Lungsee was naked, save his I Got You, Babe moccasins. Freewheeler. He stood over a short mason wall, one foot perched on it as if he’d just conquered the small wall, and he was looking out to the top of a large oak, its rough curvature perfect, like a near green moon, all ashimmer in the hot morning breeze. And for all that, I am sorry, he said to it. He bowed.
Emile lifted his head off the rank mattress and blinked against the sun. Talking to the tree? he said still asleep. Lungsee turned and smiled and saluted. Emile’s head fell back and he rolled over onto his side and couldn’t help but sniff the mattress. A paper mill and slaughterhouse wadded up in a steaming teeming toilet. He bolted up like the flinging arm of a catapult, all his rejoinders blasted from their moorings. What? he said.
Lungsee stood over him and said, Bender.
Bender? Emile rubbed his face. You’re not wearing any clothes.
Not true. Lungsee hauled up his huge hairy belly and presented his sopping grungy briefs. The color of his skin. Laundry day, he said, and nodded to a TV roof antenna that held his dripping clothes. His cape a tent; his trousers two doubled-over chimneys. He sat on the mattress next to Emile and on the skillet-hot tarpaper by the rank grey mattress sat a Styrofoam cup of black coffee and a fat Sunday paper. These ours?
Lungsee looked at Emile for a long moment. Pity, he said. We got pity down to a science. Emile shook his head, a child squaring off with his peas. Something in him welled up. Lungsee’s mere presence seemed to be at war with Emile’s sheer essence. This Emile suspected. This Lungsee knew.
Where’d you get ’em? Emile said looking around for an existential out. There was none.
Special delivery, smiled Lungsee.
Ah… Emile picked up and drank the coffee and spewed it as if it’d been wrung from the mattress.
Lungsee pointed to the corn dog. It appeared on the hot tar roof. At their feet. It was rock hard and slightly curled, as if from neglect. Emile looked at it.
Why the fuck would I dunk that?
Just do it.
Come on. It’s cool. I’ve done it.
No. I’m not sticking that, that, crusted dick dog in that fucking disgusting coffee. I’m not doing it.
You’ll be surprised.
If I survive, yeah.
Lungsee sighed, picked up the corn dog, dunked it in the rancid coffee and took a bite. Mmmm, he hummed.
Like that’s gonna make me… But Emile couldn’t finish his thought. For some reason, he reached out for the thin wood stick that held the treat and took it. Between thumb and forefinger. Lungsee had bitten off half, and the exposed cross section that stared Emile in the eye looked like a nub of decaying flesh surrounded by a filthy battlefield bandage in an attempt to save, whatever it was. Salvage. Rescue, maybe. Rescue the flesh. Of man. Us all. Fuck it, he said, and he dunked the dingy dog and lo and behold was mesmerized at the complete and utter lack of mental activity that accompanied the act. He chewed. Teeth. Taste. Tongue. What taste? The roof. A tree. Antenna. Think of thinking. But about what? Who decides these things? Why? My underwear is pinching my sack. Lungsee’s smile is demented. He’s a fatass. I need pussy. Will she know I have a drinking problem? But that’s just me, right? That’s the rub. If I say I have a drinking problem, then is that that? And if I say otherwise. Well. To be in charge. Or not to be. That is a thing. Evidence? What? Yesterday. That’s really all yesterday is. Evidence. Evidence of being stupider that today. But more stupid than tomorrow. Remember that? Ree-member. Reeeee-member. Reee… Wheee! Recall. Ree ward. Res cue. Myself. Oh. Shit. Regurgitate. Reword and retell my stories to fit my sad habit of burying whatever truth I decide is true deeply from myself only to more securely insure that it’s obscured from any of you who may be interested in what is precisely not any of your fucking business. Lungsee! Fuck. Right. If it’s hidden from me – and do I know I know this? – think of your odds of seeing it. But if I know I know this, is this because of the corn dog? How can a corn dog do this? What special properties does it… Reprieve. Daily fucking reprieve. That’s it. God, this is awful, Emile said as he returned again to his tediously sufficient human brain. I think I did this exact thing in the third grade. But it wasn’t coffee. It was a Yoo-Hoo. So I guess that’s not exactly the same thing. Different, I guess…
See…? Lungsee said beaming like a proud parent.
See what? See my stomach die? Emile flung the remaining corn dog off the roof and set the coffee down. He belched and picked up the newspaper and stared at the big color picture of Elvis on page one. The dead King live on stage. On a knee, microphone at mouth, lip curled, hair perfect, shoulders back and left hand up like holding an imaginary crystal ball. His sweaty upper lip snarled. He was fit and handsome. His devil-christ eyes demanded an answer that no mortal could afford ask. Even in pictures. His pinky finger extended from the mic. The collar of his rhinestone suit rose up like a rock-n-roll presidio protecting the face and cords of the greatest entertainer the world had ever known. Return to Sender read the headline...
Jesus fucking Christ! Sunday the 21st! What’s that… six days?! Emile blurted.
Lungsee said, Well, the paper’s a few days old, so more like nine.
Emile let the paper fall into his lap. He sat there hunched and looked out over the vibrating green trees off the far side of the roof. Must be twenty floors up. Learn about self. Where did this come from? Eight days. Shit, man. No one waits eight days. Except maybe in the Bible. In a whale’s ass or something. Lazy intellection, man. Lazy. Pity. Why did Lungsee bow to that tree? God damn. Emile looked to the head of the dreadful mattress and there stood the Lungsee’s canteen.
