The International Writers Magazine
Dreamscapes Chapters One to Four

The Janitor and the Little Girl
Sidi Cherkawi Benzahra

Fritz lost his father when he was five and his mother when he was twenty. He had almost no education and there was something wrong with his neck. His neck muscles contracted on their own, so his head always twisted at a strange angle. Most people who saw Fritz thought he looked useless and harmless, if they thought about him at all.

Fritz lived in Rapid City, South Dakota, but he lived like a bug on the ground. To other people he didn’t exist at all, and if he died nobody would know about his death except for maybe his neighbor, the cat across the street, and the mail carrier who always spied on him through the screen door whenever he came to deliver the mail. His mail, by the way, consisted of only utility bills, pictures of missing children, and coupons. Every once in a while he would get a white card with a picture of a missing kid. He would collect these cards all the time and put them in a large wooden bin in the kitchen, because he thought one day, he would see one of the missing kids in the street or in a grocery store, and call the authorities right away. Fritz never bothered anybody—he always tried to live in a dark cloud of his own, where he was safe and things were quiet and slow and smelled good. Fritz also bit his nails all the time. He bit his nails like you would drink water. He would bite and bite until blood beads showed at some corner between the flesh and the nail. He would wait for his nail to grow just a little and he would attack his nail again. When he was a kid, his mom put tar on his nail so that he wouldn’t bite them; and long and behold he bit through the tar. He once broke his left arm when he was about twelve and a half, and the doctor put a cast around his arm and Fritz couldn’t reach his nails to bite and his nails grew bigger and taller and blacker from dirt, and he tried to bite them and he couldn’t reach out and waited a month for the cast to be taken out. And when the doctor took off the cast, Fritz felt like it was Christmas day. It was better than Christmas, in facts. He plunged on his nails and bit and chewed and the pieces that came off were big and fat and juicy and he was so delighted. He kept on chewing and pulling and comparing his both hands and he stopped only when both hands started to look the same.

Fritz could barely see outside the cloud of darkness he was in, and he could only see when something sharp poked in to make fun of him. Neighbors and strangers were the same to Fritz, and the world of society and education and politics, was a mystery to him. There were wars raging in the world at the time and he never paid attention to them. He would only pay attention if the war came up to his house, or if a nuclear bomb exploded in South Dakota and the atomic wind blew over his house.

Due to the problem with his neck, Fritz never expected to find any job, certainly not at a school. But for some strange reason, Fritz was hired as the janitor of Pinedale Elementary School and he was surprised and happy about this stable, government position.

Fritz’s real name was John Wright, but at school the students called him Fritz. Nobody in Pinedale knew why Fritz was called Fritz and nobody cared. To teachers and parents, he was just a white invisible man, and to the children he was a stooge. One day a student’s mother called him Fritz, thinking his real name was Fritz, and John Wright screamed, "My name is not Fritz!"
The sudden violence of Fritz’s outburst made the woman almost jump. After that, she never called him Fritz or got even closer to him.

John Wright was probably called Fritz because of the problem with his neck. The problem had a name—it was called "torticollis". Clinical psychologists might explain what torticollis is, but they could never explain why John Wright had torticollis, or why the torticollis caused people to call him Fritz.

The muscles of his neck were very tight on one side and loose on the other, and that made his head cock permanently to one side. Children found him strange, the way his head was always bent toward one shoulder. Fritz was as tall as any average adult man, but mentally he wasn’t mature enough to be included in the adult society.

In spite of the torticollis, Fritz kept Pinedale School clean and shining. A Windex bottle always hung from one pants pocket of his blue uniform. He knew how to maneuver his cleaning tools and his tools were precious to him. Unfortunately, Fritz was skinny, so skinny that he always had to hitch his pants up, and the Windex bottle made it harder to keep his pants in place.

Fritz was an honest, hard worker and was always mopping the floors inside the school and sweeping the sidewalks outside. You can consider him to be a janitor of international stature. All the directionalism of thought and emotion that man was capable of went into cleaning. Cleaning to him was like philosophy to Plato and writing to Hemingway, and physics to Einstein. Sometimes he would sweep the leaves and the wind would come and blow them back and he would sweep the leaves away again, and he would keep on sweeping until the wind stopped or shifted its direction.

