- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Denial can be very powerful: a woman pretends she has no knowledge of her spouse's affair, a parent denies his child is taking drugs, a dying man refuses to believe he will not recover. Just how far can a person take this refusal of reality? According to Kraig Blackwelder's story, very far indeed.
Yapping and howling from outside bit into his shallow sleep, and two grim realizations bled through.
It was not a woman. That was the first shock to hit him as he lurched back to consciousness. It was a simple architectural recognition. The naked body next to his naked body under the soft down comforter in this strange bed in this strange room, the naked body that he was holding close to him with his right arm, the naked body that was on top of his left arm, which was numb, belonged to a hairy, muscular man who smelled like lime juice and gin and Obsession for Men. Only then, and with much less urgency, did he realize that he was still drunk, though not so drunk that he didn't feel the dry mouth, the hint of headache, the nausea that told him that by noon he would have a bitch of a hangover.
This couldn't happen; this event could not be allowed to happen; he was in the Army, an Airborne Ranger, special-fucking-forces; he was not allowed to wake up naked in bed with another man. Deep breath (quietly). Exhale (don't wake him).
The yapping that had woken him got louder again. There were a lot of three-legged coyotes around Tombstone and FortHuachuca, too dumb to avoid the trap but sharp enough to chew off the leg before the trapper showed up with a pistol.
The noise was clearing his head. He remembered only the punctuation marks of the evening. He had made the drive from base to Tombstone, where he picked up Julie. She got pissed off at him when he didn't tell her how great she looked the moment she got in the car. The two of them went to a party at the house of some weird friends of hers. They did not talk at the party. He fumed as she kept checking out the computer geek who was showing off his fancy laptop computer in the kitchen. As he watched her orbit farther and farther from him and closer and closer to the geek, he drank. He drank beer, he drank cheap wine from the cardboard box, he drank nauseous blue Midori straight from the bottle while a skinny chick in black, wearing black lipstick, watched him and grimaced.
When he could no longer walk to the booze table, he stayed seated in a large red overstuffed chair that he could not seem to get out of. His head was spinning. He saw Julie leave with the geek. She didn't look in his direction when she passed him on her way out. The world seemed very far away, muted. He knew no one there.
The chick in black motioned her friend over and pointed at his feet. "Look! Jackboots!" she said. He had, indeed, worn his boots, and they were freshly polished.
Her friend, a blonde in a red crushed-velvet dress, was idly playing her teeth like a marimba with the steel stud through her tongue. She furrowed her brow, stopped clacking her teeth, and said gravely, "`If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.'" She lifted the hem of her dress, revealing her own combat boots and mimed an enthusiastic face-crushing.
"`Every woman loves a fascist,'" replied the woman in black, taking a drag from her clove cigarette. Drunk as he was, they were turning him on. He was trying to decide which one he wanted to fuck. They were both cuter than Julie.
The woman in red slowly shook her head. "Plath is so done. She wandered to the booze table and tipped the box to drain the last of the wine.
He wanted to say something flirtatious, but before anything came to his slow-motion mind, the woman in black lost interest and caught up with her friend, who was now playing her dental marimba so enthusiastically he thought she'd chip a tooth. No one else spoke to him for the next two hours as he sat in the plush red chair glaring out. He sat there, feeling as welcome as a rotten mouse floating in a fresh bottle of beer. He could not drive back to base this fucked up, and he didn't know where he would go after the party. He was afraid he was going to become a weepy drunk.
After two hours of abandonment, he was abjectly grateful when someone came over and spoke to him. He remembered the nice blonde guy who said he looked like he needed a glass of water instead of a beer. He remembered the guy asking his name. He remembered the guy asking if he wanted to crash at his place. He remembered being very pleased with himself for being able to stand up. He remembered leaning on the guy's shoulder in the cool night air as they slowly navigated their way to the guy's red Volkswagen Beetle. He remembered feeling revived by the cool air from the car's open window as they drove to the blond guy's house listening to old surf-guitar music. He remembered walking into the guy's house and pardoning himself to vomit. He remembered nearly missing the toilet. He remembered the guy coming back from the kitchen and giving him orange slices to wash the taste of bile from his mouth. He remembered saying, "You are a very, very, very good person," and meaning it. He remembered leaning on the guy as he pulled off his pants, nearly falling over as his underwear tangled around his ankles like a bolo. He remembered the soothing feeling of slipping between clean sheets with a warm body beside him. He remembered lying on his stomach, hearing the guy say, "Relax, I'm playing it safe," and feeling the warm weight of the guy pressing into him. He remembered that something he always thought would hurt, something he expected to be worthy of his grimmest Nazi interrogation daydreams, did not hurt. It did many things, had many alarming effects on his body, but, to his shame, the thing it did not do at all was hurt. He wished it had.
And now he was awake in a strange room lit only by a red digital clock, with his numb left arm trapped under the naked body of the guy next to him under a soft down comforter. If he let the clock run to morning, if he let the guy wake up, if the day was allowed to take its natural course, if he did not escape by the time the guy whose naked body was next to his naked body, who was sleeping on his numb left arm, awoke to his Sunday morning house guest, then it would be a defining morning, and he would be lost.
