I am allergic to nostalgia. There were, there are, no good old days. Only distorted days. Yet we were young. And young–if survived–sees you through anything. Or does it? I don’t know. But I do know: I was there. What remains–we left no remains.
Islets of busted mattress. Stains of bodily excreta, piping to piping, spawned tattoos of Rorschachean complexity. Kapok, blooming with putrescent flower, burst forth in ripe cotton bolls. Spillage from vacated follicle, scalp, axillae, pubes, melded to form decussated grids of dust and dander. Some burned as punk.Some recruited for sole choke. Or, when plaster and lath gaped, wall bung. The more desperate, pocket warmers and shirt bunting, worthy of flagellants, penitents, and early Christian martyrs.
Crumpled joss and dhoop sticks left behind their hard-candy crumbs. Spent candles deliquesced into solidified melt pools.Empty codeine cough syrup bottles and bulk-buy wine jugs, Morpheus warring with the wrath of grapes, lay in viridescent battlefields of long-dead soldiers. Glassine envelopes, gusseted polyethylene bags, speed cones, heroin quills, high-gauged hypodermics, burnt vestas, scorched cooking spoons, clipped roaches, cigarette stubs, interspersed with palimpsest of underground ragazines, rolling papers, and tie-off vine twine, most than not sanguineous in blot and streak, colluded to litter a raw-worn floor, so deep in discard strata its wood visible only through the interstices of a zigzag craquelure fine as that of medieval fresco.
An immovable feast of denuded soup cans, lids still partially attached, held precariously angled utensils in half-eaten contents, unidentifiable by either taste, texture, or scent. Splotched with black mildew’s viral configurations, shucked clothing, like tumbleweeds caught in perpendiculars, piled up at corners, rigid and molded into place as pliable sculpture to the damp rot of denim and twill. Beelzebugs, of all stripes, solids, and anterior seasons, had converged on a single oeil-de-boeuf to die a hundred silica and sill girthed deaths where, while, web-spinners once rappelled onto exoskeletons to sup them dry of their vitals.
Reft of what had been, or could have been, was now, otherwise, barren, save tattered copy of Alan Watts’ The Joyous Cosmology: Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness, next to which was a cracked LP, broken mirror fragment, and injector razor blade.Upon LP and mirror surface, a rusty powder, pulverized seed, and dried plant matter. Off to one side, a scraped-out banana peel, shriveled lemon pipe, and chewed-to-pulp blotter acid sheet. Abaft, at embrassure to unfueled, unjuiced, unplumbed cold-water kitchen, stood a lard can convenience; International Times’ misnomered It Girl, Theda Bara, its only source of privy rigging; Atlantis Rising’s Great Speckled Bird, imported at 15¢ a (t)issue, softest, like old Confederate currency, of the subterraneans, much prized and pilfered for filly blunts or the more delicate of orificial swabbings.
Dionysian Transcendental Jansenists. Antinominal Concatenated Reclusives. Devolutionary Sporadicals. Quixotes. Ergophobiacs. Synesthetes. Autodidacts. Roads Scholars. Trog Squatters.Soi-disant Artists. Folded, self-same, to follow Tantalus into an impenetrable sophism of sciolistic theory, wheezing to quiescence by the realpolitiks of meliorism’s despair. And a capful of wind.
Arcadia–acedia–dystopia–anosmia–anhedonia. Spenserian survival of the fittest set straight. Not the burgeoning, not the risen, incontrovertibly strong, but those that could sink and submerge themselves to the absolute dissolution of existence.
Nobody burned out. They bowed out. Those who could move upright, porrect, and correct–did. Those who couldn’t–the wayside ate them as carrion to the past. It was not possible to turn your back on that which was always at one’s own. Just let it blow. Blow and winnow. Winnow and blow.
Across one particular mattress, under twisted army blanket, lay a gaunt young man. Face retrousse, shoulders retrorse, mouth ringent, flesh marmoreal, vomitus spackling down shirtfront, noose knotted latchet at embolismic elbow, festering a bacterial life exclusive to its host, he was coated, cap-a-pie, in the permafrost of an ashen blue pallor. A pallor never to be seen in the variegation of nature. Only in its destruction.
* * *
Bannister untouched, hands thrust into pockets of Goodwill car coats, feet numbed in cold, seeming to kick every other riser, two young men, early coeval twenties, trod, conjunctively, three flights of century-old wooden hills. At last newel post, its ball long gelded from base, the stairs leveled into a final landing, where the first man moved forward, dipping his head towards a heavy oak door, held together by smutch, tarnish and sweat, then, with a low velocity goat butt, pushed until hinges creaked and it swung open. Instanter, despite cold, the redolence of ratulence, like that encrusted to the metal of a summer garbage can, permeated entire stairwell. The second man, not looking up, straight, or to the sides since entering building, fanned once, lagged and followed.
The room was empty. The void full. Air current still. Still as that of a mausoleum. After the living had departed.And the departed had resumed living. As only the dead can live. A presence stated by absence.
