I’m working on the new novel. I just want to put a bit of what I’ve written. Leave a comment.
After The Asp Bites
The rear tires spun and squealed as the car tried climbing to the top of the snow covered hill where the hospital was perched. A slope-shouldered silhouette stood in front of the glowing, sliding doors of the entrance, which blasted light into the black winter night and reflected on the black paint of the passenger side of the car. Eli Greenberg removed his hands from the steering wheel, cupped them and blew a warm breath that circulated around his palms, before reaching to grab the door handle. He ambled around the front of the car and momentarily made the night darker as his short body cut across the headlights, restricting their power to illuminate.
As Eli came closer to Kennedy, he saw his friend’s appearance and thought, ‘Man, he’s in bad shape.’ Kennedy was dressed in faded blue scrubs, his face covered in a hairy shrub, and he clutched a large brown paper bag in his right hand. Eli came close enough to see Kennedy’s face, and squinted and gulped. He had never seen such dull and medicated eyes.
“You glad to see me, champ?” Eli said.
Boy, is he lifeless, thought Eli, and I’m the only person willing to help revive him. Eli believed he could bring Kennedy’s eyes back to life.
“Did you bring what I asked for?”
“Of course.” Eli opened the passenger door of the car and grabbed a thick black winter coat and tossed it through the frosted air to Kennedy. “Do you like it?”
“There’s no fur around the hood. I told you I wanted fur on the hood.”
“It’s going to be worthless in a few days. We’re going to L.A. Are you going to need a fur hood in California?”
Kennedy slumped his shoulders even lower, rolled his eyes, and crinkled his mouth in a noiseless expression of apathy. He placed the paper bag holding all his possessions on the ground, draped the coat over himself and hid inside.
“Get in the car, Leer. I’m not use to this damn cold weather.” Eli ran back around the front of the car, through the headlights, jumped inside, slammed the door, and blew on his hands.
The hood cast a dark shadow over Kennedy’s face, and the snow crunched and groaned under his heavy steps. The snow was soft and fluffy on the ground except where Kennedy had placed his weight, leaving a trail of crushed and ruined snow leading to the car. He placed himself slowly in the seat and sat silently with the brown paper bag at his feet.
“You look like the Grimm Reaper’s protégé. You ready for sunny California, Kennedy? Lots of hot girls.” Eli slapped Kennedy on the shoulder, and then put the car in gear. “Here we go.”
“Just get me out of here.”
The black sedan blended into the black night. Eli concentrated on the place in front of the car, which the headlights illuminated, as he drove. Kennedy had no impulse to look forward, or behind him to the hospital, his eyes gazed out of the passenger window, his eyes stretching far out, allowing them to get lost in the dark winter night.
Snow continued to fall. For Kennedy the snowflakes were listless, descending gently from high above and making no effort to stay suspended in the cold air. Eli screamed and cursed at the snow for making it more difficult to see where he wanted to go. The white flakes were a nuisance, crashing into the windshield and splattering themselves. The wipers kept pushing them aside, piling up the white bodies on the edge of the window, but more and more came and they all had the same intention to end their journey on the windshield. Neither Eli nor Kennedy found anything pure and innocent about the snow.
“We have to stop and get your prescriptions filled before we leave Connecticut.” Eli said. “Think of anything else you might need.”
“I’ll have to see when I get there. I can’t think of anything I want right now.”
“The King insisted that I take good care of you.”
“You talked to my father?” Kennedy’s question was painted with stroke of curious inflection.
“Yeah, your dad set up the car and got you out of the hospital. We agreed that three years in that place was too much and you’d be better off with me in Los Angeles. Besides a thirty-year-old man shouldn’t have to live his life wearing blue pajamas.”
“As long as we stop in Chicago, I don’t really care.”
“Why do you have to go to Chicago? We have five days to make this trip. I have to be back for my Super Bowl party.”
“There is something I need to see there, and if that’s a problem for you, Eli, you better let me out now, because there will be no reason for me to continue this trip.”
“Whatever you need, bid dog. I’ll let you know now that I won’t be hulling a skulking corpse across this country.”
They both stared at each other. A slight smile twitched in the corner of Kennedy’s lips. He was amused at Eli’s challenge, he liked a good dare, and he wanted to see if he could make Eli crack first.
