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The Devilish Dr. Diaz

The Devilish Dr. Diaz

The first time I met Dr. Diaz was at the Cartwright School District teacher orientation on an absolutely scorching July morning last year. Only a week before that I had boxed up all of my winter clothes and shoved them in the darkest corner of my parents attic, then drove my crappy 2004 black Grand Prix from St. Louis all the way out to Phoenix. This was Wyatt Earp country. I was on a mission to clean up the wild west like Wyatt and Doc Holiday cleaned up Tombstone. I had Dead Poet’s Society on a constant loop ever since graduating from Lindenwood University two months earlier and I was hell-bent on being the Mr. Keating of the southwest. I didn’t just want to be a great teacher, I wanted the best teacher. I wanted to be an activist teacher. Chris Hemsworth would play me in the movie they’re sure to make about me. Stand and Deliver is going to look like Annie after my first year in education.

I peeled my face from the only pillow I owned in my tiny apartment off of Thomas and 30th Ave. that sizzling July morning, showered, and put on my new navy blue suit from the Men’s Wearhouse. As I stepped out into the early morning sun, I thought I was going to catch on fire but I forged on anyway. I stepped over a chalk outline of a body on the sidewalk, past a pair of stray cats and set off to conquer the world.

I walked into Castro Middle School that first day patting out small flames that had spontaneously caught fire on my new suit. After introducing myself as politely as I could muster to Patty, the office manager, she pointed me in the direction of the school’s library where the orientation was getting underway. I was greeted by Mrs. Hernandez, the principal who insisted I call her Sarah. She then introduced me to my mentor teacher for the year, Dr. Diaz.

The man was quite the spectacle by appearance alone, not to mention his intense magnetism. He was an older, very dapper gentleman, mid 50’s that stood about 6’3. Not a hair out-of-place, perfectly combed and sprayed into place. Well lotioned skin of bronze, teeth so shiny and white like a string of pearls. Regularly manicured fingernails, not a cuticle left untucked. He wore a pressed white, 3 piece suit from Bill Blass and a red cotton dress shirt from Ralph Lauren, the top two buttons, open with gold cufflinks. Beige, ostrich skin Tony Lama cowboy boots and a gold, diamond studded pinky ring that he had to have dropped at least 2 Gs on.

I’ll never forget our first conversation as long as I live, every word is tattooed in my long-term memory.

Mrs. Hernandez, Sarah said, “Mr. Black, this is Dr. Diaz.”

“Nice to meet you Señor. I’m Dr. Diaz.” He said, shaking my hand a bit firmer than first introduction etiquette dictates.

“Nice to meet you Mr. Diaz. I’m Mike Bla…” I started to say.

“Doctor.” He said, cutting me off.

“Excuse me?” I asked, utterly confused.

“It’s Dr. Diaz.”

“Oh.” I said with a laugh, clearly thinking he was just giving me a hard time. “Sorry Doctor.”

“Don’t let it happen again.” He said with the same firmness that he was shaking my hand with…still.

“Right. Uh, sorry Sir.” I said neutrally, unable to bring myself to actually call this guy doctor by mandate.

Pause.

“It’s really good that you’re going to get to work with me this year.” He actually said with a straight face.

Long pause.

“Uh, thank you?” I finally acquiesced.

So after that whole headache, he offered to take me on a quick tour of the school. The first place he took me was his classroom where he told me I would “Get to meet with him twice a week to learn the art of teaching.” Man, this guy was something else. Who does this guy think he is, the Sultan of Brunei or something?

Things went from odd to completely bizarre when he opened the door to his classroom and showed me in. The whole room was flashing red, white, and blue, chalk full of Americana memorabilia. What the hell was all this? Apollo Creed wasn’t this patriotic in Rocky II.  There were American flags, banners, posters, Uncle Sam was pointing at me from all directions. It was pretty over the top. Now I’m as red-blooded, American from the midwest as anyone you’re likely to meet, but this was like nothing I’d ever seen before. This guy made Bruce Springsteen look like Che Guevara.

All that was a lot to soak in but absolutely nothing I had ever encountered in all my 24 years on planet Earth could have possibly prepared me for what I saw sitting on his desk. There, next to the Arizona Cardinals coffee mug and gold-plated Rosary, encased in glass, was a bright red Make America Great Again hat! Not only that, but there on the bill of the cap, written in Gold Sharpie, read:

    Jessie, you’re a hero and a patriot!

Donald Trump

I swear on everything holy, I had to feel around for a desk or something to sit down on and gasped around for a paper bag to breath in and out of.

“He’s a Trump supporter? But…but…”

I had so many questions. Nothing made sense anymore, up was down, day was night, white was black. I went home to my crappy, one bedroom apartment that night and cried myself to sleep, if you replace the word cry with the word drink.

I didn’t see Mr. sorry, Doctor Diaz again until the first day of school. Being my mentor teacher, I “got” to co-teach with him every day. It didn’t take long before I realized that our teaching philosophies were as different as our personal philosophies. How he did business was not how I did business, we weren’t even in the same industry. This guy was not only vain, arrogant, and worse…Republican, when it came to teaching and dealing with the students, he was also mean, impatient, and kind of racist.

Our school is a Title 1 school, which means that it’s like 95% poverty. It also happens to be a mostly hispanic population, so it seemed a little more than odd when I first heard him use phrases like, “The problem with you people is…” and “You people need to…” etc. When he would make phone calls home the first thing he would ask is, “Is there a dad around?” I suppose that being hispanic himself, he is afforded a bit more slack than, say, me, but I still found it more than a little bit offensive.

By October, he had most of the students good and scared of him. Hell, I was scared of him. I did my best to steer clear of him and teach as best as I could but his net was wide and far-reaching. At first I was afraid to say anything to him about how he treated our students and the things that he would say to them but by Halloween, I let a few things slip. I couldn’t stay silent any more. Someone had to stick up for these kids, and that someone had to be me. He barely even got to know the kids, that was his biggest problem, he treated everyone the same. He had no concept of individual needs, he didn’t understand that, what’s fair isn’t always equal and what’s equal is not always fair.

So one morning when Jesus came in our home room and flipped a desk over, Dr. Diaz didn’t even bother talking to him to find out what was going on. He just yelled and shouted at him and told him to go the office. When Dr. Diaz threatened to call the police on him, right in front of everyone, Jesus ran out of the room. I had to do something, I rushed out of the room and chased after him. I stopped Jesus in the hall and sat with him until he had a chance to calm down. When he was ready, he finally told me that he was mad because he didn’t get any sleep the night before because his mother never came home and he had to stay up all night with his little brothers and sisters.

When I walked back into the room, I was restrained. I didn’t march in there and make a scene or anything in front of all the students like he did. I was patient. I waited until lunch and when we were alone, I calmly said, “Did you know that Jesus’ mother didn’t come home last night?”

“No, I didn’t know that.” He said with his mouth full of Tamales.

“Yeah,” I continued, “He was up all night taking care of his little brothers and sisters.”

“Huh.” He said blankly.

“Yeah,” I continued, “and yesterday when you yelled at Juan and made him sit in the corner by himself because he kept asking questions without raising his hand?”

“He was being disrespectful.” He said.

“Did you know that his father and his uncle got deported last week?”

“Really?” He said, wiping his mouth.

“Yes, really.” I stated, my confidence growing.

“Well, I did not know that.” He said getting a toothpick out of his white, porcelain holder.

“You know, if you would bother to get to know these kids, even a little bit, you know, talk to them, maybe you would understand a little bit more about them.” I said boldly.

“What they need is discipline, they need structure.” He stated.

“I don’t think you know anything about these kids.” I said, standing up straight and tall.

“You don’t think I know these kids?” He asked redundantly, eyes wide.

“Uh…I—I.” I stammered.

“Oh, I know these kids. I know these kids alright. I know these kids better than you will ever know them!” He bellowed.

“Well then you of all people should know that you’ve gotta cut these kids some slack, they’re just kids for Christ’s sake! I’m not saying you have to go around rescuing them like that El Medico guy or anything…”

“What did you just say?” He asked coldly, cutting me off in mid sentence.

Suddenly I felt like one of our students. Small, helpless, petrified. “Uh…I said, er, I mean…I said that you don’t have to be like that guy…El Medico.”

“Where the hell did you hear that name?” He demanded.

“I hear the kids talking about him. They say he goes around helping the kids from the neighborhood with food and presents and stuff.”

“What did you say the name of this fella is?” He asked, picking at his teeth with his toothpick.

“El Medico.” I gulped.

“El Medico?” he scoffed. “That is the stupidest name I have ever heard of.” He said taking the toothpick out of his mouth and walking out of the room.

I sat down at one of the desks and tried to go over whatever in the hell just happened. I was shaking like a fiend and all I could do was replay that conversation over and over again until I could gain enough composure to slump my way back to my apartment and “cry” my sorrows away again.

The second quarter seemed to whiz by. With all the standardized testing, the holidays, and the heat finally starting to ease up a bit, the days seemed to fly off of the calendar. Days to weeks and weeks to months and before I knew it, it was the Monday before Thanksgiving. After our little blowout, Dr. Diaz and I had kept things pretty formal and businesslike. He taught his lessons his way, I taught my lessons my way and we pretty much unofficially agreed to stay out of each other’s way.

Dr. Diaz wasn’t the only obstacle I had my first year, there was the teaching too. I mean, that’s not something that should be dismissively glossed over. I know that everyone’s first year of teaching is a story they can tell for the rest of their days but teaching here man, it has its challenges. I sort of laugh now when I remember my dream of being the Mr. Keating of Phoenix. Events took place that were unforeseeable. I mean, I never thought I would have to tell 8th grade boys to keep their hands off of each other so many times a day. I never, in all my life imagined that I would have to explain to another living, breathing human being how to properly use a stapler or that it’s alright to eat the skin of an apple. Certain things you would think you could assume, still I still never thought that I would actually have to justify having a rule stating that you need permission to leave the classroom, like once a week and have to really detail why that is a thing. Well, you know what they say when you assume things don’t you? Come to think about it, maybe you don’t.

There were small, sporatic victories followed by long periods of heartache and struggle. It seemed like once I thought I got the answer to something, had some kind of epiphany, all the questions would suddenly change. It all seemed very fluid. You sort things out in one class only to have another class start-up with some other shenanigans. It’s like those arcade games where you keep hitting the gofer and they just keep popping up somewhere else and it never ends. It never ever ends.

By the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the game plan was to ride the clock out. The kids were a shaken Champagne bottle, ready to blow. They had all been talking about that guy, El Medico, who may or may not actually exist but was supposedly going around delivering turkeys to the neighborhood’s needy houses. Try the best you can to keep the kids occupied, distracted, until the final bell rang and you could tap out like the dealers at a casino. They were someone else’s problem now. I was looking forward to a nice five-day weekend with absolutely nothing to do but lay on the used sofa in my crappy apartment and binge on Netflix. I almost made it too.

I was in my car with the engine running when a diamond studded, gold pinky ring knocked on my driver’s side window. “What in the absolute holy mother of…” I was thinking as I slowly rolled down my window.

“Hey Dr. Diaz. What’s going on?” I asked without looking up.

“Mr. Black, I’d like you to come to my house for Thanksgiving tomorrow afternoon.” Dr. Diaz said bluntly.

“Oh, hey, Dr. Diaz, I’d really love to but…”

“No you wouldn’t.” He dismissed.

“No, sure I would. It’s just that I have a…”

“No you don’t.” He said, then, “Come over around 3:30. You don’t need to bring anything.” He finished and then he walked away.

“He can’t make me do this. There is no way I’m going to his house. Who the hell does he think he is anyway. …” This train of thought started as I rolled up my window. It continued as I ambled out of the parking lot and drove home. It also continued as I drove to Dr. Diaz’s house at 3 o’clock sharp the next day.

“This is such horse crap.” I said out loud to myself as I started to pull into his driveway, then balked, backed up, and parked on the street.

Dr. Diaz welcomed me into his ranch style home on a quiet street off of Thunderbird and 40th St. The house wasn’t quite what I had expected. It was, I don’t know, modest. I guess I expected more of a mix between the Playboy mansion and Kid Rock’s pad but this was subtle, not gaudy at all. The inside was clean and well-lit with lots of photos on the wall of people who were not there. There was no one there. He was alone. Dr. Diaz lived alone.

As we sat down to eat the Thanksgiving feast that he had prepared I thought about how I would go about asking him tactfully just what was going on with his family. I distinctly remember him mentioning a wife and several children in the present tense on more than one occasion. Yet here we sat, us two at a table set for many. This was not a layer of the Dr. Diaz onion that I was expecting to peel back today or any other day.

I looked around the house for clues as my mind raced. There was so much about this place that didn’t fit, simply because it was so ordinary, so domesticated. The pictures on the wall hung symmetrically and showed a wife and at least three grown sons but a careful inspection of the house showed no visible evidence of anyone else living in the house. No other shoes lying around, no other jackets hanging on the coat rack, no post-it notes stuck to the fridge, nothing.

This guy is clearly living some kind of a double life. A mild-mannered family man with no family at home and an egotistical tyrant at work. What else was he hiding? After eating, Dr. Diaz opened a bottle of Valencia DO wine and poured us both a glass. Ah, in vino veritas, finally the truth will come pouring out of him and I’ll get some closure to all these anomalies. Sadly, three glasses later and all I had learned about were the pros and cons of the snowbirds who come from Canada to “winter” in Phoenix and the only thing I worked up the courage to ask for was an aspirin for the splitting headache I now had.

I squinted at the clock and noticed that it was only 4:30 pm when he started posturing for the door. He said that he had some business to take care of downtown. When I said that I thought I should call for an Uber, he insisted that he would drop me off at my apartment because he was headed that way anyhow. In the car, cruising down the 51 South, I wondered what business he could possibly have in south Phoenix on Thanksgiving but my aching head had put my inquiring mind at a pause.