Through wordless stare, removed, if not resigned, Zeke and Lambkin simultaneously squatted, vis-a-vis, at length of the corpse. Free-balling, as was their wont, Zeke, denaturing the duck butter, wobbled his equipment into place, while Lambkin cupped a split in the knee of his dungarees, rotated friction over the exposed cap, and, accompanied by a soft nasal exhale, pushed the saddle bridge of his wire spectacles up the slope of his nose. Zeke bit off a filament of sable mustache, extending an inch below bottom lip, to answer with a single porcine snort, then spit it out like a stray tobacco shred.
“Check’m hot dogs,” he said, pressing his thumb, in the manner of a shoe clerk, to one toe of the corpse’s laceless black hightops.
“Can you fill ’em?”
“Can vacate what is.”
“No room at the inn–quest.”
“‘Quest’ que c’est?” Zeke then slapped the corpse back and forth across both cheeks–“Get up, slugabed!”–chucked its chin at constricted dewlap, and looked to Lambkin. “You tell him—he never listens to me.”
“Beating a dead horseshoe.”
Zeke traced the arc of the toe. “Luck ran out.”
Zeke removed the hightop, exposing necrotic dermis through rends in socks, angled it, toe up, heel down, like a canvas and rubber teeter-totter, off stanchion of foot, then took hold of the forelock, spread over face and chest, several strands caught in dundrearies, and hoisted the head, to speak into an unhearing ear: “Did you know the length of one’s hair is commensurate with one’s father’s disappointment?”
“Or commiserate with disappointment in one’s father.”
“Ever notice how after the War,” Zeke asked, “guys started growing sideburns?–again.”
“‘Forty-six, ‘seven, ‘eight…”
“Nah, my wet nurse’s teat got in the way.”
“I’ll overlook that,” said Zeke, gently dropping the head back onto the mattress. “My nurse’s teat didn’t.”
“Your nurse was thirteen–what teat?”
“‘What nurse?'” Lambkin repeated, distracted, unable to go any farther. “Wet nurse.”
“Nurse, curse, worse,” said Zeke.
“Ridley-ridley-ree.” Lambkin edged imperceptively closer to the corpse.
“And the dolor is?”
“Gulp,” Lambkin spoke the verb aloud, then, in semordnilapean reverse: “Plug.”
“Demon,” said Zeke. “No-med.”
“Lived,” said Lambkin. “Devil.”
“Tide,” said Zeke. “Edit.”
“Dickory dock–up the clock’s–dial.”
“Gonna hafta,” Lambkin hesitated, “…call somebody. Laid.”
“Some…body,” said Zeke. “To rest.”
“No dime,” came Lambkin.
“Paradigm,” came Zeke. Of rhetorical shift.”
“Between the two of us.”
Zeke reached over and felt the corpse’s side pockets. “Between the three of us.”
Lambkin licked the tip of his middle finger, dipped it into the rusty powder and tasted.”Nozmuscada.”
“Ain’t for eggnog.”
Lambkin then began examining the corpse, checking its air passage and lifting the eyelids. His fingers, by the elements, were cold. The corpse, by contrast, colder.
“We know the want,” said Zeke, “what’s the need?”
“Encharneled,” said Lambkin.
“That ain’t ripe,” said Zeke, “that’s rot.”
“Do I smell a pattern?”
“And the X on the certificate, Doctor Grim?”
“Ah, don’t have any.”
“Cataleptic paralysis,” said Lambkin, then smirked: “Or paralytic catalepsy. With constrictive dilation.”
“Or dilational constriction. Does it matter?”
“Not to him.”
“Of mice and mendicants.”
“And myriad ways to die.”
“Only one way for junkie freak.”
“One way dead end street.”
“Success Finds Andy Hardly. Or Too Late For Lexington.”
“Again, prof, elucidate me,” said Zeke, “what’s the soupgon - beat again, stepped on, non chippying, bust-out–du jour?”
Lambkin grabbed the works by trigger end and inspected the barrel. “MMDA.” He then pointed to the shirtfront. “Poison i.v.via involuntary vacuation and usual positional asphyxia.”
“‘Death comes at last,'” said Zeke, contemplating tip of the needle, “‘and with a little pin bores through the castle wall, and farewell–if not King–its errant knave.'”
“Tad paraphrastic there, buddy?” said Lambkin, flipping the syringe towards the wall, where the spike, for a quick second, dart-boarded into plaster, pulled out and fell to the floor.
“‘Tis required,” said Zeke; “one’s demise assumes many-a form an’ many-a folly.”
“Assumes, consumes, subsumes, presumes. “
“But never resumes.” Zeke picked up a mud brown banana peel and dangled it to-and-fro with a pendular sway. “These things are dangerous.” The peel flew across the room, joining the syringe. “Could slip and break his neck.”
Lambkin blew at the nutmeg, sending it airborne, fingered the seed and plant particles, arranging them in his palm. “Good morning glory … goldmari …pinapple woodrose … peyotl … fly agaric …”
“Fly agaric. Gets you there on time. Eastern Standard DOA.”
“Sclerotia,” Lambkin continued, “and snowy ergot.”
