11 Apr CHEW ON THIS
Jay was rushing hard to the left sideline, dodging multiple tacklers before his blob of a blocker missed the last man ahead of the end zone. Jay glared at his teammates on his way up from the grass, as the referee whistled the play dead. Jay searched for the offending blocker who’d ruined what was going to be a TD, he only had one guy to beat! The blocker wasn’t around but the referee was blowing the whistle again, this time directly in his ear. The 2nd whistle was actually more like a telephone ringing, his ears working out the finer points in his sleepy haze. FUCK! Jay reached for the phone beside his bed as the third ring blared from its plastic base, pausing with his hand in midair. Caller-I.D. named the caller as one Peter Billings, a name he hadn’t seen in at least a decade. A big smile crossed his lips as he answered it. “P. Fucking, B., holy shit man, how the hell are you?”
“You haven’t changed a bit Jay! I’m so happy to hear that and your voice man.”
“That really you, bro? Cause you sound like a fucking douche right now.”
“Hah, yeah it’s me you dickwad, just been a while, ya know?”
“Right?!?! Dude, how have you been, Pete?”
“Well, that’s kind of why I was calling…”
“Yeah, I knew you sounded like shit man. So…What’s up?”
“You always had a way with words D. J., never mind.”
“Come on man, don’t be like that. You used to be tough if a bit pudgy.” Jay let it end just like that, not finding anything else to be said. He started biting the edges of the cuticles on his right hand, his nerves betraying his tough guy exterior.
“Chew on this Jay, I don’t want to hear about my weight or any shit on me jokes right now. Shelly left me man.”
Peter continued past the long silence “Said she deserved better…and she does.” Sobs blurred any further mumbled words.
Jay had made two of his fingers bleed from the surprise news, ripping the middle fingers cuticle from its home with one last tug. Red liquid filled the cavity quickly pooling into a ball which Jay stuck into his mouth. He licked the blood off his nail and swallowed before trying to break the seriousness with some humor. “Were you hoarding all the food at home?” Two big laughs from Jay, the silence pushing his fingers back into his mouth.
“Are you fucking serious right now?”
Jay could feel the glare through the phone. “Dude, I was just trying to make ya smile. You know, how friends do?!!? Why don’t we go get some drinks and talk badly about this bitch Sherry!” Completely oblivious to mangling Shelly’s name, he continued, “What do ya say, bud?” Jay kept chewing on his right pinky nail through the long silence that followed. A long sigh. Another even longer sigh, and then, finally, a response.
“OK Jay, chew on this, of course I’d like to talk some shit about,” Pete emphasized her name, “S-H-E-L-L-Y. But you really need to lay off me tonight, douche or not, especially the weight. I’m not in a good place right now honestly… and I just need my friend, ya know? That going to be too much for ya?” Peter could give it as good as he got it; he just wasn’t inclined the way that Jay was, so Jay tended to dominate their conversations.
“Ain’t nuthin’ you got on god’s green earth, that’s too much for me P.B.” Jay stood for emphasis in his empty room. The pinky nail was now ridged. Jay was grazing it with his tooth to try and even the jagged edge fruitlessly. The slurping noise when he removed his finger from his mouth broke the silence and Jay followed, “Pete. Listen man, I hear ya. Whatever, buddy. Let’s get some beers tonight, you in town? You free?” No response. “I’m buying first round, bitch!”
“Let’s do it you asshole!” Peter finally ceded his position. They agreed to meet at their old favorite Irish pub “McDuffs.” Jay had expertly out maneuvered his friend by suggesting the pub down the street from Jay’s apartment. The big man smiled, feeling great for winning the imaginary battle.
Jay was starving, but by the smell of him, he needed a shower more. The faucet squeaked as he turned the water on to the hot position. He sat on the tub and untied his shoes, almost kicking the opposing wall with his feet as they flung free. Cold water greeted his fingers and stung at the edges of his nibbled down fingers making him withdraw them quickly. A soft “Hoooooo” escaped his lips, helping him deal with the shock of pain better.
As Jay undressed, he noticed the old, green, peeling paint edging every corner in the room, broken up by the white pedestal wall mounted sink to his left and the white tile surrounding the porcelain bathtub. He pulled back an old, once translucent shower curtain with cartoon fish at the bottom to test the water again. Hot. No in between with these damn pipes. Jay stood after he turned on the cold water waiting for the pipes to mix properly. Feeling the cold Cliffside tile at his feet and removing the rest of his clothes, he steadyied himself on the opposing wall to get the last pant leg off. Peter fucking Billings.
20 years ago they were inseparable. Both their parents were friends and hung out, the kids went to the same school, had the same friends, and even played on the same football team- a team that won state championships with Peter blocking the way for Jay to break records and fulfill his dreams of making a UC. Peter worked extremely hard at being the best blocker he could be for Jay, while Jay worked hard at mentioning any moment Peter had missed a block or put on some weight.
“P.B. you are a smooth one, but you’re chunky.” Jay had said worse many times, but that was his favorite P.B. joke, the double entendre made Jay feel especially smart. Peter had always had a problem with his weight. Jay was both helpful with that issue and not helpful at all, at the exact same time. The way Jay saw it, he made Peter tough, and the man needed that. He was soft mentally and physically.
Not in a good place right now.
Wasn’t that what P.B. had said? Jay wondered what that might mean, for roughly 2 seconds, before he started running the shampoo in his hair marveling at his own biceps as they flexed naturally from the kneading. Frowning when his eyes caught the large fist sized scab healing on his right shin. A burn earned sliding safely into second base in adult softball. Jay checked his biceps out again feeling better almost immediately.
Showered, he shit, dressed and decided to eat at the bar. Jay looked around at his 3rd floor apartment, looking for things he may have forgotten. Wallet verified, he locked up and headed for his Tesla parked in the garage. Jay always bought the nicest and newest gadgets available. A life spent largely alone had its perks. The only gadget Jay refused to get were the new phones. He hated them and their convenience. Jay was a man who wanted to get in touch on his timeline and didn’t’ make exceptions. He didn’t care if he was the only person in the entire apartment complex who had a wall phone. Screw em! If they wanted to get a hold of Jay, they could either leave a message or fuck the hell off.
Jay drove the couple of blocks to “McDuffs” screaming word for word to the song “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf. Beating the dash in step with the drums. “Get your motor running.” The song was something of a mantra for Jay. He’d even used it breaking up with Courtney Borelli back in the day. “You’re so sweet and nice. I’m different, just born to be wild ya know?” It sounded stupid now thinking back on it, but it had done the trick. Courtney never looked his way again after looking at him with tears welling in her eyes along with the growing confusion. Jay preferred being alone, always had, but sometimes he let a girl think he was ok with a twosome. It’s not that he was trying to be a thoughtless jerk, it just came naturally to him. In the end, Jay only had time for himself. Everyone else provided the audiences he craved, but they would undoubtedly be cast off, as they failed to produce the endorphins needed to maintain Jay’s interest. Then Jay would be back at home, in his own mind. Things were easier too. No one got upset with him when he was alone. Jay could eat when and whatever he pleased and come and go likewise. Life was great, and he couldn’t understand why anyone would settle down. The thought still made him cringe at forty-three years of age.
Pete had opted for the exact opposite life. One trying to be compatible with another, compromising, and eroding who Pete was originally, or that was Jay’s belief. It’s also why Jay slowly disappeared from his friend’s life. Jay had a hard time pretending he enjoyed being a third wheel, and double dating was the worst. No, it was easier to take care of Jay and let Pete make his own mistakes. Shirley was just another chick in a long line of chicks that had dated and given up on Pete. Jay wondered what made her so special to his friend. P.B. sounded on the verge of tears for god’s sake.
