Short Stories:
The Homer

Apparition in the snow

Self loathing in the burbs
Gene Palmisano

A heart pounding pain in my leg shattered my drunken stupor. Reality—my wake-up call—ended my self-anesthetized state of nothingness.
Throwing the sheets off my legs, I reaped the rewards a case of beer and a night of fighting had brought me; a broken ankle the size of a volley ball lay contorted before me. A shinny layer of tight skin covered a blob of purple contused protoplasm that once resembled my leg. The macabre sight lent the impression that it was someone else’s leg. How I wished that were true. It was bad enough waking up hung over but hung over, beaten, and broken was intolerable. I felt like a mangled dog — one breath away from becoming road-kill.
“I gotta piss,” I said, contemplating my predicament. Every little movement sent an explosion of pain down my leg. Getting up and walking to the bathroom was not an option, so I reached over to the nightstand, gathered two empty beer cans, and filled them both to the brim.
The sparse light of a new day filtered through the dingy yellow window curtains illuminating the cracked plaster and peeling paint of the apartment walls. The stench of a previous tenant’s cat permeated the air, aggravating the worst hangover in history. Each passing minute personified the ugliness surrounding my life. I wanted to barf but that too was not an option. I concluded that Tylenol, caffeine, and greasy hamburgers wouldn’t mitigate my hangover—not this time.
I couldn’t deny reality—my leg was definitely broken. I remembered hearing it crack and the bones grating when some dude slammed me to the pavement. Any other time I would square with that bastard or have him brought up on charges, but last night—the way I acted—I deserved what I got.
My whole life had been about control, control over my friends, control over women, and control over my father. It had all been a self-destructive illusion I entertained to compensate for some inadequacy within. The pain in my leg seemed trivial compared to the emotional torture my mind now unleashed. What a jerk I was. Years of contemptible behavior flooded my mind; denial, my manipulative tool of choice, was now rendered useless. I soon realized that pain was my only admirable quality. Pain became my taskmaster. My only recourse was surrender; never had I felt so vulnerable. I pulled a pillow tight against my miserable face trying to muffle my incessant sobbing. I alone shouldered the responsibility for what I had become. I created a living hell, and I owned it.
Eventually my tears subsided and I found peace in a morbid silence. The bathroom door squeaked and I heard a familiar smoker’s hack——Jack was awake. My ephemeral peace evaporated. I knew my old man would grill me with questions, aggravating an already miserable existence. Soon I would have to explain everything; soon I would be forced to relive the hideous details of last night.
Clad in a pair of boxers, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he shuffled into the room. “What time did you get home last night?” he asked.
“I need your help.”
“I need you to help me!”
“What kind of trouble are you in now?” Jack blurted.
“I broke my leg, and I need to get to the hospital.”
Jack just stood there like the brunt of a bad joke, so I whipped the sheet off my legs, exposing my mangled ankle.
“Jesus Christ!” he said. “How the hell did you do that? You really did it this time buddy boy, you really did.” He paced back and fourth in front of the bed averting his eyes from my twisted leg; he couldn’t stand to look at it.
“What…what happened?”
“Does it really matter? I broke my fucking leg, OK!” I bluffed with ferocity, hoping he would back off.
“Did you wreck your car?”
“Who else got hurt?”
“Nobody—I got in a fight.”
“A fight…who did this to you—are the cops involved?”
“No-no cops—just get my ski poles out of the closet and take me to the Emergency Room, will ya?”
I hated the idea of going to the hospital; I knew I was in for some serious pain and suffering. The thought of wearing a cast for twelve weeks was incarcerating. Jack abruptly presented the ski poles from the hall closet. Muttering to himself, he disappeared into his bedroom. I slipped on a tee shirt.
“Hey, bring me a bath towel will ya.”
“Bath towel… what for?”
“Just get it!” I said.
Jack immerged with a purple towel. I snatched it out of his hand and wrapped it around my waist.
“You didn’t expect me to wear pants did you?” I used the ski poles like primitive crutches, swinging my good leg through after every pole plant. Navigating three flights of stairs to the ground floor, posed a serious problem. I had to sit and slide down one step at a time. My battered leg throbbed with pain at every beat of my heart. Jack had pulled the car to the curb and was waiting with the door open. I hobbled over, sat down, and with both hands lifted my leg inside. I need a shot of Demerol, I thought to myself as the car sped away.
. . .
Jack was somber driving across town to the hospital. My tragedy scared the shit out of him. As usual, he always felt deeply responsible for what I did, as though in some sick way it was his fault for not being a better father. Come sundown he would be cracking another beer, talking to himself loudly: “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?” Eventually he would call his usual miserable enablers, heaving and sobbing into the telephone: “I’ve always been a good father,” bawling, “I never did anything to deserve this shit!”

