Lonely Tylenol, by Okla Elliott

          Red had wasted himself on the pipe all night and was rummaging the fibers of the carpet for little imagined chunks of crack, his fingers fidgeting with hope and need, while a man in the kitchen was telling his brother about a woman so perfect it made his balls clench up just thinking of her. He told his brother that if he could lasso a winged heart like hers, he’d walk a straight path the rest of his life and become the man he was intended to be. He maintained that he was a philosopher first and a poet second, that without the lift of idea, beautiful words were as stupid as daisies growing on unmade graves. His brother grunted agreement,slumped heavily against the sink, eyes wandering in and out, lower lip dripping saliva and beer.

          He’d heard all this before, knew its majesty and circumstance by heart.

          “Lonely Tylenol, lonely Tylenol, lonely Tylenol,” a bright-faced boy maybe nine was saying down the hallway for someone who might care. “Forwards and backwards, it spells the same. Lonely Tylenol,” he instructed, proud scientist of words, and gave the bottle a little musical shake.

          The Kitchen Philosopher was explaining how this woman had made him feel like the Jack of fucking Hearts, like King of the World, and how all he needed to be a happy man was to bring her the slightest pleasure. And he meant that with a lowercase and capital P.

          Red’s sister, Wanda, came into the living room and was yelling at him to get out of her house, that she didn’t want that shit he was on around her son, that she’d call the goddamn police if he didn’t get out the door right then and there. Red focused on her, fear on his face, stood, and walked out of the house, muttering whipped-dog whines on his shuffling way. The door clicked behind him without conviction, and Wanda waited some time before locking it. Her head shook absently, unbelieving of the blue-gray streaks of paint on the glass of the door where the painters had slopped the job they weren’t paid much to do.

          “That sonuvabitch,” she said, back in the kitchen, pouring a too-strong, bottom-shelf gin and tonic. She gulped at her drink, swearing to never speak to her brother again.

          The Kitchen Philosopher stopped talking of his lofty and unattained love, felt sympathy for the crow’s feet of Wanda’s eyes, the thickness of her waist, her job in Kroger’s meat department, the poverty her life had been.  He thought he could have loved her once as well.  All that unmoored heft.

          “Lonely Tylenol,” the boy said.

          “It’s time for bed now.  Let mommy and her friends be.”

          She patted the boy on the back and watched as he walked to the far end of the hallway—where his room gaped, glowing yellow from a bedside lamp—a rattle of pills in his hand.

 

 

OKLA ELLIOTT  is the Illinois Distinguished Fellow at the University of Illinois, where he works in the fields of comparative literature and trauma studies. His fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and translations have appeared in such literary journals as Another Chicago Magazine, Circumference, Indiana Review, Jacket Magazine, The Literary Review, Natural Bridge, New Letters, North Dakota Quarterly, and A Public Space. He is the author of three poetry chapbooks — The Mutable Wheel; Lucid Bodies and Other Poems; and A Vulgar Geography — and is the co-editor, with Kyle Minor, of The Other Chekhov.