Friday, June 26, 2009

"Castrating Firemen" by David J. Keaton

I will leave work to get you a cigarette because you’re crying. Being broke, I’ll consider stealing one, but instead bum two off of a man filling our vending machine on the sidewalk. I’ll have to smoke my first one as I walk away to cover my ruse. It will be hard to hold with my bad hand. This mad dash home in the middle of my shift will force me to skip lunch with my parole officer, but it’ll will feel like it was worth it when I see you light it, smoke it, and your eyes finally clear to see me again.

On the way back to work, I will turn up the radio to celebrate, not caring if I’m in trouble or not. I’ll pass a church with a sign that says, “God’s favorite word is ‘come’!” and turn the song up louder, smiling and wishing there was time to take a picture to show her.

Then I’ll hear a siren behind me, but notice that its howl is choppy and broken, stuttering with feedback at the peak of its wail. Reluctantly, I’ll move over as the shrieking vehicle blows by. It will be a volunteer fireman, of course, not even a real one. Leaving near the fire hall, I’ll know all their names and plates. Convinced I’ve been gone too long to successfully sneak back to work, I’ll follow the siren instead. Luckily, my fellow telemarketers notice little with their headphones and horse blinders. A mile later, I’ll be rewarded with a new mission when I see the truck swerve to clip the back legs of a small animal crossing the road. I’d follow him over a waterfall after that.

Eventually, the truck will pull into a driveway. I won’t even look for smoke, knowing immediately that the fireman is home. He’ll get out and go inside as I look up and down his neighborhood street. I’ll count six trucks on this block with red domes, yellow strobe-light bars… and fake plastic testicles swinging off their trailer hitches. Inspired, I’ll run to the fireman’s cab and find it unlocked. Pushing the driver’s seat forward, I’ll find the toolbox I expect and inside a pair of wire cutters.

* * *

It’s no accident I hate these fuckers. Never mind my hand. The best kept secret where I’m from is that they’re the worst thing you can have show up when you have a fire. Not just because they won’t get there in time if you need them and their general incompetence when it comes to navigating a smoke-filled room, but because, if you look real close, there’s nothing coming out of those hoses they‘re holding. Some people might call that a sexual dysfunction. All would agree that these assholes are just there to give the illusion of a rescue.

I will begin with a gleaming candy-apple red 4x4 three doors down, raising the fake testicles gently so that the truck remains sleeping (never has there been a more obvious symbol of what these trucks are supplementing), then clipping them high near the hinge that makes them swing. Just like they teach you at the slaughterhouse. Then I’ll walk across a yard to another one. The fake testicles on the next truck will be metal instead of plastic, and the wire cutters won’t be able to castrate them as effectively. So I’ll pull out a magic marker and scribble a tumor on the left testicle, the one that always hangs lower, and I’ll move on. Three doors down, I’ll geld another truck without waking it. Bright pink, of course, always sparkling Easter egg colors (“Pascua huevos!” my daddy calls them), and I’ll clip and toss the testes up into the bed next to a pile of plumbing supplies and kneepads. I’ll move further down the block, remembering a documentary I once captioned about bats and how they preyed exclusively on sleeping cattle. One gruesome shot in particular framed a bat hanging off a bull’s scrotum, licking furiously as the mixture of blood and saliva around a wound. I attached a “(Somber Music Plays)” caption to the scene, even though the audio was silent. Because of the natural anticoagulants and anesthetics produced by the bat, the bull never knew what had happened until the farmer tried to milk it by mistake.

I’ll work my way across the street to neuter two more sparkling all-terrain utility vehicles, then circle back to the fireman’s driveway just in time to see him exit his house. I’ll toss a handful of rubber testicles at his feet for a distraction, then kick out a headlight and duck around his truck with him screaming fast after me.

“What the fuck!”

“So, where’s the fire, asshole?”

* * *

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Why did you run over that squirrel back there?”

“What squirrel?”

“The one you swerved to hit while you pretended you were on your way to a fire.”

“What? That was a rabbit! Well, not really a rabbit. A toy! And it was my daughter’s. It’s been there for a month.”

“Well, who the hell runs over their daughter’s rabbit?”

He’ll almost catch me before I elbow off his side mirror. He’ll stop to cradle it sadly and give me time for more questions.

“Why do you have this “I Brake For Trains” bumper sticker? That’s like saying you brake for dinosaurs. Of course you’d stop for a fucking train, stupid. Otherwise it would kill you. Why do you feel the need to brag about this?”

He’ll let the mirror slip from his hands and shatter on the asphalt as his eyes narrow and he loses some contractions in his sentences to sound as serious as possible.

“It is to save lives, so people do not run the crossing gates when they are coming down.”

“Oh. Maybe it should say that on the sticker instead. Of course that would cover your whole goddamn bumper.”

