by A.C. Koch
([email]henry_iblis [at] hotmail [dot] com[/email])
I, Ghatu, continue to devolve. Like my century, I tumble from beauty to shit with a thousand senseless catastrophes along the way. At my side reclines the sleek Frenchwoman who has been my lover across three continents and as many years, a person of such beauty, intelligence and strength that next to her I am but a flake of cum. Out the window smolder the slums of Mexico City — any way you look at it, one of the most spectacular disasters in all of human history. Caught between these two elements, Isabelle and the ghetto, I squirm. I am the lance that pins the butterfly to the board. Vulgar, yes — but remove me, and the spectacle is gone.
* * *
[i]What is History but the brains of a god spattered on a wall? And what is Time but a coat of paint? Who is the painter? Where is the wall? And why does this god again and again drive this bullet through his brain?[/i] The answers arrive in the instant of my awakening and all is, as usual, forever lost. Isabelle grips my shoulder, breathing sleep breath in my face.
“Ghatu, I heard a gunshot.”
“No, that was my dream.”
“No, Ghatu, the dream was a metaphor. I really heard a gunshot.”
“That’s ridiculous, Isabelle. You might as well say life is a metaphor. How does one experience a metaphor?”
“I think it came from upstairs.”
“It’s like the difference between sex and a porn movie. Degrees, only. Both are experienced. Neither is metaphor.”
“Dreams, if anything, account for a greater degree of –”
“Get up and find out what the hell happened! I think Jimenez is shooting.”
“Jimenez,” I say. The pervert upstairs. “If he’s blown his brains out,” I speculate, “does that make him the God, and this the House?”
Isabelle fixes me with an icy stare, the product of thousands of years of feminine longsuffering. I crawl from bed and cross the room naked. Clothes, dishes, cockroaches scatter underfoot in the murky light of late afternoon.
* * *
From the neighbors assembled in the hall upstairs I glean that Jimenez has indeed blown his brains out. This is a boon for the six families that live in the building, as Jimenez was known to be a packrat of epic compulsion. His tiny room contains a thousand canned goods, many of them decades old; twenty typewriters and assorted parts; crates full of light bulbs, each bulb individually bubble-wrapped and every one of them burned out; a closet full of deflated sex dolls, each one bearing the emblem of a different football club sewn onto the pubis; bushels of rotten garlic; seven horsehair top hats, each in perfect condition and arranged on a tall hat rack carved from a coppery timber not indigenous to earth; decades of issues of [i]El Paï¿½s[/i] crumpled into tiny balls and arranged in a rough pyramid; and many thousands of skeleton keys hung by fishhooks from the ceiling, not a few of which also bear fish.
Everyone in the building, some sixty people, mill in and out of Jimenez’s room carting away prizes. The canned food is the most popular. The defunct, bubble-wrapped light bulbs are slower to move. Rogelio Varela, a strapping young delinquent who lives next door to me, tries on one of the top hats. He struts like a king, fingering Spanish olives from a rusted can he opened with his pocketknife. He’s admiring himself in the mirror when he hacks a cough, bites his tongue in half and drops dead. The other six top hats remain untouched.
Meanwhile, Jimenez lies dead below the sill of the only window. Blood pools around him. He holds a poker hand in his fist — a full house — and the rest of the deck of cards is scattered in the blood. A small pile of matches seems to be the pot. No one is interested in Jimenez, nor will anyone come near me as I inspect him. As I walk about the room poking and peering, the Mexicans keep their distance: such a superstitious lot. They genuflect at everything and fan themselves in the stifling heat. Thankfully, I am entirely naked and a cooling sweat streams down my body.
When nearly everything of value has been hauled from the room and the twitching corpse of Rogelio Varela solemnly carried to his kitchen table, the landlady pulls Jimenez’s door shut and forbids anyone to enter again. Then she goes to the hall phone and calls several antique stores, a haberdashery, and the police.
* * *
Isabelle sits up on her elbows as I come back in the room. “What happ — Ghatu! You’re naked!”
“We are all naked, Isabelle, every one of us.”
“What’s happening out there? It sounds like a riot.”
I sit next to her, brushing the roaches from the blankets. “Jimenez is shot. The tenement is frenzied. They’re holding a wake next door for Rogelio who dropped dead the instant he put on one of Jimenez’s top hats.”
[i]”Top hats?[/i] What was Jimenez doing with top hats?”
“Seven of them. The same thing he was doing with a dozen sex dolls, a thousand light bulbs and a million skeleton keys.”
“Perhaps. In fact, I dreamt almost exactly –”
“Ghatu? Not now. Not now, okay?” She sits in the yellow light, head bowed and hand on her forehead. I rise and pace the room. Never a more squalid pit have I seen, yet I’m happy here. I own almost nothing, and all of it is scattered over the floor. The sink in the corner spits brown water at will. The walls, painted for generations, flake and snow fine, lead-based powder. A large funnel, nailed to the outside of the window sill, serves as a toilet. (The toilet down the hall is rumored to be dangerous.)
