robert aquino dollesin
Bruce can’t quit laughing. It’s not that he thinks everything is funny, he just can’t control himself.
Sitting on the toilet, he leans forward, covers his eyes with his balls of his palms and squeezes his knees together. He laughs again. The serious faction of Bruce’s mind struggles with the silly side, which for the moment holds the strings to his emotions. Bruce, aware that this conflict takes place in his brain, doesn’t like it. He doesn’t want to laugh anymore, but he can’t help it.
When Bruce finally does manages to stop laughing, he slurs out, “This is serious shit.”
His cheeks expand, like some squirrel who'd gathered a cheekful of nuts. Behind Bruce's sealed lips a mouthful of suspended laughter whirls round, ready to spill out again.
Then it happens; Bruce opens his mouth and the laughter begins again.
Maybe it’s all a dream. This also crosses Bruce‘s mind. Maybe his wife, Angel, isn’t really lying dead in the living-room. Is she? Or is his mind offering up false possiblilities. Again, the serious side of his mind interjects into his thought train, telling Bruce to wake up, get a grip -- this is no fucking dream.
Bruce closes his eyes, thinking maybe he can shut reality out, or bring it back. His mind, though, spins reels of images: Angel, big, big Angel, shuffling along the sidewalk, complaining of her swollen aching ankles. Angel staring at her feet, trying to ignore the taunts of the neighborhood children. Angel begging Bruce to save her, take her away from all of this.
Then Angel slips away from Bruce’s thoughts, Maurice steps into them.
Maurice standing in the doorway. Maurice. White Maurice.
“Yo, Man,” Bruce says out loud, his voice hollow in the bathroom. “What it be, ma man?” This time when Bruce laughs, there is no interruption from his voice of reason. After all, pale-ass Maurice acting like some ghetto gangster really is funny.
Maurice hadn’t lied when he’d told Bruce the dope was high-grade, the best that could be had.
“This shit’ll take the pain away,” Maurice, slinging his black slang, had said. “You gonna know what heaven be all about when this shit starts swimmin’ through you veins.”
Bruce recalls snatching the bag of dried herb from Maurice’s hand and squeezing it.
He remembers working the kinks out of his neck while Maurice kept on. Bruce had gestured over his shoulder then, over to where Angel sat slumped on the sofa, looking at TV.
“But will it work on her?” Bruce had asked.
“Man . . . “ This is how Maurice had answered, peering past Bruce. “This shit don’t care how big you is.“
“But will it, though?”
Maurice raised an arm, touched his sunglasses for a moment before pushing them up on top of his stringy dreadlocks. He leaned in, Maurice did, putting his face close to Bruce’s, and said, “Maurice don’t peddle the cheap shit you fools be scorin’ out in the projects.”
“So her body, as large as it is, will absorb it then?”
Maurice smiled, flashing his gold tooth. “Maurice be all about quality. He gots himself a reputation to keep.”
“I’m not saying you don’t,“ Bruce replied. “I’m just saying not everything works for Angel. You know, on account of her being so --”
“You gets what you pays for, friend.” Maurice snatched the bag of weed from Bruce, flipped it into the air and caught it again when it came back down.
“It has to work.” Bruce said. “It has to be good enough to stop Angel’s pain.”
Maurice, lowering his shades back over his eyes, had replied. “You gots my guarantee.”
In the bathroom, Bruce shuts his eyes and laughs again. Fucking Maurice.
When he opens his eyes, Bruce tries to focus on the shower curtain ahead of him. The sharp smell of plastic materializes. Is the smell in his nostrils real, or is it his brain playing tricks again? Bruce likes that smell. He also likes how the blue flowers that decorate the shower curtain repeat, the pattern mottling the plastic. He used to sit on the toilet, when the curtain was new, and watch Angel shower behind those blue flowers.
But Bruce’s mind can’t sustain the sensation; the newness fades away, transforms in front of his eyes. He grimaces upon seeing how nasty and yellow the shower curtain really is. The only odor filling Bruce’s nostrils now is what he’s pushing out of himself into the toilet.
“My Angel in the garden on a rainy day.” When Bruce hears the words spill from his mouth, he starts to laugh again.
There are thick lines of mildew caked in the accordianed folds of the shower curtain. Bruce thinks they look like bars. He raises his arms in front of him, pretends to grip and shake the imaginary bars. He says, “Let me out. Let me out of here.“
Bruce becomes aware of a noise in the bathroom, and as he focuses on it, the noise amplifies. Click-hiss, CLICK-Hiss, CLICK-HISS. While he sits motionless on the toilet, Bruce stares up at the vent in the ceiling, wishing he could see the slow spinning fan. CLICK-HISS, CLICK-HISS, CLICK-HISS.
