Volume 20, Number 2


Michael Pikna

My name's Sal. I'm fifty-three. Nothing to brag about where you live probably, but on the street it's old. Sleep-on-the-sidewalk, can't-get-back-up kind of old. Too old to hustle. So here I am with the other mentals and random street boogers, sitting our asses on steps and sidewalks and parking blocks, waiting for the door to open so we can get our pill boxes filled. Maybe see the doc and plead our case. Get a motel voucher and some bus tokens. Soft-spoken, feet be broken.

Gettin' by ain't easy. Most every day it begins right here, with a smoke and a cup of lawsuit-hot mud and the right words. The right words, they protect you from what you see, and I see plenty. Don't everybody see it. Have to bend your mind to it. Most people around here, their minds're already bent to it. Bent by what they seen and what they done. Bent by loose connections in the brain. Saddam Hussein, shock me sane, feel no pain.

Lucius, he's gonna feel some pain any minute now. Look at him. Shaking Boo down for the measly change and tokens he's got in his pocket. Don't he know Holly's got his back? Sure enough, here she comes. He don't look so cocky now. Eyes give him away. They ain't the same two little bullets he always shoots at you. No, they're big and empty and if they had legs they'd be out of here. But the rest of his big slab-ass ain't so smart. Holly circles him like some wild animal and he dances around, trying to keep up with her. His big man-tits and belly shake like he's a jolly dude, 'cept Lucius, he ain't the jolly type. The triplets laugh and he shoots them a look, but those three, they don't give a shit. They got their own magic and nobody fucks with them bitches. Giggling witches, wiggling britches, bitches in stitches.

If I wasn't so scared of Lucius I'd look him in the eye and laugh, too. But I ain’t got Holly's bite or the voodoo like the triplets. I got my words and they keep me safe if I say 'em right, but you don't take stupid chances. Not with Lucius. He'd see what I'm thinking and know my fear and then he'd own me like one of them talking birds or some goddamn pet monkey. I ain't stupid like some of these other spacemen. So when his eyes jump on me I look away.

Then Holly's lips slide up like the curtain on a show and she flashes them pearly whites. Pearly gates, heavy weights, Andrea Yates. I dream about them teeth of hers. Dude I know, an old chronic, told me dreams about teeth're really about fucking. Crazy mother, but he's right. I always wake up hard.

Holly chomps down and the sound is a cue ball breaking a rack. It bounces around the parking lot and jostles the overmedicated, the shit-faced, and the bug-infested. They look up, their cigs froze a few inches from their lips.

Lucius, his eyes get even bigger. He's heard the stories. Biting through zip ties. That pimp and the tip of his nose. But it ain't a story now. To Lucius, it's as real as the stains blooming around his pits. Can't call it quits, ain't that the shits.

She bites down again and again and there's like a rhythm to it, and even the nutters shutting out the voices with headphones spare an ear. The triplets, they start singing some song and swaying like a choir. Lucius makes a few half-assed grabs, but that chick's way too fast for him and he about loses a finger.

Awful quiet now. Street sounds fade away. The leaves on the trees and the weeds sprouting from cracks get greener, fatter, closer. Holly's teeth're even bigger and sharper now. Wild Kingdom sharp. My tongue traces the ridge of gums where my teeth used to be before crystal meth. Brutal breath, dental death, Nazareth. Some of the geeks start ooh-ooh, aah-aah, eeh-eehing, jumping up and down and gibbering. It's getting dark and I look up and there's a goddamn canopy of tree branches blotting out the sun. Things up there skittering and kiting from branch to branch.

I look down and Holly's grown a panther tail. All black and twitchy coming out from under that short skirt she always wears. And Lucius, he's wearing nothing but a loin cloth and a carved wooden mask with this snarling, crazy-eyed warrior face. He's poking at Holly with this spear, but it's like trying to stab smoke. Drums are beating a tattoo into my brain and I'm as scared right now as you'd ever wanna be. Blasphemy, archenemy, Gethsemane.

Holly gets down and circles on all fours and the triplets sing fast in a language I never heard before. The headcases are all hiding behinds plants and vines, but they're loud and they want blood. Apocalyptic blood. Mel Gibson kind of blood. Holly screams, not a girl scream, a big cat scream that'd make you want to piss yourself. I know it's gonna happen again so I turn my head, but I can hear it. Oh God, I can hear it, the tearing and the drums and the screaming. It pushes everything out of my head and I can't find my words. My words're gone.

I squeeze my eyes tight, but I can hear the triplets' voices shimmying and wobbling like crazy. Like a tribe of wailing women, and it's all getting too close and too hot. Way too hot for spring. Sticky hot. Equator kind of hot. The sweet smell of blood mixes with sweat and shit and I remember my ol' man gutting that rabbit right in front of me. The innards falling in coils and bits in a raw stew on the newspapers and I'm gonna sick up my coffee any minute now. What were the words back then? Rabbit, grab it, stab it. Yeah, that's it.

The picture show in my head starts again and it comes back to me, the drinking, the shouting, the cold nights. Child abuse, antabuse, ain't no use.

The ups and downs of the triplets' wailing smoothes out, hardens into a siren.

Squatting in the abandominiums getting high. High school, my rule, ampoule, drug mule.

A breeze in my face now, the stink of my own sweat, traffic, the coffee in my hand getting cold. Cold sidewalks to lie on, to die on. Hospital gown, tie me down, bite on this, jerk like a sinner in a tent revival, spent survival, God's arrival.

Sun on my face, shuffling feet, a key in a lock.

I open my eyes and everything is cool. Door's open and the peanut gallery's moving like the walking dead toward it. Triplets giggling like school girls. And Lucius, he's nowhere. Like he never was. Holly sits on a step, looking through me like I'm made out of glass. Maybe she sees me, maybe she don't. Not a lick of blood on her. Skinny little chick couldn't hurt a fly, nothing sharper on her than the nips trying to poke their way through her tee shirt.

Then she smiles and bares them teeth and I want to lay me down right there on the asphalt so I can sleep. Maybe God'll let me dream.