Pietro & Charlie
A taciturn nod, and the motion was set unseen but from the adjacent hall came a shrill wailing combinatory whistle as the crustacean was dropped, the heavy lid closed, and the crab screamed. Or was the steam escaping. It was here that their seats faced one another, not that it had ever mattered.
Speaking to Charlie in a first gesture before the evening ended, Pietro had spoke thus, for the first time, in reference to their fate and gracious host. “Will you be hungry enough to eat a fourth?” Pietro and Charlie met at this table, set with such precision as if by Oscar Wilde, humming the previous summer’s motto: before the season expired for it was Spring and the long final night was coming to a close.
Both mouths had been taped shut and their owner’s respective eyes gripped astray by clamps that grew stronger in parallel with their will to speak. These contraptions, dubbed so for effect, leave creases on every kith face in the plenary, as if they were actually made of metal: our skin stretched and forcibly slackening over time.
I believe the idea, concocted by the mad host (call him by a whispered God), was to regulate and modify our super-moods. Looking about the room I see these horrific devices drying us out, causing us to wither, stopping us from crying, from exchanging words, from falling asleep: where the mind once thought it could do what it damn-well pleased.
I haven’t slept in days. Surely Charlie too is worried that neither of our futures will come to be if he doesn’t resume his work across the table. And so he falls first, rounding his shoulders forward and continuing as he had been before. I haven’t yet the ethos of defeat, of occupation, in the same way European nations are bred through resounding loss and instability, or the subconscious faded-glory-stain of the American South, washed ragged through the years.
Our palace lies in ruins, and through the broken window one can see the damask and flags all but faded and thread barren. Even in spite my own class ambiguity, these aristocratic shock collars still do the trick well enough to leave only a potential for action, and to withstand higher aspirations.
Once upon the sticky wooden table, latent notes are exacerbated and tickled but never sent across the fence. Muffled clinks are lost in the trade of dead friction by shuffling feet on worn carpet. To my delight, Charlie too looks exhausted: and strained. Occupation was taking its penultimate toll in his face, which no longer reflected his age. His red hair was watts dimmer. His pattern of freckles were waning as angry little pocks made advancing war upon his cheeks and forehead to shape a growing crown of stigmata, made all the more regal once lit with a cold flame by the current state of his unwieldy dry-blood red hair.
Inside our room, the contagious feverishness carries stale metallic air from lung-to-lung now that the young students have come roost at our tables. They appear twice yearly, migratory like, clucking and chuckling blackly like faggot-sounding gulls, amplifying the state of anxiety. Were they not a grim symbol of the term’s death? The old room was accumulating steam and condensation as air inside was again forcibly pushed out by the arrival of another group (a flock?), clothed head to foot in black (a murder?), moving into the room and bringing with them the smell of humid mulch from outside.
Sweat on my forehead had begun to form a swamp, causing the tape-gag to slip and loosen grip. Silently rising with little thought, I crossed the room to the podium just beyond the entrance doors to reapply a fresh sorrowful mask before the marksman of my peers made another policing pass. A brief drink of water from the fountain. That would suffice to cool me down: to settle my mind on what was being asked of it.
Yet on this day the sirocco in the sick room remained barely breathable as time passed. The windows bled slow falling beads from the common moisture of our collective breathe. I feel I’m getting fat on the breath of a hundred. The taste is metallic yet rather sweet, like licking the inverted foil of a bon-bon. Upon re-entering, I glanced down to withdraw my card, spotting an abandoned article lost from a boy’s velcro wallet (use priore).
Ahhh, I see. A totem of ‘potential action’. A distraction allowed to youth in its prime confidence but denied to homosexuals stepping forth from their early development, their Blue period. The short haired, familiar, athletic girl behind the podium says they’ve been finding an absurd number of rubbers this week; that they’re given out like candy favors by the administration in Spring. That they always find them as the beloved younglings spill in this time of year: migrating nyphetes and boyish fiends alike, and the giddy ticks that come with the birds. The vassal of my wit had long dried out so I exchange but a grim smile with the young woman. Through the gate I trod on another two sealed wrappers absentmindedly—crinkling, squishing, balloons popping underfoot—before taking my seat amongst the arrival of these new trash culprits.
It isn’t long before my head won’t stay up right. My eyes flutter. Drool pools onto my chest leaving a discolored mark. I look around and see a boyish bitty prick has done the same, the now-dried crust appearing like semen on his lower lip.
I refuse to fall asleep. With almost certainty I believe Charlie won’t be there when I arrived on the other side of slumber—just more, even more efficient, clamps. In the nightmare, the chance-bolts must have been designed out of the patent, as were the glassy sharp tools for a mercifully prescribed lobotomy. I dream awake of losing the room itself and twitch alert in terror. The table remains but the few words that had escaped were not enough to grant him entry into my thoughts. We will boil alive until we inevitably conclude with a final squeal.
The dark fantasy would be extinguished (but a fantasy no less). And its demolition would wreck me as a final child would lament the collapse of his family home or the fall of the tree carved with four initialling letters. The tree smeared with his aborted child’s butter — initials to be forever determined. If I was not more careful the magnificent species of Charlie would follow suit, to be extinct too, so I redouble my focus and the day passes like clockwork until the spring is overstretched. —
Achromatic smoke had begun to slip under the nearby casement window, warping the wooden frame and loudly cracking the glass before fogging the cragged seam. Charlie you are thinner since I saw you last: starved: a colorless vampire drowning in a terrycloth vest. You’ve neglected your nutrition and daily exercise.
