Devin Jacobsen :: Evil in the Object ::

Southern Legitimacy Statement: Was born and grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. So my hands still deliciously smart from years of attending crawfish boils.

Evil in the Object

For a while I thought love meant the same thing as doing something somebody else wanted. Meant making someone happy. Even if what they wanted might have been wrong. Love was beyond everything.

My parents told me if I ever moved to the city they’d never come visit me, which was reason enough to move.

* * * *

He’d been working as a cook. Everyone knew him as undependable. They’d give him orders, and maybe he’d make their food. They hated getting stuck explaining to customers why they’d been waiting an hour for their omelet.

* * * *

When the boss told him he was through, he took off his apron and laid it down as if he’d been expecting it. Real calm. The boss waving everywhere and hooting and hollering like he was the one in trouble. Elrod just walked over, the two of them matched to the elbows, his hairnet and apron burning in the kitchen, and punched him in the mouth. He fought the whole lot of them until he heard sirens. Then he made a break for the door.

* * * *

Later he was there in the parking lot, giving himself a haircut in the mirror on his bike.

“Good for you,” he said.


The sheers he was using, I’d seen them somewhere—he’d hawked them from the things in the kitchen.

“I said, ‘Good for you.’ Good for you for dumping those blackberry pancakes all over the geriatric brigade at table ten. You tell them to go stuff it?”

“It was an accident. He said I reminded them of their granddaughter. Mr. Heffner comped their breakfast.”

Elrod laughed. 

“Oh, that’s rich,” he said. “I’m sure old Heffy’s tickled to death. Are you fired?”

“He let me off with a warning.”

“Why don’t you just go on in there and quit.”

* * * *

Elrod was good to me. He saw my true potential. He saw me for what I was. No one before had ever perfectly identified my faults. And didn’t care. 

Growing up, he’d been a Mormon. I never knew there was such thing before as Mormons in Canada, but I guess if I’d thought about it I’d probably have thought there was.

* * * *

“Dear lord,” said Bermet.


Pointing at my hip, at a patch of bare skin.

“Is he beating on you?”

“Oh, that.”

“Is he beating on you?”

The bell dinged, and the new cook, who was a friend of Elrod’s, put up the order for table four.

“Come back here.”

When I came back she pulled up my shirt.

“I know a shelter for battered women,” she said, studying the color. “Does that hurt?”

“I’m not battered.”

“I’d say you aren’t.”

“I’m not being battered.”

“Not for no pancakes.” She pulled up further my shirt. “Honey, you need to run.”

“It’s not like that.”

“I’d say it isn’t.”

Her fingers felt dry and cold.

“You know you don’t have to take it. You’re better than that.”

I twisted, recovering my shirt. The bell dinged again.

“It’s not like that. It’s just that … he likes it …” As I passed by she lifted an eyebrow. “Rough.” 

When I came back her arms were folded, her legs in a stance, and she was seriously smacking her gum.

“Honey, the real question is: Do you?”

* * * *

I liked the times we listened to music. We’d be sitting, or on his bed. It’d be something his band would play, or would be thinking about playing. The room all covered in noise. And the two of us feeling the same feeling. It didn’t even have to be good. I just liked that he was there, feeling the same way.

* * * *

On a weekend in November they had a gig down in Corpus Christi. It just happened to be my day off. One of his friends knew someone who had a house where the two of us were invited to stay.

That next morning we went on the beach. The surf was rough and the sand was frozen. We didn’t care. The sea smelled old and full of authority, though I’d forgotten to bring our swimsuits. 

For a while we sat on the pier and watched the waves come in. They’d try to make their way to the shore. But they’d just break into other waves or join with others. The ones that finally did, only tiny bits ever reached the sand.

* * * *

“What in the malebolge was that?”

“Ow. Ow!”

“What, did you burn yourself?”

He listened while I told him how I’d fell and hit my cheek on the grill. He laughed. 

“What, did you slip on a banana peel?”

* * * *

The whole ride home Elrod was sullen. My cheek felt like it had melted, but whenever I went to touch it the skin was still there, only tender. It didn’t matter. Something inside me had come alive. 

On coming into the city, we saw that stepladder pyramid sidestep into view.

Then at home he was yelling. Calling me psycho. Calling me crazy. He said I needed real mental help. That I’d enjoyed burning myself on the oven. Had done it on purpose. He knew, because he was like me too. Only he’d tried to snap me out of it. To show me the pain was only a means, a necessary hurdle for becoming stronger, that there was a way of harnessing it, not an absolute end in itself. He said this was the same with love. I said I agreed.

