This is the 15th round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS<<link post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For this round, it’s the letter “O“.
Readers have two weeks from the date of publication to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.
In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.
Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.
Here we go. Presented anonymously, the first of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “O” as submitted by its author.
Warning: this story contains material some readers might find objectionable or disturbing.
Copyright 2020 — Perry Broxson
(3,377 words – approx. reading time: about 13 minutes based on 265 WPM)
What if . . . ?
What if the dinosaurs had not been eradicated by an asteroid? What if God is evil and Satan is good? What if oxygen was the cause of man’s collective hallucination called reality? What if Time were libraries of unread books. What if Time was a river with countless rivulets and people were paper boats? What if Time were curated by a Time Keeper?
Such questions are philosophically useless and academically vapid – as well a boring. However, here’s a question one might enjoy: What if Oswald sneezed?
Oswald, the killer. The king-slayer, the dream-dasher. The history-maker, the courageous little coward that shot Camelot – Oswald. Lee Harvey Oswald. What if the assassin sneezed when he squeezed the trigger of the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle?
I’m glad you asked. So happens, I know.
I see him. Slim and sweaty, fevered by godless dogmas. It’s November 22, 1963, 12:32; he’s looking out the sixth story window of the Texas Book Depository, awaiting the Presidential motorcade. Dallas is sunny but chilly, and Dealey Plaza is packed with people, eager to catch a glimpse of handsome Jack and stylish Jackie.
What if John Fitzgerald Kennedy – Jack to familiars – had worn a hat that day? Turns out, I know that also. If John Kennedy and John Connally had both been wearing hats in the back of that convertible Cadillac, Oswald would have hesitated – unsure of his target – and possibly botched the assassination. Through the eyepiece of the rifle scope, however, Oswald had no trouble identifying the auburn mane of the hatless man from Massachusetts.
Some say Kennedy himself killed the hat . . . rather, the manly fashion of donning one. At his 1961 inauguration, he brought a dapper top hat, but did not wear it. He was the first U.S. president to forego the practice. Some say it was Jackie’s suggestion. Some say it was vanity. Some say hooey, that it was Eisenhower that set the trend. Ike, with his robust roadway infrastructure bills, introduced the novelty of personally owned automobiles. Hats, in a cramped cab, proved clumsy and uncomfortable, and ultimately phased away.
Where was I? The hat. The lack of hat, rather. Oswald had no trouble leveling the reticle onto the ginger skull of the hatless man. He’d been a Marine, had qualified as a Sharpshooter. It was a mere 265 feet. The target was slow and steady and unobstructed.
But what if he’d sneezed?
What if, in the dim room filled with dusty books, a speck of . . . of . . . dust . . . had entered his nostril and tickled his sinus and, at the penultimate moment, caused Oswald to sneeze?
In a universe of multiverses and infinite dimensions, it could happen, and did happen. And I happen to know that it happened exactly like this.
A Writer wrote a book. He thought it was a good book, but the public insisted that it was not. They ignored it in droves, masses, and multitudes. Signed copies of the Writer’s novel were relegated to the Texas Book Depository building. Upon the glossy jacket of his grinning, mustachioed face, dust gathered.
What exactly is dust?
Dust can be a lot of things. It can be pollen, paper fibers, insect castings, soil, sand, desiccated organic matter, even meteorite particulates. Some of the dust, however, that settled upon these orphaned books was the dust sloughed from a singular human being. This dust was derived from a man named Simon Remington – a mechanic that answered only to Si.
What was Si doing in this locked room with spiral pillars of discarded books? I’m glad you asked, because the answer is quite salacious. You see, Si was having an affair. Yes. With a young lady from Woolworth’s. She was a waitress in the café’, pouring malts and schlepping sandwiches. She was somewhere between cute and comely, or so Si thought. He was a mechanic at Charlie’s Gas and Garage. He’d started as a gas jockey then worked his way into the back-shop as a tire guy. After a few years, Charlie asked Si to apprentice under Pops Felcher, the finest transmission man in Dallas. Si jumped at the chance, much like he jumped at the chance to be with Tammy Chatterley – a girl half his age.
Si was test-driving a ‘60 Buick Electra, ensuring its three-on-the-tree shifted smoothly, when he saw her through the window of the Woolworth café’. He was 34 and been married for 15 years. He had 7 and a half kids and a worn-out wife – his high school sweetheart, Margaret. She’d gone to fat, as Si put it. Behind her back, he called her Large Marge. Aside from her girth, she’d gotten mean and not a little crazy.
