David Milner Is
David faced down the reflection of the stranger with yellow eyes. "My name is David Milner," he said, gripping the edges of the sink. "I love my wife and my children. I like my job. I am a good man."
That night he slithered out of the house and killed a prostitute working the corner of Olive Way and 135th East. The prostitute's marrow was savory with a lingering bite of wormwood. He danced in her skin under the streetlight hoping for a bit of attention, but no late night Casanovas pulled to the curb.
“You’re late,” Larry said. The first-shift supervisor was a big man with thick-fingered hands and arms knotted with years of blue-collar labor.
David zipped up his white coveralls and reached for a pair of insulated gloves. “Sorry about that. Traffic was hell.” The cold sucked the life out of the words, leaving wisps of white. He discreetly checked his reflection in the frosted chrome of the storage locker. His eyes were brown.
“That makes the third time this week, man. You gotta find another way in or get up early or something, or Lander's going to say something and make me write you up.” Larry slapped him on the shoulder. “Let’s get it on.”
Together they humped hard frozen sides of beef and boxes of offal from the cold truck to the freezer. Wide-bladed fans kept the freezer air circulating, air so cold it burned with every breath and left the taste of raw meat at the back of David's throat. He thrust his hands in the pockets of his coveralls after every deposit, afraid he might linger over the chill white of a rib or knuckle. There was nowhere cold enough to kill the boogey man just beneath his skin. It squirmed sluggishly under the tendons of his hands, making them ache. David clenched his fists in his pockets. "A good man."
Larry shouldered a box of kidneys to the top of a stack. "What?"
With the truck empty, David washed his rubber boots and headed to the boning tables. The packing room floor was slick with a butcher’s brew of water, blood, and fat that pooled in the holes of the rubber mats flanking long steel tables with hard plastic tops. Band saws were fed a steady supply of flesh and bone and screamed for more beneath pink-flecked reminders of SAFETY FIRST and WATCH YOUR HANDS.
Marty turned off his saw and waved to David with four-and-a-half fingers. "Wassup, Davey?" To his right a helper scraped cutting debris from a stack of meaty red arm steaks.
"How's the kid's derby car comin'?"
"Lyle's? Still up on the blocks," David said too late. The saw was hungry and roared back to life, demanding Marty's attention and the next frozen slab. David nodded in Marty's direction and continued on.
His station at the boning table was an orderly selection of blades and saws arranged in stainless steel anticipation. The luster of well kept steel and evenly spaced teeth never failed to lift his spirits. David took pride in providing a quality product, and he reminded himself of that fact until he could grip a boning knife without wondering why he thought his eyes would change color. They'd always been brown, a familiar, everyman brown, just like last night he was sure of it. Coffee brown. Nut brown. Larry and Marty's eyes never changed color. They were good men. David whistled while the silver tip neatly dissected prescapular lymph glands and cut away strips of heavy yellow elastin.
Lunch was the usual collection of leftovers with the added bonus of a Swiss roll snitched from the boys' treat cupboard, and then it was back to the boning table to remove ribs and feather bones from square-cut chucks. And to think about marrow.
The knife landed tip first in the mat beside his right foot. David grabbed it and hurried to the sterilizer. He fit the handle into the clip and then washed and sanitized his aching hands in the main sink.
Marrow tender and succulent. . .
David groaned and pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. "No, no." He was a good man; he wasn't going to think about such things. He would think about anything but warm marrow gelled and lingering in his mouth, bits of toothsome delight on the tip of his tongue. A. Good. Man. He washed his hands again, a third time, grabbed a clean knife and headed back to the table where bones and meat were neatly separated and waiting. David struggled to keep his eyes on his hands and his mind on his work until he leaned too far into a cut and the handsaw slipped. The grating whimper shivered over his sweating palms. "No." The interior of the rib was inviting and pink.
David separated the bone from the rest of the rack, scraping off as much as he could of the meat. He stuffed it up his right sleeve and headed for the freezer where he closed the door behind him and moved to the corner under the fan. David slid the rib out and brought it to his face, warming it with his white breath until the tiny ice crystals beaded and rolled slowly around his trembling fingers. He tried to wedge the tip of a finger into the cut, but the opening was too small and would not yield. Holding his breath, David braced the bone against his knee and pulled as hard as he could. The rib snapped like a thick branch, slick white splinters jutting at odd angles. David dug into the soft pink center with his little finger and licked off the glob that came away, scraping under his nail with his teeth. The marrow was neither savory nor reminiscent of wormwood. He scratched out another taste and began to cry.
