Lucy: A Geek’s Tragedy
by R. D. Flavin
The bull shit outside
Turned and stood on its horns
Respecting home and hovel
With a heavy stick scratched the door
He wouldn’t crash again. Ever.
Karen smiled into her coffee and tried not to be angry. She was only partially successful, as her post-positivism had its limits and letting go of disappointment was asking entirely too much. Ed’s unbelievable excuses for his habitual tardiness were sometimes entertaining, though he wasn’t to blame for his craziness. She probably was.
As he carefully chained up his bicycle outside of the diner, Ed made it snow. Shivering from the sudden drop in temperature, he turned his faded jean jacket into an overstuffed nylon parka. Nearly a year had passed since last he’d seen Karen, he wanted to make a good impression, so he added an embroidered L. L. Bean logo to the parka.
When Ed walked through the door of the diner rubbing his hands together as if he’d just endured a bitter cold, she knew he had taken up lucid trancing again. It was a pleasant, almost warm evening and Karen guessed he’d visualized a snowstorm to account for his late arrival, but had forgotten to include a pair of gloves in his fantasy. She raised both of her hands and waved at Ed with one, while beckoning the waitress’s attention with the other.
The waitress and Ed glanced at one another and began to race toward Karen’s table. She was cute, in her mid-twenties, apparently wasn’t put off by the flirtations of men old enough to be her father and didn’t stand a chance against Ed. A psychiatrist or an ex-lover would have immediately recognized that Ed was having fun.
Placing his right forefinger on the table and assuming the pose of a dandy Dickensian gentleman with unlimited resources and abilities, Ed won the race easily. “Victory, we know one another well!” he exclaimed to an imaginary audience.
“I let you win,” the waitress teased.
“And, this is supposed to affect your tip, how?” Ed asked, his eyes holding Karen’s in greeting. Their eyes stayed comfortable with each other until both noticed the waitress had begun to fidget.
Karen stood and helped Ed off with his jacket. He placed the parka on a hook at the end of the booth next to her coat and they kissed, lightly. Sitting together; their eyes stayed connected and still in greeting
“What can I get for you? Would you like some coffee?” the waitress asked Ed, while she topped off Karen’s cup and reached for his. He quickly covered the cup and said, “Though the aroma from that freshly brewed coffee you pour is evocative and calls to mind the delightful din of markets in distant Marakesh, where I’ve never been, but, I am told by those who have actually made the journey, that one must always travel with more than the usual allotment of toilet tissue...”
Ed gulped air and continued, “And, as you will undoubtedly lose a hefty commission on your per cup bonus, I deeply apologize and promise to adjust the tip accordingly, but I’m in the mood for some tea at the moment.
“With a slice of previously unsqueezed lemon on the side, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble,” he added.
“Hot or cold?” the waitress asked.
“Actually, I’m chilled to the bone, having just peddled over seven miles through the snow to visit this fine establishment,” he answered. “So, perhaps you could ask the proprietor to adjust the dining area thermostat to be a tad warmer than the walk-in refrigerator where he keeps his produce and perishables?”
“Zeus and Leda are talking about tea, right?” Karen asked herself aloud.
“Yeah, we’re knee deep in it, but I’m not so sure that it’s snow,” the waitress joked, as she walked away.
“Hot! Hot tea, please!” Ed called after her.
“She got it; you can change back from a swan now.”
“Even money says she brings back a glass of iced tea..”
They heard the waitress yell from somewhere in the back of the diner, “The boss says it’s hot enough in here and to charge you extra for the unsqueezed lemon!”
They laughed softly as their hands sought each other’s across the table. Karen squeezed, then withdrew just quickly enough to still be considered compassionate. “It’s good to see you, Eddie! You look none the worse for wear.”
“Sorry, the hands of the grim, graying god are still cold...”
“Don’t give it another thought.”
“I think I’ve lost some spine since last we met, but I’m trying to make up for it with girth around the middle. I’ve heard some women actually prefer girth over height in a man,” Ed suggested.
“That’s girth over length,” Karen breezed through her role with a sigh. “But, not bad considering your advanced years. A younger, less experienced Eddie would have started talking about his penis much sooner than you did! You’ve got real staying power, now; it took you, what, fifty or sixty words to get around to it? Are you dating yet or have you gone gay?”
“I’ve missed your charm, Karen,” and he meant it. “If only you had lots of money and didn’t mind threesomes with attractive eastern European women; we could have made it work.”
A wince, a wink, some whimsey, but the wonder had long passed.
They relaxed in quiet knowing their time had ticked by. Neither expected anything beyond the sharing of hot beverages and some wasted time spent on casual banter. It was manners more than love.
“Your e-mail said you wanted to ask me a favor, Eddie. I’m guessing you’re not here for a handout and it better not be for sex, so what’s up?” she asked, her tone balancing between playful and serious.
“Consider it a business opportunity...,” Ed began, but stopped as the waitress placed a steaming pot of water before him, with a tea-bag and lemon slice neatly opposite one another on a spotless paper doilie.
“Thank you,” he said faintly, as if it was an effort and he was hard at work concentrating on some mental task of tremendous difficulty.
Ed slowly turned his head and looked up at the young waitress. She was still there, smiling. He accepted her offer with a grin and readied himself. Life is short, but attention spans are even shorter.
“I’m thinking that we haven’t fully explored the pious potential of the potato and in these times of social and moral dieting we need a convenient foodstuff that can fill our bellies and our souls. He showed us the way two thousand years ago and ketchup bottles on tables around the world await what’s coming,” Ed said, clasping his hands together as if preparing to demonstrate shaken baby syndrome.
Karen rolled her eyes, the waitress closed hers, and Ed’s narrowed with focus. He had them.
“I’m talking about deep-fried potatoes in the shape of a cross,” he explained. “Cruci Fries, as a brand-name comes to mind, because Our Lord died on the cross for us, went into the heat of Hell, and in no time at all came back looking real good. No one recognized Him at first, and when He was eating fish, that doubting Thomas couldn’t believe it.” Ed paused, then blurted out, “It was probably an early reference to what we now refer to as fish and chips!”
“Potatoes are native to the New World, Eddie. They didn’t make it across the Atlantic until after Columbus,” Karen said. She took a sip of her coffee and added, “I know you know that!”
“Yes, though the Mormons believe that Christ made a trip over here after He was...”
“One more mention of Mormons or Nazis and I’m out of here, Edvard!” Karen threatened. “Go back to talking about your penis, if you want, but another word about Scientologists or Moonies and you can pay for your own goddamned cup of tea!”
“Cruci Fries, say it out loud,” Ed encouraged the waitress.
“Your name’s not Edward? Edvard? What’s up with that?” the waitress asked, beginning to giggle.
“A vampire, cape and fangs and bad hair, hissing with clawing hands,” he described, “and right before he gets to you he stops and says, ‘I’m not afraid of Cruci Fries! I love Cruci Fries! Especially with blood, I mean ...ketchup!’”
“His parents named him after his great grandfather. I’ve heard they were mean people.”
Karen stared at Ed for second, which was longer than what he deserved.
“I’ve got to fill the salt and peppers in back,” the waitress said. “Just holler if you need
She took a few steps and turned back to Karen, asking, “You’re okay with this guy, right?”
“He’s just kidding,” Karen said. “And, I’ll make sure he tips appropriately for your time.”
Ed leaned across the table and gave Karen a kiss on the cheek.
“You’re still seeing Lucy, aren’t you?”
“I retain a certain fondness for lucid trancing, yes.”
“Hasn’t it hurt enough, Eddie? The accident wasn’t your fault; why can’t you move on?”
He glanced at the hoarfrost on one of the diner’s windows and thought of Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine and Fractured Fairytales. “Wanna’ see me pull a rabbit out of my hat, Rocky?” he asked.
A sip of coffee, a glare and a slow tapping of a foot under the table indicated Karen wasn’t amused.
“Maybe I should get to the point...”
“If you’re not too busy with Lucy, that would be nice.”
“Over the last twenty years I’ve resided in a few neighborhoods which recycle and several that couldn’t be bothered,” he pitched. “Every so often, I’ll follow through on deposits and get credit, but I guess I’m lazy and washing out a six-pack of beer cans or bottles just isn’t worth the thirty cents to me.”
“So, you’re not a Green and you’re a slob when it comes to the environment?” Karen sneered. “I’ve known this for years, Eddie! We lived together! Remember, I’m the one who always complained about your flicking cigarettes out of car windows!”
“Sure, but you also criticized when I’d field-strip the filter and remaining tobacco...”
“But, on the living room rug, Eddie? I’m pretty sure that comes from your lucid trancing and pretending you’re trapped behind enemy lines during WWII rather than some deep commitment to the environment!”
“Given; I’ll grant you that,” Ed grunted. “Look,” he tried again, “I may not be a licensed member of the Sierra Club or the Discordians, but I’ve got an idea how to do a mass-recycling which benefits the environment and helps some to feel like they’re finally complete and have really made a difference. I’m guessing you haven’t done any art in awhile, but you used to be an adequate illustrator and I was hoping you could help me out with some promotional artwork. Please?”
“Adequate, was I?”
