Hedgehogs in the Fog, Part I.

This story was published as a part of the Only fools die of heartbreak collection by Equus Press.

A sloppy golden mutt lays next to the chair, a yellow paw on my bare foot. It is his foot now and he is not letting it go anywhere. He is my pal and his name is Balto. He is one of the real ball dogs, he would make some kind of shortstop. Nothing gets by him, unless he is licking his own balls or sniffing around some other dog’s ass, at which time nothing else seems to matter. Balls and ass, balls and ass – bless him, he is not ashamed. Territorial about the balls, any old balls, but willing to share on the ass, just let him grab a good sniff. Listen up, there’s a lesson here.

Drank most of August, mainly at home alone after work. I had to, was parched something awful. Just coming out of some harrowing months of fighting and nonsense with Dee. If you are married, you will fight, you will say the stupidest things. Marriage – two people united in separate self-interests. Maybe you want the best for the children, that’s all. (Likely, though, you each want slightly different things for the kids.) Shit, marriage – whether you admit it or not, everybody’s buying and selling something – a deal is done. You signed up for the ride, you did what they told you – the illusion and expectation, drilled in since childhood, was too powerful. The calculation is performed. The bet is on the table.

And then, I don’t know – it’s the nature of the disease, there’s a good chance it gets out of hand. People think they want more than they have. New demands are implied, but not declared – the price rises, but there is no announcement. The bars on the cage thicken, the chain jerks you back, breathing space is constricted. Whatever „nice thing“ it had been before is certainly over now. There is a loss of nerve, confusion, a slow panic. People can’t restrain themselves, they get confused. They get cruel and abusive, and it almost always seems to wind up in a bad place, even if you stay together.

I had nightmares, visions during the spree. Numerous times I found myself waking in a sweat, quite frightened. Once I dreamed there was a dead baby hidden in the bushes next to the tree outside the window. Eventually, I raised the courage and went out for a look – nothing, just trash and papers. Cigarette butts and a smell of dried urine.

In the middle of the month, I went out to Dee’s village to throw rocks and swim with the boys. Dee had gone off somewhere, to the mountains with her girlfriends, she said, to take hikes and speak to clairvoyants who live on the mountaintops.

About 7 p.m., the boys and I were heading back to her mother’s, going up the hill. A black cat jumped into the middle of the road, crouching in front of us.

Go back, you fuck, I thought. Go back where you came from, you dirty fuck – get the hell out of here!
The bastard stared at us, unmoving.

Off to the side, one of the brown-gray tiger cats appeared, meowing.

The black bastard tensed, lowering himself, his head an inch or two from the ground. Glaring at the tiger bastard.

No doubt, they were going get to get it on – very serious cat-action. To fight or to fuck, it wasn’t clear. They began hissing and crying at each other, one on each side of the road. The black bastard hadn’t crossed us yet – at least, not technically. Whatever you do, don’t cross the road, I said to him.

He did. Scampered right across to chase the other cat. Hell, nothing could be done. The little bitches disappeared behind some trash cans.

When we got in, Dee’s mother asked me to go out to this guy’s field to pick up a gigantic metal sieve – this type of deal through which you pour dirt to separate the rocks from the soil. The dirt goes through, see, but rocks and wood chips bigger than about the size of a dime will stay on top. Mother had several small hills of dirt she wanted to de-rock for her garden.

Klaus and I drove over in her car. It was a gorgeous warm evening in the countryside, sun smears of orange and pink, a soft breeze delivering whiffs of tree blossom and wood smoke. My fleeting thought was of an ocean of sweet Czech beer, burnt pork and topless teen girls on their knees, making mud cocktails beside the river. Bohemia at its finest.

We found the field and got out. Me and the guy lifted the massive sieve to the roof of the car, then used bungees to strap it to the racks. However, the guy, who was about 55 years old, did not securely hook his bungee end. I yanked my end and his end came flying across the car roof like a cannon shot.

I saw explosions, staggered a step, went dizzy.

I quickly understood that the bungee end had hit me in the eye. I couldn’t see anything from this eye, the right one.
Klaus screamed, ran up and grabbed my arm. I felt blood rolling off my nose. I remember the blood being warm, powerfully warm. I looked down with the left eye and saw blood drops on my shirt.

Open the eye! I told myself. If you can open the eye, it’s all O.K. If you can’t, it’s bad.

The eye was stinging terribly, that whole side of my face was pounding. The eyelid didn’t want to budge, but eventually I forced it. It popped open and tears poured out, tears pouring down and mixing with the blood.

I figured out later that the rubber cord part of the bungee, not the metal hook, had hit the eye. Probably my reflexes had even brought the eyelid down before impact. The gushing blood was from where the metal hook had hit the top of my forehead, gouging out probably a half-inch long groove. Not so much flesh up there, mainly just skin against bone. Still, the blood poured.

The old guy had some oily rags nearby and gave me one to hold on my head. And yeah, we got back to work strapping the sieve down, latching my bungee end first this time. The guy seemed greatly concerned about the incident and drove us back. Dee’s mother-in-law, who works in a hospital, cleaned and bandaged me and diagnosed that stitches would probably not be necessary – but if I wanted, she would drive us to the emergency. I waved her off. It was nothing, nothing.

She got down the bottle and poured us cognacs and we had them sitting at the kitchen table. I was still a bit groggy, but feeling rather warm now. The body kicking in with adrenalin and feel-good chemicals. She poured me another.

Well shit, I thought. You nearly lost an eye. It was that close. Now you are sitting having cognac. I felt full of life and love, and also empty.

I took deep breaths, suddenly feeling just a bit ashamed about the petty shit I have sometimes been found indulging in. By the time she poured the third cognac, I was of a mind to laugh off every mistake or failure that could ever be attached to my name – everything was a hoot, after all, just good fun. Glory burst out from inside of me with nowhere to go. Who was letting me live?

Well, it’s tough, it’s hard. No one gets a break. Sometimes you can’t adjust. Forget beating them. The best bet is to surrender early, admit defeat often – then you might have a chance. Admit that you aren’t good enough to triumph in their games – that you’re not worthy enough to even be on their playground. Do what you must, but don’t let them trap you in their endless agonies. Let them have it if they want it so bad. Let them slash at each other, and they will. You go ahead and carry on. Your time will come.

published: 31. 3. 2013