The way Fritz swept the floor made it easy to anybody to see that something was wrong with him. He would push down hard on the broom, as if the floor had a skin and he was trying to peel it off. Sometimes he would forget where he was sweeping and would sweep the same spot for a long time. He lived in his own world, in his cloud of darkness, and nobody was living inside it except him.

With cleanser and a cloth rag, he would clean and clean so that he forget that he was cleaning until something distracted him—a passing car, a boy calling to a friend, or a crying Canadian goose flying high overhead.

During the school year, any adult who saw Pinedale School wished that he or she had gone there as a child. The school stood in bright sunlight half way up the slope of a long hill. Because of its position, all day the school was bathed in a strong light, so the school shone with a welcoming aura of warmth, safety, and order.

But in summer the school had a different look. The sun beat even harder on the brick walls and the window panes. The reflected summer light from the windows made the school look empty and strange, as if it had been abandoned and for years no child had attended the school and none would be returning in the fall.
In the fall and winter and spring, if you climbed the hill in the late afternoon and looked through the windows, you could see the clean small chairs and tables set in rows; and on the walls, you could see the pictures of black bears, smiling tigers, and happy monkeys. Through the hall windows you could see the small lockers and small coat hangers and shelves and a coat or a glove or a hat a child had forgotten to take home. You could look through the glass of the main door and see the lost-and-found bins full of clothes, lunch boxes, even a backpack, and begin to wonder what things had been passing through the mind of the child who had forgotten to take the pack home for the night. You couldn’t look into the bathrooms because the windows were too high, but the small stalls, sinks, and low mirrors were always spotless and ready for the next day of school.

Fritz lived only a few blocks from the school and he was happy that he could walk to work. He had a rusted Ford LTD and drove it only when he wanted to buy groceries or a six-pack of Pepsi or Dr. Pepper at the nearby Safeway store. He almost never took the car out onto the highway, because he didn’t think it could go fast enough to keep up with traffic and he was afraid it might break down and leave him stranded. There was no one for him to call if his car broke down. Fritz only drove the Ford on the streets near his home and when the car stalled he left it parked on the street and walked home.

In the mornings before school, Fritz would sometimes pay a visit to his mother’s grave at the Mountain View Graveyard. It was a segregated cemetery, divided not by race but by religion. The Catholics lay in one half of the graveyard and the Protestants in the other. A black steel fence separated the two sections, as if to prevent an angry Protestant or Catholic ghost from crossing over and starting a war of ghosts.

On the far side of the graveyard, there was a third section, for Civil War soldiers. There were lots of them and their tombstones were faded by a 150 years of rain and snow, sun and wind. The dead soldiers were from South Dakota, or their families had moved to South Dakota during the war, while their fathers and sons and brothers were fighting in Virginia or Georgia or some other Southern state. The men and boys had died in the South and their bodies had been transported to South Dakota for proper burial. At the time, the deaths of the soldiers had been a serious monetary blow to South Dakota, because gold hadn’t been discovered yet, South Dakota wasn’t a state but still a sparsely populated territory. The dead combatants might have contributed to the economy, to building up the new country, if they hadn’t gone to fight their southern brethren.

The Mountain View Graveyard had important stories to tell, but Fritz never reflected on how the division between Catholics and Protestants had lasted even into death, or that the patriotic sacrifice of the Union soldiers had delayed the economic progress of the Dakota Territory. Fritz probably wasn’t certain of the difference between the Christian sects, and he had learned and remembered very little about the American Civil War or South Dakota’s role in it.
At the cemetery Fritz would crouch down over his mother’s grave and cry.
"Oh, Ma," he would say in agony. "Forgive me, Ma, for not giving you all my love. Forgive me, Ma, for not giving you all my strength, and the time you needed. Oh, Ma. You know that I loved you more than I loved God. You know that I love you now more than a mother loves her child."

Every time he would go to the graveyard and talk to his mother, he would get the feeling that somebody was watching him, or listening to him. Sometimes he would turn quickly around, but there was always nothing but the grass, the pine trees, and the faded tombstones. Once he was sitting on the toilet seat and he felt somebody was watching him and when he looked down on the floor beside him he saw a very big spider and he killed it right away even though it was hard to kill it with his pants down. From that day on when Fritz felt somebody was watching him he believed that somebody was really watching him.
Fritz would sit on the ground beside her grave, crying to his mother, until the time would come for him to stop crying. Then he would get up and walk slowly back to the gate and leave the graveyard. With red eyes he would slowly climb the hill to Pinedale School.

