Tuesday, April 18, 2006
— Fiction —
I have to go to the Houston office on business for ten weeks.
To my roommate Todd, I say, “When I get back, you have a job or you’re gone. I’m sick of you paying late, owing me money, and just hanging around the apartment all day and making it dirty.” I’m on the lease; he’s subletting his room from me.
With pot smoke around his head like a fug of mustard gas, he tells me, “A job. I’ve got some very specific leads.” Later, as I am actually walking out the door, he says, “Oh, hey!” I stop and wait, staring; he looks confused; he says, “I’ve got some very specific leads.”
Ten weeks later I come back and the apartment looks a lot worse; for the sake of brevity all I’ll say is there are pizza stains on the wall. “What is this?” I shout. “Get out. This is it; get out.”
Todd gets up off the couch and wanders over to me. He’s wearing several baggy T-shirts and has thick bandages on his arms in two different places. From his pocket he produces a wad of cash. Peeling off twenties, he hands me six hundred dollars he owes me like it’s nothing.
“That shit panned out,” he says. “That lead. I got a job.” He peels off another eight hundred and gives it to me. “There’s next month.”
I go in my room and hide the cash so he can’t steal it back for pot. Then I come out and say, “What’s this job?”
“I’m not supposed to tell anyone.”
“You mean you’re selling drugs.”
“Yes, you are. Tell me the truth. I’ll throw your ass out right now.”
“Chill, I had to quit smoking pot. I’m working for Pfizer.”
“The drug company? Bullshit. Tell the truth.”
He looks slyly at me. “Promise it stays hush-hush?”
“Out with it.”
He pulls up his T-shirts to show me his torso. I flinch like something bit me, feel all the blood rush to my head.
“Are those ears?” They’re growing out of his body, little fleshy fungi.
“They’re trying to figure out how to eventually grow them for transplant victims,” he explains. “They have to do it on a host.”
“What? What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“I get like $7,000 for each. When they’re full-grown they remove them, it just leaves a scar.”
My parents raised me Catholic. I don’t practice anymore, but I don’t have to go to church to know this shit is unnatural. I back away from him, afraid, and lock myself in my bedroom.
After that I live in fear for a little while. I imagine a whole person growing out of his chest while he’s asleep, a person with a big knife, the person attacking me, oh shit. I wake up shivering but sweaty, and in the mornings I sneak out of the apartment, going to work.
I can’t look him in the eye. It’s disgusting and I can’t believe it’s happening under my roof. Worse, I can’t throw him out, because while I was gone, he got his fucking name on the lease. I think he bribed the landlord.
Also, what the hell? I’m working nine to five, plus overtime, and making five thousand dollars a month before taxes, which I used to think was pretty good. But he’s lounging around watching TV, making more than twice that much by letting some doctors grow ears on him! No way he’s getting laid with those things sticking out of his skin—but I’m not doing so great, either.
When the gag factor finally wears off, I start to just plain resent him. I feel sad and cheated.
Then he catches me in the kitchen one night—by now he’s got bandages all over him and he’s wearing at least five T-shirts—and says, “Hey—Bill. Listen.”
I say, “What?”
“Well,” he says, “I went in today for the checkup, you know, and one of the project administrators was talking to me, asking if I knew anybody who might be interested in doing noses.”
“Noses?” I say.
“Yeah, they’re going to start trying to do noses, too.”
“Noses,” I say.
“Ten grand a pop,” he says. “Noses take longer than ears.”
Slowly I say, “Does it hurt?”
* * *
I don’t work nine to five anymore. They took the first one off my shoulder yesterday (it does hurt a little, but you get Vicodin) and I don’t think they really have all the kinks out of the project yet, because the thing looked more like a sea urchin with blowholes than a nose. Whatever, though. The longer it takes them to get it right, the more money I make. I have six growing on me right now; those plus the one they just harvested makes seventy grand in a little over two months, and there are potentially dozens more to come. Dozens! I’m making so much money—I can’t believe how much!—which totally takes away, you know, the shame.