Wiping the trickling beads of sweat with the back of an already moist hand, forced to gaze up there at that big thing losing itself. Unexplainably. And not without the reticulate sprawling across the swaddling blue of the city’s midday sky, falling apart. I didn’t know what to think at the gargantuan tree blatantly crumbling, dismantling in front of me. The synapses running across my brain matter were desperately searching all plausible outlets for some sort of reason. But could find none.
The hulking base of the tree, a seasoned oak of some sort, had split in perpendicular lines from the ground up. The hugest limb had fallen onto the sidewalk, blocked it entirely. It was Rick Leedy’s favorite branch. The dark bark on the ends had given way to the much lighter wood showing from the inside, like the white stuffing spilling out from a burst seam of a teddy bear. This tree was dying and I was watching not only the physical characteristics deteriorate, but could perceive its essence ebbing away, too. There were quiet sobs contained in the leaves’ rustling, directly in time with the slow cadence of death’s overtaking.
Soon I could take no more and turned to go inside. The low moan of the screen door. I was dripping with sweat, so I immediately made my way to the kitchen and ran some water over a sullied rag and generously dowsed my face with it with closed eyes in the minute rapture of the moment.
It didn’t seem that out of place, the tree’s inexplicable and unmitigated demise, not after the couple days that I had had, you know. I opened the refrigerator door, I was breathing loudly, and was met with a cloud of cool fog from inside. It dissipated around my hand as I reached in, opened a chilled beer with granules of ice careening down the sides. Plopped myself down on the itchy couch, stared at the green glass bottle. I was in Texas earlier that morning, the bleeding guts of Texas. It was almost thirty-five full degrees hotter there than in this place, I couldn’t understand why my sweat glands were giving me such harsh problems about being in this comparably very cool climate. I was gushing, though. Hot from the inside out. Felt my organs boiling. I listened for Rick Leedy upstairs but didn’t hear him. I let my thoughts grow to drape over me. The green glass of the bottle grew in my mind, as did the dismantling tree outside. And it hurt me inside. I shut up my eyes, gulped the bitter liquid down. Went over it all.
My mind was blistering, feeling hotter than ever. Standing in the longest line, getting my chest rubbed down and my dick jacked up by this young girl with eyes bigger than a squid’s. Prettier, too. She was chewing gum, just like you’d expect, rubbing in a circle with one hand, tugging vertically with the other. I could smell the citrus emulating from the gum, fake like an air-freshener. The jelly she was rubbing into my pectorals made them this bright orange putrid color, like the itchy couch where I now recounted these events. She made occasional popping sounds with the gum, like spoons clicking, but didn’t speak. I didn’t speak, either. A lot of the other guys standing in the gigantic line, they were stammering away. Nervous, bashful, pompous, that and more. All sweaty. I didn’t care. They all had girls, too. Pretty girls. Pretty like lined dolls in a tiny child’s room. I twirled my head around ballerina style and saw that some of them had coaxed their girls into fellating them as we waited. I wasn’t going to try that, although the urge to have my beast buried in something warmer than a clammy hand was very hard to counter. Seeing all of that kind of made me sick, made me think I might have come to the wrong place. They had this soft delicate music with violins and lots of strings blasting over the PA system. I found it very inappropriate, but someone somewhere behind some glass was chuckling.
The orange bodypaint was making me a little queasy, so I gently suggested to my girl that I was coated enough.
“They will tell us when they want us to stop,” she said. “I gotta keep going till then.”
“I guess you gotta do what they tell you to do,” I said. I ran a hand across my lips to catch any spittle, then ran it through my hair. She was chewing her gum, still rubbing, still jerking. Some time passed. I could tell she didn’t mind the silence, but I did. I wasn’t accustomed to these things, though I thought that really wouldn’t be an issue when we got down to the marrow of it. Still I faltered:
“What’s your name?” She just stared, chewed, rubbed, jerked. Stopped all of them when she heard my question. Clicked her teeth like she clicked the gum.
“Desiree’.” Started all of them again.
“I’m John,” I said. Felt uncomfortable. Felt like I was revealing too much in that disclosure, even though I wasn’t wearing any clothes. “But I guess you don’t use your real names for these things. I gotta think of a new name.” She forced a chuckle faker than the tits on the girl sucking the guy off behind me.
Stopped her motions: “They say you use your middle name, and the street name from where you grew up.” I tried to visualize it in my head.
“Ryan Coventry.” Winced again at the revealing of more than I should.
“Not bad,” she said. Her rubbing tempo increased. So did her jerking. I began to tighten up.
“Easy,” I said, “she’s not even out here, yet. I’m gonna blow up if you keep it up like that.” She chuckled again, but this time it was something else. I felt her drape herself in the blanket of humanity for the first time. Kind of blushed, the color of a piece of uncooked chicken.
“That’s normally something that I would never criticize someone about. I’m just saying that you are really good at your job.” Her humanizing laugh had opened this iron gate to her real attractiveness. Big bug eyes, big blonde hair, big caked-on make up. Trashy. It took what the little blood that remained in my head and flushed it from there completely. Her eyes bulged and dripped with some nectar that I found to be especially nourishing in the moment, igniting my usual proclivity for any attentive creature. Or it could have been the fact that I was being manually stimulated to an orgasm by her preening hand. I felt some sort of affinity for her, a primordial feeling I was really used to by now. Thought I was falling in love again. Going through the motions, at least. “Just be delicate,” I said.
The room was cavernous, looked like it was once used as an airplane hanger of some sort. There were yellow jibberish letters stenciled across a couple of the unkempt walls. Enormous lights mounted across the ceiling, looked like searchlights. Emitting loudly halogen fuzz and drenching the place in it. I hadn’t ever been anywhere where they made pictures before, but I had never imagined it was in places like this. I had a feeling it usually wasn’t. It was hard getting passed the smell of that jelly being rubbed into me, but once I did, there was a definite lingering odor of dust and mildew and fine sand wafting throughout the place. I thought about all of that being stuck in the tiny spaces between my teeth. Thought about all of the other oily bodies around me inside my own, sliding around, through my intestines, skating my bones. The contemplation caused a sputtering cough to churn in my stomach. Felt it bubbling up.
She broke my foray into revulsion: “Well, there’s gotta be something special about you, John, you’re number one. You know every guy here wants to be number one. How’d you pull something like that off, being an amateur and all?” I did not like that she had used my name.