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Authors: Justin Chin

98 Wounds

98
W
ounds
Justin
C
hin
                 

Manic
D
Press

San
F
rancisco

98 Wounds ©2011 by Justin Chin. All rights reserved.

Published by Manic D Press. For information, contact Manic D Press, PO Box 410804, San Francisco CA 94141
www.manicdpress.com

Printed in the USA

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Chin, Justin, 1969-

98 wounds / Justin Chin.

p. cm.

ISBN 978-1-933149-57-8 (pbk. original) -- ISBN 978-1-933149-37-0 (ebook)

I. Title.

PS3553.H48973A616 2011

811'.54--dc23

2011031510

In Memoriam
E. Brian Shelley
Cheryl B.

The author wholeheartedly thanks Dave Thomson, Zack Linmark, Lisa Asagi, Faye Kicknosway, Lori Takayesu, Lüch Linmark & Greg Boorsma, my lovely family, Michelle Tea, Ali Liebegott & Beth Pickens at Radar Productions, Radar Lab 2010, Jen Joseph & Manic D Press, the San Francisco Foundation Fund for Artists, all the writers & artists & oddbits who kindly & magnanimously donated of their time & work & moxie to the fundraising auction efforts & especially to all the donors for their generosity & support.

Slightly different versions of some works contained herein have previously appeared in the following publications:
Flesh & The Word 4
(Plume),
Porn
, (Harrington Park),
Best of the Best Gay Erotica 1996-2000
(Cleis),
Best Gay Erotica 1997
(Cleis),
ZYZZYVA
. Vol XIII, No. 2 & Vol XV, No. 3, and
580 Split
. Issue 9.

Also by Justin Chin

Bite Hard

Mongrel

Harmless Medicine

Burden of Ashes

Attack of the Man-Eating Lotus Blossoms

Gutted

Apologies, repentance, failure, and defeat are always so much better when in the form of a story

O
utsider

The hiking was just too much, he thought. The camping in and of itself was tolerable; and the rafting he grudgingly admitted was even a little bit fun, but the paddle-boating, the kayaking, the rambling, the rock climbing, the all-terrain biking, and the hiking, oh lord, the hiking was just too much. All this outsiderness is just so tedious and so exhausting, he thought. Okay, it might be gorgeous out there, but he was content to enjoy that beauty conceptually.

And the outside was teeming with things that just wanted to eat you. Even if they had to do it in tiny little bites, they wanted to devour you. It just seems such an itchy place to put oneself. Even our ancestors knew better: they were cavemen, because they had caves.

And who decided that such a lifestyle epitomizes health? That participating in such activities proved the strength of a person's mental and physical character? In advertisements for pharmaceutical drugs, they often show the presumably diseased person hanging off a precipice all muscles and sweat, or mountain biking in lycra shorts and asymmetrical sunglasses. All that to signify Power and Strength and Healing.

Do we not have enough in our lives that give us ample opportunities to display the content of our characters? To display strength?

Try negotiating with health insurance companies, or that same pharmaceutical company, or your indifferent and egomaniacal physician who has spent a considerable amount of time and money on his degree and will not be questioned nor told otherwise by some diseased slut. Try dealing with an insane and despotic boss. Try to resume living normally after your heart has been irrevocably broken by whichever of the multitude of ways that hearts break. Try scratching that grey itch, only to realize it's really ringworm.

There, there. Come inside. You don't have to prove anything here.

Q
uietus

“How would you like to die?” he asks.

“How anyone would,” I say. “In my sleep, in my own bed.” I could turn the question around back to him but the answer was, if not obvious, then at least suspended in our air. So I say instead, “How would you
not
like to die? What's the worst death?”

“Anything involving lava, or quicksand,” he says.

“Is there still quicksand? Didn't the U.N. and the World Health Organization eradicate that in the late '60s?”

“No, they gave up after polio and smallpox,” he says. “Your worst death?”

“Animals,” I say. “Being eaten by some wild hungry animal. What would be really awful is if the animal had a small jaw, and so it has to take lots of little bites to finish you off.”

“On the flip side of that, can you imagine being mauled by panda bears?” he says. “Wouldn't that be the cutest death ever?”

“Or else,” I offer, “a headline in the newspapers might read:
Autopsy reveals that man killed by three-toed sloth actually died of late stage cancer.

A week ago, we watched a TV movie on cable called
Strays
. A family – father, mother, young child, and newly born infant – moves into their dream home out in the woodsy suburbs. And then the nightmare begins. They are stalked by a colony of feral cats. The alpha male cat, the principal evil who's supposedly afraid of water (obviously), looked like he had been dipped in a bucket of K-Y Jelly and barely towel dried. The tag line for the movie was
Cats have nine lives, you only have one
. There was a lot of clawing and scratching and more clawing until their victims inexplicably died. And not to mention with inflamed sinuses, too. I believe one victim even threw himself off the third floor balcony to his death just so the awful mewing and clawing would stop.

