An Artist Goes to Hell – Excerpt 8

16 Dec

The radio DJ muttered something to the microphone men and they all shuffled quickly out the door. Breeze tickled Pensivemo’s hair and soon, a strong wind blew through the looseness of his clothing in audible, rapid flicks as the fake plants at the room’s corners toppled over and rolled along the ground. Papers began to fly about in a swirl at the center of the room. The receptionist went about her business, unhindered in hair and manner. After a moment, she said, ‘Pensivemo Croce?’

By this time, the indoor breeze was milder but still present. ‘Yes?’ he said.

‘If you’ll take this door here and go to the end of the hall, they’ll meet you to discuss your charges.’

‘Very well,’ Pensivemo said. He tried to stand again, having forgotten about the chains. He yanked once, twice and sat down to try and break the chair’s arm with the force of his pull. He stood hunched over, facing the chair, a foot on the seat and pulled and pulled until his face was strained and his veins were visible. He turned to the receptionist again. ‘Ma’am?’

Her eyes were turned down, going left and right, reading something.

‘Ma’am?’

She paid him no attention.

‘Excuse me.’

She yawned and scratched her head through the bottom of the great hair-bun.

Pensivemo bent over the best he could, his one hand resting chained and flat on the chair’s arm, his bruised knees facing the metal legs bolted to the floor. He ran his finger along the bolts before giving one of them a passive squeeze and an already defeated attempt at turning. He shifted back to the receptionist and said, ‘Ma’am? Excuse me.’

She finally looked up at him. ‘Hm?’ she said.

‘Do you have any bolt cutters? Or perhaps a wrench?’

‘Let me see,’ she said, looking down, opening drawers, digging around audibly. ‘I don’t know.’

‘Maybe even pliers?’

‘Oh! Here’s some,’ she said. She set them on the counter in front of her.

‘Can you bring them to me? I can’t go very far.’

‘Oh! Psh. Duh!’ she said and hit her own head.

She walked over, her high heels thunking on the thin carpet, the breeze in the room just about gone. She set it on the seat of the chair. As he reached up to grab its handles with his free hand, she slid her hand off its body and moved her fingers along his fingers. She stopped where her palm met the top of his knuckles and he could feel a piece of paper padding the space between their two skins. Realizing it was something she meant to put in his hand, he turned his hand over so that his palm would meet it. She kept her hand on his. He looked up at her.

She held back a smile as she said, ‘I know who you are, you know.’

‘Oh? It seems everyone knows who I am.’

So soft he almost couldn’t hear what she was saying, ‘But they don’t know you like I do.’

She slid her hand away to reveal a yellow sticky note with a phone number in blue ink penned oddly into the bottom right.

With the pliers in hand, he lowered himself to the bolts at the bottom of the chair, and as he did, he felt the chain slide off the chair’s arm as though it had not been tied at all. As he stood, the chain slinked off of his pale arm with a few grainy rubs and painful pinches before falling to the ground in a rattling pile. When he turned to the receptionist again, she was putting her black, puffy coat on and coming around the other side of her table, heading toward the door that Pensivemo had used to enter the waiting room. Before she reached the door, she turned to him briefly, smiled and twiddled goodbye-fingers at him. She opened the door and left.

Pensivemo looked at the door to the next hall with his hand on the knob. He turned it slowly and pulled it open. It was a pale old hallway with several white doors on either side. He took a step into the hall and shut the door behind him. He came quickly to the door at the end of the hallway but before entering, he noticed that one of the doors to the right was wide open. Peeking inside, he saw a small, dark child lying asleep in bed, hooked up to some sort of breathing machine or heart monitor. The little boy sat up, opened his eyes wide and looked at Pensivemo with such terrible blankness that he struggled for something to say to the child to calm him. The child stuck his tongue out at Pensivemo and darted his head forward, as though shooting some vicious tongue-curse at him. Pensivemo smiled at the silliness of it until the boy leaned forward with more determination, sticking his tongue in and out, his brow raised, his eyes motionless but spirited. Pensivemo felt himself say something but the child didn’t respond with words.

He turned and saw that the room directly across the hall was open too. Inside, he saw a row with a half-dozen or so beds and a child in each one. They all looked sickly and pale. The nearest had a large, misshapen head and a frail body with protruding ribs. The room had that familiar gassy smell to it. The nearest child sat up with some struggle, looked at Pensivemo with wide eyes just as the last child and started sticking his tongue out at him, moving his head back and forth with determination—forward with each tongue-point and back in with each retreat. The other children behind him all sat up as though they’d been awake the whole time. As each one saw Pensivemo, they stuck their tongues out at him as though pointing curses, the same determination, the same big eyes, the same strained expressions and jolting bodies. They got to where it seemed synchronized; bobbing in pairs, fanning and waving in threes and fours.

Pensivemo moved his foot just slightly and felt something small wrapped around his ankle. He looked down and saw a silver band around his pant leg. Only when a thin, flicking red tongue shot out did he realize it was a snake. He lifted his leg with a yelp and rapid jiggle of foot. It fell to the ground and waved and wiggled to a position in which it could slither away. He stomped on its head until the blood of its smashed body spat against his leg and on the floor in front of it.

The children were still sticking their tongues out at him, lifting their brows, widening their eyes as though hungry, as though the intensity of their movements would bring some satiation to their vicious hungers, completely silent all but the abrasions of their small bodies against the bed sheets. When he looked at their bobbing heads again, he saw what he thought were insects clinging to the walls behind them. With a closer look, he saw that they were small lizards of some kind. He only noticed a few but soon his eye found a great many of them, all completely motionless. The children, in the same bizarre pattern, started audibly snapping their teeth at him.

Still looking at them, Pensivemo backed out of the room. In the corner of his eye, he saw a dark figure interrupting the paleness of the hall. He turned and saw a man in what looked like a monk’s robe. His head was completely hairless, his face pale, his eyes blue.

Pensivemo cocked his head a little and said to the man, ‘I really need a cigarette. Would you happen to have—’

The man shook his head slowly.

‘I think I might be in the wrong place.’

‘Pensivemo Croce?’ the man said, softly.

‘Yeah.’

The man was silent for a moment, sighed, turned, lifted his hand and motioned with his finger for Pensivemo to follow him as he entered the door.

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