Driver's Side Airbag #45

email Harlan

By D. Harlan Wilson

“Death is indissociable from community, for it is through death that the community reveals itself--and reciprocally….A community is the presentation to its’ members of their mortal truth (which amounts to saying that there is no community of immortal beings: one can imagine either a society or a communion of immortal beings, but not a community.”

--Jean-Luc Nancy, The Inoperative Community

Derillict Hagadorn’s Achilles’ tendons are made of spidersteel. He wasn't born with spidersteel Achilles' tendons, he was born with steel ones, and when he was an infant a spider snuck into his crib, slit open his heels and spun its silk all over the aberrations. Over time the silk was assimilated. Not only did it reinforce the strength of his steel tendons, it made them pliant and nimble, just like all of the other neighborhood children's Achilles' tendons. The only thing is, all of the other neighbor children's Achilles' tendons, which are made of a wet, feeble substance reminiscent of the stems of lily pads, are always snapping, without warning, and usually without the slightest provocation. Since the last thing Derillict's impervious tendons are about to do is snap, all of the neighborhood children (and their parents, whose Achilles' tendons are always snapping, too) despise Derillict and wish him ill. Nothing would give the neighborhood more pleasure than to hear two of those guitar string-breaking sounds ringing out of Derillict's heels, and then to watch him topple over and land on his face. But that's just not going to happen. Not by natural causes, anyway.

"You stuck-up sonuvabitch!" yells Bobby Van Futon as he crawls by Derillict on the sidewalk. His left Achilles' tendon just gave out on him. That's the third time the tendon gave out this week and he's on his way to the hospital to have it stitched up again. Like Derillict, Bobby's only eight years old and his parents should probably be driving him to the hospital. But they're both already at the hospital getting their own Achilles' tendons stitched back up.

It was Saturday morning and Derillict was on his way to his imaginary friend Sanders’ house to play. They had a big day planned, he and Sanders, and he was excited to get over there. When he ran in to Bobby, however, he stopped and asked him if he needed some help. That's when Bobby said, "You stuck-up sonuvabitch!"

Derillict ignores the insult and tries to hoist the boy onto his back. "Don't worry, Bobby," he says, "I'll save you."

"Save yourself, asshole," growls Bobby, shaking himself free of Derillict's hold. Overcome with jealousy, he impulsively bites Derillict on the heel as hard as he can, hoping to even out the score. But he only succeeds in breaking all of his teeth.

A wide-eyed Derillict asks, "Are you okay?"

A teary-eyed Bobby mumbles something hateful out of his damaged mouth before he turns and crawls away, a sloppy trail of blood marking his wake.

Later that afternoon, as Derillict and Sanders are playing a game of ghost-in-the-graveyard even though the sun is out--playing ghost-in-the-graveyard any time besides nighttime is kind of sacrilegious, but Sanders says it’s healthy to be sacrilegious and anything Sanders says is healthy is, in Derillict’s eyes, healthy--there is a neighborhood meeting called by Mr. And Mrs. Van Futon shortly after they are discharged from the hospital. They were outraged to find that their son’s teeth had been, in Mrs. Van Futon’s words, “wrongfully attacked by that little maniac’s Achilles’ tendon” and demand that the neighborhood take some kind of collective action.

Mrs. Van Futon is standing behind a podium. The podium is her short, balding, battered husband Victor. His back is turned to her and his head is bent, and he’s situated on the axis of a merry-go-round in Hamstring Park. All of the neighborhood residents and their offspring surround the merry-go-round--except, of course, for the ones that are at the hospital having their Achilles’ tendons operated on.

The merry-go-round is spinning very slowly so that everybody can catch an ample glimpse of Mrs. Van Futon’s enraged, ranting visage. Beneath this visage is a trashy velour jumpsuit littered with sweat patches. Above this visage is a nest of ratty brown hair.

“Derillict Hagadorn is a nuisance, a freak, and a menace!” she spits. “His existence places all of our lives in jeopardy! Are we going to sit here and allow this monstrosity to continue to antagonize us?…Jesus Christ!” Her madness exacerbated by the sudden, unexpected bite of an elephant mosquito on her thigh, Mrs. Van Futon bangs her gavel smack against her husband’s bald spot. Without a word, Victor Van Futon crumbles to the bright multicolored platform of the merry-go-round like a Jenga tower. His wife points the gavel at his soggy-looking body and growls, “Get up you crossbreed or I’ll beat you twice as hard when we get home! I said get up!”

