The Killer

One day, as I listened to one of my customers down at the store, I knew in my heart I could actually kill another human being. Given a gun or a knife I could have taken the life of the idiot who stood in front of me. It was just a brief opening and closing. I got a cold glimpse of myself. An epiphany of sorts, I guess. It’s a sharp-edged epiphany I’d have done without really, but who controls these things?

I work the till at Liquor Barn. Isn’t that a name that rings of class? So I see a lot of drunks. I get to see a lot of drunk behaviour. And I hear a lot of drunk talk. In fact, this job caused me to cut way back on my own drinking, and I quit swearing, for the most part.

Anyway, about a month ago, I heard a Buddhist monk being interviewed on the radio, on CBC. He explained the only way to real strength was through gentleness. This idea really resonated with me. I took it in and hung on. It’s one of those things in life you keep, at least you want to. Most of us don’t live in monasteries though, do we? I mean, it must be pretty easy to walk around inside a monastery being gentle all day. Those walls make a difference.

Jung talks about our two shadows. One, our alter ego shadow, and the other, our potential for pure evil. I’m old enough to know in my heart about the mass of gray that life becomes as you get older. Nothing is black and white anymore. What I’m sayin’ is, this man had to have some good in him, somewhere. Hitler wrote poetry, probably had a sense of humour, a kind side. I guess it’s all a matter of where you draw the line between what you can imagine of your own good, and what you’re experiencing of your evil. I’m in my second year of a psychology degree. That’s why I know a little about Jung. Quite a little actually. I’m not a great student. Too interested in learning and not interested enough in marks. You could say I’m pretty romantic in that way.

Regardless of my Buddhist monk, I wanted to do harm to this guy. I couldn’t muster any gentleness towards him. Why? Simple really. I happen to really like moose. Really like mooses. Meese? Moose. Well, I really like those big brown, homely-looking, long-jawed creatures that stand on rural highways and kill cars. There’s a gangly nobility to the moose. I like to think of them as the North American version of the elephant. And there’s a gentleness. Watch a moose move sometime. They’re so big that any movement against a landscape must appear gentle. Hell, I even like chocolate mousse and I’m not exactly a dessert person.

I clip stories out of the papers with moose in them. One story has a moose dying when she gets tangled up in a child’s swing set. Strangled to death. I can’t help thinking this moose must have struggled in the chains all night. While her offspring watched from nearby woods, she slowly choked to death. Another story has a moose stopping a couple of guys the police are chasing in northern Ontario. The moose was just standing in the middle of the highway and the felons literally ran into him. The police caught the bad guys. The moose died. Watch the papers. There’s about a story a month with a moose in it. Most of the stories are about moose who die when they come in contact with humans, but not all of them.

How could this guy who just wanted a case of beer know how I felt about moose? Just dumb luck on his part. Dumb, bad luck. Jung would probably say my anger, rage really, was a shadow signpost but I’m too young for real shadow work. Maybe when I turn 40.

Anyway, I thought about holding a gun to his forehead and squeezing the trigger, dropping the gun, turning around and going out for a pizza as if nothing had happened. Pretty cold huh? The lack of passion in me, when I think about this, makes me wonder if maybe I might be losing it. Well, I guess I wished this guy dead because of the way he described the moose he shot last fall. Oh, it wasn’t what he did, it’s how he described it to the other guy at the counter. There was this joy in the killing. “I shot the fucker in the gut and he fucking went down to his knees right away eh? And then he went to get up so I fucking shot him again; and then he went to get up again so I shot him right through the shoulder into his heart, and he went down for good.” The guy was smiling, no, leering, and laughing as if it were some sort of great accomplishment. Like at some point in his adventure, he believed his life was in danger and he overcame his fears and managed to prevail. Man over nature. I got the feeling it wasn’t the first time he’d enjoyed watching an animal suffer. The moose kept trying to get up. That’s what got me.

Can’t you just imagine that guy standing there with a high-powered rifle, maybe drunk, wearing the same goddamned red baseball cap, sporting the same dumb face with three days growth? It’s a beautiful thing, the sport of hunting, isn’t it?

Wasn’t it Nietzsche who went nuts near the end of his career and ran out into the street to apologize to a horse that was being beaten in front of his hotel? I think it was in Switzerland. Actually, it might have been Nietzsche who was beating the horse. I can’t remember. Animals and children are the innocents in the world aren’t they? Maybe it’s totally impossible to be adult and innocent at the same time. Maybe we can only be innocent when we dream, like that song by Tom Waits.

