The Helper by Gregory A Powell

Gregory A Powell's slapstick comedy about failure, racism and suicide.

Dave placed the bag over his head and shoulders, cinching it with the plastic drawstrings that he so liked about this brand of garbage bag. He was sitting on a couch astride a rather large, metallic cylinder that was propped between his legs. Inside the garbage bag with Dave, was the top half of that cylinder.

Samir asked, "You all right in there? Have you started it?"

"Of course I haven't started it yet," replied Dave, tersely. "Do you hear anything?"

"Well, what do I know? I've never been involved in anything like this," responded Samir.

"You know, Samir, you don't have to be here," said Dave. "All you need to do is clean up after."

"Oh, I know, but it will be my honour to be watching you asphyxiate yourself," replied Samir.

Dave sucked in a breath, thought about what it was that he was about to do, and then reached towards the valve at the top of the tank. He twisted it to the left, and a hissing sound began, signalling that the gas was now flowing into his ersatz plastic death chamber. He inhaled deeply.

Samir, upon hearing the hissing sound, agitatedly asked; "Now it is on, yes?"

"You can hear it, right?" replied Dave, sarcastically, but after his inhalation of the gas, his voice was distinctively cartoonish, high-pitched, sounding like a squeaky-toned animated character.

Samir erupted in laughter.

Dave, feeling anger at the disrespect Samir was showing for the somberness of the day, ripped the bag up over his head, looked at Samir and shouted, "What the fuck is so funny?" in his cartoon voice.

Of course, this only brought more hysteria to Samir, who now fell off the chair and onto the floor, where he lay teary-eyed and howling.

It took several minutes, with Dave squealing at Samir for his disrespect and unprofessionalism, before Samir's hysterical response began to subside enough for him to say something marginally coherent.

"You... you know, don't you... how ridiculous this is being?" stammered Samir in between teary-eyed gulps of air. "You are... you sound... you sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks and... it...this whole things seems like a... like a Looney Tunes cartoon by Ingmar Bergman! What are you going to be saying next? 'That's all folks?'"

And that last string of coherence was as much as Samir could muster before sinking back into hysteria.

Eventually, Samir ran out of laughing gas and composed himself, quite exhausted from the effort that the strange merriment had elicited in him.

Dave said, in a normally pitched voice by this time, "So, are you finished with your horseshit? You know, Samir, I hired you to be my helper. You have half your payment already. You seemed like the only capable one after I don't know how many useless fucktards I interviewed for this little gig. You were the only one desperate enough, screwed up enough, just dodgy enough, yet maybe possibly reliable."

He took a breath and continued.

"And how the fuck does an Afghani refugee and a disgraced fucking Imam know Alvin and the fucking Chipmunks?"

"David, you are swearing far too much, you know," admonished Samir. Then he continued. "When I worked for my uncles harvesting poppies, we had a tent where we took our lunch and said our prayers. There was always a small television with a few pirated American movies. One of them was being A Chipmunk Christmas. I thought it was magical and a most wonderful insight into your Christian beliefs and how it has all been corrupted by capitalism. I am thinking that I have seen that movie at least forty times during my time with my uncles."

"You never cease to amaze me," said Dave. "But I hardly think Alvin and the fucking Chipmunks is a sound basis for analyzing Christianity and capitalism."

"Oh, but surely it is!" retorted Samir. "Can you not see the symbolism of..."

"Stop this, bullshit!" erupted Dave. "How the fuck did we get onto this subject? Stop distracting me. I need to know: are you going to fulfill your goddamn commitment to me or not?"

Samir sat quietly, contemplating the question, which gave birth to more questions in his mind, questions that he had been battling since he met Dave two weeks ago. He looked him and the eye and said, "You know David, you are to be swearing very much too much. But as for the so-called easy money you wrote of in your advertisement, it is not as easy as I was to be thinking earlier. But, you are right. A contract is a contract. I will do my duty to you, as much as it seems to pain me now."

"Good," said Dave, softly, "Let's try this again. Shit, I'll need a new garbage bag." Dave went to the kitchen and took a fresh one out from its storage spot under the sink. He then went back to the small living room of the tiny apartment and started to prepare for his second attempt at gassing himself.

"But, what -" began Samir.

