Black Petals Issue #104, Summer 2023

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Editor's Page
BP Artists and Illustrators
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
A Question of Money: Fiction by Eric Burbridge
Behold, a White Horse; Fiction by Spencer Jepma
Crawling Flesh: Fiction by Michael Stoll
Elm Weaver: N. G. Leonetti
Hunger: Fiction by Mark Jabaut
Mr. Fuzzypants: Fiction by Paul Radcliffe
Stop the World: Fiction by Roy Dorman
The Road Less Taken: Fiction by Albert N. Katz
The Washer Woman: Fiction by Sophia Wiseman-Rose
Underneath the Sheet: Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Shining Up Grandma: Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
The Children of 666 Middle School: Flash Fiction by M. L. Fortier
Bleed: Flash Fiction by Liam Spinage
Good Times: Flash Fiction by Ronin Fox
Time Lost: Flash Fiction by Bruce Costello
Unhappy Shadow: Flash Fiction by Paul Radcliffe
Cemetery Road: Poem by Joseph V. Danoski
Chasing Desolation: Poem by Joseph V. Danoski
Detroit Jurassic: Poem by Joseph V. Donaski
Colonia Somnia: Poem by Bianca Alu-Marr
The Precipice: Poem by Bianca Alu-Marr
Dread: Poem by LindaAnn LoSchiavo
Home Movies: Poem by Christopher Hivner
Peppermint Twist: Poem by Christopher Hivner
There's Always Tomorrow Night: Poem by Christopher Hivner
Joke: Poem by DJ Tyrer
Ceramic Duck: Poem by Pete Mladinic
Choice: Poem by Pete Mladinic
To Stop the Killing: Poem by Pete Mladinic
Reaper: Poem by David Barber

Mark Jabaut: Hunger

104_bp_hunger_hstanton.jpg
Art by Henry Stanton 2023

Hunger


By Mark Jabaut

 

          This morning feels like something coughed up by a cat.  The sky is gray and knotted with clouds, and the air outside my building has a damp, palpable weight.  Like gravity has decided that it’s sick and tired of all this upward movement, all this building and flying and whatnot, and has chosen this morning to begin exerting more pressure.  Like the universe has suddenly gone all pissy. 

          Or maybe it has something to do with the incredible hangover I’m hosting this morning.  They’re always worse when there’s nothing to eat.

          I shrug myself deeper into my thick coat and start walking.  I’m hoping the motion will make me feel better – either that, or it will make me vomit the bile sloshing around in my empty stomach, which will have the same effect.  Better health through exercise.

          There’re a couple of scrawny crack addicts still asleep in the trash between my building and the shit bar next door.  Plastic grocery bags tumbleweed around and over them on the breeze.  Lucky bastards, I think.   Wish I was still sleeping.  I hold my breath as I lurch past. 

          The sidewalk here is cracked but level, yet still I feel like I’m walking uphill. I notice little stars blinking in the pavement, and I hope they’re really there and not a result of this tilt-a-whirl dizziness. I light a protein cig and take a big drag.  It tastes like crap but provides some needed nourishment, and it reminds my lungs that I won’t be taking any shit from them today – they need to suck it up and help me get through my rounds.

          My stomach is a hollow, raw knot. 

          Two more blocks and I’m at my destination:  Raul’s tattoo joint.  It doesn’t even have a name, as far as I know – just says “Tattoo” in big letters on the barred front window.  Like naming a restaurant “Food.”  Some imagination Raul’s got. 

          Like it was too much effort to come up with a name for the place.

          It doesn’t matter; I’m not there for a tattoo.  I rap on the door hard and notice my reflection wavering in the glass – a mop of uncombed hair and two dark-circled eyes sunken into an oversized down coat.  Not the kind of sight you’d normally want to open the door for.  But Raul knows me; he’s expecting me.

          “C’mon in, Mano,” he says as he pulls the door open and shrinks from the morning air.  “Hurry up, man, it’s cold out there.”  In just jeans and a tee-shirt, Raul looks skeletal.  Like we all look when the weather is warmer.  No one’s got any meat on their bones, anymore.

