Mud

by Bea Keeler

I don’t think I truly understood who I was until I watched myself die. It wasn’t one of those hit-by-a-bus-happens-so-quickly-you’re-dead-before-you-crack-your-head-on-the-pavement type of deaths. I would have even settled for freezing to death. At Dachau's cold-water immersion baths, Nazi doctors calculated death at around 77 degrees Fahrenheit. I read somewhere that apparently after the hypothermia has numbed your body, right before you die, you are overtaken by a sense of peace. I could have been in a worse state, though. I’m glad my body didn’t rot in a dumpster somewhere, maggots nesting in my eye sockets and rats nibbling off parts of my skin to bring home to their babies.

Did you know: on land, bacteria and other microbes in the body rapidly break down tissue after TOD, and then with a little help from the aforementioned critters, it is possible for the human body to decompose in just under two weeks? When a dead body is in water, there are fewer insects to pick away at the remains. That’s left to the fish, (and crabs if we’re talking saltwater), and they mainly attack the soft tissue like the eyes and lips. “Grave wax” is the name for the fatty tissue that the skin becomes after about three weeks in the water. It is greenish black. I don’t blame the fish for not wanting to eat it. A body will sink if the lungs have obtained water, but it always resurfaces because of the gases formed in the decaying tissue. When they finally reach the surface, bodies are said to emerge from the water like the sound of a cork being popped. Think of that the next time you drink champagne. I can’t answer the question definitively about how long it takes a body to decompose in water because it varies due to temperature. But for me, it was Lake Ontario, mid-October. Needless to say, I was there for a while.

I don’t like starting this story so negatively. I just think this stuff is important to know. Now you’re all thinking about death, and really, that’s not the point. The reason I’m telling you this, right now, well, I guess you’ll figure it out. And if you don’t, you probably deserve to end up like I did.

My morning routines were pretty methodical; by 11 AM I’d already had 4 cups of coffee, my mother called to tell me she loved me, even though I should have been working harder to be a better person, and I’d masturbated to some Asian Teen porn. The Asian Teen thing was more of a fascination that month than any previous, mainly because of the new girl who started working in the office. She wore tight little skirts with pantyhose that had no crotch, and I knew this because she enjoyed sitting across from me in boardroom meetings with her legs spread apart, eyeing down at her lap. One day, by complete coincidence, I dropped my pen under the table, and happened to glance up in her direction as I was on my hands and knees retrieving it. Have you ever felt so compelled by something, like it was bigger than you, like it was almost your birthright and calling to praise this higher being? Well, that’s how I felt about Tina Ching’s vagina.

She wore pink underwear every day; I’m not sure if it was the same pair or if she had 7 identical thongs, but for some reason I didn’t question it, no matter how turned off I should have been at the prospect of a woman with crotchless tights wearing the same pair of underwear 7 days in a row. To me, she was a rare specimen, proud of who she was and not willing to compromise that for anyone. Maybe she could sense that I was like that, too. Or maybe she just liked flashing her snatch at her male co-workers. Doug in the billings department loved to talk about her “magical ass that was solid as a rock but still jiggled tantalizingly as she walked”. I was more impressed that the idiot knew the word tantalizing. I thought maybe I should defend her honor, but I didn’t. Her ass was magical.

We fucked (with the crotchless tights still intact) on a photocopier in the mailroom. She smelled like maple syrup and smoke - not from a cigarette, more like a campfire of burning garbage. It was revolting, but she let me turn on the scanner and make a bunch of copies while we were having sex, so I tried to just breathe through my mouth and enjoy it for what it was. Pulling her thong to the side had caused my dick to chafe on the fabric and when I got home, I was convinced she had given me something. I mean, it wasn’t my first time dealing with this type of situation, if you get what I’m saying. It would have answered the underwear question; god knows what type of bacteria was growing on that thing. Honestly, looking back now, I can see why she may have been a less than desirable choice to pork, but sometimes you just can’t help yourself. Like I said, it was a force that was bigger than me; which is also true because I literally could have stuck a fist inside that chick and she would have barely felt it.