Each morning he would open the school gate, and if it was winter he would turn on the lights in the hallway. Then he would go into the boys’ restroom and urinate carefully into one of the small urinals.
Fritz followed a regular, daily routine that took him from the maintenance room to the farthest corners of the school. He would mop the floors and scrub the toilet seats, then clean the mirrors and the windows with Windex and the rubber blade. Sometimes he would stop wiping the mirror and look at his own reflection in the mirror. He would talk to his image in the mirror and the face would talk back to him as if it were a separate person. Fritz would forget that he was talking to himself and start to talk to his reflection as if it were someone from some dark world of imagination. Then Fritz would get scared of his image and would go outside to continue with his work.

Fritz would empty the waste baskets and wash the windows and change the light bulbs and do everything else that needed to be done to keep the school clean and uptight. Fritz was a slow worker, but he was careful and steady and every job he was asked to do, he finished completely. A hard or complex job might take Fritz days to complete, but he never stopped until the job was done and done well. Fritz had never ignored or disobeyed an order, no matter what job he was asked to do. His supervisor knew exactly how much work Fritz could do in one day. Each day Fritz did the same amount of work, even on those days when he stopped at the cemetery and came to work with red eyes.

Fritz lived alone inside himself, but he still loved the people outside his dark cloud. He knew that that they could make fun of him, that they called him Fritz when his name was John Wright, but didn’t know that people could truly hate him or cause him trouble. He didn’t know that some people in the world hated even Jesus or Moses or Mohamed or Buddha or Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King or even Mother Theresa. Fritz didn’t know that much about the world, about history or other people or the bad things they had done and continued to do.

He didn’t lie, he didn’t steal, he worked hard and always listened to his boss at Pinedale. Maybe Fritz wasn’t smart enough to trick another person, to make fun, or do someone physical harm. Sometimes, for a few moments, Fritz might talk to his image in the restroom mirror, and begin to hear his image talk back, but the rest of the time he was always serious about his job and his existence and the loss of his mother.

Chapter Two

One early morning Fritz came walking in the hallway of Pinedale when he saw a little girl sitting on the carpeted floor in one of the classrooms. He froze in his place as he would always do when strange things poked his bubble of loneliness. He knew something was wrong. He knew the girl was not supposed to be in class that early time of day. In facts, he wasn’t expecting any kid to be in school that early in the morning. Kids came to school around 8:30 AM and it was about six o’clock now. Of course, some parents would sometimes drop their kids early in the morning so they can go off to work in faraway places, but this is way too early to bring any kid to school. The little girl was about ten years old and had jet black hair and very white skin. Her pale white skin contrasted her jet black hair. Fritz could only look at her from far. But if you somehow got closer to her and saw her round face, you would see that she had big brown eyes, thin lips, and a very pale face. She looked like a girl who hadn’t seen the sunlight since the day she was born. She was sitting on the old, brown carpet of the classroom and was playing with a ragged doll. Her hands were small and white and her finger nails were almost non-existent. She was wearing a pair of shiny red shoes, white socks, and a white flapper dress. Around the collar, it was decorated in very light shades of pearl and iridescent beads.
"Hi," Fritz said softly, afraid to disturb the little girl.
The little girl looked at Fritz like if he didn’t exist. She looked through him instead of at him. He was again the invisible white man. She went right back to play with her ragged doll, talking to her as though she was another little girl who was alive. Fritz walked slowly forward and stood in front of the little girl. Fritz came to the conclusion that he had probably never seen this girl before.
"What is your name?" Fritz asked, his head cocked to one side.
"Your name is John Wright," the little girl answered, "but kids call you Fritz."
Fritz’ eyes popped open. He was awake this morning but this woke him up even more. He was too shocked to say one word. After a moment or two he said, "How do you know my real name?"
"Why do I have to answer you?" the little girl said with pride on her face. "My answers are too expensive for you." She looked clean and keen and she had very thin lips.
"Can you just at least tell me your name?"
"Not now," the little girl said, and looked down at the doll.
"Why?" Fritz said.
"I won’t tell you why," the little girl said, still looking at the doll. "Why are you a janitor? Aren’t you smart enough to be something else, like a theoretical nuclear physicist?"
Fritz needed a moment to think. "I don’t know. Stupid, I guess," Fritz said.
"You are not stupid, you are sick and depressed," the little girl said firmly. "Stupid people don’t say such a thing."
"Can you at least tell me your doll’s name?"
"Smiley," the little girl said. She had no problem giving out the name of the doll.
The doll surely had a smiley face and brown hair and it was made of cheap fabric.
"Smiley, huh," Fritz said. That’s all he could say at this moment.
"Why do you work as a janitor, Mr. Wright?" the little girl asked again even though she probably knew why.
Fritz said, "because, because..." but then he realized that the little girl called him Mr. Wright. Nobody before in his life had called him Mr. Wright. This was perhaps the first time in his entire life he had been called Mr. Wright. He was shocked, deeply shocked.

