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Todd J. Colby 

Acts of Kindness

A few months ago I had this idea about killing someone with kindness. I figured itís worth trying because of the enormous difficulty of actually committing homicide with an act of kindness. I thought Iíd start by killing a few ex-friends that had been a thorn in my side by calling them and complimenting them on their life choices and good fortune. I imagined that Iíd be able to hear a loud pop followed by an abrupt choking sound on the other end, which would indicate that whichever ex-friend I was talking to had in fact been slain by my kindness. But at the same time I was struck by the likelihood that getting a call from me out of the blue might simply confuse some of them and create an awkward situation that would make me nostalgic for the power Iíd previously held over them with my silence. I also knew that if one of the calls turned sour Iíd torture myself by replaying the failure to kill them with kindness over and over again in my head. I reminded myself that there might even be several ex-friends who would hang up on me the instant they heard my voice. The bottom line is I donít hate any of my ex-friends enough to kill them, so that really wasnít the best place to start. Then it occurred to me that I could kill the neighbors upstairs by becoming exceedingly kind to them. The next time I hear them stomping down the stairs I could open my door and say "So, where are you two going on such a beautiful day?" The hard part would be not letting any sarcasm creep into my voice while maintaining friendly eye contact with the very people I abhor. In a sense, I would have to play the role of "The Person with Kindness" so convincingly that it would actually kill the neighbors upstairs.

One icy morning after Iíd made my decision to kill them with kindness, I peeked through the blinds and saw the woman upstairs walking her dogs out front. As she struggled to hold onto the leash connected to her two mangy gray poodles, she slipped and fell face first on the ice-covered sidewalk. It startled her dogs when she fell and they tugged harder, dragging her a bit on her face as she struggled to get to her feet. Watching her plight gave me a pleasant tight sensation in my throat. I recognized that this was a perfect opportunity to kill her with kindness, but I didn't want to help her, it was more pleasant to watch her struggle with the dogs. When she stood up, she turned abruptly and looked up at my window. Once I got a glimpse of the blood smeared on her chin I let the aluminum blinds slap shut, and leapt into bed. I spent the next few hours under the covers while I replayed the image in my head of her looking up at me with blood on her chin. I saw this incident as an indication that it was okay to try and kill her and her boyfriend with kindness.

Whenever I begin a new project I always put isopropyl alcohol on a paper towel and rub it on the entire surface of my desk in order to kill any germs that might have accumulated there from the previous project. While the isopropyl alcohol was evaporating I wondered what would happen if a personís entire body were submerged in a bathtub full of isopropyl alcohol for a few hours. Surely the person who was submerged in the isopropyl alcohol would have to use a long tube to breathe through, like a snorkel. If I submerged one of the neighbors upstairs in a bathtub full of isopropyl alcohol, would offering one of them a tube to breathe through be the act of kindness that would kill them, or would the cruelty of submerging them in a tub of isopropyl alcohol be the agent of death? Would the neighborís skin eventually be dried off? Would their head and body become shrunken? Part of isopropyl alcoholís sensation of coldness on the skin is its rapid process of evaporation. And what about the eyes? Surely the isopropyl alcohol would cause enormous pain as it seeped its way into the eyes. What about the rectum? The vagina? The penis? Or any open wounds, cuts or scrapes that my upstairs neighbors had? Surely there would be enormous stinging pain in the individual submerged in the isopropyl alcohol, which would definitely outweigh any act of kindness I could offer the person submerged in the bathtub full of isopropyl alcohol. Eventually I discarded this idea and credited myself with being much more rational than I thought I was.

A few weeks ago, when I was walking home, I thought about going directly upstairs and telling the neighbors to go ahead and stomp around and let their dogs bark as much as they wanted because Iím planning to buy a set of earplugs that are designed to block out almost any noise that they could make. I had a certain bounce in my step as I walked home because I felt victorious about my new ability to block them out. Itís not a good idea to get caught in the loop of hate with them, which is why I decided to tell them outright that I didnít want to get caught in the loop of hate with them, which is also why I was going to buy the earplugs in the first place. If I think about them too much it gets me in the loop of hate with them, and then all I can think about is them. If Iím in the loop of hate with them, then I canít think about observing them as they leave the building with their dogs. When I got home I found my big red marker and wrote "AVOID THE LOOP OF HATE" on a piece of typing paper and tacked it to the wall in front of my desk as a reminder. I decided not to tell the people upstairs about my plans to buy the earplugs because I was afraid I hadnít yet rehearsed exactly how I was going to phrase my announcement. I wanted them to understand without a doubt that I knew all about the loop of hate and I was doing everything in my power, and then some, to avoid getting into the loop with them. I would try to make it as clear as possible that once I purchased the earplugs, they would no longer have any power over me with their various noises. I knew that if Iíd gone up there without feeling perfectly calm and self-confident about what I was going to say, then there was the distinct possibility that they would hear the stress in my voice and not take me seriously, or take me too seriously and freak out. I didnít want to be the butt of their jokes, or the agent of their fear, I simply wanted to kill them with kindness.