The monitor in the middle of the Tesla turned off, and Jay stepped out of his attention seeking ride. It worked, there were quite a few eyes cast his way as he lifted his muscular frame out of the electric vehicle. Eyes he was quick to ignore. Jay’s strut had an exaggerated step to it, his stride giving his ego away. He entered the bar, a steady hum of conversations all around. Jay picked a stool near the back of the bar and looked at a menu. He was starving.
Jay didn’t know what he wanted, hungry as he was, and he opened a tab opting for a dark pilsner to help him decide. Before the beer hit his palm, he saw Peter walk in. Jay hadn’t laid eyes on his buddy in over 10 years and P.B. looked the worse for wear. He was at least 100 pounds overweight. While Peter was always a thick guy, this was clearly idle lard building on his frame. There was no mistaking Peter was huge, and Jay was pretty sure he knew why Sherry left him.
“P. Fucking. B.! How you been my man?” Jay tried to give the big man a hug but ended up slapping his hand on a mound of flesh near the middle of Pete’s back instead. It was awkward, and he let out an audible “Jesus” and got a testing glare in response.
“You must be thirsty Pete! Heineken?” Peter nodded in agreement. Jay called out to the bartender, “2 Heineken’s and 4 shots of Maker’s.” Jay planned to make a party of it.
The smile on Peter’s face encouraged Jay. The words that followed earned a grin in return. “Let’s see if you still can’t hold your liquor!”
“Now that’s the Pete I know,” Jay responded and placed 2 of the shots that just arrived under Pete. “Ya ready to back up that big talk?” Grabbing a shot, Jay looked at Pete seeing if he was game. He was. They counted in unison. 3…2…1
Pete had both shots down and the Heineken in hand before Jay had swallowed his shots. “Damn man, I’m impressed!”
“That makes one of us.”
“Hahaha. Nicely played dick. Besides losing women, what you been up to my man?” Jay meant the dig, though he was trying to be subtle about it. “It’s clear you aren’t starving like the last break up, man.” No subtlety hidden in that one.
Peter to his credit ignored the comment and told the whole story, making sure to pause when the tears started to creep up. Jay wasn’t a man you cried in front of. Peter had married Shelly a few years ago and everything was pretty great. Shelly had always done well by him, but he hadn’t stopped sleeping with his ex-wife. When Shelly found incriminating evidence on Pete’s phone, she left him immediately and made sure to empty their accounts before she did. Another reason not to get one of those smart phones, they were dumb. Pete tried to crawl back to the ex and was similarly rebuffed. Pete wasn’t worth being embarrassed to that degree again, and both women’s doors were closed to Peter now.
Jay was blown away; his friend had lived a double life. He found it even more impressive that his friend had lost everything as a result. There was a feeling in his stomach he assumed was pity, and he reached out to give Pete a bro hug, ordering another round of shots as he did.
Peter wanted to change the subject, looking on the verge of breaking down, and Jay obliged. First sharing that nothing was changed in his life, just the way he liked it. Then they shared stories from back in the day. The next few hours were a barrage of whiskey shots and remembered stories. Too many to count of both. Jay to his credit kept the weight jokes to a minimum, and the conversation flowed as a result. Neither had smoked in the 10 years since they’d last seen one another. So, they, of course, decided to smoke a few. They walked to the liquor store and bought a pack of Marlboro Reds together taking long drags on the wrapped tobacco. Jay held his cig in one hand expertly, like he hadn’t stopped smoking for years, chewing at his nails, again, on the other. The report due next week and his buddy’s revelations were eating at Jay’s subconscious. Two nails bled openly as a result.
“Still chewing the shit out of yourself huh buddy?” Peter laughed shaking his head in judgment before taking another drag.
Jay didn’t like that one bit, and shot back, “Suppose it’s better than eating everything under the sun. What do you think?” The cruelty of the words was lost on Jay. He simply needed to deflect an attack.
Peter pretended to ignore the comment, yet it clearly hurt, as his voice lowered.
“I just figured you’d have stopped eating your nails by now.” Silence took over their conversation as they both opted for puffs on their respective cigarettes. Jay broke that wall taking a different tone.
“Nah man, it’s like my fucking Kryptonite. Every time I work harder to quit, I end up chewing even worse and make em bleed.” As if hearing its affect, his pinky nail raises to the corner of his mouth. He sucks the blood that’s dried since he originally ripped into it and smooths the nail easier this time with his canine. Normally enjoying the feel of being the center of attention, it feels more like a burning light centered on him now, and he dropped to itch the scab on his shin to avoid the pressure of the limelight.
“You should see a doctor about those parasites,” Peter laughed as his friend itched harder in response. “I’ve looked up to you forever, ya know. It’s kind of good seeing you be a little bit human, honestly.”
“I’m so glad my misery could bring you such pleasure.” Jay was getting angry but cooled as he finally soothed his leg enough to leave it alone for a second. He filled his lungs smoothly with the tug of his lips on the cigarette before coughing it out in much rougher fashion.
“Well, chew on this Jay; There’s this hypnotist I used to help me lose a ton of weight; she was a miracle…” The last part faded as his current weight and the contradiction of the help he was advising fell crashing on him at once. He continued weakly, “Well, I really think it’s worth…”
“Seriously P. B., you should probably mind your own business.” Jay wasn’t hiding his anger at all now.
“I didn’t mean anything.” Peter tried staunching what was building but was interrupted, again.
“Thanks for your help Peter. Super helpful man, just what I need. A fucking hypnotist to deal with a real world problem. Here let me help you out too, good buddy. If you don’t quit stuffing your face like a hippo, you’re going to eat yourself to death. Huh?!?!?!” Jay delivered the blow with such bombast Peter literally shrunk back from his taller friend. Yeah, ya like that? Jay was nice enough to think and not voice that last piece. As was the norm, he enjoyed the position of power, and he was getting ready to really lay into Peter. Jay’s ability to hold in his anger was lost years ago, as was the inclination to fight that build-up of anger. Peter shocked them both instead. Where initially he’d shrunken into himself, he’d now grown, and his accumulated mass now filled the space between them as he responded with a resounding,
Peter placed the tip of his pointer finger on the tip of Jay’s nose and repeated himself.
“Fuck…You! Pauline told me not to reach out to you. Even had the foresight to know you would be an insufferable asshole. But I keep pretending or hoping or something that you’re someone you’re just not. God damn. FUCK YOU!” He screamed it again, aware of the audience he was building. “Go to hell you finger sucking little bitch!” Peter got right in Jay’s face for the last part, daring a response with his eyes. Jay, still shocked, had no response and backed off meekly even though his friend stood a good foot shorter.
“Yeah, I thought so, you pussy.” Those might have been the last words Jay would ever hear his oldest friend speak, but he heard Pete mumble one last “fuck you” under his breath as he squealed his tires leaving McDuff’s parking lot.
Well that went well, Jay thought to himself. He checked his watch and noticed it was past midnight. He stayed up late for that shit? Jay’s head hurt terribly already, from emotions or the drink, he wasn’t sure. Fuck, he concurred with his friend. Maybe he’d give Peter a call in the morning. He did seem exceptionally angry after all. Maybe he’d wait a few days and let him cool off. Jay started his car before changing his thought. Maybe Peter should be calling with an apology. Maybe Jay would wait for that call; he’d already surprised himself taking the shots Pete threw at him.
Jay started singing loudly with the radio on his way home. The radio was playing the “Doors, Light my fire.” Jay screamed along with “Set the night on fire!” He sure had, hadn’t he? It was the closest thing to guilt he’d felt in ages. Being unemotional had its advantages. Jim Morrison took him far away from that feeling with his hypnotic voice.
The phone rang down the tubes in his ears, joining a cacophony of bells ringing, a typical ailment when Jay drank too much. First rolling over, away from the phone and snuggling deeper into his 800 thread count cotton sheets. The second ring was all it took for him to roll back over and fumble for the phone by his bed, knocking it from the nightstand. “Shit!” Jay keeps the rest of his thoughts to himself as he lifts the phone up off the carpet, the lit screen indicating ‘unknown caller.’ Normally he’d never answer the phone to an unknown caller but knocking it from its cradle didn’t afford him many options, as it was already answered. He finally got it up to his ear, no thought given towards answering the phone with a rude sounding “Yeah?”
