Illustrations courtesy Joseph Glen Daigle
by Todd Brendan Fahey
“I said, ‘Man, why don’t you come on in? I mean: we got a keg of codeine, five hundred cubic meters of nitrous oxide, a crateful of Special K—in those extra large ampoules you like.’ And Stan kind of kicks at the dirt and checks his watch: ‘Alright… But I only have fifteen minutes’.”
It is one of those delayed-megaton deliveries that pass into the cerebrum, whirl about for a bit, hit home as one is finishing the unfortunate angel food cake. And whilst speaking to the Dean.
Dr. Bryant Andersson turns his head just quickly enough, but nothing can save him—a fluffy and unnecessary concoction ridden of, flown from mouth and nostrils, so rude. But tenured, so nothing she can do about it—other than to suck her teeth, even though she gets it, too.
A collective wrack of guilty pleasure. A human buckling, at least one shot-through into the pool, fistpoundings on Home Depot outdoor dining sets and the general upset of disposal kitchenware. Fuck a Shriners roast: George Carlin would have shat himself.
From across the terrace, Stan nods mildly and stands a salute; Jack Jump flips him off and at ease. Infamy, notoriety: states to which he has always held a big brass Key.
“He’s been around forever,” Don offers, eyeing an elderly gentleman deep in his cups.
“And so it appears,” Stan agrees. “And it appears for not a whole lot longer,” says, admiring the dissipation that is a love of bourbon and the telltale folds over the ‘lids.
“Feebledurbers,” Don nods, turning slightly, pulling grotesquely on his own eye-flaps. “Pretty much inevitable. That’s Mr. O-yeah. God, the guy’s spent a fortune here.”
“Feebledurbers,” laughs. “So what’s his name?”
“I told you: that is Mr. O-yeah… O Yeah.” Waits for a linguist’s response.
“Come on, man. O-yeah is not a family name…not from anywhere in the Western world.”
“Bet?” he grins.
“Sure–next two are on me.”
A staccato laugh through the snout–like a tire giving way deliberately: “H-o-l-l-i-e-r.” It is a look of pure victory.
Don purses his lips, comes back with a bar tab, which confirms a longstanding presence of one “Bertrand Hollier” at Don’s Steakhouse. “No fucking way you were gonna know that. And your money stinks like fish in here.” Ducks back to the bar, where two Top Shelf tequila drinks are blended and brought to Stan’s table.
“H-o-l-l-i-e-r. Shit. This is a kinky place. You’d have to think really, really hard to contort that.”
A bucksnort is issued; Don Sr., a lot of drinks in him now, too, eyes his oft-wayward son. Don Jr., with no compelling argument, plays it smart. Stan exits after downing both cocktails.
“Let’s play…a game of…suckey button.”
“Howdoyouplay suckey button?“
“It’s easy: Yooooou lay down, and I suck your button.”
(Without pause): “That’s not a game it’s torture!”
A satisfying chortle deep within; shoves his betrothed to the mattress of sacrifice dear. Mu-mu and the thin garment all up about her chin now; forearm to forehead, should there be any question.
“Aaughh! you’re being a beast!” Comes with a laugh.
And then begins in earnest. With an obnoxious vibration of lips, Stan sustains the bass-register–long enough that he must decide between stopping or to gather oxygen through the snout. Chooses the latter.
She tries to right herself, backwards; he pins her thighs down with the free arm.
Another round of noise, only with a purposeful, rhythmic side-to-side of his noggin.
Nods as he persists, perfects a circular breathing. Then rears up and, with tongue stiffened and a sturdy attention, plunges it deep unto the small space of concern.
Taking a short breather. “Because you need to get used to it,” nodding.
Shrugs before continuing. “Then that will be a problem for you.”
He is having fun. And he deserves to have fun, for all the babble and surveillance that is to be endured three to five hours on Sundays, and on Wednesdays with the Home Teachers of Perpetual Disregard come a-lurking for Irregularities, and having not had a drink for five months (God damn), Stan can lay claim to having assumed the perfect form of an impatient saint.
“You’ve aged really well. Different than I thought. You still have those eyes. …I’ve still got my nose,” she laughs.
It’s a laugh that is she. Never, in this incarnation, will she know how beautiful she really is. Such is not in her to know. It’s something she gives away with her laugh.
“You’ve put on some weight–“
“You’ve thought about how I’d look?”
“Oh, so often. You know. Fuck, we were insanely in love with each other.”
I make some motion to say it’s alright, that there’s no point in tracking back.
“Yeah. We’ve both done it. With me, it’s that…goddamned perfume,” he smiles, gritting his teeth. “And old Genesis.”
