By Charlie Seller
artwork by Dan Reece
Eddie Burke was down on his knees in front of the toilet bowl staring at his lunch in its semi-digested state: a mixture of chunky yellows, pale greens and pureed processed veal patty. Anti-peristelsis: the bane of all junkies and their teeth. Beads of sweat grew and streamed down Eddie’s forehead. A heavy line of spittle and vomit hung from his chin a good 12” in an upside down fishhook with its eye connected to the rim of the bowl and the barb stuck somewhere inside his ugly fishy mouth.
Eddie was really quite homely and his limited catalog of facial expressions only made it that much worse. His teeth were short and stained with a combination of tobacco, caffeine, and neglect framed by a pale and pithy complexion. Eddie had no chin which added to his already weak amphicoelous features. He always wore his straight blond hair in a push-back with a DA that never failed to look like more than a bad pompadour two weeks after every haircut no matter where he got it. In fact, on first impression, someone had commented in private that Eddie looked exactly like a large mouth sea bass with a bad pompadour.
Whenever he spoke it sounded as if he had some sort of peculiar cleft palate or speech defect that was fucking with his ability to say most words coherently so that when they left his mouth other people might understand what they were, instead of stunted as though coming from way up on the top of his mouth and never fully forming before they passed over his fishy lips. Eddie was annoying to listen to even if you didn’t want to brain him which a lot of people did. Eddie was such an ignorant scumbag – he made Jughead look like Jacob Bronowski and St. Francis of Assisi all wrapped up in one. Eddie was out for no one but Eddie, for self, and if you were the same then he was apt to take a shine to you but only just a little more than, say, people he only happened to get next to and then fuck over.
Eddie nodded out over the bowl and woke up with his forehead just inches from the rim which would’ve busted his shit wide open had he hit it. The spittle now ran from lip to chin to toilet bowl rim. Eddie stayed in this position with his brain stuck on pause – or stupid, there really wasn’t too much difference in his case – for about another 35 minutes when the gallery porter started bitching at him to, “Better get the fuck up, Eddie! Motherfucker! You’re gonna get me hot, now will you please get the fuck up?!”
Eddie moved, but so slowly that the porter rolled his eyes, sucked his teeth and said, “Fuck it!” and then he headed back up the company to drop off three more $25 jail bags.
Meanwhile, Eddie fell back and cracked the back of his head on the edge of his metal “desk” so hard that he felt it through all the dope he’d done: 3 jail bags or what was the rough equivalent of 1 “New Yorker” or “street bag.”
He was relatively clean and the shit had laid his grimy ass out. His tongue was sore the next day and he thought he must have bit it or maybe that he’d tried to put the wrong end of a lit cigarette in his mouth again. Actually, he’d bit the tip of it when he crashed into the desk.
Eddie picked up a copy of “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” that he’d found in the cell when he moved in 6 months ago.
“He must ‘a been some kind ‘a faggot, Joyce, dat’s a girl’s name!”
And, with his investigation complete, Eddie Burke lit one of the corners of this paperback book that was almost as old as he was with a disposable lighter and held it, burning, until he could no more whence he dropped the charred and sooty, flame engulfed tome, into the skin of what had been his lunch, now floating quietly in the toilet bowl. He stared at it with the normally dull expression in his eyes that betrayed Eddie to be in possession of less intelligence than an old brain damaged dog. He repeated the only two words that he’d read in the entire book, “sweety milk,” and then he tried to spit out a piece of his ”lunch” that had been hiding in a corner at the back of his misshapen mouth but most of it ended up connected to his face and state t-shirt instead.
Eddie slumped against the cool, painted steel wall beside the toilet, blank for now, satiated desires. Eddie closed his eyes and memories that couldn’t lie to him replayed a history of events over six years old when he’d caught this bid; before everyone he’d known had forgotten about him on purpose.
He’d been cowboying: stick-ups, scams, burglaries, whatever was convenient and all for dope. It had ended in a Traveler’s Motel right near La Guardia Airport. Eddie smelled the automobile exhaust of the Van Wyck Expressway and how it was when the DTs had nailed him after he’d come out of the room for ice wearing a wig as a disguise. Eddie had that donkey look on his already dopey face when they’d handcuffed him. Then one of the detectives slapped him right across the mouth so hard that it knocked him back into the brick face wall next to the ice machine and bloodied his lip.
Later, in their unmarked car, they stopped behind a closed supermarket somewhere in Flushing to slap the living shit out of him because no one could find the lengths of rubber hose that all of them swore they’d left in the glove compartment. (The next day the hoses mysteriously reappeared provoking mutual delusions all around that were only squelched when one of the detectives checked the vehicle logs and realized that they’d been riding in two different cars.)
On the way to Queens Central Booking the four of them beat, slapped, and punched Eddie like it was alright – shouting at him all the way there to, “Pick up your fuckin’ head, pick your fuckin’ head up, you ugly piece a’ shit!” SLAP! SLAP! SLAP! “You miserable,” SLAP! “junkie,” SLAP! “piece a’ fuckin’,” SLAP! “shit!” SLAP! SLAP! SLAP!! “You motherfucker, you!”
And then, with the palm of his hand to Eddie’s forehead:THWUMP! and that’s when Eddie broke down and started crying and blubbering and then they really let him have it, mocking him as they slapped him on the side of his head making his ears sting and bleed until, finally, one of the DTs said,
“Alright, enough of this fish-faced punk,” and then he hauled off and punched Eddie in the stomach so hard that it folded him up and knocked him right on his ass.
“Ha! Fooled ya, huh?! Ha, ha!” and then everyone took turns and had themselves a good laugh kicking Eddie square in his ass one more time.
“I’m hungry,” the driver said.
“Yeah, me too, Richie.”
“What a’ ya’ say we dump this asshole in the river and go eat?”
That last mention of food was enough to make them forget about Eddie who had begun to wince every time one of them so much as looked at him creating a new game that the pigs called, Fist-a-phobia or the fear of,” TWUMP! “gettin’ hit! Ha, ha, ha, what’s at matta’, Eddie? You don’t wanna play no more, do you? Answer me you fuckin’ prick!” SLAP!
“Sweety milk,” Eddie whispered in his cell.