A CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Copyright © 2001 All Rights
I called him Match-Stick Man,
his body slender as asapling, his arms and legs like thin iron rods. When he
blinked, lizard-like, his lids shot back, eyes nearly popping from their
sockets. I had known him for a very, very long time. Frightened, he often
wondered if he had no soul. No one aside from me had ever claimed him.
grotesque fixture in the dimly-lit college complex, which consisted of twelve
untidy and cramped offices, Tom Hancock had taught psychology for seven long and
lonely years before offering his heart to Dr. Leslie Drubb, one of the kindest
people on earth. The romance between the freak and the saint came about in this
the beginning of his seventh year at the college, Tom underwent a six-week
hospitalization in one of southern Nevada's newest medical facilities. Rumors of
mysterious diseases filled the greatest minds in the college like pesky gnats.
When he returned an early September afternoon, a sputtering ghastly invalid with
red splotches on his face and arms, he reminded everyone in the office of a
bloody scarecrow. When anyone approached him, Tom clinched his fists, held them
at his side, and refused to discuss the condition that had led to his
confinement, even going so far as to condemn one prominent but spineless
administrator to the Pit of Hell. And so most everyone in the office avoided
this creepy, hacking convalescent.
Drubb, however, proved to be the exception, for she could talk to Tom, and he
would talk to her. An Ohio woman who claimed a strict and fundamentalist
religious background, Leslie Drubb had told most of us, at one time or another,
that God had called her to serve the afflicted. That's why she taught; that's
why she spent extra hours down at the soup kitchens serving the homeless; that's
why, in her spare time, she volunteered for the Red Cross. After much thought
mixed (I am sure) with fervent prayer, she baked and brought Tom a rhubarb pie,
which she boasted was her specialty.
was later in September, a splendidly sunny day, when Dr. Drubb dragged herself
out of her office, clutching the pie with both fat hands, and offered the treat
to Tom. As usual, Tom was sitting in one of the black plastic chairs that the
state legislature had so generously purchased for our faculty, slurping coffee
and muttering to himself.
can only reconstruct the moment in my imagination, for I was huddled in my
office, pretending to prepare a lecture, but I see Tom slowly rising to his
feet, his eyes growing big as saucers(and memories of his dear departed Mother
bringing his cookies after a hellish day at school), and grinning hugely,
revealing no doubt several teeth missing in the front of his mouth. Certainly,
then, delighted beyond his wildest expectations, Tom eagerly accepted the pie
that splendidSeptember afternoon after classes were finished with a loud
"Yum!" and quickly retreated to his office, where my colleagues and I
overheard him devouring the treat. ( The sucking sounds reminded us all of a
beast.) Not since his lengthy hospitalization had Tom been treated half so well.
Dr. Drubb's charity touched Tom's twisted heart, and as he pondered the woman
and dreamed of her image night after night after night, black lust finally
invaded his soul. Alone in bed at night, in the cold room next to mine, he began
feasting on thoughts of Leslie just as he had devoured the delicious pie.
October fall set in and blustery winds ripped through the Nevada desert,
particularly on the days when he didn't teach, Tom could be seen and heard
coughing and muttering to himself as he hobbled about the complex. Though I
didn't tell the others, I knew Tom was in love. In Leslie Drubb's absence, he
would even occasionally blaspheme, cursingthe Creator of heaven and earth. When
this occurred, the rest of us sat in our offices and trembled, not even thinking
about venturing out save to consider going to class or the restroom. When Dr.
Drubb returned from class, Tom's spirits would brighten, and at times he even
began singing faint praises to Leslie, a regular Mother Teresa who saw herself
as a suffering servant dying daily to self. When Drubb returned, we knew it was
safe to come out and pretend to socialize, feigning normalcy.
to everyone else but me, Tom's lust for Dr. Leslie Drubb steadily increased like
a fire fanned from the Pit of Hell. "Hell's fire, Jacob, I crave this
babe," he rasped in a whisper one late afternoon in my office's dark,
prayerful privacy, "because she is so fucking ordinary. Besides," he
added, smacking thick lips, " the rhubarb pie was delicious."
a bit afraid of him, I nonetheless listened to Tom, as I always did, my
mind's-eye on God. Twitching almost uncontrollably, he wore a greenish tweed
jacket, patches on the elbows, baggy khaki pants, and his usual wire-rimmed
glasses, which always gave the impression of squinting. This attraction of his,
I had concluded even before my meeting with Tom, was not good. As Tom waved his
thin arms and sang the woman's praises in my office, and as I listened, I
thought of Leslie. Dr. Leslie Drubb was middle-aged and had graying brown hair,
which she unfashionably tied in a bun. An incessant eater, she was at least
fifty pounds overweight. Beyond this, she wore those thick, dark-rimmed glasses
that went out of style long ago, and always hideous purple dresses. Students and
colleagues alike associated her with the color purple. It should be noted that,
because of a crippling child-hood accident involving her father's tractor, Dr.
