UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION

RICK PECHOUS

Outside And Inside

The shirt I found amidst the rubble of the wreckage my so-called friends had left was astounding; astounding because I never before realized I could wear such a shirt;

shirt-shopping was such a cumbersome task for me that I seldom went about doing it unless by force (which is to say only in situations where the shirts I HAD been wearing no longer fit or ceased to be suitable for public presentation); and this shirt was PERFECT: grey, thermal material with long sleeves and worn cuffs, buttons at the neck that were mostly for show, the print on the tag faded from multiple washings so that I couldn’t tell who made the shirt, what size it was, or how exactly to go about washing it myself; and it reminded me of a friend I had, MARSHALL, who left angry the night before after squeezing my trachea because I referred to his girlfriend in passing as a whore, as in “You’re sleeping in that small studio apartment with your whore and her friend?” (her friend who was a MAN, mind you) and his hand was suddenly clenched around my throat trying to pinch my only wind pipe so that I was forced to do the same to him, and he must have underestimated me because he tried to head-lock me but I weaseled out of it, slapping him in the face and explaining “I didn’t call HER a WHORE. You see?” but he wouldn’t give, and the shirt smelled exactly like him; dull and offensive like the cheap men’s fragrances commonly found in rest area bathrooms for fifty cents or a quarter; reminiscent to the explicit stench of urine-drenched urinal cakes, pink industrial hand soap, and human excrement.

*


I took the shirt into the bathroom with me to shower and set it across the toilet seat and made sure that no stray water would drench or speckle it, and when I was done showering I checked to see that it was still there, listening with my ear to the bathroom door wondering if Marshall had arrived while I was showering, though after a few minutes of waiting deduced that he had not. I wore the shirt and without spoiling the view of myself in the small bathroom mirror, closed my eyes and left to see HOW GOOD I LOOKED in the tall bedroom mirror. Myself complete, demonstrating my recently acquired charm, I jumped at every sound that resembled a fist knocking on wood, afraid that at any moment Marshall would return for the item we both knew belonged to him, even though I would hide it; I would lie, or I would not answer, and he would eventually have no choice but to go away, disappointed and shirtless.

The shirt was necessary to allow me the chance to go outside again, it had been so long since I could venture out with confidence; oh, how a simple, smelly shirt can change one’s perception of himself! I needed to return faulty wiring I had purchased at a conglomerate and when I walked past the automatic glass sliding doors, I noticed a mother and daughter duo picking out the perfect shopping cart, stopping to notice me walking past them until it was obvious they loved me in my new shirt; and I smiled at them; and they reminded me of my ex-girlfriend’s sister and mother who were both so beautiful and so much alike and so young looking that I always figured there were THREE sisters and no mother, but perhaps the mother had died in an accident or was never around to begin with because she was stricken with AIDs, god rest her soul, but that’s not right for me to say about the deceased; and they were plain in their pink tops and blue jeans, the girl flipping out her cell phone, texting her friends about the beautiful man she’d seen that she could never have because he was twice her age, but couldn’t she dream? Couldn’t she at least PRETEND? The shirt was everything, and I returned the faulty wiring and received cash back and strummed around the store with my feet upon the floor, hiding beneath the circular lighting surrounding me like unfettered sunlight until I saw more and more women noticing me and noticing the shirt, until finally I had to leave before my loins were emptied by these women who would fuck me rotten, who would never let me leave their side without first bearing my seed inside of them so they could look into my progeny’s eyes forever; and I was so bored with myself and with my home that from the conglomerate I went to another and another and it was Saturday, and so many of the city’s people were out and about that day purchasing and teaching their children how to purchase, finding the closest parking spot they could to wherever it was they were going so they could do their best to travel as far as humanly possible without actually walking anywhere (the more they walked the worse they felt); and so I started at the farthest end of the strip mall near the dentists, the shoe stores, the dollar stores, and the movie theater, and I walked towards nothing, and I tried to avoid watching myself walk passed the glass of the stores where inside women and men and especially children of every gender were stopping their purchasing and happy not to be walking anymore so they could watch me walk, and they watched with reverie, and they loved me for an instant until I was forgotten forever, like Marshall, who was dead to me, because if he weren’t he would try to regain his shirt, on account that it was the shirt that made me beautiful, and so it must have been the shirt that had made him beautiful, too.

