"Good Humor Man, I'm certain that I'm just telling you what you already know," Penny began, her scattered voice whispering between heavy pants for breath. "But you are the finest miner ever to excavate my deepests. You even saved the canary - that was so thoughtful of you, though between you and me, I think he talks too damn much."
She chortled for a moment before burying her face in the stained, damp pillows. She breathed in the cold musk of a hundred years without detergent and let the sweet, sticky scent recharge the blood in her veins. A shiver of electricity tickled her nerves and she wondered if this was how she felt all those decades ago, a bright-eyed and wide-legged schoolgirl with dreams of babies and bar fights drifting through her adolescent mind, until she realized she was absently fingering a light socket near the headboard. She didn't seem to mind, and continued to flick as her thoughts began to drift.
A tumult of phantasms waxed and waned in her mind's eye until she finally settled on the faces of all the husbands she could remember, most a slight variation or simple tweak on Paul Harvey's visage. A pang of guilt struck her heart and she began to chew at the cuticles of her left hand, studying the ceiling and trying to force the demons from her head. Their condemning eyes traced up and down her billowy, rumpling body, sizing up her sex while simultaneously accusing her of all the nastiness in the world.
She felt a whore. She also felt an astronaut once, at space camp, but no fond memory could substitute the guilt.
"Mr. Good Humor Man!" she exclaimed, sitting upright in bed with a snap. "I've made a terrible mistake."
Crem's muddy eyes stared back at her from the safety of the rocking chair at the foot of the bed, motionless and lifeless.
"Don't give me that look! You knew what this was from the start: a rumpfuck in the rough, a humorless hump, don't you see? My heart belongs to Chauncey." She nodded fervently, then paused. "Or was it Clancey?" Her head felt muddy. She clawed at the memories but they wouldn't stay, leaving her confused and nude in a strange hillbilly's bed.
Crem offered no reply.
"Damnation! All this time spent in the sulfurous sin of your sex has robbed me of my memory!" Penny clapsed the bedsheets and pulled them up to her chin, conceiling her naked form from Crem's stare. "Haven you a potion? An antidote? A serum? Mr. Good Humor Man, your ice cream treats cannot restore what you have robbed from me." She was shrieking now, hissing and spitting like a feral cat, the knots in her hair bouncing left and right as she sharply shook her head in furor.
When no apology came, or any words at all, Penny kicked Crem square in the chest, sending he and the rocking hair sprawling to the floor. His limp, lifeless body drapped across the upturned chair, his legs sticking nearly straight into the air, his eyes turned toward the front door, though they saw nothing anymore. Penny leapt from the bed like a spider and landed on top of him - the old bat was agile for her age, there was no denying this - and clasped the sides of his head, pulling his face toward hers. His tongue rolled lazily from his bloated blue lips.
"Our affair ends here, Mr. Good Humor Man. And if you ever tell anyone, I'll kill you!" she screamed, thick yellow spit gathering in pools at the corners of her lips. He said nothing, and Penny, satisfied, pulled the carving knife free from his sternum and laid it on the bedsheets.
She climbed to her feet and stepped carefully over the badly-mutilated corpse of Crem, the low-down trash who had the surprise of his life twice in one evening; once upon discovering a batshit old bag hiding under a crate of oranges and twice upon realizing the role of cat and mouse was never his choice to begin with.
Penny half-padded, half-waltzed her way toward the front door, not bothering to dress herself again. She hummed softly to herself an unrecognizable tune as she gazed upon the fresh morning dawning from the east outside. A fine day, she thought to herself.
An envelope taped to the screen door caught her attention and she approached cautiously, watching the curiosity like a wolf would sneer upon its prey. She snatched it from its place and tore the envelope open, wondering to herself if it could be pull of candy, or possibly the antidote for her memory loss.
Instead, she discovered a note within. She walked briskly toward Crem's workbench and collected a yellowing pair of goggles from around the neck of a jigsaw and held them over her eyes like reading glasses.
Your talents are required.
Relocate yourself to Chicago by the first of June and await further instructions.
There you will find Misses Buttersocks and the remedy to your memory loss.
And for Christ's sake, put some clothes on.
He Who Watches
Penny gummed her bottom lip and studied the note over once more before crumpling it up and tossing it over her shoulder. "Damn thing's in French, Crem, I can't understand a word of it," she muttered.
Without a glance back, she exited through the screen door and approached Crem's battered pick up left sitting in the gravel drive. Upon discovering the keys tucked snuggly into the overhead visor, Penny turned the ignition and stole away down the road, still as naked as the day she was born - however long ago that may have been.