THE UNSPEAKABLE THING

There are things you can do to pass the time as you build up the courage to walk up to the Coward’s front stoop and ring the bell with the piece tucked neatly in the waistband behind your back as all the old movies suggest. You can sit quietly in your car and create a cigarette ashpile on your lap. You can listen to cicadas drone and record the cacophony on your phone, play it back real slow so they all sound like they’re yelling for the rest of their lives, which are usually short for insects. You can think some more about The Unspeakable Thing that he did to you that similar summer day all those years back and smell the mud that went up your nose as he pressed your face against same, as the feeling went out of your hands, then wrists, then the Other Place, and the nondescript backyard’s lawn’s grass blades waved back and forth rhythmically to the force of his thrusts. You can ponder the etymology of a word like “unspeakable”–an innocuous word, and one you think you could get to the root of if you really wanted to.

You could instead use the human-specific gift of foresight you’ve been given as a member of the species and think of all the possible scenarios that might go down when you march right on up to that stoop and try to force your bladder to do things against its will as the Coward did to you for very different reasons all those years ago, try not to pee and negate the whole thing when he finally answers the door, when you’ll make just the right scowl of vengeance, the one you’ve been practicing in the mirror all week and let the weight of what’s about to happen really sink in for him before equipping the piece and using it on him. But the trick, you realize, is to use it at just the right moment so as to ensure that his last human thoughts will be on the unimaginable error of his ways and not on something like how funny his show was before he had to get up and answer the door. You can’t wait too long, either–you wouldn’t want him praying for forgiveness or actually asking it or anything like that. It’s all about timing. You know that.

It occurs to you that relieving yourself might be unavoidable, if not desirable for what needs to be done. Considering you unintentionally relieved yourself after he relieved himself in a very different way inside of you, the reaction might be a Pavlovian one, and could very well be activated the second you see his face again. But normal people don’t piss their pants. Crazy people do. And if he thinks you’re crazy, he’ll be scared. Again with the whole last thoughts thing.

You consider what the headline might be for something like this. Something involving “outrage as,” most likely, like: “OUTRAGE AS GUNNED-DOWN VETERAN FIGHTS FOR LIFE,” “OUTRAGE AS VET SHOOTER REMAINS ON THE RUN,” “OUTRAGE AS DES PLAINES MOURNS ITS HOMETOWN HERO,” etc. The anger you feel at the inevitable headline-related injustice is useful. It’s just what you needed, frankly, and so you get out of the car and march right on up to that stoop and let your bladder know that it can do just about whatever it wants right about now. And you ring the doorbell, which sounds lovely. And you wait patiently. And you don’t hear any prior door-approaching footsteps, which is odd, but the door awkwardly jars open a couple inches, then another couple as the Coward holds the door with one hand and struggles to wheel backward in his chair with the other. And you find yourself unintentionally helping him open his door to you, to the man he raped all those years ago when the man was a boy, to the man who will now end his life just as soon as suitable last thoughts can be assured.

And you try on the practiced scowl and stand there ominously once the door’s all the way open and propped against his chair’s right front wheel, and the bladder lets go in Pavlovian fashion just as you thought it would, and he sees the pee stain right away with the eye that wasn’t blown away by the IED, can’t smell it with a nose that is no longer on his face, and has trouble speaking about it with lips that have been grafted from ass flesh, but you come to understand that he has a change of pants inside if you needed them, and he understands if you don’t want them.

You listen to the cicadas droning their insectal/coital chatter. To the cars Dopplering past each other far away on busy streets. You feel the urine warm first your genitals, then your thighs, then trace ticklish lines down both legs. The piece feels unnaturally cold against the skin of your back, its muzzle threatening and grazing the Other Place.

Your head is very, very hot.

And you march right on inside, and will you bwait juss a second while I bit the pants he asks against the grafted ass flesh, and you will, and you close the door more so others won’t have to see the squalor of his house than the growing stain in your pants. And replacement pants have been fetched, and they’ll do you a whole hell of a lot better than they’ll do him with his atrophied legs and his left foot missing in action.