"Remember!" shouted Dave, "No questions anymore. We went through all this, right?"

Samir stopped the vocalization and sat silently, watching Dave prepare again. Then, he said, "You know, David, a thousand dollars is not so much money for such a job as this."

"Fuck me!" sighed Dave. "You're not going to renegotiate now, are you?"

"I am just saying that it seemed like a lot of money two weeks ago, for only an hour's work, as you said, but look, I have spent many hours with you this past two weeks. I am knowing you better than your ex-wife now. It is not that I want more money. I do not know what I want, really. Well, that is not true. I do not want you to be killing yourself. It just does not seem right."

"You know," said Dave, "you don't have to be here. I never said you had to watch. Your job is just to clean up and get rid of the tank and stuff."

"Yes, I realize that, but after all that we have been through -"

"All we've been through!" exclaimed Dave. "You've known me for two weeks!"

"But in those two weeks I have learned more than most know about you," said Samir.

"Anyhow," Dave said with a sigh, "You don't have to watch."

Samir sat for a moment, apparently in thought, then said, "OK, prepare yourself, then, and when you are about to be turning on the gas, I will go and wait in the hallway for some minutes, OK?"

Dave's face drooped slightly. Samir noticed.

"OK, well, then, that sounds like a plan," said Dave, as he began to unfurl the factory folded garbage bag onto his lap. He moved slowly this time in putting the bag back over his head and torso. Samir noticed that, too. After he was once again enshrouded in the garbage bag, he said to Samir, "OK, I'm ready, you can go now."

"Very good. I will come back in five minutes. That should be long enough, I am thinking."

Samir went out into the hallway of the apartment building. As he stepped out, the door across the hallway opened and a large yet short black woman entered the hallway, as well.

"Ah, good morning, ma'am," said Samir, politely.

"Morning," replied the woman. "Are you David's 'friend'?" she asked, with a curious emphasis on the word 'friend'.

Samir took a few seconds before replying, pondering the essence of the question in light of all that had transpired between him and David. "Well, yes, I suppose I am his friend."

"Ah," responded the woman with a nod, "the cute ones are always gay! I knew it from the first day I saw him. Maybe you're the guy that brought his marriage down, eh?"

"Oh, madam, I am not being gay, you should be knowing!"

He suddenly realized that being seen by the neighbour may not be a great thing if they found David's body a day or two later. The police would surely be seeking his "gay lover" for more questioning.

"Sorry, ma'am, but I have forgotten something," said Samir, rather brusquely. He opened the door back into the apartment, and stepped inside.

He took the few short steps into the living room to find Dave sitting, with the garbage bag off of his head and in his lap.

"Ashokrulillah!" exclaimed Samir, in Arabic, one of his five languages, "You are not dead yet. How wonderful! Your neighbour saw me."

Just then, there was a firm knock on the door. Samir and Dave went silent and stared at each other with senseless, goldfish-like eyes.

There came another knock, this time supplemented by the voice of the neighbour: "Hello! I know you're in there."

"I have to open it, she has seen me a moment ago," hissed Samir, to Dave.

"Well, get rid of her quick," exhorted Dave, with a slight note of panic.

Samir strode back to the door, put on a passable smile and opened it.

The woman barged in, almost knocking Samir down in the process.

"Ma'am, what are you doing? This is being very rude behaviour, isn't it?" said Samir, trying to restrain the woman from his off-balance position with no success.

"Never you mind, this is an emergency," she retorted, curtly. "David, I -"

She never finished her sentence for she had rounded the corner of the hallway that led to the living room where she was accosted by the scene of Dave sitting on the couch with a garbage bag in his lap, a gas cylinder between his legs with a rubber hose connected to the valve at the top, another garbage bag crumpled on the couch next to him, and several empty bottles of beer on the coffee table.

"I knew it!" exclaimed the neighbour. "David, you could have told me you were gay. I am not prejudiced, you know. I have a few gay friends. My Krav Maga instructor, for one. What is this now, some sort of gas to make you horny? How do you feel about a threesome? Oh, it's been so long since I've had -"

"Hi Angel," Dave said, interrupting the neighbour who seemed about to go into a lengthy and explicit soliloquy, "nice of you to stop by unannounced."

