Monday, October 26, 2009

stain, Part VIII

Turn on Glenwood.  The old lady’s car in the driveway.  She must’ve got the word too, come home.  Country Squire.  Fake wood paneling shit.  If she’d pull in farther, you could park behind her.  But he’d have to move the old refrigerator out of the way first.  And the washing machine.  Get ’em both off those two-by-fours.

“You wait ’til he gets home!”  The old lady found the change missing from her pocketbook.  “He’ll deal with you later!”  You’d be seeing the belt again.  You’d try not to cry.  That’d get him.  She shook her head.  “My own child.  Can’t even trust my own child.  You kids are just like him.”

Don’t even stop, man.  Just keep going.  No doubt about it, our place is definitely the old kind of brick.  Yard’s mainly red clay, with patches of grass.  Especially the side yard where I park.  Lots of brick houses around here.  Not old man Shanahan’s though.  Big white thing.  Teri’s room was upstairs.
     A couple more paychecks, get a pad of your own.  May take three.  Or four.  Right on Main, to the Kwickie Mart.  Fuckin’ carwash.  Just ignore it.  Leave ’er running, in case she doesn’t want to crank when you get back.
     The clerk’s new.  Kind of tubby, but not bad.  Six of Schlitz.  Cold ones from the back.  She’s checking you out.  Walk cool.  Put your beer on the counter.  There’s a ten.  Ask for a large cup of ice.  The guy who usually works here gives me a cup of ice free.  ID?  Yeah, I got one.  I’ll just wait while you do the math.  I gave you a ten, this is change for a five.  That’s OK.  Yeah, a bag would be great.  I still need that ice though.  Thank you too.
     Raunchwagon’s smoking pretty hard.  That ought to impress her.  Should’ve got a quart of oil.  Fuck it.  Smoking like that, there’s bound to still be plenty in it.  Smokes worse when it’s parked.  Just sits there chugging and smoking.  Which sounds like a damn good idea for me.  Least the wind’s blowing the other way.  Rev ’er up, blow that shit out.  Jesus.  Fuckin’ smoke bomb.  Come on, don’t cut off, chug back up to a good idle.  There you go.  Pack the cooler.  Pop a can, toss the tab in the empty sack.  Your Cold Titties beer huggie under the seat.  Get back on Main.
     Found your shot record in the old lady’s room.  Your "Health and Immunization Record."  With the dates of when you had the mumps, the measles, the chicken pox.  There was a picture of me and Don too.  You had a cut under your mouth, where that white X of a scar is now.  Don said you fell, drove what teeth you had right through your fuckin’ lip.  Then did it again a week later.
     Second beer’s good as the first.  Siren, shit, pull that can down.  OK, just a fuckin’ ambulance.  Pulling in the emergency entrance.  The hospital?  Get the fuck out of here.  Take a right.

“I was seb’nteen when we landed on Guadalcanal.”  The old man was pretty drunk.  “Had’ta lie ’bout my age so the Marines’d take me.”  He got the Schlitz to his mouth, tilted his head back, swallowed a couple times.  His cheeks were puffed when he pulled the can down, and he swallowed again.  “You damn kids got it made.  Never knew where my next meal was comin’ from.”  He started mumbling, his eyes closed, his chin dropped to his chest.
     You wanted to leave, but you couldn’t.  You watched and waited, barely able to blink.  His hair was still pretty thick above his ears, but so thin on top you couldn’t even tell it was a crew cut anymore.  The can tilted over.  Beer poured in his lap.  He came back.  “Fuckin’ Japs.  They might’a shot me, but them slant-eyed yella bastards couldn’t kill me.  Hell no!  That island’s stained with more’a their blood than mine.  I’ll kill ev’ry goddamn one of ’em.”  He saw his pants, felt ’em, clenched his teeth.  “Get me another beer, goddamn it!”
     You ran to the refrigerator, ran back, hoping he’d passed out.  But he was standing there holding his belt.  “You took long enough.”