“A cool title design and one or two process scenes would be a tremendous addition to my presentation and I would be forever grateful,” Ed said while attempting to shape his face to look responsible, yet pleading.
“What’s the scheme, Odysseus?”
“A company which provides excarnation services using a wide variety of habitats, like being fed to the fishes in the ocean of one’s choice, chained to a tree in Alaska or somewhere so that the bears and wild varmints can rip you apart, or some ancient cairn re-enactment which usually attracts the birds to de-flesh the body. Bacteria, plays a part, of course, and there could be complaints from neighbors as rotting corpses give off a stench that takes a lot of getting used to. Right up there with the cabbage smell from a paper mill.”
“Excarnation?” Karen was incredulous and began to tremble just a little.
“Yup,” Ed yawned. “Excarnation.org is available for URL ownership for something like sixty bucks, I’ll host a web-page for ten bucks a month and collect online money from people who don’t want to be buried in some waste of land with a tombstone, but would rather be recycled and given back to the environment!”
“Actually several groups of people around the world, a lot of Hindu Indians, a few African tribes and also some others, I think, still practice open-air de-fleshing. Native Americans used to do it a lot. Probably all ancient people did it at one time or another, though certainly with different degrees of respect, like the building of a stone or wooden cairn versus being tossed on a body-heap. I can’t remember precisely, but I think I recall the Catholics giving some chemical baths to the bones of past saints to hurry the process of de-fleshing. Clean bones make for easier and more sanitary storing.”
“Are you reality flipping? Are you doing Lucy right now? Tell me, Eddie!”
“Feeding the worms underground or being turned into ashes with practically nil environmental gain doesn’t seem a reasonable alternative if you’re truly grateful for your time spent living off of Mom Terra. Giving back some nutrients to the food chain seems a more responsible choice. Personally, if anything happened to me, I wouldn’t mind being incorporated into a clam bed. Maybe near Dunwich so I can someday slide down the throats of some of those Essex County antique dealers who cheated me over the years.”
Standing and putting on her coat, Karen said, “I shouldn’t trust you when you’re involved with Lucy. Get me documentation that says you’re not suffering from mental disease, whether treatable or not, and show me how you can legally transport and dispose of corpses on both public and private lands and waters. E-mail an attachment of some thumbnail sketches of what ideas you’re envisioning and then, I’ll see what I can do.” She gave him a hug and a brief kiss on the lips. “And, leave the waitress a fiver for having to listen to your bad vampire impression.”
Over her shoulder, leaving the diner, she added, “The papers showing you’re not nuts are important, Eddie!”
“Not a problem!” he hollered after her.
Ed left a ten dollar bill for a coffee and a tea. He waved to the waitress as he donned his parka and left. Peddling home through the snow was more enjoyment than effort, but he eventually changed the weather back to the way it was supposed to be. Ed felt the meeting had went well and that he’d begun something significant. Maybe his shiatsu massage therapist could remark that he no longer cried when she knuckled his back. It was an improvement and with the proper stationary could be considered a document that at least parts of him were still functioning normally.
Peering without, shuttered within
Binding privations securely
Away, away! Here, no one is welcome...
The Arkham Poetry Slam maintained a meandering venue among several cafes, taverns and gallery spaces surrounding Miskatonic University. Held on the second or third Tuesday evening of every month, the readings attract students, eclectic townies, curious (and often inebriated) North Shore residents, and sometimes a small group or three would make the drive up from Boston or Cambridge. Every slam was a different and unique event which could vary from an evening of Yankee meter deconstructionalism to mall-rap. And, sometimes there was free food.
He’d been attending regularly for almost a year and had even stood up twice and streamed a flow of meaningless drivel which, fortunately, the audience waded through without incident. Ed had some material memorized, but as he chained up his bicycle outside of the Putnam Bar and Bistro, he tranced the summer to winter program and reconsidered.
If his words were unexpectedly welcomed and he stayed to celebrate or if he stunk and stuck around to prove what a good sport he was, in either case he’d be peddling home through the falling snow. Besides, he had to work in the morning. Ed decided he wouldn’t share his verbal art that night.
It looked like a rough crowd. The tables were surrounded by obnoxious couples, encircling the small stage stood a goodly number of Goths taunting neo-hippies, while the bar-area appeared well stocked with arty locals and dysfunctional loners. Ed handed his parka over to the coat-check girl and headed for the bar.
“Could I have a Sam Adams on tap, please?” he asked the bartender.
“No,” the bartender deadpanned.
“Should I regard that as a personal or professional rejection of my request?”
“Professional, though it’s beginning to get personal.”
He looked at the taps behind the bar and noticed a towel tossed over the Sam spout indicating the keg was empty. The handles of the taps identified Dunwich Lager, Innsmouth I.P.A., Bud and Miller Lite. They probably still had Sam in bottles, Ed thought, but he liked the freshness of draught beer and watching the bubbles rise.
“Perhaps an Innsmouth India Pale Ale?”
“Perhaps tapped into a frosty pint glass and placed on a coaster right in front of you?”
Ed put a five and a single on the bar. He’d tip well at first, then as the evening progressed he’d lower the amount to a quarter a beer. Some tip better as the evening progressed and their blood alcohol levels increase, while others, were economically challenged and eventually run out of money.
“Hey, fellow divorced-guy! Eddie, what’s up?”
A substantial weight came to rest on Ed’s left shoulder and a greater one descended on his mood. He immediately recognized the voice as belonging to Jonathon Deeds, a regular who tried for cad, but had to settle for jerk. Jon attached himself to Ed after they both read at a slam a year earlier. Since then, Jon was like a persistent cough that wouldn’t go away . He’d have his usual wide, full-toothed grin on his puffy, smug face when Ed slowly turned around. It would be there, of course, and only a misunderstanding of the laws of physics could prevent it.
“Jon, so nice to see you again,” Ed managed, resisting an urge to trance.
“So, popped any teary-eyed tarts, lately?”
His prevailing social ineptitude compelled him to smile. Jon was referring to a night a couple of months previously when Ed had helped a young woman down from the stage who began crying from a total absence of applause. The guy running the show didn’t even grant a mike-slap before he introduced the next reader. Her performance of a free-form ode to Marlboro’s 5-mile coupons on its cigarette packs and based upon the rap of Eminem and his Detroit 8 Mile movie didn’t appeal to the audience, undoubtedly non-smokers with no appreciation of petty icons. Ed helped her away from the slam, commiseration occurred between failed poets, and for some unknown reason they locked lips in the parking lot and began to grind their pelvises against one another. At some point, he tossed his bike in the back of her SUV, they drove to a hotel and a night of anonymous, nasty sex ensued. He hadn’t seen her since and had made the mistake of bragging about what had happened at the next slam. Jon had since teased Ed unmercifully, though usually the ribbing was followed with a payoff of a few rounds of beer.
“Will you be reading the ingredients from canned soup labels again tonight or perhaps a newspaper want ad or two?” Ed asked.
“Why you dis da’ Jonz, OP? Jonz, here, macks with tacks and his pinups stay where he puts ‘em!” Ed looked down at a short, greasy confused guy who resembled Danny DeVito and sounded like a bad commercial on MTV.
Ed thought for a moment, decided he’d have a go and enjoined with vernacular abstraction. “Jo-Jo got plastic, newbie, and can round a square with a frothy pint faster than any bartender can paint,” he said.
“Telling! My man...,” the short person said exuberantly and shook Ed’s hand.
“Edvard Ibsen, meet the industrial rapper ‘Mettle Man,’ or Glen Enderal to the uninitiated,” Jon introduced.
The bartender placed Ed’s beer on the bar and snatched the six bucks. “You guys want anything?” he asked.
“Two of what he’s drinking and three shots of Jäger, kind keeper,” Jon answered, putting a credit-card on the bar.
“Put that away before you lose it,” the bartender said, pushing the card back towards Jon. “I’ll start a tab.”
A thin version of Ben Franklin--gray, long hair, bifocal glasses halfway down his nose and a little sway back and forth when he tried to stand still--took the stage and announced the opening of the slam. He introduced the first reader, everyone clapped and Glen started talking and wouldn’t shut up, while Jon scanned the tavern and made comments about every female. If questioned, Ed would’ve been hard pressed to choose which was more loathsome, the inane slang or the degrading assessments. He didn’t hear a word of the reading, yet clapped along at the end of the performance.
Three empty shot-glass were slammed against the bar and quickly filled with a sweet, green booze. When the bartender put the two pints of beer down and turned away, a loud, whiny voice brought his attention back around.
“A bottle of Bud, over here! I’m reading next!”
Ed, Jon and Glen were unabashedly astonished at the visage before them of tattoos, piercings, a full, well-groomed mustache and what appeared to be an ample bosom. The bartender didn’t seem to notice, or care, and handed over a bottle of Bud, with “Three bucks; you can pay after you read.”
“Get one of these tourists to pay,” shot back the reply as the beer was snatched from the bar.
“Have a good read,” Jon encouraged.
Glen nervously offered, “Fo’ shizzle, out.”.
“That Bud’s on me,” Ed added, instantly regretting the investment. Silver studs caught light and sparkled as brows furrowed and lips frowned.
