Monday, July 25, 2011

FICTION: Suicide King By R. M. Schappell

Pop leans in and pours more Jack Daniels into the widow’s tear-filled tumbler. Without hesitation, she sips her drink, not even bothering with the two liter of Coke edging the coffee table, though maybe that’s because the soda’s old and flat. Like the dog-piss stained carpet and the cigarette cratered sofa cushions, everything in this house is old and flat.

“Shit knows if there really is pearly gates and roads paved of gold.” Pop slings his leathery arm around the widow and rubs her bicep. “But, Tara, I’m damn sure he’s in a better place than this shit hole.”

“There’s one thing you got right.”

Pop glares at me. “What’s that, boy? Something on your chest?”

I bend my neck until it’s perpendicular to the back of the seat and stare up at a water spot. Currently it mirrors the shape of the Chesapeake Bay, though at the cancerous rate it’s been growing, soon it will eclipse the Atlantic Ocean. Imagine. The whole ceiling painted gray. But will it be enough? Will the bathroom floor be weak enough to let that rusty tub come crashing down and pancake my skull? Or might God’s hand be needed to give it that extra push?

“I might be old, but I can still kick your pansy ass.” Pop smirks, sprouting deep wrinkles from his nostrils. “Now how about you fixing up some dinner. Tara must be starving. Poor girl hasn’t eaten all day.”

Using her wrist to wipe liquor from her lips, Tara sniffles. “It’s okay. I’m fine.”

“Nonsense, you need food in that belly. With or without Eric, you’re still a Westphal.” His yellowy, kidney-failing eyes dart over to me. “James, should be some bacon in the freezer.”

Tara empties her glass, face twisting as she swallows.

“And don’t forget the toast,” he says. “You see any of that green furry stuff, just lop it off.”

“Really, thanks, but I’m not hungry.” My dead brother’s wife runs a hand down her thigh, temporarily flattening the wrinkles in her black mini-dress. “I better get going, anyway. If I stay any longer, I’m likely to pass out.” As Tara’s red nails curl under the thin piping that decorates the armrest, she pushes and pulls herself up. Amateur surfers look better balanced. So as quickly as she rose, she slumps straight back to where she was.

“Everybody wants to starve themselves, fine. So be it. But let’s least get medicated. In his honor, of course.” Pop’s kneecaps click when he stands and the floorboards creak under his hairy feet as he steps toward his record player. (Heavy emphasis on “his.” Got a scar on my jaw that proves it.) Squatting, flipping through his catalog of vinyl, my old man asks Tara to pick a band, but none of that nigger shit. Only the good stuff. Post-50s. Pre-90s.

Crossing her spray tanned legs, Tara sighs. “I don’t know, whatever. Or wait. What about Peter Gabriel. I think Eric liked him.” Her pink and delirious eyes flicker to mine, searching for approval.

Sister-in-law receives my half-hearted thumbs-up, which is fitting considering that we’ve never held a real conversation. Then again, ignoring her has always been calculated on my part. A vow of silence that screams You fucking bitch. And, no, it’s not because she has a vagina, though that doesn’t help her cause. And, no, it’s not because she thinks cleavage is a mandatory accessory, though it was a bit distasteful for a funeral.

Pop lowers the needle and the speakers crackle before equalizing to a subtle hiss. The music filters the air with guitars and horns and a steady handclapping in the background. An offensively happy song given the occasion.

Over thirty-two thousand Americans have been wounded in Iraq, over four-thousand killed. But my brother had to come home to die. Now whether it’s the manic potency of sleeplessness and hours of crying or some primordial programming designed to prevent mental breakdowns, it’s hard for me not to laugh.

Corncob pipe and a hazy Ziploc-baggie in tow, Pop wants to know what’s so funny. Before given a sufficient chance to conjure a lie, he tells me fuck you. That he knows this is Phil Collins. That he used to own Solsbury Hill but somebody must’ve stolen it, and that somebody was probably one of my turd-burgling friends.

Everyone thinks about suicide at least once in their life. Twenty million people will attempt it this year alone. One million will be lucky enough to succeed. For me, there has been several occasions where the razorblade breaches my skin or a bottle of Xanax kisses my mouth, but it’s that next step that chokes me up. To drag the metal down my forearm or actually swallow the pills. This is my curse. At least that’s what Pop says. Ask him. He’ll be happy to tick off each finger as he runs down my list of incompletions and failures: little league (took a pitch in the nose, bled snot bubbles all over home plate, cried and quit); guitar (could never get that Wal-Mart special in tune, so after a month it stood in the corner and gathered dust); drawing (quickly realized I’d never be an Escher or a Dali); skateboarding (first day, snapped my ankle, end of story); and, and, and, and.

