The bar doors swing open and shut with a slow pattering across the floor. His shoes are barely tied and he almost trips over his laces but finds balance against the side of one of the booths. If someone were sitting in that booth, he’s sure they would stand up and try to take a swing at him, like everyone else does at these kinds of places. That’s why he gave up on stopping in during the evening. People are friendlier in the afternoon.
The bartender stares down at the stumbling man with the poorly laced shoes. He tries to pull himself onto a stool while the bartender wipes the rim of a pint glass. The stumbling man has to balance himself on the edge of the bar and firmly plant his foot on the ring around the legs of the stool to even see over the bar, let alone get onto the damn thing.
“Been drinking already, Roger?” the bartender asks with a raised eyebrow.
“Yeah, well, you know how it is. Hair of the dog and what not” the small man retorts. “Just a glass of the usual, my man. Just a glass of the usual.”
The bartender sighs and shakes his head, like he doesn’t normally deal with guys having fun earlier in the day. “I don’t know, Roger. Seems to me like you’ve had enough already.”
“Come on, man. Not like you’re getting a lot of business right now anyways. I see more life during my day job,” Roger belligerently snaps back. “Come on, just one pint. For the road.”
“Fine, one pint,” the bartender answers back pointing his index finger to Roger. “But promise me you’re going to stay off the road.”
“Scouts honour,” Roger replies with two fingers in the air.
Roger was never a boy-scout.
Six in the evening rolls around before Roger finally gets out of bed. Maybe that last pint at the bar wasn’t the best idea. He has no idea how he got home or where he left his car. All he knows is he’s got to get going. He’s on the night shift this week. His clients aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, except a little sour and smellier, but his boss still doesn’t like it when Roger’s late. The moody prick.
There’s coffee still in the pot but God knows when it was made. Fuck it, there’s a microwave, and you can’t taste the staleness once you Irish it up a bit. Roger fills his travel mug and picks up his keys from off the table. Beside his keys is a Scrabble board with words scattered across. Wonder what the guys are up to, anyways. Last time they tried to play, they argued over the word “fibula.” Roger insisted there was an “H” at the end of that word. He’s not sure if he actually believed that or if he just wanted the three extra points. Watson finally got fed up, took all of his letters off of his tray and spelt out “alienation” on the board, declared he was the winner, and walked out of Roger’s tiny bachelor apartment.
Roger left it on the board. Could never figure that word out.
“Well look who finally showed up,” the moody prick declared as soon as Roger walked in through the swinging doors. “Nice of you to join us. At least you remembered your lab coat this time. We won’t waste another fifteen minutes having you wander around the building looking for one.”
Asshole. Roger shuffles through the lab with his coffee in hand, up to his step-stool. His first client of the night already lying in front of him, awaiting inspection. Roger takes a sip of his Irish concoction and pulls out his Dictaphone from his lab pocket.
“Caucasian female. About age thirty. Bruising along the neck and around the jaw-line.” He places his coffee down and wraps his tiny hand around her jaw; just like her assailant would have wrapped his hand. “Jaw’s broken.” He gently pulls open her mouth. “Missing teeth along the front of her mouth. Five along the bottom. Three along the top.”
Roger tries to lean in forward to get a closer look but his weight shifts the wrong way and he tumbles to the ground like glass shards from a bottle thrown against a wall. Roger lies stiff on his back for a moment, trying to catch his breath. He looks at one hand. His Dictaphone broken in half but still recording. He muddles out a raspy “fuck.” He looks at his other hand which is still holding a bottom jaw missing five teeth along the front. He smacks his head back against the cold ground squeezing his eyes shut and gritting his teeth. “Shit, fuck, damn, goddamn, fuck, shit fuck.”
He opens his eyes to see the moody prick standing over him. His hairy arms jutting out like two sideways “V’s,” his fists firmly planted on his hips, his black and grey checkered tie hanging off of him like the pendulum of a clock.
“Jesus, Roger! How fucking Irish is your goddamn coffee?”
