2:48AM. This is the low of the night, when streetlights turn scoundrel and burn alcoholic retinas with their vomit-yellow. It was LASTCALL hours ago and if you’re on the city streets at just the right time, your veins run diesel for a moment and you’ll taste the iron in your blood. But how unlucky: they’ve built this godforsaken city on a slant. And if you’re not careful, those shuffling feet of yours are going to wander in front of the taxis that can’t afford decent brake pads. Old Man Jack is out tonight. He’s asking “Out for a walk?” Out for a drink, I say, when the only thing that’s going to keep down the sights and sounds is a few hours at the bar. Old Man Jack talks about the brand new shelter buzz with “They barbed that new blonde faggot Johnboy out by the Navador factory. Poor kid was gonna ride out on this morning’s freight. Skitter called the police. They sent a ambulance. He’adn’t no ID on him. They’ll bury ‘im like they do the rest of us.” and he laughs something frightful. Old Man Jack matches the pace, walking straight-up. Shaky arms from blown fixes, he tugs at the unraveling scar on his shoulders and breathes stale-wine halitosis. And poor Johnboy slandered, even in death, as Old Man Jack continues “Better off and hey, one less faggot.” But he hears my silence, there’s no answer to that damning. Old Man Jack slows, offended, but this is an uphill walk and gravity sneers at late-night drunks. Someone like him goes uninterrupted: “Never took you for a sympathizer. Matter fact, never seen you with a woman. Ha! I’ll see you buy a whore. This city’s whores is cheap. Hey, you always got a pocket full of cash. Let’s get some warm morning pussy! Eh. Whatsa matter? Izzit all a passing fad now? Yeah, you won’t get anyone to buy into yer crap, yeah, words died with television…” and years and years of putting speedballs in his feet make Old Man Jack trail off in a creek of hack-coughs and the thoughts melt nothing. He stops keeping pace and he’s left there, forming new pictures in his head. There’s no need to wave goodbye, he’ll miss it all in a blur.
That sick saliva glue forms between lips with a dead tongue laid over gumflesh. Look, right there, around the corner burns the flourescent of the Open-All-Night. Oh out trods a fellow nocturnal, Pervert Willie, and gives the whole thing a once-over and slides by. Scrapes the sidewalk with his club foot, SKRAZZ-SKRAZZ-SKRAZZ. Just pass, forget the eye contact, it’s on to the bright lights, wings open. I’m a moth when the moon’s out. That young, unshaven college boy earning his Friday Night keg money shoots me one of those looks and I realize I must be the picture of a sewer rat at this hour. The whole place buzzes electric, white like a Swede. It all leaves barely any room to breathe and even less to read the instructions on the coffee machine in the back. Sobriety can’t come fast enough. The cardboard cup is hot-plate on my cracked palm; I wander the aisles. Shelves and stacks of cream-filled confections and powdered doughnuts and jerky as tough as corpsecunt, all food constructed to get right through to your brain stem and kill you quick. Staring down junk food always surfaced memories of a transcendental faux-fakir dressed in proto-tweed that once accosted me on the D-Line going to Coney Island. He said: “I’ll have myself fresh air and fresh water and fresh sun and I’ll have no hunger!” and he clapped and clapped his hands and patted my knee. But I couldn’t figure it. Bless the glucose, but none tonight. I loathe the look of the kegboy cashier and throw him a wad of bills, mumbling some monstrous English about “Keep your change.” One sip and a whole mess of cheap, rotten black bean-juice finds itself sprawled on the ground. A gutteral hock sputters out but my stomach decides to keep the liquor and bile deepdown. There it is, the equal reaction to the action of a majestic day in drink. So, into the night that smells of the fresh air that escapes from the mountains above. No sleep yet.
