of the Very Last Dry Runs
I remember it was down in the basement. The warm, full, dry, cementfloored
basement. An oil furnace occupied a corner, lightly scenting with
Jurassic essence the slightly stale air. It was early '62. The Bay
of Pigs still galling, the Missile Crisis as yet an unknown threat.
A Sunday morning. Dad sober; at his
workbench screwing around with knickknacks. I had come down to wank.
But finding him, had decided instead to dawdle a moment - to avoid
suspicion. Then drift back upstairs. Lock myself in the bathroom.
Get the job done there.
I could tell Dad was sober, due to
the pallor of his cheeks. Plus he stood straight, looked serious
- efficiently operating a screwdriver with quiet purpose.
Dad was a closet drunk. Didn't so
much drink as swill. I knew, because a few mornings in the past
couple years he'd gotten smashed alone - slumped over the workbench,
bolting from the bottle - while I sneaked around, crouched behind
the furnace, observing the fastidious WASP revert to a surly, redfaced
I preferred him sober. Although it
was often fun to look down on him when he was blind drunk.
"Oh, son," he glanced up. "I was just
meaning to talk to you. Come over here a second."
I shuffled over. Halted beside the
plywood bench that stood high as Dad's waist, and came almost up
to my nipples. I grunted; facially implied I was ready to hear whatever.
"I suppose you know your sister is
going to have a baby..." he concentrated back down on administering
the last few firm, delicate turns. "This is your mother's music
box, by the way. I'm finally after all these years fixing it. Hunted
all morning through my jars of odds and ends before finding the
appropriate screw. Always knew these nuts, bolts, nails, washers,
whatnots accumulating over the years would come in handy. Waste
not want not..."
Sure. Pregnant. Three months along.
Just beginning to show. I'd read the letters. Familiar with the
words. But since Sis lived with her new husband out in Fort Bliss,
I'd likely miss witnessing the process. High time he fixed that
stupid box Mom's been crabbing about since can't remember when.
"I've been meaning," he tightened
too far, winced, "to explain," he backed off half a twist, "exactly
what's going on there."
Down at where one of the two-by-four
legs met the cement (which Mom kept spotless as the rest of the
house) I gazed. What's to tell? Inside Sis was growing a baby. Replica
of herself and that guy Randolph. Soldier she met at our own Army
base. Married. Transferred to Texas.
I was halfway through the Sixth Grade.
I knew it all. Although the finer points mystified me a tad. Didn't
seem important. Besides, I was in a hurry to hustle off and wank.
"I want you to understand how this
situation arose. The science behind it.
Science? In some areas of that arena
I knew more than Dad. Since '57 - when Sputnik caught America with
her pants down - school had focused on atomic power, outer space,
new ways of looking at arithmetic; like base-2 - the binary system.
"You see: there's this fluid in Randolph's
body; continually being produced. Now and then it discharges. In
one way or another, a certain amount of this fluid entered your
Fluid? A spider stuck a leg out from
behind the workbench leg. A thin brown appendage. Cautiously a feeler
appeared. Then two more legs jittered out along the concrete. Despite
weekly sprays with Raid, Mom seemed unable to exterminate the spiders.
I had never noticed any fluid. Did he mean snot? or did you drool
"If you're wondering about the details
of how this happens, well: your sister, like your mother, like all
other females, is built like the dog, On the other hand, as you
have of course observed, you, myself and all men are built like
Never glimpsed what the dog had. All
that hair. Forever tucked away. Or else covered with her tongue.
"So this fluid from your brother-in-law
mixed inside your sister to produce a reaction causing a baby to
begin to form. Particles in the fluid bond on the chemical level
with what is technically an egg. Microscopes reveal secrets that
prove... Son - are you listening?"
I looked up as he looked down at where
I had been staring. His sagging cheeks, wrinkled forehead and capillery-threaded
schnozz reddened. Revulsion contorted his features. He reached out
with a shod foot. A gooey crunch ended the intruder's life.
"Your mother hates those damn things.
Run upstairs, fetch some toilet paper, wouldja?"
Up the steep board stairs I creaked,
thinking: fluid? In all my years of selftriggered jollies, I'd never
spotted fluid. But if he was telling the truth (often the case when
But the gutter insists beating off
approximates sex; and sex leads to babies. Was the trick at once
to urinate and wank? I'd hafta work on that.
Hurried down the hall past Sis's old
bedroom (now the tv den). Past my own. Into the bathroom. Clicked
shut, carefully locked the door behind. Snapped on fan to cover
Was there time? Before he wondered
what was taking so long?
Raised the toilet seat, dropped trou.
