Anonymous City
Donna D. Vitucci

James drifted into alleys that no one called home. He tasted dust and took needles and touched shoulders, and more, of young girls making their unprotected way. His desires were in the sky, yet he believed there was more than sky to be had, and he was on the road to find it. He spoke this out loud to the sweet thing who rented her room by the hour. Her name was Cherise. Could have been an alias but James hadn’t written his real name since he’d signed the undertaker’s paperwork setting His Moms in the ground, so who was he to insist on truth?

Cherise lifted a knife and a stone out of the sack-like bag she carried and put them on the bedside table. James had already taken a splinter from it when he swept off clutter for the tubing and the vial, the needle, some matches.

She said, “One to inflict pain and one to cut the pain.” Her eye makeup and candlelight made her into a goblin. “Guess,” she said, “guess which is which.”

They reclined on the bed, they shot each other up, they drifted, he felt her tug down his pants. She whipped him with tubing, commanded him like a circus freak. The night was bending around him. The girl, Cherise, was glass and she could cut.

He had no love for her, only she was his metronome, his quitting time whistle, and what she brought him put him in the sky.

“I’m not a man who makes promises,” James told her, and she laughed a cruel laugh.

She flipped his limp penis from one side to the other. She said, “You’re not a man at all.”

He used to be hard all the time. He couldn’t remember when it stopped. The sheets were like plasma, the room an underwater murk. Nothing stayed still. Even the wall crawled on its knees to him, begging.

His Moms’ last bite of negativity—“You keep shoveling life”—floated out of her piehole. Her toothless grin stretched inside his head like taffy.

“Drug dreams,” Cherise said, dismissing the dead he tried describing.

Cherise brought fried chicken direct from the dumpster, still warmed by the heat lamps when the chicken joint’s lights went dark. She held a drumstick to her mouth, every bit greasy. James bit into the meaty part of her leg as if he’d just then remembered the eating function.

She said, “Summertime seems to never open up and breathe anymore.”

His Moms’ death benefits check was wearing out. They agreed to move on. They rode on a bus, pinball eyes behind their dark sunglasses. When they arrived inside the park of the anonymous city, they saw two collies magnificent as stags, guarding the zoo entrance. Cherise worked a trick on the guy running the turnstile while James admired the sheltering greenery.

“I’d like to live here,” he said, but plenty of criminals operated in the main and on the fringe. You couldn’t slip away from the ick and ooze of bad deeds and bad deeds’ bad offspring. Your hands were stained. Every day you had to go out and butt heads with these sub-humans if you wanted stuff from them.

What they scored from the riff and the raff did not always deliver.

“Cherise?” James said, but that chick had vamoosed.

Alone in the flop room their monies barely bought, he could hear the tick and buzz from the neon signs promoting dance and sex in the rooms below. Cherise had taken her sinewy arms downstairs in the smoked-up air conditioning where fake cold and the shiver flummoxed her timing in the laps of the stale-scented patrons. James squatted in the room above, without light or heat or goods. He was pretty much left up a crick. His Moms came pressing in then, hell-bent like an iron. She slid in Cherise’s place, and that was the ick of this dream, him and His Moms in the same one bed, no clothes, the cancer’s open holes in her skin.

“I don’t want to catch nothin’,” he said, wrenching away.

Sonny, the Moms-ghost said, you should be ashamed. I’m by-God ashamed. You had an upbringing. I did better than you’re showing. Blame skips generations, and I am clean. I, myself, am clean.

Across the room, next to the bed, wedged in the drawer of the stand with a Bible, sat the knife, but he did not get up from the sheets to check. He remembered His Moms, all gums when she had her last rotten teeth pulled from her head, and she’d sawed corn off the cob, her frown making her twice ugly over the effort, as if she were already taking the knife inside her and relieving him of the need to.

A boy chews the same dirt he lives in and then expects to grow wings? He ain’t no angel.

In the bathroom James watched from the corner of his eye while he puked.

Cherise said, “When did summer shut down?” Now it was her girl-face ghosting over his shoulder, Cherise, with blue-green all around her eyes as part of her costume.

James said, “You’ve been away.”

She shrugged free of her backpack and threw it on the floor. “Do you even know what day it is?”

James could not be bothered with counting the calendar, but a girl was always on guard because of her bleeding, and Cherise had skipped, damnit, she’d skipped.

“I don’t want you getting in no trouble,” he said.

Cherise said, “That horse has fled the barn.” She stuck coins into the bed to send it vibrating. She’d cosied flesh for six subterranean hours and she smelled flea-bit. She exclaimed, “My feet,” then puffed out air she’d been holding in all night, flounced up next to him, stale and stripped down to her underwear.

“You brought me nothin’?” James said.

Cherise rolled her bloodshot eyes over him in one careless move, and said, “And what’d you bring me, bucko?”

His dance to the blade would have to be dainty and swift.

My nimble child, His Moms moaned. Oh, my nimble nutcracker.

Then Cherise opened her fist, showing off the brightly colored candies she’d got downstairs. James left off his bad feelings for the moment, but they’d be there later, flies in amber.

He and she swallowed and stretched their brains out past their bad dreams and the baby glimmers, while His Moms sharpened her fingernails the way a cat shreds tree bark.

“As a child,” James said, “I broke a thermometer to get the poison. They said don’t let that mercury touch you, the skin’s no gatekeeper, but I handled it.”

Cherise turned over to sleep, her hips like parts on the map a glacier might long ago have scraped to shape. James set upon her his open hand and wondered if his baby really was stuck to her interior. He knew he could scoop her out like Africa. He fumbled with the night table knob, inched the drawer open, and peeked in on the Good Book and the blade side by side, angel and devil, getting ready to crow, St. Peter, getting ready for the cockle-damn-doodle-do.

His blasted Moms, up on her high horse, nagged: Dare you do what you done before?

“Dream on,” James said to Cherise. He back-scratched her into drifting. “Good,” he whispered. “Good now.” Not knowing what the word meant, no way familiar with good.

His Moms ballooned room-size, oozing into the corners and lapping over the seams, fatter than she’d ever been in life, grossly-fat. James might as well be lying in the dank of the home place hundreds of miles south among decrepit bones, he was plumb up against her in the box, asphyxiating, cutting his one way free.

Cherise’s eyes bulged in their recognizing, her mouth stretched open as the sea, but with the downstairs bass thickening the walls and the girls bucking their customers, her scream was pantomime. James glimpsed the silver in her back teeth. He felt railroaded by His Moms and by the forge that first hammered the knife into shape. What accumulated felt like it would tear the top of his head clean off. There was the moment in which he set Cherise loose, and the thump, grunt, and burn of her going crowded his cranium. Much later—or had it been minutes?—the room smelled like spoiled fruit. James looked to the window, to the cross-barred sky there.

You won’t never be lonely, went the whisper. I’m in you, boy. You’s us. You can’t outrun what rides your blood.

Donna D. Vitucci lives in an historic home (a.k.a. money pit) in Northern Kentucky but crosses the river each day to help raise funds for Cincinnati-area non-profits. Her fiction and poems have appeared in dozens of literary magazines and journals in print and online, including Meridian, Hawaii Review, Front Porch Journal, Sojourn, Oklahoma Review, Corium, and others. Her novel manuscript, Feed Materials, was judged a finalist for the Bellwether Prize, 2010, and currently has agent representation.