Fiction: “The Watch” by Nicholas LaRocca

After he was blown up, after he lost both legs below the knee, after he made it through three surgeries that saved his life, Jimmy Cachetti rotated out of Landstuhl and back to the states, where he convalesced near home, at the V.A. in Riviera Beach, Florida—a mammoth facility painted the color of an oxidized Orangesicle.  There he was fed vanilla ice cream and syrupy maraschino cherries by the pitying, older day nurses and soon became friends with a sympathetic young nurse who worked the night shift, Ornella Henry.

He spent much of his time in bed, praying for Ornella to round already and playing on his tablet, trying to reconnect via the Internet with an intellectual world he’d left behind by putting his college career on hold in order to prove his Obama-coalition classmates wrong—about everything: the war on terrorism, God above.  Wrong if for no other reason than the dismal results of his contrarian act of enlistment.

The damage to his face was startling, shrapnel scars like he’d been weed-whacked.  The V.A.’s plastic surgeon hadn’t exactly been focused on cosmetics; his job had been to make sure Jimmy didn’t lose his tongue or sense of smell.  So what remained of Jimmy’s visage, which had been pleasant and prepared with a toothy grin, if never handsome, if pockmarked, if condensed on college mornings by an omnipresent winter hat like Meg in Family Guy, was ghastly: His nose had been pulverized by a portion of the IED that had collided with it like a cinderblock launched from a cannon, leaving behind nostrils as essentially two-dimensional and primordially off-putting as fish gills, resting below a flattened bridge as inorganic as a razed mountaintop.  When he breathed, his little nostrils snarled like tubes on a submarine.  His cauterized upper lip was a flesh-colored em dash.  His lower lip had turned eggplant.  And his flat nose chameleoned at night to a veiny blue, the color of the sky over Riviera Beach at dusk.

He had only one eye.  He wore a plain black eye patch over the other, and whenever someone staying at the V.A. pissed him off, especially those jerkoff Vietnam dudes who’d been carrying chips on their shoulders since Nixon was impeached—whenever one of those blowhard baby boomers rattled off about being underappreciated, doing some kind of new math that equaled favoritism, those ignorant, entitled, uneducated, self-important incompetents who’d gotten their asses handed to them by a Viet Cong armed with borrowed AKs and bags of rice up against the limitless resources of the American military machine, Jimmy, if he were in his prosthetics, would waddle down the hall and right up to the bedside of the complainant, lift his eye patch to show off a pink and mushy socket, and hiss, “This is victory, asshole! This is the look of kicking ass!”

His anger inspired his best rehab: he was motivated to get moving in order to deride the bitchy.

He’d been custom-fitted for miraculous modern prosthetics which, as he learned to walk again, joking with his P.T. that he was full of “lactose-intolerant superpowers,” lent him, in long pants, the appearance of a whole man suffering from progressively improving hip dysplasia.  It was murder.  The physical pain of learning to walk was bad enough.  But there lingered the omnipresent potential for flatulence, which he had to control without losing, in the process, his focus on his ruined half-legs.  His imbalance was terrible; he teetered like a newborn foal, at risk of falling face-first as he practiced pacing between two urethaned banisters like a novice ballerino.

His gait improved, but to what?  He imagined the best his shadow would look upon approach, a Frankenstein waddling sinisterly toward a frightened coed, his odd lower limbs elongated by a play of light until he came around the corner and she saw how easy it was to run away—or walk away, or walk away backwards, cracking up, mocking her waddling pursuer.  His life was full of stop watches: merciless second hands objectively registered the extent to which he was disabled.  Early into rehab, it took him several minutes to walk thirty feet—at that rate, he wouldn’t be able to answer a door.

Yet for all his pain and pathos, the damage was only so morbid.