Fritz heard some strange noise in the hallway. He walked back to the door of the classroom and stuck out his head to look. The strange noise intensified a little. Fritz walked down the hallway to make out the strange sound. But when he returned back to the classroom, the little girl was gone. The classroom was empty and cold.

He looked at the windows and one was open. Fritz looked around in the classroom. He looked under the desk. He looked out and down through that open window. The sky was now light blue and a gust of wind came hard out of a funnel in the hills. He looked behind the door, looked under the desks, and looked behind some cardboard boxes in the back of the room. He felt like he lost something precious, something of importance, felt like he lost a dear friend. It was a strange feeling of loss and discontent. He now walked into the hallway searching for the little girl, his eyes full of sorrow.
"Where is she?" he asked himself. "Where did my little girl go?"

The little girl was gone. Gone like six o’clock at seven. She could not be found. Fritz became very sad when he finally convinced himself that the little girl was completely gone. One could not imagine how he became sad for losing a person he had just met. He went to the maintenance room and lazily pulled out a yellow bucket with wheels and a mop with a long plastic handle and, thinking about the little girl, pushed them over as he walked down the hallway. Three wheels turned straight and one wheel wobbled. He turned around a corner and disappeared and all you could hear in the hallway now was the turn of the bucket wheels.

Chapter Three
Keith Heiss was the meanest, craziest kid at Pinedale Elementary School. He was mean and looked mean. One could tell he was mean by just shooting a glance at him. He had blond hair and somehow that blond hair made him look even meaner. There was a mean aroma around him even when he smiled and he rarely smiled. He was probably mistreated at home by his dad or his mom, or maybe his big brother, and that made him displace all that anger on South Dakota society, including the poor Pinedale School kids who couldn’t defend themselves. Kids around him would act like him just to fit in. Kids that didn’t act like him were disliked by him. Kids that didn’t obey him got smacked by him. He was twelve but he had the body of a kid who is sixteen going on seventeen. He had regular biceps but to kids at Pinedale, they were as big as gorilla biceps. He never brought his lunch to school because he would just cadge it from the small kids. One kid would give him a sandwich, a second would give him milk, a third would give him a granola bar, and there goes his lunch. Sometimes he would ask a kid for a piece of lunch and if the kid said no, he would bonk the kid and take the entire lunch. Kids couldn’t report him to the grownups because they knew of the consequences it would bring. He would always find an excuse for the reason why the fight had started and there was no witness with enough courage to claim that he had started it.

