by Josh Wardrip
Bill's nose had been
broken 3 times, the last time courtesy of me and a swift kick intended only
to graze. My heel landed square on his scarred bridge, undamming swift twin
currents of blood that streamed downward, staining his dirty and wrinkled
white v-neck T-shirt. We all knew that Bill's old man had done it the 1st
time, and probably the 2nd time, but he didn't talk about it,
and we knew better than to ask. He'd either lie, get ticked and vent his
poisoned spleen, or worse, the poor fucker would just start sobbing and
make us feel like a bunch of callous jackasses. Truth be told, however,
on those occasions when Bill would metamorphose into a quivering, sniveling
drainpipe of snot, I often just wanted to pop him another good one so he'd
shut the hell up.
It's clear to me now, from the vantage point of some 25 years down the road, that violence circumscribed, mapped and defined Bill's relation to the world. It was etched into his frail and stooped 12-year-old frame; its odors rose from his unwashed skin, and it crept like lice through his greasy hair. It swam in his mucus and shot from his small, depthless eyes. He walked the world as a thing to be pummeled, punched and beaten, and conversely, as a thing to spit and puke, to spew bile and vitriol -- a reminder of our own ugliness. And for reasons I do not fully understand -- and in spite of the sickening guilt which has, I believe, shaped and guided much of my adult life -- the feeling has never left me that Bill altogether deserved whatever hurts and misfortunes may have befallen him.
Caroline walks topless from the bathroom to the bedroom, then back again. Despite the years I still notice her breasts, and even amidst the most prosaic activities -- such as preparing for an evening out -- the sight of her bare skin nevertheless manages to elicit stirrings in my shorts. On occasion, I find I'm able to conjure something akin to the fresh adolescent excitement of gazing on a bare breast for the 1st time -- tingles up the spine, a mild flutter in the stomach, and, of course, the sudden, irrepressible erection. Now, in fact, I have a similar experience. Her white bosom retains the baby-soft texture of a 15-year-old's, the large aureola a very light pink, encircling an only slightly darker nipple. Caroline, no doubt, is quite oblivious to my heated, boyish arousal. Just as well: for the spectacle of her titties parading hither and thither in this non-eroticized context inevitably causes the mind to drift toward ruminations on their ultimate anatomical function. The breast appears as little more than a grotesque accessory -- a fleshy, fatty dairy factory which, by conventional logic, shouldn't have erotic fire attached to it. Such a paradigmatic shift serves only to undermine my arousal, even producing a mild nausea, and I suddenly want her to cover herself. . . . But she has covered herself now -- in a large red sweater which, while otherwise flattering, renders her bosom into 2 vague and inconspicuous mounds of diminished sensual force.
"What do you know about this guy?" she asks.
"Oh . . ." I stammer, "well, he's famous in Europe, although he remains obscure in America. . . . Several people in the department are going. It should be worthwhile."
In truth, I know next to nothing about this artist named Friedrich Braun except that he's prominent in Europe and comes with high recommendations from a few of my colleagues. I'm told he's "provocative" and should be "right up my alley."
"I hope he's not like that guy we saw last year," Caroline says. "How do they get funding for such things?"
She's back in the bathroom now, taking off her sweater because she has realized she forgot to put on deodorant. I watch as she raises her right arm and applies the deodorant. The elegant and erotic beauty of her shaved underarm seizes my gaze and diverts me from the discussion.
She sighs. "Am I going to hate this?"
"I don't know," I respond. "Kevin says he's very good."
"Who's Kevin? I don't think I know him."
"Kevin Borowski. . . . Theater department. We've had him over once or twice. Remember?"
"I don't know him," she says. "What does he look like?"
"You have the most beautiful armpit, Caroline."
She drops the deodorant in the sink. "What? . . . God, you're horrible!" she says. She hurriedly pulls her sweater back on. "You're such an asshole. . . . Jesus!"
It was a long time ago. It's easy to forget, to piddle about, tending to this and that, mowing the yard, replacing weather stripping and faulty lightbulbs. But sometimes there is a jolt, wide-eyed and sweaty, a suffocating panic at 3 a.m. when the dark affords a certain lucidity somehow unavailable during the daylight hours. The sense memories return with blunt force, but appear disarranged and foreign now, like opening an old photo album for the 1st time in 20 years: the faces are familiar and altogether alien. Your former visage looks back at you -- detached, and now . . . accusatory.
Recollection does not deteriorate; it transforms. In one instance, Bill wears the red shirt; in another, it is myself. That which had finitude is now possessed of endless permutations. The best I can hope for is . . . what? A certain consistency . . . within itself.
