by Mitchell Grabois

1. As a teenager, he built model airplanes in his bedroom retreat, got lightheaded on the glue, listened to Odetta while he built, listened to Ledbelly, Muddy Waters.

His schizophrenic sister skulked in the hall. Her complexion was pitted and she wore thick glasses, but I found her attractive, an older woman with secret knowledge I would never have. I wanted to be misled. I wanted to be detoured by someone whose life was a detour. I wanted to get high on airplane glue without ever building an airplane.

2. My own illness is an excess of Words. They are sandwiched in the layers of dermis, interlarded through my deposits of fat, crosshatched on the surfaces of my organs like lichen on a limestone boulder in a Southern forest. I expel as many of those words as I can into my laptop. It’s a relief as they flow through my fingers into this machine, a medical miracle like the Iron Lung or the MRI, that takes you in like a bundle of dirty laundry.

But catastrophe—I was hacked. When I turned on my laptop, the tides had been reversed. All the words I’d deposited came flowing up my arms, before I could even think to snatch them away. I was refilled with all those cursed words. I staggered away from the machine, dropped to the floor, crawled under my library table and yanked the plug from the wall. I lay panting like a woman in labor, working hard to deliver, never expecting that the baby could jump back in, requiring her to endure the birth process all over again.

3. The third illness belongs to the Marlboro Man. He may be ill but he’s is no pussy, no metrosexual who lubes himself up with mousse and psychotherapy, who obsesses about what his mother did to him and what his father didn’t. The Marlboro Man might feel like shit all the time but that’s the booze and the women, the ex’s and nex’s, the bad news coming down the pike. A cactus doesn’t feel great either, standing in the middle of the desert, his shoulders frozen in a shrug, arms outstretched in a way that means: Look, I did the best I can. I can’t do no better.

The Marlboro Man doesn’t even smoke anymore. He quit after one of his lungs shriveled up and fell out on the road, looking like a charred marshmallow. His cow dog stopped to sniff it, then moved on, gave it less attention than a dried turd. The Marlboro Man hates being called The Marlboro Man. That’s bullshit he says. He rides down into the wash looking for a lost calf or a good place to kill himself.


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