Categories
Fiction

“Fanged, etc.” — Donald Barthelme

“Fanged, etc.” — Donald Barthelme

http://biblioklept.org/2021/09/17/fanged-etc-donald-barthelme/
— Read on biblioklept.org/2021/09/17/fanged-etc-donald-barthelme/

Categories
Fiction

“Tom Sawyer’s Widow”

Powdered white
And pouting face
Dressed in black
Her skin with lace
Dog’s in the back
Unfed in the leaves
With no one perched
In the goddamn eaves
(Roped in the back…)
She’s barren of seed
“The rogue & the bastard!
He promised to me!”
Up into town
To thee Spekey Sea
(Dog’s on the rope.
His neck to break free…)

Sawyer’s in the wagon

His face like yellow wax.
Tom Sawyer’s whitewashed widow
Her lightning panic attacks:
“I’ll kill me Becky Thatcher
With that backyard chicken axe!”

© 2021 teagown records
Categories
Fiction

“The Septic”

“You know you’re a pussy. When they letting you out of there?”

“I don’t know, Evan…fuck you…two, three more weeks. I got a hole in my stomach.”

“A hole. You’re a total zombie. What are they giving you? ”

“They leave the incision unstitched at first to make sure the insides heal.”

“Sponge baths…”

“Demerol. I woke up the other morning…three older nurses were leaning over me just gabbing away as they cleaned and dressed the wound…except for the bandage, I was naked…Christ.”

“Were they stifling their laughter?”

“Fuck you…thanks for cheering–oh, I dropped the…”

“Hank! Hank, take it easy. I gotta go. Okay? Maybe I’ll–”

“Yeah…asshole…thanks for calling…um, next time send me a mix tape that’s different from the other fucking tapes you’ve made for me. It’s always the same songs just in a different–”

“You’re welcome, prick. Later.”

A groan fell from the bed to the left of Henry’s. The old man, Nossiter, lay dying as far as he could tell. From eavesdropping Henry had learned that the man was blind, deaf, and hemorrhaging from his ass. Every couple hours through the night Henry woke to a nurse changing Mr. Nossiter’s bloodstained sheets amid the man’s feeble protests and cries of pain. How much blood could one lose out of one’s ass at that age and still be alive? Henry now feeling ashamed and childish at his low pain threshold as he tried to work this out. The pain wasn’t that great considering his belly was half open under a loose bandage. Just stiffness and though a large weight balanced on his midsection. Only sudden reflexive movements reminded him of his tenderness as when he was drifting off to sleep. His body relaxed until, at the last instant before sleep, an electrical shock jolted his entire body; from top to bottom of his wound.
It had been around a month total in the hospital until his doctor knew surgery was the answer. Crohn’s disease had narrowed three feet of his small intestine with scar tissue. Crohn’s disease caused bleeding in areas of the digestive tract resulting in the build up of scar tissue. Serious cases involved malnutrition, weight loss—intestinal blockage. Pain. The surgeon removed three feet of small intestine then had only to reconnect the disease free ends He was on a heavy course of corticosteroids to ease the inflammation, but he noticed only the toxic effect they had on his hormones; a common side effect of Prednisone was to cause nervousness and emotional sensitivity. He recalled one night balling his eyes out when his mother arrived late for a visit. He had imagined her getting into a car accident on the way to visit him. Even television commercials were heartbreaking on this stuff. It would have to be cartoons and sitcoms until further notice. Nothing controversial like Alzheimer’s medication commercials.

“Henry. Any complaints this morning?” the surgeon asked as he extended his hand in greeting.

“Hi, I’m feeling okay I guess. Not a lot of pain. Some…just–pressure. Stiffness? It’s itchy. So… yeah.”

“I’m going to stitch you up now. This is going to hurt. I will give you your pain shot plus a little Valium to relax you. Okay?”

“Valium…Oh, I–Uh huh.”

“All right? I’ll be back in about fifteen minutes.”

Henry appreciated the surgeon’s frankness. His musical East Indian voice played over in his head. In his mind he contrasted the surgeon’s soft tones with those of the American gastroenterologists that had been treating him medically. The different voices seemed to match up nicely with their respective source’s level of tact and empathy. The wise, good-natured, soft-spoken Indian surgeon. Henry became aware of his racial stereotyping, and felt a twinge of shame. It was true, however, that the medical doctors he had dealt with before his surgery were tactless assholes. He always felt like an insect whenever they checked in on him. He didn’t feel this with the surgeon.

He wondered what to expect from his stitch-up. Mr. Nossiter called out from the bed next to his. Some garbled name. The nurse arrived to give Henry his pain shot and Valium. Henry loved the nurses in the hospital. He wanted to stay there with them. The nurses injected Demerol into one of Henry’s buttocks every four hours. There was something pathetically erotic about it for him. It was comforting.

Henry recalled his first night in the hospital. He had been prescribed a course of enemas that had seemed to go on for hours. It was the job of an older nurse to administer these enemas to him every half hour or so. His intestinal tract was so inflamed at that point that she might as well have been shooting napalm up Henry’s ass. It was like being tortured. The embarrassment of the situation coupled with the fact that Henry couldn’t hold back his crying and moaning in front of this woman was almost harder to bear than the physical pain. The only relief for him was the look of honest compassion on the nurse’s face throughout the ordeal. It was hurting her more than it hurt him. She comforted Henry as if he were her own child. One must consider the fact that it is part of this woman’s job to perform such unpleasant tasks as this on a daily basis. She was his angel in that twilight, drug-hazed nightmare.

Soon enough the surgeon returned to stitch Henry up. Henry gulped and caught his breath as a shudder shot through his wound. It seemed to throb before the surgeon even touched him. “Now, Henry, there are some times in life when we all must endure a little pain. I gave you a little Valium to relax you, and I’m sure that your pain med has kicked in by now, but you are still going to feel this. I’ll try to do this as quick as I possibly can,” said the surgeon.

When completely tightened up, Henry’s stitched wound would look roughly like the stitching on a football. From Henry’s limited point of view it looked like an unlaced shoe with some heavy nylon fishing line tangled haphazardly into it. The surgeon went to work pulling the first section of the wound together as one would tighten up the laces of a sneaker. Henry winced as the first beads of perspiration popped up from his brow, his hand clawing and forming a fist around a section of blanket. The surgeon murmured some gentle encouragement. Just as another section of belly came together in the surgeon’s hands,Henry’s mouth opened involuntarily and let forth what seemed to be the most primal of screams. He felt at that moment as if he were channeling a demon. He had never heard a sound like that come from his own mouth. It didn’t sound like himself; it was too masculine in tone. The nature of the scream was completely unpremeditated considering the agony that birthed it. Henry wished he could have recorded the scream to show off to his friends and acquaintances. In hindsight, it was truly remarkable!

After a few more tugs and knots the surgeon announced that he was done. He took Henry’s hand in his, and gripped it tight as he stared intensely into his eyes. “Henry, I’m proud of you. You endured that well. You might feel a little sore later, but the pain meds should help. You’re healing up nicely. Starting tonight I want you out of bed for some short walks up and down the hall. You need to get your strength back little by little. A nurse will assist you. Let me know if you need anything else. Oh, and let a nurse know as soon as you start passing gas. This will be an important indication of whether or not the operation has been a success. I’ll see you soon, Henry.” Henry closed his eyes and slowly fell back into his narcotic haze. His hands were shaking, but there were only a few fiery, shooting pinpricks through his belly. He floated down now into a dark place of sleep and vivid dreams; trying to remember as he sank what it was like to pass gas.

Earlier during gym class Henry had first noticed him: a small, powerfully built black kid. He was the new kid—and mean. Henry did his best to not make eye contact with him just as he did with any of the more aggressive looking kids who clearly had some shit to get off their backs, and the need of a target. The black kid had glared and muttered something to Henry in the locker room. Henry couldn’t quite catch what he had said, so he just said ‘hey’ to him and went to class.

