Dustin B. Angevine
illustration by Gab Insiburo
Scum; [skuhm] — the sediment beneath the fingernail which is normally accumulated over protracted periods; that which is considered worthless as a material substance or otherwise abnormal; material left behind; a nuisance, gross, i.e., disgusting, unsightly, dirty, that which is unwanted.
The puppy is cute like a cotton puff ball with flews and a tinge of this deceptive chartreuse that isn’t really all that green.
“I’ll take the thing if it doesn’t bite.”
“He’s pretty friendly actually. Generally speaking, very clean dog as well.”
“Can you hang on for just one second? Yeah, John? It’s a cocker spaniel. It’s ugly as hell, but I don’t know. No, it’s not for me.”
“Four hundred dollars.”
“One second. It isn’t for her. Well what do you expect, John? Jesus, it’s not for her. Alright. Yeah. I’ll ask. Yeah, John, I’ll ask. Okay. Four hundred?”
“Just run the card. My friend wants to know if you carry squirrels.”
“We don‘t, in fact you’ll find no one around here does. They are typically raised on farms.”
“Did you hear it? No luck, man. I’m going to hang up. I’ll call you back I guess.”
“Just sign, please.”
“How do you train it?”
“We don’t train them here.”
“No, I mean how does one train it?”
“You could hire a trainer, of course, but they’re quite expensive.”
“Does it come in that kennel? I’ll take a kennel too, I guess, just swipe it on the same card.”
Henry Irving Valentine drives from Rutger’s, takes the I235 to 69 West over to Story Boone with the dog in the passenger seat in the kennel sniffing at aluminum and the sunset up high, reflecting off building windows at sharp angles. There are brunettes walking out of a Citgo with cokes and they‘re posed under the red sign looking at the cars on purpose, like hookers, to stave a viral infection of boredom they contract chronically at the last of every Sunday. They wave someone on who has a pissed off look in his eyes, in learning they aren’t up for sale.
“Hey, John. Won’t be around tomorrow, I‘m in at Mercy for a long shift. I don’t want you coming over and I don’t want to see you. Have fun with Carol and the guys, and don’t call me. I‘m turning my phone off.”
He gets into his apartment and pours water in some GladWare for the dog who has fallen in love with the floor. He turns the television on to an overweight chef who is obnoxious, an intangibility, and the hard-wire phone on the cherry is attractive like a pinup beer chick is, that plasticity in gloss which shimmers. He pours down gin and takes up the little cordless V-tech.
“Hey, Kate, it’s Henry. I know I said I wouldn’t call, but are you and the kids alright? I know I said that. Yes, I’m wasted right now. I just want to hear the kids are alright.
“That doesn’t sound sincere at all, Kate. Kate, are you alright? Are you still on the same meds? Yeah, I’m taking mine. I’m not hungry most of the time. Money’s not really all that tight, no. What? Do you need some?”
He pulls a pen from a drawer and the post it underneath.
“How much for the week? That enough? I’ll send it over, eh, wire it I mean…”
“I love you… Kate.”
The phone is dead on the line.
“God damn it!”
He breaks the gin over the coffee table. The doggy cowers to the kennel, to the dark of it, and he changes the channel to this infomercial which he watches drunk, the pitch Godlessly normal, this smiling brunette with perfect breasts and teeth and a bit of a large nose, this friendly unapproachability which cracks at human emotion with a pixilated chisel, human forehead skin crumbling like shale, the skull like limestone. And she is so beautiful with that unapproachable smile that it just fumes retroactively to all the good things punctuated by perfume.
The state wholly defines murder as the wrongful slaying of a human being, said act resultant in ‘death,’ as in the cessation of vascular contraction, cellular respiration, organ function, mitosis, where such functions are not administrated intravenously or otherwise by an outside source of relevant medical care.
Wrongful slaying is defined as in contradiction to established moral function, otherwise defined in subsequent amendments of valid merit. It is the intentional destruction of the cellular function without legitimate reason, with no indication (exception) to motive save the upheld defense of self livelihood (health), that is to say the continuation of self interests purely of the biological function of living tissue in an unharmed state, or the said function of another. Such claims are valid if reason is evidenced by a sincere and legitimate fear of self harm, substantial through attempt of said harm with limited or spontaneous notice.
The state wholly defines manslaughter as the unintentional act of causing cessation to cellular activity, an accidental slaying must be substantially evidenced forensically, circumstances (circumstantial) within plausibility.