It takes a few seconds, but eventually his body stiffens with consciousness and Victor Van Futon manages to push himself back up into a standing, bent-headed, eyes-on-his-toes position.

Mrs. Van Futon nails him on the bald spot again, hard but not as hard as before, and dares him to pass out. He takes the dare without putting up much of a struggle.

Most of the neighborhood listens to and stares at the Van Futons with indifference. A few mothers are breast-feeding naked infants and don’t pay attention to them at all.

“Well?” says Mrs. Van Futon, kicking her husband in the ribs. He moans like a man with a toothache. “I’d like to hear some of your thoughts on this matter. I assume everybody here today feels the same way I do, but I could be wrong.”

The adults look up at the sky or down at the ground and pucker their brows, pretending they see something odd. Mr. And Mrs. Dippleskim’s son Boris lifts his leg a little and, scrunching up his face, dismisses a giant fart. All of the children present explode with laughter. Saginaw Tripp and Larry Hamitup laugh so hard and with so much gusto their Achilles’ tendons break and they have to be escorted to the hospital by their parents.

Eventually the laughter subsides. Hungry for more acclaim, Boris Dippleskim tries to fart again. He is saddened to discover that his first effort expended his store of resources.

The neighbors stare at each other, unsure of what to say, what to do. A small cumulonimbus cloud passes over Hamstring Park and blots out the sun for a moment.

Mrs. Van Futon throws up her arms in surprise. “None of you debases has anything to say? I find that difficult to believe. C’mon! Say something.”

Nobody says anything.

Annoyed, Mrs. Van Futon massages her forehead. Then she says, “I mean, the reason we call Achilles’ tendons Achilles’ tendons is because of Achilles, right? And what kind of Achilles’ tendons did Achilles have? Weak ones. Not strong ones. For the most part Achilles was a strong person, yes, I’m not suggesting that he was anything less than a strong, strong person. But as we all know his strength was not inborn, not genetic, it was a result of his loving mother Thetis dipping him in the infernal River Styx, which immortalized every inch of his body except, obviously, his Achilles’ tendons--Thetis was hanging on to those when she dipped him. Now why she didn’t make sure his Achilles’ tendons got wet is a mystery to me, so don’t ask me about it. Maybe she was in a hurry or something. What am I, a historian? The point is, Achilles’ worthless tendons are the foundation upon which this community is set, and Derillict Hagadorn’s Achilles’ tendons are the very antithesis of this foundation! I won’t endure it a moment longer. Neither will Victor. We’re going to put an end to that young fiend’s tyranny once and for all.”

“What is it you intend to do?” says Mr. Hagadorn, pushing his way to the front of the crowd. Mrs. Hagadorn, the equivalent of Mr. Van Futon in terms of physical and emotional bent-headedness, cowers at her husband’s side, twitching like an insect. A sterling silver choke-chain hangs from her pencil-neck.

“Oh my,” says Mrs. Van Futon and touches her chest. She’s been having an affair with Mr. Hagadorn for two years now. She spends more time with him than with her husband, it seems, but still, every time she sees him she gets butterflies in her stomach.

By coincidence the merry-go-round comes to rest just as Mr. Hagadorn bursts onto the scene. Rather than order her husband to get up and start it spinning again, Mrs. Van Futon turns and faces the tall, barrel-chested drink of water that is her lover.

“Hello, Buck,” she intones in a deep, seductive voice.

“Hello, Veronica,” Mr. Hagadorn replies and smirks as the image of an illegal sexual position the two of them accomplished this morning materializes on his mind’s screen. “We’re willing to help, the wife and I. We’ve been reticent to do so in the past, Derillict being our son and all, but enough is enough. Truth is, we really don’t care much for the boy. He’d be better off dead than be raised by a couple of people who don’t like him. Isn’t that right, honey?” Mr. Hagadorn grabs Mrs. Hagadorn’s choke-chain and tightens it. “That’s right,” she squeaks. Her squeak is an earnest one but he continues to choke her until her face turns purple and she faints.

The neighborhood blinks.

