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I'm afraid you won't be finding Mr. Digby's secret get away spot on mapquest...

The Ins and Outs of Paul Digby

By

J.L. Helper

 

 

Paul had been lugging boxes of Christmas and Halloween decorations up the wobbly ladder leading into the attic for over an hour before sitting down in a dark corner to catch his breath. To hide from Sandra.

 

Leaning back against a wall smothered in dust, he heard a crunch behind him. He took the rolled up paper and crawled over to the hole where the ladder pierced the attic and a dim light seeped through it. He unfurled the paper and twisted it sideways in the light.

 

The map, despite its antique appearance, was smooth to the touch like vellum pages in a magazine. It was a map of the entire world, hand drawn and exquisitely ornate in detail though nothing was rendered on it in words. Only stippled pictures of forest covered mountains, vast oceans, sparse deserts, and hopeless icecaps. It was a typical map, but it was seductive, ablaze with life and effort. Someone or something loved that map. And being an artist of sorts himself, Paul was awestruck with admiration.

 

Intersti... He mumbled, but before he could finish everything went black.

 

* * *

 

His plunge into the water was unexpected, an impossibility, but worse than that, on an internal level where corrosive emotions brew, absolutely mortifying. Shock to say the least. The water was freezing, couldnt have been above 45 degrees. Paul was struggling to stay afloat. Sure hed learned how to swim at the age of seven, but the part of his brain retaining that knowledge wasnt working. Only one part of his brain was working, the one part not completely paralyzed by fright, the part controlling his survival instincts. And even it was flickering in and out of control initially.

 

But soon, not soon enough for Paul of course, his panic subsided, and he began to gain some control over the situation. Peering left, then right while dog paddling in circles, he realized that the water was endless. Hed landed smack dab in the middle of a fucking ocean. It stretched out from horizon to horizon, rolling and swelling a thousand different colors and shapes, running off of the edge of the visible world into nothingness.

 

And after about ten minutes of frantic paddling, the water seemed to start tugging on him. Pulling him downward, wanting him to drown he just knew it. He saw himself disintegrating like a newspaper left out in the rain. Becoming bloated and fragile and dissolving into tiny chunks of flesh only to be eaten by sea creatures in a world that shouldnt exist. He screamed out in a desperate plea for help. It echoed over the water, wafting through the moist air, fading into oblivion, unheard and unanswered.

 

Please God. Help He went under, his muscles weak, and gave a final warbled request from underwater. Get me out.

 

 

* * *

 

 

Sandra stepped up the ladder and slammed a box labeled tree stand down.

What the hell are you doing Paul? Sure as hell arent putting the boxes up are you? Sandra was stern, matter of fact with a tyrannical attitude.

IIuh was just looking at this map I found up here. Look at it. Its beautiful. Paul stammered. He always stammered around Sandra. He knew it was odd for a man, the king of the castle, the lord of the goddamn manner, to fear his wife, but he did. Besides, he rationalized, after endless beatings taken as a teenager, that being a conciliator rather than defensive made the abuse less. And it usually did.

I dont give a crap about any maps or scraps or rats. Just you getting these fucking boxes up there. Sandra slapped the map from his hands.

Alright, alright dear. Sorry. Sorry about that. Ill get right to work.

Paul put the map in his office on top of his computer desk, his writing desk, his corner of escape, his new safe place, and spent the remainder of the day being ushered around by Sandra. This one here. That one there. No Paul! You idiot.

The couple had moved to the Gaines Mill house in Austin because Sandra had gotten a job at IBM. She was the bread winner, although Paul had sold two novels and was working on a third. She was starting her new job training in a few days and Paul couldnt wait to have some peace. Be alone. He couldnt wait to delve back into his novel and disappear from existence. The pitiful existence he knew as Sandra.

 

* * *

 

The mountain air was cool compared to the humid Austin air. A flowery aroma permeated the tall fields of grass and cut through the forest, blanketing the mountainside. The soft smell wafted up Pauls nose, assuaging any feelings of anger or frustration he may have had from Sandra forcing him to cook breakfast that morning. Hed never been to the Rocky Mountains before, but the clichs were true. It was aesthetic, an array of beauty indescribable even to a writer, a tribute to its creator no doubt. But Paul knew that this wasnt the real Rockies. There were no power lines, roads, SUVs, or cabins. Just nature. Perfect.