“His name’s Andy.”
“I love puppies when they’re this small. How young is he?”
“Fresh out of his litter, actually.”
This redhead is in tight baby-blue jogging spandex which hugs her bosom like plastic wrap, and there’s a pinkish (imagined) nipple up at an angle, pointing at the Chestnut by the pond that continually drops its seed into the water, fruitlessly.
“Is he purebred? You must have paid a fortune.”
“He is, but I saw his face and I just had to have him. He was exhausted when I picked him up, looked through these sleepy eyes. I think he was smiling at me. Really must have been fate.”
She’s grunting loud under lavender and his flesh and the shape of her is like a jiggling, hourglass pregnancy strip being raped by another less jiggling paper doll with red stripes. Her clitoris is swaying upwards and the mucous is wetly secular. She isn’t screaming on purpose now because she is contracting up into a bent arch which reminds him of this coma patient at Mercy that’s dead now but used to be down in 132A. The redhead’s got no pubic hair but this dark outline where it’s shaven off.
“I needed that today. It’s just been a literal nightmare at work this week.”
“I know what you mean.”
“You must do this a lot.”
“Don’t you think it’s worth it, though? For that one moment of inebriated bliss that you, fucking, can‘t stop pushing out? That fifteen minutes out of your day?”
“You’re quite sure you took your birth control?”
“I’m not stupid.”
“Then get out of my house. Put your clothes on, and get the fuck out of my house.”
“I said get out!”
Duly noted, Mr. Cain.
“I buy you from slavery, make pretend like you’re some kind of precious infant, and I get free sex. What do you think, doggy? Nothing, I think.”
Now he is at the V-tech again.
“Pick up. Pick up. Pick up. Pick up!”
“Hey buddy, is your mom at home?”
“Nope. She’s at work. It sucks. We have to have a babysitter and she’s mean to us. Why don’t you come to visit anymore? Can you come today?”
“I wish I could, buddy.”
“Mom says you’re drunk all the time, and that you’re smelly. That’s what she tells Linda when she comes over for tea time.”
“She’s seeing Linda?”
“What else does mommy say?”
“Lots of stuff.”
Henry gulps gin fast between a breath or two.
“I don’t know.”
“I need to know if mommy is seeing another daddy. Has there been another person over to your house? His name is John.”
“I’m not supposed to tell about it.”
“Come on, you can tell me. You know it’s your dad.”
“Well… Yes. John visits sometimes.”
“What does John say?”
“I have to get off now.”
“Who is this? Hello?”
Henry kills the line.
2: She looks good for being in such a wreck. I saw it on the News last night. Do you watch the News, Ms. Summers?
1: Her CT showed a swell in the frontal lobe. Knocked it quite bad. She was put on respirator close to 7:00, and she stabilized… early this morning, 2:30 or something. Yes, 2:30.
2: She really is quite striking. Any prescriptions?
1: The tox screen was negative for alcohol. Her records have her on Ambien before the accident. Her T cell is low also.
2: The blow to the head, her system’s in shock. She’s breathing on her own though, that is a good sign. If you would, Ms. Summers, get this woman on a feeding tube. If she’s still comatose in two weeks I want her on a PEG.
1: Yes, Doctor.
2: She have a husband?
1: Heart failure, cause of the wreck.
He closes the fridge and he turns the television to the News and there is a legal dispute with a Mr. Black, who has murdered his own child by drowning him. This makes Henry tear up a lot and soon he is searching violently for gin, which he finds half empty under the sink with the Clorox which he briefly contemplates drinking in a plastic cup with the gin.
He is now back at that same woman selling Tupperware this night, he decides she is the apex of human seduction, the subtleness in her pushing at defensiveness, shriveling skin, peeling it through fluid secretion, the glossy red shine on her lips belying the lies she spews hard like foreign matter out the nose. He feels in love with her. He can‘t stop looking at her breasts and this paper doll on the front of the counter which looks like Christmas. He cries, with tears of saline, not just from his eyes; falls asleep in a kaleidoscope of colorful juicers, half drowning.
On the following day he has his car parked in front of the Citgo on 69 West, watching the girls under the red sign. He pets the dog in the back and walks across the street like a depressed peacock. He is unresponsive to the cars and the potholes, like he knows what it means, and they are looking to him with corrupted innocence. He has tried and failed at this several times with several girls at the Citgo all day, and now it is late, and he is trying it on the regulars, with their plastic coke bottles.