Back at school after the long weekend, we had to re-teach all of our policies and procedures. The students all came back with a vengeance, they were like banshees. They were off the wall going on about all the crazy adventures they had and the fact that that guy, that thing, El Medico, if that was even a thing, may or may not have delivered turkeys and other goodies to some of the student’s houses. They were going crazy about it, you would have thought Pit Bull had delivered the turkeys himself. It was crazy, all it takes for 8th graders to forget everything you’ve taught them about how to behave civilly in school, is a long weekend. After Thanksgiving, the countdown to the Winter break is so on.

The 1st of December was covered with dust, but it was actually chilly, like it only got to around 65 degrees that day and it was only partly sunny. Trying to get anything productive done in the month of December is a real fool’s errand, with all the dances, field trips, semester rewards, pep rallies, not to mention the testing. Yes, more testing…already. Of course, Dr. Diaz was just the fool to take on this Herculean task. He was all business, right down to the last class on the last day.

Needless to say, the students get pretty excited this time of year as well. A lot more students than I had expected were talking about taking trips over the holiday, I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised, but I was. Lots of kids talked about movies they were going to see and what they expected to get for Christmas and that character, El Medico kept coming up. From what I could gather, about half the kids believed that he was real and about half thought it was made up. A myth, like Santa or Chupacabra. He seemed to have struck on all the holidays so far this year but apparently Christmas was his bread and butter, his pinto and beans.

They were saying that he dresses up like Santa, so as not to draw attention to himself, but instead of asking for money for “charity” like all the other Santas standing in front of stores, he would actually give out money. I heard he would give out all kinds of things; clothes, presents, school supplies, food, and yes, he would apparently give out cold hard cash to a lot of the residence of southwest Phoenix. Honestly, when I first started to hear about this character at the beginning of the year, before Halloween, I thought he sounded like a perv, if he even existed, but now it seems like he’s the real deal. A real life St. Nicholas.

As the winter holiday approached, I heard more and more chatter about this El Medico, there were sightings of him around the neighborhoods and, as stories tend to do, as they go from first hand stories to third and fourth hand stories, the legend grew bigger and bigger. During home room, I’d hear someone say that he gave their mother $10.00 at the gas station and by 7th period, the story had grown so that he was walking on water and then turning it into Jose Cuervo. Quite impressive.

I asked around if anyone knew who this guy was, I thought maybe I could get him to come to the school and give a talk about the goodness of charity and giving, maybe do an interview with the school newspaper but everyone said that he is like Batman, he goes to great lengths to hide his identity. The Monday before the Winter holiday, I started to craft a plan. I wanted to find this guy. This couldn’t be that hard. I had always thought that if you wanted to see Batman in person, just fake a robbery or something and he’d come and save you, then you could get your selfie with him or whatever.

Well, I’m sure we could pull that off without putting ourselves out too much, this guy was no Batman after all. I’m sure the telephone game effect made him out to be much more than he really was. I’m sure he’s just a regular dude who gives full size Snickers out at Halloween and doesn’t make a habit of re-gifting last year’s presents on Christmas. It’s not like he’s on CNN’s HEROS: 2016 list or anything.

So I crafted a plan with a couple of the students to set a trap, nothing nefarious or anything, it’s not like I was trying to unmask him. I was just curious as to what the real story was with this guy and maybe the kids could get a free bag of Hot Cheetos out of it for their troubles. The plan was simple: I dress up, or down, as a homeless guy on the street with a cardboard sign with the plea:

    “Hungry Vet. Anything helps. God Bless!!”

And the kids pretend to walk by and mock me obnoxiously, hopefully drawing the ire of passerbys enough to get El Medico’s attention. So I asked one of my neighbors if I could borrow some of his duds, picked up a tin of Folder’s and off we went.

The first day of winter break was a brisk, sunny Wednesday with a slight breeze coming from the North. I set myself up outside of the Circle K on Osborn and 35th Ave. and told the kids to go in the store, buy some gum or something, come out and give me a hard time for a while, then take a lap around the block and then do it again. After a few rounds of this, hopefully they’ll draw enough attention to themselves and me, that our hero, if he is any hero at all, will show himself.

The boys did a great job, it’s not like they didn’t have plenty of practice giving me crap in public, they were my students after all. They came out of the store with 44 ounce drinks and when I asked, “Could you boys please spare some change?”

“Get a job, loser!” Juan said.

“You stink bro, take a shower!” Jesus laughed.

“OK,” I said, “It’s Christmas time. Tis the season.”

“Tis the season…to be sucky!” Gustavo said.

“Ok?” I said, holding out my can.

“Yeah, tis the season…” Juan started.

“Yeah?” I asked optimistically.

“…for Deez Nutz!”

“Enough!” I said sternly, giving them the look that reminded them that I was still their teacher.

The boys scurried off and ten minutes later they were back for round two. After about round seven, it was getting pretty late. The boys couldn’t drink much more soda and they needed to be getting home soon. They were looking pretty beat when they came out of the store for the eighth time and were sort of just going through the motions by this point.

“Hey old man, why don’t you…I don’t know, go fly a kite.” Jesus said lazily, fresh out of insults. I think Gustavo was about to throw some ice on me when a man stepped out from around the corner wearing a Santa suit with shiny black boots and black, Gucci leather gloves.

He walked up to the boys and said, “Boys, you got to learn not to talk to grown-ups that way.”

“Uh, yes Sir. We’re sorry Sir.” They said in complete awe.

“Well, it looks like you boys have put in a long day’s work.” The man said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a wad of cash.

“Uh, yes Sir. I guess we have.” Juan said, wondering how he knew that.

“How’s $20 bucks an hour sound?” He asked and then handed them each a crisp $100.oo bill.

“Damn! Thanks Mister!” They all said, the enthusiasm returning.

“Alright, now you boys get on home. I’ll be around later to make sure you got there safely.” The man said as the boys ran off. He looked at me as I made my way to my feet and tried to shake away my sleeping legs.

“So,” I said, extending out my hand to shake his, “you must be the one they call El Medico?”

The man took off one of his black, Gucci leather gloves, exposing a diamond studded pinky ring and said, “El Medico. That’s the stupidest name I’ve ever heard.” Then, shaking my hand, less firmly this time, said, “It’s Doctor. Don’t let it happen again.”

The End

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Posted by on December 15, 2017 in Christmas, Fiction

 

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The Girl With the Green Ribbon

The Girl With the Green Ribbon

girl_with_the_green_ribbon_by_shming

The Girl With the Green Ribbon

There once lived a shy young girl named Valerie who always wore a green ribbon around her neck. On school picture day when Valerie was in the 5th grade she was wearing pink flowered shorts from The Gap, a printed Floral Cami from Aeropostale, Old Navy Mary Jane Jelly sandals and of course, her green ribbon. When she sat down on the stool to have her picture taken, the photographer was trying to get her to take off the green ribbon.

“O.K. Sweetheart,” The cameraman said waving his finger at Valerie in a general sort of way, “this one’s for the yearbook. How about we take off that green scarf thingy, no?”

“Um, no, that’s alright.” Valerie said hesitantly. “If it’s all the same, could I just leave it on?”

“Well no, it’s not really all the same, is it? If it was all the same,” The cameraman said awkwardly. “then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. That’s why I think maybe we should take it off. You see what I mean?”

“I’d really just rather keep it on.” Valerie said, sitting on her hands that were beginning to shake.

“Well what are you cold or something?” He asked peeking from behind his camera.

“No. Er…uh, yes. Yes I am. I’m very very cold.” Valerie said pretending to shiver, thinking that she really needed to nail down a good response so she could stop having these terribly angst ridden exchanges with strangers.

“It’s your yearbook picture Sweetheart.” The cameraman said. “I get paid either way. How’s about a big smile though?”

Valerie worked up the best smile she could produce but left the green ribbon on. Valerie’s 5th grade yearbook picture looked just like every other photo she had ever taken, yearbook or otherwise, with Valerie painting a great big, fake smile on her face and of course, wearing her green ribbon.

After the whole class had their picture taken it was lunchtime. As usual, Valerie took her half read book, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and a brown paper bag filled with a turkey and cheese sandwich, a ziplock bag full of baby carrots and purple grapes, and a packet of Ritz peanut butter sandwich crackers that her mother had packed her and sat on a bench by herself, as usual. Halfway into the sandwich and deep into her book a boy who never talked to Valerie before named Robert, who was wearing a dark grey ARMY T-shirt and Loose Fit blue jeans from American Eagle walked up and asked Valerie, “Hey, can I sit here?”

“Why?” Valerie replied, more rudely than she intended.

“Uh, I don’t know,” Robert said shrugging his shoulders and then shoving his hands deep into his jean pockets. “I just wanted to talk to you I guess.”

“Well if you just came to make fun of me, no thanks.” She said defensively without looking up from her book. “I already took enough shit from the smart ass cameraman during the class picture.”

“Yeah,” Robert said, sitting down next to her. “I kind of heard that.”

After a long pause, Valerie went on reading her book and Robert worked up the courage to say something, anything else but he didn’t quite know what to say or how to say it so, “Ha-have you ever pissed in your pants?” just came out.

“Look asshole,” Valerie started, coldly looking up from her book, “I could kill you with my thumb…”

“No, no!” Robert interrupted with his hands up in surrender, “I-I-I didn’t mean for that to come out that way.”

“Take your scrawny little ass,” Valerie started bravely, “and go bother someone else with your dumb ass questions because you know what….” Valerie’s voice started to tremble and her eyes began to swell up with tears.

“I’m sorry,” Robert said nervously, “I-I really didn’t mean anything by that…God I’m so stupid! I just wanted to take Karate lessons and I was really scared.” Robert started rambling, looking down, “The Sensei or whatever you call the teacher was so hard-core. He just kept shouting at us and I really had to piss but I was too afraid to ask to go to the bathroom and, God, why am I telling you this? Oh yeah, because I asked you… anyway, he made us do push-ups on our knuckles and then he called us all “ladies” no- not that that’s like a bad thing or anything, I totally respect ladies or uh…girls, I mean… females and I really had to go bad but then he made us stand up and start doing these leg kicks, they’re like kicks, ya know, but with your legs and I just couldn’t hold it anymore and I just peed in my Gi or whatever the Karate uniform is called and…it was…really…” Robert said trailing off, still looking down.

When Robert finally, carefully mustered up the courage to look up, Valerie was looking at him curiously, tapping her lip with her index finger. “So,” She thought out loud, “you’re kind of a loser then, huh?”

“Yeah,” Robert laughed, looking down again, then looked at Valerie without lifting his head up, “I guess I kind of am.”

This made Valerie smile a genuine smile, not the pasted on smile that she usually showed the world but a great big, radiant, real life, spontaneous Valerie smile that gave Robert a queer sensation in the pit of his stomach, but a good kind of queer sensation, not a nauseous, queasy feeling but a hypnotizing one that caused him to stare for longer than he normally would but without really being aware of it or caring.

“Hey, Pee boy, you’re staring.” Valerie said playfully.

“Yeah…” Robert said wistfully, then just kind of let that linger out there for a while like a big bubble gum bubble.

“God, you are such a loser.” Valerie laughed, then asked, “Why the hell did you tell me that story about your Karate class?”

“Oh god, I don’t know.” Robert said rubbing his forehead. “I guess I saw you today getting your picture taken and something about the way that photographer was talking to you just reminded me of that feeling, ya know…being…embarrassed I guess.”

“Oh my god, I know right?” Valerie said animatedly, “Like, all my life people have treated me like I’m some kind of freak. It gets so annoying, you know?”

“Well, if you don’t mind me asking, what is the deal with the green ribbon? I mean, you do kind of wear it all the time.” Robert asked.

“Uh, I don’t really like to…” Valerie started, smoothing out the ribbon with her hands nervously, “I just…”

“Hey, hey,” Robert interrupted, “it’s cool. You don’t have to tell me. You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to.”

“I know I don’t.” Valerie said assertively.

“Hey, I’m sorry.” Robert said reaching his hand out to touch her hand, then stopping and retreating. “The last thing I want to do is make you feel like that asshole, all those assholes, make you feel. Really, I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s cool.” Valerie said honestly, “It’s just…” she said taking a deep breath, then, “Can you just not ask me about my ribbon…like ever?”

“Yeah, sure.” Robert said fake zipping his mouth, locking it and tossing away the imaginary key.

“Cool.” Valerie said, putting the matter to rest with a nod of her head.

“There is one more little thing I wanted to ask you though.” Robert said squinting and doing that thing you do with your fingers when you want to express a small amount.

“What?” Valerie asked, unamused.

“Do you think I could have some of your sandwich?” He asked cautiously.

“God, you are such a loser!” She said laughing, handing him half of her sandwich.

“Sorry, I didn’t have a chance to get lunch.” He said taking a big bite.

“Why not?” She asked.

“Well this went better than I thought it would.” He said with his mouth full of sandwich. “I thought you were just gonna tell me to get lost.”

That was the first lunch that Robert and Valerie spent together, the first of many many lunches spent together.

Four years later, Valerie and Robert were freshmen at Camdon High School, Valerie was a member of the drama club and Robert joined the JV football team although he mostly rode the bench for the first year. The two had been inseparable since they first met back in Fifth grade and although everyone assumed they were a couple, they actually had only fooled around a few times. The first time was in seventh grade when they were both stoned at Valerie’s house and experimented with giving each other massages while watching The Wendy Williams Show but stopped when Valerie wouldn’t take her shirt or trademark green ribbon off.

