dog and tonic
by dm gillis
loosely based on some places I’ve been
The light was brown, and the smell. Sirens blunted and yells, even screams, from adjacent rooms. There was a toilet down the hall. A window that wouldn’t close. Stuck in place since 1974, but he couldn’t have known that. All detail lost on the door beneath uninterrupted layers of paint; the perimeter moulding gone long ago, drowned in layers of beige, blue and yellow. The brass doorknob buffed to a gloss by the hands of thousands of previous tenants; the hand of each tenant more desperate than the last as the decades passed. The bed, a single iron pipe pallet.
His eyes saw it all. They were blue, red and quick. His hands clenched into arthritic fists. He was certain this was the place. The place that would hold him, fixed like a monster in amber.
There was a heavy chrome kitchen chair and a small table, a half finished can of beans. There was a knife and fork. A tow yard ashtray. A transistor radio. A torn copy of Anthony Powell’s Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant. He’d read each line of that book like it was a stone in a slingshot. Page 127 marked with a corner store receipt. A wall socket without a faceplate. The sink, the drain, a gateway into a bitter underworld that would rise up in the night and possess him. It was where the demons came from. From whence the voices came.
This was the place.
He’d always known that when he did it, he’d do it away. Away from anyone who knew him. Away from any street upon which he’d ever made eye contact with another. They wouldn’t find him. They wouldn’t have his mess to deal with. No sorrow to know. No tight lipped conflict between regret and nuisance. In this place, there would only be his uncomfortable absence, as the inconvenient spice saturated the hall. Familiar to weary management who would hesitate at the door, but who would, nonetheless, dutifully, turn the key. Then the police and the coroner. And then, namelessly, he would be physically gone. Only the ghost of him remaining. To stand in the corner. To vex the next poor bastard in his dark and heroin night.
The mental health worker, a weary psych nurse in a storefront office, had said to him, “Do you have a plan? The Confidentiality Agreement we signed together states very clearly that I have to report any and all cases of suspected suicidal and/or homicidal ideation.”
A plan? he’d thought. Forever.
He’d sat in his chair, silent and smiling. Passive. Across the desk from her. In his shoes without socks. With his filthy fingernails. His hair uncombed. Smelling like the thirteenth century.
I’ve had a plan since I could recognise myself in the mirror.
“No,” he’d replied. “No plan.”
He had fought the plastic razor blade cartridge into submission the night before. Plastic, hard and hostile. He’d taken it from the trash. Blunted by a stranger’s face. Contaminated with a stranger’s epidermis. He, himself, hadn’t shaved for weeks. Fresh, sharp razors were a luxury of the sane. He remembered cutting a girlfriend’s name into his forearm when he was young. He turned his arm over now to look. Rebeca. Misspelled. For life. He smiled and bit down hard on his tongue.
Sitting up on his bed, he saw the naked blue blades on the table. Three from a single three edged cartridge. He’d cut himself enough in the past to know the pain involved. The ecstasy and blood. But this would be deep and lasting. He wouldn’t be returning to gloat over a scar.
It’s a thing to consider, he thought, the evolution of the razor blade. He scratched itchy Rebeca. How once they’d been awkward yet elegant. Handy in a scrap. How they had become safe at some point in insipid history. And now innocuous and rarely even thought of as they were daily applied to the skin. Hurrying over the surface of us, the flesh, over the thin barrier between life and terrible epiphany. He picked up a blue sliver of steel, and saw the glint of the yellow bulb above him.
There was no note. He had deposited his ID in a trash bin the day before. The document of his life was wordless. All that remained was the moment. The absence of angels. We die alone. Worn out stuff. But now he concurred. He was finally, so happily, so ruinously alone.
It is an obvious thing, yet rarely thought of. That a right handed man would cut his left forearm first, and his right only upon realising it was the only reasonable thing left to do. He thought of this as the blade cut into his left wrist. He had planned it, mapped it, a vertical line from there. A river seen from space. Evolving faster than geological circumstance would normally allow. He would watch it evolve. He had thought about the moment of it endlessly, for so long.
