I was born six months before Roe v. Wade. I hope that Roe v. Wade wasn’t when she put me in the basement, because that would have been pretty cruel. I just know that my first memories are of that stain on the ceiling.
Sometimes, she’d come down with a new toy for me. But once I felt I’d played with one so much that I’d memorized its every fiber, I had to take it apart or else its picture would become too big inside my mind. I’d play with its insides until I was overwhelmed again by every crevice, and then I’d stuff all the pieces behind the shelves. My mom stopped bringing me toys when she found those bits.
Thankfully, that was about the time that I also learned to read. The shelves were so full of boxes that I could only find a car manual, credit card bills, and some trivia card games—but that was okay for me, because I really liked that words regenerated in their different contexts. They changed, they always reshaped.
My best fun was all those games, actually. I’d had to stand on a pile of the boxes to reach them, but that’d kind of made sense because I was reaching out to the outside world, in a way. The questions and answers on the cards gave me tons of facts about the world of movies, and they made me feel like I knew something about what other people watched: something different from that brown stain on the ceiling. I read all of them over and over, until I was an expert on the details of so many films that I had never seen. Then, when I knew all of them too well—the exact order of all the words—I had to start ripping those up, too.
I tried to make use of my new knowledge. I was serious about getting the kids at school to like me, at that time, but when I tried talking about the movies, I knew I only got stared at. Later, I realized that my mom would have probably bought the trivia games in the 1960s, and I felt stupid.
It didn’t help that that happened close to when she started sending me off with the soap. I knew, at that point, that no kid was going to give up his lunch money for bars of soap that smelled like grass, but every morning she dropped me off with a box and was annoyed when it was still full at the end of the day.
The only thing that’s come out of that has been that I’ve been called ‘soap boy’ for a long time. At first, it was just, “how does he have so much soap but still smell so bad?”, but then it of course had to evolve. I found new writing in one of the bathroom stalls, once: “Caleb Hyde always uses a stall cause he’s actually fucking his bars of soap”. Then, underneath, from a different marker: “Aw, one day he’ll be more open about the truth… I think he wants to COME CLEAN!”
I’m able to stay behind at the end of the day because I told Mom I’m being tutored. After school, I sit in the library and do my work with the supplies there, and then I teach myself about all sorts of other things. I stay for a while, since over the years the basement has just been filling up with boxes. I’m only able to sit in one corner, now, staring at all of them—at my failures—or up at that horrible stain shaped just like nothing. If I close my eyes, my brain only throbs with the memories of my day at school.
I don’t want to be friends with anyone there, anymore. No one has really talked to me or asked me about anything. Even the nicer ones, who’ve stood up in my defense: they haven’t looked at me long enough to see me partially.
So I’ve had to find another way to cool off my mind. When I get frenzied over all the remnants of the laughter, or of someone else’s college plans, I just think: “You could kill them all if you wanted, Caleb. If you decided you wanted them to die, you could find a way and go make it happen.” When I do that, I feel like they don’t have anything over me, anymore.
It wasn’t about wanting to do it—just about feeling the only kind of power I could ever plausibly reach for. But then school started to be more of the same, and worse, with talks of travel plans and internships and parties, and I started to think maybe the soap boy should really cleanse them out.
I thought about the best way I could do it. I thought about, on the day of the senior trip, sticking a bar of soap into the tailpipe of the travel bus, then trapping everyone inside. But I realized later, feeling dumb again, that the soap would definitely just melt in there. Still, I had to fill my head with that scene, or else the ceiling stain would take over and really hurt. The last doubt in me was about the aftermath that I’d get for my decision. I didn’t want to be brought down to a beast, basically. I thought about David Burke, and Dahmer, and Ramirez, blah blah blah: how they’ve been expelled from this layer of the world. They’re not just unloved by those who ever loved them before, but also shut away to a wasteland far from the General Network of people with the potential to love one another. Even though I already wanted to kill myself, after my first act, I was too afraid of that. It’s not that I hate everybody on earth or anything.
Then, it was almost like a miracle, because I overheard a group of girls giggling about Ted Bundy—and I started to think that people, on a certain level, might still love those who’ve done what is to them unthinkable. They’ll better accept the feelings of a killer than that of the society that was victimized. They don’t want to be the ones to have it the worst, just like bitter ex-girlfriends pretending to be okay. Not that I’ve ever had a girlfriend, of course… (except for a few bars of soap, apparently!)
So I think I’ve decided to make up a test on the existence of evil. Tomorrow is the 2nd of June 1989, and it’s the last day of Summerdale High in more ways than one… I mean, maybe! I don’t have a clock down here, so if the one in the kitchen is on an even number when I go upstairs tomorrow I am going to set a lot of empty cardboard boxes on fire around the building, then come in with mom’s shotgun. I will even stuff a bar of soap into the mouth of everyone I find that’s been unfair to me: to have them taste the grass just like I have, so many times, at their hands. However, if the clock is showing an odd number tomorrow morning, I won’t hurt anyone but myself.
If the latter is what happens, I will be judged by the General Network to have been a good person, but just an unfortunate case. They always say, in everything I’ve read, that thoughts don’t ever determine character, but actions do. I wonder about all that by placing everyone’s lives, tomorrow, on just a chance. Will I still be a good person if I don’t kill them, even if I would’ve in a slightly different circumstance? Will I be good simply because I was never seen?
If I don’t go through with the killing, a person reading this text would also claim that I never wanted to do it, and that deep down I was looking for an excuse to get out of it. But the thing about that is that every day for the past many months, I’ve been putting the ripped apart letters from the trivia cards on the floor to spell this all out. This whole text is enough proof, I think, that the thought behind the plan has been long, and careful, and meticulous for me. Yet if it turns out to be called off, then I will come back down here and just kick all the letters out of order again. And no one besides me will ever read them.
Pascale Potvin is Editor-in-Chief of Wrongdoing Magazine. She was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Microfiction anthologies, and she was a finalist in The Conium Review's 2021 Innovative Short Fiction Contest. She is the author of SEX, GOD, & OCD (Really Serious Literature, 2023) and EROTECAY (LUPERCALIA Press, 2021) and has work featured in Eclectica Magazine, Juked Magazine, Gingerbread House Magazine, and many others. She has a BAH from Queen's University. Find her at pascalepotvin.com or @pascalepalaces on Twitter. Pascale recommends the Canadian Association For Suicide Prevention.