I notice Loren’s still awake as I pass the Winwood Apartments, her yellow track lighting pouring out over her plant-infested balcony. Someone’s left the front security door wide open and I take advantage. BANG, I kick the door numbered 289 and let my foot settle for a few months. Then BANG again. Black hair just below her ears and thick-frame glasses and purple lipstick and a witty little t-shirt that reads BOMB EVERYTHING, there’s Loren. She’s hollering “What the hell, Harding?!” and I push my way past and notice she’s been up painting. “You’re not going to sleep anytime soon, you witch. I stopped by to keep you company.” And she smiles and calls me a bastard and asks if I’ve been drinking and if my boots are new and if I like her new painting. Too many questions at once, so I take a seat on her piss-plaid sofa and let my head fall back, willing to give the rumworms adequate time to work themselves out of my brain and liver. The ceiling is a nice off-white.
“Yes.” I say.
“And you’ve barely touched the canvas. Give it a few more hours.” I finish. It takes her a few minutes to answer.
“I forgot what I even asked you.” she frumps. She’s back to her brushes. I sit there, I raise my head, I look Loren over, madly attracted to her haircut. It’s hours before she’s even halfway through slapdashing the canvas. It’s shoddy and it’s not thought through but it’s kinetic and I like it. She finishes and it’s almost 6 in the morning. She cleans up and sits on the couch with me, sipping a glass of milk. I can feel the rumworms finishing with my brain, draining down my spine and into my hips, sitting around and speaking of dastardly sexual acts; my thoughts become clear and managable, but–
BANG: the door.
Loren opens to a drugged version of Sam Murray, blood trickling from his ears. He lurches forward with his left foot, grimmacing a “Hello, my dear” before collapsing to his hands and knees, vomiting blood and bile and stringbeans.
“Jesus fucking Christ, Sam!”
“State of fucking grace, my love.”
“No no no no no no no, no need, none at all. I’ll crawl.”
“The… the couch is more to your… left…”
Sam is up on the couch, his torso rocking back and forth, the head and neck staying perfectly frozen. Loren shudders at the sight of him so worn and broken (her hands shaking in jazz-rhythm) and I’m a bit upset that Sam hasn’t even acknowledged me yet. She starts for the phone when Sam started doing what seems similar to talking, but sounds more like a Buddhist cheerleader chant:
“…they, they want me, they they they want me, they, they want me for their wall o’ fame…”
A wet pop floats between Sam’s lips and a stream of vomit soon follows forward, pooling on Loren’s mahoghany coffee-table. Sludge-covered pills float in the lake of sickness.
“What a perfectly good waste.” Sam smirks, waving toward the capsules. “HOW ABOUT A DRINK?!”
Loren stands, silent, with her shivering hands wrapped around her waist, a whole mess of tears on her pale cheeks, her back turned to Sam. She hears a THUD and turns to see Sam face down in his own vomit on the coffee-table, his forehead resting on an old TV Guide. Loren races for the phone, dialing madly. I watch, still too infected by the rumworms to lend a helping hand.
“Information, may I help you?”
“Fuck off!” Loren yells into the phone, hanging up on the operator and redialing.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
Another THUD. Loren tries not to turn around. I imagine her imagining the worst. She hears a disgusting flop and turns to find Sam on his knees, his intestines spilled across her hardwood floors, and him wildly attempting to shovel the fleshy tubes back into his torso, a used hacksaw at his side. Sam says: “Now, really, who just leaves a hacksaw laying around?” But Loren and I only hear it as “Noaaawww…”, followed by a series of gurgling noises. The sound of the emergency operator forces her out of her imagination.
“Hello? 911, what’s your emergency?”
“Uh, uh, yeah, I’ve got a friend here and something… something’s wrong, he’s… he’s…”
Loren finally turns back to Sam. He’s fallen a relatively short distance, from the coffee-table to the floor. I’m smiling, waving at Loren. She continues:
“He’s bleeding from his ears and he’s vomiting blood. I… I think, maybe he’s overdosing. He threw up some pills, and…”
And Loren starts to cry. Her noise starts to echo off the walls like mad, and I back slowly onto the balcony. A shining, picturesque North Star is high in the morning sky, my bump-skin crawls along the gusts of blunt and painful winds. There are sirens in the distance and I’m sure they’re coming for Sam. I lay on the balcony and invite frostbite and Loren sobs inside, breaking my heart into two equal pieces of alienation of regret. I sleep.
F.D. Marcél writes. A listing of his recent work can be found at