Wow. Paul mumbled as he wandered up a tree-choked path. He hadnt felt this level of mental relief since Sandra had gone to Austin for her IBM interview leaving him in Kansas City alone-away from Sandra-for a week. Alone. he sighed.

 

At one time he loved Sandra, or at least the idea of her. Or no, actually, it was the idea of marriage that had appealed to him. Thirty-five years of social rejection had driven him into becoming a reclusive writer, and when a woman with big knockers approached him at Dennys at 4AM, the part of him that couldnt handle secluded life reared its head. The relationship had pleased his mother. Finally doing something human, shed said. Better keep this one. So he married Sandra to feel normal, and because he was getting tired of humping his calloused hand.

 

He held his hand out and let his fingers graze the gnarled tree trunks. He decided to unlace his shoes and carry them in his hands. Something Sandra would never allow. The crackling leaves and dislodged tree branches tickled his feet. Sandra hates you guys, he thought, peering down at his feet. She never allowed him to walk around the house with his feet exposed. Hell, she didnt let him sleep without socks. She proclaimed them abominations.

 

As Paul dilly dallied across the mountain side like a lost calf not caring to find his mother, a light snow began to drip from the clouds looming a mere pole vaults distance over head. He sat down, propping his hunched back up against a large boulder and tilted his head back. The snowflakes caressed his parched tongue, slaking his thirst. Rivulets of moisture began dribbling down his bald head and into his eyes. He closed them.

 

I wish I could get away from her forever. But how can I get away from her now? How can I get out?

 

* * *

 

Even your sperm is weak Paul. Little Paully. When and if you ever can get it up that is. Sandra cut her eyes at Paul, judging him. They were lying in bed, both naked besides their socks. Sandras plump body nudging Pauls dainty figure closer towards the edge of the mattress with every heave of her chest, in and out, in and out, taking over even the air. He was over a foot shorter and at least ninety pounds lighter than she was.

 

Sorry Sand. IIcant help it. I feel inundated with your, your expectations. But he could help it. He didnt have trouble getting it up for Dixie-the vixen in his new novel- when Sandra was at work. Anyway, the old in-out, in-out of Sandra was virtually impossible with all the bitching she did about his maneuvers.

Sandra averted her stare to the ceiling fan rocking overhead. Well, when my parents come and visit next month Ill tell them that theyll never have grandkids thanks

 

to your puny sperm. And the fact that youre as soft, no as flakid as a bean bag. You and your little men are so aseenine Paul. Her mispronunciation of asinine and flaccid made Paul snicker. She always tried to best Pauls vocabulary. The one thing she knew he could dominate her in: sculpting language.

 

Sandra, Im not twenty anymore. Were close to forty. It takes a little more encouragement for me. Paul spoke in a loud whisper, but didnt finish his thought aloud. He wanted to tell her that her fat ass wasnt attractive to him anymore, if it ever was, and that the disgusted look on her face when he did mount her was horrible enough to make a horny dog jump off. Besides, being an environmental activist, he would never think of polluting the world with a progeny of Sandra even if it was half him. Especially if it was half him.

 

Whatever Paul. Just whatever. Sandra flipped over on her side. Her thighs rippled beneath the sheets. The bed creaked under the pressure. Im going to sleep. Turn the lamp off Paul.

 

Paul rolled over on his side, facing the opposite way. He had a queer simper scrawled across his bony, angular face. Although he never stood up to her directly, his thoughts of rebellion alone usually sated his hunger for revenge. That and thoughts of his newest safe place, his map, lulled him into a gentle sleep.

 

He was planning to hang the map he had found on the wall above his computer. He knew that Sandra might get violent at the proposition, so he planned on doing it before asking. It was worth the challenge.

 

* * *

 

Paul had never been to an island before, or a beach for that matter. Not a real beach anyway. Sure, once he had gone to the sandy beaches at Lake Meredith south of Kansas City, but when he arrived he realized it was the plains peoples futile attempt at a beach. It was really just a muddy cove. There was no real sand there, but there was here in the map.

 

He paced up and down the soft sands, bare-footed, forcing his toes apart when they dove into the sand so that the tiny flecks of debris could scratch the thatch of his toes. His pale, hairless, bare chest gleamed in the bright sun. Alone. He sighed, diving into the shallow water rhythmically massaging the shoreline. It was easier to appreciate the beauty of the vast expanse of moisture when he wasnt displaced in the center of it.