“Jay? That you?”
Jay recognized the voice immediately, without being able to place it. He couldn’t place her, so he tried stalling. “Yeah, it’s me, what’s up?” When not remembering the name of a woman who’s called you, it’s always best to act cool in Jay’s playbook. Besides, she sounded like she might be cute. He liked the soothing soft hum of her smooth cadence.
“Did Pete get a hold of you? Did you see him last night?” The quick rat-a-tat questions hid none of the accusing tone in them. Jay may have had a hangover, but he picked up on it even through his drunken haze.
“Sure, I saw Pete. We had a few drinks last night. Yeah?! What’s goin’ on? Who’s this?”
A long, exaggerated sigh and then a drawn out, “It’s Paul-eeeeeeeeen!?!?! You remember? From school? Peter said he was going to give you a call and…” It was that moment that Jay remembered Pete yelling that Pauline had told him not to contact Jay. Something about Jay being an insufferable asshole. She conveniently left that part out.
“Well I wanted to know, what happened with you guys? What did you do?” This time there was distinct anger in her voice, she sounded on the verge of tears.
Man, word sure got out fast, Jay thought, contemplating how to respond appropriately, while blinking away the hangover as best he could. Jay was scratching at the scab on his shin when it started to really pain him, and he felt wet under the cloth. He was pretty sure he had ripped some of the scab off inadvertently. The pointer nail snagged on the cloth, and he immediately pressed it between his lips to even the edges of the alpha-keratin as best his teeth could.
“Look, we had some drinks. I’m pretty sure Pete left around midnight, maybe just after? She left out saying he was an insufferable asshole, so he could leave out the actual manner in which Pete departed his company.
“Hmmmm. That’s it huh? I find that hard to believe.”
“What the fuck are you getting at here Pauline? We had a few beers, we hugged it out, and you’re pissing me off at this point with this shit.” When attacked, it was always best to up the ante and attack them back in Jay’s world.
“Peter hung himself last night.” Pauline blurted it out. She was crying as she asked him, “Got more to tell me now?” Even hurt she was relishing giving it to Jay for once; most did when afforded the opportunity. “What did you do asshole? I told Pete not to bother with you.” At least she was being honest now, but she was clearly seething.
“Wait…Is P.B. okay?” It was all Jay could think to ask or really wanted to know.
“No. No, you fucking moron. Pete will never be okay again. He killed himself after having a great night drinking with you, Jay!” The anger was slipping, and her voice trailed off.
“Oh no. NO. NO. NO. Oh my god, what the fuck? I swear we just had some drinks. He did tell me about his wife leaving him, and, man, he was sensitive about his weight, but we hugged it out before he left. I promised I’d stay in touch.” Jay couldn’t lie anymore; his bullshit meter was on red alert. “This is so fucked up!” The tears were starting to well up, whether from emotions or trying to keep his growing lie under wraps, he wasn’t sure. It didn’t matter. He’d won another battle, and Pauline’s defeated voice filled the other end of the line.
“Jay. I’m. I’m sorry, I just…” It was clear her strength was almost completely sapped. “I need to go, I think. To think. And just help however I can. I’ll let you know about the date of his….funeral. I’m sorry I attacked you. I guess I’ll see you then?” She conceded more than relished.
“See you then Pauline.” Jay hung up before he could make it any worse than it already was. Two friends lost in two days wouldn’t be a good look.
Jay sat in silence, his head resting on two pillows, chewing on his thumbnail so hard he bruised the piece where the cuticle met flesh from the pressure his teeth put on it getting to the right angle. He chewed through the pain until finally ripping the hangnail free of purchase. The new hole dealt sharp discomfort as the bruise subsided, finally relieving the pressure. Jay used his tongue like a mop to lap up the blood pooling on his nail and sucked softly on the tip finding it soothing. Jay’s tongue worked its magic, absently rubbing over the wound, speeding the clotting until his injury had no more leakage to slurp up. Jay was starving, and the blood on his tongue fed him some strength.
Jesus, Peter, he thought. “What were you thinking man?” Jay asked the empty room and sat up. He laid his head back down. He was tired. He was also spinning. The hangover hammer in his head was beating non-stop. Food, he needed food. But he needed sleep more. His eyelids closed, and as his view faded, he thought of two things simultaneously.
One, he absolutely had to call into work later. The report was due next week, and he hadn’t worked with Danny on it at all yet.
Two, he needed to change the sheets on his bed. The red splotches from self-cannibalizing his digits were creating a red garden of petals taking over the white sheets.
Jay ignored both options, though, and chose sleep instead. Sucking at his thumb, like he did as a child, he felt calmed. Jay’s leg shook, a physical reaction to feeling weak and sickly, he figured. The beating in his head was taking over every thought, until finally sleep won out.
He was cutting down the field on a slant when his dipshit blob of a blocker missed his assignment, and Jay crashed to the ground in the defense’s grasp. He shot right up looking for his blocker, who was walking away from him. Jay ran up, grabbed a shoulder pad and turned the shitty blocker his way only to shrink back from what he saw. It was Pete. He had a light blue complexion. His eyes looked dried up somewhat, and his purplish lips looked awfully cartoonish to Jay. The rope hanging from his friend’s neck didn’t look animated, and Jay cringed back in fear. The whistle blew, and he knew it was the phone ringing this time.
The phone’s screams burst through the silence in the room waking Jay roughly, but he was grateful to escape Pete’s glare. The steady pulsing beat in his head was still tapping behind his forehead, but even it was more bearable. He found the phone much easier this time and answered it expertly. Unable to do more than open his mouth, he reminded himself he needed water as he licked his lips ferociously to speak.
“Jay? It’s Tony, from school, Tony Crabbe!?!? Anyway, Pauline gave me your number.” Tony answered Jay’s first question before he posed it. “And I’m in town and would love to see ya before…Ya know, before they put Petey in….”
“Tony! How ya been, man? Yeah, I agree that would be great. To get together. I do have this report due next Friday, but I got time I’m sure.”
“That’s a week and a few days away bud. You sure you can hang?” Tony backed off. He felt imposing, and it carried in his voice.
“Nah Tony, it’s all good, just my entire life up to this point.” Jay laughed to make it clear he was joking. Tony returned the laughter uncomfortably. Then he stopped in his tracks and started speaking again, persisting as Jay saw it.
“I really can’t believe Pete. Of all people, I can’t. Did he tell you anything? Pauline mentioned you were the last to see him.” Tony’s line of questioning was much easier for Jay, and he didn’t have the same angry response. Jay lied through his teeth, giving the same line he gave Pauline, where they’d drank and hugged it out, total bro’s. Total bullshit. There was no way he was going to share their last back and forth. He felt that might be something he took to his grave at this point. Jay needed out of this conversation immediately.
“Tony, it was good to hear from ya. I’ll see ya at the funeral for sure.” Jay slyly got out of hanging with Tony beforehand. “Let’s definitely get a beer after!” Jay ceded some ground.
“OK Jay. That sounds gre….I mean sounds good man. See you when we get the date. Sucks it’ll be the first time the crew gets together in so long.” He ended the thought with a long deep sigh.
Jay returned the big sigh. “Right?!? See you soon man.” Nothing sharper came to Jay. Once he’d hung up, he had a couple better responses come to mind. Typical. Either way, he was just glad to have the guy off the line. Tony was bringing Jay down.
