Home is Where the Hate is
by Jim Knipfel
The train was as it always was at that hour, and every hour--a holding pen for some zombie necropolitan exhaustion, a collection of apes and opera singers, all of them looking to grab a piece of lingere. I slid myself into a corner seat and tried to ignore the conversation around me.
"It's all a matter of tricking them into dieting--say it's a dollar sixteen, dollar seventeen, dollar eighteen, and they'll pick it up--"
A tongue I didn't recognize slipped in among the other voices--a strange mishmash of mismatched syllables, which seemed half creole, half gypsy and half zulu. Sometime around the Borough Hall stop, I looked up to track down the source. It didn't take long. Sitting directly across from me, a black woman in traditional gypsy garb was staring at me while reciting the same ugly phrases over and over--the same syllables I'd been hearing since Ninth Street: "Arrak nachsal, oothvus bethoog, dochyall byenvayy..." all the while diddling her fingers in a magical way towards my head.
"My God!" I thought, "That woman is performing wizardry upon me!"
It was no big deal. I've seen stranger, and I've seen worse. I turned my eyes back towards the floor, let my thoughts wander back to visions of the masses in cages, and forgot about her. We all find our jollies in our own way. But when I got off the train at the corner of Lexington and 86th, something about her kept nagging at me. Was she sending a blessing my way? Doubtful. I'm not the kind blessings are attracted to, no matter how much urging they have behind them. More likely, it was another curse. No problem, then. Another curse I could deal with. Blessings made me nervous.
Yeah, it was a curse alright, and not a fun one. I didn't turn into a wombat, or show up to work with a third eye in the middle of my greasy, wrinkly ol' forehead. It didn't even kick in until eighteen hours later. That sly voodoo bitch.
After ten hours of telling blind, ugly faces--things I didn't even recognize as human faces after the second hour--what to do, Laura and I went to a Ukranian restaurant with our friends Ken and Laura, who had just returned from the amazing and mysterious Brother Awest's wedding, on the sidewalk in front of a Rosicrucian temple in L.A. While listening to the story, and over a meal of chicken cutlets and sauerkraut, I ended up sucking my way through a liter and then some of a noxious Ukranian chablis.
We said our goodbyes on St. Mark's Place at midnight, and here my troubles began.
The F, as it turns out, wasn't running downtown from the Broadway-Lafayette stop, which meant that we had to take it uptown for one stop, then catch it there again going downtown. That was easy and typical enough. But on our way downtown, Laura started telling me, again, that nobody loves her, that her own literary career is in ruins (as if mine isn't), that nobody cares about what she does. It's her normal response to going out with literary types. And my normal responses to standing for eleven hours and then guzzling a liter-plus of wine kicked in, and I started passing out, right in the middle of one of her sentences.
To wake me up, she landed one of her boots hard and sharp into my ankle, which is what she usually does when I pass out in public (which happens more often than I care to think about right now). And, as usual, the connection of pointed leather against my flesh and bone when I can't stay awake ignited the explosions of light and fire in the diseased portion of my brain. My eyes flashed open as something horrible screamed around my skull, something roared someplace in the distance, my body took on a will of its own, and my wrist flew to my mouth, where my incisors bit down hard. It's what my neurologist calls a rage seizure. The drugs they have me on--a full gram a day--don't seem to be doing squat anymore.
Then the train stopped again, just inside Brooklyn, and the conductor informed us that he wasn't taking us any further. We had to get off the train there and wait for another. I dragged myself out the doors, trying hard not to scream, and leaned up against a post near the tracks. Man oh man, they looked inviting.
Laura started telling me how unloved she was again, and my brain flamed up, as if someone had thrown kerosene on it. The finger, the wrist, the forearm of my right arm each flew to my gnawing maw, while the left fist slammed itself against the iron post again and again, threatening to break. I felt no pain. I never do anymore.
Now, Laura is the toughest woman I've ever met. I've known Lisa Suckdog and Diamanda Galas and a whole series of punk rock chicks, and Laura could beat the shit out of all of them. She reached behind me and under my hat, grabbed a handful of hair, and slammed my head against the post, in an attempt to get me to stop. It didn't work.
In all these years of rage seizures, I'd always, somehow, prevented myself from laying a hand on her. I'd say terrible things--some demonic portion of my brain would kick in and hiss out that she was jealous, that she was just trying to destroy me--but I was able, somehow, to leave it at that. But that evil night, some barrier was dissolved.
I grabbed the arm that had a hold on my hair and snapped it away and behind her back. She swung around with her other arm and caught me on the corner of the jaw.
"Get your fuckin' hands offa me," she hissed.
"Fuck you," I hissed back, witty as ever.
I head butted her from behind, and she spun around and caught me a good one in the stomach before we fell to the floor of the platform, all claws and fists and boots.
"What were the other people there doing while this was going on?" I was asked the next day by one of the other Guggenheim guards.
"They were thinking, 'Well, this is what we were always told to expect to see on New York subway platforms at one in the morning.'"
After a few seconds of slashing and scraping and punching, we separated, and Laura stood up and stomped away down the platform, while I lay on my back, feeling nothing, numb, drunk, regretful and dead, wishing that I could just go to sleep there and forget about everything.
We rode back to Park Slope in separate cars, and, for the first time ever, I spent the night naked and shivering and alone on the kitchen floor.
If I ever run into that hoodoo-dealing harlot again, I'm gonna stomp on her throat until I can carry her head home in a cheesecloth bag.
Copyright Jim Knipfel. Published originally in the Welcomat. Illustration by Russell Christian. All rights reserved.
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