Gulping beer, he took the stage. He paced a bit, drank, lifted his face to the ceiling and yelled something unintelligible, drank again, then began his reading.
It’s Harry, not Helen
Though these swollen lips have kissed a thousand throbbing princes
Don’t let pleasure be your protection against a Trojan whore
My face is Nature and your fist rules as Nature’s God
From sleepless fright to sightless fight, I sing for my wet supper
If only my stomach worked as well...
He sneered at the audience, took a sip of beer and continued.
I couldn’t see your Glory, but I heard the knife slice into the wall
Terrible was the emptiness in my throat, soon filled by spiked punches
Making tender, hand-beaten meat as wretch goes the wench
Your Truth goes punking in fake leather boots
March on, America, I curse myself on thee
Maybe it’s a uniform thing or perhaps the bars
I can’t say which is worse–when they’re opened or closed.
Another sip of Bud, only deeper.
Those rings of Freedom in my ears signaled a nearing end
I didn’t lose consciousness; it was stolen from me
Later, a couple of Arkham’s Finest returned what was mine
They said you were only borrowing and I should be grateful
There was just enough applause from the audience to mute his final words. He said something like, “Thank you,” but Ed couldn’t be sure.
Stepping off the stage while finishing the last of his beer, he walked to the bar and waited for the bartender to notice him.
“That reading was rad; can I buy you another beer?” Ed asked.
“A ‘bad’ reading, you asshole!” he screamed.
Ed saw the arm pull back and then felt the empty beer bottle strike him in the middle of his gut. It was like a baseball pitcher throwing a fastball from three feet away. The bottle didn’t break when it finally hit the floor. He was lucid and it hurt a lot.
“Asshole!” he repeated, not quite screaming this time, then turned and left the tavern.
Everyone stared at Ed, waiting.
“That was ‘Ashmole,’ as in Elias Ashmole, the 17th century antiquarian and garter fetishist who gave Oxford University his collections,” he said in answer to the stares. “Try the upside-down Margaretta, finest on the North Shore, and I’m here every slam.”
The next reader was introduced and the audience turned their insect minds back to the hive.
“Are you okay?” the bartender inquired.
“I think so, thanks,” Ed replied. “More than a little shocked, but I think I’m all right.”
“Fine; could you pick up that bottle from the floor before someone gets hurt?”
Ed let loose a feigned guffaw and discovered that there was a significant amount of discomfort in his abdominal wall. A nudge from Jon bent Glen over to pick up the bottle so Ed wouldn’t have to.
“I found that guy’s reading to be disturbingly dilettantish,” Jon critiqued, “but, Eddie, what was really rad, with either an interpretation of registering units of radioactivity or simply short for radical and against the norm, was a buddy taking a bottle of Budweiser beer to the belly!”
“Jonz can go to second...,” Glen began, then stopped himself. “Enunciation’s a bitch in a bar,” he said sans pretension, though a slight New England accent crept in uninvited. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to use slang again in public,” Ed said, pretending to hold his head downward in shame. “Maybe I’m just too...”
“Unlucky,” the bartender interrupted. “The owner,” he said, leaning his head towards the end of the bar, “has company tonight and thinks it would be best if you leave sometime in the next couple of minutes.”
Ed knew he was looking at a guy just doing his job, but couldn’t resist confrontation. “I’m a good person who just got violently victimized and instead of calling the police, you’re throwing me out?”
“No, I’m saying my boss says you’re out of here and you can call anyone you want when you leave. Just leave-call it a night.”
“I’ll give you a ride home,” Jon said, grabbing Ed’s arm and leading him to the door of the tavern.
“It was nice to meet you, Glen,” Ed said, struggling with politeness.
“Giggle shizzle and all that crap,” the Mettle Man said. “Try and be more careful who you talk to.”
Once outside Ed made fat, icy snowflakes melt on his burning cheeks and shook his arm free of Jon’s grasp. His gut ached, but his pride wouldn’t be handicapped by some drunk trans-gender with anger management concerns.
“I got it from here on out,” he said, trancing a blast of cold air. He remembered that he’d left his parka inside, but wanted some space between the bar and his pride more than he needed an imaginary coat.
“Stop the stoical gesticulations and let me give you a ride home,” Jon offered.
“The Phantom, here,” Ed said, while unlocking his bicycle, “has wide tires and can manage a few inches of fluff like it wasn’t there. I’ve still got your number in my wallet in case anything happens.”
“Well, it’s a good thing it’s not snowing!” he said, unaware of lucid trancing and its usage.
Ed walked his bike out of the parking lot and waited until he was well into the street before he began riding. There would be wet events from passing cars, but he’d make it. He pushed himself and rode faster in anticipation of the dull throb in his stomach getting worse. Ed considered himself lucky that time worked with him. The full pain held off until he reached his apartment.
Disbelieve in lies and twistory
Clenched, a fist shakes
Fingers unfurl emptying a hand...
Morning brought bruises to Ed in cruel colors. From deep and near blackish purples through rusty and raw reds, his stomach seemed to display the shades most often associated with the severe, traumatic bruises found on cadavers after extremely poor automobile behavior. Deep within, Ed began to swear an oath against hop-headed Budweisers, but stopped and thought better of it. An oath against further swearing would be more fitting.
His routine of making coffee, pissing, checking voice and e-mail accounts for anything of interest, drinking coffee and smoking, shitting, then getting dressed for work was only slowed the slightest of degrees, as Ed tolerated the pain and boldly met the day. It was different from other injuries he’d suffered, yet manageable, or so Ed told himself over and over again.
Luck gave way to blessed as he thought of what might have happened if instead of impacting against his slightly overweight and out of shape stomach the bottle had shattered on either side of his pelvic bone. Sure; he was fortunate.
Trancing, Ed grit his teeth together and replaced a fair Summer’s morning with a Nor’easter blizzard. He formed a numbing mantra repeating “manageable” and “fortunate,” found his unlocked bike covered in snow outside his apartment building, and rode to work with a virtual grin. Under his now visible breath, he once more swore an oath against sinister Budweisers and their quest for global domination.
Security cheered him through the gate and he waved to several co-workers as they parked their cars. They regarded him as damaged after the crash and collectively understood his riding a bicycle instead of driving. Everyone at the printing plant, especially in the rain and snow, thought he was a couple of hours short of a full shift. He maintained his grin more from necessity than humor as he locked up the old bike outside of the front entrance of the plant.
Ed considered bypassing the offices and entering the production area directly. Some quick stepping directly to his locker and he’d be at the presses long before the first shift bell rang. The morning walk through the offices was often upbeat and positive, team-player bonding with the suits and exchanging pleasantries with the clerks, while the late afternoon second shift stroll made Ed tired before he even started work. The atmosphere was thick with weariness, easily confused and in a group-centric funk. He’d been on the first shift for 18 months and preferred sunshine banality to darkening shift-change managerial mood swings. It had taken him three long years of second shift work to get transferred to days and sore stomach or not, Ed would have the shift before him finish just like any other. Just as long as he got through it.
Secretarial smiles always appeared more sincere, almost believably genuine, in the morning. It was more chitting than chatting, as the secretaries were all either too young or old for his flirtations. A couple of the suits were women near his age and conversations with them, no matter how brief, generally elicited a pleasing pheremonal response in Ed. Walking around the cubicles of the highly caffeinated sales staff and clerks was a dependable daily barometer of current events. After the standard one-liners about the global crisis du jour, sports or celebrity gossip, the shirt and tie crowd would usually toss off an energizing encouragement due a soldier taking his place on the field of battle. The side offices of upper management were seldom filled and when they were, Ed tried to walk a bit faster past their doors. An instant before he heard someone call out his name he understood why. The realization produced spots before his eyes and made his stomach cramp up. Daylight savings gave way to bad luck time.
“Ibsen,” he heard his name repeated. “Over here! I need a word with you,” Ed turned toward the voice.
“Mr. Combs, what can I do for you?” Ed offered upon entering the side office of one of the vice-presidents.
“Have a seat, Ibsen,” the suit instructed.
“Is there a problem, Mr. Combs?”
“Your supervisor was going to tell you, but as you’re here, now, you might as well hear it from me,” the suit spoke with merciless authority. “I’ve decided to shut down two presses on the day shift and transfer the workers to second shift.”
“Will I still get my forty hours?” Ed heard himself ask.
“Maybe some weeks, but it’ll be at helper rate and not as a printer. There’re others with seniority on the second shift that’ll get the printers hours.”
“Oh,” Ed coughed into his hands.
“You can finish off today’s shift and see the second shift schedule when its posted for when you work next. It’s business, Ibsen...”
“Of course, Mr. Combs; it’s just business,” Ed added, as he turned and left the office relatively unsoiled, except for a bit of snow from his work boots. He felt shock and awe from the call to carpet and almost flipped to Baghdad during Saddam’s last days in power. Staggering a couple of steps, he collected himself and headed toward the nearest door to the main plant.
“How’s the ol’ Western Flyer holding up, Eddie?” one of the young clerks asked with good natured ease.