Eli told Kennedy to get whatever he wanted as he went to the pharmacy window to get his friend’s medication. He handed the prescriptions over, and then turned to see Kennedy picking up items, looking at them and spinning them in his hands, before gently placing them back down in the wrong place.
Kennedy scanned the shelves and spotted candy that he faintly remembered and had almost been erased from his memory after so many years. He picked up a candy bar he used to love and a phantom taste of sweetness swirled in his mouth. After the pleasant memory of the chocolate had washed away, he decided he didn’t deserve it and placed the candy bar back down on a different shelf.
The black-hooded specter of Kennedy zigzagged between the aisles until he stopped in a corridor of toiletries. Soaps, shampoos, and toothpaste all provided paths back to acceptable social hygiene. He tugged at his beard, stretching the hair on his cheek and under his chin, pondering whether he should shave. In the hospital Kennedy was prohibited from shaving unless supervised—his doctors had denied him any interaction with sharp objects. The nurses had suggested that he shave several times over the past three months, but Kennedy would shrug his shoulders every time, and the suggestion would roll off of him and be squashed on the ground. He couldn’t muster up the energy to perform such a tedious task. In the pharmacy he began to consider a change. He picked up a razor advertising the smooth shave of five blades. His hands held it for a moment, his eyes staring at the quintet of metal edges, and then he dropped the razor. Kennedy envisioned the multiple blades removing more than the hair on his face—all those blades, five blades, cutting into his skin and scrapping off his flesh. The box with the razor blade lay on the grey carpet and Kennedy quickly kicked it under the shelves before reaching to pick out a simpler and less intimidating razor.
The next razor had only two blades, and Kennedy thought about how he would look with a mustache. He found the image amusing, but his laugh was so suppressed that all it did was slightly jiggle the soft matter of his frontal lobe, making it impossible to detect past the confines of his skull. He grabbed two of the double-blade razors, felt his beard again, and decided two razors would be enough to get the job done and remove the beard when he wanted.
“Kennedy, Are you almost done?”
Kennedy struck up his index finger, indicating to Eli he wanted another minute.
“C’mon man. I want to get going before this storm gets worse.”
“Stop rushing me, Eli. You can go sit in the car and wait. Leave me some money.”
“Cut this crap out and get over here. We’re leaving.”
“Fine.” Kennedy walked over to Eli and slammed his razors onto the counter.
“Anything else?” The boy at the register asked with a raised eyebrow, perplexed by the two odd men standing before him.
“I don’t know. Ask this guy,” said Kennedy, shrugging his head toward Eli.
“Yeah, that’s everything. Ring it up and bag it.”
Eli paid for the pills and the razors, and then gave Kennedy a shove in the back to get him moving toward the doors.
“I’m holding on to these razors for you.”
Kennedy let his neck fall limp, stuck out his tongue, and rolled his eyes back into his head, feigning a young child’s impression of death. He then turned his back to Eli and walked to the car.
The bag Eli was carrying dropped to the ground and he scooped up a bunch of snow and hastily packed it together in his hands. He threw his snowball and struck Kennedy’s large skulking figure square in the back. The snowball exploded on impact leaving traces of white splatter on Kennedy’s black coat. The living shadow of Kennedy stopped, bent over, made a snowball, and quickly whipped his body around firing his retaliatory snowball that zipped out of his hand. Eli easily dodged it and the snowball soared by him, smashed against the tall glass window of the pharmacy, causing a deep warbling sound to ripple in the cold night air.
“You can’t hit me, you scratch-ass. Now get in the car. We’re wasting time.”
“This isn’t over. We have plenty of snow and miles to go before we sleep.” Kennedy opened the door and disappeared into the car.
Eli jumped into the car, threw the bag on to the backseat, blew lung-warmed air in his cupped hands, and then started the engine.
“Kennedy, turn on the heat. Blast it.”
He didn’t listen to Eli. Instead, Kennedy smooshed his cold hand into the side of Eli’s face. Eli responded by punching his pal in the ribs, which caused Kennedy to drop his arm and guard his flank.
“Don’t be a dick,” said Eli. He turned on the heat himself, put the car in gear, and continued on their journey.
