"Do it! Do I look like I give a shit?" I felt the cold metal against my forehead, as familiar as the breathing of smoke, the drinking of poison, the sight of decay.
The gun butt crashed dangerously close to my temple.
"Damn it" I muscled in on the blow. Well, at least I no longer had the gun against my forehead.
"I don't think you understand how easy it would be to get rid of you" Greasy, dirty fingers grabbed my hair under the hood. The words were whispered against the freshly opened wound, the blood cooled before the fetid halitus.
"And you don't understand how easy it would be to use some mouthwash..." a kick against my diaphragm made my insides collide with each other. I hadn't eaten anything all day, the gastritis, a sign of poor nutrition, burned in my stomach like a wound being inspected with the fingertip, my lungs forgot that they had to take oxygen for several seconds of torment, and when they remembered, they found nothing but a crushed breathing tube. I found myself hunched over, spitting out bile, sucking in air like a desperate fuck.
At least the son of a bitch knew where to strike.
Strong hands lifted me up against the wall, some sewage that had failed to run into the sewers because of the recent rain had seeped into my boots. I wondered how much new ones would cost, these were worn out... and Karen's sewing skills were beginning to falter after mending them at least ten times.
The threats kept coming, I wasn't interested in paying attention to them.
I watched the security guard I had knocked out last time, behind the back of the owner of this dump. I smiled in his direction. I saw those pierced lips with a ring, pretty faggy, puckering in disgust.
"You're disposable, McCormick" I turned to the animal in front of me. I let go of a long, heavy sigh.
"You didn't need a fucking display of 'my dick is bigger than yours' to project yourself," fingers, index and thumb pressed against my face, I wrinkled my nose in displeasure at the calluses I could feel on my skin, the thought of knuckles being bruised and healed a thousand times over on thicker and thicker tissue, less and less sensitive...
I wondered when my knuckles would be as big and nasty as this animal's, like the guard behind him. I wondered if life was nothing more than that, ugly, bleeding knuckles, increasingly resistant to fists against the wall.
"You're smart, kid. You can still turn back. Study or something, rebels like you, with lines out of Tarantino don't last a damn."
"I'm more of a Gaspar Noah guy. Now, if you're done..."
"Just a reminder" the forearm went up into my windpipe blocking any moaning that the next act would produce, the butt of the gun grazing my jaw. With a knife no bigger than a thumb, he sliced skin through cloth between my collarbone and my right pectoral. It wasn't deep, but it fucking hurt like hell. "You'd do better in school. Kid."
"Yes?" I was too focused on the pain in my chest to notice my cell phone between his fingers, the knife still in the palm, a thread of blood diluted in sweat dripping down the blade, falling into the sleeve of that ragged leather jacket he was wearing "Wait a minute" he muttered, and without letting go of his grip on my windpipe he placed the phone against my ear.
"Kenny speaking" I mumbled, the pain was running down my fucking jugular, and it was sliding down my arm. Every muscle connected to that little spot of pierced flesh was screaming in the cold of the night.
" Kenny! Shit, Kenn. I need your help... like, super fast, literally, I don't know what the fuck to do " She was drunk, for some reason she started saying literally for every fucking thing when she was drunk.
"Not the best time, Bebe. Sorry."
" It's Stan, Kenn. He's not moving, literally, he's not moving at all " The pain made it difficult for me to maintain my concentration, as well as the watchful eyes of those two animals in front of me.
Finally the grip was released. I breathed, put my hand up to the wound, watched the man's lips move, words I ignored as they left the alley with no more ceremony than a dog peeing on some abandoned building.
" Hey, hey, can you hear me? Are you with Red? " She made a little sound of surprise. " Are you guys fucking? " she whispered.
I slid against the wall, wrinkling my nose from the wet fingers. The blood wouldn't stop.
"What the fuck happened to Stan?" Silence covered the call for a few seconds. I couldn't help but breathe heavily, mumble. I licked my suddenly dry lips, and cursed the water on the floor now seeping through the fabric of my jeans. Great.
