|K. sat curbside
like always, legs and crotch spread-eagle, open and adoring, package on display,
pushing against lycra. Head bent, staring at skidmarks in the street, except when
trade'd pass, and then he'd watch the shoes. Pinpointing, dialing in, zooming,
zeroing -- K.'d focus on the shoes, his mind already ringing up a bill of sale.
Always figure out the trade by the shoes. Wingtips, polished; married guy, pay
was average. Loafers, tassel single old guy, vanilla sex -- a blow job maybe,
some rubbing, tug at the sheets, lie and tell 'em how big -- no matter what you
get stiffed on the cash. Loafers, two tassels on the tops; big money men -- want
to be your daddy, want leather, polyurethane, shit, piss, chains, blood, bondage,
and the cash was always great. Loafers and two tassels; fuck 'em! K. wasn't into
that shit. Save that for Snowball and Possum. Can tell a lot by the shoes, tell
Eyes, man, almost as good as shoes. Could tell you as much. Hangdog lids covering sweating eyes, look at you, look away and you knew he was married trade, a quickie -- few grunts, sweaty torso bucking against your back, sealing and unsealing, a shiver in his shoulder, then the splat, swabbing down with a hotel towel, and back to the wife and kids out in the 'burbs. Straightforward gaze, open eyes, kind that knew what they want -- they were okay, sometimes they were bottom, sometimes top. Sunglasses or the fetish freaks, with them it was rough and hard, them snarling through it like Johnny Rotten's harsh whine. Were total shits while they were pounding you, railroading their cocks into you, but afterwards, they maybe let you shower or maybe bought you breakfast.
K.'s ass had gone numb from sitting on the curb across the street from the Lucky Horseshoe blinds drawn. Sidewalk sale with no buyers. Snowball and Possum weren't around. Nobody was. Coupla suburban teens -- K.'s age -- who'd stumbled outta the Dunk'n Donuts down on Belmont, that was it -- they were thrilled to be here, shitfaced on scarfed Christian Brothers, shouting faggot and breaking up with laughter. Fucking pricks, go back to fuckin' Crystal Lake, K. sneered at them, wanting to spit on them as much as he wanted to be them. Wanted out of this goddamn hole. It was eating him alive.
K. rubbed his calves and noticed a pinkish blotch on one -- shaped like a quarter moon, raising above the skin in a two-inch ridge. He poked it -- his finger prodding its center -- it was a tough kind of rubbery, not like the rest of his skin. Some kind of an allergic reaction to the fucking Nair. Hairless, pretty boys were the rage, so you waxed, shaved, tweezed, Naired if you wanted to eat. K. was no exception. He turned the leg a little, hid the spot -- damaged goods -- slipped his hand under the strap of his dago tee and massaged his shoulder.
A guy, drunk out of his fucking gourd, staggered across the street. Fucking asshole in sandals and black socks. Christ, K. grinned, tucking his smile into his shoulder what a goddamn jamoke. K. said yes, stuffed the wet, wadded bills in his sock, and went into the alley. OK, I'm really kinda new at this and don't do this very often, yeah, yeah, whatever. K. leaned over a garbage can, pulling his shorts to his knees, grabbed his own ankles, and the john rocking in and out of him, ohyeah, ohyeah. K. figured he'd have to come up with some new grunts otherwise it'd all seem rehearsed. The jamoke holymarymotherofgod-ed and the skin at K.'s ankles was all weird-like -- kinda peeling, but more like a bunch of scabs. It doesn't hurt, so don't worry. The john wiped cum from the end of his dick. Would it be okay if I kissed you, fuck no, man, we ain't dating, but man, can I bum a square off ya, don't smoke. A shoulder shrug, and the john blew first the same way they all do it -- heading out of the alley alone, tugging on the zipper like he'd only gone back there for a piss. K. scratched at the ankle again, pink skin getting under his fingernails, but shit, I ain't got time for this. Another dick, another dollar.