See, I think this is a much better tone to work with. You’re probably thinking I’m a womanizing asshole, which is completely true and I’m glad we got that out of the way now, but there’s a lot more to me. I’m complex. Je suis un oignon. And besides, if you still hate me by the end of the story, I die, so you’ll at least feel some level of satisfaction.

“Does it ever depress you, the fact that we have to die?” I asked Tina as she was readjusting her clothing and trying to mask her sex-hair with a high pony.

“I don’t think about it,” she replied bluntly.

“What do you mean, you don’t think about it? How do you not think about it? It’s inevitable. As happy as we are, no matter what we do with our lives, we are all going to die. We’re dying right now, with every second that passes. Don’t you ever feel like you aren’t doing enough? Aren’t you afraid you’re going to look back 20 years from now, if you even make it another 20 years, and wish that you had salvaged more of what little time you had on this fucking plain of existence?” I was panting, flailing my arms in the air erratically. She was staring at me like I told her I’d given her HIV.

“Do you see a psychiatrist, Ian? I mean, it’s totally okay if you do, but, if you don’t, I think you probably should.” She left her jaw hanging slightly, her plump lips teasing me as she blinked, doe eyed.

“I don’t need professional help, Tina, just because I’m aware of what is coming. Maybe you need help because you’re living in denial.” I was pointing at her aggressively and I could feel my voice vibrating my throat as its volume escalated. If my coworkers hadn’t heard us banging, they definitely would have heard our discourse.

“Is this how you get women? You barely last 5 minutes and then insult them?” Her mocking tone indicated that she didn’t take me seriously in the slightest.

“It only took you 2 seconds to open your legs for me. What does that say about you, you little slut? I only lasted 5 minutes because I was scared to be inside of you any longer; the stench from your underwear was enough to blind me in my right eye.”

She pushed me up against the wall. Her rage made it seem as though she was possessed by a demon; there was barely any visible cornea, her black pupils took up the majority of her eyes. “You don’t ever fucking talk to a woman like that, ever! Do you understand me, you piece of shit? I can’t wait until the day someone knocks you off your high horse and you break every fucking bone in your body.” She finished fastening the last button on her shirt and stormed out of the copy room swearing under her breath.

At that point, I had two options: somehow get Tina fired or quit my job. I couldn’t handle seeing her face every day, not after the way she disrespected me. Quitting my job wasn’t possible, though. I had that place in the palm of my hand. I never packed a lunch because I always stole someone’s from the fridge in the break room. I took some of the office guys to a strip club for their first time and they were so grateful for the experience, they insisted on doing half of my work, and still getting half the pay. I was higher up in the company than Tina; it wouldn’t be too difficult to drop a few lines of discrediting information about her to the right person and watch the dominos fall. Besides, I’d been a loyal employee at TelepromptPlus for 3 years, while she had just been hired as the new Assistant to the Executive Director. Her personal appearance and demeanor made it seem like she’d never worked in an office before. When she answered the phone, she smacked her gum between every word and spent the first two weeks hanging up on 50% of the clients that called because she couldn’t figure out how to put them on hold. I don’t know how she didn’t have HR up her ass about the office dress code, though some of them were definitely up her ass for other reasons. (I’m talking about anal sex, if you weren’t following.) Actually, I guess that answers that.

The morning after our sexual encounter, I headed straight to HR to open a case against Tina for sexual harassment. I’d watched Law & Order: SVU the night previous and it inspired me. I’d heard at least one of the eggheads working in the department had their heart broken because they wanted something more with Tina, but she had been too interested in weighing her options; she got around pretty quickly in the month that she’d been working at TelepromptPlus. When a dude never gets laid (97% of the people who worked in the office), you can guarantee he won’t shut the fuck up about it once he does. Regardless of whether I was telling the truth about what happened with Tina, they would already have motive for wanting her removed from the office as well. When I reached HR, I saw Harold first. His back was turned to me and he was playing a computer game at his desk. I could see his bald spot perfectly, so I knew he hadn’t heard me walk into the department. He was very insecure about his slow-revealing cue ball and always tried to face the person he was talking to so they never had a chance to see it.

“Hey, Harold!”

He slammed the esc key with his index finger probably 15 times and then spun around so fast I was surprised he hadn’t fallen off his chair. “Oh, Ian. Hey. I thought you were someone else.”

