marvin

Marvin’s hands were never as still as when he firmly (trembling) cracked the kitten skull in two.

His hands were otherwise always canoodling up either nostril, pinging rocks off any loud surface, zigzagging through his already sparse sweaty hairline (at eight years old, o cruel world) or attempting to touch my face. I often thought the mittens he wore attached by a fraying discolored string threaded through his winter jacket were in fact used to keep his hands from flying clean off his body. Pudgy with cheese saturated blood, they stayed constantly creased with dirt from all origins, nails bitten down to bloody slits, fluttering hangnails and thumbs that looked flattened down by hammers.

His tongue poked out of the corner of his mouth in mock concentration (most likely loosening dry flecks of ketchup) as with a Mad magazine ‘schpluck’, what was once one, was now two. The noise raised his eyebrows up into the sweaty roof of his young brow and his eyes met mine marking the first time we’d acknowledged each other down here since the kitten had been slid into his kangaroo pocket.

His foster mother Janice, with her desire for search and rescue, had plucked the mewling sack out of a ditch that had previously only housed bottles, cans and wind blown garbage bags. She’d made the front page of the local paper. The accompanying photo had her in profile being swatted at her nose by the seemingly least grateful of her rescuees.

She had laid nestled deep in the faded corduroy lounger by the Front door, the low murmur of the Home Shopping Network being drowned out by raspy snores. I had held my breath for the cry of the scoop and willed her discolored eyelids to stay shut. My stealth watch ended as I scurried after Marvin through the gritty crunch of the squeaking linoleum laid down just before the door to the basement. Sock feet pattering down the wood stairs, we’d slid to a stop in front of the crude work bench, where we now huddled.

The bare bulb above our heads gave off a low glow to the festivities and the shadows loomed dark and deep around us. They went unnoticed. Our tool was a rusty pair of garden shears that shed browned pine needles as Marvin flexed them. The spinal column was snipped with bomb squad precision and, voila, we had multiple parts. The brain shone brightly with lost tuna lust and the little blood there was now sucked into the table, ink-colored and fragrant. The tail too had been neatly severed and I suppressed the urge to affix it to my damp upper lip like a caterpillar mustache and goosestep around the cardboard boxes and rusty springs littering the concrete floor.

Marvin stood back exhaling quickly and loudly, rubbing his hands briskly up and down his pant legs. His lower lip was bleeding. Loose fur swirled up from the table and settled down gently onto our stooped shoulders. I smelled the air sour with waste, and then it was wrong, and a hot iron pressure of disappointment settled on my chest. I’d really done nothing here. I’d observed intently and felt no guilt or responsibility (right or wrong)

Taking a life wasn’t a gust of wind; the air was still and stale in that basement. Santa would still stuff a mandarin orange down the toe of my stocking that blustery Christmas Eve and seven years later I would still receive a sloppy but good-intentioned blowjob from Becky Hansen behind her fathers’ dilapidated garden shed.

The faded towels and Strawberry Shortcake sheets hanging on the clothesline above us danced as Janice shuffled to light a Virginia Slim off the gas stove above us. Marvin jumped hot poker style and two-arm flailed all the pieces to the edge of the table. A paw jumped off and landed lightly on my right sneaker. I wiggled my big toe and it too wiggled. As Marvin swept everything else into a flowered pillowcase. I kept my head down. In the most coordinated move in 8.5 years of clutch and stumble I cocked my foot up and caught the paw in my moist palm.

Marvin stuffed the case deep into the orange Hefty garbage can by the back door as I fingered the tiny sharp claws now hidden in my right jeans pocket. Slowly I popped one into my thumb. He returned to me, black soot clinging to his cuffs and offered me a drink with a shrug. I said ‘nah’ and looked towards the scratched back door implying my departure (Jesus, had dozens of dogs been held captive down here? The lower half of the door was long splinters held together by paint.)

Abut a block from home, the paw ended up in my mouth; tucked up in my cheek, like a Major Leaguer’s chew. That night I kicked two rocks in tandem all the way to my mail box, under the metallic hum of the street lights. Plugging my nose to keep from gagging, I chewed and swallowed a sharp mouthful of my youth.

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