Turned the next trick in the Lucky Horseshoe's can. Tearoom trade. K.'d gone in to take a piss and he'd been followed by a guy. Big guy. Harley shirt, blue jeans. Ya wanna? Yeah, ya look like my kid. Sucked him off in the can. K. on his knees in a puddle of warm piss, the john above him, hips swaying and his cock slipping between K.'s lips. K. kept one hand on the prick, the other on the swinging double doors of the can. Fuckin' Horseshoe's john was designed to cut down on shit like this, the fucking, and K. made a note not to do it here again. Could do it out back -- under the stairwell if you pushed the dumpster around to block the view. No worries. The john's hands pulling K.'s head down the length of his cock until he heard the gag reflex. Hearda Carmex, kid? You're like wet sandpaper and I ain't paying for that shit. K. wiped his lips, his finger running along them. Jagged edge, skin pulled up behind the path of his finger. Inside of his mouth felt weird too, like it was shedding. Flesh drapes dangling down to his tongue. Ya clean, kid, or am I gonna get some kind of fucking disease? The john wiped thin, almost translucent sheets of pink off of his dick. Pink from K.'s mouth and K. didn't have time for this guy's bullshit, or for the lecture on public health, save it for your fucking kids, man. Need the money, so fuck the skin problem and get back out on the streets. It was probably fucking acne anyway. Jesus Christ, what a fucking joke, serves me fucking right for getting into that tearoom shit. Snowball right about tearooms. Fuck Snowball. Asshole gives me a bed and he thinks he's my Dad. No, fucker thinks he's king of the hustlers. K. stumbled into the street, hacked up pink shit from his mouth, and spat into the gutter. Boystown seemed empty. A trick desert. C'mon, something's gotta turn up, man. I need the cash. Only 20 so far. He'd be at 30, if the prick hadn't stiffed him. K.'d have to trick with whatever came along. Shit. Not a good feeling. You gotta leave yourself some options, gotta leave yourself an out.
Shoes appeared by K.'s Converse hightops. Brown wingtips. A fifty floated down, like ash from a burning building. K. scratched it up from the asphalt and eyed the john. Young suit -- about 25-26; broad shoulders; square jaw; a redhead, really butch buzzcut; eyes like heat, intense and direct; square face, freckled, but stern and expressionless. Kinda cute, but something didn't feel right. K.'s throat twitched and his stomach was warm and turning. And K. -- bill still poking out from his fingers, hanging in space -- could push the money back and tell the lousy cocksucker to take a hike (K. wondered where the fuck Possum and Snowball were. Those two sons of bitches'd know what to do). Sweat pooled in his pit hair.
The john stood, statue-like, arms crisscrossing his chest, eyes satellited on K.'s nose -- K. figured the john was thinking of K.'s nose buried in his crotch, sniffing. He saw the guy's cock start to shift.
K.'s head was on fire, the alarms blaring down deep, gut-level, telling him that he should pass, but his fingers folded the bill, crumpling it into a wad. He stared at the john, trying to gauge his reaction, but couldn't see shit, because eyes were clouded over, milky moon-like. K. stood and felt a hand cup his ass, squeeze. I gotta room. K. nodded and watched the kids from the burbs, wishing he'd never left home.
K. was on the hotel bed, down on all fours. Ass splayed, the john kneeling on the floor behind him, arm shoved past K.'s sphincter. Door left open -- the john had wanted it that way, said it made things hotter (Whatthefuck? K. had shrugged in agreement) -- and on the outside a thin Latino kid, probably from housekeeping, was staring into the room, massaging his cock through polyester pants.