Keith Heiss always made fun of Fritz. If he saw him walking in the hallway or biting his nails he would follow him and mimic him, his head tilted to one side, exactly like Fritz would do when he walked. Fritz was a stooge to him. Keith wasn’t the only one who made fun of Fritz. An entire galaxy of kids made fun of him. Any kid who had a bad day at school or had been mistreated by a parent at home displaced all that anger on Fritz.
One day Keith put a large garden snake in Fritz’ toolbox and when Fritz crouched down to open up the box, the snake slithered out and made Fritz jump out with a big scream. Kids who saw this, laughed hard and some of the teachers did too, even though they were not supposed to. This is one example of abuse Fritz had been enduring. There were many varieties of abuses Fritz would get on a typical day, but this is just one of them. Once, Keith Heiss forced a kid to urinate in the yellow bucket, which Fritz used to rinse and scrunch his mop in. When Fritz came to work on the following day, he smelled the stench of urine and knew what had happened and cried to himself in deep sorrow. Only God and probably a few people on Earth knew why Fritz had to undergo all this abuse. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, Fritz had never done anything wrong to anyone. Not even to mosquitoes. When a mosquito would land on his leg or arm to suck blood he would let it suck as much blood as it wanted. When he was young with no Torticulous showing, or any defect or whatsoever, his mom hoped that one day he might be a man of some renown, but he turned out to be a poor custodian, living in a small Midwestern town, trying to make a living under the onslaught of school kids.

Chapter Four
At six o’clock in the morning Fritz opened the school gate and let himself in. The air was fresh and cold. The school yard was deserted and calm. He walked into the building and proceeded down the hallway when he heard the soft singing of the little girl:
We are the butchers of the universe
We came here to see,
to see the waters rolling down by the sea.
We came here to Peoria
and we rolled down via Memphis.
Heading down to Pretoria,
and back again to Mesopotamia.
We’ve built up many monuments
and we’ve carved up some tombs.
We reached for fetuses
and pulled down from their wombs.
We have raped our women
and we have killed our men,
We’ve enslaved our children
With the animals and then,
We stretched out our graveyards
To a far place at sea
Away at the horizon
where nobody could see.
We’ve walked down the battle fields
And we’ve killed many men,
We dug up some ditches
And bury them with their guns.
We’ve blown up the mountains
And we’ve flattened up our lands
Where Mother Mary used to walk
bare feet with the holy band.
We have destroyed our cities
And we have infested our crops.
We’ve crushed down the corn fields

The sound was soft, gently filling the hallway. As Fritz approached the room the sound increased in volume.

We’ve polluted our waters
And we’ve cut down the trees.
We’ve pushed away the bison,
with the salmon and the geese.
We’ve jotted down new constitutions
And we have broken the old rules.
We thought we were gods
But we are just fools.

He waited for the song to finish. He now walked into the room and saw the little girl in the red shoes, talking to her doll.
"Hello," Fritz interrupted the little girl from talking to her doll.
"Hello, Mr. Wright," the little girl said still looking down at her doll.
"You’re early for school," Fritz said.
"Do you like Smiley?" the little girl said.
"Of course, I do."
"Why, of course?" The little girl asked.
"I, I don’t know," Fritz stuttered.
"Don’t say things you don’t mean, Mr. Wright. Don’t talk just to talk. Do you like my Smiley?"
Fritz couldn’t speak now. He didn’t know what to say. There was an awkward pause.
"Can I hold Smiley and look at it, first?" Fritz moved forward and stuck out his right arm hesitantly, like if he was begging for money and not wanting to beg.
"Look at her," the little girl said. "Not look at it."
"Sorry," said Fritz.
"Here she is, " the little girl said and handed Fritz Smiley.

Fritz held the doll gently and studied it like a school kid, turning it over and over again, his head tilted to one side. He bit his nail once and he looked into her eyes and the doll looked back into his. The doll looked like she was smiling, but Fritz recognized that it was more of a grimace than a smile. Fritz moved Smiley away from his face.
"Do you like Smiley, now?" the little girl asked.
"Yes, I do," Fritz said.
"You lied," the little girl said. "You’re afraid of Smiley."
Fritz didn’t respond. He didn’t know what to say. He was afraid of the little girl and the doll.
"Are you afraid of Smiley?" The little girl asked.
"Yes, I am," Fritz said and gave the doll back to the little girl.
"Good," the little girl said. "At least you said the truth. Don’t be afraid of Smiley. She is a good doll. She is my best friend. She won’t do you harm if I don’t want her to."
"I don’t have a best friend," Fritz said. "I don’t have anybody. I am a lonesome man. I am nothing. I am a janitor. I am nobody. I am..."
"You are somebody," the little girl interrupted. "You are a man. Not any man is a man."
She started singing again:
Not any man is a man
Oh! Not any man is a man.
Some men die in the battle field
And some men die far at sea.
Some men die in the revolution
And some men die for the constitution.
Some men die for religion
And some men die for the legion

"I am a man," Fritz sai suddenly.
"Scream it!" ordered the little girl.
"I AM A MAN!!!" screamed Fritz.
"Go to the hallway and scream it!"

