“Why am I tied down?” I ask.
“Precautions,” says the nurse. She has brittle, bureaucratic hair. The windows are painted black and there’s a long curtain dividing the room in two. It feels like we’re in a gym.
“Isn’t this just a place for the homeless?”
“Homeless,” she mutters. “It’s more than that.”
Gurneys and army cots litter the arena. A mess of dandruff, love letters, pens and oil occupy the floor. From the corner of my eye, I see a woman masturbating.
“Is this a hospital?” I ask. My feet dangle off the edge. I try to move, but can’t.
“Of course not.” She’s got a stomach that hangs over her waistband. She could be a belly dancer.
“Are you going to burn me alive, then?” I chuckle.
“Don’t worry,” she says, writing something in my chart. “It won’t hurt at all.”
If I could light this place on fire, I would. But I remember that fire doesn’t work anymore. Electricity is scarce. When the streetlights do go on, the hedges look so foreign they might as well be couches. I’m tied down, but I get this childhood feeling that I’m flying. I remember that it’s my duty to pay taxes, but the legislature has decreed that anything with my name on it should be banished. I’m becoming unholy lying here. A cash transaction in Arkansas begins a tornado in the middle of San Francisco. We haven’t had weather in years.
The guy next to me wiggles in his restraints. His beard reaches the floor. I don’t imagine he’s colorless, but I can’t tell where he’s from. “It smells like armpits and chimneys in here,” he says.
“Smells like ass,” I say. “Are they really going to burn us up?”
He cackles. “If you ask too many questions, they’ll fire you and you won’t get your paycheck.”
“Do I work here?” I have faint memories of assembling animals and watching them come alive.
“There you go again.” The man yips and I’m reminded of my grandpa chipping away at trees with a butter knife so he could eat the sap.
“I keep thinking of flour,” I say.
“Because flour is edible snow?”
“No. Because my mother made such wonderful things with flour. Breads, etc.” I had forgotten that I was tied down. How could they lull me into submission? I don’t need arms. I don’t need legs. Boil them, for Christ’s sake. “It was harmonious back then. It was as if nothing existed except hunger.”
“Harmony is rationed now.” He strains to lift his head and scopes out the room. “You’re back at home,” he whispers.
“But I’m not ready to be a child again.”
“You know what I heard? I heard they create blackouts in the worst parts of the city to entice people to steal television sets and stab their grandmothers. It used to work. But now the people have organized into an army. And if you’re not ready to be a child, they’ll molest you first.” He chuckles. “You should be careful,” he says.
“Why?” I ask.
“Don’t imitate my friends.” He has the eyes of a social worker.
“Who are your friends?”
“l don’t have any.” I can see through his blanket that he has an erection.
“Then how am I imitating them?”
“By being you.”
I look up into the weak, yellowish light of the arena. There are animals there and trees without feelings. There is a man.
When I was a kid, Grandpa carried around a flashlight on this tool belt he called “speckled leather.” My grandpa was a fireman and sat on the couch for hours in his uniform. In the dark, he placed the flashlight up to his head and made faces. He was tall and had pipes for arms. He lived in the ancient part of the country, near a cemetery where confederate soldiers were buried. The faggot this, the faggot that, he used to say. He was white and I was brown, but he didn’t hold it against me. My nice little puppy, he called me. He said we were angels from the center of our deadly galaxy. He rubbed my stomach back before the police were invented. He smelled like eucalyptus and ash. There’s a war without guns, he used to say.
“Can I get a soda, Grandpa?” I jumped up and down trying to touch the ceiling. A million tacks were pinned to the wall. They watched us.
“It’ll keep you up.” Headlights shined into our living room and cast shadows of him and me on the wall.
“I want to stay up so I can see the angels,” I said. “What do they look like?”
“They look like you and me.”
I frowned and pictured a mummy in a cavern looking up at forever with a patched eye and holding a rusted knife. His bandages unwound to reveal his insides.
I rubbed my thingy against Grandpa’s leg. I learned that from dogs.
“Can trees have sex?” I asked.
“Trees drop seeds.”
I rubbed my thingy against his leg again. “Can I hurt people?”
Too many questions will get you killed.” A fire engine rushed past the house.
“Who’ll kill me?”
He stabbed the recliner with his pen.
I placed my foot on this one brick of the fireplace I thought was homosexual. “How come we’re here?”