K.'s teeth ground, tongue gagging on the last traces of the baking soda taste of the john's cum and the ghost fumes of stale nicotine, choking on the smell of shit and Old Spice -- his nose still wide and waves of dancing electric tingles from the poppers -- K. wanting to spit, wanting to shit the man's arm out of him (the john's arm, criscoed and latexed, harpooning inside K., who was strangely hard), his head dropped, sweat from his neck splashing the sheets beneath him, and he tried to push the feeling from him -- the john's fingers' jacking open-closed. Too intense, too fucking intense like something was alive inside him, like he had another fucking heart. His ears prickled to the sound of the TV -- some game show rerun -- trying to separate the canned laughter from the banter of the host, from the traffic outside, from the john's groans -- his eyes shut, erasing the half moons in the corner of his vision, blocking out the head of the housekeeping boy's face in the doorway (door open, 'cause that's how the john wanted it) -- wide, flat face, moon-round and glowing, glazed in shock.
He clenched the bedsheets, strangling them. Felt his tendons sweating, growling under his skin. His knuckles felt torched, white with fire, hands felt like they were melting. K.'s vision blurred like heat waves rising off summer asphalt, his body prickly with sweat and he concentrated on the the half moons, erasing the moment, ceasing to feel, hear the john, the boy in the doorframe squeezing his own prick while licking his lips, the hand buried deep in K.'s ass, all of it crumbling away. He'd block it, slipping from the here and now, back. Way back. Two summers ago, at fourteen. Middle of the backyard lawn. The copy of Playgirl he'd pinched from his mother. No, not here. Please not here. Hot rays of the sun licking the salt from his skin. Shoulders, red, raw and peeling. Swimming trunks barely on, hard-on straining the fabric, hands still trying to jerk them back to his waist. Toes squishing into clumps of freshly mown grass. His father's hand pinching his ear, twisting it, forcing K. to his knees into a smear of fresh dog shit. His father behind him, and K. crying, tears hot like blood from his eyes, I'm sorry, Dad. Dad, I'm sorry, his voice cracking, pleading. The sun so damn hot, baking him, drying him out. Not this, Christ, not fucking this, K.'s mind screamed. And the steel tip of his father's boot punching him there in the small of his back, there where the john's head was -- whiskers bristling K.'s skin -- his fingers solar-flaring open in the warm, wet ribbons of velvet of K.'s ass, and his hot breath whispering into the small of K.'s back -- great, kid, fucking great! -- K. falling forward, chest streaking the dewy grass, coughing up spit, dribbling his chin, back aching like it was torn, ruptured from the inside, the magazine swatting his face, back and forth, slashing at his lips and eyes, then flailing from his father's hand, tumbling in front of him, swelling his nose with its inky smell, his eyes filled with soft porn pricks. You sick sonuvabitch. A rubber boot heel smashed the back of his neck. God, God, K. wailed and the john pushed his arm in further, nearly to the crook of the elbow now, grunting, yeah, kid. K.'s eyes widened, struggling to take in the room, the TV, the pink smears on the bed sheets, anything, but the memory. No, Dad, I'm sorry, I'm so fucking sorry, and Dad with the weed spray, it coming down on him, searing his skin, his eyes, his nose. Acid. Lava. K. coughing, spitting, gagging, screaming over his father's, you sick, sick pervert, and his stomach reeling, vomit churning, Mom's radio on the windowsill, blaring, Simon and Garfunkel's "Cecilia," begging her to help him. Nothing. More noise. The chemical bath. It was burning his skin, eating into it, closing off his lungs. And dammit, where was she? Where the fuck were the neighbors? Can't breathe, can't fucking breathe. Jesus, Jesus, somebody help me! And the john's hand pumped K.'s cock, jerking it hard and fast, and cum sprayed the bed, and K. collapsed, exhausted, drained. Out of the backyard now. Out of it, but still running from it. The john eased his arm out of K., snapping the rubber glove off, and tossing it to the foot of the bed, right in front of K.'s face. Smears of shit and vegetable oil, tinged with blood.