Roger hates being put on cooler duty. But after the fiasco with his first client and what’s left of her bottom chompers, he understands. The cool air sobers him up usually. Just fucking boring. No one to talk to.
Sifting through recycled organs wasn’t what Roger had signed up for. Stiffs always fascinated him and he liked to explore things. You know, taking things apart to see how they work and then putting them back together. It started with an old walkman he had back when he was in elementary school. Stiffs aren’t like walkmans, though. You can’t take them apart to figure out what’s wrong with them and then put them back together to see if they still work. Well, at least not in Roger’s line of work.
Roger’s been in the cooler for about twenty minutes. The job’s simple enough: check the dates that the organs were dug out of the stiffs, if it’s been so many months, then they’re no good and it’s time to toss’em. One thing Roger has a problem with, though, is that the dates are all numerical. Roger’s never been good with numbers – or putting them in logical order. That’s why he likes biology: science with words. He looks at the random numbers on the organ’s labels, counts on his fingers to figure out the months, and then realizes that he was looking at the day. Or maybe the year. Month, day, year? Year, month, day? How the fuck does this work again?
The cooler door pops open and Roger looks over to see the moody prick walking in with a clipboard under his arm. He hopes it’s a new assignment but knows we never get anything that we want in life.
“Roger, what the fuck is going on?” he asks looking down at the clipboard. “I can’t take any more of these screw-ups. Last week it was forgetting to drain the fluid before making the first incision. Goddamn stain still won’t come out of the roof. The week before it was breaking your scalpel and losing the broken piece while making an incision in a subject’s neck. Now this. Do you just hate working here?”
“What? No? I love it here!” Roger stops to examine his current surroundings. “Well, not in here here, but I love it in the lab.”
“Well, I’ve let this go on long enough. You know our policy here. Can’t be three-sheets-to-the-wind, even if you are on night shift. Either get some counselling or you’re fired.”
She crosses her legs all coy, pretending she doesn’t realize that Roger has been staring at her porcelain white legs since he walked in. She’s pretending she doesn’t realize her appendages are a pair of sensual satin sex-magnets. She stares across to Roger from over her thick, black rimmed glasses.
“Roger,” she continues. “I asked you about your childhood. Please, tell me what was it like.”
“What’s there to tell,” Roger shrugs. “I got picked on all through grade school, I turned invisible in high school, I hoped university would be better. It wasn’t. What else do you want to know?”
She scribbles on her pad and looks back up to Roger. He feels a sudden surge of blood through his veins when her soft, blue eyes peer back towards him. Those eyes were like ice, the kind of ice that you would skate on just before Christmas dinner. They were welcoming and kind and made Roger think of happier things and happier times.
“What about your parents?” she questions.
“My folks? They were alright. Well, my mom was. Dad bailed when I was young. Like seven or something. Mom remarried when I was in high school. Dated the guy for a long time too. Good guy, but I never called him dad.”
“Did you not feel close to him?” she tilts her head.
Roger can tell she’s interested in him. Maybe as much as Roger’s interested in her. Her voice got a little higher too, not as monotone as the last few questions. Roger got the sudden urge to tell her that his step-dad was a heavy drinker and the first to give him a sip of hooch. He has the urge but also has no intention of telling her.
“I did but he never felt like a dad, y’know? More like a buddy. Like the neighbour who’s a little older and really cool.”
She tilts her head the other way and taps her chin with her pen. “Was he a drinker?”
Damn, Roger has to tell her now.
“Well, yeah, but no more than any other drinker. A bottle of beer when he got home, bottle of JD on the weekends. Normal stuff, y’know?”
“Did you ever drink with him?”
Roger knows she already knows the answer to this. Why is she making him say it? Roger tries to stay quiet for a second. He knows he’s becoming a bad stereotype, a textbook case of a functioning alcoholic. He wants to prove he’s different, but if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck…
“Yeah, almost every weekend until he died,” the thought of his step-father’s death always made him uneasy. Roger’s trying to hold back the tears thinking of watching the doctors pull the plug on the man too young to have a liver as damaged as it was. He was only in his fifties when he died, but he looked like he was eighty. The doctors always told Roger that it was liver damage that did it, but that explanation was never good enough.