“What’s going on? Playing some Counterstrike?”

“Yeah. I guess I should probably get to doing those quarterly reports soon, but my friend just got the game last night and I’ve been showing him how to play. Basically I’ve been killing him a bunch and upping my rank.” He spun back around in his chair and re-opened the game.

“Cool. Listen; speaking of reports, I need to talk to you about something. Do you know Tina Ching?”

Tina?” His eyes widened and I could see a small pool of drool forming in the corner of his mouth. “I know Tina. She’s…yeah. I know Tina.”

“Why are you acting so weird?” I didn’t need to inquire. Harold was pretty easy to read. The dancing eyebrows paired with his unremitting head scratching could have been detected as nervous twitches from 50 feet away. It was probably because he had been fucked-and-chucked and my just saying her name made him remember those nights alone, dick in his hand, crying to the sound of Celine Dion pre-2000. But it was more fun to ask.

“It’s nothing. What did you want to talk to me about?” He deflected the conversation, but he couldn’t look me directly in the eye.

“I wanted to file a sexual harassment claim against her.”

“Who?” He wasn’t looking at me when he responded, too caught up in the game.

“Tina.”

He used both of his feet, one after the other, to slowly spin himself in his chair to face me again. “What?”

I pulled up a chair from a neighboring empty desk and sat down beside him. “Okay, here’s what happened. We were in the lunchroom, everything was normal; I was reheating my Campbell’s Soup-At-Hand and she was eating tuna from the can when she looks up at me and says, ‘Oh, Ian, can you please help me with my copies? I tried earlier, but I don’t think the machine is working,’ in her little girlish tone that kind of makes you feel inappropriate for being attracted to it but at the same time makes you want to- anyway, so I agree to help her because I like to think I’m a caring employee who is there to help a fellow co-worker in need. As soon as we get into the copy room, she throws me against the wall, rips open my shirt and tells me to get on my knees. I’m like, holy shit, this is awesome but also really not, right? Like, I felt extremely violated in my place of work, which is supposed to be a safe space. It’s supposed to be a setting where I can feel like I have the ability to be myself, and she has compromised that for me.”

Harold blinked at me a few times, his long eyelashes brushing his glasses. “In what way has she compromised your ability to be yourself?” He was jotting down notes on a yellow pad of paper.

“Well, Harold, let’s be honest here. I am a 28 year-old-man, and a single man at that. I have no commitments, no responsibilities, and when a woman of her…stature, throws herself at me, it is very difficult, if not impossible for me to refuse.”

“It sounds like you’re claiming sexual harassment on her because you can’t keep it in your pants.”      

The exchange wasn’t going as well as I’d hoped. I needed a sob story, something to really hit him where it hurt. “That is only partially the case, Harold! The story gets so much worse. After she forced me to my knees…”

I wish I could remember what I’d said. I hadn’t bullshitted more in my entire life than I had in that moment. It was almost majestic, I felt like I was channeling Shakespeare, Quentin Tarantino, and Robin Williams all at the same time. I watched him gain excitement with me, feel pain as I did, I had him like a marionette at my finger tips and I never wanted it to end. But I realized that if my testimony was to be authentic, I needed it to be as realistic as possible, regardless of how much fun it was to be an actor, director and playwright.

 “And then, when I thought the worst was over, she made me photocopy my ass so she could hang it above her bed. Here, I managed to steal a few for evidence.” I showed him the photocopies of my hairy, naked behind and was more thankful for my childish behavior than ever.

He stared at them, squinting his beady little eyes trying to make out what was going on. I watched the realization paint his face and tried to hide the pure satisfaction from mine.

“What the fuck, dude?” He threw the pictures at me and pushed away from the desk in his rolling chair with disgust.

“You see the pain she’s caused me?” I knew he was probably reacting to the sight of my bare cheeks, but I couldn’t drop the martyr act.

“I don’t understand how a woman her size could have forced you onto the photocopier to make copies of your ass.” He wasn’t condescending, just too confused to place his words so his speech was slurred and muffled. But I knew this was my moment to finish the attack.