The john spread the cheeks of K.'s ass, opening them with his fingers, and buried his tongue and nose in the crack. The john rimmed K., sucking and licking the swollen, puckered hole, as K. focused on the bedsheets. Pink smears leaking from his hands, staining the spots where his palms had touched, streaking the bed like blood. The john pulled back with a slurping sound, swabbed his mouth on the back of his hand, get cleaned up, kid, I wanna getcha something to eat. K. scrambled off the bed into the can, his asshole loose and on fire. The john leaned back on the bed, face glowing, and lit a cigarette. K. scrutinized the digital clock on the nightstand. 11:17. Way too fucking early to get tied down shoveling grub. Can still turn two, maybe three more tricks. Shower, then back to the war zone. Stay the hell away from the Lucky Horseshoe, that was for sure. John'd crash while he was in the bathroom. They usually did. Fucking their way to dreamland, that's what Possum called it. When they were asleep, Possum'd steal their wallets and clear out. Sometimes, he'd beat the shit out of 'em first, pinning their arms under his knees, his fists jack-hammering their faces until they blacked out, then he scarfed their wallet, and went back, bragging to the other hustlers (the water was hot, but not hot enough. It didn't seem to be washing him. Felt like it was just bouncing off). K. thought about it. Complimentary soap bar lathering his nuts and ass. No. Not his scene. Rinse. Water off, curtain swished open, and out. Besides, it was bad trick karma.
K. draped a towel over his shoulders, tied one to his waist, forearmed steam from the bathroom mirror in circles -- dirty black hair brushed forward; wet and matted in clumps on his forehead; upturned nose; the lips that always were curled in that sort of James Dean/porno flick snarl, they'd gone limp and just hung, dragging the corner of his mouth down, exposing the teeth -- and he peeked through the door at the john. Dreamland. Body naked and spread long against the bed. His cigarette out, a long ash between his sleeping fingers, dangling above the carpet. Face lit in flickering TV blue, walls vibrating to a car salesman's commercial shouts. He looked unnaturally innocent, vulnerable. Facial muscles slack, relaxed. A trace of red hair on his breastbone and freckled pecs. Definitely not a troll. What the fuck you thinking? K. shook his head, wiped the back of his neck, his hand settling on his shoulder, arm hanging against his chest. That's asking for it. Dress and get the hell outta here.
His hand dropped, dragging four ribbons of skin from his shoulder. Strips as wide as his fingers, dripping from the top of his shoulder until they were even with his nipple. The strips were soft under his finger and crumbled, breaking at his touch. A pink dust snowed the bathroom floor tiles. K. stared at his left side -- at the spot he had just touched. The skin was rubbery, raised like a welt. The outer edges were flaked and peeling. Didn't hurt. Felt kinda dead though.
K. swiped at his shoulder again, his hand carving another big pink strip -- a moon-shaped curve missing all the flesh and bone -- from his arm -- the chunk falling to the orange and brown shag throw rug on the bathroom tile. No blood. No pain. K.'d been dead to pain for too long already. What was happening to him, that was pretty fucked up, sure. But everything's been fucked tonight. K. looked down. Just the residue a pencil eraser leaves on a blank page -- flaking from his arm in scab-sized pieces onto the bathroom counter.
He balled a wash cloth, wadding it into a clump, crammed it where part of his shoulder should've been, and pulled on his T shirt. Out of here. Change of clothes. Something that will hide this. Then right back at it. Still time for tricks after a rest.
Possum's and Snowball's Wicker Park loft was blacklit and airplane hangar empty. K. swatted clouds of pot from his face, ears winced at the death rattle of the nearby El tracks and guitar axing power chords -- the snarling rants of "No future, no future!" blaring from the stereo, all echoes -- jerked the string of the dangling 100 watt by the front door, swaying it like a church censer. Roaches scattered across the hardwood, scurrying under Big Mac cartons, up the sides of Starbucks' cups, 'cross the futon mattresses on the floor. CK boxer-briefs thrown into open pizza boxes, piles of other tricking costumes -- cut-off jean shorts with easy-access, razor slits in the ass, muscle shirts, Champion ankle socks, billowy rayon club shirts, scuffed Docs and ancient Converse.