I've told you about Bill.
Craig -- Mediterranean blue eyes and undulating blonde head like the sun. Craig is 12 years old and weighs 200 pounds, and when he sweats it runs like diarrhea and smells like piss. He is a steaming barrel of shit who picks his nose and has brown streaks running up the crack of his white shorts.
Toby -- Toby of the titan schlong who speaks with a lisp and whose eyes are too far apart. Toby the Titan who is the afflicted offspring of first cousins and who first showed me how to properly toss off.
And me last. Scrawny, ineffectual, and brimming with a caustic fury that could devour all 3 and shit them into nothing.
Try as we might, we couldn't lose Bill. He would spit on us and deride us with his expansive hoard of epithets, yet he shadowed our every move like a stray puppy. On this occasion we had tried to evade him by heading out a couple hours early and telling no one exactly where we were going. He caught up with us within half an hour.
"What do you faggots think you're doing?" he said.
"Just walkin'," Craig said.
"Shutup, fat-ass," Bill said.
Craig turned around and shoved Bill's 80-pound frame to the ground with one hand. Bill sat there on his bony ass in the dirt for a moment, his dumb narrow eyes cast downward. He began to laugh -- a watery, mucus-filled composition of snorts, gasps and squeals. Snot crept out of his nose and drool ran from the corners of his mouth. He pointed at Craig, and in-between laughs said it again:
Craig just turned and walked away; Toby and I did likewise. The others may have not been wise to it, but I knew Craig was about to cry. Though he was generally dumb as a brick, Craig was smart enough to play it off like he'd put Bill in his place and simply leave it at that. To pursue the matter further would've placed his delicate ego in dire jeopardy -- and somebody may very well have gotten killed.
From the upper deck of the highway you can see the massive sprawl of the university with its tower rising some 300 feet from its center. I am reminded of the 1st time I saw a university campus and the tingles that raced over my skin as I imagined what radical new frontiers lay within. I had envisioned myself born anew from the collegiate womb -- a new, improved being of bottomless profundity, endless ideas and unassailable intellect. My reaction now is dry, torpid and unaffected. In the intervening years I've completed several degrees, attended countless conferences and have settled into a tenure track position within the hallowed halls. And increasingly, with each setting of the sun, I feel quite ready to die.
The highway stretches to nowhere, interminably straight and flat. Caroline is bored. I had hoped for a good fuck afterward, but given the promised visceralness of the event we're about to attend, and her reluctance to attend in the first place, I realize it would be best to tuck such thoughts away in the bottom-most drawer of thwarted desires. . . . She is beautiful. At times I'm convinced I married her for no other reason. It was a stupid thing: I was a dopey post-grad who couldn't smell the shit coming out of his own ears, and she was an eager piece of freshman meat in a thin white tank-top. One evening I came to her dorm room to help her with a paper. Ten years later -- here we are with scowls on our aging faces. The lines grow deeper, and contort into words. We are acquaintances who fuck. In fact, my only thoughts now are of how much I'd like to pull off somewhere and shove my cock up her ass. And her thoughts? What do I care or know? Most likely, she thinks of how much she'd like to be fucked by anyone other than me. She's had countless infidelities. I've nearly witnessed it. What do I care or know? I've facilitated, perhaps encouraged, it in my own oblique way. I do not hate her. If I cared, I might hate her. As such, my own infidelities are not retribution, but rather a means to pass the time agreeably.
My current co-conspirator is an enthusiastic buttercup in my film seminar who explicates Deleuze and Guattari far better than she gives head. I should confess that brainy sleight-of-hand is far more likely to give me a hard-on now than a pretty mouth or a well-rounded ass. Such was not the case when Caroline first walked into my classroom all those years ago -- which explains why my life today is so irrevocably fucked. . . . But if only that were true -- if only our neuroses and obsessions were reducible to a few simple syllogisms. . . . Yes, yes, and what if? Life would no doubt be vastly more horrible than it already is.
By sundown the 4 of us had set up camp. I say 4 but I mean 3 since Bill would hardly lift a finger except to scratch his ass or pick his nose and flick boogers at us.
We were sitting in the tent now, stripped down to our underwear and playing the usual game of truth or dare. After the predictable confessions and fabrications of our limited and largely imaginary sexual experiences, Craig dared Toby to stand up and jack off. Without hesitation or comment, he got up, slid down his shorts and started tugging at his abnormally large, floppy and hairy cock. He stared down at it as if the world had fallen away and all that remained were Toby and his beautiful uber-schlong. Jutting out from his otherwise unremarkable pale and pimply body, Toby's cock was indeed a marvel -- preternatural and defiant, a thing unto itself. And given the right circumstances, I imagine it could do a good deal of damage.