When sleeping, Kennedy no longer dreamed, no esoteric images that could be construed to interpret his life. Over the past three years, when his eyes would close at night, his past disasters would replay in his mind. In the beginning he would walk gently through his memory, putting his feet in the footprints he had left in real life. Overtime, living in a contained hospitalized life, he had been able to condense the memories to the most impactful moments, moments that had shifted his character and rerouted the course of his life.
The dream started with a rough black-ink sketch of the Manhattan skyline. It then panned across the East River till it zoomed in on the United Nations building, and the Kennedy Leer he couldn’t escape sitting restlessly in the correspondents’ bullpen, mumbling to himself, and pinching, twisting, and pulling the locks of his brown hair.
My conscious had seized control of my bottom lip, and was telling me that I could get through it. I could tough it out. But every impulse, every unsettling feeling, the fire that was scorching in my brain, had infiltrated my tongue and upper-lip, wrestled and twisted up my common sense. I was begging for my thoughts to obey me. The disparaging thoughts were relentless, racing around my mind, they multiplied, became lice on fire that burrowed deep into every section of my brain, and they left a toxic sludgy residue of speculation. The lice laid eggs of doubt. What did I do wrong? When did she start cheating on me? At dinner a few weeks ago she was fidgety, and wasn’t making eye contact. Why didn’t you see it then, Kennedy? Why? How could she do this to me? Why him? Weren’t we about to begin something new…together?
I was lost in myself and hadn’t noticed that all the other reporters were gone from the bullpen. I had forgotten that today was a very important day for the world. The President of Iran was giving a speech about his nation’s nuclear program with the objective of subduing international fear, and swaying the rest of the world that energy and not weapons were Iran’s only intentions. The media was spinning his speech today as a day that people may remember as the planting of the seed of global nuclear war that would potentially blossom very soon. I needed this story. My editor was pressing me for a mainstream article, something to attract readers and to sensationalize the juiciest quotes, but all the excitement I had three days ago had been extinguished when Genevieve Kelp, my girlfriend, stood in a half-empty apartment, half way between my day of excitement and my day of hair pulling, and with two simple words, “I’m leaving,” began my disintegration.
Screw the President of Iran, screw nuclear war and the world, because back in that half-empty apartment, hidden in a hollowed out book of Dashiell Hammett’s collected novels, was a ring. A ring that sparkled where no eye could see it, sparkled in the darkness of its box, hiding between the hard covers of a book. That diamond that cut light into a thousand little beams, a diamond I knew was the one the Earth had secretly buried in the dirt all this time for Genevieve, and now it would never reach its destiny, leaving a soft and slender finger bare.
I kept my head down, but shifted my eyes side-to-side to make sure nobody saw me as I walked through the maze of cubicles to the bathroom. Most of the reporters had left to cover the assembly, but a few correspondents lingered with their eyes on their computer screens and doing their own kind of hiding. My hand was on the outside of my right pants pocket, trying to conceal and stabilize the object I had tucked inside. For the first and only time in my life there was a noticeable pounding pulse in my thigh, an artery beating against sharp metal.
The mustard colored walls and tiles of the bathroom floor seeped into the light overhead, giving the mirror and porcelain sink a rotted yellow hue. The jaundiced light had infected the skin of my reflected face. It was a reflection that would of saved Narcissus’ life. I used my thumbs and index fingers to stretch my eyes wide open. They were only eyes—white, brown, and black eyeballs, nothing special about them, no sparkle, no look of defeat in them, only pieces of anatomy. They could see, but the held no special insights or characteristics.
The pulse in my leg beat harder and heavier. I dropped my hands from my face and reached into my pocket. I slowly pulled the knife from my pants pocket and the rotted-yellow light quickly corroded its shiny metal blade. My left index finger gently skimmed along the edge of the blade. A tiny stain of blood formed on my fingertip around a tiny clean shallow cut.
I tilted my head back and took a good look at my throat. My hand slowly cut across my Adam’s apple and my bleeding finger left a slash of maroon blood on my flesh. I stared at the bloody streak on my throat and my hand began to shake. The knife was rattling inside the fingers wrapped around it.
My heart pounded loud and strangely—not the BOOM, BOOM heartbeat of love, but the DOOM, DOOM beat of a heart breaking apart. I thought the sound my heart was making was going to be heard be someone and they would investigate and interrupt me.