K. flopped on his mattress, sighing like a radiator hiss. He closed his eyes. The inside of his ass twitched like he had to shit. Probably blood. Probably dry -- maybe scabbed a little. Douche? Square? Yeah, sounded good. K.'s hand patted around the edge of the mattress, searching for the soft-pack. Rolled to his side, eyes open -- looking. Someone stole his fucking cigs. Grabbed the half-killed bottle of piss-warm Rolling Rock. A cockroach bobbed and turned at the bottle's lip. Fuck it. K. was up and his mattress was covered in flakes like sunburned skin. A phantom of his body outlined in streaks. His body itched like he was crawling with bugs. His hands slapped, brushed, swatted his legs, chest, and arms, feeling a thousand tiny waves moving under the surface of his skin. Stumbling backwards as he scratched at himself, K. knocked into something solid. He jerked around, saw Snowball -- all dyed white-blond, cue-ball buzz; raw, red eyes; nostrils flared; black pythons tattooed on his forearms; dirty socks and sweatshorts. Dude, whaddya doin' here? Snowball snapped shoving K., Snowball's hands popping just under the kid's shoulders -- kid should be out hustling -- and something toppled from K.'s shoulder and hit the floor. K. started bawling. Fuck, maybe something'd happened to the kid. Real smooth, Sno. Real fuckin' smooth. K. curled his knees to his chest at the mattress edge, covering his eyes with a hand, a swish of his black hair falling over his hand. K.'s back heaved.
Snowball squatted and mussed K.'s hair. He cupped K.'s head, gently pulled him closer. Kid? Snowball's voice was soft. No answer. The Pistols were too loud. Snowball grabbed a tennis ball, chucked it across the room, and popped the stereo off. What is it? Bad trick? K.'s eyes ( they did it to Snowball every time, big and soft, warm, brown, so goddamn innocent. The kinda eyes that made you want to take care of him -- actually did; they got him the mattress here) were glazed, hidden under deep waters. Drowning man's eyes. Wanna tell me about it? Snowball's hand drifted to K.'s shoulder to soothe him, and the kid's shoulder seemed to give way. It crumbled. Kid?
K. shuddered and crawled backward crab-like. Snowball clamped his ankle, his jaw I-beam solid, eyes boring at K.. K. kicked and his ass bounced further up the mattress. Lemme go, you queer ass sonuvabitch! K. spit and the glob trickled off Snowball's lips and mouth. Pissed, Snowball wiped the spit onto his shoulder, yanked K. hard, jerking the ankle with a snap. K. toppled and there was silence. Everything froze. Snowball's eyes were on his hand. K.'s whole damn foot was in Snowball's hand -- solid and bloodless. Snowball's lip trembled. The foot slid from his hand and bounced on the mattress. K. curled up, ball-like and wails hurled from his lungs. There were layers of K.'s skin in Snowball's hand, pasty from his sweat. It wasn't real, it couldn't be. But the kid howled like it was, head arched, mouth to the ceiling, his eyes were red wreaths.
C'mon, kid! Snowball said. He was frightened. You need a hospital.
Hospital. The word exploded in K.'s ears like thunder. Not a hospital, shit. There'd be forms and questions. He was a minor. Then the phone call home. Snowball'd insist though. Thanks, Dad. K. could tell he would by the way the sonuvabitch was looking at him. All Ward Cleaver gooey-eyed. Thinks he's my fucking father. Save you're fucking ass and play him. Give him the eyes.