Samir, appearing behind Angel, made facial and hand gestures towards Dave in an effort to communicate that he could not have stopped her from coming in and that he didn't know what to do now, though it looked to Dave more like he was doing a Bangra dance in a bizarre Bollywood musical.

"Miss Angel, I am telling you once more, we are not gay! This is not some kind of homosexual sexual enterprise I can assure you! This -"

As Angel had turned back towards Samir, it was now David's turn to gesticulate quite boisterously with his hands and frantic facial maneuvers in an effort to convey to Samir that he had better not tell Angel what was really going on, but Samir was not paying heed to David. He was looking intently into Angel's eyes.

''- is all for David to be killing himself, Miss Angel!" finished Samir.

Angel's mouth fell agape and she spun around gelatinously to face Dave.

"David is this true?" she asked with a mellifluous tone of indignation, shock, and sadness all in one.

Dave put his hands up in surrender, and let them drop heavily onto the couch. "Well, so much for secrecy! Thanks Samir!"

Suddenly inspired by the opportunity to be honest, Samir decided to detonate the bomb of guilt that had been manufacturing itself in his conscience since he accepted Dave's $500.00 down payment for services to be rendered. "Miss Angel," he ejaculated, "David has hired me to help him so that he can leave his family his life insurance policy! I was - I am - to be cleaning up the evidence so that there will be no chance his insurance policy would not be paying out, isn't it?"

Then he turned to Dave and said, "David, I will gladly return your deposit, if you were to not carry on with this crazy behaviour. Well, all of it but for the one hundred and fifty dollars I already have spent on ballroom dancing lessons. But aside from that, you can have it all back. What was I ever thinking? Allah yarhamo ruhi!"

Dave had been trying to interrupt Samir's corybantic speech, but without any success, and now, as if they were both involved in a relay race of emotive outbursts, Angel exploded into speech.

"David Emerson, are you fucking crazy? What the hell are you thinkin'?" She stomped over to where he was sitting and cuffed him across the top of his head. "I oughta kick you where the sun don't shine. You got too much to live for you motherfucker and pardon my language but you are really pissin' me off you are, David!" And she cuffed him across the top of his head again, and then gave him a sharp kick in the shins for reinforcement.

Dave winced at the kick. "Ow! That hurt!"

"Damn right it hurt. And how d'ya think your kids'll hurt if you're dead, you crazy fool. Seems like I was just meant to be here at this moment to save your goddamn life!"

Then Angel turned on Samir.

"And what the hell are thinkin' you brown-assed fool? How in the name of Allah can you be agreein' to do this dumb-ass shit for this dumb-ass?" And she proceeded to kick Samir in his left shin.

He also emitted a loud, "Ow," but conceded, "Oh, Miss Angel, I am surely to be deserving of that."

But Angel was not done with her performance.

"Where is your goddamn cell phone, David?" she shrieked.

"Huh? What do you want with that?" replied David, frantically glancing around for his phone.

Angel spotted it first, on the bar style counter that divided the kitchen from the living room. She bounded towards it with impressive speed, which surprised Dave. Though he was nearer to the phone's location in terms of distance, he needed to scramble if he hoped to grab it before Angel did. His mind was consumed with getting to his phone first, so he leapt from the couch, forgetting - quite how one could forget such a thing is remarkable, but he did - about the cumbersome helium tank between his legs. As he stood and began to move towards the cell phone, the helium tank rose with him and then once past a certain point in its ascendency, it descended with great pace to land soundly on the top of his right foot, tripping him up in a two-for-one pain sale.

He fell to the floor, while the tank rolled into the metal legs for his glass coffee table, knocking the empty beer bottles over. The noise was considerable, accompanied, as it was, by Dave's shrieking. "Oh fuck me! My foot. Fuck, fuck, fuck, I think I broke it!" he shrieked. And when he went to grab it, he shrieked yet more as touching it only made the pain worse.

Angel was oblivious to Dave's antics. She picked up the phone, which was unlocked, and scanned it momentarily before thumbing something and putting it to her ear. It began ringing. The call went to voice mail, and Angel begin to leave a message, saying, "Hi, you probably don't remember me, but we met once or twice in the lobby of David's building. My name is Angel McGovern, and I live across the hall from David. I am calling to tell you that I just interrupted David trying to kill -"

At this point, Dave's foot-pain-filled mind realized that the background sound was Angel talking to his ex-wife, about to tell her what was going on. He tried to get up off the floor, screaming, "Don't listen -", but he did not manage to utter the expected subsequent prepositional phrase, for immediately upon placing weight on his right foot, which was, indeed, fractured, he let out a yelp of pain and crashed down across the coffee table, making an enormous amount of noise in the process.