Flash forward and Henry is now walking down the steep hill from the school. There are some friends of his hanging with the black kid on a street corner. They all laugh in the self-conscious, high-pitched eighth grade style. Henry stops to say hi to some of the kids that he knows. They’re not as friendly to him in a group as they are one-on-one. Something Henry has been noticing lately. Henry gets the impression they are laughing at him, but he is not entirely sure of this. It doesn’t matter if they are or if they are not; he will think this anyway. The black kid says something to Henry that he can’t understand, because the black kid talks so fast and low. Henry just laughs and utters a weak: ‘what?’ At that, the black kid approaches Henry and picks him up off the street. The black kid squeezes Henry in a tight bear hug around his midsection, and shakes him from side to side while sptitting some unintelligible curses into his face.

The flatulence that Henry let out at that moment was veritably astonishing. A long stream of wet firecrackers followed by a two second pause, and some extended swooshes of foul air. Henry laughed in the extremely self-conscious eighth grade style that is practically the same thing as weeping. There were tears in his eyes of embarrassment and of pain. The black kid’s arms were like a vice. As the flatulence had begun, Henry’s friends seemed to be in a state of shocked disbelief. Some whispers and sidelong glances were exchanged for purposes of confirmation.

The laughter picked up again as soon as all were in agreement as to what they were witnessing. The black kid never laughed. He eventually placed Henry back on the street, and yet again said something to Henry that he could not understand. Without saying goodbye to his friends Henry continued his walk home. All he could think about as he crossed the bridge into his town was how dark the boy’s skin was.

“I feel horrible. I feel nauseous… and I’m having trouble breathing,” said the man in the third bed across the room from Henry and Mr. Nossiter.

“Do you wanna try to take a little water? Maybe it’s just nerves about surgery tomorrow?” asked the nurse.

“Yeah, maybe a little water. I just woke up and suddenly felt terrible.”

“Here. Why don’t you sit up for a minute? Need to use the bedpan?” The man lay with his hands covering his face attempting to prop himself up with his elbows, but failing to do so. He moaned to himself as he sipped his water.

“Uh…no…I think I’ll be okay. Woo. Maybe I am just a little shaky. Long day.”

“Okay, hon. Well, you just ring for me again if you need me. Try to get some sleep.”

Across the room, trying desperately to swim against the current of a drug-induced nightmare, Henry surmised that he had the power to control the IVs of every patient in the hospital. This came as some surprise to him. As the blood pounded through his foggy brain he could see in his mind’s eye, the drip, drip, drip of a multitude of intravenous drugs increasing their rate of flow into the bloodstreams of his fellow infirm neighbors. Quite an alarming revelation this was. He opened his eyes finally and stared up at the ceiling.

The nighttime noises of the hospital (nurses shuffling through their rounds; mumbling amongst themselves) were disorienting. It took him a minute to come to grips. Just then the new guy in the bed across from Henry stirred. The fifty-ish executive type (who liked to chew on unlit cigars while reclining in his hospital skivvies) was making retching sounds, and breathing heavily. The man switched on his overhead lamp and pressed the nurse call-button. Apparently, this was all the evidence Henry needed to convince him that he had not been dreaming. As the night nurse angel entered the room, Henry watched the man across from him expiring as a result of his very own newfound telekinetic ability. He felt this was somehow wrong.

After the nurse had finally left, Henry stared at the man as if in a trance. He scanned the features of the portly Cigar Chomper who struck a pathetic form lit only by the fluorescent tube behind his bed. He sat awkwardly staring into space, as if he did not understand how he had arrived in this place. He was a far cry from the cocksure wheeler-dealer of the previous afternoon barking orders through the phone at some poor employee of his. The guy seemed to tell anyone who cared to know that he wasn’t “afraid of being cut”. It was the “downtime” he didn’t care for. He had a business to run. Time is money. Henry now felt the need to turn away, but could not. He felt he was somehow responsible for this man’s present discomfort.

The throbbing in Henry’s brain had subsided. He wondered whether the time was approaching for his next shot of Demerol. Would the man make it through the night? Was the damage Henry caused serious? Maybe he’d like his cigar? Was he even worth saving?

Just then an image flashed in his mind of Esophagus Ned, Cigar Chomper’s predecessor, sitting up in the same bed across from Henry; staring at him with his perpetual, half-crazed grin. Henry would lie there in bed reading or watching TV completely aware of Ned smiling away at him quizzically. Try as he may he could not contend with Ned’s probing mirth.

“How you hanging in there young man? What’re you doing in this dump on your summer vacation? Should be out at the beach. Heh.” said Ned. All the while grinning away. It was as if his face was frozen in some horribly jolly rigor mortis, his long, stringy white hair framing his emaciated features. They would exchange a few niceties, and eventually each would go back to their own little bubble of hospital numbness, Ned’s grin slowly fading. Over the few days or so Ned was in the room Henry began to feel the same sadness toward him as he felt for Mr. Nossiter turning to dust at his side.

This sadness was conveyed to him entirely, of course, through eavesdropping. Ned’s chief complaint being that he could not swallow without much difficulty. Eating his meals consisted of thin choking and whining sounds, exasperated sighs, and long pauses. The doctor suggested to Ned that they might attempt to stretch his esophagus in order to “relieve” this symptom. Henry wondered about this procedure. What does stretching someone’s esophagus entail exactly? Ned disappeared soon afterward.

Henry admitted to himself that he did not feel the same warmth toward Cigar Chomper that he felt toward Ned. All the same, he felt a gesture was in order to help alleviate his guilt at inadvertently almost killing the man with his mind-powers. It seemed the man was now aware of Henry staring at him from across the room. It was hard to say in the dim light. Was that a look of fear in his eye? Henry shifted slightly in his bed, paused, thought of what to say in a situation like this. He switched on his own overhead light. “Sir?” Henry whispered. Not strong enough. Henry raised his voice slightly. Mr. Nossiter moaned and exhaled loudly next to him.

“Excuse me, sir?” No acknowledgement from Cigar Chomper.

“You’re going to be all right. Don’t worry about anything.” The man fixed his gaze on Henry for a moment, but said nothing. Perhaps it was the lack of conviction in his voice. Henry rang the nurse for his Demerol injection. There would be no more pep talks that night.

About fifteen minutes after his morning Demerol shot the nurse set Henry up in a chair next to his bed. Since the surgeon had closed up his wound, Henry was being made to get up to take short walks assisted by the nurses at night before bed. Sitting up in the chair near his bed was another part of this rehabilitation. Henry would sit and attempt to give himself a sponge bath. On the hospital tray before him lay various personal toiletry items: a bar of soap wrapped in paper; a pristine hospital washcloth; a shallow yellow basin; a small toothbrush; a neat black comb; a small tube of cinnamon toothpaste; a safety razor; and a small can of aloe shaving cream for sensitive skin.

After surveying the items before him, Henry began to nod off as he attempted to finish a thought. What was he expected to do with the items in front of him, and why was he sitting up in a chair? Adjacent to him was Mr. Nossiter. Interesting. He could just sense him out of his periphery. Henry wondered how he had managed to miss this. He could not look at him. He refused to turn his head. He didn’t want it to be ruined. Oh, but he was alive. He could hear a faint rasp to his left.

Within a minute Henry had removed the toothbrush from its plastic cellophane wrapper. He stared at the tube of paste and tried to make a connection. Mr. Nossiter let out a wet burp and a clipped moan. Henry’s hands shook as he squeezed the paste onto the toothbrush, missing it by about a fraction of an inch. It now sat in his lap. To his left he sensed Nossiter and his own motor skills. This was a challenge! A jolt of electricity shot through his belly as he felt a warm kinship coming on. This could quickly turn into a surreal competition. After brushing his lips for a little while Henry stared down at the razor, and suddenly felt tired. Perched at the upper right hand corner of his table was a single red rose sitting in a large soda cup filled with water.