And here, in the midst of it all: Isabelle. She sits twisted in the sheets of my mattress on the floor as cockroaches, earwigs and millipedes skitter willy-nilly in the pallid light. She sits there like the hand of beauty in the till of despair. And only for that do I wish I lived elsewhere.
In fact, this is a jolly tenement, stuffed to the vigas with interrelated and crossbred families who provide for one another as if this building were itself its own universe. Mexico City is composed entirely of universes such as these. Only Jimenez and I, like black holes, were outside of this familial scheme. Now Jimenez has collapsed under his own gravity and I am the sole cosmic anomaly. I say this to Isabelle. She lies down and shows me her back.
For the rest of the night I try to rest but the wake next door keeps me from sleep. The women wail and pound on the walls and the men chain-smoke cigarillos. Smoke seethes through the joists and under the door. Children sprint about hurling bubble-wrapped light bulbs and typewriters at one another. Pungent aromas waft with the smoke as Jimenez’s canned goods are transformed into a midnight feast and the next hour becomes a gallery of shrieks and gurgles as everyone in the building dies the twitching death of botulism. At last all is silent and I join Isabelle in sleep — dreamless sweet sleep.
* * *
When the police arrive at ten in the morning, responding to last night’s report of a gunshot, they find a tenement littered top to bottom with corpses. It takes them all day to haul them out. I sit on the corner in front of the cigarette stand watching body after body carried out the door and tossed in a dump truck. The police themselves don’t do the work, they make the neighborhood [i]chamacos[/i] do it. I smoke a whole pack of Boots sitting there watching.
Isabelle went home in the morning, leaving by the window as customary, and noticing nothing out of the ordinary except that the building was very quiet. Where she lives, in the high-rise towers of el Centro, there will be no news of mass death in the ghetto.
When at last the police have gone I return to my room. The neighborhood kids are busy looting the apartments of the dead, stripping the wiring and the copper piping, but my room is untouched. Also untouched is Jimenez’s room upstairs. The police didn’t even enter, though out of superstition or negligence I don’t know.
Neither did they discover the sort of shanty town on the roof of the building where a dozen or so corpses lie rotting in the sun and acid rain. Their fluids seep down through the roof and into Jimenez’s room which is already steeped in blood. I begin to notice drips in my ceiling early one evening as I’m tidying up in expectation of Isabelle. She despises my quarters, yet I believe she also finds a certain thrill in the whole ordeal of driving through the ghetto, covering her evening dress with a dirty smock and climbing the ladder to my window so as to avoid certain rape in the hallways by Rogelio or some other miscreant. The tingle of danger is transferred to me and I believe it is partially responsible for the voracity with which she pursues me. I am the ghetto, I am the night, I am savage love and brutal embrace. For a pampered city girl as she has become, what could be more piquant?
And so I tidy up but not too much, and I comb my hair but leave it a little mussed, and I scrub myself but only one armpit, and I wash the wine glasses but leave them spotty. I pace around the room feeling irresistible when I notice the fresh stains on the sheets. Blood is dripping from the ceiling.
It’s just then that Isabelle arrives at the window, crawling over the funnel and turning on the window sill to let her smock fall open on her ivory body. She?s so white she’s blue. I pulse. She holds open her arms. We’re on the floor in an instant. The insects feed off our sweat as we fuck, and blood drips down on our backs as we roll one on top the other. My arousal is intensified in the knowledge that at any moment the ceiling will collapse in an avalanche of splinters, newspaper, bubble-wrapped light bulbs and liquefied corpses. Isabelle, sensing my urgency, draws me out like a bead of water trembling on the tip of a faucet. Alas, before I can drip, the ceiling bursts. We lay frozen in the unspeakable debris.
How do you bring your lover to orgasm when you are buried in decades of putrescence and the fluid remains of decaying cadavers? The moment is lost. Isabelle digs herself choking from the wreckage, shoving aside light bulbs, garlic and jellied limbs in a cloud of plaster dust. Together we make our way to the window where she vomits down the funnel. I drape her smock around her shoulders and light us two cigarettes. She doesn’t want one so I smoke them both, double-barreled.
“Why do you insist on this lifestyle, Ghatu?” She glares at me. As if I caused the damn ceiling to collapse.
“This,” I say, gesturing, “is not a lifestyle. Where you live, at the top of the Torre Latinoamï¿½rica, in an air conditioned atrium with electronic connections to every energy node on earth, [i]that’s[/i] a lifestyle. This, here,…this is just survival.”
“Energy nodes, Ghatu?”
“I wouldn’t live where you live for anything.”
“That’s because they won’t let you in the building.”
“Besides, living here, deep in the ghetto, imbues me with the spice of danger. The ghetto is the new frontier. The squalor is limitless. I am the law and the outlaw. I am the mountain and the plain. I –”
“I’m going home.” She’s crawling out the window. She looks up as she descends the ladder. “I won’t be back, Ghatu. Not to this place.” She jumps to the ground and hurries across the vacant lot next door where a bonfire burns and shadowy figures slither.
