by Ted Grossman
When the leg’s hitches and buckles were stiff, Hortense rubbed in liniment (her grandmother had sent the leg from a catalog). This is what she did, and when Elliot left, Hortense walked past the parking lot into the Stadia where crowds of people stood in line for urinals and toilets. The steaming tanks of human waste were warm. There she was rescued.
Elliot in a rage. He convinced himself that it was he that never had a chance and that there was nothing he could do but walk around the lot and dream of decisions. Then (in cold rage), down at the cantina, Molly Muelhauser threw down her purple skirts and rubbed tequila on her legs; the electronic foliage of her ardor castigated his foraging abilities. On his knees, crawling past the odors of prime rib and gravy easing from her pores, the door opened and the wind rolled through the joint to the back door where the kitchen help harmonized over steamed rabbits, skinned hides hanging from the rafters and a cripple in the corner chewing its own putrid feet.
“Hortense!” he cried a cry based on verisimilitude. “How could you leave me?”
In the Stadia the manual overdrive kicked in during the kill throb. The game was moving along to Coach Hardgrove’s liking. From the stands his wife waved at the cameras. Her frosted hair bent in the zero-degree wind. In the parking lot fire pits roared, smoke billowed from the coldest cabins and Norsemen kicked rubble.
High above, in the Clock Tower: her water packets bleated like geese as Hortense unhitched her leg for the night, putting it on the wall. Under the cover of darkness she moved her one good leg back and forth in an arc under the army issue blanket, tasted the dried leaves stuck to her pillow. With Elliot there had never been enough water to do wash, the minute any fabric became wet it soaked in ice until the streets were softer than nitrogen.
In the Stadia children leapt and huddled. If men talked to the wall they were carried out to the fence, pushed face up against the chains links, prodded with a long poker. If they ran left or right the screw was pulled back in the esophagus, rendering spinal system deviant. A deviant man could walk in the winds of the parking lot across the upper deck if he was quiet about it, if he looked at the sun and told newcomers about the sheer excellence of the team and its ability.
On the playing field holes cracked through and players avoided them with great leaps; the broken legs, lost fingers, hands and arms would be swept at intermission. The whistle blew and the diamond screen replayed the intense ripping of cartilage backgrounded by the trauma unit explaining through visual graphs, video replay, dynamic editing and inter relational metal pointers. The red section of the pie showed loss, the green showed potential, the blue showed tax, the orange one’s commitment to excellence.
In the showers the trainers beat the towels with the tails of the mascot. Akimoto, a failed entrepreneur with huge black glasses, let the players come in and slap him around. Bent over, he stuck his rump high in the air and they poked him with frostbit fingers or forearms. “That Japanese rectal system got more heat,” Tennessee sluggers said seriously.
Elliott’s tool belt fell, its carbide forks and hammers clanking on the concrete floor. Ants moved back inside the wall and a spider lowered down to its feet for morning rituals. The sheets pulled back on the bed uncovering filth and he sat down with his legs spreading on the bed, he rubbed his thighs and wiped his forehead, the windows creaked. “Hortense,” he yelled.
In the clock tower overlooking the sprawling megalopolis, Hortense eased her leg down. She had escaped Elliot and the parking lot to be taken in by the kind old bugger, half donkey, half hormone. She was just here with time ready to undertake the tolling of bells, the movement of quartz, the sheer speed of digitalia. He was washing her sheets, holding her leg aloft.
The city below smelled of rain and it was the first time she had seen moisture so soft and easy. It was always frozen before it hit the ground and steam held the character of orange animal tongue on ice. She had never seen a donkey, only its representation on the sidelines of the screen running back and forth, its ass dripping dark green slop frozen to its hinds. In the pictures she was always fishing in the lakes of Canada, and where is this, bugger wanted to know.
She couldn’t talk to him and he left her to move about on one leg, her hand supporting her on the railing. Her hair cleaned by his easing hands while she slept with no dreams of moths no dreams of leaves no dreams of steam filling her lungs to explode. The heat was so intense for her she dripped discharge down her leg.
“Is this happiness?” she cried, and bugger smiled, “It’s warmth.”
Days after his collapse Elliot was up and about. The doctor tapped his pen on the clipboard in tune to the stereo.
“Now, how long will this last?”
“It’s hard to say.”
“You can’t mean that, you can’t mean that you don’t know—that you can’t give me an answer.”
“What do you want, you’re simply an animal, I can’t guarantee anything.”
“Nurse,” he yelled.
Once in the hall (he’d escaped), he joined the throng following the Big Bone Men carrying their pulleys and vices. They had a man (monster) in chains. He had bitten off the coach’s ear when he jumped the fence and shot off the cannon for distraction. He’d been wrestled to the ground by the visiting team and they were readying to burn him in the locker room when security diplomats somehow convinced them he was private property, the game not over, if they played well they would have as many bodies as they could desire to burn.
In the crowded hallway doctors and nurses peered from their offices at the Sun Monster with the screws in his head, vices attached to each limb. How would they appropriate his parts, would there be any leftovers for them to take home? Who was the doctor in charge? If they knew him then he might pass on the favor.
Elliot watched the gold robed Bone Men slash away at onlookers with scythes and over the loudspeaker a voice informed all that there would be no premium or kickback today. The hospital workers were under surveillance and this criminal was property of the high state and all his parts were to be used at a state function later that evening, so for the good of the nation, leave the Bone Men to their peace.
At the state dinner the ministers stood around the in the ballroom eagerly awaiting the arrival of the fortuitous meal. A special meat man form Bavaria oversaw the operation mixing in special spices and chemicals to make burning more aromatic and perpetual. The highest honor would come to he who happened to find the half digested coach’s ear on his palate. He would be king.
Elliot thinks he hears Hortense. He looks to the doorway, thinking that’s where her voice came from. He watches her yellow leg turning green before his eyes, he reaches out to touch the paste inside her uterus. Past pink scars he reaches inside, pulling out gaseous viscera one by one, leading them through the kitchen and out to the yard where he hangs them from a pole to decorate the Christmas tree his children never had.
I come back to you in the cold mornings, the bugger told Hortense. She was still happy discharging down her one good leg, she was still amazed at the rain quietly pattering on the bells. Warm rust particles soothed her aching legs and she smiled her warm fat lips for the first time since uterul expulsion.
About the author:
Ted Grossman lives in Chicago.