The Sound of Charlotte
t first, I would cut myself so deeply that my shirt would be soaked in my own blood. I used to cut myself all the time, until I learned to relax and let the blade guide my hand. A six inch blade, stainless steel, handle made of ivory. They’re dangerous as hell, but nothing shaves as close as an old-fashioned straight razor.
After a quick shower, I put the stopper in the drain so I can run Charlotte a bath. Charlotte is still in bed. I head back to the bedroom and lift her out of bed, taking her across the hall and lowering her gently into the tub.
Even now, she is still so beautiful. Pale white skin, hair a cascading waterfall of black curls. Her lips are tattooed blood red, permanent makeup. I turn on the taps again, until the water is high enough to cover her breasts. She never liked being naked around me, never liked it when I looked at her.
I come back to the bedroom to get dressed. Black pants, dark blue blazer, and black knit cap. I hear Charlotte’s voice calling from the bathroom. “Leo, honey? Could you pick up some pasta and cottage cheese on your way home? I feel like manicotti tonight.”
“You don’t need anything,” I shout. “We’ve talked about this before.”
“Please, Leo? I haven’t had any really good Italian food for so long. Please?”
“Fine, fine. I’ll bring you your pasta. Anything to make you happy.”
I slip the razor in my pocket and leave for work. I have to creep quietly down the stairs so the landlady doesn’t hear me leave. I owe her several months back rent. I get on the subway, and think about Charlotte all the way there. Charlotte and the razor.
I met Charlotte two months ago. My friends had all graduated college and moved away, scattering across the country. I tried not to think about it. I filled every waking moment with work or television or alcohol, but I was still hurting inside. The solitude was a hollow, consuming ache that never went away. But Charlotte saved me from all of that. My sweet savior, my own personal Jesus Christ.
I was walking home from work when I noticed a new store, a small place called “Book ‘Em, Danno!” It was one of those coffee bar / bookstore places. I always need something new to read on the subway, so I wandered inside. There was a small stage at the far end of the store, where a teenager with a week-old goatee was strumming on an acoustic guitar and doing his best impression of Bob Dylan.
I found the table farthest away from the stage and sat down. A few minutes later, the waitress came over and smiled. Her smile was alluring but shy, and fireflies danced behind her eyes. Her body had dangerous curves, like a mountain road in the rain. I imagined grabbing her by the hair and pulling her to the floor, having my way with her in front of everyone. The thought came unbidden, forcing its way into my mind. I wondered if she had put it there.
“I’m Charlotte. What can I get you, darling?”
“What do you like?” I asked.
“I usually have a mocha latte… I just love chocolate.”
“Unbelievable,” I thought. “I just met this woman and she’s already flirting with me.” Out loud, I said “Sounds great. Bring me one of those.” I drank my coffee slowly and watched Charlotte working behind the counter. She used any excuse to talk to me: asking me if I wanted anything else, telling me she needed the table for other customers, telling me they were closing soon and I needed to leave. Finally, she disappeared into a back room. I left the store and waited across the street.
Charlotte came outside an hour later. She was wearing a black leather trench coat and boots with stiletto heels. She looked like a whore. I let her get a block away before I followed. She walked to the subway and I hurried down the steps after her. I stopped to grab a newspaper out of the trash, in case she looked in my direction. She never did, but I got the feeling she knew I was there. She wanted me to follow her home. It turned her on.
The subway stopped at the next station. I watched Charlotte head for the doors, shoving her way past a chubby guy in a suit and a group of sorority girls. I waited as long as possible, and then followed her out onto the platform and up the stairs to the street.
She walked briskly, with purpose, her heels clicking on the sidewalk like castanets. Eventually she came to a small, brick house with a wraparound porch. She pulled a key ring out of her pocket and let herself inside. Charlotte walked into her bathroom and got undressed. I stood outside her window and watched her shower. I was amazed. She was putting on this little show, just for me, and we barely knew each other! I guess it was just her way of flirting. The little tramp.
