by Ian Shine
Kevin bobbed on the once-white couch amid an ocean of mollusked burger wrappers, busted Coca Cola buckets and crippled plastic cutlery. A moraine of crumbs and blanched, broken lettuce shells had amassed in the crevices that lined his flanks. A pepperoni life ring had drowned in one of his chins. The hairs on his chest gusted intermittently as the fan his mother had bought slowly surveyed the scene, from side to side to side to side, but its pathetic breaths never did enough to dislodge the dead skin that snowflaked across his chest, or the stench that clogged the so-called living room’s air.
It was mid-July. The sun sluiced against the closed windows. The room gagged against its contents. Wounded pizza boxes lay among the detritus, with maws perpetually open, groaning along with their master’s stomach. Their greasy hearts had been ripped out, their once staunch sides sagged under the drenching heat. Polystyrene takeaway trays that once shimmered like bars of gold now lay matted, doubled over among their comrades, bearing the scars of a particularly voracious Friday-night attack. Red faces with sad Ms drawn down across them mourned the tearing out of their spiked yellow hair.
There were victims everywhere, but still life fought to survive. Some parsley had leapt from a crust of garlic bread as it was crushed in the ruling jaws, and had taken root in the safety of the gorse that bordered Kevin’s untended scrotum. A slug of kebab? Was it slithering along the inside of Kevin’s leg?
His mother would soon be home, so he should think about getting dressed. But he found it much more comfortable like this, with just a couple of towels under the moonscape of his ass to keep the rivulets of sweat from perishing the leatherette. The thing was that he didn’t feel naked, even when he was. His skin rode over him like a blanket. There was another person under there waiting to come out. At least there had been once.
For now, things had settled into place. The litter lay in patterns around him, as if he had his own gravitational pull. His mother complained once each week, as she rearranged his solar system, dumping it into plastic black holes and taking it outside for the bin men so it could go and rest in peace among those of its kind, but she didn’t mind really, and that was why he let himself live like this. Without him, her life would have been even more fallow. He was her project, her experiment that wasn’t going to fail. He was living proof of Newton’s second law: the acceleration of a body, away from a person, is inversely proportional to its mass. He was everything.
Hence, the detritus regenerated at an unstoppable pace, the green moss of the carpet gradually disappearing under the tide of remains. It was their ritual.
The dog, its coat several sizes too big for its shrunken frame, came in from the kitchen, attracted by its reflection in Kevin’s giant fingernails. It approached his dangling hand, hunting for food; the food it should have been given but which was always swept aside at the checkout when it turned out there was only enough money for Kevin’s. The dog lay its husk of a tongue against some tomato extract streaked across Kevin’s fish-eyed knuckles, but as it wondered at the taste, the wet stalactite fingers flinched and caught it in the muzzle, not for the first time.
The dog moved down to the other end of the sofa, where it knew it could take some moisture from its master’s salted shanks, safe from the flapping fingers and the towering toes, each yellowed nail a dimmed searchlight. Its tongue scoured Kevin’s contours, provoking a seismic laugh. The archipelagos of acne rose on the waves of Kevin’s shoulders, their volcanoes ready to burst. The reeds guarding the cave of the mysterious underworld, long unseen by human eyes, stifled a stampede of farts that tried to make its escape. The dog backed off for a moment.
The TV babbled. Cars sped by outside, their tyres washing past a rush of sound that soon receded, then returned; receded, then returned, like his mother, who came in each night bearing the goods like a ceremonial platter. “Your kebab and chips sir,” she’d say. “Your curries and naan for the night my liege.” “Your burgers are here m’Lord.” “Chinese takeaway for the emperor of my world.” How could he say no?
Two stagnant pools became covered as Kevin’s spidery eyelashes dragged out giant tarpaulins of skin. Night, in his world at least.
The dog came back over and examined the situation. It sniffed, it looked, it anchored its teeth into Kevin’s calf. Kevin struggled, and the sofa shook. Some of the eroded leatherette came away and sank into the alluvia at its shore. The storm went on for a minute or two, the fan doing nothing to stop it, just looking from side to side to side to side, and then his mother came in. She dropped the plastic bag of victuals, ran over and booted the dog, but its teeth stayed firm; its mouth foamed and it clung to what it had found.
But the booting continued and eventually the dog was uncoupled from the leg. It drifted off into a corner where it cowered and hid, covering its face so it could secretly savour the traces of the marinade its master had been living in for 15 years, ever since his father had left.
Kevin’s leg bled and his mother called for an ambulance. She spoke, then put the phone down, dredged the plastic bag from the floor, and handed him that night’s fried chicken, with nuggets, and chips, and extra-large coke.
© The Treacle Well 2013