Anyone who says “run away” doesn’t know what it’s like to sleep in the fetal position with chattering teeth and numb toes. They’ve never felt the gurgling, twisting gas that pummels away at your stomach lining after going thirty-six hours without food.

Been there. Not going back. So here we are.

Smoke wafts from Pop’s lips as he nudges the pipe and lighter into the side of Tara’s teardrop breast.

Perhaps bored, perhaps just craving a way to prevent myself from thinking, my legs pulsate waiting for her to respond, waiting for her to either take a hit or pass the goods. My brother would’ve never tolerated such inconsiderateness. That dude was a pro-stoner. Could roll a perfect joint in less than thirty seconds, and if you weren’t paying attention, Eric took your turn.

“Tara. Tara.” Hunched over her, Pop snaps his bony fingers in her makeup slathered face. “Here, shithead. She’s out. Take this.”

The mouthpiece knocks against my teeth and I torch the remaining green, filling my lungs to full capacity. Pop taught me the longer you hold it in, the better. But don’t think for a second that he’s being thoughtful. He’s being cheap. Wants you high off one hit, two tops.

“Look at those tits. Mm-mm, Eric scored well with this broad didn’t he that lucky bastard.” Pop glides his index down Tara’s cheek, no doubt stripping her in his mind. “You ever been with a girl?”

Exhaust cannon blasts from my throat followed by smaller and smaller blasts, coughing daggers until I’m red-faced and breathless.

Pop snatches the corncob from me. “You least titty-bang one or cop a feel? Anything?”

Six hundred and twelve days ago, Eric and Tara come over for dinner. A multi-purposed affair: a “farewell party” for Eric’s third tour to Iraq and a “meet your future family” for Tara.

That evening, the four of us are hacking away at rubbery ribeye, knives and forks screeching against our plates when out of nowhere Eric begins grilling me about who I got my eye on. Who I think is cute. That sort of thing. So Pop jumps in, talking about this friend of mine and how we’re always on the phone together, that maybe this is where I’m dipping the old oil stick.

Wanting to deflect their attention, to be done with it, I say yeah, I’m dating someone. And Tara, fucking Miss Intuitive, says, “What’s his name?” and as Eric understands the gravity of the pronoun used, his flatware crawls to a stop.

A beat behind, Pop’s brow collapses. “His name?”

Speechless, chewing becomes my defense mechanism. Because here’s this bitch, premiering my sexual orientation for the whole family to see, myself included. Not sure whether to thank her or hate her.

My old man slides out a Marlboro Red and bites off the filter. He strikes a match, starts the cherry, then whittles away half of it in nearly a few puffs. Eric and Tara attempt damage control. Mention how the Ravens are looking good this year.

Pop exhales smoke through his nose and stamps his cigarette into my mashed potatoes. “Goddamn faggot.” Kicking out his chair, launching it smack into the wall, he exits the room without saying another word about it. Ever.

Until now.

Lighting a cigarette, cradled between his index and middle, Pop takes a drag, accelerating the already hazy room towards a London fog. A setting much too dangerous for a midnight drive, but perfect for a horror story or an urban legend.

“You ever, uh, you know”—he twists his head side to side—“fucked any guys? Never mind, shut up. Don’t answer that.”


“If it’s about the way the pussy looks, boy, nobody’s telling you to have a staring contest. From what guys at the shop say, women nowadays are fairly liberal with their holes. Not like when I was your age. I mean, this younger fellow told me his girlfriend got her asshole bleached. Believe that? Always preferred a pussy myself, but guess I’m old fashioned.”

Softly from the corner of the room, a slow, stuttered synth beat and a distorted guitar chord hangs in the air.

“You sprinkle some Rohypnol in Tara’s drink? She’s pretty out of it, Pop.”

Without pausing to crack a smile, my old man says, “That record player was my father’s. Your grandfather. Every night after work, he’d sit in front of that thing listening to big band, smoking cigars. Chased with Maker’s Mark. And he willed it to me.” Pop smoothes his tongue over his top row of chipped, tobacco-stained teeth. “Your grandmother bore him seven daughters, mind you, but I was the only male. The sole legacy to our name. Until you and your brother, of course.”

Marlboro dangling from his lips, streams of gray seeping skyward, he pivots his whole body and tucks his arms under Tara and scoops her up, letting her head and limbs sway like soggy asparagus. One of her stilettos fall off as he carries her to the center of the room, so when Pop drops to his knee and lays her out, her single bare foot touches mine.

