They were headed out of Cleveland- on their way to Buffalo for a cousin’s wedding- when they saw it off to the right- “THE FOOD BANK”- and from that moment on, they knew that they were going to rob it.
“You see?” he asked, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, the little nerd, with his thick-rimmed glasses, half-starved frame and checkered shirt.
I shook my head. His latest experiment looked ridiculous. Two stoppered glass cylinders, one filled with smoke wafting in through a nozzle somewhere at the upper end, the other one clear. A slab of meat in each. The meat on the right side, in the otherwise empty receptacle, was perfect. I craved it. The one on the left, uh, I thought I’d rather pass. Greenish, moldy, and decomposing even as I watched it.
“What’s your point?” I wanted to know.
“It’s a calf’s lung,” came the distracted reply. He was rummaging around his work desk, throwing drawers open, his movements getting more frantic by the moment. “See what the smoke does to it?”
I frowned. “What’s in there?” I pointed at the right cylinder.
“Nothing as in it’s a vacuum?”
“Yeah.” He was patting his pockets now.
I shook my head again. I couldn’t believe it. “You absolutely fail to make your point, you know? Vacuum. You know what a vacuum lacks?”
“Well, the smoke, obviously.”
“The smoke. Yeah.” I spoke slowly, like to a dumb child. “And everything else. Like bacteria. Or oxygen.”
“What has that got to do with anything?” He sounded hysterical, but it was nothing I had said. He was still searching like mad.
“Things decompose when in contact with oxygen,” I explained with a sigh. “That lung would probably look much the same if you simply blew air in instead of the smoke.”
“Oh.” His eyes darted around the room, locked onto something on a nearby shelf, and lit up. He jumped forward and all but flew past me to snatch up his precious find. I heard a rustle, and a very familiar click. “In that case,” he mumbled, turning back to me. A burning cigarette hung from his mouth and he proffered the open pack. “Want one?”
Beryl is a 45-year-old anorexic who guzzles diet Coke out of one-liter bottles that she keeps in a cooler in her car. She drives a mineral green Infiniti that has built-in GPS navigation, a remote keyless entry system, heated seats, and something called intelligent cruise control. She fiddles with the multi-CD stereo while she drives, clinging to her soda with her steering hand and barely managing to stay in her own lane. She feigns annoyance at the car’s bells and whistles and pretends not to hear drivers who honk at her.
She lives in a lavish home in an exclusive neighborhood with a husband she no longer fucks. Together, they have three children who are flawless on the outside and as skilled as their mother at pretending their lives are perfect. Every day in Beryl’s life is much like the previous, full of shopping and spa treatments and making sure she looks shiny and new.
Every Thursday she drives to the shitty side of town to take a court-ordered piss test. These are the days she pops her Magic Clean capsules—guaranteed to clear cocaine and alcohol out of her system—and guzzles water, instead of her usual diet Coke. Afterwards, she meets a gentleman friend who makes her yip and yowl until it’s time to pick up her children from school.
Exactly twelve seconds before she died, Beryl pulled out her compact to check her make-up as she walked out the front door of the piss clinic last Thursday. She stepped off the curb and never saw the truck coming. She and her brand new Gucci stilettos were flattened. They say the undertaker insisted on a closed casket.
The fucking dentist called again. I let the Radio Shack answering machine pick it up. It was his receptionist. She has a nasal, whiney voice. Please call us, Mr. McEwan. Your bill is past due. Blah-blah and then she tells me to have a nice day. Yeah, right.
That fucking dentist. His name is Whittlesen and the bastard pricked my gum with one of his shiny sharp instrument and then said you have an infection there see the blood. He held you a little mirror. It should come out. You naturally believe these kind of pricks. A lot of shit proceeds their names and the wall of their offices are crowded with the requisite diplomas and other official awards and citations. You’ll need a bridge back there, he said.