Another siren.  Shit, blue lights in the mirror.  Pull over.  Stash that beer under the seat.  Try not to bend over doing it.  Wait, he’s going around.  Shit.  Heart’s pounding.  Fuckin’ guts are cold.  Deep breath.  Drink your beer.  Get back on the road.  Turn right.

“A what?”  He’d heard you.  He’d come in right when Trapper was telling Frank to let the cut under his nose heal.  Wanted to know what your plans were.  You not going to school.  Him not working.  Wanted to know what you were gonna do.  For a living.  You weren’t sure.  Then he wanted to know, while you were just lying there, what you thought you might like to do.  You looked him right in the chest, said it.  He kind of snorted.  “A writer?”  He kind of snorted again.  “And write what?”  You weren’t sure about that either.  Well, he thought you needed a real job.  He’d talk to Buddy.  One more snort as he left.  “She wants to write.”

The hospital again.  Fuck it.  Pull in.  Drain your brew.  Number three.  Shit!  Speed bump!  Why the hell don’t they paint that fucker?  How’re you supposed to see a black speed bump on black pavement?  Damn it, the shit’s on your shirt.  Idiot!  There’s a space at the end.  Gonna have to cut ’er off this time.  You’ll have to stay long enough for her to cool down, so she’ll crank again.  
Lose the shades.  Fuckin’ beer on your chest.  Hair looks like shit.  The hell with this.  See if she’ll crank back up.  Come on bitch.  Shit.  Ain’t gonna happen.  You’re going in.
     Automatic doors.  Maxwell Smart going to Control Headquarters.  Captain Kirk coming on the bridge.  A woman at the front desk.  She’s staring at the spot on your shirt.  Just give me the room number.  Sure, tell me how to get there.  Hop the elevator, up to the second floor, turn left, head down the hall.  Peek in first, man.  No visitors.  Just a nurse’s back.  Yeah, those are his glasses on the table.  Thick brown bifocals.
     Back off before they see you.  Keep walking.  There’s a bathroom at the end of the hall.  Slap that door open with both hands.  A man in a white lab coat standing in front of one of the johns, his eyes about to pop out over his shoulder.  Sorry about that, Chief.  He’s got a stethoscope around his neck.  He shakes his head, turns it back to the pisser.
     Head for the stalls.  Check under the closed ones for feet.  None.  Take the last one, latch the door.  Lift the seat.  Unzip your fly, work your dick out, roll the turtleneck back a little, take aim.  OK, just piss, man.  Come on, piss.  Close your eyes.  Just go ahead and piss.  Piss.  Think how good it’ll feel.  Let it go.  Come on, piss.  Piss.  Piss.  Shit, it’s no good.  Beam me up, Scotty.  Never gonna go with somebody in here listening.  He’d hear it hitting the water, and it’d just be a dribble ’cause you’d be trying so hard, instead of making a lot of noise like a real man.  A goddamn tinkle.  If you could even get that much out.  Hell, you’d be lucky to go even with nobody in here.  Be scared somebody would come in before you got going good.


     Pussy.  Can’t piss in a crowd.  Drop the seat, drop your pants, sit down.  Chin in your hands, elbows on your knees.  Close your eyes.  That’s gotta be the doc flushing.  And that’s gotta be the water at the sink.  Yeah, that’s it.  The stream’s gotta be hitting above the waterline.  Barely making any noise.  Pussy.  Sitting here like a girl.  Doc’s still washing his hands.

The wave hit as you waded in.  You tried to jump over it, to get out to where Don was floating on an inner tube.  The old man was standing there, waist deep, watching us.  The wave caught you in the stomach, pulled you under.  You swallowed saltwater.  The undertow dragged you across shells on the bottom.  You just knew were dead, or soon to be.  Something grabbed your ankle, pulled you out.  The old man held you upside down while you coughed.  Don laughed ’til he told him to shut the hell up.  “You all right?”

