The Errand

January 15, 2012

Originally published in Out of the Gutter

Spring 2007

Honey, Sugar Pie, Deadbeat:

If you can manage to wake up before the crack of noon today, I have a few errands for you to run.

1) Take out the trash. (It’s in the bin underneath the sink, in case you forgot.)

2) Take the cat to the vet.

3) Stop at the store and pick up some butter and some margarine.

4) Kill Gran.

5) Pick up the dry cleaning.

Love,
Maureen

p.s. Don’t stop at Tony’s on the way home, you goddamn boozer.

This is the note that I find on the refrigerator when I stumble downstairs for my first cup of coffee.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: That’s a pretty strange errand to ask someone to run on a Thursday afternoon. And you’re right. To tell you the truth, I don’t know about it. I just don’t know. It’s an enigma, that’s what it is, a goddamn mystery for the ages.

Butter and margarine taste exactly the same to me, too, but somehow Maureen swears there’s a difference between the two and she won’t listen to reason. You can even test her on it if you want. Go ahead. Try. I’ve done it about a thousand times. I’ve slathered her bread with margarine on many occasions just to prove to her that she can’t tell the difference, but she gets me every time. It’s uncanny. You’d have to see it to believe it. She likes butter on her bread but she insists on cooking with margarine. Go figure. Must be a woman thing.

She’s a sweet kid, that Maureen. She really is. I know that she sounds like a bitch and all – and I guess she’s that too – but she’s a honey of a girl once you get to know her. She’s a certified genius. Most people don’t know that about her because she works down at the Gas N Sip and, frankly, she looks kinda like a retarded Carol Burnett, but it’s true. They tested her in high school and her IQ topped out at 143. Goddamn genius. Just don’t cross her. If I had one piece of advice to give you, that would be it. Don’t set up camp opposite that woman or you’re liable to find that your ass has swapped zip codes with your face.

One time, she told me to do the goddamn dishes because they were filling up the goddamn sink and I forgot because I was watching my goddamn Soaps. Oh, Jesus please-us, did I catch hell! Yowzah! She beat me six ways to Sunday. But I’ll tell you what; I never forgot to do the goddamn dishes again after that.

Inside the refrigerator, there is an egg salad sandwich with a note on top that says, Not that you deserve it, but here’s your fucking lunch. What did I tell you? Isn’t she great? A queen, an absolute queen.

I wolf down the sandwich on the way to the car, happy as a clam to be helping out around the house for a change. It’s nice to feel needed. I’m not really a deadbeat, you know; I’m an artist, a distinction that Maureen can’t seem to make. “When you get paid for something, then you’ll be an artist,” she says. “Until then, you’re a goddamn weight around my neck.” Hard to argue with that kind of logic.

When I crawl into the driver’s side, there’s another note on the steering wheel. Hey, Fuckface, it says. You forgot to take out the trash. And how the hell do you expect to take the cat to the vet if you don’t put him in the car? You really are hopeless.

Well, she’s right. I mean, I’d like to debate the issue, but that’s pretty tough to do, all things considered. She knows me too damn well. I run back into the house, grab the trash, and haul it out front just in time to catch the garbage truck. Nice guys on those garbage trucks. Real down to earth, if you know what I mean, but I guess they have to be.

Of course, when I go back in the house, I can’t locate Jesus anywhere. I look in his bed and under the stairs where he likes to hide out, but he’s nowhere to be found.

“Here Jesus,” I call. “Here kitty-kitty-kitty. Tsss-tsss-tsss. Come here you hairy little bag of shit.” Nothing. That cat hates me as sure as the moon is round. He hates everyone – except Maureen, of course. Those two are kindred spirits. They’re connected on what you might call a psychic level. I know how that sounds, but you tell me what it means when a cat craps in your shoes whenever you have sex with another woman. I swear to God. It’s like clockwork. If I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’.

Finally, I track the little bastard upstairs, where he’s holed up under Gran’s bed. He knows how I hate sick people, so he hides out in Gran’s room all afternoon until Maureen comes home. That suits me fine most days because I don’t want any more to do with him than he does with me. But today isn’t most days.

I put on some oven mitts to keep from being scratched all to hell and then I dig Jesus out from under the bed. “C’mere you old fur ball. Take it like a man, for christsake.” He yowls something awful when I get a hold of him. You’d think I was skinning him alive instead of taking him to the vet for his yearly tune up. Gran’s practically a vegetable, so she doesn’t mind any of it. She just lays there in her bed like a boiled potato, about a zillion plastic tubes sticking out of her nose to make sure she doesn’t kick off without proper notice. The nurse that comes around to check up on her once in a blue moon keeps yapping about how we need to get a backup generator in the house, so that if there’s some kind of power failure all of Gran’s gadgets and do-hickies won’t shut down at once. “Gross negligence” is what she calls it. Maureen says that’s a load of horse hockey. And besides, we don’t exactly have extra money to spend on things like backup generators.