Angel, almost completely unaffected by Dave's tomfoolery, finished her sentence, only with more volume, in order to overcome Dave's crashing and yelping sounds: "- himself."

Samir seemed paralyzed by all that was going on. He kept alternating his gaze and his attention from Dave to Angel. His countenance had the expression of mouth-breathing intellectual stupor that one commonly sees sculpted onto the face of someone who habitually votes for the right, who wears a baseball cap that is never removed but for sleep, and who's conversational abilities revolve solely around the performance and or appearance of his four wheel drive truck.

Angel ended the phone call and returned her attention to Dave. "You deserve a broken foot for what you were trying to do, you jack-ass!"

Suddenly, Samir was released from the spell of insensibility that had struck him. Feeling emboldened by Angel's wrath towards Dave, he followed up her last statement with one of his own.

"Yes, David, to be sure, you are most deserving of this pain in your foot for being so selfish!"

Upon hearing this, however, Angel turned on Samir, once more.

"Just who do you think you are calling HIM selfish?" screamed Angel to Samir. "You were his goddamn accomplice in all this you dumb-ass. You should've told someone what he was planning!" And then she strode over to Samir and cuffed him across the top of his bald head.

Samir winced and stammered something unintelligible.

"I cannot believe you two! Maybe I oughta call the police?" asked Angel with a goading tone.

Both men reacted almost as if they had been cued and said, simultaneously, "Don't do that!"

Dave's phone rang. Angel, still carrying it in her right hand, answered directly.

"Hello?" Then a pause, followed by, "No, no, I'm not joking, "then another pause, and then, "Well, yes, I'd say you should get over here, for sure."

Then David said, "The thing that you don't know, Angel, is that I can give my kids a good life if I were to die. They can have vacations, they can have braces, they can have all the things that I had as a kid that I cannot give them. You don' understand how it is to be a man who just failed so miserably at life."

"You shush your mouth and -" interrupted Angel, but Dave had found some courage as he spoke and he continued on forcefully.

"No, you spoke and shouted me down, now it's my turn, Angel! You see, I had a great life, as a kid. Maybe not the greatest parents but they did their best. We kids had lots of trips, we ate out in restaurants, my university was paid for - twice! But what can I do for my kids? Nothing. I have nothing but debts. I screwed up my marriage with Emily and now the kids are paying for it and I have nothing to give them. If I went bankrupt, my net worth would increase by fifty thousand dollars. I have nothing! It so fucking sucks to be such a fuck-up of a father and a man. If I die - and if it looks natural, 'cause you can't trust those goddamn insurance companies and their two year suicide clause rules - Emily and the kids would get half a million dollars. Now that would be a sacrifice worth making. My life for their happiness."

And after that, Dave started to weep.

Angel had no rebuttal. She and Samir remained silent while David wept. After some unknown amount of time, the phone rang, two quick rings, indicating that someone was at the front entrance of the building.

Angel, answered it. "Hello? Oh, hi Emily, that was quick. Come on up."

Dave brushed the tears from his eyes and tried to compose himself, while Samir had reassumed the look of stupor that had overcome him earlier.

Angel walked to the front door and opened it, awaiting Emily's arrival, which ensued momentarily.

Angel gave Emily a quick yet firm hug. Even though they did not know each other terribly well, given the circumstances, a hug seemed appropriate.

Emily said, "Thank you so much for calling, Angel."

"It's what a normal person would do, don'tcha think?" said Angel loudly, glaring at Samir as she did so.

Emily surged into the living room and stopped abruptly, aghast at the scene that met her vision.

"Holy shit, you were really going to do this?" she uttered. Then, noticing Samir standing awkwardly on the other end of the small living room, she asked, "Excuse me, but who are you?"

Samir began to move his lips, but Angel's voice responded first: "That bastard is Simpson, the jack-ass Dave hired to help him kill himself!"

"I am Samir, not Simpson," said Samir, softly.