The hand dryer comes on, loud as hell.  It stops just as the bathroom door closes.  Maybe Mike’s right.  Maybe you do owe him.  Pull some paper off the roll, blow your nose.  Doesn’t tear worth shit.  Jesus!  The whole fuckin’ roll came off, rolled over into the next stall.  Reach under and grab it.  Whoa, this seat’s loose.  About to fall off your throne here.  There’s the roll.  Pull it back in here.  Push yourself back up.  Put the roll back on.  Fuck!  Dropped it again!  Punch that goddamn dispenser.  Fuck!  Skinned your goddamn knuckle!  Idiot!  Get the hell up.  Pull up your pants.  Tuck in your shirt.  Button your jeans.  Pull up your zipper.  Shit!  It’s caught on my fuckin’ boxers.  Work it the hell loose, you moron.  You dressed now?  All by yourself?  Don’t need to call mommy in or anything?  Then get the hell out of this stall.
     Yeah, you owe him all right.  Thanks to him, you’re not just a stain in the trash.  You’re a stain on this whole fuckin’ world.  Check yourself in the mirror.  Fuckin’ shirt.  Wash your hands.  Hit the button on the dryer, rub your hands dry.  Hit it again, bend down and try drying your shirt.  Check the mirror.  The spot’s lighter, but it’s still there, and now there’s a little peak beside it where you stretched the shirt out.  Idiot!  What’s that gap in the reflection?  Between the exhaust part and the box part mounted on the wall?  They don’t butt right up against each other.  Twist that thing.  It turns all the way up.  Hit the button again.  Fuckin’ air blows right in your face.  You didn’t have to stretch the shirt at all.  You could’ve dried it without hardly even bending over.  Moron.
     Fuck it.  Pat the peak down, rub it flat as you can.  Pull a Kleenex from the box on the counter.  Blow your nose.  Check the mirror for boogers.  Head back to his room.  Deep breath.  Go on in.
     The nurse’s back again.  Still blocking his face.  She wraps a blood-pressure cuff around his arm, pumps it up, checks the gauge, writes on her clipboard chart.  “It looks like you’ll live through my shift anyway.”  She laughs, pats him on the shoulder, pulls the cuff off, hangs it on the wall, turns and sees me.  “Well, well.  I guess somebody cares about you after all.”  Step aside, let her out.  Damn.  She actually smiled.
     He’s looking at you.  Can feel it.  His arm’s laying on top of the sheet.  There’s a tube stuck in it, inside his elbow, taped down.  He’s still looking.  A hospital gown covers his chest above the sheet.  He’s still looking.  Another tube’s wrapped around his face, with two little points sticking up his big nose.  He’s still looking.
     I want to leave, but I can’t.
     “Jim.”  His voice sounds weak.  “Glad you’re here.”  He clears his throat, raises his arm off the bed, starts to mess around with the tube.
     “Yeah, well, Mike told me to—  I mean, he told me you were here.”
     He’s picking at the tape.  “Mike, huh?”
     He quits fuckin’ with the tape, pulls the tube around his face away from his nose, looks at it, puts it back.  “Good ol’ Mike.”  He shakes his head, starts rubbing his hand across his chest, smoothing out his gown.  “I had to bring him over here once.  Because of his finger.  You ever seen it?”
     I have stared at it a few times.  The tip’s missing from the middle finger of his right hand.  About halfway down the nail.  “Yeah, I’ve seen it.”
     “Yeah, well, he caught it in a mold.  On number two.  I thought he might cry there for a while.  Made me bring him here.  Even wanted me to look for it under the machine.  Like they’d sew it back on.”  He shakes his head.  Probably figured a Band-Aid would’ve done the trick.
     “So, what happened?  What’s the doctor say?”
     He’s looking again.  OK, now he’s back to smoothing out his gown.  “I was out for a walk, started having trouble breathing.  My chest was hurting.  I got back home and laid down, but that just made me feel sick.  I called the doctor, and he had them send an ambulance.”  There goes the head again.  “I’d have driven myself if I had a car.”
     I see.  So now it’s my fault.  “But . . . what’d they say the problem was?”
     “They think I might have had a mild heart attack.  Maybe.  They don’t know.  I’ve got to stay here tonight, have some more tests in the morning.”  He starts fuckin’ with the tape again, then stops.  He’s looking again.  Fuck it.  Look right back at him.
