All Stories, General Fiction

Arm Milk by Spencer Levy

Tin men play their kazoos too loud. Like having an annoying ass bee trying to drill into the deep part of your ear. It’s Sunday and it’s the boardwalk. Sea spray that you’re not supposed to touch or it’ll leave a nasty pollution rash. Gregg doesn’t care, though. His arm is messed up anyhow from all the lousy skateboarding.

Gregg rides and I walk and the waves shove against the wooden thing beneath our feet. Some people call it an embankment, but that sounds too much like a place where loose-tie fathers coax children into cashing checks in exchange for thin lollipops. Gregg grazes his lousy arm against the slippery arm rail, catches some sea spray in his mouth.

“Never pay for drink,” he says. “Only suckers pay for drink.” He says this like I’m not listening.

We roll-walk a ways until we get to the taco place where Gregg’s girl sometimes works and sometimes slips him a paper bag full of secrets. But today it’s somebody I haven’t seen before. A blonde toothpick with a swollen lip. She’s Lippy.

“Hey, Greg.” She says. Her voice is somewhere between stoned and enlightened. “Lisa’s not here.”

Gregg goes stiff and sweaty. “She say when she’d be back?”

“She’s not coming,” says Lippy, drawing out the final word.

Gregg goes itchy in the lousy arm. “How could she not be coming?”

Lippy hits her vape, sending a ghoulish vapor to the thing above her head. One of those big neon signs of a come-to-life taco popping off a pistol, because violence makes people hungry.

“She’s sick,” Lippy says.

The arm redens and so does Gregg. “How could she be sick?”

“She’s sick. People get sick sometimes.”

“I don’t fucking believe you.”

I want more Lippy time, but we roll-walk the hell out of there instead. The waves crash but Gregg does it louder.

“I hate that bitch,” he says, pops his board and catches it in that lousy skater way.

“I don’t,” I say, like he’s listening.

“She got my name wrong. Did you hear that?”

“No.”

“It’s Gregg, not Greg. That’s two Gs, fuckass.”

“How can you tell?” I say.

“You can always tell.”

We walk the way we came until the ocean gets quiet. Passed fizzing tin men, buy-our-fish fish people, and animatronic gypsies behind fogged-up glass.

Note: When Gregg doesn’t get his paper bag, the world grows dark.

#

The lousy arm is cut up in almost perforated holes, like it was put through some sort of swiss cheese machine that didn’t quite work. The lesions are perfect circles about an inch deep, until the arm gets angry and fills with puss. Arm milk. I wonder if Gregg will drink that, too.

Gregg’s place is too shadowy. He says it has to be because the sun hurts everything. I know by everything he means the lousy arm, which I clean out and rub gently on the skin tag pull-out where I sleep.

I say, “Shouldn’t you see somebody about that?”

Gregg takes the arm from me. “No, I don’t need to see somebody. I’m seeing you. I see myself. Besides, I’m above medicine.”

Despite the shadows, the place is warm. The kind of warmth that sticks to you like a second skin. I like it warm. I also like the sun. Gregg calls this compromise. Compromise is when both people are unhappy. Marriage is compromise. At least the one Mom and Steve do.

A Steve is somebody who always smiles because it’s polite. A Steve is somebody who tries to forge a connection. A Steve is somebody I hate. A Mom is a Mom.

The thing is, I had to leave home. I bet nobody noticed for a few days with the adorable-fucking-baby running things. But now they’re out looking, scouring the alleyways. Mom with her fat worried ankles, Steve smiling and flier flinging. I don’t care what anybody says, babies are always ugly in the beginning.

#

Here’s Lisa with the dead eyes at midnight. She does something frantic outside the door until it opens, casting a thick shadow around her spiral-staircase curls and bony body.

The door stays open as she studies her paper bag, takes a secret out, puts it back. As my eyes adjust to hallway light, I remember how bright the world can be outside the shadows. The hall has to stay lit always. Something about darkness and rape.