I thought what better way to flatter the people upstairs than by telling them that Iím writing a book about my experiences while living downstairs from them. I thought IĎd tell them that they are such fascinating subjects that they have become the central characters in my novel, which means the plot revolves around them and when itís published I will personally sign a copy for each of them. I thought Iíd tell them to go ahead and do anything they want, because Iím writing down everything they do, which is why itís critically important that they act as naturally as possible with the knowledge that I am writing about them. I didnít want them to become too self-conscious about being observed because then I wouldnít be able to witness and document their genuine behavior.

That night I dreamed that I was cooking one of their dogs on a spit over a fire. I was turning the dog over and over with a lever while it cooked. Once the fur had burned off, the meat of the dog was as shiny and dark as a chunk of black marble. It was tender enough to pull off with my fingers, which is what I did, as I looked up at their window and announced "Iím eating your dog!" When they looked outside I tugged a piece of the dark meat off the dogís carcass and stuck it in my mouth, letting a little grease dribble down my chin and shimmer by the light of the fire.

Not long ago I bought some cheap cologne called Dakar Noir from a street vendor. I brought it home and sprinkled it on the doorknob that leads out of the building. I thought it would make the people upstairs furious because thereís no sure way they could ever know who did it, nor could they ever be absolutely certain that it was done intentionally to make them wear the cheap cologne on their hands. I thought it would drive them mad having to smell it on their hands, which would only remind them of me throughout the day. The next morning when I heard the woman come downstairs with her dogs I looked outside through the blinds. She stood about three feet in front of my window, smelled her right hand, curled her lip and spat on the ground between her dogs.

In an effort to take the smell theme one step further I decided to rub my fingers around my rectum and wipe my hand on the doorknob leading out of the building. Knowing that they would have to put their hands on my shit and possibly get it in their mouths made me positively giddy. I saw both of them getting tremendously ill as they jockeyed for position in front of their toilet. I could see them teetering around the apartment with shit and vomit spewing out both ends of their convulsing bodies until they collapsed with a deep thud while flopping around on the bathroom floor like big tuna on the deck of a boat.

What Iíd really like to do right now is go up there and have a look around to see what giant piece of furniture theyíre moving from one end of the apartment to the other this early on a Sunday morning. I know for a fact that theyíll just keep on stomping and moving things around until I go up there and take a shit on their bed. Iíd knock on their door and when they opened it Iíd say, "Excuse me, Iím the guy who lives downstairs and Iím going to take a shit on your bed right now." I can see myself wiping my ass with their bedspread and saying, " Donít worry, itís all gonna be in the novel."

Before I go up there Iíd have to prepare myself mentally for the fact that they might have a gun. Or her boyfriend might be the type of guy who is able to sense when someone is harboring mean ideas about them. He might be waiting for me to come up there and take a shit. He might have known about my plan from the very first time I thought about it and maybe heís been preparing for me to come up there all this time that Iíve been thinking about it. The thought of me shitting on their bed might turn him on and give him an elaborate excuse to drop the gun and climb up on the bed with me and start fondling my ass in order to make me stop shitting their bed. Whenever I think about shitting on their bed it makes me realize that for once in my goddamn life Iíve come up with a plan that makes me stand out from the crowd for having the courage and tenacity to not only think it but do it.

I know these are obviously not acts of kindness but acts of meanness, and if I keep up with this line of reasoning Iíll be straying from my original goal of killing them with kindness. Yet I find myself pursuing all things mean and harmful in relation to them. I feel compelled to constantly think about all the bad things that I can do to them. Every time I hear them stomping around at 5:30 in the morning I wake up and add another item to the list of things that I can do to them that would cause them great harm. My only fear is that theyíre sneaking into my apartment when Iím not around, checking out my list of bad things, or reading the novel Iím writing about them so that they can anticipate certain things from me. Thatís why Iíve started hiding these things. Iíve even taken to hiding my toothbrush when I leave my apartment because I donít want them to do anything to it that would make me sick.

Whenever I donít think about them theyíre quiet, but when I think about them theyíre noisy. So Iím trying not to think about them, but even in the midst of trying not to think about them I find myself thinking about them. Iím not sure if theyíre thinking about me very much. Right now theyíre washing their fifth load of laundry and the spin cycle is off-balance again and itís making the whole building vibrate with its obscenely grating "thump-thump" noise. I know this is something that theyíve concocted in a most extraordinarily feeble manner simply to bother me. Itís sad that the best plan theyíve come up with to annoy me is making their washing machine go off-balance by washing only one towel at a time. Theyíre dumber than lint and I have my proof. Perhaps someday Iíll talk to my neighbors about this knowledge I have of them. But one thing is certain: I must not get caught in the loop of hate with them.


Todd Colby is the author of Riot in the Charm Factory: New and Selected Work (Soft Skull Press, 2000), he was the editor of Heights of the Marvelous: A New York Anthology (St. Martins Press, 2000), and he's writing a novel entitled Dirt. He has coordinated the Wednesday Night Reading Series at The Poetry Project at St. Marks Church in New York City, where he is currently teaching a writing workshop. His most recent poems and stories can be read at Canwehaveourballback.com, Milkmag.org, Bigbridge.org, Shampoopoetry.com, Castagraf.com, Rattapallax.com, Puppyflowers.com, and Posterband.com.

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