“Ripples.” They say it together, and find themselves laughing. Together. Love is a vacuum, in which nothing else survives. It is a complete laugh.
Stan smiles, just happy to have made the trip.
A dark beach near campus, ’84; green windowpane in gelatin. The moon draws the ocean far out, the sheen of sand a blank sheet; time, a carpet across the sky. It could all end here and all would go on just as it is. A shattering thing. Plunge in, swim far out to sea, to not come back; sit and listen to the pitch and ebb of the waters. Whichever. All were here, have been, are, will be, from ever and forever more.
Why not just sit.
She kisses him fully in the mouth. An ancient thing, the collision. She was there, and now we are here. From really wanting to sleep to being under is a stride. The suck of a wave, the wash. Like breathing. The press of her lips a language of intention, insistence. All that had timed out, or been interrupted, waylaid, not given license to, rendered malem prohibitum, all that had kept him in limbo for so many years, now freed. She is not going to stop.
He casts his tongue across her teeth and upward to the flesh above, and she makes a sound that is from memory.
“m’I love you.”
“m’I know.” Grounds her knees into the cushions, astride.
His lift, lodge.
Another resonance, this one not from a place retained. “Doo...you remember coming up to the 10th floor, and we’d sing ‘Pigs’...huuh…“
“Stay with me, Sharon.”
Unclasps his mouth from hers, holds her hips down tighter. “I remember everything. The color of your bedspread; the animals you kept on it. The smell of the staircase up to your room came to me in a dream one night, about five years ago. We’re not there anymore.”
“H’fuck,” a breath coming as from runner in the last legs of it. She has never been here before.
“Stay with me.”
“H’on the street that night…”
“May ’85. I didn’t see you; I felt you.”
“That was so weird.” She is settling down a bit. “I hadn’t seen you in two years; there you were. Honest to God, I didn’t know what to do. What did I do?”
“You jumped up off the street and I caught you.”
That laugh again. “My friends thought I was insane.”
It could end here and still be ok. He will not be disappointed. Like in an NDE–the light and the assurance and the seeing again of persons dear, and then drawn back to the body. Still a very beautiful thing to know; and it will all happen soon enough, anyway. Why not just sit.
She kisses him again. Different this time. It says, Thank You.
“God, someone could drop a bomb on this place and the world would lose so much,” she says, apropos of nothing, and stunning in its timing. “I feel so small.” With a sincerity bone deep and so unexpected, yet fully deserved and of a genius of its own—a critical assessment of set and setting what would have made Huxley proud, silencing those around her, leaving only the sneaky coil of Walter Becker’s fretwork to writhe through the clot of her estimation.
Stan could have foretold that it would be Jack Jump who would punctuate the still, a: “I think I’ll go outside and have a smoke,” is what he can manage. And he does so, directly—turns heel and steps out to the porch and lights a Camel. He’d begun again, to his own metronome, to which none—Stan, barely—could fathom. One of the great minds of our generation, but whose liner notes on his campus Web page reads: “Currently serving what feels like a life sentence at University of Lafayette.” The man could also pretend, and tend graciously to a backyard grill and know to stock up on an extra kilo of ground round and precisely who might be showing up empty handed, but with a good story to rectify much, anyway, of a semblance of poverty and shame. And it would always be Tom.
Later that summer, the perpetual grad student and his mentor would take off in a 4×4 to parts unknown to Stan, paying tribute to others among their ken, small gods of the littles: Baked Adobe and Circumfiction and Cold Mother’s Hubbard, whose contributors and weavers, likewise, run to their own handwrung flow. Jump, upon the first note of office drama, liked to drive home and take a lawn chair to the far end of the pond, near the clutch of bamboo, where a small green heron had once opened its yaw and let out, as he told it, “A croak what sounded like from a hinge at the end of the world.” Stan had given him those ‘shrooms, and they’d start to grow their own.
As a practice, Jump tended to not open his notebooks to Stan—not for fear of critique, but for the eidetic memory he had seen of his student and where and in what manner his thoughts and phrases culled were bound to bubble up. To Stan, the world in-toto was like unto a bowl of candies left on the steps of a home on Halloween, its lights off and no car in the driveway. That he deigned to leave Jump’s farmhouse largely undisturbed was magnanimous, but Stan considered himself fairly generous.
“This is a good party,” it says, through the din of THE BLACK SAINT AND THE SINNER LADY, which is what Stan has put on, after tiring of Steely Dan. “You should have us over more often.”
Stan admires Tom for his naivete. Above the hardwood shines an idiot grin, of handsome–if, lately, long–tooth, and he knew why Jack Jump rode always with the perpetual dropout. A genuine crinkle to the eye, and not for any reason Tom could comprehend, brightens the smile.