Zeke toppled the hightop, arose, noticed book on floor, nudged it with toe of duct-taped desert boot, and read: “The Joyful Cosmology: Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness.”
“Joyous Cosmology,” Lambkin corrected.
“Right,” said Zeke, “–joyless.” Kicking debris from path, he moved to an unshaded window and looked out. “Joyless and unconscious. Avoidance of pleasure stronger than pursuit of pain.”
“Anyone near the booth?” Lambkin asked.
“If I gotta pan’,” said Zeke, “forget it.”
“Thunk the coin return.”
“Hyperborean, man. Tums won’t drop.”
“Mushy’s mother, then.”
“If there ain’t a dime for a phone, how’s there two bits for a bus?” Zeke moved down corridor, upped the lard can by a rolling-pin handle and walked it to the kitchen’s only window, pane divisions cracked top to bottom, sash bent, jambliner permanently lodged into and out of place. “A pot to … but not a …” He located the can’s serried lid and loosely fastened it to the top. The brisance of shattering glass was then heard.
“Come on, man,” said Lambkin. “Vandalism?”
“What ‘ism? said Zeke. “Needs razed before it can even be condemned.”
“So do you.”
Zeke then looked down into the lightwell of a brick-strewn courtyard to see slops splattered in a shotgun pattern across a broken walkway. “Gardyloo!” He caught a line of graffito, scrawled over sill in graphite pencil, flicked away shards, and read aloud: “‘What the rest of the world did, we didn’t. What we did, the rest of the world wouldn’t. And couldn’t.'” He called to Lambkin: “Who penned the lacuna?–that should have stayed missing.”
“Can eliminate grammarians.”
“But not elimination itself.”
Lambkin ground the plant matter into his palm and let it waft.As afterthought, removed glasses, placed lens at corpse’s mouth, checking for sign of breath–nothing–and cursorily touched at the body’s pulse points–chest, neck, wrist–yielding same result.
Zeke returned from window, squashing lemon pipe underfoot. “What purpose? Exanimate any way you bend it.”
“Not that animate when he wasn’t ex.” Lambkin then moved to put glasses back on, noticed smudge, breathed on lens and rubbed them, circumventing vomit, across cleanest part of corpse’s shirt.
“Well,” drawled Zeke, “he’s good for half that transaction.” Lambkin rose, put on glasses, to look at water warped ceiling, and adjusted the frame until hitting proper acuity.
“Everything nice and shiny?” Zeke asked.
Lambkin pushed two footlong strands of tawny hair behind the cable hooks of each temple piece and shrugged his coat into place. “As the future.”
On one wall, colored over brittle wainscoting, was a meat wheel of disparate body parts, the entrails and viscera in harsh prominent hues of red, blue, black, green, entwined among flaming orange spokes and hub.
“Aw, gee,” said Lambkin on inspection, “it’s not signed.”
“Anonymous Bosh,” said Zeke, disinterested. “Redundant ‘c’ be damned.”
“Like the Cathedral of Chartres,” Lambkin sighed, “we’ll never know.”
“Ah, but the very fact of its existence,” said Zeke, “is that not knowledge enough for any man of a God-fearing humanity?” He then blocked one nostril and blew a snot rocket in the general direction, residuum hanging until sleeved away.
Lambkin spotted a viable soup can, traces of ort stuck to the sides, picked it up, sniffed, only to let it drop.
“Gourmet,” Zeke harrumph’d.
Lambkin looked back to the one inhabited mattress. “‘The cool room, Lord, is a fool’s room.'”
“Tuberculosis is curable,” said Zeke. “Stupidity ain’t.”
Recalibrating his brain, Lambkin then strode to a closet door, aslant, askew, half unhinged, and, with his instep, nudged it open.
“One more skeleton?” said Zeke, leaning palm first into an exposed wall strut.
“Saint Teresa’s pickled punctilios,” said Lambkin, removing a pillow, feathers streaming out of a gash in its side, from the closet’s only shelf.
“You are hungry.”
There, in three gallon-sized Mason jars, were three fetuses, each of varied trimesters, floating in formaldehyde, resembling a tadpole, pig bladder, and gefilte fish. “Unholy Trinity,” said Lambkin, presenting, like a sideshow barker, his midway attraction.
“First polliwog,” said Zeke, “is a buggy bumper.”
“Bouncer?” Lambkin asked.
“Rubber as Goodyear.”
“And what’s this,” he said, pinging the glass of the gefilte fish, “Saint Teresa’s contraceptive sponge?”
“Sponge cake,” said Zeke. “Dig in.”
He did the same ping on the pig bladder. “Retrograde brain sneeze?”
“If Teri had a brain to sneeze at.”
Lambkin snatched up the pillow and crammed it back into place, feathers floating down upon jars with the interioral reverse of overblown snow globes.
Calibration did not take. Only took. Zeke gnawed the other side of the mustache. His calibration complete.
Robert Peters: Desecrator of literary publications buried so far below soil line, takes a backhoe to unearth. Pulps that hate you for what you are rather than love you for what you are not. Yet, one bodes consistently obscure knowing they at least started on the bottom and stayed there.