His grandmother had brought that for him. The day after Henry’s surgery when he first became conscious again, it was the one thing he could appreciate. It seemed to Henry that he had never encountered such a fragrance before. He just started to smile and smile, and didn’t stop. First at his grandmother, then at the rose, all the while holding it close to his nose. He had considered eating the petals for a split second, but could only imagine them clogging the NG tube which had been inserted through his left nostril, and down into his stomach previous to the operation. In the perpetual morphine shine of that fair morning he confirmed some things for himself.

The idea of reciprocal love between him and these precious people. He thought the word ‘grandma’ and smiled grinned like an idiot. Along with his mother she had helped raise Henry. Henry had always viewed her as a second mom. She had accepted this bastard child with open arms. While he was in the hospital she had been sending a chaplain every Sunday to give Henry communion in bed. Can you beat that? Staring at the pristine rose, and at his beautiful little grandmother standing there, Henry reflected joyously on eating Christ.

One particular Sunday he awoke from what the nurse called a “prednisone rage.” As he struggled to awaken he had the sensation of his body being violently thrashed around the room by some invisible assailant. Henry’s brain felt like it was boiling in his skull. He called the nurse and she gave him something. She seemed to know instantly what the matter was. The phone rang after that, and it was his grandma.

“I just thought I would see how you were doing before church.”

“Hi—Gram. I just had the worst…”

“Hen, I just thought I would see how you were before church. Did you sleep well? Has the chaplain brought communion?”

“No…I just had the worst nightmare. My head hurts so bad, gram.” He could hear her start to speak and then pause. The tears were in her voice. It wasn’t like she was about to sob. Just a little choked up. These tears came easy for his grandmother, as she got older. It seemed that with age certain moments were felt a touch more preciously; every small sadness embraced.

“Hen, you try and doze back off. I love you, honey. I’ll say a prayer for you today.” And she would, too. He did believe her. Most of the time when someone says that, it comes off as a little condescending and, frankly, corny. That rose was so beautiful. And so he fell asleep as he prayed.

For what seemed like hours, Mr. Nossiter and Henry sat side by side. Nossiter and Henry together; trying to make themselves presentable. Neither of them spoke a word to each other. They were so close Henry could have sat in his lap. Henry wanted to ask him about euthanasia, and what it meant to him. He wondered if his doctor had already beaten him to the punch. Henry decided it would be too awkward a subject for their first conversation. A part of Henry wanted to embrace Mr. Nossiter badly. At the same time he felt a sort of revulsion to the old man and his condition. He was poison. But he thought if he could just hug him, and whisper into his ear that he was still a man… And think of the life you’ve led. Look how goddamn tall you are! I’m not sure, but I could bet you were an officer in WWII. My very own grandfather trained to be a frogman in the Navy. You know, the precursor to the Navy SEAL? He died of cancer, and drank like a fish. He kissed me on the cheek and his beard scratched me once. That’s the most vivid memory I have of him. You have two children now living a few states away, and you should see those grandkids! Your wife loves you despite your disposition, and she’s on her way here today to talk really loud to you. With complete and utter patience. Every time you curse her; every time you curse your lack of vision and hearing (and all the blood!) she is considering just how much more she can love you, and why hasn’t the doctor been in to see you in two days!? It is a terrible thing to listen to a man weep and moan because he is in pain. It is embarrassing. A man who, in a previous decade, had dug up the septic on a cold March day up to his knees in his own family’s shit; smoking a Pall Mall the entire time. It would have to be pumped after all. There were no two ways about it.

During the month before his operation Henry’s condition had been stabilized, and he had his own private room. A room he would have to vacate following his operation, as it was located on an orthopedic floor. Henry could only gather that they did not want to risk infection to the orthopedic patients. It didn’t make total sense to him as to why he was in an orthopedic room to begin with. Anyway, he was being fed intravenously through a major artery in his neck. He had been admitted to the hospital acutely anorexic, for all intents and purposes. Now the color had come back to his face, and he could walk around freely up and down the hallways with his IV cart in tow. His first week consisted of major nicotine withdrawal, and one chiefly desperate night Henry contemplated ripping the feeding catheter out of his neck. An urge he would fight off and on for an hour. Things did calm down eventually, so he started to eat jell-o. He had been given special permission to go to the little refrigerator adjacent to the nurse’s station, and take jell-o whenever he desired it. In the mornings he would watch the ladies’ coffee shows on the little hanging television above him. In the afternoons he would eat jell-o, and read George Bernard Shaw. As dusk approached the prednisone would begin to creep up on him.

Right around this time, Henry’s uncle put a sharp bamboo stick in his eye, and had to visit the emergency room. It was getting dark and Henry was standing in front of the window in his private room, which looked onto…nothing. He had been looking out that useless window for something to dramatize, and his hands were shaking badly. His body felt as if it were sunburned from the prednisone. He felt that his mom had had a car accident on her way. He turned around, because he hadn’t done that in a while and just stood and stared, trembling, at the door to his room, which was wide open with his uncle standing in it. He could smell that it was dinnertime. The aroma of which mixed with the odor of manure wafting from his uncle’s clothes and work boots. Shit. Eat. Shit and Eat. Henry’s uncle just seemed to wander into the room as if he were his roommate.

“Bamboo stick in the eye,” he said. “I was planting all day, and as I bent to tie my boot it caught me good in the–”

“Are you ok?” Henry asked as he stared at the corner of the doorjamb behind him.

“A lotta blood. They bandaged it and gave me some percocet. How ya feeling, Hen?”

“Man, I hope your eye is ok,” he whispered to the floor. His mom was really late.

“Where’s your mom? She coming tonight…?”

“It’s nice out tonight?”

“Nice night. So, you’re looking pretty good. Got your own room. I thought I’d catch your mom here. She’s probably running late? Anyway. Okay…Well…Take care, Hen. I gotta pick up the boys,” his uncle said as he turned to leave abruptly. Henry always admired for some reason the way his uncle was able to exit a room so abruptly. His voice would suddenly become louder and more urgent…and then—OKAY BYE! This was always done so smoothly. Henry considered how for him it always took hours to leave somewhere. More like months as it were.

Henry wandered back to his window with the tremor in his hand still intact. There was a line from a Royal Trux song running through his head. It was something about a sword hanging over “the spectre’s” head. It would always make him think of the Hand of God. A hand extended in benediction, he thought. That was the Hand of God. He had also heard of it representing impending death. He didn’t know. There were plenty examples of it in Christian and Byzantine art. The whole deal with the sword was something else entirely, he guessed.

His mother showed up finally bringing with her a cheeseburger that he was not allowed to eat. “I thought maybe you had an accident on the way or something,” Henry said.

“There was a bad accident. There was a detour and I tried to go the back way, but then I ended up lost for a minute. I had to circle back. Are you hungry? I brought this.”

“Mom! — I have a freakin tube in my neck! I can’t eat a cheeseburger!”

“Oh yeah…I keep forgetting. I’m an idiot. I was just thinking how bad the food in here must be. I’m sorry,” she said, laughing as she stared at his neck.

“I don’t eat meat anymore, anyway. You know that. Jesus…how many times—“

“Henry, I just think after you get out you should consider eating some meat again. Even if it’s just some fish. You know? I mean you don’t exactly eat vegetables or anything.”

“I had ten cups of red Jell-O today—and there’s more where that came from. I can promise you that.”

“I just don’t understand what kind of vegetarian eats primarily grilled cheese and bean burritos. You need to think about these kinds of things with your stomach like this.”

“I just want a cigarette. That’s all I want right now. And I want to take a walk outside. Just for five minutes. And…I think I want that cheeseburger after all. Fuck. You know I was really scared something happened to you. It freaked me out! You know Uncle Dan was just here? He stabbed his eye with a bamboo stick.”

“Jesus Christ! Where is he?”

“He’s fine. He had a big dumb grin on his face as usual. You know him. In and out. Just stopped by to provide some extra tension.”

