20120821

Jim Meirose



Vicodin & Venice



Come sit on this mossy log on the steaming hot bank of the deep wide brook, by the cattails lilypads and skunk cabbages. Draw angry-looking knife—cut off left pinkie finger, at the first joint—push fingertip onto sharp stick—push stick in the water. Sweat drips down under your shirt.
     Pain.
     Ignore.
     Sit and wait as blood drips making black mud in the dirt.
     Big pickerel comes and gobbles down finger.
     Pull out Colt forty five—shoot fish.
     Wade in, get dead fish. Blood clouds the water; two bloods mix.
     Sit back down.
     Cauterize wound with big Zippo Marine Corps lighter—the kind they used to advertise in LIFE magazine.
     Wince.
     Pain.

                    ###

Pain is a terrible thing, said Pamela from the barstool, waving her drink at the bartender. You know that?
     Sure, nodded the tall ruddy faced bartender. He slowly wiped a glass with a checkered towel as he spoke.
     In the phonebooth across the barroom sat a man feeding coins from a pile on the shelf into the pay telephone.
     I've had some terrible pain, continued the bartender. You ever had surgery?
     Coins fell into the payphone one at a time.
     No, said Pamela to the bartender. Have you?
     She drained her drink as he answered and the man in the phone booth dialed a number.
     Yes—yes. Gall bladder. The post-operative pain is horrible. You get good pills though.
     The payphone pushbuttons clicked.
     Good pills?
     Fingering his coins, the man in the phone booth spoke into the phone.
     Yes, said the bartender. Percocet. To take once you get home. You know. Good for what ails ya'!
     Low fast murmuring came from the phone booth.
     Grinning, the bartender once more topped off her drink.
     Her hand wrapped around it.
     The man in the phone booth hung up the phone and swept the coins off the shelf into his hand and, pocketing the coins, he left the booth, wearing a grave look.
     She took a long drink.
     One coin was left behind—a nickel lay in the shadow under the phone, in back, by the wall.

                    ###

Draw angry-looking knife—cut off left ring finger, at the first joint—push fingertip onto sharp stick—push stick in the water. Sweat drips down under your shirt.
     Pain.
     Ignore.
     Sit and wait as blood drips making black mud in the dirt.
     Big pickerel comes and gobbles down finger.
     Pull out Colt forty five—shoot fish.
     Wade in, get dead fish. Blood clouds the water; two bloods mix.
     Sit back down.
     Cauterize wound with big Zippo Marine Corps lighter—the kind they used to advertise in LIFE magazine
     Wince.
     Pain.

                    ###

Coolie went across the slick ice to his car to get the last bag of groceries. He gathered up the bag in his arms and slammed shut the car door and started back across the ice toward his front door.
     Across the street the brownhaired neighbor woman worked at knocking some fat icicles down with a long wooden pole.
     Coolie walked, and—Bang! He was down flat on his back, the grocery bag split open and the contents spread out to the side. There was no pain. Something had pulled the legs out from under him. He rolled over, and slowly got to his feet. Freed by the sunlight, water dropped from long icicles all along Coolie's eaves.
     Having seen Coolie fall, the neighbor woman paused, and watched with the long wooden pole held at her side.
     Pain came in the back of Coolie's head. He stooped to get his groceries back into the split open bag. The pain in the back of his head shrank to a single point of splitting pain right at the base of his skull, and the groceries and split bag blurred off to the side and he went down again as the pain faded and the black came up around him and he felt nothing more. The cold came up in him. The icicles continued to shed water and sparkled in the winter sun.
     The neighbor woman dropped her pole and started out across her icy yard toward Coolie.

                    ###

Draw angry-looking knife—cut off left middle finger, at the first joint—push fingertip onto sharp stick—push stick in the water. Sweat drips down under your shirt.
     Pain.
     Ignore.
     Sit and wait as blood drips making black mud in the dirt.
     Big pickerel comes and gobbles down finger.
     Pull out Colt forty five—shoot fish.
     Wade in, get dead fish. Blood clouds the water; two bloods mix.
     Sit back down.
     Cauterize wound with big Zippo Marine Corps lighter—the kind they used to advertise in LIFE magazine.
     Wince.
     Pain.

