Get to the Meat of It
by John Gorman
No, all of this happened before you were born, before I even donned this beard. I’m not ashamed about it either. Pope hooked me in because he needed a lackey, somebody to do the dirty work, somebody he could pay peanuts. I would’ve done it anyway because, as you know, I’ve always been a sucker for lost causes. When he said, “splicing”, I assumed he meant cables or crab netting. He did odd jobs. I had no idea he was cutting out the deadweight, hunting for the critical goo.
Two days later, wearing nothing but a leotard and flip flops, I dipped into my goody bag and clipped a Dvorak Polonaise, the sheet music. Off with its beak. There was plenty of loot: political propaganda, gas bills, memos, addendums, addendums to addendums, KeyFood supermarket receipts, coupons, nuthouse welcome packets, wire transfers, muni bonds, depositions, and ticket stubs from “Scooby Doo On Ice.” I sheared off the funny hats in Walker Evans photos, the bottom rows of Coco Puff ingredients. The instruction manuals were a pain-in-the-foot, but they kept me busy until lunch. Takeout menus made great airplanes.
Maya’s wheezing was music to my cauliflower ears, I almost snipped a cuticle, tuning into her bronchial melody. She was 5 foot 3 inches of va va vavoom. Alright, so maybe she needed a few pounds. We were all grotesquely thin, scarecrowy even. It was that damn cabbage soup diet. She was a bottle blonde cherub, smelled of lemon verbena. Those melancholy lips and that stately nose belonged on the cover of Vanity Fair or Lui, you know, the French rag. We worked in perfect harmony, sometimes she grazed my elbow. What joy! I wanted her tender fingers all to my bunions. Her focus amazed me, especially when she was balling back phlegm, she didn’t miss a beat, arching her ampersand brows and setting her glimmering, scratchy eyes on her critical task. She cut like a poet, like a bed-ridden Matisse, scissoring away flimsy platitudes and bureaucratic gristle. All she needed was a bottle of Elmer’s glue, but alas, we weren’t given the pasting assignment. Somebody down the hall got to do that.
I was hopelessly smitten even though we barely said Gesundheit. What a treat to watch her yawn. We were simpatico on so many levels. You expect me to count them all? Everybody raves about toothy conversation, but only in quietude can two rusty souls bond. Okay, maybe I was exaggerating. You see, I had a talking problem, not a lisp or a stutter – something worse. I choked back my words. What I would’ve given to mumble?
Damned if I knew what we were looking for, but I hung in there, taking it all as a mind-blooming exercise. Django Reinhardt played liquid arpeggios in my head or, at least, I imagined him rippling along. Maybe it was just the cabbage soup diet finally landing its deathblow. We’d been on it for weeks. Boy, could I go for a baloney sandwich, but how was I going to sneak it in? We had three security lines to pass. Forget that, the whole thing was matter of dignity. None of us were allowed to pig out until we found the critical goo. Pope said so. And this assignment was by far the best one yet. You can only peel so many potatoes or plank down so many yards of linoleum before you’re ready to crack. Scissoring was rhythmic bliss.
When I zeroed in on it— the whole deep-fried enchilada— the rest of the text cracked away like Gondwanaland from Laurasia. There it was staring at me with marble blue eyes, scratching its pimply chin. You’d think it would’ve picked a snazzier set of threads, a bowler hat perhaps, maybe a harlot red bow tie, but it slouched in its grainy gabardines, possibly a holdover from a garage sale. It winked at me to show his chummy side and I raised my opposable thumb to my Roman nose, my cinco-finger flag aflutter.
Maya didn’t catch any of it. She was too absorbed in her cumulus. Naturally, I dawdled. Would I ever see her again? Smell her delicious lemon verbena. Besides that, I’d grown really comfy with the whole arrangement. What were arrangements for if not to wrap oneself in its plush? It was nice to stuff hope in your back pocket, save it for a rainy day. It would be my secret prize whenever I needed a trump card.
But as the day wore on, the trump card seemed to burn a hole in my back pocket. I got that same loopy feeling just before I chugged my morning bowl of soup. I didn’t want to end up as just another zeitgeist. I got the shakes and could barely hold my scissors. Maya had no other choice but to pick up the slack. I tore, by hand, at my petty pace, wondering if we’d ever get to do the prostrate polka.
When I couldn’t take it any longer, I removed the splice from my back pocket. Its gravitas gave me the willies. Would it stain my hand? I eyed the hangdog Pope with utmost deference. I nodded a few times to show I was listening. He could’ve been rattling off Pi decimals or badminton stats in Tagalog, for all I knew. When the moment was right, I slipped the sacred piece into his back pocket. My burden lifted and I was lighter than a butterfly’s tongue. I shared a tight-lipped grin, the leotarded goof passing along the last great shibboleth. I licked my chops already smelling bacon, Philly cheese steak, corned beef on rye, dripping in spicy brown mustard. I saw it all glittering in Maya’s pony brown eyes. Then, with a hungry fireman’s sense of pride, I grabbed mother’s hand, and the rest, dear son, as you know, is history.
Before his stories made their way into print John Gorman snapped the Eyesore of the Week Photos for the Queens Ledger. His work has appeared in Monkeybicycle, Hunger Mountain, Apt, Newtown Literary, Writer’s Digest, and New World Writing. He recently released his soccer novel thriller Disposable Heroes. He earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University. Some of his sweet nothings can be found on his blog http://jgpapercut.blogspot.com/.
Stories @ Digging Through the Fat: Volume 2, Issue 7
April 1, 2015
Photography by: Gessy Alvarez