by Aurelio Voltaire

He turned on the light, for whatever that was worth. A 40-watt bulb swinging at the end of a 10-foot cord swayed above him. Yellowed by time, tediously grinding past, like the rusty gears in a dying machine, the bulb screamed with every pendulous pass, desperately panting to stay aglow. The light emitted, barely a hazy halo, lit only a corner of the spartan squalor. He sat in the decrepit parlor. Greasy were the floor boards. Stained and withered was the wallpaper, peeling in slow motion like a sunburn. His vinyl-wrapped knees squeaked beneath hm. And there, did he begin to hum like he had so many times before. Drawing in a dusty breath, his splintered lungs expanded and slowly the sound began to rise inside of him.

Reverberating through his lungs, the chant began. Purring, eyes closed, he began to rock gently back and forth. And again a breath, long, deep and calculated. He clenched his teeth as if to filter out the smell of his sour skin. For months it fermented under his clothes. And only now in the still of the stagnant room was he alone with the stench. Now he gained insight about the bitter facial contortions of those who passed him in the darkened alleys. A fact became clear. He had not bathed in months. He had lived only for the visitations. For as long as he could remember the spaces between them were consumed with the pursuit of the currency that made them possible. A long, spidery figure was he, crawling through the dank underpasses of the city in search of the euphoria-giving saliva. Tonight he had scored. In a garbage cluster behind the Weintraub plant, he found his treasure. There under a pile of rain-soaked Glad bags lay the rotting body of a dead rat. How he had shuddered with glee and disbelief. How could it have gone unnoticed? A prize such as this does not lay long in the gutters so ravishly combed by the desperate others as parched as he, so desperate for the traveling. And yet, there it was, no ordinary rat was this. This lucky rodent fattened by the lard-laden scraps of the occupying force had lived a borrowed and unusual life. Somehow it had managed its way up into the above. And there it must have gone unnoticed for months, developing a layer of flesh that hid its ribs from sight. A glorious and unusual vision in this world sucked dry. It must have fallen to its death from the above to the below. And as it lay there in the puddle, its mouth rigored into a toothy grin of bliss, it was clear to see that it died a happy creature.
This happiness would now be his, the heir to an uncommon good fortune. He had plucked up the heavy sweaty mass of rat and bore into its flesh. Luxurious globs of healthy, bloody tissue oozed out dripping onto the pavement. Plap, plap, plap. He searched feverishly. Finally, pushing aside its liver and what he could only guess was its kidneys, he saw it. Shimmering, blue and bloated in the moonlight, offering itself up like a pearl from the sea, was the priceless spleen. With two bony white fingers, he pushed it into his cracked lips and then, much like a creature awakened, he quivered. Soon he would be ready. He ran, and ran, shin splints cracking beneath his knees with every stride until he came to the darkened alley. And there like a spider, pulled his lankiness up through the fire escapes, peeling back the rusty doors that led to the parlor.

Now on his knees, he began to chant, humming the D minor that would massage his salivary glands with the effective mining frequency. The fluid was slow to come. A desperation grew in him and he bit down on his tongue to speed the process. Still no juice would issue. He bit down harder, severing a quarter of his tongue. He spat the dry blackened mass to the ground and then, slowly like a rising orgasm, the first drops of precious saliva eked their way out of the parchment membranes of his mouth. He began to chew and suck like a motor, milling out the fluid. And feeling a small pool of spittle develop before his bottom row of teeth, he spat it out meticulously upon the darkened well-worn spot before him. And there, on the greasy floorboards between his knees, the spot began to bubble. At first, it frothed up like a drop of water on bicarbonate. It rose for a moment into a yellow foam and then disappeared, sucked into the patch of floor. The floor was bone dry once again. He waited. Nothing happened. He reeled forward staring at the spot. His ankles creaked beneath him. And still nothing happened. He grew anxious and a desperate whimper worked its way up from the pt of his soul.
Then, it began.

Upon the patch of well-worn wooden floor, appeared a black spot. The spot grew slowly, expanding in circumference by the slightest of increments. Then, like an explosion of darkness, the spot erupted, filling the room before him. As he stared into the void, the black faded into a golden amber laced with delicate clouds. He was looking into a sky of milky plumes on honey strands of mist. Here too came a smell of sandalwood and vanilla. A world was opening up before him, a world of languid, moist beauty. The clouds, slithering in a slow spiral, were parting and there before him emerged a magnificent flying craft. A living swan adorned with golden ornaments. And on its back, a shimmering pagoda nestled between its fluffy wings of white that undulated in waves. She emerged from the pagoda. Her skin a pale violet, fresh and plump with health and moisture. Her face was round and endearing, smiling bliss upon him. She placed her soft hands on the golden rim before her. Her skin, adorned only in golden bangles and beads, glistened. “I’ve missed you,” she blew to him on the air like a perfume. And for a moment a warmth began to rise in him.

Suddenly, a tremor shook the flying swan like a ripple in a pool of water. She looked about, surprised and frightened, and she saw that the black was encroaching upon her. Like a closing iris, it was crushing in upon her world, compressing the space around her. “Virgil,” she screamed, “There’s not enough saliva!” “No! Please!” he cried desperately.
As the gateway contracted into a bleak bitter spot in his vision, he saw her expression grow pained. Her voice was fading to an inaudible whisper one hears at the entrance and exits of dreams. She was crying, “Not…enough…saliva…” And then blackness.

He collapsed to the greasy floorboards beneath him, pounding his fists upon the floor. With every strike they splintered and crumbled to dust. His face was the next to fall, and as he lay there whimpering a dry heaving whimper, he stared at the small pile of gray ash before him that was his nose. Between his tears he cried, “It’s not fair. There’s never enough saliva. God damn them.”

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