“Western Fliers weren’t built for snow and slush!” Ed informed. He’d performed variations of the skit for the shirt and ties before. “Fliers were built for Nancy Boys! Hardy Boys ride Schwinn Black Phantoms; an adventurer’s preferred mode of travel.”
“‘62, right?” the clerk guessed.
“1954 with original chrome, sir!” Ed corrected with much more enthusiasm than he’d planned. He looked up and most of the office staff was staring at him. Blinking, Ed took his leave of the front offices and dutifully went to work. He was disappointed he didn’t get to see all their heads turn at once. Bad luck always plays to a hard room.
The presses were just waking up and the plant was relatively quiet. A few teams were starting their set-up runs, but at ten minutes before shift-start there was an uncommon lack of activity. As he neared the lockers he heard yelling, yet didn’t recognize any of the voices as belonging to those whose hours had been switched and cut. It was empty apathy and the old timers felt it was honoring tradition to loose frustrations at the top of their lungs. However, given the choice of accepting overtime and Saturday shifts or passing them down the line, the old timers regarded anyone with less than ten years as no better than a temp-worker. It was an elite club Ed had considered joining one day, but now the chances were looking slim.
He walked into a veritable symphony of sick and silly sycophantic sympathies. “Tough break, kid,” said an arthritic Portuguese printer who had over twenty years in.
“Retire and give me your job,” Ed answered.
“I’ll tell the front office to keep you on days; they’ll listen to me,” a Yankee old timer said.
“They probably just lost a contract and you’ll be back on day-shift when they sell their next big job,” added another.
As he was stuffing his parka in his locker, he heard the supervisor raise his voice above the yelling and announce a change in a few teams. He heard his name as a helper on one of the smaller label presses. More spots and pain.
“Eddie, you’re with me!” It was Benny, the Russian. The arrogant fat ass would work Ed like an illegal immigrant with a family. The spots went away, but the pain stayed.
“Pull a half-role of coated 36 inch and get started on the colors!”
He twitched . Helpers feed the back, box the product and offload at the front and dash off when they can to check the color ink reserves near the middle of the press. A printer stands stationary during the run and stares at an alignment screen. Also, a printer has plenty of time to read a newspaper, eat a sandwich, quaff a thirst with a favorite beverage or ask the helper to watch the alignment on top of the helper’s other duties, while the printer uses the washroom or sneaks a smoke in the dock area. Ed had been a helper his first year at the plant before getting a promotion to printer. He’d miss the extra wages later, but at the moment all he was concerned with was the pain in stomach and the shift ahead.
“Right away; Benny, sir!” Ed bellowed.
“I’d go look at the job board, yourself, to see what stock you’ll need for the run,” Gerry, another old timer, advised. “Benny’s been here over thirty-five years and has been known to waste a lot of paper and blame it on the helper reading the job-specs wrong. Just a little heads’ up; do what you will.”
“Thanks,” Ed said, closing the door to his locker and putting on his safety glasses and gloves. “Like in carpentry; measure twice and cut once.”
“You’ll do fine, kid,” Gerry said reassuringly.
Kid? Ed was forty-seven, twice divorced, had an estranged son in his mid-teens somewhere in the Midwest, had operated his own t-shirt printing business for a time, was three-quarters gray, balding at the crown and took exception to being addressed as a “kid” by co-workers, but he let it pass. In truth, most of the helpers were inexperienced kids, as the position didn’t pay that much and the work was fairly simple and uncomplicated, though laborious enough to break several sweats a shift. He’d look at the job board. Measure twice and cut once, he reminded himself.
The job board had twenty three hooks, one for each of the presses, from which folders hung containing the job specifications for each run. The folders were supposed to stay on the board so anyone from the front office, shipping, or a supervisor could identify what each press was working on. Ed saw Benny near the coffee machine talking with one of the sales staff, the shift folder in one of his hands. They were undoubtedly discussing sports, most likely college basketball and he was probably going over various wins and losses in the office pool. Benny, as if possessing eyes in the back of his head, suddenly turned and gave Ed a quick smirk, then went back to his conversation. He was easy money and both Benny and Eddie knew it. He’d do what was expected of him.
Except for a few specialty sizes, most paper rolls in stock were at least a few feet tall, regardless of width, and weighed hundreds of pounds. A winch with chains was used to load the individual rolls on a cart, then another winch guided the roll from the cart to a spindle on the back of a press. Since no job ever used up an exact roll, there were partial rolls of various sizes and widths mixed in with the full rolls. Usually a printer would suggest a particular roll as thick enough to get the job done, but if the helper was competent enough or the printer too lazy, the helper would make the best guess he could. Ed selected a half-roll of coated paper, thirty six inches in width, and which appeared to weigh a little more than two hundred pounds. Safety regulations required using the winch and chains no matter what size the roll was, but no one ever got in trouble for hand-lifting smaller rolls. None of the old timers or most of the helpers wouldn’t have picked up the half-roll and put on the cart. But, Ed did. Despite his bruised stomach, he had some frustrations to work off. Less money coming in meant a little less of Ed going out.
“Damn it!” he swore aloud, as the half-roll was loaded onto the cart.
Normally a helper would proceed to the ink room nearby and stock up on the necessary colors for the run, but Ed didn’t have job order and knew he was being set up by Benny. The Russian, in his loudest and most obnoxious voice, would berate and embarrass him in front of the other workers, for not checking with the printer first and not wasting press time. As Benny worked days and Ed was off to afternoons, he figured he could put up with the asshole’s games for a single shift.
The spindle bolt weighed approximately forty pounds and was easily handled. However, adding the weight of the bolt to the two hundred plus pounds of the half-roll and jerking it all above chest level to the back of the press was a bit beyond Ed’s frustration. He inserted the spindle bolt, attached the chains and used the winch to mount the roll on the press.
“For Christ’s sake, Ibsen!” Benny screamed in Ed’s ear. “That’s the wrong paper for this run! Are you on drugs or something? Did you check the job sheet before you picked a roll?”
“Don’t start any shit with me, Benny. You said coated 36 inch and that’s what I got,” Ed replied angrily.
“Try ...uncoated 24 inch; that’s what’s on the job sheet!” Benny held up the folder in front of Ed’s face like he was Perry Mason presenting evidence in court.
“I heard you say a half-roll of coated 36 and I’m sure others did, too!”
“My name’s on this run and I don’t feel like wasting anymore time arguing over what you thought you heard! Grab ahold and let’s get rid of this roll and get the right one...”
Benny unhooked the chain from the spindle and supported half of the weight on his end. “Come on, we’re wasting time!” he said challengingly.
It didn’t feel right, but Ed’s strings were being pulled and he jerked like a puppet. He took hold of his end of the spindle and released the chain. Though against plant safety rules, it wasn’t unusual for a printer and helper who trusted each other to move a partially used roll weighing a few hundred pounds without the wench.
“Now, take this back and get the right roll, while I do your colors for you,” Benny said, while holding his end of the spindle close to Ed.
“Don’t let go!” Ed shouted, but not fast enough.
Benny released his end of the spindle before Ed could grab it and the half-roll began to slide off. Ed tried to grab the other end of the spindle and almost succeeded. Almost. Holding on to his end with one hand, he quickly got his other hand and a leg under the half-roll, but he was unable to support all of the weight by himself. Ed, the half-roll and the spindle joined at the floor. An instant before, he screamed.
“Nice try for workman’s comp, Ibsen,” he heard the Russian whisper contemptuously.
Nearby workers ran to Ed’s aid, while Benny raised his hands in the air and started to vehemently deny any fault or blame at the top of his lungs. “The guy’s an idiot! Let second shift take him; I’m not working with Ibsen again!” Benny ranted.
After the half-roll and spindle was lifted off of Ed, one of the workers began to look for injuries. There was over a dozen workers standing around by the time Ed’s shirt was raised and the bruises were revealed for everyone to see. He heard yelling, cursing and perhaps a prayer. Then more people showed up, including several from the front office, followed almost immediately by a couple of ambulance paramedics with a stretcher.
As he left the printing plant he could still hear Benny emphatically denying that he had anything to do with the incident. He wondered briefly why he had screamed before the half-roll landed on him and not afterwards, then did his best to enjoy his ride to hospital.
“I hope the driver is careful because of all the snow,” Ed said to one of the EMI attendants, who interpreted the comment to mean that the patient was in shock.
Living life shares much with fishing
Into the water you go, searching
The vastness of water, yet so few fish...
There were lots of questions. Ed answered a few, then got confused and stopped talking. He’d been given something for pain and was now feeling similar to having just downed half of a bottle of good scotch. It was mellowing and timely. Ed stayed in this dimension and let himself be undressed, a sizable needle stuck in his arm and covered with tape, and then wheeled around the hospital.
He felt warm and comfortable as he was pushed along. The slight stupor, however, didn’t last and was sapped by the cold gel that was rubbed on his stomach before the ultrasound It got worse when he was made to sprawl on a freezing metal slab in the x-ray room. But, the most sobering of all was the barium he was made to drink and the contrast dye that he was injected with during his CT scan. The dye made him shiver all over and it felt as if he had urinated.
Seeing the sudden look of alarm and embarrassment which contorted Ed’s face, a gaunt orderly with severe acne scarring said, “Don’t worry; you didn’t piss yourself. That’s just the radioactive dye. You’re fine.”
