the writing disorder


harvey spurlock

New Fiction


by Harvey Spurlock

                                     their waists were bound in cords of wild green hydras,
                                             horned snakes and little serpents grew as hair,
                                         and twined themselves around the savage temples.

                                                                                                 Dante — Canto IX of Inferno

       The Top-of-the-Wall airport lounge is atop a wall reaching one foot less than a thousand into the sky. On a starless night its twinkling lights reflect the jovial mood of patrons celebrating the arrival or departure of loved ones—or ones not so loved. Two of the women sport Snaky Lady hairdos. One of them, Alecto, is short and hefty and entrenched in a bar chair, a beer in front of her, a fat slumbering hydra wrapped around her waist. The other, Tisiphone, tall and pale, her smaller head bobbing above a long neck, traipses toward the bar, a wild green hydra, awake and restless, coiled around her waist. Her handbag, brown as the skin of a shedding reptile, contains a copy of Dante’s Inferno and a pistol. She slinks onto the bar chair next to Alecto.
       A large hand slaps the bar. “What’ll it be, sweetie?” The bartender chuckles heartily.
       “An iced tea.” She regards him coldly. “Unsweetened.”
       Tisiphone turns toward Alecto. Her large brown eyes pop open wide. “I love your hairdo. Those horned vipers and tiny serpents twined about your temples become you.”
       Several of the short, thick snakes above Alecto’s eyeballs rear their heads and hiss. “They’re pissed off, cutie-pie. They thought they were the only Snaky Lady in town.” Alecto’s eyes, behind black-rimmed glasses, are a bit out of focus. Her bright blouse is splashed with purple and red flowers, their thick stems jutting up out of a murky substance. “They’re liable to grind up those candy-asses around your hoity-toity temples and eat them for breakfast.”

       Ninety-nine miles from the Top-of-the-Wall Phlegyas, the pilot of Flight 999, tips up yet another bullet of bourbon while the co-pilot dozes. Before the take-off he swept through the plane’s serving area and stuffed the tiny bottles into a satchel. Now, groping in the satchel at his feet, his fingers tally four or five live ones. With luck he will drain the last drop of the last bottle the instant the nose of the plane makes contact. It will be a hell of a sound: metal crashing into concrete. The mirth in the barroom will burst into shrieks, screeching and screams, then die into silence. No one in the Top-of-the Wall will wake up tomorrow morning with a hangover.

       In Flight 999’s rearmost seat I, Hiram Winesap, imbibe an alternative, due to an unexplained dearth my preferred bourbon. For the past three days I’d been holed up in a cheap hotel room next to a liquor store, cringing with every footstep in the hallway, expecting an authoritarian knock on the door and a gruff voice ordering me out with my hands up. The paranoia had set in when I came to on the flight to Ohio and realized Barbara wasn’t with me. The sole purpose of the trip had been for me to accompany her, before our divorce became final, to my parents’ home so she could retrieve the few possessions she had stored there.
       I brave another swallow, fraught with fire and nausea, and think back to the events leading up to the midnight flight to Ohio. Saturday evening I left Iris passed out on the living room floor of our 14th Street apartment and rode a trolley to East Bay Terminal. Iris and I had barhopped most of the day, spending much of the time in the 99 Club, the scene of our meeting a mere three weeks ago; Saturday’s return to the raucous skid-row environment had given her spirits an evident lift, and provided me with some relief from the drumbeat, “I can’t believe you’re doing this to me again,” her reference to my second short leave-taking since she had moved in the day after we’d met.
       Reclining in the rearmost seat of the Market Street trolley, I drew a half-pint flask from the inside pocket of my sport coat and killed the last of the bourbon, wondering why Winesap—I’d caught myself with increasing frequency slipping into the third person of late—was flying to Ohio instead of delving into Circle V of Dante’s Inferno in preparation for his fast approaching San Francisco State oral exams. In fact, why had he allowed Iris to move in before the exams were out of the way? Why was he even pursuing such a course of study when, instead of driving to California upon his military discharge, Barbara and he could have appeased his parents by making a beeline for the law school awaiting him with open arms? Why had he married Barbara in the first place? My … Hiram Winesap’s entire existence—as his mother would be the first to point out—wasn’t making much sense.
       At East Bay Terminal Winesap dropped off of the bus and crossed the street to Terminal Drugs. Back out of the drugstore with a fresh half-pint, he ducked into the shadows of rubbish-strewn Terminal Playground, disposed of the dead soldier and uncapped the new recruit. He stepped into a porno-film stall designated Deluxe.
       The title in white, “Physical Therapy,” flashed for a split-second against a black background then a camera panned in on a pretty blonde-haired woman’s face. A white nurse’s cap atop her head, her mouth was working on an enormous organ that seemed to have a life of its own. The camera traveled the length of the patient’s body, which was wrapped in white bandages from head to toe, the only exposed areas, aside from the penis, being the mouth, nostrils and eyes. The eyes were two totally immobile holes, yet gave off an impression of cognition as they stared unflinchingly down on the therapy. The camera began playing back and forth between the patient’s eyes and the therapeutic activity. Then it focused on the therapy for several seconds—until the woman’s face froze, held the pose for a moment then released the therapeutic object. Her fingers pressed it as if taking a pulse. Upon the camera’s return to the patient’s eyes there was no lingering flicker of awareness. The woman—naked from the waist down—rose, scribbled on a clipboard and sashayed away. After zooming in on her buttocks, the camera ceased all activity. Winesap left Terminal Playground.