“Look, another one.”
“This one’s not that disgusting though.”
“I guess, a little…”
They are staring blankly at him in his blue tie and oxford. He is smiling wide with a full dental policy’s perpetual merit.
“I’m not usually this direct actually, but, um, do you by any chance want to come over to my apartment? Watch a movie with me? Maybe drink something little? I assure you I can be trusted, I’m actually a doctor.”
“Um. Okay, I guess…”
“What about your friends?”
The doe submit to the season, a flushing estrogen, and there is a staccato of unintelligible voices, screaming into the air vents of the AC of the apartment, one of which is above the bed, and they echo through the filter and the bliss is palpable for the hour. He throws them like pillow dolls with the door closed in on their perspiration, one out in the living room is looking lost but untouchable with a little cup full of vodka, because she just couldn’t strip in front of her friends.
“This is Henry Valentine, I’m away from the phone right now, if you could, leave a message, your name, number. I’ll get back to you.”
“It’s the Charge Nurse at Mercy, Melissa Summers. Administration is asking about you here in the triage.”
“Uh. Uh. Uh. Uh.”
“I thought it would be in your best interest to know. I think they might be planning to cut you off. It’s just, you haven’t been coming in when you’re supposed to, and I think that little blond bitch in obstetrics told Callahan she smelled alcohol on your breath. It has some of the nurses talking, and frankly, I don‘t think this can be contained for you any more…”
They sound like death cries in the throes. The girls leave for the street satiated, and he spends another night alone in the baptism of his own perspiration.
“Pickup, pickup you bitch.”
“I can’t sleep, Kate.”
“Is Dan over the pneumonia?”
“You have no right calling here, Henry.”
“What about his intestines?”
“Please don’t do this right now.”
“I knooow… but I was drinking, and I heard that John was coming over. And I just know that bastard is sleeping with you. I just know it.”
“He won’t touch me, Henry. He won’t fucking touch me. He’s afraid of Danny, too; he just gets all defensive when the kid wants to roughhouse.”
“You’re lying. See, I can hear it in you.”
“You know what Danny asked me today? Take a fucking shot in the dark.”
“What did he say?”
“Am I a monster? That’s what he said. He asked me that when he got home from school, right home, right after he got off the bus. He’s five, Henry, he’s fucking five and everybody is scared shitless of him.”
“I haven’t been eating again.”
“Uh huh. That’s like you.”
“Should I come over? Just to take Danny out somewhere, maybe to see a show or something?”
“Not if you’re still drinking.”
“But I didn’t mean it, Kate. I swear TO GOD I didn’t mean it.”
“I know you didn’t, Henry.”
“I think I’m going to stop taking the medicine. Maybe I’ll just take them all with the gin and then there won‘t be any left. I kind of thought about drinking the Clorox under the sink.”
“You know I’m sorry.”
She sighs really hard.
“It’s late. Take some Tylenol and, just, go to bed. You sound really, really awful.”
He is teary.
“I don’t have anywhere left to go now.”
The line is dead again.
Hey, sport. Are you ready to be a kid for the rest of your life?
I want to be a grownup like you, and go to work and stuff.
But you get to be young, forever. Most kids don’t ever get that.
I don’t want to be a kid forever though…
“Henry Valentine? It’s Betty. We met in the park, actually. I just thought it might be pertinent to tell you. I have herpes! So, go eat shit!”
The woman on television runs red nails down the opaque plastic of the juicer. She is caressing it like the shaft of some enormous penis, with this dexterity that is pining and obligatory, holding it in some psychosis-perpetuated weight derived of dendritic firings, like fuel bombs exploding in the sky. This he falls asleep to again, attracted to the lie and recognizing it for the truth.
It is afternoon now, and he has just wakened. He is looking into the darkness of the kennel where there is an awful stench of something rotting. In it is the dog, healthy looking but just not moving or smelling right, or breathing.
“Oh, Jesus Christ.”
And the GladWare reeks like gin.
He throws the puppy into a dumpster and people are looking at him with severe eyes because he never thought to put the puppy into a trash bag, but just to dump it out of the kennel with its pink, woolly blanket like shredded newspaper.
“What are you starring at!”
Two more girls at separate junctures at the beginning of the week, three following in four days. They are little fetal factories which refuse to roll the rubber conveyor anymore, even though they promise it. At least he knows what is alive. They are. But none of them are like that woman on the infomercials that he can never recall the name of.
