He has a temper problem, so the doctor suggests making a shit list. That way he won’t end up drinking himself into a half-blind stupor and calling people at ungodly hours of the night. Or, worse, ambushing them in public places like the city’s winter festival and making a spectacle, though that only happened once.
Is there a limit to the number of people he might put on this shit list? he asks his doctor. No. A particular order, say from shittiest to least shitty? Only if you like, says the doctor. Is it possible to include dead people, animals, inanimate objects? The doctor swipes his hand over his face and says he’s making all of this more complicated than it needs to be.
There aren’t any official shit list rules.
He spares no price and buys the finest shit list in the stationery store, a handmade leather journal from Italy with deckled eggshell paper. He even buys a plum-colored Mont Blanc pen, thinking if he’s going to do this, by God, he’ll do it right.That night he sits in bed, bottle of merlot on the nightstand, glass within easy reaching distance. On the first page, he writes, My Shit List. He sips, flips to the next page, writes, Mom. Then, Dad.
At first he finds this cathartic. But what if he dies tonight with the shit list clutched in his arms and the authorities find him, just like that? His parents will go heartbroken to their graves, wondering why they were on their own son’s shit list. How would he feel if he were on his mother and father’s shit list?
He tears out the page and starts over, begins at the beginning, with the first great humiliation of childhood. Lana Clemson, he writes. His grudge is prosaic, almost canonical. The love note, the Xeroxed copies passed around school, the christening of a nickname that stuck: Pussy Ear, all because of a mild case of microtia.
Writing down her name leaves him angrier than before. The woman probably hasn’t thought of him since forever. Besides, look at all that’s happened after then. Out goes another page, crumpled and tossed across the room.
He begins this time with his brother, writes down a list of reasons. The defaulted loan. The cancelled Las Vegas vacation. The remark about his hairline.
But didn’t his brother bail him out of jail last summer? Didn’t his brother hold his hand when he waited for the lab results for a tumor that, thank god, turned out to be benign? Look at all his brother has done for him. He’d be dead in a ditch without his brother. What an ungrateful piece of shit he is. Maybe he belongs on his own shit list. He rips out the page.
It’s already midnight. If he keeps this up, he’ll need to call in sick. He considers putting the doctor on the shit list for suggesting this in the first place. Theoretically, his shit list could go on volumes, an encyclopedia of slights and betrayals and disappointments. A library of shit lists. Maybe it would be easier to list names which don’t belong, an unshitlist.
But this defeats the whole purpose, doesn’t it? The point is that people know they’re on your shit list. When he was a boy and didn’t get his way he used to hold his breath until he was dizzy. The world started to black and fade and he felt like he was falling over the edge of death. Disappointing, even disturbing, how little has changed. Then, just as now, he imagines a legion of the penitent and woebegone, unable to undo what they did, unable to do what they didn’t, only able to apologize and wish they could be erased off his shit list.
Thomas Cooper lives in New Orleans, and his short stories currently appear or are forthcoming in Oxford American, Willow Springs, New Orleans Review, Sonora Review, Quick Fiction, and Dzanc Books’ anthology Best of the Web 2010. His chapbook of short fiction, Phantasmagoria, was published by Keyhole Press last summer.