     What, you want to stare me down?  I can hear us breathing.  He drops his eyes a little.  I win?  Wait.  He must be checking out the spot on your shirt.  He looks weird without his glasses.  He looks . . . I don’t know . . . like a stranger, but one I’ve seen before.  Somebody I can’t quite place.  Quit staring at him already.  I can’t.  Damn, he won’t even look at you now.  Stop staring.  I can’t.  He won’t even look at me.
     He clears his throat.  “Where’s your mother?”
     “I don’t know.  I mean, I didn’t go home.  I mean, I just came here from work.”
     He starts playing with the tape again.  “How are things at the plant?”
     “Same ol’ sh—  I mean, same old . . . thing.  I . . . uh . . . I cleaned the pit today.”
     “The pit, huh?”  He kicks his left leg out from under the sheet, crosses it over his right.  Halfway down his shin, on the outside, there’s a scar.  Not a line like when you get stitches, but kind of round, about as big as a softball, kind of speckled looking, sort of like a big patch of freckles.  The whole thing dips in a little, like part of his leg’s been scooped out.  The skin looks weird.  Flaky, almost.  Kind of dead even.
     He never talked much about the war.  A few times when he was real drunk.  He was a Marine, he fought in World War II, he landed on Guadalcanal when he should’ve been going to school.  He got shot, got malaria.  Never really thought about where he’d been hit.  He’s looking at you again.  He works the leg back under the sheet.  Even covered up, I can’t help looking at it.  It’s just us breathing again.
     Man, you’re barely even in the room.  Right where you were when the nurse smiled at you.  Lean against the wall.  Some clear shit dripping out of the bag hanging on the side of his bed, down the tube to his arm.  He starts picking at the tape again, clears his throat.  “There was a guy named Lassiter in our unit.  One mean son of a bitch.  Cut the ears off Japs he killed and wore them on a string hanging off his belt.  The kind of guy you wanted to stay on the good side of.  He was manning the machine gun one day when we were attacked.  He always yelled like a madman when he was firing it, but that day he was really howling.  He was so loud I couldn’t help but look over at him.  That’s when he got hit.  Right in the face.  I jumped up, ran and took his place.  I didn’t have time to think about it, I just did it.  I had to kick what was left of him out of the way.  There was blood everywhere, pieces of skull and brain.  I grabbed hold of that gun, started blasting.  Damn Japs kept running right into my line of fire.  It was like they were drawn to it.  Like moths to the porch light.”  He shakes his head.  “I couldn’t even tell how many I killed.  They just kept coming, and I kept shooting until there weren’t any more to shoot at.  I didn’t even know I’d been hit until it was over.”
     He won’t stop fuckin’ with the tape.  It’s just us breathing again.  I can’t quit thinking about the scar hiding under the sheet.  The old man.  The killer.  How do you sleep at night?  Do you have nightmares?
     Hell, that was war, man.  You had to do it.  It was you or them.  Could I have done it?  I don’t know.  I’d like to think I could, but I doubt it.  What the fuck’s wrong with me?  Pussy.  I doubt I could  ever kill anybody.  I mean—  I never wanted to kill nobody.
     He’s looking at you.  “That’s the way it was back then, Jim.  Hell, you weren’t even a man until you got your first kill.”
     I feel sick.  I don’t know the guy with no glasses.  He looks familiar.  I feel sick as shit.  “I’ll be back in a minute.”  Practically run out of the room, damn near bump into a janitor who’s whistling as he mops the hall.  Back to the bathroom, plant your hands against the edge of the counter.  Deep breath.  Fuck.  Who the hell’s that staring back at you from the mirror?  Breathe, man.  Breathe.
     Pull your hair back behind your ears a minute.
     Goddamn.  It’s him.  It’s him.  Over the sink, man, quick.  Hyuuuuck!  Hyuuuuuuck!  Schlitz backs up on top of chunks of Big Roast Beef and fries.  Scoop ’em out, dump ’em in the trash.  Wipe your face, wash your hands, rinse the sink.  Back to your stall, sit down.  The bathroom door just opened.  It’s the whistler.  He’s still pushing his mop.  Breathe.