Roger must not have been holding back his tears well enough, because she pipes up. “We don’t have to talk about this anymore. Let’s talk about your job. Why did you want to start doing this?”
Roger sniffs and wipes his eye, feeling the wet residue welling up in the wrinkles underneath. “Biology. It was the only subject in school I was good in. Well, English too, but not as good as biology.”
“So, why not work in environmentalism? Or with marine life? Why in a morgue?” the icy eyes continue to pry.
“People are more interesting than plants or fish.” Roger wishes that this session would just fucking end already.
Roger grabs the cold face lying in front of him and moves it side to side, inspecting the perpetually open eyes. This one’s still fresh. The neck hasn’t stiffened up yet and all the limbs are easy to move like the joint of a G.I. Joe from the ’80s. Roger inspects the whites of his client’s eyes and leans forward to move its hair off of his client’s forehead. “Well, my friend, what happened to you exactly?” he questions as he inspects.
He moves to the rectangular, metal plate with his array of tools and his thermos of Irish coffee. He takes a sip of his coffee before reaching for his scalpel and shines it in the light, looking for smudges and fingerprints. Reading the medical charts only makes him question the cold body’s predicament even more. The only thing that makes sense on it is the name: Anthony Vito. No physical signs of what went wrong. “Well, Tony,” Roger puts down the medical chart, “Let’s take a peek inside and see what your squishy bits look like.”
The scalpel slides across Tony’s bare chest, evenly parting the diamond shape hair and following down the treasure trail to his navel. Roger moves the scalpel back to the top of Tony’s chest and slides the blade along his collar bone, again down at the bottom of his belly, and opens the flaps of skin like the arching doors of a church.
“Well, pal,” Roger continues. “Your ticker looks alright. Lungs are in good shape. Kidneys and liver looks like they should. Huh, and I thought my problems were bad.” Roger reaches down, deep into Tony, and feels around for that loose bit that will let him take his liver out. The squishing noise, like squeezing Jell-O between your fingers, got louder and louder the more Roger moves his hands around. “I’m sitting here, griping about my therapist, trying to figure out if she’s interested because she’s interested or because she’s getting paid. And here you are, lying cold and slowly getting stiff for seemingly no reason. I hate these ‘unknown causes’ cases.”
The liver feels like a wet steak left on the counter for too long. It slides around in his hands, but he’s able to keep a grip and lobs the organ down onto a chrome plate. He breathes heavy from his ordeal, wiping the sweat off from his brow and leaving a bloody streak across his face.
“I know what you’re thinking, buddy,” Roger continues. “She’s my therapist, of course it’s only because she’s getting paid. But I don’t know man, these past three weeks with her have really been something else. It’s like she knows me better than I know myself. I can tell her anything and she just gets it. And I’ll tell you another thing, Tony m‘boy, I bet she wouldn’t get pissed and storm out of my apartment like a little bitch if I cheated at Scrabble.”
Roger leans over his chrome plate and starts cutting off small pieces of Tony’s liver. He makes the incisions slowly, working in silence and nodding his head while he takes glances back up to the cold body lying in front of him.
“You know, man, I should just tell her, shouldn’t I? What’s the worst that could happen, right?” Roger pats Tony’s cold shoulder, “Thanks for the talk, man. We should have guy-talk more often.”
“Excuse me?” she asks, her blonde eyebrow rises as if Roger just told her he’s into bestiality. Probably just to save face and keep the professional facade.
“I really mean it, I do, I can’t stop thinking about you, nobody listens like you do, no one gets me like you do, I need you in my life,” Roger explains.
“Um, thank you. Thank you, Roger, for your honesty, but, don’t you think that maybe this is just a manifestation of a bigger issue?” She acts like she’s trying to analyze him, but Roger knows she’s just looking for the best way to tell him the same back.
