The Peanut Butter Murder Mystery
By Henry Kastler
"So, anyway, at the end of the story, the guy eats his peanut butter sandwich, drinks his microwaved coffee, and goes back to sleep."
"That was it?"
"Yep. I was thinking about putting in some part where the phone keeps ringing and ringing and he hears the phone and just doesn't answer. But I decided to eliminate all dramatic tension in the story at all, and convinced myself that it was some sort of avant-garde metaphor for the meaninglessness of everyday life."
"But it didn't work?"
"I don't really think so. I haven't written much of anything since then."
Paul took a sip of coffee from a shellacked cardboard cup, glanced around, noticed brushed chrome, shiny glass cases housing dull glazed pastries, and the flickering of the florescent lights, which, he secretly believed, no one could see but him.
"Tell me Jane, when you look at the overhead lights, do you see...flickering? Like the light isn't always there, but comes and goes millions of times per second?"
"Well yeah, I think that's how florescence works."
"Yeah. I think. Look it up on the Internet."
Look it up on the Internet. Look it up on the Internet. That'd become the answer to everything, the fucking Internet.
"Hmm. But do you, personally, actually see the flickering? Can you perceive it? Because sometimes I think I'm the only one who can see it."
She looked at him and raised her eyebrows and let out a sigh, and ran her hand through her hair. He had a hard time evaluating whether it was compassion or pity that kept her around, or if the two were actually the same entity.
"Actually, lots of people have problems with florescent lights. Lots of people have lots of problems."
"Thank God for you, Jane. I guess I'm not in my own little world then."
"You wouldn't know it if you were. That's the blessing of insanity." She took a sip of coffee, wincing at overcooked bitterness. "Have you considered revising your story?"
"It's finished, done with, in the past. Time to move on."
She looked at him and turned the ring on her right-hand ring finger. He had noticed that unmarried women often wear rings on the right-hand ring finger, as if for a practice run, or maybe some sort of unconscious sympathy pain for the lack of one on the left hand. Why was it so important?
"Nothing in the past is really done with."
"So, what, like turn the story into 'boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl' story? Star-crossed lovers brought together by the power of peanut butter?"
"The sandwich would have to be peanut butter and jelly in that case."
"That's out of the question. He, the main character, can't stand peanut butter and jelly."
Jane picked up her coffee and looked past Paul, out the window, noticing the bloodstream of car lights in motion.
"Well then. He takes a bite out of the sandwich and drops dead. The peanut butter is poisoned."
"But he's just an insignificant little speck of a student with built-up calculus..." he was so fond of that word play "...who would want him dead?"
"Lots of people. He has hog-breath, and makes everyone around him miserable with his blathering and whining."
"So who would solve this mystery?"
"Who said it gets solved. It's an avant-garde metaphor for the unending mystery of life. He dies, and that's the end."
Paul tapped his finger against the glass tabletop, causing a rattle between the glass and the black iron frame of the table.
"Unacceptable. People have jobs in which deaths are solved. They're called detectives."
"Well then, let's continue the story. The murderer takes his body out to some cornfield, watches the crows pick at his remains for awhile, and then buries the damn corpse, and because nobody likes him, nobody calls the police."
"And townsfolk live happily ever after? Oh no no no. The murderer must be caught and punished. After a heavy rain, the corpse, bloated and disgusting, rises out of the dirt and mud and floats to the middle of campus town. Then the detectives have to do their jobs."
"And if they're slackers such as yourself?"
"Well then, there's not much of a story."
"There wasn't much of a story before. A guy makes a peanut butter sandwich, eats it and goes back to bed?"
"He drinks coffee in addition to eating the sandwich!"
The manager of the coffeeshop, hearing the word coffee, came by and asked if everything was alright. Jane and Paul said everything was fine, but the manager wasn't too sure. What's her problem with this conversation anyway? Paul wondered. Can't people talk about things without being interrupted all the time? Paul assured her that things were fine, things were going to be fine, he thought the coffee was very good, and he and his very special friend were writing a story together. He asked if the establishment served peanut butter sandwiches. No, she said, they aren't on the menu. That's too bad, said Paul, but I guess there are more grown-up tastes. But wouldn't you agree that peanut butter is the adult version of peanut butter and jelly? Yes I guess there are more grown-up tastes, she said, but I prefer the taste of peanut butter and jelly myself, so I guess my taste buds haven't matured yet. She asked if there was anything she could help them with, to which Paul said no, you can't help me with anything. Jane? No, Jane said, I have to leave. Soon. The manager thanked them both for being customers and left quickly.
"I guess we scared her off."
"You did all of the talking."
"Not all of the talking. Besides, you were fueling my words. Attempting to turn my avant-gardeness into an episode of Columbo. And why did you say you have to leave soon?"
"Because I do. I remembered something."
"Something that I forgot."
"Oh." He took the lid off his cup. "What?"
Jane gathered her belongings and stood up. "You're a bright lad. Figure it out." she said, and got up and headed for the door. "If you don't have a clue, call me later," she said over her shoulder.
Later that night, Paul called. He let the phone ring and ring. But there was no answer.
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