The Swamp

The Swamp

The November sun casts a glare on the image of Gainesville, Florida that the two men watch from their newly found sofa. It’s an ugly thing this couch. A heavy odor of the outside but not quite a stench, permeates through the chintz, through their nostrils, something the two have admitted existed, referenced even through gesticulations and tacit gestures, but have yet to verbalize to the other. It has bulky cushions and far too many supporting pillows to be comfortable. So they’re left on the floor in one of the empty corners of the room, one of the men careful to disrupt the mass occasionally to keep cockroaches and spiders from nesting. Tonight would be another curfew night for the city and the two would have to choose what freedom was allowed wisely.

Reamer’s leaning forward, hands symmetrically placed on each cheek, his driven demeanor trying to channel some kind of mojo through the plastic screen, believing that if enough do it across the country it might conduce some kind of spiritual mumbo-jumbo and a hell of a comeback. This isn’t a conscious thought but he flocks to the mystical strength of group synchronicity. His retinas relay the inverted image as the Florida Gators harmoniously reassembly into an I formation, only to see the resulting structure fail to carry out an ordained plan against the resistant chaos, manifest as the Florida State Seminoles.  He’s mesmerized by his hero; Jordan Cronkite’s spandex ass sprinting during a corrective audible in the anticipatory moments before HIKE!

Michelangelo rested against the cushionless crest rail of the fusty couch, staring at the ceiling’s areole of a light, cogitating whether or not he lives in a post-post-apocalyptic society. He thought about the idea of cataclysmic fantasies: the ones of you mowing down people with an M60 and the ones of you watching it happen on television, in cinematic 16:9 ratio. One of these seemed to declare some sort of culpability in the violence, the other divvying out the responsibility in imaginary holocaust, as if people entered some sort of fugue when watching, communicating, and recalling the bacchanal of sinews and bone marrow being rent from meaningless souls, PG-13 or not. Sublimation of aggression in a relatively peaceful society, he supposed. It was no wonder why these brutally simplistic entities thrived like Petri dish bacteria. Virgins must always be spilled when living amongst the canaille I suppose.

“AAAGGGGGGHHHHH!!!! COME ON!!!!” Reamer shoots to his feet but holds from throwing anything this time. He is trying to control his attitude. Another bullet of a throw is deflected by the Seminoles, and the Gators are forced to surrender possession to their cross-state rivals. “And fucking Anzalone’s playing fucking paddy-cake out there while the rest of them are getting their asses kicked! I mean, come ON!”

Michelangelo had been living with Reamer for three months by now, the two of them newly arrived from different sides of the country, and he was testing new approaches to communicating with Reamer. Vis-à-vis the present, he continued staring at the candor of the heavenly areole that illuminated an already well lit room.

Reamer sits down deftly and with firmness, a soldierly deliberation. “Come on, you can do it,” he whispers quite audibly, “you can do it.” Michelangelo had never seen Reamer sit down with a pen and paper, ever. Except when completing an in-depth matrix that regards the ring of wagers he regularly updates to ameliorate his paltry minimum wage income. Yet it obviously doesn’t work out that way. “FUCKING CHRIST!!!! Are you fucking seeing this dude??? Guy throws a fucking perfect lob right next to my boy, and what does he do? Does he fucking intercept it? Does he uhhh? fucking pick an easy-ass mark like that? No! Fucker swipes it out of the air likes he wipes his own fucking ass. Fuck him, fuck his ass.

Fuck his ass?

“I’m telling you man, this shit breaks my heart.” As quickly as before he sits down, and as soon as he does Michael looked back up at the ceiling, trying to follow the blazes back to his previous thought, but his concentration is lost. Why does he keep telling me this shit? Does it look like I’m interested? I don’t act like it. And before even this thought can be completed, Johanna comes through the front door struggling to get off the apartment landing and onto the hallway runner. “Hey babe, you need some help?” Reamer calls from his teetering pose at sofa’s edge.

“No!” a long pause and crepitating sounds of plastic bags rustling together, “I’ve got it!” Reamer sees a good defensive play and nods his head in approval as Johanna enters the living room, “Hey boys, how’s it going?”

“Oh, fighting the good fight.” Michelangelo declared in the momentary grin his downward glance reveals.

“That’s good, hey babe did the gas guy call you today?”

“Nah. COME THE FUCK ON!! Nah, he didn’t. I held onto my phone all day too.”

“Alright” she edges away, “But keep an ear open, I don’t want Michael to have to pay again this month. Heaven knows how embarrassing it is for a grown man to not pay his bills.”

“Yeah, yeah. I got it.” Another quick defensive play is called into review by the Gators coach, and the TV cuts to a commercial break about sports drinks.

“Hey man, you doing anything tonight?”