                    ###

Gobbo stood in his blood spattered apron at the fast moving conveyor belt and tapped his razor sharp knife against the steel conveyor side. The fish came down the line, one by one, and as each one reached him he quickly and deftly picked it up and sliced off the head and tossed the head into a stained cardboard barrel to the side. The rest of the fish continued down the line.
     The cables running below the line slapped against the thin conveyor rollers.
     On the other side of the line, the whiteshirted supervisor stood with his sleeves rolled up counting the dark cartons stacked on a pallet with a brown clipboard hung in his hand.
     The slapping of the cables mixed with the hiss of the rollers turning and the sound shrouded both men.
     Gobbo beheaded the fish one after the other and pictured such a line with human bodies coming down the line, and great red devils thirty feet tall barechested with pointed beards cutting the heads off the human bodies and tossing the heads into a stained cardboard barrel to the side.
     A sudden clang came from the conveyor, as would happen from time to time.
     The whiteshirted supervisor stepped back from the pallet of dark cartons and raised his clipboard and squinted into it and got out a long white pen and wrote on the paper on the clipboard. His face was long, like that of a horse. He took the clipboard to his glass-walled office and held the clipboard in one hand and dialed a number with the other, a scowl crossing his face.
     At about four p.m. the conveyor broke down and a mechanic came with a black tool box and poked around under the line with a long screwdriver.
     The fish lay motionless in the silence.
     Gobbo idly leaned against the line, his arms folded. He thought of where they took the barrels of heads to. He pictured a row of filthy overflowing garbage dumpsters out back of the building, the dirty asphalt around them littered with glassy-eyed heads, the cats sitting on and around the dumpsters, licking their oily paws, their tails flicking.

                    ###

Draw angry-looking knife—cut off left index finger, at the first joint—push fingertip onto sharp stick—push stick in the water. Sweat drips down under your shirt.
     Pain.
     Ignore.
     Sit and wait as blood drips making black mud in the dirt.
     Big pickerel comes and gobbles down finger.
     Pull out Colt forty five—shoot fish.
     Wade in, get dead fish. Blood clouds the water; two bloods mix.
     Sit back down.
     Cauterize wound with big Zippo Marine Corps lighter—the kind they used to advertise in LIFE magazine.
     Wince.
     Pain.

                    ###

Bruno polished the antique car quickly, rubbing the wax out in great wide circles, cocking his head from time to time to squint into the deep finish and admire his work.
     Beneath the old car the rust worked silently eating into the thick metal of the frame.
     Next door the crewcutted potbellied neighbor placed a yellow sprinkler in the center of his lawn and followed the green hose toward the outside spigot.
     Bruno's antique car set on its big balloon tires and Bruno worked his way around the car rubbing hard. The car had cost him two thousand dollars and was in fairly bad shape except for the sharp gleaming black paint job. Bruno's hands moved fast wiping off the wax and all at once his hand went across a sharp piece of old-fashioned trim by the grille and was ripped open. The rag fell to the ground and he gripped the ripped hand.
     Fuck! he exclaimed, as he turned from the car.
     A spider had spun a web up in the hidden recesses under the car and sat waiting for prey.
     The yellow sprinkler next door went on and threw water in a wide circle out across the browning lawn. The neighbor wiped his feet on a mat before stepping back into the house.
     Bruno headed for his house to wash out and bandage up this deep rip in the side of his palm. Its true, he thought. It's true they don't make them like they used to.
     The yellow sprinkler spun steadily, no one watching, splashing water out and over and onto the hard bone-dry ground.
     The rust continued its work under the car and the spider hung by two legs from its web.

                    ###

Draw angry-looking knife—cut off left thumb, at the first joint—push thumbtip onto sharp stick—push stick in the water. Sweat drips down under your shirt.
     Pain.
     Ignore.
     Sit and wait as blood drips making black mud in the dirt.
     Big pickerel comes and gobbles down finger.
     Pull out Colt forty five—shoot fish.
     Wade in, get dead fish. Blood clouds the water; two bloods mix.
     Sit back down.
     Cauterize wound with big Zippo Marine Corps lighter—the kind they used to advertise in LIFE magazine.
     Wince.
     Pain.

                    ###

You know, said the bartender to the woman as he wiped a wine glass. They say dolphins are as smart as people. They only reason they haven't built up big technology like people is because they lack an opposable thumb.
     Having wiped the glass dry, he put it up in the rack. The wine glasses glittered in the light. Across the barroom, a thin man sat gripping his tumbler in a booth with his gaze firmly planted on the woman's large backside.
     The bartender put the dishtowel on the bar and laid a hand beside it and spoke.
     So what do you think of that, he asked the woman. By that logic, we have this to thank for all we have.
     He thrust up his thumb before her face.
     The man's gaze intensified.
     Startled, she looked up at the bartender from her thick slick heavy bestselling novel.
     The thin man across the barroom sipped his beer, gazing harder still.
     What was that about your thumb? she said. I wasn't really listening.
     Slowly the bartender's thumb sank back down and without answering he resumed drying wine glasses and putting them up in the rack. Each time he put one up, sweet tinkling sounds came down around them.
     The thin man across the room at last took his eyes off the woman's backside, put down a tip, rose, and left.

