The wind toppled the tomato bush in his crappy garden, but Packer was too drunk to care as he came stumbling past in the dark, tripping on the hose and letting loose a string of curse words that would make Chris Rock blush. The apartment buildings are tightly packed around here and it’s a miracle anything grows at all. A light went on across the street and Packer thought he saw old man Crinkledon poke his bulbous nose through the blinds right before he opened the door to his apartment and fell into the hallway.
His cat, underfoot as always, Jonah, named after the bible story because Packer found him crawling out of the gutter, howled and hissed angrily at him, then tore off for the bedroom. Packer righted himself and sat there on the cold hardwood floor, staring at an empty picture frame he knocked off the wall in his sloshed pratfall, but then he recalled he took it down a few days ago and ripped the picture out, or, wait, there was never a picture there to begin with, and he had actually just put it up there this morning. Fuck. Either way, it was broken now.
His laptop was in the sink. His mattress was slanted and sagging because half of it was hanging over the bed springs. The curtain from the window was pulled down over it to use as a blanket. Empty beer bottles were arranged by the trash can like bowling pins. His TV was left on, on mute, and was playing a commercial. Radio waves of nothing.
He felt like he’s been on the road for three weeks. You know the feeling? When you sleep in strange beds and only eat meals in restaurants and the only conversation you get is from bartenders whose tired eyes shift back and forth waiting for a customer to take them away from you. But Packer hasn’t been anywhere in months, just to work and then to the Dusty Starlight and home. Point A to Point B to Point Z. And unlike being on the road, coming home didn’t bring him any succor.
Packer was alone, again, just him and a limp aloe plant shrugging sadly on the kitchen table. He thought about calling her. Then threw his phone toward the trash but it missed. It missed by about three feet. His records were spread on the floor like a magician asking you to pick a card. He was too drunk to put on a record, so he just kicked the pile and shouted, “Fuck you, Bob Marley. Go make everything alright somewhere else!”
A spider was building a web in the corner but this made no impression on Packer. He plopped down at his desk where he picked up a pen and paper and tried to write a poem. This is what came out…
Blue pen. A Bic. I’m an inconspicuous prick…
The pyramid is sitting on my head.
Upside down — my head, not the pyramid.
Shitting, shitting on my head.
He read it back to himself and realized it wasn’t enough. So he crumpled it up and threw it toward the trash. Missing by four feet this time. Rummaging through the kitchen drawer, he found a knife that would do, and went back to his desk where he stabbed the blade into its surface and began scratching and sawing away at the wood. He blew the dust from the freshly-carved grooves so he could see what he wrote:
It still wasn’t enough. He went back to add:
NOT YET DEAD…
But when he was working the bridge on the A — because that’s what it is, a bridge between two buildings collapsing on each other — he cut off the top of his middle finger, quick and easy, like a Beverly Hills sushi chef slicing fresh yellowtail. Crimson blood, thin and life-giving, spilled out over the desk in a small, painful rivulet of DNA.
The tip of his finger settled by his cable bill and a pile of half-jotted down poems. Packer felt 32 years churning in his stomach. He could tell it wasn’t the booze, it was his age. His wasted life. His ruined relationships. All of it bubbling in a hotpot of anguish. He picked up his fingertip and, in a burst of primal, pagan poetry, swallowed it. He tasted it in his throat, a fleshy, bloody Tic Tac.
Within seconds, his stomach rejected it and forced a voluminous spray of vomit onto his desk, covering his poetry and his blood and his bills and his picture of her he couldn’t understand why he still kept around. His head swam. He was tired. Monumentally sleepy. He crossed his arms on the desk to use for a pillow, and laid his head in the sad, sick mixture. And there he went to sleep.
Not yet dead.