 

After a lengthy swim, he walked up under the palm trees that fortified the shore and plopped onto the ground, smiling, almost laughing out loud. Sounds of exotic birds backed up by natures orchestra, the lapping waves and gentle hissing wind, drifted across the beach. He sat there for hours listening to the birds, listening to the waves and wind, listening to the silence. Enjoying the silence. He had been going to the beach every day lately.

* * *

 

Where the hell have you been going while Im at work Paul? Sandra spun his chair around. She was facing him and stood stiff like a cursed statue. Fat fingers

interlaced across her chest, her legs shoulder width apart and knees locked. Her eyes flaming with anger and demand. Demand for an answer that would please her if there was one. Paul would swear that he saw smoke seeping from her ears and engulfing her giant, newly shorn locks of blonde dyed hair.

 

Ive been right here, working on my novel. Paul couldnt believe his words. It was a mild stand, not necessarily on his own conscious volition he thought, but it was a stand.

 

Sandra pulled his chin close to her face, squeezing his jowls. Bullshit! Then why the hell is your bald head tanned Paul? Where have you been going? Or should I ask who have you been going to? Is that why you cant get it up for me? Fucking some lovely girl at the tanning saloon?

 

No. Ive gone nowhere. his confidence dropped along with the stance hed held for a mere five seconds. When Sandra got physical, Paul always subsided. Hed had to lie to the hospital on two previous occasions about how he had fallen down the stairs. It was humiliating to admit getting his ass whipped by a girl, his wife Sandra the fat bitch. He didnt want to have to come up with excuses for injuries again.

 

Youre a damn liar Paul.

 

No Im not. Ive been here at the house all day, every day. I swear.

 

Then how did you get tan? She spoke with an undertone of sarcasm that Paul ignored.

 

Ive been lying out in the backyard. Getting inspiration. Brainstorming.

Sandra loosened her grip on his cheeks and slapped the back of his head. Youre lying Paul, and Im going to find out. I find everything out Paul. Ill find out where youve been going, and who youve been going to see.

 

Paul looked up at the map hed hung above his desk. His mind retorted the response whatever so loud he could have sworn that she heard his lack of care. And if she couldnt hear it, he knew she felt it when he turned his eyes away from the map and toward her.

 

Im not going anywhere. I need to get back to work please.

 

Whatever. Youve been working on that shit ass novel for over a year. A monkey couldve already finished it. Any pre-mate but you. She marched out of the room. Her stiletto shoes slapping the floor, their heels close to snapping in half, buckling under her weight. She stopped in the hallway and belted out, And by the way, I hate where you hung that ugly map.

 

Paul smiled, inside and out. He glanced up at the map after he heard Sandras car speed off down the road. Like a student mouthing fuck you and flipping the bird once their teachers back was turned, Paul leaned back in his leather chair webbed with cracks-not unlike his face-and silently mouthed his secret.

 

Im going to a place in that ugly map. A place without you. A place that is beautiful and accepting and willing to listen. A place Im safe and loved. All I have to do is touch it and say the magic word and Im away.

 

* * *

 

The beach, Pauls favorite getaway, accepted him with open arms as usual. His footsteps from his previous excursions still stamped into the sand. The birds still chirping melodic tunes at his arrival. It felt like god itself, was guiding him into paradise. Of all the places hed visited, this was the one for him. The one that took him completely away from reality and allowed him to roam free, mentally and physically. A place where he was in control like in his novels, but even those were different. In those the characters had a say in things. Here it was him and him alone.

 

He swam deeper into the ocean this time, exploring the coral reef, diving into the depths of the dark waters, cleansing his soul from the world that was Sandra. The sun smiled at him every time he resurfaced, brightening its glow to appease his fading vision since hed forgotten his glasses. He knew Sandra would never do anything to help him. Shed have told him hes worthless, decomposing, and thrown his glasses at him after she pulled them out of the spot shed hidden them in.

 

But right now, in the moment, Paul was devoid of all guilt and frustration. He spent what felt like days dancing in the sand, naked and shameless, spinning around and around in joyous circles. Not a need or care in the world. This world.

 

Then, somewhere far off in the distance, from somewhere not connected to the beach, an alarm went began chiming and fun time was over.

 

Out. He reluctantly yelled and was sucked back up into the cloudless atmosphere the same way hed been cast into it the first time he accidentally and unexpectedly crashed into the ocean.