Jay got up for the first time in 30 some hours. Knees buckled under the pressure but held as he steadied his weight on them. The hammer in his head beat harder for the effort, but he made it. He was standing. Walked straight to the bathroom, took a quick piss, flushed, then headed to the kitchen where he took out some eggs. Lit the gas stovetop and cracked the eggs throwing them to sizzle on the skillet. The aroma hit his nostrils and woke him further. He was weak and felt unbelievably tired considering all the sleeping he had done. A small bug bite started bleeding when he popped the swelling off like a cap on a plastic bottle. Jay found scratching bites annoying; they just itched further. He found it much more satisfactory to remove the poisonous hill and start the healing process. The hair on his wrist made sucking the dripping blood a little harder to navigate. After he took a few different passes at it, the blood wasn’t flowing as much and simply stayed within the crater he’d created.
Jay nibbled at the edges of the crater of his bite. The blood gave him enough strength to muster a call in to work. He was already dreading the conversation, and he was right to. Danny was pissed. Danny wanted to see what Jay had done, which was nothing. Jay lied and said he was ‘fine tuning his piece’ and just needed to find some graphs to represent their findings to the dummy’s running the show. Danny mentioned they needed to mesh their sides together before report day. Jay just responded by explaining how sick he felt. The report was over a week away, chill out, plenty of time to compare and present by next Friday. Danny was finally placated enough to change tact and asked,
“What the hell do you have anyway, damn?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“Well get better dude, jesus. You quit fucking wit dem floozies and maybe you don’t catch the HIV so easy.” Danny was always quick with the humor.
“How else am I going to give it to your mom?” Jay was no stranger to this game, and then, “Seriously, Danny, I’ll be there Friday, count on it. Then we’ll kill next week man!”
“I am Jay, I’m counting on it. We both ought to be!” Danny tried hiding the alarm in his voice.
“Friday!” Jay hung up on that note.
A big groan rose from Jay’s gut. The pang made him wonder if it was guilt; he was thinking of Pete a lot. Jay decided he had nothing to feel guilty for, and he breathed in the cooking eggs. The smell which gave him strength just moments ago made him nauseas here. He tried swallowing the impending tidal wave and realized he was fighting a losing battle. Proud of himself for remembering to turn off the burner, he ran to the bathroom to empty his belly of its contents. Stomach emptied, it immediately groaned for the unfinished eggs still simmering on the stove. Jay’s head was spinning, however, and he sat on the edge of the toilet to collect his senses. He itched at the open wound on his shin and flushed his stomach’s contents down the toilet, feeling the cool air rush up his legs as the water filled it back up again. The wound on his leg was scab free, except for the outmost corners. He picked at these until blood started pooling. The tiny pools of blood blending as they grew until eventually they fill the crater with a red lake. Jay rolls up some toilet paper and dabs at the fresh wound until the wound stops bleeding. There was surprisingly not a lot of pain involved. Once the scab was ripped off, he only felt itchy. He tried getting up and wobbled some but started stumbling to his bed. Throwing up was all he felt like doing again, but he swallowed it down and slid under the sheet. The red petals were taking over the sea of white. Teeth chattered loudly. All of a sudden, his fingers felt very cold. They warmed up quick in his mouth, and once there, he could run his tongue over them. A tongue expertly hunting ragged edges of the nails and notifying the teeth to smooth them up. Lots of cuticles were drying up and cracked, so they too were also being ripped off at the uneven spots. Something gave as blood filled his lips again, he sucked it down and swallowed. That seemed to give him more strength. Jay kept at it, evening out his skin with little rabbit nibbles and swallowing the blood that pooled as a result. It felt good and seemed to pacify his grumbling stomach. Pacified for now at least. Wasn’t drinking too much of your own blood poisonous? Jay was sure he’d heard something like that. He wanted the eggs. He wanted them so badly now. Instead, he sucked on his fingers until he once again passed out.
The phone blared. Jay answered it and was surprised to hear Danny on the other line. Hadn’t he just gotten off the phone with him? That was, what, Wednesday? Time was getting lost for Jay. The clock said 10:23 AM, what the hell was Danny calling for? I said I’d be in Friday, fuck. “Yeah?” Jay was exasperated.
“Where. The. Fuck. Are you man?”
“I told you I’d be in Friday, get a grip.”
“Are you kidding? It is Friday. You fucking fool. You lose your mind with your health?” Danny was clearly not mincing words and a few stung as intended.
Jay was just realizing he’d slept Thursday away. “Um, I…Damn man, I think I slept through Thursday. But I feel better, I’ll come in. Let me take a shower, and I should be there after lunch some time. OW!” Jay yelped the last part. The bloody fingertips he’d worked on all night had anchored to the sheet. Moving them to his face meant ripping them off the sheets, and it was intensely painful. Jay wondered if the high thread count made them cling easier to his wound. Either way, he’d be more mindful of where he placed his fingers until they’d healed up properly.
“Look I’ll see you in a bit. If you get here, we can go over what we both have and meet again Monday and yeah. It’ll be all gravy.” Danny sounded relieved his partner was heading in.
Jay was sucking on the newly opened fingers, stopping only to respond, “I’ll be there as soon as I shower.” Jay hung up without waiting for a response. Running his fingers through his hair proved to be a bad idea. The hair was sticking to the wet wounds on his fingertips feeling like hundreds of papercuts created all at once. All Jay could think of was how painful a shower was going to be now.
First Jay needed a shave, so he jumped up, walked to the bathroom, soaped up, and ran the water on hot. Jay got dizzy immediately from all the effort. He looked at himself in the mirror, and that seemed to steady his equilibrium some. Jay lathered up and shaved the right side of his face. The sink filling up with little blades of Jay’s chin grass, clinging to the porcelain or floating in the foamy water below. He clanged the razor on the edge of the sink and ran it through the water again. Turning his head to make sure he cleaned up the entire right side was too much, and he became dizzy again from the effort. Holding the sides of the sink wasn’t helpful this time, and he started to spin harder. Jay closed his eyes and tried to regain his senses.
At first, closing his eyes fixed everything, but then the dizziness came back… and worse. The room seemed to lift up at the seams like in “Alice in Wonderland” as she fell down the hole. It all reminded him of the time he got a concussion on the field. The world slowed down, and he, seemingly, could see everything before it happened. That day he scored three touchdowns after the injury. Today was much different, he didn’t have any such insights. In fact, he felt out of control. Jay caught sight of his half shaven face in the mirror and laughed at himself. A white foamy beard still clung to the stubble left untouched on the left side of his face. There was a red ribbon of foam near his right ear where he must have nicked himself. Subconsciously, he reached out to swipe the foam and get a closer look at the wound and lost all balance. All he could do was direct the fall, so he aimed for the tub. Miscalculating the fall, his wrist hit the tiles, and an audible crack escaped beneath the flesh. Jay’s head slammed into the tile in response, and he twisted his ankle for the effort. He slumped deep into the porcelain confines. Little silver stars filled his eyesight, glimmering in front of his eyes just out of reach. The black sky slowly crept over them like a blanket, dragging Jay into sleep. He succumbed easily but not before noticing the sick slurping sound his head made sliding on the porcelain. Good night Moon. Jay was quiet as the night takes him in.
Jay was cutting the left corner on another run when the blocker in front of him made him halt in his tracks. It was Pete, and his head was bent backwards unnaturally doing his best Linda Blair from “The Exorcist.” Pete was trying to say something, but his lips opened and only dust came out. The rope around his neck moved serpent like, the cut end reaching taut for the sky. Pete was yanked high into the air on an invisible puppeteer’s string, a soft wailing moan escaped his throat. Then the damn whistles start blowing again, far down the field this time. It took three whistles before he finally woke from the dream, just in time to hear the recorder.
“Jay, I’m trying to be understanding man, I know you have been sick. But we just talked this morning, and you said you were coming in. What the fuck man? We worked our asses off for this opportunity. You can’t do this. If you don’t call me back, at least show Monday morning, fucking early man! You fucking hear me, EARLY!! Don’t let me down man. Don’t let yourself down for that matter.” One last “FUCK” was yelled into the recording and then.