“She’s manipulative, Harold! She took advantage of me and treated me like I was her slave, all because she knew she could! And then she said she never wanted to talk to me again. This morning, I saw her on the way into the office, and she looked right through me, like I didn’t even exist…”

Harold cut me off, speaking slightly under his breath, “Like you didn’t let her eat whipped cream out of your ass crack and,” he cleared his throat, “I mean- I get what you’re saying. It sounds like Tina has really affected not only your capacity to express who you are as an individual, but also your capacity to feel safe in the workspace, which really, is the most important thing when it comes to my job. I think we should file some paperwork today.”

That was it. Badda bing, badda boom. The Executive Director saw the sexual harassment claim and decided it was less effort to find another assistant than it would be to deal with that mess, so he fired Tina Ching. Everything was coming up Ian.  

But yes, as you’re probably remembering, things don’t work out that great for me in the long run. As I said to Tina, we all have to die. And if there is a God, he is fucking cruel. He created us for his own entertainment, watching us try and fail and become hollow shells, ‘his children’, hopefully good enough to enter his holy kingdom, and for what? To spend eternity thanking him for being so great, for gracing us with his presence when he could have just brought us there in the first place without having to deal with any of that fucking pain? Mark Twain was right. Who prayed for Satan when he needed it most?

The day Tina was fired, I asked some of the boys from the office out for a drink after work. I had won. I wanted to celebrate. Samwell Gilligan from billings and Balthazar…I can’t remember his last name, (but really, with a name like Balthazar, who gives a fuck what his last name was?) were the only two that accepted my invitation. We went to this little hole in the wall joint near my place, which was where I usually ended my days. I preferred to stumble home than spend the money on a cab; I guess so would everyone, but if it came down to choosing a place to go and other people were involved in the plans, I was obnoxious enough about it that no one else ever really had a say in the matter. I headed straight for the bar, almost as if the guys weren’t trailing behind me. I loved the smell of the place: a dash of dirty socks, a little bit of body odor, and a sprinkle of urine to bring it all together. I loved sitting at the bar and looking up at the naked polaroids of drunk chicks from over the years that lined the alcohol cabinet. I loved that my ass stuck to the seat whenever I stood up from god knows what sticky substance. The women who frequented the place were never younger than 40, but were desperate and required minimal effort from me. It was my own heaven in hell, my escape from reality. Home.

“The usual, Ian?”

“Yeah.”

The bartender, Bob, gathered the ingredients for my whiskey sour while watching a cougar in a pink leopard print dress and matching heels dance on a table, a spilling cosmo (or as close as Bob could get to a cosmo) in her hand.

“Hey, get down, you ditz!” he bellowed at her over the sound of the ice rattling inside the shaker in his hands.

“Oh come on, Bob, let her have a little fun, would ya? Or at least let me have a little fun watching her first.”

“You’re a real creep, you know that, Ian?”

“What? This is America, Bob. It’s my god given right to be able to watch her shake her ass on that table.” I slammed my fists on the bar in protest.

“One of these days, man...”

“Ah, quit being so dramatic and just give me my drink. The more you lip me, the less I tip you.”

“Pffff, like you ever fucking tip me to begin with. Every night you come in here, and I’m lucky if you leave 25 cents. You do realize that bartenders and servers get paid significantly less than minimum wage and rely on assholes like you to even us out?”

“Well now I don’t know if I even want to pay for my drink.”

“Keep pushing, see what happens.” He was aggressively shaking the mixer now, harder and longer than he needed, trying to release the frustration I was clearly causing him.

“Bob! Buddy Bob. My pal! Come onnnnn. Lighten up a bit. I’m just joking.”

“Get out of my face, ya prick.” He poured the drink into a barely clean glass and slid it across the bar.

“Ouch. That one hurt.” I picked up the glass and swallowed most of the whiskey sour in one gulp.

Balthazar and Samwell had joined me at some point during my friendly tête-à-tête with Bob and were standing at the bar, one on either side of me. 

“Can I just grab a Bud?”

“Yeah, one for me too.”

Bob looked at both of them with squinted, shifting eyes. He walked backwards towards the beer fridge, keeping stern eye contact with them. He was methodical with his movements, clearly having been working there for years. He cracked the caps off the beers with the side of the bar and slid them toward the guys.

“10.50, I assume you two are paying together?”