Ed didn’t feel fine. When the scan was concluded, he sneaked a hand down between his legs to check for wetness.
“See, I told you,” the orderly laughed, exposing a few yellowed teeth. “Drink lots of water over the next couple of days to get the dye out of your system.”
“Sure,” Ed mumbled.
“Enjoy the rest of your stay at Arkham Mercy!” The orderly pushed and parked Ed in a nearby hallway where he stared at the ceiling for what seemed like an hour and very well might have been.
At least he hadn’t pissed himself, Ed thought. His hip hurt a little, but nothing to complain about. With the pain returning to his stomach and finding nothing at all of interest in the ceiling above, he closed his eyes and allowed himself to sleep.
“This will be your room until the doctors figure out what to do with you, Mr. Ibsen.” The voice was female, mature, a tad more sass and kick-ass than angelic, but pleasing and interesting enough for Ed to open his eyes. And, then he opened them wider.
“Okay, your eyes seem to work properly,” said a tiny, yet slightly plump and curvaceous brunette standing next to him with a clipboard in her hand. “Now, lets see what else works...
“My name’s Hedda and I’ll be the R. N. looking after you. Do you prefer Edvard, Ed or shall I just call you Mr. Ibsen, the guy with the unexplainable bruises on his abdomen?” she asked with perk and piquant.
“Eddie,” he yawned. “Sorry, I must have been sleeping.”
“We had complaints from patients and staff about your snoring, so we had to move you. Are you in pain right now, Eddie? Could you rate it on a scale of one to ten with ten being the worst?”
“Six or seven,” Ed guessed. “However, Hedda, I’ll gladly take another syringe of what you’re serving today,” he added with a smile.
“Is that all?” the nurse asked, a softening blush spreading upon her face.
“Another pillow? A newspaper? Your home phone number? Do you prefer Thai or Mexican for dinner? Do you like to go out dancing or just get a jug of cheap wine, rent videos and stay in?”
“Okay, your mouth seems to be working properly, as well,” she said with a controlled giggle. “I’ll see about a second pillow and if there’s a current newspaper anywhere around, but as far as the rest goes that’ll depend on what the doctors say and a criminal conviction record check with the state police. It costs twenty-five bucks and takes about two weeks.”
“I’ve never been convicted of stealing hearts, if that helps,” Ed offered.
“Do any other organs concern you?” the nurse asked, taking a step backwards.
“He should be concerned about his liver,” a doctor’s voice intruded. “I am...”
There were four men with white lab-coats standing just inside the doorway. All wore glasses, blue ties of subtle degrees of blandness and only differed, at least by Ed’s cursory standards, in age. The eldest, about fifty, took even and near graceful steps toward Ed’s right side, politely passing in front of Hedda without making physical contact. “I’m Dr. Lonsdale from gastroenterology and hepatology,” he said with the contrite aplomb of secure tenure. Ed didn’t dare look at Hedda for fear he’d further hurt himself from laughing.
“You were admitted to our emergency room,” another doctor, in his thirties, spoke up and stepped to Ed’s left, “as a victim of an industrial accident in which you were said to have been crushed under extreme weight. What can you tell us of the accident, Mr. Ibsen? Do you remember what happened?”
Ed looked at the other two doctors, both in their twenties, still standing near the doorway.
“When I pushed Mrs. Fields out of the way, I noticed she’d let go of a picture of her dead husband. As I desperately reached to save her last physical connection to that brave man who gave his life so that all Americans may better understand that it’s often faster to go to the self-checkout lanes and scan the items yourself, rather than wait with everyone else for that single, overworked and underpaid cashier to get around to ringing up your purchase. I was pinned beneath three hundred pounds of pulp fiction paper and fighting for my life,” Ed lied, adding, “Mr. Fields walked out of a convenience store on the corner of Hawthorne and Magee streets and got hit by a delivery truck. Never saw it coming. I always make sure I shop with plenty of other people around.”
“Nurse, you were just leaving to attend to your duties?” Lonsdale extended a slim hand and indicated the door.
“Sure. Yes, doctor,” Hedda answered, shaking her head reprovingly at Ed. “And, if he asks for my home telephone number, please wait until I get back.”
He enjoyed watching her exit and was saddened that the four lab-coats couldn’t care in the least.
“Your right pelvis and thigh are bruised, but any soreness should diminish after a week,” Lonsdale began, his voice promising decisiveness. “Another shot of Demerol, more blood work, and we’ll send you limping home with a suggestion of bed rest.”
“The massive bruising to your abdominal area,” the doctor in his thirties recounted, “had just about all of the emergency staff, except me of course, thinking you had an internal hemorrhage and were bleeding out. I suspected two distinct injuries from the beginning and when your CBC came back...”
“CBC?” Ed interrupted.
“Complete Blood Count,” one of the younger doctors explained. “Your white blood cell count is too low.”
“You received a serious injury before your work accident, Mr. Ibsen,” Lonsdale stated without equivocation. “I’d say less than twenty four hours before...”
“And you’d like me to tell you about it, right?” Ed asked.
The two young doctors both answered “Yes!” at the same time. Ed and the two other doctors all smiled, but the doctors’ smiles faded almost immediately, while Ed allowed his to linger.
“It would clear up the mystery of your bruising,” Lonsdale said, “but unfortunately, Mr. Ibsen, the problem with your liver would seem to pre-date your latest injuries.
Ed heard Hedda singing outside in the hallway. It could have been a Billy Joel song, he wasn’t sure. The nurse was generously equipped in some areas, but was far from fat. Don’t go there, he thought, now wouldn’t be a good time. The few operas he’d seen and the several times he’d been to church never ended with a room full of doctors.
“It can’t be over; there’s still too much that needs to be done,” Ed heard himself say aloud.
“Mr. Ibsen, I see no reason at this time to suggest your condition is fatal,” Dr. Lonsdale said with just a hint of humanity in his voice. “Both your liver and spleen are enlarged, however, and once we determine the cause of your liver problem and begin a treatment regimen, your liver and spleen should resume their normal size.”
He was asked if he had frequent and unexplainable fevers, if he’d traveled abroad recently or if was prone to allergic reactions and had either alcohol or substance abuse problems.
“No,” Ed gave as an answer to all the questions.
“Do you practice safe sex?” one of the younger doctors asked.
“No,” Ed replied, as Hedda returned. “But, truth be told, I do wash my hands before and after going to the bathroom.”
“I think a liver biopsy would be in order,” the thirtyish doctor suggested.
“What? You want a chunk of my liver?” Ed was reminded of a wicker-covered Chianti bottle Karen had made into a candle holder. It was layered with different colored waxes from years of use. He was momentarily embarrassed as he caught himself in a memory fugue which combined an ex-girlfriend, Hannibal the Cannibal and the prospect of having a hollow ice-pick stuck in his chest.
“While a liver biopsy is invasive and will not be pleasant,” Lonsdale explained, “we often discover underlying issues which impede proper liver function; hepatitis, cirrhosis brought about from alcoholism or a toxic reaction to acetaminophen are the most common causes. Much of medical science works from ruling out known causes as a foundation from which to investigate further. It’s like detective work, Mr. Ibsen.”
“Of course,” Ed agreed, “whatever tests you think are necessary. And, I assume, I should probably desist from following handfuls of Tylenol PM with scotch.”
“Yes, that would be for the best,” the doctor responded almost mechanically. “I’ll schedule the appropriate tests and leave you to gab with Hedda.”
“Thank you for your efforts, doctor, and the familial allusion,” Ed said. “My great-grandfather would have appreciated both.”
“Is that so? I hope to see you again, Mr. Ibsen.”
As the four lab-coats left the room, Hedda approached and said, “So, you’re being released, but if you want any pain medication you’ll have to arrange to have a friend or family member sign you out. Do you have someone you can call and get a ride home?”
“I’d hate to bother anyone,” Ed answered. “Couldn’t I just call a taxi?”
“Sorry, no cabs allowed! Hospital policy, insurance regulations, lawsuits from stoned patients doing really dumb things and all of that...”
“You could take me home...”
“Why would you want to date me? We don’t know anything about each other.”
“Isn’t that why people date? To find out about each other?”
“What makes you think I’m available? Because you don’t see a wedding ring on my hand? A lot of nurses, doctors and other hospital personal don’t wear their wedding rings for sanitary and safety reasons...”
“So, are you married or in a serious relationship, right now?”
“As opposed to? A minute or so from now? Does this approach usually work for you?”
“Sometimes and sometimes not...”
“Look, I’m sorry if you got the wrong idea. I’m flattered; really! You seem like a nice guy.”
“Ouch! The ‘nice guy’ course... That’s a tough one to peddle!”
He quickly processed past trancing his way with the nurse. Some practitioners did it all the time, but Ed considered it unethical and a violation. Karen was the last person he’d call for a ride and Jon from the poetry slams became the first.
“There’s a number on a slip of paper behind my drivers license in my wallet. Tell him I get a legal drug if he comes and gives me a ride.”
Firm footed and wide-eyed
A breath of exaltation
The bait of desire always works...
