Larry Martin. Larry, of dingy gloves soiled from perpetual use, of acrid body odors and a heavy left foot that drags like a cinderblock across the kitchen floor. Craggy faced, broad shouldered, spine wiry and bent like a coat hanger, Larry has been living with us for seven months, two weeks, three days, six hours. Accompanying Larry wherever he goes is an eye-watering cloud of smoke, emanating in wisps from the end of a cigarette, clenched between yellow stained fingertips.
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‘Who steps on a tack and doesn’t even realize it for months?’ the first words out of my mouth after my mother announced that Larry would be living in our basement. ‘And he smokes too much, it makes me choke.’
‘We need the money and he needs somebody to keep an eye on him. When you start paying the rent around here, then you can start calling the shots,’ her I-mean-business tone cutting me down like a grumbling diesel lawnmower.
My mother recounted the prelude to the amputation of left foot:
Larry lived alone on the third floor of an aged apartment building that has since been condemned, an ex-cop robbed of his badge and his sidearm years ago, bitterness taking their place at his hip. Unable to overcome his addiction to sugar-laden foods, Larry ignored the sharp pain that often creeped up his side, warning shots fired from the ravaged body of a lifelong diabetic, until his entire nervous system finally short circuited. On the john, the remains of a honey-dipped cruller at arm’s length, Larry was sweating more than usual, the bare island on top of his head glistening like polished chrome. Stiff as a board, equilibrium shattered, he tilted and fell from his mighty throne, a stroke paralyzing the entire left side of his body.
Cue the emergency medical technicians, summoned by the cat-lady down the call who heard a thump and immediately feared for the worst, and a bumpy drive to the hospital.
After a few degrading weeks of urinating into a tube under the supervision of a pimple-faced physician, Larry was released from the hospital. In a month he had trained himself to walk again, albeit clumsily and with a mechanical gait. To compensate for the lack of feeling in his fingertips, he took to wearing gloves throughout the day, regardless of weather. He wore these crusty mitts to threads, rarely buying a new pair while ignoring their uncanny ability to accumulate stale food particles and spots of bodily fluid.
But the stroke cost him more than his weight in winter fashion accessories.
One afternoon, Larry was floating in his bathtub, one gloved hand washing his lower extremities while the other held a cigarette flaking every so often into the water. Propping his feet comfortably on the faucet and nozzle, Larry took a nice long drag and yawned, smoke transforming his lungs and the dimly lit bathroom into foggy, tar-stained gas chambers. It was then that he noticed his left foot’s sizeable girth: indeed, either its pores had somehow opened and soaked up a sizeable portion of the bathwater like a sponge, swelling like a melon, or it was infected and in need of medical attention. Larry, crotchety but no fool, ruled the former out, since such an explanation could not account for the varicose veins and the purple and blue splotches pock marking his skin’s surface. Mumbling obscenities under his breath, he clumsily hoisted himself up, balancing precariously like a defective tripod, and limped to his phone.
The doctors found a tack embedded in his foot, by now swollen in gangrenous lumps.
‘It looks like it’s been there for a couple of months, at least’ the doctor whistled, raised eyebrow looming over the pages of the medical report. ‘Give it a few months. If it doesn’t improve, we’re going to have to amputate it.’
Evidently Larry, left-side still partially paralyzed from the aforementioned stroke and perhaps delirious in the grips of another sugar-high, knocked a tack from the bulletin board hanging over his desk and stepped on it shortly thereafter. Unable to feel it puncture his heel, the piece of metal had remained there unmolested until a layer of skin grew over it in an unsightly scab at best glance.
My mother, the only acquaintance he had yet to alienate, picked him up from the hospital when he was released. Somewhere between the Royal Alexandria hospital and our townhouse she decided that it would be best for all concerned parties if he moved in with us.
In addition to boxes of ratty, outdated clothes and creaky pieces of furniture, Larry brought with him a collection of mail-order religious texts, ranging from a series of Judaic children’s picture books to a worn text detailing conversion to Islam. Every month, Larry would select one of these dusty tomes and try to impose its teachings upon me. Throughout the month of May, he read from the Torah. June saw him preaching from the Koran. During July and August, summer months of lust and gluttony, he habitually quoted Bible passages, his voice gruff and preachy, condemning whichever utterly sinful activity I happened to mention that evening at the dinner table. My mother, though far from a beacon of piety, thought that Larry’s unsolicited sermons were charming and good for a growing boy, especially one lacking a strong male role model. I, however, have always found that they made good fodder for the ever-growing list of reasons to dislike the grizzled old man living in the basement. After eight months, it was only natural that I developed some sort of coping strategy to combat his meandering religious diatribes: I simply imagined myself urinating on the worn copy of the good book he keeps lugging around, arching my back for effect as I dance on the dinner table naked, genitals flapping in the scalding winds emanating from my own damnation, even though the closest I ever got was dogearing three pages when he wasn’t looking.
One morning I opened my eyes to the sound of Larry’s muffled groans. I pitter-pattered down the stairs, yawning, mild curiosity painted thinly over the irritation of being woken up this early on a Saturday morning. I found him soaking his legs in large yellow bucket, the one we use to mop up the floor in the kitchen and washroom. The water was murky, small particles of skin peeling off of his foot like the skin of an onion and floating on the surface. A small, bloodied bundle of bandages rose up in a heap beside him – a sweat-soaked, half-torn mound of his second skin.
‘Take a picture,’ water-wrinkled hand scooping up a box of tissue paper and heaving it at my head. I ducked around the corner and ran back upstairs.
‘It was disgusting,’ I complained to my mother. ‘How am I going to be able to eat breakfast after seeing that? And the smell! Like rotting fish. Can’t you do something about him?’
Pleas for action were met with a slap on the back of my head.
‘Mind your manners – he can’t help it.’
As I tell this, he shakes his finger at me, pointing it like the barrel of a pistol between my eyes.
‘You keep your karate, I’ll keep my Bible. No amount of punches or kicks can stand up the power of God. He can take you any second.’
Swelling up with anger, I feel the urge to boot his swollen shin, to unleash a flurry of roundhouse kicks. I consider inching forward to step on his foot, but when I look at the worn bandages, again wrapped tightly around his club-like appendage, I decide against it.
‘Bang bang, and you’re dead, just like that’ he snorts, two blue streams of tar and nicotine escaping out of his nose and floating into my face. ‘Karate – waste of money, if you ask me.’
He keeps waving his hand, brandishing his invisible firearm. I try to think about how happy I’ll be when he’s dead and not around to harass me. Usually the thought of his absence fills me with glee; but inexplicably I begin to feel a sudden pang of guilt flaring up like razorburn, acidic pain coating my insides.
His heavy jaw line creases like scuffed leather.
I look down at his blotchy hand, hovering at my chest.
His index finger, the barrel of an imaginary gun jutting out from a tangled hilt, shakes with the rest of his body, so crooked and bent that he isn't pointing at me anymore, but at himself instead.
"Imperious, choleric, irascible, extreme in everything, with a dissolute imagination the like of which has never been seen... there you have me in a nutshell, and kill me again or take me as I am, for I shall not change."
From his Last Will & Testament, Marquis de Sade