Matthew Dexter lives in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Like the nomadic Pericú natives before him, he survives on a hunter-gatherer subsistence diet of shrimp tacos, smoked marlin, cold beer, and warm sunshine.
Brother Knows Best, So Carve Some Hearts and Unicorns
Fist full of cancer pills, Vicodin, aspirin; two empty Merlot bottles on the bathroom counter. Smash them against the bathtub, bleed out, pick up that glass of scotch and chase them down the gutter. The goddamn cell keeps ringing as if the disease is celebrating its final metathesis. Lift it up, hoping it’s the ex-wife offering confessions and condolences. Everybody else has. Doctor said it wouldn’t be necessary to make any more appointments.
“Just take it easy, brother, enjoy every moment and relax,” he said.
How the hell can a man unwind when he’s out of time? Made love to the emerald irises of the secretary hoping she would pick up the pencil out of pity and schedule something in. She just kept filing her nails, checking out photos of half-naked teenagers on Facebook.
“It’s a matter of weeks now, at best,” said your brother, the fancy doctor.
Breaking the bottle against the side of the sink, carving a shallow heart in forearm, blood soaking the hairs, answer the cell.
“Is this Mr. Warrenger?”
Lifting underpants, sculpting a unicorn in thigh, screwing up the horn after the lady on the other end explains about the accident, the nature of her urgency. What kind of man falls on his head in the bathroom? No time to figure it out now. Grab a towel; wipe away the blood, meticulous like changing a dirty diaper, slipping into a fresh pair of Hanes.
Emergency room swallowing veins like a fancy vagina––frantic nurses, doctors, gurneys with plastic clipboards, starving homeless panhandle outside; the socialists among them sit in the emergency room reading crumpled celebrity magazines stained with coffee.
“May I help you?”
“Here to see Dr. James Warrenger.”
She clicks her mouse, smells of strawberry, polished fingers glitter, typing her symphony, berries linger in bushy nostrils as the hospital makes love to an ambulance.
The elevator is being loaded with equipment. The air smells like hope, heartbreak, everything all mixed into one. A bald girl is playing cards with an elderly nurse. The pulse of the hospital holds the door. Shuffling inside, pushing past poker-faced X-ray technician with the mustard stain on scrubs, his breath reeking of hot dogs and marijuana, or maybe that’s someone else, that reflection against the door, those wrinkles so clear they swallow opaque like a rock climber in a rising crevasse. Brother’s words echo in idle mind:
“You will die, but you fought it longer and braver than any patient in the forty years I’ve been doing this.”
The degenerate carnival aroma of Grateful Dead and Nathan’s lodges in hairy nostrils, two nurses squeeze inside, one of them voluptuous; her breasts brush against terminal flesh for the final time, that last encounter with the majesty of a fine-tit woman.
“Isn’t this your floor?”
Technician catches the door with his foot, shadows in the hallway become faces of ghosts, of sailors long dead. Brother alive, clipping toenails. Atavistic bastard: bandaged head, amnesia, as the woman said on the phone he has no place to go; the nail from his big toe flicks on top of the machine next to the bed.
“You were a brave patient, but, brother, your diagnosis was wrong.”
Pick up the pillow and smother him, just do it, nobody will notice. Better to shut the door, unplug his arm from the needle, suck the blood, use your army knife to carve a heart into his ass, watch the puddle grow as he chews into the cotton, and then it’s done.
“Lord forgives me.”
Walk down that hall and take the stairs. Cancer has its sweaty old man balls in someone’s mouth, just keep shaking them, shoving past that clown with the balloons, nothing more than helium and metallic for babies and birds to choke to death in neighboring counties. Brush past the punk in the Iron Maiden t-shirt with the bloody dishtowel wrapped around his hand, finger in an Igloo cooler of pink ice at the end of a stretcher.
The door is open and the clouds are magic carpets that carry the injured and incurable back home to their diseases, to that bathroom and the broken bottles and the blood. The Datsun drives itself, parks in the garage where it seems wise to let the engine run and close the door. But better to enter, pour a drink, unplug the phone, take a piss, and carve some hearts and unicorns.
Though He Had No Fever
He began masturbating after the baby was born, like clockwork, every morning at 4:26. He tries to be silent, but bubbles rising from the bathtub can never be contained by the parameters of his wife’s auditory threshold. It is during one of these trances of euphoric derangement that he realizes his son is sick.
At first the boy didn’t finish his birthday cake, claiming his stomach ached, but when he wouldn’t touch his scrambled eggs or bacon the next morning his mother knew something was out of the ordinary; so the boy said he was sick, though he had no fever. When he refused soup, nachos, and didn’t touch any solid foods for four days, she knew it was time to take him to the doctor.
She doesn’t need to drag him out of the race car bed either, because he is strong from the two cartons of Tropicana orange juice he swallows each day. The dried-up pulp sticks to his chin, the corners of his lips. The boy inches through the narrow opening between the rusty chicken fence and the shed where his father sits in his underpants. Testes itching, he rubs himself with a shriveled feather that landed on his head the day before the boy was born.