“How will I find you!” I yell into the night. But her limo roars up over the curb and its back door pops open, swallowing her up. She speeds away like a black bullet through the wretched street as the neighborhood kids hurl bricks and flaming bottles at the titanium shell, already blurring with velocity. Isabelle, Isabelle, so strong and still so scared.
* * *
I set about arranging and organizing the objects that have collapsed into my room, ergo: everything that was in Jimenez’s apartment, including Jimenez. He had tumbled into a corner still clutching his poker hand in his rigor-mortised fist. I drag him into the hall. The other corpses and pieces of corpses I dump out the window where they are eagerly snatched up by the bonfire people. Something inclines me not to throw Jimenez out there. Perhaps I am already scheming to make him a part of his own collection, though I can’t say this is a conscious decision.
Nevertheless, I spend the rest of the night staking crates of light bulbs against one wall, reconstructing the crumpled newspaper pyramid in the middle of my floor, hanging the bushels of garlic like plants above my window, setting the hat rack and top hats by the door. I make a sweep of the building to retrieve the objects which were snatched up by the other tenants. I become lost in unfamiliar hallways which loop around and dead-end and open on still narrower and darker passages that are unknown to me. At one point I become aware of a succulent aroma as if a meal is being cooked behind one of these silent doors. The tang of [i]mole poblano[/i], the eye-watering sting of roasting peppers. I pound on doors, asking kindly for a bite to eat but my voice falls away into deathly silence and no answer comes. I return to my room dragging a makeshift sled piled high with loot.
I occurs to me as I reconstruct Jimenez’s temple of junk in my own room that he may have inherited all of these things from someone before him, and someone before [i]him[/i]. I go after the task with the zeal of an exhibit curator, arranging the millions of artifacts in, I must say, a much more conscientious manner than Jimenez had done. When everything is swept into piles and all the plaster thrown out, my room is nearly filled wall to wall although the ceiling is now over twenty feet high: the skeleton keys dangle from their hooks way up there, and sunlight shines through Jimenez’s high window. I rig myself a sling from Isabelle’s old pantyhose and sleep suspended from the wall. I dream by a factor of millions: a million sheep jumping a million fences. I awake smarter than ever before and blazon with the knowledge that what I have begun here is only the beginning and that from now on, forever, everything that exists will become, over time and piece by piece, [i]mine[/i]. That nothing will escape my collection, no object, no emotion, not the Author nor the Reader, not you, not History nor Time, not love nor emptiness itself — that everything should come rushing together with irresistible gravity, that I, Ghatu, should preside as curator of all that exists, collected, impacted, deep inside the ghetto.
(This story is a chapter excerpted from The [i]Cockhard Death Cycles[/i])
(c)2002 A.C. Koch
by Chris Duncan
([email]cduncan204 [at] aol [dot] com[/email])
Skinny Steven Hilton stares at his bucktoothed continence in the mirror of a Shoney’s restroom. He absorbs critically his floppy ears, his close-set eyes, his one eyebrow, his oddly feminine lips, full and red, chapped, flaking, better looking from afar. He bites a piece of loose skin from his bottom lip and swallows it. He tilts his head toward the ceiling and stares as best he can into his formidably sized nostrils into which he rams thumbs and index fingers and grabs as many nose hairs as he can. He yanks. He yanks. His eyes fill with tears. Fuck’at shit hurts, he thinks, smiling dumbly to himself. He again stares at his buckteeth, stained brown from dipping over three thousand cans of long-cut wintergreen Skoal. He ruefully hears his dead daddy commenting: “You could eat corn on the cob through a wire fence with those teeth, boy!” Steven grimaces away the thought and pats down a cowlick. Steven is trying to be happy. No, he is happy. He is! He’s just graduated from Alliance Truck Driving Academy of Bristol, Virginia, and he and his girlfriend and his mom are celebrating. The girls are eating their salads. Steven has just drained what he calls his anaconda and flushed his venom down the dirty urinal. Steven is thirty. Steven is going places. Stephen imagines himself adopting a monkey, a capuchin perhaps; his monkey will wear a baseball cap, and they’ll be like BJ and the Bear, solving mysteries, stopping crime, and hanging out with hot girls in Jacuzzis.
“Oh, God,” says a meek voice echoing from behind the far stall door. “Is anybody out there?”
Steven freezes. Social mores have just had a car wreck. People aren’t supposed to talk from behind the stall doors. Steven’s heart is pounding like a scared bird’s, only half shot, broken winged.
“I can’t believe this. Oh, Jesus Christ!” continues the voice. “Somebody? Um, I need a little assistance.”
Steven doesn’t know what to do. He’ll get his Mom.
Steven exhales and starts tiptoeing toward the door.
“Hey, you,” says the voice. “Listen, aw, Jesus…um, hey, I need some assistance. Are you there? Huh? I know you’re there-or here, rather. I heard you-hear you. Don’t go. Jesus Christ, man, I need some help in a bad kind of way.”