“No, why would you-“

I interjected. “He thinks you guys give it to each other up the butt.”

“Ah, how nice. Here ya go, keep the change.” Balthazar threw 5.30 across the counter, all in coins. A few bounced off the bar and onto the floor near Bob’s feet.

Samwell slid a 10 across the bar, “Yeah. Keep the change, too.”

Bob didn’t attempt to pick up the coins. Though I knew his words were directed at Samwell, he stared straight into my eyes when he spoke. “Wow, thank you for your generosity.”

“Anytime, Bobby boy.” I smiled, slammed the rest of my drink and tapped on the rim of the glass to insinuate to him that I wanted more. “You can bring this over to my table when it’s ready.”

“Hey, you still haven’t paid for the first one.”

“Yeah, yeah, you know I’ll settle up with you before I leave.” I don’t remember the last time I paid for a tab at that shithole. I probably owed them 300 bucks in booze, but they never kicked me out. Fucking idiots.

We went to my usual booth in the far corner. One of the lights that hung over the table was burnt out making that section a bit dimmer than any other, perfect for hiding lines of Ketamine amidst a table of lids and coasters.

I railed some of the powder and threw my head back so quickly it hit the backrest of the booth. I couldn’t feel it, though. There was a woman sitting beside the leopard print cougar at the other side of the bar and as soon as I caught sight of her, I couldn’t remove my gaze. My body instinctively got up from the table and started walking over to her. I stood like a buffoon, staring down her shirt for a while until she turned her head upwards to meet my eyes.

“Uh, can I help you?” Her voice sounded like she smoked about a pack a day.

“As a matter of fact, you can. I’m doing a survey and I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions.”

“About what?” She cocked an eyebrow at me and looked at her friend, I assumed for some help.

“About what you look for in a man.” I leaned in closer, just a few inches from her cheek and put my arm on the back of her chair.

“Does this work often for you?” She wasn’t looking at me at all anymore, just stirring the ice cubes in her drink with a straw.

“Well, you’re still talking to me, aren’t you?”      

 “You’re basically sitting on my lap, how can I ignore you?”

I threw my hands up in the air and took a few steps back. “You’re right, you’re right. I’m sorry. I’m a little excited because I had a big victory at work today, and I guess it’s getting to my head. How about I get you a shot to apologize for being so forward?”

“Uh, I don’t know about that.”

“Oh, come on! Just one shot. Let me do something nice for you.” I pulled out my sweetest puppy dog eyes and pouted my bottom lip, a specialty of mine.

“Alright, fine. Just one.” She rolled her eyes and turned back to look at me.

“Great, what do you want?” I said as I walked towards the bar.

“Tequila, please.”

“Tequila? We’re all having whiskey. I’ll get you a shot of whiskey.”

“Uh, okay then, whiskey it is, I guess.”

She seemed like one of those girls that would pre-emptively dial 911 before interacting with a stranger, but that made it even more exciting. She was a challenge. I loved a challenge.

I grabbed the shots from Bob and carried them back over to the table. “Here ya go, one shot for you, and one shot for me. Cheers, m’lady.” She hesitantly clinked her tiny glass against mine, then pressed it to her lips and threw her head back.

“Ahhh,” I sighed with great satisfaction. “Wasn’t that just what you wanted?”

“Actually, I wanted some tequila, but whatever, it was alright. Thanks.” She shivered as if it wasn’t going down so smoothly, which to me meant it was time for another one.

“Shall we have two?” I waved the empty shot glass in front of her.

“I said just one, and I meant it. Now kindly get out of my face.”

“Jesus, fine, I was just trying to be nice. Oh, by the way, Bob is waiting for you to settle up, so don’t forget to do that before you leave.”

“Uh, what?”

“For the shot, he’s waiting for you to pay.”

“So I have to pay for a shot of something I didn’t even want?”

“Whiskey’s better anyway.”

