Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Plague Days

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WARNING: This entry contains explicit language

After the operation Carp hardly went out. At first nothing facial showed. It was still below the belt. Turned out the growth wasn't scabies or eczema like he'd assumed for so long, nor was it some gruesome reaction to the garbage dope he’d been stuffing in his veins.
Carp kept losing weight and couldn't figure out what was wasting him. He avoided the clinic for ages, averse to being naked around an official stranger, to having his slack gray flesh felt up under bright exam lights, like those depressing old pornos set in a doctor's office.
But as the purple blotch grew, Carp reluctantly showed up at the hospital. After waiting all day, a nurse had to puncture him several times before managing to draw what seemed like a gallon of blood.
An intern scraped a piece off the ugly growth. “Tests,” she said flatly.
Carp knew the score as soon as a young jock called Doctor Radisson sat him in his office. The yellow result sheets were full of check marks.
“No two ways,” he told Carp. “Your only chance is if we take off the bad one, immediately. Otherwise they'll both go eventually - and whole lot else besides.”
Radisson wanted a list of partners.
“Jesus Christ,” Carp worried. “What kinda partners?”
“Sexual relations, that sort of thing.”
“Uh... I been around, I guess. Fucked with whoever wanted to. The usual, y'know... bars, speaks, that type of shit. I'm not really queer er nothin…”
“I know what you're thinking,” Doc Rad told Carp's blank look. “You're thinking 'why me?'”
“No,” Carp shook his head. “Why anybody?”
Doctor Radisson sized Carp up for a few long moments then decided to be reasonable. “This isn't punishment, you understand.”
“It's not?”
“You're still a young man.”
“Funny,” muttered Carp. “I don't feel young.”
Doc Rad glanced at the single page file before him. “But you're only… thirty-three, potentially many years ahead of you. The surgery's simple, it'll be over in a few minutes… and with the proper regimen, a near normal life is likely.”
“Well... what do you do with if after?” Carp wanted to know. “Just flush it down the can? I mean, it’s sick now but it put in a lotta good miles for me. I'd feel like a traitor.”
“It wants to kill you,” Doc Rad said with finality.
“But next it could be an arm,” Carp whined. “Or a leg… Then what?”
“There are drugs,” the doctor reassured him. “They've been known to help.”
Carp's mood improved slightly. “Oh, yeah? What kinda drugs?”

So Carp sat through those final nights, rarely crawling out of his flop since he couldn't stand to see all the easy marks he'd once hustled, crisp fifty dollar bills held flat against the inside of their windshields as they cruised by. He knew that nowadays they'd run screaming after seeing his eyes sunk back like the dead, boney shoulders lost in rags, the once thick black hair streaked with gray and falling out.
Carp got used to being alone, to the sour stink that came off his hide no matter how many sponge baths. He carefully sniffed his farts and tried to detect what it was his body had against him. The hateful cells began to show up on the surface, eruptions on his legs and nose and chin, like boils but leaking nothing. The one between his eyes looked like a raw bullet hole.
Daylight - or any kind of light but his feeble desk lamp, was unbearable. He cried to see ripe bodies on TV and so stuck to his reliable old pal, the radio. Carp floated on a pillow of dilaudid while smoking two packs of Camel dead-ends per day. He lived on stale pizza, take-away fries and boxes of icing sugar. Once in a while he'd reach down, fingers barely grazing the puckered skin where his little egg used to be.
He drifted through a sweeter world where he was a retired Hall of Famer. Put in twenty good seasons, the iron man, never let the fans down, several 1st and 2nd team All-Star selections, a scoring title even. The Piston, the fans called him. He could still hear the cheers.
Carp shuffles through his trophies, blows dust off snapshots of some of the hottest pussy in town. He fondles memories of coy phone calls and chance sidewalk run-ins that ended up in a big lumpy bed. He recalls all the great places you could fuck outside during a hot night; on the mountain, among the bushes on the Lachine Canal embankment, under an old railway bridge, on wooden fire escape stairs in a back alley off the Main with the sound of drunks just a few yards away over the wall.
He considered the hysterical theories spewed by his favorite late night station, beaming out of Plattsburgh. He wished he could afford some of the snake-oils and healing crystals pitchmen assure him had worked over the eons. But even Carp couldn’t avoid the fact no con or squirm was possible, no slippery feint or deke. He'd beaten a long string of guys right outa their pants, an army of women right outa their teeth but he couldn't beat the steady, dragging tide. Everything and everybody Carp had fucked or had been fucked by now stood in a dry and silent line, all looking the other way.
His desk was a mess of crumpled paper, spilled vials of radio-active pills, old syringes with the numbers worn off from being too lazy to go out and buy a bag of new ones. Semi comatose or not, Carp’s long, nicotine colored fingernails roamed along the dial, hoping to hear the miserable tales of those with bigger troubles than his own. He hurried past the despised sound of recorded music then caught a weak signal, a voice behind the static:
"Hey, Carp, you there? Gotta minute? Tough break, kid. Must be a real assfuck to take such a long fall from the top. You were one of the best, Carp, a true old school stick man. Bury it in the five hole every time. Be a dog's age before any of your records are touched. It's important you keep that in mind, son. What you contributed to the league - to the overall game, all those clutch plays. Don't forget, you're not alone in this - like we always said: 'To You From Failing Hands We Pass the Torch — Be Yours to Hold it High...'
So you gotta go down fighting, like the good ol' Carp the fans knew and loved. And why not one more for old time sake? C'mon, Carp, no need to be embarrassed. Nobody's expecting the jack hammer of bygone days. And as long as everybody's fully rubberized, it's safe as badminton. Am I getting through to you, Carp?"

Carp is sprawled across his desk, a long string of drool oozing from his mouth, side of his face stuck to blank 8.5 by 11 inch sheet of paper. Carp’s mind flickers, barely conscious, a single finger twitches in acknowledgement.
"So hang in there, kid! We'll talk again soon… Okay, the lines are all lit up! Let's get things rolling with tonight's first caller, Jimmy in Park Extension..."

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Basil Papademos

Basil Papademos is the author of MOUNT ROYAL: There's Nothing Harder Than Love, published in the spring of 2012 by Tightrope Books, also available as an ebook in all formats from all digital retailers. His earlier novel, The Hook of it is, was published by Emergency Press. His upcoming novel, How To **** Your Psychiatrist, will be published in the fall of 2013.

Go to Basil Papademos’s Author Page