Marcus and Me

by Deepak Unnikrishnan

Marcus died today. I killed him. With lava.

It is not his real name. His real name is simple, plain, and will be, for the remainder of this confession, hidden.

Allow an introduction. My name is Mister. What comes after will also not be shared. I am not stupid, although my choice of profession might encourage this assumption. I write, you see. I do nothing else, no job on the side, nothing.

The bare essentials are covered. I help tuck a good friend into bed, and he allows me sleep space. When I need money for supplies, I moonlight as a moving boy. For food, I rely on personality, and pity. It's wonderful. I never go hungry. People like listening to me talk, so I get fed. It is give and take. I help them soothe their sense of loss. Ambition is a sham, I tell them all—you are lucky yours is dead. They nod gravely, and ask me if I want anything else. Doggy bag's the way to go!

Marcus was not always a faulty prick. When born, I gave him a nice set of balls, the kind that builds fan clubs. Now before you think the head's a bit loose, maybe you should know Marcus used to be the lead player in my novel, before I had him whacked. That was his only redeeming quality, being a participant. I honestly don't know what happened. One day, as I wrote, he stopped following instructions. Pardon, he said. What, I responded. There is a problem, the bugger went: "This isn't working."

Now as a writer, criticism is bread and butter, yet bounces off me surely enough to preserve whatever confidence is necessary to consider book deals. But there are limits. People walk up to me a lot, offering literary advice, some idiot having told them I write. Others hug me, touch me, and steal a lock of hair—for progeny and posterity, I am sure, and eBay. So with all the crazies and patrons and skeptics and dreamers out there, determined to have their say and let me know it, rest comes when fingers hit keypad—swiped Irish whiskey in cup, a bowl of tangy paneer in tow, travel companions as I enter as prince into me domain: where I write, where Marcus lived. I said there are limits, didn't I? When a dude I made, whose head should possess mumbo-jumbo I casually injected, refuses to roll over, play dead or stand on head because I said so, well, there's my limit. The people may speak, rebuke me as freak; but not so my puppets.

I am tired of walking, he said, of "taking pedestrian road trips anymore." Marcus, my no-care protagonist had decided his lazy ass couldn't be walked anymore. Walking wasn't working, he complained. I didn't understand. After all, if I tied Marcus to the back of a biplane, and wrote about reaction, his business was simple: react—scream—puke—whatever—not stop take and demand a rewrite. Who did he think he was anyway? Who said he could think? Who said he should think? I don't remember requesting analysis. But if it was simply a tantrum, it would have been fine. It wasn't. Marcus stopped me with an agenda in mind. You Brown, ain't you? Maybe, I said. Why lie. Brown! Yeah, brown like coconut. The answer stirred something in him; he picked on me, munching cultural marrow, hammering me like steamed crab, Dungeness, breaking, scooping, burping. He demanded to know why I, an Asian, he deduced (I did not tell), with black colonial genes, refused to speak of the exotic, of saris and puris and pagans and gurus; so much to tell, he said, so much to hear; and yet, he sneered, you speak and talk as though you were baptized in the English Channel, you sorry Hindoo—pathetic. Being who I am, after a patient listen, I told Marcus to go fuck himself.

The slave had come to master, made his case. Master obliged, disagreed, and life goes on. Not according to Marcus, who revealed he was not the only one who felt this way. And that he hadn't come to offer suggestions, but to insist. Otherwise there would be mutiny. Excuse me, I mouthed, spitting poison. I missed. Marcus, the people's representative, had come with objectives. They wanted to be heard, spoken of, quoted in books, analyzed, and pressed close to the ultimate high: to be used as a verb. But, Marcus said, if I wrote the way I did, there would be no reviews, no applause, no gain at the end of the tunnel. They didn't want that. Too much work was being put into the nonsense I had them do. Testing boundaries was one thing, Marcus said, piling them all up on a cliff with no name, pushing them off into nowhere! Quite something else altogether. A cliff with no name! What the hell was he talking about? I made them do things because that's what they were supposed to do: obey. The male black widow doesn't wish to die, but accomplishes this quite successfully after mating. The male widow does not say, in mid-copulation: Oh, Honey, go easy on the mandible, okay? I offered this explanation to Marcus, who took it on the chin. I knew I had lost a point when he laughed. Arachnids are useless in discourse, by the way. I have learned that. Use another insect.

There is a proper way to write, you know, Marcus would say. I didn't mind that. He was free to comment on the technique. But when he started to insist on additions, I decided to kill the bastard. He actually sat his ass down once, out of blue; the costars, extras, all followed. I asked him what he wanted. A slum, he said. Now. Planted where he was. Marcus, I began, "I do not want a slum here." The people do, he replied, continuing his hartal till I built him a slum. And just like that, things changed. Words were reworded. Minds were altered. Even simple stuff like munching a burger became an abomination: Idlis, Boy. Me wallop idlis now. And my sentences! He carted off everything he detested, handing grammar and syntax reverence. He became my editor, my manipulator, and all out of a brutal need to be remembered. Throw in an arranged marriage, he would say, "with all the hullabaloo, mantras and tantras." Eastern pain, he would say, brick your work in eastern pain. He was tearing it all apart, reminding me of cusses I thought I had forgotten. I guess I decided enough was enough when the fun started slipping away. Marcus had to go.