Another time, at a party, they were chosen to play “Seven Minutes in Heaven” together. In the dark closet, the clock ticking and after an awkward, sloppy kiss that they both agreed to, Valerie unzipped Robert’s jeans and took out his penis. She held it in her hands and squeezed it slowly until it got as hard as a totem pole then, just out of curiosity she knelt down and, with his throbbing nerd still in her hand, touched the head of it to her lips, lightly at first, then she stuck her tongue out timidly and licked it to see what it tasted like. Not totally put off by Robert’s trembling legs, the sweaty smell of his crotch and the salty taste of the head, Valerie opened her lips and gently put the head in her mouth and left it there for about three Mississippi’s until Robert grabbed her by the back of the head and gripped her hair tightly, moving her head unnaturally deep into him.

Valerie had watched enough YouPorn to know what was coming next. When she felt his ass cheeks tighten firmly she reached around for the first thing she could grab, a red flannel fleece jumper from Zara, and smothered Robert’s penis with it until his body stopped convulsing. Robert stood there in the dark closet shaking, panting, forehead perspiring, schmeckle dripping with post-cum, not knowing what to do or say when Valerie stood up, placed her hand on Robert’s shoulder and kissed him hard on the mouth, jamming her tongue into his mouth then pulled back and, wiping her bottom lip with her thumb said firmly, “Put that thing away.”

As Valerie straightened her green ribbon up, wondering how much time they had left before the closet door would open up, Robert was flicking the head of his nerd with his fingers in a vain attempt to get it back to a size that would fit into his jeans. As Valerie crumbled up the red fleece jumper and shoved it deep into the closet where it wouldn’t be immediately found, she leaned forward and whispered in his ear, “If you ever tell anyone about this,” she said grabbing his crotch, “I will cut the head of this thing clean off.”

Robert laughed nervously and then suddenly the closet door swung open, flooding the cramped closet with light, weed smoke and glares from all the kids at the party. The pair exited the closet and disappeared into the crowd as the next couple entered. Todd, Robert’s oldest friend besides Valerie asked him later, “Dude, how far did you go? Did you get in her panties? Did she take that ribbon off?”

Robert just looked at him and said with a slight snicker, “Dude, don’t ask.”

The next fall there was Halloween party at Rick Sinner’s house whose parents were away for the weekend. The house was decorated typically with fake cobwebs covering the tables, vampire bats hanging from the ceiling and Jack ‘o lanterns lining the driveway. All the people there were also fairly typically costumed; Dracula, Zombies, someone was dressed as Pat Batemen wearing an Armani suit spotted with blood, some of the football players were dressed as cheerleaders and vice versa. Most of the girls dressed up as tarted up versions of nurses, schoolteachers, dominatrixes, etc… Robert was dressed up as a Taliban terrorist and Valerie went as a hanging victim with red blood dripping from her mouth and her green ribbon as the rope.

Valerie was sitting alone on a lounge chair outside by the pool sipping Vodka and Kool- aid from a red plastic cup and taking one hits from her dugout. Marilyn Manson was blaring out of the speakers, “We’re all stars now, in the dope show.” She was starting to realize that, though she knew most of the people at the party for the better part of her life, this was not her crowd. It wasn’t really Robert’s crowd either, she was Robert’s crowd but she suspected that he wasn’t as annoyed to be there as she was.

When a fight broke out between Woody from Toy Story and Dr. Gonzo from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by the pool and Woody’s girlfriend, who was dressed as Kim Kardashian, spilt her beer on Valerie, she had had enough and went to look for Robert. She found him upside-down with some of his football teammates holding his feet doing a keg stand in the middle of the yard. She stood by and waited for him to finish with her arms crossed, casually finishing her drink, then, not having any more Kool-aid, tossing the cup aside and just started taking pulls from the pint of Vodka she had in her purse.

The football players were all chanting, “Drink, drink, drink!” as Valerie became more and more impatient standing there waiting for Robert to finish. When, after what felt like an eternity, Robert couldn’t take anymore keg beer shooting up his throat, he took the nozzle out of his mouth and let it pour out all over his turban and let out an obnoxiously loud belch as his teammates cheered him on.

“Bobby!” Valerie finally shouted as the football team let his legs drop to the ground, causing him to stumble to his feet and wobble sloppily over to Valerie.

“Hey buuuurrrp…babe. Where’ve you been?” He said, trying to gain his composure but ultimately failing.

“I’ve been sitting on a chair…” She said then paused for effect, “Alone.”

“Oh, well cool. D’ya wanna do a steg kand?” He slurred.

“No.” She said as passively aggressive as she possibly could, “I don’t want to do a keg stand.”

“O.K. babe, well I gotta hold Todd’s feet next so…d’ya wanna drink? Eewe ya, you got any of that Vodka left?” Robert asked naively.

“No, I’m kind of ready to get outta here.” She said impatiently.

“What? Baby, it’s only…” Robert said looking at a nonexistent watch that was never on his wrist, “like ten or something.”

“Yeah, well I’ve been sitting alone by the pool watching two morons bash each other’s heads in for over an hour and now I’m ready to go home.”

“There’s’s a fight? Who’s fighting?” He said puffing his chest out. “Hey guys, fight!”

As the rest of the football team’s attention was collaboratively transferred from the keg to this new potential for violence, they made their way over to where Robert and Valerie were causing the scene. Marilyn Manson was shouting, “And I don’t want ‘cha, and I don’t need ‘ya.”

“Where? Who’s fighting?” They collectively aped each other.

“Oh my god!” Valerie shouted. “Why are you acting like such an asshole?!”

“Oooh damn!” Some of the guys said. “Reeer” Another said, mimicking a cat. “Yeah Bobby, why are you being such an asshole?” Todd asked in a little girl’s voice.

“Babe,” Robert started, well aware of his audience.

“Stop calling me Babe, I’m not your fucking baby!” Valerie shouted. “Just go back to doing keg stands with your Neanderthal buddies. I’m outta here.” She said turning to walk away.

Robert, feeling the weight of a dozen pairs of eyeballs on him, suddenly experienced a humiliation he had only caught glimpses of before. When beautiful kids would walk by he and Valerie as they ate lunch together and snicker at them, he would feel this unknown rumbling in the pit of his stomach. When the popular guys would walk by them and say things like, “Nice ribbon, loser.” or, “Look who keeps his bitch on a leash.” It bothered Robert in an vague way that he couldn’t put his finger on. It never seemed to bother Valerie though so he assumed that it shouldn’t bother him either but suddenly he was able to put a bow on just what it was he was feeling. It was shame. Robert was ashamed of Valerie.

“Hey!” He hissed, catching up with her and grabbing her arm, twisting her around to face him. “Don’t fucking walk away from me.” He said peeking off to his right quickly then looking back at her boldly in the eye.

“Get your fucking hand off of me!” She said jerking her arm from his tight grip and turning away again to storm off.

As his football buddies started to heckle, Robert became enraged. “Hey!” He shouted loudly this time, so loud that it got the whole party’s attention. Marilyn Manson came to a screeching halt. Robert reached out for her arm again but Valerie did a shoulder pivot and he grabbed onto her green ribbon instead, yanking it back. Valerie started screaming, “No! No!” like some kind of banshee, she kept yelling, “No, no!” holding on to her green ribbon for dear life.

“Dude, I think your killing her.” Someone dressed as The Hulk said.

“Fuck off!” Robert snapped back with bravado, then paused and said curiously, holding his hands out, “I’m not even touching her.”

Valerie sank to her knees sobbing as the crowd of partygoers circled around the couple, stunned by the display of confusion and panic as Valerie knelt down, clutching her green ribbon as Robert stood over her still huffing with adrenaline.

Robert looked around at all the people staring and whispering. Part of him wanted to fall to his knees, wrap his arms around her and beg for mercy, but that part was no match for this new part, this part was ten feet tall and bullet proof and was sick of acting like a little bitch all the time. This was the moment that this part had been waiting for. This part finally said, “What the fuck is wrong with you?” That felt good to this part, so it continued. “And what is with that goddamn green ribbon?”

Valerie didn’t look up, she just knelt there with her green ribbon held tightly in her hands, crying and repeating over and over again, “No, no. You promised me. You promised me!”

After what was beginning to feel like a wildly inappropriate amount of time, Robert, riding the momentum he was sensing finally asked, although he already knew the answer, “What? What did I promise you? That I wouldn’t ask about that dumb fucking ribbon?” The crowd responded with “Ooohs” and “Damns” but Valerie just continued whimpering to herself so Robert went on. This part had one more thing to say, “That was in fifth fucking grade Valerie. I had a blanket that I carried around when I was a kid too, but I grew out of it! Seriously, how fucking old are you?”

Valerie finally looked up, tears smeared her makeup, fire filled her eyes. Still gripping her green ribbon, she finally said, “No, no. I am not going to die. I am not going to die.” Then stronger, “I am not going to die, I am not going to die for you!” Finally, rising to her feet, “No, no.” She repeated, shaking her head methodically.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Robert asked laughing nervously, looking around for approval, as if to say, “This girl is crazy and I have no idea why she is freaking out like this.” But he did know. Not exactly, but he knew deep down just what the fuck she was talking about.

Valerie’s face glossed over to a cold expressionless shell, she smirked. She took out a pack of cigarettes, tapped one out and put it between her lips. “You’re right.” She said taking a green Bic lighter out of her pocket and lighting the cigarette. “I’m must sound pretty crazy huh?” She said taking a long drag of the smoke with her right hand and, with her left hand, kept the lighter lit and tilted the flame back and forth, studying it.

Uneasy laughter came from the crowd. Robert looked around at them and then, seeing that it was okay, gave an uneasy laugh himself. Valerie stood cooly in the darkness of the night with the light of the flame illuminating her smeared make-up and fake blood stained face, her green ribbon tied tightly around her neck. She took a step closer. She took another drag of her cigarette and then let it drop to the ground. She let the lighter’s flame go out causing her face to go black, she let another laugh escape her lips and then pivoted around as if to walk away, dead leaves crumpled beneath her feet, wind whispered through the empty trees and the shiver of an unnamed dread ran through the souls of everyone standing around in the dark autumn night.

Robert swallowed hard before looking around again and then, just as everyone’s eyes readjusted to the dark, Valerie lunged forward and kicked Robert so hard in the nuts that he immediately doubled over in agony, letting out an audible grunt and gagging out a mouthful of blood. Every testicle swinging male both at the party and all through the neighborhood felt that kick in a very real way and also gave an equally audible cringe in solidarity. Valerie grabbed Robert by the hair and yanked him upright, wrapping her green ribbon around his neck twice and positioning herself behind him. Robert fought in vain for air but the ribbon was too tightly strung up around his neck. The crowd let out a collective gasp as Valerie took her red hot lighter and jammed it fiercely against Robert’s left jugular, branding him with a happy face from the lighter. His skin sizzled and smoke rose up from his neck that smelled like singed flesh. Valerie said through her teeth, into Robert’s ear but loud enough for everyone to hear, “That’s right, I am fucking crazy. Don’t you ever fucking forget it.” Finally she peeled the lighter from his neck and unwrapped the scarf from his throat. Robert dropped to his knees, gasping for breath and gripping his neck.

No one said a word, no one moved a muscle until Valerie was well out of sight and, only then did one or two guys from the football team walk over to help Robert to his feet. The party was over and from that day on, Robert had a smiley face from Valerie’s lighter branded on the left side of his neck.

Five years later, Valerie and Robert were sophomores at Lindenwood University where Valerie was a theater major and Robert studied criminal justice. They shared a small, crappy apartment within walking distance from campus that Robert’s parents footed the bill for. It was decorated with Christmas lights all year round, a bright red velvet blanket covered the couch that they found on the side of the road and an almost life-sized poster of the Abbey Road album cover hung overhead. Valerie made hemp jewelry that she tried to sell around school and at festivals and Robert waited tables at a nearby Steak ’n Shake five nights a week for extra money that usually went right up in smoke but Valerie’s habits had recently started to spin off into more expensive and time consuming ventures that Robert was not always privy to.

One night, Robert came home from a long day of classes and then an even longer shift at Steak ’n Shake with a paper, take-out bag filled with 2 orders of Chili 5-way with oyster crackers, 4 double cheese steak burgers with everything on them plus lettuce, tomato and mayo and 2 large orders of cheese fries with the cheese, obviously on the side.

“I’m home!” He said still wearing black Dickies trousers, a white, short-sleeved work shirt with a black, standard issued Steak ’n Shake apron folded down around his waist, “Baby, you home?”

“Hi Baby.” Valerie said smiling in a low scratchy voice, coming out of a brief nod. She picked up the half made hemp necklace she was working on and set it on the mirrored coffee table and stubbed out a cigarette that she lit maybe ten minutes before, took one drag off of and then allowed to burn down to the butt in the ashtray.

“I brought food.” Robert said in a sing-songy voice as he put down the bags of Steak ’n Shake on the kitchen counter, taking a look around to size up what kind of evening Valerie had been having, putting his criminal justice skills to work. The T.V. was turned on and Hot in Cleveland was playing with the volume low. Valerie hated Hot in Cleveland, understandably, it’s a horrible show, which means Valerie nodded off somewhere in the middle of Jeopardy! and left the T. V. running. She was wearing a baby-blue St. Louis Cardinals throwback T-shirt with a fresh cigarette burn in the stomach over a white long-sleeved Fruit-of-the-Loom shirt even though it was 87 degrees and humid out at night, and obviously, she was wearing her green ribbon. Her pupils were as small as pin heads and her eyeballs were glossed over.

On the mirrored coffee table was the latest issue of US Weekly, an ashtray with two fully smoked Marlboro light cigarette butts, one half smoked Kool butt, and a roach that was smoked down to almost nothing. The 6 inch neon green water bong was put away under the table with a packed bowl that had only been hit once and laying next to the bong was a little less than a nickel bag of weed which would usually be kept in the metal Jack Daniels box that they kept all of their paraphernalia in, only the box was missing.

“Yea!” Valerie said cheerfully, walking into the kitchen and hugging Robert seductively from behind, rubbing his firm chest. “What’d you bring me?”

