Winter 2007 Volume One Issue One
Blood - by Patricia Russo
Across the street by the garbage cans in front of the embroidery factory, the boys were torturing the one-eyed girl again. Deuce stood at the window, phone pressed to his ear. Five or six boys, all in knee-length white t-shirts, circled her, took her captive, and began to hurt. Deuce tried not to look. He had been sitting on the boxes of junk he'd piled in the corner, all taped up and ready to be hauled to the charity shop tomorrow or next week, when the phone rang. He'd been doing nothing but sitting. Breathing. Trying to be happy. Now a Ms. Somebody from Holy Name was telling him he owed the hospital two pints of blood.
The day was warm, had been since dawn; Deuce had heaved up all the windows. Only the screen stood between him and the outside, and the screen was decaying, red bits of rust joining the flakes of old green paint and old white paint on the sill. Outside was loud. The machinery in the embroidery factory thudded and rumbled; the phones in the embroidery factory, the ring-tone set to ear-piercing to rise over the clamor of the equipment, rang and rang, stopped, then immediately began to ring again. They had all the windows open over there, too, and the doors. Probably didn't help much if you were inside. "I don't understand," he said to the woman from the hospital. The boys were making a lot of noise, too, but the one-eyed girl was not. Deuce didn't understand that, either. He always made noise when he hurt. His father used to laugh at him for it.
But then his father would laugh at a lot of things. "So, all this is going to be yours now," he said before the ambulance came, and laughed and laughed.
Ms. Somebody explained again. The tone of her voice made ice form in Deuce's belly. She was very patient, and horribly cheerful, like a brand-new special ed teacher in front of a class of tards. Was his name such and such? Yes. And his father was the other and such? Yes. And had his father been admitted to Holy Name Hospital on the eighteenth of last month? Yes. And had his father received a blood transfusion? Yes. And had he, he Deuce, not he his father, signed a blood replacement agreement form? Yes...um, yeah well, he'd signed a lot of forms. She understood that; she was sure he had signed a lot of forms. The blood replacement agreement form was one of them; she had the data on her computer screen. Did he understand what blood replacement meant? He thought so, Deuce said, but she explained it to him again. I got it, he said, I remember. They told me I had to promise to donate blood or they wouldn't give my dad any. I'm sure they didn't put it like that, Ms. Somebody said, brightly.
Actually, they hadn't. The nurse, or the social worker, sometimes Deuce couldn't tell the difference, had told him all he had to do was get a couple of his friends to agree to donate; he didn't have to supply the blood himself. They'd had this conversation in the hallway, as she held the clipboard tilted up for him to sign. Deuce remembered being glad it hadn't taken place in the room; dad would surely have laughed his ass off.
Outside, at last, the one-eyed girl threw her head back and screamed.
Did he understand the critical blood shortage in their state? Ms. Somebody went on. Yes. Did he understand that he had made a commitment to Holy Name? Yes. Did he understand that in order for his father to have received a transfusion, other people had donated blood? Yes, yes, and yes.
She gave him an appointment.
He was still trying to get his mouth to say thank you when he realized she had hung up.
Slowly, Deuce lowered the receiver. "Dad," he said, and tried to laugh, but couldn't.
Outside, the early heat was turning sticky. He could feel it, the humidity creeping up; sweatbath coming, this afternoon. Sighing, Deuce turned away from the window. The front room was almost bare, almost completely cleared out. Some boxes piled in the corner, the telephone on a stand, that was it. He'd even swept the floor. Most of the rest of the house was still a mess, rooms clogged with crap, five inches of dust lying over collapsed dressers and legless chairs, floors crusted with filth; dad hadn't left the house in years, except by ambulance or ambulette, and the s-o-b had never qualified for a home health aide, not that he would have allowed one to set foot inside the house even if he had.
I'm going to have to get dressed, Deuce thought, and sighed again. He rubbed his eyes. Sometimes wearing clothes hurt, and this would be one of those times.
They were going to stick a needle in his arm and bleed him. Because of dad. Not once, but twice. Come on, that was funny, wasn't it? Deuce tried again, but still he couldn't laugh. Dad would have gotten a great big old guffaw out of it.
So he hadn't shed enough blood yet, it seemed.
Outside, the embroidery machinery pounded. The factory phone rang, as loud as a siren. Biting his lip, wincing already, Deuce looked outside again. The one-eyed girl was squatting on the pavement in front of the garbage cans, her head in her hands. Run, he thought, get the fuck away from there before they come back, what's wrong with you?
He wished it would rain.
He wished he'd had the phone disconnected. He wished he didn't have to take a shower. The scars that crosshatched and shadowed his skin were red today. Water would hurt. Clothes would hurt. Sun would hurt.
The bathroom was in the back, next to dad's bedroom. Deuce wished he could tell for sure whether dad was all the way dead yet.
The one-eyed girl was probably crying, but he couldn't hear her over the clamor of the factory machines.
