No Right To Remain Silent (The Tower)
rating: +22+x

towertarotcardlzhoudidion.png

The Tower

Tarot card art by syuzhetsyuzhet

End art 'I was one step ahead' by A.A.


"The answer, of course, is reducing government spending.

And to that end, I'll talk to anyone willing to advance constructive suggestions.

So far, the response has been rather…telling.

And they just won’t stop.

Well, one way or the other,

I’m not going to concede anything.

No matter how much

the bastards

scream."

~Ronald Reagan

1985

👁


The coffee cup—a cheap styrofoam joint with a half-gash where it caught on the doorframe of the Volare, was secreting PCP—the liquid, thickened with half-and half and some chemical formulation for sugar—foaming, fusing together onto my fingers like tar in the cool night air that shafted in through the busted crank window.

It’s hard letting things leave naturally.

This one wasn’t any different—the streetlamp softly washing in through the high windows, grazing off the vanity mirror, the Valium capsules arranged in a semicircle on the washbasin, to fall, fall on swollen ankles bonded together with zip ties. Half the floor tiles, chiseled threefold in the motifs of Greek gods—Athena, Artemis, Apollo, romping full tilt across a pasty sky of granite and grout—were drowning in mucus and spinal fluid seeping out from the gaping hole under her scalp.

“She’s too far gone, this one,” the medical examiner whistled, the Winston circling around on two lips cracking back, the tip sparking up against the ruined shower curtain. A knobby hand caressed a bedsheet embroidered with dandelions. “A damn pretty sight, if I were to take another due gander. A shame. Best preserved too, for the Lord to spirit off.” I leaned back against the wall, then, the butt of the .38 pressing up against the plaster, hammer scraping over blemishes where the sage paint bubbled, pierced up with crimson splotches into burnt prongs. And furrowed a brow, squeezing them down nice and flush, willing a stray tendril—turning my pinkie and a patch of the nylon windbreaker into a perforated slag, like the guts of a nectarine rotting under a lawn mower—from dripping and fleshing away my wrist.

Turn off the radio.

Watch as the fireflies are smothered behind the frequency notches.

The base, where the skin sweeps upward to meet cataracts, scuttling back and forth like beetle shells in the rearview mirror, reflecting off the beaten Dodge hearse, a rotten loaf in the night—is stinging, prickling clear through now. I draw in another draft—move my lips into a little O, like blowing a raspberry through a soda bottle—and slump back into the flaking vinyl, sagging at the seams, beaten, kneaded, bleached to the consistency of sandpaper. Sandpaper speckled with grit, dust, dandruff.

Let it go, like a jackknife thumbing apart an onion.

Slow. You don’t want to gush, to let it spill, an unfettered slag into the murk. Press, hold it there as the operator touch tone dies away. Now reel it out—a cerebral fishing line notching down your shoulders into your stomach, your spine—where the picture finds purchase. Sticks the landing. Cue the lights. Your safety scissors. Pulse. Thread the cellulose. Stand by to let the breaststroking oil paints clear through.

And see.

A hospital maternity slip. Stuck with a wad of chewing tobacco in between the springs, the rebar and plastic retaining struts of a bus seat.

A wire coil unwound from a notebook, transferred to a pinkie. Tensioned. Rebraided. Kicked free down an incandescent hallway.

An emaciated teddy bear sitting atop a box of dusty 100 Grand Bars, wrappers fluxing with the eighteen wheeler tailpipes in the heat.

An Ike jacket perched high atop a radiator valve by a sleeve.

A Miranda book—paragraphs, passages, verdicts stripped to mutilated strokes of text clinging with the crumbs of country fried steak, apple cobbler— to the crimped edge of a TV tray.

A cup of cheap coffee atop a jukebox, steam curling up against beaded condensation, convalescent plexiglas shielding the revolving grooves of a Buddy Holly record belting waning stanzas of love corroding the aluminum pillars of a cradle, the sprockets of a Super 8 film.

It flickers, simmers, as it's fed straight into a Dutch Oven with an bottle of ether and several minced mushrooms, vitamin and iodine tablets crushed like pink salt—stirring, stewing, boiling off in sheets of smoke billowing for the skylight cut out of the stucco high above, when the Bunsen snaps off and it’s just two frames, drowning under sheets of peroxide, skeining with the riptides and whitecaps into a hallucinatory whirlpool.