Idiotically I told him to pull the tooth. It was the first tooth I’d lost. I was a virgin. It sounded like popcorn popping in the microwave as he yanked and pulled and extracted it from my skull. I was novacained, so felt nada. I would have preferred a shot of morphine, but they don’t do that. Not unless you were run over by a garbage truck.
A month later he put in the bridge. It was like roadwork with stinky glue and chemicals that would probably kill a lab rat.
Then the bill. Lord in fucking heaven. I had a factory job and the bill put a major crimp in my mundane lifestyle. Had to drop the quality of beer I was drinking a couple notches and cut out the pints of Canadian whiskey. I lived in a falling down apartment in Detroit, so the rent wasn’t an issue. Ditto on my ride. A monster 1973 Pontiac La Disaster with used tires and a temperamental radiator. I bought it for three hundred bucks from a guy who said his brother-in-law owned it before he died from cancer.
As I pondered the extraction and bridge in my struggle to pay the bill I ended up convinced Whittlesen had staged the whole fucking thing. There was nothing wrong with my tooth. It was sacrificed for his yacht and house out in Oakland County and the Harvard U education of his twat simpering son or daughter who would either go into dentistry, law or loan sharking.
I replayed the tape. Whittlesen’s receptionist sounded like a duck on Prozac. I went in the bedroom and reached under the mattress and brought out Willie. He’s a Charter Arms snubnose .38 like you see in those lame 70s cop shows. Effective because it is loud. If you’re going to kill some crack head climbing through your bedroom window at three in the morning you want to do it loudly. Just in case his buddies are out there lurking around in the shadows. Dogs should naturally bark loud and have deadly and irreversible bites.
I walked out there and pointed Willie at the Radio Shack answering machine. Drew a bead on the fake chrome knob and the blinking LED light that told me Whittlesen wanted his fucking money. Cocked the hammer. Gritted my teeth and squinted. Pulled the trigger.
Shit. I had forgotten to load it after I’d cleaned it. Just as well. I needed the machine in case one of my old girlfriends called and said she couldn’t live without me and my suave Don Juan ways.
Yeah, right. And then I wished for a pony.
donald was a regular guy who did not have very high expectations.
he wanted people to like him or at least ignore him.
he did not understand life or his fellow humans very well but hoped to improve in that regard.
one day he was felling a bit nervous about some applications he had made to participate in certain activities.
he decided to relieve his nervousness by going for a walk.
at the last minute before embarking on his journey he decided to take a carrot with him to munch as he walked along.
this proved to be a mistake.
it was a pleasant enough day and there were many other people on the street besides donald.
all of them noticed that donald was eating a carrot and most of them made some comment, either to a companion or to the air or directly to donald.
“dude, how’s the carrot?”
“that guy is eating a carrot.”
“mmm – good vitamins.”
“look at that person – is he doing what i think he’s doing?”
“it’s always a good day for a carrot.”
“i don’t believe this.”
“bro, try rutabaga some time – easier to digest.”
“down the street eating a fucking carrot.”
donald did not enjoy these attentions but he did not want to throw the carrot away either – he felt that would represent some sort of obscure defeat.
and would be littering.
he did not want to put the half eaten carrot with his teeth marks in his pocket – that seemed unsanitary.
the climax came when he was stopped by a broad-shouldered young man with a posse of five other young persons, male and female, tagging behind him.
the young man pointed a finger not quite in donald’s chest and with a white laugh, announced – “i know what you’re doing.”
donald was too startled to answer.
“you’re making a movie, right?” the young man looked, or pretended to look, up and down the street. “where’s your buddy with the camera?”
“he’s filming it himself,” said one of the entourage. “he’s got a camera in his shirt pocket.”
donald still didn’t know how to respond. one of the two young women in the group grabbed the arm of there first young man.