I had spent three years working on my novel, where Marcus lived and reigned. Getting rid of him meant getting rid of it all and facing abuse. Possibilities of not getting fed, roomed, and clothed would bear high. What would the cubicle people think? I knew what they would do, what everyone does to the loser rebel—tarred, feathered, followed by jubilation: gentlepeople, another one bit the dust—yippee! When safaris are organized, there is the grammatically fucked-up war cry—them enemies ready to hunt are plentiful! I meet these champions of organized hunting often, and can tell when they want to smoke har-hars. So, published? Nope. Har-har. So, quitting? Yep. Har-har. So, working? Nope. Har-har. But I wasn't going to walk no plank. They could har-har me till sundown and I wouldn't budge—I had sold my shame, and in case you are wondering, it was to an editor who insisted I call him Matilda. But back to story. I am hope, you see. Without chaps like me, romance, adventure, would be dreary and bitter. The world needs me. No? Somebody has to do the dirty work, why not me?

Maybe it is a sense of the times. If Marcus was born ten years ago, he would kowtow and prostrate like he was meant to be, not clamor for creative control. If only he understood responsibility. I do. I know I am meant to record injustice, write about it. So I have a twisted way of going about it. That's my problem, not for him or his peoples union to worry about. It's a different feeling, coming back to a mind where characters roam free, as long as they do what I tell them. Marcus, he never understood this. "I plead the First," screamed the muthafugga. Really, I said, "in that case, I use the Second." A born militant, that's what he was, a Trojan. I wouldn't be surprised if someone—a runaway agent or publisher—actually injected him into me head. That's probably what happened. There is probably a publishing house mafia in cahoots with underground chemical companies specializing in manufacturing pellets, fired from gun into brain. Marcus would have been their agent, documenting three years, earning trust, before finally moving in for the kill.


I wonder how many people contemplate the murder weapon before the deed. Premeditated murder is no joke. Planning forces you to think. Snuffing a life away is quite a responsibility, but I must say I enjoyed mulling. Considered choking Marcus by stuffing Bengali music cassettes down his throat, or boring him to death by locking him in a room decked in Persian carpet and smelling of incense—but no, I didn't want to leave any taste of South Asia in him. But I must confess, I did ponder over putting him on a plane somewhere, landing as a penniless immigrant where he could father to his heart's content confused culture-muddled kids. Didn't want to. What I did felt proper, more refreshing. But I was fair. I wanted Marcus to die a proper death, executed for rebellion in a creative dictatorship. I feel a hum coming along: "Despot, despot, 'tis fun being a despot."

Dusk, the perfect in-between; not night, not day. Poetic, and excellent weather conditions for heroes to depart; villains, too. Marcus had finished his scene and was supping. He was tired, as characters would be. I wanted his death to flow, somehow connect to the piece, the book. Then I froze, nothing came. All the delicious ideas that had buzzed about disappeared. I must have panicked. Marcus picked up on something: "Running out of ideas, are we mate?" He continued: I told you we need a change. So I gave him one. This is what I wrote: "And as he supped, munching away, a vat of lava hovered over his head, and tipped. Bye-bye Marcus." Okay, it wasn't classy or crafty, but he's gone, and that's what matters. A hitman could have done a better job, but I am no pussy.

We know why Marcus died. He ignored The Principles. Mine.

I do not want a book deal. No, let me rephrase. I want a book deal, but I don't want Marcus in it. He knew too much, and knew it too well. He's right, maybe I do need to write what is needed. But it seems a bit like giving in, although champagne and caviar is appealing. There is the other approach, facetiously suggested by the now-deceased varmint: "Change your name. Call your self David Chrysanthemum; write whatever you want—cannibalistic sunflowers, nymphomaniac nuns, devilish priests—anything you want. When you are successful and they find you, say you were adopted, but miss the smell of your ancestors." I liked that when I heard it. Chrysanthemum had a nice ring to it and yes, I could miss the smell of my ancestors. But Marcus was crafty. He wasn't handing me a compliment, he was giving me free tips on making it, like I was clueless, like my brain couldn't fart wisdom like his could. Well, fuck him. I may not be able to write his kinda spiel, but I can be a mean son of a bitch in my own place.

I created Marcus, you hear me? Obeisance! Obeisance God-damn-it. It's a simple thing. Why couldn't he understand? Well, he wanted to be a myth, a verb: marcussed—it's happened. Inside, where my subjects breed, there is talk of the rebel, who dared oppose. They know his name of course, but talk little. They want his grave, but he went missing, it is said. Search parties will not be formed. A legend will work better, of the dude who tried, before he went missing. But just to ensure things don't get out of hand, there will be a certain somebody who points out that Marcus, since dead, is unemployed. Low blow, yeah, but sly, filled with cunning. My boy Marcus would have approved. I mean, he approves. Then again, it doesn't matter. Marcus is no more. I killed him. Grin. With lava.

About Deepak Unnikrishnan

Deepak writes. Short stories. He was manufactured and product tested (by a quiet yet befuddled family) in Abu Dhabi. His first set of shorts, Coffee Stains in a Camel's Teacup (2004) was published by Vijitha Yapa Publications (Colombo, Sri Lanka). "Marcus and Me" is part of his second set of shorts. Completed, a snitch claims, a month ago. For a change, the gossip holds true.