I’ll begin kicking heel marks into this bumper, hoping to loosen it from the frame, then I’ll settle for smashing a tail light because he’s running out of wind on our fifth lap. I’ll slow a bit, and he’ll surprise me with a lunge. I’ll laugh at the sky as he misses and crash lands in the road, backwards and confused like a grasshopper after a jump. When he stands, he’ll be holding his arm away from his chest at an odd angle, and this will give me time to hop into the bed of his truck and talk even longer. I’ll tell him my well-worn list of the World’s Top 100 dangerous occupations (“Loggers, dude, I’m telling you!”) and where he most likely stands (“Number 97 on your worst day!”) then I’ll talk about a typical firefighter’s physical condition (“Fat fucks that wear more jewelry than baseball players!”) as I dwell on the seventh to last show I captioned before I was fired:

“...they were interviewing some of these firemen and their families, and the wife or kid would smile proudly and say smug stuff like, ‘You know, it's just his job.’ Such bullshit. The only reason these words are spoken is because they want to be clear that it's not just a job. What they’re really trying to do is boast about these dangerous, heroic things their fathers is doing. You know what's really going on when your son says these words? It's the equivalent of some dumb bitch spending six hours getting ready for a party, then saying to the first person who compliments her on the dress with her tits hanging out, ‘Oh, this old thing? I just threw it on.’ See, that's what you’re really hearing, and seeing, when your boy, or you, says, ‘It just my job.’ You’re seeing a bitch with his tits hanging out. So fuck 'em. Did I already say ‘fuck 'em?’ Well, fuck ‘em. And why are you wearing dog tags!? Holy shit, do you think you’re in the Army?! How funny is that?! You know what? I want them. Come here...”

I’ll start to climb down, and he’ll be backing up, still holding his arm by the elbow, now truly concerned that I’m dangerous, possibly recognizing me finally. So I’ll keep talking. And talking.

“Okay, since I got you here to listen, one of them said the words ‘It’s what we do,’ one said, ‘Anything to save a comrade’ like you guys are cosmonauts or something, one referred to fire as a ‘monster,’ one collected photos of his cosmonauts in dangerous situation and covered his refrigerator with them, one used the word ‘proud’ no less that eight times in as many seconds, one claimed to have gone ‘nine days without sleep,’ a medical impossibility by the way, one had a ‘Great Chicago Fire’ pinball machine that he clearly played with more than his kids, and one kept all the dog tags off friends of his who had died, most of natural causes, of course. Which reminds me...get the fuck over here!”

He’ll try to hide inside his truck, but I’ll pull him out. He’ll wince when his broken arm rebounds off his front tire and crumple again, but he’ll leave this arm vulnerable when he covers his dog tag protectively. He’ll almost be pleading.

“Why do you want it?”

“No, the question is, why do you have it? I’ll tell you why. The only reason you have a dog tag is to pretend that you’re somehow at war...with fire! Are you serious? Do you dream of clutching this necklace and weeping as you trip over a hose and extinguish a burning doghouse? Wait, I’m sorry, a burning doll house? Yeah, dude, you're a warrior. Thanks for looking out. That's why you’re the same fighting weight as a Major League pitcher, 220, not a muscle in sight. Hold still. I think I want to try to take a shit on your head...”

Inspired by that, he’ll get a good, quick punch into the soft meat of my neck, so I’ll punch him harder in the voicebox in return. While we cough and I roll off-balance into the street, he’ll be trying to crawl under his truck while I pull on his ankles.

“...oh, you’re so brave! A house is on fire. Whoopty shit. You remind me of my dad’s brother’s ex-girlfriend's sister's husband who was a cop. He told me that he kept obituaries of dead cops on his ‘fridge, too. I didn't say this to him at the time because I honestly didn't think of it back then, but you know why he did this? Not for any type of memorial. He did it for the same reason a kid draws a picture of himself in a burning spaceship for Christmas. He just wanted his wife to see what a dangerous job he had every time she opens the door for a juice box. Just so he could then downplay it and say, ‘Don't worry, baby, it's what I do.’ Fuck him. Cops and firefighters ignite! Er, I mean ‘unite!’…”

I’ll try to twist his ankle out of its socket.

“…Hey, you know why I say, specifically, ‘Fuck him?’ Because I played backyard football with that cock, I mean, ‘cop,’ and his other two brothers one Christmas morning, and they gave me a concussion. The ground was frozen, and we were stuck running around between about five brick buildings. It was like playing football on roller skates in a drained pool but, you know, dangerous. I thought my brain was going to squirt out my ears before the end of the first quarter. I was ready to drill a hole over my eye to let the pressure out. I’m completely serious. Maybe if I had both hands, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but who knows how much brain damage that football game caused me. I don’t think I can even do multiplication tables anymore. Forgot most of my piano lessons. Can't finish my...”

I’ll get a knee then a foot on his ear and pin him down long enough to yank the chain off his throat.

“Let me explain something. My daddy was cooking something to keep our family afloat. That smoke was supposed to be there. You were nothing but a fucking distraction that day. Nobody called you.”

Then I’ll roll him down his driveway and stand up behind his car to shake the gravel out of my elbows, pausing to rip his license plate off, convinced it reads “Transylvania” instead of “Pennsylvania.”

I’ll hesitate, then go back for those wire cutters one last time.

And as I run back to my car to hang his dog tags on my rear view mirror with the rest of them, I’ll see that he finally notices my bad hand, red as the blood behind my eyes. Maybe this one remembers being in the truck that blocked us in the driveway that day to wait for the cops. Maybe this one remembers me holding the door shut when the ax came down, trying to warn my daddy through his gas mask while his tattooed arms kept working those bottles and burners like a mad scientist’s drunk uncle. Maybe this one finally understands the need to cull the herd and why creatures like him have no business pretending to save lives.

BIO: I am in the MFA program at the University of Pittsburgh and a full-time
closed-captioner. I am also a contributor to The College Rag and a
reader for Hot Metal Bridge.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent story! You found a great balance of humor and darkness. And I'm glad it ends on a dark note rather than with a punchline.

    Well-done. Hope I can read more of yours sometime.