       “After one unbearable marriage,” says Tisiphone, “I’ve decided to do something special for our last night together. I’m going to put a gun to the sot’s head and order him to bang me until his whanger is wet spaghetti. Then I’m going to chomp down on another humongous piece of pizza and turn my snakes loose.” Fitting retribution, she deems, for a bastard who had had the gall to pen a twelve-hundred page novel detailing his affair with a Chinese girlfriend during the year he’d spent overseas. “If they don’t unmercifully mutilate his sexual parts, I’ll simply start jerking the trigger.”
       One of Tisiphone’s snakes curls its head down and around until its horns are in her face.
       “You heard me. Replacing you is as easy as ordering another pizza.”
       “I doubt if you know what a sot is, honey-bunch,” says Alecto. “I thought I drank a lot until a real one waltzed into the Ninety-Nine Club, pretending to be Sir Galahad. He’s as sneaky as a snake too. He lied about being married and he keeps disappearing on mysterious trips.” Not to mention that the day she moved in she had found a blue album, hidden way back in a closet, stuffed full of pictures of him with an Asian woman. “My plans for getting rid of him don’t include your brand of highfalutin’ fireworks though. When I get good and ready, I’ll just stick a knife in his gut.” She’d come to the airport only to find out whether he really was on Flight 999 or was lying about that too.
       Tisiphone’s eyes have strayed away from the conversation. “Now I’ve seen it all.” Approaching them is a middle-aged woman, her long face sagging. Even her snakes, those on her head and the hydra draped around her waist, look like they’ve lost their best friend. She introduces herself as Megaera.

       Phlegyas gulps bourbon. The laughter of the bartender roars in his ear. The Top-of-the-Wall he knows is jam-packed with joy-seekers and glee-freaks. He has spent the afternoon reading and rereading Cantos VIII and IX of Inferno. By the time he hits the ground he’ll be in Circle V crossing the River Styx en route to the City of Dis. A single bullet of bourbon remains in the satchel.