Fritz walked out to the hallway and screamed, "I AM A MAN! I AM A MAN!"
He then jumped and kept on jumping and screaming the words. He walked back to the classroom and the little girl was gone.

"Where are you?" Fritz cried.
He looked for the little girl like a man who lost his daughter.
"Where are you?" he cried again.
He ran to the hallway, looking around until he heard her voice singing:
Let me cry for the fallen leaf,
On the rock it tumbles down.
Let me cry for the forgotten king,
Queen was gone and so was the crown.

She was sitting by the girl’s room holding her doll. Fritz stopped and he didn’t say anything; he froze in his place looking at her silently.
"Come, follow me," the little girl said, and she stood up with her doll in her right hand and walked hurriedly away from him. She was now walking fast in the hallway, almost running, on the shiny floor, holding her doll tightly in her right hand. Fritz was following her with his big steps, his head tilted to one side, his arms swinging together, like if they were attached by a solid bar. The morning sun was shining through the glass walls of the hallway, and one could tell it was early in the morning, for there was nobody in the school and all one could hear were the muffled twitting of birds outside. The little girl kept on walking fast and Fritz was following her, like a baby duck would follow his mom, from one hallway to another, with his arms swinging together, until she reached the maintenance room.
"Open the door," she ordered and she stood by the door holding her doll tightly.
Fritz pulled his big set of keys from his right pocket, shook his keys to descramble them, and picked a copper key that says, #13 P.E.S Do Not Duplicate. And he opened the door.
"Now look under your desk and up, and don’t open the middle drawer," the little girl said as she was standing outside the maintenance room, holding her doll.

Fritz crouched down and looked up under the desk and saw a seven-inch long lighter with a red handle, taped to one bottom edge of the drawer. If one opened the drawer, the switch of the lighter would automatically toggle with the slide, and a flame would light up a wick of a large firecracker, and the firecracker would explode.

"What?" Fritz said to himself and turned to look at the little girl. The little girl was gone again; gone with her doll; gone like she had never been there before, like if she was just a figment of his imagination. Fritz walked out, whining like a puppy, looking left and right for the little girl. All he could see was the shiny floor and the orange lockers, and the weak sun of the morning shining through the glass of the hallway. The little girl was nowhere to be found. She disappeared. He couldn’t even call up her name since she had never given it to him. Fritz ran down the hallways checking each classroom. He even went to the girls’ bathrooms and knocked on the door-there was no answer. He got in and checked the stalls one by one. He got out of the bathrooms. He listened carefully in case she was singing again. Fritz went back to the maintenance room worrying, almost crying. He carefully disassembled the trap and put the lighter on his old, dirty desk. He put the firecracker in a brown paper bag and placed the bag on a shelf. He would have to tell his boss all about this once his boss arrived.

After Fritz sat down at his desk, a stream of thought came upon him. Keith Heiss was the first person to come to his mind. Nobody could have done this but Keith Heiss, Fritz thought. Keith Heiss was capable of doing worse that this. Kids, like Keith, were born only to inflict pain on the weak and the helpless. Kids, like Keith, are known to end up being shot by a cop, stabbed by a mob, or destroyed by a bomb in a war. Kids, like Keith, prefer to burn out than to fade away. Kids, like Keith, aren’t born to live life, but to destroy it. Kids, like Keith, are the kids who have a lot of energy and need to discharge it on somebody soft, somebody who would suck it all up, feel the pain, and do nothing about it; just suck it all up. Kids, like Keith, wouldn’t live to be twenty, one would guess. If they somehow happened to live for a long time, they would only leave a trail of destruction behind. If Keith happened to live and was somehow allowed to become the president of the United State, he would blow the whole world to kingdom come. All the ten thousands nuclear bombs the US has will get exploded at once. Keith had to be stopped, Fritz said.

© Sidi Cherkawi Benzahra December 2006

More Stories


© Hackwriters 1999-2006 all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy - no liability accepted by or affiliates.