Archive for July, 2017

July 5th, 2017

Yankee Doodle Henry, Part VI

The more he pretended not to notice Marcy day by day, the more Henry truly noticed her. She was deft, agile, completing her tasks with a skill and a speed that left her lots of time between bursts of work to write notes and chat up the force reps. Now and then he even caught her smoking cigarettes or sleeping past the alarms, both supreme luxuries unheard of by anyone else in the camp. Henry noticed how the force reps themselves changed around her, too. She seemed to make them happy, almost careless. As time went by he found himself deeply wanting to be in their shoes –for the sake of being so served, by Marcy or by anyone. The notion that someone would shape themselves into something fit to suit him was the most exhilarating thing he’d ever considered.

Certainly more exhilarating than dying, which was where Marcy seemed to think he was headed. He thought about what she had said, about never being sick marking him for duty. He couldn’t put his finger on ever having been ill; no missed school days, no doctor’s visits. It was almost as if he’d lived that normal aspect of life vicariously through the anecdotes of others. And apparently, they’d left him deeply vulnerable, failing to spread the wealth of their infirmities. If you were sickly, Henry supposed, you’d still get recruited into something. Just something that wasn’t a beeline towards physical exhaustion and subsequent death. He understood, then, that the only answer, if he was going to survive, and if he was going to garner the attentions of bright things like Marcy, was to get really sick.

***

A week into his attempts, Henry’s mouth was a museum of cuts. He’d lapped up bits of drywall scraped from the bottom of a windowsill, chewed a mouthful of gravel secreted away from the quarry, and picked up a habit of biting his tongue and the inside of his cheeks between waking breaths. It stung like hell, and made even the supremely bland protein cakes difficult to handle. But Henry wasn’t sick. None of the recruits were sick, and Henry slowly realized that he had no idea how to acquire sickness. He only knew that faking it would end his experiment very quickly, and in a way that wouldn’t get him anything he wanted. He was terrified that his mouth would be discovered. He would have to try harder, and more carefully, he thought. The idea came to him that very evening in the latrine: maybe he’d been trying at the wrong end.

When neither gravel nor drywall accomplished anything up Henry’s ass save for more time spent in the birthplace of his new idea, he became disconsolate.

Then he got determined.

In the space of a few extraordinarily uncomfortable days, Henry’s ass experienced: a half bar of soap, two marbles stolen from a child’s bunk, three large handfuls of grass (one with the ants picked out, one with the ants left in, and one with some sort of aphid he couldn’t identify and no ants at all), a shoelace soaked in a puddle, and a lock of hair. He didn’t know whose. Exhausted mechanically and creatively, he was on the verge of giving up again when the finishing banner of a completed Corn Hole location, emblazoned with its golden cobs logo, sent a shot of inspiration through his variously taxed tracts.

The first few inches were pleasant enough, but by the end the simple act of walking or sitting down seemed rather volatile, exposing.

Diligence.

***

When was he supposed to start feeling ill? Henry remembered a film that had been shown in one of his earliest language classes about an egret and a mole; the egret got sick, and the mole dug in the earth for a cure, but, being blind, couldn’t see the hidden avian panacea his friend needed, so he kept bringing the bird pretty insects and polished nuts, which of course did nothing. The egret died amidst piles of golden beetles and silky filbert husks. He had always thought it a stupid story. How did the bird go? “Crrrfgh! Crrrfgh! Eeeow! It’s almost got me, now!” That was it.

The corn cobb was certainly painful in its new lodgings up Henry’s colon, but he wasn’t coughing. Of course, he wasn’t exactly defecating either, and he found he had no appetite whatsoever over the course of the next couple of days. He worried that his lack of affection for fried protein cakes would alert the force reps that he’d done something off regimen. As he walked in a tight figure eight one such afternoon at morning repose in the strolling alley, spinning mentally over just such worries, he caught someone in his peripheral vision making a similar pattern next to him.

“Marcy.”

“Alright, Hen, I’ve got it.”

“What do you mean?”

“The clap. Your ticket outta here. I’ve got it.”

“What’s a clap going to do?”

“It’s a disease, dummy. You’re going to get the clap and they’ll release you. I don’t know where, I don’t know if they’ll let you go back to your life as it was, but you’ll at least get on a softer detail, something you can handle.”

“Marcy, I already got a disease, it just hasn’t kicked in yet.”

“Who’d you get it from?!” She was hostile, suddenly –maybe hurt.

“Nobody. The corn.”

“The who?!”

“The corn, Marcy. It’s…in me.”

“Fuck, when I said get sick I meant physically, Henry, what did you do, read a bunch of those ancient hippie tracts? They’re illegal, y’know.”

“I stuck a cobb of corn up my butt.”

Marcy stopped making figure eights.

“I thought I would’ve been ill enough by now to get a medical ticket out, but so far it just makes me not want to eat. Maybe clapping will help, do we just start here?”

“You thought…” Marcy trailed off. She clenched her eyes shut, then, “I thought I’d finally found someone who knew me, someone I knew…I haven’t come across anyone innocent in so long, and I thought ‘hey, he’s goofy, but he’s one of mine, maybe I’ll hop off the fuckin’ terror train and we’ll go’”–

“Where do you want to go, Marcy?”

She wasn’t exactly crying, but nothing else was close enough to the way Marcy’s face contorted to get a lock.

“Away from you. I’m sorry, but you’re just too fuckin’ retarded. When I heard you’d gone to university I figured it was some cover you’d thrown up to hide your tracks, but I guess you really went, huh.”

“Of course I did. It wasn’t so great–”

“I’m sure it wasn’t. Listen, good luck with– just–” Marcy ran a slow, wavering hand through her hair, pulling it tightly away from her crumpling face. “Fuck you, Hen.”

Henry watched her walk erratically away, clenching himself tight around the pain inside; the pain he remembered, and a pain he hadn’t planned for, cutting him up in strokes he didn’t understand.