And with that, I walked back to my table. I wasn’t going to pay for some chick’s drink when I barely knew her and she didn’t seem all that interested anyway. If it wasn’t a guaranteed hook up, I didn’t bother wasting my hard earned coin. The guys had been watching the whole thing from the table and lucky for me hadn’t snorted a single line of K. I railed two in a row and tried to act like I gave a shit about what they were saying, but I couldn’t concentrate. I could hear the clock ticking in the background like it was the countdown for a bomb. My eyes shifted; I looked from Balthazar’s Hitler stash, to the women at the other table, to the little bits of K still sprinkled on the table. I looked at my hands and begrudged my father for giving me fingers that resembled sausages. The friend of leopard print was getting up from the table, alone. She headed straight for the door, not paying for the shot of Jameson. Her ass was nothing like Tina Ching’s. She had “Jui-cy” bedazzled on the back pockets of her jeans, inappropriately I’d say because her backside was not juicy at all. Yet still, I found myself following her out. I walked about 5 paces behind her until we were far enough away from the entrance of the bar.

“Skipped out on paying your tab, did you?” I shouted to her as I ran to be by her side.

“What the hell do you want?” She quickened her pace.

“I just want to talk to you, is that so wrong?” I kept up with her and tried to put my arm around her shoulder. She shrugged it off and took a few steps to the side, creating some distance between us.

“Yeah, it is. I don’t want to talk to you. Can’t you take a fucking hint?”

“You don’t have to fight it. I know you feel the attraction.” I grabbed her hand and pulled her towards me.

She ripped her hand away and pulled her keys from her purse with the other. “Get your hands off of me! The only thing you make me feel is nauseous.”

The more she fought, the more I wanted her. I didn’t like women who were too easy.  She just needed some convincing, and I didn’t mind being the one to do it. We were approaching an alleyway, and I knew this would be my opportunity to make a move. I grabbed her arms with both hands in a grip so tight I could see her skin ballooning between my fingers. I pulled her into the dark, empty strip between two abandoned buildings and pushed my face against her’s as her back hit the cold, brick wall. She wiggled to escape the weight of my body but it was too much for her thin frame. And then, there was a hand on the back of my neck the size of a catcher’s mitt. With brute force, my head was slammed against the wall so hard that I almost immediately lost consciousness. Pain from what felt like steel-toed boots kicking my ribs brought me in and out of awareness, and I could hear the bones crack, one by one. The pitter-patter of her heels running away was faint as the blood trickled down my forehead. Darkness took over after that.  

For a brief second, while I was lying there in the alley, I felt at peace. Like maybe that was how I was supposed to go out; a few blocks from my favourite bar, high on my favourite drug, smelling of some random woman’s perfume. But I wasn’t that lucky. I wasn’t meant for an easy death.  

I dreamt that I was home in my bathtub. When I tried to call for help, my tongue was dry and sawdust spurted from my mouth. The tub was filled with blood in a matter of seconds as it poured from the showerhead, down the porcelain sides and engulfed my body that was curled up on its floor. The clogged drain collected so much blood that it started to pour over the edges of the tub. Every inch of my body was paralyzed; I couldn’t blink, I couldn’t breathe.

When I was 10 years old, I would curl up in the same way on the floor of the tub and listen to my parents fighting about pills or weed or lack thereof, how my father spent all the money on booze and never saved any for my mom, the cons they were going to pull to get enough cash for that month’s rent. The water drowned out the clarity of exactly what they were saying so I could only hear their muffled screaming. Sometimes the downstairs neighbors would turn on music because I think they could hear the noise through the floorboards, and if I pushed my ear hard enough against the tub’s bottom I could hear something resembling Classical crap. I didn’t like most of it, but it was better than what was happening in our apartment.

My mother died 5 years before, almost to the day. The doctors claimed it was a suicide by overdose, but as fucked up as she was, she always felt the responsibility of being a mother. She took pride in it. I mean, don’t get me wrong, she was pretty horrible at it, but I knew she loved me. She just couldn’t help her nature; her mother was as useless as she was. Frank, my father, on the other hand, wasn’t as thankful the day his sweet baby boy came into the world. I know with completely certainty that my mother wouldn’t have killed herself on purpose and left me alone with him. One more mouth to feed, he’d say. One more back to clothe, one more person to look out for when all he really cared about was himself. He didn’t love my mother; he married her out of convenience. It was easier to get things done with someone else around because it meant half the work for him. He held a great deal of resentment for me because I complicated their plans. When she died, Frank’s hatred for me grew; I had taken precious years away from them. He only loved her after she wasn’t around any longer. I hadn’t spoken to him in probably 2 and a half years, partially because we both preferred it that way and partially because even if I did want to get in touch with him, I never knew where he was. His last words to me were left on my answering machine at 4:08 AM on a Sunday morning.

