01/15/2013 - 12:03pm
East to West
by K.A. Cosby

O Destiny I Hear Your Voice (by Dave Senecal)

The phone will ring, a knock will come at the door “tattarattat,” a voice on the other end of the line will mention murder, and Sorenson’s partner, a detective he has been working with for the past fifteen years, will ask him to come down where the squad car will be waiting.  This is routine, an almost nightly event—ten years.

Crime of passion.


Triple homicide.

Sorenson has seen it all. The voice on the phone will say this murder is different. Can’t be different. We all die the same, no matter how it comes. In the end it’s just darkness, and the darkness has no direction, just like emotion, just like a flash of thought–played backwards, it all looks the same.

He waits for the phone and takes a drink of a Reisling—a two hundred-dollar bottle of wine, which is usually out of his budget, but not tonight, not when it’s only him, the wine, a nine-millimeter, Jay Leno (and whatever actor is the heartthrob or scandal of the week), and a book that Sorenson picked up on a train about ten years ago.

The wine washes over his tongue. He looks to where a small button and a box—about the size of a ring box—sit on the open page. Sorenson’s eyes catch a glimpse of the words written beside the box: Trains in these parts went from East to West and from West to East.

He waits for the phone call; the police cruiser may already be outside his window, perhaps waiting for the call too.

Leno takes a good-natured jab at his celebrity guest’s history with alcohol and drugs, and the audience will roar with laughter, and the celebrity will feign anger, stomping halfway across the stage until Leno will lure him back, with an offer to advance the conversation to the actor’s new film.

The choices are clear—press the button sitting on the book or pull the trigger of the nine-millimeter—and his decision is made.

He presses the button.

The tranquility in Sorenson’s apartment is broken: the phone rings.


“His name is Sieman Sih,” says Sorenson’s partner at the crime scene.

German, Sorenson thinks, as he and his partner stand over the bodies. A book sits on a nightstand beside the bed. Sih is in bed with a brunette—slender, soft features, milky complexion, and tenderness in the hands; a wonderful lover—Sorenson’s lover before Sih’s.

He wonders if he’ll break down. Emotions have no direction, after all; they are as painful coming as going.

The killer surprised them—not in flagrante, but not long afterward either. Along with the blood, the forensic team finds semen on the sheets.

“He lived as a devil, eh?” his partner says as consolation and an attempt at levity, after apparently seeing Sorenson’s gaze rest on the man and the anger and pain overtake his face.

The blood soaked knife is still near the bed on the floor. It has created its own outline there—a bloody exclamation mark on the carpet—written its own entry into the history of this murder, proclaims emphatically that it was here. That wood-handled butcher knife will ultimately pronounce that the killer was here. Bill was here! The knife was here and so was Bill! He slashed them both after watching them in a moment of heat. It was the tenderness afterward, not the passion that set him off. Passion was fleeting, an act with direction. Tenderness, an emotion, goes from East to West and from West to East.

The blood spatter on the walls says the knife—left where it fell—is right.

A crime of passion. The murderer was not in the frame of mind to question whether or not he was leaving tell-tale signs of his identity. The least investigation will reveal the killer—in fact, the police will be outside the killer’s door by the end of the night–after this long on the job, you instinctively know these things.

Sorenson picks up a picture of his former love from the nightstand, hears his name and puts the picture down.

“…Was I…?” a man in a brown raincoat says. A police officer, a woman, steps in the way. “Ma’am.” the man just inside the entryway says before an officer places a hand on his chest, and he backs out of the apartment, looking from Sorenson to his partner.

Sorenson’s partner, standing beside him, asks if he is all right and whether he can handle this.

“…I…” Sorenson wants to speak, but the words are stuck inside, and his mind is repeating “His name is Sieman Sih.” He looks over his shoulder at the room, the blood on the walls. His ex-love wrapped around this man. Rage is directionless too. Sorenson just nods to his partner and continues to look around the apartment, his lover’s apartment, where Sorenson and she had spent days locked away from the world like cave dwellers with just their primal instincts to keep them occupied; they wouldn’t even order delivery because then they would have to take attention away from each other; instead they raided the refrigerator for whatever was available, emptied it to the last morsel, and only then would they emerge from the cave, hand in hand and re-engage with the outer world.

Right in this chair, she had told Sorenson about the possibility of a child. She said it haltingly. Her hand trembled on the glass she held, and she turned away, telling him she couldn’t keep it—not now.

He proposed, made a ring from paper and put it on her finger.

She took a trembling hand, placed it on his cheek, drew him into her, kissed him and smiled. He had never realized before, but the best kind of kiss was the one with the lips drawn back in a grin—not sexy, but tender, loving—more like standing face-to-face and pressing yourselves together.

Right in this apartment, Sorenson’s love had told him she miscarried, and they never married, but she forced herself to play the role of lover for a while.

He looks around the apartment, where investigators are dusting for prints, snapping pictures and talking. The noise is unbearable. Sorenson has to get away, hide himself away in darkness.


The closet encases Sorenson. The voices of a man and a woman are outside the door at some distance; he can make out their forms between the louvers. There will be violence. It is inevitable. The knife says so: Blood will spray the walls; I am here; I am here and Bill is here. Sorenson’s decision will be made. No real choice. Only one decision is left up to him, but that’s not here, rather in his apartment with the button and the nine millimeter.

It’s finally quiet, save the sound of breathing. The figure of the man passes across the room, flips a light switch and clicks the door. The man is absent for some time, and then emerges, his steps punctuated by a squeak on the wooden floor.