“No, remember, they said we have to stay inside another night.”

“Ah, fuck that’s right. Jesus man, this shit is so fucked – Up.” And how could he know how fucked it was, if he couldn’t even remember that being caught walking down the street past ten o’clock was a misdemeanor. “Can’t even buy a pack of fucking cigarettes man. Speaking of which, yo man I’m grabbing some cigs, I’ll be back. You wanta come with?” Michael simply shrugged and swiped an imaginary fly out of the air, his movement raising up specks of dust into the light. “Hey Johanna, I’m going out you need anything?” He leans against the door frame that leads into the bedroom from the living room, lowering his head so that his scalp presses against his forearm, and the forearm against the wall like a faceless sculpture of Rodin.

Can you actually grab me some tampons? I’m all out and it’s pretty bad.”

“For Christ’s sake, Jo! Don’t talk about that shit, what are you thinking? No one wants to hear that.”

“Reamer: fuck off and get some god damn tampons.” He thrusts himself away from the threshold doing so without the faintest bemoaning, proclaiming down the hall, “I’ll say hi to Colt 45 for you!”

“Give him a sloppy kiss for me!” He shouted from the couch. Colt 45 was one of the billeted soldiers on their block, abstaining from holing up in the street-tower like most Uber-Security forces and attending the entrance to their Brooklyn tenement. The soldier would brandish a non-ordinance Colt 45 at his hip, which gleamed when the sun hit it just right. Michael derided the weapon as a tasteless addition to the absurd changes that the city was experiencing that fall, but was quick to remind himself that he never unholstered it, never aimed its antiquated barrel at anything. During one of the scares, when a few methed-out thieves robbed a liquor store, misidentified as terrorists, Colt 45 was the only one who followed procedure, foregoing his armament for the military-issued Taser.  Reamer though, remarked aloud how bad-ass it looked, saying that if you’re gonna defend freedom you must as well do it with style, like a real hero. Reamer served in Afghanistan for one tour but went AWOL immediately on returning home, returning to command after 29 days to be discharged, neither honorably nor dishonorably.

At night when the floodlights were turned on, the polished cylinder gave away the soldier’s position faster than he could pull the anachronistic revolver out. This was not even considering the impracticality that the gun was almost a century and a half old, rendering the once cutting edge technology almost useless.

Michelangelo looked out the frosted windows, and saw Reamer cross the street to the corner store, flaunting to the public how close he was willing to circumvent the street tower in the middle of the street. A few guards regarded him, but boredom had yet to morph into uncivil harassment. Michael wasn’t surprised to see Reamer just take off mid-game. As obsessed as he was with football, he didn’t seem to care to watch the whole game as most purists would. However, once the action of watching began he would become transmogrified when placed front row center to that televised Bermuda grass every weekend. Outside of this faux-war, the guy would whinge with an air of pathetic defeat in the kitchen or hallway about trivialities which lacked the enthusiasm that alluded to a resolution. Complaints of a minimum wage job’s tedium, the influx of Middle-Eastern immigrants moving into the building, a general jeremiad of life in the city became commonplace for Michelangelo’s ears when attempting to stir a bowl of ramen. But these games of home back in Florida induced a frenetic fixation in Reamer that reminded young Michelangelo of his most involved moments of screenwriting when he was still in school, passionate scenes of betrayal and defeat and longing that attempted to tie everything together on a 1.32 acre plot.

Johanna sashayed into the living room and plopped into the unstable seat of the dilapidated couch, changing the channel as soon as she settled in. “You know I hate this couch.”

“Hi, I’m doing great, how are you?”

“Shut up. Are you going to talk to Reamer about it?”

“Wowie kaboodles. Usually people cut out the middle man, not add one.”

“I’m just some stupid girl remember? What should I know?” She pulled her legs up underneath her, and pulled a blanket around her, even though the room was far too hot for the winter.

“First off, I never said that and second, what’s with all the questions? Are we going to have a conversation or an interrogation?”

“Look who’s talking. Alright, a conversation. I really don’t think this couch fits the living room what do you think?”

“I think you’re right, but my pocket book is just shy of the half-a-grand for a new one. Any ideas?”

“How about not lifting one off the street?”

“Questions, questions, questions, creep in this petty pace…” He looked up at the ceiling again, reorganizing his 100 favorite movies from where he left off, 72.) Paths of Glory as he attempted jettisoning himself from the H.M.S. Contention.

“Hey wise-guy! Save the romantics for after you’re famous. I know it wasn’t your idea to schlepp a pre-war artifact up five flights of stairs, but I’m also not the one to put up with cockroaches slithering out of the muslin and into my coffee pot. Tell the real wise-guy to take it out!” She glared at him from short-range but his gaze were still star-ward.