Maureen’s a good woman but she’s starting to get a bit impatient with Gran, and I don’t blame her. She’s sleeping at the moment so there are no theatrics, but you should hear the old bat when she’s awake. She’s a screamer, Gran. Day and night, night and day, she yells two words over and over again. “Do it! Do it!” Sometimes she’ll mix it up with a swear in there, but that’s about it. “Do it, Asshole!” or “Do it, Shit for Brains!” That’s about as much variety as we get around here. No one knows what the hell she’s talking about. She’s eighty-fucking-five years old, for the love of beans. She’s probably answering a question someone asked her fifteen years ago.

After I get Jesus in his carrying case, it’s straight downtown for us. Jesus’ vet is a fat man, but not one of the mean ones. In my experience, fat people can be either mean or jolly, and Doc Hester is on the jolly list.

“How’s the old lady?” he asks when we get to his office. “Beautiful woman, your wife. Very persuasive.”

I have no idea what this crackpot is talking about half the goddamn time. “Yeah, she’s a regular Miss America,” I say. “Va-va-voom.”

“What about you? How long has it been since you va-va-voomed?”

“What’s that?”

“You know what I mean. You need a refill?”

I shake my head. “Nah, it’s just the cat today.”

Hester laughs, an act that requires the cooperation of his entire body. It’s kind of gross, to be honest with you. That jolly-fat-guy thing is nice in theory, but it looks pretty perverse up close. “Sure,” he says. “The cat. You’re wife said you needed to pick up his medication.” He winks and elbows me in the gut, as though the word “medication” is some inside joke between us. “We’ll get to that in a minute. You look a little stressed out. Working too hard I’ll bet. You artist types are all the same. You need a little pick me up to get the creative juices flowing. Am I right? I’ve got almost two hours before my next appointment. What’ll it be? I’ve got some Goose Steppers in the back and some Green Goblins. I got Vicodin, Lortab, Percocet, Ritalin, Methadone. I just got in a batch of those little yellow ones you like, too. What do you say?”

I can’t watch Hester when he gets excited. He’s like a sweaty Mr. Potato Head with curly hairs growing out of his flabby puss. Instead, I stare at a poster on the wall of a beagle that has been severed in half, displaying all of his shiny innards.

“Seriously, Hester,” I say. “It’s just the cat this time. Honest.”

“Sure. The cat. He looks good. Fine cat. What else?”

Finally, I agree to drop a couple of OxyContin with him just to get the guy off my case. Doctors have the best stuff, man. I’m telling you. Actually, just make friends with anyone in the medical industry and you’re golden. They’re all users and they hate to abuse the system alone. Hippocratic oath and all that, you know. Vets are pretty bad, but dentists are the worst. They have a Daddy-Didn’t-Love-Me complex or something, so they’re pretty much bombed out of their heads 24/7. Show me a square dentist and I’ll eat my hat. Right down to the brim.

I’m supposed to stay off the drugs and booze. It was one of the conditions on the contract that our relationship counselor made me sign before Maureen let me back in the house. Other conditions included getting a real job and a haircut. She didn’t specify a time frame on those last two however.

“I like animals,” Hester tells me after the pills kick in. “You know why I like animals?”

“No,” I say. And that’s the God’s honest truth, because I really don’t. I hate animals. They make me feel superior––but not in a good way.

“I like animals because they’re soft,” he says. “Have you ever dropped E and then spent some time with a rabbit. Oh, Jesus. You’re missing out. You really are. It’s like sex but without the sex…if you know what I mean.”

Of course, I know what he means. Does he think I’m an idiot or something?

“What about the lizards?” I say just for fun. I am really starting to feel it now, and when I really start to feel it I like to give people hell. Who knows why.

“What’s that?”

“The lizards. Jesus. Listen up, man. Lizards aren’t soft. They’re scaly and dry and…and they’re like tiny fucking dinosaurs, man. Is that how you want to spend the rest of your life? Surrounded by microscopic dinosaurs that can get inside your bloodstream and hunt down your white blood cells? Jesus. That’s no way to live. Little raptors snaking through your veins all day long. Did you even see Jurassic Park? That shit scared the shit out of me. Fucking Steven Spielberg and his goddamn Jewish head games. I’m just saying that I couldn’t live like that, man. That’s all I’m saying. Jesus.”

