Noli Me Tangere

This time you’re one of those well-educated roughnecks from Cain, like maybe you went to college and you’ve got a sweet tongue in your mouth but you can’t keep a job for longer’n three months at a stretch. You think it’s your bosses, but it isn’t of course, not really, though they’re all racist or abusive or terrible in varying ways, but there’s something about the sullen way you hunch your way through the door in the morning and the brimstone glowing embers in the pits of your eyes that breeds the sadist out of their mild hearts. A face made for beating, one of them told you, half-admiringly, half-longingly, and you were gone in the morning and hot coals left of her business, a run-down hubcap lot off the five. Figured she deserved it, anyhow; maybe she did.

You’re a curse of bad luck, lightning out of a clear blue sky, a foot slipping midway through a swing and the edge of a desk. The cops understand, or maybe they don’t, but they don’t seem to hold it against you, anyhow. By all lights you shoulda run aground years ago, when you were still sweet and sickly as rhododendron honey, but no one has the heart. One of the devil’s own, some desk sergeant murmurs in your ear (delicate; shell-like) as he pushes you up against the indifferent concrete of the overnight room and swiftly divests you of shoelaces, belt, tie.

Nights later his wife (long-suffering; ulcerous) takes herself off for a night of bowling and you’re there in the long hall. He doesn’t recognize you at first, not until you’ve slipped yourself inside and left him a hollow void on the carpet.

They never do put the pieces together. Somehow you clatter on, still educated, still rootless.