Once I knew she had feelings for me, I came by her house every night. Every few days she would leave a black garbage bag on the curb. Usually it was filled with spoiled food and empty water bottles, but sometimes she would leave me a little surprise. She would slip in old letters, credit card statements, her phone bill, things like that. She wanted me to get to know her before our relationship moved forward. No one night stands for this girl, no sir! I liked that about Charlotte. It showed she really cared.
One of the things she left me was a packing receipt for some movies she had ordered. Strangers on a Train, North by Northwest, Suspicion, things like that. Apparently she was a big Hitchcock fan. I found a nearby electronics store and bought all the Hitchcock I could carry. I hurried to Book ‘Em Danno, excited to show Charlotte. I forgot what hours Charlotte was scheduled to work, and she wasn’t around. I sat down at my usual table and waited.
Hours went by, and the light outside the windows died. The overhead lights came on, sickeningly yellowish and unnatural. The atmosphere was different, shifted. Each table was in its own oasis of light, a world unto itself.
Troy walked on stage and tapped the microphone. He was Charlotte’s supervisor, a skinny blond kid with “just for looks” glasses and a scraggly goatee. “We’ve got a special treat for you tonight,” he said, sounding bored. “One of our own, the lovely and talented Charlotte Wagner.” I was the only customer who clapped. I wanted to take my chair and work my way around the room, bashing in their ungrateful skulls, splattering my coat with brains. But I didn’t. I would have missed Charlotte’s song.
As Charlotte stepped into the spotlight, the rest of the room grew dark. The audience vanished, and Charlotte was the only one in the world. She was the world. Her hair was a mass of dark curls, swirling around her face like smoke. Her dress shimmered in the light like a falling star. Charlotte’s voice ached with sadness and longing. Eyes closed, her song floated from a haunting whisper to a howl of suffering to triumphant laughter. It felt like an omen, like she was singing the world to its end. I remember thinking something like, “I have never loved anyone until this moment.”
The song ended, and the lights came back on. Charlotte walked off the stage and was instantly mobbed by customers and employees, all complements and congratulations. I wanted to talk to her, to confess my love, but I couldn’t break though the crowd. I’m always uncomfortable around people, and I couldn’t risk getting touched. I had to get out of there.
I went to Charlotte’s place and waited for her to come home. I was up all night, but she never showed. The sun came up, and I took the subway back to my apartment. I was so exhausted that I fell right to sleep. It seemed like I just closed my eyes when I was awakened by the ringing phone. “Hello?” I asked, stifling a yawn.
“Leo, where are you?” Mr. Sanderson, my employer.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “What time is it?”
“Almost noon!” he snapped. “You’re three hours late for work!”
“I’m so sorry,” I said, trying to sound sincere. “I’ll make it up to you.”
“You’re damn right you will,” he said. “This is the sixth time you’ve been late to work in as many days. If you want to keep your job, you’ll work double shifts for the rest of the month.”
I wasn’t sure I did want the job. However, I did want to eat, so I agreed. I worked
sixteen hour days. I didn’t have time to shave, let alone see Charlotte. I did, however, have plenty of time to think. I began to wonder if I had misjudged Charlotte. Did she have feelings for me after all? Maybe she was just easy. Maybe she had dozens of men following her home. Maybe she didn’t love me at all.
Finally, my last double shift came to an end. I was so excited about seeing Charlotte that it made it hard to think. I took the subway, and then walked to Book ‘Em Danno. They had erected a marquee outside the store: Tonight Only: Local Singing Sensation Charlotte Wagner
“Looks like Charlotte has moved up in the world,” I thought, amazed. “No more mixing pretentious, five-dollar coffee drinks for her.” Just inside the door, Troy was sitting at a card table, smoking a cigarette. On top of the table was a large fishbowl full of money. Apparently they had started charging to get inside.