When I started out, I was just kind of fucking with good ole Hester, you know, but as is always the case in this type of situation, I end up fucking with myself. Now, I’m thinking about the lizards and the dinosaurs and I’m feeling a bit creepy. Itchy, too, goddamnit.

“Well, I never thought of that,” Hester says.

“Well…well…well,” I mimic him while I scratch my arm. “Of course, you never thought of it, you burn out. No one’s ever thought of it. That’s the problem with everyone these days. No one thinks outside the fucking box anymore, man. It’s a problem. It’s society and it’s
a problem. Trust me. Let me have one of those blue ones.”

Hester pops the bottle and shakes out a couple of pills into my palm that look like Skittles.

“You’re a good man, Doc. Even if you got lizards in your piss, I won’t tell a soul. You can trust me.”

“Why would they be in my piss?”

“Will you try to keep up?” I cuff him on the back of his jiggly head. Not too hard, you know, just enough to get his attention. “If they’re in your blood, they’re going to find a way into your piss eventually, aren’t they? You ever get blood in your urine? How does that get in there? Nobody knows, right? It just does. You’re a doctor, for the love of pete. Did you flunk biology or something?”

He shakes his head. “You’re right. You’re right. What do you think I should do?”

I pocket the rest of the pills while Hester unzips his pants and looks down at his pecker to see if he can spot the lizards in there. The problem is that he can’t see his pecker because he’s too fat. I try not to watch while he attempts to push his hairy, distended belly to one side so he can snatch a peek at the shrunken little snail between his legs. God, this is horrible.

“What do you do?” I finally respond. “You do nothing. That’s the God’s honest truth. Just drink plenty of water and see if you can’t piss those suckers right out. That’s the only way. And maybe go on a diet, too, because you’re pretty goddamn fat. Anyhow, I have to go. Good luck with…you know…that lizard thing. Where’s my cat, man?”

After a brief search, I locate Jesus sitting in the corner, still in his carrying case, and start for the door.

“Don’t forget your medication,” Hester screams.

“What?”

“For the cat.” Hester hiccups and then giggles hysterically for no apparent reason.

“Now, don’t you go taking any of these pills on your own.”

“Why the hell would I take cat medication?” I say.

“You wouldn’t. No one would. That’s…like…insane.” He pauses to scratch his bulbous ass. “But if you did it could be fatal––especially if you were over 85 years old and had a heart condition. Capice?”

“Huh? Sure, man. No cat medication when I get old. I understand. Jesus. Can I go now?”

I feel better when I get outside, but I’m still itchy as hell. Damn that Hester and his free pills. When I climb in the front seat of the car, there’s a note on the dashboard. I swear to God that it wasn’t there before. It says, You forgot the dry cleaning, you fool. Go get it. And don’t forget to crack the window so the cat can breathe, for the love of Christ. I roll down the window a smidgen, hop out of the car, and run across the street to grab the dry cleaning. The lady behind the counter speaks horrible English and keeps trying to give me Doc Hester’s clothes instead of my own, and I keep trying to tell her that it should be obvious that I’m no veterinarian. I hate animals. And I don’t weigh four hundred goddamn pounds either. Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick, do I look like I have a size seventy-two waist?

After a few minutes, I calm down and realize that for some reason I’ve been giving her Hester’s name this whole time instead of my own. I try to explain it all to her in an ironic way, but her English is pretty shitty, so she doesn’t get the joke. Either that or the Chinese just don’t have a sense of humor at all, which I’ve always suspected.

The blue pills kick in right about the time I leave the dry cleaners and I am in no shape to drive home. I slip the plastic-covered suits and dresses into the trunk and look around for a place to hang out while I come down. I’m in a pretty shitty part of town. Just strip malls and beauty salons with pseudo-clever names hand-painted on their windows, such as Shear Ecstasy and Hair’s Looking At You. The only bar within walking distance is Tony’s, so I head off in that
direction.

I sit at the bar and chew the fat with good ole Tony while the drugs take their toll. Something is nagging at me though, and I can’t really enjoy myself. I’m forgetting something very important that I was supposed to do today. Damn. What is it? There will be hell to pay if I come home without finishing my errands.

“What was I supposed to do today?” I ask Tony.

He shrugs. “What do I look like? The psychic hotline? Knowing your wife, you were probably supposed to drop your balls off at the grocery store.”

I smack myself in the forehead. “That’s it. That’s exactly it. Tony, you’re a goddamn genius. Don’t let me go home without picking up some butter, okay?”

