Sunday, January 20, 2013

Puking Tears by Edmund Colell

Owen opens his burning, restless eyelids and rolls on his side, finding 7:30 glaring red from his alarm clock. He curls up, pauses, and rolls out of bed. The chill pushes him back, the tile shocks his feet, and a headache grows. As he yanks the clock’s cord out, sounds buzz in his skull. The noise deepens until he crawls back into bed and buries himself in his blankets. It returns a minute later, louder, a random chorus of familiar voices scorning him for laziness. He shoots back out of bed and cools his face with his hands. His own voice breaks through his thoughts. Get ready for work.
The thought punches his gut. I’m sick.
Take a pill and slam some coffee, pussy.
He stumbles into his bathroom, flips the light switch, and flinches. A dry, white glob bulges over his medicine cabinet mirror. A tape recorder crowns its center. Who’s here? Owen snatches a razor from the sink, brandishing it at the open-curtained shower before slamming and locking the door. With the buzz gone from his brain, only his breath and pulse stir the silence. No intruders. Breathing deep, he loses the adrenaline high, but a little fear lingers for the recorder. He strokes the buttons, each one mushy but dry. He presses Play, and it crumbles.
The tape chuckles. A man’s voice joins it, light with youth but raspy with age. It says, “Good job! You pushed a button and not pulled a trigger.”
Owen cringes. He taps Stop, then pushes it, then jabs, this one hard button cracking his knuckle. 
“Remember me? Need a hint?”
Owen sucks on his swelling finger. The pain distracts him from the tape’s message, but he throws a response: “Fuck off.”
“I caused everything bad in your life, I abuse you every day, and I slept with all of your exes.”
The hints snuff his pain and sink deep. In the tape’s dead air, he reviews every enemy he ever made. Only one of them has stuck around since middle school, but the voice and the cheer don’t match. “You’re not m –”
“Time’s up, me. Stop thinking so slow.” In the stunned silence, the tape continues: “If you’re listening, then the therapy and pills didn’t do shit. I have new medicine for you.” The glob shifts, pulling the medicine cabinet open. A dark amber bottle sits on the other side, label-less and filled to the neck. “I took the liberty of distilling your memories and goals. Drink fast and put it back. It can’t be exposed to light for too long.” The tape stops.
Owen reaches first for the door, but a thick force coaxes his hand off the knob. The bottle’s promises draw him closer. Help me. The bottle warms his thin hand. Its mouth kisses him, and he kisses back. Its tongue slips through his teeth and down his throat. He tips the bottle up and chugs. Plastic and meaty flavors bathe his tongue. The taste buds catch sweet hopes, salty relationships, spicy mood swings, sour failures, and bitter ends. He drains the bottle to its last thought. It warms in his belly. Then it burns.
Owen burps a cold, acrid gas. His skin itches while red patches spread over his hands and lips. Pulling off his tank top and boxers, he finds the patches growing on his chest and groin as well. He scratches them, leaking mucus over his nails. The itch crawls down his throat. All the while, the vicious buzz erupts and screams through his brain.
The tape starts again. “I hope you didn’t drink all of it. This stuff only needs a sip.”
Owen holds his head and smashes his forehead against the recorder. Its gummy body re-inflates after every hit while his buzzes deepen. They drown all sound and overflow into his gut. Nausea hits. He curls over the open toilet. Gushing out, the vomit tastes salty. The buzzes clarify into shouted insults, each one stabbing him. Another wave of puke rises up his throat, and tears flush down his face. They taste the same.
Owen rests his arms on the toilet seat and holds his face between them. Drool hangs from his lips. More spurts of tears flow out his mouth. Every time he tries to rise, another barf pulls him down. Stop. I don’t have time.
“Feel a little better now? Just take another sip when this happens. Good luck at the office, me.”
As Owen pushes up to glare at the recorder, the tape slot pops open and the tape vaporizes. The white glob swallows the recorder and soaks back into the mirror. Owen falls back to the toilet and dry-heaves. Nothing more, but the sickness lingers. Picking himself off the floor, the mucus on his hands trails to the seat. It can’t break. More mucus sweats through his red patches, spreading over his body.
He stumbles into the shower and cranks the hot water. The first cold blast rattles his skin and hardens the slime. More scum bubbles beneath, breaking through the crusts and making them grow. His hands and arms become too paralyzed to scrub it off. He thinks of the clock again, of his boss writing “Fire his useless ass” on a sticky note and calling in someone reliable, and a new red patch sprouts on his scalp to bleed slime over his head. As a disgusting helmet hardens, Owen sees pictures in the slime. Each picture shows shameful moments of his life in third-person, with him as a scummy statue instead of a human. Hundreds of them appear before his eyes alone, and he shudders to think of the millions forming the shell around him. He stops fighting.
Even when I help myself, I fuck it up.
The shell traps and clogs the new scum beneath. It backs into his body. A fever boils through him. Can I die this way? The thought brings an image of police breaking in to find the juiciest and grossest corpse of their careers. He pictures the funeral where his few loved ones pretend respect for a man who poisoned himself with his own gunk. The last speaker is the tape recorder, talking from its gloppy white pile on the podium. “I tried. Making myself sicker should have helped me to purge, not wallow. Maybe I really am the piece of shit I always knew I was.”
A hatred for his distant self burns hotter than his fever. He tenses the muscles around the patches, forcing the gunk out. He strains harder with every breath, but rips his skin instead of the shell. With every pulse, he forces his blood and slime against the shell until it cracks through. Owen thrashes until he falls over, splitting the rest open. The shower’s hot water cooks his opened wounds. But as he stands up and the last of the mucus drains from his body, taking the patches with it, he feels lighter by half of his weight. His shell lies crumbling on the shower floor. No buzzes rise to his mind.
Owen dries his blood off. He opens the medicine cabinet again and sees a bag of gauze, roll of tape, and bottle of rubbing alcohol. He packs and patches his wounds, then checks his clock again. 8:15.
He knots his tie with a smile.

Edmund Colell's work has appeared in, or will be appearing in Verbicide, Legumeman, New Flesh, Christmas on Crack, Amazing Stories of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Bizarro Central, and Screaming Orgasms of Bizarro Love.

Copyright 2013 Edmund Colell


Alan M. Clark said...

I like this! I've puked tears many times, and I've got that same goddamn tape recorder.

G. Arthur Brown said...

Sadly, tears are one of the easier things to puke.