[ just another story ]
“I don’t smoke ya know,” Mort said, gesturing to his cigarette as he crouched in front of his partner. “This is just… temporary. A fix, if you will.”
He frowned down at the cigarette, filterless wretched things. Fingers burnt yellow from the acrid smoke. Sleeves that smelt of smoke that never came out. Burn marks on his jeans from when he was driving and the cherry fell off.
“I quit a long time ago. I really can’t stand the things,” he said, meeting his partners eyes and nodding gravely. “They really are quite disgusting. Stinky. Gross.” He reached in his pocket and pulled out the pack. “Want one?”
They kept appearing. Top drawer of a desk, inside the freezer. A plastic bag taped to the inside of his toilet bowl. In the pocket of a ratty old pair of jeans he hasn’t worn in y years. Packs with two, three cigarettes in them still, gone stiff and past their prime. Stale. Horrible smell from those, like burning leaves with just a hint of too much sulfur.
He lit the second one (or was it third?) from the first (or second?) and gave his partner a look. “I might as well finish them off. Shame to waste money like that. Stub a cigarette out before it’s truly gone. Throw a half full pack away just based on principle. Might as well smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. I’ll quit again tomorrow.”
It’s not a lie really. He means it when he says it. He never knows he’s smoking until it’s half gone though. Never knowingly puts a cigarette in his mouth and lights it. Just winds up blinking and realizing there’s smoke in front of his face. Sticky paper between his lips. The smell of tobacco wafting through his house, sinking it’s stinky fingers into h is wooden floorboards.
“Now,” Mort said, shifting and lowering himself to the ground, dutifully ignoring the way the dirt is already dusting itself onto his jeans. “Where was I?” He took a long drag, relished the push against his lungs for a moment, mind clicking away, backtracking. “Ah yes. My wife. My beautiful, wonderful, lying, cheating, traitorous wife. Amy.”
Amy with the long blonde hair and the brown eyes. Amy with the golden locks that felt like silk between his fingers. The legs that went all the way to the floor and never ever had stubble. The swell of her breasts, perfectly fitting into the curve of his hands, reacting always to the brush of his thumb. The smile that was always there, even when it wasn’t, the twisting curve of her mouth an illusion she wasn’t even aware of.
“Killed her with a shovel, I think,” Mort said, looking to his partner for confirmation. “I’m pretty sure I just chopped her head clean off. I’m not positive though. It’s like I can’t remember it, and yet… can. Somehow. Right there on the periphery. Through water and weeds and murk. Bubbling to the surface of my consciousness and yet… never reaching it.”
He remembers tears streaking down her face. Blond hair matted to her forehead. Pulled back from her face, and then not. Ratty and torn and wild, like when they used to love each other. Like when they fucked. Sweat caked and tangled and sexy as anything he’d ever seen. Blood. Somewhere there was blood, he knows there was. There was definitely mud. On her face, on her hands, underneath her nails. Amy would have hated that, would have taken out her file right there and scraped it out. Never could stand being dirty for too long.
“Damn well know I killed Ted. I know that much.” Mort nodded, taking another long pull from his cigarette and didn’t even flinch when the cherry inched up and burned the edge of his knuckle. “Don’t remember it, of course. Don’t remember much at all. But I know I killed him. Wanted to. Wanted to wring that little hick neck of his the moment I first saw him.” He nodded again and met his partner’s eyes. “You wouldn’t have liked him very much. Don’t know how she did. Scrawny little fuck. Pussy. Coward. Guess he treated her like a queen. Made sure she came first.”
Ted got to touch her when she wouldn’t let Mort. Ted got to be her shoulder to cry on. Ted got to tell her everything would be all right when Mort couldn’t. Ted lied like Mort wouldn’t. Because Mort knew. Things would never be all right again. Dead fetus assured that. Blood in the toilet and tears streaking down her face while he searched for his keys. Ted got to be what Amy wanted Mort be because Mort couldn’t be anything else than what he was. Sometimes he hated himself for that, but mostly he hated her. And then, he only hated her.
“Never thought I liked corn that much though,” he said, reaching up and brushing the unruly hair out of his eyes. “I wonder if decay makes it taste better. Sprinkle human ash and bones on corn like salt and pepper.” He laughed, and knew he was sick for it. Didn’t care. “Don’t think you’d be able to market it very well though. Have to call it something else. Give it some foreign name that no one ever bothers to look up. Something that sounds prestigious. Expensive. Like manure for shit.”
Shooter left then and never came back. Or maybe he didn’t. Maybe Mort’s the one that left. Maybe Mort’s dead and buried underneath Amy and Ted’s flesh-decayed bones. Maybe Mort died a long time ago and Shooter was the one keeping him moving. Maybe in some ways Shooter was his survival. His savior. His guardian angel with metal wings and talons for fingers. There’s only one voice in his head now though, but that’s just so far. Tomorrow is another day. He’s learned to expect the unexpected by now.
“I think sometimes--”
“All right, Rainey, time’s up. Inside.”
Mort turned his head, looked at the man standing before him. “I’m sorry sir, I’m in the middle of a story.”
White pants, white shirt. Red buttons, red piping lining the pockets. Truly god awful outfit. Scowl on his face doing nothing to improve his appearance. “Whatever, Grizzly Adams. Inside now.”
Mort frowned. “Quite a rude young man, wouldn’t you say,” he said to his partner.
Hand under his armpit now, dragging him up, pulling and yanking him. Hair caught somewhere between his fingers. “You can talk to your dear friend the squirrel tomorrow, Rainey. It’s inside time now.”
Mort scowled at him. “I could have you fired, you worthless little shit.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said, rolling his eyes, letting go of him and not moving an inch. “You gonna go or do I have to drag you inside?”
Mort followed the orderly inside without another word.
There were people that thought this was an Asylum, but Mort knew better. A vacation was a vacation, who was he to complain?
The squirrel chittered a heartfelt goodbye and scampered off into the woods.
One day Mort would follow him. See if he could squeeze through the metal bars too.
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