" I don't know how the fuck he ended up in North Park, literally, I have no fucking idea... or I don't remember, I don't remember. Anyway. In this frat's house where I come sometimes... "
I knew the place.
"Y ou know how things are with Wendy. I thought I'd help him out, we went down to the red room and... well, you know how it is there. " I started to stand up again, reloading all movement against the still intact side. Well, intact by an extremely fucked-up standard.
"I'm going" breathing prompted a sustained abdominal movement that triggered pain streams. I decided to do it slowly, very slowly.
" We're in his car, some guys helped me get him in, but I can't drive... literally, I'm in no condition”
"Yes. I can hear that" I breathed a couple of times, moving on my way to a vacant parking lot behind a restaurant that had been closed for hours, the money tended to be laundered in broad daylight "I'm on my way" I repeated ignoring her last words. I hung up reaching for the pickup truck as old and forgotten as I had left it.
I ignored it, assuming it was Bebe. First I had to ride that horrible beast and not bleed out in the process. I opened the door, slightly stuck, demanding strength I didn't have.
And I climbed up with the will that the idea of Stan in trouble provided.
Finally in front of the wheel, I picked up the phone as I was starting up. I opened my lips to answer, but the distant murmur of an all-too-familiar sobbing made my chest jump in anxiety.
"Cartman?" I started the truck, throwing out some trash cans in the process in my eagerness to get on the road. There was no time for reverse. A few more whimpers crossed the line "Eri..."
" I think I'm going crazy. I'm losing it, Kinny. I'm losing it, and I don't know how to... how to stop. I'm... just come. I need you, please come... " my breathing accelerated to the speed of the truck, the car skidded for a second as a sudden dizziness made me lose control. I turned my attention to the ground being illuminated by the flashing tracers of the pickup.
It was the first time he had called me under such a vulnerable state. It was the first time he had ever asked for real help.
"I'm on my way."
" Don't be late... Please don't be late. " He hung up.
When I finally found the car in that street flooded with metal and tires, college kids and teenagers, broken glass, brassieres on the pavement, and widespread insanity, Bebe was already completely asleep in the back seat, Stan was unconscious on her legs.
I leaned over to him, touching his jugular shortly, feeling the calm movement under my fingers from the pumping of blood. Slowly and wearily, with the effort of an old horse dragging a damaged carriage up a hill.
"Stan" he did not move; but I could see the rapid movement of his eyelids, his pupil groping the chasm in front of it, prompting a soft fluttering of those thick black eyelashes, the frowning of his brow. I touched his cheek, it was icy "Stan!" Bebe gave a little jump in her place, he moaned.
Well... at least he wasn't dead.
"When did you get here?" I moved to the driver's seat. I didn't have time. "Where are we going?"
"It's the only place that doesn't look like a dump, the only place without responsible parents... or Randy" I set up the rearview mirror, almost pressed against the window by some jerk on duty. I triggered the alarm on a few cars as I drove out of that fucking maze; but the suckers were too far gone to notice.
"Are you bleeding?" she put her hand on Stan's shoulder, still completely gone. And looked at me through the mirror. I clicked my tongue, I hadn't washed my face, or anything in particular, whatever I touched with my soaked hands must have had that ominous crimson trace. What a mess.
"Are you high?" she tilted her head comically, lips half open; the lipstick had already blurred along her mouth, the eyelash had spread around her eyes, leaving black circles in pale complexion, greyish irises, dilated pupils. She leaned back against the door, surrendered, and after letting her gaze wander across the glass and Stan's face, she lowered the window halfway. She didn't speak again for the rest of the trip.
I parked on the street. As usual, Cartman's mother's truck was reduced to the old trail of tracks in the snow.
"Wait here" I said to Bebe as I left, grabbed my phone, started calling him.
He took a long time to answer.
