cyle talley

Animal Noises

(This story was originally posted on my Instagram feed (@borderlineobscene) as a part of my daily “#storygram” project. This is the full version of the story, free from the rampant cuts and edits that were forced on it by Instagram’s 2200 character limit.)

If it were up to me, I would be playing golf or watching the game, but, as is the case for so many men, I married a woman who has become my conscience, which is why I’m spending my Saturday afternoon dishing out corned beef to the homeless.

I knew on our first date, when she slipped a homeless guy a $5 as we passed, that my wife is a better person than I am, but days like today give me tangible proof. She’s effervescent, the satisfaction radiating off of her as she scoops peas onto passing trays. She talks to each bum, derelict, and fraud as they pass, asking their names, how they’re doing, and what they’re up to.

They’re bums, Mary,’ I think as she smiles at a man who has skin like a burlap bag. ’They can’t remember their names, they’re miserable, and they aren’t doing anything. What do you want them to say?

Someone’s coughing near the trays. An empty, desperate hack that echoes over clattering trays, chair legs squawking on the linoleum, and a choir of garbled voices. It’s a woman. Rail thin, with the greasy, stringy hair of a middle aged man who still believes that the band is going to make it. The poor thing is in a state. She wipes her mouth on the back of her hand and stares slackjawed at the floor. Whether she’s on her way up or crashing down, I can’t tell, but she’s coherent enough to grab a tray and get in line.

At one time, she may have been quite pretty, though whatever she’s taking has taken what should be assets- high cheekbones, full lips, a stately neck- and turned them into, well, the Cryptkeeper.

She lets out a sudden, jagged cackle at something only she is hearing and I can only imagine the breath that swirls around behind those pewter gray teeth. Even the people around her are uncomfortable. The two men that sandwich her in line both subtly inch away, making sure to know where she is in their periphery, like beaten dogs.

“Oh, c’mon!” She leers at them and no one can tell if she is smiling or baring her teeth. “That shit was funny! Did you hear that shit?! C’mon! Laugh with me, fucker!” She pounds one of them on the shoulder and when he flinches, she cackles again and calls him a pussy as she clatters her tray and makes a series of increasingly louder and more deranged animal noises. None of the staff says anything to her, though all of them are looking. They’re either accustomed to her or afraid of her, but they, like the rest of us, can’t decide if it’s better to keep an eye on her or pretend that she’s not there at all.

The woman slides down the line to get her peas and my wife- the good human being that she is- smiles, but her hands are shaking.

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