Why am I telling you this? The dust. Can’t have a proper sneeze without a mote of dust.
Sixty days before Oswald pulled the trigger, Si straddled a stool at the Woolworth counter. He studied the menu, mouthing the words (his way of letting the girl know he was literate). He usually went for a Maine Sardine Sandwich, but feared she might find it, and him, vulgar.
“The Monte Cristo sandwich,” he said, hoping he pronounced it correctly.
The girl asked what he’d have to drink.
Si smiled and winked, “A tall glass of you might quench my thirst.”
She giggled when she got it. He ate his sandwich and leered. “That yours?” she asked, pointing at the late-model Electra.
“Yes,” he lied. The first of many.
When she handed him the bill, he grabbed her wrist and squeezed. Reflexively, her hand opened. Into her palm, he pushed cash money, redolent of transmission fluid.
“Keep it,” he purred. “That’s two for the meal and three for you.”
She looked at the Lincoln’s mug and blushed from her apron up. “Land sake, Mister,” she exclaimed, “that’s mighty kind of you.”
“I’ve got a reputation for kindness,” he said, wiping cheese grease from his chin. “How about you?”
“What’s your reputation?”
More blushing as she crossed her ankles. “I don’t have one.”
“Want one?” he asked, winking. “Let me pick you up after your shift and we’ll go see a picture show.”
“Jeepers,” she said, “the Son of Flubber is playing at the Regency. I’m off at nine, but I could tell my parents I’m closing. I do so want to see Flubber. Could we?”
With that, the grooming and ultimate seduction of Tammy Chatterley began.
What’s that sordid story of predatory pedophilia and infidelity got to do with Oswald, you ask. The dust. It’s all about the dust. Stay with me.
By the way, the Writer of the unread novel killed himself with pills. Not that it matters in this timeline, but it matters to the family he didn’t have, and their ultimate impact. His granddaughter would have been the first female President. Sadly, she would have been assassinated.
Digressions be damned. Let’s stick to the timeline of Oswald’s sneeze.
A Dallas man named Duncan had a problem. The clutch of his ’51 Ford pickup truck had shit the bed . . . his exact quote to Si Remington. He went on to explain that he’d just undergone a brutal divorce and had exactly zero dollars to pay for repairs.
Si said he was sorry – and he was, having contemplated divorce himself. “Thing is,” Si said, “I’d love to help you but I answer to Charlie. It’s his garage and he ain’t exactly what you’d call charitable.”
“You do work on the side?” Duncan asked. “Shade-tree jobs . . . off the books, at your place?”
Si nodded, “Been known to. But not for free.”
Duncan ruffled, “I ain’t no moocher. I’d pay. Just not in dollars. I happen to know you’ve got a little filly on the side.”
Si moved on the man, pulling him nose-to-nose by his tie. “You blackmailing me, Mister?”
“No, no, no,” Duncan clarified. “You got me wrong. What I mean to say is, I got a room for you . . . a love nest, for you and your lady friend. Hotels are expensive and risky – people are nosey and tongues wag.” Duncan dangled a single key from a pipe cleaner. “This here is to a room. A quiet room in a quiet building, where a man and a woman can do whatever it is they like.”
After some further negotiations, a deal was struck and sealed with a handshake. As Duncan walked out of the garage, Si asked: “If you don’t mind my askin’, what happened with you and your old lady.”
Duncan grinned and said, “The wife found a pair of panties in the glove box of my Ford. It weren’t hers. Enjoy the room.”
Si squeezed the key in his greasy palm. “I will,” he said. Then mumbled, “But I won’t get caught like you; you dumb son-of-a-bitch.”
It wasn’t true. Si would get caught. It would take a while. Of the 40 days he had access to Room 606 in the Texas Book Depository building, he and Tammy Chatterley availed themselves of its covert confines some 19 times. He would be caught after the 20th.
Tammy Chatterley knew she was pregnant a week after Oswald pointed the Mannlicher at the back of Jack Kennedy’s head. She begged Si to leave his wife, to marry her before the scandal took traction. He refused and told her, “I’ll pay to kill it, but nothin’ else.”
She killed it, and herself, when she leapt from the Trinity River Bridge. Coincidentally, it was the very day Large Marge filled Si with double-aught buckshot.
Which leads us to the moth that stirred the mote of dust that caused the Oswald sneeze.
