Karin Slaughter

Martin Misunderstood

Copyright © Karin Slaughter 2008

To Georgina, the unsung hero

Martin Explained, or How Martin Unwittingly Became a Person of Interest

Martin Reed had decided long ago that he was born into the wrong body. He often wondered how different his fate would have been if that amorphous lump that stared vacantly from his first photograph at the hospital had shown even the slightest bit of potential. But, no, it was clearly not meant to be. The picture of baby Martin, thrusting himself into the air like a bloated seal, wet, pink lips parted, chin sliding into his neck even then, and – perhaps worst of all – the words 'Mama's Little Angel' emblazoned over his grayish, hairless head, would be one that would haunt him throughout his entire life.

It wasn't that Martin was a dreamer. He did not think, for instance, that George Clooney had gotten his true face. Nor did he see Brad Pitt's physique and spit bitter 'if only' vitriol. He would have been fine with an average man's body, something his many hours on his Chuck Norris Total Gym system could exploit into the semblance of muscle tone instead of a lateral realignment of flab. Even Will Ferrell's physique would have sufficed. The cruel truth of the matter was that Martin's body more closely resembled Jodie Foster's during her Yale years. Add in his weak chin, his hawkish nose and the C-shaped curve to his shoulders, and the root of his displeasure (and that of many blind dates) became painfully apparent.

His life was just the sort of pathetic life you would expect of Jodie Foster's estranged, less attractive fraternal twin. Working as a senior accountant at Southern Toilet Supply for the last sixteen years, he had become somewhat resigned to the small-town Georgia life into which he had been born. The bullies with whom he had attended high school had become the jerks with whom he worked. The cheerleading captain who had spurned his attention continued to do so, but this time from behind a desk instead of behind pom-poms. Norton Shaw, his Geometry Team nemesis, had been promoted to his direct supervisor. Even the security guard was the same man who had walked the halls of Tucker High School; he had been fired for stalking one of the cafeteria ladies, a crime which, apparently, did not bother the denizens of Southern Toilet Supply.

Upon reflection, Martin's life was typical in that it had not changed much after leaving high school. But then for Martin, life seldom proved atypical. Striving for normalcy had been his elusive life goal. He was of average height, average intelligence, average weight – so why was it that he came across as so blatantly below average? Fortunately, he had other things to recommend himself: A steady job. A Toyota Camry that was almost paid for. An intricate knowledge of the toilet-supply industry.

It must be said that, for most of his life, Martin had tried to make changes. A lifelong reader, he had at first turned to books for help. He had read Chicken Soup for every type of soul. The Power of Positive Thinking had left him thoroughly depressed. To his horror, he'd discovered that he shared more characteristics with people from Venus than from Mars. The Secret had arrived around the time that a series of disasters befell him: pinkeye, an incident on a faulty escalator, 'twat' being keyed into his car. Martin had cuddled up with the book, a warm washcloth over one eye, and soon discovered that it was entirely his own fault.

Martin's mother was equally dissatisfied with her son – perhaps more so. Often, she would look at him over the breakfast table (of course he still lived with his mother) and make grand pronouncements about his shortcomings.

'Goodness, I think you lost more hair last night.'

'My, you should see how that roll of fat hangs over your belt.'

'You know, there are women you can pay for companionship.'

Evelyn Reed, on first glance, was the quintessential sweet old lady. Until she opened her mouth. Like Martin, she was an outsider, the sort of person who did not easily make friends. Unlike Martin, she assumed the blame lay with others and was not a direct result of her abhorrent personality. Most days, he thought of her as some awful troll who refused to allow him to cross the bridge into a new, more exciting life. Other days, he felt more generous and only saw her as an old woman who, hopefully, would soon die so that he could lead a new, more exciting life.

Many of the recurrent dreams in Martin's head ended happily with his mother passing on to some great ether. As he chewed his turkey bacon or drank his prune juice, Martin would imagine himself a character in a book; some kind of broad comedy with murderous undertones. Case Histories, but without the happy ending. His words would be in quotation marks. His thoughts in italics.

'Mother, can you pass the butter knife?' Would you please jam it into your chest first?

Evie Reed had been an attractive woman at some point in her life, a point which, surprisingly, had gone wholly undocumented. There were no pictures that captured this great beauty, no witnesses to back up her statements. It strained credulity to see her now, with her gray hair expertly bunned and a large mole at the center of her forehead that always conjured up the phrase, 'hairy eyeball'. Likemany pronouncements his mother made, the listener was supposed to believe them without any supporting proof, as if the chain-smoking, bird-thin, gutter- mouthed woman sitting with her spindly legs tightly crossed as she read the newspaper, had at some point in time rivaled Jean Harlow. She was the 'Mission Accomplished' of her time.

'I'll tell you what, Martin.' Evie switched her cigarette to the side of her mouth. It bobbed as she talked, a thin line of smoke snaking from her blackened, right nostril. 'I was fucking gorgeous in my day.'

'I bet you were.' By 'day' you must mean the Mesozoic era.

She sniffed the air, as if her sense of smell had not been burned away by forty years of Kool Lights. 'You haven't been drinking, have you?'

He took a deep breath and slowly let it go before answering. 'No, Mother. I haven't been drinking.'

She looked disappointed, as he had known she would. Having been banned from her church group for causing a split in the Ladies' Hospital Auxiliary, ('Like their shit don't smell!') she had lately taken to perusing the personal ads in hopes of finding some new group to which she could belong. She was desperate to have Martin come down with a horrible disease or become addicted to a substance – illegal or otherwise – which had a support group, preferably something close by because she wasn't allowed to drive at night. She had started leaving her various medications out on the kitchen counter, as if to tempt him.

'Look here,' she said, pointing to an ad. 'There's a PFLAG meeting on Lawrenceville Highway.' She looked at him over the paper, eyebrow raised in hopeful expectation.

Martin felt his soul wither like a biodegradable packing peanut in a puddle of water. PFLAG was a support group for parents and friends of gays and lesbians.

'Says here that they serve refreshments.' Her eyes began to sparkle. 'Do you think that means snack foods, too?' She cackled at a thought. 'I bet you they have lady fingers.'

Martin summoned an ounce of dignity from some deep, secret place. 'I am not gay, Mother.'

She stared at him, as if in challenge.


She snapped a crease out of the paper. 'Very well,' she quipped. 'What would it matter? It's not like you've

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