Just like a broken faucet, you drip with a grating inconsistency. There’s something pitifully self-serving about the way you handle rejection. They were never interested in anything else- you knew that, didn’t you? That’s why you drove here alone, that’s why you didn’t tell anyone where you were going… a peek out the hallway window over the city, so gray, machine-like in the movement of its cars and subways and people… they run a tight ship here, boys, no time to waste, hafta stay on schedule… so grossly efficient, all these city people…
The hallway is cold, freezing actually. You reach a hand to the filthy brick walls and stop yourself from collapsing. Your face chilled by tears and mucus and whatever the hell was in Marco’s drink when he threw it at you… threw it, yeah, with purpose, at you sitting there with your bag of oysters, pinctada maxima, little pearl factory money machines straight outta the South Sea…sure… do you think he was angry? Of course he was. He was pissed. Wouldn’t you be?
Of course you would be. You’d be furious… probably even more than Marco… he has incredible self-control, and he’s been putting up with your bullshit for months at this point, you’re surprised he’s kept you around this long… you know you wouldn’t have been so kind, were you in his position. You stumble your way unevenly down the concrete stairwell, down fourteen floors, keep going down, you know you aren’t finished yet… you reach the bottom early, you wouldn’t mind walking down a few more… at least its raining, the rain feels good to someone like you… yes, someone like you, busted circuit down here on the motherboard, fucking up the whole operation, damn it boys, we’re behind schedule now…
So that man on the cross bled for you, you know. So he suffered and died all for you, you know, just for you. He’s right up there, nailed to the wall above your bed, miserable head flung to the side, body skeletal and pale in the darkness… you can see his chest rising and falling in ragged, labored breaths… see how the heart flutters and thrashes beneath the skin, unimaginable torment, right before your eyes… stinking, rotting corpse, pleading eyes… sees you when you’re sleeping, when you wake up he sees you…
You’ve never fucked around with pearls before, only once, only once, you swear. Do you remember that room, a bunch of people you’ve never met before? Hard to forget. They didn’t care about you, still don’t. Remember what you saw hanging from the ceiling… they told you all about it, the people in the room. They answered your questions, that was nice of them. They looked you in the eyes, and do you remember what they said? They said:
“What’s it doing, hung from spindly marionette wires, flesh warped around the rusted iron bars of its too-small cage? Crying, probably. Jesus, shut up already.
It’s growing, that’s for sure. Surprising. No, we won’t replace the cage. Why bother? It’ll be happy with what it has, it always is.
Pulsating lungs outside the body beat infrequently, a busted warbling music box melody, speeding and slowing. Would you take a look at that. Keep it in there. If it can breathe, it can live. It’s happy enough with that.
Remember how it told us to board up the windows? Not to turn the blinds down, but to actually board them up. Grinning, the skin behind its teeth, eyes wide, shaking in total ecstasy. Ecstasy.
It yelled: “Do it! Board them up, lock me up forever!” And we did, and then how the pitiful thing wailed and cried and choked on its tears. It thrashed and banged about its cage, swinging back and forth violently, calling out for mercy, for God, for anyone. But when we came near, how it barked and growled like an animal. “Don’t touch me,” it cried, “Don’t let the sun touch me!”
What did it study at University? It doesn’t matter, it dropped out before it even got there. It was happy to. Happy to roll around in its own shit-stink, wasting itself, wasting whatever potential it might’ve had. It really is a worm, don’t you think? Selfish. Lives only for itself. That it should be made to please others- that was the ultimate insult. It would be happier here, happier where it was right about how much of a worm it was. It is happy here.
