April 21st, 2016
“Hey, don’t I know you?” a man asked as I left the bar last night. He had two inches on me, broad shoulders. He dropped his heavy fucking paw on my shoulder to stop me from going any further. “Yeah, I do…”
A quick list of things that I hate: My name, the way burned car upholstery still smells like Axis chemicals even months later, and being recognized.
The “Hey, don’t I know you” guy? For the record, I didn’t know him. He was bigger than me and he put his hand on my shoulder. But he was dead the second he stepped in front of me.
I took his wrist with my left and broke his lower ribs with my right. Throwing my weight forward, I collapsed his diaphragm. Air burst out of his throat just as he was trying to breathe in, he dropped forward a bit.
Okay, so when I say “he was dead” I don’t mean I killed him. Of course I didn’t kill him. But seriously, fuck that guy.
“Is that it?” Sam asked from behind me, clutching her bag to her side. Oh, yeah… I’ve been hanging out with Sam. Like a lot. Like a weird amount. “We’ve talked about this.” She was right.
The guy was still catching his breath, so it was easy to bring my fist down into his face and kick him back on to his ass. Of course this had drawn everyone’s attention to me. Since I changed my hair color a few months back, leaned out a bit, people don’t recognize me that much anymore. When they do, I have to discourage people from acting on it.
Sam tapping her foot next to me, I scanned the bar to make sure everyone’s gaze got back to what they were doing. There was a soft chorus of “What an asshole…” and “Did you see that?” and “What happened to his ear?” I get that one as much as anything now.
The bartender was calling the cops. A couple of girls who were trying to take a picture of me lowered their phone. But there was one guy in the corner, sitting as though restrained by the table filled with half-drunk margaritas.
Bruised-banana skin, gums-receding, his eyes had yellowed. I’d say he looked like the cop, that last one who arrested me, but that guy was fresh. All the rats look that way in the beginning. This guy’s hair was thinning, which is usually a product of Ratfanger’s treatment rather than the disease or syndrome or whatever they’re calling it. Someone with Rats will start putting on a lot of weight because the part of their brain that tells them to stop being hungry malfunctions. Treatment turns it back on, so loudly that they stop eating all together. They get queasy, vomiting sometimes just because they smell food. If they don’t carry a toothbrush with them, their teeth begin to decay within a few months. Why he was out drinking, I don’t know.
His state of deterioration was more advanced than anyone’s I have seen so far. And he was looking at me, not out of the curiosity or spectacle that everyone else had, not even with the mercenary intent as the guy with the broken ribs, but with an appetite.
“Let’s go,” Sam said without noticing him. I tugged her hand, motioned her ahead with a flick of my neck, breaking eye contact with the man. She pushed in front of me, and began walking out with a deep sigh and I followed closely behind her. The exit was a pueblo door frame, the kind that stands open even when the business is closed. Just past it, I saw the Bronco at the end of the lot.
Inside a glass broke and someone screamed. More glasses broke, I heard them before I heard the table hit the ground. Shouting. I began to push Sam forward. “What the fuck?” she asked over the sounds of rubber soles hitting the parking lot pavement.
Why didn’t I look back?
The man tackled me, slamming me into Sam. The three of us hit the ground.
As I rolled onto my back, he already had a mouthful of my leather jacket, which is exactly why I wear a thick jacket even though it’s been ninety degrees all week. He didn’t let go, so now he was pinned beneath my left shoulder blade trying get a better bite. “Give me. Give me. Give me, please!” I could hear his teeth smacking together between each word.
I reached over and grabbed his throat, wrestled up to my knees to hold him down. He stuck his hands between my arms, collapsed my elbows. Then, grabbing my head as I fell forward, pulled me towards his mouth.
“Just let him get a bite!” the bar crowd had collected in the doorway. “Quit being such a fucking asshole!”
“Please. Please. Please. Please. Please.” I could smell the inside of his mouth rotting. He had my face so close, each begging word sprayed into my eyes. “Give me. Give me, please.”
Sam was pushing herself up. “Just hold on,” she said. How this scarecrow-rat was so strong I don’t know. Kneeing me in the groin, arms buckled and he bit down on my chin. His teeth his bone, but they failed to scrape any flesh off. Suddenly his mouth was wide open, tongue out, trying to catch blood as sprang from beneath my lip.
And the crowd was cheering.
“Oh, fuck…” I heard Sam say, but she was looking behind me towards the crowd.
The guy with the great memory, the guy who recognized me as we were walking out the door, slammed into her, knocking her into a parked car.
If this were fiction, I would have just written myself into a corner. I’d have to come up with a daring escape, “How Sam and I Escaped the Rat and the Douche Bag”. If I were to just cut to sometime later, you’d feel cheated.
But this isn’t fiction. Even if it feels like it to me. And there was no daring escape.
“How does it feel?” Sam asked me. We were sitting in the darkness of the backseat of the Bronco.
“My eyes still burn,” I told her.
“Quit being a fucking pussy,” she said. “Imagine how you’d feel if you’d been the one to get it right in the face.”
“He was holding me right by his face, I’m pretty sure I got the same experience.” Mr. Memory had my arms above his head. Sam had that pepper spray six inches from his face. Sure, he screamed louder, but this wasn’t my first time getting it right in the eyes.
“Shut up,” she said. She reached over into the back of the Bronco, pulled out an old blanket I had bought from the Salvation Army. She tucked it beneath her legs and wadded it against the window for a make-shift pillow. Usually she fell asleep with her head on my shoulder.
“My vision is still blurry,” I said.
“It’s night time,” she said, her eyes closed peacefully, snuggling her cheek against the blanket.
Similarly, I scooted to the other end, leaning against the backseat to catch some of the peach-colored streetlight. I could see the blood stain on my shirt had grown some, which meant my chin was bleeding again. Pulling away old socks I’d wrapped around my right hand, feeling the blood already begin to dry and stick to the cotton, I took a long look.
About two inches of the flesh was gone, the muscle that wrapped the lower corner of my palm was gone, too. Bone was exposed. My hand was shaking uncontrollably.
At this computer in the library, where I sit at this moment trying to share all this with you, I stop and look at other people typing with a speed and comfort I had only yesterday.
Do you have any idea how much you use your pinky in typing? I didn’t. I have to stop as I’m writing this because my fingers moving pump blood to my hands and then it begins to pulse and throb. My pinky is there, but I can’t get it to move.
Maybe the next time I lose a body part I should try to make sure it’s that pinky.
Staring at my bone in the peach night-glow, my flesh puffing and torn muscle oozing, Sam seemed to stir a bit. “How long before it stops?”
For an hour I’d been sitting in the backseat with her. She’d gotten me a bottle of whiskey when I asked for vodka. I was trying to distance myself as much as I could from the pain.
She’d been “living” with me, if this all could be considered living, for a month. Maybe more. I’m not why.
People had been trying to eat for the better part of a year. It was only getting worse.
“I don’t know when it ends, Sam,” was the last thing I said. But I’m pretty sure she was talking in her sleep.