“come on, adam, you don’t have to be a total dick every minute of every day.”
the group moved off, laughing. donald heard the first young man say “nobody eats a fucking carrot in the street -”
donald finally got home safely. he felt that the nutrition he had obtained from the carrot and the fresh air and exercise from the walk had been more than offset by the relentless mockery he had received.
he never walked down the street eating a carrot, or any other vegetable, again.
“Apt pupils like you should see our new biology lab.”
Flattered, she followed her headmaster.
They entered the room.
She noticed a gurney standing in the corner. Something caught her eye and she got closer. Someone, white-shrouded, was lying there. She shuddered. A notebook labeled “Ancient Rites: The Egyptian Mummification Process” was on his chest. She recognized it as her work, written in A4 polka dot spiral bound notebook, that she had submitted to him at the end of the semester.
“What’s …” she muttered.
She turned to leave but he blocked her way.
“Sorry dear, but you would replace the mummy on the gurney,” he said. “You fit in, perfectly!”
You can smell Paignton long before you can see it. It’s one of the few things I like about this town…
We agreed to meet on an abandoned sprawl of diseased-looking concrete near Paignton Yards. Two years ago the council condemned the surrounding buildings as unfit for human habitation, and all of them – but one – were bulldozed. The last one sticks out like a sore dick in a sauna.
Up close I can see that the door has been kicked in and the front windows have been smashed with bricks. It looks like a broken mouth beneath two empty eye sockets.
It’s a raw November evening and the stroll is deserted, apart from a pack of stray dogs with bloodshot eyes. They circle me warily, slobber dripping from their gaping jaws, but they don’t make a move. I guess they figure me for bad meat…
Larry Langham has a large, cruel mouth and a carrier bag full of blood-stained passports. Despite the cold weather he’s dressed in a tropical-print shirt and grubby chinos. Up close his skin looks raw and unpleasant – like subcutaneous fat. His fat ruby ring glints under the sodium lights. I pay him the money and he laughs in my face. Before he leaves he forces his fingers into my mouth. They taste of piss and dirt, and his ruby ring clatters against my teeth.
Carl’s car smells like an ashtray. His glove-box is full of gun magazines. He doesn’t speak much, but then again, neither do I. He lost a leg in Helmand Province, but he’s not bitter.
“Did you get them?”
He stomps the accelerator with his prosthetic foot and we re-join polite society.
The carpet at the halfway house is littered with tissues, sticky with tears and sperm. I’ve never seen so many girls in one room.
Klaudia smiles at me.
She is wearing tight white slacks and a long-sleeved lavender coloured blouse. I met her at Paignton hospital, getting broken glass removed from my feet. Her cousin Agnieszka had been badly beaten by a pimp named Edward Yang. He split her lip, bruised her spleen and broke one of her arms. The next day I hobbled down Winner Street, wounds pulsing beneath the grimy bandages on my feet. I hurt him far worse – despite almost passing out when I stomped his guts.
Klaudia and I subsequently became close, although we never fucked. Not until today, at least. She has lank, dust-coloured hair, but her pubic hair is darker and thicker than you would expect. I was surprised, but didn’t let it show.
She liked to talk, to tell me stories about her childhood in broken English. After a few months she asked me if I knew how to get hold of black-market passports. I said I did, but told her that stolen passports were far safer. She told me that she and her friends wanted to leave Paignton. Wanted to leave the brothel. I agreed to help.
The sky above Winner Street is gunmetal grey, and the icy wind has me trembling like a shitting puppy.
The middle-aged woman driving the minibus has a lurid neck tattoo and a badly creased face. She nods to me solemnly, and I nod back.
I raise my hand to wave, but it is too late.