                    ###

Draw angry-looking knife—cut off right thumb, at the first joint—push thumbtip onto sharp stick—push stick in the water. Sweat drips down under your shirt.
     Pain.
     Ignore.
     Sit and wait as blood drips making black mud in the dirt.
     Big pickerel comes and gobbles down finger.
     Pull out Colt forty five—shoot fish.
     Wade in, get dead fish. Blood clouds the water; two bloods mix.
     Sit back down.
     Cauterize wound with big Zippo Marine Corps lighter—the kind they used to advertise in LIFE magazine.
     Wince.
     Pain.

                    ###

The forty-nine Chevy sat in the middle of the burnt up indian grass field down past the treeline halfway to the brook and first older men came with red tool boxes and put up the hood and took the battery and the radiator.
     Slick-haired Eddie Jennings, who had stolen the Chevy, lay one mile away upstairs on his bed, lying low.
     Life began to reestablish itself in the blackened field.
     Then the next day boys came and jumped up and down on the Chevy's top and smashed it down. They came with axes and sledgehammers and took care of flattening the tires and bashing the fenders. Somebody stole the license plates.
     Overnight light rains nourished the seedlings beginning to sprout in the field.
     Eddie Jennings sat at the ice cream counter downtown and had a soda and hoped he couldn't be connected with the stolen car that sat being ruined in the woods.
     Tiny stems pushed up between the blackened dead grasses.
     They opened the car doors and bent them back and smacked the hinges with the sledge and they used knives to slash the upholstery. They broke the steering wheel and used a pipe to smash the windows—it's amazing they didn't do that earlier—they tore off the windshield wipers and took the hubcaps and broke the rear-view mirror. This all occurred over time, over the summer.
     With each passing day Eddie Jennings breathed easier as no one came to question him about the car.
     In the early fall the rabbit hunters put shotgun holes into the doors and fenders and at last the car didn't look good anymore, it was at last a wreck.
     They all hated Eddie Jennings.
     The sprouts had become shoots and thrust up green from the blackened ground and here and there larger patches of green appeared and grew, before the frost came, mistakenly believing it to be spring.

                    ###

Draw angry-looking knife—cut off right index finger, at the first joint—push fingertip onto sharp stick—push stick in the water. Sweat drips down under your shirt.
     Pain.
     Ignore.
     Sit and wait as blood drips making black mud in the dirt.
     Big pickerel comes and gobbles down finger.
     Pull out Colt forty five—shoot fish.
     Wade in, get dead fish. Blood clouds the water; two bloods mix.
     Sit back down.
     Cauterize wound with big Zippo Marine Corps lighter—the kind they used to advertise in LIFE magazine.
     Wince.
     Pain.

                    ###

The proprietor sat paring his fingernails on the three legged wooden stool behind the counter waiting for another customer.
     The mice huddled in the dark below the counter.
     The bell above the front door tinkled as the door opened and let in an average-age woman and she went up to his rack of items and began thumbing through them.
     Lunita Laredo still stood in the back of the store fingering through some smaller items.
     The mice sat motionless, waiting.
     Let me know if I can help in any way, said the proprietor, putting away the small knife and lying a fist on the counter. The mice's ears perked up.
     I will, said the woman in a smooth voice.
     She's looking at the expensive ones, he thought. I can't believe it I'm about to sell an expensive one.
     At the back of the shop Lunita Laredo moved across fingering her way though the bins of small items.
     The mice moved to a corner of the counter and huddled together for safety.
     The woman who had just entered the store picked one item up and then another from further down the rack and turned and held them up before the proprietor.
     What's the difference between these besides the price? she asked.
     The materials, he said. The one in your right hand is made of better materials.
     Oh, she said.
     Done browsing, Lunita Laredo turned around and headed toward the front door.
     Feeling the sudden vibration in the floor, the mice quivered in fear.
     Dick Curtsy came in to look for an anniversary gift, and set the bell above the door tinkling in its bracket.
     The other woman stood there a long time stroking the fur of first one item and then the other, trying to decide.
     That one, thought the proprietor, looking toward the expensive one. That one—
     Lunita Laredo left the store and the bell above the door tinkled from its bracket.
     I'll take one of each, said the other woman.
     Dick Curtsy resumed browsing where Lunita Laredo had left off as the proprietor's mind went blank.
     The mice stayed under the counter and when the shop was closed much later they ventured out in the shadows to forage.