Angels go to heaven, don’t they? Is she in heaven now? She can’t be teased in heaven. She can’t be laughed at, treated like a freak. It’s not her fault she’s so large. Glands? Heredity? Her mother was big, too. As were her two sisters. Big and fat and sad and alone. At least Angel had Bruce, someone who loved her despite her size. Right? Of course he loved her. Didn’t he? He wasn’t ashamed of her. Was he? The fact that he'd lied to himself, told himself he could do much better -- that wasn't real. Was it? He loved her enough to help her pain go away, didn’t he? He loved her enough to save her, right?
Bruce turns his head and looks at the sink. On the counter, Angel’s pet goldfish floats in a bowl of green water. It gulps, gulps, gulps for air. Bruce opens and closes his mouth, rhythmically mimicking the dying fish.
He pats his shirt pocket, feeling for the remaining marijuana. He reaches into the pocket and pulls out the joint. It’s as thick as Angel’s thumb. Bruce jams the joint between his lips. This one is also laced with roach poison. “My ticket out.” Bruce says, still staring at the goldfish.
They’d smoked everything except the two laced fingers. Those they’d saved until Maurice's good stuff had kicked in.
When Angel told Bruce she was ready, he lit hers up for her. He watched her squeeze her eyelids shut as she drew on it. He watched the slow burning paper curl away between Angel’s trembling fingers. “My ticket out,” Bruce says again. He holds his gaze on the goldfish, as if waiting for a reply.
After wiping, after flushing, Bruce yanks up his sweatpants and starts for the closed bathroom door. His feet tingle, numb against the tiles. Bruce’s knees wobble and, to avoid crashing to the floor, he takes a giant stride and grasps the doorknob. The knob wriggles in his hand and the door flies open. Bruce glances at the goldfish again, wonders how long it’ll suffer before it dies.
Everything in the living-room has that frosted window distortion. Blurs - fuzzy splotches of color. He doesn’t look directly at Angel, doesn’t want to. Instead he sits with his back against the sofa, Angel's huge yellow dress in his peripheral vision. He doesn’t want to see her lying dead, sprawled out on the carpet.
While trying to grasp if this whole night has been some kind of joke, Bruce starts laughing again.
But this time the laughter is different - milder. Bruce sniffs up the moisture beneath his nostrils and rubs his red eyes. His eyes focus and he sees Angel’s drawing on the wall, a train sketched in grease. Lead car rushing, remaining cars slithering behind, snakelike, shrinking, shrinking, shrinking until the caboose is just a fleck of grease. Angel drew that for Bruce - two birthdays ago.
He tries to turn his head, tries to pull his gaze from the train. He can’t, though. Suddenly, tendrils of smoke rise from the train’s engine, Bruce presses his back against the sofa. The train bursts off the wall, spits from its frame, rushes directly toward him.
He raises an arm to shield his face. After a moment Bruce lowers his arm and starts to laugh. Damn Maurice. You weren’t lying about this shit.
“Toot-toot,” Bruce says, cocking a fisted hand up and down. “Chug-a-chug-a-toot-toot.”
The realization of the absurd mind-play taking place in his head keeps Bruce laughing. The awareness that Angel lies dead beside him makes Bruce question himself. He did it for her, right? Why does it all seem so funny?
His laughter mounts and Bruce feels his eyes leak. He rolls onto his side, right into Angel, where he suddenly sobers. He still refuses to look at her. Instead, Bruce squeezes his eyelids so tight that colors mottle against them. Then, laughing and weeping at the same time, Bruce plants a palm against the sharp pain stinging his side.
He wants to take control of himself. He hates this feeling of being half-aware, hates how he understands what’s happening. Fuck you Maurice.
Finally, Bruce, with his eyes still shut, raises a trembling hand and finds one of Angel’s thick thighs.
Angel stirs, a murmur escapes her throat.
Startled at this sudden movement, Bruce snaps his eyes snap open. He holds his breath, bites down on his lower lip, not realizing he’s drawn blood. He turns his head, slowly, and studies Angel’s motionless face. He shifts his stare, his gaze traveling all the way down Angel’s three-hundred-eighty pound body lying on the carpet beside him. Scanning up again, he notices the gentle rise and fall of her chest.