Stephen primps nervously his moustache, which he has just recently waxed into an ostensibly sexy handlebar, a la Rolly Fingers. He stares at his fingers, dry and cracked, rough, cut up, calloused, trimmed short save for the right thumb on his right hand. He forgot to cut that one. He had been sitting on the toilet trimming his nails last night when Missy waltzed into the john, oblivious to the stench, saying, “Honey bunny? Baby? Mommy wants some dick.”
Missy had gotten her hair frosted earlier at PJ’s Scissor Trix and felt sexy. Both sides of her neck shone brightly with a redneck microcosmic aurora borealis of hickeys: bluish green, yellow, so blatant and ignorant, sometimes shimmering with stupidity instead of brilliance. In one of the hickeys on the left side of her neck, inside an amalgam of muted yellow and washed out blue is a penis shape, or maybe a Pepsi bottle, depending upon the angle the hickey is seen, or how one squints one’s eyes.
“What?” Stephen asks. “Huh?”
“Come here. Please. I-I-something is wrong,” says the voice. “Your discretion would be appreciated.”
“My what?” says Stephen. “Huh?”
“First of all-please, please, please, lock the door. Do it right now. Please! Just lock it. We can’t have a lot of people parading in and out of here. Not now. Gene will be wondering where I am. Christ, how fucking ridiculous this whole thing-well, never mind that-just, please, lock the door. I need your help with this. You’ll be rewarded-financially, you understand; I can assure you of that. Now, now, please: just do it. Lock the door,” says the voice, thin and squeaky, mousy, fragile, and tiny. Stephen mulls, That feller sounds like he might be a kware.
Stephen clears his throat and dead bolts the door. “Alright, buddy. I’ve locked the door. Everything’s gone be OK. You got diarrhea? It’s going around. Missy shit her brains out a couple of nights ago. Missy’s my girlfriend. Talk about the stock in Lysol going up, whew-”
“Not to cut you off-I so appreciate your help-but, um, just to be sure. The door is locked, correct? Gene’s out there, you see. Gene’s my boss-the owner of the circus.”
Stephen tugs on the door, testing it. “Yeah. It’s locked. Look, I think I’ve got some Imodium tablets out in the tru-”
“I’m not sick. I don’t have diarrhea. It’s not that. The door is locked, right?”
Stephen sighs, looks at his watch, and shakes his head. “I don’t mean to be rude but the girls are about finished with their salads, and I ordered catfish-”
“Dear God, man, please don’t leave me-not like this. You there?”
“I’m here, feller. I’m here. And before you ask, the goddamn door is locked. You need some underwear or something? Cause I gotta go. I don’t mind helping a man out but-”
“To the outside of the stall. Please.”
Steven bends down low to the floor, looking for shoes. He sees none.
“Where’s your feet, feller. I don’t see your feet. What are you, a midget or something?”
“Well, I prefer little person but euphemisms aside, yes, I’m a midget. I’m in the far stall, the one next to the wall. Come here.”
Stephen smiles and twists the right side of his sexy mustache. “Hey, wait a minute. You’re with the circus! You’re one of them little fellers with the circus. I saw y’all in Saltville last night. I’ll bet you were one of them little fellers that kept coming out of that pink Volkswagen. That was funnier than hell. Y’all just kept coming, one after the other. I said, ‘Missy, look at all them little midgets coming out of that car.’ Man, that was a hoot, brother. Missy laughed and laughed. I think she peed on herself when one of y’all midgets started juggling knives or whatever the hell they was. I don’t know why, but Missy thought that was funnier than shit.”
“I’m sure Missy’s sense of humor is simply bubbling over with a wit that would put Oscar Wild to shame,” says the voice.
“Huh?” answers Stephen, now standing in front of the midget’s stall door.
“Never mind. Now, um, crawl underneath the door so I can talk with you.”
“You can talk with me now, feller-with me out here. I ain’t into glory holes or any of that rest-stop kind of shit. That there’s some fucked up shit, feller. Now, I’m fixing to leave and-”
“Who said anything about glory holes? I just want to converse with you, face to face. OK? I need your help. How many ways can I say it? I’m desperate, sir. I’m desperate as desperate can be.”
Stephen scratches his neck and then glances at his watch. “Missy and Mom are waiting, little man. Listen, uh, I’ll tell the manager that you’re sick or whatever, and he’ll come and help you out. Sorry, chief, but I got to get to the damned salad bar before my fat-assed girlfriend wipes out everything. Missy can put the shit away.”
Stephen practically runs to the restroom door. He’s unlocking the deadbolt when he hears the voice say something else; the inflection of the voice is different, somehow transcendent. The voice, though girlishly high, is desperate but calm as an ocean after a hurricane.
“Huh?” says Stephen, frozen in place.
“I said I’ve got a gun. I don’t want to use it. But I’ve got one, and I’m pointing it at the back of your head.”