       “I certainly can commiserate,” says Megaera. By now the other two ladies have unloaded a dose of the woes they have suffered at the hands of their respective Flight 999 expected arrival. They have moved to a table that momentarily opened up in the midst of the near nerve-jangling merriment. “Oh, I suppose I should have given up when he pulled a no-show at the law school his father had set him up with.” She had sensed trouble brewing when the acting lessons his father suggested each undergraduate semester never materialized. There was no question that, as his father—who had it—had pointed out, he didn’t have the gift of gab—but still. “Still here I am, bound and determined to make a last-ditch pitch to get him off of the booze … his father finally sobered up before his practice went completely belly up … and into law school.” When he’d pulled another no-show this past weekend she had weaseled the information out of the airport that he had supposedly been on the flight to Ohio and was to return on Flight 999. She booked an earlier flight. Megaera leans far over the table, her chin dipping almost to the lip of her coffee cup. “Perhaps I shouldn’t even say this out loud.” One of her little serpents lazily lifts then lowers its eyelids. “But, if I knew then what I know now, I might have considered an alternative to birth for this one.”
       A throat clears. Megaera’s eyes arise to golden hair billowing halo-like around a radiant face. “Ladies,” the youth intones. The ears of the jury inside of Megaera’s head are stirring. “I believe you have the only seat left in the lounge.” One wand-like hand is on the back of the empty chair, while the other fans his face, as if pushing away putrid air. Viper eyelids are arising. Megaera’s sunken cheeks are aglow. The throat is more golden than the hair.

       Due to the hospitality of the bartender, I had intended to drink for a while in The Terminal Bar. But upon emerging from Terminal Playground I was so sexually aroused that I hurried toward the boarding ramp, hoping to see a Berkeley-bound bus cutting thin air faster than a bowstring ever shot an arrow off. If the door banged open and a solitary steersman shouted, “Aha, I’ve got you now, you wretched soul!” so much the better.
       During the ride across the bay I lounged in the rearmost seat of the half empty bus that eventually did turn up. Occasionally I raised the bottle, aware that my span of consciousness was growing more precarious with each burning swig. In Berkeley, on a dark, tree-lined street, I finished off the flask and flung it into the weeds of a vacant lot. Up the street, lights from the large, old house Barbara lived in drew me on as if toward an eternal fire burning within. Stepping onto the porch, through the window I viewed a room full of young men and women engaged in deep discussion. Barbara was not among them. She generally preferred less weighty chatter where she could be the center of attention. It dawned on me that I was in no City of Dis, this was not a house occupied by fierce citizens in a city guarded by rebellious angels, but one brimming with individuals building new worlds of eternal harmony, love and freedom all wrapped into one package, worlds where no man or woman could imagine the need to exhibit a dangerous emotion, where no nincompoop would devote his life to reaching for bliss in a skid-row gutter.
       Winesap swung open the door and stalked, red-faced with booze, straight through the circle of conversationalists, who paid no attention to him. He cut down a short hallway and shoved open another door. Barbara stirred on the mattress. Her eyes popped open wide. “You startled me. I was dreaming of a gigantic pizza with everything on it.” He strode over and began unbuttoning her jeans. Glancing into a mirror, he half-expected to see a body coated with a thick layer of white bandages.
       Saturated with booze as he was, Winesap sought to prolong the encounter, even after he sensed Barbara on the verge of slithering away and scrambling for her clothes, pulsing beneath her skull a heaping platter of spaghetti or a thick steak, any one of the myriad culinary delights vying for the swiftly diminishing number of sensual seconds remaining in their fading relationship. Contemplating the demise of this phase of his life only fueled Winesap’s immediate desires. He let his mind entertain the thought that, since the closing curtain was almost drawn anyway, why not finish off the final performance with a flourish? Couldn’t Barbara herself be blamed for having introduced the concept? Hadn’t she less than a year ago confided that she had been on the brink of poisoning him with a jar of tainted mayonnaise? And not long thereafter she related a dream in which she had been gliding down a street, a pistol in each hand, cheerfully gunning down anyone she laid eyes on. As keyed up as he was, it would be a simple matter to place his hands around Barbara’s neck and squeeze, stifling any scream, until her last breath was extinguished. He could drag the body out of the window and deposit it in the weeds where he had hurled his bottle.
       He would find a bar with a pay phone. “This is Winesap’s former helpmate,” he would say to one of her super-intelligent housemates. “We were on our way to a restaurant when we had a disagreement and she ran off. I expect her to be at the airport, but in case she does head back that way would you give her the message that there are no hard feelings on my part and she is more than welcome to meet me at the airport … that is, if she still wants to go?”
       “Got you,” his reformer’s voice would reply, his mind leaping ahead to civilizations where disagreements were impossible.
       Winesap’s next call would be to his mother. After he told her of the change of plans, she would emit an ironic chuckle. “I won’t pretend to be shattered by Barbara’s decision not to come. But I do wish you would reconsider. It’s been ages since we sat down and had a good heart-to-heart talk.”
       That was his last flicker of awareness until he came to on the plane.