And he points out the bathroom for changing, or baffrum as his mangled lips render it, and you change right there in front of him instead. You let him see the body he had once, the body you now have. And the piece falls from your waistband, and you leave it lying there on the floor.

Blease juss do it, he says.

But you don’t do it.

You leave.

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PICKING

Beer foam collected on the bristle tips of Poppy’s mustache, fiber optic cables jutting out at odd angles and leaking, spilling their essential fluids down onto tongue that was searching and seeking and only occasionally finding. Eyes bulged out of skeleton sockets, the skin paper and threatening to tear in the spots where veins were busy pumping and convulsing to keep Poppy alive as he licked for beer and collected his covert McDonald’s cup, the other hand on the wheel and calibrating, adjusting and correcting with a deftness that could only come with practice. And Cal was in the passenger seat with his eyes hardly seeing above the dash, his child’s eyes so unlike the bulging skeleton ones of Poppy as he sat and prayed the prayers that Momma recited on windy nights when Poppy was Out and About and just not quite able to come home that night.

Sunlight glinted off the hood in metallic flames that danced in Cal’s eyes as Poppy reached down for the cup and kept eyes cupbound with the horns and the muted yells to bring hands back to 10 and 2 and he’d give such a Chuckle then and look over at tiny little Cal, miniature Cal who wasn’t buckled in and that bassy laugh would worm its way into Cal’s babychest and tickle his lungs till he couldn’t breathe and could only laugh to relieve it, only laugh to stop Poppy from looking at him with those skeleton’s eyes and put them back roadbound so they wouldn’t Get Hurt, only ever a possibility of Getting Hurt and never anything worse in Cal’s tiny childbrain but that was enough for him and so he made sure to give Poppy a good Chuckle.

They were Picking, or at least ostensibly so, and it was late enough in the season where even errant garbage cans were to be searched and dumped and sifted through, as long as the hood was apt to be deserted and not the type to call the poe leece, because you don’t want to have the poe leece come for Poppy, Cal, so tell me if you see em. Red and blue and we’re through, okay Cally? Red and blue and we’re through.

I say ostensibly cause Momma hadn’t come home from her third shift the night before. She was always so tired as Cal’s childeyes could see, always chuff and sigh and sort of buckle on creaky chair they’d found in Picking, her eyes lighting on the scratches in kitchen table, the spots where the graffiti’d been washed clean but the knife scars would always remain, and she’d say I’m tard just like that with no high “I” or lilting “R,” just tard and she’d look at Cal with the soft eyes she gave him and wouldn’t ever look for too long before she got up and out to do it all over again. But she did none of that the night before. The night before, according to Poppy, she’d been Out and About.

Slouched figures sat stooped on stoops with the brown bags hiding bottles between legs as they watched Poppy swerve his way down car-lined street and scrape firelight on errant mirrors, the tiny things going pop and snap off of hinges as they launched forward and danced their light in Cal’s eyes only briefly before crashing down on pothole-ridden street, the glass sometimes collecting in the holes and scattering out into glittering flatlands and jagged skyscrapers, tiny cities waiting for the dirty rain to come holebound and fill and level out till the mirror city was nothing more than a mirror Atlantis and Poppy was long gone and could never see his work.

Cal saw Momma before Poppy did, and she was none too tard as she sat stoopbound with her soft, Cal-given eyes closed and lips touched lightly on cheek, then neck, then lips of another man, her hands searching and seeking and very often finding. And Poppy saw in time, and there weren’t no Chuckle, no not at all as the wheel turned with 10 and 2 sent spinning as hand went over hand and repeated, as tiny Cal went scrunched against car door and very nearly out window, the tires screaming injustice and wafting out their burning just before the hit.

Stoop bricks flew through air still whistling with car and human screams and made purchase with wall, window, wire on the rebound that knocked out telephone service for the rest of the day as McDonald’s cloud followed Poppy out with his voice up and ready for a big Tell like he’d always give Momma, like I Tell you what or I ain’t gonna Tell you twice and all the rest, but the stoop man weren’t Momma and he weren’t pleased none as he gave Poppy a pop on the mouth where the beer-tipped bristles were, cleaned them right off as Poppy staggered back and fell stoopbrickbound with eyes up and whites showing for the briefest of moments like glinting mirrors waiting to shatter in pockmarked street, waiting to make another Atlantis down here in the hood with its maker nowhere in sight.