The road. Ballooning, swelling like a cyst in the webbing of your hand and tapering in on itself, like a plastic bottle being heated, stretched over a candle flame.

Headlights…two strong, steadied beams, the color, hues, tones of cow cud, sweeping, wounding, thinning down the asphalt and distant sandstone promontories tousling stars. It deflects a highway sign, the dew clinging to clumps of sagebrush, snagged within the sharpened tips of sighing barbed wire, stricken with the glow of suburbia, the cinder block walls, speckling light off compacted stone into the bitter earth.

Can you see faces?

Way back when I was in the academy they told me a thing or two about faces, stamped in the plexiglas guards of votive candles in the rear alcoves of Sunday schools—pacing back and forth in front of a empty whiteboard, rocking on jungle boots at every other turn to face sixty kids sweating and forking over delusions of the swimming pool, the girl dressed in ruched eggshells of a floral swimsuit just visible over the picket fence outside—campaign hat situated just low enough over jocular eyes, paradoxical sigils clustered together in murky egg whites, masked behind a vacant expression and a pair of aviators.

“You’ll take her,” he slowly said, lip curling up with the limp wooden mass splayed across the crucifix on the wall, “by the collarbone, by the hand…it’s not a hand, after all, the proper definition is that its limp marrow that’s got sinew sewn inside…and help her to her feet…” The kid next to me was starting to claw his own face, elbows braced against the blemished laminate, fingers tearing down thin slabs of cheeks and down into his polyester uniform,“strands of auburn hair are gonna cluster, somehow stick with the suntan lotion, and…more than not it’s going to cover her features. Knock them aside, before the stem of your brain sticks itself into an electrical socket and paralyzes you to the dirt…this isn’t it! Look at her nose.” One of my shoulders twitched, buzzing the itch down the side of my stomach, where it settled between the lower chest and navel.

“Look at her goddamn nose, for chrissakes! Why the hell are some of you ripping out so soon? I said nothing about hanging your chin up! You there! Keep your eyes squeezed shut!”

The turquoise water, gridded with refractions deflected off the vinyl siding, the downspouts, began to smoke, evaporate…her rounded jaw, soft complexion turning monochrome by waning light, the distant cries emanating over, to nose, a strip of transplanted flesh spasming over mandibles that jerked for my earlobe like dehydrated flytraps…

“If you can’t see them, make talk with them, take 'em for good or stuff them to hang on the wall like your uncles’ lizard trophies, shoot' em! Take your revolver, check chambers, mate home the cylinder-”

I was one step ahead.

A hand—a finger—inched down from the desk, past the spine of a Bible, a road atlas, interceptor manuals, piled off to one side, to my belt loops, flicking off the safety, caressing, solidifying around an ironwood grip, ready to whip it out and empty until the hammer struck tempered steel when I cocked my head the wrong way, snagged a clear glimpse and my wrist flailed, splayed wide, and held still.

Her jaw—eyes, the hue of poppy resin beaded, cured by soldering irons, had already fogged over—had drooped open, a slender ring of sun-chapped lips and lemonade stains showing two rows of trim yellow canines, rearranging, subsuming molars. Gums quivered, split into muscle, gristle, fat, and bled, severed vessels feeding rivulets tracking fast down her chin onto what was left of her swimsuit.

My revolver clattered to the deck, the machined steel, the brass casings, the cylinder latch, the lead, hollow cores packed tight with shrapnel, starched right with .38 Special, parkerizing, puddling, inducting the little termites that marched in formation in between the cracks in the redwood fitted together to cluster around, to take a drink. She paced forward, mandibles, legs shooting out through my chest, the brass shield pinned back in the slat on my lapel, prying the ribs apart and started jerking the bone, the pieces of lung crumbling as my throat constricted, trying to stave off the hairs braiding the fibers of my spine with the shoulder strap of my Sam Browne belt.

Blotting out the warmth, the surefire colors as if someone seized the film canister and split it in two—four dented peaks and a halo of polished felt and leather paced—snapped—together soles in cadence. Someone screamed, sending a chair crashing into the linoleum, the vinyl sheeting growing softened, pliable, brackish in what remained of the afternoon sunlight shafting through the filthy windows, fissuring, shattering, like hamburger patties picked over by crows, the stained glass whole.