“You gonna have anything for me anytime soon, man? There are three poets in this world I’ll waste my money on,” Stan offers. “Jim’s already had his handjob,” he said, pointing to Tolan’s clutch, which could be counted on to be bearing a copy of Fresh Fruit and Gravity. “Jump’s a snob. And that leaves you.”
Tom runs his fingers through a tussle of blond. Having recently dismounted a 23 speed Shimano, and enveloped still in black lycra duds, he looks the part of Lance Armstrong’s poor relation. And although the $680/monthly teaching stipend kept him a bit malnourished, Stan grants that DNA had fallen generally in his friend’s favor. From the powder room was whispered, as well, to an impressive yield of trouser trout which had, if rumor is to be counted, navigated the channels of nearly every class of his attendance, and without a kvetch to be heard. Indeed. Beyond being a wordsmith, Tom could be counted on to gyrate the gears of the fairest campus- and county wide, leaving Stan wondering if he shouldn’t hold these getstogether more often and offer to Tom a sliding stipend for showing up and staying until he, himself, got his share.
“You guys have a good time. Maybe you’ll get lucky and catch yourselves a grinner.”
Don blows out a laugh, like his lungs have just exploded. “HOooooh. C’mon, man, I have to drive!”
Ed smiles in a way that Stan can’t immediately understand. Both are concerned that Don is going to stain his denims.
“Okay,” Stan laughs with them. “I’ll bite. …What’s a grinner?”
Ed pushes his lips out, makes his eyes bulge. It is a hideous mask he is making.
“–don’t…” Don has sat down by this point; actually, kind of crumpled over between the musty sofa and the very carved-on coffee table.
“It’s something we don’t talk about much,” Ed continues.
“So, it’s something we could catch today?”
“Not if you’re lucky,” Ed stares back.
“–I’ve got this Glock loaded, man. I swear to God–“, but he is beyond repair. We have been up for 48 hours, and what with several returns to the vial of liquid and the flagons of Jim Beam that have been dry for several hours now, he is the worse for wear.
“So, how will I know it if I catch it?”
“Oh, you’ll know.” Ed excuses himself and, just to make sure, empties the magazine and clears the firing chamber of the .40 that is, indeed, lying within reach of Don. “You’ll get this back later, pard’. You’re way too fucked up to have things like this in a residential neighborhood.”
Don farts loudly, amidst his jag, and we prepare for the worst…but it is just a fart.
“Wait a minute. I think I hear one now.” Ed tilts his head down toward the sink; he is about 3 months in need of a haircut, and the goatee isn’t working either. “Yup, that’s him. ” He grabs a nearly new bar of Ivory soap from the counter and plunges a #2 treble-hook through it. “‘Don’t take more than this. They’ll bite on anything. Remember, D?”
Don is leveling out now. He has averted the coronary, and rises from off of all fours, staggering into the kitchen. “Whad’you got there?”
Don cranes his neck. There is a gurgling coming from out of the drain. “Sounds like a big one.”
Suddenly, they both contort their faces into the same disturbed structure.
“Ha ha,” Stan says. “There’s nothing down there. It’s backflow from someone’s fucking toilet. I doubt there’s any real sewage system on this whole island.”
The guys get a good chuckle.
“Alright, we’re wasting time. Don, are you able to drive?”
“Hang on,” Ed says. “Let me just lower this…there it goes, down there. Shouldn’t take long.”
And again, Don is heaving.
“How will you know when you get one?” Ed remembers.
Ed becomes serious. “There’s not much action in it. They live down there at the bottom. Heavy mothers, though. It’ll be the thing on yer hook that when it comes up just sits there grinnin’ at y’.” And then an equally repugnant face–cheeks stretched back, exposing all 24, right back to the wisdom teeth.
Stan has to laugh, it’s so ugly.
“So, what kind of thing is this? Is it a fish? An eel? Help me out, here; I’ve only been down here in de bayou four months.”
Ed nods sympathetically. “Well, we call ’em ‘grinners’; other folks know ’em as ‘goo-fish.'”
Stan abandons his tackle box, pretty sure that the next move they will make will be down to the garage again, where is stored another crate of Jim Beam. Ed kicks the magazine away from Don’s reach.
“Eh-eh. The first cap you load is going right in your ass. We’ve been over this before.”
There’s still another few hits left in the vial. Why not? Stan wonders. Pours the rest of it into his own mouth. Fuck them.
“So, ichtheologically, how might this species be classified?” he says, finally, and turns the Zappa on again.