“I don’t think you get it,” Roger pleads, digging for a straight answer from her. “I know what’s going on. You can tell me. I only have like two more required sessions. We can be together.”
She takes off her glasses with a huff and crosses her legs. Her face is stern enough to make a drill sergeant uncomfortable. “Roger, I hope you trust me when I tell you that this is actually a very common reaction in patients, especially ones in your predicament. Let’s talk about this and try to understand where this is all coming from.”
Roger leans back in his seat and breathes slowly, trying to comprehend why she’s rejecting him like this. Is she just trying to keep her job and denying herself the happiness that Roger knows only he can offer. “But, the things you say. The way you understand me. I only want to make you as happy as you’re making me.”
She shakes her head. Her hair tied back bobs back and forth like the swinging tail of a golden retriever, only she doesn’t look as happy as the retriever would be. “Roger, I’m married, I have children, I have a whole life. Those are the things that are truly making me happy right now.”
Roger’s breathing gets heavy and the pressure in his eyes are almost unbearable. “But… But… I don’t think you understand. I… I… I don’t think you really get it.”
She leans forward, her face with the fake compassion that she’s been displaying during all the other sessions looking up at Roger. Her eyes were like the kind of ice you fall through and drown under. “I do get it, and it’s okay, Roger. You could have this kind of happiness too. With someone else, of course. As long as we keep up these sessions, we’ll get to the root of your issues and you’ll be able to have a happy life in no time.”
Roger wishes this session would just fucking end already.
Still with no logical explanation, Tony lies in a cooler, baffling all the scientists in the lab. Roger walks up his stool snapping his latex gloves on and picking up the medical chart.
“Well Tony,” Roger begins. “My colleagues have found nothing off with your liver, your kidneys, nothing odd in your blood, and virtually no reason for you to be lying here. What’s up man?”
Roger opens the flaps on Tony’s chest to see an empty inside. All of his organs had been removed and his ribcage juts out like a couple of freshly blown bubbles.
“Can you fucking believe how she rejected you?” A voice asks Roger. Roger peers away from Tony’s torso to his face, but sees no movement. Roger looks away to grab his thermos and when he looks back, Tony is propped up on his elbows, looking at Roger, with a smirk on the right side of his mouth and his eyebrows high enough to reach his hairline. “I can believe it. It’s how all women are. Give them everything, have your heart broken, it’s like they don’t get that guys have feelings too, right?”
Roger tilts his head like a dog being given a command he’s never heard before. “Yeah, well, I wouldn’t know. That’s the first time I’ve ever said that to a woman.”
Tony shakes his head and gives a low chuckle. “Yeah, well, that’s just the nature of women, man. You were probably too soft. She wasn’t getting it.”
Roger shakes his head quickly. “No, she told me she gets it.”
“Well then, my friend,” Tony continues. “You probably just projected yourself wrong. She probably thought you were just another yahoo looking for love in all the wrong places. You need to show her how serious you are.” Tony reaches across the table and hands Roger his scalpel. “You know, they’re not going to notice one missing utensil. Get your point across, nice and clearly. You deserve to be happy, after all.”
The glare of the evening sun stings Rogers’ eyes as he stumbles across the field and bumbles into some of the stones. He thinks he remembers how to get to his step-father’s stone. Something about a tree on the west side of the cemetery. He continues across and tries to balance himself on one of the stones with his forearm. He looks up as sees the tree just a few feet away. He lifts his bottle and takes another swig before launching himself off the stone with his arm, almost losing his footing.
He stops underneath the tree and looks up to it, the sun glaring between its branches and into his face. He walks across the aisle of stones, tapping each one on the top and counting out loud until he hit five. Number five. Larry Lucero.
“Beloved father and dear friend,” Roger reads out as he stares at his step-father’s stone. “I fucked up big time, Larry.” Roger takes another swig. “I really fucked it up this time.”