“Just the usual.” He said flexing his pecs without being too obvious about it. “Some burgers, some fries, you know the routine.”

“Sounds yummy” She whispered, pressing her lips to his neck, sending chills down his spine, her hands working their way down to his abs. “Did you get any cheese sauce?”

“You know I got some cheese sauce Baby.” He said, choosing to forget about the dilated pupils, the long sleeved shirt, the missing drug box, the half smoked Kool cigarette butt in the ashtray and chose to let her distract him. If there was one thing that Valerie was great at, it was distracting Robert.

Robert loved Valerie with every cell in his red, American blood. He had been fascinated by her since the very first time he saw her back when they were in grade school. She was all he thought about, but not just in a back burner, You Were Always On My Mind kind of way, Robert would day dream about Valerie all the time. He would like, set aside time to think about her. He wanted to make one of those elaborate, Rube Goldberg machines with her just to spend time with her. He would plan conversational topics that he wanted to have with her, when he learned something new in school he couldn’t wait to see her so he could tell her about it to hear what she had to say about it. He loved the way her brain worked. He didn’t understand it, not by a long shot. Her mind was like an intense acid trip, impossible to prepare for and with endless portals that would suck you in and take you all around the sun.

Valerie loved Robert too, she couldn’t see herself with anyone else anyway. If you asked her how she would feel if Robert suddenly told her that he loved someone else, she would be sad but in her own Valerie way. She had a different love for Robert for each one of her many Valerie’s. Sometimes she was lukewarm and treated Robert like a little brother who she would let feel her up once in a while. She could be cold and dismissive and leave Robert begging like a sinner but when she was hot, Robert was the king of the world. The only problem was, Robert wasn’t what turned her on, it was the dope.

Robert was just the nearest thing in proximity but Robert would take it. He got a contact high from her high. The dope was a double edge sword; he knew it could, and probably would kill her but there was no way he was going to try and stop her from doing the thing that turned her into everything he always wanted her to be; passionately mad about him. He wasn’t putting out that fire, no way in hell.

“Mmmm.” Valerie hummed, kissing Robert’s neck. “I love cheese sauce.” Her hands were now flirting with his belt line. Robert sucked in his stomach, inviting her hands to go as low as they wished. Valerie pressed her body tightly against Robert’s when suddenly there was a banging on the door and familiar voices from the other side demanded, “Open up! We’ve got brewskis!”

“Oh Jessie’s here!” Valerie said snapping out of her almost pre-orgasm. She bounced over and unlocked the front door and let Todd and Jessie in who quickly made themselves at home in the living room.

“I hope you have a hamburger in there for me Bobby.” Todd said lighting up the fat bowl that was already in the bong.

“They’re steak burgers.” Robert said putting the 12-pack of Budweiser that Todd and Jessie brought in the fridge and taking four out.

“Whatever…nerd.” Todd said coughing out the bong hit. Todd was wearing beige Docker’s shorts, a tie-dyed Allman Brothers T-shirt with white tennis shoes and ankle high socks, his hair was thickly gelled and spiky. He was tallish and thin, not un-hot and loved to argue, he was passing the bong to Jessie who was wearing faded bellbottom jeans from The Goodwill and a blue Dave Mathews T-shirt with brown leather sandals and rim wired glasses. She was also tallish but had a stout frame and big booty that had the brothers all lining up.

Valerie called from the bedroom, “Jessie, come in here, I need to talk to you.” and Jessie blew out the bong hit, trying to make smoke rings but failing, put the cashed bowl back in the bong and disappeared into the bedroom locking the door behind her.

“Dude, are you hittin’ that?” Robert asked, tossing a burger to Todd and finally packing a bowl for himself.

“No.” He answered flatly, “Are you hitting that?” He asked nodding toward the bedroom door.

“I don’t like to kiss and tell.” Robert said holding in the bong hit.

“Shut the fuck up, she still won’t let you fuck her?” He pressed, “She suck yo dick?”

Robert just looked at him, pushing around the ashes in the cashed bowl and then hitting it again.

“Has she ever even seen your dick?” Todd asked, amazed with each question he was answering. “You two are fucking nuts, I’ll never get you two. You’ve been like, together,” he said doing air quotes, “since what, fifth fucking grade. Now you’re living together and she still won’t let you hit it? Dude, you’re in some bizarre friend zone that I’ve never even heard of before. It’s never even been invented before because it’s so fucking stupid…”

“Alright alright, calm down.” Robert said, motioning with his hands to keep it down, looking around. “We…’ve done…stuff.”

“Yeah right.” Todd said unconvinced. “You probably ain’t even seen her titties, have you? Does she ever take that green ribbon off? Does she wear it in the shower? What’s the deal with that anyway?”

Before Robert had a chance to address these charges, Valerie and Jessie slowly rolled out of the bedroom, both visibly high and itching lazily at themselves. Valerie sat down and picked up the hemp necklace she was working on and continued where she left off and Jessie plopped down next to Todd on the couch and started looking around the room for something. Todd just stared at both of them curiously.

“Where’s that…channel changer thingy at?” Jessie asked with absolute sincerity.

Todd looked at Jessie hoping to make eye contact, then down at her ass, then back at her eyes, squinted accusingly then looked at Valerie who was lost in her hemp necklace then back at Jessie, paused, then looked at Robert before announcing to the room as a whole, “You’re fucking sitting on it!”

“Oh, no shit.” Jessie said casually, leaning over and grabbing the remote. She looked at it cautiously, smelled it, then went about trying in vain to figure out how to work it.

“Chill out Todd.” Valerie said slowly, without looking up from her necklace, “You’re too high strung.”

Robert was busy pretending to look at his phone, he didn’t want any part of this.

“No shit Dude,” Jessie said tapping the remote control with her hand, then pointing it at the T.V. before hitting more buttons. “You need to mellow out.” Then she and Valerie looked at each other and started laughing.

Todd paused, gave the room another once over before asking redundantly, “So you two are just shooting heroin now? What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“Jesus Todd,” Jessie said, “be a dick why don’t you.”

“I’m being a dick?” Todd asked no one in particular. “Do we not have enough dead friends already, enough junkie friends already?” He stopped to take a breath, looked around again, looked at Robert who was still studying his phone then, “Are you doing this shit too?”

“Me?” Robert asked innocently. “I uh, no man, I’m cool.”

“You’re cool? You’re cool with this? You’re cool if she fucking O.D.s and dies?”

“Na…I…I…” Robert stammered.

“I-I-I what!?” Todd mockingly insisted. “You guys fucking kill me I swear.”

“Whatever Dad, like you don’t ever get high.” Valerie said.

“No shit dude,” Jessie jumped in, “don’t be such a, like…a two facer dude.”

“Hypocrite.” Robert offered reluctantly without looking up from his phone.

“Yeah, hypocrite.” Jessie said, trailing off.

“Name one person we know or have ever heard of that died from doing coke or taking ludes or whatever.” Todd argued.

The pause that followed brought a tension that exploded in the room like a buzz killing atomic bomb. Valerie tried to concentrate on her hemp weaving, Jessie continued to let the remote control completely baffle her and Robert tried desperately to look like he was too preoccupied with his phone to be paying attention but the blood that was boiling inside of him, turning his face from it’s usual caucasian pink to blood red and then all the way to a pulsating, dickhead purplish color gave him away. Robert’s world was crashing in on him, he was furious. Furious at Todd for calling out the elephant in the room, furious at Valerie for being so selfish and weak but most of all he was furious at himself. He was ashamed that he had been so greedy that he was willing to let the love of his life become a junkie right in front of his eyes because he liked the way she treated him when she was high.

“Long sleeves in July?” Todd continued accusingly, “You shoot so much dope that you have to wear long sleeves all the time now?”

“O.K. Todd,” Valerie finally said, looking at Robert and hoping he would jump in to defend her. “you made your point. Can you please go and fuck off now?”

“No, I won’t fuck off.” Todd said defensively, “If Bobby is too blind or too chicken shit to say anything then I will. I’m not just going to sit by and watch you guys kill yourself.”

“Uhhh,” Valerie said slumping back in the sofa, defeated. Robert was looking up from his phone now, sweat pouring from his forehead.

“Is that why you always wear that green ribbon around your neck?” Todd asked without hesitation. “Are you shooting it right into your neck? Have you been doing this all along? What the fuck?”

“Alright Todd, that’s enough!” Robert finally said putting his phone down on the table and leaning forward.

“Jessie, let’s get out of here.” Valerie said standing up and grabbing Jessie by the hand.

The two girls went into the bedroom and locked the door then came out thirty seconds later and, without saying a word or looking at the guys, walked out of the front door.

After the front door shut Robert looked at Todd and said, “You’re a dick,” picking up the remote control, turning on the T.V. and changing the channel to CNN, “you know that?”

“Well what the fuck dude,” Todd said reaching in his pocket and pulling out a gram of decent cocaine, emptying it onto the mirrored table and cutting out four fatties with a credit card. “Someone had to say it.”

“Shooting it in her neck? Really? You had to bring up the green ribbon?” Robert said rolling up a twenty dollar bill and snorting a line.

“Well what’s the fucking deal with that thing anyway?” Todd asked taking the rolled up twenty and snorting a line himself, then rubbing some coke on his gums with his index finger.

“Don’t ask.” Robert said turning off the T.V. and lighting a cigarette.

Years past and Robert and Valerie decided to get married. Robert had graduated from college and became a crime scene photographer and Valerie, who never quite managed to earn enough credits for a degree got a job working with people with disabilities that she found more or less fulfilling.

On the day of their wedding Robert and Valerie were in their separate rooms at the church. Robert was in the groom’s room with Todd, his best man, drinking flutes of champaign, doing bumps of cocaine and helping each other tie their bowties. Oasis’ What’s the Story (Morning Glory) was playing in the background. Robert was wearing a navy blue Bill Bass suit with a pin striped vest and Todd was wearing a lighter blue suit from Ralph Lauren.

Valerie and Jessie, her maid of honor, were drinking Mimosas and popping Xanax while getting themselves ready and listening to the soundtrack from Grease. Jessie was dressed in a pink strapless bridesmaid’s dress and Valerie was wearing a pearl white wedding gown with a flowered tiara and vail and, as usual, her green ribbon around her neck.

There was a light knock on the door and before they could answer it, the photographer, Milo poked his head in and said redundantly, “Knock knock.”

“Come on in.” Valerie said from her chair in front of a large mirror.

“Hello hello.” Milo repeated with the enunciation of Liza Minelli and gave a half wave, camera in hand. “I’m Milo, the photographer.” He said turning his wave hand inward and gesturing to himself. Milo was tall, thin and had bleached white hair with dark roots intentionally showing. He wore tight jeans rolled up to the thigh and a pink Hulkamaniac T-shirt that was cut at the neck and sleeves and had a pearl necklace wrapped around his wrist as a bracelet. “I just wanted to come and introduce myself, maybe take a couple pre-wedding photos.” He said giving the camera a little shake.

“Hi Milo.” Jessie said unintentionally mocking his feminine enunciation. “We’re just finishing up her hair and make-up.”

“Oh that’s perfect! I want to get at least one mirror shot. Oooh girl, let me take a look at that dress!!” Milo said making himself at home, snapping a few pictures. “O-M-G, that dress is absolutely gorgeous!!”

“Thanks Milo.” Valerie said to his reflection in the mirror.

Milo walked back and forth a couple of times, holding the camera up to take a few mock photos to get all the angles right. After a minute or two of not taking any actual pictures, Milo said, somewhat impatiently, “Whenever you’re ready Darling.”

“We’re ready Milo. Shoot away.” Valerie said, now looking at Jessie in the mirror who was braiding her hair.

Milo paused, stood up good and straight and attempted to make eye contact by doing a worried thing with his mouth and moving his head from side to side three or four times. Running out of patience, the girls both finally gave Milo the eye contact he was asking for, then, “Do you just wanna…” He whispered, gesturing at his neck and looking at Valerie’s green ribbon.

“Oh,” Valerie said, touching her green ribbon. “I never take this off.”

“She never takes that off.” Jessie reinforced.

“Ssssooo,” Milo started slowly, “You’re going to wear a green ribbon…with…your wedding dress?” He finally finished half asking, half condescendingly stating.

“Yes Milo.” Valerie said losing her patience. “I don’t take this off. Can you just take the pictures.”

“Yes, of course.” Milo said, aiming his camera, then he balked, unable to continue saying, “It’s just that…I put all my photos on my Facebook page and…I’m thinking it would just throw off the um…balance.” He finished, squinting his eyes.

“Are you serious right now?” Valerie asked Milo, then, “Is he serious right now?” She asked Jessie.

“Are you serious Milo?” Jessie asked, not looking up from her braiding duties.

Milo started biting at the cuticle around his pinky nail nervously, “Yeah,” He said slowly. “I’m sorry, this just goes against everything I, as a photographer stand for.” He finished, his head shaking and taking the rest of his body along with it.

“Jessie, please handle this. I can not deal with this right now.” Valerie said, visibly shaken.

“Hey Man, we’re like, paying you ya know,” Jessie started.

“Actually,” Milo said standing up real straight, “I identify as a woman.”

“Of course you do.” Valerie said.

“Whatever Milo,” Jessie said as firmly as she was capable of, “We’re paying you, like, we already paid you…to like, take pictures so…you need to like, pick that camera up and start shooting.” Pause. “Now!”

“Oh my god. This cannot be happening to me.” Valerie started saying. “I am going to freak out. F-R-E-A-K—O-U-T!” She was saying, fists clinched, “Jessie go get Robert.”

Jessie did what she was asked and a moment later Robert and Todd barged through the door where Milo was leaning on a table, still biting at and around his nails and Valerie, sobbing, was breathing in and out of a brown paper bag.

“What the hell is going on?” Robert asked, looking at Valerie, then at Milo. “Are you Milo?”