 

* * *

Paul slapped the alarm off, slightly tapped the mouse taking the computer out of sleep mode, and grabbed the spare pair of clothes hed set on the desk.. He dried off, quickly changed clothes, and plopped down into his chair. The ringing alarm meant that Sandra would be home from work in about thirty minutes. Hed started using the alarm to warn him, to awaken him. It snapped his mind and body out of bliss and thrust him back to the realization that was Paul Digbys life.

 

Hed mastered the art of exploring the maps diverse world. Say in and touch where you want to go and bam!, youre there. Say out, and hello, reality. The alarm was essential now. Hed been spending so endless hours traveling throughout the days in a world that had no time or decay, hed almost been found out on a couple of occasions when Sandra arrived home early. The alarm helped him stay out of trouble. Today she walked in on time. Quarter past five. She pranced into Pauls office.

 

Get any worthless writing done today? She said slapping the back of his head, demeaning him, humiliating him even if only in front of his computer. That was the only thing besides the map that trusted his judgments.

 

Yep. he answered. Tons done today. This novel is taking me places I couldnt fathom it would.

 

Well, in the meantime, me, she patted her large breasts, the money maker, got a raise today. She smiled. An eat that you worthless bastard smile in Pauls eyes.

 

Good. he replied keeping his eyes fixed on the computer screen. Typing endless nothings, pretending to be in the zone to avoid her. The memories of todays sojourn on the beach were still fresh; he didnt want her corrupting that.

 

Good? Is that all? I deserve more than that. You damn well better cook dinner for me or something. Maybe try to get it up tonight.

 

Paul steadily typed. Sandra clocked him upside the head casting his glasses onto the desk.

 

Paul? You here me? She knew he did. She wanted to hit today.

 

Yes dear. Ill cook you dinner. He spoke with a haughty arrogance, pushing the words out through gritted teeth. He picked up his glasses, wiped them clean, and started typing. It was then, only after two years, four months, twenty-two days, sixteen hours, four minutes, and three seconds (Paul checked his watch. Hed been counting.) that he decided to do something violent. To kill Sandra. And even though he wasnt a violent man, at all, he somehow knew exactly how to do it. She could vanish without a trace if he got her hopped up on some Italian Merlot, sucked her into the map with him, and disposed of her there. Paul knew it might ruin the sanctity of the map, but at this point he didnt care. Hed already felt an unfamiliar tingle, a surge of endorphins, run across his body at the thought of her death. A feeling of absolute freedom and peace that hed only felt in the realms of the map up until then.

 

Fine then. Sandras shrill voice shattered his solace. Go draw me a bath and while Im in there you can start cooking. She was shedding her clothes in the hall way.

 

Waiton second thought call something in. Last time you cooked I got sick. And pick these clothes up.

 

Paul did so only because hed had the idea. The plan, he called it in thought. It seemed to form itself once planted.

 

* * *

 

Paul lay flat on his back in the cool sand underneath the palm trees thinking of the plan. The perfect plan. Sandras perfectly plausible and needed demise. The cool breeze creeping up the shore off of the low tide gently eased the plan forward in his thoughts. The rainbow colored toucans singing overhead nodded in approval as his plan played itself out in his imagination.

 

Sandra would come home. Hed shove her up against the map and scream IN before she had a chance to tackle him to the ground and start pummeling him. Once there shed be bewildered, lost like hed been when he almost drowned in the ocean. Paul pictured his bony fingers holding her head underwater on the beach as her eyes bulged, pupils dilated. Her, dying. Ill take a weapon if I need to, he thought, my baseball bat. He imagined whacking her over the back of the head like her meaty hand did his, and then jumping on her back, maybe kicking her a few times, and wrapping his scrawny fingers around her neck. Or almost around her neck, it was too fat and folded to get it all. Oh the pleasure of doing it yourself he thought closing his eyes, still lying peacefully under the tree. He smiled.

 

When that alarm goes off this time. It wont mean back to Sandra. Itll signal bye-bye Sandra.

 

Paul felt so relived and somnolent that he passed out under the sparkling sun. Waiting for the alarm to bring him home.

 

* * *

 

But the alarm never sounded. Sandra arrived home early. She wanted to catch Paul doing something or someone. Not so she could leave him or divorce him, no, Paul knew shed never do that, she wanted someone to beat. Shed had a rough day at work. Been fired actually.

 

Paul! Get your ass out here and help me carry these boxes in. She yelled out stomping into the entryway. PAUL!!Paul, asleep under the shade of the swaying palm trees, heard nothing of course.

 

Sandra angrily scurried to Pauls office hoping to catch him doing something or better yet, not there doing anything. If he was there, listening to a walkman and not hearing her commands would be enough to pound him.