Sure - I once thought wetness was
involved. Like you rubbed together, The sweat mixed. She swallowed
some. Then for a while decided it must occur in the bath. But lately
I've been thinking - probably more lodge Roger in her navel, electric
finale to the wank stimulates machinery inside to start. Now the
bastard drops this bomb it's wetness after all...!
Which comes first - the relaxing or
the tightening? Peeing, usually thought of nothing much. Whacking,
of panties, stockings, those occasional sleazy pages in Look,
Life, The Saturday Evening Post. Now all I could imagine was
that smashed spider oozing on Mom's immaculate floor.
Alive - darting up a wall, over the
table... did cause the skin to thrill. But loathesome. Filthy. Possibly
even a bit poisonous; nobody seemed certain.
Phooey. Let the issue drop. Yanked
up. Belted, zipped. Hit the roll, spooling off a hank. Killed fan.
Headed back out.
"That was quick," he said, after I
trotted back downstairs, marched over, presented the paper.
He scrutinized the handful. Chuckled
condescendingly, "That should be enough to wipe up even the dog's
biggest possible mess." Then muttered, "Stuff doesn't grow on trees,
you know." Then shrugged, "Then again, guess it does. Well, let's
get to work."
His knees cracked as he stooped, floated
tissue over the mangled corpse.
We grew silent a moment - Dad eyeing
the Scottie as if ascertaining nothing under it moved; me contemplating
a wisp of Brylcream flocking a hair on the edge of his bald spot.
At our backs, on the opposite end of the spacious basement, into
action the water heater whooshed. Mom upstairs doing breakfast dishes?
Late for that. Maybe just part of its normal cycle.
"I just wonder how they get in?" he
mused, "Bought this house new two years ago. Foundation fresh-poured
Vinyl siding. Aluminum guttering. Roof guaranteed another five years.
Storm windows. Insulation. I fail to understand."
One way they enter is when he comes
home drunk from work, neglects to close the door. But I can't point
this out. Because this is Dad Sober; he's never met Dad Drunk. Instead
I mumble, "So how's Mom's box work?"
Back jerked his head. He glared up.
Studied my face. Quickly the sudden anger faded from his mug.
He looked back down, wadded up the
body. "Oh, that. Well: the operation was a success. But the patient
died. Some spring in the internal mechanism must've failed. Thing's
at least eighty years old. Heirloom handed down from your grandmother.
Here," he stood, handed me the tissue wad, smiled: "Take this up.
Dispose of it properly in the toilet. I'm going to finish up down
here. Bowling comes on in less than half an hour."
Once again locked inside the can,
toilet seat still up, I flipped into the bowl the contents of my
fist. The tissue uncurled. Out slid the remains.
A horrid brown arachnid coated with
its own yellowish snotlike guts.
Found myself wishing the answer would
appear. I mean - what did Dad mean? Realized then I did need to
urinate. Went about it. Lackadaisically held the stream on the flattened
kill; half-enjoying scooting it around the bowl.
Dad was touchy, often difficult to
comprehend. Oh - he couldn't help it, He hated his job - a civilian
employed on the base, involved in the production of training films.
How to set charges, lay mines, blow bridges. His bosses were all
colonels, captains; sometimes he even caught crap from a
lieutenant. The situation drove him to vodka. Which made him touchier
A vicious circle, a downward spiral.
When you got right down to it, Dad was a pretty miserable human.
Better off born a snail. Stay wet all day. Carry around with him
his drumtight house. Droopy antennas instead of bifocals.
I giggled. Sprayed the rim. Splattered
with yellow the beige tile.
Squelched image. Choked giggle. Regained
control. Doused thoroughly the spider, so as to sink it a good two
Why did he hafta bring this up? I
was confused enough. Not at all thinking about it. Just wanted to
jerk off. Then quietly go about surviving another Sunday at homes
Of course it wasn't urine. Urine is
waste. Babies don't come from waste. Babies come from... dogs (?)
Damn his nosy butt!
I shook off the last couple drops.
The corpse bobbed back up. What - did Randolph blow his nose on
her? Yuck. Sex was sick. I flushed, swirling the thing to hell.
Well, long as I had it out (the toilet
sucked down a last leg), may as well do it.
I was almost there, in the midst of
sugar time, imagining spiders running up nylons, when Dad pounded
the door. Slurred he needed the crapper. Only Dad Drunk
called it that.
Sure, He sometimes chugged a pint
to get his spirits up for Sunday television. Likely the Smirnoff
he kept "hidden" in the toolbox. Guess the "lecture" no picnic for
"Just a minutel!" I yelled. "I'm coming!"
Aborted launch. Played film backward
till rocket repositioned onto pad. Pulled up. Zipped. Buckled.
Waited an instant, catching breath.