Henry and his mother took their nightly stroll around the circular hall surrounding the nurse’s stations. His mother was in her late 40s, and she looked young for her age. Henry thought of her deciding to give birth to him after his own father had left her already pregnant. The reason he gave her was that he needed to finish college. Supposedly she wasn’t the only girl he had done this to. Henry had never met him. He wasn’t too sure he ever wanted to. Maybe just see him in the flesh once walking and talking. He also wasn’t sure if his mother had made the right choice in keeping the baby. Henry felt the guilt of this thought in his stomach.

As they walked his mom talked mostly about Henry’s brother Zach and how she was worried he might be smoking a bit too much weed along with his recent obsession with death metal. Upon hearing this Henry could only think back to a few days earlier when his brother had come to visit while Henry was in the midst of a nasty nic/hissy fit; contradicting any reassuring or positive comment Zach would make to him. Zach just leaned over the bed and gave Henry a secure, comforting hug. Zach cried as he hugged Henry who also reluctantly began to cry. He and Henry were half brothers. Zach’s father was probably the closest Henry ever had come to having a real dad. But that was only for a couple years when Henry was still too young to appreciate it. There had been his mother’s boyfriends and a stepfather, but Henry had the most respect for Zach’s father. Zach and his dad were close. It seemed that Henry had been used to treating Zach like shit for years. Zach was younger, and so that was the way. But sometimes Henry was aware of an almost sadistic skew to his relationship with Zach. Zach had been a hyper little kid; always getting into shit. He wasn’t a mean kid he was just mischievous. This required extra supervision from their mom. Not the case with Henry. Henry could sit for hours and not say a word. He was the kid who got to stay up late. Adults liked young Henry.

The two of them continued to walk the circuit in silence until Henry’s mother abruptly remarked that maybe she had been too hard on Zach growing up and not hard enough on Henry. As Henry gave the usual you-did-just-fine speech his stomach seemed to suddenly shrink. Henry knew this to be true. Henry had been a well-behaved child. But he knew now (maybe he had always known) that he had gotten away with murder at times. He could always talk his way out of punishments, and was often unjustly rewarded. What was more important was that it seemed his mother was trying to say something else. It was something about strength. Henry lacked strength, strength of body for sure, but more than that strength of will; the will to finish; the will to be well in every sense of the word. He could at that moment feel himself as poison.

As they sat side by side both staring straight ahead Henry knew that in his gut he despised Nossiter. And he could not forgive himself for this. It was not so much the man that he despised, but the wasted, helpless condition of the man’s body. Wasn’t that all there was? Shit, he couldn’t have a conversation with this guy if he wanted to. He would probably start screaming something, and then shit himself. Shit himself right there on the chair that was impossibly adjacent to Henry’s own. And rest assured that there would be blood in that poison shit.

There was not much there. Not much holding the two of them together, that is. Some stitches, some gauze in various places on their respective bodies, an extravagantly fragrant red rose that could be shared, some choice dope that was probably of more use to Henry than to Nossiter at this point. They comprised no team. No camaraderie was apparent. And it seemed to him now, in some strange, sublime manner that that was what Henry had wished for. Nothing was said. Henry couldn’t look directly at the old man because when he did he could only see himself. Henry’s brother had always said that Henry was too selfish. He loved his brother.

©️2017 teagown/P.E. Tottenham 

Categories
Fiction

The Painter

My grandfather has terminal stomach cancer. Lately I’ve been stealing some of his seemingly endless supply of morphine. I live with him and my grandmother in the basement of their house. Half the basement is bare concrete. You know, oil tank, hot water heater, and furnace—the usual. The other half—my half—is separated from the first half by a heavy dark blue curtain that my grandmother made up for me on her little sewing machine. My modest hovel is a mess. I covered the bare concrete with some old Persian rugs I found at a thrift store. They’re beautiful to me. The walls are covered with ratty rug remnants and some old mattresses for some extra insulation in the winter, although Florida’s Central Coast doesn’t get too cold that time of year. Not like Massachusetts where my parents live and I grew up. Well, the first Christmas I spent down here the temperature dropped into the 20s a couple nights, and I even saw some flurries. So much for the Sunshine State, I thought.

So there’s a drawer filled with liquid morphine in my grandparent’s bedroom. I take it. Only a little at a time, so they can’t notice. There’s so much of it. He’s dying. I’m also really partial to ephedrine. It’s great, because when I want to get all jacked up, and listen to some music, ephedrine turns me on. I also love to jerk off on it. Usually after listening to some music.

I just find the free porn websites and go to town. Jerking off on ephedrine makes everything more tingly and raunchier. I’ve noticed, however, that if you do it too much, your erections start to get soft. That sucks. You can’t maintain. Oh, but the morphine, yeah, I take the morphine to come down off the ephedrine, and that’s real nice. Just a little like I said. In an eye dropper. At that point I usually just fade out in front of movie or something. Everything goes dead. Perfect.

“Yeah, so, Jason, you vomited in the laundry room last night. My Mom found it this morning, and, like, bitched my fucking ass out for an hour! It was on the fucking wall near the dryer, and all over the front of the washer. What the fuck, man?”

“Cindy, I don’t remember even doing that. Fuck. I thought—I was    cleaning it and—I was so tired I just crawled back to bed with you.”

“And that’s the other thing. You can’t fucking sleep here!”

“I left at five in the morning, so she wouldn’t—“

“She fucking knows you sleep here, man. She’s pissed. She hears you leave! You’re lucky my Dad sleeps like the dead! What the fuck? You puke in our laundry room? Jesus Christ.”

“I’m getting a panther.”

“You’re getting a panther. I’m going to Jen’s tonight, so whatever. She broke up with that plumber dweeb. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Don’t call my house late again! Past nine is a bad scene. Love you. Bye”

“No, I am. Really getting one. A fucking pum—“
(dial tone)

So, a couple months ago I got this job painting this big old house. I suck at painting, but the guy I was working for didn’t seem to notice. It was his contract, and I was just his helper, so I couldn’t get into too much trouble. I would run errands for him; mix up the sky blue paint we were using inside the house; clean paintbrushes, and shit like that. I don’t even know how this guy got the contract, because he wasn’t even that good of a painter himself, in my opinion. In fact, Reyes, that was his name, was sorta nuts. He was always talking about animals. Wild animals. Reyes was into panthers particularly.

“Fucking panthers, man. The puma. The cougar. The catamount. The painter. Mountain lions, man!”

“You into tigers, huh, Reyes? Awesome.”

“No, man! Tigers are totally different animals. Panthers are local! I used to own two of them!”

“What, like a pet? You can own them? For how much?”

Jason, man, I can get you a panther for a grand. Seriously.”

“Jesus Christ. A panther. I’d have to think about that. Shit. A thousand bucks?”

I got home that night and I felt like shit. I was popping the ephedrine like crazy while I painted that day. I seemed to do a better job with it. When Reyes started his talk about mountain lions, and maybe selling me one, I got a little crazy. You know that really decent feeling in your bowels? Shit inspiration I call it. I don’t know, when something gets me excited, fucking inspires me, my bowels go into motion. It’s not like an incontinence problem, and I don’t always necessarily take a shit. It’s just the feeling that counts. Shit inspiration. I popped a few extra ephedrines and that turned out to be a bad scene, because twenty minutes later I’m in the bathroom of the house we’re painting dry heaving. I’m sitting by the bowl and all I can smell are paint fumes, so I heave again. I haven’t really been eating much lately. It was just some coffee and what tasted like orange juice. Anyway, I get home and I feel like living acid. I’m all sweaty and my mouth is a sewer. I take a shower and retire to my room. This time I take a big drop of the morphine, because the way I feel, you know, is like I’m on the razor-thin edge of a perilous day and it has to end pleasantly inside of oblivion. The drop also sets me up for what I consider an important decision I need to mull over. The Shit Inspiration minus any feeling in my bowels. It’ll be a mysterious night. I put on Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, and I start to think. I sink.