Two of his good friends, Ted Dorceus and Nick Parra, one from up the Space Coast on I-95, the other a Jersey boy, were killed during the same event, Nick blown to smithereens, his parts identified by DNA.  According to an email Jimmy received from Nick’s mother, a Marines liaison had visited the family home in Greenville Park, New Jersey on an April morning to deliver the line, “It’s best to select cremation.”

In bed, re-reading her email full of mourning over the absurdity of early death, Jimmy wondered how well Nick’s parents had known him in the end.  It lacked all glory, to die before people really knew you because you hardly knew yourself.  It’s best to select cremation.  In a sense, that was what Nick’s life had been reduced to.

In one early nightmare, which haunted Jimmy in Landstuhl, where his survivor’s guilt was so out of control he’d been doped-up on Prozac, he lies in Nick’s old bed under a blanket stiff with the cum of sexual conquests the dead man had bragged about as he’d spun nostalgic tales of high school keggers to push them through isolative nights in the desert.  “A life’s pursuit and passion,” Nick had chimed high-mindedly.  “That’s all I’m down for once I get back.  Pussy and more pussy.”  But in the nightmare, what Nick says, under a dark canvas of twinkling sky, as Jimmy watches through a window from Nick’s bed, is, “Hey, Jimmy, when I pound that pussy, it’s best to select cremation.”

Out the bedroom window: a desert-like dawn, a dogwood shivers off its leaves.  This is 54 Fuck You Afghanistan, Greenville Park, New Jersey, 00000, autumn, The Eighth Day of the Week, October 143, Year 20TheEndoftheWorld.

***

Life having become hell on earth, when Jimmy progressed to a double-occupancy, with weeks to go before his body and face were healed enough for discharge—the wounds on his cheeks still wept grotesquely, he was still on IV antibiotics, and his sinuses required at least one more surgery—his roommate had to be—had to be!—a cranky Vietnam vet: Frank Biddulph.  So Jimmy’s disappointment found its primary target.

It was hard to tell what Biddulph was and wasn’t.  Even Ornella, a striking, twenty-three-year-old, second-generation Ugandan-American skateboarder with skin the color of ground coffee and extensions in braids down to her little ass, couldn’t say.  “He’s fully classified.  One-hundred percent disability,” she told Jimmy.  “Gets Baker-Acted like five times a year.”

Biddulph was a good looking man in his fifties, with a full head of salty hair he preferred to clip high and tight, though he only bothered to sit for a haircut when he was brought in for a “V.A. vacay.”  Between stays, he let it grow long and wild—a former bodybuilder built now like a buffet-seduced, inflated ex-boxer in Marines-surplus tees, baggy cargo shorts, and hospital slippers.  The width and musculature of his ass was equine, and he was constantly shitting—six, eight times a day, locking himself in their shared bathroom like a teenager in the throes of a masturbatory fugue.

“Great, a head case,” Jimmy sighed.  “A fuckin’ psycho you guys paired me with.  Thanks a lot.”

Ornella disagreed. “More like you than you think.”

“No,” Jimmy corrected her, with his father’s extremist self-assurance, which had featured regularly back in college, “I’m not off at all.  I’m accurate, actually.”  When Ornella put on an expression of apology, facetious though it was, Jimmy said, “No offense taken, Orns, because I should be off.  The fact that I’m not off probably means I’m more off than he is.”

Ornella skateboarded to work.  She would shower when she got in, down beside the laundry room in custodial, and rub her dark skin with lotion that smelled pungently of candy strawberries, which fragrance filled the room now.  She worked the night shift, seven to seven, and it was autumn in South Florida, so she arrived in the dark and left at dawn.  Sometimes, from the window at the end of the hallway, Jimmy would catch her skateboarding down the long decline from the roof of the parking garage, where she’d picked up her skateboard at the guard station, gaining dangerous speed and riding the speed expertly away, crouched in a rebellious hoodie, making a T with her arms for balance like a surfer.  He wanted to bring the sunlight back for her, remove the timestamp of the earth’s rotation so that she would always leave in the light of day.