Smelling Pinesol, Glade, toothpaste and Mercurochrome lingering.
Listening to the fan. A roar on the edge of a screech.
The Hostage Transfixed
A humid afternoon in late August. Mom gone to fetch food for dinner.
Sis at a matinee with her boyfriend. Dad of course away at work.
I wasn't lonely. Had two hands, ten
fingers; full complement of legs, toes, things like that; fairly
entertaining brain. I wasn't bored - naked, on the toilet, reading
the Bible. I was excited, learning how Onan's widow roped her father-in-law
into illicit sex, the better to beget an ancestor of Jesus Christ.
A guy called Er had been her first
husband. Er was a jerk; him God slew. Er's younger brother Onan,
rather than get his brother's widow with child, jerked off. God
also pulled his plug for good. Next the double-widow disguised herself
as a whore. Tricked her father-in-law into knocking her up.
I wanted to imitate these folks. Draw
blood, feel pain, exult in the name of God. Maybe nail something
through my thing? Masturbation, you see, ruins the spine, causes
blindness. And I certainly wouldn't act like that poor horny widow.
But a little dingdong carpentry might be just the ticket,
I wandered through the house in search
of an appropriate skewer. Settled at length on Sis's favorite knitting
needle. Returned to the sacred confines of the john. Flopped wang
on sink edge. Figured I'd hammer in the needle with the Bible. One
good swat oughta do it.
Needed to avoid the tube. Smack ler
in off to one side - left, I guess. Tug it halfway through. Fix
it there with bandaids, Wait a few days for the flesh to snug up
around it, or whatever. Maybe hafta change bandaids once a week
for the rest of my life. Masking or electrical tape likely do as
Quite a thing to display out on the
playground. Wind it up like a propeller on a bi-plane in one of
those old movies. Catch the wind right - I might be able to fly.
And regardless how tight the skin grew, I could always whip it out
for hand-to-hand combat.
Not that I'm a fighter. I prefer to
talk my way out of a corner. I'm no coward. Just don't wanna dirty
But emergencies do arise - a burglar,
a prowler, a creep with a knife; or some zombie sent by a priest
reading scripture backwards. Wouldn't even hafta kill. Eyeball shiskabob
oughta do the trick. Put in a similar position, Samson couldn't
do much; till those idiot Philistines got too cocky.
Lost on a frozen river, I could use
it to chop through the ice - bend the end to catch fish. Or suppose
the river held no fish, and I had to get home. Convert the thing
into a compass. Drop trou to find true North. Plus other info, since
it could act as an antenna tuned to broadcasts from the Lord.
Any number of emergencies the needle
could help solve. Although it might initially hurt - like yanking
a tooth - this procedure would undoubtedly turn me into a better
But then I reflected how weird my
pants would look. Make 'em stick out like I had ape hips. Because
of the bulge, I might never attend college, much less get a job.
And what carries more weight - God, or making a living?
You don't make a living, you starve
to death. And if God doesn't exist - that's it. You got no insurance,
no pension, no nothing. But if you keep God in the background, He's
always around to help you get that raise.
Not to mention Sis. Over the disappearance
of her needle, she might raise hell.
Oh, OK... I'd call it off. Let it
be. Wasn't lack of backbone. Like I say, the pain was half the intrigue.
Call it rather an investment in the future. And maybe some other
day try a smaller needle a hatpin or one of Dad's tie tacks.
Replaced the Bible in the cabinet
under the sink. Slowly fell to climbing back into my duds; then
quickly, as I heard out in the livingroom in the front door lock
Mom's key tickle.
Everything was going to be fine. I
zipped. Fine everything would be. Buckled. Soon as my heart stopped
pounding... pulled on shirt, glanced in medicine chest mirror at
flushed face ... I'd exit the bathroom, yell out toward the kitchen,
"Hi, Mom!" Vanish into my room. There to relax over a Batman comic.
Allow an appetite for meatloaf to develop.
Out of the corner of my eye, down
in a corner of the mirror, atop the hamper (where I'd left it),
I suddenly spotted the twelve-inch purple knitting needles
Shit. Well... hide it in the Bible?
Nope, too small. Medicine chest too crowded.
She'll know I'm in here - door closed
"Honey!" Mom called through the door.
"I need to get in and empty the hamper. Gonna do a quick load before
dinner - anything in your room dirty?"
"No, Mom. You got everything yesterday
in the big wash. I'll be out in, uh..." toss it in the sink, the
bathtub, the shower stall...? "uh, just a minute."
She said that was fine. Stuff in the
hamper would be plenty. She'd wait outside till I was done.
Ditch it in the hamper - she finds
it right off the bat. Too long to flush - stick outta the trap.
