OUT OF ORDER
The first time I smoked speed, I felt my lungs expand so wide that they took in an entire tropical sea filled with miniature sea creatures that swam up and down my chest and tickled deep into my balls. I blew out a pure white smoke, then I gasped and spluttered for ten minutes like a drowning kid. My wife was outside in the bar, I was in a shitter with a biker who had put his hand on my shoulder when I was rinsing my hands. We looked at each other thoughtfully in the mirror for too long before he spoke. I thought he was about to demand a blowjob, but instead he said, Helluva fight you’re having with that girl of yours.
It was the truest story I had. When I’d come in, I couldn’t piss or anything, I just rinsed and rinsed my hands and gaped at my reflection in the mirror. She had been a kind woman all of her life and that was her crime tonight. She wouldn’t tell me to come home. She wouldn’t tell me to pay a bill. She wouldn’t scold me for not getting the raise we needed. She would just quietly get pregnant, like a kind of reprimand she couldn’t voice. I was so angry, I could have bled.
The biker had a wiry beard but he was young, his belly trim. His jacket had some indecipherable motif stitched on the back, a nationalist image for no country in particular. His lips leaked a kind of clear puss, what should have been a foreboding sign. I did not read it as a sign. The only sign I read again and again as the tropical sea ebbed and flowed out of my lungs and all the way to my tingling fingertips was the OUT OF ORDER fallen from the second stall’s door, now nearly torn into two uneven pieces. The biker and I had nudged our way into the first stall; he was perched on the back of the toilet with his boots up on the seat. I was crammed against the door, careful not to brush his knees when I nearly collapsed. The biker was sympathetic. He didn’t speak. He kept reloading the pipe and he propped me up with one of his boots whenever I started to buckle.
The sea creatures nibbled at my earlobes; my eyes turned salty, my mouth moved.
Outside, the bar swelled and then shrunk to the size of a pea, lodged firmly in the gut of a woman I wanted urgently to love.
LEAH BAILLY’s fiction appears in PANK, Prism, Hobart, Joyland, The Collagist, Diagram and elsewhere, and has won awards from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. She is currently working on a PhD at the University of Southern California.