“The hell with the Vietnam guys,” he said now, feeling out the theory that they were the worst of her patients and she resented them as much as he did.

“You shouldn’t curse.  You’re a better man when you don’t.”

“You know, I used to be a wordsmith.”  When Ornella rolled her eyes as she tidied up his bedside, Jimmy said, “Seriously, I aced linguistics.  You see how much I read.”  He gestured at a nightstand of weighty stuff: Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, Harry Crews, Philip Roth.  Ben Fountain.  The closest he got to gleefully exotic was the half-mad Thom Jones talking about a white horse.  “My professor still writes me.  When I write him, I don’t curse.”

She stopped what she was doing.  “You telling the truth?”

“Scout’s honor.”

“Your professor writes you?”

“A full-on college professor, Nurse Henry.  Can make a radio out of a pine cone like Gilligan’s Island.”

“All right, show me those letters, I’ll see what I can find out about your best friend.”

“Where is he?”

“Fourth floor.  You didn’t hear him last night?  Jesus, did he have a meltdown.”  She waved her hand dismissively.  “In the middle of the night at the nurse’s station, the man just went off.  Something about the ever-present nature of time.”

Jimmy beckoned her to his bedside.  On his tablet, he showed her emails between himself and his former professor.  She checked the dates.  Current enough.  She read Jimmy’s writing, which indeed was articulate, though the content felt obvious and borrowed from conservative media, and the professor strained to keep up his end of the conversation.

She understood.  It was like nursing: new patients come forward, and the lives you’ve touched fade from your purview as new lives enter, because there’s only so much time to care for so many people.

 

A year prior, on a mid-October morning of his first semester of college, Jimmy’s professor, who’d already gained fame among the class for an admirable, enviable intellectual power, announced with a Northeasterner’s braggadocio that he would be reading from “a rebellious little diddy just accepted for publication.”

Jimmy’s classmates applauded.  They readied themselves to listen and take notes.  Yet at his desk three deep in the middle row, Jimmy studied, with an exclusive reserve, his phone’s lock screen: a photo of his father as enlisted man in 1983, a “no-rank” private in the Marines, post-victory in Grenada, posing in front of an abandoned Soviet ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft weapon, his hand resting casually on one of the autocannons.  The kid in the picture was pure Quincy, Massachusetts, not yet West Palm Beach, Florida, sooty and grinning ear to ear, an Irish-Italian scrapper who would turn Tea-Party strict constructionist in middle age, the irony of his hatred of government and love of the military lost to his pretentious workingman’s self-righteousness.

Jimmy was his father’s son: he joined in on the class’s applause only as it was dying, and wore on his pockmarked face a cynically embarrassed expression, the mildly empathetic look one wears to scrutinize a braggart floundering in the gelatinous middle of an elaborate, poorly conceived lie.

Then his professor was reading: “I. E. D.  Three letters, fronted by two vowels swallowed by the back of the throat.  Contrived to impart amateurism, this inoculating, absurd terminology conjures up images of a lone, craft-deficient lunatic hammering away in plain view beside an un-trafficked road stretching through a vast desert, working on a suspicious, non-descript metal box that may as well read ACME on its side like the old Road Runner cartoons.  It’s mystical to the average American how a convoy of trained soldiers, blessed with the finest technology the world has ever known, can stumble upon an IED that manages to do noteworthy harm.”

Shortly, his professor arrived at the essay’s Chomskyan thesis: “The abbreviation IED has evolved as a surface structure to further obfuscate the already obfuscating deep structure of ‘bombs detonated in dictatorships.’”

