Friday, February 5, 2010

Teacher by Kevin Tasker

As I seem to be the only one posting on here I decided to add a story that I actually think is pretty decent. Its a tall order, but I think you might just enjoy it. 



       I haven’t shit good in two weeks and as my belly fades away under my A1-stained Disney sweater, I get it in my head that maybe I’ve got a worm in me. I go into the kitchen and start slipping my hands in around under the sink where I know we used to keep some chemicals, thinking maybe I’ll drink something and kill the thing, when I find Carl’s stash of speed. It’s smug yellow stuff, scraped clean into a vial a night or so before last. He generally cooks up in the basement where he put his mattress and his dumbshit Bluegrass records. Doesn’t sleep here though, he’s got six or seven haunts around the city. Enough that he doesn’t need to spend more time than just cooking and blue moon fucking in a hovel like mine. 
I take some of the powder out of the vial and cut it up on the counter using an old butter knife whittled down with age so it isn’t much thicker than a razor. I roll up a smudged dollar bill I find in the pocket of my last half-clean pair of jeans. The rest are either blood-stained or smeared in nasty finger paints I let the kids play with yesterday because it was Halloween and they looked so cute in their costumes, heads bobbing like painted-up vultures nibbling at warm limbs on a gravel stretch outside of town.
Forming a good bump and getting the dollar bill just so, I think about the parade they had the kids go around in. The teachers herded them around jumping and pecking at each other on the playground, which is really just a lot of asphalt and a knobby, splintery jungle-gym with a rope off the back that makes their hands red and sore to the point I’ve had parents call in to tell me to stop nipping their darlings on the fingers. It was the administration that thought it’d be a good idea to get the kids out and meshed together on the dead frozen tar. Thought it would be fun for them to squeal and flash their witch’s grins or fart into fists with their monkey tails safety-pinned up on their backsides. 
When I get the speed in me, I feel better. I stretch back and give a cough. My lungs are bruised and grey like the rest of me. My toenails are overgrown and the purple unicorn I got tattooed above my left nipple last weekend seems to be getting a little infected. It’s halfway decent though and when he fucks me, Carl says it makes me look innocent. Don’t know how he’d be able to recognize innocence, but when he spurts, beaming into my eyes like he’s got two of God’s best telescopes strapped onto him, I think I can imagine what he feels.
I start cleaning when the speed kicks in, lifting up the gristle-thick stove grates and scraping under them with a steel-pad not much harder than the fingers that grip it and rub it along like a wiry racecar. I’ve still got lesson plans to scrawl down for tomorrow. They’re a little late, but usually I just do what I can. You try teaching nutty snot-goblins for half a century in a swollen flea of a city, while at the same time trying to keep the blood from seeping out of the stone beneath your feet. Try keeping your head above the blood as they spit at each other and swear at you when you tell them to fetch their tracing paper. Try to imagine how you’d react when mulling over family drawings they turned in you find pictures of big stick men bending over little ones and you realize you’ll be drowned in the blood when the flea bursts, and no one will remember anything. 
I get the stove cleaned off and go to the table for another dab of speed. I cut a bigger line this time and let it swoop into my brain in a terrific snort. My brain is a peeled grape left sticky in hot brine. It works at times, but hiccups. Funny because I’m in the brain-building business, or at least that’s what I used to tell people.
Now I just tell them that I wrangle up munchkins and instruct them on how God is watching when they pull their peters or cut the tendons out of sheep legs so they flop around and the farmer has to come and shoot them. They have go to outside the city-proper for that, but on October nights when they get the scent of fall slipping further away than ever, they tear off into the forgotten regions beyond the stores and sleepy-eyed movie theater, desperate to stake a final claim of violence and rebellion before every opportunity is swallowed up by icy rains and eventually snow piles. Of course there will always be smaller kids to steal and tether up out in the cold like they did with that poor black girl over in Mire County last Christmas. She was balled up in her shirtsleeves when they found her, drained to core of everything. Didn’t make it halfway to the hospital. 
After I finish another two lines, I decide I’ll clean the living room. Carl’s got a box of matches on the top of the radio, which is greasy with mayo or that sweet-tingly lotion he rubs on his knuckles and his salty palms some afternoons when he straggles home from the machine shop. I light one of the matches into a big jar candle somebody sent me last year. One of my cousins from out West probably, living in a clean swept mansion with garden men hitched up outside at all hours, primping the lawn as though it were a nubile, green-laced virgin queen whose flakes of summer sweat they’d chew up on rides home in silent adulation. 