Emily said, "Is that right? You knew about Dave's idiotic plans and you never told anyone? You people! All you care about is money, right? Fucker!" And she proceeded to lunge at Samir, slapping, scratching, and swearing.

Dave struggled up to grab her, but his foot let him down, literally, and he once again crashed to the floor.

Samir held up his hands to protect his face, but let Emily pound and slap him at will.

Dave, from his prone position, shouted, "Emily, give the guy a break! I talked him into it. And stop being such a racist cunt!"

That last word caused Emily to stop her onslaught on Samir, and turn to Dave.

"What did you call me? You bastard! I am not racist! It's just that these people come here and they have no goddamn normal morals. Blowin' themselves up in the name of their fucking religion. What the hell is that about?"

"Whoa there, woman!" said Angel, "calm down a bit. No need for that kinda talk. I am not exactly white, you know. I can understand that you're all upset, but still, keep it to yourself."

Then Samir, in a sudden burst of passion and coherence said, "If you must know, Mrs. Emily, I understand your feelings and that is why I gave up my faith many years ago, and become an atheist. And you are so right about my failings as a human. Oh, I am so terribly sorry!"

Emily looked at Samir for a moment, unsure of what, if anything, should be said, decided upon nothing, and then turned to Dave.

"What in the name of all that is holy were you thinking?"

"Emily, what kind of life have you and the kids got? I screwed up our marriage, I am a terrible father, I have no money, and my only reason for existing is to work to pay for everything, which I can barely do, so why not just off myself and let you have a half a million dollars in life insurance? Samir was going to help me, but only to clear up the evidence afterwards. I just didn't want there to be any way the insurance fuckers could not pay out."

"A half million dollars would be nice, for sure, but you know, the kids love you," Emily replied. "You did hurt me, incredibly, but I'm over it. I don't want you dead. The kids don't want you dead. Aside from being an asshole, you're not such a bad guy, and you're a pretty decent father."

Dave was genuinely surprised at Emily's words. "Really? You think I'm not such a bad guy? Maybe you can help me up then. My foot really hurts, and I think I should go to emergency."

Emily helped Dave up, with Angel pitching in. Dave's bare right foot was quite swollen and already turning a dark shade of greenish blue.

"I'm not sure this makes sense, but I'll drive you to the ER," said Emily. "We can talk."

The three made their way to the entranceway, Samir forgotten. The two women helped Dave in getting ready to go out to the car, finding socks and putting an unlaced shoe on the injured foot. Dave was trying to maintain some sort of informal level of communication during this process, asking about the kids and if Emily had found a new boyfriend.

At one point, an uncomfortable silence embraced the trio. It was then that Dave heard a hissing sound. He knew immediately the source of that sound and darted down the hallway on his injured foot, knocking the two women off their feet in the process and moaning in pain.

He saw Samir lying on the floor with a garbage bag over his head and the hissing sound was coming from the helium tank.

"Samir!" cried Dave in alarm, "what the fuck?" He made two great limping strides to where Samir's head was. He ripped the garbage bag off Samir's head and began slapping his face.

"Stop it, you're hurting me!" shouted Samir after but one slap, in a helium-induced high-pitched voice.

Dave started laughing almost immediately.

"You sound ridiculous, man!" said Dave to Samir, in between laughs.

"Yes and how do you think you sounded before?" responded Samir.

"But what the fuck are you doing?" asked Dave.

"David, you swear altogether too much. Do you now see how you were to be making me feel? It is not right is it, to be letting someone gas himself, isn't it?"

Dave was in hysterics now. "Sorry... dude but... you, this, you sound... so fucking hilarious!"

Samir continued in what would have been a serious tone, were it not for the helium-fueled vocal cords and the gentle Afghani accent, which Dave now exclaimed made him sound like "Akhmed and the fucking Chipmunks."

The two women now entered the living room.

"Jesus," said Angel, "this is like something out of an Ingmar Bergman cartoon nightmare, Samson."

"I am not Samson, Mrs. Angel, I am Samir," said Samir.


  1. A riotous dark comedy. I can imagine this as a fabulous graphic novel?
    Many thanks,

  2. Good story, with lots of moving parts, literally. Thank you, Gregory.

    1. Thank you kindly, Nancy. It means a lot to me.