And the car stopped screaming but Momma didn’t, with the wail carrying and wavering on the breeze as Cal sat quietly in smoking car, as the poe leece sirens wailed and cried too and the lights started flashing from way back down the street. Red and blue. We’re through.

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THE CURER

Dirty fluorescence darted over eyes, mouths, ears. Pudgy repugnant hands stuck in mid-fiddle as the patient’s eyes came up for reassurance and were granted it just as swiftly from the curer, which is what she’d taken to calling herself on the nights when it all seemed just a little too much to handle. It was either stockinged feet dampening the midnight tracks with heels held in hand and hazy trainlight threatening from afar as tonight would be the night she’d do it or else going by the silly name. She took the name.

The fingers exploded from hands engorged to lamb chops, uncooked and sloppy. He had tits, pendulous ones, ones that threatened hers in size and heaved terribly whenever he cried, which was often on these Friday night visits. And he’d Tell, and he’d do his tit heave and his tit cry, and she’d cross and uncross skirted hams and check watch and picture stockinged feet dampening on midnight-lit tracks and open her mouth very wide during those crying sessions when the patient’s eyes were shut tight against the tears, open her mouth incredibly wide and swallow him whole in her mind, eat him up and explode stomach-first like some human slitherer, her skirted hams vesitigial and waiting to fall away.

Maybe she’d bring a gun to their next session. She’d pull out a pistol while he was doing his inevitable Tell and she’d put it in his hand and say Okay. And he’d look at her with tit heave paused and see her intent and maybe even stop crying. She’d grab him by exploded finger and guide him past the trigger guard and say Okay then do it.

But she remained ineffably adept, even in the midst of the Tell and the tit heave and the sweat that glittered in mucoidal droplets at nose’s tip and threatened to fall on putrid lap. Shifted face into pretty concern or pretty shock or pretty authority. Always pretty something and attentive, with eyes shining bright and idealistic even in that dirty fluorescence, practiced looks of attention and intent she looked over in lighted mirrors at home, mirrors that opened up pores to moon crater size, where she could open her mouth incredibly wide and eat herself whole if she wanted to. And she’d tweeze and pluck and squeeze and smile her authority and give pretty solemnity and even crack at pupils’ hollow a little bit and like smile with the eyes even as she ate herself whole on the inside.

And the sessions would end after a big climactic Tell, replete with blubber and hitchy pathetic sobs and he’d cry and say he needed it, as if there was any other way and she’d give pretty authority with just a touch of pretty pity, and that’d give him all he needed until next week, and she’d pretend not to notice his tic-like way of staring at her ass as she got up and left before him, almost bolting and leaving dirty fluorescence to find dirty lamplight out in the night with dampened, stockinged feet still in heels and not yet wobbly but almost psychosomatically so as she walked from one session to the next as she called it, this next session in graffitied bathroom with bassy beat pounding out the one in her chest and the revelers all Outside as she was now Inside the stall, as some anonym was Inside her and giving her a different kind of Tell and she was making all the noises she practiced and kept to herself and even recorded for playback to check pitch and timbre and maximum sex appeal and maybe adjust for the next time, the next Tell in some other tagged stall with some other anonym on some other Friday night.

And so the curer came rollicking down tracks set impossibly close and wobbly and twisting and tracing lines made mapbound with midnight light coming dirtily down as trainlight ran adjacent and refused to be heeded in inebriation. As stockinged feet collected moisture in the fog and transmuted it down on fickle train tracks, left pretty tracks from pretty feet as the curer opened her mouth very wide, impossibly wide and turned to face silly little trainlight down and out there in the foggy black. As she walked nimbly on through the buzz and anonym soreness and mentally unhinged jaw in preparation for the biggest meal she’d ever know.