“Insanity is a poor man’s whiskey,” he said, raising his glass, “and I thank you for serving a single-malt scotch.”
“Only a modest amount, as you’re driving.”
“Or you could finish the bottle, leave your car and take a cab.”
“Foregoned, as well!”
“Obviously, I find Demerol and scotch an exceptional combination.”
“Consider yourself encouraged to pass out, Eddie, though explaining the non-prescription sleep-aids, your liver, and how these pills help you twist reality, might help me understand things better,” Jon requested, placing his glass on the end-table next to his chair.
“A couple of decades ago, some West Coast techno-wizards decided to modify LaBerge’s work on lucid dreaming at Standford, introduced a mix of neurolinguistic programming and yogic exercises while under the influence of Valium, and began to teach a waking version in which the goal is to see the best of every moment and, maybe, a little more if you’re willing to work at it. I got into lucid trancing through a friend of a friend of an ex-girlfriend.”
“Okay, I’m pretending I understood maybe a third of that! So, your diazepam connection was cut off after you graduated from this trance cult, and you used various over the counter products, but switched to Tylenol PM a couple of years ago after a bad automobile accident you were in?”
“The acetaminophen on top of the non-habit forming diphenhydramine hydrochloride may have hurt me, yes.”
“Maybe some previously unconsidered alcohol damage?”
“Foregoned!” Ed accepted the tag.
“Did anyone die in the crash, Eddie? Did you kill someone?”
“The neighbors’ dog; she was twelve and buried with her favorite chew-toy.”
Jon took a sip of scotch, closed his eyes and breathed deeply. “Were you drunk?” he asked, after a moment and keeping his eyes closed.
“A few slow beers over the course of a Sunday afternoon while reading a crime paperback and listening to electronic space-music.”
“So, it was just an accident?”
“I’d had a fight with Karen and I wasn’t a 100% behind the wheel. I was angry and dissociative.”
“Were you changing reality channels?”
“No, just worked up...”
“Yeah, I’m thinking a tetherball wrapped too tightly around a pole. What were you fighting about?”
“Don’t ask! A Roger Ebert movie review? Sex, but no intimacy in the relationship? I’d gotten the wrong flowers for her birthday? The truth is I can’t remember, though I’m betting on mundane.”
“You’re dropping marbles because you ran over a dog?”
“A little dog named Maggie who wasn’t well liked by either children or other dogs.”
“Are you homosexual?”
“It was Demerol, Jon, not heroin.”
“Is there something about hairy backs and pimpled butts that appeal to you when you’re high on dope?”
“It worked for Lou Reed when he was younger.”
“I knew Lou Reed. Lou Reed was a friend of mine. You, Mr. Ibsen, are no Lou Reed!”
“Lou Reed died?”
“No, I just wanted to do my Sen. Lloyd Benson impression...”
“I wouldn’t mind meeting Lou Reed, one day. He seems like an interesting guy.”
“I’m sure Lou Reed is fine and busy taking guitar lessons somewhere.”
The doorbell rang and startled both Jon and Ed. “Okay, when I snap my fingers, you’re going to morph into Brick Pollitt and a drunk and pissed off Elizabeth Taylor is outside in the hall!” Ed nervously joked.
“A gay film reference? Eddie, that’s pushing the manilla!”
Shaking his thumb, Ed asked, “Would you mind?”
“As you were,” Jon ordered, then got up and answered the door. He buzzed someone in, waited, then looked out and down the hall. “This could take a few minutes,” he advised Ed. “You might want to cast a spell, or whatever it is that you do, and make yourself presentable.”
The embalming blend of lavender and peppermint oil Miss Hillington wore identified her before Ed heard the thumps of her walker in the hallway.
“It’s not going well. No, not well at all,” Jon whispered.
“I recognize the ...smell; she’s from my job. Maybe you should help her?” Ed suggested. Miss Hillington was the senior front desk secretary, had been at the printing plant since it opened during the first days of World War II, and would never see eighty again.
“She’s carrying a small bag... Wait! Not anymore! She’s ...no longer carrying a small bag,” Jon delivered the play-by-play. “I think I can handle this one; you stay put, Eddie!” Jon said, as he closed the door of the apartment.
It took nearly fifteen minutes and Ed was quietly chuckling to himself the entire time. Jon returned without color in his face and shaking slightly. He tossed a scrunched up brown paper bag on Ed’s lap and downed the rest of his scotch in a single gulp.
“One hundred and twelve dollars in singles and quarters,” Jon replied, handing Ed his empty glass. “And, from Betty in marketing, a leftover poppy seed cake from a retirement party last week...”
Trying not to laugh out loud, Ed asked, “Did she say what this is for?”
“Where do you keep your scotch? On top of the refrigerator in the kitchen?” he guessed, as he took back his empty glass.
“Remember; you’re driving!”
“That stench! Those needle nails piercing my arm! And, she viciously and purposely put that damned walker on my foot a half-dozen times while I was helping her to her car!”
“She’s a sweetheart, that’s for sure.”
“The money came from the workers at the plant,” Jon explained after a sip from his second scotch. “Miss Hillington says no one believes you allowed the roll to fall because your hours are being cut back and that everyone is sure some Russian bastard named Benny is to blame.”
He took another drink of scotch, swished it around his mouth for a moment, swallowed and continued, “She said that at the office Christmas party following the Summer of Love, when Benny was just a thin, runny-nosed runt, she allowed him to have his way with her on one of the display tables in a private sales room. Apparently this Benny has a pecker that’s smaller than her little finger and he climaxed in under a minute. Also, he cried and vomited afterwards. My spirit feels unclean; ...must wash.”
Ed should have been spastic with merry irony, but exhaustion from the day’s events was setting in and he could only manage a wan smile. “Well done, Jon,” he said. “That’s two I owe you for.”
The door bell rang once more.
“Oh, no! Not Miss Hillington again!”
Jon buzzed and looking down the hall, announced, “No, not Miss Hillington again. Definitely NOT Miss Hillington!”
“Hello, I’m Jonathon Deeds and you are?”
“Taking my vows next week to be a nun and I just can’t wait to be Mrs. Jesus! Is Eddie home?”
“Karen?” Ed called out.
She backed Jon away from the doorway with a slight tilting of her head and entered the apartment.
“Eddie, what have you done to yourself, now?” she asked, as she kissed the top of his head and mussed his thinning, gray hair.
“How did you find out I got hurt?”
“You still had me listed as your emergency contact at work, but it took awhile for the plant to call, then for me to get the message at my work, do a suicidal race to the hospital where they told me you’d been discharged and driven home,” Karen explained, as she stooped over Ed. “So, what’s going on?”
“I got hit in the stomach with a beer bottle thrown by an exceptionally mad and raving queen, was pinned beneath hundreds of pounds of paper at work and I’m experiencing the beginnings of liver failure, though it’s too early to discuss a transplant...”
“Has this got anything to do with Lucy?”
“Lucy?” Jon queried, taking his seat and picking up his scotch.
“And you are, again?”
“I’m wounded, Kore! Be nice!”
“‘Lucy’ is a quaint, sexist feminization of lucid, much like others have feminized cocaine by calling it ‘The White Lady’ or ‘girl.’ It’s a nickname designed to reflect seductive qualities, though I always think of Lucy Van Pelt pulling the football away from Charlie Brown.”
Jon grinned and offered, “Why not Lily? Short for Lilith, Adam’s first wife, made from mud, who wanted to have sex on top and Adam freaked and had her banished and she became the Sumerian dLAMMA (lamassu) and Assyrian Lilitu, a she-demon!”
“Does your lack of conversational skills come naturally or...”
“Down, Karen! Jon’s okay, really.”
“I think it’s swell you’re making friends,” she encouraged, turning her attention back to Ed. “I would’ve personally recommended that you start out with a fern or a Banzai tree and work yourself up the evolutionary ladder, but if you want to skip ahead to bar buddies, that’s up to you.”
“I take it, dude, that she’s an ...ex,” Jon said, coughing “ex” into his hands.
“Karen’s an ex-girlfriend, not an ex-wife,” Ed explained, “though I continue to count her as a friend, albeit an occasionally bitchy one.”
She rigidly straightened and glared down at Ed.
“Is this the part were her face melts and we get to see her true, lizard alien self before we’re dismembered and our water is taken back to her home-world?”
“Jonathon, is it?” Karen enquired.
“Are you familiar with Manet’s painting, Le D’jeuner sur l’Herbe or Picnic in the Grass? Perhaps you recall a re-staging of the painting from a cover of that New Wave band from the early ‘80s, Bow Wow Wow?”
“Yeah, the lead singer with the Mohawk haircut was hot!”
“Annabella Lwin, a 15 year old girl from Burma convinced to pose nude for immature older men. Mmmm; exploitation anyone?”
“I thought the lead singer was wicked hot, too. Where are you going with this, Karen?” Ed asked with furrowed brow.
“Teen nudity should be for teens and not older creeps,” she paused, took Jon’s scotch from his hand, finished it in a single gulp and handed back the empty glass. “But, what’s sad,” she continued, “is that where the Manet had a second woman, probably the date of one of the two men, in the background giving herself a quick bath. The album cover has the second woman in the background with a guy in a boat. She prepares the body and the boatman takes it away. Why the death metaphor? Is the re-staging photographer suggesting leering at Lolita or listening to really bad music will somehow kill you?”