Each ringing increased my anxiety, making me more aware of the wound in my chest, his crying across the line, the dry cloth now stuck against the skin, the idea of what he was capable of doing under enough pressure, clotted blood tangled in shirt fibers, the two hours between his plea call and my appearance, the cold numbing my fingertips, my lips, I needed a cigar...
I saw him leaning out the window, phone in hand, staring at Stan's car.
"I need you to open the door, Cartman”
He was silent for a couple of seconds.
"Fuck you." The curtain closed, the call was hung up. I let go of a heavy sigh in response, then went back to the car.
"Help me carry him" I said to Bebe, the weight would make the wound bleed again, the thought didn't bother me.
"Is anyone there?" she went out the other door, circling the car in my direction while contemplating the silent facade. The cold seemed to have brought some sobriety to her voice, her walking.
"Yes." We sat him down at the edge of the door. I bent down as Bebe helped to settle him on my back. I took a deep breath before lifting his weight. He was heavy, quite heavy. I started walking towards the door, Bebe walked behind me, her hand on Stan's back, my hands under his knees. And just as I walked up the first step on the porch, the door opened.
"Go to Mom's room" said Cartman; his voice sounded hoarse, tired, it was about four o'clock in the morning after all. I nodded silently as I walked up the stairs. "I'm sorry, Bebe, there can only be one whore in this house at a time, I don't want any pimps roaming the neighborhood"
"Fuck you" I heard her heels get lost in the distance, tomorrow I'd apologize to her; for the moment, it was enough for me to survive the night.
I leaned over a little more to put his weight on me as I released one of his knees to open the door to Liane's room. My back was starting to get over the pain in my chest. A fucking torture contest.
With my back to the bed I let him fall slowly, Cartman was coming after me, a huge plastic in his hands.
"What's that for?"
"I'm not cleaning vomit off my mother's fucking bed" he walked over to Stan, and with gestures that anyone would describe as developed on a regular basis, he placed him on the plastic, forming a small wall of pillows on his back to keep him on his side
That’s what it was like to have an addict mother, I guess.
"What did he take?"
"Opioids and alcohol, probably"
"A clever combination, for a suicidal fuck, of course" a certain distaste arose from the words. He felt Stan's forehead, then reluctantly covered him with one end of the blanket. I witnessed the strange display of indifferent kindness... Only someone like him could twist such gestures, make them look like demonstrations of scorn.
"You called me..." there was no trace of tears or despair in his voice, no pleading in his gestures, not even the slightest need for companionship in his body. For a moment I felt I had been delirious, perhaps the call had been nothing more than a projection of my own needs coming to the surface thanks to some hallucinogenic that must have slipped into my nocturnal adventure.
"You're late, McCormick" his eyes caught up with me in the darkness, confirming to my relief that the call had been real. Good, I wasn't that crazy.
"Late?" He started to make his way to the bedroom door.
"You're two fucking hours late."
"I had to drive to North Park, it's not exactly a ride over Stark's pond" he snorted out into the hallway, I followed him "What did you want me to do?!" he turned in my direction.
"To help me!"
"Then let me help you! I'm here to..." I took a step in his direction, he stepped back. His eyes then dug into the blood on my chest. A black stain in contrast to the light in the bathroom, where he might have gotten the plastic, perhaps.
I wondered if he had a small drawer intended for these situations, plastic bags to avoid unnecessary fluids, naloxone vials, a container of biological waste where used needles rested, and some determination not to send it all to hell.
"I needed you more than he needed you."
"This is not a fucking competition Cartm..."
"It is! Everything is in this..." he raised his hands as if trying to shape something in the air, frustration chewing on his gestures "...Who deserves help and who doesn't? Who deserves empathy and who doesn't? Who deserves mercy and who doesn't? Every fucking second someone is proving something to the world like we're in fucking 'America's got talent'!" he shouted at the top of his lungs, a ball of hate and resentment towards something in particular rose up to nothing in specific "A constant debate about moral superiority that nobody ever wins because nobody gives a fuck who's right and who's wrong, because the right thing is just a fabrication of that fucking fish that fucked a retarded squirrel, that fucked a retarded monkey in the ass, that fucked the fucking world with inconsequential constructs!"
