Catherine Durudogan is the author of People Like Us, a short story that details the troubled minds of distorted personalities. Her work is an example of a psychological thriller that explores the individual history that drives ordinary people to commit harmful crimes.
An Excerpt from People Like Us
It was frightening to think of Matty as my only human companion since the deaths. He was a careful boy. Every day at precisely noon he would start to prepare our lunch. Matty would deliberately display each ingredient on the kitchen table. He would then proceed to gawk at his own presentation.
“Have you ever thought of just getting the ingredients out as you need them? It may save you some time and trouble.”
“But this way, Mr. Whicker, I get to reallyseemy creation. Cooking is just an equivalent to an art. The ingredients are my materials, similar to a painter’s palette. Once I have the finished product I can admire the transformation. I will have created a cohesion of ingredients, a unification of flavors, and to me that is really beautiful. Wouldn’t you say Mr. Whicker?” I nodded, just to be polite.
Matty always talked like that, naively optimistic. He thought cooking mac & cheese was as significant as painting the Sistine Chapel. During lunch I would try to discuss current events with him. I saw it as my elderly duty to educate the youth. Yet every time I brought up war or financial instability or even just common politics, Matty would shake his head. “No, no, no,” he said, “Mr. Whicker, there is no need to worry about that. Those negative thoughts creep into your mind and pester ya.” I would try to argue, to explain to the boy that life isn’t always rosy, but Matty just kept on shaking his head.
I didn’t mean to ruin the boy’s positive outlook on life when he asked me why I lived in a multi-bedroom house all alone. It didn’t feel right to lie to the kid, so I told him the whole semi-truck accident story. His eyes welled up. His sobs were muffled into my chest as he wrapped his bony limbs around my torso. This was physical touch. I took my shaking hand and stroked the back of his skull. The delicate life of a boy was in my arms. My veins pulsated out of my neck, the rush of power caused my pupils to dilate.
Over time, Matty chipped away at me. The scabs of my tragedy were scattered in his hands, and my bare wounds were at his avail. The words I said to him were words I had never said aloud. I lost myself in Matty; and he began to lose himself in me. The originally aggravating boy turned into my only human interaction. I stopped whispering to the walls. I stopped hearing my sister’s muffled screams. Their voices were lost and replaced with Matty’s. It took me 50 years to grieve and a small child with olive skin to help me do so.
I began to watch him. His body moved throughout my home with ease. His warmth would be leftover on my furniture for hours after his departure. I stroked my thigh with a steady rhythm as I suffocated myself with his aroma. My lap grew damp as moisture from my eyelids fell. The knots in my stomach were tightening. He deserved my presence, but my chest could not cease its vibrations. I spent sleepless nights rocking myself into a comfortable allusion: that we did not need each other, that I did not need to take him in. But my mind continued to flesh out our lives together, and how much better it would be if we were not alone.
Matty provided very few surprises, and I had learned to respect his routines. We had been companions for months now, and his presence began to fill me with a certain content. At promptly six o’clock in the evening he would carefully pack away all of the unnecessary materials he had brought in the morning to assist me.
After weeks of Matty performing his familiar routine, I forced it to come to a halt. I glanced at the clock, and it was 6:07. I shifted toward Matty, and he was staring at his bag. I watched as he reached for the bag to go, halted by his own restriction. Tears were quickly filling his eye sockets. I did not know how to comfort him. I did not know how to fix a person. Everyone who has ever tried to fix me has failed. We were similar: his parents were alive, yes, but the bruises on his temple and wrists showed me there was more anger shared than love. I stepped forward, my body was inches away from his and I could feel the quickening of his breaths. “I don’t know if I should keep caring for you, Mr. Whicker.” His voice quivered with apprehension. I knew what he wanted. I stroked his battered forearms, “People like us don’t deserve these scars.” I took the bag in one hand and extended the other to Matty’s. I liked to see him as a boy, but I knew as I walked Matty, my state-assigned caretaker, downstairs that I would no longer be his patient, I was his family now.
That night the scratching behind my wall grew louder.