A well-shaven man moves behind you to the troublesome window, dressed freely in common clothes that scrape new stubble as they sway. His fingers strain to move in the minute unyielding gap left by the casement. The tips are purple before his form collapses. He gasps sharply!, grasping his forearm suddenly, his face expelling and contorting in agony as his limb is locked painfully stiff. The veins bulge forth, inflating comically as his contracting muscle swells to an irregular size and hardens to stone. In a mortis attempt he tries desperately to massages the member in his right hand hopelessly late to ebb the excruciating pain forcing his lips to shake and eyes to water.
Looking fully as I had not before, I looked back to Charlie to notice what the thick evergreen fabric of the hand-sewn cassock had first masked. Charlie’s chest is sullen, and the soft memorized curves of his once elastic abdomen are starved thin to the grotesque rib-lines the fabric now drapes from.
Well now. It’s not fair! The fallen virgin’s strapped figure: that he should consent to lose weight at such a time. Even if he is distorted, disfigured, and his head disproportionate heavy to what remained of his withered body. Sitting there, his mother’s cassock rests loose over his now pronounced collar bone. Returning from the broken window to his chair at the table, the fresh hewn limping invalid cradles his arm and his rigor. And a barefooted boheme I notice now with a grimace. In muffled breaths I mutter an optimistic pray he slips on one of the floor condoms. Not that he could hear me for he’s forebodingly whispering to himself, in a fading nimble tone.—
I wish he shut up. With every strained breath I thought was his last my anxiety is compounded, escalating to a quaking magnitude. But it is Charlie's irregular breath that causes me concern. It sounds as if it is struggling to find a path out his mouth. Perhaps he was also melodramatic and afraid the end would come in just a few days. We each knew our own end but had no way of conveying it to one another without marring what drew us together. “Would he return at the onset of Fall? Or would he vanish forever like so many before, to be silently taken beyond the gates? To heaven or hell?” After two years, I admit mere proximity had failed. I’m so close I could leap across the table and wring his neck in a single move. And even that seems simpler. “Would you like a fourth” remains unanswered and perhaps it was a stupid question asked of us by M. McFate. One last chance at cruelty to prove we possessed enough human qualities to act and perform free thought. And again it passes.
Walking through the dunes to the beach through what had become my wild sage, roses, magnolias, and looming cypress trees— unseen in the brush. I was the rider at the crest of morn, ensconced with windy weather and rich with a gross perfume laxly toned by salty blood. The exhaustion I’d felt the previous week had begun to wane, though a week had not been enough. The magnolias cast branching shadows from Friday’s unexpected snowfall and concluding tropical storm, giving shock to the first days of Summer. The petals had detached themselves from the trees in the brush and been stripped from the branches by the prevailing winds. Cold had wilted and browned the pedals blowing now out to sea. They hung ragged. Pollen off the sagebrush was tickling, and I sneezed passing unheard.
Reversing from myth to a siren’s whisper, repute would be upheld. He’d been here before last year. I’d seen him. The stretch of the forest path between highway and the water is a bleeding meat rack. People retreat into the dunes and brush to meet at dark. Walking out once again onto the beach the smelled shifted to the fresh compost of a decimated Eden. A rash had started to form on my calves and inner thighs from the walk through the dunes forming a hopeless itch unquelled by deep scratching. Once in the ocean, the salty sea would relieve the splendid itching and swelling. Laying down a white table cloth, I sat down on the beach in the looming shade of a giant cypress tree growing in the sand, bowing forward slightly in the wind and resembling a falling and aged general.
Knee deep in the reeds, a man wades offshore reaping the crabs from another’s trap. He is bent forward and facing away from me. A wide brimmed hat further hides his face from view even as I cross the river of sand. Pharmaceutical companies capture these horseshoe crabs on the palisades of Fort Tilden’s beach. They extract hemocyanin from their bodies before returning them to the ocean. The crab’s blood doesn’t contain hemoglobins as other vertebras, the way oxygen is moved through the body. Instead their blood contains hemocyanin and the copper bits inside hemocyanin make their blood blue. The amebocytes in their biological makeup play a role similar to the white blood cells in human bodies, so they are pumped into sickly bodies when the white cells find the task of war futile. Or at the very least to ward off pathogens in the progressively weak. And for this reason they are harvested—captured and bled before tossed back out to sea. Most crabs survive the assembly line process of capture and release. Their mortality is entirely based on the amount of blood taken, as well as the trauma they suffer by the extraction process and the clamps.
A dead crab, belly up, lays just beyond the perimeter of my camp. The corpse of this one was still bleeding, leaking bleakly into the sand—half submerged and hidden. Squatting down, I grope at a handful of the navy stained sand near the crab to let it fall tightly through my fingers. The dried blood coating the grain reflected a heavy metallic sheen like ink—blowing away like glitter in the shine of a high bulb. The undry residue left on my hand is wiped on both cheeks.
Half covered and unnoticed was a neon-colored something. A vinyl strap protruded out from the sand elsewhere resembling the separate head (perhaps) of a much larger monster washed ashore as the tide had began to recede. “But the last visible blotches of pink on a shriveled magnolia?” What I mistook for a pedal for a pink strip on the bag conquered and left to crumble.
(to be continued)