       Phlegyas’ last bullet of bourbon goes down the hatch. He levels the nose of the plane into the center of the Top-of-the-Wall. The booze sears his stomach, maybe the only earthly sensation he’ll sincerely miss.

       “Practicing law has always been my dream,” says Golden Throat. “But my Law School Admission Test score has been deplorable every time I’ve taken the test.”
       Her husband already has a spot reserved in a law school. Who could possibly know the difference?
       Tisiphone can’t wipe the wince off of her face or those of her snakes. The LSAT admission has put a damper on her initial impression that the throat would be a welcome addition to any circle of conversationalists. Alecto is still wondering whether the fake Galahad is on the plane. Repose is the predominate mode above her bleary eyeballs.
       “May I buy you a drink?” Megaera reaches for her purse.
       “As long as it is non-alcoholic. My worst nightmare is slurring a word.”
       If only she could get him as far as a courtroom…
       “The pilot isn’t responding,” blurts the overhead intercom, inadvertently activated as the result of a wine spill in the control tower.
       “Who is the pilot?”
       “Phlegyas, according to the flight plan.”
       “His flying license has been suspended!”
       “You and I both saw him scoff at the thought that that could keep him out of the cockpit, especially when he got good and ready to take out the Top-o...”
       Any more from the control tower is lost in the roar of engines.

       The last empty trickles from Phlegyas’ fingers to the floor. Passing out, his head bangs into the control panel. The course of Flight 999 is altered enough that its belly brushes the Top-of-the-Wall roof and the plane soars off into ebony.
       The co-pilot awakens and takes in the state of affairs. The serenity on Phlegyas’ comatose face touches off a shiver of pity. The poor old boy, he muses, won’t be making it down this go-around for a River Styx reunion with the ancestors he so reveres. He calls the control tower and arranges for an orderly landing.

       As Flight 999 taxis toward Gate 99 the Top-of-the-Wall is in recovery mode. The remains of those who suffered cardiac arrest have been carried out. The three ladies have weeded out the few snakes that have succumbed and respectable hairdos have been restored. Relief is pervasive for Megaera; the roar had rattled her into blaming herself for the impending disaster because she had said what she shouldn’t have out loud. After a silent countdown out of respect for those who had passed on, the bartender reopened the bar, booming, “The first drink is on me, folks. It isn’t every day we survive one of these.” Tisiphone is considering vacating the premises and saving her fitting retribution for another day. The roar had reinforced Alecto’s belief that the fake Galahad was not on Flight 999. It was just her luck to get wiped out on a wild goose chase. A barrage of insane screams has reduced Golden Throat’s vocal cords to wet spaghetti.

       Winesap is the last passenger off of the plane. Weaving into the waiting area he sees nothing but snakes, all of them writhing. Then three stony faces crystallize before his eyes. Any slim chance of appeasing Megaera seems far in the past. And he has an eerie sensation that he has burned his last bridge back out of Tisiphone’s bedroom. He takes a tentative step toward Alecto.

Harvey Spurlock has a B.A. in English from Denison University and a M.A. from the San Francisco State University Creative Writing Program. His stories have appeared in The Evansville Review, Westview, The Chariton Review, Buffalo Carp and Conceit Magazine. Now employed as a computer systems programmer, a trade acquired during a stint in the Marine Corps, he is married and lives in Conway, Arkansas.

COMMENT        HOME       BLOG


New Fiction

by Caroline Rozell

Lorraine Comanor

Marc Simon

by Len Joy

by Priscilla Mainardi

by Harvey Spurlock

by Max Sheridan

by Katja Zurcher

by Linda Nordquist

by Steven Miller


By accessing this site, you accept these Terms and Conditions.
Copyright © 2010-2012 ™ — All rights reserved