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La Folie á Deux

Charles D. Tarlton | Ford Spencer

CARMODY: You know, sometimes my moods just rise and fall like the flags up there on the two hotels; a little wind and my flags are up!

BLIGHT: We’ll be sailing in and out of the doldrums together.


Susan Cruz was pushing along the baby stroller filled with plastic garbage bags that contained all her worldly possessions. She was talking to the Madonna in her head, and the Madonna was angry, by the look of it.

The issue, from what bystanders were able to overhear as the stroller rolled by, was why Susan had failed in her suicide attempt — again. Susan’s answers were confused, but seemed mostly to concern a neighbor who had come knocking at the door asking about the smell of gas. Susan was contrite and begged Madonna’s forgiveness. She would try again, and she’d make it this time.

Susan pushed her stroller along the pier until the railing made a sudden forty-five degree turn that created a kind of nook, a refuge with a bench protected on three sides. She backed up to the small bench and sat down, making room for the Madonna. At that very moment Gary Martinez came walking up from the other direction; he had been out at the end of the pier watching the cruise boats.

“Hey, you’re on my bench,” Gary said.

Susan turned to the Madonna, listened, and then looked straight at Gary.

“She says buzz off, Pedro,” Susan said.

“That’s not what she said at all,” Gary said.


“She said this looks like the perfect fall guy.”

“She did not say fall guy, she said dupe.”

“Well, all right then, dupe. What’s the difference?”

Susan looked over at the empty space occupied by the Madonna. She listened for a minute, and then turned to Gary.

“She says we should get together,” Susan said. “She says we’d make a great team.”

“I can see her,” Gary shouted. “Jesus Christ! I can see the Madonna. Oh, my God.”


Susan and Gary were like a married couple; they went everywhere together. They replaced her baby stroller with a larger, slat-sided red Radio Flyer wagon, and took turns pulling it. They could be seen almost every day settled into their nook in the pier railing, talking in their three-sided way — Susan, Gary, and the Madonna.

Soon, however, Black Bart began to show up for their talks. No one knew for sure who first introduced him, but he seemed to be on the best of terms with the Madonna, so they let him in. Susan did whatever the Madonna told her; she was frightened of the other voices she sometimes heard, and the Madonna had explained to her that they were malevolent and meant to harm her. Gary had an easy time accepting Black Bart because he reminded Gary of his own special childhood friend, Winston, and Black Bart right away explained that was because he was, in fact, Winston. He had changed, was all.

Black Bart brought some of his friends around and Susan seemed to know them all. They all told the same story, as far as Gary understood it. Someone had it in for Gary and Susan, some old devil flame or other of Susan’s, and he meant to destroy them. The Madonna listened to all the stories and said she was very concerned for their safety.

“She says there are more than just these devils looking for us,” Susan told Gary.

“I know,” Gary said. “I can hear her.”

Susan left her place on the bench and was pacing nervously in circles. Gary watched her and waited.

“We’ll never be safe,” she said. “They’re everywhere.”

“Where?” Gary said.

“Everywhere,” Susan screamed, and then pointed to a crowd of tourists strolling over to look at the boats in the marina. “Let’s get out of here!”

They packed up the wagon, being careful not to bump into any of their gathered demons as they left.

“She says we should lay low for a while,” Susan said, but Gary hadn’t heard the Madonna say that, so he just said, “Okay.”

“And we need a gun,” Susan said. “Madonna says we should get us a gun.”


Gary visited San Francisco General to get his escitalopram renewed. When they took his name, someone behind the counter said they had some mail for him, and it turned out to be three government checks. He cashed the checks, and then he and Susan moved into a room at the Winsor on Sixth Street. Susan took some of the cash and bought a gun from a guy she knew. La Madonna showed Susan how to use it and she taught Gary. They kept the gun in their room and that seemed to make them feel safer.

They stopped going down to their nook at the pier; there were just too many threatening demons there. The last time they had gone back there, monsters from one of Susan’s very worst nightmares had gawked at them and then pursued them when they tried to get away. The monsters were wearing hooded sweatshirts from Trinity College, Dublin, and laughing wildly wherever Susan and Gary tried to go.

They started spending the whole day in their room with the Madonna and Black Bart. Black Bart told stories about how the streets were becoming thick with bad demons. He thought they were maybe coming in on the tourist ships or just sneaking down at night from China Town. Because Susan and Gary were so close to the Madonna, the demons were taking a special interest in them. They were definitely in danger, especially when they went to the Embarcadero alone. Gary was frightened more than Susan, though, because, as she explained, she was more experienced with the world of evil. So, mostly they stayed in their room and Gary would go out for burgers or tacos and bring them back.

“Yes,” Gary said, “but that doesn’t mean I will let you down,” and he nodded to the Madonna when he said that.

“She knows,” Susan said, “she knows we can count on you.”


“Let’s get out for some air,” Gary said one night. “The room is too small and I’m suffocating.”

“Good idea, the Madonna says,” Susan said. “Let’s go out for something to eat.”

So, the four of them, Gary, Susan, the Madonna, and Black Bart went downstairs and across the street to Pasquini’s Pizza. They sat down and looked at the menu on the wall.

“Sausage and onion for me,” Susan said, looking around the circle.

“Okay by me,” Gary said, and then seemed to check with the Madonna and Black Bart.

“I’ll go order,” Susan said, and stood up.

In the back of the room there were four Asian teenagers and they were laughing very loudly. Susan had her back to them while she ordered the pizza, but she knew they were laughing at her, she knew that they were demons who had followed them from the waterfront and were now going to make their lives pure hell. When she’d finished ordering, she was afraid to look at them, so she walked backwards all the way to the table.

“It’s the demons,” she said to Gary. “Let’s get out of here.”

They rushed out of the pizza parlor, across the street and up to their room. From their window they could still see the demons laughing in the restaurant. Madonna, Gary, Black Bart, and Susan crowded to the window to watch the demons across the street.

“We’ll never get away from them now,” Susan said, wildly. “They’ll hound us forever.”

Gary looked around at the Madonna and Black Bart. They seemed to side with Susan.

“So, what happens now?” he asked.

Susan went over to the bed and pulled a cardboard box from under it. She reached in and pulled out the gun. She handed it to Gary.

“You know what to do,” she said.

About Charles D. Tarlton

Charles D. Tarlton is a retired college teacher living in San Francisco, writing poetry and short or flash fiction. He has published several dozens of poems, six or seven flash fictions, and Muse-Pie Press nominated some of his poems for the Pushcart Prize.

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