“I’m sure,” he began with apprehension, “that you’d rather be sitting in a couch than sitting on a floor.” He wished he hadn’t come out into the living room at all. He hoped his temperance was stronger than this but fat chance bucko. “And I’m sure that when you get a job you can start exercising your financial clout.” He had his room’s new IKEA futon to abscond to in trying times like this: clean, practical, monochrome. And to think, all he ever wanted was to watch the Game with a bud.

“Michelangelo Floyd Dink. I know, that you know, that that’s bullshit. Call me dramatic, but I know that you know that having something bad over nothing does not make that bad thing a necessity.”

“We should start calling you Aristwatle.”

“Michael!”

“Just saying.”

She leaned in closer, her emotions flaring to catch his meandering eye (it was actually just staring at the ceiling nipple). “I know you think that this is hardy har-larious, but keep in mind that I know that you pulled something that wouldn’t be taken too kindly by your bestest bud Reamer.”

“I don’t think your date rape constitutes a hermetically airtight story.”

“Date rape? What are you a male-rights activist? I didn’t date rape you, because 1.) we weren’t on a date and 2.) you pulled the moves on me.”

“I was unconscious. For all I know it didn’t even happen. You were the one feeding me Svedka Jell-O shots.”

    “Yeah horseshit, you were saying the kind of stuff that would make Howard Stern blush.”

“Oh please, he broke his trance with the nipple, deciding on downgrading 70.)The Empire Strikes Back to 71.) and upgrading 71.) An Andalusian Dog. “I guess it’s your farcical word against mine. Alright I’ll give him a talking to, but don’t think I’m making any promises. It’s not like you’re the one that’s gonna have to haul it back down those stairs.”

    “Thanks!” She gave two pats on his thigh. She turned back to the television and continued changing the channels faster than Michelangelo could discern what was being shilled, a new method of dealing with corporate advertising: you can’t buy what you don’t know.

    “Where’s Reamer?”

    “Sorry my telepathy powers are offline at the moment. Give me a second.”

    “You really are worthless aren’t you?”

    “Wow Johanna, that almost hurt my feelings.”

    “The only thing you can feel is yourself, and yes I mean that in every form.” Half a decade of celibacy begins to pique the interest of both sexes and Michael’s asexuality was still kept a secret from the outside world. Maybe it was the absence of a “sexual awakening” (the very epitome of asexuality) that kept it sub rosa but it also lacked the release to ‘come out’ that other subversive sexualities espoused. What kind of doors did it open anyway? Bi, gay, Trans, all purposeful in acknowledging to another potential partner their shared sexual intrigue. But asexual? That’s a closed circuit my friend. Telling people would seem to only push them away, one less thing they would have in common. Few sexual stances declared an opposition to sex: the Dadaism of sexualities, self-destructive and honest, not sure if it was another step forward or backward in the sexual revolution. Maybe the black ring on the middle finger would help… “You’re giving me a headache staring at the ceiling. What are you thinking about?”

    “A magician never reveals his secrets.”

    “I’m sure it’s some secret. Really though, where’s Reamer? The oaf would never miss this much grunting. Can you check him for me?”

    “Call his phone.”

    She held up her phone to show that she was calling REAMER and immediately an obnoxious hum on the coffee table, was a bell for another.

    “Jay-sus, if it gives me another ten minutes of purpose sure.” He lumbered up, bear-like even though his reedy figure was borderline emaciated, and tried to slough off the ennui of the late morning, where redemption seemed to have been stuck behind the clock’s number 11. He accepted his Sisyphean fate with pique. “I reckon I’ll be home before supper mam’,” he spoke with an invisible piece of rye jutting out between pursed lips.

    “Oh you’re no John Wayne, more like John Wayne Gacy. Take this.” She handed him the phone.

    “What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”

    “Just find my boyfriend please.”

    “Yes em’.”

 

    The street breathed a dire breath. The atmosphere bit back with an abrasive chill, which spasmodically tightened the spine into a tense column or crumpled the shivering beam into a weak huddle round the body’s core. Colt 45 wasn’t present at his usual post, but Michelangelo immediately caught the sight of two clownish mercenaries gesticulating wildly to a screaming Reamer excoriating over the stout Reamer as he too sought to be understood. “Look kid! I didn’t trip you! You nearly tried to knock me over when you walked by our street-tower. I should take you down to the barracks and-”

    “Oh you’d fuckin like that wouldn’t you! You come rolling into our neighborhood and start pushing us around-“

    “We’re protecting you, you idiot! I’m giving you five seconds to walk away, or I’m having you tried in a military court!”