“I’d guess an art history major with a lit. minor?”
Ed coughed and answered, “Close enough...”
“Is she going to combine Lucy with Lolita?”
“She was and is a combination of Lucy and Lolita!” Ed declared with a big smile.
“Staid Prometheus, a lot of different things can kill you,” she whispered seductively, her hand reaching out and taking Ed’s glass of scotch away. “It’s time to stop drinking, Mr. Ed!”
“Forgive my spleenful demeanor, but I thought I was going for a nickname of Polyphemus?” Ed squeezed one eye shut.
“Eddie, that was the nickname for your penis,” Karen snipped, “and you said the joke was something you got from that Wilson guy, the one who writes about the Illuminati...”
“Watch it, Ibsen! She’s gonna steal your dick and dare you to grow it back like a liver! Don’t let her! I’ve seen first-century Aramaic prayer-bowls with inscriptions that are supposed to protect you from shit like this! Lucy is the succubus, Lily!”
“Close enough, bar buddy!” Karen agreed, finishing Ed’s scotch.
“Ex-bar-galbuddy!” Ed bemoaned the loss of his drink.
Jon put a hand to his chin, thought for a second and commented, “Eddie, she talks like us.”
“Better than us!” Ed quickly qualified.
Karen huffed and began to search through her purse. She took out three crumpled sheets of paper and handed them to Ed. “Some sketches for your project. Give me a call after you’ve rested and we can talk about the title design and other things,” she said, kissing the top of his head and mussing his hair again.
Jon stood and babbled, “It was nice to meet you, ex-Karen!”
“I’m still Karen in my universe! It was nice to meet you, as well, Mr. Deeds!” she nodded to Jon.
Before either could say anything, she darted from the apartment, and both Ed and Jon were speechless for a moment.
“Are those drawings?” Jon asked, shaking his head as if to get blood flowing to his brain once more.
Ed held up one sketch of a large, brown bear sitting with its back against a tree and leisurely consuming the last of a human arm, then another which showed a drowned body being nibbled on by fish, and the last was of a blighted field of wooded cairns and rotting bodies.
“Gnarly, sir!” Jon guffawed. “Why so dark and necro? You asked for this stuff?”
“It’s for a web-site I’m thinking about starting up to promote de-fleshing through recycling. A way for us to return our consumption and give a taste back. Bones take up less space than bodies and can be moved easier in an increasingly transient society. Excarnation.org is the domain name and I’m going to see if I can’t get some investors to front some cash for a start-up,” Ed explained.
“Almost weirder than the trance cult! A death disposal company; I don’t dislike it,” Jon roared with indifference. “And, with that added moroseness, I’m out of here. I hope you feel better and good luck with the liver thing. Stop drinking and lay off the sleeping aids!” They shook hands briefly.
“Thanks again, Mr. Deeds, for the generous emergency ride from the hospital and the enabling of substance abuse. May the hair on your back never fall out! I’ll see you at the next slam; someplace in Dunwich?”
“St. Brendan’s Beef and Beer near the Arkham and Beverly border on 1-A before the bridge, but you’re not in Beverly yet,” Jon answered. “I’ll see you there; take care of yourself and stop changing reality!”
“Drive carefully,” Ed advised, as his apartment door closed and the end of an especially bad day finally arrived.
He considered trancing his living room into something more comfortable and healing, then decided it would be infinitely better if he actually got up and went to sleep in a real bed, rather than pass out in an imaginary one. His bed, he noticed before he let go of consciousness, was Dionysian and positioned in front of every kind of girl, there was black ones, round ones, big ones, crazy ones... Ed slept well, thanks to the Demerol and a glass and a half of scotch.
A reminder of what, when and where
Long in beard and short of tooth
Bull shit at home, where you live
“You’re sick, Eddie,” Karen explained into her cell-phone, stuck in late-afternoon traffic. “Your mind is definitely not that healthy and your body is in constant distress.”
Ed had weakened over the last few weeks and couldn’t hide it well or trance it away. “You’re on the speaker phone and what you hear is me straighten up my living room. I’m taking care of things and all will be fine,” he said, less than convincingly.
“You’ve been sent home twice because the guys from work said you looked like you were going to pass out at any moment! Hephaistos, you’re still riding that goddamned bicycle!”
Work was getting difficult and with the cut hours, Ed was draining reserves at the cost of his soul. He’d lost some weight by taking alcohol from the table, but was moving slower and without confidence. It wasn’t a good look, more Appalachian than Apollonian and Ed knew it.
“It’s called cost effective moderate exercise, Karen!”
“Pynchon’s pennies, you equivocate with money!”
“Gotta’ have it to save it is how it works, sister,” Ed tried to bark, but it came out sounding like he’d just cleared his throat.
“So, be a Blues Brother and get the band together again! Weren’t you making some profit from a t-shirt business before I met you? Start your own business again if it’s Independence Day at the Ibsen’s!”
He needed a drink. Addiction gave him a wallop on the back and Ed lowered his head, cowering. She’d hear the ice chime in the glass, he thought, and would know that he was drinking against medical advice. Ed busied himself collecting old newspapers and replied, “Where’s your nickel cup, Lucy? Start up costs are intimidating, but with your great title-design I’ll be sure to attract the attention of investors!”
“I’m not that good, Eddie,” Karen chuckled. “But, you might be if you’d stop letting Lucy make things better than they are! Time to smell the tea!”
“Hey, chicko? Why the relentless bashing of lucid trancing? You’re the one who introduced me to it. You even came to my second meeting. I know, it was the last time you attended one of those groups of loser role players.”
“I was using the visualization techniques to hone my artwork, not going off to Disneyland or Middle-Earth! It helped me with depth perspective for a bit, and I was able to network a couple of one-shot design contracts. Then, I left and I advised you to get out before you wasted the rest of your money to finish the program! You could have bought a new car, Eddie!”
“Aries and Athena?”
“Asshole!” Karen screamed. “Sorry, not you, Eddie! Some jerk just cut in front of me!”
He ached inside and felt like an asshole. A glass of scotch would set things straight. “We all can’t be at the top of our game all the time, not like you.” Ed’s voice almost cracked. He nervously moved an end-table to make some noise, any noise.
“Who are you competing against? Yourself? Why are you at war with yourself, Eddie?”
“I’ve heard hushed telling of an original ending to Saving Private Ryan with Ryan stepping on a landmine and losing his arms and legs, living the rest of his life as a head and an asshole. When a charity raises enough money to send the head and the asshole back to France to visit the dead guys who saved him, he’s pissed at living an entire life as a head and an asshole! Spielberg changed the ending at the last minute to make the film more upbeat and crowd-friendly. Hey, I hear things!”
“I’m sure you do, Eddie!”
“Maybe I’m battling the dishonor of having my son adopted away from me. The hollowness and helplessness of not knowing anything about him. A different last name and maybe no clue as to who his father is?” Ed wondered aloud, his thirst for scotch increasing.
“It must be Hell being divorced, Eddie. Lots, probably too many guys have estranged children from broken relationships,” Karen commiserated.
“I’ll speak of Hell and suffering and I’ll talk about a child,” he began, shoving his shaking hands into his pockets so they wouldn’t knock anything over. “In Mark 4:22, we read, ‘For there is nothing hidden, except that it should remain known; neither was anything made secret, but that it should come to light.’ Mark’s tragedy speaks of revealing, uncovering, the buried deep and the mines. Gehenna, ge-bene-hinnom or the ‘valley of the sons of Hinnom’ from IV Kings 23:10, a place where ‘no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Moloch' is Hell!
Ed took a deep breath, and went on, “Go to Hel, the Norse Goddess! From Old English and Old High German helan or ‘to conceal’, knocked off from the Latin celare and the Greek kalytein, both traceable back to the Indo-European root, kel or ‘to cover’. We send our children to Hell and the mines! I don’t know my son, he doesn’t know me and I feel we’re both mining different parts of Hell!”
The sounds of traffic came through the phone and then Ed heard, “Quoting scripture? You going preacher in your prime? You’ve got a passion, I’ll always give you that. There’s probably not too many who could spiel cowcake ideas fast enough to keep up with you, but that’s not enough. Step away from the Chocolate factory, Charlie! It’s too Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang crackpot, like the latest project involving dead bodies. You wonder why relationships are hard for you? Get a reality, Eddie; a real reality!”
“Hey, Yoko! It’s performance art, like reading poetry or singing in the shower. It feels good to let it out,” he said, his eyes bound to the kitchen and the bottle of scotch atop the refrigerator.
“How’s it panning out, Peter?”
“Could be better,” Ed answered, feeling the conversation sputter and stall.
“Even Atlas shrugged and took a break. Under what rock are we supposed to look for you when you collapse from exhaustion?”
“I wonder which of us is looking for Heracles? You want me to go online and Google for Bill Withers’ home address so he can say ‘I know’ twenty-six times? Lean on, who? I thought you were my broad, Karen?”