He stood up and peeked through the drapes. The sun had begun to rise. “You see that other sun?” he asked. “Right there? That’s where I’m from. I’m not actually here on Earth. You ever heard of holograms?”
I walked to him and put my arms around his leg. He grabbed my hand and led me into his bedroom. On his nightstand was an ashtray, dirty socks, and a hunting knife.
“I don’t feel good, Grandpa.” My jaw clenched.
“Now you gotta come to bed with me.”
“Bed? What about the angels?” Every night, I was a mummy twirled up in bed sheets.
“They eat this time of night. I seen them in the fires I fought. They eat people with their eyes.”
I started trembling. I hadn’t meant to rub Grandpa’s leg like that.
“Don’t worry,” Grandpa said. “The sheets’ll protect you from me. But someday, you’ll have to be tied down.”
The guy on the cot next to me has fallen asleep. I stay awake by cramping my toes together.
They must’ve turned on the crematorium. Nurses wheel people into it. My breath is going crazy. I’m trying to wiggle free, but I can’t move. They’re pushing men and women through the doorway, some of whom have had their heads strapped to the back of wheel chairs. Everywhere is full of shrieks. It’s humid as a swamp. I can’t describe the smell except that it’s something between burnt wretch and hair.
And then, I see her. The girl. I can’t get a good look, but she’s like I remember. The straightest hair and gorgeous blanched skin. Hands like butterflies. Her unreachable tongue. She doesn’t seem to have a face. I took it away from her.
“Is it because of her that I’m here?” I ask the nurse. She sits next to me thumbing through a thick book.
“We investigated that. There are no victims in cases like yours. There are only perpetrators.” She pins her hair into a bun.
“Why is she here?”
“For her own misgivings.”
“I want to say sorry to her. I want to give back her face.”
“You’re in no state to give apologies.” The nurse looms over me with the fluorescent light glowing from behind her head.
Grandpa worked at an old firehouse in Kentucky. It was famous for a street lamp that had been on continuously since the firehouse opened in 1913. It was a proud brick building, fully Southern. The fire truck was an elegant monster. To me, it was a dinosaur that ate heat and flame with its hose. By night, the firemen sat on folding chairs near the lamp. They drank and smoked cigarettes and chatted. They never turned that light off and it never went out. Mosquitoes hovered over the lamp. Spirits carried their treasure to it. They were strong, foggy men. They were ageless and slept in their uniforms. Sometimes, in their sleep, they screamed at the light.
I recall the day when I first encountered the girl.
“Hey,” I called out to her as I closed the front door to my house. “You didn’t leave, did you?”
“I’m in here,” she said from the living room. She sat on the couch with her back to me, watching television.
I walked over to her and found that she’d been waiting for me in a silk nighty and legs splayed in a V position. She swirled a glass of scotch and smirked. It was the beginning of the great consumption period.
I plopped down next to her. She was ethereal. Her skin was pasty white, ice cold and luxurious. I could see into her thoughts. I stuffed my face into the crevice between her neck and shoulder. She emitted whole pastures of sweat. “I dreamed of you on the ride home,” I said.
“I want children…” She swept her bangs from her face.
I climbed onto her lap. “You sat on a makeshift raft. The town was flooded up to the roofs. A colony of rats circled around you. Not sure where I was…”
“Shit, what would I name the kid?” She gulped the last of her drink. “So, did I make it out alive?”
I pressed myself against her. She turned her head to the side and closed her eyes as I smothered kisses onto her neck. I hiked up her nighty. She didn’t have any underwear and started undoing my pants. As I grabbed her throat and was about to get inside her, she opened her eyes from a stupor and muttered, Oh, god, it’s you again…
Someone screamed in my bedroom.
I jumped up and ran in there. It was the same girl! Her hands had been tied to the headboard of my bed. Her beautiful straight hair hung over the side of the mattress. “Please mister. I’ll do anything you say. Just let me go.” She tried to lift her sweaty head, but couldn’t muster the energy.
“I don’t understand. You’re in the living room with me?” I quivered furiously. “Don’t you remember?”
I turned around, but no one was in the living room. There wasn’t even a couch or television.
“I’d dreamed of you. Remember?” I leapt onto the bed and climbed on top of her.
“Please…” she whispered. Her face was pressed against mine. “I’ll do anything. Just don’t hurt me.”
