A Bouquet of Daisies by Robert Levin

Robert Levin's character tells of his strange obsession with a codependent Floridian couple and the incident that brought their relationship into the headlines.

This time the news was completely delivered in under a minute, but I caught it and it made me rise from my seat.

"Yes!" I heard myself say to the TV. "Yes! Of course!"

It was 1992 now and while years had passed since Walter and Anna Marie were an object of media interest I, for one, hadn't forgotten this couple. I'd first become aware of them - and been as aghast at Walter's actions as everyone else - on the evening of the incident, an evening in July of 1985, when New York TV stations carried reports from their South Florida affiliates. It wasn't until the fall though, when they made the wires again on the day Walter was sentenced, that they got a serious grip on my attention.

What transpired at the sentencing had also triggered a major focus on Walter and Anna Marie in the Miami Herald and the Kendall Star, the journal representing the Miami suburb in which they lived, and I was, for the next few mornings, a regular customer at the out-of-town newspaper store on Broadway and 72nd Street. As I'm inclined to do, I was thinking about the breadth of human resourcefulness in response to the horrific knowledge of being mortal, about the variety of remedies, usually subconscious, often implausible and sometimes abhorrent, that we've fashioned for the mother of all anxieties. And albeit a strictly visceral reaction at this stage, I was, upon seeing the headlines, at odds with what these papers were making of the extraordinary events at the sentencing. In step with the newscasts I'd watched, the Herald referred to Walter and Anna Marie as the "Demented Duo" and a piece in the Star was titled "The Twisted Psychology of a Victim." But notwithstanding my quarrel with what struck me as limited vision, both the Star and the Herald published extensive articles that promised details, and details being what I wanted (and was gratified to discover - they would buttress my faith in my instincts) I read everything. I found the Star especially valuable. It ran interviews not only with Anna Marie, who recalled entire conversations with Walter almost verbatim, but with family members and others. And it printed numerous photographs, images of the incident site among them.

Twenty years old at the time, Walter was five nine and squarely built with unruly shoulder-length hair that shrouded much of his angular face but failed to wholly obscure a profusion of severe acne scars. Although he had his share of friends, one of them a confidante who was interviewed at length, his inclination was to keep to himself, and snapshots from his early childhood - he was the youngest of four boys - revealed that his perpetually dour countenance had been a lifelong characteristic. From the week following his high school graduation through to the incident date, Walter worked as an auto mechanic at a popular gas station where he was reputed to be indolent and less than tidy when it came to the simple tasks but was also known as a talented problem solver. He'd procrastinate about the easy things, and leave a wrench in a gear shift or oil stains on a steering wheel when he was finally done. But in respect to a car's more elusive issues he would engage and persevere until he'd produced the correct diagnosis and solution. His declared ambition was to eventually own a repair shop. His preoccupation, however, was Anna Marie.

Anna Marie was two months younger than Walter and a full head shorter. If she could claim prominent breasts and large green eyes with long and thick lashes, she was hardly, at least insofar as her appearance was concerned, a woman you'd expect a man to be obsessed with. Her nose was too big, her cheeks too fleshy, her chin too brief, her bottom too broad and her "dirty" blonde hair (which she wore at shoulder length or pulled into a ponytail) too stringy. A brother of Walter's described her as "maybe a six." Employed since high school as an assistant manager in a supermarket in Kendall's largest shopping center, she lived in a two-bedroom apartment with her mother who was suffering from an abundance of ailments and essentially house-bound. It was the same apartment in which she'd been raised. Her father, a building construction worker, had died on her ninth birthday, not long after he was trapped in a fire ignited by a gas explosion. She was an only child.

Walter and Anna Marie met in their junior year of high school and that was when, as another of Walter's brothers expressed it, the "simple teenage crush that just got crazy" commenced. Walter had apparently been love-struck the instant he saw Anna Marie. They were in three of the same classes and in the opening weeks of the term he maneuvered to sit near her whenever he could. (He would lean towards her to capture her fragrance, to study her face and to watch for the bra straps that tended to slip below the short sleeves of her blouses.) But she showed no interest in him, never so much as glanced in his direction, and with his natural shyness exacerbated by the inflamed condition of his pimples in this period, it was beyond him to make a move on her.