Snowball . . . He purred it. His fingers playing across Snowball's cheek, smoothing the jawline. He tilted his head three-quarters, lids heavy -- languid. A smile started at the corner of the lip, kinda bashful, kinda playful. His tongue was at his lips, slowly dragging. He grabbed his crotch and shifted it. Textbook shit. Fuck, it's getting harder to see. Full round moons eclipsed his vision. Snowball's face pinched, eyebrows stabbed together, lips pursed. He twisted K.'s hand so the palm was up, stabbed a finger at it. White bone pushed to the surface, peeking through cracks, slits, lines of scraped off skin. Pink curls of flesh, spiraling inward, crumbling into dust. K. exhaled a heavy, fruity-smelling breath -- all the poppers.
Kid, don't try to hustle me.
Snowball? K.'s eyes froze on his hands. Disappearing. Vanishing right in front of him. Body shaking. Snowball padded a cloth to the shoulder and Ace bandaged him across the chest to hold the arm in place. Bandages around the foot. In Snowball's arms, he felt lifted, cradled like a baby and drifting upward. The feeling of Snowball's skin on his skin was comforting. Safe. He was being cared for like she never did (Mom walking away. Back to the house. Porch door swinging open, banging shut. Radio on. Ignoring it all. Christ, leaving me. Vanishing right in front of me. Never been more alone. Dad with the spray in one hand, the porno in the other, pushing him across the patio, his boot in K.'s ass). Something about the hospital again. Stop him -- no to the hospital, and Snowball . . . K.'s voice desperate, weak. Take it easy, kid, we'll getcha help, we'll getcha through this.
Lucid in an emergency room. Snowball across from him. Dreamland in a blue plastic chair. Black pythons on his arms curled in balls. Mattress sheet at K.'s ass, the bottoms of his thighs dragging, sticking like wads of toilet paper band-aiding shaving cuts. K. shuddered. Skin was clammy, moist. Nerves were all over, alive, like exposed electrical wire. Felt his stomach, lurch, heave, roll. The plastic collar of the examination gown dragging along his neck, biting into the skin, pulling down like an anchor on his shoulder blades. Eating him, fucking tearing him apart. Shaving whole new strips of his flesh off. K.'s hands off his knees, wrapping his chest, rubbing raw the ribs, feeling through the cotton gown the dry toughness -- the scratchiness of bone peeking through openings in his skin. He was holding himself in, holding himself together. Christ, he was scared. Sweated and wondered if it was just sweat rolling down his forehead or little beads of his forehead too. K. gulped air, trying to balloon his lungs to fight the sinking feeling, the hopelessness that was weighing on him. Smells. Shit, man, iodine all over. Typewritering somewhere in the hall -- keys dancing under fingers sounding like rats in the walls. K. cried -- gurgled, like the sudden burp bubble in a water cooler.
The doctor, tall, thin, black woman, orange coat falling like a rainbow from her shoulders, whisked into the room. K. barely saw her. Christ, what was wrong with his fucking eyes? Like staring through glazed donuts.
Her pen clicked. Caucasian teenager -- sixteen? Kind of boyish looking. Something wrong with the eyes, though. What's this kid on? Tapped a clipboard. Form incomplete, pleasant smile that hid annoyance, full name in this field, and clipboard down next to him on the mattress, and you a minor? and rubber gloves snapped over fingers and where're your parents? and that your brother? and bent down and K.'s nose nestling near her hair -- shampoo slickness tickled it -- and gown lifted and what seems to be the troub . . . From the shoulder blades to the stomach, there wasn't much -- the boy's body was concave. Almost whittled away, but it couldn't have been. No wounds, no blood. Most of the kid's chest seemed to have vanished, and what was left made a bowed in an arc to his spine. Holy shit! The doctor's voice loud, shocked.
