Vines by Jack Eikrem

Joey grew a grapevine in his nose. He must have accidentally snorted the seeds off his kitchen island which hadn’t been sponged while the housekeeper was out with the flu.

He woke at 7:00 am, as always, with a blinding headache which was not unusual given the amount of cocaine he snorted. Joey splashed water on his face in the bathroom, and since the right side of his nose was completely clogged, he grabbed a Kleenex and began to blow.

The thing would not dislodge.

Joey blew into the Kleenex for minutes—he even covered his left nostril to build up more air pressure—before a fat concord grape, crusted in slime and dappled ever so slightly with blood, shot forcefully out of his nose and into the wad of tissue.

Something was amiss, but Joey assumed there was some rational explanation and decided not to think about it.

He flushed the grape and continued his morning routine.

At precisely 8:50, as always, Joey pulled his red Mercedes into the parking lot of Blue Ocean Management where he worked as a middleman. Blue Ocean Management was an ambiguously titled firm that sounded like a place that sold real estate along the Mid Atlantic Ridge, but was actually a collector of medical debt. Joey and his colleagues were muscle for the healthcare industrial complex, and they waxed exceeding fat on the wine of human suffering.

Joey loved his job. Not the paperwork that comprised his formal duties—the paperwork that he passed off to an intern. No, he loved playing golf with doctors and sitting in plush leather chairs in his office and buying all the cocaine he could snort with his bloated, racketeer paychecks.

His right nostril was stuffed again, so he snorted his coke through his left. He snorted it off his polished mahogany desk through a rolled up hundred like he’d seen gangsters do in the movies.

The intern brought him his coffee and he passed her a fat stack of papers and said, have these backs by the end of the day.

She said that she would and took the papers and flashed him a moderately attractive smile. He thought that if he wasn’t too busy next week he might fuck her, mostly because he was a creature of habit and always eventually fucked his interns.

At 2:00 pm, he went to play golf with Dr. Nelson. By this time, his nose was completely stuffed, so when Dr. Nelson suggested that they do a line of coke, Joey had to politely refuse.

After the game, which he let Dr. Nelson win, Joey took a piss in the john at the pro-shop and squeezed a couple more grapes out of his nose and did a line off the toilet seat, which he didn’t normally do, but he was afraid his nose would close back up, so he got down on his knees on the white tile floor and packed the cocaine into a neat little line with his credit card. He put his nose right down on the toilet seat and snorted it up.

Back at the office, the intern brought him his papers and he decided he’d definitely fuck her if he wasn’t too busy next week.

Then he went home to his midtown condo and blew more grapes out of his nose and snorted cocaine off the marble topped island and passed out on the floor.

***

The next morning when he looked in the mirror, Joey noticed two tendrils of vine curling out of his nostrils. They had the shape of a handle-bar moustache like you’d find on a gilded-age villain.

Joey snipped off the grapevine-moustache with a pair of kitchen shears. He tried to clear his nostrils, but found it was quite impossible.

This was starting to get inconvenient.

He didn’t snort any coke that morning, so by the time he pulled into his parking spot at 9:17 in the morning, he was in lousy mood.

When he got to his office the intern was waiting with a cup of coffee.

The coffee was cold, and this morning Joey wanted a fucking latte, so he threw it on the floor and said, you stupid bitch, can’t you get anything right?

The intern was confused because it was the same coffee Joey always drank. But she saw that his face was paste-white and that he was covered with sweat, so she said, you should be home in bed, and offered to drive him home.

And Joey said yes because he thought you should be home in bed sounded like an invitation.

The intern took Joey to her car: a crummy old Buick that looked like something a grandma would drive. It was spotted with rust, and the paint was peeling around the edge of the door.

Something about the squalor turned Joey on and he thought that he’d like to have the intern right there in the back of her shitty car. So, when she opened the door to let Joey in, he put his hand on her shoulder and pulled her in close and mashed his face into hers and tried to put his tongue in her mouth.

And she smacked him right in the fucking face and told him off for his inappropriate workplace behavior and said that she’d file a complaint.

Because none of his other interns had ever refused him, Joey assumed that he’d lost his mojo. He’d lost it because he hadn’t taken cocaine. It never occurred to him that the intern thought he was an asshole.

So Joey drove himself home in his red Mercedes and while he was driving he called Dr. Nelson.

Doc, he said, I’ve gotta see ya.

Come on in this afternoon, said Dr. Nelson.

People usually had to make appointments a few weeks in advance, but Dr. Nelson had his receptionist rearrange his schedule because Joey’s company chased down the bums who couldn’t pay Dr. Nelson’s fees. And so some little old lady with a sinus infection had her appointment put off for a week and the sinus infection turned into pneumonia and she died.

But at least Joey got his appointment.

***

Joey sat on the examination table. He was wearing a hospital gown and the vinyl was chafing his ass.

So, how’s the nose? asked Dr. Nelson.