Then, on a midweek morning in late October, she was passing his desk and tripped over his book bag which happened to be protruding into the aisle. She crashed against the desk in front of his and he heard her groan. Seizing the opportunity to help her, he felt the cool flesh of her arm in his hand and would "forever remember" the "electrical current" that charged through him when they made this first physical contact. As she composed herself, pressing her fingers to her forehead - she was in evident pain - she took a hard look at him and smiled.

"Is this your way of flirting?" she said.

Walter, taken aback, his face hot, had no answer. He only gaped at her.

"The book bag," she said, still smiling. "Well, it worked. My name's Anna Marie. What's yours?" She held out her hand and he noticed a welt beginning to form over one of her eyes. "I could have croaked," she said. "But I'm still here."

Dating by the weekend, Walter and Anna Marie were "going steady" in a matter of days and they defined their relationship that way for a full year. "Sixteen! The best year of my life," Walter would say. Much of their time was spent in Anna Marie's room. Down a long hallway from her mother's and largely unchanged since her girlhood, the capacious room was painted pink and all but consumed by a collection of gargantuan ragdolls and oversized, multi-colored pillows strewn on the bed and the floor, and they'd talk spiritedly there for hours at a stretch.

As a rule Walter had little to say about himself and spoke mainly about cars. He could name the make, model and year of every car on the road. But on one evening he told Anna Marie that he'd never felt "wholeheartedly loved" by his parents. Walter's parents owned a modest one-story house a short bus ride from Anna Marie and Walter shared a bedroom with his second-youngest brother - which accounted for why Anna Marie seldom reciprocated his visits. His father was a mid-level executive at an auto parts company and his mother a part-time bookkeeper. They were depicted by the Herald as "intensely private people" and few in the community were personally acquainted with them. "Don't get me wrong," Walter said. "They're okay. They've done what they were supposed to. They haven't abused me or anything like that. But I never get the strokes my brothers get. I think - my mother mostly - they didn't want another kid, definitely not another boy, and that I probably wasn't supposed to happen."

In turn Anna Marie, who was enamored of horror films and would chatter about their plots in every detail, abandoned her favorite topic to tell Walter about her father in the ICU after the fire. "He was in God-awful pain," she said. "Even though he was taking morphine the pain just overwhelmed it. He was in agony and couldn't move 'cause they had him strapped down. Then he breathed funny and passed away, just like that. All that pain, it was for nothing. What's the point of pain if you don't live through it? If it had been something he had to feel to stay alive, that would be one thing. But then he died. I still dream about it. And about dying like that myself."

They also made out a lot. The both of them still virgins, they brought each other to climax with their hands.

In their first year Walter would experience facets of Anna Marie that served to strengthen his feelings for her. She'd shop for acne ointments and then apply them to his face herself. Walking next to him on the street, she'd suddenly, for no particular reason, grab and embrace him. But she was not without some troubling aspects.

Given to a seemingly willful carelessness, she'd often march across streets against the light and in total disregard of flowing traffic. And habitually leaving her opened handbag on a restaurant table or chair when she went to the ladies room or was engrossed in conversation, she was time and again a victim of theft. (After one such event in Walter's company, he took to holding her bag when he was out with her.)

What's more, there were stretches that could last for several days in which she'd become listless and distant. The loss of her attentiveness upset Walter. But so did her unhappiness. He couldn't stand to see her in distress. He wanted her to feel good. He needed her to feel good. "What happens to her happens to me," he said to the friend in whom he confided. "It's like my nerves are soldered to her nerves."

For Anna Marie, what was most impressive about Walter in this beginning year was his "gentle nature" and the "incredible generosity" - the steady flow of presents and flowers - that accompanied it. But vying for top spot with those distinctions was his "slovenliness." His schoolwork notes were such "an unholy mess" that she had to spend entire days organizing them for him. And his "indifference to personal care" was "almost a joke." He'd wear the same shirt for a week. His sneakers had holes in them. Though she loved his long hair it was "insistently unkempt" and she wished he would "style it more." Sometimes his "seedy" appearance was "seriously aggravating." More often than not it was "endearing."

They had their first real sex when they were seventeen. Walter deemed the milestone near to spiritual. Anna Marie thought it was "good," but that something was missing. "Do you have to treat me so delicately?" She asked the next time they slept together "Why don't you push me around a little?" But he couldn't do that. Hurting her was the last thing he could do. She frowned at him and he felt chastened and inadequate.