David rolled onto his back, his frustration limp and sticky against the inside of his left thigh. "I'm sorry, Babe. I thought. . .I'm sorry."
Brenda came up on her elbow and kissed his shoulder. Her eyes were a murky blue in the dim light of the bedside lamp.
"Hey, it's all right. These things happen."
"That's what you said the first time."
"And your point?" She snuggled beside him. "We'll get through it."
"I know." David brought his arm around his wife's shoulders as he searched for answers in the dappled shadows of the ceiling. "It's frustrating is all." His gut rumbled and lurched.
Brenda giggled and rested a hand between his legs. "Well, if you're that hungry you could always eat me."
David swallowed something vile and rolled away from her. "Don't say that."
"Hey, I was only joking."
"Whatever." He swung his legs over the side of the bed and slipped on his pajama bottoms. He tightened the waist tie until it cut painfully into the skin above his navel. "I'm going to get a beer. You want something?"
Brenda lay back, putting her hands behind her head. "Whatever."
His footsteps and the hum of the refrigerator were lonely, accusing sounds as he wandered into the kitchen. David pulled two beers from the refrigerator and stepped onto the deck, closing the sliding glass door behind him. The night was cool and smelled of moldering leaves and the promise of rain sometime tomorrow. The backyard neighbor's house was dark save for the spastic flash of the motion sensitive light any time Ollie wandered to the end of his chain. More often than not the light of the Great Dane's wanderings kept David awake when he longed to sleep.
The first beer went down much too quickly, but the discomfort was enough to take his mind off his continuing failure as a husband. "I love my wife. I do." He opened the second beer and sipped slowly, thinking of Brenda and the boys, of how they deserved better and his hopes to make it big someday. He would pay off the mortgage, buy a boat, maybe sail around the world with his family. There would be time to teach Kenny to fish and help Lyle with his Scouting projects, maybe even volunteer to be an Assistant Scoutmaster. That's what he wanted most out of life, to be a good man, the kind of success others could look up to and wish for their own families. He knew he could do it; all it took was out stubborning the doubts and staying focused.
The Great Dane snuffled through the bushes, the deck light flashed. David squinted and looked away.
He made it back to bed after the fourth beer and a pit stop. Brenda lay on her side, curled around his pillow. David lay down behind her.
"You're a twit," she said softly, snuggling against him.
"Yeah, but I'm your twit."
They drowsed together in the shadows, and when Brenda brought his hand around to cup her breast David didn't discourage her. She sighed and relaxed against him, turning her head as an offering to his questing lips. "Where were we?" she said into his mouth.
Encouraged by the beers, David rolled her onto her back with his pillow supporting her tender tailbone. "Right about here."
He punctuated each word with a kiss down her belly to the soft triangle of hair between her thighs. Brenda hissed and stroked the top of his head, urging him on with those nasty words she saved for when the boys were fast asleep.
She was a piquant blend of sweat and musk with a hint of urine. David gave her his full attention, everything she wanted and deserved in a husband. He gripped her buttocks in his hands as she pushed against his face with greater insistence. He opened his mouth wide, licking hard and fast the way she liked, needing her to understand how much he wanted to please her. The sound of her voice drove him deeper into her body and his own excitement until he gagged, retched inside out, and thrust a tentacle into her vagina, pressing against her pubic bone appetizer. Brenda gripped the back of his head and keened high and wild as she spasmed around the fleshy intrusion.
David threw himself back from the bed, fighting the thing in his mouth for space to scream. It pulsed in his throat and pulled his head towards the bed. David crawled desperately around the foot of the bed to the bathroom, cramming as much of the writhing mass back into his mouth as he could swallow. He lurched to the toilet and shoved his face in the bowl. "Owh Gohb."
"Dave?. . .Honey? Whoa. You okay?" Brenda's voice came to him through the porcelain.
"Fahn." David thrust the tip past his teeth and swallowed the thickest part but not the fear. "I'm fine. The beers. . ." His voice sounded hoarse and improbable to his own ears. He flushed the toilet, spitting blood into the whirlpool.
Much later, after Brenda had chided his excess and finally settled down to sleep, when the house was quiet save for the humming of the refrigerator, David slithered off the deck and into the neighbor's backyard. Ollie's marrow was gamy and not very satisfying. David buried the remains under his neighbor's deck. The light didn't flash for the rest of the night.
The good man who was David Milner sat curled up and shaking inside his skin, the hands in his lap tacky with blood. Flies explored the small fingers and the moist underside of flesh where the skin had been peeled back. David straightened his legs and the hands fell off his lap to the floor. The flies took to the air in black protest before settling once more to the feast.