She’s not gone.
Everything except the final two joints; it should have been enough to drop an elephant. That’s what they’d smoked, that’s what Maurice staked his reputation on. Then, when she no longer felt pain, Bruce gave her the laced joint, watched her smoke it.
Damn you, Maurice. She’s not gone. The events of the night spin through Bruce’s mind. Snapshots, images. Bruce and Angel making love, twice. Angel wanting to wear her yellow dress, Bruce helping her into it. Nibbling on cold pizza, the TV running while they smoked, while they fucked, while they laughed, while they cried. Then, Angel falling onto the carpet where she lies now, unmoving, eyes open, lips slightly parted.
She was supposed to be gone.
“This is the last time you’ll cry,” he’d promised her. “Soon it’ll be over, the pain won’t be there anymore.”
Bruce, close against Angel now, pushes aside her blonde mess of hair. He rests his head on her heavy breasts.
Faster and longer. Fuck you, Maurice. This shit’ll get you there faster, keep you there longer. Faster and longer.
Bruce buries his face deeper into Angel’s breast, breathes her in. How long is longer? His fingers run through the dry nest of Angel’s hair. He presses down, feels her skull against the tips of his fingers.
Closing his eyes, Bruce hears every sound in the room. Everything. All to the beat of Angel’s heart. The wind chanting in through the cracks in the window. The fluorescent lights buzzing in the kitchen.
A comical pair. What a ridiculous pair. Look how fat she is. Fat ass. Tub-o-lard. Shame. Hey, hey, hey.
What the fuck do they know? They couldn’t even begin to be aware of how caring a person Angel was. It wasn’t her fault she was so large. He did love her. He really did, didn't he?
Bruce lowers his hand from Angel’s hair, blankets her nose, feels her shallow breaths warm against his palm. If he presses down hard enough, he knows, he could stop her breathing. He does press. But not able to maintain it, Bruce pulls his hand back.
Bruce whispers into Angel’s ear. “Don’t fight. Let it take you.”
His hand drifts automatically, a mind of its own, moving down from her mouth, over her breasts, her hips, before finally resting on one of Angel’s knees.
“I always love you,” Bruce whispers. He watches his hand crawl up Angel’s thigh, disappear. He feels the fabric of her yellow dress against his knuckles, the bumps of her thigh under his palm. Up, up, up until he finds what he’s searching for. Bruce works his fingers. But Angel’s so far gone, so teetering on the edge, she doesn’t stir.
Bruce’s finger's slip out of her, his hand slips out from under her dress. He scoots himself into a sitting position with his back against the sofa. He stares at the train on the wall. He raises his fingers in front of his face, wiggles them, and then brings them to his nostrils, lowers them to his mouth.
Make my pain go away. I don‘t want to live anymore. Make my pain go away. Show me you love me. Save me.
“You gets what you pays for,” Maurice had said. Longer faster reputation elephants Fuck you, Maurice. Fuck you.
The instants are all at once invading Bruce’s mind. Cheap wine, cold pizza, expensive dope, lovemaking on the floor, in the bed, music spilling from the stereo, TV blaring, the odor of the burning herb, the feel of Angel in his arms, dying goldfish, new curtain, roaring train.
Angel moans again.
Her eyelids flutter and a trickle of brown liquid leaks from her lips, rolling down her cheek. She begins to tremble, convulse violently. A choking noise escapes her throat.
Bruce buries his face in his hands. Fuck you, Maurice.
He climbs on top of Angel, positions himself below her breasts, feels the stretch in his groin as he straddles her immense body.
Make my pain go away. Save me.
Bruce stares up at the ceiling. He feels his thumbs touch and he leans all his weight forward into his hands, into his fingers. He presses down, harder, harder, harder, his shoulders rolling forward to add just a little bit more until finally her throat collapses in his hands.
Bruce rolls off Angel onto the floor. He gasps for air. His hand moves to touch Angel’s bosom. The pulse he feels is his own, racing from his heart to his fingertips.
Dawn is already spilling gray through the windows when Bruce finally leaves his wife‘s side.
Bruce closes the bathroom door behind him. The goldfish floats - lifeless. He picks up the bowl, cold in his hands, and pours its contents into the toilet. He flushes and watches the goldfish caught in the whirl before being sucked down the pipes.
Then Bruce pulls down his sweatpants and sits on the toilet. After digging his laced joint and his lighter out of his shirt pocket, Bruce stares at the shower curtain ahead of him and begins to laugh.