And it was during the year they turned seventeen, and not long after she'd asked Walter to take her kayaking in the Everglades and he'd exclaimed - "Are you kidding? With the alligators?" - that Anna Marie remarked to a friend: "Walter's pusillanimous."

"Pusill-what?" the friend said.

"Funny word, huh?" Anna Marie said. "It came up in a crossword. It means he's chickenshit. He's so sweet to me, which I love. But sometimes he's too timid. It's all sugar and no spice."

It was also in that year that a shift occurred in their relationship.

A new reality began, Walter soon realized, on the day an older boy gave Anna Marie a ride on his motorcycle. When Walter connected with her later she was wearing a heavy bandage on her ankle. "It still stings," she said breathlessly. "We skidded on a slick patch and we actually grazed the ground before he got the bike upright again." She lifted the bandage to show him the burn. "Do you think it'll leave a scar?" He saw her eyes widen at the prospect. "It was scary," she went on, "especially when I felt the scrape. But now I feel terrific, like indestructible - is there anything better?"

A few days after that she broached the idea of an "open relationship." She would date other boys and he could see other girls. "From time to time and just, you know, casual-like," she said.

In a voice he didn't recognize as his own, Walter said, "You're my girl."

"It won't be so different," Anna Marie said. "We'll still be together. Most everything will be the same. There'll just be times when one or the other of us will be... indisposed."

Walter was in all imaginable misery. What, he wanted to know, did she mean by "casual-like?" How could she be sure that he or she wouldn't get attached to someone else? And what about sex?

After Walter's sentencing, Anna Marie would tell her interviewer that all she'd wanted was to "have some fun." Her response at this moment was to erupt in a fit of giggles and, when that was done, to reach out and touch Walter's face. "The Acknomel's working great," she said. "That's good. We'll get some more." (In a separate article, her high school grade advisor was quoted as saying that although Anna Marie was "not stupid," she was "a bit of a space cadet with little or no self-awareness.")

Inasmuch as a life without Anna Marie was inconceivable to him now, and fearful of antagonizing her, Walter declined to challenge her proposal. He reminded himself that she still wanted him close, that she still needed him. It was only a phase she was going through. In no time at all things could revert to where they'd been. With the exception of him seeing other girls, which was out of the question, he agreed to the arrangement she asked for.

As it played out the arrangement would last nearly three years, years in which, and despite the fact that the routines of their relationship were not appreciably altered, Walter was obliged to live with a tension that varied in degree but never fully dissipated. Unable to feel that his place in her life was secure - she was his girl and she wasn't all at once - he was also burdened with a new and abiding apprehension about her physical and emotional well-being.

Anna Marie, who'd anticipate her dates with unabashed excitement and who spoke openly with Walter about them (as openly, he assumed, as she dared to since she consistently denied having sex), would be "indisposed" once or twice every couple of months. It was always with guys she referred to as the "devil-may-care ones" but who Walter regarded as "dangerous" or "sketchy." One was a drag-racer, another was into hang gliding. Most of these boys failed to sufficiently "share their passions" with her and were summarily dropped, while those who did include her in their activities, and in whom she sustained an interest, quickly cut her loose. In both cases, but principally the latter, which would initially induce periods of extreme elation, weeks of depression could follow. Never gloating or vindictive when she was down, Walter was, on the contrary, sympathetic and solicitous. He admitted to jealousy, but increasingly perceiving himself as her "guardian" - if the spells of melancholy weren't worrisome enough, her fervid descriptions of her adventures with the drag-racer and the hang gliding enthusiast, respectively chronicling near collisions and violently shifting wind currents, horrified him - he maintained that "all that really mattered" was Anna Marie's welfare. That she'd return from dates she labeled her "best" with a smarting cut or contusion "concerned" him, he imparted to his confidant, "more than anything else."

In the hope of dissuading her from pursuing "outside engagements," and reasoning that he would be with her should she be in jeopardy, Walter, at one point, and as inimical as it was for him, determined to emulate the boys Anna Marie was drawn to. Though he dreaded an affirmative reply, he offered to take her up on her Everglades idea. But it was too late. Her sense of him was already fixed. "Wally, you know you don't want to do that," she said, slowly shaking her head and cupping his cheek with her hand.