                    ###

Draw angry-looking knife—cut off right middle finger, at the first joint—push fingertip onto sharp stick—push stick in the water. Sweat drips down under your shirt.
     Pain.
     Ignore.
     Sit and wait as blood drips making black mud in the dirt.
     Big pickerel comes and gobbles down finger.
     Pull out Colt forty five—shoot fish.
     Wade in, get dead fish. Blood clouds the water; two bloods mix.
     Sit back down.
     Cauterize wound with big Zippo Marine Corps lighter—the kind they used to advertise in LIFE magazine.
     Wince.
     Pain.

                    ###

They walked hand in hand down Washington Avenue and passed the big green oil tanks at Kuhlthau's and continued on toward the sign in front of the borough hall that had his name on it. They stopped by the sign. Plastic rectangles covered it and each rectangle held the name of someone in town who had been in the war.
     Baby birds in the nest far above them chirped loudly for their food, but the mother bird was not there.
     You were really there? she asked, squeezing his hand.
     An opossum set in the grass across the front lawn of the borough hall.
     Sure was, he said.
     What was it like?
     The mother bird flew up out of nowhere, with a worm.
     It was a job. You know. Like anything else.
     The opossum darted for its hole.
     They turned from the sign and continued down the avenue. One by one the babies were fed. In his mind he pictured a fresh new joint of marijuana.

                    ###

Draw angry-looking knife—cut off left ring finger, at the first joint—push fingertip onto sharp stick—push stick in the water. Sweat drips down under your shirt.
     Pain.
     Ignore.
     Sit and wait as blood drips making black mud in the dirt.
     Big pickerel comes and gobbles down finger.
     Pull out Colt forty five—shoot fish.
     Wade in, get dead fish. Blood clouds the water; two bloods mix.
     Sit back down.
     Cauterize wound with big Zippo Marine Corps lighter—the kind they used to advertise in LIFE magazine.
     Wince.
     Pain.

                    ###

He had done it.
     The field around him stretched for miles.
     Blood oozed from an earhole.
     He held his big hands before his face and looked into the palms. The raw red palms felt dirty.
     What to do now?
     The flow of blood slowed.
     These hands were different now than they had been before.
     These hands had done it.
     But what to do now?
     The blood lay in the curve of the lobe of the ear and began to congeal.
     Turning, he thrust them down in his pockets.
     A mild breeze rippled the indian grass scattered through the field.
     The heart was silent. Nothing bled.
     He stood there.
     He had to do something to cover this up.
     But what?
     What—
     He went a mile off to get his car.
     The field was much the same without him as with him.
     The blood began pooling in the low points of the body.
     He came and backed up the car and opened up the trunk.
     The mild breeze wrapped around him.
     He used the hands to put it in the trunk. Arms and legs flopped around, then lay still.
     He drove away toward the flooded quarry, leaving the field behind. Twilight rose about him. It was that time of day when if you were just plopped down in the day like that, you'd not be able to tell if it were dawn, or dusk, except possibly by the position of the sun.

                    ###

Draw angry-looking knife—cut off right pinkie finger, at the first joint—push fingertip onto sharp stick—push stick in the water. Sweat drips down under your shirt.
     Pain.
     Ignore.
     Sit and wait as blood drips making black mud in the dirt.
     Big pickerel comes and gobbles down finger.
     Pull out Colt forty five—shoot fish.
     Wade in, get dead fish. Blood clouds the water; two bloods mix.
     Cauterize wound with big Zippo Marine Corps lighter—the kind they used to advertise in LIFE magazine.
     Wince.
     Pain.
     String up the ten fish, take them home. Clean wrap and freeze. The fingertips come out in the guts. Throw them in the battered trash can.
     Pain.
     Grit teeth and go to old doctor.
     Say Look at my hands. They throb.
     Doctor's tarnished instruments are lined up on a tray.
     Doctor says why did you do this.
     To get ten fish, you say.
     Where are the fingertips?
     Gone.
     Oh.
     You have a high tolerance for pain, my friend.
     I know.
     Regardless, get an injection for pain.
     Ten wounds are washed and bandaged.
     Get a prescription for Vicodin and for some antibiotics.
     Get prescriptions filled.
     Go home. Doctor said take two Vicodin every four hours.
     Take four pills every two hours.
     Take the first four Vicodin, get a soda, get in the comfy chair, and spend the sunny mild weekday afternoon alone in the house reading a National Geographic article about Venice.




Jim Meirose's work has previously appeared in Otoliths, and also in many other leading literary magazines and journals including Alaska Quarterly Review, New Orleans Review, South Carolina Review, and Witness.
 
 
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