    “Military!? What military you’re a bunch of hired goons-”

    “REAMER! Johanna wants you ASAP!” Michelangelo stood in the cold staring in disbelief at the enfolding scene, afraid to move from the stoop to the building lest he be executed with his pseudo-friend. He had learned at this point in life that by not acting immediately any delayed action would be half-hearted and slipshod.

    Reamer refuses to turn around but Michael saw right through him. The desperate look of someone about to be run down with more heat in their heart than heart in their head.

    “Run along kid, and don’t you worry bud, we’ll find you. Your stupidity has earned you a one-way ticket to a world of hurt.”

    “I’d rather die with my heroics than put up with your terror.” Reamer walks in slowly, trying his luck, waltzing through the front door. Michelangelo does a double-take every floor as they ascend. “Those fucking garbagemen need to go die. I was fine with them being dickheads, but they whistled at some black chick crossing the street and that just set me off man.” They both climbed with Michelangelo leading the way, Reamer speaking up to him. “I mean I hate these fucking Muslims gunning down a bunch of mall-shoppers every week as much as the next guy, but that isn’t a license to make everyone in the neighborhood feel unhuman, like an object you know? We gotta keep some decency man.” Michael kept quiet. “First you know it’s our privacy, cause of all that shit OBAMA started, and next it’s our morals and family, and now we want to be safe and scum like that can lick their lips when my girlfriend walks by. Because of all this government shit with people getting pulled out in the streets, out of cars, out of their homes, and they won’t put up with some mouthy black chick. Fucking stupid man.” Reamer reads Michelangelo’s taciturn reply, and shuts up for a while until they step up to the apartment door. “What do you think man?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “Come on brother, give me something.”

“Well,” he took a deep breath, taking a final peek down the stairwell, “maybe, we’re needing to reemphasis things a bit.”

    “What you mean man?”

    “Well, maybe be a bit more thoughtful when combatting this?”    

    “Yo man, I see what you’re saying. Thinking about what you do, yeah, yeah.”

    “Well yeah, but, to consider your opinions as just that: opinions.”

    “What do you mean? Opinions are opinions yeah?”

    “Yeah, that you may feel a way about something, but someone else might feel differently about that. That you have to take that into consideration.”

    “Hmmmmm, you mean like those guys, the garbagemen?”

    “Right. The garbagemen.”

    “You mean you don’t feel all riled up when you see assault rifles outside the window? That a bunch of fucking Muslims think it’s cool to leave a cardboard box filled with pipe bombs on Park Avenue? That people are dying and shit and we’re supposed to walk with our heads down.”

    “I’m not saying that. I’m saying it’s complicated, that’s all.”

    “Well at least I’m trying to do something about. What do a bunch of guard towers all over the city do? A bunch of commandos walking around? I was there. I saw that shit didn’t work. It happens every day anyway, and now we live with even less freedom, and just as much killing. And what about you, you –never mind, maybe you’re right. I mean it’s cool their killing these Muslims and stuff, but they’re like Nazis man. We gotta do something!”

    “Yeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh, you know let’s just drop it for now.”

    “All I know this, that something about the way they treat us ain’t right. I don’t know a lot but I know that. Thanks for watching my back. That’s cool you came down for me.”

    “Right. No problem.”

    Reamer tries looking at Michael but he nervously starts retying a loose shoelace, realizing they’re about to go in and undoes the other one instead. “Hey I think I’m getting a call,” Reamer patted his baggy cameo shorts, “I’ll meet you guys in a second.”

    Reamer heads downstairs and Michelangelo went inside and noted the humid dampness of the womb-like room, like stepping into a bathroom after someone had taken a shower a few minutes before. Johanna looked like a mosquito in amber from when he left her. “Well? Where’s my boyfriend?”

    “Your hunk is in the stairwell, and he narrowly missed being curb-stomped by two Stormtroopers.” He let go of his body and fell into the quicksand of the unwholesome upholstery, as far from Johanna as the couch would allow.

    “What??”

    “Just-wait.” She did, flipping through the channels incessantly, every go-around flashing the Game until she finally settles on the stadium: a glittering showcase of men attempting to follow invisible lines beneath a blinding morass of damp green.

    “Ok really? What the hell is he doing?”

    “He’s on the phone, so quit your kvetching.”

    “I’ll kvetch you, what phone?”

    “I gave it back, but I will be so kind and check up on him.”

    Michael stands up and walks out onto the landing, and hears a ringing silence, lacking any trace of Reamer as he mutters small talk to the wall.

    He returns empty-handed, and looks at the shivering girl on their derelict couch, “What the fuck are you smiling about?”

    “Reamer has left the building.”

    “Well what are you waiting for!? Go find him!”

    His smile dissipates, and instead he collapses into his old spot to watch the Game he still can’t understand, a puff of residual dust rising with his fall.

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