What bothered Jimmy was not the point of the essay but the influence his professor was having on the class.  Looking around the room, he noticed many were eating up the professor’s words: to them, this man was the real deal, someone who practiced what he taught.  Yet to Jimmy’s mind, here was a minor genius who’d chosen a worthless profession, an intellectual afforded the luxury of building an entire career on wriggly, unassailable assertions, the exact sort of dilettante a certain media outlet was properly scolding, the liberal, tenure-protected elitist, watching bombs—or whatever he felt like calling them—detonate from his ivory tower, watching bombs maim young men while he published essays on sinister abbreviations.

Jimmy couldn’t hide his discomfort: he fidgeted so noticeably his professor kept cutting him sharp glares and once had to halt the reading and clear his throat with ostentatious embitterment.  Yet with each vainglorious assertion out of his professor’s mouth, Jimmy grew more and more agitated, slouching lower and lower, overcome by empathetic humiliation over the other man’s naive reductionism, his classmates’ wide-eyed idolatry, and the whole self-lauding, egotistical act of reading one’s own work as a lesson—until he was so uncomfortably eyelevel with his desk’s writing slate he ran the risk of appearing to be asleep.

When he couldn’t take it anymore—his professor’s blowhard accent, to a Florida kid, matched Howard Stern’s, that mixed-up xenophobe; and the syllogism he touted was too cutely speculative to be effectively countered (not that Jimmy wouldn’t try)—Jimmy grumbled at the ceiling, “But it’s a quick term, sir.”

“Kiddo, c’mon, I’m reading from this.”

“Look, it saves airtime, Professor.”  He sat up with enthusiasm, believing he’d cornered the man, who’d have to engage, now, rather than declaim, or risk looking foolish in front of his own students.  “I don’t think the term itself is the problem so much as the bomb.  The enemy.  That’s your problem.”

With a ceremonial kind of composure, his professor smoothed the page he’d been reading from.  “All right, Jimmy, I’ll bite.  But the problem with what you’re doing by dismissing the effect of IED as a term, which incidentally also dismisses my life’s work, thanks a lot for joining my parents on that one—but the trouble is, whole nations have gone to war over who said what and how.  My parents, that is, bless their hearts, are wrong.  IED is an abbreviation.  You want to cheapen anything, abbreviate it.  ‘Doctor’ sounds more studious than ‘Doc.’  ‘Laughing out loud’ sounds more riveted than ‘l-o-l.’  It’s a matter of committing to the full idea, of bothering with the generosity of completeness.  You said ‘Professor’ just now, which I appreciate.  But you didn’t say ‘Prof,’ which would have diminished me.  The patience with which we express an idea implies the importance of that idea.”

“But there are other motives, sir.  Speed is a motive.  Time.  We don’t all have an audience that can’t change the channel.”  He looked around the room triumphantly, but the eyes that met his were chilly and unimpressed.

“Then choose more evocative words to abbreviate.”   With a performer’s self-assurance, his professor ticked off each word on a finger.  “Improvised.  Explosive.  Device.  These are bombs, Jimmy.  They’re not devices like your Smartphone, to be tinkered with, manipulated, saturated with apps.  They’re not explosive devices, your Smartphone with a package of firecrackers affixed to it—or some hella dildo-vibrator, does its job like a champ.” When the class chuckled, his professor asserted gravely, “Listen, adults, a portion of this language’s connotation is indeed sexual.  Look up Wilson Bryan Key’s Clam-Plate Orgy, which we’ll cover before Thanksgiving: a subliminal selling that the wars in Baghdad and Kabul are orgiastic—that is, good; pleasant.  And as for improvised, Jimmy, violence isn’t jazz, but all bombings are to some degree improvised.  Yet you never hear the press calling the Boston Marathon Bombers, ‘Militants who set off improvised explosive devices.’  Timothy McVeigh wasn’t an ‘improvised-explosive-deviceman.’  These people are terroristsKillers.”

“But what’s the difference when you’re at war, sir?  I mean, who cares?”

“It makes all the difference in the world what we say and how we say it.”

“That’s easy to claim on a college campus.”