A few months after they'd graduated from high school, the month of his eighteenth birthday, Walter had left home and along with the purchase of his first vehicle - a pickup truck that he could use for work - he'd rented a furnished room in Anna Marie's immediate neighborhood. That room remained his place of residence until the day of the incident.

From his close proximity, and with his newly acquired wheels, Walter began to surreptitiously trail Anna Marie when she went on her dates. His purpose, he said, was to be there for her should she require his assistance. Pressed by his confidante, he conceded that he was also motivated by a need to see for himself "just what she was up to." As chance would have it, the proceedings Walter witnessed were confined to the stuff of ordinary dating. But while it never became necessary for him to go to Anna Marie's aid, what he observed was enough to cause him no small measure of grief.

Walter, generally at night, would find himself chain-smoking and sipping beer in the pickup outside a club or movie theater Anna Marie and her date had gone to. (He kept an empty gasoline can on the floor under the glove compartment to urinate in.) Clocking every couple in the crowds that emerged from the place he was monitoring - feeling his blood jump when he saw a girl wearing her colors - he would, once he'd spotted Anna Marie and the guy she was with for sure, start his motor and set out after them. Most of the time the guy would bring her directly back to her apartment house. In these circumstances, Walter would park as close as he could get to the house - sometimes recklessly close - and stick around to see what she did. Anna Marie, Walter was invariably relieved to note, took no one inside. But when she lingered too long in the car, or if there was a more than perfunctory kiss at the door, it would take all of his will not to shout to her to break it up. There were also nights, less frequent but well-nigh unbearable, when she'd go to the guy's digs. On those occasions, Walter would wait for as long as it took for her to rematerialize in the entranceway - in several instances hours elapsed - and to either be driven home by the guy or to hurry into a cab that had been ordered. Although she'd eventually buy a car of her own, Anna Marie rarely used it for her liaisons.

On nights Anna Marie was with someone else and Walter was, for one reason or another, unable to follow her, he would, beginning at eleven o'clock, call her on her personal line to see if she was home yet. If she answered he could go to bed. If she didn't answer he would call her at 15-minute intervals until she did. He couldn't sleep unless he knew she was home. When he heard Anna Marie's voice Walter would hang up without speaking and she never questioned him about the calls.

At 2am on one such night, and well into the arrangement's third year now, Anna Marie's phone rang two-dozen times with no response and Walter felt something he hadn't felt before, a fierce and consuming anger. He wished that Anna Marie had engaged in one of her foolhardy exploits and that an accident had resulted, a disfiguring accident that would make her repugnant to other boys. But merely allowing this thought to enter his mind made him as angry with himself as he was with her. It was so far removed from what love was supposed to be about. And he would never want Anna Marie to be his woman because she had no other options. He wanted to win Anna Marie. Indeed, in the circumscribed world of his fixation, a world that had narrowed more and more with the inception of the arrangement, nothing less than his very life depended upon her freely and fully giving herself to him. To claim her by default would kill him just as surely as losing her would. He recognized, of course, that the prospects for a positive outcome weren't good. The arrangement itself was ample evidence of that and if further signs were needed, whenever he tried to discuss a future together she changed the subject. The problem, his gut was telling him, was that he wasn't loving her enough. But what did that mean? How much more could he love her than he already did? He didn't know. He did know that she wasn't happy, not even with the arrangement. Not really. He'd begun to think of her - the perception bruised his heart - as some kind of pain junkie, and he viewed the boys she went out with as her dealers. They wanted a sexual score and she was, certainly now and then, trading her body for the hurt they promised. If they delivered she'd get high for awhile and then all raggedy and strung out when she got cut off. "It's just sports and games anyway," she'd said to him on one of her low days and after an especially vivid recurrence of that bad dream. "Most of the time it's no better than a scary movie. No souvenir afterwards to prove the point. You know what I'm saying?"

