Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
The bathroom linoleum is cold. His feet are cold. Toes blue around the cuticles. Tingling with the beginning of impaired circulation. First cigarette of the day does it. Waking up does it. Being alive does it.
The amount of bacterial organisms in the gastrointestinal tract is equal to or greater than the number of cells in a human body: Three trillion.
Antibiotics translated is against life. He's taking a ton of them.
Doxycycline in the morning. Clindamyacin in the afternoon. Tetracycline at night. Protease inhibitors. Take them at exactly the same time, every day, five times. Drink lemon juice and olive oil in the morning. Ginseng and coffee for energy. Alpha lipoic acid to keep the liver clean. Chlorella to keep the intestines green. Cayenne pepper for allergies.
Skin cancer common in cats like giant moles on his small protruding stomach. Kaposi's Sarcoma.
Lay down. The first cigarette always slaughters him. The tile's cold. His back starts going numb. The cold spreads from his feet, along the backs of his thighs, to his crotch. His penis shrivels and hangs like ice. Balls tighten up. He couldn't jerk off to save his life. He tried once. Seeing if jerking off enough times in one day would save his life. His dick was raw for a week, oozed plasma from the foreskin. Not enough red blood cells to form a scab. Bladder's bulging, and there's pain like a golfball stuck in his ass.
Whenever there are two or more gathered in prayer, the Lord is there. He wanted to shoot the door-to-door Jesus salesman in the head yesterday. Sunday school flashbacks like nightmares. He's been alone for a long time. God is something that happens to everyone else. On Christmas. The radio in his room is still buzzing low. Feliz Navidad. Feliz Navidad. Feliz Navidad. Sleigh bells ringing. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Fucking carols. Eggnog. Tinsel. Ornaments. Rosy cheeks and cider. Love. Spending money you don't have for other people busy spending money they don't have, because money equals care and concern. Money equals love and acceptance. Money means a big family, health and contentment. Money means you'll never be sick.
Open fire. Cruel line. He'd hump a fire right now. Bills haven't been paid in a month. Disability doesn't cover smokes, booze, pills and electricity. Cigarettes win. He'd be cold anyhow.
There are some kinds of cold nothing warms. He burned his hands, left scars on his back trying to get warm once. Nothing helps.
Shallow breathing. It increases acidity in the blood. Deep breaths hurt. His limitations kill him faster. Small gasps of air raise the level of CO2 in the blood. Smoking, living in the city, freon, coffee, tomatoes, french fries and sugar. They ruin internal Ph.
His nose starts bleeding, pooling on his upper lip and running down the side of his cheek onto the floor. Feliz Navidad. It's not burning a hole in anything but his life. He's got bad blood. Poison blood. Sick blood. He can't remember what feeling good felt like anymore. Not for a million dollars. Not during all the yoga, tantra and chakral meditation at the YMCA. Not talking to bums or smoking or drinking or fucking, when he still could. Not lying on the cold tile, freezing, steam coming from the sink with water running with the drain; a white noise blanket that doesn't quite drown out the radio.
The blood's getting in his fucking hair. He's afraid to brush it away. He loses a lot of hair when he runs a hand through it. Vanity. Not much left, but he's always had good hair. He can't lose all his hair. Why the fuck is he going bald?
People always said: That hair. It's so thick. You'll never go bald.
Never. What a shitty word. When you start saying never that's when your life goes to hell in a hurry. He used to say never a lot. Always. Forever. Perfect.
He rolls onto his right side and curls up into a ball, cheek sucking up the cold like sheet metal. He coughs and drools onto the floor. Too tired to move for awhile. Life, it's happening big time this morning. Coffee. Five cups of scalding coffee, slammed like shots. That's what he needs to get going, but he can't move. Too tired. Too tired of being too tired all the time. Depression. Anxiety. Fatigue.They're stale words. Spiritual agony, mental deprivation, physical exhaustion, they've all been grossly redefined. It takes more than one buzzword to classify his life. Way more. A novel, maybe. A book on the nature of mental torture.
Days spent locked up, alone. A burden. He hates being a fucking burden. It's the worst part. Being too sick, living off the world like a leech. Just get it over with already. He thinks that a lot. Too much. Just live, you know. Enjoy every day like it's the first day of the rest of your life. Live without fear. Embrace joy. All that Vince Lombardi bullshit. He was never a football player for a reason.
His body twitches hard. Convulses kind of. He stands up before he falls asleep on the floor. It's always bad when he does that. It takes days to feel his feet again.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
He lights another cigarette and wipes his hand around the mirror.
Face like an empty wax museum. Eyes deep in the sockets. Bloodless cheeks. A red rash running down his neck. Weeks' stubble. Eyebrows half gone. Lips thin and cracked like dry playdough.