The emergency room was quiet. Jack went to find a wheel chair while I sat in the car lamenting my fate. If only somehow I could turn back the clock and make things right. Tears welled up in my eyes again and I fought the urge to cry. I watched some English sparrows scavenge through a fast food bag in the parking lot; every once in a while, one would shake an old French fry loose and fly away with it.  How I envied them.
The admitting clerk rattled off the usual questions about insurance and financial responsibility. Since I was a minor, Jack signed all the forms. A nurse soon appeared and whisked me away to a corner of the ER, where, behind a curtain, I slipped into a gown and crawled onto a gurney with my broken leg in tow.
The nurse puttered around with a clipboard asking a bunch of irrelevant questions. I wanted to scream at that bitch: “Can’t you see I’m in pain here? Go get me a pain shot now!” Instead I sucked it up.
“Can I get something for pain please? My leg feels about ready to explode.”
“I’ll go see what the doctor will order,” she said, fumbling about, placing my leg up on two pillows before leaving the room.
. . .
Jack came in and pulled up a plastic chair from the corner.
“I feel like shit,” I said.
“You’re lucky to be alive—I want to know who did this to you.”
“Forget about it. It’s not important.” Trying to avoid a confrontation, I closed my eyes and tuned him out. I didn’t want the world to see how dysfunctional we were.
The pain in my leg became unbearable, every agonizing minute worse than the last. Where the hell is that nurse? I thought. Did that bitch forget about me?
After what seemed like an eternity, the curtain flew open and the nurse waltzed in with a syringe.
“What side would you like it on?” She said.
I rolled up on my left and she buried the needle into my ass.
“X-ray will be here shortly,” she said, before vanishing behind the curtain again.
The Demerol and Vistaril went to work immediately. I felt caustic bile well up in my throat. Grabbing a stainless steel kidney basin, I puked my self-dry. The hideous side effect of the opiate eventually subsided, so I laid on my back while the drug released me.
The pain slowly slipped into remission. Before long my eyes became heavy and the prospect of keeping them open became impossible. The miserable events of my life faded away like credits at the end of a B movie. I became totally apathetic, my anxiety, hatred, and self-loathing disappeared. I was getting a temporary reprieve from my awful self—it felt wonderful.
I felt the presence of a stranger, and a voice announced: “Next stop, X-ray.”
“Let’s go,” I mumbled, unable to open my eyes. I had relinquished all control to these strangers; they could harvest a kidney for all I cared. I just wanted to dwell in the opiate fog forever.
. . .
Eventually the drugs wore off; the fog dissipated, and wicked reality crept back in. When I opened my eyes, I found myself back behind the curtain again. There, I saw Jack talking to some old geezer who was dressed in a lab coat. The ancient one sported a wrinkled old face and a striking head of snow-white hair. He wore a sneer for a smile and spoke with a thick German accent. Christ, don’t tell me, I thought. This old Nazi is my surgeon—Himler is going to cut on me?
He shot me a glance, before walking over.
“How did this happen young man?”
“I got in a fight.”
“What does the other man look like then?”
“I got news for you, Doc. When someone breaks your leg in a fight, its over―I lost.” He stepped back and held my x-rays up to the fluorescent lights. After a brief pause, he looked me in the eyes and said with a crooked sneer, “Young man, if you insist on dancing, you must eventually pay the fiddler.”