Train gave futile cry and screamed off into the night without knowing what was coming for it. That it was another patient to be cured, its Tell untenable and so futile. Terribly, unmistakably futile. Pretty, stockinged feet marched on along fickle tracks, heels held aloft and out to the side in balance compensation. Wobble. Tip. Adjust. Wobble. Tip. Adjust.

That same train scream in the night and her mouth opened wide, ready to devour and cure and heal and set things straight so there’d be no more anonyms or sessions or tit-heaving patients.

A blare.

And a cry.

And a squeal.

Driving steel on steel.

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HAR-DE-HAR-HAR

Pop’s belt was on a pendular swing like so many times before and almost lilting and dragging the air where JT could nearly see the beer breath coming out in wisps and drags the same as cigarette Os that Pop would make and laugh at and say oh Jay come here you know you wanna try and don’t look at me like that I’m your father and JT would fix himself up for fighting against the cry because to cry was to get hit and to watch the pendulum was much better so he kept his eyes just the same on the track back and forth this way and that as Pop gave him A Talking To and the topics blew out like the beer breath and smoke would and hung there on words left unsaid until tonight because tonight Pop would go too far and tonight JT would stay in for the last time and tonight things were going to change like so many jingled pockets in childhood days with socks to the stomach and not the kind you put on feet and har-de-har-har right JT that was a good one and stop crying if you tell your mom I’ll fucking kill you and that’s a good one too huh har-de-har-har only this time there wasn’t any of the laughter and this time JT was almost begging for a couple socks to the stomach because this time the look in Pop’s eyes was like scalding water poured slowly over bubbling skin until the whole pot drained dry because this time the belt would be the least of JT’s worries and there wasn’t a way out Pop was in his room with shirt on the floor and gut hanging out pendulously and hair around the gut gathering in wisps and draws but not smokelike this time only in tangled growth that suggested brambles and thorns and all the rest and so Pop loomed there in the doorway with his beer breath and he was lighting another cig and saying hey you know how they brand cattle on the ranch and the har-de-har-har was about to come and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to know what the har-de-har-har would bring and there was no way out but the window and it caught in the winter time always caught and gave onto a twenty foot drop which even with the snow to break the fall would no doubt break a bone or two and give Pop enough time even with the bramble-covered gut to make his way downstairs and outside with pendulating belt in hand so he could give another Talking To and maybe wait until he got JT back inside to really let the blood flow so JT wasn’t exactly in his head when Pop came trundling over with the gut swaying this way and that and the beer breath already a suffocating cloud now like its own sort of presence in the room and wafting and breathing of its own accord and like entirely separate from this man if you could call him that who JT called Pop and Pop had one of those fever grins on that he got after working through a twenty four pack with the cans all uniformly crunched to wafer size against skull that was thick and flat and pockmarked from God knows what and JT could smell the piss now too and knew that the piss was somehow worse because it was guilt and any guilt was enough for Pop and if it was enough for Pop then a Talking To was the least of his problems right here in his very own personal bedroom on his very own personal bed with his Pop looming large in the nighttime shadow and the old nightlight still flickering from days gone by in childhood when the belt was the worst of it and he could still get away somehow always get away and hear the boom come down from the stairs and in the bathroom when Pop would say he needed to see him and now but JT would always hide away in small clever places that Pop could never quite find but those days were gone now and JT saw them flickering out with the nightlight and he glanced for the window which wasn’t too bright Pop would say wasn’t too bright at all and JT could only run for the window then with his feet smacking placidly on wood that gave in spots and creaked in ways that used to give away nights spent up and preparing for the escape that never came because he always stayed until tonight always stayed and thought he always would and the window caught just as he thought it would and Pop was bellowing and closing and the belt was breaking the sound barrier in little claps that licked at the air behind JT and his fist was through the window and the glass gave way in splintered little chips that erased themselves in snow twenty feet below and the belt was cracking backflesh as he punched the rest of the pane and fought the pain in little wired grips and sent eyes skybound and not down because you can’t look down isn’t that what they say in all the movies and the snow’s flakes were each the size of mountains as he fell and the gut was receding there in the distance and its brambles were lost and far away and the snow was miles beneath him miles beneath and it could kill him for all he cared could kill him and he’d be happy because he made his stand so har-de-har-har.

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