The Jivin' Ladybug

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D. Michael Jones

the morning visitors


Two men came to my door one morning and said there was something I had to do. Both of their heads were shaved, and they wore matching blue coveralls. Stocky, cracked lips, slits for eyes, the only difference between them: one was short and one was tall. “What kind of something?” I asked. “Keep talking,” the short one said, “and I’ll fix you up real good.” “I just wondered what kind of something, that’s all.” “You’re going to wonder your way right into Edger’s fist,” the short man said, pointing to his enormous partner. Edger, tall and frighteningly muscular, pumped his fist in my face, but when he opened his mouth only an incoherent moan came out. His tongue was a mutilated purple stump. “Okay,” I said, “no need to get fired up about it. What do you want me to do?” “Edger!” the short man yelled. Edger pulled my hair until tears came to my eyes. “We tell, you don’t ask,” the short man said, “now make us some coffee.” Edger tapped him on the shoulder then mumbled something. “And toast,” the short one added. I made the coffee and toast. They must have been hungry because they had me make eggs as well. “Don’t you have any beacon?” the short man asked. I told him I didn’t have the money for luxuries. “You’re a damned liar,” he said with a mouthful of egg. I was lying. “All right,” pushing his plate to the middle of the table, “here’s the story on today’s activities: You’re coming with us.” I sat down in the chair next to him. “No,” I said, “I’m not going anywhere with you.” He slapped my face with the back of his hand. “You need to get smart,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere!” I screamed back. “You’re not?” “No,” I said. He hit me with the palm of his hand, almost knocking me out of my chair. “What about now?” he asked. “No,” I said rubbing my jaw. He smacked one side of my face with the palm of his hand and the other side of my face with back of his hand, five or six times. When I finally blocked his right hand, he hit me so hard with the closed fist of his left a little blood trickled from my ear. “Now,” he asked, out of breath from beating me, “are you coming with us?” I nodded my head. “Good,” he said, “we’ve got the pig suit in the ambulance. Let’s go.” Edger made me put my arm around his shoulder. “Act like your leg is lame,” the short man said. He opened my apartment door and we went in to the dark stairwell and up the steps. I dragged both me feet. It was hard for Edger to keep his balance and he moaned woefully. The short man hit me on the back of the head, “Jones,” he said, “don’t over do it.” I let both my legs go limp. Edger promptly dropped me on the dirty stairs, knelt down, and started chocking me. My eyes bulged from my head. The short man tapped him on the shoulder, “Edger?” he asked. But Edger kept choking me, adding his knee to my chest and tightening his grip around my neck. “Edger, hello, Edger?” the short man tapped politely on his shoulder. “Well,” he said in a washing-my-hands-of-this tone, “if you want to kill him that’s your own concern. I’d like to kill him myself, for what it’s worth. But, Edger, you’ve got to have self-control if you want to get anywhere in this world.” The tall man’s grip around my throat loosened. “Maybe you can kill him later, or severely burn his hands. That would at least be something. But we’ve got to think of the job now.” Edger took his knee off my chest. I could barely breathe and there was a painful chatter in my ears. The two men embraced. The short man put his hands lovingly on Edger’s cheeks, “That’s a good boy,” he said, “that’s a good boy. Now let’s go.” The short man went to the top of my staircase and started, hand over hand, pulling the chain that opens my cellar door. (I live in a storm cellar. The entrance is in my landlord’s garden.) Edger picked me up and put me over his shoulder. The cellar door slowly opened to a grey, rainy sky. On the top step, Edger tossed me off his shoulder like a wrestler. “There’s someone,” a voice said, “they’ll tell you.” “Edger!” the short man yelled as he pulled the lever that closed my cellar door, “Edger, pick that asshole up. He’s supposed to be a patient.” Edger moaned something. “Pick him up now, Edger.” “Here,” the voice said, “they’ll tell you.” There was an ambulance parked in the garden. It had crashed through the chain-length-fence and was resting half on the curb and half in a muddy bed of dead flowers. An old woman with bright orange hair and a prominent bald spot on the crown of her head stood in the street. She yelled at a teenage boy in a lavender beret. He was lounging on the ambulance, where the windshield meets the hood, as if it were a recliner. His ankles were