Roger plops down next to the stone and leans his back on the side, looking down to where his step-father is buried. “Goddamn bitch. Fucking told my boss that I wasn’t getting any better. I only saw her for like, what, six weeks? Maybe seven? What the fuck does she know?”
Roger raises his knees up to his face and lays his head down on top of them. He wants to hold back his tears and look like a man in front of Larry, but thinking about her blonde hair and the ice in her eyes made him weep worse than when he watched his step-father take his last breath and stare into nothingness.
“She just didn’t fucking get it,” he muddles out between sobs. “We could be so happy together. I need her. I could be such a better person if only I had her.”
“Quit crying you fucking baby,” Roger hears a voice from underneath him. The ground starts to thrust upwards like a volcano is about to erupt underneath. The soil breaks apart and a hand reaches up, plants itself back onto the ground, and pushes up the rest of its body. First the shoulder, then the head, and Roger realizes who it is that’s crawling out of the ground.
He’s still in the same blue suit and white shirt. His hair is messy and has bits of soil embedded into his scalp. His brown tie hangs while he tries to brush off the dirt. “You going to give me a swig of that whisky, shorty, or you just going to sit there with your mouth hanging open?”
Roger looks down to his bottle and hands it up to Larry.
“That’s the stuff,” Larry comments after a mouthful of the golden liquid. “Now, what the hell are you griping about?”
Roger sits for a moment without the words to answer his step-father. He has to remain still and process the words before he can give an answer.
“My, uh, my therapist,” Roger begins. “I told her that I loved her and she rejected me. And now I’m out of a job.”
Larry plops down next to Roger shaking his head. “Hah! Leave it to women to fuck with your head and leave you for dead like she didn’t do nothing wrong. I’m tellin’ ya, if it weren’t for booze, women would have been the death of me.”
Roger gives a quick chuckle before Larry hands him the bottle of whisky and takes a small sip. “Yeah, well, I’m totally fucked now. And you know what’s the worst part? I don’t even care about the job that much anymore. Any idiot can find some work. I just wanted her.”
“Well, did she know how much she meant to ya?” Larry asks.
“What do you mean?”
“That scalpel that Tony handed ya.”
“How did you know about that?”
“Not important. What’s important, there shorty, is that you get your point across. Women love it when a man is assertive. And they really love it when a man tries and tries again until he gets what he wants. No woman wants a pussy little whiner who cries into a bottle of whisky after a rejection. You just need to go back there and get your point across that much louder. She’ll appreciate it and be in your arms like you’re Humphrey Bogart.”
Larry always knew how to put things into perspective.
The candlelight illuminates the small table in the bachelor apartment. Silhouettes of Roger and his guest creep across the wall like projections from an old film reel. Two places are set for dinner and Roger is smiling wider than the horizon.
“I’m so glad that you finally agreed to have dinner with me, Becky,” says Roger. “I hope you like your meal. I wasn’t sure if you were a vegan, or a vegetarian, or if you like chicken, or beef, but I’ll tell you what I figured. Pasta. Everyone loves pasta.”
His dinner guest at the other side of the table stays quiet.
“Is everything alright dear?” Roger asks. “Is your food alright?”
Another moment of silence from his guest.
“I know what’s wrong.” Roger stands and walks over to his date. He gently wraps his hand around her chin and tilts her head back. He examines the stitches across her neck and runs his fingers along the pathway. “Nope, all that’s all alright. I know, you need a drink, right? Sorry, there’s no booze in the house. I don’t touch any of that stuff anymore. I can make you a cup of tea if you like?”
He walks to the kitchen, letting her head drop to the side and her eyes roll down to stare at the floor. “You know, I’m so happy now. Sorry, I just need to say that, I’m just really happy now, and it’s all thanks to you.”
Roger peers around the corner from the kitchen. “If you want, we can play Scrabble after dinner. I got to warn you, though, I can be a bit of a scoundrel and cheat a bit. Hope you don’t mind.”