by: p. botte

The storm’s coming.  Weather’s hot, still.  The sky is beyond bruised – it looks like skin pushed with the purple pressure of a beating.

Lightning flashes.

The storm’s coming.

Ma says she’s done trying.  Pop’s puking behind the back porch.  Regurgitating his breakfast.  It’s 5pm and he’s regurgitating his breakfast – that was the last thing he’d eaten today.

I don’t know if she’s really done trying.  It could be easier if I knew – I mean, really knew. 

I don’t know if Pop’s really regurgitated anything yet or if his monstrous burps and retches are just a precursor to the upchuck.  It would be easier if I didn’t have to consider regurgitation.

The storm’s coming.  It’s been storming all summer.  It used to be that this kind of weather washed the heat out of the air – for a few days at least.  Now, it’s always hot.  And the rain rises back up in sheets of steam as soon as the clouds have passed.

I’m sitting here now with my whippit.  A Piggly Wiggly bag with a hole cut in the side.  I loop the handles over my ears so that my face is in the plastic and I feel like a horse with a feedbag on.  I spray a lung’s worth of Rustoleum Cobalt Blue into the bag.  The plastic ripples a little when it catches the stream of the aerosol.  I exhale until my lungs are empty then breathe deep, taste the Cobalt Blue on the back of my tongue.  It tastes like Cherry Red and Canary Yellow – like a chemical tingle and then the epiphany starts sparkling behind my eyes and I’m floating.

I’d used the handle of a wooden spoon to poke the hole in the side of the plastic grocery bag.  I don’t know why.  I could have used my finger.  But I used a spoon.  They say everything happens for a reason.  What the fuck was the reason for the spoon?

The tingle and sparkle both fade.  The tingle fades.  The sparkle fades.  Sparkle fades.  Sparkle and fade.  Everclear.  I could use some Everclear right now.  Not the ‘90’s rock group.  The alcohol.  It slides in, makes you forget.  But all I get round here is Rustoleum or the occasional Krylon.

Why does it hurt?  It never used to hurt.  Now, I come down and my head starts throbbing.  I spray more and huff it in hard and the epiphany erupts into sweet, shiny sparkles and the throb is gone.  The pain is dull and a small price to pay for a chemical epiphany. 

Yeah, I can hear Pop now, his guts coming up in chunks.  Egg, toast, and whatever booze they’d been swimming in for the last 8 hours.  He finishes, then lies down in the puddle to sleep it off.  I don’t know that he’s lying in the puddle.  But I’ve found him lying in other puddles on other nights.  Mom’s gonna leave in an hour, try to find some bread on sale at Dollar General.  White bread.  That’s me.  White bread, America.  People used to die on white bread.  Highly processed wheat with nothing for the body to actually live off of.  Then they fortified it.  Packed it with minerals and vitamins, iron and probably cobalt too.  Now a white bread American like me can do just fine off the sliced loaves that roll out of some plant in Indiana.

Pop’s dead.  Not physically.  Not yet.  But he’s gone.  And Ma said she’s done trying.  That’s probably one of the nine-and-a-half steps of grief or whatever: being done trying.

My head starts throbbing again.  Another spray, another ripple of onion-skin-thin high-density-polyethylene, another lungful of good ol’ Rustoleum.  And my face is wet now, my lips, my cheeks, my chin running with Cobalt Blue, the same way a baby’s snout is thick with slobber and snot. 

Why’s it hurt now?

I don’t know.  It’s a pain in the ass – the pain, that is. 

Ma’s got a couple of photos from when I was a baby – all slobber and snot.  They’re old and yellowish.  The styles sucked back then – I wore a lot of overalls that looked like they were made of picnic blankets.  There’s one where Pop must’ve caught her in the middle of one of those baby games: “Who’s soo big?  Dylan’s so big!  Who’s soooo big?”  She was pretty in that photo.

That was a long time ago.

Now, she said she’s done trying.  She’s pissed and sad or something.  I don’t know.  But she’s been done trying for a few years now.  For as long as Pop’s been sleeping in his puke.

I spray again.  And spray and spray and spray.  And huff and huff and huff until my lungs feel like they’ll explode.  I feel the paint running down my face.  It feels cold and far-away as my skin gets numb and my eyes crystal over with dreams of stars and flight.

The can is sputtering.  There’s more in the basement.  I head inside with the spoon in my hand.

On my way through the kitchen, a crack of lightning splits the bruised sky.  It must shriek like electric pain through that purple and swollen thunderhead.  It hurts all around out there.  The storm’s gonna split the sky.

Ma looks up at me.  She sees my face.  She has a mother’s face.  A mother’s hands – old now, but still soft as Kleenex and wash cloths.

The sparkles are fading from my eyes, the throb coming back to my head.

I raise the wooden spoon and, with my eyes still numb but quickly coming back to the throb of my head, I take a point on her forehead and go for it.  The spoon makes a thwack as it strikes her skin.  And then, as my arm finds its strength, it makes another and another, splitting the now-purple skin and blood comes pouring down over one of her eyes.  I can see it through the splayed fingers of her raised hand.

I swing the spoon until the pain of my head – the real pain – takes hold.  I head down to the basement.  As I open the door at the top of the stairs, I look at her where she’s crouched on the floor beside the chair she’d been sitting in.  The rose-and-carnation print of her blouse has been watered with her blood.

As I walk down the the stairs, I hear the storm washing the bird shit off the roof of the house.  I hear the gutters carrying their freight at capacity along the skeleton of the house, washing the filth down at the corners.  I hear the storm crashing and wait for it to pass so that I can take another can out into the steam that will inevitably rise.

** *

And that’s where it ends: take another can out into the steam that will inevitably rise.  The steam that will inevitably rise.  Rising steam.  Tired, hot, wasted, bloated.  My arms are heavy as sacks of catfish chum.  They hang down past my beltless pants.  My beltless pants hang down past my fatless hips.  And my hips could, at any moment, drop to the lifeless ground, feed the soil, turn themselves into a few more pounds of earth through the alchemic digestion of maggots.

And that’s where it ends.  And that is the end.  Like a dream – an infinite flight of rotten stairs, a world drenched in vomit and shit.  Blood on the face.  Blood on the chest.  And still the storm is crashing.  Each splitting bolt rending new ozone from the air itself.  Rending something new from something ancient through titanic violence.

The rain begins splattering on the broken shingles.  I can hear it lash the roof in retched expectorations.  I come up from below and sit for a while in the spitting drizzle that’s bubbling through the crack in the living room ceiling.

I sit and let the water collect along a tired fringe of hair.  It drips across my left eye, hits my cheek.  From my cheek toward my chin.  From chin to chest.  And all is a mess.  But for a while, all I need is this water that has found its way from river to sky, from sky to rooftop, from rooftop to me, and then on down to carpet, basement, subterranea.  And all is ok.