Carthage

Andy Nellis is a writer living and studying in the lusty, dusty streets of Denver. He holds some degrees from some places. When not writing Andy can usually be found throwing pebbles at your kitchen window. His work most recently appeared in The Los Angeles  Review of Los Angeles.

 

 

Carthage

 

The sun finally sets under the Los Angeles ocean and Carthage opens his eyes next to a 50 pound sandbag. It still smells like Becky’s perfume. Carthage kisses the rough fabric and even though he knows it can’t hear, and even though he knows it’s not a person, he whispers: Good morning.

There are several differences between a person and a sandbag. For one thing, it’s very difficult to have sex with a bag of sand. Carthage remembers this and ignores the urge to cut another hole in it. Instead he goes downstairs.

The steps whine as he walks on them, unappreciative of the great honor they’re receiving. These day most things don’t appreciate the honor: carpets, backyards, bathtubs, Becky.

The house phone rings in the kitchen. Carthage waits for it to jingle once, twice, three times, then answers it.

“Hello?” Carthage says into the oily plastic.

“Hello, is Mister Placante available?”

“This is… Carthage.”

“I see, well could you deliver a message to Mister Placante? This is Jules with LA Opera. I just wanted to confirm his appointment for next week-”

But Carthage hangs up. Next week is too soon; Carthage cannot leave then. He cannot leave until things are ready.

The phone stares at him from its mount and any second… another call… and that can’t be allowed. Carthage squeezes his fingers between the receiver and the wall, pushing his meaty pads into the gap. Then he rips the phone from its frame. Drywall puffs from the wrecked hole, and Carthage drops the dead thing on the ground and walks to the bathroom.

The light clicks on as Carthage stands by the sink, looking at an orange pill bottle. He brings his eyes close to it, analyzing. Each tiny line in the cap is in place, all 98 of them, but still, something about it doesn’t feel right.

He thinks of all the days filled with pills, each one a tiny lead weight pulling down his organs, crushing his bones, a burden too heavy for Carthage, too large a load. But not now, not anymore. He drops them into the trash.

Carthage is outside now, standing on the front patio. The weather feels like an old air-conditioner is pumping out cold mist. Cars drive down the road and Carthage follows their lights as they creep over the hill to hide. Then the mailman walks up, late, shuffling.

Carthage watches him. He watches Carthage.

“Mail,” the mailman says, but he doesn’t move or reach into his bag or wave; his wet linen shirt stuck to his chest, his nipples showing through. Mailman nipples.

“Yes,” Carthage says and walks back inside.

It’s time for toast.

They always tell Carthage that he shouldn’t eat toast. They say: ‘Toast is bad. Eat a salad.’ Does Carthage listen? Does Carthage do what they say? Ha! Shit no.

But why? Why doesn’t Carthage eat a salad? Why don’t you ask him, huh? You must be curious. Do it. Ask Carthage, ‘why’.

“Why?”

“NO!”

“Why, Carthage?”

“NO! ONLY CARTHAGE TAAAALKS!” Carthage’s voice is loud and the glasses shake in the cabinet. But then it’s quiet.

Q-u-i-e-t.

Carthage slips spongy bread into the toaster then collects the toast before it starts smoking. He eats it as he walks into the basement.

Crust tastes bad. You know that, everyone knows that. Carthage throws his in the corner with the others.

The pile of stale crust moves. Not because the old toast bits are welcoming their new friend, reaching out to hug him. No. The pile moves because something is in it.

“It’s a rat!” You say. “Or a snake!”

“Shut up!” Carthage says. He takes off his sandal and throws it at the pile like a warrior. Dry bread goes everywhere and a white mouse skitters under the stairs.

Carthage was surprised, that’s all. Carthage wasn’t scared or anything and Carthage wasn’t listening to you because you weren’t talking. No one else talks.

Carthage feels better for having scared the mouse. He tucks his t-shirt into his pants and lifts his sandal out of the pile. Carthage must work now, too much time wasted.

He walks to the table where the machine sits, his beautiful machine. The basement floor is covered in pieces from the 18 toasters and 11 weed-whackers he needed to make it.

Carthage is proud of his work. He looks at what he’s done, and his crotch swells a little but not enough to change his mind about cutting another hole in the sandbag. No, there’s no time for that.

“We must practice singing,” you say, sounding stupid and annoying.

“We do not sing. We build.” Carthage can ignore this.

“What are you doing? You have no idea, do you?”

“Carthage knows what he’s doing! He is the best. Everyone knows that! Carthage is making the machine.”

“Oh yeah? And what does this machine do, exactly?”

Carthage can ignore this. He can ignore your weasel voice.

“What is it?”

Carthage grabs another toaster and starts to work.

1.    Take off the outer cover

2.    Unscrew the metal slats

3.    Harvest the springs

4.    Harvest the coils

5.    Use the hot glue gun on the new pie-

“Fuck!” Hot glue!

“Burn yourself?” You say.

“Carthage doesn’t care!” Carthage says it loud so the walls vibrate.

“You can’t block me out.”

“YEEES!”

“No, you can’t. You know why? Beca…” You talk more but Carthage doesn’t listen. He needs to fix his hand. “You can’t ignore me because I-”

“NO!” Carthage knows what you want to say but… “THERE IS ONLY ONE CARTHAGE!”

“Yeah, I know. And pretty soon…”

“NO!” Carthage runs upstairs, runs to the bathroom hall, to the linen closet where he rips towels off the shelves, searching. Somewhere there are bandages or ointment or— SOMETHING!

Carthage has to finish the machine.

He has to.

But it’s getting heavier. Everything is iron. Little washcloths take two hands to move. The plastic bin that holds pain pills and nasal spray won’t even budge. Carthage feels his organs pulling down, reaching for his feet. Why?

“Why?! But Carthage is stronger now. Carthage can carry the weight! Nothing is too heavy for Carthage… nothing is… hmm.”

A sheet falls from the shelf.

The hallway clock reads 6:40 PM.

It’s Monday.

“I am… Mi… Miles C. Placante.” It feels weird, saying it out loud, but I do anyway.

I walk through the bedroom and kick empty wine bottles across the floor. The cell phone is on the nightstand, thankfully still in one piece. I sit down on the bed and stare at the carpet while my sweat evaporates.

“What happened while I was gone? What did you do?” But the house is silent, empty.

 

 

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One Response to “Carthage”

  1. Isabelle Says:

    That’s a qu-ckiwitted answer to a difficult question

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