Jay assumed it was still Friday, maybe night time, but in the eternal sunshine of the bathroom light he really had no idea. Shoot, it could even be Saturday the way I seem to be losing days here he thought. He concentrated on the steady whir of the bathroom fan trying to muster enough bravery to look at his left wrist. When he finally looked at it, it was not as bad as he thought, though swollen up quite a bit. Each finger moved as it was supposed to, and he felt lucky that he may have just sprained his wrist… but that crack. Testing the wrist, he set it in the tub and lifted his weight. A sharp pain shot up his elbow. He gave up his efforts as a result.
To make matters even worse, he must have shit himself as there was a paste holding the small of his back to the tub. The fact he couldn’t smell it made him happy. My shit don’t stink, he laughed to himself. It sure was strong though, as he couldn’t seem to move his body to break free. Using his good hand, he itched the shin scab begging for his attention. A couple scratches and he was out of strength. He laid back too quick and slammed his head on the back of the tub. The stars returned trying to mesmerize him back into night, but he shook them away this time. Jay’s right hand traced his forehead looking for the spot where his head hit the tiles and found a nice golf ball sized welt a few inches above his right ear. He flinched from the jolt of pain, which receded once his fingertips quit examining it. Damn, that was a doozy. Dropping his hand, he noticed the blood on his fingers and knew the knot was worse than a simple swelling. Hopefully not too much worse; he was in no shape to do anything about it. He inserted his pointer nail into his mouth and chewed on it to calm his nerves. The purplish brown stain at the back of his nail looked exceptionally weak. When he grabbed a hold of it between his teeth, it slid right off his nail shelf verifying its definite weakness. Take away the immediate shock of ripping pain, and he was pleasantly surprised how little it hurt once removed. The air was dropping stabbing needles into the once hidden shelf, but they were hidden behind a numbness overtaking the finger from the first digit down. A calming ache, in fact, and it made him think about ripping all his nails off. Each finger requested his attention in unison as if in response to the thought.
“NO!” He yelled to a bunch of fingers lacking ears.
Jay gathered enough strength to sit up and try and turn the water on. Wake his sloppy ass up. He fell back down, his energy completely wasted. Sickness passed, and he tried moving his toes to turn the faucet. The sprained ankle proved to be formidable, but he finally grasped the edges of the handle with both big toes. Wrenching. Pipes groan and not a lot else. He lay back exasperated, what the fuck, really?! Even though he was severely dehydrated, he didn’t desire water to drink. He was only thinking about the water breaking up where he crapped his drawers. It was embarrassing, and his vainness clearly knew no bounds. Gathering his strength again, he wrapped his toes around the faucet once more. Twisting together before both legs crashed down in defeat again. This time though, there was a tiny spaghetti string of water dripping out.
“Yeah!” Jay yelled and crashed back, hitting his head once more. The diamonds were back, a girl’s best friend, but he was finding them to be far from a friend and more like an adversary. Eyes watched as consciousness swept away the remaining diamonds. If he kept this up, the back of his head was going to look like the bruised apples he passed over at Safeway. Jay realized he was in deep shit. Literally. He had to get out of this damn tub. Instead, he watched the string of water, mesmerized by the steady flow that couldn’t be thicker than a phone charger wire. You’d think it would break up more, but it moved as if one unit, only splashing apart as it missed the holes in the drain.
Finally, he became aware he was itching the bug bite he’d removed a couple days ago. Jay was pissed that he was absently mangling himself as he lay dying in a tub. His head throbbed front to back. He felt too weak to move again at this point, and he realized he was starving beyond belief. The taste of bile in the back of his throat reminded him of the last time he tried eating and made him sicker.
Laughter filled the bathroom. Jay laughed hard. At himself. At his predicament. At everything. This is ridiculous. I’m sitting in my own shit, and here I am. I can’t even get out of my own fucking tub? What a joke! Yet there he was, and he was right. He wasn’t able to go anywhere. Gave him time to think more on Peter. The fight dominated his thoughts. He wished he’d had better words. Or at least not so biting ones. Maybe he could have helped his friend. Maybe Pete would still be alive. Instead of making Pete kill himself?
I didn’t kill anyone. Pete’s a big boy. He did that shit to himself. And he had, that was true, but Jay hadn’t been the sympathetic ear his friend needed either. He’d made it all worse. He always did. He started blaming Pete. Pete knows who I am, how I am. Should have known I’d be real with him. How real he was still glared vividly in his mind, and he lowered his head in shame. He began chewing again behind the cuticle to the nail he’d already removed on his pointer finger, and he mimicked the action on his ring finger next door. The nail teetered precariously in place, and, in a moment of clarity, Jay stopped. It dawned on him that he was only making his situation worse.
“I suppose this makes you happy, huh, Pete? Nothing would make you happier than watching your old buddy sitting in a tub dying. Where are you when I need you, huh? Well fuck you! I’ll get out of here and succeed instead of quitting in life like you did. Like you always did. “
“Oh man. I’m so sorry Pete. I’m just so sorry.”
Jay sounded and felt a little crazy. At best, he was acting bi-polar, and he knew it. Maybe going days without any food and slowly bleeding out would make anyone crazy.
The tears he had held back for over twenty years finally fell. A steady stream of salted emotions finally released on his cheeks. They didn’t make Jay feel any better. Like years ago, they only made him feel weak and inferior. He failed miserably to repel the guilt that was building like a tidal wave inside him. Everything else fell apart, and he was stuck with his own thoughts of failure and the tears.
Jay cried by himself in the tub for almost ten straight minutes before the sobbing finally subsided. Slowly the dark crept up and took him once more, he thanked the enveloping black and passed out.
The constant ringing in his ears made the phone calls hard to make out now. He heard the distinct ring again and waited. Jay was coming to slowly this go around. He had crumpled deeper into the tub, his clothes giving him a wedgie in their inability to slide along with him. Inching up a little bit gave him some relief, but he was out of strength as a result. Laying back, Jay surveyed the immense walls of his current shiny white and faded green prison. Clean white porcelain had taken on a bright, smudged, red tint all over inside its bowl. Further down the tub the orange and red streak leaking from his waist area to the drain near his feet smelled like an odd mix of shit and pennies. He was wondering if the penny smell was the copper in his blood when the recorder beeped shaking him from his trance.
“Well you might as well not bother coming in now, Jay. You don’t have a job anymore. No one has been able to get a hold of you since last Friday. Oh, I’ve been demoted too, thanks to you. I hate you so much right now. I’m doing everything in my power to not come over there and make sure you physically understand just how much I despise your guts. You know Sheila and I have a baby on the way. I just…Man, you better watch your back! Fuck!”
“Danny seemed pleasant,” Jay snickered to himself, a huge joker sized grin sprouting on his haggard face.
“Why don’t you do that Danny? Come on over bro. Take a seat. Shit, beat my ass, please. But first pry me out of my own shit, will ya? Thanks man!” Jay was yelling up at the ceiling fan. The snickers had turned into an outright howl. He still had his humor, and that made him feel better…somewhat. Feeling better was fleeting. The fingernails on his hand had all been ripped off and some of the cuticles behind them completely removed to boot. Jay held them inches from his face to better inspect them. Not a one holding a nail. He remembered ripping a couple of them off, but they were all gone. A small pink tarp stretched over the missing expanse, cracks of red hid in the pink. It was weird how they didn’t bleed. Regardless, he couldn’t put pressure on the other sides of his fingers anymore without it feeling like his bones would protrude where once there was flesh. The three fingers with no cuticles were dripping blood, he sucked on these until they stopped up. There no longer seemed to be a lot of pain associated with his wounds, just an odd numbness. Which proved to be false when he reached down to itch his shin, and searing pain shot up to his shoulder. Covering up the hurt digits in his shirt and cradling them there until the pain subsided helped him keep the tears at bay.