“What is a ‘grinner’?”
He nods fervently.
Ed purses his lips. Then he makes sincere and candid eye contact. “It’s some kind of scaly remnant of the Pleistocene era. It’s a monster carp–only bigger, and meaner. Prol’ly some kind of gar. Been around for ages.”
Behemoth machinery. Acrid smell. Step up to sit down. Something he would never own; it just wouldn’t do. Anyway, driving is out of the question.
“Y’ okay, there? …Watch your step, or you’ll fucking snap your neck.”
Stan is cognizant of the challenge. He grips the door-frame and reels himself in. It is a baking early morning. No food in the stomach; the head both reels and is rewinding. Hungover and coming on to another 500 micrograms of LSD. It will be a weird afternoon.
“Buckle up. Fuck knows why they check, but they do.”
Stan does as he is told. Makes good sense.
The rig peels out of the short drive of some thoroughfare of Cypress Island.
“Wait–” he is wondering. “–shouldn’t we go back?”
“I can drive. …light-duty art fag,” he whispers.
Stan casts a gaze. “My tackle box–“
The rig sails down the road, windows rolled, the trees smelling of something that should have been washed.
“Ahh’don’t think I’m evergoingtogetusedtothis.”
Don nods. Black, hulking rig barrelling up some illicit stretch.
Stan stares out, a hot breeze slapping at his arm–wondering again how it is that humans would traipse 1,500 miles to this. Not a pimple of elevation in any direction. The landscape is a mass of clumsy razor-wire separating dirt getaways, and the occasional bog brimming with scum.
No trace of wrought iron here on Cypress Island; no gabled rooftops or bonnets or flowing skirts. New Orleans is more or less an aberration. Napolean was a wise man.
A fat nutria dashes across the road. Stan ponders the hairy rodent–escaped, legend has it, from a lab within University of Louisiana – Baton Rouge, where its forefathers had been hauled to undergo some viral experiment or other. They spawned. So populace are they now, that the State of Louisiana has declared them as being in the class of bullfrogs, with no seasonal restrictions and no limit. Local dining establishments are encouraged, with regional government offices preparing recipes and preparation tips to willing proprietors, to offer them as economy-priced foods. So far, it has been a hard sell.
Stan tries to lighten what should have been a conversation by now.
“My wife likes to feed them, when we go to the park next to campus,” he offers.
Don grins. “I like to explode them.”
“Ed’n’I came out here last year, and I saw one lurking around some rotted stump. I knew.” He cocks his arm, in rememberance. “Walked over to it, and about fifteen larvae were writhing at the bottom. Just stuck the 12- down into it…God, it was a mess.” He laughs, inappropriately.
“Hey, man. Sorry about the ‘light-duty art fag’ thing. Your professor-friend’s kid is always saying that. He wants to be an FBI agent. His folks are always hosting these wine and cheese parties: ‘Fuckin’ light-duty art fags.’ Sorry, man. You know how I am. …and I grabbed your tackle box.”
Stan chuckles. “I didn’t know Jump’s kid wanted to be Fed.”
“Yeah,” Don grins. “I told him he should go into the DEA, he’d make a lot of spare change around here.”
They laugh like jackals.
“Speaking of which: Where’s the rest of your acid? I’m coming down, man. I need some more.”
A low sound comes from out of Stan’s throat.
“You didn’t leave it back at the shack, did you? Fuck, we’re twenty minutes down the road!”
“Worse,” Stan says. “I ate the rest.”
Suddenly, there is a cloud of red dust surrounding the monster rig, which is pitched at a 45-degree angle and is no longer on the road.
“Fuck you…you didn’t? When?”
“When you and Ed were deep into the ‘grinner’ thing. I didn’t think we’d be moving anywhere.”
A tortured groan emerges from Don’s belly. “All of it?!“
“I mean, there were only about four hits left,” Stan says, extracting the food-coloring vial from his front pocket.
“Oh, man. Good, you still…what are you talking about, this thing’s coated in it,” Don says, upon inspection. Then he unleashes a buck-knife and proceeds to carve open the plastic housing and plunges his tongue into the recesses, then rubs it all over his gums.
“I bet there’s 300mic left,” he says, smacking his lips. “I can taste it.”
And on comes Zappa again, which Stan is still trying to get his mind around. He knows it is genius; he is willing to understand it, just, thus far, not able.
“Alright,” Don nods, understanding. “I feel the same way about that shit you listen to. You know. I’m not a total cave man. I spent about three weeks reading the Henry Miller you gave me. Tropic of Capricorn. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. You’re the only one who still writes like that. Well, Hunter’s still alive, but… You’re the missing link.” And it is then that Stan is happy to know there were still 300mic left in the dropper.
