Fred got hit by a street cleaner. Or he was run over, anyway. It was going slow, though, like all street cleaners do. But still.
This morning he shows me the bruises. There’s one on his neck that looks like a necktie, and then one on his chest that’s shaped like a chestnut. There’s a football near his foot. An armadillo on his arm. He discovers a snake around his ankle, and I find a flower by his femur.
“Not a flower,” he says when I point it out. “That one’s a skull. Flowers are for girls.”
He seems to forget that I am a girl. Maybe because I have sold my hair. Maybe because my skin’s too scratched and faded.
I decide not to ask him how it happened, since I already know.
He and I are not of this world. Not completely. We have one foot here, in the realm of the sober, and one foot far off, in the realm of the buzzed. His poison of choice is usually whiskey, and my poison of choice often seems to be him.
Tonight, again, he leaves our kingdom. He passes out, and I find a marker. I connect the dots of his nicks and bruises, the constellation of his bad decisions.
When that project’s over, I look at my work and smile. Then I find the shrooms I hide in a Cheetos bag. I go out. I buy doughnuts. I smell the wet of the hot asphalt, and I start to run through the dank night air. My legs are thick as chicken bones, but I pound the ground regardless, I let the pain shake through me. I think about bones splitting, about stars crying, about time eating its brother, space. I want to cry but I’m not sure why.
And then I see a monster. The beast that ate Fred. It’s cleaning the road, making mess into new, and I run alongside it. It seems somehow angry, growling and trudging and eating the street. I want to give it a doughnut, like that would appease it, but instead I sneak up behind it and latch onto its backside.
I watch the road, the clean streak of black sliding out behind us. I decide that the beast is a robot slug. I name him Nathan.
The sky begins to rain, making Nathan superfluous, but he goes on regardless. He is a stalwart, but I am a flake, and so I abandon the mission and jump off his backside. First my feet slap the street, then my knees, then my face, but when I get up off the road I forget to feel pain. I am focused on the rain, its scatter shot of wet. I start walking down the road. I can see some lights ahead of me, but I’m not sure if they are the sun or a car or possibly God.
I am being cleaned, I think, as I walk along through the rain. I am mess made into new.
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