I stepped inside the Movie Theater and looked for a show time but none of them fit and when the beautiful young girl on the other side of the glass smiled and said “Nothing starts for another hour” I replied “MARSHALL IS DEAD TO ME” and asked her name but that was the wrong thing to ask because she lied to me and said that it was Sheila; and Marshall’s girlfriend who is NOT a whore is named SHEILA, too, and if I were Marshall I would love her, too, and the thing about the shirt is that maybe it was the shirt that made her love him because she was just too good and she wore a black fedora and had long black hair and was just a little too skinny like only bones beneath her clothes, but she was good because she was an artist and she loved people who loved art. “SHEILA??” I asked and she smiled and said “Yes, Sheila,” and I said “SHEILA? as in you expect me to believe THAT SHIT?”

Later I would return to see a movie by myself but she was gone and they would not let me in because they said that she was scared and that there was no reason to shout her name or even ask what it was because it was on her nametag, SAID FRED, the manager, who was fat and stupid and would never fit into the shirt that I was wearing, because if he did it would stretch and it would ruin and then it would not lure the masses and he would die a lonely death despite having once touched greatness; working beneath the dim lights of the movie theater, smelling like buttered popcorn so that it mingled with his sheets and pillow cases making them smell like feet, with shoes that stuck to the floor of his apartment because of the soda spilled in the aisles comprised of seats mistreated by mongrel kids, and there’s nothing like having to always clean the bottom of your shoes like a Shepherd cleaning shit from his sandals, but here is FAT GUY FRED who says “You’re out of here, Bub! We’ve had enough of your babbling! If you wanna see a movie go to the Mall!” which is where I went, THANKS FRED, THANKS FOR THE TIP.

*


I went into a bookstore to read books and made it inside long enough so that the people could see that I was beautiful now because of the shirt, that even though I wasn’t like the rest of the beautiful people in the world I should still be allowed to come and go as I please, because the shirt was enough for me to come and go by my own volition. But the books I read were dirty and I was laughing at the words on the page and reading them out loud for the people browsing magazines that bragged about diets and fads and what to wear, and WHAT TO WEAR? I hardly noticed what anyone else was wearing even though everything they were wearing was more recently purchased than the shirt I had recently started wearing; and there was a young girl there with her friends who were younger than she was, she was the oldest, the one who was driving, and she didn’t want to be standing in a bookstore staring at the fronts of magazines that she would never purchase, or if purchased would never actually read, so I showed her the book I was reading which was called THE TIME THE MAN WENT OUT TO THE ISLAND OFF THE COAST and it was the type of story that no one should read and after I read it to her she told me that it’s the type of story that should have never even been WRITTEN and she looked at me as if I had written it to which I explained that I hadn’t, but would if I could but I can’t; and she invited me along with her and her friends who were too young to drive by themselves and all was quiet in the car because I was so much older than the rest of them until they were all dropped off and it was well into the night and the last boy to be dropped off wouldn’t look at me and asked the girl if she was alright by herself and she said that she was. And then she wanted to know whether or not I would stay with her outside in the driveway of her parent’s house, waiting for the living room light to go off so we could sneak into the family room, and sneak into the whiskey, and drink it, and read more books to one another; and there was a movie she would like to show me and it was nasty and the type of movie that should have never been written; until the light in the living room never went out and we sneaked alongside the house and laid in the grass together until she was surrounding me with her legs and her arms and her tiny immature little body against mine and the shirt, and she BIT the shirt, and I said not so rough with the shirt; and on account of the shirt I made sure to love her the way I would love Sheila if she wanted me to love her instead of Marshall, and I did all the things I could to make her understand that for the rest of our lives we would be in love but it was clear she didn’t want me, she never wanted ME; she only wanted whatever the shirt was covering.


Rick Pechous is currently pursuing his MFA in fiction at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. His short story "Stay Hydrated" appeared in Practice: Twelve Short Stories and a Novella and won second place in the Eula Cordell Lerner Writing Award for short fiction. He's interested in absurdist, outsider, and post-apocalyptic literature.







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