“No,” his professor asserted, with paternal frustration, “the truth is rarely easy to claim.”

Was it Jimmy’s patriotism that caused him to finish class in blushing disagreement?  Lacking a proper retort, he resisted responding to his professor’s last rebuttal lest he dig himself a deeper hole, yet as his professor picked the essay back up, Jimmy suffered through the morning’s reading with increasing disdain.

He subsisted the rest of the day in conflict: he admired the fecundity of his professor’s mind but despised the tack his thinking took.  Yet he’d found it impossible to offer a full-throated response.  Still, he gave himself a pass.  He’d flailed and failed, sure, but look at the venue: he was seated powerlessly low to the standing, orating professor, captive, stuck in a position to absorb rather than dish out.  This was his professor’s home turf, his chosen argument.

Over the next few weeks, Jimmy’s attitude fell apart.  He grew more and more facetious, eye-rolling every progressive word his professor uttered.  Yet he never explained himself; he never, himself, engaged or declaimed.  Then one morning during roll call, Jimmy, a stick-figure of an eighteen-year-old, announced after his name, “I want everyone to know I’ve enlisted in the Marines.”

His professor, digesting the news with such sadness Jimmy was moved, said, “Listen, Jimmy, whatever you do, get off the front lines and out of combat.  I don’t care if you have to be somebody’s secretary.  I don’t care if you have to be somebody’s bitch.  Just don’t get shot.”

A year later, he would email his professor, I wanted you to know, I took your adviceI managed to avoid getting shot.  He broke paragraph stylistically; he wanted to impress his professor by lending the next line an isolated spot onscreen.  “Such syntax!” the man would laud.  “Such stylistic maturity!”

I got blown up, instead.

 

Ornella held up her end of the bargain, finding out Biddulph, a Marine, had A) been a sniper who’d done five tours in Nam—or four, and one in Cambodia at the end—which tied some awful record, B) had killed a general, for which he’d earned the Distinguished Service Cross, and C) had stabbed a man to death in hand-to-hand combat.  She’d taken a picture of his psychiatrist’s florid notes:

The hand-to-hand kill haunts Sergeant Biddulph most.  The face of the victim twisting into death is what triggers his recurring nightmare, wherein all the faces of the men he has assassinated dance in a final, deathly kaleidoscope, disembodied, goading.  He tries like a baby to reach out and touch them.  He swipes at them.  Yet even when he is in range, his hand moves through them.  Still, they are not holograms.  They are of the flesh.

 

These nightmares trigger psychotic episodes of delusional grandeur mixed with shame and survivor’s guilt, which bring on severe depression, moderate hallucinatory episodes, and severe binge drinking, all of which are disturbed attempts, as Mr. Biddulph puts it, to “turn back the clock…”

 

Jimmy felt horridly naïve.  He asked Ornella, who’d watched him read with satisfaction and a hint of worry—it meant her career if she was caught—to pass his tablet, and after she deleted all evidence of her covert operation and left the room, he went online and bought this man he hardly knew a watch.

It was not a cheap watch, either, a diving watch with a black band and fat black head encircled with faux diamonds, a kind of extrovert-sportsman’s timepiece, though Biddulph struck him, based on the details he’d leaked every now and again and the documents Jimmy had just read, as anything but a deep-sea diver and adventurist.  He was a hermit leading a life of tenuous solitude in a house with an owner / landlord whose name appeared on a few of the documents and who seemed to be Biddulph’s only acquaintance outside the hospital.  According to the notes, this landlord had refused Biddulph haven upon discharge, which was why he hadn’t been let out of the hospital.  Nowhere to go.  There was a small estate of a couple hundred thousand squirreled away in Wells Fargo, but it couldn’t buy him sanity, and he refused assisted living.