The moth? Have I forgotten the moth? So many rivers and rivulets of Time, I do get confused. This particular timeline depends on a Luna Moth. You’ve heard of the Butterfly Effect? Well, this is similar, except instead of a beautiful butterfly, we have drab moth munching pulp from unread books in a musty room of a six-story municipal building. The flap of this moth’s wings do not cause a hurricane as posited by chaos theory, rather, it launches a single mote of dust into the stale air.
The mote of dust, as I have hinted, was shed from Simon Remington during coitus with an underage Woolworth’s waitress.
It happened 4 days prior to Oswald’s attempt to bring about revolution via assassination, Marxism via revolution. Tammy Chatterley told her parents she’d be studying at Irene Tippet’s house. Secretly, she and Si rendezvoused at the Five-and-Dime Store on Commerce Street. In the dark of night, he led her across Dealey Plaza, and up the six flights of stairs in the Texas Book Depository building.
He brought her a gift that night. It was a ring; a cheap tin piece filched from his wife’s jewelry box.
“It’s what I call a Promise Ring,” he said, his breath stinking of sardines.
“Oh,” she swooned, “I love it.” She tried it on three slender fingers, then pushed it on her thumb. “What is your promise?”
Si hadn’t expected that question. What did he know of promises, except of their utility and fragility? “I promise,” he stammered, unbuttoning his pants, “that I will never forsake you.”
He thought it sounded good.
“Forsake me,” she tested. “What exactly does that mean?” She pushed his hand away from her breast.
“You know,” he fumbled, “like, say if you had problem – or you was in a pickle – I’d be there for you. And that there ring is my promise. Everybody knows Si Remington is a man of his word.”
She hesitated. Her 16-year old brain churned, choking on the logic. “But your wife,” Tammy said, “you gave her your word . . . your oath.”
“That’s different, darlin’,” he said, burrowing his fishy face into the nape of her neck.
She pushed him away. “How? How is it different?”
“You’re young,” he mumbled, sucking her earlobe. “Life gets complicated. Things happen and plans change.” With his shirtless shoulder, he forced her to the floor, onto her back.
“Change?” she asked. “Like our plans? You promised you were going to leave her, that we’d elope to Canada and start our own family.”
He made an animal noise as he shoved up her skirt. “Si,” she shouted. “Si, I want to talk. I don’t want this . . . I want to talk to you about us.”
Si Remington, husband of one, father of seven and a half, advanced. He ripped Tammy’s knickers and proceeded to take what he’d taken 29 times before. “Don’t talk,” he said, panting.
“Si,” she screamed, wriggling, straining to escape.” “Stop it.”
He did not stop. Not for five full minutes. During that time, she screamed and sobbed and fought and scratched.
The dust. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll recall the varied composition of dust. I stated that it could pollen, paper fibers, soil, sand, even meteorite particulates. The astute reader will recall that one mote – the one responsible for Oswald’s untimely sneeze – came from the skin of a human.
Tammy Chatterley scratched Si’s back as he raped her. Her fingernails, bitten and uneven, scrawled ragged tracks across his back. In the battle, flakes and flecks of the man spewed into the room, landing on lamps, on window ledges, on the floor, and upon books.
On the day Oswald shot 3 bullets, a Luna Moth, having completed its egg, larvae, and pupa stages, emerged from its cocoon, hungry. Surrounded by a buffet of books, it feasted on the particular pulp of a novel that had been written by an author that had, sadly, committed suicide. As the Keeper of Time, I find this detail especially relevant. For had the man not written the unreadable books, and those books not exactingly stacked in Room 606 of the Texas Book Depository building, the dust (rather, skin castings) would have not settled on the “dust jacket” and would not have been ejected into the air when the moth flapped its wings.
Keeper of Time. Time Keeper. Just call me Cronus. It is my curse to know such things. For all of Time, I am resigned to do Time.
I see Comrade Oswald now, his eye pressed to the rim of the lens, his finger twitching within the trigger guard. For me there is no then and when and now. There is only the raging river of Time, feeding infinite tributaries.
I see the Tammy Chatterley leap from a trestle. There she is, frigid, in Trinity River, floating face down, her belly bloated. The cheap ring on her thumb.
I see Simon “Si” Remington working shirtless on the clutch of Duncan’s truck, under the shade of an oak in his backyard. I see his wide-hipped wife, Margaret, bringing him a pitcher of lemonade as the kids play on the tire swing. I see Margaret’s face inflame when she notices crosshatch of scratches across her husband’s back. I see her dash the glass pitcher to the stones and run back into the house. I see her take Si’s double-barrel shotgun off the rack and check it for buckshot. I see her smile maniacally and storm out the door, gunning for the man that had sworn an oath and had forsaken his vows.