“That was then and this is now. It’s over, big guy!” she said, affecting a dame chewing gum.
“Cold goddess,” Ed measured out his appreciation. “Down with chili-lime-fries; so hot and cold!”
“We’ve both moved on and politely elect not to talk about it. I’ve moved on, to what extent is none of your business and I don’t much want to hear about your conquests, real or imagined.”
Ed reflected on the smoky taste of a Highland single-malt. Scotch, a good scotch, encouraged relaxation. Home and hearth came to mind, but Ed lived alone in a small apartment with base-board heating. It didn’t feel like home without anyone to share it with. “Timing is important, Karen,” he said, “and you’re right that we correctly separated when we did and for whatever reasons.”
“Eddie? Is the signal getting weak? Can you hear me?” she yelled.
“Ah, Electric Prunes last night and I had too much to dream. Great news about the extent of your moving on status, by the way!”
“I think I’m losing you, Eddie,” she prevaricated in metaphor, her cell-phone functioning normally.
“You’ve got to have someone who’ll care enough to look, Lucy.”
“Because of all of the thrilling, action-packed free time on my hands, of late, I’ll pick up the title design at your place and save you a trip over here. Isn’t that swell? I’ll call before I come over, say--when I’m around your neighborhood in a day or three,” he said, spurning further talk by taking her off speaker phone and hanging up the receiver.
Silence gathered him aside without gesture or word and despair took him unprepared.
Picking between hero and fool, Ed chose to have a glass of scotch. A few glasses of scotch. The alcohol didn’t metabolize properly in his system and he gradually lost his temper and ability to reason. He tranced, sometimes heavily, and felt his balance on the planet slip more than once. It was over between them and he felt alone and with no one to wake up and dream with.
Instead of waiting for days, Ed acted compulsively and rashly decided he’d ride over to Karen’s and get it over with. Really end it. Get the title design, say “Thank you and fuck you very much,” and have it finished. It was early evening and the fresh air would do him good. He’d take the scenic route to Karen’s side of town.
A sudden cloudburst produced hard, stinging rain that slapped welts from Ed’s face. He tranced a beautiful Summer’s day and rode for awhile in a warm sunshine. Near Calumet Farms, one of the last in Arkham that was still family-owned, a mini-van sped past him and missed him by inches. The wind and an explosively profound fear caused him to swerve and he lost control of his bike. He crashed, though he had sworn to himself that he never would again.
Ed opened his eyes and snow was falling. When he moved, it was wrong. He’d landed on a softball-sized rock. Something inside of him had broke in the crash.
Crawling into a snow bank, he felt a little better, then the snow began to melt and disappear. It was raining again. Ed continued to crawl, finding the last bits of snow and rubbing his face into it. The cloudburst ended and he felt sunshine on his face as he died.
An hour or so later, just before dusk, a group of kids drove by and saw the abandoned bicycle along the side of the road. Believing that some geek had put the bike down and went off into the weeds to relieve himself, the teens stole the bike. Ed’s body was just a few dozen feet from the road, but he was covered by tall grass and no one knew to look there.
De-fleshing began almost immediately and continued into Autumn and the beginning of Winter, pausing when his remains became covered in snow. The Spring thaw brought out many birds and animals to finish Ed’s excarnation. Insects and bacteria cleaned up afterwards and left Ed’s skeleton entirely smooth in about fourteen months.
A few days after Ed failed to show, she filed a missing person report believing he’d left town with Lucy. The police, after listening to many strange messages on his answering machine, agreed that he was probably nuts, possibly dangerous, and wandering around Boston or some other major city wracking under visual and aural hallucinations. They faxed a copy of the report to the F.B.I. Later, during a telephone call, an agent told Karen, “Even with the Patriot Act, this is still America and if somebody really doesn’t want to be found, chances are we won’t find them.”
“You’ve got to have someone who’ll care enough to look,” Karen said, repeating one of the last ideas Ed shared with her.
“It’s not that we don’t care, it’s just that we don’t know where,” the agent reluctantly admitted.
“Forsooth,” she answered. The cell-phone in her hand became a lily and she added it to the large pile in the middle of her desk. They were the flowers of Hera and Jon liked lilies.
Story-tellers often convert personal experiences into fictional episodes. It helps to establish verisimilitude and an author doesn’t have to invent too many minor details as long as one’s memory holds up. With the above story I used a fear I’d experienced many times walking ten miles to the train station from an on-again/off-again gal-pal. As I’d made the trek several times previously, I’d broken the walk into three stages: from the sub-division boonies to a local farm is a few miles, from the farm to Rt. 114 (the first major street encountered) is a few more miles, and from Rt. 114 to the train station is around another three miles. There’s a sharp bend in the road near the farm where a few times I’d almost been hit by drivers not paying attention. Last December 16, 2007, I got into yet another unresolvable argument with the gal-pal and took off walking in the middle of a blizzard. At the exact location where the main character of the above novella gets into a bicycle wreck and dies, I was nearly hit by a speeding pick-up truck with a snowplow attached to its front-end. As it was in the middle of a blizzard, I assume the driver believed he’d be the only one on the road at the time. I’d guess he was going at least ten miles an hour over the posted speed limit. He swerved, I jumped into a snow-bank and cursed loudly as the driver continued on. Then the creep factor set in as I recalled the above story. I continued walking, paying considerable attention to the occasional passing car or truck, until finally I reached Rt. 114. There was a Burger King open and I stopped to get a cup of coffee and warm up. Seated at a table across from me was a young woman and when she stepped outside to smoke a cigarette I decided to join her and talk about the blizzard. Customers were coming in, most had their own tale of wintery woes, as the roads were bad and it took hours to go from one town to the next. I remember one guy saying that it had taken him five hours to get from Boston to North Andover. I made a couple of telephone calls to the gal-pal and eventually we reached an agreement and I called a taxi to take me back to the sub-division boonies. The young woman and I chatted about different things, smoked and joked about the drivers who were sliding down Rt. 114 before us. At one point I finished my coffee and bought another cup. She giggled and informed me that I’d just wasted my money, as Burger King gives free refills on coffee. As I sat drinking my second cup of coffee, the young woman took off her coat which revealed her Burger King uniform. She smiled, said “I hope things work out for you,” and went to work. Soon afterwards, the taxi arrived and my personal adventure continued. The next day I heard a televison report that a young woman had been killed on Rt. 114 after she’d left work at Burger King the night before. I knew it was her - the young woman who’d kept me company while I was trying to survive the night. Last week, I finally got up the courage to ask about the young woman who’d been killed a few hours after I was at the Rt. 114 Burger King. Her name was Debbie and she was a sweet, kind, and considerate person. The town and state (Commonwealth, actually) snowplows drive slow, but the independent contractors are out on the road driving dangerously to make a buck when and where they can. One of them likely killed Debbie... I can’t think of an appropriate curse for such a crime... It could have been me and more than a small part of me wishes it was. Thanks for spending some time with me, Debbie.
Cramer, Maria. 2007. “Woman fatally struck, possibly by plow.” The Boston Globe. Boston, Mass.: Dec 18, 2007; p. B.5
A woman leaving work on foot late Sunday was fatally struck in Lawrence, possibly by a snowplow, officials said yesterday.
Drivers traveling along Route 114 in Lawrence about 10:17 called 911 when they found Deborah Hoare, 39, lying next to a snowbank, bleeding heavily, said Lawrence Police Chief John Romero.
"Drivers called and said, `I almost hit her with my car,"' Romero said. "They actually stopped and stayed there so she wouldn't get hit by other cars."
When police arrived, the woman had severe bruises on her arms, legs, and back, he said. She was conscious but unable to respond to officers' questions, he said.
Hoare, whose last known address was a rooming house on Bradford Street, died on her way to Lawrence General Hospital, whose workers notified her family, Romero said.
He said Hoare had left work at Burger King in North Andover and was walking northwest toward Lawrence on Route 114 near Winthrop Avenue, a dark strip of road.
A woman who answered the telephone at a number listed for Hoare's family declined to comment. "We're not ready to answer any questions," she said.
Hoare left the rooming house at least six months ago when she was no longer able to pay the $110 weekly rental fee, said Roseanna Lopez, whose husband, Miguel, is one of the owners of the building.
Miguel Lopez said Hoare had lived in the rooming house for about a year.
"I feel very sorry for what happened," Miguel Lopez said. "She was really a nice person. She was a happy-go-lucky person, just happy to be alive."
He said that Hoare's father called three months ago asking Lopez to let her move back into the rooming house, but the request was never followed up. Two weeks ago, Miguel Lopez called Hoare when a check arrived for her at the building, and she told him to send the check to a post office box number in Lowell.
Police are treating the possibility that a plow hit Hoare as a theory, because there were no witnesses, Romero said.
According to the National Weather Service, more than 15 inches of snow fell in storms since last week in Lawrence. Romero called on anyone who was driving between 10 and 10:17 p.m. along Route 114 to call police.
Maria Cramer can be reached at email@example.com.
Credit: Maria Cramer GLOBE STAFF - Globe correspondent Marc Robins contributed to this report.
Reprinted without permission.
© 2005, 2008 RDF
Return to Flavin's Fictions