We’d once been abandoned children, scuttling across the grime of city sewers, wrecking the bricks and pipes, inhaling the rust and dust, and imbibing the filth of people’s waste and worthlessness as it gushed below the undergrowth of their houses and apartments. We were fiends then, deformed and truly ugly, colorless and frightened, huddling around the static of junk record players or curling strings the rats flossed with in the lonesome hours of the night. We’d lay about all the misfits and ghouls down in that sewer palace, the only pleasures we knew being the coldness of metal and the sharpness of nail; the tartness of mold and the company of fleas; the sweetness of dreams and the appetite of sleep. Without food to scavenge, scraps from our shedding skin and hair were woven into meals, but we could not digest even these simple materials, and we always became upset and nauseous. There was no day. There was no night. There was no fear. There was no love; just our existence and its ugliness. Eventually, the famine stopped. Wandering about in the shadows one day, we stumbled upon a ladder. We lacked the strength or muscle to climb it, however, and we simply stared at it, quite mesmerized. As we decayed, still captivated by this ladder, a light appeared. At first, it glowed like a stuffed breath. But it grew, and overcame the shadows in a brightness so brilliant and blinding, our eyes boiled and melted down to the dirt, our skin blistered and exploded in yellowy lust, and our bones themselves cracked into dust, panting and craving a single touch from this light. A light came, and she swept us up into a pan, and kept us safe as we voyaged up the ladder and beyond our sewer life.
She crammed us into her jacket pocket and came to her apartment in a blushing blunder. She opened the door to her bathroom and poured us piles into the tub, with the drainage lid shut and the water dial stuck in “off”. For years she patched us up, tirelessly and delicately creating our poise and posture, pinning together the snipped stitches and dislocated chips we were, knitting and taping and hardening us into capable and physical beings. She repaired us. But still, we were our ugly selves, just foul smelling goblins this woman kept hidden in her apartment bathroom. Each day she’d leave and work her terrible job, stopping by the pet store on her way home to pick up kibbles and kelp and the driest meat you could eat. She didn’t know what we liked, but neither did we, so we ate each crumb grinning and cooing unintelligible bits of relief. She’d tickle us with her fingers, and we’d giggle and roll about. Sometimes she’d sing to us and we would become nostalgic about the old record players in the sewer, then we’d cry ourselves into frenzy, feverishly scraping the walls of the bathtub. She’d calm us down with leftovers or stories of working at a downtown coffee shop, where weird and bizarre creatures apparently gathered to guzzle energy and such. She’d always speak of some odd customer who startled her with some quirky request or action, or perhaps a rude customer whom she’d have to call the manager to have tossed out. We never slept, but she did. We could hear her snore sometimes, or maybe just breathe—a delightful and warm medley. It made us shiver. We began to work ourselves while she was gone, attempting desperately to learn how to sing. We’d burble and babble phlegm and spit in our mouths, or screech and shriek horror echoing back and forth in the tub, with us trembling and whimpering from the sound of ourselves. We gradually gained skill, however, and eventually learned the proper keys and pitches, and even began to produce things that did not sound so nightmarish or gross. And then the day came when we had mustered up the pluck and stuff to sing for our caretaker. She came home and fed us as usual, except that on this occasion we motioned for her to sit and to be silent. She inversed her eyebrows, and sat with a half-smile of excitement and marvel. We belched to glean our throats, and then we sang her a little ditty she used to sing us. She clapped and laughed, her face rosy and vivid, and she leaned down to kiss us both and congratulate us on a job well done. That was the first night we actually slept.
She taught us speech, history, science, politics, art, compassion, manners, wit, beauty, and humanity. We gave her not much but entertainment, as the creatures of interest living in her bathtub. She showed us how to write, how to draw, how to think, and how to love. She fashioned mini sweaters and pants for us—our little goblin outfits for when it got cold in the winter. She clarified seasons for us, in addition to day and night and time. She imparted on us values and morals, hobbies and skills, personality and intellect. She gave us life, and in return we acted as her puppets; the only concern in her life, her lovely monsters. We were hers, and she was ours. Years passed, and her schedule swelled up. She devoted more days to her work, because she’d quit the coffee shop, and now worked as her passion. There’d be days when she would never come home. Gil and I would just look at each other and mumble out our songs. Sometimes we screamed them, in a vain faith that she’d hear and she’d come, but still the only thing we heard was ourselves. She had raised us, and now she abandoned us. We could not cope, because we did not know pain, so instead we lashed out at each other. We’d switch off killing each other, only to revive the next day and continue the slaughter. We could not die; we could not end this impatient suffering. We’d strangle and slash and bite and stomp and beat and beg each other, these physical aches our only sensation. Finally, she came home, and we hopped about and shouted in joy. She staggered into the bathroom, quite pale and unsure. A smile upon her face, but it seemed fake. We couldn’t wait to tell stories of our days in this bathtub to her, but she ignored us and yelled into the toilet, such horrible and agonizing sounds, with blood and steam roaring about her head. She barked unearthly things, and boomed her organs into piles in the dirty water. We called for her to stay away, because we knew the toilet went back to the sewer death, but she kept insisting to argue with it. I bit off a scab, and threw it at her ear to get her attention. She whipped her maddening jaws around, and lunged at the tub. She jolted up and down with a long stick, trying to stab us into holes. We scurried around in troubling fear, weeping and calling out her name in futility. Puddles of her spit made the tub floor slippery, and I stepped onto one without balance. She poked straight through me, and lifted up the stick with me thrashing on the end, terrified. She licked me, and vomited. She said I tasted so salty. She ripped me off the stick, and held me in her hand. I recall they were once tender, but now they just blackened and scalded my feet. She clasped them tight, and crushed me into pieces. She opened them, with me splattered and sticky between the wrinkles of her palms and fingers. She washed me off in the sink, and I drowned myself in fury and anguish and fear. I knew I would return to the sewer now.