Milo stood frozen and Jessie answered, “That’s Milo, the photographer who won’t photograph Valerie,” She reported, then whispered, “because of her green ribbon.” Then after a short pause, added, “He identifies as a woman.”

“Well Milo,” Robert started, “Let me make this easy for you. This is Valerie, my soon to be wife and she identifies as a Green Ribbon wearer. So what we’re going to need you to do…”

Todd quickly cut Robert off saying, “You know what, I’ll handle this. Bobby, you go back to the room, you’ve seen too much already. Valerie, you look beautiful Honey, I’m so proud of you both. Don’t worry about anything, I got this.” He said walking over and giving Valerie a kiss on the back of the head, then looked up at Milo and said, “Milo, let’s take a walk.”

After sorting out the whole photographer issue, the time had come to take that walk down the isle of love. They had a small crowd of close friends and family. Valerie’s father walked her down the isle and gave her away to Robert at the alter. Reverend Cap’t Cletus Whiteheart presided over the nuptials. The couple had written their own vows and as they stood there, hand in hand they recited them to each other.

Robert: “Valerie, I have loved you my whole life. I don’t know how to do anything else but love you. I promise to love you, to keep your secrets and to respect your secrets. To stand by you, hand in hand and fight your battles along side you and if you want me to, fight them for you. I promise to always be there for you, to have and to hold, in ill times and in well times. To kill for you, to hide bodies with you, and to die for you as long as I am tethered to this physical reality we currently exist within. When the day comes for one of us to leave this world, I’m sure the other will soon follow and we will find each other again if we have to climb to the heavens or sink to the depths of hell. We will always be together.”

Valerie: “Robert, I love you. Before I met you, all those years ago on the playground at school, all I knew was fear and shame. I was all alone and the thought that I would ever not be alone never once occurred to me. Then you came along and showed me that there is more to life than simply protecting myself all the time. Protecting myself from all of the outsiders, from the world. You showed me that it doesn’t have to be just me against them, there could be an us. You are the only us I have ever known. You have given me life when I was sure there would be none, given me hope when all I knew was hopelessness. You came along and turned me…into us. It’s always been us and it will always be us in this life and whatever comes after.”

After the vows were given and rings were exchanged, Robert and Valerie had a lovely wedding party. The River City Buskers, made up of the original line-up played some of the best bluegrass music this side of the Mississippi, The Wondering Sidecar Bar Co. mixed up some of the best Singapore Slings with shots of Mezcal anyone had ever had. Milo took some breathtaking photos, all without the use of his left hand, and no one got in any arguments, not even Todd. As the sun was setting, turning all the bright blues and greens into lavender pinks and oranges, the Buskers played Wonderwall and everyone blew bubbles that danced around the summer sky like fairies blowing them kisses of happiness and blessed wishes.

That night as Robert and Valerie sat in the Jacuzzi of the Holiday Inn where Valerie’s parents rented a room for them as a wedding present in lieu of a honeymoon, they drank champagne and talked about the day they just shared, the life that they had shared and what the future was to bring. Robert was wearing a red bathing suit with white flowers from Abercrombie and Fitch and Valerie was wearing a light green bikini from The Limited that went with her green ribbon. They decided that it wasn’t too soon to laugh about Milo the cameraperson and how it was odd and more than a little hypocritical that she refused to photograph their wedding on moral grounds and Valerie asked finally, “What did Todd say to him to get him to change his mind?”

“Don’t ask.” Robert said finishing a glass of bubbly and pouring another.

“Come on, tell me!” Valerie pleaded, doing a pouty face. “We’re married now, remember your vows? No secrets.”

“I said that I’d respect and keep your secrets, and you said that you’d respect and keep mine. That’s a little different from telling each other all of our secrets.” He said resting his arms on the side of the Jacuzzi.

“Well maybe I want to know all of your secrets.” She said trying to make eye contact.

“Are you sure you want to go down this path?” He said, his eyes meeting hers.

“Yeah, I want to know what happened.” She pleaded.

“O.K. fine, Todd broke all five of the fingers on his left hand.” He said picking up his glass.

“Oh, well that’s not too bad. I’ve seen him do worse for less.” She conceded.

“Yeah well I told him to go easy on him…her, whatever, ya know, as an act of good faith cause it’s our wedding day and all.” Robert added.

“Well that was noble of him. I think he must be getting soft in his old age, what do you think?” Valerie said, laughing.

“I think it’s your turn.” Robert said arching his eyebrows.

“My turn for what? To open the next bottle? Ok, sweet!” She said trying to change the subject.

“Come on, you know what I’m going to ask.” He said looking not so subtly at her green ribbon.

“Bobby what are you doing?” Valerie said nervously.

“I told you my secret, now you tell me yours.” He said trying to keep this on a light note but knew this line of questioning could not end well.

“Bobby,” She said trying to smile, then about to take a sip of champaign, said softly, “Don’t do this.”

“What?” Robert said giving her a playful splash, “It’s not like I only married you so I could solve the mystery of the green ribbon or anything.” He said in a spooky, conspiracy theory voice, “But we are married now. You just said yourself, We can tell each other anything.”

“Bobby please don’t do this.” She whispered.

“C’mon, you know I’m dying to know. I mean…” He said, then paused, wondering how far he should take this. “You’ve worn that green ribbon every single day of your life, you’ve never ever taken it off, not on picture day, not at our wedding, not here in this Jacuzzi,” then whispered, leaning in close, “not even when we do it.”

“Bobby, don’t do this.” She said trailing off.

“Hey,” He said defensively, “I wasn’t going to bring it up. I would have never brought it up for the rest of our lives but then you go and tease me with the whole, ‘We’re married now, let’s tell all of our secrets’ So, lets have it.” He finished.

“Look, I’m sorry I brought it up.” She said. “You know, you didn’t have to marry me.”

“Baby, don’t say that.” He said, regretting that he’d pushed as hard as he did.

“This is just one thing that you’re going to have to trust me on.” She finished.

“I know Baby, I know.” He said and then he re-filled both of their glasses.

So Robert and Valerie lived their lives together as husband and wife and Robert never brought up her green ribbon again. Although everyone they ever met would at some point pull him aside and ask, “Hey dude, what’s with the green ribbon? C’mon man, you can tell me….” Robert would just say, “Dude, don’t ask.” and leave it at that.

The years went by, at times slowly and routinely, at other times it felt like the pages of the calendar were flying off the page. With every Spring came new life and with every Autumn, back to the earth life would return. Robert and Valerie worked, loved, fought, made up, had children, watched them grow, put them through school, taught them to be decent human beings and watched them fall in love, get their hearts broken and do it all over again. Grandkids finally came and old friends started to die off but through all those years, one thing remained the same, Robert and Valerie kept their vows to each other.

Until one frosty November when Valerie came down with a terrible fever and couldn’t get out of bed for a fortnight. Robert, of course was right there by her side, attending to her every need. Both of their hair was as white as snow, Robert was wearing a grey Polo shirt and his favorite pair of old blue jeans and Valerie was wearing an old Oasis concert T-Shirt from their final tour together and a pair of Robert’s boxer shorts that she wore as pajama bottoms and of course, her green ribbon.

Valerie reached around for Robert’s hand on the bed where she laid, Robert found her hand and held it tightly with both of his then brought it up and kissed it, leaving his lips pressed against her wrinkled hand until she started to say something.

“Bobby,” she started weakly.

“Yeah Baby?” He said still holding her hand.

“You’ve been so good to me…all these years.” She continued.

“Oh, Baby it’s been…” Robert started to say but was cut off.

“Please…don’t say anything.” She was barely whispering now, “I don’t have much time, just let me talk.”

“O.K.” Robert said, tears starting to fill his eyes.

“I know it hasn’t always been easy, to love me, to stay by me all these years. You’ve been so patient…with me. You let me live a long and beautiful life.” She was starting to drift in and out now and Robert had to lean down to her mouth to hear what she was saying. “But the time has come…for you to take off my green ribbon.”

Robert was silently sobbing, sitting there on the bed next to his beloved Valerie. He had long since given up being curious about the green ribbon she always wore around her neck, they hadn’t really met any new people in decades and everyone they knew just grew to accept it and chalked it up to an eccentricity of an aging woman. Robert no longer wondered why she wore the ribbon all the time, why she refused to ever take it off or what was underneath the green ribbon. So now, as Valerie was telling him that it was finally time to take it off, he was hesitant, he didn’t want to take it off. It was part of her and after all the years together, to take it off would be removing a part of who she was. He sat there and cried on the bed next to Valerie for as long as it took her to gather the energy to utter her final words.

“I love you Bobby, I have loved you my whole life. I loved spending our lives together, every minute of it…in love. Now…please Darling, take off the ribbon.” Valerie said closing her eyes.

Robert kissed her hand one last time, he leaned down with tears falling from his face onto hers. He whispered, “I love you my Darling, I will love you until the end of time.”

Then Robert sat up, inhaled deeply and reached to where Valerie’s green ribbon was bowed at her neck. His hands trembling, he gripped the ribbon between his thumb and index finger and pulled the ribbon until it untied and when it did…Valerie’s head fell off.

The End 
This story is featured in the book #DeadFlowers
Also from Mike Black, the novels #BougBoys and #SamuraiBlues
Follow on Twitter @mikeblackBB and LIKE on FB at Facebook.com/MikeBlack2left/
 
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Posted by on August 13, 2016 in Fiction

 

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Not Just For Breakfast Anymore

drugs

Not Just For Breakfast Anymore

 

“Open this door!” My mother yells from outside of my bedroom, expelling my nod tactlessly.

“Spare me.” I say rolling over in my waterbed.

“Open this door or I will bust it in. You are getting up and going to church today!” She continues, banging on the hollow wooden door.

“Shut up!” I yell into my pillow.

“I will not go away or shut up!” My mom shouts, slapping my bedroom door so hard that it sounds like a tree falling. “You are going to church with us today, I don’t care how tired you are. You haven’t been in months!” Her rant agonizingly continues, “And another thing, the first day of school is coming up and you will be going! If I have to take the hinges off this door and drag you there, you’re going to school this year! You are not just blowing off another…”

She’s cut off by the door flying open and me barking, “Spare me!” as I stumble past her. She’s wearing the same raggedy bathrobe she is always wearing while I’m still wearing from last night; jeans from Abercrombie and Fitch, Calvin Klein boxer brief underwear and a green Guinness T-Shirt, all of which I stole from Mid-Rivers mall.

“My God in heaven, you smell like a brewery!” She says dramatically, taking a step back and holding her thumb up to her nose.

“Whatever, spare me.” I say walking into the bathroom, emptying the last 3 1⁄2 Darvocets in my Tic-Tac container into my mouth and shutting the bathroom door behind me. I begin my mid-morning routine: Church 1.0. First I turn on the shower which looks like an atomic bomb went off on a village full of Daddy Long Leg spiders and the remains are all that’s left with all the pubes that are hardened amongst the tub. I aim the shower head at the wall from outside the tub and pull out a cigarette cellophane full of cocaine. I fish an already rolled up dollar bill from my pocket, pour out a “fatty” and snort it off the bathroom sink’s cheap marble surface. I then try to hose off the rest of the pubes that were left from the last of the half dozen or so people who are staying at my house at any given time and quickly rinse myself off before the hot water runs out.

Mom and I have been having these morning chats more and more the last couple of months. It seems to be my most vulnerable time of day, the only time she really has me cornered and has my attention. It’s not like she doesn’t have anything else to deal with; there is Ronny, my oldest brother and his girlfriend and their infant son who is always wearing a white pair of off-brand diapers, often soiled, my older sister Allyson whose wardrobe is exclusively from Banana Republic provided by her revolving door of boyfriends who all seemed to be named Jason. My little sister Lindie is cool for a little sister and I usually let her hang with us but isn’t above being discarded when I have grown-up business to attend to or when we have a full day at Disneyland or whatever. She knows her place. And of course there’s Schultz, my loyal sidekick. Schultz is a skinny, long-haired, hippy Jew that basically lives at my house. He isn’t really good for anything but he makes me laugh so I keep him around.

We come from the middle of the country, from the middle of the state, from the middle of nowhere. The heartland in the heart of the Just Say No era America which is, if you ask me, a particularly dangerous era to grow up in. It’s a bluff that almost everyone I know has already called. We are told regularly that all drugs are bad and will either, “Kill you or land you in prison.” Well I’ll be the first one to call Bull Shit on that. We’ve been smoking weed since the sixth grade and no one I know is dead or in prison for that. Why wouldn’t we start taking acid or eating mushrooms or popping pain killers or snorting cocaine or smoking opium or taking ecstasy or huffing Nitrous or freebasing meth? Well the meth thing is obviously something only someone who has deep chasms of emotional scars would do more than once. That shit is rotten, it’s literally rat poison. Believe me, I’ve made and sold meth. It’s rat poison. They should just come out and say, “Just Say No…To Meth. It’s Fucking Rat Poison.” and make that they’re slogan. Maybe some people would get off that shit and not do it. But the truth is, drugs are fun. They’re great! Some people have even started getting into heroin but I’ve only seen it once or twice. Heroin just seems like a whole other ballgame due to the needles and all the accessories and the dead rock stars and what not.

 

The garage at my mom’s house has gone from a cigarette smoking hang out to an underage underworld. Lately, there are a constant stream of people coming and going all day and night to do, sell or buy drugs. I guess you could say I’m a middle man but that doesn’t come close to categorizing what it is that I do or the incredible service I provide. If I don’t already have what you’re looking to score, I’ll find someone who does and not only that but I’ll arrange the when and the where. This is where my garage usually comes in handy but it’s not always that simple. Try getting a pound of weed, good weed, or an ounce of coke on a weekday afternoon in St. Peters, MO. Go ahead, try. Try your older brother’s best friend who thinks he has the hook up or call your cousin in Wentzville. When they can’t get it, you’ll be calling me. So of course I take a little finder’s fee, a pinch here, a line there. After all, I’m not fucking Santa.

