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 wet brain 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, eyes closed 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 orange itchy couch, stared at the green glass bottle. I was in
Mind blistering, feeling hotter than ever. Eyes darting from point to point, no focus no point of reference determined. I was standing in the longest line, getting chest rubbed down and 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 a car air-freshener. The jelly she was rubbing into my pectorals made them this bright orange putrid color, like the itchy couch. 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 got pissed off. Just shut up, you know? They all had girls, too. Pretty girls. Pretty like lined dolls in a tiny kid’s room. I twirled my head around ballerina style and saw that some of them had coaxed their girls into suckin’ them as we waited. I wasn’t going to try that, though the urge to have my beast buried in something warmer than this squid girl’s 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 blazing guitar music playing over the giant PA speakers, and normally I like blazing guitar music, you know, but not something like this slop. It was all squealy-noted and the drums had tons of reverb on them. Fuck that.
The orange bodypaint mixed with that music made my stomach start to bubble up. Felt 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. “I’m just startin’ to, uh, feel kinda not good.” She smiled up at me, chewing.
She was chewing, still rubbing, still jerking. Some time passed. I could tell she didn’t mind the silence, but I did. The bubbles were building. I wasn’t accustomed to these things, it was my first one. I didn’t know how it worked. So, being ignorant, because that’s what I was to these things, 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.
“Desire.” Started all of them again.
“No, your real name.”
“Oh, one letter. I’m John,” I said. Shouldn’t have, though. Felt ashamed for the first time there, even though I wasn’t wearing any clothes.
“Is that your real name?” Sad smile.
“No,” I said, “But I guess you don’t use your real names for these things anyway. I gotta think of a new name.” She forced a chuckle faker than the tits on the girl blowing the guy behind me.
She stopped what she was doing. “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.” I showed her some teeth.
“Not bad,” she said. Her chest rubbing tempo increased. So did her jerking. Torso 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. She turned 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 appearance. Big bug eyes, big blonde hair, big caked-on make up. Trashy. Not very far from straight ugly. I didn’t care. It had been a long time since a woman looked at me in that sultry way. 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 unknown and all?” I did not like that she had used my name.
“Unknown? I’m fuckin' known. Just not down here.”
“An amateur, I mean.” She was scared I was mad. Her eyes showed it. Her chewing slowed. Her ruby lips curled upward fearfully. She kissed the tip of it, let a thin strand of saliva hang off the head. My shoulders arched with the natural rapture. There I was. Being fluffed. There I fucking was. Number one in the