I put the candle on the coffee table and try to scratch off a black mark before I realize it’s a cigarette burn. Then I rearrange some magazines according to their color and size and weight. Unsatisfied, I rearrange them again on the other side of the coffee table. Then I go to the couch and flip the cushions. 
Under one of the blue, half-squeezed cushions I find some dead flies and a pair of torn panties. They’re white and look pretty small, like those a kid might wear. I inspect them for a moment, and then slip them into the wastebasket with the flies I scoop up. Thinking about them makes my stomach hurt and when I stare down at my gooey love lump fading in from the sides, I wonder if the thing in there has a brain like mine, if it’s lonely or just looking for another soul to feed on.
When I’ve got the living room as clean as it’ll get, I sprawl out with all my papers, coffee and a fresh first-of-the-day Basic that I light and swap from side to side of my mouth, itching my tit and trying to decide how to start. I know they’ve got to learn about science. About animals and plants because I haven’t taught them anything about that yet. None of them even know how to spell. And nobody’s trying to learn. I get a bit bent out of shape whenever anyone tries to tell me I don’t try enough to teach them. Slick slime-devil Rich Morton told me I’d have to get them reading and writing well by the end of the year. He’s the principal, a high-and-mighty from Jackson, or further away where some fancy glib factory spews out people that are still properly shaped and functional. 
“You’re not doing your business right,” he said, running a tick off of his short-trimmed hairline that makes him look like a mongoloid went at him with lawn sheers, “You certainly need to teach these kids better. Make them learn, even if they don’t want to.”
I didn’t have much to say to that and now when I think about it, it makes me feel all mooshed up inside like the funny worm in there is boring on through my organs and spooling his tail in them long-ways. I get up and shake my gut, trying to settle him down. This makes a little pain that I don’t know what to do with and so I go to the table and carve away a little more of the powder with the butter knife, nip it up straight away. Then, scowling at the dismal living room, I decide I can’t do anything more with what I’ve got here, cleaning supply wise, and so I rumble out in my pitted, burping station wagon to McGill’s for a big bag of pink and green watermelon taffies that I arrange in a bowl by the magazines on the coffee table. First I count them out, of course; 23. And then I twist the ends of the ones that seem the fullest, most ready to burst, and mark each one of those with a felt tip pen, so I’ll be sure to save them for Carl.
Feeling good about this, I chew one of the smaller ones while smoking another Basic. Its bright noon now and everything gets to festering in the house. I wrench the windows up and get them to stay with volumes from a red encyclopedia. Half of the pages are torn out for Carl to roll up his pot with, but they still work okay as little straight backs to keep the glass in place above them.
I fold up one of my papers into a sort of hand-fan like I made when I was a girl and swish it at my face, but I can’t stop sweating for the life of me. I turn on the TV to distract myself and watch a show about an old Egyptian losing bones inside his head and everyone wondering where they came from when they dug his sorry skeleton up from under a hundred feet of booby-trapped sand tunnels. They say they can’t figure out how he died with the bones in there. 
I think maybe something must have been growing in him too. A chipmunk trapped behind the layers of grey and red and the tanned outside shell. I’m trying to judge whether or not a chipmunk would fit into my head when the screen door slams on its hinge and in comes Carl, hot-stepping like he’s got the plague on his heels.
He’s tall and older than me by a hair, which makes him nearly a contender for the Golden Oldie deal they’ve got cooked up to save you a dollar and change on your groceries and your bills each month. A dollar or maybe less. He’s closer to getting it than me, and it’s all he can decidedly hold over me. How close he’s getting to these savings that they’ve fucked out of him bareback for nigh on a century.
“Getting closer than ever,” he says, plopping down into his armchair set askew from the sofa. Eyeing him from an angle, I realize it needs to be adjusted. He frowns at me when I ask if he’ll move the chair to a better vantage point.
“Woman,” he says, “You been in at my stash again, haven’t you?”
“Had to. I’m trying to draw up my lesson plans.”
“Ah, what you going to teach those brats they don’t already know? They learn all they need to scrapping downtown. They’re hellions and they’ll never learn, you said it yourself.”
“You said it, not me, sweetheart. Said they were driftwood not worth their weight.”
I can’t remember saying this, but I nod anyway to appease him. Just then my stomach starts lurching up and I bite my tongue not to scream. It feels like the worm’s got a hold of each of my lungs and is pulling them on in toward each other. Carl sees the sweat and distress on me.