I watch it all. I control nothing. Doing Time . . . hard Time.
The microscopic mote scourged from the Si’s back floats remotely through space like a celestial body, steered by capricious currents and eddies of air. I watch the dust mote and I watch the small, balding Marxist. I watch his nostril and the bore of his rifle. I see the First Lady stroke her husband’s reddish hair with her whitish glove. I see Jack wave to the Texas revelers. I see Zapruder with his camera; I see the man with the black umbrella. I see Jack’s past, and all his female conquests, and his litter of broken promises.
The first bullet leaves the gun, and I see it. It misses the Kennedys and Connallys. Strikes the street curb, which ejects a fragment of concrete, which strikes James Tague on his right cheek. Incidentally, Mr. Tague works at the Ford car lot. He sold Duncan the ’51 Ford pickup with the fucked clutch.
Oswald curses in Russian. He inhales and levels the barrel over the ledge. No one but Mr. Tague and I have noticed the gunfire. Oswald adjusts, lifting the crosshairs higher. He shoots and the bullet hits the President.
Oswald sees the man spasm and is elated. Oswald jerks on the bolt and ejects the hot brass. The next bullet, the third, would have to be the coup de grace. He tracks the man in the slow car and realizes this is his final chance to deal the final blow. He thinks of Marina, his Russian wife. He thinks of the child she’s just delivered. He thinks of the accolades he will receive from his heroism, of the history books that will report his story.
Remembering the advice of his Rifle Qual instructor, Oswald inhales. As he does, the flake of Si’s flesh, the single mote of dust disturbed by the moth, enters his right nostril and tickles his sensitive sinus. Involuntarily, Oswald sneezes.
The sneeze and the rifle’s report, synchronize. The gun bucks and the bullet veers.
I watch the bullet, for I watch all.
I watch the lead strike a baby in a carriage. I watch the mother bend and lift the child, its head shattered in proxy of Jack’s.
Immediately, I trace the stream and track the infant’s tributary. I laugh and I laugh, for what I see is that this frayed thread of Time, would have made all the difference to me.
Nevertheless, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jack, was severely wounded. But not mortally. He and John Connally were spirited to Parkland Memorial Hospital. Jack’s shoulder and neck were shredded, leaving him paralyzed on the left side. He would go on to become a universal, inspirational symbol of resilience and heroism, but not a martyr.
Kennedy would double-down on policy: Telling the American people that he’d taken the last bullet for our boys in Vietnam, and that their place was home, safe and sound.
He told white America that he knew what it was like to be black, disadvantaged, unable to break the chains. For he was bound by the shackles of paralysis. In ’65, his second term, the Civil Rights Bill passed unanimously. Americans went to the moon, then to Mars and beyond.
Human rights expanded. Wellbeing flourished. United, folks strove for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As a nation, America labored to lift failed states, to feed the hungry, and empower the weak. Under the Kennedy dynasty of John, Bobby, and Teddy, America led a coalition to clean the planet and outlaw war and promote the common welfare. America became the Shining City on the Hill – a beacon of global peace.
What about the baby, you ask. The dead baby in the carriage? The kid caught in Oswald’s crossfire?
I applaud the vigilant reader. The baby is quite important. As the Keeper of Time, I am cursed to know all fates, fortunes, chances, and happenings – be they real or unrealized.
The baby in the carriage, hit by Oswald’s errant bullet . . . what o’ what has this devilish mote of dust done to me? As I said, I traced the projected tributary of the child’s life. That child was named Niels. His mother and father were immigrants from Denmark – both brilliant scientists, both contracted to work on the Manhattan Project with Oppenheimer. Little Niels, it seems, would have gone on to exceed his parents’ atomic accomplishments – to exceed all of Science’s accomplishments.
Little Niels, as fate would not have it, would build a Time Machine, thus, imbuing mankind with my deific powers. Killing yet another god, rendering me, Cronus, obsolete.
As with the orphaned novel by the dead Writer in the Texas Book Depository, Little Niels’ unread and un-realized book of un-happened history, would have been the timeless tale that set me free from the curse of Time.
What if Oswald hadn’t sneezed?
What if . . . ?
Only Time will tell.
If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click HERE<<<Link and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.
If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:
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