It's a cliché in horror movies when, during a suspenseful moment, a cat would suddenly fly, or rather be flung, screeching and meowing across the screen. In this movie, however, that tired ruse made perfect sense and it happened quite frequently as well.

“What's the collective noun for cats?” he asks.

“A bunch of cats? A furby of cats? A plié of cats? An allergy of cats?” I say guessing, but he's already dozed off. Then, now, it's darkening in gradual sheets outside and in here, and he's getting tired. When I leave, I will go to his apartment and attempt to tidy up, put things away, pack things up. What more can I do? Twelve days ago he left for his medical specialist's appointment and never came back, sent straight to hospice care, and his apartment is evidence of that. Everything – every object and piece of furniture, every wall hanging and scrap of paper, every appliance and implement, every book and record, every withering houseplant and all the pillows on the bed, even the air aswirl with particles of dust and dander – hangs as if in mid-sentence. It's a kind of heartbreak I never knew I could or would ever recognize.

It is mid-day, an ordinary unsurprising type of mild any day, when I get an text message from him which reads
This is kind of it, kiddies. I'm feeling one fry short of the Happiest Meal. I feel like I'm underwater more and more each hour. Thank you for everything. You are all precious to me.

A whole lot of cats is a clowder, a clutter, a cluster, a colony, a glorying, a pounce, a kindle, a litter, a dout, a parliament, a seraglio, a glaring, a destruction.

You can't just create a scale of humanity to suit your own ends… Either we're all damned or we're all saved – end of story.

— Neal Drinnan,
Izzy and Eve

B
urn

He has fallen asleep, passed out, is snoring like the last hog on earth, sweating like a lost marathon runner. His white t-shirt is drenched, the sheets and the pillows are drenched with his sweat. I want to sleep but cannot. I paw him, run my hands over his wet body but he cannot wake as I cannot sleep. I wipe his sweat off on my chest, I pull his shirt up and rub my face into his sweaty belly. I adore everything that comes out of his pores, his bitter toxic sweat, his stinky overheated body.

Our love is bound by chemicals. How I hold my arm out to him and let him run the line into my vein. How beautiful my blood looks as it surges into the syringe, like a rare flower blossoming, and how beautiful it feels as he pumps it, chemical rich, back into me. While he runs his line, I put my finger on the small blood spot, pinprick in flesh where the needle plunged in, and press it to stop the bleeding, I hold my arm up so the blood will flow right. He has his arm up as well as we are like monkeys at the zoo, monkey see, monkey do; we are legs and arms and mouths and primate rough.

We fuck unsafe. The first time, whenever that was, I sat straddled on his lap, reached down, pulled the condom off him and stuffed him right back inside of me. The next time when I fucked him, and the next time he fucked me, and the next time we fucked, we never thought of rubber. We thought of sweat and cum and spit and piss. We thought of a gooey elastic ball of faggot sex.

We never thought of cash or time, and they were fast running out.

“Why do you do this? We can get you help. You're sick, sick.” Mom is distraught. “I taught you better. Don't tell your grandmother, it'll kill her. Wait till your dad finds out, he'll kill you.” Mom is crying. “Where did I go wrong? Is it the friends you hang out with? Why don't you go to church, pray to God to help you? I don't know who you are anymore, you are not my son.” Mom is enraged. “Why? Why? Why?” Mom is sad and powerless.

All so TV movie-of-the-week, so After-school Special Program pre-empting
Oprah
and
Days
. Except in the TV movie, I steal her handbag and ransack it in a dirty alleyway for twenty dollars and buy badly cut drugs from Escobar. In the TV movie, I end up as a hooker, living in the bus station, beat up by druggies masquerading as cops, jump off the roof of a tenement building, get all sorts of venereal diseases, write poems and save my life; there are heroic social workers, good cops, tearful forgiveness scenes, and Emmy-worthy redemption scenes scored with cheesy music, maybe even intervention by angels. In the TV movie twelve years ago, instead of poems, I would have found breakdancing as salvation.

But this is not TV. I walk out and Mom is still crying in the kitchen, the dinner preparations stopped, the dishes in the sink unwashed. Pity, I was going to help her wash the dishes and do the rice in the cooker, I'm a whizz at that, knowing how much water to put into the pot, how to measure with the knuckles of my finger, but not when she is in such a state.