Note: I wish Steve would do a rape on Mom so she could leave him. But knowing her, she’d get pregnant and keep the baby, now that I’m not doing the brother thing. Truth is, I wasn’t cut out for brotherhood. I never had the chops.

Lisa finally closes the damn door, wakes Gregg, who floats out in boxer shorts.

“Hell happened to you,” he says, like he doesn’t know.

“Car jammed up again,” says Lisa.

“I thought you were sick.”

“Yeah, that, too.”

As they dig for mean things to say, I do that kid thing and pretend to be asleep, as though it’ll make the fighting stop. Because you shouldn’t fight in front of kids. It makes them lousy adults. Except this doesn’t work, because I’m not a kid. And because people don’t really want the best for others.

Gregg beats on Lisa with the good arm. He beats on her like breaking her might fix him.

“I could kill you right here. I’ll be a hero. They’ll throw a parade.”

“Gregg, don’t,” she says, with the tears in between.

In the fuzzy darkness, I make out Lisa put the paper bag in Gregg’s hands. He unrolls it, looks inside.

“Lisa, I love you. Let’s not fight.”

And in they go to Gregg’s room to unlock secrets and touch each other’s pink places. I fall asleep for real and dream of parade floats.

#

When the streets dry up, Gregg and Lisa drive out of town to score more secrets. I stay alone at Gregg’s, open the blinds. At night, I’m face-first in Gregg’s musty mattress, thinking about how the lousy arm is holding up without me.

Somewhere between me and the sheets is Lippy from the boardwalk, with her hand on my ass, pushing me inside her. I wriggle around until I finish in a lousy way and we’re both unhappy.

“Your penis has tremendous stopping power,” says Lippy, as I turn over onto a cool, caseless pillow.

“Thanks.”

She lights one of my nightstand cigarettes with the good tobacco, tucks it between her swollen lips.

“What’s with that?” I say, pointing at her mouth in that rude-kid way.

“My ex was hard on soft things.” Lippy stirs in her own warmth, turns out the light. “But you’re nothing like him.” She says this like it’s a wish.

We lay frozen in a purpled moonlight, stuck to the padded furrows of Gregg’s bed. Like something prehistoric waiting to be discovered by men with lab coats and beeping machinery – who despite their egghead testing, could never know such exquisite heat.

Note: Mom’s baby knows such exquisite heat.

#

A few days. Maybe a week. No word from Gregg or Lisa or the lousy arm. Until my phone goes ape shit in Gregg’s apartment, where his voice sounds like it’s deep underwater.

He says, “I’m busted.”

He says, “Undercover pig.”

He says, “Twenty-to-life.”

He says, “Bail me out.”

I say, “My penis has tremendous stopping power.”

At the jailhouse things are shadowy, even beneath the fright lights and recessed misery. I walk down an uneven hallway with the cement walls and hospital tile, until a pig in short pants stops and frisks, swings a noisy wand between my legs. I’m not lousy enough to reject, so I make it all the way to Gregg and the you-know-what.

It’s rotting and oozing and chewed by the hard metal of his cuffs. With a lousy fucking smell that walks with us to the parking lot and lingers, like fastfood on an airplane. In the car, I see what secrets can do once they’ve been taken away.

“Drive,” says Gregg.

I do the thing, make it purr. “Where’s Lisa?”

Gregg folds forward like a lousy lawn chair, arm between his thighs, as though he can move the pain somewhere else. “Who?”

“Your girlfriend.”

The arm writhes against clingy upholstery, floundering like one of the fish-people’s pollution fish. “That thundercunt turned me in. She’s dead to me.”

As the road swallows itself, I hear Gregg invent spectacular curse-words, which are almost as loud as the dead body smell he smears on my seats – the kind that wraps itself around the tip of your tongue and makes your mouth blurry. I feel my sweaty grip tighten around the notches of the steering wheel and think lousy thoughts about ending it all.

I say, “I’m taking you to the hospital.”

“No hospitals,” he says with the yelling. “They’ll stick me with a dick tube and bill me for it.”

“I think you have a staph infection.”

“My life is a staph infection.”