“What’s the matter?” he asks, “Having another hot flash?”
Instead of answering him, I get up and tumble over into the bathroom and let the water run until the rust is out of it. I drink a little and soak my head, let the cold flatten out along my scalp and run down in rivulets. It’s icy and fine like the cold rain that beats away at the tin roof and the stretch of concrete apartments across the way, not half a block from the Wilson school where I spent the days I don’t call in sick like today. I’d say I manage four out of five. And when I’m there, I’m usually coherent. 
Carl smacks on the door.
“You gonna be in there all night?”
“Just hold it, you big moose,” I snarl at him. A man doesn’t have a right to rush a lady, especially when he aims to fuck her nasty when she’s through preparing herself. Lucky for me I’m about on the rag, and he senses it, so he won’t start stripping me. Just wants to shit probably, or play with himself. He spends the occasional afternoons on the shitter, stroking his peter, trying to bend his back to lick the tip of it. He’s played the same game since grade school, to the point where some good days he can get the head in halfway under his buck teeth. But all the sloping forward and grunting doesn’t quite leave him in the best of spirits and one day he actually bit himself.
“Cheesus,” he mutters, thumping away into the kitchen to find a beer, “You really take a while trimming your little muff. Make sure you get them all.”
“Fuck you,” I say to the sludge at the bottom of the shower. I’ve worked down my jeans and I’m trying to force the worm out of my ass, but all I wretch free is a scant turd. I watch it disappear into the grimy recesses of the toilet. Maybe this is a good sign. Maybe the worm has released its grasp; let my bowels free to their business.
The pain keeps on going though, stifling my momentary cheer, but isn’t as bad when I clench up. I keep clenched, holding my breath and listening to the TV man blabbling about a ghost town up in the mountains where there are black Studebakers swallowed up by browned weeds. Some yahoo describes a dusty bar with short stools and bottles stacked just the same as they were in 1922 when men would come along in long coats to dig black rock out of the mountains in the day and search the streets at night for slow boys to take away on the road with them.
Finally I can’t take the pain anymore and I pull my pants up, stomp out of the bathroom and tell Carl he needs to take me to see the doctor. 
He grins and rubs his chin, “What’d I knock you up again?”
When my head hits the floor, he doesn’t do anything but change the channel. I get up and claw my way into the kitchen and rip a chair off its legs before blacking out.
When I die I don’t go anywhere with children. No shriveled mouths soiled golden from butterscotch pudding and gaping so you can see the soggy yellow nubs inside. No grubby hands trying to feel for my asshole as I wander by, lost in a lesson entitled, “the lies of mean men like Christopher Columbus.” 
When I die I don’t go anywhere and when I wake up, it isn’t as though I’ve been gone at all. The room around me is murky and cold. The walls are light beige and tenderly patched at the corners. The sheet laid over me is slick as the inside of a purse and I squench left and right to readjust myself.  A goopy, well-fed nurse comes in to shine a light in my eyes.
“Howdy,” she says, “Ms. Felder, can you tell me where you are?”
“I would if I knew. I just woke up.”
“You’re in the hospital. Mire County General, Mrs. Felder. You husband drove you. He’s outside. You can see him in the morning.”
“Isn’t it morning yet?”
“Not for a couple hours. Do you know who the president is?”
“Why are you asking me these things?”
“You hit your head pretty hard when you fell.”
After a few dizzying twists, I start to get the picture. I rub my hands together and brush them along my forehead, resettling. I nod to her to let her know I’m alive in here, functioning fine. She scribbles a little on a clipboard. Her handwriting is slow and proper. Her eyes, set as they are into mushy, vein-vined sockets, seem not to be a part of her. They are jelly and I ask her under my breath if I could taste them. Or smell them closely. Then I start itching. Unlike some people, my bugs come when I’m not ingesting anything. I itch in a little line along my stomach when I remember the worm, and notice she’s watching me closer.
“Think it came from the powder?” I ask softly.
But she isn’t listening, her gooey, sweet eyes returned to the clipboard. When she looks at me again, I decide to be cordial, if only because I’m infatuated by her. I rattle off the president’s name and bits and pieces from my life. My age: 58 (though to be coy I say 23. She doesn’t smile.) My Husband’s Name: Carl Dill Johnson. My Sexual Orientation: Bleeding out with no one to stuff me right. When she asks me about my drug use, I don’t do much but smirk and tell her how beautiful I think she is. She says that it’s okay even if she doesn’t think I’m pretty because I’ll never, ever get to know her.
