“The Virgin” – Fiction by Dylan Jackson

Schädel (Skull) - Vincent van Gogh, 1887/1888
Schädel (Skull) – Vincent van Gogh, 1887/1888

In a dark, clammy alley near the intersection of loneliness, ignorance, violence, and lust, there’s Dylan Jackson‘s wry yet tragic tale, “The Virgin,” one of the many flappy lits included in our Summer 2014 Issue.

{ X }

SOMEONE GOT SHOT. Or, rather, many people were shot during a single incident. Some of them died, while others, despite varied injuries, managed to survive for the time being. He didn’t know where or when the incident took place, but from the little he could glean of the broken news report coming over radio in the front of the cab, Boneface knew that somewhere, people may have been as sad as him. It didn’t matter though. People die, just as more are created or brought into the world every day.

He hated getting out. Though, if it was a matter of necessity, it was reserved as a task carried out under the veil of night. On this particular evening, Boneface had found himself in want of a woman. This would be his first. After twenty-five years of unintentionally chaste living, the decision to procure intimacy had come almost as suddenly as he was sure to upon the initial encounter.

All evening he’d been sitting alone in his apartment—as he’d done nearly every evening of his adult life—pondering what it must feel like to be touched by another human to whom he bore no direct relation. The inspiration had come from nearly three hours of scanning through the titles of pay-per-view pornos that he couldn’t bring himself to purchase. It was less a matter of finance, and more an issue of pride, as his mother, and executor, would be the one to receive the bill. He’d made that mistake before and found himself wildly aroused, only to be met with deep embarrassment and shame the following month. Tonight though, he knew which mistake to avoid, and which new mistake he would forge.

 { X }

Barreling down Andover Avenue, he kept his best eye peeled for the prospect of loose women. In his mind danced the tell-tale signs of promiscuity. Red leather mini-skirts, halter tops, disheveled hair, and comically overdone makeup became the beacons he searched for from the windows of the cab. Never mind the fact that he had yet to muster the courage to provide the driver with a final destination. In truth, neither one of the men in the car wanted to look each other in the eye. There was a finite level of discomfort, due to Boneface’s melted appearance and a rather unsightly mole located just above the driver’s lip. They were a pair.

In his pocket, Boneface crumpled the wad of bills he’d withdrawn from the ATM. After this cab ride to nowhere, he would have nearly $460. He assumed that this would be adequate for his purposes. But then again, there was still a cab home to consider. He cared little and the newscaster on the radio continued his drone about all the ills of the world. A disaster there was not a disaster here, Boneface thought aloud. “What’s that buddy?” the driver said blindly. After a few moments of self-consciousness, Boneface prolonged his silence until deciding to proceed on foot. “Stop tha caw, please.” He said loudly. The meter read $37, and the first awkward monetary exchange of the night was made.

On Brook Street, Boneface made sport of finding the darkest spots on the block to walk. Sheltered by awnings and shadows—the bill of his ball cap pulled low—he eagerly sulked down the street, salivating with desperation. He didn’t know where to look for the kind of woman he sought, but he nonetheless kept peering wildly.

He’d made it nearly five blocks before he noticed how rapid his pace had grown. It had become evident through his breathing. Heavy as the weight of his soul, Boneface’s exhalations prompted him to stop for a moment and sit. He found a stoop and did so. Gathering his strength, he watched rats explore the curbs and piles of refuse which made up the dull luster of the block. Sirens in the distance signaled that violence couldn’t be all too far off. Somehow this fact made him feel more at home.

After a few moments of contemplative recharging, he stood and once again stole down the street. As if fate were finally in his favor, he spotted the first glimmer of sickening hope at the corner of Brook and Tyler. She stood near a doorway, wearing heels, and looking like a smoker who’d just run out of steam. She wore a most unflattering parka which seemed slightly unnecessary for the fifty-degree weather. Boneface was unsure of whether she was for sale, and decided to approach her cautiously. As he stepped closer, he made notice that she was fumbling for something in the folds of her coat. At about ten feet from her he piped up and said hello, assured that the next move would be hers. His greeting was met with a scream, like that of his classmates on his first day of school, and a blinding dose of burning liquid. He fell quickly onto the sidewalk and covered his ossified face with his hands. He didn’t yell. He’d felt worse pain in his life, though the realization did little to console him. In the calm street he simply listened as the frightened woman fled the scene. His first attempt, like so many others, had been a failure.