Crush it into a flushable ball - if I was Superman. Swirl down through
porcelain gulch clicking underwater tinnily. Hear it disappear through
pipes all the way outside the house (if I was Superman).
Hey - stick it down my trousers! Sneak
it later back into Sis's room. Make me walk a little stiff. Mom
notices - explain sitting in there reading the Bible my leg cramped.
Or claim too much starch on the crease. Or maybe...
My spine tingled. Suppose jamming
the needle down my trousers accidentally stabbed the juju?
Or reamed the eyelet the peephole through which nightmares glimpse
ecstasy? Hard to see down there possible I'd rupture the tube, break
forever the sleazy charm.
"I really do need to get in to empty
that hamper... You are OK, aren't you honey?"
No time to answer. Had to think. Knit
one, purl two. Why is Mom such a nitwit? Like that Bible girl hellbent
on getting pregnant. Think fast.
T-shirt too flimsy for concealment.
Not wearing socks. Trouser legs shrunk above ankles from too many
washings. Needle stick out like a sore thumb lodged between cuff
and shoe. Way too long for any pocket...
Just walk out with it in my hand,
let Mom think I'm some kind of girl?
"Honey, are you OK? Are you conscious?
I think maybe I'd better come in...
What was it to be - run the risk of
a random skewer, or have Mom fret over me playing (in the bathroom
no less) with a big long girl needle? The risk of damage or the
guarantee of shame?
It became like one of those situations
in math where fractions on either side of a number close in, but
never get precisely to where they're going. In a fit of petulance
- like maybe what God felt watching that apple chomp - my brain
Just as I felt the pressure of Mom's
hand on the knob and she said, "Honey, I'm coming in..." - I dented
in the knob's button. Snicked across the jamb the bolt on the extra
lock below the towel rack. Shoved the hamper against the door. Pulled
down the shower curtain rod. Wedged it between the bathtub and the
hamper. Ignored Mom's pleas. Her pleas, her pleas, her please!
Well, at the outset, Mom wasn't really
all that hysterical. Every ten seconds or so she rapped on the door,
announced, "Honey, are you OK?" or "I need to get in. honeyl"
But after five or ten minutes of this, she started yapping, "Will
you for God's sake open this damn door!" rattling the knob like
an exasperated timber rattler.
As for me, I just didn't have anything
to say. When you got a cramp, you don't go swimming. And now I'd
bought some time. I rummaged in the medicine chest. Anacin, Midol,
Bufferin, No Doz, multiple vitamins, Carter's Little Liver Pills,
Popped off caps. Took several of each. Thinking they would smooth
the head so I could think my way outta this mess.
Guess she heard me shake out the pills
(I know she heard the faucet run). Because that's when she got to
pounding the door, shrieking incoherently. And it dawned on me she
thought I was, of course, committing suicide.
She had recently watched, you see,
a special regarding the "epidemic" of teens snuffing themselves.
The causes were obscure. Some on the show speculated too many movies,
too many comic books, too much tv; others, not enough Bible. (She'd
related this last night, while she was ironing, Dad out bowling,
Sis on a date, me leafing through a Spiderman - seated in
front of a Get Smart repeat.
Possibly not such a bad idea. All
these painkillers in me. I wouldn't feel anything. Bathroom a wonderful
place for it: razors, scissors, pills, toilet submersion; now even
a foot-long needle sturdy as a finishing nail. (Run it through my
eye like pithing a frog, fall on it like a Roman on his sword, Japanese
sewing machine harry karry, self-impalement Dracula style?
But suicide makes no sense. After
it's done - you're not around to exult in how you made everybody
feel bad. So what's the point?
Belly fulla pain medication, however
- what better time than now to go through with the pierce?
Picked up off the floor - where it
had fallen when I slid the hamper against the door - the needle.
Examined the point, thinking I'm a late pre-teen in early adolescence.
Isn't it time for something; something definite, something decisive,
something from which there can be no turning back?
From use, the purple had worn off
the point. Naked steel winked as I turned in my hand the shaft.
At the door Mom screeched and clawed.
Maybe I'd just open up - let ler have it. Cram the thing down her
scrawny throat. But that was murder. And no matter how sensible
murder seems (think of the release!) the Bible makes it impossible.
Only God is allowed to kill.
It's a good book. Keeps us within
our limits. OK. Concentrate on the dick sticking. Shift back down
into that gear. And what the hell if I hit the tube? Withdraw needle
when I hadda go. Hold fingers over holes. Or just one below to squirt
straight up. Just above if I felt like peeing between my heels.
Thoughts of antiseptic surfaced. But
there was no time, too much pressure. Later I'd hunt up the iodine;
swab on same post op.