crossed. “Whose wagon is this?” the woman with the bald spot asked. The short man looked at the boy reclining on the hood. His arms were tucked comfortably behind his head. “It’s not a wagon,” the short man said, “it’s an ambulance.” The boy in the lavender beret’s eyes were shut. The cold and the drizzle had no effect on his rest. Edger picked me up and put me over his shoulder with a deep, painful groan meant to get the sympathy and attention of his partner. But his partner was otherwise disposed. “This is my garden,” the bald woman said. “Sorry, it was an emergency,” the short man answered while tapping the boy on the shoulder. “You’re going to have to get up now, buddy.” But the boy’s arms remained behind his head, his ankles remained crossed. Edger carried me with heavy, lumbering steps to the ambulance. I was level with the boy in the beret. “Buddy,” the short man said, tapping him on the shoulder a little harder, “you’re going to have to get up now.” The boy opened his eyes. “Why,” he said, “this is my wagon.” “It’s not a wagon,” the short man yelled, “and it’s not yours.” “You tell him,” the bald woman screamed, “you tell him he has to get out of my garden now!” “First off,” I said, from my perch atop Edger’s shoulders, “it’s not your garden. It’s my landlord’s garden.” “I’d watch that mouth,” she said, brandishing a metal cane with a dirty rubber tip. “Now, you get this wagon out of my garden.” “It’s not a wagon,” the short man shot back at her. “Nor is it your garden,” I added. The boy in the lavender beret rose majestically on one arm. He blinked at us wearily. “I’m trying to rest,” he said. “Well,” the short man said, “naptimes over.” He pulled the boy’s one arm out from under him and tried to jerk him off the slick, wet hood. But the boy fought hard, holding to the windshield wipers while the bald woman beat him around the head and neck with her metal cane. “Enough, enough,” the short man finally said, holding his hands up like a policeman stopping traffic, “enough. I’ll let you in on our secret. Come on, you’ll want to hear this.” The boy in the lavender beret let loose of the windshield wipers and the bewhiskered woman got in two more blows, directly to his hipbone. “Enough,” said the short man with the hairy arms and blue overhauls, “I’ll let you in on something. But it has to be just between us.” “What?” The bald woman asked. “What?” the boy in the lavender beret asked. The small man pointed to me perching atop Edger’s shoulders. “You see this guy. He’s not our patient. We’re out to get this guy.” “Really,” the red haired woman said, “that seems promising. What are you going to do to him?” The short man thought for a moment. “We’re going to make him give blowjobs in a toilet downtown.” “Well,” she said, looking at me carefully, “that may not be a punishment at all. Would you like giving blowjobs in a toilet downtown, young man?” “No,” I said, “I don’t think I would.” “Are you going to beat him afterwards?” the boy in the lavender beret asked, rising again majestically on one arm. “Absolutely,” the short man assured him, “we’ve already choked him.” “Well,” the boy said, “I could let you borrow my wagon if you promise to beat him.” I almost fell off Edger’s shoulder yelling, “It’s not a wagon, you fucking twerp.” “Look,” the short man said, raising his hand like a policeman once again, “I’ll give you both, as a gesture of goodwill, a little taste of the action. Does that sound fair?” They both shock their head, yes. I was dropped into the cold garden mud and immediately blows started raining down. I pulled my knees against my chest and tried to block them with my forearms. Other than a few kicks to the ribs, the bald woman only hit me with her metal cane. But the teenage boy in the lavender beret squatted, locked his hands, and pulling the triangle of his connected arms back far behind his head delivered blows that almost made him fall over. “Ah, ah, ah,” he screamed, “no one loves me. No one loves me at all.” “Enough, enough,” the small man finally said using his police voice and police hand gestures, “we’ve got to save something for the bathrooms downtown.” I stood up, weak-kneed and groggy. I had to lean against the ambulance to keep from falling, and with a note of disgust in my voice I told them they shouldn’t be knocking down another poor stiff from their own neighborhood. The boy pointed his finger at me as tears ran down his face. “Dad,” he said, “from your speech I see you’re not ready for a relationship with me. But I’m going to make you love me. I’m going to make you love me, if it kills us both.” I told him I was far too young to be his father. “No matter what you say,” the boy raised his arms skyward, “I swear to god I’ll make you love me.” I followed his gesture skyward, but saw nothing.