Of course, Toby and his big dong had never gotten so much as within striking distance of an eager fur box, and with his slurred speech, acne-ravaged features and conversational ineptitude, it was unlikely the opportunity would arise any time soon. Little girls, with their sweet damp odors, scrupulously shaved bodies and fleshy chest protrusions, were an exotic species to Toby and, to a lesser extent, the rest of us. Craig's deathly corpulence had thus far kept him free from sexual congress of any sort. My own experience was limited to a few instances of clumsy groping and sloppy kisses. Bill, however, proudly and repeatedly claimed to have tapped his stepsister. The rumor going around was that Bill's 2 older brothers had in fact assaulted and raped the 11-year-old girl, and Bill was merely invited to join in the fun. Bill contended it was a consensual and monogamous coupling, but whatever the case, he never missed an opportunity to remind us he'd gotten his stick wet and we hadn't.
The Neon Dildo Art Space is located in the basement of Arnie's Arcade and Billiards on East 10th -- a part of town you typically avoid unless you have a compelling reason to be there. I've never been to the Dildo, but I'm well aware of the venue's reputation for hosting everything from fringe theatre to goth electronica acts and live BDSM. The Dildo has managed to remain in operation for over 10 years despite a sordid parade of scandals and rumors boasting everything from drug trafficking and kiddie porn to rape and murder. The Dildo's unsavory track record hasn't harmed its business -- in fact, it has become somewhat of a cultural landmark with reviews of its happenings making the mainstream papers and unscrupulous professors even sending their students there for extra credit.
I park the car and, absurdly, I tell Caroline to wait while I rush around to her side and open the door for her. Never in my life have I performed this courtesy. She says not a single word, but merely pauses before getting out of the vehicle. She looks into my eyes -- which always strikes me with intense discomfort -- grins slightly and kisses my cheek. I don't know if I want to fuck her or strangle her, or both. Lest I do something imprudent, I turn without a word and walk briskly toward the Dildo, my tan loafers stirring mild eruptions of paltry pebbles and dust.
A shirtless Hispanic youth of perhaps 18, who wears tight black leather pants and has clothespins attached to his nipples, takes our tickets at the door. He doesn't say anything, but I notice he and Caroline exchange a long glance. Before I can fully digest the import of their transaction, we are directed down a narrow, black-lit stairway lined with what appear to be black plastic trash bags. . . . A few steps and a brutal stench seizes me, such that I nearly lose my footing and tumble downward. Looking to the left and right at the black walls rendered purplish by the black light, I now notice what appear to be bits of animal entrails nailed along the corridor. A bit of intestines here, a stomach there, a pair of kidneys. Numerous flies buzz about, gorging on the displaced innards and no doubt laying the eggs which, if permitted, will incite fresh stirrings in these dead guts. To my surprise, Caroline has yet to register her disapproval. Normally, she would've nudged me by now, or kicked my shin or employed some other gesture of discontent. We merely continue our descent, through the blackness and the stink, until we alight on the space where the dark does not end, but assumes new geometry. The main seating area of the theater is a flat concrete floor populated with plain metal folding chairs. The dark is alleviated only by a few red and blue spots aimed at apparently random points in the room. We take the nearest available seats. It is apparent that the theater is nearly full, but the darkness renders it impossible for me to spot anyone I may know.
Toby's dick was fully stiff now, and he stroked and pulled it with increasing speed and fervor. His breathing became rapid and audible, and his pale face, like his engorged cock, filled with blood and turned a deep red, almost purple. We all egged him on, except for Bill who only pointed and laughed his execrable laugh. While Bill would freely dish up ridicule and disdain, he was the only one among us who had never exposed his cock to the group, leading us to speculate that he either suffered some deformity or was just a plain fucking coward. Bill's jeering on this night was atypically lost on Toby who, absorbed in mesmeric masturbatory rhythms, might has well been on another planet as he marched through pleasure center corridors toward the exploding heart attack of orgasm. His face appeared formless; his cock had assumed centrality, dwarfing and appropriating the surrounding world. In its cyclops head I saw myself, and I saw my mother and father. I saw too the Earth, sun and heavens. Great oceans and vast fertile plains. Death was there too. Decay and stench, disease and deformity. Crushed skulls and impaled torsos. . . . I suddenly felt full of death and full of death-lust. Staggering surges of power flooded my senses and caused my brain to ache. . . . Toby now turned toward Bill and fired his 1st wad into Bill's left eye. The 2nd stream landed in his stunned, open mouth. Bill was on Toby in a heartbeat, swinging wildly, kicking, biting and pulling. Craig and I immediately pounced on Bill, overpowering him and forcing him to the ground. Toby joined in and the 3 of us smashed our fists into Bill's face, chest and abdomen. Toby gripped Bill's hair in his hands and rhythmically smashed his head into the ground. I connected my fist with Bill's nose in unison with Toby's movement. Bill's face rapidly became a bloodied, swollen pulp. . . . Just as Bill appeared on the verge of unconsciousness, he screamed and forcefully arched his back. I looked back and saw that Craig had fixed his teeth on Bill's groin. A deep red wetness began to spread from Craig's mouth and across Bill's white briefs. Toby and I now collectively slammed Bill's head into the earth until he finally shut his fucking mouth.
