THE PEEPSHOW: Anyone Can Call Themselves a Murderer (Chapter 1, Part 2)

Give a voice to the voiceless!

Editor’s note: Welcome to “The Peepshow!” For centuries, the peepshow was a popular form of entertainment presented by traveling showmen. By looking through a small hole into a viewing box, spectators could contemplate magical, bizarre and unusual sights that filled them with wonder, laughter … and, sometimes, with fear. The showmen traveling with these boxes would provide patter to go with the pictures, spinning strange tales that sometimes told hard truths.

The Polaroid photographs appearing in this story are the work of American artist Joel B. Feldman. They are not digitally altered in any way. The story you are about to read is a work of fiction. “The Peepshow” posts on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

Anyone can call themselves a murderer. It’s like calling yourself an alcoholic or a dog lover. Sure, you might think you can tell just by looking. But you’d be wrong. If a stranger decided to confess to me, I’d tell myself they’re making small talk while standing around, waiting for raindrops that will never fall.

I don’t think I’ve met any murderers, but if I had, how would I know? They’re not likely to introduce themselves by shaking my hand, looking me straight in the eye, and saying, “Pleased to meet you! My name is Mrs. X, and I killed my lying, cheating, no-good husband by poisoning his coffee. The creep’s buried beneath the forsythia in the backyard!” I’d be suspicious of any stranger who said those words to my face, because around here, it’s rude to chat about real subjects and even worse to speak your mind. But I wouldn’t think she was a murderer. I’d think she was from out of town.

You can be an alcoholic without alcohol and a dog lover without a dog. But can you be a murderer who’s never killed? Is it possible to be one if you’ve never acted on it? Think about this word: murderer. Roll the r. Feel the vowels sliding over your tongue. How often is this word used in normal conversations? It’s not a bad word, though it’s hardly one of the best. Oligarchy. Quagmire. Hornswoggled. These are much better words, and far more politically incorrect. As for the act itself … well, murder is frowned upon, but it’s not uncommon, is it? Just as long as other people are doing the killing, I think we’re OK with it. We live in a very civilized place. We don’t kill people, here. Wherefore we don’t think about death or dying because that never happens to perfect people. Especially not to perfect children.

And so in my almost-13 years I overheard this word, “murderer,” said aloud once, just once. Who spoke it I cannot say, and yet it clung to me with soft sticky syllables, an orphan mutt of a word that followed me home — me, and not the cowboy who drowned his truck, the newly-married couple waltzing ’til death did them part or the silent man who lies naked in the sun for all the world to see. You’d think this word would choose these neighbors of mine to follow home, wouldn’t you, these folks so much more interesting than just another bratty kid with no parental supervision and too much time to kill? Yet this word liked me. It niggled at my feet. The letters stuck to the bottom of my shoes next to the label MADE IN CHINA, and suddenly it defined an absence all around me, an idea missing for so long it had vanished from memory, and so I reached out to grab it with nervous hands but too late — it ended up piddling softly away into void of frustration, again and again.

Does the act define you, or is it just something that you are, like being in love? I’ve never been in love, but people say that you know it when you are. No words can describe it, they say, and it’s different for everyone. Why should being a murderer be any different? What if we’re all murderers but won’t admit it?

This is the trouble when you’re almost a teenager and have never experienced anything beyond the walls of the box you call home. You’ve got no information about how the world works but think you know everything. All kids do. Ignorance makes us powerful in the same way a rabid raccoon is powerful. You can’t reason with a rabid raccoon. Or even a regular raccoon. If you try, you’re the one who ends up looking like an idiot.

The funny thing was, I did know everything there was to know. I could walk blindfolded and thoughtless through my world, and it would be safe, just as long as I did exactly what I’d been told. Keep things clean, stay inside the lines, don’t get in the way, and I’d never be hungry, never without. That part was true.

Until I met the Man with the Box on his Head. That was the day everything changed.

B.B. Young is the author of the serialized novel “The Peepshow,” which is published exclusively by TheBlot Magazine on Tuesdays and Thursdays and features images by artist Joel B. FeldmanRead Chapter 1, Part 1, The Boy with the Backpack. 

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