Jay itched everywhere. His entire body. Every inch calling out for attention. Countless little sons and daughters wanting their 15 minutes of fame. To his credit, he fought their calls, grit his teeth, and looked anywhere else to divert his attention. Losing the battle, he grit his teeth harder, bracing for the incoming pain, just as he once did a mouthpiece. Commence operation “Itch Every-Fuck’n-Where.” Fighting through the pain in his fingers got easier as he further satisfied all his many itching requests. The shin was left a bloody mess, an open mouth growing larger below his kneecap. Jay fell back in a heap. He watched intently as the blood slid down his calves and ankles, stopping somewhere inside his shoe.
Tears came again, big ones. These tears were awareness. Jay was going to die in this tub, the realization dawning on him. The thought taking over. Anger following. It was time to get out of this damn tub. He tried to sit up straight and failed miserably. The bruise on the back of his head hurt anytime he leaned back to lift his trunk, which was still glued to the tub. Though, he seemed somewhat freer from all his maneuvering. Jay looked to his right, still crying, cheek hitting the cool porcelain. So cool. He needed more of it. Resting his face on the smooth surface, more tears came. The tears were warm and seemed to grow as they hit his cheek where it met porcelain before dripping away.
A creak in the hall made him freeze. Jay started taking account of all the noises he heard: The bathroom fan, the water at his feet still coming out of the faucet. He even heard the steady hum of the bathroom lights. Or was he hearing those? There seemed to be a constant hum in his ears not from the lights. He just wasn’t sure. Jay felt angry. Not hearing any more noises cooled him some though, and he started to relax.
Wondering what he could have done to help Peter, help his friend out in a time of need, Jay felt guilty again, and man was he starving. So hungry. The hunger never left now. Such a strong hunger, it just made him feel like retching. Feeding a finger to his lips helped abate the discomfort some. It only helped ebb the queasiness a little. He nibbled at the edges of his fingertips, sucking the rising blood to calm his hunger pangs. An uncontrollable tremor took over. He started shaking at his feet, and it rose up his torso uncontrollably until it sprang up his shoulders, fading there.
Another creak. Jay was officially freaking out. He listened intently again. Sure wish you were here Pete. Oh god, please don’t be Danny, eyes widened at the thought. Jay was completely helpless and was clearly in no position to put up much of a fight anyway. Maybe Danny would feel sympathetic once he saw the dilemma in person? Seeing Jay in the tub like he was, Danny would have to help him, right?! Shit, at this point he was grasping at any and every positive he could. The shaking took over again, and he waited for it to pass. The wound on the back of his wrist comforts him as he bites at the ridges, sucking on the swollen flesh. The blood creating a river as he held teeth to flesh and listened intently.
Clearly, he was imagining things now. Seeing mirages, or hearing them had to be a good omen, right? Jay asked himself sarcastically. Teeth dug deeper into the flesh in his wrist. For the first time, he realized how hairy his forearms were as the hair became a nuisance, distracting him from his prize. Strands were catching between his teeth. He didn’t care anymore, and he chomped down on the swollen ridge once more, held it contemplatively and ripped a tiny morsel away, chewing on himself calmly.
There was no more pain. It was simply non-existent now. Chewing on himself didn’t make him retch at all. In fact, it was giving him strength. Jay chewed the bite down until it was a soggy, flavorless gob, then he swallowed it down.
Donner party of 1! We have a special seat for you in our finest china sir. Jay Jay san!
Jay fell asleep asking the Maitre D, that wasn’t there, for some salt and pepper. I’d taste so much better properly seasoned, you see. Shaking the invisible dispensers until he was properly covered, then offering up a bite to the toilet next to him. The laughs echoed in his own head, slowly fading until night time called him once more.
Jay was slicing through the offensive and defensive wall of human flesh. Cutting outside as the play was designed, and there was his blocker in front of him, who simply stood and slowly turned. Jay stopped in his tracks, looked away, for he knew it was Pete. Dead Pete. Except everyone on the field was now Pete, none of them were moving. Offensive and defensive clad Pete’s, striped Pete’s, Pete’s everywhere. They were all pointing in one direction, at him. Being the center of attention he loved so much was too much, and he curled up into a ball and shrank to the size of the grass below. The giant Pete’s loomed over him pointing down. The insects he was also surrounded by point at him as well, a slow drone emitting from their mouths. The drone grew into a steady hum. The hum evolved into a ring forcing Jay back to consciousness once more making him rip at the dark tendrils of dream that seemed to hold him more easily now. It felt like he was an arm’s length from full consciousness. Awareness just out of reach. The phone blared again, and he concentrated on listening to who it is.
Leaning his head slightly towards the bathroom door to listen better, Jay made out a man’s voice. There was anger in it, but then there was laughter. The male voice turned feminine and started cackling. I can’t trust my ears anymore. They aren’t working right, obviously. Transmission was all blended. A finger jabbed into his ear to clean it out and immediately withdrew in pain. The fingertip was completely missing flesh, chewed completely to the bone. Jay marveled at how square the end was. There was an art to this chewing thing. It was odd how the pain completely disappeared once he wasn’t spearing the inside of his ear. As long as he didn’t touch anything, he was confident he could manage the pain. The other hand, however, was howling in pain. Jay took a second to inhale then looked. Relief waved over him. His other fingers still had fingertips on them. The nails were gone, however, and the wounds had adhered to his shirt again. Slowly, like lifting fries from a burning cookie tin, he separates his flesh from the cotton. He does this by creasing the palm with his ruined hand to hold the fabric, slowly pulling until all his fingers were freed. The pain of all those reopened wounds was tremendous, and he bit his lip to get through it. Jay was exhilarated by the taste of his motor’s oil dripping refreshingly down his throat giving him some semblance of strength.
Jay ignored the machine and assessed the damage he’d done to himself. His left hand was missing all but one clinging nail. The pointer bearing the worst of his attentions. It was eaten clear back to the phalange, or that’s what he assumed that hard white plastic indented thing poking up at him was. Jay wondered if his fingers could ever recover to what they were. Just slightly pecked at, he laughed to himself. Adjusting his weight to the other hip was harder than it should be. He was able to move himself from one elbow to the other, his butt staying in place. His right hand was missing every fingertip except the pinky. Each one expertly eaten to the bone, creating the visual effect of each finger having a large eyeball set at its tip. They all seemed to blink at him in response. It was clear his right hand was essentially worthless. Jay moved back to the other elbow again. To do what? He wasn’t sure, so he didn’t answer. He was an absolute fucking mess, and he had no answers or solutions anymore.
Pete would love a conversation now, he figured. I’m incapacitated so I’d have to listen and quit interrupting him. The basics of a mutual friendship revealed themselves instantly. A drawn back curtain baring Jay’s shitty attempts at friendship for what they were. Requests for attention only when his own attention wasn’t enough. Relationships in general made a lot more sense sitting here dying in a tub. All I had to do was eat myself close to death and I’m your best bud. He sighed loudly. Quite a lot of the breath dedicated to self-reflecting.
‘I’m so sorry P.B. I wasn’t there for ya, man. I see ya needed me. You needed me, bro!’ Jay spoke the words aloud directly into lifeless tiles that echoed his sentiments back to him with great acoustics. Jay, tired of his own pity, surveyed his wounds again.
First the knot. He ran his left-hand palm on the right side of his head. The knot was roughly the same size. Finally, some good news! The wet painful divot in the middle of the knot was not good news, however. It did explain the wetness he felt on the right side under his ear.
“I’m going to see ya soon Pete! I’m going to die here!” He screamed the truth to the empty bathroom; the fan whirred its approval. Jay wasn’t going to beg for forgiveness. He’d never begged in his life before. He wasn’t about to start now. So, he hadn’t been a great friend when his buddy needed him. It’s not like they weren’t both adults. It’s not that he’d… Yeah, he’d made everything worse. Whatever was eating at Pete, Jay stabbed him with a stick while he was keeled over from it. Made everything worse. Oh man, so much worse. He cried. The tears were becoming normal now. Falling quietly from his sobbing, vibrating softly in their set positions until gravity pulls them further down his cheeks.