What she was saying had, like the reason for her chronic discontent itself, baffled him. And believing that her equanimity was his to secure, and that its achievement would assure her devotion to him, he'd continually - he was doing it now - ransacked his knowledge of her looking for clues to what he was missing. Thus far, however, his incessant brooding had yielded only frustration. But when he called her again, and she answered this time, which caused a wave of affection for her to flush through him, but also, and confusingly at first because his anger was gone, restored the notion of a maimed Anna Marie to the foreground of his mind, he had what amounted to an epiphany. He understood, and would convey to his confidant with a remark the astuteness of which astonished me, that "It isn't pain and injury Anna Marie gets off on, it's the feeling of surviving them." But that wasn't the whole of it. The rest, which he was careful not to disclose until a jailhouse exchange with his friend following the incident, was the realization that had arrived with his insight of what loving her enough meant and of what it might demand of him.

Shortly thereafter, on an afternoon he was at work and under the assumption that she was too, Walter received a call. "I'm still here," were the first words Anna Marie uttered. She was in an airfield phone booth twenty miles from Kendall. A boy she'd recently encountered and mentioned only in passing to Walter had taken her sky diving and once they'd landed remembered an "urgent matter he had to attend to." She was "busted up and stranded." Walter, doubly disturbed by her uncharacteristic omission of advance notice about the date, found her holding her wrist. "I tripped when I touched down," she said. "I tried to break the fall. I think I might have fractured something." He rushed her to an emergency room where the diagnosis was a simple sprain. In good spirits for a week, about as long as it took for her wrist to heal and for her to grasp that the boy had blown her off, she gradually became pensive and withdrawn. Then, in the midst of her despondency, the cycle was in motion again. A guy she'd met at work, another motorcyclist, had asked her out and she had accepted.

"I don't know," Walter said.

"I thought we had an understanding," Anna Marie said.

"I don't know," Walter said.

"Walter," she said, "what do you want from me?"

"I want you to be okay," he blurted. "To be okay and to love me."

"You are so sweet," she said, plainly moved by his statement and stepping towards him.

He readied himself for a passionate clinch but what he got was a kiss on the cheek.

Confronted by a parade of cars, all of which, and oddly, required new batteries, Walter was backed up with work and well on the far side of his regular hours. The minute he finished he climbed into the pickup and set out for Route 1, the highway that would take him the 150 miles to Key West. He'd been experiencing a turbulence in his chest the entire day and warring thoughts were roiling his brain. A long drive would maybe pull him together.

Once he was past Key Largo's garish strip of motels, fish shacks, hamburger stands and gift shops, the road opened to water on both sides and there were stretches in which no land could be seen. To be on this road in the middle of the ocean ordinarily blew his mind. But there was no thrill in it this time. This time what was happening in his mind shut out his surroundings. Holding the wheel steady against occasional squalls, he kept his eyes on the asphalt and the traffic in front of him. He wanted, right now, no wondrous seascapes or stunning sunsets, only the pickup's motion and the grind of its engine. He could just as well have been driving through a tunnel. He stopped solely for gas and to relieve himself, and never turned the radio on. Arriving at Key West in three hours, he drove half the length of the island where he made a right turn and then another right onto an avenue that led him directly back to Route 1. By the time he returned to Kendall, deep into the night, in a light rain and to streets empty and hushed, his heart was still beating too hard, but his head was clear.

With the temperature and humidity in the mid-nineties and the sun fiercely radiant, Anna Marie, a self-described "sun freak," was outside on her two o'clock lunch break. Dressed in shorts and, to absorb every ray, flexing and extending her already deeply tanned legs, one and then the other, she was perched on a metal railing at a short distance from a small group of similarly sun-worshipping colleagues in the section reserved for "Associates' Vehicles" adjacent to the shopping center's parking lot. Across from her was the familiar vista, shimmering now in the dense heat, of a giant Macy's, a Chinese restaurant, an ice cream parlor, a RadioShack and the Winn Dixie she worked for. The center's expansive parking area, in the foreground of her view, was bounded by palm trees and only a quarter full. The people passing through it were mostly housewives and young children. Somewhere close magnolias were in blossom, while just overhead two blue and white tree swallows chased each other back and forth, stirring steamy breezes strong enough to feel in her hair.