Ten minutes or so went by as Boneface struggled to regain his sight. Leaning against the same doorway in which the woman had stood, he blinked and blinked until his tear ducts had flushed out a majority of the toxins. When he felt confident enough with his vision, he rose, turned back to Brook Street and continued on, a bit shaken. His determination was spiking, but it was becoming harder for him to carry on. The noxious odor which his assailant had painted him with caused a burning in his lungs.

After only half a block of walking he was soon doubled over and coughing uncontrollably. This caused his face to tighten and his nose to run. His spasms caused an uncertain pain to course throughout his body. While it did hurt, he let it happen. At least this feels like something, he thought.

He sat on the sidewalk and waited for it all to subside. Following a particularly rough coughing spell, one which blocked all of his senses to the outside world, he neglected to hear foot-steps approaching. He shook and slightly cowered when a woman’s hand touched his shoulder and asked if he was OK. To his surprise, neither she nor the man who accompanied her seemed shocked when his face turned up towards theirs; his unsightly appearance now boasting a running nose, blood red tear filled eyes, and a mouth hole which was more crinkled than usual. By all accounts, he had the look of a broken and bewildered beast.

The woman attempted to assess his condition through a solid string of questions. She inquired about his health, and if someone had done this to him, to which he could only reply in broken tones between coughs. The man who accompanied her stood silently by, seemingly put off by her concern for the stranger. Though, after much pleading on her end, he assisted her in helping Boneface up from the curb, and assisting him down the block. “Do you need a hospital?” she asked. Boneface simply shook his head negatively.

Assuming that he was homeless and in need of help, she assisted him into a coffee shop on the corner of Brook and Stone. Despite the guarded and watchful attention paid to them by the establishment’s staff, Boneface and the woman found a seat. “Whes your frien?” Boneface mustered the energy to ask. “Oh, that’s—he didn’t want to come in. Had somewhere to go.” She replied before quickly changing the subject. Boneface was amazed that she had not only understood him, but chosen to interact at all. Thus, he continued his frequent blinking and sporadic coughs, with the hope that he could soon focus clearly on this person who had scooped him up and seen him to safety.

His eyes gradually became clearer as he attempted to drink a bit of the coffee which had been placed before him. He and the woman sat quietly, and Boneface constructed the image of a tired but decently respectable woman of about 30. There were bags under her eyes, and her cheeks sagged a bit more than her age might have warranted. However, under her protective coating of make-up, she did seem to possess discernible warmth. For the next thirty minutes, the two became somewhat familiar, and she continued to ask questions which Boneface occasionally answered with a lie. He discovered that her younger brother had suffered a terrible facial injury while overseas as the result of a land mine. The two compassionately left this fact on the table, shifting to a brief interlude about the unseasonable rise in the temperature that night.

Of the little personal information he offered, he successfully made it known that he did not live close by, but did have money. When she asked if he wanted help getting home, he told her that he had come to Brook Street with other intentions. Their conversation began to take the shape of vague bargaining, since neither would concretely reveal what it was that had brought them together in the shadows of the city past 10pm. In the end she agreed to escort him to a nearby hotel that she had “seen before.” With this in mind, he placed a twenty under his saucer and followed her to the street.

On the way to the hotel he learned that she called herself Diane. They slowly became comfortable around each other. So much so, that she even agreed to save him the embarrassment of checking himself into the room. This provided Boneface a chance to flash his wad of cash, and give her a taste of what he could offer by putting a hundred dollars in her hand so that she could pay his stay. She seemed more curious than impressed, but his planting of the seed had taken. With the room key in hand, she agreed to walk with him to the third floor. He’d told her he was still a little shaken.

In the lobby, Boneface looked at the floor as they passed the desk. The clerk had seen this kind of thing before and could care less. Neither of them spoke as they continued up the stairs. His vision had grown much clearer, and as she led the way he couldn’t stop lustfully looking at the contraction and release of the muscles underneath her jeans. The anticipation of the next few moments caused his heart rate to rise as the adrenaline kicked in. While he was still unsure what was happening, Diane seemed to know her way around.

The hall of the third floor appeared to be ill-tended, as only two of the four overhead lights were in operation. Room 304 was on the dark end. Diane fumbled with the key. Inside the room both were quiet for a moment. “So, here you are. Safe for the night. It was really nice to meet you Daniel.” Diane said with a soft smile. With this, Boneface’s heart sank and he knew it was time to act. “Wate!” he exclaimed.