The garage floor was poured cement, sealed to protect it from the stains and wear of four years and countless projects. David remembered applying the seal with the boys, how he directed them to use long strokes and spread out the puddles.
"Anything worth doing is worth doing well," he'd said, double-checking their work with his own long handled paint roller. At the end of the day, he'd taken them out for Dairy Queen and told them how proud he was of them. Yet after all that care the blood had found its way into miniscule imperfections, creating a network of discolored veins that looked nothing at all like either boy. How could he not have noticed until now?
An accusation of footsteps came from inside. The door leading to the house opened outward and Brenda stepped over the threshold. "Dinner time, guys -"
David turned to her, his wife. "I'm sorry, Babe. I tried. . ." He choked on the truth: the words and the flesh.
Brenda covered her mouth with both hands; rivulets of her scream leaked through.
"He caught his hand with the sander and, and it started to...bleed." David looked at the torn clothing and pieces of meat and cracked bone that littered the floor and then back to her with tears in his eyes. "God help me, Brenda, I tried not to."
She turned and bolted, her panic razor sharp as she raced up the stairs. "Kenny! Kenny, where are you?"
David ran for the front door, the corner, the freeway. He hoped she found Kenny. He couldn't recall the last time he'd seen his youngest son.
People on the street avoided him as if he was crazed; maybe they avoided him because he was crazy. David was past caring about anything but the blood drying on his clothes and the taste, oh God the taste!, sweet and nutty with hints of apples and cherries, that lingered still. Lyle's screams followed him, and Ollie's, and the prostitute's, and others. David screamed back and kept running.
He tried to wash the blood away at a service station restroom but the water ran rusty before and red after. So much blood seeping out of his cuffs and sleeves, shards of bone falling between trembling fingers and into the drain before he could see if there was even the possibility of a taste left. The boogeyman stared back at him with pus yellow eyes from the polished stainless steel mirror above the sink. "Don't you listen? I'm David Milner now!" He gripped the metal by the edge and tore it off the wall. "Leave! Me! Alone!"
David knocked over an elderly man waiting outside the door. He didn't let himself look back as he heard a bone snap.
The shadows stretched and reached for him, pulling night tight against dingy curbs and following him into the crawlspace behind a dumpster. Every siren called him - "Whyyyy? Daad-ee? Daad-ee? Daad-ee? Whyyyy?" - only to turn a corner and fade before he had a chance to apologize. The once good man David Milner huddled with the refuse and cried for the life he'd lost.
David cried until the only tears left were of pity and not remorse. The supermarket parking lot was almost empty by the time he worked up the courage to come out of hiding. It was hard, so hard, when what he wanted to do was remain hidden and burrow into the memories of when he could pretend he truly was a good man, but there was no sense looking back. Lyle sirened in the distance, a frightened cry for his father. David squeezed his eyes shut until the sound faded and with it an upwelling of flavors.
A handful of cars were scattered about islands of chill fluorescence in the dark. David wiped his hands on his shirt and smoothed back his hair, avoiding areas where he supposed cameras might watch as he cautiously moved around. It wasn't long before a lone woman burdened with pregnancy, groceries, and a cell phone wedged between her shoulder and ear hurried out of the store to a pale blue hatchback parked at the shore of one such island.
David waited until she set down two of her bags and took the phone from her ear before coming around the back of her car.
"Excuse me, Miss? I think you dropped this."
She whirled around, a woman alone after dark and ready to scream because she was certain what he wanted. David grabbed her face with both hands and jumped out of his skin.
"Rise and shine, beautiful. How are we this morning?"
The young woman groaned and rolled over as far as her six-month belly would allow. She pulled a pillow across her face.
"We would be better if you brought us a cup of coffee."
"No caffeine, that's what the doctor said."
A piece of hard candy was pressed into her hand. "Screw the doctor." She unwrapped it and put it under her tongue. The sweet fire of ginger filled her mouth.
"Let me know how that works for you, m'kay?" Her husband kissed her, his breath a contrast of Kona brew and toothpaste.
"Call me after the appointment. Gotta run. Love you." His steps faded and were gone.
The young woman waited until she was certain he had pulled out of the drive before scooting out of bed. She stepped into the hall to turn on the central air conditioning, and headed for the bathroom where she did her business and then stood in front of the sink staring at her feet. She kept her eyes down until the candy was almost gone and her stomach had settled.
Taking a deep breath, she lifted her head. Her reflection's eyes were hazel rimmed with yellow. "My name is Tamara Grover," she said, placing her hands flat against mirror to either side of her face. "I love my husband and my baby. I will make an excellent mother. I am a good woman."