When a mosquito invaded the space behind her sunglasses and bit her eyelid, Anna Marie had a sandwich in one hand and a bottle of soda in the other. Placing the sandwich on her lap, she removed her glasses to rub at the itch, but she rubbed too vigorously and the sandwich slipped from her lap and dropped to the ground. As she was bending to retrieve it with the hand that held her glasses, she pressed the glasses against the pavement and broke off a stem. Crouching in front of the railing, she set the soda down and took the glasses into both of her hands, wondering if she could fix them. It was at this moment that Walter's pickup, coming from the left, pulled to a stop on the roadway a few yards in front of her.

She didn't see that it was Walter's pickup. From the angle at which she was positioned she was facing directly into the sun, and the pickup was only an amorphous shadow in the wicked glare. She identified it by the clamor of the always unfastened chains and tire irons that rolled around its body whenever he began to move or to brake.

She could hear Walter disembark and hear, as well, that he'd left the motor running. She expected to hear the driver-side door slam shut behind him but, in this regard, there was only silence. Then, as he came around the back of the pickup - himself a gray specter in the impossible light - his movement halted and, she could tell by the clunk and the creak, he opened the passenger-side door. Was he planning to take her somewhere, and in a hurry? Was there an occasion that she'd forgotten? He knew she was working.

He started to approach her and appeared to have something with him, an object that, bouncing along with his gait in a corner of his darkened mass, was of a lighter hue. She thought it must be a gift. Then, as he got closer and the object got brighter, she thought - she was convinced - that it was a bouquet of daisies, her favorite flower. He was about to present her with flowers. But as she proceeded to stand, the murkiness dissolved and she saw that he was holding a can, an opened rectangular can colored a brilliant yellow with green and white lettering. She was staring at the can when Walter, now no more than a foot from her and without a word, jerked it at her face. The can contained battery acid and she received the searing liquid with a long siren of a cry that was joined by the sound and the smell of a hamburger sizzling on a charcoal grill.

"It was like he threw fire at me," she would later recount how the splash of acid felt to her.

The sunglasses Anna Marie still had in her hands fell from them and were crushed beneath her weight as she collapsed at Walter's feet. Weeping loudly, she was clutching her fist to her eye. Walter swiftly lifted her and, cradling her with the palm of his hand under the back of her head, carried her to the pickup. Ignoring red lights and stop signs - and dogged by a horn-honking band of appalled witnesses - he drove her at great speed to the nearest hospital's emergency room where he'd been arrested.

TV and newspaper coverage of the assault, which excoriated Walter (and caused his mortified family to refuse any contact with the press for months), was predictably lurid. It faded though in just a couple of days with reports that Walter had pleaded guilty and that he'd be confined in a Miami jail to await sentencing. Anna Marie would remain in the hospital for a week or so. She'd undergone a surgical procedure and more were planned. One of them, perhaps a year away, would likely involve the excision of her left eye. A palliative care specialist forecast a "lifetime of moderate to severe discomfort" in the afflicted space.

Aside from a freelance photographer's attempt to sneak into Anna Marie's room on her second night at the hospital - he was promptly apprehended - Anna Marie was not pursued by the media at the hospital or when she was discharged and there were no indications of what was to follow.

The sentencing proceedings were held in late October, on a fall day that was unusually sweltering even for Miami and in a courtroom in which the cooling system had failed. The windows were thrown open, but there was little movement in air rapidly soured by some fifty perspiring bodies. Moreover, an hour from the appointed time would pass before the judge, a tall, skeletal man in his sixties, made his appearance. Despite his tardiness he was in no hurry to get to the bench. A clearly casual ten-minute conversation with the bailiff took place before, in shirtsleeves, he assumed his position. At this juncture Anna Marie, who was sitting in a front row with an aunt and across an aisle from Walter's parents and brothers, stood up. She'd misplaced, that morning, the white cloth patch she normally used in public now to conceal the damage the acid had done (that it had to have been a frantic morning would presently become obvious), and wearing instead an accessory she might once have donned on a New Year's Eve - enormous, rhinestone-studded cardboard-framed glasses with plastic electric-blue-tinted lenses that did succeed in masking all of her upper face - she said, in a voice astonishingly resonant, that she hoped "His Honor would consider probation for Walter."

"What did you say?" The judge shouted.

"I couldn't bear to be without him," Anna Marie said, turning toward Walter who was shackled to a chair at a table near the bench. Walter had been keeping his face down and lifted it then. He'd endured, while in jail, a compulsory haircut and the acne remnants, fully visible, were accompanied by newly inflicted bruises.