* * * *

A whirlpool of people. Half-nude and glistening like fish trying to jump back to the water. The whole room circling, wheel over wheel, and before I know the draw of the current pulls me to its vortex, to become part of the spinning—flipping and glistening, helping each other when we fall—the crowd pushing into us as they try to keep from being pulled in while Elrod’s music crowds tastesighthearingsense. Elrod perched above on the stage. Watching us spinning. Proud it’s to his liking. Everything is a whirlpool, and I am covered hair to ankle with dozens of those stickers that say the name of Elrod’s band, and everyone is laughing. Glad because we’re wrong.

* * * *

The person who I am is dangling from the ceiling, a flag for reviling, prey in the hands of claws, no identity but the missiles of spit they send through the great swaddling of doomful noise. The room awash in screams. Somewhere among them is Elrod.

* * * *

For a while we’d been at each other’s throats. There were worries about money, about what to eat. About who did what. The place had become a real pigsty. 

I’d been on him for a while about hanging a blinder to cover the window. It could’ve been there for weeks. I figured it was just something he’d got, something that had fallen in his way. But for whatever reason it bothered me.

* * * *

Sometimes I spent hours gazing and staring up at it. Tried to extract it so that there were just shapes and colors, staring at it until it was something it no longer was—some colorful kind of sign—but whenever I moved close I saw the blood in that sea of red suddenly spilling over everything, in that geometry of stars in a cross, at first just the pattern of figured-out lines, the stars of a lynch mob gathering for some poor person to be hanged.

* * * *

Eventually I took it down and threw it in the recycling. That he would notice was doubtful. And if he did would hardly care.

But a few days later he’d bought a decal and put it right over the center of his bike where everyone could see what he thought. Even if he didn’t, as only I knew. Still, the thing itself really bothered me. Began bothering me more and more. Would creep into my unexpected thoughts. For how many hours I spent thinking on it—who could say. The image of its being itched at me like a sore, and I managed to scratch off part of it, but not without scratching off some of the finish. 

That’s when we had it out.

* * * *

“How come you care so much about the Confederate flag? You’re not even from the South.”

“It’s not that I care,” he said. “I find it interesting.”


“It’s a reminder about history.”

“Yeah, but for all the wrong reasons.”


“Don’t you know what it represents?”

“I’m not about all that,” said Elrod. “I just dig the way it looks. And if you’re intent on twisting my nuts, then you can voetsek with the rest of them.”

* * * *

On a weekday in February he left without coming back. When a few days passed, I assumed he must have left on tour. If he had told me, I didn’t remember. Things were close to pretty desperate. I’d quit my job a while back, and there was no money in the house, and the lights had been turned off. I ate some crackers his roommate had left on the counter.

* * * *

He came back with his beard in a braid and looking pleased with himself because he’d gotten two things. There had been plenty of time for me to hate him, and now that I saw him again in the flesh I realized how I’d hated him all along. Even when we’d been happy. He was looking pleased with himself on account of two things: The Reviled had gotten a record deal, a small label, but a label nonetheless, and were supposed to start recording, and he had also got a tattoo. He wore fishnet so everyone could see. A great Confederate flag slapped across the knot of his chest. Waving between the nipples.

“Do you like it?” he said.

* * * *

I knew he’d done it to irk me. To get underneath my skin. To show me I didn’t matter. A while ago I’d made up my mind to leave him, and now that it was decided I knew I could use it to show him he meant nothing to me as well. I’d been acting all over again to please him, and where had that led me but in neither party being happy but only wanting—wanting more and more. If Elrod from the get-go had duped me, I was the one more wrong for letting myself be duped.

* * * *

“Do you like it?” I said.

“Like? Ha! Even ‘hate’ is too light a word. If I could efface it into oblivion I still wouldn’t be content. Not until all living memory of everything that depended on you and your haircut was rendered nada, nil.”

* * * *

When we went out that night he kept referring to me as “the monk” or “Butch Cassidy.” I think he wanted to take me out as bait to lure girls. To see if I was attractive. A few started coming close, but as soon as he swooped between us they took off. They sensed he was expecting to get laid.

* * * *

At one point Elrod went off and left me. I could see him by the bar, these guys pointing to his chest, flapping their jackets, but I didn’t care. Not even when they led him outside. I was dancing and not thinking about anyone and what they wanted, only myself. Dancing and feeling good.

* * * *

He was there, curled up in the parking lot like a run-over eagle, bloody and mostly unconscious, when we walked out.

“Isn’t that the guy you came in with?” She would have pointed, but her hand threw both of ours in front.

“That’s nobody.”