Shit. I’m seriously fucked up right now. I’m in a cypress swamp. I don’t know how far from home I am. I seem to be wearing nothing but a pair of boxer briefs and some flip-flops. I feel cold. I’m covered from head to toe in mud, and there is a mist about me just at eye-level. Then I hear it. A high-pitched whining shriek. It seems to be coming from above. I spin around and around trying and failing to get my bearings. My feet slip and squelch in the mud. I suddenly want to be covered in moss and run through the swamp. The moon is full; a strong urge to jerk off to it fills my muddy body. Then I hear it again. It is closer now. It is no longer above me. It is the panther, and it is coming for me. My bowels loosen slightly as the silhouette of the creature approaches me. Slowly the cougar is brought fully into my view as it enters a perfect shaft of moonlight. Its coat is an ochre brown, grey on the underbelly with white markings on its head, shoulders and neck. The cougar’s long tail is whipping back and forth as it surveys me with its forward facing eyes. I may be its next meal.

“You are trespassing! This is my territory, and you have invaded it!” said the cougar.

The fact that I am about to have a conversation with a mountain lion doesn’t seem to faze me. “I’m sorry. I don’t know how I got here. Last thing I remember I was laying on my bed taking some morphine and listening to Miles Davis. I don’t even own boxer briefs. What’s your name? Mine’s Jason.”

“They call me Felis concolor coryi, but you can call me Mickey. Get on my back. I will take you tsafety.”

I mounted Mickey and with a furious shriek we took off into the morphine misted swampland. From the murky pools I could hear the clicking of alligators; from the trees a variety of birdcalls sounded as we made our way. I’m riding a cougar through a cypress swamp. After a couple of miles we came to the side of a highway.


“From here you should be able to find your way home. I must hunt. Have you eaten?”

“I haven’t been eating much lately. I am a little hungry I guess.”

“Wait here, Jason.”

“Okay, Mickey. I will.”

Off Mickey went back into the swamp for our dinner. After about forty-five minutes or so I started to get a little bit antsy. This dream is going on way too long. Mickey finally arrived, two small rabbits in his jaws. He throws one to me and I gaze at it lying at my feet. I shrug my shoulders and pick up the limp body of the rabbit. I look it over for a minute and sink my teeth into its side. Blood drips from my chin onto my muddy body. The small rabbit is good. I am enjoying a meal for the first time in awhile. I thank Mickey. Now I just wish I had a cigarette.

Mickey, you smoke?”

I wake up late for work the next morning. My grandmother is standing above me yelling at me. I roll over to face the wall. My grandmother’s high pitched shrieking voice reminds of the dream of the night before.

“Jason, do you know what time it is? You’re going to lose this job just like all the others. I can’t have this in my house. Your grandfather can’t have this. He does not deserve this. Do you expect me to pay for everything for you? Don’t I cook your meals, which you don’t even eat anymore, and clean this pigsty of a room as well as your clothes? I am not a maid! You are breaking my heart. Get up and get to work! Please, honey!”

“Jeesssuuss…okay! I’m up! I’m up. Just get—get the hell outa here. Please. Thank you.”

“Do you want an everything bagel with cream cheese to take with you? I’ll put it in the toaster. Are these socks clean or dirty? I don’t know what to wash or not wash anymore. I got your grandfather up to watch Nick At Nite television last night, you know, he just loves the old All in the Family program reruns! Not a one of these socks match.”

“Just—I’ll take care of it. Just please leave, so I can get dressed.”“Do you know that program, Jason?”

“What are you talking about? Program.”
“You used to watch it with me when you were little. You know your grandpa—“
“Do you have to come in here in the morning when I wake up? I’m still half asleep and I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Can you find time in your busy schedule for your grandfather? He’s right upstairs. For now. When was the last time you came up to chat with him? Or with me for that matter…”
“Thanks for doing my laundry, gram. I gotta go. Tell grandpa I said hi.”

Well, I would have to pay a visit to the old man soon enough for some more drugs, but I’ll have to wait until he’s nodding out some afternoon. Say a quick hi; squeeze his bony, diseased hand. “How ya feeling, grampy?” “Jason? Jason, I’m taking you to a Red Sox game next week…We’ll take the T to Fenway—I ain’t driving in that fuckin’ town…You and I’ll have a ball. Don’t forget. Jason…don’t forget…” “I won’t forget grampy. We’ll take the T. Fenway franks and all that jazz. Sweet. Get some sleep, grampy. Later.” Yeah, we’ll take the T; get right off at Fenway Square. Right. He’s says the same shit to me every time I see him. He thinks he’s still in Massachusetts. Poor rotting bastard. I’m not even into baseball. Maybe the Sox and the Yankees in a series. Otherwise, every game is the same to me. Fucking baseball.

Dear Dad,
Hi. I’ve been thinking a lot about our last phone call. And I’m really sorry about how my attitude was that night. All I can say is I was in a bad mood that and it is really extreamly stressfull sometimes here dealing with grandpa’s cancer and all. But I shouldn’t have said some of the things I said you about Ma and her new boyfriend and all. I mean I do think he’s cool and all and the trip I took with him and Mom to Vegas was freakin awesome. But I think you’re really cool too! Remember that time me and you went camping in New Hampshire? That was wicked cool. I guess I probably complained a lot but I still had fun I just think you should chill out about Mom and all. Pretty soon you’ll meet someone and it’ll be a better scene for you.
I’m writing to you cuz I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said to me last time. You know the advice you gave me how I should take some classes at the community college. Well I think you’re absolutely right. I was really hoping to start in January for the winter semester. I’ll send you the catalog. Remember you said how you would give me money for school? Well I guess that’s what I’m asking for. It’s actually pretty cheap for college. I need like $2000. Do you think you could send it to me?
Dad I just want to learn! I’ve been doing a lot of deep thinking and I know what’s missing for me now. You were right. I have been wasting my time. I mean I’m gonna be 24 soon and that’s pretty old. I guess I’m just trying to say that time flies. You never know what’s gonna happen I mean look at Grandpa. I mean a year ago him and Grandma are driving the motor home around the country with that club of old people they belong to. You know. They were all living it up. Having a blast after there retirement and the next thing you know.
Anyway, if you could send me that money it would be awesome. I wanna be all I can be. Haha. Not like the army. You probably would like that huh. Haha. Fuck that! Oops. Sorry. You know what I mean though. I just want to get a good job someday. You were right college is essential. I’m really thinking of doing business or something. Business classes I mean. Maybe someday I’ll be rich and I can take care of you in your old age. Haha. You got awhile I guess. Don’t sweat it. Oh yeah thanks for sending me the money for that super Nintendo. I find playing it relaxes me and is very good for the reflexes. I have reflexes like a cat now. Theirs a lot to be said for video games Dad. You probably don’t agree. It just helps me mellow when I’m stressed. You know. Grandpa just keeps telling me he’s taking me to Fenway over and over. I wish I could reverse his curse. That’s what I’m all about these days. Just mellowing out if I can. You were right about the death metal. I mean I still like it okay sometimes. But I’m growing up now. You might be happy to know that I like some jazz now I go to sleep to it. That and Blue Öyster Cult. They rock.
Yeah so if you could send that money that would be cool. I’m gonna learn. It’s gonna be hard but I’m gonna learn. Don’t take any wooden nickels. Haha. Remember Gramps used to say that. Haha. Thanks Dad.