After three days, Biddulph was rotated out of psych on the fourth floor and back to the relative freedom of their shared room, where he tried to steady himself between calls to his neglectful landlord six times an hour. He complained to Jimmy, in a clucking, West-Jersey alto-brogue that made him sound like a white Mike Tyson, “I don’t need this shit.  I oughta take my savings and hightail it to Bora Bora or motate down to Peru.  Have you ever been to Peru, kid?  Mamacitas galore.  They only get wet when you force ‘em, though.  You know my favorite?  Guess where?  Viet-Fucking-Nam, man.  What a place.  I can’t go there.  I’d kill everyone in sight.  But gook pussy is moist and tidy.  Never leaks on your balls.  They’d consider that a faux pas.  You readin’ me, Eye Patch?  Hey Winner, you alive over there?”

“I’m throttled by the eclectic vaginas you’ve hierarchied,” Jimmy sighed.  There was a curtain between them, and he could see Biddulph’s shriveled silhouette; when Biddulph had entered the room, Jimmy had been taken aback, for the man had lost ten pounds easy during his seventy-two hours up in psych.

Ornella stepped into the room, and Biddulph said to her, “You find him witty?  He stole my bed while I was gone.  I wonder who okayed that little reassignment.  Now he has prime access to my bathroom.  Youngins in cahoots.”  He wagged his finger.  “Very dangerous.”

Biddulph’s comments weren’t nasty.  A contrast could be a happy gesture, especially from him.  By pointing out their differences, he was trying to say they weren’t so different.  But he was the sort who, sensing his playfulness was well received, turned serious and demanding within the same paragraph: “Seriously, I want to see the paperwork.  He can’t just move beds, Nurse Henry.”

“But now you get to see me after he does.  I saved the best for last.  That’s love, Frank.  That’s chronology.”

When the watch arrived and Biddulph didn’t know from whom, he said, “This is a really nice gift!  Look at this, Eye Patch!  Someone sent me a watch!”

“Probably a lover you had in Saigon.”

“Those girls’ll clean you out, not set you up,” Biddulph warned soberly, as though Jimmy was considering real estate in the Eastern Hemisphere.

Biddulph slid the watch on and came out from the around the curtain and, strutting about the room like a dandy, flipped his wrist with an air of the debonair.

 

Shortly before his discharge from the hospital, Jimmy asked the “kill question.” “So how many kills, Frank?  Confirmed.”

It was not consciously intended as cold or mean-spirited.  It was not consciously intended to wound Biddulph or set him off.  It was intended curiously.  But it was asked after Biddulph, having twice requested to see the paperwork that okayed a bed-swap, was reassigned the bed closest the bathroom, which meant that Jimmy and his two half legs had to, every time he wanted to piss, either call a lift team  to carry him to the toilet or latch on his prosthetics, which he was still learning to manipulate, wasting torturous minutes so that he seriously considered requesting adult diapers and giving up his dream of urinating like a normal male.  So a split second before he asked the question, he balked at the potential destructiveness of the subject matter, yet what he told himself, in the time it takes for a fastball to reach home plate, was: My professor would be proud.

When he thought about the question later, he understood his more vindictive, unconscious rationale: First of all, you bought him, this nut, a watch, and that grants you some buoyancy on the seesaw balancing your curiosity and right to control your environment against his lucidity.  Second, he’s been driving you and the rest of the staff up a wall for weeks, including Ornella.  His charm right now is temporary, shot up on meds, artificially compelled, balanced as delicately as an egg on top of his head.  Third, fuck him, he’s just another guy who makes people uncomfortable until they say things they don’t believe just to shut him up.  And fourth, if he’s that fragile, something else will set him off if you don’t: a blackbird cawing on the ledge outside the window, the a.c. kicking on when it’s chilly in the room, the wrong soap in the shower we have to share—and he leaves his wet towels all over the floor and makes me kick them aside.

“I don’t know,” Biddulph growled.  “I’ll count heads next time I wake up with the Black Seep, assface.”