I found a table near the stage and took a seat. A very persistent waiter tried to get me to order something, and I had to threaten to set the building on fire to get him to go away. Finally Charlotte came on stage. She had a band with her, a long-haired guy with an acoustic guitar and a bone pale, redheaded woman with a violin. She sang of love like fire, so passionate it threatened to consume the world. Love like an addiction, love that filled the canyon of loneliness, making you whole for the first time. Her song was like the setting sun. Darkness could swallow the world, but its burning beauty would still fill the sky.
“At last,” I thought, “I finally know for sure. She loves me! She really, really does. How could anyone sing like that if it wasn’t so? I have to talk to her, to tell her that I love her, too.”
It took every ounce of my strength to stay in my seat. I didn’t want to wait for the concert to end, but I managed somehow. Suddenly they were bowing and walking for the exit. Naturally, I assumed there would be an encore, so I didn’t follow them. I just sat and waited for the audience to demand more music. They never did. Furious, I climbed on top of the table and screamed. “Are you just going to let her leave?” I said. “An hour of music, and that’s it? I can’t believe you people! You don’t appreciate beauty at all!”
Two of the waiters appeared at my side. They grabbed my legs and pulled me off the table, and dragged me to the doors. The customers stared at me lifelessly, slack-jawed, like they were watching it all happen on TV.
As soon as the waiters went back inside, I searched the parking lot, but Charlotte had already left. No matter. I knew where she was headed. I knew the way to her house by heart. Force of habit led me to her bathroom window. The shower was running. I had missed Charlotte getting undressed. But wait, no! The water shut off, and the curtain slid back, and out stepped Charlotte’s guitar player. “Alright,” I thought, “don’t get upset. They’re in a band together. Obviously they’re friends. That’s all this is. She loves you, remember?’
There was a black leather bag on the bathroom counter, a dop kit. The guitar player reached inside and pulled out a jar of shaving cream, a brush, and a razor. It was an old-fashioned strait razor. Six inch blade, stainless steel, handle made of ivory. Still naked, the guitar player brushed some shaving cream of his face and put the blade to his skin. A few minutes later, Charlotte came into the bathroom. I waited for her to scream, to tell the guitar player to put on a towel, or something, but she never did. Instead she smiled at him, turned the shower back on, and started getting undressed.
I wanted to die. She had declared her love to me in front of all of those people, but she was cheating! I was so humiliated. I had to confront her, to explain how I felt, how much she hurt me. I picked up the aluminum birdbath in the front yard, lifted it over my head, and tossed it through the bathroom window. I heard Charlotte screaming.
I climbed in the window, cutting myself horribly. The guitar player, white from fear, dropped his razor and ran out the bathroom door. Charlotte looked sick, like she was about to faint.
“I can’t believe you would do that to me!” I howled. “If you can’t be true to your words, maybe you just shouldn’t speak at all.” I grabbed her by the hair and pulled her to the floor. The razor crawled across the bathroom tiles and slid into my hands. I had to stop Charlotte from lying to me. I had to stop her from singing. I plunged the razor into her neck and severed her vocal cords. The razor took her voice. She gasped, choking on her own blood.
I slipped the razor into my pocket, grabbed Charlotte’s arms and pulled her onto my back in a fireman’s carry. I didn’t have any more money for the subway, so I had to walk all the way home. By the time I got her to my apartment she was already dead.
Charlotte may be dead, but in a way, she’s still with me. The razor took Charlotte’s voice. It speaks to me, tries to convince me Charlotte is still alive. The razor asks me to do things for Charlotte, to buy her favorite foods or play her favorite movies or break in to Troy’s apartment while he’s sleeping and cut out his eyes. Lately the razor has been asking me to go to my boss’s office and castrate him. I know it’s not Charlotte asking. She never even knew my boss. But I love her, so I know I’ll do it. After that, I’ll go to the grocery store and pick of some manicotti and cottage cheese. Oh, and I’d better get some air freshener. Charlotte is getting a little ripe, and the neighbors are complaining about the smell.