UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
Day X + 37. The Cypriot smells like shit. No, a correction. The Cypriot smells of shit. Of the rank, fecal residue that clumps stubbornly to his ass and thighs, soiling
Trapped in a steel cage filled with the fast-dying dreams of lost men, I am no bed of roses, either.
The Cypriot laughs as he smokes a hand-rolled cigarette, the only luxury here, the only concession afforded us, a small lump of stale tobacco, a book of matches, thrown with derision atop a yellowed piece of newsprint, which we use to form clumsy, canoeing fags to pass our days doing ourselves harm in yet one more subtle way. I used to fight them for this tobacco, X – many days ago, until I realized smoking was not nearly an expeditious enough means of self-annihilation.
The Cypriot picks languidly at a scabrous elbow with tobacco-hued hands, rubs jaundiced palms over the expanse of his splotchy jowls. In the real world, if such a thing still exists, I would wish him dead. Here, I hope only that he lives long, to continue in his suffering. To share with me in mine.
Perhaps now he is reading my mind.
He expels a tubercular croup, laughs again, apropos of nothing, slides a blackened fingernail between two loosened teeth, teeth which part almost imperceptibly upon the entrance of the digit. X – 4 days ago I trod upon an unhinged molar, mistaking the dull sting of the intrusion upon the ball of my red-raw foot for a small pebble. I picked it up, remarked, “If I had a pillow, I should put this underneath it.” I cackled then, to no one in particular, not knowing the owner of the rotted plug. The others did not comprehend the humor in my brief diversion.
Wondering now how my own orthodonture must seem to the lost souls around me, but as with hope and shame, we are bereft of a mirror – the stare of another an encumbrance none of us longer want to bear. No one looks at himself. The guards pass and slide lukewarm bowls of a murky sludge through the 6-inch berth between the pitted steel door that contains us here and the floor, evermoist with its cool, unvarying dampness. Six inches, enough to venture forth an exploratory arm to the elbow. Enough to draw back writhing in pain, ulna shattered. Or perhaps a digit or three cleaved off, your screams drowning out the riotous cries of the ever-unseen guards for a short while. Six inches tall, the portal to a threshold you only traverse once. If that.
I consider now how my countenance must appear. I have not seen a reflective surface less viscous or more translucent than a pool of coagulating blood in X + 17 days. Give or take. The stench here so strong it ceases to offend, transcends offense, melts into the formless miasma of shared communal despair, colors the background of a rich palette of discord. An ugly smell produced by ugly men.
A toothbrush now dragged across my blistered, swollen gumline would scour like steel wool raped across the pulpy flesh of a cut blood orange, expunging putrescent incarnadine juice. My face now an unrespectable cancer far beyond salvation.
The two Japanese sit silent, stoic. One has not moved in X – 13 days. Still he lives, though, the fraying remains of the European dress shirt he entered with now making a sad attempt to cover his decimated torso. This torso, that somehow rises and falls. Rises and falls. Rises and falls, with the grim metronomy of Death’s approaching march.
Shinu da? Shinu da? He whispers this soft threnody to his flint-eyed, glint-eyed, lice ridden compatriot.
For which there is no answer.
Darkness falls. I know this but I don’t know this. No concomitant shift in light, the pathetic trickle of sun that dribbles down the far wall is simply replaced by a steady flow of piss-colored halogen from a streetlight on an alley opposite our confines. An alley I’d give a limb and 10 years of existence to be lying in right now, breathing the cool, crisp night air.
Here you don’t fall asleep so much as you give in. Give in, hoping that you will not rise again, but knowing that you will. At least until you don’t.
Day X + 38. The morning light seeps into the cell like discharge oozing from a pustule. We rise but nothing shines.
The Frenchman is dead. Il est mort. The flies, they know this before we do. They will eat well today. At least something here will. The Frenchman sodomized a corpse in the mouth. This was X – 20 days previous, perhaps X - 25, I am not sure. This I try very hard not to remember. It was the Israeli he defaced, devant tout le monde, sans aucune honte. The Israeli, the other Anglophone here, who’d addressed me often as “My Friend”, the words in his lilting, accented English delivered without any trace of irony -
“We will leave here soon, My Friend.”
“I serve five years in the Mossad, My Friend, nobody fuck with me.”
“I kill these fuckers with my bare hands, I tell you, My Friend.”
No sentiment expelled from his thick, Sephardic lips, his febrile, blistered lips, contained a strand of truth, only increasingly thickened strands of mucus as his body slowly turned against him. Thinking now that the only words I know in Yiddish all begin with the same sound. Schmuck. Schlep. Schtup. Schtick. Thinking now that this sound was akin to the noise the Frenchman’s engorged phallus made as it entered the corpse’s largely toothless maw. Thinking now how he caressed the locks of matted hair, whispering ‘mon cherie’, eyes closed, blissful.
It was at this point that I realized men devolve into animals quite quickly if given the chance.
Thinking now how I want to outlive the others, but I don’t want to outlive my dignity.
Thinking now the guards will be disappointed that they have been deprived of another thrill kill. Another protracted execution video to be heading your way soon, had not the Grim Reaper casually snuck a bony hand through the steel bars of our hell and beaten the putative assassins to it. It’s been X + many, many days since the television news cared to broadcast what was going on here.
My hands explore the now pronounced ridges of my chest and torso. With my rib cage and a scouring sponge, one could wash clothing. On the sharp dorsal protrusions that now are my scapulae, the clothes could subsequently be hung to dry. I have begun to weep again without realizing it. This happens.
The Argentine is rocking slowly on the floor, knees clasped protectively to his chin. Plaintively he implores towards dios suyos for divine intervention. None is forthcoming. Perhaps they cannot hear his cries through 4 feet of concrete and X + 48 days of forgotten despair.
The burning beam of a flashlight quick pans across our lousy lot, searing retinas long grown accustomed to the soft focus of our imprisoned gloom. All accounted for, X – 1 still breathing.
The Cypriot lights a morning fag. Outside the sharp reports of a semiautomatic firearm, a series of short, staccato bursts. They echo through the hollow corridors of my slowly unraveling mind. Someone today is lucky. For someone, there will be no X + 1 days of this, this which long since stopped presenting itself as a passable facsimile of existence. I know not the X denoting the grains of sand that remain in my cracked hourglass. I pray silently in words long absent from my vernacular that their number dwindles with haste.
Bryan Fox is a Brooklyn-based bard and pedagogue slowly coming to terms with the realization that the only reason he continues having adventures is so that he can subsequently write about them. In this case, however, any similarity to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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