Your Son,

Jason

 

Speaking of death metal, man, Tampa is where it’s at. I’ve got a friend lives outside Tampa in a little cow town called Brandon. Anyway, it’s right outside, so we used to go check out some death metal there. Local stuff. Evil. Another great thing about Tampa is the weekly Miss Nude Tampa Pageant. Every Thursday at around 11 pm on the local cable access channel they do a live broadcast of chicks stripping. I’m talking full frontal nudity and pole dancing. I was pretty shocked, cuz in Massachusetts cable access usually consisted of boring talk shows hosted by some loser from the city council or something, either that, or, video reruns of the local high school graduation. Sometimes there would be arty shit too. Not what I considered art though. Art.
Art was the letter I just wrote to my dad. That was a work of art. I knew it was money in the bank, too. He’d been bugging me to sign up at that junior college for a year now. He said I was turning into some kind of satanic loser. If you’re thinking that it won’t be so easy as my dad just sending me a check you should guess again. He’s not smart enough to go so far as to request a bill for tuition. He’s a good guy, but he lacks common sense. Always was wrapped around my mother’s finger. Then I guess she just got bored. She left him for that asshole Mercedes dealer. He took us to Vegas last summer trying to get in good with my mom by taking along the loser son. Man, I milked that bastard as much as possible during that trip. I think he had enough of me to last a lifetime. I don’t care to see him again unless it’s a trip to Europe or something. He’ll never be my dad. My dad may be a pushover and kind of a pansy, but he’s always taken care of me.
It seemed to me that my life would soon enter into glorious mystery. Soon events would take an irreal form in my life. A shadow was approaching, but there would be comfort in this shadow. A hint of danger, but I would keep that under control. I planned on getting myself a pet. My parents always hated cats, and they would never let me get a dog. They said a dog was too much responsibility, and that I couldn’t even keep Sea Monkeys alive. I always resented them for that. All the kids I knew had pets growing up. A cat was the one thing I wanted. Now I was going to get myself one. A big one. I just had to wait for the check, and get the details straight with my man Reyes. Then it would be a grand for the cougar and a grand for myself. Shit, maybe I would even take a class next semester. I didn’t know.

“So this plumber dweeb Jen just dumped? He’s been, like, showing up at her work and shit. Fucking stalker. Three times during one shift he came through her checkout in his gay navy blue uniform buying, like, fucking toothpaste and National Enquirers and gum. Fucking loser! I was gonna roll a joint. You gonna smoke with me? Jason? Wake the fuck up, junkie! Do you wanna smoke up or not?”
“You know I can’t smoke that shit anymore, Cin. I can’t handle the paranoia anymore. And it gives me the shakes. Pot fucking sucks. So that dude is stalking Jen, huh? We should stalk him some night, and beat the shit out of him with a baseball bat or something. I said I didn’t want any!”
“Man, you’re such a pussy. I get paranooiid! More for me. Yeah, you’re gonna beat up some guy with a baseball bat. Scrawny little fuck like you. The guy weighs, like, 220. I wouldn’t mess with him. I told Jen about getting a restraining order on his ass.”
“Speaking of ass, have you given any thought to our little anal sex discussion? Come on, you know you wanna, Cindy.”
“I don’t want to talk about it again. If you wanna fuck somebody’s ass so bad you can go down to Morley Park around midnight. Find yourself some chap-wearing cruiser. Although, I think it would be you who more than likely would be the bitch. Maybe I should have Jen fix you up with the plumber. You guys can clean each other’s pipes all night long.”
“Oh, I love you, Cindy. When you talk about fag sex it turns me on so much!”
“Stop! Stop it! I’m not ticklish! Get the fuc—ahhhh! You’re gonna wake up my parents. Seriously!”
“Seriously!”
“I mean it! Quit it!”
“Quit it!!”
“Oh…I’m so hungry. Can we go get some tater tots at the store? I want hot dogs, too.”
“I gotta hot dog for ya right here, baby.”
“I gotta hot dog for ya right here—hahahaha!”
“Fuck you. Okay, let’s go. But I’m not hungry.”
“You don’t eat shit anymore. You’re gonna waste away, baby.”
“I’m fine. Just not hungry lately. Not much. I don’t know.”
I’d been with Cindy for about six months. She’s okay. The sex is good. At least I thought it was good. She could be a total bitch when she wanted to be. I didn’t know about that.
Not sure what I thought about it yet. Her parents haven’t really taken to me yet. Maybe they never will. I think her mom thinks I’m trash. I suppose I am in certain ways. I didn’t see too much of the parents anyway. It didn’t really matter to me. Lately I had found myself going through the motions of being in a relationship. I don’t believe that I am in love. This poses a problem for Cindy. It is something that comes up quite often between us. I can’t lie to her. My feelings for her just have not reached that stage quite yet. I know it’s a drag for her. She can walk at anytime.
I met Cindy at a bar of all places. I really hate hanging out at bars unless there’s some cool band playing, and the drinks are cheap. I don’t even like to drink for that matter. I just don’t have a taste for alcohol. Not in the true sense. I can’t get into microbrewery bullshit. Certain awkward occasions instruct me to have a few drinks, and that’s that. Anyway, I went with this guy Jeff I used to work with. Not really a close friend. The bar was called the Underbelly or something. A little hipster dive trying hard to be one of those local “townie” pubs. It’s all cozy and shit. It’s like it can’t decide whether it wants to be a dive bar or hipster café. I mean bookshelves lined the walls. They had real books on them. I picked one up called A Scanner Darkly by Philip something or other. I read the back cover. It seemed interesting. It was about junkies and narcs. I tossed it on the floor when no one was looking. Above the bookcase where I found the book there hung some kind of old sword, all decorative and shit. Every time the bar door would open the damn thing would shake on its hooks like it was gonna come flying down at any second and impale someone. But it just hung there shaking making me edgy. Fucking trendy fucking place. So I see Cindy over there playing pool with some dude. She had on a light blue dress. She was tiny, but she had some big tits. Her hair was short, blond; almost like a boy’s. I guess Jeff knew the dude she was shooting with, cuz next thing I know her and I are introduced, and we just start talking away. It was really easy. Really nice. We made out behind the bar on the patio for a while. I wish she would wear that blue dress again sometime.