I forget to ask about the worm and when I bring it up in the car Carl says that he can’t understand me and begs me to stop mumbling. I sigh and it’s a horrible day with a lot of snow that wasn’t around yesterday. The snow turns to black slush on the street and lies on the fields in sheets of white, horrific light that burns into my eyes and stays there.
The next day I tell Carl I’m still too out-of-it from my fall to go to work. He’s hunched in front of the TV man, who rattles on about an abandoned hotel in Japan set marooned a grey beach. Everything there is encrusted with black-slug creatures that don’t move, just survey the water. No one knows why they’re there. My lesson plans are in front of me again and two calls have come in from Rich Morton who doesn’t sound so much angry as he is glad that I’m gone, “I think we’d better talk about this. But if it’s permanent, you know where I stand.”
“You should call that bastard,” Carl says.
“You call him. He’s knows where I stand too.”
“We can’t afford you not going in, goddamn it.”
I sniffle a little and sigh, itching all the way through me now because Carl’s refusing to feed me lines even though he knows that I deserve them. “I fell because of you.”
“No you didn’t,” he snaps open a beer, his only recourse when we aren’t hooting. He’s already gone through eight of them and hasn’t been home half an hour. His greasy shirt is open, exposing his weird, hairless chest. Pale and meek. I could kill him if I really felt like doing it. If I wanted to run and had enough of his shit to. I know he’s got another stash somewhere. In the medicine cabinet maybe or in his sock drawer with that dildo he carved out of plywood. Ever night I dream he’ll stick me with it, but he never gets the guts. 
I stay up most of the night thinking about this and he’s sawing wood with his mouth open. The TV man is exploring hollow cathedrals lost on an Italian peninsula where dark stone buildings loom and something shapeless chatters beyond them. 
I build a lesson for the kids about old architecture for an hour or so, and then realize I haven’t provided them one concrete detail. I tear the pages up and think about burning them. It’s late. Later than I should be up if I want to make it in tomorrow. 
I touch my stomach. Should have asked for an x-ray at least. Should have squealed to the nurse that I was being eaten from the inside. Carl snores and shakes in the chair. Maybe he’s the one who’s put it in me. I hold my breath for a minute, wondering why I hadn’t thought of this before. 
I get up and stand over him. “Did you plant this worm?” I whisper. He huffs and turns over in the chair. I go into the kitchen and open the knife drawer. I search around inside. Most of them are dull enough you would need a lot of strength to even have a chance at breaking the skin. 
I wake him up instead of disemboweling him and he says he’s got to go down and cook even though we aren’t going to hoot it. I stare at him for a second, his half-drunk eyes flicker and he hacks up some phlegm and clears it. 
“What? No. Carl, it’s really late. Just come to bed with me. Please. You never do.”
He searches me over and sneers, “My business doesn’t sleep. I got to have a night job now that you’re not going in anymore.”
“I’m going in tomorrow. I will if you come upstairs with me.”
“Alright,” he says and I let him pull my hair and cum in me when I’m on my belly and needing it because it’s almost sleep and it doesn’t make a difference anyway.
I drink a lot of coffee when I wake up. Two and a half pots. Then I shower and shave my legs. Carl is brewing more coffee when I come back to the kitchen and he nods at me, asks how my head feels.
“Not too good,” I say and he tugs at my robe.
“Nice legs,” he says.
“I’m glad you noticed.”
I go up into my room and do my make-up. My face in the mirror is ghastly and sallow. My cheeks have been gently massaged in like the sides of a dolphin’s head. A dead dolphin splayed on the shoreline and eaten happily by mangy sea-dogs. 
Looking at myself, my stomach starts to quake and I go into the bathroom. End up pulling a worm from my ass that is warm and limber as lasagna cooked and curled. Its three feet long and I leave it in the toilet, thinking about what to do. I end up sneaking down to the kitchen and getting a trash bag  that is sort of opaque and so I dress quickly and rush out of the house with it while Carl is shitting, the bag flumping around at my side and the bugs start to nibble away again at me as the coffee’s effects rudely vanish. 
I don’t look at the bag as I drive to school. It sits patiently on the seat beside me. The worm in there doesn’t move, but I wonder if it is alive. I wonder if I got all of it. Sitting at a red light, I imagine it re-growing, just around my brain stem this time. What would it divine if it fed a little higher than my bowel? What would it dream when I dreamed? Would it awaken always at dawn or when a fire-rush of powder roared through it? How long we might live together. 