He had thought to bring a condom, and was thankful he’d had a chance to use it. For nearly twenty minutes, mostly consisting of him receiving foreplay, he had felt like an angel. Before the act he’d given Diane all of the money he had left and promised her that he wouldn’t look her in the eye or try to kiss her. To his detriment, whilst imagining that he was in the pay-per-view movie he’d seen so long ago, he thought it normal to border on the rough side of the sexual spectrum. There was no establishment of a safe word, and with his hands clenched so tightly around her throat it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. His sleep was cold.

When he left Diane in the morning, alone in room 304, he tried to smile before remembering that he couldn’t. Moreover, he was unsure about what he had done. But, to admit his wrong would only lead to more face time with individuals and officials who he didn’t know. It would be uncomfortable. He was glad that he’d not seen the desk clerk’s face when he came in, and was careful to exit in the same manner. He knew he’d done something wrong, and that before it was wrong it had felt so right. This paradox confused him from the time that he hailed a cab, all the way back to his empty apartment; outside of which there was no place he should go.

{ X }

II

At the time of the accident, Daniel “Boneface” Baker was only four years old, wearing red shorts and suspenders, playing on the front lawn. He didn’t know that when he went to pick up the Frisbee he’d thrown it would cause him to brush up against a man on a ladder. But as he lay in the yard, momentarily catatonic in the early morning sun, his only thought was I am dead.

His parents were able to sue the worker and the company who they’d hired to etch the window of their humble clerestory (as a result of his haphazard handling of hydrochloric acid) but even the lifetime financial freedom did nothing for the bleached and sickening appearance of Daniel’s face. In time, namely after the passing of his disfigured adolescence and acceptance of his new nick-name, he was resigned to living as an emotionless shell. This was partly in fact because his lack of facial muscles and subse-quent stone-like demeanor.

On a particular summer day in 1997, Boneface, then 29, was sitting inside his condo watching a locally produced after-noon talk show. The subject was bland and involved fathers. Boneface couldn’t have cared less. He was waiting on groceries to arrive, as they had every week since he’d moved into the condo, at 3 o’clock; the ending time of the program. TV schedules and grocery day had become one of his most reliable forms of marking the passage of time.

As the sob stories continued, Boneface stared on. At the show’s conclusion, as the overly-tanned host announced tomor-row’s topic, Boneface took notice: Modern Day Freaks. He almost let himself get mad about the topic, but then remembered that it was probably just what people wanted to see. Much like the host’s polished appearance–that smile built of snowy veneers, the slicked and distinctive way his hair held itself in place, and down to the army of suits which boasted class and superiority–Boneface was lulled on many an afternoon into accepting the fact that John Dungy was the essence of pedigreed normality and human success. Were he capable of comprehending envy or malice, Boneface may have questioned himself more deeply about why the show’s conclusion always caused his eyes to water subtly, far beyond his control.

When the groceries arrived, he dried his cheeks and set about the task of stocking the cupboard and deciding what to eat. His mother was still responsible for ordering his groceries, which meant that every time there was sure to be some simple surprises included. Some weeks it was a new kind of cereal, or yogurt, this week it was a medium-sized bag of apples, a pan, and pie-crust. Boneface took this as a cue and called his mother who then walked him through the steps of baking a pie.

He waited a little while until the kitchen got hot and filled with the smell of burnt sugar, and when the time came, he took out a mitt and bent down to remove his treat. As had happened so many times before in the past years, he went about this task reflectively; staring into the waves of the open oven and won-dering what it would be like if he turned off the pilot and let him-self drift. But, as was always the case, he resigned himself to his project, removed the pie and sat it on the counter.

After a time, he retrieved a knife from one of the kitchen drawers and scored the pie. He took a slice and returned to his indentation on the couch. With the first bite his naïve excitement faded. The food he so longed for tasted like nothing, again. He finished all but two slices of the pie in silence, and called his mother to thank her. She didn’t know that he couldn’t taste be-cause, while he had no emotions to speak of, he still felt com-passion for the few who’d cooked for him. He understood the concept of giving compliments, though the catalyst for their delivery eluded him.