Drubb walked with a limp.
your sickness," I told Tom, finally, as he started to leave my office. I
think, at the time, no one else was present in the complex. "Listen to me,
Tom. This is your sickness. You must leave this woman alone. She has three
children and two large dogs. Her husband, a dealer at the Stardust, left her
five years ago for a show girl. For the love of God, man," I pleaded,
"leave this woman be."
at the door and turning and glaring back at me, Tom argued. "She is, I
think, perfect for me, an extraordinarily ordinary woman. She dotes on me; I
dote on her. What more is needed to light the fires of hellish passion? In
short, I must have this woman. Certainly, her gift of the rhubarb pie indicates
that she is meant just for me." As he spoke these words, he never stopped
the horrible twitching.
the years, I had grown quite used to this twisted line of reasoning. Although I
considered myself an unusually bright man, trained in the logic of Aquinas, I
could never get around Tom's logic which, as he spoke, seemed flawless. At
times, Tom showed traces of brilliance. Nonetheless, I had to try to steer him
clear of this woman, whom even I admired.
You'll get over it, Tom. Trust me in this; we've traveled this road before, I
believe--several times I think," I said. "This women is very, very bad
choice. The planet is wrapped in cords of evil; let this good woman go. Choose
someone else, for the love of God."
of course, Tom did not get over his hungry infatuation with the one person at
the college who served to remind me that an infinitely and eternally loving God
may in fact exist. Predictably, following this conversation in my office,
furious that I did not agree with him, he stormed out of the college, walked in
big loping strides out to his truck and, as I watched from the entrance doors,
drove hell-bent-for-leather out of the parking lot and onto the street, where he
nearly collided with a black semi. From this point, black passion began growing
like a malignant tumor in Tom's heart, his love moving into what only I
recognized as a form of demonic possession. There was nothing I could do but
watch and wait.
some weeks later, things began to come to a head, Tom's darkly romantic feelings
for Dr. Drubb bursting forth like a dark and furiously blazing star. As his
stunned colleagues listened and observed, cowering as usual behind office doors,
Tom began regularly flirting with dowdy Dr. Drubb as she limped about the
office. Tom, in fact, waxed quite poetic, quoting Shakespeare, Petrach, Edgar
Alan Poe, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. After the two had teased each other
over steaming cups of fresh coffee for two or three weeks, even exchanging small
tendernesses that would get neither in trouble with the college, Tom broke the
ice one February afternoon and, falling to one knee in an attempt at gallantry,
asked Leslie on a date. I heard the whole thing, hidden in the sanctuary of my
office, and I am sure the poor woman's heart leapt from its cage, as she
uttered, pathetically, "Oh, my, yes. I'd love to spend an evening with you,
I shall drop by tomorrow," he said, his voice trembling in a dark
anticipation that I alone understood. "My dear, darling woman," he
exclaimed, "I shall take you to one of Las Vegas' finest casino
sighed a heart-felt sigh. I heard that much and wanted to weep.
treat you like a queen," he added, and I cringed as I listened.
course Tom had lied. Boldly. He had no intention of treating this pathetic
paragon of goodness and virtue like a queen. As I pondered this, I knew that
soon Tom and I would have to be moving on to another state or to another
country, assuming further new identities to hide our past ones in hopes that we
would never be apprehended. Southeast Asia was a possibility.
may have read the story of what follows in one of Las Vegas's cheap underground
newspapers. The incident that occurred on the date was as spectacular as a
nuclear explosion. The evening he picked her up, both dressed as if they were
going to an inauguration ball, Tom drove Dr. Drubb in his rattling 1984 Ford
pick-up fifty miles north to the far dark shore of Lake Mead, where according to
local legend beautiful nude witches used to sing and perform ghastly rituals in
service of the dead.
drive to the lake, I imagine, was uneventful, save for a quick and convenient
stop at a Burger Kind, and surely Dr. Drubb expected nothing but a wonderful
surprise from the one man in the office who had paid her the slightest
attention. The drive, Tom later told me, was absolutely stunning, the setting
desert sun bleeding the sky with reds, pinks, oranges, and yellows. "Sweet
Jesus," he confided in me, "it couldn't have been more perfect. I felt
a oneness I haven't known for some time."