I pass a few derelicts steaming in the new morning through new holes in their cheeks that are blackened abscesses but don’t pain them as much as sobriety does. I stop for coffee from Wendy’s because it’s across from the school. Slouched in the drive-thru, I watch the lonely cavalcade of faded yellow titans come numbly up and circle before parking in a line. 
I fucked one of the bus driver’s once, a year ago. He was lean with the head of a Puritan bureaucrat, well-toned but thick on top like a grapefruit rotting out inexplicably from the surface not against the fridge door. He was a fine fuck and my most recent illicit venture. There have been thirty three and two/thirds in all, not counting the two or three men I’ve let tie me down. The two/thirds was a fiend who bit my clit off, or tried to, before I gored him through the spine with a big metal cane he used to get around with. 
The kids start to slop out of the buses and I drive around to the faculty lot, wondering how many of them will eat at Wendy’s after school. I decide it doesn’t matter and park next to Rich Morton’s jeep by mistake. I realize it when I get out and shrug, meander on through the black slush parking lot. 
When I get into the kindergarten hall, Gene Urndry, a new long-term sub, stops me and smiles. Kids rush around us on either side, jouncing and pawing at one another. They’re rushes of color without texture or shade and they’re all only two feet tall. 
“Hun,” Gene says, “You feeling okay?”
“I’m fine, Gene. How’s everything? 
“Holding in there. It’s a little stressful in the fall.”
“Almost break though,” I say on autopilot. 
She nods, “Sure,” she says, “Say, there’s a sheen to them. In their fall clothes.”
“Splintered into factions. Have you noticed that? They splinter early?” I say quickly, really wondering if she can see me scratching. Thinking that if the worm got loose in the car maybe it could fuse to the metal. Might just take control and breed metallic goo beasts to parade down through the concrete causeways. 
A kid tugs at Gene’s skirt and she smiles at him, answers some menial question. By now the hall has cleared save a few wilty-eyed truckers’ kids in overalls and oversized Marilyn Manson t-shirts. They scuttle away and Gene asks me why I’ve lasted so long, “Is it love or money?” is how she phrases it. 
“You could ask a whore the same thing,” I muse and feel an abrasive snap inside of my stomach. Gene’s eyes widen. I choke and cough and tell her I’ve got to attend to my kids. 
“It’s okay,” she says, pretending to understand and switching a dial in her head so that she can go and take control of people. Small people, but then, she’s probably never been able to command the minds of those in her age group.
My classroom is in disarray. Copies of plastic-shiny books are scattered across the tile along with paints, chalk, pencils, two raincoats, a dinosaur pop-up book, blocks, what looks like a piece of a cigarette, and someone’s leftover Halloween toffee, chewed up and shoved back in it’s wrapper. The kids hang their jackets on the wall where they pile their book bags. A few of them have taken their seats, trying to ready their brains by coloring and banging their feet on the floor. I see them all as spastic dimples in a growing storm that ripples and gusts like fallout over our fair town and the others. I see lightening in them and I’m not sure what to make of it. 
When I stand in front, I feel okay. I forget about the worm controlling my car and possibly my bodily systems. I forget about the bugs that pick at my feet and even so I can squash them as I patter about, “Now kids, who knows what a star-nosed mole is? It’s a deep-sea earthworm. Very fun. Um. How about dumbo octopuses? Big, funny boys…” I flip around in a garish big book, modeling the pictures for them. I puff up my lips as I do this. They pick their noses and pretend to my attention. 
By the time recess rolls around, I’m dying for a line and I find myself out at my car, smoking a Basic and inspecting to make sure the worm hasn’t gotten free. It remains in the bag where I left it. I sigh and walk around to the playground where I watch the kids zigzag about on the snowy asphalt. Their winter coats are heavy and dark. They do not parade, only dirge, their hands and feet tucked warmly to one another. It should be too cold for them to be outside, but Morton doesn’t see it that way.
“Exercise outside is vastly more athletic,” he’s heard syrupy-spewed in meetings after-school, “And these kids need it.” 
There was a rumor he was in cahoots with the gym teacher, a lunk of an old quarterback named Barney Kiln. No one could prove anything, but their relationship seemed to exceed the habitual incest expected in a small-city public grade school. 
