The tab snapped. Beer fizzed and overflowed, cold on his hand. Quick slurping followed. None should go to waste. The taste didn’t register. The slurping was an involuntary reaction. There was no thought, no chance to taste, but the coolness was felt on his tongue and on dry, cracked lips. With the amber liquid suitably lapped, the grip was shifted and the can tilted back. Dew and beer remnants on the rim were also cool on his lips, but the true cold, the needed cold, came with the rush of liquid down his parched throat. Eyes closed, maw open so wide the healing sides of his mouth cracked anew, dribbles of blood swirled in the beer and descended unnoticed down his gullet in the torrent of ale. Three gulps and it was gone. Three glorious, deep gulps. Eyes slowly opening, his mouth came to a close as his calloused hand squeezed tightly and crumpled the aluminum in a series of satisfying pops.
“Like a dying man,” said a voice.
“What?” was Terry’s reply.
He entered a room. Moments before he’d been standing in a hallway lit by hanging chandeliers that were too cheap to be called chandeliers. The illumination gave the dated and water-stained wallpaper a sickly yellow pallor, which was no favor to the tenants and visitors of the apartment building. The tenement itself was four stories tall, squat and cube shaped and unremarkable in all respects. It was one of several buildings of its type in what was an area of the city mostly ignored.
He had knocked. He had manners of a sort after all. No one answered so he knocked again. There was still no answer, but he was expected so he tried the doorknob and wasn’t at all surprised when it turned freely. He looked to his right and then to his left though he had no cause to do so. The hallway was empty. Doors were closed. In the general atmosphere, he could hear muffled music (some sort of hip-hop garbage), the babble of a television (a talk show perhaps or maybe a game show; they sounded the same when reduced to an indistinguishable murmur) and some raised voices (domestic dispute for certain). Emanating through the closed door in front of him were the sounds of two wild animals rutting, though muffled as if the beasts were distant and partially buried. He opened the door just enough to slip inside, and shut it just as quickly, being careful to not let it emit anything more than a quiet click.
“I said you look like a dying man, you deaf fuck.” Bill was lying on top of Lisa. He was looking over his shoulder at Terry who was standing in the bedroom doorway, leaning casually, fingers hooked in the belt loops of his jeans. The sheets had, at some point, fallen or been tossed off the bed. Terry couldn’t help but notice with some amusement that the white cotton was decorated subtly with blue roses, and that the pillows beneath Lisa’s head were covered by matching cases. It was definitely Lisa’s doing.
Terry had watched Bill doing Lisa for a good five minutes before Bill had deftly moved her from doggy-style to classic missionary without needing to either withdraw or interrupt his stroke. Bill’s broad back and wide shoulders were taut, his corded arms flexed, his large hands gripping firmly Lisa’s fleshy thighs as he yanked her back and forth. Each powerful thrust was punctuated by a bestial grunt from Bill and a deep, throaty growl from Lisa. On her back with Bill propped up over her on his column-like arms, Lisa had opened her eyes and noticed Terry and his smile in the doorway.
“Cocksucker,” is what she had shrilled. It was an exclamation Bill had not expected to hear. It threw him off his stride and in being knocked out of his carnal reverie he became aware of his surroundings once again and quickly sensed a presence behind him.
“You look like a dying man,” Bill said. From Terry’s vantage point, he could tell Bill was still deep inside and neither man nor woman made a move to cover themselves or disengage.
Terry shrugged. “Hard trip,” he said. “Fucking buses,” he followed and said no more. Nothing more needed to be said. Fucking buses indeed. Public transit within the city was bad enough but maintained a modicum of respect because of its semi-popularity among business professionals who believed riding the bus was a socially responsible sacrifice. Intercity bus service, however, was the worst and lowliest form of transit ever inflicted upon the human race. Populated by half-wits, full fledged retards, general weirdos, sad sacks, shriveled up seniors, single moms, crying brats, and university students, buses were moving parcels of misery. Terry’s piece of shit car wouldn’t have survived the five hundred mile trip, he couldn’t afford airfare, and hitchhiking was dead, so that left the bus as his only option.
The ride had been an exercise in anger management. The bus was filled to near capacity though thankfully no one sat next to him. He had placed his army green duffel bag in the seat beside him, and draped one arm across it, tattooed forearm and bicep bared and blazing. That deterred most of the passengers. Terry’s cold, piercing, unmoving eyes took care of the rest.
Soon after the city was left behind, the recycled air carried with it the smell of poorly washed bodies, cheap old lady perfume, burps, flatulence and baby piss and shit. A gaggle of university students debated and discussed things that were of no use in the real world. A baby cried, snored, coughed itself awake and cried some more. It’s mother sang hushed lullabies that weren’t hushed enough, and generally did her best to ignore the advances of the greasy fat-body seated across the aisle from her. He considered himself quite the wit, and tried out all his best jokes, speaking to her ample cleavage and nipples, the latter of which had perked up in the increasing humidity of the bus. These were the noises Terry most noticed, but there was a general annoying babble that picked at his nerves like a mariachi plucking a guitar.
Under normal circumstances, he could calm himself with nicotine. He couldn’t smoke on the bus though, not even in the cramped bathroom stall, with its piss stained walls and air reeking of sickly sweet air freshener. Only one hundred miles out, Terry had considered taking refuge in the bathroom and lighting up, State laws be fucked. He had sized up the bus driver when he climbed the three steps and gotten on board. He was a brown man– probably from India, Pakistan or similar curry eating country– and though Terry knew those areas of the world produced terrorists that were willing to blow themselves up for what they believed to be a holy and righteous cause, his experience had shown him that on this side of the pond these men were soft and womanly. Terry strongly suspected he could smoke a whole pack of cigarettes without needing to worry about the bus driver getting uppity and throwing him off the bus. What gave him pause, however, was the fact that the bus stopped at every backwater shit-burg between point A and point B, and he had no interest in explaining his decision to light up to some small-town badge that was just itching to be a tough guy. Terry could lick the majority of cops he had ever laid eyes upon, but the terms of his parole dictated that he wasn’t supposed to leave town, so he didn’t want to give anyone reason to get up in his shit. Out of options, Terry had hunkered down in his seat, shut his eyes and tried his damnedest to ignore everything around him.