For three reasons hanging it over
the edge of the sink was smart. The height was right; the shiny
porcelain made an ideal anvil; the blood would flow directly down
the drain, not make a mess. Blood, yeah, blood. First real bloody
business of my life. Mom out there screaming bloody murder actually
makes it easier.
This time slam it home with the heel
of my palm. Hurt? Even in spite of Anacin and all that crap? you
But I was tough. Master of life and
death. What being a man is all about. Abraham preparing to butcher
his kid. Superman inching past a block of kryptonite. David taunting
Goliath. Spiderman accidentally self-poisoned.
Then quiet - like a broken elevator
Poised over my unit, left fist gripped
needle; trousers puddled around ankles (I'd that day skipped underwear
- to fight the humidity) ...
I peered over at the locked, barricaded
door. She hadn't left. I could feel her out there breathing. This
a new tactic? Had she last ditch stumbled onto the silent treatment?
The terror no man can stand: silence.
Not Abe, not Dave, not Soup, not The Hulk himself. Peace - OK. A
good night's rest - sure. But... nothing?
Or was she just blue in the face -
too hoarse, for the moment, to holler? In any event, could I wait
her out? I'd steeled myself to do it while she screamed. Now it
seemed wrong. She'd hear the squish. Swiftly followed by the point's
clack against the porcelain.
Heroes need noise, violence, shit
flying through the air. I frowned at the toilet. With lid down,
it appeared to smile plastically. I'd been reading on it with the
lid down, using it for a stool. Stool also means crap. Why is it
words can't sit still, mean just one thing? And another thing: Why
is word a word for word? Is silence the only honesty?
Cleared from my throat the phlegm
of fifteen speechless minutes: "Mom - don't try to stop me. I'm
going to see this through!"
In mid-air my fist quivered. My gaze
returned to one slack prick on an altar of white. I was bluffing.
(Wasn't I?) Bluffing to get her to start screaming again. And then
I would not be bluffing. She thought I was talking suicide. Little
did she know I was about to strike a blow for truth, justice and...
Was I being deliberately - like Onan's
widow big with somebody's child - ambiguous? Torturing my own mother
like some Genesis nut?
Should I be nutted? That's what God
wants - pop some balls? Make my voice squeak; but who knows what
super powers? I could become Ballman, Nut Boy, Super Eggs, the Sack
"That does it!" she screamed. "I'm
calling the Fire Department!"
It was almost time for the dinner
that never happened, before the firemen finally jimmied, axed and
jacked me outta the john; Mom all the while screaming, never having
the sense to faint. And I had done with the needle exactly what
in the Meat Department
Big cow of a woman leaned over the pork chops. Mousy gramps with
rimless peepers eyeing the rabbit, picking over the chicken. Packages
squeaking like gristle in a knacking factory. Fingers depressing
transparent plastic, prodding meat packed underneath on styrofoam
tray. Yellow skin, pink meat, tan pork, scarlet flesh skirted in
beige fat. Blue stamps, purple tags. Organ meat - heart, liver,
gizzard, brain, intestine; hog maw, boar head, beef ball. Everything
but stuffed rectum and pineal gland paste.
But no blood. Liquid leaked around
muscle clumps is dye, packing ice and serous fluid.
Phone doesn't ring. Nothing happens.
Who needs blood? Have a look at this pound of ground round. Bunch
of red-white worms all pinked together - mashed on styrofoam, trapped
under plastic. Nothing savage here.
The phone rings. It's Ellen again.
She wants me to kill mother. Don't answer it.
Press down on plastic, feel worms
squeeze. Dollar ninety-eight. Not bad this day and - hell! - age,
damn phone rings a -damn!-gain.
Bovine woman tosses aside package
of pork chops like they were hay in a disinterested needle hunt.
She sidles her boxcar down to the chicken, the senile mouse having
disappeared off into some corner of day-old bread.
I didn't ask for this. Father drove
truck, yeah, sure: Akron to Chicago, Chic to Ak. Yeah. Frozen meat
he hauled. Eighteen wheeler. Had a honey in Akron. Family in Chicago.
Mom found out. Cut him in half pointblank with a sawed-off. Any
business of mine? I'd left home by then. Just Ellen back there to
clean up the mess. Just Ellen...
Looking down at the chicken, answer
the phone. Ellen asks if it's me. I'm looking down at axed, bled,
plucked, pre-frozen chicken - hell, I don't know...
She goes on anyway about why don't
I come up to Winnetka tonight and plant a meat cleaver in Mom's
skull. Let go the package of wings, close my eyes and concentrate
on her voice sitting on my innermost face...
Mom's lover testified it was self-defence.