He takes a rubber glove from a box surrounded by pill bottles. Puts it on. Squeezes some K-Y Jelly on it. Puts his right foot up on the edge of the sink, and reaches his hand down under his balls. Swipes a finger on his anus, puts the finger in slow. He feels his swollen prostate, and starts massaging it, from the outside to the inside. Milky white fluid like tiny razors starts dripping from his penis onto the tile. He massages until it shrinks down a little. It's impossible to crap when it's too swollen. Every two days.
The foot's shaky on the way back down to the ground. He puts his hands on the sink and leans into the formica, breathing hard. The steam boils into his face, suffocating. Can't get enough air. His heart starts jumping hard, his vision starts going black around the edges.
And unto you a child is born.
The radio DJs laying it on thick. Creaming himself over some scripture.
He claws at a pack of cigarettes and lights one on the way into the room. Picks up the alarm clock. Throws it on the floor.
Not really sure why he still has an alarm clock or uses it to wake up. Habit. Routine. They keep him going, what little there is left. Dying's a process, and he's still working out the kinks.
Charlie opens the door at two. He sees Jack laying on his futon, a broken alarm on the floor. Blood on the pillowcase like a murder mystery.
Jack's eyes are closed, limp, eyelids not moving. He's barely breathing.
"Brought doughnuts and coffee."
Jack rolls from his stomach to his side and brings his knees up.
"You smell like hell."
He pulls the sheet over his head.
"The sink's running."
Charlie puts the doughnuts and coffee on a two-person foldup table, on top of papers surrounding a wooden chessboard. It's by a wall radiator, under the window. He walks to the bathroom, kicking shoes and clothes out of the way. He turns the water off and looks at the latex glove laying limp and stretched brown at the wrist in the sink. Shakes his head at the pills scattered all over the countertop. Picks up a mildewed pile of towels and drapes them over the shower rod. He looks in the shower. It's dry.
"When's the last time you took a shower?" he says, walking back into the room.
He pulls a chair out from the table and sits down, looking at the chessboard. Pulling out a doughnut, sipping coffee. He reaches out towards the board, moving a rook.
"A-four to B-four, Jack."
"Huh." He grunts.
Charlie leans back and studies the board a couple more minutes before looking around.
"Sun Tzu." Charlie says.
"500 B.C. A real fucking asshole. Bit player with a book."
"All the kids are reading him in the coffee shops now. He's hip."
Jack snorts and starts coughing. A section of the sheet balls up and moves to his head. Spots of fresh blood bloom around the edges.
"H-eight to D-eight. Check." He says around the balled up blanket, nasal.
"You ever make any money off your Tzu translation?" Charlie says.
"Not back then."
Charlie's a smart cat with a cool million in the bank, somewhere. Grand Caymans. Swiss numbered. Who knows. He's got a love for the streets. He's black. Big. Curly beard. Deep lined face like Moses. Voice like a glacier moving. He hangs out with the homeless drunks who play chess for fuel on Grand during the day. He lets the desperate hustle and five dollar gimmick games and ripe wine smell and false bravado sail right by. It feeds something in him. The tenuous grip and bloodshot desperation of men living off the board appeals to something animal. On the street, he's just another bum with a formula.
"That's too bad. Herman Hesse is hot again too."
"I lost all my German."
"Kids these days. It's like they're trying to re-create the sixties."
"What? Do they think lava lamps make up for ecstasy and Britney Spears?"
Charlie's chest starts shaking, it moves up to his neck, and he laughs.
"They take what they want. They've learned to rape ideals."
"Uh huh. No imagination. Bunch of walking magazine collages."
He reaches out and moves again. Stalling. They're dancing around the game, stringing it along. Trying to lose to each other. It's the best game they've ever played. There's the dynamics of the board. The logic. The rules, and the breaking of them.
"I can't eat those fucking doughnuts."
"But you will."
Jack pulls the sheet off his face and throws and arm out, patting around for cigarettes in the folds of a rumpled blanket. He finds a pack and lights one, smoking at the ceiling.
"Don't really feel like getting up."
Charlie puts the doughnuts and coffee next to the futon and sits back down at the table. He's accommodating. He knows Jack could get up. He's not as bad as he makes out. But he's not doing good either.
He starts tearing into the doughnuts and taking mouthfuls of coffee, hissing around the lid.
"I don't think I have another month."
"That's too bad." Charlie says, making faces at the board.
"Get over it. We're all dying. You're just going faster."
"You don't understand."
"You're right. I don't."
