The Man With No Words Left
©John M. Williams
The Man With No Words Left
In the Consultation Room Fred steamed for a few moments in one of the vinyl chairs, then stood up and began to pace, then sat down again. Consultation Room, my ass, he growled. A dead roach, feet up, lay in a corner like a wreck victim waiting for the ambulance. “Doctor” Sluder, for crying out loud—what the hell did he think he was, keeping him waiting, a doctor? “Shiiii–!” hissed Fred, and flinched with pain. He was starting to get a little hot.
The door opened and Sluder slid in. A prim smile nicked the corners of his thin lips and curled his pencil mustache. The uninvited image of a snaketongue flickering through his teeth was so real Fred made a bad face. Sluder carried a maroon notebook in long moist white fingers that looked like something that lives under a rock. He sat down and crossed his polyester legs.
Fred stared at him with an aghast frown, like one who has just detected a smell.
“Your spinal column is misaligned, and I think you may have a pinched lumbar nerve.”
“Okay, you do.”
“What’s a lumbar nerve?”
“It’s a type of nerve. We’ll have to schedule a series of treatments.” He smiled—his teeth weren’t all that good. “We checked on your insurance—“ he winked knowingly—“everything is hunky-dory.”
“Hunky-dory?” Fred stared at him briefly. “And what the hell do you mean a ‘series’?”
“I mean, it will require several treatments.”
“Because you can’t do it in one visit.”
“Because it takes several treatments.”
“Look, I just want to know one thing—can you make my back stop hurting?”
“I feel extremely confident with a series of adjustments . . .”
“Yes or no?”
“I feel confident that . . .”
Sluder stopped, scowling, as though affronted at Fred’s lack of breeding. “How much? . . .”
“Will it cost?”
“Sir, the insurance company . . . ”
“I don’t care about the insurance company. I want to know how much it’s going to cost.”
“If it’s the deductible, I assure you . . . ”
“Don’t assure me. Tell me. How much?”
“Well,” Sluder grudgingly replied with the air of one unreasonably asked to simplify the irreducible. He consulted his notebook. “The initial series tends to run . . . “ He slid his pasty finger down the page and stopped, his long enameled nail reflecting the fluorescent light—“this figure.”
“I can’t see it.”
Sluder nudged the notebook a few inches over. Fred craned stiffly to look and emitted a pained grunt. Then his ears turned instantly crimson. His nostrils flared, his eyes bulged—he looked like a sea otter being squeezed by the neck.
Sluder tried to keep his smile, but shrank a bit in alarm.
“This figure? This figure?” gagged Fred, his red ears darkening to purple. “What do I look like—an idiot? A moron? A sucker? You told my wife thirty bucks.” He lurched woundedly to his feet.
Sluder kept his seat but uncrossed his legs and braced his arms. “Well, yes, the initial fee . . . ”
“What kind of backwoods racket are you running here?”
“Sir, let me assure you . . .”
“Doctor? Doctor? Holy bejesus. You’re about as much doctor as a booger is a bowling ball. I’m calling the goddam police right now. You’re crooks! All of you! Everybody in this whole piss-ant town!”
“Sir, we can examine some other options . . .”
“Why don’t you examine my butt? I’ve had it with every single one of you snake-oil quacks.”
“Sir, please keep your voice down.”
“Why? So all those trailer park mongoloids out there won’t hear the truth? Screw that—I’m telling them.”
And before Sluder could react, Fred shoved past him to the door and exploded into the waiting room like one of those people who crash through Seven-Eleven windows in their pick-up.
The roomful of unoccupied patients looked up at him with the mildly shocked half-open mouths of people just told Grandma’s casket would be $3000. Panting, Fred scanned their faces. “Look at you,” he said. “You look like they just closed the chicken-processing plant.”
Sluder appeared in the door. “Sir, I must ask you . . .”
“Shut up!” Fred roared back at him like a belch of fire from a dragon, then looked down at a boy of eight or nine on his hands and knees hopscotching his cupped hand across the floor trying to catch a cricket. “Hey Sluggo! You ever heard of school? You know, it’s in a building. They have things called teachers—you sit in a desk and learn stuff. Check into it.”
“Sir,” Sluder insisted, “I don’t want to have to get nasty . . . ”
“Get nasty? I’ve got news for you, Slim—you’re there.”
He turned to a troubled-looking woman in a faded calico dress. “Who are you—Ma Joad? What are you doing here?”
