I should’ve just left it on the seat.
The guy who forgot it didn’t seem too concerned, spent most of the bus ride shuffling through that greasy shoulder bag looking for god-knows-what. He was still doing it when he got off. I should’ve called after him, but instead I changed seats and put my arm around it casually enough that no one would notice. Old habit that still hasn’t died.
My stop was up next, so I tried to proceed as naturally as I could to the back doors. It jiggled as I walked, and it sloshed when it jiggled.
I looked for a private place to open my prize.
I found one.
I opened it.
When I finally got home, Ally was frying up red snapper, the whole house stunk with it. My face felt cracked.
She said “hey” and then did a double-take. “The hell happened to you?”
I showed her.
Her face didn’t whiten, it sort of greyed out.
“That’s—” she started, then laughed. “Oh, fuck.” She made a funny burping noise and just barely made it to the trashcan in time. The fish blackened in the pan while she heaved. I was too numb to even hold her hair.
When she finished she wiped her mouth. “Get rid of it.”
I held my hands open, empty. “How?”
“Dump it, burn it, bury it. I don’t care, just get it the fuck out of my house.” On the last syllable of ‘house’ she made that burping noise again and put her head down.
I left her there on the kitchen floor.
I wandered. I had no set plan, no cash, no transportation. I just had that thing on my shoulder. Wound up at the bridge, saw a guy in suit and tie looking over the rail with a determined look on his face.
“Hey,” I called, “hey mister.”
He turned and looked. I showed him.
I think he lost his nerve on the water. Dunno. Maybe he didn’t mean for the truck to hit him at all. Me? I just slid away.
Found myself at the old parish. Father Harold was still there, so I guess Billy Farrell hadn’t gotten around to killing him after all. I saw him locking up and called to him, “hey, father!”
He turned and studied me. I don’t think he recognized me without the hair. I walked up to him and he smiled nervously like I would hit him up for change. Can’t blame him.
“Can I show you something?” I asked, and pulled it out without waiting for an answer.
He stared for a long minute. Then he whistled. He shook his head fast and heavy, like he was trying to shake something off. Then he laughed. Patted my arm.
“Cute,” he said, “but that couldn’t possibly be real.”
I left him there on the steps, holding his broken nose.
The longer I spent with it, the better I knew it. I noticed how little it smelled, like a clean muscle or an empty refrigerator. It was soft against my ribs, and warm. Perhaps even a little tacky, I hadn’t got up the courage to touch it yet.
Now I was in my old neighborhood. Maybe more cars up on cinderblocks, more dead lawns, but very little changed. Dad was in the front yard when I got there.
His hair had grown back, but you could still see a faint little scar, like a smile, on his forehead. He wasn’t so happy to see me.
“What did you do now?” he asked me. I stood still and said nothing. He stepped closer, but I knew he wouldn’t leave the fence.
“She called me, you know. What the fuck did you do now?” I didn’t answer. He grunted and started heaving his shoulders. I knew what was coming next.
“You’re lucky I didn’t kill you before, you little fuck,” he snarled, back and forth, back and forth, “you tell me what you did or I will lay into you like a fucking nightmare.”
I showed him. He stepped back, blinking. Tears rolled down his face, but he didn’t cry.
I hit him then.
He was older and stronger but I was determined. Too determined. By the time they pulled me off, the sirens were getting close and he wasn’t breathing. Someone handed me the bag and I ran and ran and ran.
I’m in an alley now. It smells like sweat and grease and things living. It smells like that man. I clutch it to my chest, afraid to let go. It’s all I have left now, and they would take it from me if they could.
Do I have any choice? Have I ever had a choice?
I open it. I take a bite.
love it tastes like love