“Where’s the video camera?” The short man asked as he dug through boxes of costumes in the back of the ambulance. Edger was driving wildly on the wet roads, throwing everything in the back of the ambulance from side to side. Edger, the short man said, if we don’t get that video camera and start getting some footage, we’re not going to get paid. You know how cheap the rich are. Jones, why don’t you help us look? This is as much you’re problem as ours. “First,” I said, my arms wrapped desperately around the back of the passenger seat, “I don’t give head in toilettes or anywhere else. So you might as well find someone else.” “Jones,” the short man said, “you’re going to a birthday party. So help us find the video camera.” “Well,” I said, “I’m not going to a birthday party or downtown toilets or anywhere of the sort. So you might as well” – “I found it!” the short man yelled. “I found it!” Edger let go of the wheel and gave a little clap over his shoulder. “It was in with that pool party gear.” For his forgetfulness, Edger slapped his forehead. “All right,” the short man said, “let’s start the taping.” I opened the back doors of the ambulance and jumped out. I ran toward a red brick apartment building, still in my pajamas and slippers. I tried metal door after metal door, until I found a way into a of the narrow hallways. It smelled like rat shit. One of the hallway lights was dead so I stopped and crouched in the dark doorway. I heard the tall man and the short man coming for me. I tried to get away, but Edger caught me at another locked metal door and clubbed me senseless with an iron bar. I awoke on a dirty mattress. The small man had thrown water on my face. He was jumping up and down yelling in a childish voice, “Look Little Stewie, look at the lazy bones.” Edger hovered in the background, the single red light of the video camera was bright in the dingy apartment. “Look at his room,” Little Stewie, “a real lazy bones lives here.” Edger slowly circled the camera around the room. There was not much to it. The ceiling was low and the one window was covered by a thick blue towel. I tried to get to up, but the blow had made me sick to my stomach. I threw up on the floor. “Lazy bones,” the small man said in his childish voice, you were drinking all night. That’s why you’re so sick. But you gotta get up now, lazy bones, Little Stewie needs a dancing pig for his birthday party. Oink. Oink. Now give us an oink, oink, lazy bones.” The small man took a bottle from his pocket and threw another splash of water in my face. “Give us an oink, oink now,” he said with a stern shake of his fist. “Oink, oink,” I said. “Now that’s more like it.” He turned to the camera. “Isn’t that more like it, Little Stewie? We need enthusiasm from our dancing pig.” He did a few jumping jacks and yelled “Yeah, yeah, yeah it’s Little Stewie’s birthday.” The red light on the video camera slowly died. “Get him up, Edger.” The short man was already pushing through the door of the squatter’s room. “They love the wake up shots,” the short man said, “and this place is exactly what they’d imagine. We got lucky getting that bit of film, may have saved us a couple hundred. Get him up, Edger!” The tall man kneeled down, put me over his shoulder, and with a long groan pulled himself back up. “But,” the short man said from the hallway, “it won’t do us any good if we’re late.”              