Slowly, Stephen relocks the door. “Did ya hear that, little feller? Door’s locked. Did ya hear the click? Huh? I locked’er back, little feller. Now don’t you go shooting. I just graduated from truck driving school and everything, and I don’t need no damned bullet in the back of my head. I mean, shit, you probably can’t shoot worth a fuck, you being a midget and all, but you might luck one up and-”
“You’re telling me to shut up? Shut up, you say. Do you realize that I finished in the top ten percent of my class, little man? Do ya? You need to watch how you talk to me. I just came in here to drain the main vein, the old anaconda, and I don’t need your bull-sheet. You’re lucky I don’t bust that ass for ya, little man. Why I’d treat you like the goddamn redheaded stepchild you are, punk ass. Why, why, why I’d stomp a mud-hole so far up your ass I’d-”
“Shut up. You shut up, or I’m pulling the trigger.”
The midget lay on his naked belly on the floor of the restroom, looking like a soldier on a recon mission. The midget is bald, wears small, chic rimless glasses. He sports a well-groomed red beard. A tattoo is carved into his forehead saying Frodo 4-Ever; each letter has its own font and color. With both his chubby hands, he holds a snub-nosed .38, its barrel locked on Stephen’s head.
“Turn around. And cut the commentary.”
A small nervous trickle of urine snakes its way down Stephen’s right pant’s leg.
“Huh?” says a bewildered Stephen, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. The midget is going to kill him. Sure as the world turns. The midget is going to kill him. Wasn’t it just last night that Missy jacked him off while he was sitting on the shitter? Wasn’t it earlier today that he graduated from truck driving school? Wasn’t it ten minutes ago that he stole a chickpea from the salad bar and threw it at least three feet in the air-same height as the midget-before catching it acrobatically in his ugly gullet? Fun stuff. Alive stuff. Damn it, what about all the fun stuff that had been happening to him? All these thoughts, congealed and squashed, catalyze a river of more cold, panicky piss to stream down his right leg (Stephen’s a right hanger). The midget smirks.
“Shut the fuck up. You need to shut the fuck up and turn the fuck around and walk the fuck over here,” says the midget.
Stephen primps his handlebar as he pirouettes slowly toward the midget. “You sure cuss a lot for a midget, feller.”
“Quite calling me a midget. From here on out I’m a little person to you. Got it?’
Before Stephen can say ‘Got it,” someone impatiently knocks at the door.
“I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR FIFTEEN MINUTES! I’VE GOTTA GO!” says an old man’s voice from outside the restroom. Stephen and the little person lock eyes.
The little person calmly tells Stephen, “Tell him you’re sick. Tell him to give you ten more minutes.”
Stephen inhales deeply before he cranes his head toward the restroom door. “Buddy, I’m sick’ern a dog. Give me ten more minutes.”
Stephen and the little person are quiet, listening for a response from the other side of the door. They hear only the white-noise of a busy Shoney’s on a Saturday evening: clanging silverware, a hundred conversations happening at once, the occasional piercing wail of a ticked-off toddler.
The little person clears his throat. “This has got to happen now. It just has to. You-what’s your name?”
Stephen, finally overcome by his terror, starts to cry. “My name’s St-Stephen. Stephen Hilton. I don’t want to die, little man-er, little person, I mean.”
Impatiently, the little person slides out from under the stall. He is naked and muscularly formed. Between his legs hangs a horse cock, long and thick. Stephen can’t help but stare in awe at the midget’s impressive genitals. What God didn’t give the little man in height, He compensated for in dick size. Stephen nervously tweaks the right half of his handlebar while muttering more to himself than to the little person: “Now that’s a cod.”
Ignoring Stephen’s rhetorical compliment, the little person says, “Stephen Hilton, I’m Marvin Casey.”
Stephen is not hearing Marvin. Stephen stares at the .38. Stephen has not blinked in three minutes.
Marvin continues, “Unfortunately, things have got to happen this second. I’m transporting myself tonight. Tonight is the night I free myself from my captives.” Marvin looks up at the drop ceiling. “Thank you, Jesus, for giving me this day and this weird redneck man to help me. Thank you, Jesus.” Marvin waves his gun at Stephen. “Aren’t you thankful?”
Stephen doesn’t know what to say. What if he says the wrong thing?
“Stephen, for Christ’s sake, don’t you have anything to be thankful for?”
Stephen smiles. “I graduated from truck driving school-top ten percent.”
Marvin smiles. “What do you say?”
“Thank you, Jesus,” says Stephen.
Marvin lowers the .38, pointing it toward the floor. “That’s good, Steven Hilton. That’s really good.”
“What do you want, feller?”
Marvin sighs. “Stephen Hilton, I need help getting out of the window, the one above the stall I just came out of. I’m trying to escape. I’ve got it all planned out. Tonight is the night. I’ve charted weather patters, wind directions-all my calculations, Stephen, say that tonight is the night. Now are you going to help me get out? Please help me? If I could reach that window, why, why-I’d already be airborne.”
“What the hell are you talking about, feller? Escape from who? Your momma and daddy?”