“Why didn’t you? Just, why?” The questions died on his lips. His mind had no trouble answering the why. Jay blamed himself for not listening, for arguing, for pushing Pete to it.
The tear stream burned at the far ends of both his eyes simultaneously. Rubbing them with the only safe place, the back of his hands, evoked a pretty decent Pale Man image. At least his eyes weren’t eaten away, he remarked, surveying more of the self-damage.
Once a bug bite on his wrist, now there stood a half dollar size hole. A hole he could actually see a tendon moving inside of if he looked intently enough. The wound from sliding was now sopping wet. A yellow crust encapsulated the interior raw redness which seemed to make up the entire right side of his lower leg now. The sight made him sicker still. Dark brown bile flew from deep inside him as he threw up in his new home. The purplish black liquid that followed scared him deeply. It hurt so bad to spit it out, he was afraid some of his stomach must be attached. The thought faded as the pain did. Black liquid drooled down the sides of the tub where he’d flung it. What the hell does that mean? Dimmed eyes glared wide at the black sludge. Jay’s homegrown Texas Tea, come get some folks. While it and he last! Maybe it was just some of the blood he’d slurped down? If that was the case, he felt it was safe to assume barfing it out could only be a good reaction. At least, that’s how he saw it. He wasn’t sure at all. Not sure of anything anymore, really. Laughter again. This one’s for Pete. He argued with himself, sure that guy wouldn’t care about his predicament. Pete would care. It was Jay who…The door to his apartment distinctly opened, and then slammed a second later.
Utter silence induced panic. Then shuffling. The fear grew to a deafening crescendo.
Panic set Jay’s alarms off, and he searched for a weapon to defend himself. Smooth tile the only thing within grasp. Futile attempts to better his position frustrated him, and the tears fell silently. There’s no sobbing in him this time. A shampoo bottle, soap, the drain plug, and a plunger were the only options. He reached out for the plunger and fell back worthless. He stared at his only means of defense, so far away it might as well be behind safety glass. Convincing himself the rubber mallet wasn’t going to do any damage anyway was easy. Maybe it was gross to get hit with a shit stained stick, but it wouldn’t stop anyone determined. In the state Jay was in, he was pretty sure none of it mattered. Nothing mattered. The plunger stared at him, and he at it.
Footsteps walked down the hall towards where he lay in the bathroom. Jay bit deep into his lip where he had before. Nibbling at the healed fleshy shelf, cringing as far as possible into the tub as he could, he raised his palms up to defend himself from the impending attack. Before the intruder revealed himself, Jay wished his friend Pete was here. No one better in a fight to have your back then good old Pete. He realized that was true. The honesty of it hurt him. Who else protected his weak side better? How did he even have a chance at the scholarship he got from the shit school they graduated from? Every one of their friends had always mentioned how Jay had needed Pete. Everyone knew how integral Pete was for Jay. Everyone but Jay. Pete never said a word neither, always happy to just be there and help his friend out when needed. Jay lowered his head in shame. A shadow appeared just outside the door, and then another. Two feet stared at him from the crack at the bottom of the frame of the slightly open bathroom door.
Jay mustered all the strength he had into as strong a voice as he could. A silent wind was all his lungs mustered for him, released softly from his depths through the gaps in his teeth. His palms raised instinctually as the handle on the bathroom door turned.
The pale green door swung open. A hulk stood in the doorway, taking up almost the entire opening with his frame. At first, there was no movement from either side, just the door finishing its arc and stopping. Then the intruder entered
Instincts took over, and Jay swung at him. Pulling back for another barrage, he hit his elbow on the tub and stopped, comforting his elbow as best he could in the palm of his left hand. The anger gone as he stared at the stranger. Fresh tears sprouted on his face as the mass of a human cleared in Jay’s eyesight.
It was all Jay managed to let loose. His lips moved back and forth, intent on getting more syllables out and failing. He passed out as the hulking figure sat on the toilet. Weird he’s not pulling his pants down Jay smiled as he faded. It’s going to get real stinky in here bud. I already shit myself over here. Jay smiled sheepishly and fell asleep to running down high school fields, an old friend running at his side each step.
Jay and Pete were running down the field together. “Deadweight” by Sinkane played on speakers in the skies. Jay loved that song, and there was a certain doom that was fitting deep within the tune. Even though they ran on green fields, they were running to a red-hot fire, and the sky above burned orange. There were fire demons in front of their destination, and Pete moved into position. Jay ran past him intent on blocking his buddy for once. Their footsteps were ringing in his ear to the beat of “Deadweight’s” bass line. Then the rings became phone blares, and he was awoken once again.
Whether it was day or night, he had no idea. Or how many days he’d now spent wasting away in this tub. He loved the convenience of it all. There was a chance he’d rot completely away in here and disappear down the building’s plumbing. By the time they discovered him, he could be a polished skeleton, he figured. Another ring from the phone, this one felt like standing in a bell tower. His head hurt immensely. Eyes closed to deal with the pain. Jay concentrated only on one final effort to stand, just gathered his strength and like Nike says, “Just do it!” Instead, he had enough to open his eyes back up and rest his head softly on the back of the tub again. Lips stood open, mouth gaped, he couldn’t seem to close it anymore. Jay’s muscles weren’t working either. Laying low, shaking softly at times as he got colder. By the next ring, he was pawing at his ears and pulling them closed to protect them from the harmful sound. It didn’t help.
There was a garbling sound nearby that wasn’t from his belly nor the hallway, it confused him. Jay remembered his visitor. The hallway was empty. He stared at the open door, so close. Escape was at hand if he could just reach it. Three feet away tops, and the healing could begin. Jay knew the wounds he had weren’t going to heal. Clearly, he was going to die here, alone. Finally, he dared to look at the toilet. There he was, sitting, staring at Jay’s feet. It couldn’t be. But it was, there he was.
Immobile Pete, just sitting on the toilet, a piece of rope hanging off his shirtless body. Blue tinges appeared on his skin. The ragged knot wrapped around his neck was obscured by the rope, but he was clearly sporting a deep ligature scar. The hanging. Jay imagined his friend hanging in a hallway and cringed.
“Why man? Why the fuck would you? Do that?” Jay pointed his pointer bone in the direction of the scar on Pete’s neck. Pete was silent. He didn’t acknowledge his friend at all in the tub. Just sat there staring ahead. Hell, Jay wasn’t even sure he was even breathing. Though, he also wasn’t sure if Pete needed to breathe anymore. The hulk simply sat there moving around like a set rock.
“What?! You trying to fuck with me? I know you ain’t real bro. Besides I don’t’ get it. First you give up, now you are here hoping I will? Screw you Pete! You were always the wuss. That’s why you didn’t make it in college, just gave up and…” A pause before daring more. “It’s why I always got the foxes. I dared! You always settled. Settled for Sharine (He mangled Shelly’s name one last time), and she was probably settling for you. Probably why she left your sorry ass. I was just trying to help you!” He lied to himself. “Trying to get you to understand man. You needed to lose weight. It’s the skeleton key you need to your own closets man. Just trying to help, you big jerk.” The truth of his empty words hit him. No way was he trying to be helpful mentioning his friend’s weight. No, he was merely retaliating where he felt attacked. Alpha-dogging his friend, as always. Making sure Pete knew who was in good shape and could get the ladies.