“Jim!”  Mike was on top of the half-gallon press.  “Bring me a three-quarter Allen wrench.”  You put your broom down, went to his toolbox, grabbed a wrench, carried it over.  “That’s a box wrench.”  You went back, got another wrench, took that to him.  “That’s a crescent wrench, Jim.  I need an Allen wrench.”  You went one more time, brought the only other wrench you could find.  “Not a durn monkey wrench, Jim.  An Allen wrench.”  Mike climbed down, shaking his head.  “You mean to tell me your daddy can put all these machines together, get this whole plant up and runnin’ and keep it goin’, and you don’t even know what an Allen wrench is?”  He stopped right in front of you.  “You sure you’re Dean’s boy?”  He walked over to his toolbox, got what he needed.  You picked up your broom, went back to sweeping the floor.

That toolbox on the shelf under the stairs in the basement.  With the little Master lock.  Those keys in the old man’s drawer did fit it.  Wasn’t much in there, just a rusty pair of pliers in the top tray, along with some blades for a box cutter.  In the bottom, under the tray, was a box of bullets.  Well, “cartridges” is what it says.  Rifle cartridges.  Took one out to see if it fit the carbine.  Lifted the bolt, slid it back, put the cartridge in.  Fit like a glove.  Slid the bolt over it, locked it down.  Man, were your hands shaking.  That was some power you were holding.  That thing’d split a tree.  Looked across the bed, into the mirror on the old lady’s dresser, took aim at your head.  Wondered what’d happen if you pulled the trigger, if your reflection would shatter into a million pieces and spray all over the place, or if there’d just be a little hole and a few big shards jagging you up into a kaleidoscope or something, without a real big mess to clean up.  But then you just took the cartridge back out, put it back in the box in the basement, locked the toolbox, put the keys back in his drawer.
     The bathroom door again.  Somebody’s going into one of the other stalls.  Get up, flush.  Back to the sink, wash your hands again.  My old man.  You’re just like him.  Man, your eyes are bloodshot as hell.  Get your Visine out of your pocket.  Couple drops in each eye.  Deep breath.  Shake it off.  Back to his room.
     He’s got his glasses on.  “You all right?”
     “Yeah.”  Take a couple steps closer to the bed.  He’s looking at you.  “I am now.”

Shot To Pieces

Face down in a foxhole
Shot up, see me bleed
Enemy surrounded us
Cut off what we need
Looks as if there’s no escape
Nowhere we can run
Should have known it would end this way
Live and die by the gun

Shot to pieces
Bullets shredding my flesh
Shot to pieces
I’m just a bloody mess
My body cut to ribbons
Firsthand encounter with death

Never seen so much blood
Everything spattered red
My buddy wasn’t with me long
Took a bullet to the head
Wonder was he the lucky one
Don’t have to see men cry
His death was quick, he was here and gone
I suffer as I die

Shot to pieces
Bullets shredding my flesh
Shot to pieces
I’m just a bloody mess
My body cut to ribbons
Firsthand encounter with death

Heading for my home now
Can’t say “hi” to ma
I’ll be missing time I used to spend
Talking with my pa
Brought home in a body bag
Zippered head to toe
Funeral for the family
Flag-draped coffin to behold

Shot to pieces
Bullets shredding my flesh
Shot to pieces
I’m just a bloody mess
My body cut to ribbons
Firsthand encounter with death

Storm’s Brewin’

Storm’s brewin’
Think I know what I’m doin’
Think I’ll pull the trigger
Of the gun I got held to my head
End it all
Stop this fall
The plunge I’ve taken off the deep end
Who said this was the easy way out
The hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life
Which I’m about to end
Storm’s brewin’
Think I know what I’m doin’

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About Me

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my pen name, tj jude, is spelled EXACTLY like that. All lower-case letters, no punctuation. I write. Here you will find my novel, stain, also spelled in lower case. I post poetry on myspace and facebook. I also do artwork occasionally, mainly oil paintings. I have done some cartoons, a number of which are supposed to appear in this novel, but I have yet to figure out how to post them so that they will remain posted any longer than I am on this blogsite. As soon as I log out and log back in, they are no longer embedded in the text.