The next time the ambulance stopped, I was wearing a pink pig suit and a heavy pig mask. “Fifteen minutes early,” the short man said, looking at his wristwatch. He and Edger had changed their clothes as well. They were both wearing matching tuxedos with yellow cummerbunds. They brushed the backs of each others long tailed dinner jackets with a lint brush. “Looking good?” the short man asked with a little pirouette. Edger shook his head yes, and gave his own pirouette. “All right,” the short man said as he rolled the lint brush over my pig suit, “you don’t say a word, but oink. Is that clear? Nothing else. Maybe a snort here and there, but that’s all. The first time you step out-of-character, speak like a human being or act like a human being, and that long ride home is going to be much longer for you. Don’t think it over. You’re not capable of anger, humor, sadness, or love. You’re a pig. Pigs don’t feel these kinds of things. That’s a blessing for a fellow like you .Follow me, Jones? Those kinds of feelings are only going to hurt you in the end. Do you understand what I’m telling you?” I shook my heavy pig mask, yes. “Good,” he said, “don’t take the costume as a cover or a disguise, think of this costume as what you’re supposed to be. That should make you happy. What else can any of us ask, but to be what were supposed to be? You’re a thoughtless, filthy pig. No need swimming up stream, no need fighting the inevitable,” the short man said, putting a friendly arm around my shoulder. “Oink,” I added halfheartedly. “That’s the spirit, Jones. You’re going to have to do a little better than that, but it’s a start – Now,” he said, taking his arm from my shoulder, “we’re going in there big. Edger’s got the music cued up and I’ve got the riding crop and megaphone. You’re to do three simple tasks. First, you run in front of me taking licks from my riding crop; if I were in your shoes I’d jump around like my pants were burning. Two, you need to dance. And three, you have to crawl around on your hands and knees and be beaten by the boys who will hold their switches like their penises. Okay?” I gave him an oink. “Okay,” he said, “let’s get a little more film before we go.” Edger held the video camera up, pushed a button on the side, and the red light came on. The short man did jumping jacks and yelled “Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s Little Stewie’s birthday. And we’ve got our dancing pig. Dance pig.” Edger rolled the camera in my direction and I danced, rubbing my belly like mad. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” the short man yelled, “it’s Little Stewie’s birthday. He gets a dancing pig because he’s daddy’s so rich. Yeah!”  

 I ran into the lavish reception hall like my pants were on fire and the short man hit me with his riding crop. It was hard to see through the eye holes of the mask, which made me unbalanced. The little boys liked that. They liked to see me fall, go to a knee, or stumble about helplessly. Circus-style organ music was playing loudly. The boys laughed and yelled to other boys, especially when they snuck in and hit me with one of their switches. “Got him, got that dirty pig,” they’d cry in their piercing little boy voices. I could also hear the taunts and jokes of the short man in the tuxedo as well. But mostly it was my own breath that I heard. Getting louder, getting softer, always hot in the heavy, dark mask. The reception hall was decorated in balloons of every imaginable color. They hung from the chandeliers and were tapped to the dark oak paneling. The boys liked to stomp on the balloons. They went off like gunshots, two or three at a time. And the boys would cheer and one of them would run up to me with his switch held like it were his penis and hit me across the knees or, if he were taller than average, across the ass. The boys would cheer and more balloons would pop. “Dance, dance, dance,” they started to scream. “Dance, dance, dance.” Edger was following me around with the video camera, its red eye floating above the mass of screaming boys. I danced fast and wild, which caused me to trip over the pig costume. I’d be turning circles or kicking my legs high like a cancan, when I’d get hung up on the baggy, carpet suit and fall down. Then they would rush in, hitting me with their switches and screaming, “That piggy’s drunk, that piggy’s drunk. Bad, piggy, bad.” I even tried to do a handstand, and went down very hard. They piled on me, putting their sweaty, sugary hands under my mask and clawing at my face. The short man had to help. “Come on now, kids, come on,” he said into a megaphone, “piggy’s got to dance. Come on now, kids, you’re going to smother piggy before he can finish his dance.” I broke free of them and tired to keep moving. Sweat burnt my eyes and my heart was going so fast I could hear it loud in my ears. I was only able to stagger away from the boys who were jumping on my back and trying to ride me down. “All right, all right,” he said into the megaphone, “that