          I step into his shop – one room, one tattoo chair, and coloring equipment and ink lying all over the place.  Walls looking like they’ve never been cleaned or painted.  Ceiling tiles yellowed from cigarette smoke.  A puddle of some sort of goop pooled in a corner.

          “You should clean up once in a while,” I say.

          “Fuck you.”

          “Just a suggestion.  You know, from a business standpoint.”  I know he doesn’t give one shit about my ideas for improving his business, and truthfully, I don’t know why I said it.  I’m thinking it must have been a curveball tossed out by my hung-over brain.  I better rein that fucker in if I don’t want to spend all day here, I think.

          Raul silently leads me through a door at the back of the shop and into what must be his apartment, and that aforementioned vomit almost makes an appearance.  The place isn’t any bigger than his shop, and it smells like old laundry and farts.  Dirty clothes seem to cover every horizontal surface except a path across the floor to a beat-up-looking blue sofa.  Empty protein tablet packs and fruit chits lay everywhere. 

          “Jesus, man, let’s go back out to the shop,” I say.  “It fucking stinks in here.”

          “Can’t do business out there,” he says, apparently not insulted by my reaction.  “Front window’s too big.”  He sits at one end of the sofa and nearly sinks from view; then leans over the scratched coffee table and begins filling a bong.  He raises his eyebrows at me.

          “God, yes,” I say, and I swear, I can feel my brain releasing endorphins at the thought of the incoming THC.  They jet through little pathways in my cortex like fucking subway cars.  I pick my way through the room and join Raul on the sofa.  A pair of bong hits later and we get down to business.

           “How much can you get for me?” he asks.

          “How much you want?” I ask in return.  He looks toward the ceiling and through his eyes I can see his fucked-up addict brain running calculations.  Doing the old Junior High word problems, as if he ever got past grade school. Sine and fucking cosine.

          “Four cans,” he says finally, “if the price is still the same.”

          “Still the same,” I echo, and unzip my coat.  I reach into one of the deep interior pockets and pull out four small tins, stacking them on the coffee table.  “One hundred bucks.”

          Raul looks at them and I can feel his mouth begin to water.   But a worried frown crosses his forehead.

          “That ain’t tuna,” he says, half question and half accusation.

          “It’s got tuna in it,” I say.  “It’s nearly the same thing.  Anyway, I can’t get pure tuna anymore.  But if you don’t want it . . .”  I leave the sentence hanging as I reach for the cans.

          “No!” Raul says, defeat and craving in his eyes.  “I’ll take it.”  He pulls some cash out of his greasy jeans and sets it next to the cans.  I pick it up, count it, and stuff it into a coat pocket.  I stand up and as I’m zipping the coat back up, he clears his throat.  I look at him patiently.

          “I was just wondering,” he says tentatively, “why are there little cats on the label?  It doesn’t have cat meat in it, does it?”     

          I stare at him for a minute, trying to decide if all this conversation is worth my time in the future.

          “Would it make a difference?” I ask.

          Raul shrugs.  “I guess not,” he says.  “Food is food.”

          “That’s right,” I say as I walk back into the tattoo parlor toward the door.  “Food is fucking food.”

# # #

Mark Jabaut was a playwright and author who lived in Webster NY with his wife Nancy. Mark’s play IN THE TERRITORIES, originally developed via Geva Theatre’s Regional Writers Workshop and Festival of New Theatre, premiered in May 2014 at The Sea Change Theatre in Beverly, MA. His 2015 Rochester Key Bank Fringe Festival entry, THE BRIDGE CLUB OF DEATH, went on to be featured at an End of Life Symposium at SUNY Broome County and is listed with the National Issues Forum for those who wish to host similar events.

 Mark also had entries in the 2016, 2017 and 2019 Fringe Festivals, THE HATCHET MAN, DAMAGED BEASTS and COLMA!. Mark authored several short plays performed by The Geriactors, a local troupe of older performers. Mark’s fiction has been published in a local Rochester magazine, POST, as well as The Ozone Park Journal, SmokeLong Quarterly, Spank the Carp and Defenestration. 

Mark Jabaut passed away on November 3, 2021.

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