Lungsee looked and said, That’s some good shit, governor.
Emile looked away and stretched his arms and checked his body and said, I see no evidence of an eight-day bender. In fact, I feel pretty good...
Lungsee stabbed page one with his finger. Emile looked and read aloud: See Special Section. Regard, said Lungsee. Emile opened the newspaper and flipped to a two-page spread of color photos of The King. Oh, that’s nice…
Again Lungsee stabbed the paper, this time on a particular picture.
Whoa, his funeral… hey, that’s you! Emile said.
Emile squinted, jutted his face forward and said, And that’s me.
The photo was clear. Lungsee’s eyes were half shut and his smile was full tilt. His handlebar eyebrow arced like a stretched out letter n. His fly was wide open and out of it projected a rainbow satin scarf that the breeze had lifted, giving it a sense of being an alien erection sniffing at some alien mate off to its left. His right hand held his canteen of rum, his pinky extended.
Emile, however, looked less casual. He stood next to Lungsee like a pleased twerp assistant. His hair a greased helmet, parted far on the left side and his shirt misbuttoned all the way. His fly, too, was agape, but nothing fluttered out; just a gaping black hole. Eyes both bugged out and squinted, and just as the photographer clicked the shutter, Emile cut those eyes to look right down the front of a girl’s dress.
Oh, my, god, he said. His finger moved to the caption that listed the people in the picture and there was only one girl. Gloria Steinem, Emile read aloud. Fuck me… he dropped the paper to his lap again.
I’m guessing she’s not really into guys coping peeks down her shirt. Not especially the best gal to hit on. At a funeral. Wow. You really know how to hobnob, there little buddy, Lungsee said slapping him on the back.
Emile picked up the coffee and gargled it, as if this would distract from, cleanse, maybe even remove the humiliation. But it did not. He suspected people would be calling his house, had been calling his house. He knew they would assume things, assume absurd things. He hatched a few possible stories he hoped people could imagine. And endorse. And repeat. Hope in stories.
Lungsee stood and walked away to the east side of the roof to greet the day. He spread his arms wide, tightened his legs as one and tried to squeeze his ass through to his crotch. He tilted his head back until his face faced straight up. Oh god, please release me from the horseshit of self, he chanted. He held this pose a moment and then relaxed and looked out over Overton Park. A sea of trees, a museum, a zoo and a golf course. Pee-wee ball fields.
The crack-ping of an aluminum baseball bat sounded and he looked down and there on a nearby dirt diamond were some little ones milling and ginning and warming up in their uniforms. Emile walked over. He was shirtless and scratching his scrotum. He looked out. Happy with the newer life playing. Organisms at play. What we all forget. Life’s not supposed to be fun, his mother regularly raged.
But something wasn’t right on the ball field. An old gold Sedan deVille sat parked on a slight rise just foul of first. The windows were blacked and the driver’s door, on the far side, was open. The youngsters hit, threw and caught their tosses over by the third base line. The mothers and brothers in the sparse gallery sat behind the home plate fence. Lungsee felt a shudder of destruction.
What’s he doing? said Emile as the driver of the Cadillac got out and stood between the door and the seat and urinated. The puddle spread down the rise and darkened the dirt by the first base bag.
The driver finished and shook and fell back in the car and slammed the door with the sound of it reaching their roof a second after the fact. The car was a foot away from the street, if it went forward. Black smoke exploded from the tailpipe and the high revs of the neutral motor were countered by low idles. The mothers and sisters tensed on their rotting wood seats.
The car roared into reverse, plowed down the short hill and drove in mad backward circles all over the infield. The young players dashed and scattered up the far hill to the road, but one boy fell, and all the mothers screamed and scrambled and rushed and arms flailed to grab little ones and then the boy frozen on the caked dirt made it to his feet, but the careening Cadillac was at one moment on the right field grass line and then instantly on the pitchers’ mound and the car’s wildly slinging front fender clipped the running child and punched him into the air and with a flung rag doll centrifugal stiffness, he flew cartwheels like a child’s drawing of a happy day in the park and landed in a little heap. Still.
The sedan wouldn’t stop and predicting where it would go was some God’s work and then it was over. The long gold hulk banged over the curb, clanked and squealed onto the road and disappeared into the trees like a shark into calm water.
All quiet as the little boy lay twisted and still on the dirt by the fence, and then came the screams and they all spoke directly of a hell. A woman ran to the capless boy, his little glove twenty feet away. She scooped him up, ran with him, and put him in the back of a wagon and whooshed him away, into a different sea of trees.
Two police cars dived out of still other trees and stopped in the street behind the bleachers. Their cars strong and untroubled. Women went to them and gathered at their doors. The story was told. The police cars raced away.
Lungsee produced a transistor radio. He smiled. He turned it on. Sly Stone’s Hot Fun in the Summertime came on. And he and Emile danced The Madison.
The Madison felled Emile’s mind blank. He danced as if starting from an ancient slate. Pity then waxed and all of and in the world was simply an idea, but still the little dead life cried out for some kind of faith, and Emile knew there was none good enough, and then he jerked from the stale morning’s fresh death and his mind abused itself for not getting on up the garden path… But he was. The young man us all, he thought. Go get Ty, he said to himself.
The radio DJ interrupted the song and said, It’s been one-hundred and forty-two years since The Great Moon Hoax. My thanks to Mr E A P. Now back to the Sly…