I woke up from a bad dream about something, didn’t remember what it was but it seemed to do with ending up on as a bum since I didn’t like work. I thought about getting a trailer and some land. Over the last 5 years I’d paid fifty grand in apartment rent, I could have owned a trailer and some land by now. I drove to Lisel’s modest duplex, she was catching a cold so I didn’t kiss her but we laid on the couch and watched Grand Budapest hotel, her kids were at their dad’s place, after a while she pulled out my dick and started caressing it then I gently fucked her and nutted in her. We watched part of great Gatsby then I realized what a shitty story it was, I turned off the tv, we laid in the darkness and talked. She was getting off probation that weekend and was having a party to celebrate, she invited me, I asked, “So you mean you’ll be of paper? A law-abiding citizen?” She laughed then a cop siren went off outside. “They’re looking for me,” she said. I said, “Yeah, this is car 19, I hear she’s getting off probation, better turn on your sirens.” Later I drove home so I wouldn’t catch her cold and since I didn’t want to get up at 630 with her.
I went to Lisel’s getting off probation party that Friday night, there was a couple sitting on the couch with her when I got there, a 30 year old woman and a boy about 19, they were cuddling. Soon a woman with a full chest tattoo showed up and she got out a joint. The 30 year old woman on the couch stood up, stood in the middle of the living room and stretched, showed us her nice ass and legs, then she pulled her boy up off the couch and they left. As they walked out the door Lisel’s male roommate and his date arrived. The tattooed woman lit the joint and passed it around, I got very stoned and paranoid, we all sat there silently and awkwardly for a very long time, my paranoia was overpowering, I sat still and watched it, afraid to move. Lisel sat silently as well. The music stopped. Lisel’s roommate proposed we turn on the tv but no one turned it on, then he and his date left, I went into the kitchen and picked up a metal flask off the table, it had rum in it, I drank it all and sat back down on the couch with Lisel and the tattooed woman. The tattooed woman and I instinctively hated each other and it had been her rum but she kept her mouth shut about it. I turned on lone survivor on the tv, the tattooed woman left, Lisel and I watched the movie then went to her bed. We began caressing each other then I rolled her over face down grabbed her hair, and got on her from the rear, “Oooh,” she said, I nudged it into her pussy from behind while holding onto a handful of her hair, when I nutted into her my dick burned, it hurt, felt like spermicide had gotten in my dickhole. Afterwards I walked into the bathroom and pissed, that hurt too and some blood came out in my piss, I washed my cock off and went back to bed.
The next time we got together was at a bar. Some of the women I dated liked to bite, take it to the limit, be as outrageous as they could, they wanted someone to take charge of them despite themselves, someone to be bigger than them. Lisel was like that. I could see it in the five footer’s eyes and I could see it in her evil smile when she tasted power, when she sensed some yielding in me; the only way to bring such a woman to heel was to twist her little arm, slap her around, control her, a man had to play hardball in a hard game, take charge of the situation, and if that didn’t get the job done he had to let the woman go because if neither of them yielded one of them would end up destroying the other or end up in prison, and such a woman rarely stuck around with a man who couldn’t make her yield. As we stood out front of the bar I kissed the five footer, looked down at her, she was looking up at me with that evil smile, I kissed her again, this time she bit my lip hard, when she let go I drew my left hand back and slapped her hard across the face, she stood there shocked with her hand on her cheek, I drew my right hand back and slapped the other side of her face, hard, to let her know I meant business. She doubled over and held her face with both hands, I stepped to her, grabbed her by the back of her hair, pulled her head back, looked down at her face and coolly said, “Do it again bitch…do it again.” She smiled a hurt, sneering smile at me, I drew back my right hand and slapped her hard, held her there by her hair. She started to cry, I told her, “Get the fuck in the car,” then I took hold of her arm and walked her along with me to my car, put her in, started it, drove her to my place, fucked her hungrily and forcefully on the couch, afterward she lay there in my arms, girlish and happy, afraid and satisfied, excited and spent all at the same time. After a while I lost the will to check her as she continued to constantly be in my face and try to grind me down, I stopped governing her and she went away.
Jesus made candy. That’s how he got the children on his knees. His face was brutal. His teeth grew sideways. He spread the news with toffee.