Sorenson tries not to focus on what is outside the closet. It’s only him. He has come for a reason, on a task, and it has to be finished to set things right again with the world. He can’t break down.

The sounds from outside sear his brain and pain wells up. He needs an aspirin, a Tylenol, something to put down the pain. He wants to destroy the sound. Make them go, the man and the woman, just make them go.

The sound dies down.

He sees the man and woman move closer, pass by him. They linger close together. He hears voices, laughter, a feeling of lightness passes between the shutters and weighs down on him.

“Sruo,” he hears the woman say, “Sruo. Sruo si ybab siht. His nameis.”

Sorenson can’t understand it, doesn’t want to understand it, though he knows already.

Laughter. The sound of intimacy, of kisses, of whispered moments and then the door clicks.

Sorenson is left alone in the darkness that is the same coming and going, from East to
West and from West to East.

The closet around him now suffocates him.

He moves around the living room, picks up the picture of his love, a tear falls onto its face, and he puts it back on the table. He continues to the bathroom, where he finds evidence of a sexual relationship. He moves to the bedroom and picks up a pillow. He’s in the kitchen now and has already picked up the wood-handled butcher knife from the counter. Rage is directionless.


He feels the change, the forward progression, much more fluid now, that reels like the seamless advance of a movie and loses the sense of jumping frame by frame to the beginning.

Sorenson’s love sits beside him now, holding his wrist with her tender hands. He studies her soft features, her milky complexion as if he’s never seen these elements of her before. She pushes his head away, turns it to look out the window, and plants a smiling kiss on his cheek, tightened lips pressed gently against him, warming him. They’re not alone, but Sorenson cannot help his feeling of playfulness, giddiness, as if he’s been transported into a child’s body.

His love’s hand stops. Sorenson follows her gaze to an old man, slightly Asiatic, across the aisle. He’s staring at them. Sorenson wants to be sarcastic, but the pathos the man invokes makes him hold his tongue.

“Sir,” she says, “are you all right?”

A hollow smile rises on his face. “You get off at the next stop.”

“What? We…”

Behind the man in the frame of the window, buildings slide in and out of view, gray blurs of scenery and life.

“You get off at the next stop. She’ll kiss you and both of you watch the train pass in silence. She looks sad, like she has something to tell you, but has been putting it off.”

Her face pales. Her hands drop.

“Look, just leave us alone.” Sorenson says.

“I can’t. I have to give it to you, or I’ll go through this for another twenty years.”

Sorenson turns away and looks at her–and over his shoulder says, “Go back to what you were smoking, old man.”

But she can’t take her eyes off the man, watches his every move as if he’s ripped himself apart in front of her, or the pit of hell has opened before her and swallowed him whole. “How do you know?” she says, and then quieter, “How do you…” Either she trails off or the sound of the train interferes.

“Years. I’ve been watching for years,” he says. “You look like nice people. And maybe it will work for you. Maybe it will be good, you’ll be happy. You’ll use it to be happy. Maybe you’ll press it and that sad face I see outside this train again and again will disappear. But only one of you can use it.”

Sorenson stands up. “That’s enough.”

She pulls him back down into the seat.

“You’re scaring her, you old bastard.”

The man leans forward and as if to keep what he has to say away from the other passengers, he lowers his voice. “I don’t mean to. I want…” He thinks about it. “…to save you.” He reaches behind him. “It’s a time machine.” He is holding a book and a box.

“The book?” she says.

“The box. Take it. You’ll have to take it.”

The box looks as if it has come from a jewelry store—all but the little red button on the top.

“You can go forward and back, in a time loop, but only the period where you have the box. You need to press the button.”

“Back in time?” Sorenson waves a hand. “Drugs? Is that it? Do I need to take you in?”

“You can’t change anything, but you can relive it again. Are you the police?”

“Detective William Sorenson, Chicago PD.”

“You’ll be good for it. But you have to take it.” The old man looks out the window toward the gray blur. “Going back is sort of like watching a movie in rewind. Disorienting, at first. You get used to it. You know what everybody is going to say anyway. You can even tell yourself a different story, possibly with a happy ending. And you might get to keep that smile.” A crooked finger points to her face, a face that no longer has the smile. “That smile is worth it.” He lowers his finger, and uses his hand to push himself out of the seat. He gently places the box and book in the seat and walks away. Sorenson watches him disappear into the next car.

“Take it,” she says.


“The book, the box. Take it.”

“The man is crazy.”

“Maybe. But take it.”

Sorenson picks up the book and the box. The gray blur slows into a building, a station. They step off the train and onto the platform. She gives him a kiss, not a smiling kiss, one more meaningful, and tinged with a certain sadness. They watch the train pull away. He opens the book to where the old man had marked and underlined a passage: Trains in these parts went from East to West and from West to East.

They walk through the station, the sound of life pulses around them. She’s grown silent. He’s silent too.

“I didn’t lose it,” she says.

He’s confused.

“I lied. I needed time.” She pushes the hair away from her face. “It’s not yours. But I had to know for sure.”

“Who’s the father?”

“You don’t know him. His name is Sieman Sih.”

They hear a concussive explosion from the track, and the crowd in the station erupts in panic.Sorenson feels that he needs to run to help, but he’s paralyzed by what she told him. And she continues walking.


Note from the author: This short story has been written so that sections 1 – 3 can be read from the end to the beginning (as well as beginning to end) and that quoted speech is either palindromic or gives a different meaning backward than forward. The line “Trains in these parts went from East to West and from West to East.” is quoted from the Novel The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years by Chingiz Aitmatov.


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