The few lights fade leaving the theater completely in the dark. An audio track fades in -- some concatenation of insect buzzing, cracking bones and a wet tearing sound. In the background an arrhythmic thumping, like fists pounding the earth. A single white spotlight comes up now and reveals the carcass of a cow suspended a few feet over the stage, its underside facing the audience. More lights come up and 8 men in white robes enter downstage, 4 from the right and 4 from the left. The leader on the stage-left side carries a large power saw. When he reaches the cow, he fires up the saw and tears into the dead animal, starting at the groin area. Blood and flesh spew outward, splattering the 7 white-robed men as well as the unlucky first couple rows of the audience. As the sawman works his way up, 8 more men, clad in black this time, enter upstage behind the carcass, partially concealed in darkness. Each carries a bucket. More lights come up, and it is clear now that an enormous white sheet covers the entire stage. Once all 8 of the black-robed men are in place, they turn toward the audience. The man at the stage-right end of the row now hurls the entire contents of his bucket across the stage, soaking the cow, the sheets, and the men in white with thick red fluid. Shortly after, the man on the opposite side flings his bucket. The remaining 6 men follow suit in the same alternating pattern. The action is choreographed such that as the last bucket is emptied, the man with the saw finishes, having created a gash extending from the animal's groin to its throat. The men in black now exit. All 8 men in white surround the bloody carcass and insert their hands into the gash. With some effort they pry the creature wide open. Entrails spill out onto the stage. The men immediately scramble to the floor and begin to eat the spilled insides. They play tug-of-war with the ropes of intestine and hurl organs at each other. Some of the men in black are moving through the audience, making their way, I now realize, toward Caroline and I. Within moments, the 4 of them have surrounded us. They simultaneously grab Caroline and lift her out of her chair. They hoist her above their heads and take her toward the stage. She doesn't protest or struggle in the slightest. Her body is nearly limp and her face appears vacant and pliant. The men lay her on the stage and disappear. Having mostly devoured the cow entrails, the men in white now turn their attention to Caroline. Two of them pull her to her feet, holding her under her arms. Her head hangs forward, her brown curls obscuring her face. One man pulls her sweater up over her head, another kneels in front of her and pulls off her jeans, and a 5th man unfastens her bra from behind while another pulls down her panties. The men now run their hands over her naked body, smearing her with blood and viscera. They push her hair back and paint her face with red finger streaks. They do not grope or grab or press themselves against her. The 2 men holding her up now lift her in the air and move her toward the gaping animal carcass. With the help of the other men, they place her inside the dead animal. As they hold her there, a small old man with a wiry gray beard enters the stage. He wears a solid red robe. He approaches the cow body now containing Caroline. He gestures with his left hand and the 8 men push on the sides of the animal, closing Caroline inside. Once the carcass is shut, the old man sets about the task of sewing it up with a thick material, perhaps leather. He works smoothly and quickly, taking perhaps 5 minutes to sew the animal up entirely. He finishes, and all 9 men turn and face the audience with the old man at the center in front of the cow. They remain in this tableau for about 15 seconds. The cacophonous soundtrack still drones in the background, the men in white are covered in blood and entrails, and the stage floor is a sea of red. Abruptly, the lights go down and the audio track stops. There is roughly a minute of black silence before the house lights come up. The men are now gone as are the cow and the bloody white sheet that covered the stage. There is no curtain call and no applause. The audience and I file out. I walk to my car, get in and drive home.
Sunrise. We tear down the tent and prepare to head home. A few smoldering embers remain from last night's fire. . . . Three boys with full bellies. They will go home and take showers. Then they will sleep longer than they have ever slept in their lives.
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