But, things changed. She had given me light; she had instilled that life in me. I no longer peered through darkness, but through a passage of life and luster. I climbed the ladder myself. I escaped the sewer. Above the ladder, I came upon a grisly world. I crept into the makeshift shadows of an alleyway, the smog and stone capturing my presence and casting it away. I cowered against the polluted brick and iron of a gaping dumpster, heaving in the blackness, discoloring the night in shades of nothingness, a vulgar void devouring its proximate environment. It gladly agreed to keep me hidden, and it wrapped its tendrils of nothingness around my body. There were no years. Just breaths, all similar and dissimilar and—I’m not even breathing. Upon a shining square above the opposite wall, I noticed Gil and her. Maybe this was her apartment, or maybe the dumpster was indulging in its cruel sense of humor. Gil grew and expanded, becoming less and less a goblin. I grew bigger too, but I was still a monstrosity. I could see her, too, smiling and crying; dancing and sleeping; kneeling and laying; singing and cooking; laughing and screaming…she remained so lively and dazzling. I still hunkered, my body shifting between pangs and poisons, revitalizing itself in ugly ravishment. My blood did not pump because of heart, but because of anger. As I watched them live, the luminous light inside me became tainted and smudged, coiling around every bad idea or nightmare or curse I spat, and encrusting my body in scales and spikes. Jealousy and Contempt manifested themselves into conscious beings, keeping me sordid company in my nothingness. They mediated with me, giving me hallucinations of feasting on their hearts, or jokes about how she probably doesn’t bathe. Sometimes, Gil and she would dance, back and forth across this portal, as if to mock me. I swear, once, Gil even looked at me and winked, a sneering wink, one that she probably showed him. I had no hunger or thirst because my temper fueled every whim I came upon, and my fumes clogged the alleyway so thick that eventually even the dumpster left, and the nothingness enveloping me was my own miserable emptiness.
I kept as a cavity in this murky blackness, but my resentment became too intense, and my wrath born out of passion could no longer dwell in nothingness. My abyss became a physical storm of bursting choler and crazed emotion, smashing between the walls and street and shadow and wrath. I could not sustain this inflation forever, as I had eaten too many sour eternities to digest another wandering in time, and I had to make this moment a moment so powerful it was beyond moments; it was beyond time; it was beyond me. It was to be everything that is, and everything that would ever be; a moment that’s not even a moment, but a life, in all its organic chaos and spate. I stood up, and I exploded into her apartment lobby. I disintegrated the stairs, and I gulped her door into mush. I entered, and took my position in the bathroom. In the tub lay her, out of place, and out of time, worms digging through her cheeks, her light all burnt out. Gil stood, his pallid eyes fixed on her. She was dead. He turned to me, tears chewing on his face, skin peeling away, his light fading too. He informed me of the day of her death, and how so many days ago it was, and how sad she was, but also how happy she is now. I think he’s deaf. She claimed, before she died, that she loved us both, and that she died because of me. She gave me too much of her light, and when I was lost, she did not have enough left to shine on. Gil blamed me, but then he blamed himself. He held out his light in a single hand, threatening to enclose it in oblivion. He feared nihility, however, for I had become its King. At him, I quivered in madness; indignation and displeasure sparked about my body like pointed flames. But, we were once friends.
And she loved us both. I sang to him, the song she used to sing to us, but it only made him more disparaged. I beseeched him to not spoil her wonderful light, and not to cause her death that kind of disrespect. But, the more I mentioned her, the more forlorn we became, knowing we could never be friends again, and the more sorrowful we became also knowing we could never have her again. We’d been forsaken before, together—but this moment, this existence, this distress, this everything and nothingness…it felt like our sewer home. It felt like we were alone. This light we both held, maybe it was junk. Maybe it never meant anything. So, in a single move, a basic contraction of muscle, a regretful but understandable act of mercy, he put out his flame, and faded not into nothingness or decomposition, but into memory, one so harrowing and so sore, it vanished. I buried her in a basket of artificial lights, ones I found in her apartment, and ones her neighbors told me I could buy at the store. I did not put her in the dirt or the street, but kept her safe in my jacket pocket. And sometimes, people on the subway complain about the smell, but I just disregard them. And sometimes, I wonder about all the memories her and I do not have, and all of them that Gil was able to make with her. And now, the only memory I have of her is a lovely pile of ash in my jacket pocket. And in an eternal slumber, I’m always dreaming of her, and how pleasant her hands used to feel against my flesh. Today is the day I mournfully remember this…
© Copyright 2017 Cory Cortez. All rights reserved.
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