Tom's truck bounced onto the rutted dirt road leading to a beautiful but uneven
patch of ground on the north short of Lake Mead, darkness fell with the
suddenness of death, and Dr. Leslie Drubb found herself alone with the person
that I often jokingly refer to as the Match-Stick-Man. For an hour or so, they
sat next to each other in the front seat of his primer gray Ford pickup, holding
hands and looking out over the huge man-made lake and discussing various things:
literature, vampire movies, favorite foods, childhood heroes, and so on. The
full moon overhead made for a dazzling, romantic scene. Strains of Mozart poured
from the radio as Tom studied the woman's neck and waited for the thing in his
heart to tell him what to do.
thing they had been discussing was religion, and apparently Tom had just
confessed that, while his brother (a defrocked priest) held faith for both of
them, he believed in nothing at all. "My brother, Mr. God," he
sarcastically intoned, emphasizing his contempt for the God his brother
worshipped, "wants to save me from an eternity of Hell fire."
said nothing in response to this. Perhaps, she did not believe in Hell.
where are we exactly, Tom?" Drubb finally asked, still infatuated, I'm
sure. Apparently, she had never been to this side of the lake. I don't think
she'd ever been much of anywhere.
the end of the world is where we are," he answered, guttural, his sweet
hour (as he called it) steadily approaching. He was already beginning the
metamorphosis which clinical psychiatrists had attributed long ago to a flawed
DNA code. If you weren't looking for it, the change was unnoticeable. Certainly,
Drubb didn't see it, nor could she hear the still dark voice that commanded Tom
from his heart.
night," he added, almost singing, momentarily manic, "I have a present
for you. Oh, yes, yes, yes, I do." The dramatic mood-swing was very typical
of Tom, particularly when he felt himself reaching another apotheosis. At this
point, Tom leaned over and kissed Dr. Drubb lightly on the cheek.
imagine that Dr. Leslie Drubb, completely taken by this man, did not notice the
bell-curve of Tom's emotions. "Oh," she reportedly squealed,
delighted, heart hitting the moon. "What is it? Whatever could it be?"
to reconstruct the story as it was told to me, I imagine Leslie knew that Tom
understood her single greatest passion: the novels of Jane Austen. Days before,
I remember that he had promised her a collector's set of the works of one of the
nineteenth century's greatest authors.
outside with me," Tom cajoled in a voice wavering between guttural depths
and insane heights. Pressing a button on his arm rest, he unlocked the doors of
to see the gift, hoping for a late-night embrace from the only man who had shown
her any affection in the past five years, Leslie struggled out of the pickup,
jumping down onto the freezing ground and nearly falling on her face. The winter
air was frigid, the desert winds shrieking. Ice cold waves must have lapped the
a bulky package, Tom leaped anxiously out his side, bounced around the front of
the pickup like a gigantic praying mantis, his heart feverishly racing, and
joined the woman that his black bestial heart desired. He felt like singing a
at the full moon handing suspended like a pendulum over the vast lake, he spoke,
his voice surely like iron: "Walk with me a bit, Leslie."
her fat hand in his thin bony one, Tom led the limping woman towards the lake,
showing the great patience as Dr. Drubb struggled with the rocky and uneven
ground. Filled with compassion, he supported her as one would an elderly person.
Two feet from the dazzling, moon-algow water, they stopped. There, as Dr. Drubb
stood slightly in front of him marveling at the moon and clouds reflecting off
dark, glassy water and quite blinded by love, Tom reached into the package and,
probably hissing, slowly withdrew a huge, glistening, serrated hunting knife.
The light of the moon reflected brilliantly off the freshly polished
blade.("That blade," he told me later, "literally sang for
forward, quick as a snake, Tom seized Leslie around the forehead and, at
crushing light-speed, in the grand tradition of our father, slit the fat throat
of Dr. Drubb slick as a whistle. Leslie never made a sound and put up no
exactly Jane Austen," he muttered tenderly to the woman, holding the slowly
dying Drubb in his strong, match-stick arms. At that moment, contrary to what
you may think, I am quite sure he loved her.
was the cleanest and deepest cut ever made," Tom confessed to me
afterwards, "blood spurting like a geyser from the wound. The night turned
crimson. It was wonderful."
