A bold, bizarre and funny story about a boy who is convinced that a woman living in his small town is a cannibal.
Golden Age Marathon
In a small town lived a ten-year old boy named Timothy, who spent most of his free time hanging around at home. One Sunday, while brooding in his bedroom, he walked over to a window and leaned against its frame. His eyes drifted from the front lawn below to the street beyond. Timothy noticed that a pedestrian was walking around the curve in front of his house. With a bolt of shock, he realized that it was Mrs. Brown. The boy forced himself to remain calm. If all went well, the woman would amble by and everything would be fine. Unfortunately, his mother happened to be standing outside, smoking a cigarette, her back against the porch.
‘Good afternoon, Mrs. Brown,’ she called out.
The pedestrian stopped in her tracks and, after a short pause, decided to walk over for a chat. Timothy acted in a panic. He ran to a closet and grabbed the first large object he could find, which was a vacuum cleaner. With trembling hands, the boy scrambled to open his window. Before Timothy knew it, he had thrown the appliance at the woman and missed her by a squirrel’s hop. The object smashed on the ground, with a loud bang. Mrs. Brown screamed and looked up, straight at him, her eyes full of rage and disbelief. The boy did not manage to hold her gaze and looked down at the gigantic wreckage, scattered across the tiles and the freshly mown lawn. He wondered whether all vacuum cleaners contained so many mechanical parts. Until then, Timothy had been sure that their plastic shells comprised no more than a fan, some dust and a wisp of foul air. Meanwhile, his mother was gazing at the sky, still holding her cigarette, as if the object had fallen from a plane.
Mrs. Brown was a writer and a mother. She used to be very prolific, delivering books and babies with the efficiency of an industrial production plant. Her last child was born soon after she turned forty-three. Two years later, her book output came to a halt as well. Mrs. Brown had become a minor celebrity at the age of thirty-five, thanks to a compilation of poems that received a vast amount of media attention. At the height of her fame, Mrs. Brown appeared on television and signed books in prestigious places. Many years had since passed, but she was still regarded as a star in their small town. Everybody kept saying how great her poems were, even though nobody understood them.
Mrs. Brown looked disarmingly normal. She did not wear eccentric clothes, did not gawk at people through oversized glasses and did not dye her hair fuchsia. The woman’s only striking feature was her pen name, Fat Frieda and the Tigers from Hell. According to many, her name choice would have been more adequate for an eccentric rock band. Besides writing poems, Mrs. Brown also authored romantic novels, in which young and beautiful women fell in love with real estate agents, plumbers and swimming instructors. Last but not least, she wrote a series of cookbooks. These had been published with her real name on the front and her picture at the back. Sometimes, Timothy picked one of them from his mother’s shelf and gazed at the woman’s portrait. A much younger Mrs. Brown stared back, wearing a maroon cardigan and holding a large saucepan.
Most clubs and associations in the vicinity were presided by the notorious Mrs. Brown, including the senior running group. Twice a week, a tight pack of balding men and gray-haired women tottered through the small town streets. Once a year, they organized an open-to-all event called the Golden Age Marathon. Of course, it was much shorter than a real marathon, or else most of the group’s older members would have died from exhaustion or heart failure. The race could not even be labeled as a serious sporting activity since all who lived in the town were allowed to participate, regardless of their physical conditions. In Timothy’s opinion, the event was nothing more than an idiotic jogging-down-the-main-street act, during which grandparents ran with prams and weirdoes wobbled in fruit costumes.
The reason why Timothy hated and feared Mrs. Brown had nothing to do with her writings; it was because of her senior running group. He believed that while most of the woman’s clubs and associations were what they claimed to be – a bunch of people who met every now and then to share experiences about gardening, cooking or kite flying – that one was not. It was a cover-up for something else, far more nefarious. The boy was convinced that Mrs. Brown and her senior citizen cronies ran the town streets for the sole purpose of stealing kids and eating them.
‘Timothy, did you tell your friends about the vacuum cleaner incident?’
