Tim Timmons took a trip that didn’t require a vehicle. 48 hours later, Willie’s Pick Up Service lifted him from a dreamless sleep. His skeletal frame tumbled, banged, and somersaulted into the steamy hopper of a garbage truck. A generous puddle of liquid that had fermented at the bottom of the dumpster in which he was sleeping rained down upon him, adding insult to injury, a vinegary syrup of maggots and rotting chicken parts. His drugged mind envisioned a coach at the end of a winning game, splashed with Gatorade, eyes closed, facial muscles contorted.
One might call his experience a rude awakening. But it was the trash compactor moving inward for the crush that reignited his poisoned brain with some basic decisional acuity: did he want to live or die? If he were to die—certainly not in this way—not with entrails popping out of his skull and blood spraying from his ears like a nasty pilonidal cyst. He scrambled for the square exit to the sky above him (the chute from whence he came) and grabbed hold of a metal bar halfway up a slippery, slimy slant located at the front of the box and immediately behind the cab of the front loader. Having narrowly escaped death, he failed to gain his freedom until the next stop which was several blocks away and seemed like a small eternity.
During his captivity, Tim Timmons thought of Jonah and vomited profusely inside the fetid belly of the metal whale, a filthy purging. Afterward, he reached into the pocket of his jeans, horrified and relieved to find two paper strips of acid. He placed both under his tongue and swore by the iron balls of Johnny Sokko’s Giant Flying Robot that he would never get high again. A few minutes and miles later, he imagined himself as the latest guest in a rusty hearse for the living dead, whisked away, a stinky corpse of Gehenna.
He rhymed “trashes to trashes” with “ashes to ashes” and giggled with a creepy hallucinogenic pleasure. “To dust thou shalt return!” he bellowed at himself.
At the next stop, the metal bar had morphed into a gloved hand reaching down for him. He hoisted himself up and out into the world from which he tried in vain to escape. Heroin had landed him in the dumpster. Another deadly relapse back into reality.
Tim dropped heavily from the idling truck onto the baking pavement where blurry waves of heat rose from the tarry surface and the pleased opioid receptors of his brain reinterpreted them as squiggly smiling faces. Dazed, he stood still for a moment, swaying, unsure of where or who he was. Long skinny legs, weak and wobbly as a newborn calf, carried his smelly upper torso down one street, up another, over to another, until he had slugged his way from one side of town to the other, drawing close and homing in on the only remaining possession in his life.
People coming and going stared hard at him, giving a wide berth, the disgust and distrust of the general public on full display. Because he was wearing only one boot. Because he smelled like the Devil’s ass. Because the pupils of his eyes had dilated to vampire black.
By the time Tim had arrived back at the La Quinta, the evening sun was blushing rose red behind clouds forming the shape of a soft pink vaginal opening, a uterus, and two perfect ovaries.
A plane flying overhead spelled the purple word fuck in feminine loops.
A stray dog lifted its leg and pissed a rainbow of stars against the strong brown leg of a utility pole which, in turn, bent over and lovingly scratched the pup’s matted fur with cable wire fingers.
Beyond the air conditioned alcove of the hotel lobby (presently a Checkerboard crowded with Mediterranean belly dancers gyrating on glittery tiled squares), Tim ducked inside of an elevator. After the double doors had fully closed and sealed upon him, panic seized his body with epileptic suddenness. His teeth clacked with fear.
“Oh no!” he cried. Hyperventilating, sweating, and wheezing. “Is this the trash collector again?” The palms of his hands patted and explored the walls as a blind man searches another human face, but all he discovered was smooth chrome ice cream sprinkled with spiders.
When, at last, the doors finally opened again, he pressed so hard against them that he fell with a loud thump onto the carpeted floor. A kaleidoscope of tie-dye colors squirted in every direction.. Someone was bending over him. “Are you OK?” A woman with weeping willow hair. She crinkled her nose, repulsed by the stench, turned into a pig and walked away.
The long hallway to room 301 was rubbery, curved, and warped as a mirrored Funhouse, but there was nothing fun about it. A feeling of impending doom washed over him with a funeral sorrow of irreversible loss. He heard his heart breaking, ice cubes crackling in a glass.
“Oh, my best friend, where are you?” he heard himself say in a hundred echoing voices that faded into stuttering whispers. Tim examined firefly tears blinking in the mirror. His face was that of a sad clown. The painted corners of his mouth dripped like hot candle wax onto the countertop and crawled away as squeaking mice.
Stripping off his diseased clothing, he stepped into the shower. The water hurt his skin and issued forth in a downpour of black ants that fizzed away like dark cola into the drain.
“Our Father,” he prayed.
“They have no father…”
Father father father father…
Feather feather feather feather…
A wide desk across the room awaited his sober return and tempted him with disheveled stacks of paper. The words scratched upon them with a dull pencil were sharp and real. They were his words. Rushing to them, he read the sentences aloud, over and over, watched as every paragraph floated into the air and exploded like a fountain of fireworks. In this specific way, he anchored himself in the midst of a colorful but terrifying storm.
The title page: Congregation of the Righteous.
LSD intensifies suicidal ideations. He wanted a gun. LSD also gives ungodly, off the chart orgasms. He wanted her. The highest of highs and the lowest of lows, depending upon the dependent.
Riley. Yes. That cute little girl with a mischievous grin. She had handed him the salvation bracelet with the biblical colors of the gospel. Somehow, severely addled, Tim was able to find it in an unorganized mess of personal belongings and slid the summer camp trinket onto his bony wrist.
“When I am afraid I will trust in you…“ he said to the quiet God he’d abandoned.
Tim paced the floor, paced the floor, paced the floor, paced the floor.
Back-and-forth, back-and-forth, back-and-forth, back-and-forth, back-and-forth.
Forgetting. Remembering. Forgetting.
He waited for something. Maybe for hope to rise with the sun.
He opened his eyes, closed them, opened them, closed them again.
He shook his head like a mad man, no no no no no no no.
“When I am afraid I will trust in you I will trust in you I will trust in you I will trust in you I will trust in you I will trust in you I will trust in you I will trust in you…”
The phone rang. Tim answered.
HelloooooOOOOOO? Multicolored Cheerios ricocheted off the walls.
Tim guzzled bourbon as greedily as a thirsty man might choke himself on water in the desert. The remainder of the night and an unknown conversation faded to a comforting black nothingness.
•. •. •
That’s all he remembers.
A few days later, Tim Timmons drapes a stethoscope around his neck and returns to work, shower fresh but depleted of soul, his malnourished body already craving another fix and barely able to keep the secret.
The world around him is back to normal, pale and anemic, with no more hallucinations. It’s a new day.
Resolving to do better, Tim freshens his breath with three swigs of gin and makes the sign of the cross over his burning sternum (In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost). Stepping out of his truck, he walks like he walks, smooth and easy, with his “give a damn“ broken.
A poster affixed to the front door of the hospital is a giant thank you card with something about nurses being heroes.
Tim signs in at the front desk (Temperature 96.8), answers the questions (Any contact with Covid patients? Yes, of course. Any of one of these particular symptoms of illness? No, no, and no). Then up, up, up to the unit on the fourth floor.
Where Kelly is the first to greet him. “Sweetheart, you look like shit.”
“Yeah . . . I was dumped like a piece of trash.”
With a burst of fake laughter, Tim Timmons adds nothing more than a charming wink.