Back in seminary, your humble narrator smoked a lot of cigarettes. I mean just ludicrous amounts of smoking. I smoked more than I drank, and I did a lot of that too… but beer never caused Roping.
Roping was when I’d wake up, with some… horrible fucking thing in my chest, in the back of my throat… this awful presence… and I’d hack and cough and hack. But instead of the normal detritus fired out of a chain-smoking 20-something’s chest and lungs… I got this thick viscous strand of nearly sentient mucous that wouldn’t… quite… come all the way up by itself. Like a spaghetti strand of cigarette excrement.
So I’d desperately, gagging, bloodshot eyes and heaving breath, spittle and spume everywhere- desperately try and get a grip of this slimy thing protruding from up my throat. And I’d pull. Eventually the tail end of this parasitic phlem would come whipping out of my raw throat, and I’d collapse on the cool tiles of the communal bathroom floor, retching and gasping and spent.
“Jesus. You look terrible,” Mr. E. would say looking down at me, his first silk-cut of the day wafting smoke over the layer of toothpaste on his teeth. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Roping,” I’d whisper, wiping the back of my clammy hand across my mouth.
He’d shake out a cigarette and hoist himself up on one of the sinks, dropping the fag on my chest and whipping out his battered old zippo lighter. I’d gratefully light up and inhale, fish a lukewarm can of Pabst or Strohs out of the pocket of my bathrobe and have my own particular breakfast with my friend, talking about the old days in Thailand or Borneo. Those were good mornings.
Lately, the pain of not having money has reached Roping levels, without the nice beer & a smoke breakfast with Mr. E. My chest was collapsing on itself, or so it felt, and I was often finding streams of blood dribbling out of my left nostril.
“You….rrrrrrrrrrrrrr… never really did a lot of inhalents, right?” asked my half-dead physician, Dr. Israel Hands.
“Right,” I said, sitting comfortably on the massage chair as his preternaturally strong hands worked on my shoulders.
“Well, brrrrrrrrrraiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-well, it’s probably stress. I think I need my ball peen hammer,” he said, trying to work a knot out of my back.
“Stress? Bah! I know no stress! My mother was an alligator and my father was a grizzly b’ar! I piss Coors and crap napalm. Stress is like a breath mint to a bulemic!”
I looked over my shoulder, wondering why the nice shoulder pressure had stopped. Dr. Hands was looking slack-jawed (granted, normal for him these days) at the shattered handle of his hammer.
“That is one hell of a knot,” he slurred.
But that was before we headed down South, past the kipple, to Cassandra’s place. It isn’t on any maps, and GPS won’t work there. Cell phones rarely take calls you don’t want, and there is always meat in the freezer. Plus, she has a beer tree.
After a few days relaxing, I made us a lovely dinner one night. Mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables and steaks: tofu and beef, respectively, sauteed with onions and mushrooms in butter and then deglazed with Rebel Yell bourbon whiskey… it was lovely.
That night, or rather, the next morning… I woke up around 4am. At EXACTLY 4am, to be honest. I felt weird, wrong, drugged, disordered… and I was moving. I was in the back of a car. The car was moving. I could hear road sounds, and the faint backwash of the headlights gave me a little idea of where I was… that and the glow of the console. Which is also how I knew what time it was.
“Whu?” I muttered through thick lips. I was sprawled out across the backseat, in my own car, my wife’s car, my head resting in the Baby Seat. I painfully turned and saw The Boy standing in the passenger seat, looking at me, hanging onto the headrest. I could see the clock. My Wife was driving.
“Whu?” I grunted through a swollen throat. “Owwww….”
“Hey, don’t get all weird on me, mister,” she snarled as she turned the car abruptly onto what felt like unpaved road. I bounced and my head slammed back down onto the car seat. The Boy giggled from the rapid movement.
“This was all YOUR idea. I’m just following orders. It was in our pre-nup, for Christ’s sake!” She slammed on the brakes and I wrenched something, spilling into the space normally reserved for leg-room.
“Guh?” I muttered through bloody lips.
“Wheeeee!” shrieked The Boy.
I heard the car door opening and felt the hot, still summer air and then the rough gravel as my Wife dragged me by my feet and uncerimoniously dumped me.
“I don’t know why this is a good idea, Honey,” she said worriedly, propping me up against a fencepost. I could barely move anything. Except my eyelids. And they felt like they had sandpaper adhered to the insides, so I was trying hard not to move them much. “But I’ve always been a dutiful wife! And when you give me a scary black envelope, telling me it’s time… well. I know my place! Love you!”
She gave me a peck on the cheek and climbed back in the car, stowing The Boy into the child carrier.
“Why are you abandoning me… at a crossroad?” I said. Only it came out: “Mrahguh? Rossroff?”
The Boy let out a wail and my heart surged: he didn’t want to abandon me on some godforsaken meeting place of a dirt and gravel road! He loved me! On second thought, no: he just didn’t want to have to get back in the child seat after getting to ride up front.
The car roared off, the Wife blowing me a kiss as the dust settled on me, covering me in a fine layer of greyish brown silt. I wheezed out a cough and twitched my fingers, trying to wipe the dust from my agitated nose. At least the movement was coming back. Yeah: that’s it!
I shakingly raised my right first and extended the middle finger. I tossed a gentle benediction at the retreating tail-lights of my family and then used the finger to pry a huge dirt-booger out of my mustache.
It gets quiet pretty quickly, out in the middle of nowhere. Especially in those wee hours of the morning when you should be asleep. Terrible things happen around 3 or 4 in the morning. They say it’s when the KGB used to come knocking. Bill Moseley always said thats when The Devil Wind came and woke folks up when they were worrying over something… Old Blind Pete always said I’d hang.
I heard a rustling sound in the witchgrass as some nocturnal animal snuffled its way through the dark. By the light of the crescent moon I could make out a barren field on one side of the road, an old cross-beam holding up the raggedy silhouette of a scarecrow. When clouds rolled across the moon I shut my eyes: I could hear clopping footsteps on the wind, way far off, like rundown bootheels on still-warm asphalt.
When I opened my eyes again, the scarecrow was gone. Just the crossbeam remained in the field.
So what was I doing, partially paralyzed from strong drink and good food, unarmed, propped up against a fencepost in the middle of the backcountry, at a crossroad, abandoned by my family, at the Bad Time?
What indeed. What indeed, dear ones.
Dare I say it? To Be Continued…