He cut along his wrist from below his left thumb to a position below his left ring and middle fingers. He was twisting the blade now for the ascent up the length of the forearm. Into the wilderness of previously uncut, unexplored flesh. A euphoria was overtaking him. He was faced, not for the first time, with the tricky understanding that cutting didn’t sting. Instead, it created a dull and profound ached accompanied by an intense burning. He shuttered and gasped as he redirected the blade.
And then there came a loud banging on the door.
He looked up without moving. More banging. The words “Open up” shouted from the hall. A dog began to bark. It was a close, alien sound. Different from the banal ravings of his neighbours. Then the loud banging on the door and the barking of the dog began to merge. “Open up, you bitch. I want my money.” Bang bang bang. Woof woof woof. “I’ll kick the fucking door in, swear to god.” Woof woof woof.
“Shit”, he spit, and threw the little sliver of steel across the room. “Hold on, hold on.”
“Better open up, mother fucker.”
He got to the door and opened it. Standing before him in the hall was a tall emaciated man with bad skin and a stringy bread. He wore an unwashed nylon track suit and a baseball cap with the bill slightly askew. “Where’s Rosy,” the man yelled. “Bitch owes me $150 and change. Bitch can’t do me like this. Bitch is gonna pay.” In his right hand was a lead. Pulling at the end was a large, overly excited mutt. Woof woof woof. “Wadda you, her fucking pimp? I hate pimps, man. Don’t make me fuck you up. Gimme the money.”
“I don’t know any Rosy,” he said. “I’ve only been here two days. The place was vacant when I rented it.”
“’Xpect me to believe that shit?”
“I don’t care what you believe,” he said, and then saw the man’s gaze fall onto his left wrist and hand. A vein was pumping and the fingers dripped blood.
“Motha fucka,” said the man with the dog, trying to sound as much as he could like a black LA gangsta, in spite of his unlucky Caucasianness. “What you do to yourself? Whatever it is you got goin’ on in yo head ain’t worth it, man. You gotta choose life.”
“Fuck you. Come back in a couple of hours, and take what you want.” He began to close the door.
“No no, man. Listen, I had an aunt in Windsor. She ate her whole damn medicine cabinet. Didn’t find her for a week. Closed casket, baby. Had to be on account of how long she been laying there. She left an awful big hole in the world, man. My mamma ain’t smiled since.” Woof woof woof. “Shut the hell up, Nigel.”
“Nigel? You named that mutt Nigel?”
“Yeah, and he ain’t no mutt. Jus’ an indeterminate breed. He’s a killer, though. He’s stone cold.” Nigel had begun licking up the accumulating pool of blood on the floor. “Look, I’m callin’ 5-O, man. I can’t let this slide. My Karma’s thin and crispy enough as it is.”
“Don’t. Please. Just walk away.”
“Then what? You’re just going to stand there until I bleed to death?”
“That’s a bad cut, baby,” the dog-man said. “But you ain’t gonna bleed out from that. I know some shit. You die of infection before you bleed out from that scratch.”
He grasped the door and tried to close it, with force. But the man stuck his foot in and stopped it. “Don’t do it, man.” Nigel was up and barking again, actually beginning to sound dangerous. He was forcing his snout in between the door and the door jam, baring his teeth and snarling between barks.
“Down, Nigel,” said the man. “Good dog.” Then he yelled, “Somebody call 5-O! Nigel, down.” Nigel was getting vicious in the excitement. He could see the saliva flying off the big dog’s teeth. And then he heard the man in the hall say, fatalistically, “Oh shit.” The lead had slipped from his hand. Nigel sprinted into the room.
When he came to, a female ambulance attendant was applying a pressure bandage to his wrist. She gave him a sour look. He was on a gurney in his room. Two way radios crackled. He heard the words Mental Male. Another attendant was wiping blood away from the back of his head, where he’d fallen against the table when Nigel jumped. Apparently, nothing could have stood between the dog and the half eaten can of pork and beans left over on the table from the night before. When the cops stepped in, it was finally a full house.
“Told you not to mess with Nigel,” dog-man said. “One warning per person, baby. That’s all I got to give. That’s all I’m willing to provide. And that Rosy bitch still owes money.”