“I…I’m so sorry Pete. Mannnnn. I’m such a dick. Why me? Why would you call me? You needed someone, and you called me?” The rant continued in his mind, some truths he was still not ready to voice. I never helped no one, man. No one. I just take. The last thoughts were a dangling carrot enticing the tip of his tongue like a carrot to spill the truth. At 43 years of age, Jay finally, maturely understood what a selfish man he had been. Maybe he wasn’t saying the words out loud, but they were everywhere in his mind like buzzing airplanes attacking him with truth. What were meant as fun jokes to bond him with others were really cruelties he’d simply justified. They kept him untrustworthy for true friendships. Jay found God in that moment and prayed to live a better life if he ever got out of the tub.
“I’m so sorry. Pete! Why won’t you talk to me? Why are you even here bro? Pleassssshhhhhhhhhh.” The syllables mumbled together into an incoherent mess. Jay tried e.s.p. If it’s really you Pete, get my car keys and let’s work together to get us back to normal. We can talk this out. I swear I’ll just listen man. I’m just going to listen to you. Jay spoke through his mind as intently as he could and waited for a response from Pete- a mind communication, a nod, a word, anything really.
The steady whir of the bathroom fan was all he could hear, and the flickering of one of the lights that had started dying. When he cocked his ear back, he swore he heard more than just the stream of water going down the drain. Something more solid. He was pretty sure he knew what was dripping down the bathroom drain. Just me, man. Ya hear that Pete? I’m dripping away over here, while you hang out. “HAHAHAHA”
“You. Why? Wow, just why the fuck would you hang yourself bro?” That had to be so damn terrible. Like how did you leave me as pissed as you were and not just fuck your girl or fight some poor sap in the street? But no, you actually planned it. Did you buy the items that night? Where’d you get them so late? Like how did you plan this shit? Just go out and buy a rope, or whatever you used. Wrap it around your neck, and then not change your fucking mind? How long did you hang there contemplating what action to take? How long were you left hanging before they found you? Jesus man. The blue stood out on Pete’s skin now. Jay couldn’t turn away from it. This made him sadder for some reason, and he cried again.
“I just don’t understand bud. Why won’t you talk to me?”
“Why won’t you say something?”
“Why? Say something? The effort to speak stopped him, and Jay faded promptly to black.
The emergency broadcast system that was eternally ringing in Jay’s ears blew even louder somehow. He woke out of his funk enough to realize he was gnawing on his own finger bone, just like he’d seen that mouse do to itself to try and escape a glue trap. That old shed had a hammer that helped put the poor critter out of its misery, but there were no large hammers above Jay’s head. He looked up with some disappointment at the missing hammer. There was muffled speech coming from somewhere, maybe another caller. No one could help him now. Pete. No one here but me and Pete.
Looking at Pete, he begged with his eyes. Come on Pete, let’s go. There was no pain as he subconsciously started nibbling at the flesh around the bone of his finger. The only reaction he had was a strange growing heat that went all the way to his elbow. He liked that feeling. It warmed him, and he was freezing. Chewing also seemed to give him strength. Maybe it didn’t, but he felt stronger anyway. Although, the fact that he was still stuck in a tub, ate away at that thought as fast it came.
Jay couldn’t speak anymore, just mouthed words that didn’t come. Why won’t you talk to me bro? He thought at Jay. You called me! You’re the one in my god damn apartment right now. Please, just say something. Anything. He was more aware of the fan whirring above than ever, an incessant helicopter hovering over his head. Each thump of the air crashed deep inside his ear drum. Pete didn’t acknowledge any of this or move at all. He wasn’t even returning Jay’s glances. Merely sitting there like royalty on Jay’s throne. Ultimate alpha-dogging, finally you get it bro. Jay had to laugh at that and silently did so. I knew you had it in ya bro. I was only ever trying to get ya to my level man. Be strong and face those winds, never give up. The irony of the delusion was lost on him as he chewed madly at the open wound on his wrist. His other hand peeling the newly formed skin back on his shin like a welcome home mat. Where’s my latch key? I can’t open the door until I get my key. Fingers dug deeper, looking for the imaginary key, only stopping when it got too slick with blood to get a grip on himself.
A grip on himself. That’s what he needed- to get a grip. I need to get a grip. He tried collecting his thoughts, failed and slumped back into the tub once more. The moment of brevity faded as fast as it raised in his consciousness. For once, as he faded he wasn’t sure he’d wake up. It scared him. It reminded him of those old westerns where a cowboy got shot in the gut and took days to die from his mortal wound. Hanging on as long as they could even though they knew they would pass from their injuries. Hoping on a distant town and a doctor for the cowboy, someone to break into his apartment and rescue him for Jay. Both seemed doubtful, but Jay was pretty sure the cowboy had a better shot.
Incisors and molars chattered loudly together. Clanging together so harshly it felt like some were cracking at their roots. He staunched that with the once good hand that now also had opened finger tips. Pacified by chewing on himself again, he asked his friend on the toilet,
“Why won’t you say something? Why are you here? I’m so sorry man? Please. Forgive me. You hear me man? Forgive…me…Please?!!??!?!
Jay passed out from all that effort.
The spinning room stalled enough to center, and then, Jay was awake once more.
Everything rang. There were no distinctive rings anymore. Everything rang, and everything hurt so deep he really couldn’t feel it.
“Shoooorrreeee,” slurred out of Jay’s mouth. He’d officially lost his will to live, he was merely waiting now. “Shooooaaaaaaarrrrrryyyy bbbbbbuuudddeeee.” Everything slurred out of his throat. He tasted blood from the effort and threw up immediately. There were so many chunks of himself in the pool he created; he tossed up his stomach’s contents again and sunk into the tub. Eyes stared straight into the bathroom lighting above and blurred his vision. There were now three bright red and orange orbs following the path his sight chose. Not unlike staring directly at the sun too long.
Jay was lost in his imagination, awake as he was. The whir of the fan was his slaves fanning him in his Egyptian throne. Where were the grapes? His eyes widened with hope and dimmed with reality. They scanned the room and centered once again on Pete. The scar under his friend’s chin seemed to have grown even thicker overnight, protruding over the rope now. It looked even more painful than before. Jay couldn’t even imagine the rope rubbing his friend’s fresh flesh long enough to cause burns that size. It hurt him inside, and Jay was well beyond pain at this point.
“Ssho sshorree buvee.”
The guilt softened as he chewed on himself once more. The back of one of his knuckles still holding flesh, where most were now sinew. Some of his knuckles were eaten further than that. He bit harshly into his flesh and pulled away, creating a new crater. Fresh blood filling the bottom row of his teeth. Before he could chew more, Pete moved. Jay held the chunk of himself between his teeth and stared in anticipation. Pete ever so slowly leaned over and into the tub, moving until he was face to face with his old friend.
An eternity looking into his dead friends face in that position. Staring into dead black eyes that had shriveled back into their orbits. No expression was visible on his friend’s face. Then the jaw moved. Pete shriveled back a bit. An old musky smell filled Jay’s nostrils as Pete spoke.
“Chew on this…Jay. Here, let me help you out good buddy. If you don’t quit stuffing your face like a hippo you’re going to eat yourself to death.” Then Pete sat back in his original position and stared intently at Jay’s feet again.
Déjà vu filled Jay. The piece of flesh still nestled tightly between his teeth. It was true. Just like he told Pete, it was true here. It didn’t matter; he had no will. He tore at the piece until it was decimated and filled his mouth with another larger, fresher bite. Ripping and thrashing at himself like a rabid self-cannibalizing wild animal. A mouse in a glue trap. He looked at Pete who was no longer in the room now that his message had been dealt. Jay was all alone again. He could see, and he wanted to stop seeing. Jay chewed bite after bite until his jaws couldn’t move, sore from their massive undertaking. He picked at himself from there. Eyes closed and unwilling to open. Picking away at any edge of flesh he could find, peeling it back and throwing it down his mouth. He coughed, but he didn’t stop picking, slowing as his strength was being sapped. Then finally, the only sound filling the bathroom was the steady whir of the fan, the blinking light, and Jay quietly dripping down the drain.