I got a lot of good memories with Rome, most of them bad, so it’s sad that this one should stand out. But that’s the nature of secrets – number 63, if the lights on the triple-C bridge have anything to say about it.
We were drinking in my one bedroom, those blurred and aimless Verona days. A near-empty rectangle of hardwood floors, high ceilings. Ensconced by three naked walls and a pair of looming casement windows, three stories above the gravel parking lot. Lamp in the corner burning bright, spherical midnight. Loose-leaf paper scattered like ripe snowflakes.
I was seated at the cheap bridge table. Ass parked in a second-hand roller chair, black tattered vinyl exposing jaundiced foam. Rome was sitting in a green, fold-out monstrosity, poached from the curb some several weeks earlier. Working on a beer, some kind of statistic that couldn’t be assigned any sort of value. I was matchmaking. Keeping pace and then some with my own bottled garbage. Occasional chaser in the form of a fifth, Kentucky Gentleman.
I put out my cigarette. Ashtray stuffed to the gills with crippled filters.
Rome took off his shirt. Wrapped it around his head, sheltering greasy, matted curls. Drawing attention to his arched nose, shifty eyes overflowing with anti-social intelligence. Pasty skin, white and glistening from summer sweat. He picked up a plastic carrot and pretended to smoke it, mimicking my drawn out drags.
“My point is,” he said, as though we hadn’t been sitting in silence for over an hour… “My point is, there isn’t one thing or the other.” His vowels were wide, resounding. Back of the throat. “So if a told you I had a few pennies, then that’s not that much. I mean, I do have a few pennies, and there’s no genie looking to rub my antler. Antlers. Both of them!” He took a pull of beer. Lamplight putting a shine on his wire-rimmed glasses. “Pennies are dumb, then. I don’t care. I can fuck pennies ‘till I die. I don’t live on a peninsula. Which is where pennies are from. But anyway…”
I nodded, so thin I could see my smoke infested lungs through the white t-shirt. “But anyway.”
“But anyway,” Rome continued, as though he had decided to take the conversation back from someone else’s interception… “Pennies, a few. No big deal. If I was to tell you I had a few battleships, that would be very impressive. I am surprised I even have a single one. But if I was to tell you I only had, say, even two battleship…”
“Battleships,” I said.
“If I had even two battleship….”
He stared at the ground.
There, on the hardwood floor stood a spider.
On all eights.
We could have sworn, or at least Rome was certain, it was staring up at him.
He wasn’t thinking. Or maybe he was, or maybe they were one and the same, his move dictated by self-absorption and pallid narcissism. In as much time as it took to realize it was happening, it happened.
Raised his foot, brought his worn sneaker down on the spider.
Left it there, evidence of his mission.
I chased the stomach ache with a shot of bourbon. “Why did you do that?”
Because it was annoying me.”
“That a good enough reason to kill it?”
“It’s a spider.”
“Are you a battleship?”
He lifted his foot. The spider’s corpse gave birth to a hundred or so tiny mites. Miniature arachnids, teeming, sprawling, spiraling out like arms in a distant galaxy. Abandoning ship. Rushing, full steam, from their origin, her body crumpled, choked, flattened in a Picasso afterlife.
Mother descending a staircase.
Rome looked up.
I stared back. Silent, because what more was there to say.
I sent a beer his way.
He tried the top. Twisted. Forgetting that this was a pull cap.
I handed him the opener.
He did himself the honors and took down three large gulps. Got some on his chin, down to his sunken chest. Hairs glistening.
He took the shirt from his head and let his curls go wild.
Rome didn’t realize just how many babies were flooding his world.
He wiped himself off, sniffed. “I think that instead of horses, we should have moreses. Because who wants less of anything? Unless it’s a battleships.”
I had to agree with that, at least, as the apartment filled with baby refugees.
2:30 in the am, mid-twenties.
We went about the business of forgetting things.
or for fucking free in digital
so long and thanks for all the pish.