"What the fuck are you...?"
"Like a sick inside joke in this stupid community that I sometimes don't even get! But the thing is, this fucking place is a joke! And you know what I and the result of my fucking moral debate says?! "A tear was dancing in the base of his right eye, bouncing off his lower eyelid every time a scream left his lips "That I needed your help more than he did, and I don't give a fuck if anybody says otherwise!" The tear expanded like a river as it reached the ocean, spilling down his cheek.
I had no fucking idea what to say, but... I think I fucked up.
"I... I don't know what..."
"You said you liked me."
"Why? You said it, now tell me why. White trash like you have a horrible tendency to say bullshit." The question had been so sudden, even I didn't know the answer. God knew I'd asked myself that at least a thousand times before.
"Well... I have a horrible tendency towards self-destruction, always going for what will hurt me the most. I expect nothing from you, Cartman; just like I expect nothing from my own future."
"Since when?" Oh... this answer I knew, I knew it very well.
Since I discovered that we all have the potential to be a monster. People judge from afar, they alienate themselves from the monster by removing their human condition to facilitate the conception of wrong as unworthy of themselves. Ever since I discovered how uncomfortable he made everyone feel simply by existing, his constant impunity was a crime against the concept of morality. Since I saw him in his most vulnerable state, and found no more than a small, trembling swirl of self-contempt and hatred against the world, seeking with teeth and nails the concepts that his mother never taught him to survive; an angry and violent swirl with a twisted conception of the world, the product of an edge that abstracted it, that unravelled it, that destroyed it and rearmed it a thousand and one times, a confused and lost swirl that was forced to create a whole reality of its own in order to survive, because he never managed to understand what reality really was.
"Ever since we traveled to Nebraska together that Christmas, when..." he snorted at the air with sudden weariness.
"It's called pity, not liking, poor fuck. In your condition of poverty it's a feeling you experience little, but you get a lot, and therefore you can get confused with lik..."
"I felt pity for you..." he arched his eyebrows, not expecting me to accept it so easily, and frowned immediately afterwards "But to the misfortune of both of us, is not like that anymore" he smiled strangely unwillingly.
"You know what I did to Red?" unfortunately I sometimes forgot that this small, twisted swirl, in its eagerness to fit its own delusions, in its eagerness to prove itself right, real, could destroy, break, bleed. Sometimes I forgot how much I could hate him.
"What did you do?" and from the outside, I could only watch as he continued to destroy himself, taking a thousand and one victims with him at a time. I knew he enjoyed it, I knew he wasn't the victim here, that this was a game for him, and the image he spread in my direction was no more than the result of a very good game.
"I drugged her and peed on her" but I couldn't help feeling that with every act he was getting more and more lost, I couldn't help feeling that he was aware of that, and that it hurt him "Do you even like this? Even this part of me?" I ignored the image on the cell phone.
I hit the wall next to me with such force that I felt my knuckles give way. I remembered the knuckles of that man in the alley. How many more times did I have to break tissue before it finally stopped bleeding?
"You may like to spill blood, but not all of us like to see it on the floor or the fucking walls, so I'd appreciate it if..."
"Why did you do it?"
He was silent for a couple of seconds, seemed to hesitate.
"I told you, everyone always has something to prove most of the time."
"What did you need to prove?"
"Do you still like me?" I watched him bite his lower lip trying to keep his smile on, while the corners of his mouth wavered between a lie and a truth he didn't want to admit. The tear in his eye now danced under both irises, staggering back and forth, trapezists of misery afraid to fall.
"You have..." I smiled wearily "You have this ability to make me hate myself as much... as I can hate you. Yes Cartman, I still like you" I shortened the distance by covering his cheeks with my hands. The trapeze artists of misery fell from those huge eyes, that torturous stage without safety net, crashing fatally into my thumbs. Where his tears met their death, my lips found his skin "You make me feel so... heavy" as if he were burying me alive; but he didn't need to hear that.