It’s easy to be happy here, leaving the city, reaching The Sea of Tranquility, Nirvana, whatever you want to call it. This city, such a drag, concrete slab dripping tar on all of us. With so much electricity, with everything wired up, it gets tough. You can’t fuck up because the whole thing depends on everything working right. So all the losers and fuck ups might as well hide away and go swimming on the moon. No, it’s much better here. Trust us, you’ll like it here. It sure likes it here quite a bit, doesn’t it? Lighten up, we’re only joking, stop screaming…”
How you got from that room into the garbage can behind the old theater on Rivers Street, you can’t remember. Maybe stumbled off, maybe got carried there. Made an ass of yourself, that’s for sure, they were all having a good laugh about you, you can count on that…
And then you felt sunlight on your head and looked up and there he was, there was Marco standing above you, lid of the garbage can in his hand, looking down at you, wrinkling his nose at the smell. You blushed and smiled- actually smiled– glad somebody was there to see you, witness you in all your shit stained glory, happily stewing in your own filth, tears pouring proudly down your face… something pitifully self serving about the way you handle misery, so manipulative… you used it well to gain his disgust, to gain his hatred, which is what you wanted above all, to be right about something… to be right about how disgusting you are, and he obliged, he gave that to you.
“Get the fuck out of there, Jesus Christ,” he said, and you laughed and blushed and tried to climb out but you wiggled too much and tipped the whole goddamn thing over, fell on its side with a large metallic noise, painful, you writhed… the shit was in your hair, in your teeth then… He looked down and sneered at you, no sympathy, thank god, you hate sympathy… he helped you, he saved you, and you know you aren’t worth the trash in the garbage can to him, and that’s good, that’s right, that’s right because you know you aren’t worth the trash in the garbage can to anybody… you can make him happy, you aren’t like the man in the cage. No, you can make someone else happy, you can try, is what you told yourself. So much light back then, so much glistening electronic city light. That was months ago. Now you’re home and alone and there is still light even at night sneaking through the blinds of your window, broken up in bars against your wall.
You’re at your best when you’re like this, 2 A.M. eyes wide open on your back in bed in the dark. Will he call you again, or is this it? You hope he calls you again… you close your eyes and your cheeks flush bright red, you move your legs thinking about him… strong jaw, dark eyes when they look at you made a little brighter… it’s all over now. Why would he call you ever again, after this? After pinctada maxima fictus, after South Sea pearl necklaces from a fucking department store?
Broken sob escapes your mouth, neck arched and knees bent. Your naked body resembles a wavelength going nowhere, frozen in time before crashing against the shore. You fucked up. Forsaken. Maybe he’ll call, maybe he’ll forgive you… you can still taste his drink, his lips… that was your mistake, kissing him after showing up with them… those shitty little fake pearls you don’t even care about, it was all for him anyway. Not that they did him any good, not that fake peals ever helped anyone anywhere. Wrap yourself up in the blanket, there you go… nice little cocoon, safe little place of yours… you think about his eyes again, this time angry and his lips trembling and his voice screaming, powerful… your eyes closed, you blush and touch yourself… remembering glass against your face, how humiliating… a moan reaching its hands up from inside you, prying open your mouth, dirty fingernails scratching at your teeth… it’ll be morning soon, wonder if he’s going to call…
Marco sighs, exasperated, runs a hand through hair as he stares out the window, catching his ghostly reflection in the glass. He takes off his thick glasses and curses- “Fucking piece of shit…!”- as he turns around and looks at mess on his living room floor. Just what he needed today- another fucking mess to fix. He’s behind schedule as it is, and then that kid, that kid comes here and decides he wants to fuck around. As if he weren’t busy enough.
Instead of grabbing a mop, he goes to the counter and pours a gin. A replacement for the one he wasted on blondie over there. Fucking stupid kid. After all he’s done for him, that ungrateful brat comes up and tries to foist this kind of shit on him. Well, it aint gonna work. He’s been around the block a few too many times to be fooled by some green little highschool faggot with a sack full of counterfeits, that’s for damn sure.