“I’ve got a pain runs right cheer,” she said and feebly gestured toward her neck or shoulder or something.
“Dad gum, Granny! What has this slimeball ever done for you?”
“He give me a lectric knife.”
“For signing up.”
“Sir,” Sluder interjected, “you didn’t even give me a chance to tell you about the blender . . .”
“Shut up!” blared Fred, then turned back to the woman. “How long have you been coming here?”
“My God.” Fred shook his head. “Has he helped you at all in any way whatsoever in that time?”
“Well, I . . . I reckon it’s some better.”
“Do you have any idea at all how much he’s swindled out of you in nine years?”
“I make payments.”
Fred rolled his head back and groaned. “Holy sweet Jehosaphat.”
Sluder had him by the arm now, firmly. “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to . . .”
“Oh just shut up!” Fred barked and snatched his arm away. He lurched stiffly for the door, his face contorted now with pain and purpled with rage. The color had spread to his neck and arms, and angry splotches were breaking out all over. The people in the waiting room watched him like a school of bass.
“Mama, that man’s got smoke coming out his ears,” said the cricket boy.
Sluder tried a nervous laugh.
Outside Fred met a couple migrating up the handicapped ramp. She clumped along in miniature steps behind a walker, all three hundred pounds of her, and he, a silent asthmatic pipe cleaner in Banlon, crept alongside with a Viceroy. Fred regarded them momentarily; arrested, they gaped dumbly back at him.
“You deserve it,” Fred concluded, and shoved past them, rocking the woman’s walker a bit, causing her to wave her fat arms for balance like a walrus trying to get airborne with its flippers. The husband rared back with a look of hangdog menace that decomposed into coughing.
“Come and get me, Jethro,” spat Fred, and continued down the ramp.
“That man’s got smoke coming off him,” observed the woman, wheezing.
Anchored by Sailor Bill’s Title Pawn and Sluder’s clinic, the area was a little hive of small businesses fanning haphazardly around a parking lot: The Mane Event, Charlie J’s Wing Ding, Give God the Glory Automotive, Electrolux. Next door sprawled Outdoor Expressions, and across the highway the Rainbow Flea Market and Griggers’ Monuments, with its little highway display. Your Name Here.
A scattering of people milled about, coming and going. Fred stopped at the foot of the ramp and watched them, breathing with deep measured swells, his eyes turning peculiar.
“Hey!” he abruptly cried. “Yeah you! All of you hayseed goons in this cesspool prairie town! Anybody want to join the Let’s-Screw-Fred Club? How about it? It’s easy! Everybody else in the world is in it—why not you? Come on! Join in the fun! Just find some new way to screw over, rip off, or dump on Fred! There must be millions of ways that haven’t been found yet! It’s okay! Don’t worry about me. I’m used to it. Yep, I’m just the Little Man—the one that always gets it from behind. But that’s okay because you know what? At least I’m not a coon-ass Red Man drooling swamp clown like all of you!”
Everyone—the couple on the ramp, those agog in still-frame around the stores, crossing the parking lot or standing by their trucks—stared in paralyzed amazement. Faces from Sluder’s waiting room came to the windows and froze in the panes like photographs.
“And would somebody please tell me what I did—for the love of God what did I do—to get sent here? What kind of brain-dead coma was I in? It’s my wife—I let her talk me into it. Mistake! And ever since we crossed the city limits I’ve been gouged twenty-four hours a day by every thieving two-bit Mom and Pop crook here. What kind of a place is this? You people are fleas, you’re ticks! Bible Belt—oh please! Where does it say you should treat your fellow man like a carcass?”
He had advanced into the parking lot now, like Jesus drawing his first crowd, the expression on his face an astonishing contortion of outrage, his color still blackening, the farflung people converging curiously into a loose fascinated circle around him.
“You call this a town? This is not a town—this is a mistake in the woods. This is nothing but a trailer park with a Dairy Queen. And would one of you geezers please go tell the mayor—if you can wake him up—there’s a few acres over there you haven’t raped yet? If you hurry, you can squeeze in another Wal-Mart—and then yall all go get you some new flip-flops, okay?”
Those watching him had gravitated even closer, but not too close, while new recruits of the curious pressed in from behind. No one dared speak or approach too near: smoke was rising from his head now and coiling out of his ears like one of those botched first tries in an electric chair.
Except for one husky fellow in a pesticide cap who gathered his nerve and proclaimed: “I don’t agree with obscenity in public.”
“Obscenity in public? You are an obscenity in public, Bubba. You are an obscenity in private. You’re an obscenity anywhere you go.”