“You said you wanted children.” I squished her bottom jaw, trying to pry the hole open.
Both suns began to rise.
“Over there…” I pointed to the draped window with a swing of my head. “That second sun. That’s where I’m from. I can think us to that place.”
“Fucking Christ…” She squirmed and sweated. “Just take me back where you found me. Please, God.”
I need something to eclipse the now, I had thought. Something huge needs to happen out in the world to dwarf my worst desires. “If not…” I muttered out loud. “I can’t help doing bad things.”
I ripped off her panties. She had a triangle down there. I was nervous. My right hand was shaky. “I loved you,” I whispered into her ear. “I’ve loved all you girls.”
“Can’t feel my toes,” I say to the nurse. “Can you loosen the restraints?” Looking to my side, I realize my neighbor had been taken away.
“I untied the restraints over an hour ago. Don’t you remember?” She has this joyful eye that mangles my sense of being.
“I can’t feel my tongue.”
“That’s why your speech is so slurred…”
“Are there doctors here?” I ask.
“Just to recycle the organs.”
“Oh, shit! Am I dead? Is that what’s going on? You’re gonna donate my heart to someone else?”
“No,” she says. “We only recycle the hands, feet, tongues, noses, heads and eyes. Don t be so dramatic…”
She turns my gurney to where a technician in soiled overalls pushes limbs and other bloody lumps on a stainless steel cart.
All I can do is close my eyes, but the sight is branded onto my frontal lobe.
She wheels me into a dim corridor, past the crematorium from which I hear shrieking. The damned bitch is gonna go through with my demise. Her creamy fragrance lands on me. I look up through the ceiling. Each fluorescent tube of light is a scepter. One flickers as I roll under it.
I retreat into my head and can’t hear anything any longer blah, blah, blah. Nothing except memories.
I roll past my girl. Shit, I’m reaching out to her with my wimpy arm. “I’m sorry for annihilating you, baby.” She’s strapped to a dental chair. Her eyes track my movement. A dentist in a denim shirt pulls teeth from her mouth. She groans, her eyes in terrible distress. I try to say sorry again, but my vocal chords blow up or something. There’s a stench at the end of the hall. Smells of incest or a creek that runs through a cemetery.
Grandpa. That demon-pronged coot!
An idiot succubus and vessel for everything deranged.
His heart deprives the worlds of oxygen and justice.
He plugs his sex through the meat of our race.
This is a coroner’s office!
The girl is my invention!
She’s prettier than a brick!
It’s dark as shit all of a sudden. There’s a rectangle of orange heat in front of me some yards away. It’s a furnace. I know it’s for me. It could easily melt iron and guts and bone. The floor has fallen away and the nurse has disappeared and I levitate two centimeters above my gurney. With the light growing, I see my restraints flapping around in zero gravity. Someone is huffing up ahead. A fireman in full gear has pulled out the metal tray from the furnace on which I will smolder and sleep. It’s exorcism hot.
“It’ll be awright,” the fireman says from behind the shield of his helmet. “It ain’t what you think, boy.” He waves woolen hands toward the orange heat as if guiding an airplane to its destination. “We seen this thing all the time. It’s gorgeous like.” His shield fogs up from breathing. “They eat ya with their eyes.”
I have no sensation. I am the victim. It’s so funny because we’re in Kentucky. The crackers, humps, mulattos, guns, wrecked soldiers, histories. It’s all just a hallucination ‘cause I’m sick with fever! Don’t judge me for being a murderer. Don’t judge me for telling you lies or being vague. Grandpa: that old thug. I wasn’t born through him. I was patented by the oldest company of the thirteen colonies. I’m rammed into the heat. I’ll raze this whole fucking dimension and stuff blankets into the mouths of schizophrenics to make them go ape shit. The firehouse’s street lamp stands free in my mind’s eyebrutal, sun-gorged and attached to nothing except its own existence.
Leland Pitts-Gonzalez studied Creative Writing and Ethnic Studies at SF State University and earned an MFA in Writing from Columbia University. His first novel, The Blood Poetry (Raw Dog Screaming Press), was published 2012. He has published short fiction in Open City, Fence, Drunken Boat, KGB Bar Lit Magazine, Steel Toe Review, and Monkey Bicycle, among other literary journals. His new book, Savage Anesthesia (novella/short stories), is forthcoming from Carrion Blue 555 press in 2017. He lives in Queens, New York.