He takes the gin and downs it, slams the glass on the countertop. A drink or two more to calm his nerves is all he needs. Maybe he shouldn’t have been so rough with him. He is young after all, and an out-of-towner besides. Sucks dick like he invented it, too. He shakes his head furiously, grunts and runs to the window, pressing his face onto the glass as hard as he can, looking out at the town.
This town, electric everything. The whole goddamn motherboard runs on Mother-of-Pearl, and he’s the best link this town’s junkies have, the best they’ll ever have. He had his connections, but what got him this far was determination. Started as a quality of life improvement, a way for him to solve problems and make his living easier- hard to stop someone from taking your shit with a load of pearls cruising up your veins. So that’s what he’d do, load them up with enough pearls to down an elephant, wait for them to reach the Sea of Tranquility, and while they were busy talking with the oysters on the moon he’d be halfway across town in a van full of their shit, electronics, cellphones mostly. Everything electric in this city, everything. He liked that about it- no room for slow downs or ‘human error’, just go, go, go, making things run, making things happen. Soon he figured he’d cut the middleman and stick with the MoP business, dealing in pearls, making new and loyal customers almost faster than he could supply. Made a lot of enemies, got his fair share of scars to show for it, too. But he climbed his way up, damn it. He even crushed the pearls himself, with his own goddamn hands. Nobody could say wasn’t a hard worker. He worked for what he had, and you better remember that. He used to be a nothing, a nobody. But he didn’t fuck up. He was electricity. And now the place runs on him.
At last it stops raining, the clouds start to dissipate, reveal the setting sun like a curtain being drawn. His hands tremble as he thinks of all he’s done for this town. “They need me,” he says calmly into his reflection. His face, superimposed across the city’s darkening skyline. Sea foam could turn this whole place white, pulsating and rhythmic, in an instant. Crush a few pearls, go for a swim. Go someplace you’ve never been. Mother-of-Pearl. The people in this God-forsaken shithole want a way out, and he is their doorman. They want to fuck up so bad, fine. He’s no loser, he’d never touch the stuff himself. But he could move things. He could make things happen, and they know that. He alone holds the key to their salvation. For whatever it’s worth, anyway.
He thinks about when he asked one of his sources, a guy from India, about how they get such high quality pearls over there. “Pearls form by pressure,” the guy said, “when a natural part of the oyster’s feeding cycle gets interrupted by the smallest amount of some foreign object, and it builds pressure to try to get rid of it… you could encourage that. You could take a knife and cut along the tissue of the mantle, you could pry that open and pour something in there, an irritant we call it, to make the little thing go crazy. The thing doesn’t know what to do with itself, goes nuts, lays it on thick with the nacre, the stuff that it uses to make the pearls. That’s what we do, and there you have it. We call them ‘cultured pearls’. Higher quality and faster harvest, and all that leads to a bigger profit.”
‘Cultured’, huh? Whatever works. Apparently it wasn’t much of a trade secret if he was willing to say it over the telephone- you never know when someone might be listening in. Marco knew that all too well.
Pushing himself away, he stumbles back to the counter and steadies himself from falling. Brand new marble countertop, just installed the other day. Best looking apartment in the whole shitty complex, he was proud to say. Maybe he’ll give the kid a call tomorrow morning. It’d be nice to have a prodigy, an heir. The kid didn’t use, at least not regularly. If he couldn’t tell the difference between the real deal pinctada maxima and some cheap department store knock-offs… but he could be trained. The kid could learn. Besides, Marco reasoned, a nice lay to fall back on when things get lonely aint nothing to sneeze at.
The kid is a worm, there’s no doubt in Marco’s mind. He is a worm. But then, so was Marco, not so very long ago. He climbed his way up from the dirt and the filth. Now he sat at the top of the tower, a big electric butterfly spreading its wings over the city. He almost laughs at the thought. Instead he pours another glass and stars out the window until the sun finishes setting. He stares until the sun rises again. He stands up straight, stretching his arms out horizontally, palms facing forward, watching the light of dawn creep silently across the city.