I really empathized with that moose. Freud would have a field day with this little story. My father used to, well some of my professors would say, my father used to take out his frustrations about his lack of control over his own life, on me. He used to beat the hell out of me. I’m not angry about it or anything. But I do have a lot of sympathy for a creature in almost the same situation. Helplessness is a horrible thing to feel. Eventually I grew big enough to scare my father and he stopped. I got away from him. But then, he didn’t have a high-powered rifle.

Did this fool at the counter know he was pushing my buttons? Was he trying to be insulting or was he just incredibly stupid? I guess it doesn’t matter. The guy’s dead. And it’s very likely I’m responsible. I wished him dead and I’m cursed with a feeling of responsibility.

I only got a twinge of something resembling guilt when I read in the paper that he had a family. Three kids and a wife. She’s pregnant. I shouldn’t even think this but, Jesus, why is it always the complete morons in life who reproduce en masse? It’s like, hey I’m real stupid, what can I do today? Oh I know, I’ll reproduce. Well now his kids at least will have a chance to grow up without his idiotic guidance.

So I looked at the guy. In my mind, I could see him posing for a picture with his moose. Holding the head up by the antlers and smiling into the camera. I absolutely ignored everything I’d ever learned about customer service and said: “You’re a scum bag. You owe me $14.50.”

“What?” He staggered backward.

The other guy backed up too. Glared at me.

“Which part are you not understanding? The part about you being a scum bag or how much you owe? You speak English, right?”

“Do I know you?” He had those unpredictable, on-the-edge eyes. The kind of eyes you never turn your back on. They were the kind of I-really-want-to-do-harm-to-you eyes I’ve never see in any animal other than man.

“No, you don’t know me.” I was absolutely steamed. I snapped the twenty out of his hand and slammed the change on the counter. What difference would it make if I knew the guy? Would everything magically be alright if I happened to be in the guy’s grade four class? Jesus.

“You wanna go? Come on. We’ll go outside. I’ll beat the fucking shit out of you.”

“Oh, you’ll just have to go outside and beat yourself.” I always wanted to say that.

“Come on you fucker. Let’s go.”

“I don’t want to fight you.”

“You wanna fuckin’ go? Come on, right now.”

Normally, because I hate it when guys want to beat me up, adrenaline would be pumping through my body. I realized later that I was going out of my way to piss someone off who’d been drinking, owned a gun and wasn’t a very good shot. I should have been shaking. But I noticed I was pretty calm. “No, no. I just wanted to let you know what I thought of you. Now get out of here. Shoo.”

“You wanna fuckin’ go? Come on.”

The guy deserved points for consistency in dialogue anyway.

His friend grabbed his arm but he shook him off. The moose killer screamed “you fucker” and lunged for my tie and I slapped his ears on both sides with my hands cupped. I’m no fighter. I saw that in a movie once and somehow it came out of me at the right time. In the movie, the fellow who got slapped went deaf for a few minutes–spent those few minutes looking around quizzically like somebody had just turned out the lights. Apparently it can do great damage to your eardrums. It stopped the moose guy for a couple seconds. It also made him go even more berserk. Every time he lunged at me I just held out one of my arms and pushed him off. I have extremely long arms. If I buy a shirt off the rack I always have to wear the sleeves rolled up. His friend finally got hold of him and Carl, the stock boy, appeared from the back. Carl played football all through high school and plays with the university team now. He’s a defensive lineman. When he loomed up behind me, things in front of me slowed down considerably.

As they dragged the jerk out of here, he was bellowing about how he couldn’t hear anything. “I can’t fuckin’ hear nothin’,” he kept shouting. “You bastard.” There was a lot of screaming outside too. Carl somehow communicated to them that I was inside calling the police. He says that calmed them down. I didn’t call the police. They came around a couple days later.

According to the story in the newspaper, Mr. gee-I-love-the-brutality-of-killing finally said goodbye to his friend and went for a walk along the tracks with his case of beer. There’s a double set of train tracks running parallel to 49th Avenue for about five blocks before they veer off towards the industrial area. Kind of a happy picture if you think about it. Surely to God he heard the train. Who knows, maybe he was so drunk he figured he could walk in front of trains with impunity. I don’t know why the hell he didn’t just grab a cab and go home. Maybe he heard the train and moved over to the other set of tracks just in time. Except he got it wrong. The cops said the train cut him in two. It’s just like this moose up near Prince George last year that got hit by a semi. It was in the paper. Pretty awful, really, but I guess it happens all the time up there.