now he’s an Oregonian writing about the saints and scoundrels he met in a career as a manufacturing chemist. His nonfiction ranges from throwing a flaming mattress out a brothel window as a volunteer fireman to borrowing a bank robber with needed skills from the penitentiary. He has written about being a widower at fifty—alone and scared. He lives to incinerate stale stereotypes—whether about industrial chemistry or the pursuit of happiness for men accidentally single.