Somewhere on the walk from the front room to the bathroom, time got away from him. This happened on occasion, and usually Deuce wasn't disturbed by it. But he had an appointment today, dammit. He had shit to do. He had to get his ass in gear. Hell of a time to find yourself standing outside a half-open door, one hand on the wall, and realize you've been standing there for an hour or so with your mind empty. Try to be happy, he told himself, but black specks the size of pepper grains danced in front of his eyes. For a long time, way after he'd stopped being a child, Deuce had thought those black specks actual insects; he used to try to kill them with bug spray. But they weren't anything, not real; they didn't exist anywhere, not even inside his own eyes. It had been a big shock to discover that, that things he could see were not actually real.
Today, when he rolled up his sleeve to let them swab it and bind it and insert the needle to draw the first pint, the nurse, the technician, whoever it was whose job it was to do it, would not see the scars clouding his skin. No one ever had, other than him, and dad. Things that were actually real often could not be seen. That had never been a surprise to him; that was just the way the world worked.
Deuce pushed the door open the rest of the way. Because he had to, he had to check.
He'd cleaned out this room, too. Most of it.
Dad lay on a mattress on the floor. His eyes were half open. His hands, one curled around the hilt of his marvelous blade, the other empty, rested on his stomach. His legs stretched out straight. Deuce had done that, positioned his legs, days ago. Dad's pajamas were still clean, though a little dusty now. It didn't look like he'd moved at all from the last time Deuce had looked in on him. But the blade in his hand was still a marvel.
Deuce crouched next to the mattress. All of Dad's hair had fallen out. Made his head look like the knob of an old walking stick. "Hey," he said softly, and leaned closer, trying to see if there was any glint in the half-open eyes. Maybe. Maybe not. Dad lay very still.
The blade was alive, though. Vibrant. More lustrous than before, Deuce thought. Heavier, weightier, more serious. More...there. At least in Dad's hand.
A silver wedge, highly polished and gleaming. The hilt no longer than a palm, the blade no longer than a finger. It looked like something that belonged in a museum, in a dusty case in an out of the way room. Decorative, ceremonial, the blade too thick, the metal too soft to hold a real edge. It looked harmless. It looked pretty. It looked like it couldn't cut a slice of butter.
In Dad's hand, the blade shone like solid moonlight.
Deuce reached out one hand, nudged the blade out of dad's grasp. Dad's fingers were cold, lax. Dry. Which might be good news, but in the past Deuce had always sucked at knowing for sure if Dad was awake or asleep. He'd suffered the consequences of that many times. Carefully, he bumped the hilt, easing the knife out of Dad's loose grip, sliding it over the faded blue cloth of his pajama tops. The hilt was not silver, but a darker, heavier metal. Pewter, Deuce thought. Or it was pewter, the way the blade was silver, when the knife was in dad's possession. The blade remained silver, the hilt remained pewter, as long as it lay on dad's motionless chest.
Deuce picked it up, and in his hand the marvelous blade turned into a twisted scrap of corroded junk. It weighed less than a sheet of paper. It looked like the last decaying sliver of an ancient tin can that had been stomped on, run over a thousand times, buried in dung for a hundred years or so, then washed out and knocked about by a hell of a rainstorm. It left shit-colored, grainy stains on his fingers.
Deuce laid the object on the back of dad's hand. Marvelous blade.
Picked it up. Piece of garbage.
Same as always.
The multitude of scars crosshatching his skin burned and throbbed. If he could peel off his skin and throw it away, he would.
Not enough blood yet. Still more blood to pay.
The afternoon had turned as hot and sticky as Deuce had feared, but he put on his jacket before he left the house. Hands in his pockets, he walked to the corner. The closest bus stop was on the avenue, about five blocks away. He'd be drenched in sweat by the time he got there, but the jacket felt necessary. Protective. A shield, however slight, between himself and the outside.
The one-eyed girl was sitting with her back against a barrel of cardboard cones and scrap ends, clots of tangled threads, candy-colored discards from the factory. The barrel was bright green. The blood on her face was bright red, still fresh, still flowing. The girl wiped her nose with the tail of her t-shirt. The blood on her shirt was most brown now.
Deuce crossed the street. "Why don't you go home?" he asked.
The girl looked up at him dully. Then her one live eye flashed with alarm. He had never spoken to her before. She knew him, though. Everyone in this neighborhood knew him.
She shook her head.
Deuce could understand that. Sometimes home was the worst place to go.
"I haven't paid enough blood yet," he said, and she just looked at him and shook her head again. He took the corroded piece of metal, the disgusting piece of junk, out of his pocket. "Maybe you have." He held it out to her. "Take it."
The girl's hand rose, then fell back again into her lap. She closed her eyes, let out a little sigh. Disappointment, resignation.
"Take it," he said. "Go kill something evil."
"Something?" she asked. The first word he'd every heard her speak.
The live eye flashed.
Deuce bent. The girl set her teeth, steeling herself for disillusionment. Her expression was bitter. She opened her hand, and lifted it. He laid his piece of junk gently on her palm.
He stepped back, waiting just long enough to see it become a blade again, marvelous again, though not silver now, but clear, clear as glass, and cold, he knew it must be cold as ice, before he turned and headed for the bus stop and his appointment at the hospital. He couldn't laugh. Perhaps he might never be able to laugh. But the delight in the one-eyed girl's face made him smile. He carried the smile with him as far as he could.