Fed up with the neighborhood, Mrs. Van Futon ignores them. “Well done,” she mouths to Mr. Hagadorn in silence. Mr Hagadorn nods and mouths, “Thank you,” back at her. They continue to mouth things to each other without actually speaking. These things are all in reference to the action that will be taken against Derillict Hagadorn. Everybody else watches the mute conversation like a tennis match, trying to read the two players’ lips, but nobody is an adept enough lip-reader to figure out what’s being communicated. Boredom sets in like a forest fire and the congregation quickly disperses, leaving the Hagadorns and the Van Futons to their scheming…

Elsewhere Derillict is giving his imaginary friend a hug goodbye. “I had fun today, Sanders,” says the boy. “See you again tomorrow?”

Sanders replies, “Sure thing.” Then he implodes.

As always Derillict begins bawling, mourning the loss of his best friend even though he knows he will be reunited with him tomorrow. But a lot can happen between the present moment and tomorrow. A whole lot.

As Derillict meanders home, he thinks about all of the things that might happen to him. He thinks about them so pointedly that he doesn’t even notice when Mrs. Van Futon crawls out of a nearby bush and begins to tail him. In her firm grasp is a supersized pair of stainless-steel garden shears off of which the sunlight glints and occasionally gets in her eyes, stinging them. She curses the shears under her breath for being so shiny, then hikes up the overstretched elastic waistband of her jumpsuit and bends over, determined to cut Derellict’s Achilles’ tendons in half. It’s difficult to get at them, however, when they’re both in motion; time after time she snips at the air, missing the tendons by mere millimeters. She begins swearing louder and more regularly until she trips on a crack in the sidewalk and her newly-mended Achilles’ tendon snaps loose. She awkwardly topples onto her face Her left elbow lands on one of the shears razor-sharp blades and is sliced off.

Derillict doesn’t so much as glance over his shoulder. He sees and hears nothing but what the future may have in store for him…

Mr. Van Futon crawls out of a bush next to the one his wife had been hiding in and comes to her assistance. He uses a handkerchief to apply pressure to her wound, which is gushing with blood. She yells at him for applying too much pressure, then too little pressure, then too much pressure, then too little pressure…Once the blood stops flowing with such vehemence, she orders him to retrieve her elbow.

“I d-d-dunno where it went,” he stutters.

His wife shouts, “Bullshit! You find that elbow, mister, or I’ll have your ass!”

Nodding his bruised, lumpy head, Mr. Van Futon beings to scrutinize the sidewalk.

At the same time, Mrs. Hagadorn is in the process of emerging from a manhole that her son has just passed by. She’s holding a freshly-sharpened hatchet. Beneath her, underneath the road in the sewer water, is her husband, who, once he pushes her skinny hide all the way out of the manhole, sticks up his head and whispers, “Don’t let me down, woman. You hack those Achilles’ tendons in two and let that brat bleed to death, okay? Listen to me now. Otherwise I might be inclined to leave you forever!”

Heat lightning swims up and down Mrs. Hagadorn’s spine at the thought of life without Mr. Hagadorn by her side. She hates him, she fears him more than God--she needs him. Who, after all, will she hate and fear if he were to leave her? Derillict certainly isn’t up to the challenge, not at his age. She would rather kill her loving son than be deserted by her hated husband, in which case she would kill herself, so she assures Mr. Hagadorn that the deed will be done at all costs. (Little does she know the sewage her husband is immersed in contains a mycotoxin that is at this moment infusing his body with a rare strain of Methusula’s syndrome, which will age and kill him in under a month.)

Despite herself, Mrs. Hagadorn tiptoes behind the oblivious Derillict for a block and a half before working up the courage to lean over and take a swing at him. She misses. The hatchet nails the sidewalk and sends a flurry of sparks into her face. The sparks are piping hot and burn tiny craters into her paper-thin skin. She stifles a yelp of agony…and swings again. Another miss, another faceful of sparks, another stifled yelp. On her third try she finally makes contact with her son’s left Achilles’ tendon. It’s a beautiful shot, right on target. She couldn’t have hit her mark more squarely.

Too bad her mark treated the hatchet like Bobby Van Futon’s teeth.

Thinking a mosquito is biting him on the ankle, Derillict Hagadorn comes to an abrupt stop, lifts his ankle out in front of him and slaps it. He stands there a moment. In the distance a few snapping Achilles’ tendons followed by a few loud curses can be heard. Derillict makes a face. Then, making another face, he walks on, wondering if, in the next few minutes, he will die…

Mrs. Hagadorn watches him go. She’s sitting on the sidewalk like a propped-up ventriloquist doll, her eyes glazed, her cheeks steaming…A few feet behind her, an ant is trying to hoist an elbow onto its back…

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