There was something else they had fed me off the spoon, left behind in the breast pocket to bend, bleed, under the crook of an arm, whipped raw to a blackened mass from being shackled down to radiator coils by coat hangers, dummy handcuffs, the wire and pot metal chain twisting, doubling back on itself like reeds trying to evade spilled kerosene.

Driving.

Captaining old Enforcer cruisers—Chrysler land yachts with hulls stuffed with tungsten batteries spilling crystalized lead acid down through the busted glove compartments—around a dirt track that stretched, choked in on itself like the scales of an anaconda riddled with buckshot. Old geezers who looked like they haven’t ridden in a car since the days of the Model T took shotgun, clutching clipboards and arbitrary checklists, grease pencils smearing all over scratchings for pepper steak and eggs as we showed out our stuff, skidding around planted obstacles in a unified stream of battered quarter panels, corroded tailfins tapping streaks of red into the bone mesa rising up with the dusk beyond the empty refreshment stands.

“Jesus Christ!” the old man riding along gasped. He tried to wring out his hands, but a sudden pump of the emergency brake and a near jackknife with an aluminum pillar as the taillights before us slanted across eyes crushed the wind out of his lungs, his twitching beard, sending his clipboard and grease pencil sailing out the window, “the…the way you’re driving you’re gonna flunk out…dead flunk, oh, I tell ya…and kill your mother while taking her home!”

“She doesn’t give a continental hoot if she has her pack of Camel Golds and Doublemints,” I replied. And gassed it all on the next turn around a water drum—wrenching the wheel, feeling the floor pan, the stubs of what once was the aluminum fluting wings and leaf shocks keel, scrape into the wheel well, the ancient plant howling as it slingshotted around, rear tires skimming several feet, almost slamming its ass against a berm before equalizing out, the headlights of the car behind us softly falling like condensed milk onto the shot windshield. I sneaked a glance sideways.

Cicadas were crawling out from under his hearing aid, scampering over what remained of the stuffing as they trailed the eardrum, the stem thinning, festering, solidifying into a cognizant face, sharp features treading in splotches of sunburn, acne speckled in streaks of chlorine and peroxide acid. She kicks the dash. Slacks the lip. Two rows of yellowed canines, spotted with cavities and spittle, jerking, swinging down with a jawbone near where a port-wine stain had once been, lodged now with a gaping shaft where a .38 and bullhorns had bore through.

My hands left the wheel, tried to slip free the Sam Browne belt, studded with fragments of spinal disk and mangled flesh twisted together on what remained of my lung, dissolving into a molasses of bile and clotting blood that began to ooze for the accelerator, managing to unclasp, thread the polished leather through the warping buckle. The Enforcer began to knock, wobbling from side to side.

In the pale glow as the kid and his handler in the car hot on our trail—lips pursed, eyes squeezed down to hollow sockets sewn back into flaps—stripped the engine as it swerved by—she opens her jaw, two rows of yellow canines spotted, now with strands of indigo nylon, polyester and brass, jerking, swinging down in time with a tatters of a cheek probed through—an skylight, bored through her head. Down and out the nape of her neck.

It jolted for my shoulders, her body emerging from the limp belly of the old man, wriggling, busting aside the cotton suspenders and honorary enamel pins. I reeled, pressing, back stiff against that bench seat, body immobilized by the sheer pain as the Enforcer capsized, slamming halfway into a concrete barrier. In an instant the ceiling caved in, the galvanized door frames puncturing through the fabric, sheet metal, safety glass kissing the gravel. As what was left of the wings, the streamlined blisters were sheared away, the steering column jerked forward, severing my spinal cord. She was thrown off kilter, the deflated sac of the fossil swishing with the gushing fluid like a flabby balloon that rapidly swelled, spit open, the rubber and open stem sliding down between the springs.

Seizing a final gasp, a synapsis, I found my hand, the webbing between mangled fingers liquifying, smelling of earthy tar, cordite, flies dried up on the dashboard and, as her fangs closed in for my naked backside, fingers shot out for the remnants of her mottled throat, feeling the granules below the skin shift, pucker, curl—

and

crush

the

styrofoam

cup.

-

iwasonestepahead.png
Art by A.A


Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License