As the afternoon gave way to the stars from beyond his patio, Boneface stood at the glass door and gazed out, ignoring his reflection. He liked to watch the people come and go from the building. For most, he even made up stories about who they were and where they were going. Where, besides the pavement below he had seen them; how their days had been; how fantastic their interactions with others may have felt; what sins they’d committed; these were his concerns. But tonight was different, and he could only watch with welling frustration. His hands refused to stop moving over different parts of his body, touching every feature he noted on the others below him; save for his face.

When the time came to apply his nightly ointment, he pulled a chair close to the window. It was the same as usual: the TV humming in the background, and people with appearances to keep up going about their doing so underneath him. Boneface thought to exhibit jealously over their good fortune, but he rea-lized that this would involve effort, and was not worth the time. It’s not so bad, he thought. A nice place. Too many people to bother with. Money…this works. This works.

His face twitched, attempting astonishment, at the scene unfolding below as a white town car unloaded its passengers: a ravishing young woman, and the familiarly dapper man. As the couple disappeared from his field of vision, Boneface filed through the face-book of his mind. John Dungy, he’d decided, was in the building. He watched the town car drive away, he pulsed with excitement at the possibility that the host–his host– was in the building. He wanted to meet the man who he’d watched for so many years; the man who’d guided him through so much about human suffering. He rose again from his chair and took his medi-cations with a hearty four fingers of port on the side. This made him feel warm, and alone, and in need of something. So many nights in his life he had felt this sensation. This ritual which had always put him in just the right state of wrong was upon him.

Within an hour he’d had a few more drinks, cleaned and concealed his pie knife in the pocket of his robe, gathered the remaining fourth of pie in its tin, opened a new bottle of wine and ventured stumbling through the halls and stair wells of his com-plex. As he wandered he imagined the things he would say or do if he saw Dungy. Would he like some pie? Surely. He was in a mild rage about tomorrow’s show topic and unashamed to be seen by the public. He wasn’t thinking about his looks, he was thinking about finding the host and asking what he thought about “freaks,” really. He wanted to know who chose them, and what the criteria was for their appearing. He wanted to be inclu-ded, but didn’t. He took the bottle of wine to his mouth and held the pie tin steady in his palm along his descent. He thought of more questions for the host, and was finally resigned to wonder-ing if the couple would like his mother’s pie, and if he’d be considered an oddity.

To his drunken amazement, he was given his chance earlier than expected. On the third floor, around the first corner, by the elevator, the man he sought stood lip-locked and dishev-eled with his companion. He watched on with astonishment as the two gradually took notice of his presence.

“Can we help you with something, buddy?” the man called down the hall.

Boneface stood silently, perhaps star-struck by this ack-nowledgment and, for some reason, fuming. He extended the pie toward the couple and examined their faces as he lurched toward them. The woman pushed open the door she’d been leaning on and asked the man to come back in, though the man made it clear to her that he chose to hold his ground. As Boneface got closer he realized that in person, the host looked nothing like he did on television.

“Mis’r Dn’jee, I jus wanen to aks chu abou c’her take on ‘dis pie. An’ jur shows.” He said, lacking all eloquence and elo-cution.

“What? Get the fuck out of here freak.” The man’s face contorted “Go!”

Daniel remembered with his palm why he’d brought the knife. He dropped the pie and the bottle and realized he’d made a mistake, just before he made two more. Tonight he was fated to make a difference for everyone like himself. Tonight he would make the host’s next show for him. Even though the man’s blank brown eyes didn’t resemble the steely blue ones he remembered from the promos. The woman’s screaming had been so startling, and the last two slices of pie mixed with the varied shades of red from his bottle, and elsewhere, and had stained the carpet in the hall of the third floor. He felt genuinely excited as he rushed back upstairs to his condo. He wondered how long it’d be before the news came. He thought about the questions he’d be asked. He snickered and huffed about the idea of being caught on the cameras in the hallway. Sitting at the kitchen table he waited for a knock on the door, wondering if it was finally the time to try the oven on for size.

{ X }

DYLAN JACKSON Dylan K. Jacksonis a graduate of Arkansas Governor’s School. Between Little Rock, New York,  and Chicago has held stints as a bass player, poet, actor, playwright, photographer, curator, artist assistant, bookstore grunt, instructor, community advocate, editor, and dive-bar booking agent. He is currently pursuing a creative writing major, and a minor in theatre at The University of Arkansas, Little Rock.

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