“Aw’ight now,” the man threatened, his stance turning tentatively belligerent. “I don’t reckon you better . . . ”
“Oh shut up! Just shut up! You drooling chromosome-deficient human fungus!”
The man blinked a couple of times. “That’s a insult.”
“Ah, what makes you think that, Billy Ray?”
Meanwhile, behind Charlie J’s, Roosevelt, who had come across a motherlode in the dumpster, cocked his head toward the commotion around front and experienced a moment of painful dilemma: whether to risk abandoning his find—the only thing wrong with it was nobody hadn’t ate it yet—or go see. Watching him acutely, a scraggly yellow cur haunted the bushes by the drive-through menu. “I ain’t giving you shit,” said Roosevelt and began stuffing his pockets with fried chicken. Working on a thigh, he shuffled around the corner of the building, the yellow dog his watchful disciple, and into the fringes of the burgeoning throng. Gnawing the bone, sucking air through his teeth with little squeaks, he elbowed his way as close to the front as he could get.
“That man be smoking,” he remarked, whether aloud or not he didn’t know and it didn’t matter; some time in late 1962 or early 1963 the distinction had passed into irrelevance.
“Who do you think you are?” an angry voice called out from behind Fred.
Fred turned toward it. “I don’t know—but I’ll tell you what I think you are,” he returned.
“Oooh,” went the crowd in anticipation.
“Trash!” He wheeled around, waving his arms. “All of you! You were born trash, you’ll die trash!”
“Who’s talking about being trash?” someone shot back. “I see some trash—but I shore as hell ain’t.”
“You ain’t? What are you, Clem?”
“I run a damn paint store. I make good money too.”
“You run a business in this town, I bet you do. But you know something? If I were you, I’d kneel down and kiss this pestilence-saturated earth—you know the pose—and thank God you don’t live in one of those places where they cut off your hands for stealing—and I mean all twelve fingers too.”
“What’s going on?” a newcomer pushing his way forward asked. “What’s everybody looking at?”
“What’s everybody looking at?” answered the Baptist man, righteousness undulating his jaw hinges. He turned to the man. “Satan is what we’re looking at.”
“Where the hell is this place?” Fred was bellowing. “This place is nowhere! One nose-picking halfwit in New Jersey folds his map wrong and every hayseed dream and milk-cow ambition in this entire grasshopper town would fall off the edge of the earth. What are you? All of you! You’re nothing but a swarm of roaches! You live out your lives in this reeking corner of Hell, raise your children into brain-dead parasites like yourself, except for the occasional one lucky enough to be queer and escape, then you choke to death from some lung disease in some grubby little two-bit swindling nursing home.”
“Ooooh!” the crowd moaned.
“That ain’t no way to talk!” a large frowning woman holding what looked like a toy purse cried.
“Oh what do you know, Mothra? Nobody said you had to sit around watching TV for fifty years and grow the butt that ate Detroit.”
“Fella, you just need to watch out,” protested her wispy husband, taking a step forward.
“Tell you what, Stringbean. Seems like you’d want to save all your energy to keep your little blushing bride from rolling over on you.”
“Ahhh!” the crowd responded.
“I tell you what I think,” another man, in a green cap, said, squeezing huge restless fists. “I think somebody ought to rearrange yo ugly face, that’s what I think.”
“Earl, don’t,” objected his wife, taking him by the arm.
“Because I want to hear what he’ll say next.”
The starving dog was slipping surreptitiously among the legs of the watchers toward Roosevelt who had taken one of the big breasteses from his pocket. “That man sho smoking now,” he observed and, trading hands, began to lick the grease off his fingers one suck at a time, pretty sure he’d never seen anything like this before. Then he felt the sudden desperate clamp on his chicken, heard the wicked growl, and gripped just in time to start a tug of war.
“Gr-r-r-r!” went the dog.
“Leggo! Leggo my chicken!” Roosevelt screamed back, as he and his enemy lurched their way through the riveted people who parted around them then re-merged.
“Leggo, you damn egg-sucking piece of shit!”
“This whole one-hump village is nothing but a possum nest!” Fred was declaiming. “A colony of maggots! A sore that won’t heal! A chancre! A goiter on the earth!”
“Why don’t you shut your big fat stupid mouth!” someone yelled.
Fred spun on him. “Why don’t you kiss my ass, you bicycle-seat-smelling pud-pounding linthead. You and your blob of anonymous pavement-snot wife.”