“Stephen, I’ll tell you all about it on the way to the launch pad. Right now, we’ve got to go.” Marvin walks toward Stephen and lifts the .38 until its barrel is only an inch away from Stephen’s nose. If Stephen weren’t already urine depleted, he would have surely wetted himself yet again. “OK OK OK! I’LL HELP YA!”
Marvin walks backwards to the stall. “The window is over here,” Marvin says, his voice sing-songy and excited.
* * *
“Why do I have to go naked, feller? Unlike you, I’m, I’m, I’m a grower not a shower, if you get my drift.”
Skinny Stephen Hilton and Marvin Casey stand in a secluded clearing near South Holston Lake. The mosquito filled night is alive with peepers and fish flops and cricket serenades and lightening-bugs and the lap lap lap of the lake’s giant hand clapping the edge of the shore as if trying to catch an interloper. At gunpoint, Stephen has driven himself and Marvin through Abingdon and onto route 11. “Put the pedal to the medal, mother fucker,” says a more excited than angry Marvin. Finally, after twenty minutes they park; Stephen kills the lights. Marvin asks Stephen to strip.
“You have to because this is a night of purity. My purity. And I’m not going to have my purity contaminated by the idiocy of clothing. Shuck it off, or I’ll have to use Mr. Grumpy.
Mr. Grumpy is the name Marvin uses in reference to his .38.
Stephen twists his mustache. Stephen is very angry. Stephen is being wronged. Stephen would love more than anything to shove Mr. Grumpy up this short little shit’s ass. Who the fuck knows what Missy’s thinking? Who knows what Mom is thinking? Who cares that this was supposed to be my night of celebration. Who gives a fuck if I can’t be happy one night of my life? This little bastard with his huge rod has robbed me of my night. My night! Short little fuck. Why, God, are you doing this to me? I don’t want to die-not like this. Why can’t I ever win?
“My mother gave birth to me in a public swimming pool,” says Marvin, waving his gun at Stephen. “Start stripping. Nobody even knew she was knocked up. She was skinny as a rail. Tiny. She was a sophomore in high school. She played basketball and volleyball. She was a sweet little thing. She knew I was growing inside her. She didn’t tell. She was afraid. She must have been so afraid. Take your fucking clothes off, Stephen!”
Stephen takes off his shirt. He begins unbuckling his belt.
“Her parents were God-squad members. My mom’s mom wore denim, the bow in the hair, no makeup, typical holy-roller. I’m not judging them. I’m sure they were good people. There you go, Stephen. It’s just a body. Yep, you are a grower. Anyway, nobody knew that I was growing inside my mom. I didn’t want to grow. I held off as much as possible. Don’t you see, Stephen? Each cell in my body divided with me kicking and screaming. I drug my feet. I held my breath, but I had to eventually breathe. What else could I do but come to the surface?”
Stephen stands among the mosquitoes and peepers and bats and stars, naked and simple, his hands cupped over his anaconda. Stephen can’t help but quickly glimpse at Marvin’s member, slowly jerking to life, rising to meet the stars. Stephen’s shrinking sex is hiding in its nest, impotent in its fear and release.
“Everybody called my mom Sweetie because she was such a sweet girl. Her daddy would say, ‘Sweetie pumpkin pie, I could just eat eat eat you up!’ And he’d hug her and kiss on her, and my mom would squeal. Everybody loved and hugged on Sweetie. She had naturally curly hair, a little pug nose, and sweet brown eyes. She was a sweetie, Stephen. She was. She was my mommy.”
Marvin and Stephen, a sequoia and a scrub pine, stand under the stars, asses aglow, and their backs shiny with a thin sheen of sweat.
“Bucky, my granddaddy, Sweetie’s daddy, why he’d fuck her hard. He would, Stephen Hilton. He’d fuck Sweetie because he could. He’d go into her room, paneled brown, the only picture a K-Mart print of a tacky whiter than white, blue-eyed Jesus kneeling next to a river in a ray of His father’s light. Bucky’d lift her denim skirt over her pug nose, leaving it draped over her fifteen-year-old blond head, blinding her with herself, and he’d fuck her. Then he’d pray for Sweetie, begging God to stop making his daughter do these things to him. He’d walk out of the room. He and Sweetie made me just like that. Those were my ingredients. Can you believe that, Stephen? Lift your hands up, Stephen Hilton. There’s nothing wrong with whatever you’ve got between your legs. Let Jesus see you whole. Lift up your hands. Close your eyes and touch his eyes.”
Stephen untwists his mustache, destroying his handlebar. He raises his hands above his head, feeling himself crawl from his nest.