I remember becoming a winded up suicidal automaton. There was no more thinking, only the cogs and gears of my arms reaching down, unbuttoning my shirtsleeves and rolling them up. Then my empty right hand slowly swung over to the blade resting on the edge of the sink, picked it up, swung back over to my upturned left forearm, mechanically inserted the blade at the base of my wrist, and pulled the knife through my arm and toward the elbow. The blood was oil that spilt out of the incision. The yellow light of the bathroom disappeared.
“You look like shit, Kennedy.”
“Keep your eyes on the road. I didn’t say you could look at me.”
“It’s been three years. Your fifteen minutes of infamy are over. No one is going to remember you, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“I could care less.” Kennedy rolled down the window and a blast of freezing air cut through the car.
“You crazy bastard.” Eli rolled up the window and switched on the child-lock. “It’s ten degrees outside. Pull your hood down over your face and take a nap.”
“All I’ve done for the past three years is take naps.”
“You’re right. Relax and in a little while we’ll stop and I’ll get you a real hamburger. That will wake up your taste-buds.” Eli looked over and saw Kennedy hiding in his hood. “I guess that means yes.”
Eli believed that embarrassment and shame were what was really bothering Kennedy. When Kennedy had slit his wrist at the U.N. it created a minor international incident. When another reporter’s bladder forced him to take a piss he discovered Kennedy on the mustard tiled floor, unconscious with a pool of blood near his body. The reporter called 911 causing paramedics and policemen to rush into the U.N. The news reporters and their cameramen, already there to cover the President of Iran’s speech, thought they had been fortuitous enough to finally be in the right place at the right time for a major career making scoop. When the news crews began sending out vague reports that something serious was going down at the U.N. and speculated that the President of Iran maybe involved more police came and more people in the buildings across the street pressed their faces against their windows to get a peek of the commotion. A rumor of international tragedy quickly spread. The onlookers saw the paramedics rush out of the building carrying a bloody body on a stretcher. The news crews swelled and pushed their way forward, taking photos and filming the body, thinking this was the only chance to get the big shot, get their names above the fold, and they’d focus on the details of the story later. During the live coverage of what the news networks were calling “Tragedy at the U.N.” a few people recognized the tragic man on the stretcher, Genevieve, Kennedy’s then best friend Bradley, Kennedy’s father, and Kennedy’s two brothers. Eli was busy filming a sitcom pilot and didn’t realize what had happened until the next morning when he saw his friend on the front page of newspapers and photos of Kennedy on the stretcher all over the Internet. Kennedy was labeled a desperate, lonely man in despair that terrified the world. A selfish man that had caused the world to hold its breath, causing people to believe that a horrible tragedy had happened to a much more important man. On the street and around water coolers words of animosity left the spattering mouths as people gossiped the next few days. To them Kennedy was an attention seeking drama queen. Snide comments permeated the air, creating a miasma of judgments, in checkout lines at grocery stores and coffee shops in the metropolises of America. For a few fading late summer days, Kennedy was infamous, his blood drained face had been seen all over the world, and then he was forgotten about with only his father by his hospital bed to make sure he woke up.
The highway that took Eli and Kennedy to the West was swallowing up New York City’s lights. Their car hoped across New Jersey and landed on the dark, long, climbing highways of Pennsylvania.
Still gazing out his passenger window, Kennedy spoke over a forgettable country song that was being chopped up by the white noise of bad reception.
“Now you’re in a rush. Listen I’m the big dog in this car, the captain. It’s two in the morning and we’re driving on a snow-covered highway alongside a gorge. Let your old buddy Eli handle the driving. If you want to do something, try to find a radio station that comes in clearly.”
“Go faster.” Kennedy leaned over and honked the car horn three times. “Go.”
Eli slowed down, made sure the road was clear ahead and behind, and then punched Kennedy in the arm repeatedly.
“What the hell is wrong with you? You trying to kill us both? I’m not going to baby you, dick. Never, I mean never touch the wheel when I’m driving. I don’t have a problem with tying your hands together and throwing you in the backseat. I’m the only person being nice to you.” He straightened his glasses. “We are going to stop at the next hotel. I think we’ve both had enough for our first day together.”
“Fine, but we should drive faster tomorrow, big dog.”
Eli punched Kennedy’s shoulder one more time.
“Find a radio station.”