“At the viewing, she was bawling, telling me it’s her fault that Eric’s dead. He was rushing home because the ‘basal thermometer’ was red hot.” My old man rolls back the skirt portion of her dress, revealing a matching thong and a misshapen mole about an Asian-dick-length away from her vagina. “James, they were trying to make a baby. So if you truly wanted to mourn your brother, you’d honor his last wishes.”

The spit in my mouth has the consistency of cobwebs. My fingertips could cool Satan’s foreskin. Heart palpitations are thumping in my sinuses. So maybe I’m stoned, but it sounds like he’s telling me to inseminate my dead brother’s wife. To check her oil.

“Wipe that look of your face, else I’ll smack it off. Any idea how many boys would die to lose their virginity to a broad like this?”

Perhaps it’s the proverbial horniness that accompanies a high. Perhaps it’s that pollinating Tara would serve as sweet revenge from when she outed me. Whatever the reason, there’s this mounting urge to crawl on top this widow and prove to Pop once and for all that I can finish something. That I’m not cursed.

“Your grandparents traveled thousands of miles to get here and over a vomit-inducing ocean, no less. Can’t very well let our family name die because your whore-mother birthed a homo. Besides, not like you’d have to father it. She’ll figure it’s Eric’s.”

Sure girls aren’t my thing, but this could work. One of my favorite downloads features a long train of dudes fucking dudes with some pig-tailed slut as conductor. Ruined many socks over that thirty-second clip.

“Pop, even if I was to do this, she’d wake up.” Before finishing my sentence, he fists a wad of her blonde hair. As if stirring cake mix, he spins her body full-circle, again and again. But Tara’s not screaming, flinching, fluttering. Not so much as batting an eye. Releasing his grip, he lets her head bounce to the floor. Pop, gasping like a pufferfish out of water, goes and splashes onto the couch.

I lean forward, unglue myself and examine a sliver of shaved labium peeking out from Tara’s underwear. Silly Putty is the first thing that comes to mind.

I outstretch my body beside hers and pull the spaghetti straps off her freckled shoulders. The padded cups that bolster her breasts are soft enough that they easily fold in half. Her milky mounds appear flatter but rounder and they’ve drifted away from each other, making the space between them wide enough to rest your head. Though there’s an entire landscape of curves to explore, can’t help but spend more time in the hills between her legs and on the Braille rims of her pink nipples.

Anatomy class is never this interesting.

Needing to release the tension in my pants, but not wanting my old man to see, I lead my erection through the zipper opening and massage away. The engorged cap oozes in anticipation.

But to complete the task ahead, I remove my Nirvana t-shirt and begin to pucker and muster saliva. Hovering above her face, I spit. But not to defile her or embark upon some sadistic charade, but to help remove the blue from her eyelids and wipe away the blush on her cheeks. To androgenize her.

Once Tara is cleaned up and her hair tucked away, I force myself inside.

By the sixtieth thrust, I feel disconnected from the act itself, jackhammering away like some Japanese sex robot or mechanical dildo. The same motions as when you’re scrubbing toilets or flipping burgers at work. Auto-pilot. What grounds me in reality are physiological responses. Like the Amazonian dampness in my pits and the Katrina sogginess of my balls. The ringing of Pop’s voice telling me that a boy, get it. The bouquet of smells ranging from tobacco and pot, to ammonium and women’s deodorant.

Then something itchy, ashy rains down to my shoulders. Still humping, still stabbing away, I crane my neck to get a better look at this heavenly dandruff and end up sneezing. My dick pops out at that exact moment where the friction pushes you over the edge and there’s nothing you can do about it. Resulting in one-hundred forty million spermatozoa showering onto this widow, turning a section of her lacy bodice into a zebra hide.

Panting, still twitching from orgasm, dick in hand that’s retreating to a limp slug, I look up.

The water spot is now sliced by a zigzagging, Mississippi River-like crack. And there’s this sound, low and dull, but steadily gaining speed, much in the same way ice splinters on a frozen lake. It’s irrelevant whether you believe this is wrath or chance. The end result remains the same and nothing can change that. It haunts us from the moment we’re conceive, relentlessly attacking at the cellular level. And so as death stares back at me, it feels like providence.


Terri said...

Wow - the runaway paragraph stopped me in my tracks. The vow of silence - perfect. Such an interesting and delicious truth.

V said...

I love the dark humor, the disturbing imagery, and the subtle hints about the story's origin.

BardSchapp said...

Excellent story. I enjoyed it immensely