"Lash them with the rod of iron. Lightening, thunder, earthquake, brimstone and fire."

Jag's about six four. Always looks like someone's got him by the scruff of his neck. He is knotted. And squints his left eye because for the last four years he's only had one contact in the right. Jag's got his back to the alley, his ass resting on the porch rail. I'm untying my boots. It's noon. August. There is no way I'm going into business with Jag.

'It's a one ton truck, man. We can get plenty of contracts to torch useless shit downstate. I got the torch and the truck--well, the torch is a lock.'

'What's the rate on scrap metal these days?'

Jag treats me and my question to one of his dismissive growls, reserved for the most disgusting, insignificant moments of his day. His third of the afternoon.

I'm still at my feet when a sweating can of beer is thrust in my face. I hadn't noticed Jag go inside. I open the can. My third of the afternoon.

'Do you see these rings around my ankles?' I ask.

'No.'

'They itch like hell.'

I pull out my tin. While rolling a smoke I finally answer the question that has been bugging me for the last two hours. The question arose when Jag picked me up from work. Yes, I can always get more.

'You wanna split the last of my meth?'

The next day.

The next day I come across Jag sitting on the sidewalk outside of the Zakopane, drinking a forty. It takes him a full minute to get to his feet. Once vertical, he clamps a hand on my shoulder. He is conflicted.

'Man, this guy offered me fifty bucks to model for him, he said he liked my style, and I know he probably just wants to fuck me but I can't get it out of my head that he's legit, that maybe I'll be in one of those magazines--I actually think there are tolerable magazines being printed these days-he was walking around here with these two rail thin broads so maybe he's not a fag, what do you think?'

'Well, I suppose--'

Jag's grip on my shoulder contracts immediately after his eyes dart down to my feet. I'm frozen with my mouth open, an academic mask of consideration concealing my discomfort.

'What the fuck is going on down there?' Jag asks.

I look down at my feet, most of which are visible because I've had to modify my plastic sandals that I got from the Kmart to compensate for the inch high boils that have asserted themselves there. The boils are yellow and ripe. My ankles have swollen to such a width that it looks as though I have no ankles at all, but rather two huge calves extending to my heels. Jag goes pale.

'Hospital. Now,' says Jag.

Fruitless questions.

At the "free clinic" the doctor won't even look me in the eye. He shuffles papers, scratches his head, takes a few surreptitious glances at my feet, wags his head back and forth.

A drink of water for the doctor. Rubens, I think it was, Dr. Rubens.

'Emergency room. Now,' says Dr. Rubens. 'I have no idea.'

I say, 'Fuck.'

St. Joe's.

More fruitless questions.

'Have you ever had unprotected sex?' yep.

'Do you, or have you ever used intravenous drugs?' yep and yep.

'Still using?' yep.

'Have your feet come in contact with anything foreign or caustic or--[desperately] anything?'

I got some tube socks from Kmart and didn't wash 'em before wearing 'em. I wear boots to work. Does that do anything for you? I've stepped in puddles. Big puddles. What do you think it is?

'Uhhh--maybe--uhh--staphylococcus or--uhh--some sort of contact dermatitis.'

Oooh, what's that? Contact dermatitis?

'Um, basically that something bad touched your feet.'

He sounded like a dyslexic third grader reading the chalk board from the back row. I was not encouraged.

'We're going to have to admit you.' (is he sweating?) 'Something must be done.'

The IV and the TV.

The contestants on Celebrity Jeopardy are no match for the likes of me. A battalion of mercenary antibiotics are dripping into my best vein. The staff is rolling the dice with this concoction. I'd really like to sleep but throughout the night at three hour intervals flocks of feckless interns come in to take a peek at the mystery infection. These tenderhearted youth nudge me awake and rattle off the same questions. My inevitable answers. Their inevitable shrugs.

The next day.

The next day my feet are no longer red with yellow polka dots [boils] but purple. Sort of a gin blossom/black eye purple. The boils are definitely on the verge of bursting. The doctors tell me this is a good sign. They do so in a way that makes me want to corroborate their opinion, give them an affirmative nod and the thumbs up. 'Good work, gentlemen. We licked this one, by God.' Jag brings me a chocolate bar and we split it while sharing a smoke in my bathroom. We don't say anything.

Brief questions.

'Can you walk?'

yep.

'Would you like to leave?'

yep.

'Would you like to pay now?'

nope.

'How will you be paying?'

I have no idea.

My own bed.

That night I dream that Jag and the doctors have wrangled me into a photo studio and are snapping away at me, giving me very fey directions. My entire body is purple, swollen and peppered with boils. I'm wearing a white teddy and laying on a tiger skin rug in front of an x-ray machine style fireplace.

The next day.

The next day I wake up thinking I've wet the bed but on closer inspection I see that my boils broke in the night. I get up and throw away every tube sock in the place.

- Benjamin Redgrave

 

See the proof.