Back at the lousy arm’s apartment, the blinds are closed while it pushes Lippy out into the rape-proof hall. She screams and cries and goes red as if the cameras are on and we’re Live on one of those white trash reality shows. And maybe we are.

I picture a hidden camera rolling in the pull-out when Lippy looks at me from outside. “Do something. Stop him.”

I think quick, pull from what I know. “Lippy, I love you. Let’s not fight.”

Note: Lippy’s name isn’t Lippy.

#

Suddenly I’m single and Gregg is stuffing his life into a blue duffle. “Do you have any money?” He says. “I need to get away for a little while.”

“Where will you go?”

“Somewhere lousy. Hand me those socks.”

I do the thing, underhand it. “I’m coming with you.”

Gregg zips it up. “No can do. This one’s a solo mission.”

“But we’re a team.” I wait for the arm to back me up, but it’s dead air.

“It’s time to grow up,” he says. “There are no teams. We’re all alone. He slings the bag over his shoulder and heads toward the door. “You can stay until they evict you. Give ’em hell for me. Shit on the floor.”

Then he’s gone. And the arm does what I can’t.

#

When winter crawls out of its hole and bullies people inside, I go to the boardwalk for smokes like before. But things change the most when they’re hardly different. There’s something about that. There’s something about everything.

I walk past where things used to be: tin men and fish gypsies, Lisa’s secrets and Lippy’s lip. The arm, the arm, the arm. The waves don’t crash because they’re frozen, waiting to thaw out and roar once life gets good again.

The best thing about cold air is how much smoke comes out of a drag. The worst is how everything leaves.

At the other end of the boardwalk is a shadowy figure. It hurdles toward me until it becomes Mom, takes me home.

When we get there, that fag Steve is in the kitchen, smiling. “Welcome home,” he says, like he knew I’d be back. “I think I’ll crack open a beer.”

“I think I’ll crack your jaw,” I say. Except not really.

Then Mom shuffles in with her baby and everything gets quiet. We tiptoe around him and talk in whispers – a secret hush-hush dialect, as though we’ve been thrust into some sort of unfamiliar fellowship that comes from watching precious, unsullied life. One that nobody wants the fault of fucking up. When it’s my turn to hold him, I fend off thoughts of bashing his skull into the edge of the table, spraying baby blood all over the kitchen tile, where thin napkins will stick and turn pink and Mom will cry forever.

Instead, he’s heavy and fixed to my lap, reaches out to touch me with a doughy arm which I seize and study it to make sure it isn’t lousy in any way. It’s perfect. It could be the most perfect thing ever.

Mom and fuckface sit silently in the pale rays of early sunlight as I embrace my little red brother and pretend to want the best for him.

Spencer Levy

Image: Pixabay.com

7 thoughts on “Arm Milk by Spencer Levy”

  1. Spencer
    This is unrelenting in an oddly understated way. The thing with the arm is sooooo gross, but necessary. This is the first title that makes something in me uneasy. An entire little world is created and it is a well thought out and interesting place, whether on a board or the nod. I know something about waiting for the paper bag. Well done
    Leia

    Like

  2. Quite entertaining! The nameless protagonist has some kind of symbiotic relationship with Greg, he cares about him….I like the way we slowly get to know this protagonist guy and his penis, and love inside a paper bag. Then there’s the two girls, Lisa and Lippy, the girls and the guys are like two sets of twins. I like the semi-happy ending, with the baby’s perfect arm. Greggg has got to take care of his bad one all by himself now. I fear I may be a bit like Steve.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Spencer,
    Some of the imagery and phrasing is brutal.
    But I use brutal in a positive, realistic and honest way.
    I kept thinking that everyone no matter who or what they are all have / need their own paper bag!
    I loved the cutting (And very true) line – ‘I bet nobody noticed with the adorable-fucking baby running things’
    Hugh

    Like

  4. I completely agree about the descriptiveness here – very vivid and engrossing (if gross – in a good way of course). Even right from the title I was drawn in by the odd, but fascinating collocation of ‘arm’ and ‘milk’

    Like

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