The spectators reacted to Anna Marie's words with startled exclamations and much murmuring. The judge was apoplectic. Quivering with rage, he said that he had a daughter of his own and that if something "so depraved" had been done to her he would have "blown the dirt bag's head off with my shotgun." Anna Marie's plea was "ludicrous" and would have no mitigating effect on the sentence, he said. In fact, given the "unconscionable cruelty of the act," Walter was going to get "every bit of what was coming to him."

According to the judge, what Walter had coming was seven years in a Florida state prison.

As Walter, shuffling in his leg irons but with his head still raised, was led away, the judge summoned a now hysterical Anna Marie and her aunt to the bench. In her discombobulated condition, Anna Marie had knocked her appurtenance askew to reveal a melted-shut left eyelid and the raw, mottled meat, speckled with tiny white pustules and stretching from her hairline to the edge of her nostril, that was the flesh surrounding it. The judge, blanching at the sight of her naked wound, advised Anna Marie to seek counseling. "I don't need counseling," she sobbed. "I need Walter." (Subsequently the judge would tell someone that, "The girl is as sick as the perp. It's as if she welcomed what he did.")

Most everything I've related here I would learn on the succeeding mornings when I perused the regional dailies. But what in particular had led me to balk at the blanket derision Walter and Anna Marie elicited, and then to read every word printed about them, was the video I saw when I turned on the news later that evening. Anna Marie, in her comical shades, was emerging from the courthouse and her indignation lit up the screen. Visibly spraying saliva, she sputtered to a cluster of confounded reporters, and before any of them had a chance to speak: "Walter's the whole package. I would have floated right off the world if he hadn't been around. He makes me feel safe."

"I'm still here," she added, and then stalked off to a waiting car.

So seven years afterwards, with the accuracy of my instincts long since confirmed to my satisfaction but anticipating no further word - seven years was, after all, a long time - you can guess what the sudden announcement was.

Below a new picture of a grinning Anna Marie - she seemed to be wincing slightly and the left side of her face, from which a conspicuously prosthetic eye stared, was discolored and mildly tumescent but perfectly smooth - the caption read:

"Victim of 1985 acid attack, Anna Marie Woods, marries her assailant, Walter Parchman, upon his release from prison."

In my mind I offered my congratulations. They would be, I expected, something like all right.


  1. An bold account of a deeply unhealthy relationship. The dynamics were interesting but I felt that I wanted more than the 'press/media coverage' and reported anecdotes offered - to get a deeper sense of Walter and Anna Marie and indeed of the prurient narrator as well. I wonder if the ideas cold be developed into a longer narrative?
    Many thanks,

  2. Andy Warhol would have loved this one. The action of the narrative has been three times removed from the reader; i) the narrator - or ‘thrice removed’ as this particular narrator might say, who incidentally talks rather like an over-wordy member of the British aristocracy – but relax, because you’re clearly in expert literary hands, ii) the journalists/presenters who have prepared the news items, iii) the protagonists Walter, and Anna – and by ‘eck she is a strange‘un. The intimate details make me wonder as to whether the narrator is actually Walter?
    B r o o k e

  3. This is a very interesting story that produces a startling result. It certainly gives pause to the couple's thought process. The piece was carefully and well written.

    I would like to see a better progression of their relationship, perhaps with less detail. Also, I think more dialog . . . hearing from them . . . would be helpful, instead to the narrator's conclusions.

    Early on, Ann Marie doesn't know he exists. I'd like a better understanding of why she almost at once has feelings for him. . . perhaps through her own words.

    Likewise, I feel we deserve to learn Walter's thought process before he does the deed.

    Most enjoyable! Thank you.

  4. Interesting omniscient narration. Another reader mentioned Warhol, but it reminded me of a Woody Allen film, with the feel of something from the 70's. Anyway it hooked me to the end. Quite a train wreck and a disturbing ending.

  5. this well written story reads to me a bit like a true crime report, because it has a ring of truth about it, I feel. the characters are nicely detailed with their weaknesses and problems. it made me think about it after I´d read it which I feel is a good sign.

    Mike McC

  6. A rather disconcerting story in that it treats a clearly abnormal relationship as being run-of-the-mill. Nevertheless it was thought-provoking and extremely well written.