“That’s about the coolest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”
Neither of them can speak for a long while.
“You’re going to make me a character in your next one, aren’t you? I know how you work.”
Stan nods. “It’s already mapped out. You’re my Neal Cassady.”
Don sucks in, involuntarily. “Thanks, man,” he says, finally. He fast-forwards the CD through “Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast,” which is not getting any kind of reaction out of his road partner.
“Too silly,” Stan shrugs.
“Alright. I like it, but…I can see what you mean. This one,” he says with emphasis. “Listen to the lyrics. You ever seen a ‘lawn jockey’? You know, the little negro boy with his cap on–“
“That sits on the lawns of white people–“
Don nods, eagerly.
“–my Grandpa has one–“
“–where does he live?”
“HHOoooh! Iii’m…ssorry. I’m sure he’s a good man–“, he offers, as an apologia.
Stan inspects the CD case, his eyes tracking over the roster of musicians, which is indeed impressive. On Apostrophe–which is what they are listening to now–is, on keyboards, the great black jazz pianist George Duke, who is also credited with demented backing vocals and, rumor has it, an uncredited Tina Turner–though she is loathe to admit it.
“That’s the thing,” Don says, zoning in on his friend’s third eye. “OK, now just fuckin’ listen.“
…the sky a raring, open blue; the jack-chatter wheeze of a Triumph in the skull, and negotiating with himself as to which to heed. Probably not much in the way of pain at 100mph, sans helmet, on grade-pavement: a sudden, bloody burst of the cranium and become one with the Above. One’s entire life and promise, a stain on a two-laner to Opelousas.
Gritted teeth and more hunkering, wind slapping at the cochlea (Human Muffler) and the glasses ready to take leave of their perch. Tries to make himself heard. Gerard is far ahead, crouched as needs be to keep the machine aright. Finally, Stan takes to treating his friend like one would any thoroughbred–severe, spastic signals from the knees and, suddenly, the pace becomes human again.
Hears a far-away, “Sorry! We’re almost there…“
“I’ve had this critter,” Stan recalls, “since ’93. When he was young, he had a pronounced proboscis–like that of a Jewboy–…so I called him ‘Myron.’”
“She bought him for me, “ he continues, “because we weren’t ‘allowed’ to have a dog.
“Every day, I play with him. And whether he likes it or not. Until one day, he just stopped bothering running around the cage when I reached in to grab him. I also bathe him every month, to rid him of his rodent odor. In time, he has come to like it. I fill the bathtub just full enough that he can’t sit and squirm, but instead has to swim. Then I shampoo the little varmint…
“We would let him out to run around…guinea pigs have small bladders and shit regularly, but it was only tiny grain-fed dropules and small puddles, so we didn’t mind.
“After awhile–after hammering on his snout when he began to piss and shit–he learned how to hold it for up to 40 minutes. Then, as he grew more mature, I began to take him out of his cage and sit him on my shoulder when I was about to sit down for a protracted typing session. Myron would kind of ‘cluck-cluck’ [as pigs do], and, suddenly, he’d run down one of my arms and investigate the stacks of books and the Rolodex, &c., that I kept on my desk. He’d root around. I’d make sure that he wasn’t doing anything unseemly on my desk…but usually he was not. After he grew bored, he’d run back up my hand/arm and sit on my shoulder again and cluck, as they will.
“I taught him how to sit up and beg for lettuce and carrots.”
(He grew to about 2.75 pounds–big, for a pig.)
Having come over, to smoke a joint, and after hearing of ‘my pig’ and ‘how smart he is,’ Gary just kinda chortles.
Myron stands on his back legs and begs for lettuce. Gary is impressed. Myron comes, as instructed, whilst otherwise foraging around on the computer desk.
Then, Stan whispers: ‘Watch.’
Guinea pigs have big, sharp front teeth, and they fucking hurt when one is bitten. Usually, they don’t bite aggressively: Either it is out of panic or opportunity [like the time Stan had just kind of inserted a finger in Myron’s mouth, bearing a small slice of carrot, and ended up with three stitches…].
Stan shows Gary the hare-lip that these rodents have naturally at the fronts of their mouths.
Gary seems to understand.
…When Stan looks at Myron, parts the hare-lip, and begins to pet his front teeth…and then up to the frontal gums…and with Myron just kind of looking dumb like a pig does, and not biting, Herr Colleague says:
“That’s the tamest pig I’ve ever seen.”
Stan looks at Myron, approvingly, and nods: ‘He’s a good dog.’”
Copyright 2018 Todd Brendan Fahey