Saturday, October 24, 2009

Deadly Sins

The day after his thirty-ninth birthday, Louis decided to give up vice, cold turkey. How long could a man go on tempting fate? His youth had ended; mortality loomed. His bad habits were many, his indulgences excessive: a pack of cigarettes a day, an eighth of marijuana a week. Liquor was his particular weakness. It made him boisterous and funny, popular with his coworkers and women he met in bars, which resulted in frequent promiscuous sexual encounters, despite the potbelly he wore as a result of his love for fried food, sweets, and that most lethal combination of the two, doughnuts.

He would die, soon, and with agony, at this rate. It snuck up on you and—bam!—you were forty. But he wasn’t forty yet. If he could wipe the slate clean, perhaps he could elude the specter of death for a while longer.

Cigarettes were out completely, as was the weed, and the occasional hit of X or bag of mushrooms. Hard liquor was out, and he would limit himself to a single glass of wine or beer a day. Fornication was out. He would not sleep with any woman until he had dated her exclusively for at least a month, and then he would wear a condom every time. He would become a health nut, and join a gym.

For two solid weeks, he remained faithful to his new regime. Mornings, he experienced a clear-headed lack of regret he had not known since before college. Seven pounds dropped from his waist and breathing came easier. With the time and energy he used to spend in bars pursuing women, he cleaned and painted the house, repaired windows and refinished woodwork, even changed the oil and sparkplugs on the car. He felt great; he would live forever.

On the fifteenth day, Jim from accounting persuaded him to take a single hit off a joint. Louis thought, one toke won’t hurt. Just on the weekends. The next weekend he smoked two joints, one each day, and went to Dunkin’ Donuts after the second time.

After a month, his exercise schedule became sporadic. He still worked out, sometimes. Sometimes he had a second drink with the guys from the office. At the same time, he discovered a bakery that specialized in vegan cakes, and enrolled in a healthy vegetarian cooking class at the recreation center. There, he met Joann, a willowy blonde who whispered to him that she still, sometimes, ate red meat. With great restraint, he managed to wait ten entire days before seducing her.

Waiting was a good idea, he thought. Things with Joann heated up. He abandoned his resolutions, sort of. He ate whatever junk food he wanted, and smoked and drank whatever anyone offered him, but only when she wasn’t around. After they got married and had a baby, he didn’t indulge around his daughter, either. Louis became a secret vector of vice. He sinned only on the occasional Sunday afternoon, or when Joann took the baby to her mother’s. He made the most of the occasions, and threw the evidence in other people’s trash.

Louis lived thirty more years. At sixty-nine, he was diagnosed with cancer, terminal. Hereditary. Genetic, the doctor said. “There’s nothing you could have done differently,” the doctor assured as Louis numbered his weak resolve and his many transgressions. “It was in your DNA.”

Friday, October 23, 2009


When I first met Ty, he lived in a little row of townhouses, the first in a block of four, not far from the university. He shared the place with an alcoholic old English teacher who went around quoting Shakespeare as if he didn’t expect anyone else to understand, and smelling of piss. Everyone else in the building was a kid, early twenties max.

Ty and I took to each other like an electric cord to a wall socket. I liked his fit, and he seemed to like the way I made him feel. He got to sample all kinds of new sensations and found them agreeable. He liked my world.

His world didn’t suit me too much. The English teacher stank, and the kids in the other units threw loud parties. Plus, one night, we heard gunshots over the noise of his computer speakers. Ty and the English teacher prowled around the parking lot, but they didn’t see anything. They even called the cops, who poked around too, but they didn’t see anything either.

But then later this girl came around looking for her boyfriend. She was in tears, Ty said. She was sure something bad happened to him. And sure enough, when Ty and the English teacher went around the fence, they found a dead guy in the alley. So they were up all night with the police after all. I had already gone home, before the cops turned up the first time.

That night Ty found out from the guy in the second unit, right next to his, that we could buy weed cheap from the guy in the fourth unit, all the way at the end. It was a sweet connection, for a while. But then unit-two guy, Chad, said that unit-four guy was tweaking, and he wasn’t going to deal with him anymore. He was a disaster waiting for his fifteen minutes, Chad said, and he was going to end up dead, or in jail, or both. He didn’t want to get anywhere near unit-four guy anymore. “I think that meth-head might have shot that dude in the alley,” he said. “The dude was trying to rob him, I bet.” From the outside, you'd never guess what a skeevy place those townhouses were.

After that, Ty was persuaded to move into my place. He’s a tough guy, but he’s not bullet-proof. And anyway, I hated those townhouses.

And sure enough, a couple weeks later, we saw it on the news. Eight police cruisers outside the place, two dead bodies. “Couldn't be Chad, could it?” Ty worried, and texted him.

Chad called right back. “It wasn’t us,” he said. “It was meth-head and his girlfriend.”

“You’re gonna move out now, right?” Ty asked him.

“Hey, maybe it’s gonna be safe around here, now that he’s gone.”

He invited us to a party on Friday, but we ended up not going. We were kind of too old for that sort of thing.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

For the Soul

I rough-cut the onions, because I am tired, and hurried, and I don’t eat onions anyway. It’s easier to eat around big pieces. Rough-cut it all. Carrots, celery, garlic. Lots of garlic. A small red pepper, withered in the back of the fridge. Throw the lot into a big pot of water. Plenty of salt. Dill, basil, and parsley from the garden. Add a splash of olive oil; it gives vegetable soup a little meatiness, the mouth-feel of chicken soup. Chicken soup is better for you, really, but I don’t eat meat.

A bowl of broth is all I can manage. My appetite doesn’t run to so much as a Saltine. I sleep.

When I wake up, the sun is low in the west. My head doesn’t pound quite so much, but the ringing of the phone jars it anyway. “Hello?”

“Oh, god, baby, I’m so sick.” His voice drips with pathos. “I can’t breathe. I can’t move.”

Something creaks within me. “You want some soup?”

“That’s sounds great. You have some?”

A half hour later, I’m in his kitchen, short of breath, fumbling with the stove. He leans against the door, his dark hair plastered to his face with sweat.

“Too bad it’s not chicken soup,” I say, because I don’t know what else to say. “I’d make you chicken soup if I had some chicken.”

“I have some chicken.” He pulls a takeaway carton from the fridge. It’s tandoori chicken, bright pink. Why not? I cut it up, add it to the pot. “You are so good to me, baby,” he says.

Even though I don’t eat meat, I have to check, to make sure the soup is OK, and damn him if it isn’t a thousand times better this way.