Dad came at her with a butcher knife. Sure, they found the knife
among the remains. His prints all over the handle, cut on her arm,
her blood on blade. Jerry - her lover, the corporate lawyer from
uptown Winnetka - stood aside and memorized the fracas like a judge.
He scored it a hundrednothing Mom. And Dad had all the poor technique,
the unsportsmanlike conduct. The sawed-off was his - he kept it
in the back of his cab. Brought it in that night to oil - so decedent
claimed, as witnessed by Mom and Jerry.
Argument broke out, shotgun on table.
Knife in dishrack closer to loser. Threatened spouse picked up gun
and fired as enraged spouse charged with butcher knife upraised.
Ellen upstairs doing her homework...
Her voice fades. She's told me this
a hundred times. I only hear the hard facts. The connective words
melt into them. Scratches mercifully take over... poor connection...
eyes open like Mom getting down the discharged gun, not at all like
Ellen tearing down the stairs, a scream of vengeance locked in her
throat before she even sees her broken daddy on the bloody kitchen
Turkey neck. Male organ of reproduction.
Pick up package. Plastic squeaks. Other customers squeeze in to
browse. They seem more interested in wing and thigh. I'm the only
one standing puzzling over 1.44 pounds of neck. More people press
up. The squeakings multiply like bats abandoning a cave at dusk.
I can't eat a neck. I'd choke - what
am I thinking?
Drop package. Lands with a sticking
noise against plastic of other packages of neck side by side and
on top of each other. I glance over at the lamb. Nice greasy lamb
chop might go nice. Sop it up with French bread. Big poorboy loaf
the size of a baseball bat.
The phone rings.
Maybe I'll eat it rare. Maybe that'll
appease this nagging hunger coming over me now again. It's Ellen,
I'm sure. Perhaps a nice fat steak. I could eat it raw, chew delicious
morsels of tenderloin, smell of blood at least lingering in the
yielding flesh butchered, how many days ago? How long has this calf
been dead? When, exactly, did they cut the heart out of that chicken
Answer the damn phone. It's my sister-from-hell
Ellen. What a surprise. I could puke.
Now she's giving me the line about
the family. I'm her big brother. She's always looked up to me. Dad
was a hero. Burly-armed truckdriver keeping the carnivores of Akron
appeased. And Mom shot him down in coldblood, then lied about it
under oath, with her highclass pimp of a boyfriend swearing to all
her filth, so neat and tidy...
"Blood," I say outloud to the ham,
"is a chemical. Family, an accident I was lucky enough to walk away
more or less intact from."
She screeches in my ear, what am I?
Some kind of Hamlet? Is that the kind of homosexual I've turned
into? Don't I have any respect left for the ties of family and the
duties of blood?
"I'm a directory assistance telephone
operator," I say down to the knockwurst. "All day, all week, I've
been listening to the southern accents of metropolitan St. Louis
jabber and squawk and demand. Your voice sits very uncomfortably
on my stomach and in my ear, Sis."
She hangs up.
I get to looking at some cylinders
of sausage named after a famous country & western singer. Male
organ of reproduction. Slice it up like cutting the rims off anuses.
The song of pork frying in the pan. Where are the penises? Here
are the beef fries. 0
I hold up a package of rocky mountain
oysters entitled: BEEF FRIES 1.50 per lb., 0.981b., total price:
1.47. 1 process this data, remembering the fine old dirty words
for the delicacy: prairie oysters, bull balls, ox sacks... but the
peckers, the dingdongs, the schlangs, the bull yazoos... in vain
I look around for chicken peckers and frozen mule dingdongs... all
I spot is packages of beef tongue beside containers of veiny liver.
The phone. Tickles like a low-speed
drill and a lot of novocaine.
She's talking about Hamlet and the
family again. Like there was no interruption. Incessant. Only I
know my head went somewhere.
"Look," I say, perturbed, down into
the turkey burger, "Hamlet is after my time. My problem is more
primitive. Hamlet's was one of indecision. Mine is that I just don't
want to relate. I don't see what any of this has to do with me.
I'm down here in St. Louis working for the phone company. After
hours I've got a life of my own to live. I wish to hell you'd leave
me alone, Ellen."
She says I have to kill this guy or
else I'm not a man. Kill the woman, too; meaning our mother. Jerry's
twenty years her junior. It was because she wanted to live openly
with that fop that she killed Dad in the first place. Not because
she was jealous of the honey in Akron. Dad was a hero, a muscleman,
a provider, a prince. He was entitled to such exotica as a mistress
a few hundred miles to the east. Mom was balling a punk from up
the street. And Dad never laid a violent hand on her, except when
she had it coming. And even then he never broke so much as a single
bone in her body.