‘Your teacher heard about it somehow. She called me this morning. I guess Mrs. Brown has informed your school, though I don’t understand why she’s making such a fuss. Don’t worry, this crazy story will quickly die out. In the meanwhile, you will probably be summoned to the principal’s office. Tell this person that you didn’t mean Mrs. Brown any harm and that the vacuum cleaner slipped from your hands while you waved hello to the lovely woman from your bedroom.’
‘Mrs. Brown is not lovely. She eats kids.’
‘Timothy, please stop talking nonsense. Also, I want you to go over to her home and say sorry.’
‘NO!’ the boy shouted. ‘She will kill me!’
His mother stared at him for a while and said resignedly:
‘The least you could do is send her an apologetic note. You could include a drawing.’
A couple of hours later, Timothy walked up to his mother with a bunch of artwork.
‘Are those all for Mrs. Brown?’ she asked, surprised. ‘May I see them?’
The woman looked absent-mindedly at the first three pictures, which showed a boat, a rainbow and a house. Her attention was caught by a drawing of about sixty cars, smashed and squeezed into each other; the pileup filled the entire sheet. She noticed that many of the people’s eyes were crosses, indicating that they were dead.
‘It’s a giant car accident,’ the boy said.
‘I didn’t do it for Mrs. Brown. It’s an old drawing I found and added to the pack.’
‘It’s beautiful, but I would leave this one out. It doesn’t convey the right message,’ she said, while putting it face down on a nearby table.
The next work showed a plump nude woman, surrounded by tigers with horns.
‘That’s Mrs. Brown, and those are the tigers from hell,’ the boy said, pointing at the sheet.
‘Darling, you can’t give her this picture. It’s not fitting. Mrs. Brown would freak out if she received a drawing that showed her naked, especially coming from a boy who threw a vacuum cleaner at her.’
‘I didn’t throw it, don’t you remember? I dropped it while saying hi from a window.’
The mother sighed deeply, slammed the picture on top of the car wreck drawing and stared at the next one, a blob of green watercolor paint in the middle of a blank page. It looked like the minimalist flag of a distant country.
‘A green ball?’ she asked.
‘It’s a watermelon,’ Timothy replied.
‘Hello Timothy, my name is Linda. I suppose that you know why I called you to my office,’ the principal said. ‘Could you please give me your version of the story?’
‘I was cleaning my room when I heard Mrs. Brown’s voice. I went to the window to say hi. That’s when I dropped the vacuum cleaner. I meant her no harm.’
‘I see. Do your parents take good care of you?’
‘Yes,’ Timothy said.
‘What job does your father do?’
‘He’s a troubleshooter. He travels a lot.’
‘Did you apologize to Mrs. Brown?’
‘I sent her a large envelope containing a two-page letter, with drawings and paintings. At the last moment, I included a plastic rocket and a napkin ring.’
Linda watched Timothy for a while.
‘You look like a balanced kid. This whole vacuum cleaner episode was probably nothing more than an accident. I must ask you to be more careful while handling home appliances in the future,’ Linda said.
The boy nodded.
‘Is there anything you wish to ask me?’ the woman enquired.
Timothy wanted to know if somebody loved her and whether she had ever been injured in a car accident. He realized that both questions might be perceived as out of context and therefore inappropriate.
‘No,’ he said.
‘Then kindly return to your class.’
Later that afternoon, all students were asked to gather outside, in order to attend a school-organized one-man show. The artist, who introduced himself as Fritz, sang for over an hour about the beauty and magic of childhood, while playing guitar. After his performance, he urged all children to make the very best of their youth, before drifting into adulthood, alcoholism and horrible jobs. Fritz had no doubt tried to lift everyone’s spirits with a touch of humor, but nobody laughed. Most of the kids were dumbfounded by Fritz’s gloomy forecast for their futures. It was even worse for Timothy, whose existence was the exact opposite of beautiful and magical. He came to the conclusion that Fritz had obviously not been raised in an environment full of kid-eating monsters. Timothy tried to picture himself as a grown-up. He wondered whether his anguished childhood would use up all his misery credits very early on and thus allow him to wander through adulthood in a state of permanent bliss. The boy imagined being fifty, with a huge belly and a back covered with graying hair, an ageing mammal running though the countryside, holding a sunflower in each hand. That wouldn’t be so bad.