Leslie expired steadily as he set her gently on the ground, removed her white
evening gown and then her underwear, rubbed blood over her body, kissed her
nipples and inserted his fingers between her legs. Next, he inserted the knife
just above the sternum, and with all the strength he could must he slit
downward. Finally, joined to ritual, he set the bloody knife aside and removed
his own clothes. He was, according to his own description, aroused beyond words.
next part was crucial to his survival and sanity. Reverentially, Tom knelt next
to the body, reached forth with match-stick hands, grabbed the fleshy sides of
the cavity, and yanked the wound apart. Steam gloriously rising from torn flesh
and internal organs, Tom paused, licking blood from his hands and then glancing
towards Leslie, her eyes still though barely open. I think he thought that Dr.
Leslie Drubb was dead.
than your rhubarb pie," he uttered, "which, by the way, was quite
delicious." He did not mean the remark disrespectfully. Not at all.
fucking freak," she burbled, blood bubbling from her mouth. Her words hit
him like stones, and he almost fell over backwards.
had never heard a foul word from the mouth of Dr. Drubb. None of us had. We all
considered her the saint, and so Tom was stunned and wounded deeply. It was as
if Hell's portal had suddenly opened and nearly swallowed him, extinguishing his
silently, even prayerfully composed himself. Gradually, as he prayed over and
over again, the peace and ecstasy that always accompanied these grisly
performances returned, and Tom knew he could continue. Now, Drubb's life nearly
expired, Tom reached into the cavity, grabbed the woman's still-beating heart,
and yanked it forth. Dr. Drubb gave forth one last ghastly hiss as he did so.
Taking up the knife, he severed the heart's arteries and veins. The deed was
nearly done. Soul filling with joy, he held the bloody object in front of him
with both hands, as if making an offering to the moon.
was time. Putting the still warm heart to his lips, Tom opened his mouth, said
softly, sobbing, "I love you, Leslie," and bit. The sensation of his
mouth filling with warm liquid, of bathing face and hands and body in warm
blood, offset the chilling winter cold and a bad cough that he had carried out
to the lake.
thrill surged through him like fire, and Tom felt himself on the edge of flight.
Weeping, glancing upward towards the moon, he saw his own dark soul leap from
his body and begin soaring over the majestic lake in large angelic spirals. Tom
claims that, at that moment, he swore that he could hear choirs of angels
singing and thought of the poems of Emily Dickinson. The screaming desert wind
beat against his soul, as it flew like a great black bat toward the moon, and as
it descended and entered his body, Tom howled and howled and howled, knowing he
had touched God to live boldly and grandly until I found him another victim.
was over. Tom was reborn.
caked in blood, flesh and soul quivering in ecstasy, Tom walked back to his
truck, climbed in, put it in gear, inserted his Pachelbel CD. He sped along the
dirt road toward the dark highway, thrilled to the masterful concerto that,
three centuries before, had set Europe on fire. He felt himself cleansed by the
fires of bloody passion and knew he was alive.
on the black patch of highway, Tom gunned the accelerator, taking his pickup up
to ninety, still tasting the blood of the kill. When he reached his dilapidated
one-story house on the outskirts of the city sometime after midnight, he called
me to his room, explained what had happened, told me how he had poured lighter
fluid on the body and then, using match sticks, had set the corpse on fire.
danced around the fiery corpse," he exclaimed, "as Dr. Drubb snapped,
crackled, and popped like a bowl of rice crispies. Glory to God, I am now made
whole." He imitated the dance, arms and legs flailing spastically in the
my dear sweet Jesus," is all I could say as I pondered the murder to the
only truly saintly woman I have ever met. Tom's act was almost like killing God.
defrocked priest masquerading as a professor of psychology, that very night, as
he knelt next to my bed, I held him and did confess and forgive Tom, the
Match-Stick Man, as manic joy gradually gave way to dark weeping sadness and
horrible, hellish guilt.
God, God, God, help me," he moaned and vomited on my wooden floor as he
crumpled to the floor. The cycle was complete and would, as it must, begin
again. Tom was in Hell again.
at least I had performed my part of the ghastly ritual just as I had done for
years, God be praised, hoping beyond hope that the hands of forgiveness extend
to the base and the depraved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A college English professor teaching in
Las Vegas, Rich Logsdon has been
published extensively on and off the net. In his spare time, he edits the
magazine Red Rock Review.
Contact Rich Logsdon at