Among other ailments, Biddulph suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, what he called the Black Seep, a post-concussive set of symptoms that included what looked like black ink running in from his periphery and spreading over his field of vision, sometimes so badly it blinded him.  When it got so bad he couldn’t see, he’d cry out, back before they’d made their peace, “Hey Eye Patch, blindness sucks!”

“I can still see, loser!” Jimmy would retort.

After they’d called a tenuous truce, soon after Biddulph, all even-Steven on anti-psychotics, one morning came back from chow to find a watch gift-wrapped on his nightstand, he told Jimmy, “Best thing about this watch is its bling, Eye Patch.  The other day, I couldn’t see a thing but the way the light glinted off it.  I feel like I’m never getting out of here.  I lost track of why I’m in here.  Mainly, they can’t get me stable, my landlord won’t sign me out, and they won’t release me to a hotel like they’ve always done, not after the scandal at Walter Reed.  Fuck my landlord.  He’s still collecting rent, isn’t he?  I think that’s the issue.  All I have is money.  The curse of one-hundred percent disability.  The government’ll pay to keep me here as long as there’s any reason to.  My disability pays me four grand a month, and I’m living here for free.  It’s cheaper to be here than not.  What about you?  When’s your life get reasonable?”

“As soon as I can breathe and walk at the same time.”

Then Jimmy had his final sinus surgery, asked Biddulph the kill question, and was weaned off antibiotics.   Now he said goodbye to his roomie’s empty bed, because Biddulph was back in pysch, maybe for a long time, maybe for good, manic to high heaven according to Ornella, sweating like a demon, talking about mixing medicines to create a super-pill that cured every human malady, including the curse of time and his roommate’s cocky shittiness.

Jimmy said goodbye to Ornella, who kissed his left cheek with all its scars, kissed his right eye over the patch, and told him, with a cynical look—though with a kind of admiration that implied if it wasn’t one thing, it would have been another—“Yeah, something set Frank off. Or someone.”

As he gathered up his belongings to wait for his parents, he noted the blinged out watch resting on Biddulph’s nightstand.  He walked over to make sure the second hand was still ticking.  Watching the seconds tick-tock out of his life, he came to know that Biddulph would never get out.  To whom would they release him?  Ornella had talked about an ex-wife up in Connecticut, but she couldn’t possibly want anything to do with him.

Jimmy’s heart sank when he realized what he’d done out of frustration—no, his frustration had already passed.  Out of vengeance, a petty, foolish desire to get back at someone for giving him and his favorite nurse a hard time, a vengefulness he’d thought he’d subjugated.  He ventured upstairs, a man wobbling off the elevator in dual prosthetics, begging entrance to the secure fourth floor psych ward.  He was, very reasonably, turned away.

So Jimmy was going home.  As he rode the elevator down to the ground floor—facing sideways from the doors, his hand pressed to the wall for balance—he thought of Biddulph, who could be at times a sweet, funny, warm dude, locked away again in psych, sent over the edge by a single, mean-spirited question.  He glanced over his shoulder at his warped reflection in the metal doors of the elevator.  He looked like an avatar, a melted humanoid who’d been reconstituted out of clay and rebuilt with junkyard parts.

A piece of himself—in many ways the most predictable piece, if not the most stable or happiest—was back behind him forever now, locked away with Biddulph, inside Biddulph on the fourth floor, stowed like his jungle ghosts and Saigon threesomes, owned like a watch yet as autonomous as time.


Nicholas LaRocca’s stories and essays have recently been featured in Valley Voices, the 3288 Review, Per Contra, The Flagler Review, Outside In Magazine, the Steel Toe Review, South85, and the Milo Review, as well as Rush Hour: Bad Boys (Delacorte Press), Mason’s Road, and the Beloit Fiction Journal. His short story “Gestures” (Lowestoft Chronicle) was nominated for a 2014 Pushcart Prize for Fiction. He has just finished the novel Jersey Boys.

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