“You’re a fat turd!” someone else added.
Fred wheeled. “Yeah? Well, at least I’m not a slack-jaw hind-tit compost-pile cretin like you!”
“Give me that back!” cried Roosevelt from somewhere back in the crowd. “Gr-r-r-r!” went the dog.
“He ain’t from here,” a bony woman in calypso pants remarked to the woman beside her.
“Where’s he from?”
“Sounds to me like some kind of Yankee.”
The other woman shook her head, scowling. “Some kind of something.”
“Eat shit and die!” someone loudly suggested.
“Oh, go eat twenty-five Slim Jims, you no-butt, three-tooth, beer-gut hick!”
“We don’t like your kind!” an old man called out.
“Why don’t you go breathe through your mouth somewhere, Grandpa.”
“I think somebody needs to whup yo sorry Yankee butt,” another full-figured woman proposed. Applause.
“Who asked you, Buffalo Butt? Yeah, you, Wide-Load! You sea-hag, you walrus, you water buffalo, you wheezing 500 pound ameba. What is this-—your hot-air balloon impression? Oh—I see! You thought that fat-farm was to . . . No, no! You’re supposed to lose weight.”
The crowd roared.
“Why don’t you just go back where you come from!” someone called out.
“Why don’t you go back where you came from, Leroy?” Fred spat back. “Oh, durn. That’s right—you can’t. They put that Big-K there.”
“Yes,” nodded the steely-eyed Baptist man with hardened conviction. “He is Satan.” He turned to the man beside him. “God expects us to do his will. Let’s kill him.”
The other man cut a glance at the Baptist man. “Well,” he said, “we might better not.”
“You’re short and you’re fat and you’re ugly!” a young woman called out.
“Yeah, and you’re a wormy, trail-leaving laundromat skank.”
“Hey! That’s my wife you’re talking about,” the young man beside her shouted.
“Oh, why don’t you go get in your dadgum ’57, Lester.”
The young man looked confused. “What ’57?”
“I’m talking car, not brain cells.”
“I ain’t got no dadgum ’57.”
“Oh foo-oot! Well, whatever the hell it is, why don’t you get in it and go do some doughnuts.”
“I’m sick and tired of all of you!” Fred went on, turning back to the general audience, then hesitated. He blinked a few times, smoke rising from him. “You’re—the biggest collection of—back-stabbing vermin I’ve even seen in my life.” Another pause. The crowd was quiet. “You’re tacky and you’re dull and you’re stupid and you’re dirty—and I’m not even going to go into your bad qualities.”
A half-hearted murmur rose from the expectant gathering.
“You’re—a tenth-rate carnival. The human equivalent of a bad tattoo!”
Silence. Fred looked around at the waiting faces. He blinked a few times, scowling.
“Say what trash we are again!” a voice called.
Lagging slightly, Fred turned in that direction. “Aren’t you missing wrestlin’, lugey-brain?”
A little cheer went up. Then silence again.
Earl bristled, clenching his big fists again.
“Earl,” said his wife.
He shook her off. “They’s three things you don’t mess with: m’music, m’wrestlin’, m’gun, and m’God.”
The people around him counted to themselves.
“I think he’s messing with them,” somebody said.
“Then I’m just going to say one thing. He better watch out.”
A quiet spell had settled uneasily over the crowd.
Roosevelt returned to the front with what looked like a piece of shark chum in his hand. “Look yonder that man now,” he observed.
Fred simply stood there with the vacant shocked expression of someone whose legs have just been bitten off. The smoke rose more darkly from him.
“Tell how fat somebody is!”
“You’re all fat!” Fred bellowed back. “You’re all . . . “ He faltered. Roosevelt licked his fingers. “Every single one of you . . . “ Silence. Smoke billowed from him. He dropped to his knees.
The crowd emitted a collective moan.
“You’re all a pack of swindling back-stabbing . . . weevils!”
Silence, smoke—he collapsed into a fetal heap.
The crowd watched in frozen astonished silence. A moment passed.
“Is he going to say anything else?” a boy asked his mother.
Then, smoke coiling, Fred reared weakly up, belted out an anguished “Ah-h-h-h!” and melted into the pavement.
Everyone stared in profound silence at the smoking greasy spot for several minutes.
“My my my,” said Roosevelt and burped.
The Baptist man knew the hand of the Lord when he saw it.
Then gradually the crowd began to disperse at the edges, the world returned to life like a rewound toy, and the people resumed their errands.