“So, Reyes, I want to buy a cougar…”
“You been thinking about what I said, huh? All right, man! That’s far out that you’re interested in mountain lions, but I don’t know, man, you gotta be responsible with, uh, wild animals and shit.” Reyes sorta turned away from me at that and continued fucking around with a paint roller. I noticed then for the first time how bad his dandruff was. It was all over the back of his Dickies shirt. I started to think he was full of shit about the cougar. Fucking burnt out old hippie.
“Dude, I really want a cougar. I need to have one. Are you bullshitting me about owning one, man?”
“No, man, I used to own one. I’m not bullshitting you. Everything’s cool. Don’t you live with your grandparents? I mean this is a wild cat I’m talking about. The Florida Panther. Where you gonna keep it? You can’t fuck around, man. That’s all I’m saying. These animals must be treated with the utmost respect. I mean these cats have to be fed. You know what I’m saying?”
“I’m hearing you, Reyes. You can’t get me one, huh? You were just yanking my chain. Whatever, dude. It’s just that I thought you were serious, and—it’s like—it’s all I’ve been thinking about lately. I don’t know. I had this beautiful dream. Fuck it.” I swallowed down four ephedrine with my warm Mountain Dew, and continued stirring the can of sky-blue paint I had been stirring all morning. This job was bullshit.
“I just have to think this over, Jason. The Florida Panther is endangered, you know? Hey, man, you’ve been popping those mini thins something fierce lately. You gotta slow down a little.”
“Dude, how much weed have you inhaled already this morning? I know what your little coffee breaks really are, man. You think I’m an idiot?”
“Jason, chill out my man! It’s cool. Everybody’s got their own business. Uh, we should however stop dragging ass on this room, man. I gotta contract to fulfill that’s currently overdue not to mention some new jobs to get started on soon. We’re gonna have to start hauling a little ass here.”
“Yeah, Reyes, let’s paint this fucker already. I’m up for it.”
“Okay, bring in that ladder from the other room, man. ‘Fiirre! Fire on the mounntaiinn!’”
“You gotta really pretty singing voice, boss.” Reyes sang his shitty Grateful Dead song while I pretended to go get the ladder. Instead, I went out and smoked a couple cigarettes and threw up again. I came back and he’s still painting the same wall. How did this guy become a contractor? How did he become a painter? Fucking hippies! The whole rest of the day I’m pissed off about my puma. Fuck. I attempt to paint the ceiling until I start to get dizzy at which point I retire to the bathroom and jerk off. It takes me twenty minutes.
                                                   *****
Two weeks later I get a call from the “delivery men”. They need my address for delivery of my panther. Supposedly the cat will be tranquilized when it arrives. It’ll wear off by the next morning, and then I’m on my own. Reyes fucking came through for me! My dream was beginning. An animal tranquilizer would be provided free of charge for the delivery. I decided I would put morphine in the cat’s food from that point on, so as to keep things quiet. For starters I would feed him the plethora of meat product from my grandfather’s deep freezer, which sat at the other end of the basement. Since the onset of his cancer grandpa didn’t have much appetite for the steaks and roasts anymore (which incidentally continued to arrive like clockwork every month from Senwa’s Meat of the Month Club), and so there was a virtually endless supply of pet food as long as I was stealthy about it.
I would name the cat Mickey, and she would be my soul mate. Delivery was scheduled for Saturday night at around 2AM. The boys would park down the block at the old playground and wheel Mickey on a dolly to our basement’s bulkhead. Covering the panther’s crate would be a refrigerator carton so as not to rouse any suspicion (although it was suspicious enough that anybody would be wheeling around a new refrigerator at 2AM on Saturday night, but that was their plan. Who was I to argue?). For the time being Mickey would remain in her crate until we became friends (which wouldn’t take long). Later she could sleep with me, or I would make her a bed next to mine if she preferred it. At night we would dream together sleeping side by side. Occasionally, we would meet up in each other’s dreams when things were right. I would say: “Hey, Mickey.”
Of course, one would no doubt wonder how I was planning to keep Mickey a secret from my grandparents. Well, I didn’t have to worry about grandpa coming down here. To start I would keep the crate covered with some old sheets if my grandma happened to wander down, which she would, assuredly, but I wasn’t really thinking about that too much at the moment since I had just taken some morphine. I wracked my brain for almost a half hour trying to think of some potential problems with the upcoming adoption, but I couldn’t see any obstacles. There was too much love running carelessly through my brain. It was a happening. A fucking love-in! And we had an arsenal against any police interference, so to speak.
As the bliss blissed and Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan” played for the fifth time on repeat I notice that Cindy had arrived and was sitting on the side of my bed trying to talk to me. And apparently I had been responding to her conversation although I have no idea what it was about. I was astonished and a little stoked, because it was like I had become one of those “split-brain” patients I had learned about in my high school psychology class. I mean I was multi-tasking here although I wasn’t really understanding anything Cindy was saying. That was beside the point, however. The important thing is that my brain was on autopilot and Cindy didn’t know the difference. She wasn’t looking at me funny or anything, so I assumed everything I was saying to her was in line with whatever her subject was.
“So that dude is really getting creepy. You know the stalker guy? Jen’s? She had to get a restraining order against him. He woke her up the other night at, like, three in the morning. He had dumped all her garbage cans out in her front yard and was yelling her name at the top of his lungs. He woke up the whole fucking neighborhood. They said he was on crank or something. He had carved her name up and down his arms with a broken Snapple bottle from her garbage. He’s already out on bail. Fucking psycho. Do you have any food? I’m fucking starved.”
“There’s some tuna casserole in the fridge. My grandmother made it with Doritos instead of potato chips. I don’t know. It’s fucking gross. Do me a favor and eat the shit, so I don’t have to look at it. Get me a coke.”
“So what do you think? It’s fucked isn’t it?”
“What?”
“What the fuck do you think, junkie? Jen’s psycho. I mean the dude is seriously on the edge. I’m kinda scared for Jen.”
“Oh. Well, the pigs are involved, so she’ll be fine. I wouldn’t worry. Could you get me that coke?”
“The fucking pigs. That’s the problem. They won’t do shit. They already let the fucker out. Doesn’t that scare you?”
“No. This is probably one of my favorite Sabbath songs. Completely underrated.”
“Fuck you, dweeb. So are you ever gonna fuck me again? Or are just gonna sit here every night in your own stink and listen to classic rock. I mean I love you, Jason, but I’m horny as hell. You’re not into me anymore? What the fuck’s your deal?”
“What are you talking about, Cindy. Fucking chill. I just haven’t been really in the mood lately. I don’t know. It’s not you. C’mere.”
I held her. She cried for a few minutes, but I think I comforted her. And to tell you the truth I felt a little bad. I didn’t like to see her cry. Nothing could bust my bubble tonight though, and so I couldn’t help but smile. I mean I was beaming. I don’t think Cindy could see that through her tears. I didn’t know.

“Come on, mannn. I’ve been doing this shit for years. You can’t tell me halfway through a job that you’re not gonna pay me––and that you want the advance back! How can you fuckin’ fire me? I’ve been painting houses for years!”
“Mr. Reyes, I’ve been incredibly patient with you––“
“I told you I was having problems with the primer! I mean come on man…you’re paying me for fuckin’ quality work––am I wrong? And I told you I was having some problems with my employee. Fuck, man, that kid flaked out on me and––“
“Mr. Reyes. Mr. Reyes! Your problems with your employees are just that. And can you tone down the language? I want you and your equipment out of there today, or I’ll have you removed for trespassing. I’ve hired a new contractor to finish the job, and correct your mistakes. I explicitly requested estate red for the study! You said the entire house would take a week. It is one month later! Mr. Reyes…consider yourself lucky…I found an empty vial of morphine in the upstairs bathroom yesterday––”
“Morphine? What the hell are you––“
“Mr. Reyes. I want you out of my house. Your services are no longer required. I will not hesitate to get the law involved. Keep the advance. Just get your longhaired, junky, “hey man!” ass off of my property. The sixties are over,thankfully. And so are you. You know I try to be open-minded. You appeared to have a good reputation around here. Tom Davis, the electrician spoke highly of you. Said you were a little flaky, but a hard worker. I hate to judge a book by its cover, so I give you the contract, and guess what? Guess what? I stop in last week late and I swear I smell marijuana. Mr. Reyes I don’t condone drug use recreationally. There is no way in hell that I will allow a hippie doper work on any of my properties! And the morphine…?
I’m afraid that was the last straw. I’m on my way to the house as we speak and if I see your van in the driveway when I arrive I will call the sheriff.
“My brother died with AIDS last year…”
“Excuse me? I’m not sure where this is going. Have you understood all of what I have just said, Mr.––“
“Dirty needles. His wife bought it two years before. Overdose. When he was a kid he wanted to be a major league ballplayer. God, I looked up to him. The sixties are over, thankfully. I agree. I spent two years in Viet Nam. That’s what I remember of the sixties. That and a lot of important, promising people snuffed out before their time. Yeah, man, the pot has dulled my memory a bit. But I’m no junky, sir. My brother broke my heart cuz I couldn’t follow him there. That’s where it ended. He robbed my poor mother blind, and us kids too. I’m packing up my stuff, Mr. Rush. I haven’t the slightest clue how an empty vial of morphine found its way onto your property. I’m sorry. I am over. You’re right. But you’re kind is hemorrhaging internally. I wish I could help. You know I was a medic in the army? Wasn’t any good at it. Not good at much I guess. I’ve always paid my way though. Got a lot of regrets. Do you have regret, man? Mr. Rush?”
“My only regret is in hiring you. I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Consider yourself warned. Good day, Mr. Reyes. Best of luck in the future.”