The show was over. Fritz bowed, to timid applause.
‘A wonderful summer to all of you,’ he said.
A girl named Zoe had gone missing. Timothy was certain that, had he aimed better when throwing the vacuum cleaner, Mrs. Brown would have died on the spot and therefore could not have eaten the poor child. Zoe happened to be in Timothy’s class. They hardly ever addressed each other, but that didn’t prevent the boy from being very fond of her, for linguistic reasons: Zoe expressed herself using only pastel-shaded words such as Jesus, milkshake and vanilla. Timothy let out a small gasp whenever she raised her hand during a lesson. He then closed his eyes and listened to her beautiful question. It acted like a balm on his tormented mind. All his anguish was instantly drained away. He knew that, had the girl been given the opportunity to grow into adulthood, she would have escaped Fritz’s somber prediction and would not have turned into an unhappy person with alcohol-related problems. All of a sudden, Timothy knew what he had to do. He had failed on his first attempt but would succeed on his second. Soon, Mrs. Brown would be no more.
Timothy had a plan. This time, he would not attempt to kill Mrs. Brown by dropping something heavy on her head. He wanted a grand event, an execution to be remembered and celebrated every year. He decided that the woman should die during her Golden Age Marathon speech, in broad daylight and in front of a large audience. Without their queen, the running seniors would no longer dare kidnap children.
A week before the upcoming festivities, the town’s tower-shaped tribune was once again assembled and erected on the main plaza. It was an impressive ten-meter high wooden structure with a stairway running around it, from its foot to a small platform at the summit. As far back as Timothy could remember, Mrs. Brown had always been the one to give the official speech. She enjoyed being on top while the rest watched from below. Every year, she said more or less the same things. First, she marveled at how stunning the race had been. Then, she said how proud she was to live in their small town. Finally, she announced the names of the winners.
In the middle of the night before the big day, Timothy snuck out of his bedroom and walked to the main plaza with a toolbox. He was planning to sabotage the tower so that it collapsed under the weight of the plump Mrs. Brown. The malevolent woman would fall to her woody end. Nobody would ever question that it had been an accident. In fact, it would look so much like a natural death that the boy doubted there would even be an investigation. Timothy was relieved to notice that the tower had been left unguarded. He lived, after all, in a small town. It took him a few hours to loosen every bolt he could find. By the time day broke, the construction was perfectly shaky. Timothy smiled to himself.
A few hours later, the race was set to begin. To everyone’s dismay, Zoe had not been found. Her prolonged disappearance put a damper on the day’s festivities. Of course, there were people running with prams and morons wearing fruit costumes, but the spirit was missing. Mrs. Brown knew from experience that it would be useless to wait until everyone had gathered before the start line; there would always be a kid who needed to pee or someone who wanted a hotdog. At a random moment, she fired her pistol in the air, thus starting the race. As always, a great number of participants tumbled over each other while the rest walked, jogged and waddled towards the finish line, located as always at the foot of the wooden tower. Shortly afterwards, Timothy heard a victorious roar. Somebody had won, but he could not care less.
At last, the long-anticipated moment had arrived. Mrs. Brown, wearing a pleated skirt and holding a megaphone, took a few steps up the wooden structure. She gathered that something was wrong when the crowd started to cry out in panic. The woman looked up, in time to notice that the tower was tipping forwards. She rushed to the bottom, out of harm’s way. People ran in all directions as the huge construction came crashing down. Mrs. Brown stood petrified, steps away from the rubble. She wore the exact same expression as when the vacuum cleaner had been thrown at her. Timothy stared at the woman for a long time. After a while, their eyes met. The boy couldn’t hold it in.
‘Cannibal!’ he shouted.