"Is that a fat joke?" I smiled against his wet skin, moving my lips in the direction of his, eyes trapped between each other, none of us dared to blink.
"I forgive you" I planted a kiss on his lips, when I raised my eyelids again his eyes still stared at me in confusion "Now you will have to forgive me"
I retraced my steps back to the room.
"What are you doing?" I walked towards the unconscious figure in front of me... no, not unconscious, just asleep.
I was so exhausted.
I crawled over the bed in its direction.
"Hey, what are you doing..."
"Stan" I whispered. I saw his face move in tedium "Stan" I whispered against his ear, his eyes opened slowly, with the difficulty of who did not want to wake up again. He watched my figure above him, the room, the plastic under his body.
"Kenn" I saw his lips murmuring. He smiled in my direction extremely stunned, his absurdly dilated pupils competing with the darkness of the night. I felt his cold nose with mine, a giggle infested with this alcohol smell reached my nostrils, followed by drunken and tired lips "Kenn" whispered against my mouth.
Like a spell, tears began to spill out of my eyes almost immediately in response to his kiss.
His tongue danced against mine lazilly, my tears filtered between our lips dressing the evening in a melancholic tone.
Cartman's footsteps drifted away. Down the hall, down the stairs. Something was thrown, something was destroyed, glass, porcelain.
"Sorry" I murmured against his lips as I touched the skin under his shirt. He laughed against my mouth once more, the movement of his lips slower and slower. The distant sound of a door being closed paralyzed me in my place.
He was gone.
I moved away from Stan, again completely asleep in his place, and fell next to him, cushioned by that stupid plastic. I couldn't stop crying, my chest hurt, my head contemplated the idea of remembering the absence of any drugs in my system, of dancing to the rhythm of abstinence...
His tired hand wiped away my tears. Stan.
He smiled in my direction, with the lightness of an infant.
"Don't cry," he muttered. I didn't answer, I... "Or cry, cry a lot so you don't have to cry tomorrow" his smile grew, the lazy caress now lay motionless against my cheek, his fingers groping my hair, dried blood from the wound near my temple.
I closed my eyes in tiredness, my chest hurt, it hurt too much, in which I wondered why I always preferred that which hurt me; why always that broken, harmful, wounded thing, full of faults, of poison, of anger was what attracted me. Why did I walk towards the blade, as if I hoped it would not cut me. Why did I try a drug that would inevitably lead me to a hopeless addiction…
"I hurt myself today..." I opened my eyes to see him in front of me, smile on his lips, sleepy eyes "To see if I still feel" he sang. Hoarse voice, thumb running down the path of my tears "I focus on the pain, the only thing that's real" in the silence of the night his voice was like a beacon in nothingness.
Between hums he followed the melody, eyes closed, lazy vocalization but perfect voice.
I imitated his gesture, I caressed his cheek between the eyes blurred by tears that refused to fall from my eyelids, feeling a load of tenderness in my chest. The more vulnerable we were, the easier it was to fall in love, or to become confused.
"What have I become" I sang along with him, although his tone was somewhat lethargic in the style of Johnny Cash, I sang more in the style of Nine Inch Nails. "My sweetest friend?"
Between different beats we murmured in the silence of the dawn, stumbling over words, syllables, like children dancing in complete darkness. At some point our hands connected, I felt for a second, that they were never really apart. It sounded perfect.
"Everyone I know..."
"Goes away anyway" I couldn't remember how it went on, he started to fall asleep again.
"If I could start again" I stroked his hair. His breath had once again escaped in the direction of a oneiric city, far from this room, far from me. "A million miles away" under my face the tears ran down the plastic, wetting my cheeks, my hair "I will keep myself” my voice sounded like a broken radio, between nasal congestion from crying and some whimpering between my attempt to whisper “I would find a way" I didn't want to wake him up.