I can feel it bubbling when I walk. It tickles, the bubbles growing and bursting in lazy succession with each step. The soles of my feet shift and ripple like a briny sea, forcing me to move in a humiliating side shuffle. Not that I see many people anymore; my condition tends to be exacerbated by daylight. Lucky for me, my job takes place after midnight, when the temperature drops and all the 98.6° people fall to morbid dreams about mortgages and their kid’s bad skin. That’s when I emerge, skittering like a crab down the middle of the street, my simmering feet blackened by tar still warm from the New Mexico sun.

I am on my way to The Yellow Stain, a street side dive bar where I wipe down tables and drink all the cold beer I can hold, when I see her again. Vera glows like an angel under a streetlight, her short hair white and shimmering like cocaine or snow that hasn’t been pissed on yet. I imagine the spiky strands are cold to the touch, rendering my fingertips tingly and numb. Sometimes when I am alone I like to clutch a handful of ice to my burning heart and think of her. The melting water drips cold and sweet down my abdomen like I know her kisses would. The thought causes my blood to boil fervently and I lean against a building to steady my wobbling appendages.

“Allan! Allan!” She spots me and hurries to my side. My name is not Allan, but for a moment I forget my rising blood temperature (uncomfortable even at the best of times) and let myself be swept into her dark lipped smile.

“I heard you have something for me,” she purrs, her voice throaty and deep. Her accent is subtle, but distinctly Parisian. With a shy smile I shake my head and feel her silk gloved hand poised like a bird on my arm. I am sweating profusely and afraid she’ll notice the dampness through my clothes. The smell of burnt sulfur oozes vaporously from my pores and I duck out of her grasp. I shake my head violently when she reaches for me again.

Vera takes a small step back, her lovely forehead crinkling with disappointment. She doesn’t seem to notice the painful effect she’s having on me, not even when she leans forward, surveying me intently with eyes as dark as Guinness. Part of me knows this is my last chance, but her breath on my face is a cool winter breeze and I am doomed by it. The skin around my ears starts to pucker and peel from the steam pouring out of my scalp. I swallow and scald my throat on the liquid I’m able to dredge from the corners of my blistered lips. I can no longer feel the sweat dripping like a hot shower down my suddenly dry back.

“It’s the same with all you connards,” Vera says, spitting the words like venom from her beautifully formed mouth. “Just once I’d like to meet a man who can give without asking for anything in return.” As she speaks she leans forward, her lithe body successfully pinning me against the brick wall. I can smell her skin: peppermint and vodka, and something slightly metallic. The effect is alarming and I’m afraid I will pass out when a rush of hot blood drops from my bubbling brain into the pit of my stomach. Horrified, I imagine the look of disgust she will give me if I let myself fall, curled up like roadkill at her feet.

Vera whispers something in her native language. I’m not sure if it’s an endearment or a curse, nor do I care. The bubbles under my heels erupt through the thick, tar stained skin and I cry out, much to Vera’s satisfaction.

“Ma cheri taught me this,” she says, oblivious to my dilemma as her eager tongue curls moistly around my ear. I hear a hiss and Vera’s tinkling laughter before the eardrum bursts and dark, hot liquid spills into my collar, scalding the tender, unexposed flesh of my neck. I exhale a rasping groan and choke on a mouthful of steam when I try to protest. My organs are melting, liver and kidneys boiling and frothing inside of me like hot vegetable purée. I am shaking violently. Only Vera’s insistent young body keeps me upright.

With the strength of an addict, Vera grabs my chin with one gloved hand, excited by the heat pouring off of me. I want to tell her to stop, to run, but it’s too late. I surrender to the moment, drinking in the last sight of her before my final blink fuses my eyelids together like hot, sticky glue. Before I explode, lungs vaporizing, and heart splattering the wall, the street, and the lovely Vera with molten blood, I revel in my good fortune. Her lips are as cool as I’d imagined when they melt sweetly into mine.


"Pyrexia"
Copyright: © 2010 Rachel Walker
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Rachel Walker is a third generation San Diegan who dreams of snow. Her work has appeared in the Seahorse Rodeo Folk Review and is forthcoming in Right Hand Pointing and The Coffee Shop Chronicles. When she is not writing, she can be found painstakingly avoiding other, more lucrative professions.

2 comments:

  1. "Her lips are as cool as I’d imagined when they melt sweetly into mine"

    Gross, charming, and poetic. Great story.

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