Myrna couldn’t remember when
exactly it was Merle stopped putting his trousers on before
he plopped into “his” chair in the den. Three months ago?
Six? Closer to six, she decided. Long enough.
She was going to have to
do something about it, and soon.
Merle had plowed through
middle age, Myrna at his side, with the same stoic indifference
he’d used to get through Senior English. Retirement was
proving a different challenge.
“Did my World Weekly get
in?” Merle peered over the sagging folds under his piggish
eyes that, perversely, were still in perfect reading order,
no glasses required. He spotted the tabloid across the
room on the end table. “There it is. Get it for me, will
Myrna sighed and slipped
heavily to her feet. The tabloid was on the end table,
not six feet from his chair. When did she start bringing
him his papers and magazines? Forty years ago, she realized.
Back then, he’d come home so tired from working—why hadn’t
she ever stopped? Merle had moved off the line in seventy-five,
he’d retired in ninety-eight. When was she going to get
“Thanks, Myrna.” Merle was
deep into the checkout rag almost before he got it unfolded.
Myrna knew it was unhealthy, this fascination with those
gossip sheets. His chair looked more and more each week
like some sort of . . . of nest. The old stuffed chair
had been ready for the garage or the dump years ago, and
Merle living in it these last weeks hadn’t helped it any.
He wouldn’t let her clean up around it either, the floor
was strewn with old copies of the World Weekly News and
the Star, as well as the strange magazines he’d send off
for, all scattered about.
He never left the chair
anymore that she could see, not in months and months.
He must, of course, leave it some time—to use the toilet
at least—but she hadn’t caught him at it. The rest
of the house wasn’t neat as a pin anymore, she was
slowing down some herself, but it was hospital clean
and show room ready compared to Merle’s little corner
of the house.
“Would you look at that,
Myrna!” Merle rattled his paper as if to show her,
not that he ever actually showed her anything. If she
wanted to see, she’d have to get up and look. “These
doctors here are talking about Elvis’ autopsy. Didn’t
I just last week read in this very paper how th’ King
was subsumed bodily into heaven?”
“Maybe it was one of
the others.” Myrna said.
“No I’m sure it was World
Weekly,” Merle said. “Bunch of god-damned liars. Can’t
make up their minds, and think we don’t notice. Saying
the King’s colon was five inches across and packed
full of fecal matter set up like cement. Who really
needs to know that? They also say his heart was swole
up as big as a buffalo’s. A Buffalo? He ‘us the King
of Rock-n-Roll, they could show a little respect! Why,
without him they’d be about out of business, I tell
Merle had made this assertion
to his wife before, many times, and she was tired of
it. She was tired of the World-Trash-Weekly, she was
even tired of Elvis by-god-the-King-of-Rock-n-Roll
Presley, something she would have bet money would never
happen even ten years ago.
She dipped a hand into
her knitting bag and came up with the hideous teal
sachet bag she was working on. Merle had been a good
man and a good husband—hard working and sober. Now
he was just . . .
Sitting hunched in his chair,
cradling his swollen middle while he rattled on about the
King’s intestinal blockage. He was sunk down into his chair,
skin pasty and pale, in his boxers and wife-beater, like
some character from the depression they’d both been born
too late to know.
“. . . it wasn’t fried peanut
butter-and-banana sandwiches—it was the god-damn aliens running
the C.I.A. that got him! Just like they got to Nixon’s people.
Put some parasite in his food, mixed up his medicines—somehow
it was them.”
This was the third,( or was
it the forth?) sachet Myrna’d put together this month. Merle
was stinking up the den something fierce. This one was going
to be the last, Myrna swore.
She tied off the last row and
worked the yarn through where she’d use it to tie the bag
shut once it was filled. The next thing was best done quickly.
Yarn and needles still in hand
she rose and plodded across the little room to peer over
the top of the tabloid, as if looking at a photo. Merle lowered
the paper and looked up, mouthing open to add something about
aliens, or Elvis or the C.I.A., and Myrna shoved a knitting
needle halfway into his head, right behind his ear.
“Gah!” Merle’s tongue worked
back and forth in his mouth and his eyes bulged out like
that little man in the Mel Brook’s movies they’d used to
watch together. Myrna brought the other needle up over her
head in a big arch square through the top of her husbands
head. He jerked and his eyes glazed, though his tongue looked
like it still wanted to wiggle.
She fixed that by shoving the
ball of yarn into his gaping mouth. It was, thank god, the
last of her teal. Returning to her couch, she fished around
for the paperback she kept in with her knitting. She doubted
she’d have time to knit anything useful before they found
out and took her away, but maybe she could at least finish
She was just settling into
the action when the ball of yarn rolled into her foot. She
glanced at it quickly . . .it was teal. Myrna didn’t want
to, but she looked up at her husband’s body. The knitting
needles stuck up like a Martian’s antenna and he’d sort collapsed
inward, like his arms and legs were being drawn down into
his massive belly. His tongue was still wiggling, though
his bulged eyes were growing cloudy all ready. His belly,
where it stuck out over his boxers, was a mottled red.
He was sinking into himself—or
into the chair! Why, his chin was all ready setting against
his chest and now his tongue was wiggling like a fish on
a hook. Myrna shifted her feet to get up—this just wasn’t
Then Merle’s gut split open.
Globs of yellow glop like rotting Jell-O fell onto the moldering
pile of pulp around his chair. Organs followed, push from
below. Intestines writhed out on their own like a bolus of
rattlesnakes. Last reared up the end of the intestinal track,
his colon, swelling like some insane erection, throbbing
and waving a moment before it burst.
Eyeless, colorless, pucker-mouth
working like an obscene kiss, the fat, wiggling body rose
up again—some sort of huge worm or maggot lodged deep in
Merle. It reared and writhed and worked closer to Myrna as
she sat frozen on her couch, staring.
It got closer, and as it did
she could hear, deep inside it, music. Rising up before her,
she knew the sounds . . ..
Dancing close to Merle, the
high school gym’s doors thrown open in a vain attempt to
let in a cool breeze the kids inside would never notice.
Dancing to that song, with that awesome voice, the voice
of the King . . .
The thing opened its maw and
from it came the voice,” I want you, I need you, I lo-ve
you. With all—my—heart!”