Tony shrugs. “Sure. Whatever.”

I go back to my drink, but the nagging feeling hasn’t gone away. I’m supposed to pick up some butter and some margarine and… Something else. There was something else I was supposed to do. Hells bells. Oh, well, it’ll come to me. Just about the time the pills ware off is when the four JDs on the rocks kick in, and now I’ve got a whole new problem. I order up another drink and try to figure out how I’m going to solve this one. It’s not going to be easy. I’m in a bar and I can’t really think in a bar unless I have a drink. However, the problem here is that I am drunk and I need to find a way to sober up so I can drive home. In order to solve that problem, I need to think about it, and I can’t really think in a bar unless I have a drink. It’s like that Buddhist thing where the snake eats its own
tail. One of those Catch 22s. It’s deep like that.

“You okay?” Tony asks after I’ve been thinking for a while. “You don’t look so swell.”

“Damnit, Tony. I almost had it. I was this close to figuring it all out and then you had to open your yap and break my concentration.”

Tony gives me that hurt, puppy dog look. Jeez, for a bartender he sure does have thin skin. The man can dish it out but he can’t take it.

“Sorry,” he says, emotion welling up in his big brown peepers.

“Ah, cut that out,” I say, feeling bad now. “It’s no big deal. Just pour me another one, will ya? I need to think this through.”

Finally, I just give up and drive home drunk. I mean, who am I kidding? I’m no Sherlock Holmes. By the time I make it back to the house, it’s dark of course and the windows are all blackened out. Gran’s screaming like a banshee upstairs and there’s no sign of Maureen anywhere. I set the dry cleaning on the kitchen table and let Jesus out of his carrying case. He bolts upstairs straight away like a fur ball shot out of a cannon, and I go to the refrigerator to see if Maureen saved me anything for supper.

Guess what’s on the refrigerator. You got it. Another note. This one says:

Hey, Genius:

Did you forget to do something today? Yes? No? Don’t knock yourself out. Just sit down for a minute and see if you can figure it out. Take your time. But let me warn you: Don’t you dare come to bed before you’ve finished all your errands. You got that? If you do, so help me God, I’ll brain you in your sleep. You know I’ll do it.

Love,
Maureen

Oh, she’d do it, too. That’s how Maureen is. She wouldn’t care about prison or the death penalty or nothing. She’d figure all that stuff out later. In the mean time, it would be all worth it to see my head busted open like an Easter egg.

I pull out one of the chairs at the kitchen table and sit down to have myself a think. I hate it when Maureen does this. It would be a lot easier if she just came out and told me what it was that I forgot, but she doesn’t want it to be easy. Nope. She wants me to learn a lesson. “I’m not your goddamn mother,” she always says. “You’re a grown man. I shouldn’t have to remind you to wipe your ass when you get off the toilet.” I suppose she has a point. I try to go back in my mind and picture the list of errands that Maureen put on the refrigerator this morning. What was it that she wanted me to do? Let’s see, I took out the trash, I drove the cat to the vet, I picked up the dry cleaning…

“Do it, Pea Brain! Do it! Do it, you Cock Sucker!”

“Shut up, Gran!” I yell. “I’m trying to think!”

Jesus, that hag can really get on your nerves. Eighty-five is pretty damn old, if you ask me. I never want to live that long. The body shuts down, they hook you up to a bunch of ugly machines, you have to wear diapers for Christ’s sweet sake. God, that’s terrible. There’s something poking me in my pocket, so I reach down there and fish out the medication that Doc Hester gave me. Jesus, I forgot to give it to Jesus.

“Do it, Moron! Do it!”

“Will you shut up, Old Woman! I’m trying to think down here! It’s important!”

“Do it, Jack-Off! Piss-Ant! Pecker Wood! Dickweed! Do it!”

“If you don’t shut up, I’m going to come up there and…”

Aha! That’s it! That’s what I forgot to do. Jesus, it was right there under my nose this entire time. No wonder Maureen is always calling me an idiot. It’s because I’m a damn idiot. Jesus. Well, she’s going to be so proud of me tomorrow when she discovers that I’ve finished all my errands. I’ll tell you that much. She’ll have to eat her words for once in her goddamn life. That’ll be worth it, by God. It sure will.

I stand up, feeling pretty good about myself, and I prepare to head out to the store to pick up a pack of butter and a pack of margarine. Oh, I can’t wait to see the look on Maureen’s face tomorrow when she wakes up and finds out that I finished everything on her stupid little list. It’s going to be priceless.

But first I should go upstairs and kill Gran

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