She demands I come up to Winnetka
tonight and kill Mom. Purely because she doesn't want a member of
her own sex to survive such sacrilege. The murder of one's own husband
is tantamount to spitting in the Face of God. Mother has defiled
the marriage bed in the filthiest way. Would I want her to marry
a man like MOM?
I start laughing out loud at her last
idiocy. I laugh for a good five seconds of scorn before the static
comes back in and the connection has been severed. I hope she wasn't
hurt by my outburst, I think to myself and then really go on a wild
laughing jag. God, we're all asses: the living, the dead, the frozen...
My nose is now down in the fish. A
spinster in see-through pink babushka peers out at the squid. A
teenager is making fun of the trout, tossing a package like James
Dean idly flipping a blackjack. A man in a suit and tie paws through
the crab. Still there is the squeaking of plastic, even way down
here in the ocean, where life began and families used to be as big
as whole schools. A fat Oriental bellies up to the display and grabs
an armload of cod.
A jar of oysters catches my eye. Real
oysters. The juicy salty slimy kind. The kind that taste of dissolved
minerals and not of bullshit like prairie sod. They don't bleed
oysters. Oysters are whole; blood, guts and all. But it isn't red,
and the taste of iron doesn't predominate. No, whatever it is oysters
use to circulate life, it'll never do - not even in a pinch - for
The phone. Like an ass braying inside
a barn; only the barn is my skull.
I look up over the open-air refrigerator
and demand to see the butcher. Nobody out, so I climb over the frigid
carnage. I'm not going to answer the damn phone.
I'm going to get to the bottom of
this personal hell if I have to kill myself trying.
"Blood!" I scream. "I've got to have
warm, fresh blood!"
I'm in the backroom where sides of
beef, pork and lamb hang from the ceiling.
It's cold. The bright lights and Lysol
and embalmed-carrion stink sting my eyes.
"Blood...?" I say, my voice becoming
disconnected as I begin to realize...
"You think this is a slaughterhouse?"
"No blood here, mister - this is a
nationally-known corporate grocery store.
We do everything clean so it looks
nice on the family table..."
begin to realize...
"Mister! get back out on the other
side of the counter. Leave us alone, we got work"
"Yeah! go back out there, choose your
meat, take it home and leave us alone.
"You got a personal problem with blood
- keep it to yourself!"
"Hey! get outta here..."
as they wrestle me to the floor, that
even though I'm just a shrimp, even though I've spent the last five
years sitting in a cubicle with a phonebook and a headset buried
in my ear - I'm going to take on these butchers and tear them apart.
They've got blood. About seven or eight quarts apiece, judging
from the size of the swine.
We roll around on the floor. The beefiest
gets me pinned, sits on my chest while the others hold down my arms.
He's bent over me grinning. I lunge and bite his nose. I get a good
grip and he screams and jumps back, dragging me up with him.
I wrench my head from side to side
like a terrier with a rat. But it's no dice. My teeth are too flat
- can't break the skin. Too much civilization; not enough of a savage.
All that blood flowing inside the pulpy gourd and I can't get a
drop of it.
I scamper past all three of the bruisers.
One - leaping for me - throws a tackle on 300 pounds of steer dangled
from a hook in the ceiling.
I hop out onto the packages of chicken.
Heads bowed, people continue in their nervous quest for the mundane.
I face the crowd. I am going to make
an allout appeal for blood, for rebellion - the essence of revenge
when the pigs are yanking my ankles.
I make a dozen packages of wing and
breast fly like they never did down on the farm! I squirm and plead
for blood! But they finally slop me down to the floor.
We go up the busy aisle of hungry
shoppers. Everybody notices the pigs but nobody registers alarm
or confusion. They go right back to their tomatos, spaghetti or
Outside, in the squadcar, the lecture
Don't I have any pride? What am I
- an epileptic? Am I the same kind of subhuman that exposes itself
to little children? What did I mean by hollering for blood in the
middle of a crowded grocery store? Am I one of these attention hogs?
Repressed homosexual, perhaps? Or just another chickenshit little
"Okay," I say. "Cut the talk and take
me downtown. I hear voices inside my head all day, all week at work.
I don't need to hear any more questions. Not while I'm on my own
One pig goes dumb. The other looks
They tell me I'm not going to jail.
The jail's overcrowded already. It's Friday night. There'll be beatings,
murders, rapes, robberies, drunks... I'm way too small a fry to
No, they're just going to take me
somewhere and drop me off. Far enough away to impress the citizens
back at the grocery store. But not so far as to squander the taxpayers'
money. Basically, they don't want any part of me. They're going
to flip me back into the night. I can go have my fits elsewhere.