———

“Did you get one?” I ask Schultz as we walk back through the neighborhood to my house from Shop ‘n Save, “You pussy, you never get anything.” I add, answering my own question.

“Hey man, take it easy. Like, what did you get man?” Schultz asks defensively, taking off his tie-dyed Jim Morrison T-shirt and hanging it from his jeans.

“Don’t fucking worry about what I got,” I say pulling a gallon of Jim Beam out of my pants, “cause you ain’t getting any of it.”

“Whatev Dude, whatev.” He says, then, “Then you ain’t getting any of what I have.” He says mischievously.

“Oh yeah?” I come back, “You mean you’re not going to get me baked off that half a roach you’ve been holding out on all day? Spare me.”

“Naw.” He tries to say smoothly. “I got a B man.”

“That shit Josh had the other day?” I ask, then, “You know that’s heroin right?”

“Yeah, but it’s cool man, you don’t have to bang it or nothing like a junkie, you just snort it like coke.” He explains. “It’s not nearly as heavy man, it’s like, ya know…cool…man.”

“I know what the fuck it is Jew, I asked if you knew what it is. Remember who you’re talking to.” I say quickly.

“Alright man, like, be cool about shit.” He says lamely.

“Well give it to me,” I say taking a swig off of the bottle, “and I’ll let you brew this bottle.”

“We’ll split it.” He says grabbing the bottle and taking a swig.

“Whatever, spare me.” I finish.

When we get back to my house, after assuming our usual positions on the dirty, cigarette burned couch in the garage, we start to put a dent in the bottle of J. B. when Schultz breaks out a cellophane with a pink capsule in it. He breaks it open and cuts out two lines on a 2Pac CD case and hands it to me in exchange for the bottle. I roll up a dollar bill and snort the first line and then half of the second just to be a dick.

“What the fuck dude!” he says grabbing the CD case from my hand, “That’s so uncool man, I said we’d split it. Un-cool man…”

But before I can get out a, “Spare me.” I’m stricken by gut wrenching stomach contortions and I throw up all over the floor of the garage. I raise my head up slowly and then melt into the couch and suddenly I’m overwhelmed with a warm, pulsating feeling

that oozes throughout my entire body. I can’t move and I become completely numb to everything that is going on around me. I can hear Schultz mumbling something incoherently but it’s all totally background. Everything is in slow motion, including my heartbeat which seems to be the only constant in a mental collision of paradoxes, from a warm breeze on the highest mountain peak to a choking shiver in the depths of hell. All boundaries are eliminated as demons and Gods cease to struggle or conflict within me, but are all in a beautifully chaotic harmony. I feel like I’m home, like home home. Like back in the womb home.

———

This instantly becomes a weekend thing. We’ve been drinking and smoking weed every weekend since middle school and that was never an issue so this just becomes one more thing we add to catch a great buzz on Friday and Saturday nights. Until we stop making up excuses for not doing it during the week and now, it’s game on. Now we do it every day. It feels so good, not as good as that first time, but good enough not to stop doing it. And it’s not like we have to do it, it’s not like we’re addicted or anything. I want to do it and I know I can quit whenever I want. Besides, we aren’t stupid like some of the junkies we get it from. Those guys are so fucking ate up that they don’t even notice when we short them money or give them fake Gucci watches as trades. Dumb asses.

I’m sitting upright on my waterbed on what might be a Tuesday but could just as easily be a Sunday night with the lid to my tin weed box in front of me trying to break up these sticky nugs and roll a joint but I can’t fight the nod and the job just isn’t getting done.

“Get the phone!” Lindie, my little sister slash look-out yells, peeping in my room. “I must have nodded off,” I mumble, struggling for the phone. “Spare me.” “That’d be odd.” She says, shutting the door.

“Yeah?” I ask the receiver but to no reply. “Hello. Hello!! Oh god, spare me.” I say before hanging up the phone. “Probably one of my hoes.” I say giving Schultz a wake- up foot nudge to the ribs.

“Are there any brewskis left man?” He asks slowly, trying to wipe away a cigarette burn in the belly of his Jim Morrison T-shirt.

“Oh spare…” BAM!! I’m cut off by a thunderous crash. Instantly glass from my bedroom window flies everywhere as I do a shoulder roll off of my bed and dive into the bathroom. I can hear cars peeling off over my mother screaming up the stairs and I look in Lindie’s bedroom to find her window busted in and she’s covered in glass and blood, curled up in a fetal position next to her bed sobbing.

Panic. I race down the hall to the Living Room and kitchen to find baseball bat sized holes in every window of the house with broken pieces of glass everywhere. “Am I fucking hallucinating this?!” I shout in disbelief at this blitz style attack.

“Get out, get the hell out of here! I want you out of here now!” My mom is shouting at me as she pushes at me in and out of every room I go into, grabbing stashes on my way out. “I’m calling the police, I can’t take it anymore. I want you out of here NOW!” She screams still pushing me. I know she means it, for real this time.

I’m trying to get my thoughts together and make some kind of sense out of all of this but the broken glass covering my house, the busted out windows in every room and my mother screaming at me just raise the level of panic until, “Stop fucking pushing me!” I finally snap, grabbing my mother by the arms and throwing her onto Lindie’s bed while Lindie is still shivering, covered in glass and a thousand little cuts all over her face, arms and legs.

I had never touched my mother before that but in this paranoid, drug fueled rage I just flipped. I watched her for a moment, lying there on Lindie’s bed sobbing. I wonder why she turned on me, why did she hate me? Fuck it, I don’t have time for this. I fill a backpack with anything I can grab that’s worth anything, steal my mom’s keys to the mini-van, peel Schultz down from the ceiling and head out for my retaliation.

“What are we gonna do?” Schultz asks as we speed down Mexico Rd., running stop lights and swerving in and out of traffic. He dumps a baggie full of dope on the Bible mom keeps in the glove compartment. “I mean, do you like, have a plan or whatever?”

“What do you think we’re going to do?” I say taking the Good Book from him and snorting a pipeline, “Now take the wheel.”

Schultz takes the wheel and almost runs us into the Pizza Hut right before Mid Rivers Mall Dr. then says, “I don’t know man, that’s why I uh…asked.”

“I know where those motherfuckers are and that’s where we’re going but that’s really as far as I’ve thought things through.” I say, possibly out loud, possibly to myself. I can’t get the thought of my mother lying on Lindie’s bed, shaking and crying with Lindie comatose, covered in glass and bleeding from so many different little places from my head. I speed on. As we fearlessly approach the street I squeal around every turn almost tipping the mini-van. Schultz mentions that we aren’t being very sneaky and he’s right. I don’t want to be sneaky, I want them to know I am coming for them. I can see the light of their house through the big window in front and as we speed closer I can see them all looking out. Target identified.

“We’re pulling a kamikaze on their asses!” I say with the Devil’s cackle slamming the pedal to the floor. Sparks fly as the mini-van jumps the curb onto the front lawn just before we crash through the big window, dudes trying to dive out of the way but there is no escaping the wrath of the mini-van. Then everything goes black.

I wake up handcuffed to a hospital bed, naked in a puddle of blood, probably my own. Before I even fully recover I’m tried, found guilty and sentenced as an adult for 6 felony warrants I had pending, 6 counts of vehicular manslaughter, and 6 counts of reckless driving and other moving violations. I will be in prison for at least the next nine and a half years. That’s nine plus years of swapping chocolate milk for smokes, non consensual sex, and bad tattoos. I lie here wondering how things got this far out of hand, how did I get so deep into this dirty game? When I get out I’m going to straighten my life out, make things cool with moms again, and get a job. I’m definitely not going to get messed up with drugs ever again. Well maybe just once more, you know, for old time’s sake.

 

The End

 

Author’s note: This was a story I wrote as an assignment in college. It ended up being a very early draft of my first novel, Boug Boys.

This story is featured in my book: #DeadFlowers.

Also by Mike Black are the novels, #BougBoys and #SamuraiBlues

Follow me on Twitter @mikeblackBB and LIKE on FB at facebook.com/MikeBlack2left/

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2016 in Fiction

 

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Last Caress: VI

Last Caress: VI
misfits

I can’t even recall my name.

Friday, July 27 around 9 o’clock in the PM

As the day slowly fades to night I’m left to speculate about my roommates yet my imagination and short-lived nods have twisted reality into a paranoid kind of hysteria. I hear the guy across from me typing away at what must be some kind of a laptop computer and it seems his typing speed picks up any time a nurse comes in to tease me with my ration of pain medication and I can only deduce from this that he is definitely
some kind of spy. If he’s able to type with such stealth and abundance, why is he here in the first place? What is he writing and why is no one coming to visit him. He is brought a lunch that he consumes effortlessly and all the nurses go to him immediately before and immediately after coming into my “room” which is just a curtained off area that is continually being left open by everyone who leaves the “room” only fueling my paranoia and confirming that the staff is in on it too.

There is a school aged boy who shows no physical symptoms of anything worthy of a stint in the hospital and I also question what he is doing here. His family is respectful of the others in the room but I can sense them keeping an eye on me and apparently he has a girlfriend who visits when his family isn’t around whom I saw wearing a typical, slightly tarted up school girl uniform which, it goes without saying, sends my imagination into a spiral of Japanese Hentai porn that I will go no further into at this time.

Again the old guy next to me has a coughing fit that lasts long enough for me to buzz the nurse call button on his behalf because it is clear that he is not going to be able to get himself out of this one on his own. Make no mistake, I do this out of my own selfishness, not out of any kind of compassion on my part. I just feel like listening to him die would kill the small buzz I have going on and just like when his alarm didn’t stop going off last night, I have to take matters into my own hands. I don’t know how far this will go but nothing is certain and I feel like this could get messy.

As I’m lying here in my bed, watching my breath come out of my mouth and crystallize in mid-air, my thoughts flash back to the first time my dad, Dave had a heart attack and I couldn’t find the hospital because I kept going South instead of North on Highway 270 and the girl I was with finally had to go home and I think about how long ago that must have been because I didn’t have any mobile device whatsoever in which to communicate with anyone and I deduct by the girl I was with and by the car I remember driving that I must have still been in High School and it blows my mind momentarily. That means that I had been visiting Dave in the hospital, hospitals not so different from this one, in the same condition I’m in now or worse, on a regular basis for half of my life. Well, until last November that is, when he died.

Another faceless nurse comes in and delivers her line, “You know, how long you are here all depends on you.” and I have little to no idea what she’s talking about. I tell her to bring me a bag of pain medicine or I’m going to slit my own throat with the needle sticking out of my arm and she smiles at me with a flirtatiousness that fuels my next nurse/ patient fantasy and I ask her if we can get some air freshener for the stench in the room. She looks at me blankly before turning around and vanishing off camera.

All the times I had to see my dad just like I am now; laying in a hospital bed, shaved in all the wrong places, weak, bruised, tubes and needles sticking out of me, pathetic, sore, and drowsy. I think about Keiff and I feel guilty and ashamed at the state I’m in. I don’t want him to see me like this, I can’t even pick him up. I could barely say, “Hi.” to him if he were here.

My hallucinations are alluding that myself and the dying guy next to me are in fact connected but in different ways at different times. Time is not happening in its usual, liner form, it is much more fluid and difficult to fully grasp in any sort of sane manner. Sometimes the guy is my dad, Dave just before he died, sometimes it’s my dad as a young man. Other times he is me as a kid or in about 30 years time and Keiff isn’t
coming to see me anymore because he’s given up on me, everyone has. Sometimes he is Keiff in different stages of his life, unable to break the cycle.

It occurs to me briefly that I didn’t actually do anything to cause this, this isn’t really my fault and am able to find some comfort in that but this is my life and I believe you have to take responsibility for everything that happens in your life. Maybe this is sort of a preview of exactly what it’s like to have a heart attack or two or three and then just be generally unwell for so long that your body, mind, and spirit simply give up and all decide to just sort of disappear.

The coughing coming from the old man next to me is getting worse and more persistent and harder to ignore until it’s all I can hear. My thoughts start to drift in and out and throughout time and space, almost flashing before me. Back to Dave and the way he used to cough so horribly that you were certain something was sure to rupture and then I couldn’t help but think that I’m sitting here with something ruptured in me and I start to understand how Luke Skywalker felt when his hand was cut off by a light saber and he got it replaced by a mechanical hand and how that was obvious foreshadowing of how easy it is to take the steps that turn a boy into his father and someone from off camera
whispers, “Break the cycle.”

Break the cycle. Of all the thoughts that I should be focusing on; my stomach, the faceless nurses stabbing me with random needles, Mama and Keiff and so on, the only thing that I can think of is that phrase, “Break the cycle.” If the old man lying next to me is a version of my dad at different times of his life, and at times different versions of myself, and still at other times different versions of my son then what I must do is clear. Past, present, and future. Suddenly it all becomes clear, time has flattened itself out and I am now able to see the full picture. I know what must be done.

The first thing I need to do get my strength up without looking like I’m getting my strength up. I do a couple of reps of leg lifts and sit-ups. I hold the bars on my bed and lift myself up a couple of times but then stop, I must appear frail and bedridden. I wait until the nurse makes her final rounds for the night and when she is walking off the set she slips on the ice. When all is still and quiet I get to work. Only the sound of the old man’s heaving coughs and the pitter-patter of the spy typing away at his keyboard can be heard.