***
“Jen was murdered last night. That sick fuck bludgeoned her in her own driveway with a lead pipe! They knew that guy was fucked! Jason!! Do you even hear me!? Where the fuck are you? She’s fucking dead. Where did you go!? Her brains are all over the lawn. I love you, Jason. I really need you right now. And you don’t care. I can’t do this.”
“Jen? What did she do? Why––? I love you, Cindy. I’m here. I––did he rape her? I love you. Cindy.”
“No…you don’t love me. I know. You don’t love me, Jason. You just can’t. I’m so sorry. You’ll never love me. You’re like a ghost. I love your eyes. I can’t––I’m leaving for Ohio tomorrow. I can’t handle the funeral. I can’t believe she’s gone. I forgive you. Jason, you need fucking help. I don’t know how to help you. I don’t understand. I don’t want to be your girlfriend anymore. I can’t. You’ll never love me. You’re a fucking drug addict.”
“Oh. Cindy….I wanted to share something beautiful with you. I want you to meet my Mickey. She’s beautiful. You’ll love her. She’s just right there in the cage. Shh. She’s asleep, but you can pet her.”
“I’ve been talking to my mom and she’s letting me move back in with her. She’s cleaned herself up a lot. She says she’s born again. I don’t know. I fucking hate born again Christians, but…I don’t know. Fucking Jen! Jesus Christ! You’re gonna kill yourself, baby. I can’t watch that happen. I don’t mind some pot, but you’re stealing your grandfather’s morphine. You fucking pussy! Why’d you let me fall for you? Why? I mean––I don’t see the harm in being saved. You know? Don’t laugh. If it means I can love my mom again and she won’t drink or hit me. Whatever it fucking takes. She’s tried so fucking long. I know. I wouldn’t talk to her forever. She just sounds different now. Maybe it’s bullshit. Maybe born again is worse? I don’t know. In her voice now is––peace. Love. She couldn’t love me before. She couldn’t love herself. If finding Jesus did this for her…then––fuck it. Maybe it means I get my mom back. Jesus or Allah or Satan––I don’t fucking care anymore. Whoever pays the bills. Whoever pays the fucking bills, Jason, you fucking waste! Oh God, I love you! I’m sorry…bye.”
***
“Love. I love you. Where’s the vial? Shit––“
As Jason opened the freezer door the tiny vial of morphine, which he had clenched between his teeth, dropped from his mouth when he began talking to himself in halting, breathy gasps.
“My girlfriend. Grandpa hit me with the ball. Boy, the way Glenn Miller played. Um. London Broil. Cool.” The frozen steak sent a shiver up his arm. He placed it on the floor and slid it across the cement toward his den. After laboriously retrieving the vial he fell backward with a girlish gasp.
“Huh. It’s fucking frozen. I don’t wanna see the old folks no more. I’m not using the microwave. She’ll just start fucking talking again! Shitfuck.”
Jason staggered back to the den and remembered the little space heater his mom had given him. After ten minutes of stumbling and rooting, stopping each time Mickey let out a waking growl, which steadily grew in loudness and intensity, Jason found the little cube-shaped heater. The rich, increasingly high timbre of Mickey’s growling gave Jason an erection. He felt embarrassed; his face estate red.
As Jason plugged in the heater he flashed his senior speech class in high school. On the last day the students each gave a ten-minute demonstrative speech.
“Here’s a cute little project you can do with glue, popsicle sticks, and pictures of your loved ones. Maybe you and your little brother or sister could do this for Christmas presents. Me and my sisters have been doing this since we were little. That poor bitch had buckteeth and that red turtleneck sweater. She sucked so much I almost cried. I love her and miss her. I’m sorry, fucking popsicle sticks.”
“Here’s a cute little Florida panther that has been starved. I would like to demonstrate the feeding and sedation of Mickey, my panther. We’re in love.” Jason inserted the eyedropper into the morphine vial and squirted some on the now thawed meat. As he approached the cage, Mickey screeched and swiped through the bars. Jason flinched and threw the steak at the cage. Mickey hooked it in through the bars and devoured it. A half hour later Jason lay in the cage alongside Mickey who panted slowly, her jaw slack, tongue hanging out. Jason stroked Mickey’s wiry fur and whispered his secrets into her ear.
Raymond Reyes threw the phone across the expanse of the unpainted dining room, and began to cry. The tears streaming down his sun-beaten face; into and through the valleys of well-worn smile lines, which framed his gaunt face, were the only evidence of the sadness and rage seething within him. He was calm. He thought to himself: estate red. He moved his ladder in front of the garish marble fireplace at the far end of the room. Reyes undressed and threw his clothes into the unused fireplace along with a few drop cloths and his wooden toolbox. With a little paint thinner and a match a glorious red and blue flame erupted with a pooft! Reyes ascended the ladder; paintbrush and can of the wrong red paint in his calloused hands. Above the mantle Reyes quickly, but carefully, painted his self-portrait onto the virgin white walls. He chuckled to himself at once recognizing the goofiness of his own likeness, and his success at finally expressing it on an unlikely canvas. From the other end of the room it would appear unsettling, grand. It would seem not the portrait of a frustrated artist, but a great red smiling skull; giant bloody glorious wings where the ears should be. For once he signed his name bravely. No longer the tiny stylized double R in the bottom right hand corner. Framing the dome of the head through a grand arch in dripping red capitals: R-E-Y-E-S! The flames grew higher.

***
Mickey shot through the dark hallway just as the hysterical grandmother locked herself into the bathroom. Mickey’s piercing screams reverberated through the house prompting increasingly louder strangled sobbing punctuated by intermittent keening squeals, which terrified the starving, bewildered animal. The smell of slow death sickened and terrorized Mickey, yet his ravenous hunger delivered him with a clumsy though accurate pounce onto grandpa’s bed.
“Jason, I was just dreaming of you and I need to tell you something. I love you. You’re lazy and you don’t got ambition. Father George used to tell us altar boys to live life with a hunger for blood. He meant the blood of Jesus Christ Our Lord. Blood and also joy, but to never lose sight of Christ’s moral example. You’ve lost your moral way, Jason, but you’re still young and I have faith in you. I banged a 16-year old hooker when your Grandmother was in the hospital with the phlebitis. You were just a kid then. I was the best southpaw on my high school team. I love your Grandmother and your mother and I would die for them. There was a minor league scout in the stands the night two nigger hitters in a row scored runs off me. The whites of their eyes burned my arm. They were so powerful those boys. My arm was on ice for a week. I was never so embarrassed in my life. My father said that I disgraced his name that night. I prayed for God’s forgiveness, and the following Sunday was absolved in confession by Father George. I’ve lost my way, but never my morals. This country is founded on morals. Jason, don’t forget—uh, mora…mora…moralism. Jason, are all the doors locked? Have your Grandma bring my cigar. I paid for that poor little whore’s abortion…moralism…Jason. Jason. Whores…”
Mickey sank his teeth into the old man’s skeletal neck, his final utterances answered by a steadily rising purr of relief and contentment. As Mickey ate the old man’s flesh he offered a tribute to his prey.
“Two blue jays, a chick and its mother, lay dying in my path when I was a cub. My mother explained that they had fallen from the sky. I ate them. My father taught me that the life spilling from their bodies into my mouth and staining my fur also washed away, like a warm spring rain, the suffering birds’ agony. Neither my father nor my mother ever told me the tale of the Moral. The Moral does not exist, Old Man. I know this as I tear your thin grey skin. Your life is your gift to me, and for this I am eternally grateful, sir.”
Mickey ate little of his prey. His still clouded mind faintly warned him that the meat was tainted in some way. When he found his way into the living room he ate some of the grandmother’s giant fern as she continued to wail from the bathroom. Frantically in search of a way out of his giant cage, Mickey returned to the basement and ran in circles as vomit dripped from Jason’s mouth and nose; his lifeless eyes staring longingly into the empty cage, still.
Two policemen entered the basement, their guns raised at the ever-circling panther. As the first officer’s boot hit the floor he was immediately knocked on his feet by the pouncing animal that shot up the stairs as a bullet from his gun exploded through an old Army helmet hanging on the cement wall along side the grandfather’s fishing gear. The grandmother prayed on her knees near the open front door for the soul of her mutilated husband, and for deliverance from this invading beast. As he escaped into the night Mickie—–CLAW-SPRUNG!——DOOM-PAWED!——–the supplicant widow across her oath-less face.

©2017 P.E. Tottenham