Charlie could be annoying as fuck. Some friends just wouldn't go away. He'd tried dumping them all when things started. Travel light on the way out of life. It worked on most of them, on the ones he thought he'd have the most trouble with. People were generally scared of death anyhow, and it didn't take much convincing before they kept their distance.
Cough on them when they came around. Cuss at them when they tried being kind. Live in shit. Don't ever show gratitude. Insinuate the possibility "this thing" might be communicable. Drink and smoke like a train wreck, just so they got the hint that he didn't give a shit even if they gave a shit, because he was through trying.
Charlie stuck around though. Kept food in the fridge. Cleaned up occasionally. Lost at chess every once in awhile. Took him to the hospital when he'd passed out. Always showed up when he needed to; a dark, brooding angel blown in from the streets, immune to the cold, ambivalent to the season. Life slid around him like an eel but never touched. He stood outside of time, defied judgment. He just was. He handled abuse with grace, scorn with wit.
Jack's anger rolled off him, and eventually faded. They settled into the routine of sustaining a life lived on the margin.
"You go to your meeting last night?"
"Fuck the meeting. Bunch of assholes."
"She got to you that bad huh?"
"Nothing to do with her." Jack starts drinking the coffee faster.
"Your move, Jack."
"Your move, Jack."
That's what she'd said too, in his apartment, looking at him with a heartbreak face in his puddle of piss and vomit, bruises on his forearms and head.
He'd been gasping, dragging deep through the bite of stomach acid, coughing clouds of smoke. He smiled hard like pain, and left the cigarette in his mouth, the tip trembling.
He didn't need to say anything, the smile said it all. She sat down in the bathroom doorframe and leaned against the jamb, tears leaking down her face, cooling to the room by the time they reached her chin.
Love was a sham. A big parlor trick. The worst kind of lie.
"I ... ugh ..." he coughed, "Care about you."
"Don't fucking bother." She breathed.
"I never did."
He tried to sit up and knocked down a fifth of whiskey sitting next to him, the booze mixing with the rank juice of his poisoned life. He looked at her long and slow, deliberate.
"I warned you."
They're at a cold bench on a concrete boardwalk, watching freighters pull in across the water, police lights blinking between buildings, ambulance wails and the day after Thanksgiving Christmas carols floating faint. He's folded up in a big felt coat, ridiculous and oversized on his wasted frame. She's leaning into him, head on his shoulder. Breathing.
He pulls out a flask, drinks, and closes his eyes. He's tired.
"I love you." She says.
He opens his eyes. More tired. The word wears him out.
They're in a coffee shop, eating pastries and drinking designer coffee.
He's baring his ugly soul, his selfish beat, the messed-up broken heart and angst of discarded dreams. He's saying, this is my knot. Don't untie it. Don't touch it. Don't get tangled in it.
His eyes are begging her to try.
There's no room in there, he tells her. She'll just get lost in the mix; find the wrong reflection in the house of mirrors that is his soul. She can't fix him. Heal him. Revive him. Not looking for love. Just a warm body. Meat.
"I'm killing myself the only way I know how." he says.
"Then you need to be taken care of."
He already knows how it'll end but he can't deny her now. He's weak, because he can't spare her the cruelty of himself and the things he'll do to her, the things he'll say. The fear-inspired strength in loneliness deserts him in his crucial hour of need.
"You're a rubber glove." he says.
"What's that mean?"
"Nothing." And smiles. He wants the lie for a day. He gives in and stokes the fire of his self-loathing, trying to smoke it away while they walk the cold streets outside the coffee shop. Eat it away at dinner on credit at a nice restaurant. Fuck it away between her legs that night.
Rumpled sheets and the surreal city stillness of one in the morning. The smell of warm cat and rank sweat and fish and stale cigarettes and death. It only smells good when you're in love.
She's been asleep on the sheets for two hours, small frame in a ball face towards him, breathing through her nose. Straight hair tangled in his hand, tongue poking out a little. Content and warm against the core of coldness burning through his chest.
She's already in love, and he's too tired to change it.
The narration of time would make the truth of his shattered life evident for him, defining the constant valley of his lows, uncovering the ambivalent and brutal confirmation of his motive. That the world misunderstood him the way he intended was no concern of his; he'd never lied.
He reaches an unsteady hand out to right the bottle, trying to crane his head up enough to meet the angle of the long neck with his mouth.
She moves in a blur, leaning over, grabbing the bottle from his hand and throwing it against the mirror, glass shattering on glass.
Whiskey tears and crystalline shards rain down on him, an obscene benediction.
"ALL I EVER WANTED WAS TO LOVE YOU!" she screams, putting her head on his stomach and letting out ragged sobs.
He closes his eyes on her swollen grief-stained face, and falls into blackness.
Published June 2005