I watch Morton policing the jungle-gym in his tan overcoat. This recess-help is yet another duty he feels obliged to fill, though there are several women specially hired for it. They stand together at another corner of the asphalt, smiling and talking as they admire him helping down a rigid pink form too timid for the rope. I expect him to set her down promptly, but he holds her for a second. Just a second and she’s down, rushing away to tickle a friend on the other side of the wooden contraption.
When I look back at Morton, he’s walking toward me, taking huge strides. I’m about to turn when I feel fingers at the bottom of my jacket. I lurch back and beneath me is a young boy who cackles and punches me in the vagina. I swat him across the face before I realize what I’ve done and he falls over into the snow. I cringe and Morton is at him before I am. 
The kid shrieks wildly and clutches his face. Morton looks up at me with a smile. He knows that he’s just secured my job whether the kid’s parents press charges or not. All the bugs attack at once and I flail toward him, itching and spurting. He grabs me by the throat and the kid locks up, not used to seeing adults entwined in such savagery. 
Morton smacks my head against the snow shouting junkie whore until he realizes a lot of kids are watching us, along with the bewildered recess aids that remain together, steam-breathing with their arms out as shields for the children, I guess in case we start shooting projectiles at them.
Morton stands up, puts his hands in the air. Some of my blood and hair clumps on his leather gloves. He starts crying and goes inside. Somewhere a bell rings as the lunch period ends. Slowly, the recess aids filter the children in. I sit in the damp black slush for a few minutes after they’re all inside.
Perhaps they didn’t recognize me. Thought that their royal leader was laying waste to a foul freak that happened in from a nearby neighborhood. A derelict or a rapist. Leave it to Him, they must have thought, Morton will keep our children safe. 
I get into my car and turn it on. My head is bloody and hurts a lot on the sides where Morton’s hands were. I try to focus. The bugs are in my skin where I can’t reach them, but I scratch anyway. I’ve scratched gashes onto my arms and around my throat. It doesn’t seem to do anything but make their tiny pincers more adept at gnawing smaller bites so I can’t reach them at all. The deeper they flee, the harder it is to nip them with my worn fingers. I want to let them eat me up, but instead I start flying through my cell phone contacts, searching with zeal for speed. 
When no one answers their phones, I skid from the parking lot and follow the narrow road home. The light hits the snow and burns through it, flashing pain assaulting me from all sides. I try to fasten my eyes only to the pavement ahead, but the black slush is reflective and I have to squint so I don’t scream. The itching has spread to every inch of me, inside and out. The worm has multiplied into a venomous thing with a million tendrils, each and every one leading to a gulping, mushy mouth that sucks and pries at my veins and ventricles, wedges into every nook and cranny it can spool itself inside of. Poison leaks from the thing as it rears closer to the surface and I can feel the million mouths forming into deep geysers in my skin that will burst soon if anything bumps against me.
I get to the house and scramble in through the front door. The living room is filled with a thin cloud of vapor that smells like ammonia or a sizzling bucket of battery acid. I sigh and assume the worst. Carl is facedown in the cellar in the exploded remnants of his lab, his face melted off into a fleshy red gruel that surrounds his head and hardens on the concrete around him. I decide to pack my things and flee, knowing the authorities will be on the move soon, once Morton and his gaggle of incompetent secretaries phone in the right coordinates. 
As I careen into the kitchen, I slam into Carl, who is coming up the stairs with a vial in his hand. He swears and swats me away. When I realize I haven’t exploded into a warm spew of snake-heads, I try to hug him. He lets me. Then he says, “Ugh. What the hell happened to your face? One of the other kids beat you up?”
“No, I beat him up. The principal let me have it though.” 
“You’re pathetic.”
“What’s all this smoke in here, Carl?”
“Nothing. Fucking bad batch, I don’t know,” he lights a cigarette and stares ahead across the kitchen. The vial dangles listless between his fingers. “What’s in there?” he asks and I realize with horror that I’ve hefted in the worm bag and hold it still in my hand like a curdled plastic cocoon.
“It’s nothing,” I sway on my heels. His eyes are tar paper, sticky and grim. They hold in little but the flies and the thicker bits of dust that collide around us. The bag in my hand is heavier than it was this morning. I twist my fingers around the top of it. The table is there for us to build fresh lines. Already he’s thumbing the vial. I decide that maybe after one or two of them, I’ll have enough of a boost to get across the slush state line, instead of just waiting for the sirens. And the snow will scorch the red eyes of every flung bit of slime that tries to follow me.  

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