Interns', residents', nurses' heads snapped up, festered into the room. The doctor loped backward. Button pushed. Intercom chattered, buzzed orders. Commotion and someone screaming where the fuck are this kid's parents? and Snowball up from the chair, feet swinging to the floor, blinking, startled into consciousness, rubbing his fists against his eyes, K. shouting, his face all pink and scratched, lengths of skin hanging like fringe from his cheeks. Crying, no fucking way, get me out of here, Snowball, get me the fuck out of here, orderlies all muscles and white coats, pushed K. down, sedate him!, K.'s arms held against his chest, his legs kicking, body swinging up, pushed back down, a nurse unwrapped a fresh syringe, its point gleamed in fluorescent light, get me this kid's parents, someone's hands locked K.'s forearms and K.'s chest shot upwards, veins strained his neck and face, his eyes were red, wet, swollen; skin was stripped from his forearms leaving bone, K. jerking his arms and tried to break loose. Can't see, Snowball, where are you? the hands against his chest, forcing him down, bodies moved over him, and a vision of his Dad's face.
(Rust colored, grim and solid -- staring down at him, K. grabbing his sides, still aching from the kick that had flipped him onto his back, the sun behind his father's head, damn it was hot, Dad's foot pressed into his chest, squishing air from his lungs, weed killer scalding him, falling on his face. Runaway, runaway, gotta get out of here.)
Snowball shouted, kid, I'm here, kid, his voice cracking. He pushed through bodies, arms crobaring orderlies and nurses away, prying through, K. lunged forward, his arms reaching up to Snowball.
(Haloed in sunlight, his father's face was intense and scowling. There was no forgiveness. There would be no understanding. No future. The sun burned halogen bright, searing like a furnace of white heat, black shadows forming in K.'s eyes -- Dad, stop it, please, Dad, please! stop, I'm sorry, Christ, stop it, it hurts -- the day was white like fire, like flames wrapping his body. His skin crackled and peeled with a heat that singed so intensely it left K. cold -- I'm sorry, it hurts so much. His father's head dissolved, disappearing in the burning. K.'s body tingled, shivers in his back and shoulders. He lay there alone for hours afterwards, not moving. Suffering under a globe of ice drifting in the blackness. A moon, full and glowing. Stillness.)
Stillness and K. was still, his body slumped forward. Get this sonuvabitch outta here, an orderly shouted, and Snowball was shoved away. Where the fuck is security? K.'s arms still spread wide and held by orderlies trying to get him under control, Snowball barreled past the orderlies, crying, damn it, kid, I'm sorry. He hoisted K.'s body from the examination table, his arms under the boy's lifeless knees, K.'s head cradled in the crook of his elbow. Snowball forced his way from the emergency room. K.'s whole body was limp and it sagged in his arms. His gown was torn open, exposing holes in K.'s chest that showed the gown's backside. He wasn't moving and Snowball felt like his own heart beat for the kid as if it were trying to keep him alive. He raced past triage, his knees buckling, stumbling with the awkward weight. C'mon, kid. Snowball shook the body. Nothing. K.'s bangs fell against his face. C'mon, kid! Louder, and more insistent, almost shouting it. Don't do this to me. Kid! We'll getcha help! Snowball's eyes scanned the hallway. Nurses shuffled wheelchaired patients past, doctors breezed by. They were invisible, standing in the middle of the hall, and the front of Snowball's shirt stained pink with K.'s body. K. was all over him, covering his arms and chest. K., like grains of sand, slipped through his arms. He hugged him closer, grasping him, but K.'s body was losing form under the nightgown. Dissolving. Flakes of K.'s body covered the ground. I'll getcha through this, I promise kid! Snowball mouthed the prayer with closed eyes and pushed his way into a stairwell. He eased K. down and brushed the bangs. The kid's face and hair turned to powder dusting the floor, and Snowball knew that if he held him tight enough, if he never let him go, if he kept the kid in his arms, then he could stop it. He could erase all the shit from K.'s life. Snowball sat on the metal stairsteps and scooped K. toward him. There was nothing left. Swirls of pink cycloned from the hospital gown and fell in clouds. He buried his face in the empty gown, cried, keening on his haunches, promising between sobs that he would make it all better.