“Hey, John, I’m going to kill you if you’re sleeping with my wife.”
“How does that sound, John?”
“Dr. Valentine. This is Jordan Callahan from Administration here at Mercy General. We have you on the schedule for, uh, the past two weeks but do not see your name on the time sheet for, well, any of them. If you are able to, next it is convenient, call us at extension 1969, we would like to discuss your future here at the hospital.”
The Citgo cashier knows him for his alcoholic tendencies and today he has decided to do this nosy intervention thing by refusing to sell him the gin.
“You know, I’m not going to sell this to you today. You need to get hold of yourself. I’ve seen you come in here way too much, man. You look awful, totally frigging awful. Do you even own a mirror?”
Henry has got this moist, deadened indolence in his eyes. The laugh is more like a rasp which is horribly congested.
“You know I’ll just go down the street you hippie fagot.”
This shuts him up really, really quick. He leaves with the gin, without the savory relief on his deepening mouth crinkles. At home, he misses Andy, bad, and goes out to the dumpster with the gin in his hand to see, but the hairy little corpse is gone so he sits on the couch and watches infomercials, today about diabetes testing miracles of modern science. A weak-sick laugh. And he takes up the V-tech, he thinks maybe one more time.
“I know John is over there. Why don’t you fucking pick up, please just pick up, Kate. Please.”
“I’m phoning the police, Henry.”
“Please don’t do it…”
“Honestly, I expected some things, but, this, from you, it’s just too much. You threatened your best friend’s life over the phone, Henry. What is wrong with you now?”
“That bastard isn’t my friend.”
“Listen to yourself. Listen to yourself talking right now.”
“I think, uh, no, maybe know this time is the last I’ll call you like this, Kate, damn late at night. But can’t you just pick somebody else, anybody, I mean John, Kate? John? You know, if I haven’t seen the guy, I could be peaceful like that.”
“There’s nothing between John and I, I told you.”
“Don’t! Don’t lie to me like you do. You’ve got this Freudian fucking magnetism going like some… MRI or something. Those vultures at Mercy, those carcinogenic pieces of shit with their speckled, magnet ties have got all of these efficiency experts calling me days and I just can’t stand listening to the messages anymore. I just… can’t… do it. And we have kids together, Kate, two beautiful children and I can’t see them because you’re a cold, God-fearing bitch who can‘t get wet without humping her husband’s, best, friend.”
“… we’re not married anymore, Henry. We’re not. I really, really think you should see a doctor.”
“I’m seeing, uh, all, these, these patterns that paint the world gray, these red stripes soiling these hybrid estrogenic waves, these corroding and degrading fuck marathons that congest the night on television programs and above me, on the twelfth floor, I’ve never seen such a beautiful sampling of human psychology than these infomercials selling juicers all the time. They’re all, just, fucking, subconscious murders tricking down to oblivion and cracking at human weakness, Kate. It’s so fucking obvious; seen so superficial a thing as that, and I can’t, stop. I need to stop it, but I can’t stop it and it’s killing people, Kate. It’s killing me! It’s killing… ME!”
“Henry, I have to go, Henry.”
“Get off, then.”
The beauty in mating the unconscious is that it is like throwing a pillow about the den. It is a quiet of whispers in friction propagated to the slumbering, eyeless fascination of drywall, sanitized, pumping curvaceous bed mounds, arms permanently plastered with sodium and this little monthly EEG, a stranger with a feeding tube protruding from the naval like a fountain of snow, which is piercing any immunities, destroying them, like this foreign psychopath unaltered by the acidic protoplasm of lysosomes, which pop and shrivel and stupor like animals in ecstatic convulsions.
The beauty is in bending to the will of some Psychotic Earthliness, sweaty with sodium to the vague reflective, dead, convalescence of a pale stomach, sweaty for no reason but the stimulus of some guy tearing at the vaginal wall with the door to the room jammed with this mahogany chair.
The, beauty, of this sweaty feeling, the world speeding forward to an inevitable loneliness in cellular death, guided by a thought of nothingness, is scum.
(1) Reader Comment
April 24, 2017
April 21, 2017
April 06, 2017
Judging a creative writing contest is to pretend authority and, even m
Anita! I know someone who wants to work in Chile but as electrician. D
I really enjoyed this story. It made me think about my own predisposit
Thank you, Scott.
I have been living in Santiago for about one year and I can confirm th