I start by carefully taking all the tubes out of my body, first the one jabbing my forearm. I remove the needle from my vein and a stream of dark red blood streams down my arm onto the white sheets of the bed. I quickly take the bedpan and put it under my arm to catch the blood. I must be very careful not to leave any evidence that they will find after the deed is done. I also must work silently so that the spy who is still typing away on his computer, keeping close tabs on me isn’t hip to what I’m up to. Next I slowly remove the tube that is inserted into my stomach to vacuum out the remnants of my appendix. The tube doesn’t just pull out cleanly though, the scar is no longer bloody and lubricated, it’s now dry and only comes out after tearing through already healed flesh and stomach lining. The tube is black with thick chunks of dried blood and pus caked onto it like the stem of a water bong that hasn’t been cleaned. I wrap the tube in gauze and lay it carefully on the night stand and take another handful of gauze and shove it into the hole in my stomach to stop the freshly opened wound from bleeding out.

This causes me to give an audible grunt and I hear the spy across the room stop typing. A wave of terror runs through my body beginning from the hole in my abdomen and spreads out to my extremities in long pulsating bursts. Break the cycle. I look down and the gauze that is
sticking out of my stomach has become drenched in blood and rotting appendix and is beginning to drip. I shove it deeper into my wound and wrap the gauze around my whole stomach to hold it in place. The old man is no longer coughing, just breathing heavily in his sleep. The spy has stopped typing and the room is suddenly thick with silence.

I decide that the time is now, I must act fast before the nurse’s midnight inspection cycle. As to not make any noise, I stealthily lay down on the floor on my stomach and do a military crawl under the dividing curtain into the old man’s area. It smells like feces
and the ground is so cold that I’m sliding on my belly like a penguin. I stop and notice that I’ve left a dark red streak of blood coming from my side of the curtain.

I slowly pull myself to my feet without making a sound, careful not to slip on the ice and am now within inches of the old man. All I can see is a dark figure lying still and the breath coming from his mouth. I hold up my iPhone and click it on to illuminate the old man’s face. His skin is dark and spotted with thick black pox that smell malignant. His face is hollow, his cheeks sunken in and it looks like he is having a dream that he is being tortured with rusty pliers and an industrial sized grill scrapper.

The director yells, “Action!” and I take a roll of gauze and slowly begin to wrap the old man with it, tying him down to the bed. I start with his chest and arms to immobilize him so if he wakes up he’ll be unable to escape then I work my way down to his legs so he can’t kick or squirm. Just as I’m tying off the mummification of his lower body I hear a high pitched moan and I look up, the old man is staring at me with a terrified look in his eyes. He starts to moan again, trying to yell but he can’t find the air necessary to pull it off because I have his chest and stomach tied down so tightly. I take the roll of gauze and jam it in his mouth causing him to gag violently but I just keep pushing the roll of gauze further into his mouth and down his throat. Muffled heaves tell me that he is involuntarily vomiting and I assume that he is choking to death on it so now I don’t need to use a pillow to suffocate him. On the table next to us is a box of latex gloves and I put one on each hand, careful not to make a snapping sound. Once the gloves are on I wrap my hands around the old man’s throat and begin to squeeze tightly and I can feel
his life slipping away from him from beneath my fingers. I study his face as his muscles start to relax and I’m thinking that this is all happening much more quickly than I had thought it would so I’m planning my exit strategy but then something happened that was
definitely not in the script. Nothing could have prepared me for what came next.

As I’m sitting here alongside the old man with my hands firmly around his neck,suddenly the features of his face begin to change. First his nose morphs into a thicker, longer version of itself, next his mouth and sunken cheeks begin to fill out and finally he opens his eyes lazily and blinks two or three times before settling in on me. The face that I am now strangling the life out of is my father. A cold breeze runs through the room that causes me to shiver, the spy begins typing again, faster and louder than before as I double down on my squeezing efforts while my father just stares at me expressionless and frigid. I push down on his throat even harder and then the features begin to change again, this time his skin gets smoother and the nose softens, color returns to the lips and ears and suddenly I’m looking at my son. He is a man, of about 27 but it’s him no doubt, handsome and well chiseled. He too looks at me peacefully, not choking on the roll of gauze still in his mouth, not struggling at all, just looking on at me with an almost bored gaze. I notice that I’ve released some of the pressure on his throat and, not able
to stand any more of this, begin squeezing again even harder than before. The spy’s typing becomes frantic and it sounds like he is slapping his keypad. The smell of shit is thick, causing me to choke and I bury my nose in the sleeve of the hospital apron I’m still wearing. I squeeze harder on the throat and when I notice drops of water falling on my grown son’s expressionless face I realize that I’m weeping. I wipe the tears on his face away before they freeze and when I take my hand away there is a new face that is looking back at me. It’s old and wrinkled but I immediately recognize it as my own.

Panic quickly takes hold and I’m frozen, shivering, sobbing looking into my own eyes, relieved that I still have all my hair, though it’s thinned substantially. As disturbing as this all is, somehow the blank stares coming from both my father and my son were something that I was able to work past but now, looking into my own empty stare brings on an existential dread that there are just not enough Xanax on planet Earth to curb. I can’t look at it anymore, I can’t take any of this any longer. In a frenzy I reach behind my older self’s head and rip the pillow that I’m resting on. I smother my older self’s face ashard as I can, so hard that I’m screaming out into frigid air, “No!!” I hear the spy slamming his computer on the metal bars on the side of his bed and finally he throws the laptop across the room and into the curtain where I am slumped over what is now just a wet pillow covering a pool of melted ice and I’m sobbing, “No, no, no.”

Exhausted, I’m now whimpering on the bed alone, gripping the frosty pillow and when the spy throws open the curtain I slowly turn to face him. It’s Dr. Feelbad from the first hospital and he’s smoking a clove cigarette with a bamboo stem and tearing up the script, tossing it in the air and shouting into a bullhorn, “No, no, cut! This is all wrong!” In his German accent. He’s holding a black leather leash that is connected by the neck to the nurse with the blood red lipstick and jet black hair who is now naked and wearing her hair down and it’s crimped and waist length. She has blood stained vampire fangs and is drinking an Avian through a straw and looking like there are a million other things she would rather be doing right now.

I want desperately to ask what the hell is going on but all that comes out is a whimpering, “Wha…wh…”

Dr. Feelbad is barking orders in German at the Japanese crew from his bullhorn and from no where cameramen, stagehands, and extras start scampering around and suddenly I can’t understand anything that anyone is saying. My father is sitting in an actor’s chair smoking a Benson & Hedges cigarette, wearing a bath towel and a gold pinky ring with a hebrew character on it and he is yelling at a 5 foot 3 inch tall midget
with ginger, spiky hair and stubs for fingers on his left hand in a language I’m not at all familiar with. There is a pair of conjoined twin ballerinas sharing a pair of faded blue jeans and an old school Elvis Costello concert T-shirt who are twisting themselves around each other like a wrung towel and they are getting taller and taller with every twist until blood starts hemorrhaging from their eyeballs. There’s a guy in a garbage can
freebasing meth through a straw who looks like a real life Oscar The Grouch who is getting a double fisted hand job from Marilyn Monroe’s corpse. Three sumo wrestlers wearing traditional kimonos are gang raping a young boy, maybe 11, who has dead flowers where his eyes used to be and is having a heated debate about the pros and cons of using pink vs. yellow highlighters with someone named Flo on an late 90’s
model Motorola cell phone. A 230 pound mentally retarded kid wearing a blue suit with an oversized blue and yellow polk-a-dotted necktie that is tied around his head is beating off to Russian older brother/younger sister porn on an iPad and above him is a seascape painting of a lighthouse after dark.

Gradually, the painting comes to life. The dark blue waves start crashing on the rocky shore, the light from the lighthouse starts rotating 180 degrees, illuminating everything in it’s path for a split second and as I focus on the painting, watching the waves ebb and flow back into the vast expanse I can briefly make out a boat rocking back and forth. The stars twinkle in the night sky as I wait for the light to come back around to the boat which is old and wooden and in the boat is a man. I focus in harder on the painting and all the madness going on around me in the hospital room starts to fall away as quickly as it appeared. The light from the lighthouse comes around again and I can make out
the features of the man, he isn’t old but he is haggard beyond his years. I watch the light go back and forth a few times watching the waves smash against the rocks and I wonder why the rocks are still so sharp and rigid, shouldn’t they be smooth by now, warn down by the mighty ocean? I notice that the boat with the man in it are moving closer and closer to the deadly shore yet his expression is unchanged. He remains
clam, leaning back in the boat, not holding on to anything though the boat is now swaying violently amongst the waves, the oars are resting peacefully at his side. He is neither rowing toward nor away from the jagged rocks, he is simply allowing himself to be peacefully carried off into the night. The stars are alive, the stars are real. The light from millions of eons ago has traveled through time and space to grace this night sky and they are real. I wait for the light to find the man in the boat again. The light passes by once, twice, a third time. The man and his boat have disappeared. Disappeared here.

Suddenly I’m cold. I can feel the heat of the sidewalk on my back and although my eyes are closed and I can’t seem to open them, I can feel the warm sun pulsating on my eyelids, but I’m frozen. A voice slowly becomes audible, it’s Mama and she’s saying, “Don’t go, don’t go.” I need her to know that it’s going to be alright so I force my eyes open and look up at her and she’s sobbing outside of the station in front of the clinic holding my head in her lap and rocking back and forth. I let out a weak cough and she looks down at me with bloodshot eyes and says, “Don’t go. Don’t leave us.”

I cough weakly then manage, “Baby…I’m not…going…to make it.”

The End

Last Caress I-VI are featured in the book #DeadFlowers.

Also from Mike Black, the novels #BougBoys and #SamuraiBlues.

Follow on Twitter @mikeblackBB and LIKE on FB at Facebook.com/MikeBlack2left/

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2016 in Dark Fiction

 

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Last Caress: V

Last Caress: V
misfits

I can’t even recall my name.

Thursday, July 26. Day 3

Today is slipping quickly by in cycle after painful cycle of scoring pain medication, being relieved enough to breathe without grunting painfully, slipping into a semi peaceful nod until I’m awaken again by the pain, then spending the next hour or so pleading with the nurses to give me more medicine until they finally concede and then the cycle continues unbroken. The room is so cold that the bags of medicine start to get slushy and the flow into my veins is slowed, delaying the effect.

Every time I ask for more medicine I’m questioned skeptically about my pain, forcing me to come up with new and colorful ways to try to justify what is going on with my abdomen, and in the best Japanese I can produce I explain that it feels like:

-The Nagoya Dragons baseball team all took batting practice on my stomach.

-You know the movie Rocky? No? It’s about a boxer and he does his training punching slabs of frozen meat. I feel like my stomach is that slab of meat.

-There was a balloon full of crap in my stomach. That balloon got really big and exploded and all the crap is swimming around inside me.

-Nakamura Shunsuke (a famous Japanese soccer player) practiced scoring goals aimed at my stomach…using bullets. -You see that pen in your hand, well imagine I ask to borrow it for a wee second, give it a good looking over, click it open and then STAB you in the stomach with it about a hundred or so times. Now give me the Goddamn medicine!!

I have repeatedly asked to go to the bathroom and I feel like everyone keeps telling me to, “Just go.” and I feel like they are taunting me because with all the tubes and wires coming out of me I clearly can’t just go on my own and no one seems to be offering any assistance until finally someone explains that there is a tube coming out of my nerd that is connected to a bag and that I can pee freely and finally everything makes sense. It takes about two minutes to UN-learn not to piss myself and I finally bring myself to just do it, just lying there in bed. After that it’s like riding a bike.

Time is moving in two speeds, slow motion and fast forward depending on how much pain I am in and the stinginess of the pain-killer policy here which has no interest in maintaining any level of comfort for the patients and has turned me into a sociopathic liar. It’s so cold in this room that I can’t tell if I’m shivering because of the temperature or the loss of blood or the medication or some sort of cocktail of all three. All my thoughts are concentrated, due to severe pain, on how to most effectively and efficiently get pain killers off these stingy bastards and I now answer all questions in a way that I believe will get me the biggest dose of medication in the least amount of time. Answering honestly, I have learned, leaves me in excruciating pain for long lengths of time but lying and making a lot of noise seems to be working though it has reduced me to feeling like a child, a prisoner and a junkie.

Friday, July 27, 2012 Day 4

Sleep was very hard to come by last night after the last dose wore off and the old man next to me started coughing loudly but I managed to nod off long enough around dawn to have an absolutely brilliant dream that flashed before me that I don’t remember reading anywhere in the script. The dream was like a television sitcom with the cheesy lines and the laugh track and everything but was in cartoon form and centered around the life and dramas of the Drewrys, a family I knew growing up in St. Louis about 20 years or so ago. As I thought on it, making sure to cement every detail so it didn’t slip away as brilliant dreams are known to do I laughed so hard that I the stitches on my right stomach started to burst, allowing a steady stream of blood to seep out onto the white hospital sheets. Oddly, I couldn’t feel any pain but called the nurse anyway.

They keep me fairly doped up and the day is really beginning to drag on. I ask about something to eat which leads me to think about the last thing I ate which was…when? Had I eaten anything yesterday, the day before? Damn, when was the last time I ate… anything, anything at all. “Dude!” I call myself out loud, “You haven’t eaten since Tuesday night! That’s…” I say counting on my fingers and confirming on my iPhone what day it is and what day all this started before concluding, “Four days!”

I hadn’t really thought about it before now but the idea of not having food for four days causes my brain to do some pretty experimental things; fill in a lot of gaps, cycle around in ways that it has never been forced to do before. There is no telling what lies ahead. When the nurse comes in to stick me with an unnamed needle she turns into a Turkey leg like in the old Loony Toons cartoons. I explain, trying not to lick my lips to perversely, that I haven’t eaten in awhile, four days to be exact and ask if there is any chance I’d be scoring a sandwich or something for lunch today, having already clearly missed breakfast. She says she’ll check and as she leaves her ass turns into two marshmallows that I imagine are being dipped in chocolate from one of those chocolate fountains you see at fancy hotels where you take the marshmallow by a long fork and spin it under the cascade of chocolate that is flowing down like I wish vodka would.

