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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.


‘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.

‘Karate! Bang’

I look down at his blotchy hand, hovering at my chest.

‘Bang.’

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.

‘Bang.’

------
"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


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Comments

The following comments are for "Mr. Martin"
by strangedaze

Dem's scalding winds
Thank you, Dem dearest, for the kind words. I was iffy about those two lines - in spite of it all, I still try to have a relationship with the big guy upstairs.

If you think this is original, right now I'm working on a story that involves Jesus, McDonald's, and a porn star who finds God between a woman's legs. Nothing may come of it, so I shouldn't be announcing it, but I'm hoping it will be a fun write.

I'm curious to see what Mike's coming up with on the collab. As you saw, I left a gaggle of loose ends that needed tying up. Poor guy - that was unfair of me ;) Oh well.

Ta!

Andy

( Posted by: strangedaze [Member] On: May 22, 2005 )

Strangelydazed
Really good stuff. You sucked me into the story as if it were real. You should send this to the Writers Digest competition in the next couple of days. It's cheap to enter, and I think you have a chance to win. (2000bucks and a trip to Hawaii)
If it was mine, I would.

williamhill

( Posted by: williamhill [Member] On: May 22, 2005 )

Whill, Dem...
Dem - Mike emailed me and said he's almost finished. Strange kid.

Whill - Your comments are flattering! I'm seriously considering entering it. What's the harm, right? Thanks for the vote of confidence!


Andrew

( Posted by: strangedaze [Member] On: May 22, 2005 )

Mr. Martin
Andrew, intresting and amusing. Kept my interest peaked from start to end. I also loved the visual of the 'genital dance'.
When I was a kid, my grandmother had a border. Poor guy, kept to himself, very harmless and alone, and we kids had all kinds of dasterdly, devious plots sown up for him. Hope he never knew what a menace we thought he was. So mysterious and strange, and all he wanted was to go about his business. This reminded me of him, though to my knowledge he never had a tack stuck anywhere. Fun read. Thanks!
E

( Posted by: emaks [Member] On: May 22, 2005 )

strange and dazed...
it's been a few years since I was a nurse...I could deal with blood, guts, and all kinds of oozing fluids, the smell didn't even bother me, then go eat lunch...descriptive and a whole lot more...I almost lost my cookies...I need to lose a few pounds, I think I'll
keep this one as "strangest fridge note,
for weight reduction"...yucky and I'm serious, in a pun kind of way...

I think I'll cook a PEACE pie, and publish the recipe with sprinkles of sweet magic...Huuummm, sounds good, and
I'm a good cook, let me think on that one....

Robin

( Posted by: Robinbird [Member] On: May 23, 2005 )

Andrew - Mr. Martin
Once in a while a reader gets a treat from Strangedaze. I also find you very original as a writer, I wonder why you aren't writing a book yet? Sometimes you write crazy things (like Mike V9) and they are just doggone very good (like that one about the lecturing fetus)!

What I like most in your writings is that you always pack them in with some memorable scene like that one Lilia pointed out, 'the dancing with genitals flapping' hehe.

( Posted by: peterpaulino [Member] On: May 23, 2005 )

Andrew; "BANG!"
Andrew: Great read. Glad I finally stumbled upon it.

Keep up the BAD work!
RW

( Posted by: Bobby7L [Member] On: May 25, 2005 )

Good, but not amibitious
We all know you're technically proficient enough for any critique of that aspect to be totally redundant, so I'll just keep this focused on the narrative.

I like this story. It's earnest, and that's a good quality (especially in a work like this). If it has a fault, it's a little...well, bland is such a nasty sounding word.
What's new here? What's exciting? What makes this any different to any other short story about a dying old man who isolates himself? I'm not complaining; as it is, it's very well done. We can empathise with both characters, and you really hit a note with the story about the foot. You've plugged in to reality so well, and it doesn't seem to go anywhere. The main character obviously learns something in the end, but it's not an exciting something.

I'm not trying to be cruel; I think you're playing very well in the limits set for the story. But I've seen you shoot farther and score higher.

( Posted by: MacLaren [Member] On: September 20, 2005 )

Mac
Thanks for stopping by and taking the time. You're absolutely right - it is quite bland. Hopefully the changes I have in mind will remedy that. And you're not being cruel, nor would I have interpreted any comment from you as such, so long as it was work-related. Too much circle-jerking around here sometimes. You bet your ass if I read something of yours and thought it was putrid I'd let you know, and I know you'd do the same, which is why I asked you to review this.

Preach on.


SD

( Posted by: strangedaze [Member] On: September 20, 2005 )





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