On a two-day high, the best time of the ride, we are driving in the truck. “Look, car wash,” he points to the parking lot of a small church. On the chain link fence, a tatty poorly made banner announces “Youth Challenge Car Wash $5” in fluorescent primary colors. I pull into the lot and into a parking spot, and six teenagers trot towards the truck with hoses, pails, and rags in tow. While they soap and hose the car down, we wait in the refreshment tent. Mild coffee, fruit punch, and cookies. The group leader comes over. “How's the car wash been going?” I ask.

He says it's slow, that they do this every week, that they're raising money to send the kids to Woodside for a “real fun” summer camp. The leader is a beefy, suburban-looking guy, might be of Mexican or Central American heritage, and swaggers in that Big Brothers of America sort of way. The way mentors are supposed to swagger, that walk that says, “I've been there, bro, but I got out. I saw the light, I had (pick one) Jesus+God / The Blessed Virgin / Education / Scientology / Good Sense / Visions of Death / All of the Above. Yeah, I've been there. Gangs and drugs are a downhill slide (or an uphill battle).” Apparently an uphill battle and a downhill slide, though both diametrically opposite like parallel train tracks that will never cross, are really the same thing metaphorically. And an uphill slide is, well, technically impossible except at the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz. But they were saving the lives of youth-at-risk here, youth-of-color-at-risk no less, no time for semantic squabbles.

I am getting antsy. The high is coursing through me and I want to be somewhere right now fucking. We both have our sunglasses on even though it is a cloudy day, we are both twitchy and sweating. If Mr. Leader had done his time, he would know that we were high as Mr. and Mr. Kite. Even a blind social worker could see that from across two orphanages.

“It's a good thing,” he says. “Kids these days need so much help staying out of trouble. God knows if I had car washes and camp in my day, I would have turned out different.”

“You did have car washes and camp,” I say. “We all had car washes and camps.”

“Oh, yeah,” he says. “I guess I should have gone to car washes and camp.” And we giggle and guffaw like idiots. Mr. Leader looks at us in bewilderment. We hear the car horn beep and one of the kids is waving at us.

“All finished!” he yells. The truck is shiny spankingly clean.

“Good job,” I tell the kid and hand him a twenty. The spotty teenager grins and thanks us, and the other kids all chime in their thank you's, visions of birds and trees and camping gear dancing in their bright eyes.

“God bless you,” we hear Mr. Leader call to us as we drive out of the lot.

In the rear-view mirror, I can see the kids swarm over another car like ants over a half-chewed M&M. These kids will not be like us. They will be saved. They will have clear thoughts and proud parents and adoring siblings. They will be something. They may one day even meet the President of the United States. Heck, one of them might even
be
the President of the United States, and in his inauguration speech he will retell of those weeks of car washes and those summers of camps. He will remember the car with two guys who gave a twenty and it showed him how much the American people were good people who wanted to help the less fortunate.

He pulls open the ashtray and starts laughing. “I left a small bag of pot here, two good fat joints. It's gone.”

“Maybe they vacuumed it up.”

“There wasn't a vacuum, they didn't do the inside of the car, they only washed the outside.”

“Maybe one of the kids found it and decided to turn it in to their chief, do his good deed and turn his back on Satan.”

“Or maybe some kids have found a way to get through washing cars all day.”

“You didn't leave it there intentionally, did you?”

He smiles so sweetly and rummages in his shirt pocket. “You want a hit?” He holds his finger coated with speed up to my nose and I snort what I can in, suck off what's left on his finger. Later he will coat his finger and stick it in my arse and the burn will last for hours as he fucks me.

I imagine a house with a thatched roof by the sea with primroses, bougainvilleas, and tuberoses in the garden. It is a cute little bungalow, with a homely kitchen, a fireplace, a big bed, good stuff. We wake and sleep each night with the crash of surf. On warm nights, the smell of the pikake flowers permeates everything, and it is on such nights that our lovemaking is infused with a certain drenched frenzy. I make sumptuous meals in the kitchen. He goes to work in the late morning and returns in the afternoon. I tend to the garden in the backyard, growing two kinds of lettuce, cabbage, spinach (Chinese and Euro), tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, chard, parsley, basil, chillies, sweet peppers. Sometimes we fish and catch beautiful luscious snappers or whitefish. We go to the local store for meats and milk, trade with our neighbors four miles away who raise free-range fowl. At the end of summer, we can see seals and sea lions on the beach; at the end of spring, there are whales far in the sea. Sitting on the deck, we can see the sprays of water gushing out of their whale-holey-things as their black-gray bodies playfully lunge out of the sea. There is a well-worn brick fireplace in the living room and every week we pick up driftwood and fallen twigs for firewood. We sit in front of the dry crackle in big comfy armchairs, have tea and fresh-baked biscuits and read books and listen to the stereo. There is a big, good-natured, well-trained shaggy dog, of course, and what the hell, let's also have a cat who solves mysteries. Friends come around once in a while for tea or dinner, but mostly for brunch. The seagulls outside are considerate and never poop on the property; we reward them with little sardines and pieces of cut-up cuttlefish. There are few other people in the world but us it seems. All through summer and autumn, there are mad meteor showers in the night sky, so many shooting stars but we have stopped wishing for anything because we have everything we ever need and want.