 

PAUL!?

 

She poked her head into his office. His black leather chair held his butts imprint, but not him. A pile of neatly folded clothes lay on his desk. The computer screen was blank, a self-written screen saver rolling across the screen in a rainbow of changing of colors. The map. My map. My world. soaked into Sandras brain as she read it. She didnt notice the alarm clock on the bookshelf beside the desk.

 

That asshole. She slung her heavy purse into the screen, caving it in, sending sparks flying across his desk. I knew he was out fucking somebody else during the days. Writer my ass. Look at the smart guy laying out fresh clothes to change into so he wont smell like another bitch. Ill show that motherfucker what a map is. Ill give him a map to hell.

 

Sandra ripped the map from the wall and dashed into their bedroom. She piled all of his clothes on the bed. She screamed garbled profanities and insults the entire twenty minutes that she spent gathering up and demolishing the rest of his belongings and tossing them onto a heap on their bed that was becoming Paul. His computer, splintered desk, books, toothbrush, everything, all piled up and awaiting execution.

 

* * *

 

Paul rolled over in the sand and scratched his naked buttocks. He laid his head onto his arms, cradling his dreams of a life without Sandra, making sure that they couldnt wander off. The alarm was four minutes away from sounding, and he was more relaxed than ever.

 

* * *

 

With an unbuttoned shirt, sweat collecting in the furrows of her brow, and flustered hair, Sandra ran into the bedroom and tossed Pauls winter Kansas City Chiefs coat onto the stack. She then pulled the map out from her back pocket.

 

Take this you stupid lazy cheating asshole. She let the phrase fly into the still air. Her chin angled upward and her meaty arms spread in V formation as if she was giving a tribute to the gods before a sacrifice. She ripped the map down the middle and proceeded to tear each half into tiny bits, scattering Pauls peaceful existence into different universes.

 

* * *

 

A shriek of terror abruptly awoke Paul. The fabric of time within his world had been torn open. The sky was bleeding darkness, the ground trembling.

 

* * *

 

Sandra threw the remains of the map onto the stack and started dousing the pile with lighter fluid. She exhausted the whole bottle, not forgetting to spray the bed frame too.

 

This bed is cursed because of his cheating ass too. She said tossing the empty bottle onto the pile and pulling a book of matches from her cleavage. With a kiss on the matches head and a flick of her wrist, Sandra set the pile aflame. An array of blues and greens and oranges burst from the heap as the map recoiled, shrinking into scorched fragments of what once was a sturdy, solid existence.

 

Take that Paul. When you get home from that bitchs house, whoever she is, your shit will be gone. ALL of it. Your books, computer, everything you asshole. Even your precious map.

Sandra let out a torturous bray of laughter echoing from wall to wall like the cry of lambs at the slaughterhouse. She went and perched her plump ass on the front porch waiting for Paul to get home, pounding one fist in and out of the other. The fire was growing like her rage, the smoke setting off the fire alarm as it crept through the house. He deserved a beating of royal proportions. Hed broken the fealties of marriage in her eyes and she couldnt wait to see him saunter up the driveway from his erotic escapade.

 

What her rage didnt know-and would never know-was that she had just clipped the rope anchoring her punching bag to the ceiling. Sending it plummeting, happily, to the floor.

 

* * *

 

Paul jumped to his feet, bare they were, and peered out onto the beach. His world was disappearing in a fiery haze. A line of flames was racing across the horizon transcending the physics of space and time. He opened his mouth to belt out out, but hesitated. His apprehension was due to a thought, a thought that lightly scraped across his brain.

 

If I leave Ill never be able to come back. I think Sandra has made sure of that. Nothing else could cause this destructionOr would want to. And if not, the map is self-destructing, and Ill never be able to come back. I should stay in if I know whats good for me.

Paul angled his head up as the alarm called out across the two strata of reality. He then calmly lay back down under the palm tree and closed his eyes. Alone he sighed.

Sandras left all alone now. Only herself to bully. Totally out, out of my world, and Im totally in. He mumbled as the sand and air was singed around his body. The line of fire eventually overtook him. He didnt budge when the fire began melting his skin, blending him into the world around him. Fire was like a salving ointment rather than a horrendous blanket of death. It was bringing his hopes of eternal peace to fruition, quenching his thirst for freedom, freedom from humiliation, freedom from the world that had become his life, a world that was Sandra.