And they're certainly not about to make a decent alcoholic or murderer
sleep in the same cell with a deviate like me. Incidentally, what
is my act? Am I a calf molester, dog buggerer or rooster
"Let me off at the Greyhound bus station."
I realize the phone is ringing again. "I've got family in Chicago.
I'll... go up there tonight. They need me to, uh, take care of something."
The pigs' expressions, like the need
for every human being to make more money, remain exactly the same.
Sure, they'd be glad to assist me in leaving town. Always glad to
do their bit toward keeping the city clean - making it a safe and
sane place for families to live.
I touch, reflectively, the plastic
of the seatcover. Of course they aren't going to keep me. I'm not
ready for the can. I still have blood. Blood tying me to... connecting
me up with...
The phone keeps ringing.
"Hold on, Sis," I say outloud in the
back of the cruising squadcar, "I'm coming. Don't worry."
There are some accidents you just
can't walk away from.
"There are no heroes," said the elevator operator as I got in. "What
He was a small guy. About the size
of a safety-pin stuck in a jackball. He was chewing gum that smelled
like a swimmingpool in January. The smile on his face was that of
a butcher about to quote his price.
"Forty-ninth," I said.
His finger swept over the bank of
buttons and he punched the one that lit up 49 in an orange glow.
The iceberg smile broke apart and floated away as he chawed his
gum, joined his hands behind his back and leaned against the beige
metallic wall to look me up and down. For a dink his stature, that
meant mostly "up."
"What about Orion?" I said, when I
grew tired of his eyes taking my altitude. "He's real. You'll see
him up there every night, once we set the clocks back."
"Nimrod," he yawned. "A mighty hunter
before the Lord. Same corpse. He's dead. Been dead so long nothing's
left but stars. And then only when it don't snow. Heroes are alive.
Sleep all day and come out at night. Nope, there are no heroes."
"What about a real star," I said.
"Like Ronald Reagan or Shirley Temple Black?"
A distant thud below our feet. Stomach
thrown down thighs into ankles... the lights went out. The importance
of my appointment at floor 49 shrank. I stood still and said nothing.
I knew it was womanish to scream or lunge during mechanical failures.
The orange glow from the button marked "49" grew in intensity as
my eyes accustomed to the gloom.
"Looks like the harvest moon," chirped
the invisible operator, "Rising up over a Memphis whorehouse - don't
it?" My mouth went dry. I cleared
my throat. There was nothing to clear. All I did was gasp - a sound
that could easily be interpreted as panic. I tried to whistle -
to appear calm. My lips were dry as a dull needle stuck in a cracked
record between songs.
"We're in between floors," came the
operator's runt voice somewhere in the claustrophobic neighborhood
of my groin. "I don't think we're falling. You think we're falling?"
"Gravity's an illusion," I heard myself
say. I wanted to say more, explain how acceleration is equivalent
to gravity, blurt out how if we dropped a book and the book hung
where released, instead of falling to the floor, then we were accelerating
downward and the situation was grave and we'd better pray for mercy
and candycanes after our crushing like bugs caught in the cookie
jar at the bottom of the shaft... but my lips were too parched from
what I persisted denying was "fear" for me to say more.
"Too dark in here to drop a book,"
the operator muttered. You know that old trick? It's something you
only get to work once. It's not like politics or acting in the movies,
where cut-throats called 'speech writers' do it for you, or you
get as many takes as it takes to make the transparency say you did
superhuman. But we could listen for the sound. You know that old
trick about the book, Mister?"
The little voice pounded at my groin.
Irrationally, I felt my zipper was down. Would he smell the stains
a mere foot from his nose? As we fell (in my imagination) to our
grisly death - two unknowns in a trap lacking all trace of sweetness
and light - I feared that yes-yes I was terrified, deathly
afraid this greasy peon was going to smell my zipper was down!
You ever let a guy go down
"Look," I said, moistening my lips
with mucous my tongue unearthed along the eaves of my mouth. I'll
take off my pants and we'll drop them - I don't have a book."
There was the rustle of me undoing
my belt buckle. I glanced up at the orange button and stepped out
of my pants, then stopped dead... he was wrong...
We were heroes. This was science.
Gravity versus acceleration. Repugnance against attraction. Grab
opposite bob. We were dying in the interest of pure science. Modern
What my pants exposed fitted into
the gap of an otherwise perfect theory. A wad of gum was pushed
aside, because we could ignore that peculiar fact.
In ecstatic devotion to the advancement
of mankind and all that is not womanish, I dropped my bundled pants.
The brass buckle muffled by a flop of cotton - rang on the floor
like an alarmclock cut short by a hungover hand.
I came to the conclusion we were not