He knew a lot of ways to kill the guy. He could snap his neck. He could press his thumbs into the guy's carotids for a few minutes. He could smash the bridge of the guy's nose up into his brain. These were all things he had been trained to do.
The guy was not the enemy, however, but a very, very, very nice guy. He'd said so, not four hours ago. All he really needed to do was escape without waking the guy, without facing him, and he would be fine. He would go back to base, forget about the party, about Julie, and the rest of the weekend. He would nurse his hangover all day Sunday and be a normal soldier again by the time PT rolled around Monday morning. He just had to free himself first. This would have to be a stealth mission.
He decided to chew off his arm.
He changed his mind. He argued with himself, which he knew he ought not to do, since he was still drunk, and part of him was comfortable and wanted to go back to sleep, but the red clock said 6:28 and he didn't know if there might be an alarm set for sometime soon. He had to be gone by the time the guy woke up. If he was still there, it'd mean showers, eggs over easy with toast and coffee, formal introductions, small talk, acknowledgment of what they'd done. He really wished it hadn't not hurt. He liked his arm. He'd worked out a lot of hours to get his arm like that, with the biceps looking like a baseball under his tanned skin. For a second he thought it would be worth being that way just to have both his arms, but then he heard his dad's voice; "Dammit, son, what's the good of having two arms and muscles and looking tough and whatnot if y'ain't a real man anyhow? You'd still know what you were." And he would. His daddy'd been a real hellraiser when he was young, then in '66 he signed up with the Marines and wound up losing an arm in 'Nam. Now he was a respected foreman at the Goodyear plant back home in Lawton. There was a real man, a man you could look up to.
And that was that.
He licked his lips and decided to do it. His grace period, when endorphins and shock would mute the pain, would last between fifteen and thirty minutes; the military had taught him this. He would not bleed to death if he severed the brachial artery in one quick bite, because the artery, like rubber tubing, would snap back into the stub, bunching up in a mass, and would merely seep, not spurt, blood, and he could staunch that with a pressure bandage.
The first bite didn't do anything but hurt and leave a perfect cast of his teeth in the valley between his biceps and his deltoid. The second bite drew blood where his canines punctured the skin. To keep it from twitching, he gripped his left arm with his right, nearly touching the guy's back. The third bite was for keeps and hurt worse than when his brother had burned him with his lighter, worse than when he'd grabbed the electric fence, worse than when he'd burned his calf on the tailpipe of his motorcycle, worse than anything he'd ever felt. Tears came to his eyes and again he almost changed his mind, but he bit down and his mouth filled with the taste of blood and he pulled his head from side to side to rip away a piece of his arm. He grimaced and let the gobbet fall from his mouth onto the designer sheets. The fourth bite didn't hurt anymore, and he took a bigger chunk. Until now, he'd never appreciated how big his arms had grown since he'd begun working out. The sixth and seventh bites exposed the artery in a frame of ragged red meat, throbbing next to the exposed bone. He thought of the commercial from when he was a kid, where the owl says, "How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie-Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?" It had taken three minutes to get this far and he still had the bone to deal with. He bit down on the artery and gnawed it, sawing with his molars until he was rewarded with three spurts of warmth in his mouth before the artery slowly pulled back into the meat. He stopped for a moment as the guy beside him sighed contentedly in his sleep. If he woke up now, this would all be in vain. Conservatively, he only had twelve minutes before the pain hit him full bore. He was quietly weeping, still bracing himself with his ungnawed arm. He bit down on the bone and his teeth hurt. He felt the bone flex as he brought the entire muscle of his jaw to bear. His face was covered with stickiness that smelled like metal. He was glad he'd already vomited. He wished he was drunker. He gnawed at the bone with his molars until he felt the bone crunch under his bite and he clenched his jaw harder. The bone snapped in his mouth and a smooth splinter stabbed into his lip, causing his head to jerk back. Tears rolled from his face to his shoulder. I swear, Daddy, I won't do it again.
After the bone, the rest was easy. He bit through the less sensitive triceps and was free of his arm and his host. He stood up shakily. His legs were trembling and his balance was off. There was a big dark stain where he'd been bleeding for the last eight minutes. The stub of exposed bone and meat was bleeding, but very little. He pulled on his pants in the light of the clock that now read 6:39. Trying to zip up his jeans, he caught several hairs in his zipper and let it go at that. He could not fasten them one handed. He picked up his white shirt, wadded it up and pressed it to the stub. Then, with infinite care, he navigated to the bedroom door, quietly exited, and closed it behind him. He passed by the kitchen where he might have eaten a leisurely breakfast, stopped in the bathroom, did not once look at where his arm had been attached, dry-swallowed a handful of Tylenol, washed the blood from his face, and let himself out of the front door.
He bolted from the warm house into the morning air. He grinned, despite the chill and the pain that shortly would overtake him. He had done his penance and freed himself. He had made the whole incident not happen. He was normal. His daddy'd be proud. He looked into the sun, just now coming over the horizon, howled his freedom to the morning, and took off for the hospital in an unbalanced barefoot lope.