“Sweetie loved me even though I was a sin. I was the sin itself. Hear my words carefully, Stephen. I was and am sin ITSELF. But Sweetie loved me. She tried to make me shrink into oblivion, back into sweet Jesus. She didn’t feed herself or me. She tried to help me not grow. She starved me as sweetly as she could. But I had to breathe. I ran out of breath. So I popped out of her and into the Glade Area Public Swimming Pool. Stephen, people will always remember that Sweetie birthed her baby in the Glade Area Public Swimming Pool. Sweetie thought her tummy was being ripped open from the inside. Her eyes bugged out. She didn’t know whether or not she was going to shit on herself or what. I happened in a blur, Stephen. I slipped out of her and somehow wiggled my way out of the side of her swimsuit. Sweetie looked at me hanging out of her, my eyes burning from the chlorine, my mouth gaped open; and, Stephen, I’m space walking in the water with my umbilical cord holding me to Sweetie. I couldn’t float away. I couldn’t disappear in the black. Sweetie stared at what she’d done until little girls and boys stared screaming and ‘oh my Gods,’ started raining down on our wet heads, Sweetie’s and my own.”
Stephen couldn’t help but ask, “Little feller, what the shit are you talking about?”
Marvin answers with a grin, “Stephen, I needed your ability to reach places I couldn’t-the window at Shoney’s mainly. You see, I must go back to the place from whence I came.”
Marvin’s red beard shimmers like fire under the starlight.
“What does whence mean?” asks Stephen, his hands on his hips.
“Inflated talk from a deflated little man,” says a still smiling Marvin, his erection now completely angled toward Cassiopeia.
Sweat moistens Stephen’s hairy stomach. A fine night mist enshrouds the two erect men as they stand, one in front of the other, funhouse distortions of one another with hands on hips, the .38 resting on the ground in between. The men’s bodies glisten with heat and moisture. However, sexuality is as absent from this scene as rational thought. The erection is indicative of a conscious longing on the part of Marvin and an unconscious longing on the part of Stephen. The hardness of the men in the soft, hot night is a hardness of the stiff peckers of dead men, their necks snapped, their bodies swaying from the end of a taunt rope. Their cocks are half dead and half alive, hard, yes, but longing not for the finite of the bounded woman, whose transport leads to nowhere. No, their cocks, the enormous on the short, and the short on the tall, long for the infinite transport that begins not with a gasp, then a contraction of ass muscles, and then pointless ejaculation. No, their cocks long for the infinite transport that begins with the asphyxiation of sweet death, followed swiftly by the hardness of cock reflecting a hardness of death, reflecting a softness of eternity, an endless cunt, then, finally, an eternal orgasm.
“You can either stay or leave,” says Marvin. “I’m not going to shoot. The gun’s dead. Hell, Stephen, it was never loaded.”
“I’m leaving then, feller. Missy’s gone be going out her mind with worry-not that you’d give a good goddamn, you little shit you. I’m gone put my clothes on. People might think I’m a switch hitter or an out and out fag or something,” answers a smiling, simple Stephen, stepping into his underwear and wishing his mustache was stiff and properly shaped.
Marvin doesn’t say goodbye; he starts walking toward an opening, maybe three feet high, camouflaged well in a gigantic wall of brush, leading to the dense forest guarding South Holston Lake. He leaves the impotent .38, a harmless Mr. Grumpy, lying on the ground.
* * *
Marvin fights his way through thick laurel, thorns, and scrub spruce trees before he reaches a small clearing in the brush. There it is, just a he left it: a new lawn chair and in its seat a plastic bag filled with balloons and string. Under the lawn chair is a smallish helium tank. Without hesitation, Marvin starts inflating balloons and securing them strategically to his lawn chair. In the distance he hears the loud smacking flop of a bass upon the lake’s surface. From this sound he is transported twenty years to an algae covered pond, not very big, muddy all around it, hardly a place to stand without getting dirty, without sinking up to your shins in the muck. The pond is on the outskirts of rural town, somewhere in Tennessee. The pond is a mile away from the rather pitiful excuse for a town square where the circus is setting up for tonight’s performance. Marvin has waddled away and found this oasis by accident. The day is August hot with a myriad of insects and birds filling the day to its brim. Caw Caw, cries a crow and Marvin answers back, Caw Caw. This conversation continues until the crow tires and flies away, perhaps to harass a hawk. Grasshoppers hop by the thousands and Marvin wishes more than anything he had a pole with which to cast for a bluegill. Sweat pours down Marvin’s tiny body, stinging his eyes, moistening his hands, and filling his ears. Marvin squints his eyes and sees the evaporating moisture escaping into the air like minute angels awakened from their sleep. Marvin glances down into the cloudy water, green and brown, tadpole filled, mosquito egg filled, and he sees a bluegill, tiny like him. He lowers a small hand and cups the fish and lifts it out of the water. The bluegill’s spines pierce Marvin’s hand, and he quickly flings it high into the air. The fish turns several involuntary summersaults in the air before it lands flush on one of its flat sides. Plap! The bluegill, stunned, rests on top of the water for a second or two before it leaks back into life, regroups, and swims back into the murky pond water.
Marvin smiles at his bleeding pricked hand. He decides to find another bluegill or perch or even a tadpole. Marvin decides to spend the next couple of hours tossing the pond’s children as high into the air as he can, and with every plap! Marvin is overjoyed though he doesn’t understand why. On this day in asphyxiating, wet August heat, Marvin knows that eternity resides somewhere within the plap! of the crashing fish into the surface of the dirty pond.