As time drags on and I nod in and out of consciousness in a more or less state of constant pain for like, the fourth day in a row; no food, no brewskis, very little sleep, the line between reality and imagination begin to blur in a very realistic way. I can no longer tell whether I am asleep or awake, if I’m high or just in that much pain that my brain is occupying itself with other things. The room is so cold that my tongue gets stuck to the straw that I’m drinking from and the water has turned to solid ice.

I’m suddenly aware of the old man in the curtain next to me who keeps coughing deeply and while I vividly remember asking him yesterday to kindly go and die somewhere, anywhere else, now as I listen to him cough inconsolably I’m getting an eerie feeling that somehow we are connected and the universe has somehow brought us here together at the same place and time for a very specific reason, though I have no clue as to what that may be and I really just wish he would shut the fuck up and disappear. Disappear here.

Friday, July 27. 12:30 pm

The nurse comes in my room/curtain barrier type place and doesn’t shut it all the way behind her, breaking my concentration and explains that I am not to be served any lunch today or any dinner for that matter and that the bag filled with a clear, water looking liquid will be tiding me over until an undetermined date which she is not yet privy to.

“Cool.” I think, they are being as stingy with the food as they are with the pain killers. “Got any heroin? Or maybe a pistol and a bullet that I can bide my time with by playing Russian Roulette with myself, possibly a cyanide capsule I can chew on?” I think out loud to whoever can hear me in this curtained off room I’m sharing with what I can gather are at least three other people, the old man coughing next to me and someone else who I am beginning to suspect is a spy with a typewriter.

When a faceless nurse exits, she doesn’t shut the curtain all the way…again. I’m sick of getting up and doing it myself so I rudely shout at her, “Close the goddamn curtain!” She does but not without giving me a menacing glare first which I am no longer afraid of. It is clear that no one here is looking out for me but myself and as much as I like to be cool to people, it’s time to be assertive. A vision of my teenage years flashes before me and I’m warped once again back to St. Louis where it is warm and green and smells like creek water. My friend Curt appears wearing faded jeans, no shirt with a skull tattoo on his left pec that has a butt chin and steel-toed boots. He shuts the curtain for me and runs after the nurse and I can hear him catch up to her and all I hear is a cracking sound like that of a tree falling over and I see a stream of blood run by the door. He walks back loudly and peeks his bald head through the curtain, looks around and says, “Dude, if you want something broken, you gotta be willing to crack some heads.” then laughs eerily before he disappears.

To be continued…

Featured in the book #DeadFlowers.

Also from Mike Black, the novels #BougBoys and #SamuraiBlues.

Follow on Twitter @mikeblackBB and LIKE on FB at Facebook.com/Mike2left/

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2016 in Dark Fiction

 

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Last Caress: IV

Last Caress: IV
misfits

I can’t even recall my name.

Wednesday July 25, 2012 around 11:00 pm

I see emergency workers wearing masks and dark helmets rushing about acting very professionally, I close my eyes and find it very difficult to open them though I want to desperately because this is the most action I’ve seen all day. This feels like a movie with the lights, the sirens, the sobbing wife who can’t bring herself to make eye contact with her barely conscious, completely vulnerable husband, and the infant crying inconsolably in her arms. The movie continues at the Hospital as the lights on the ceiling rush by as I can see my eyelids shutting and slowly re-opening with masked doctors looking at me with a great sense of urgency.

I try to speak but no words will come out. I want to tell this new doctor, who is a lot hotter than Dr. Feelbad from the last place, that I’m feeling a lot better and try to say something to make the expression on everyone’s face stop screaming at me. Maybe if I could ask her if she’s married, and if yes, does she fool around? If Mama heard me say that she would know that I’m going to be alright and maybe stop weeping the way she is, but I just can’t make any words come out of my mouth. The movie comes to a predictable end when the doctor, another doctor, a dude, not the hot one goes to put the sleeping gas over my face and tells me to count backwards from ten and I can see my eyes shut one last time before I can get to four.

Thursday July 26, around 4:30 am

I wake up and immediately look for my iPhone. I don’t know where I am and there are tubes and wires coming out of me through holes in my arms and stomach, only some of which were there before I went under. All this is doing nothing but slowing the hunt for my phone. I reach with my left hand and an IV that is connected to a metal coat rack looking thing is ripped from my arm causing a stream of hot red blood to seep slowly from my arm. I look at the bags of liquid that are hanging where the coats and hats are supposed to be and I can’t help but wonder if one of those bags isn’t filled with potent pain medication and think I should probably get a nurse to see about that. She may know where my iPhone is too and now there is the small matter of blood draining out of my arm where the IV used to be.

As I’m going over all of this, I notice that I’m thinking in Japanese and then it occurs to me that I’ve been speaking strictly in Japanese since I arrived at the last hospital and everyone except for Dr. Feelbad and his broken English and thick German accent has been speaking to me in Japanese and I haven’t had any trouble understanding anyone. My Japanese is usually better than most, worse than others but for some unexplained reason, this script is only in Japanese.

“Nurse!” I yell though it comes out more like a whispered, “nurse….” and I can see the letters being spelled out by my breath in the frosty air. The abdominal pain that this causes reminds me why I’m here…wait, why am I here? What the hell is this all about anyway? I was sold on the Hernia story yesterday and all I know is, that was wrong… where’s the goddamn nurse!?

I start to press buttons and shout into things hoping to get someone’s attention and it quickly works as a not un-hot nurse rushes in and immediately starts to repair my IV drip. I stop her and ask her where my phone is and she says she doesn’t know. I rephrase the question, only slightly condescending and kindly ask her to help me find it as my range of mobility is currently impaired.

“Perhaps in the pocket of those shorts on the chair there Love, maybe we could start there, No?” I ask in the most polite Japanese I can produce. She finally finds a vein and after jabbing the IV needle back in my arm and taping it up she does a quick once around and finds my phone under a stack of papers on a small table and hands it to me with a sarcastic smirk that I’m in no mood for.

“Thank you.” I say grabbing the phone away from her and finally learning that it is 4:30 on Thursday morning and that I have no new messages. “Excuse me but what exactly happened to me anyway? Am I going to be alright?”

“Your appendix burst in your stomach yesterday.” She explains with such little emotion that I can’t help but question if I’m hearing her correctly. As she is standing over me, the lights from the ceiling create an aura around her head and she’s glowing. “The doctors did an emergency surgery last night. You’ll have to stay here for now.” She says, looking at my phone and then turning around to leave.

“Wait, wait” I say stopping her, “My appendix…burst? Like, inside my stomach…uh, is that what you said?”

“Yes, that is so.” she replies without emotion.

“Well that’s like, pretty bad? No? I mean, I’m going to be alright…?” I say half asking and half confirming.

“The doctors did emergency surgery last night…I said before.” she says strictly, not answering my question and cutting me zero slack on the language thing.

“Well do you know how long I have to stay here?” I ask.

“This is kind of an in-between place.” She says coldly, “How long you have to be here is up to you.”

“Oh, well cool.” I say having no idea what she means by any of that, then, “Uh, can I get some pain killers then? My stomach is really killing me.” I ask politely realizing that I’m being quite literal about the killing me part and hoping that I’m not out of line.

“There is a bag of painkillers connected to your arm, along with liquid food and some antibiotics. You ripped out the connection and I just fixed it so they should start working soon.” She explains before turning to leave again.

“Wait! Just one more thing,” I say as she’s disappearing. “which bag is the pain killers?”

“It’s the one with the X.” she hesitantly replies, “Please don’t touch the medicine.” she adds sternly, “Only doctors touch the medicine.” She says before disappearing into the dark corridor.

I immediately reach for the drip control on the pain-killer bag and realize that it doesn’t require a medical degree to figure out how to make it drip quicker and adjust it accordingly. I send a message on Facebook that I’m in the hospital and that there are tubes coming out of ten different holes in my body. My stomach finally settles, and I am able to nod off in a brief state of semi-comfort when I notice that someone I’m not “Friends” with commented on my Facebook post: “Break the cycle.”

To be continued…

Featured in the book #DeadFlowers.

Also by Mike Black, the novels #BougBoys and #SamuraiBlues

Follow on Twitter @mikeblackBB and LIKE on FB at Facebook.com/MikeBlack2left/

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2016 in Dark Fiction

 

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Last Caress: III

Last Caress: III
misfits

I can’t even recall my name.

Wednesday, July 25th around 11:30 am

I’m laying on the scorching hot sidewalk outside of the station, somewhere near the clinic when an icy chill runs through me that causes my body to jerk, I’m flat on my back, breathless and grunting uncontrollably when Mama runs up to help me. “Oh my god! Are you OK?” She asks, and though I love her with all my heart, my eyes cannot conceal my disdain for what is becoming the NO SHIT question of the day that I’m tired of hearing and answering, “No” to in Japanese or English. She helps me up effortlessly, her hands are cold and she drags me into the clinic where the smell of old people and death is inescapable. The clinic staff immediately admit me and get to work performing all sorts of tests on me with little regard for my physical pain which isn’t getting any better after all the positions they are forcing me to hold; X rays on cold tables, CAT scans, CT scans with metal pads that feel like icicles on my body as well as drawing blood a few more times than seems necessary before declaring my condition a pulled hernia.

They knock me out and do an unknown procedure and when I wake up I’m alone in a large four man room in a seemingly empty wing of the hospital that is freezing and where it looks like I’ll be staying for a few days. I’m dozing in and out of consciousness and every time I come to and the pain starts to creep back I call out for more medicine and the cycle continues.

I don’t know how many times we’ve cycled around but at one point I reach for my iPhone and notice it’s only 4 o’clock in the afternoon and for some reason that seems unbelievably early for all the shit that has happened since leaving the house this morning at 8:00 am. The cycle continues. I get one more dose of pain medication and when it starts to wear off again and the pain returns, again I call for a faceless nurse…again. She comes a lot slower this time and I sense an attitude maybe I was too doped up before to notice but it’s clear now that she’s getting stingy with the pain medication. It’s around 5:30 and she says she’ll be right back, right back she says she’ll be.

Wednesday July 25th Around 8:ooPM:

“NURSE!! HELP ME!” I shout pathetically, as loudly as my aching abdomen will allow into the nurse call button that I believe with all my heart is acting like a Walky Talky though the conversation is clearly one-sided. I hit the button once, twice then double over in pain on the lone hospital bed that is raised to about a 45 degree angle in a lone hospital room that is at about a 45 meter distance from the nearest intersecting corridor from what I can make of the footsteps that I used to hear come and go, yet haven’t heard come in quite some time. There is absolutely no way to position my body that is not excruciating in its own unique way and this is starting to sound very familiar. If I lay on my left side it feels like the right side of my body will be stretched to the point of tearing apart at the seams. To lay flat on my back means to have my abdominal muscles contract so forcefully that I feel I’m being drawn and quartered and to lay on my right side, where I am currently negotiating with myself the possibility of sustainability, it currently feels like I am laying directly on a dagger that has been having it’s way with me for longer than I care to think about.

But I must think about it…again. How long have they left me here now in utter agony, screaming for help? How many times have I done this? I reach for my iPhone and press around at it until the time comes up: 9:00. 9 o’clock. The last time I saw someone was like…I don’t know, hours ago. I press the nurse call button again and shout into the imaginary microphone, “HEY! This pain isn’t going away by itself you know!!”

Wait a minute. I whisper that last line again to myself “Hey.This pain isn’t going away by itself you know.” I’m hit with a deja-vu that is so vivid that I’m thinking a moment ahead of everything that is going to come next. The thoughts I’m going to think, the words I’m going to say, the things that I see in the room, I see them coming just before they happen. Before I turn my head I can already see my iPhone charger, my pajamas, my toothbrush, Keith’s LIFE autobiography, everything feels like I have just lived it and am reliving it again. The cold hospital room, the reeking odor, all feel like this has just happened to me. Not like it happened a long time ago or in a dream I dreamt, but like this is a movie and the director just asked us to do this scene over again.

At first I let the scene play out again because this is the pleasant part, where the drugs begin to take hold but then Dr. Feelbad with his thin mustache and red scarf bursts in and, right on cue asks me, “How is your pain?” I remember the last time he asked and how long it took to get across just how much pain I was in so instead of going through all of that ball ache again, I motion for him to come closer and when he does I grab him by his red scarf and knee him in the stomach and as he’s crouched over in agony I say, “It’s worse than that.”

He orders the nurse with the blood red lipstick and the jet black hair pulled back in a tight bun to give me more medicine and she helps him limp out of the room but I can’t relax because I know that they’ll be back in 3, 2, 1, enter the doctors. I mouth along with him when he says, “Your pain is not supposed to be getting worse, it’s supposed to be getting better.” As all the nurses pack up my things and then, on cue, Mama’s aunt makes her entrance. The first time this happened, I questioned my sanity, I thought I must be dreaming or hallucinating but now I can accept it for what it is which, in and of itself puts me at ease that I would rate somewhere North of six and a half but less than nine.

He starts to deliver his line about being wrong about the hernia but seems to have forgotten the dialogue so I help him, but not correcting his English. I don’t want to dilute his character as the evil Japanese doctor with the German accent. I belt out my line, “Am I going to die?” much more dramatically this time, gripping his icy cold red scarf and he delivers the, “Japan has good technique.” line perfectly.

I lay back on my pillow which is so cold that it crunches beneath my head and close my eyes, waiting to hear the sirens and when they come, the nurse says, right on cue, “The ambulance come now.”

To be continued…

The Last Caress series is featured in the book #DeadFlowers.

Also by Mike Black, the novels #BougBoys and #SamuraiBlues.

Follow on Twitter @mikeblackBB and LIKE on FB at Facebook.com/MikeBlack2left/

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2016 in Dark Fiction

 

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