Second placeby Josh Green
Page 2 of 4
"OK," Johnson said. "This better be groovy, or whatever."
Johnson washed the slice down with beer. Nothing really happened — no flying dragons, no glittery sorcerers. After 10 minutes he tiptoed to the bedroom, curled beside his snoring Gilder, and let his mind fill with dreams.
Gastrointestinal tremors besieged Johnson an hour later. He raced clumsily to the master bathroom, bashing a steel wastebasket, slamming the door.
"I give you an inch," Gilder scolded from bed, "and you drink yourself sick."
"Not drunk," he pleaded, knees on tile. "Something I ate."
She harrumphed and went quiet again.
When the vomiting subsided, Johnson glimpsed himself in the massive bathroom mirror. He looked haggard and crazy, like the Mister Hyde interpretation in classic cartoons, his pupils like hazel poker chips. He was stricken with the feeling that his parents were coming over, Bob and Judy unannounced, and that they were angry with him. In his cheekbones and forehead he could see the blending of various European lineages, an Americanized stew in one berserk face. He questioned the vitality of his own name, wondering what those syllables would mean to excavators 5,000 years after the meteors. Johnson fully extended his tongue to examine the taste buds, which made him think of snakes, red pythons in the attic, so he turned off all the bathroom lights and cowered beside the toilet until dawn. Chirping wrens and thrashers brought solace, but also conjured visions of carnivorous flying squirrels. He repeatedly flushed the toilet, 30 flushes in an hour, one cataclysmic purge after the next, a sound that cleansed his harried soul. His breathing stabilized. But then Gilder's alarm clock blared. She hit snooze once and rewrote modern history. Nine minutes later, she turned the alarm off.
Gilder rapped on the bathroom door with long, sharp fingernails. Trapped, Johnson budged open the bathroom window. He was contemplating an army crawl onto the roof when the door creaked open.
"Fresh air?" Gilder groggily said. "You slept in here?"
Johnson sat on the toilet, staring down at swirling ceramic tiles. "I'm so sick," he wheezed. "Can't go."
"Bullshit," his wife said, disrobing and stepping into the rainfall shower, her midsection a veiny beach ball. The water danced down Gilder. Johnson recalled the great waterfalls of Hawaii, where they'd honeymooned, where she admitted, tongue loose on Mai Tais, that marrying an accountant felt like a letdown, that she'd always fancied a veterinarian or cowboy. She had apologized a hundred times, but Johnson could never let that comment go.
"I'm not John Wayne," he said, on the toilet. "You know I'll never be John Wayne."
Gilder flung open the shower door. "You drunk prick," she said. "Splash your face, have coffee, and wait for me in the car. I paid $90 for these classes, and you're going to learn something. Stop acting like a baby yourself and start thinking about your son."
Johnson worked his jaw in circles and nodded. He exited the paranoiac shack the bathroom had become. One look at his sunlit bedroom and he felt better. He could sense the global retreat of night, the darkness dragging across Texas plateaus, bound for San Diego, pulling with it his nightmarish introspection. He meandered through the home, took one more huge bite for breakfast and pushed the remaining pizza into the garbage disposal. He went outside. He felt light as bubbles.
Before long, Gilder plopped in the Honda's driver's seat. She was impatient and uncaffeinated, but Johnson felt buttressed by her spitfire energy. In the soft-lit morning she looked like the angel of fertility, her blouse glowing with clean frilly whiteness. He loved this woman with all the affection of his past partnerships combined, and he could see that now with arithmetical clarity. They slipped onto the freeway and melted into light weekend traffic. Midtown towers flicked by like backcountry telephone poles.
"Don't get a boner."
Gilder growled the order as they joined a torrent of human pairings loading into the Ronald Wichita Auditorium, an egg-shaped addition to Peachtree Hospital. Gilder clasped her husband's hand, which invited a return bout of paranoia. They hadn't held hands in years.
"Why would this give me a boner?" Johnson said, gulping. "Do you know what a directive like that can do to a man?"
"They're going to use real photos," she said. "I heard some women might even model, to show us technique. You can close your eyes during all that."
"Can I close my eyes all day?"
She yanked his arm. "What did you do last night?"
Johnson said nothing.
Little harsh, in'it?
Oh that's right...I DID say enjoy yourself.
Go to hell Kombo!
When will you be accepting applicants for the 2014 competition?
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