Now some seventy-five balloons are tied to the lawn chair that is kept bound to the earth by a piece of rope tied to the brush. Marvin, drenching wet from the soggy night and from his perspiration, climbs into the lawn chair and is about to cut the chair’s umbilical cord when he hears a voice.
“Little feller?” calls the voice. “Where are you? Come out come out wherever you are.”
Marvin shakes his head incredulously. “Are you alone, Stephen Hilton?”
Stephen emerges through the small opening in the brush cursing under his breath. “I was worried about you, little feller. Half of Abingdon is looking for you. Cops everywhere. I told Missy about you, and she’s afraid you gone off yourself or something. I don’t know what the hell’s wrong with you but listen, Missy’s on Prozac and that shit really works. Maybe you could start taking some of that shit. I’m telling you, little feller. You can even come live with me and Missy if’n you want to leave the circus. I’ll be on the road most of the time. We got room. Just don’t you be trying to bang Missy with that cod of yours, and we’ll get along just fine. Hey, wait a minute; maybe what you need is a piece of tale. Is that it, little feller? I seriously wouldn’t try that pole of yours out on another midget, er, I mean, little person. Hell, you’d be committing a homicide, you big dicked little shit you. Surely to hell we can find a woman who’s got a hankering for a fire hydrant up her privates. I’m just trying to help–”
Marvin smiles and then laughs mightily. “Cut the cord, Stephen. If you want to help me, cut the cord.”
Marvin kicks his feet back and forth while he sits in his lawn chair like a toddler sitting in his father’s recliner. He isn’t secured into his contraption in any way, but secure is his smile as he awaits lift-off.
“What the hell are you doing?” asks Stephen, unleashing a long stream of brown Skoal spittle.
“I’m going back from whence I came. I’m going back where I came from, Stephen. You don’t have to understand, but understand this: meeting you in the john at Shoney’s was no coincidence. I needed you, and you needed me. I’m sure of this. You’ll always remember me-even if it’s as a big dicked midget who held you up in a Shoney’s bathroom with an unloaded gun. That’s ok, Stephen Hilton. That’s ok. Memories are usually lies anyway.”
Stephen spits again, tweaks his mustache, newly stiff, curled, and quite sexy looking. He walks up to Marvin and grips the armrests of the lawn chair. “Missy told me to come get you. She said you were a desperate soul. She said she understands about feeling desperate. She said that I needed to see if I could save you.” Stephen spits. “What do you say about being my sidekick out on the road? I need a sidekick just like BJ-from the TV show. He had Bear. Look at you, you’re about the same size as a monkey.” Stephen slaps his hands together and laughs at the possibilities. “Hell, you could be my very own big peckered monkeyfied sidekick. Whatdyathink, letter feller?”
Frodo 4-Ever glows with a phosphorescent sheen in the sticky night. The rest of Marvin is slick with heat and anticipation. Marvin’s nose and beard drip sweat in a steady stream which slides down his slight body and fills his belly button, sticking to his pubic hair, settling in the creases where thighs meet lower abdomen. Even Marvin’s fingernails are covered absolutely with salty sweat, causing distorted reflections of the stars winking overhead. Mosquitoes and peepers and bird tweets and bass flops and lightening bug explosions and cricket chatter and clatter and the background hmmm of the star filled night paint a Jackson Pollack picture around Stephen and Marvin.
Before Stephen can say anything else, Marvin slashes the air violently with a Gerber knife, sharp as a scalpel, and severs the cord keeping him close to the ground. Immediately, Marvin falls away from the earth and as he rises, Stephen Hilton’s gaped mouthed, buck toothed face becomes smaller and smaller.
* * *
Marvin Casey looks down upon route 11, usually benign and without bite, but tonight is a twisting, writhing electric eel with fire trucks and ambulances and innumerable other vehicles racing toward the lake. Marvin has long since lost sight of Stephen. He rises and rises, and he begins to cry. His is a precarious position in the wobbly lawn chair. He is no longer sweating and drenching wet with himself. No, he is pale as snow. His nipples are wrinkly and cold. His balls are pulled tight to his body. He shivers. He hugs himself, but he is ashamed of his weakness. He curses all of the people in his life that have hugged their bodies so desperately, so tightly, trying unsuccessfully to keep out the cold.
Marvin spreads his arms, stops crying, and without a second though he slips easily from his lawn chair, wearing only the beginnings of a smile.
Stephen is standing with arms folded, surrounded by the kinetic night when there is a silence that cuts through the peepers and buzzing mosquitoes and the chatter of the policemen and firemen and onlookers. The silence is broken by the large plap! of Marvin Casey’s small body colliding with the surface of South Holston Lake.
[b]Author’s Note:[/b] Chris Duncan’s work has appeared in numerous publications, including Small Spiral Notebook, Intertext, Carve, Ygdrasil, Southern Ocean Review, and 3amMagazine. (c)2002.