It’s a little plugged, said Joey. Nothing major, but it’s starting to interfere with my sex-life.

Let’s have a look. Dr. Nelson picked up his otoscope.

He looked in Joey’s nose.

Is it bad, Doc?

Well, said Dr. Nelson, it looks like you’ve got yourself a vineyard.

Fuck, said Joey, what do I do?

Dr. Nelson wrote Joey a prescription for Agent Orange, a chemical the military used to clear out the Vietnamese rainforest that came in a nasal-spray bottle with a cheerful orange cap. Dr. Nelson gave Joey a physician’s sample and faxed the prescription to Walgreens.

Joey said, I’m not snorting Agent Orange it’ll kill me.

But Dr. Nelson wasn’t listening. He was bent over the plastic counter by the utility sink, snorting a line of cocaine through a piece of surgical tubing.

Joy put his pants on and left.

He pulled into the garage across the street from his apartment and parked in his usual spot. As he was getting out of the car, he noticed some sticky red spots on the leather upholstery. Joey ran his hand under his nose. He felt something warm smear across the back of his hand. It was red and sticky like blood, but not quite as thick.

Joey looked around to make sure nobody was watching. He licked the red smear off the back of his hand. It tasted like cheap wine—the kind that comes in a box.

Inside his nose, the grapes were fermenting.

Joey was really scared. Somehow this made everything seem real. There was something inside him, growing. He got down on his knees on the black cement floor of the garage and bargained and pleaded and cried. His tears were sticky and red. He screamed in pain and frustration until his voice echoed in the furthest corners of the parking structure.

***

He woke up in his midtown apartment. He woke up minus an eye. Sometime during the night, the grapevine had erupted through his left eye-socket. Eye-jelly ran down the side of his face. His right tear duct was starting to bud, and there was a terrible pressure behind his ears.

The alarm clock said 10:43.

Joey was so fucking late.

He ran to the elevator and mashed the first-floor button.

In the lobby, the doorman saw him. His face turned white at the sight of the foliage growing out of Joey’s face. The doorman grimaced in horror. Then he puked all over the counter.

Joey rushed through the doors of the building and onto the street.

On the sidewalk, a woman was walking with her child. When she saw Joey, she screamed and covered the kid’s eyes.

Joey ran to the parking structure.

He got in his car and drove towards the office. He was late. He was stressed. He was blowing through stoplights.

Because Joey was missing an eye, he didn’t see the bus. It slammed into him at the corner of thirty second and main, right in front of Dan’s Cigar Shop.

The bus driver wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. He was thrown through the windshield. When he hit the road, the impact severed his spine. There was an awful lot of blood.

The red Mercedes looked like a crumpled coke-can. Smoke billowed around the ruined chassis. There was a pop as the gasstank exploded. Then the car caught fire.

The police cordoned off the scene, the fire department hosed everything down, and the paramedics cut the car open with the jaws of life.

It was all very efficient.

Joey reached out towards the paramedics. The fire had burned away most of the skin on his face. There was a hole where his nose had been. It was choked with vines. There were vines sprouting out of every hole in his face. Fresh bunches of gapes hung from his ears. Wine was smeared over everything.

The paramedics passed out when they saw Joey’s face.

Joey heaved himself out of the smoldering wreck, reeking of rubber and vinegar. He crawled out into the street. Forced himself up on his knees. Staggering, he stood. He lurched like Frankenstein’s monster.

The police on the perimeter panicked. They drew their pistols.

Joey wanted to surrender. He held up his hands. He opened his mouth to say something. Vines exploded out of his mouth, choking off his words. Big bunches of grapes hung all over the vines. He looked like a fucked-up Dionysus.

The officers fired.

The cannonade tore through Joey, shattering grapes, severing vines. A bullet burst in his brain.

The streets were washed in a torrent of wine.

***

The cleanup crew hosed Joey’s body down with Agent Orange to make sure that the grapevines were dead. And just to be safe, they chucked his corpse in an industrial blast furnace.

It was all on the six o’clock news. And everyone moved on with their lives.

But.

If you go to the intersection of thirty second and main, you’ll see a crack in the pavement. And if you stick around after dark, you’ll see that they send out a tank-truck painted so dark you can barely see it against the starless city sky.

And you’ll see people come out of the tank-truck. Come down in their black hazmat costumes. And you’ll see them unwind a hose of corrugated plastic. They’ll hook the hose up to the back of the tank-truck and open the tap on the valve.

They’ll wash the tarmac with Agent Orange.

And if you stay till the first rays of morning, when the sun burns red over Dan’s Cigar Shop, you may see some dead leaves in the cracks of the pavement.

 

 

 

Jack Eikrem is an overcaffeinated human living in Milwaukie, Oregon. He currently attends Marylhurst University where he studies English literature and creative writing. Jack was Writer Laureate at Clackamas Community College in 2017. His poetry has appeared in Salal Review

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