In my parents finished basement where I spent most of my time, with friends, my brother, or with my two best friends Nintendo and Sega, I discovered one afternoon after school a slug on the carpet watching the television. The television was on and had already been tuned to channel 18, the playboy channel, but the broadcast was heavily blurred… flickering a distorted and infinitely scrolling picture… the bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep — that sound, instead of what you wanted to hear. And the slug was simply there, contentedly watching the images ripple incomprehensibly, the alarm soundtrack going going going… and that’s when the slug reached up with its antennae and clicked the dial forward once to channel 19.
Channel 19 was, in terms of the audio and video, the almost complete inverse of channel 18: you could see nothing except dirty snow shimmering on-screen, but could hear everything happening over on channel 18 well enough to follow along. So the slug was at it when I arrived downstairs: clicking the dial back and forth between the two channels, sliming the carpet area where I usually sat down and played my Nintendo. I spent a good few moments staring at the slug, disturbed by its presence but also, and probably moreso, engrossing itself over the two channels I had kept to myself so closely and secretly for well over a year. It not only knew what it wanted to watch, but it was almost as if it had sneaked into this basement at the exact hour I had already check-marked and set aside for this very routine and time-sensitive activity. And the slug, while ostensibly not doing all that much, was quite the display. The carpet was beginning to stick together, had already become shiny and gnarled from the trail of obvious filth it had secreted and used to slide on over from the cellar door. It stunk humid and warm and stale in the basement, like the way I imagined sex could smell. The slug looked up and acknowledged me with the side of its antennae before shrugging me off to resume its deranged enjoyment, clicking disapprovingly between the channels, between a blaring alarm and canned moans or ugly talk, with a sort of quiet, lubricated poise.
I ran upstairs and grabbed the salt shaker from the kitchen table.
As I readied my way back down the staircase to the basement again a sourness had begun rumbling up from my stomach. As I took my first steps, salt shaker in hand, the sourness lurched acridly upwards into my throat. I wrestled it down, swallowed it into a ball of nerves and continued slowly downward, stumbling off the final step and nearly spilled my teenage body — and the salt shaker — face-first across the carpet. It was summer and the heat brought with it a storm of insects to the condominium complex where we lived, a village surrounded by the woods I used to play with friends in as a smaller child. As you walked Happy Hollow Circle the road eventually led to a roundabout, and at the back end of the roundabout a grassy patch coaxed you inside the Woods… the soil was usually damp there from a quiet brook that moved softly through small rocks and over dried leaves — and all the kids who lived on Happy Hollow Circle could be found at any point there in the day along this partition. My mother told me never to play there, as an inch of water was all it would take for me to drown. If I slipped and fell, and I did spend a lot of time falling, I could have died there. I played along the brook in the woods whenever I wanted to, defying her wish. She always wanted me to stay away, and for the most part it was ingrained in me. I never traveled beyond the brook in the woods and I never went into the woods at night.
The carpet held within its little grasps a garden of negligence. As a teenager i’d hidden my pimples picked clean in the basement, and to learn about sex from these crude images instead of asking anyone, or my parents. It was better to have a place I could explore myself, a place I could break and leave and come back to without change. Often, i’d come onto the carpet standing up, my jeans still around my ankles, the bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep cheering me on and then, pulling it back together, the television quickly to channel whatever, I’d stomp upstairs and tear into my box of Wheat Thins, pushing at and adjusting myself. Once the rest of my drizzle had oozed out and stiffened my boxers I tucked them into the hamper pile, expertly beneath my family’s supply of socks and washcloths. Sometimes, I just left them on the carpet among my bitten off nails and leftover toys, but they’d be gone, washed by the time I remembered I should be hiding them. I always became flushed when someone had the nerve to penetrate my garden.
Since my discovery of Channel 18 i’d humped anything even suggestively soft in the basement garden. The couch, a repulsive rust color, had perfect little crevices between each section. My blue convertible floor chairs that opened into beds could be squished together nicely. The torn back of a stuffed animal. Socks from the adjoining laundry room drier, which i’d hide in storage boxes or seasonal shoes and boots filed away on the upper shelves of the laundry room. There were spots on the carpet by the television i’d grown to avoid and used the floor chairs more frequently. Nothing felt quite right, even though I knew nothing of what it should feel like, but I maintained an imagination that supplied me with a warm body in every secret place i’d selected.
I hated the way it smelled, and it was always a little damp feeling which brought on spasms same as when I resorted to killing bees with magazines or the bottom of my sneakers. An oily rush of blood, the way i’d imagined death. The slug there, minding its business and ignoring mine, aware but not wholly concerned with my steady approach. It was so disgusting to me… but I couldn’t think of another way to get rid of it… the shame was already so overwhelming, the shame of resorting to this bullshit… it was bullshit to kill the slug. And I had never even tried it before… what would happen to it? Would it break into a panic and slither away fast as a cartoon back up the little hidden place it arrived through? Would it simply explode? Or would I hear it shriek… cry out… wail in a death agony? I just didn’t know anything at all, and I was seething with fear and shame over what was about to go down in my garden. I unscrewed the shaker and held it slowly over the slug.
It was making a fool of me. It had watched me, no doubt, at this exact hour watching Channel 18 and Channel 19. It had watched me grow, stroke, and spread my teenage bleach across the carpet like a clown, a madman… and now it was here to do its own kinda getting off. Whatever that was. I began sweating oil as I tipped the shaker over the slug from a height of at least 2 feet. The slug swells immediately. I screamed and gripped the shaker ran upstairs to the kitchen feeling sourness in my throat I turned and spit drooling into the sink… hung suspended over the counter and bubbling off my bottom lip… I started to cry hot sick tears and slammed my palms on the kitchen counter hard… again…again… until I could feel it sting.
I managed to sit down at the kitchen table. My head fell into my hands. Being summer Mom didn’t need to cook breakfast so i’d eat cereal and milk, but sometimes i’d make myself scrambled eggs. I would watch her make them for us during the school year: the little kitchen television playing Good Morning America, her scrambling with salt pepper and milk the eggs and pouring the mixture in a sizzling pan streaked with butter. She’d empty the cooked eggs onto my plate and we’d eat. Her with her baked potato and salsa and egg whites, me with my juice and scrambled eggs. I’d grab the salt shaker before tasting the eggs and shake a little over my plate. Taste it first, she’d say, don’t wanna put too much salt on you’ll blow up. She had it down for everything she ate how much salt would go into it. I didn’t care… I liked salt, made everything taste better, put as much on as I liked. Especially when she made me overcooked eggs, you needed salt to make em better.
I put the shaker back in its original pose. The light that fell through the kitchen window darkened the afternoon. I only hope I used enough salt.
Unfolding a towel from the linen closet I held it open as I made for the basement again, Blanketing the mess and pulling it together in a heap underneath. I formed a tight ball with the towel, careful not to look, and held it at arms length until it was in with the trash. Back in the basement, humid and stale from slow summer, the dehumidifier clicked on. It rattled and shivered as it pulled the moisture from the air. The television had been turned off. The carpet needed to be cleaned. Cereal bowls stacked high with dried milk on their spoons loomed. Evening entered along with the rest of my family, and we decide to get Chinese food. Low sodium soy sauce, she said, and the salad dressing on the side, please. Thank you.