“We should have aborted you.”

I think he hated himself more than he hated me, but I was an easier target. Sometimes I used to check the obituaries to see if maybe his face was there. Unfortunately, it never was.  

When I awoke, I was no longer in the alley. I tried to wipe away the sweat and dried blood that was stinging my eyes but I couldn’t bring my hands up. Something was constricting them behind my back. The smell of seaweed and rotting fish filled my nose. Jagged wood scraped against my face as I tried to roll over onto my back and see where I was.

I lived about a 20-minute walk away from the pier and enjoyed sitting by the docks in my free time listening to the waves crash on the rocks. Sometimes I stepped on the mutilated fish carcasses that had washed up on the shore just to feel their spines crush beneath my shoe. It gave me the feeling of godliness. But with my cracked ribs and bloody head, I felt a little like those fish. 

But who was stepping on my spine? Did Tina have a loutish macho man-friend who helped plot her revenge? Maybe Bob was finally making me pay for all the tabs I “forgot” to settle up. Could someone have seen me following leopard print’s friend from the bar and decided to act the part of vigilante? Was it my deadbeat, poor excuse for a father figure who’d stumbled into the right alley at the right time and found my limp body, half dead on the concrete?

My head felt wet. I smelled ammonia. Someone pissed on my face, I was pretty sure. When I managed to position myself on my back there was a figure standing over me, but my vision was too blurred for me to recognize them. I felt paralyzed like I had in my dream; I tried to wiggle my body into an upright position nonetheless.

“Here, let me help you,” they said.

Maybe whoever brought me to the pier thought a good beating and a golden shower was punishment enough. Maybe I was safe. The figure helped me up with one arm, but I couldn’t make out what was in the other. Blinking my eyes a few times made things a bit clearer, and I realized my feet were tied together with one end of a piece of rope, the other connected to a cinderblock in the figure’s hand.

The figure didn’t say anything more. The cinderblock hit the water first, and I followed soon after. Did you know that youths and males drown most frequently? Some people have drowned in as little as 30 mm of water.  It’s the third leading cause of accidental death worldwide.

During apnea, which is the period of time when an individual is holding their breath, the cells in the bloodstream use oxygen and release carbon dioxide. The more carbon dioxide there is in the body, the stronger the breathing reflex becomes. Laryngospasm happens when the body detects that water is attempting to enter into the lungs and the larynx or vocal cords seal the air tube. Water will then fill the stomach in the initial phase of drowning rather than the lungs. If a person is conscious when they do inhale because their chest feels like an overly inflated balloon, they will try to spit out the water or swallow it, thus inhaling more water involuntarily.

I didn’t have a chance to save myself. My limbs were restricted, and even if I wanted to fight, the pain from the previous night’s beating was too overwhelming. They say your life flashes before your eyes when you’re on the brink of death, but I found myself thinking about hotdogs. I would never have another hotdog. The last one I’d eaten was covered in mustard, onions and sauerkraut, which made the bun really soggy. It fell apart in my hands. The pressure in my chest and the feeling of lightheadedness brought me back to the present. I couldn’t hold my breath any longer. I hadn’t even hit the bottom of the lake yet.

I don’t know who killed me. It could have been my own flesh and blood, some brood I owed copious amounts of money to, some nymphomaniac, a drug dealer who I’d stolen K from. The expression “you made your bed…” applied to my life far more than I was ever willing to admit. I never gave much thought to repentance. I didn’t believe I owed it to anyone, really. Maybe I was wrong, but what does it matter now, anyway? The lakebed is not forgiving. The mud will suck you in.

Featured by The Blasted Tree: July 28, 2014

Mud is "Out of Print" from The Blasted Tree Store.


BEA KEELER

Contributing Editor


Mud by Bea Keeler is a Blasted Tree original short story.

ISBN [Digital]: 978-0-9938364-4-2

Cover Design by Kyle Flemmer - Cover Image by Benjamin Earwicker

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