piggy’s given us some kind of dance hasn’t he?” “Yeah,” they yelled and hit me across the back. (I was doubled-over sucking air). “All right, all right,” the short man said, “now we’ve come to the part of the show where the birthday boy gets to give his licks. Everybody’s going to have a chance. But it’s Little Stewie’s birthday! Come on everybody, let’s give Little Stewie a happy birthday!” “Happy birthday,” they repeated in their eerie, mechanical way. I got on my hands and knees and prepared to crawl around and oink like a pig. The short man pushed the other boys back. “Come on,” he said into the megaphone, “let’s give it up for Little Stewie.” The boys roared as he emerged from their ranks. His face was fat and his sandy hair was greased into sharp points. He shook his switch like we was shaking his penis. “This piggy’s got problems,” he said to himself, “this piggy’s bad.” I ran around the edge of the boys, taking licks from them as I went. “Don’t worry,” I heard him say as he pattered behind me, “I’m gonna knock the bad out of you.” He hit me two or three times and I heard the short man say over the megaphone that those hits would have brought any average pig down. He got me across the back once more and I fell over, struggling and shaking as if I had been shot. I watched him through the eyeholes of the mask. He wore a natty blue blazer and trim white shorts. He hit me over and over again. “Don’t worry, piggy, I’m gonna beat you till you’re happy again.” At first, I didn’t feel much through the thick carpet of the pig suit. But as all the boys joined in, sometimes kicking, sometimes standing on me legs or arms or hands, every touch began to hurt terribly. I didn’t think I could stand anymore of their sitting on me chest or running over my back. The only way I could keep still was to imagine everyone in the room, myself as well, riddled with bullet holes and dark with dry blood and covered by flies that crawled across our pale, bloodless faces. “Cake!” the short man yelled through the megaphone. “Cake time! Cake time!” he yelled. The boys lingered for a moment, getting in a few last licks, and then ran toward the elaborate tables of sweets and cakes setup at the far end of the reception hall. I watched them as the short man ushered me to the door. They seemed to eat with appetite.

            The two men loosened their bowties and undid the top buttons of their shirts for the ride back to my neighborhood. They had stopped at a liquor store for a bottle of vodka and some beer. They sat up front, passing the bottle back and forth. Edger drove and the short man, his shoes off and his feet on the dash, sat in the passenger’s seat. I was in the back with the boxes of costumes. “All right,” the short man said as he turned to me, “I can’t give you much money because you’re not in the union and you’ve really got no background or resume to speak of. I’m sorry, but that’s the way of the world, Jones. We’re not going to change it today. But I hate for you to go home empty handed.” He gave me two ten dollar bills and a can of beer. Edger slammed on the brakes. “Take it easy,” the short man said. I crawled out the back doors, and as soon as they were shut the ambulance was off. I watched it tear down the street and disappear around the corner with a squeal of tiers. I opened the beer and took a long drink. I was still wearing my pajamas and slippers. My stomach was empty so the beer went straight to my head. I shuffled along the sidewalk drinking the beer. As I came closer to my apartment I could see the teenage boy in the lavender beret. He was sitting indian-style in my landlord’s muddy garden. I hated him for being in the garden. As I got closer I saw his eyes were closed. I hated him for closing his eyes. I went through the hole in the fence and walked to my cellar door cursing at him loudly. I started pulling the chain. I yelled, “Get out of here you stupid asshole.” “Dad,” the boy in the lavender beret said, “I know we haven’t always had the best relationship, haven’t always been able to talk the way a father and son should, but I think we can change that.” I smacked the beret off his head. “I’m too young to be your father,” I said, stomping the beret into the mud with my foot. “Dad,” he cried. I closed my fist and hit him on the top of the head. He covered his head and I kicked him with my muddy slippers. “No one loves me,” he cried. “That’s right,” I said, getting on top of him, “no one loves you. Everyone hates you.” I hit him with my closed fists, all over his body. Then he rolled me off and tried to get on top of me. I fought back and we wrestled across the muddy flower beds. He yelled, “No one loves me,” as if it were a reason why he should win and I should be humiliated. I yelled, “No one loves me” in the same way. “No one loves me,” he yelled. “No one loves me,” I yelled as we wrestled in the wet mud of my landlord’s garden.

The Jivin' Ladybug- A Skewered Journal of the Arts
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