Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Scene from My Second Novel

One of the only ones I can still read without getting depressed.

Isn’t this stuff great, D? Jimmy said.

He nodded. He couldn’t move his tongue. Or maybe he could but only thought he couldn’t. What if he tried to move it and it wouldn’t move? That would be even worse.

Do you want another hit?

He shook his head, no. He had never noticed how truly strange Jimmy’s face was, a face compressed and gone bulging out in a dozen directions. His mouth - filled with hundreds of tiny, sharp teeth. Alligator smile.

They were on break on their guard shifts at Columbia Presbyterian hospital. The hospital buildings dominated Washington Heights. He could see their flags from the window of his apartment – enormous American flags rippling in a stainless blue sky. The hospital ambulances kept him awake, at all hours racing Broadway in motorcade for the fallen. Through Interstellar, he had taken odd shifts at the hospital for years.

Jimmy rolled down his window and tapped his pipe on the window ledge. The pipe was painted flat black and carved into a death’s head. Jimmy loved the pipe; it was all Damien could do to keep him from showing to the nurses.

I was telling you about that scene from Evil Dead II, right, D? At the end it turns into this kind of…circus of horror. The main guy, he’s chopping up the dead with a chain saw that he attached to his arm where his hand got cut off. Remember, I was telling you how the hand got cut off? That he had to cut it off, cause the dead took it over and it kept trying to kill him? And it still kept trying to kill him, even cut off. Anyway, he uses this chain saw to cut up the evil dead that were actually his friends once and this…stuff, comes spraying out of them.

He looked at Jimmy’s eyes as he spoke, doll eyes, ebony and bright. James Reilly was a long-time Interplanetary guard and the reason the company couldn’t keep a regular on the shift. James was the borderline type you so often see in security work, famous for his acts of random violence and stupidity. He came from the old Irish neighborhood around Dyckman Street and had graduated from cruising the Heights blowing out windshields with a wrist-rocket to shooting rats and pigeons on slow guard shifts with an automatic. He was ordnance happy and took pleasure in discharging a shotgun into holes he dug in his backyard. James had flunked out of the police academy, been institutionalized twice and drank whiskey on the job from a silver flask. He rode the subway at night with a pistol in his jacket hoping someone would trouble him. Although he made Damien nervous, Jimmy liked working with him because he was Irish, as well as the only other white guard under fifty at Interstellar. And it was only a few blocks from his apartment.

So after he kills the evil dead demon/god (but he doesn’t really kill him) he gets thrown into another dimension which is like a King Arthur world but...

We have to get back, Jimmy, he managed, This has been a long break.

Actually, he had no idea how long the break had been. A different, much younger man had stepped into the car.

Yeah, you’re probably right. I’ll loan you the movie though, D. I have it on tape.

He left the car on shaky legs.

I have Visine, D. You want some Visine?

Yeah, he croaked, I need it.

They split up at the door to the Emergency Room. Jimmy liked to work the ER for the horror and bonded with the cops circled around the disasters. That left Damien to make rounds and do the escort services for the pharmacy and subway. The arrangement suited him. He didn’t like the ER. Once he’d seen a paramedic lift the hand of a burn victim and have the skin peel away from the hand like a glove. The attendant doctor had convulsed with hysterical laughter while the paramedic fell to his knees and vomited beside the dying man.

At his guard post, a nurse stood leaning against his desk. She glared at his approach. He hoped that she was looking at someone behind him.

I’ve been waiting for you for over twenty minutes, she said. The criticism caught him like a club between the eyes. He resisted an impulse to crawl under his desk. Then one to grab her by the throat.

I was on break lady, he said, slavish and sullen.

Break? You guys don’t do anything. What’s the break for?

She was young and pretty, Spanish, with brown hair tinted gold and skin the color of creamed coffee. Her good looks made him hate her all the more.

Okay. Walk your own ass to the subway tonight.

Look, just forget it. I need to go to the pharmacy.


If one of the nurses wished to fill a scrip after the hospital pharmacy closed, she had to call for a guard. The logic of this regulation baffled him but he did not question his good fortune. She signed his log and he followed the nurse down the hall. With hate and lust he watched her hips wagging in white. He heard her rubber heels smack tile. She was small but her body stretched the fabric of her uniform. He had a sudden fantasy of pulling his gun on her in the pharmacy, of lifting her white skirt and raping her on the cold floor. He imagined that she would like it.

After he unlocked the pharmacy door, the nurse went into the shelves to fill her scrip. He went to shelves on the other side of the room to fill his order, quickly cramming his pockets with D’s and V’s (Demerols and Valiums), Percodins and Percosets. Downers mostly, downers scored him points with Clark, nothing better to cut the edge at four a.m. He knew right where to go, had mapped out the situation years before. As he worked, he was careful to keep aisles between him and the young night nurse.

Two hours later, the same nurse stood before him asking to be escorted to the subway. He pretended that he hadn’t been dozing. The confusion of his early high had become a drooling stupor.

Okay, let’s go, he said and lunged to his feet.

Look, she said, I’m sorry I snapped at you before. We’re understaffed and I’ve been on for twelve hours.

It’s okay, he said. Her voice had a street singsong that made him ready to forgive her anything.

They went through the main entrance into a humid night. The subway station stood only two blocks and one avenue away from the hospital but a nurse had been attacked on the way home the year before. He no longer thought of his neighborhood as dangerous but he’d never been a woman. At night, cars from the Jersey side clustered around the tenements near the George Washington Bridge in search of the forty-dollar grams of high quality cocaine. He saw the kids on mountain bikes with pagers and the burly enforcers outside the hot houses but it was only a fragment of the neighborhood and it didn’t touch him. For him, the Heights was at its summer best in the Dominican men sitting in chair circles that spilled from courtyards and the line of laughing teenagers on the park wall with forties in their fists.

A tough shift, hunh? He asked. He saw how tired she was, face taut beneath her fine young skin.

You don’t even know. I have exams coming up and I’m here four days a week. They cut one full-time nurse position so now the rest of us have to do even more.

They walked in the night and concrete. His eyes sandpapered dry. She barely came to his shoulder and he wanted to talk to her but his brain was clouded. He felt the electricity of her. He couldn't talk to her. He was wearing polyester and his pockets were stuffed with prescription drugs. There was nothing he could offer her. He was thirty years-old and what did he have? Nothing.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Irvine Voodoo

Last night someone knocked on my door around 11 p.m. As I was idling around in my boxers, I didn't hurry to answer it. When I did, I saw a tiny neighbor of mine with her even tinier daughter, and a thick-bodied middle aged one. My neighbor started talking in her clear high voice. She doesn't have an accent but is obviously not a native speaker.

I know you have a cat, she said. We see her in your window. I was wondering if we could use your cat for something.

I stared at her, wondering what exactly she wanted to use my cat for. The middle-aged women nodded and smiled.

My daughter has this problem with her eye, my neighbor said. I looked at her gurgling daughter and saw a sty over her left eye. My neighbor kept talking.

My aunt is visiting us, she said. My aunt says that if we rub a cat over my daughter's eye, this thing will go away.

The aunt continued to nod happily.

I shrugged and went to get my cat, which I handed over to the aunt. She took Wheezy's tail and began to rub it over the child's eye while chanting rapidly in Spanish. When she finished chanting, she returned Wheezy.

My neighbor laughed.

I don't think it will hurt anything, she said. And who knows?

We said goodnight.