Friday, 12 April 2013

"David: A Slightly Embellished Tale from North Mississippi" by E.F. Bartlam

E.F. Bartlam's Flimsy Cups blog has disappeared from my blogroll for the simple reason that he's no longer adding new posts to it (for a number of reasons). He's set up a new blog - mental Hygiene -  but it's invitation-only, which is why I'm reproducing his latest post here, rather than simply linking to it.  David isn't fiction , but it has the tang of genuine horror to be found in the best short-form stories in the genre: it's disquieting, in the quietly creepy sort of way that real life sometimes is. My thanks to Mr. Bartlam for his permission to reproduce it here.

There’s an amputee on the couch next to David. She’s missing her right leg. What’s left of it is thrown over her left thigh. An empty grey pant leg swings above her only shoe. 
David is staring intently across the room. His face is still except for the bottom lip which juts in and out over his chin. He is talking. She isn’t listening. Their stares intersect in empty space as she looks straight ahead blankly at the TV.
We pass into his line of sight. Jodi points… 
“Day-Vud! Wus goin’ on mayn? Wus really happenin’?”  
He never unlocks his stare. His lip continues to dance around while he finishes what he was saying. 
He never unlocks his stare. His lip continues to dance around while he finishes what he was saying.
Mrs. Sharon stood over a big metal bowl pouring butter milk with her right hand, using the carton to steady the bowl, and turning a rubber spatula with her left.  
“How bout a piece of cornbread then?” 
“Get out of my kitchen Jodi.” 
The small kitchen was filled with the creamy tang of baking cornbread. 
“She ain’t here Jodi.” 
“When’s she comin’ back?” 
“How’m I supposed to know Jodi? She don’ work fa me.”
A short round black woman with caramel colored skin and a serious expression, Mrs. Sharon is a well known character in these parts…always on the verge of exasperation while exuding complete and utter irritated authority. Few Southerners would risk crossing her…especially white males, and never in a kitchen. 
Then there’s Jodi. 
“Well…you reckon she’s in one of these other buildin’s?” 
Finally Mrs. Sharon looked up from her bowl and pointed the spatula at Jodi. As cornbread batter dripped onto the stainless steel table… 
“Jodi. These people in here need they peace and quiet but, help me Jesus, if you don’ stop worr’n me ‘bout that lady I will beat you like yo mama should have long time ago.”
While Jodi looked for somebody he could safely pester, I walked over to one of the big windows that are always the main source of light in these common rooms. Panes of grey neon, on a cloudy day the light comes in soft and dingy. Mostly it’s just dark. 
The glow from the TV was an especially garish yellow. On the screen, four women sat at a desk making idiots of themselves. Evidently one of them had said something hilarious about having sex with a Mexican. From where I stood, the room only offered about five more feet further from the television, but I took it. 
Against the back wall was a table with magazines. There were old Red Books, Readers Digest, Guideposts and one three year old copy of Southern Living. A deck of Uno cards wrapped with a rubber band sat on a Life game box that had been taped at the corners several times. Above the table, the wide wall’s only adornment was a cardboard Leprechaun dancing on rainbow. 
It was time to find Jodi. If he hadn’t found her by now she weren’t gonna be found. Then I heard mumbling. David was right behind me. I don’t know how long he’d been tailing me but he was close. I grazed his belly as I turned to face him. ‘Course, given the size of his belly he was still a good foot and a half from breathin’ on me. Thank God.
David’s belly would have been big on a professional wrestler. On him it was just ridiculous. He was barely five and a half foot tall. His head was tiny. Tiny like it should have been hanging around the neck of a Cannibal in the Congo.  There was barely enough room on his face for two beady eyes and an under-bite. His chin was a bump. If the billow in his britches was any indication his legs couldn’t be any bigger round than a teenage girl’s wrist. Balanced on those two twigs was this enormous bloated bag of skin. It had an unnatural swing when he walked. 
Now it was pressed against me as David, eyes closed, head cocked back, finished mumbling… 
“You see,” he lowered his head and opened his eyes on mine, “I don’t play. I do not play.” 
I managed to nod without laughing… “You quit school ‘cause of recess huh?” 
His eyes narrowed, he let out a cackle… “You understand dontchya…you understand what I’m saying.” He reached out and slapped on my shoulder as he laughed. Then grasped hold of it and started pulling me toward him…still laughing. 
“You know what I’m sayin.” 
He had both shoulders now and was pulling me hard against that belly. At first, that’s what I felt…the pliable taughtness of soft warm skin. Then he began to slide his hands down my back. 
“You understand me.” 
Things were turning frisky. As disturbing as that was it was the cool mushy feeling against my hip that took me aback. I was making an indention. This wasn’t belly. It was a bag! 
The room disappeared into a blue streak of light. Dave disappeared. I found myself in a state of pure existence beyond time and space. I say I found myself, but, actually, I had lost all sense of my own person…my body. I just was, but exactly how I couldn’t say. I couldn’t feel anything but there was a heavy, dull, repetitive sensation of struggle. I was cognitively aware of being immersed in sewage. 
Even if it were possible to measure, I have no idea how long I was trapped like that. How long does a nightmare last? 
It wasn’t until Dave grabbed a big handful of my left butt cheek that I snapped out of it and pushed away from him as politely as I could. He squeezed a snicker out over his bottom lip, winked and turned away.
“You ‘bout ready to get outta here?” Jodi was finally ready to go. 
We passed the amputee then stopped in the hallway. At the end was a shadow…a huge bulging ball of a shadow on a stick, in front of the dirty glow of a window, hovering over the glassy shine of a waxed floor. 
“You keep ‘em straight in here, David!” Jodi hollered. 
Dave thrust his fist into the air...held it there as he shuffled off. 
“Jodi. Your man there just felt me up.” 
“Yeah. He’s always starin’ at my dick.”
E.F. Bartlam © 2013


  1. Thank you so much for doing this. It's really flattering.

    The people I live with...the places I go. make it pretty easy.

    I'm gonna try to occasionally update Flimsy Cups. I just can't let it go. The punchline is the new one doesn't seem to be updating either.

    SDG...shoot me an email if you want an invite.

  2. It's my privilege, e.f.

    Delighted to hear that Flimsy Cups isn't really defunct - and good luck with the updating problem. Google seems to have it in for you!