“It’s a robin’s feather,” the man says.
He’s told the boy this a thousand times and the boy’s first word was “feda” but the man wants the boy to hear it again. The kid is wearing clean underpants, his favorite pair: with the rocket ship and the pirate flag. The father wears Hanes with a huge hole in the middle which grows larger and more frayed every illness. The man never soils himself, but they have turned an awkward shade of yellow, and he refuses to wear any other pair or wash them, strangely becoming part of the cold cement which he sits upon sixteen hours a day.
The boy’s fingers are imprinted in the concrete and he places them over the memory now as he’s done a hundred times, but he’s always amazed at how small the engraving is, his hands getting wider, his fingers taller, the etchings disappear within him but he can feel the dent, knows it will be there long after the doctor has died and his bones swallow the fibers of undergarments Michael Jordan made famous with his trademark smile. The man looks more like Michael Jordan’s father.
¨I played golf with the greatest athletes ever, ¨ the doctor says.
He brags about it all the time. The signed scorecard is thumb-tacked in the corners, Michael Jordan’s signature centered perfectly as if by the electromagnetic gravity of the sun on a bulletin board beside a colored map of the world. The doctor always addresses the boy with this knowledge of his idol from Chicago glory days in the early nineties. The doctor even lived on 23 Toros Avenue, in an affluent suburban house with red shutters before the psychosis began to feed off the wisdom of hairy earlobes.
The man starts shaving his entire body while lying in the shadows late at night, talking to the demons in the porcelain streaks that the naked eye can never see, taunting his five o’clock shadow in the foggy mirror. The ghosts battle until the mumbles become loud enough for the woman to wake.
Again, he began masturbating after the baby was born, like clockwork, every morning at 4:26. He tries to be silent, but the bubbles rising from the orifices of all corners of his personality can’t be contained by the parameters of consciousness. The acoustics in that bathroom are fabulous, the echoes from the empty crevasses bounce off the vanity mirror and immaculate toilet like magic, a studio 54 secret room similar to the one where the man met his maker.
“Can we begin our session?”
The old man looks at his wrist where the watch used to be, struggling into a praying mantis yoga pose. The boy gets closer so he can rub the fresh scabs on his father’s legs where the man has cut himself with the rusty razor.
“Criss-cross applesauce,” the boy says.
It’s the first word the woman has heard about food from her son for days; she looks up as the room darkens and drizzle begins to pelt the tin roof, filling the interior of the doctor’s office with a fresh scent that reminds the woman of California summers.
¨Why aren’t you eating?¨
The boy has lost weight, the woman understands that if he does this for another couple weeks he could trigger irreversible organ damage. His heart needs the nutrients; the boy is still growing and sudden cardiac arrest is always a possibility in this family.
The man scratches his ear, looks at his finger, licks it, thinking about the hole in the ceiling that he never fixed; as always it begins leaking. The boy watches as the cardboard in worn-out spots begins to darken and bubbles form like greedy vultures. Duct tape icicles protrude, dripping cold water from their tips, growing larger by the minute.
The boy was born poor, but he notices the family photos of the early days, in the perfect gold frames with the inscriptions about love and hunger for eternity together. The woman always talks about the revolutions sweeping the Middle East, the need for change. Her Obama “Yes We Can” t-shirt has too many holes to count, so she only wears it on election nights in foreign countries. The photographs of Morocco, France, the Caribbean: she tells the boy all about those places, the strange fading photos of dark women with bananas on their heads, the man with the machete and the donkey that took the woman an hour or more to focus; but the boy only knows the 7.2 megapixel digital camera the man gave him for Christmas.
“Take the world with you always,” the man had said.
The boy gets a kick from the woman and then opens up to the doctor. He places his lips inside the secret compartment where he goes for confession, freshly showered arms and legs sucking up dust and grime on the floor. The old man moans and offers the boy the sacrament, the same knowledge flows through him every session.
“How much are you drinking?”
The woman explains the massive juice binge and the diarrhea, but the boy shakes back and forth, unsure of which personality to turn toward, which vortex to enter inside the doctor’s skull. He doesn’t want his parents to know the extent of his disease. The voices inside his mind console with those voices coming from his father’s mouth: the doctor and patient, the Hippocratic Oath enforced by a sling on the ground and a drop of blood on a feather.
The water begins to cover the floor and the boy’s mother gets down on her knees, cups her hands, and scoops it up. She begs her son to drink, does the math in her head and counts the broken eggshells on the hotplate in the corner where they tie the voices down on a soiled mattress and listen to the wind as the boy thrashes and the needle feeds him spoonfuls of eggs and baking soda beneath a fluorescent lighter.
“It hurts bad.”
“Bacon and pancreas and dirty Hanes and an old Dr. J basketball hoop in the corner.”
Michael Jordan makes his first appearance as the doctor is placing his hand against the boy’s face to wipe away the tears with the feather. Charles Barkley speaks in the background as a sun shower devours the backyard and the boy jumps for the hoop.
The moon rises higher as the kittens gather at the door and stick their tails beneath the weeping wood. The doctor writes another prescription and sends the boy home.