We have each other and this house by the beach, but it is an apartment on the third floor and it faces another dismal dirty apartment building, and it is filled with the acrid ether smoke from the crack pipe. The crack at the bottom of the door is stuffed with cat piss stained bath towels. The shades are drawn and porno is on the TV. We have not bathed in days. He smells like crude sweat and stale piss and I love that smell on him. I think I must smell like that, too, as he burrows his nose into my armpit and arse crack. We jerk our flaccid penises until they are raw; tie our genitals up with rope and cock-straps that rub the underside of our scrotums to blisters, all to achieve erections that last for four minutes at the most; we drink water and diluted Gatorade and beers, piss it out on each other and in each other's arses, letting the bitter chemical slush recycle into the bloodstream of the rectum. We ejaculate, after much effort, our watery cum onto each other. We wonder what time it is. How much more there is in the pipe. Where we can get some more. How will we get some more. When to take a break. When to stop to take our medications. When the insurance check will run out, or the disability payments will stop. When the dealer will get busted or O.D. When to start again and how.

Soon the come-down will happen. The cramps, the stiff joints, the sore muscles, the aching jaws, and the long dead sleep will take over. There's nothing more comforting when coming down than cheap Mexican food or take-away soup from the Chinese restaurant down the street because our jaws and teeth and gums are too sore to chew and all we can do is swallow like trained seals at Marine World.

Do you hear voices in your head?
No. What voices? I do not. What the hell are you talking about?
Do you hear a droning sound inside your brain?
No, I hear a symphony and it's playing a melody for you and me.
Do you find yourself doing things you have no consciousness of?
Only when I'm baking, Martha Stewart reports going into a trance state when she is baking with her cast-iron cookware, and she emerges from that trance with a tray of tasty sweets and doughy nut breads dusted in vanilla-scented confectioners' sugar.
Do you wake up and wonder where you are?
I am always where I am.
Are you afraid of bright lights?
On the contrary, I seek out bright lights because I love wearing dark glasses to look at my tall, thin shadow. After last call at the bar, I turn myself towards the fluorescent lights in the ceiling like some night-blooming sunflower waiting to photosynthesize in the moonlight.
Do you feel things crawling on your skin?
I have dry skin and moisturizing constantly is a pain.
Tell me what do you see?
I see nothing I am not supposed to see.
Do you hear voices telling you to do bad things?
I don't know what bad things are.
Oh, come on now, everybody knows what bad things are.

It was the first time we ever played. We played chemical from Day One for four days and we crashed together. Fell asleep and when I woke in his apartment with him, I knew he was the one. I had never crashed with anyone before; that I prefer to do on my own, in my own time, it is not a pretty sight. But as I woke with him and he with me, we knew that this was it. If you can wake from your crash with the person you played with and still want that person. If you are not repulsed, sick, sickened, anxious to be somewhere else. If you ever entertained the thought of playing clean with that person then you are in more trouble than you can imagine.

This man.

The floors of the Forbidden City in China are tiled with concrete slabs seventeen layers thick. Workers, indentured servants, slaves, and prisoners were forced to work year after year, generations enslaved to lay slab upon slab of stone to protect the emperor from evil conscienceless assassins who schemed to burrow under the palace, tunnel through the floors and break into the emperor's room and stab him in his heart, slay without a careless thought. So it is with my love for him. I will peel away each layer, chip at the granite and marble, make him a maze through the underground, through the layers of cynicism and hurt, dig through the crusty bits of grief so that he may enter easily even as I sleep, and once there, he shall be the emperor of my heart.

Coming down from a six-day high, I come home in the morning to the phone message machine blinking devilishly and a message from my aunt to go visit my mother in the hospital.

I wash my face, and take a cab to General. Mom is lying in the bed with tubes, catheters, picc-lines and wires plugged into her. Everything smells chemical, medicinal, antiseptic, clean. It is the smell of healing, even though the chances are fifty-fifty or perhaps even less. She is lying in her blue hospital smock and lying back on the few flat pillows they provide and what Dad or an aunt has snagged from another room. She opens her eyes weakly when I enter.

She smiles, she is genuinely happy to see me.

“How are you feeling?” I ask, which is always the stupidest question ever though that seems to be the universal default in such situations.

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