Jarvis Madigan was strange. At 6 foot 4 he towered over most, yet he was skin and bones. He was homeschooled until the equivalent of ninth grade when he glued a swastika onto his mother’s picture of Jesus the Savior. She signed him up for School #49, 9th through 12th grade. The kids called him André the Giant or faggot because his only friend was Clarence, a short flamboyant blonde boy, who stole women’s thongs from the department store and wore them over his jeans to school. He also thoroughly enjoyed the red, white and blue rocket pops; he could fit them all the way down his throat and said it was only because it was funny, that he did it.
His mother — a stubborn Catholic — was the reason his dad was no longer in the picture. That made Jesus his father, or at least that’s what she told him. Jarvis liked to picture a bearded God walking with Jesus through a circus. The crowd gasping and lots of elephants appearing out of nowhere, like Noah’s Ark, but just with elephants. His mind would fall apart like this: he would go into a trance thinking about oddities, then he would come to and realize suddenly, that someone was talking to him or he had just pissed on the floor.
This was where it all started. His childhood, after years of pressures and pains, was supposed to end at the Peoples community bank: a five-story building hovering over a small town in southern Texas. He had this beautiful idea to kill himself three times in one try. He was going to swallow pills, jump from the bank and shoot himself midway to the ground.
He stood on the ledge of the building and looked down at the crowd moving below. Like ants, they scurried to and fro, from one building to the next, acquiring goods, giving blank stares, snorting coke in bathroom stalls. It was something to think about. He watched a man asking for change, he thought it was pathetic.
“Get outta bed, we’re going to be late!” His mother shouted. He hated it.
“I’m comin,” he said and then mumbled “Bitch” as he slid out of bed.
“Are you ready?” she screamed again from down the stairs. Her voice was shrill and high pitched like a dying rabbit. He couldn’t stand it. He would reprimand himself physically when he had thoughts of strangling her.
“I’m coming down now,” he replied, and threw on a shirt.
She had on an all blue dress and stood one foot shorter than Jarvis. Not one bit of skin was showing below her neck. He had put on a death metal shirt, and she immediately had him put something more conservative on. It turned out to be a button down. She reminded him of Hell, where he would burn, and then they went to the church.
Jarvis couldn’t stand church; he couldn’t stand the community. It was hard for him to understand why anyone would even follow the rules they set and he wondered, if God wanted them to follow these rules, why didn’t he just make everyone do it and not ask them?
The minister was droning on about salvation when Jarvis began to feel sick. Every time the man in black and white at the front of the room said Jesus, Jarvis gagged for a moment. He watched everyone stand and begin to sing. He wanted God to come down right now and tell these people they were wrong for what they did. This congregation, it couldn’t be what He really wanted. Man’s interpretation of sin – that can’t be right. What do we know? He threw up on the women in front of him and felt much better. His mom fainted. He felt no remorse.
The wind blew around him. It was a beautiful day, dry but cool. He held a bottle full of some prescription drug in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other. He watched the crowd and listened to the wind. It blew against his ear and reminded him of driving in a convertible, not that he ever had, but it was how he imagined it to be. He took a pill and chased it with a drink. He wanted a tuna fish sandwich. Jarvis stepped down from the ledge and set up a lawn chair on the roof. He sat down and relaxed.
Jarvis flunked the tenth grade, and as punishment his mom made him work at a Christian camp. He was a dishwasher his first year and returned every year until he was a junior in college. The camp was beautiful. It sat in a wooded area on the edge of a small lake. The campers were isolated from everything and everyone: a perfect place to brainwash children into believing that fornication was terrible until marriage, gays were not to be tolerated, and the Bible was the only book they needed. Sunsets were beautiful and the people, although fake, were unbelievably nice, as Christians tend to be when they are surrounded by others with the same views. At the camp, however, Jarvis would meet the only girl he would ever have feelings for. She worked in the dining room. Jarvis was almost kicked out of camp for putting her boyfriend into the industrial dishwasher. The kid suffered first-degree burns on his face and arms and never came back to the camp after. The Christians understood Jarvis’s “pain” and forgave him for the incident, suggesting he work in a different area. He felt nothing and only smiled when the girl looked at him behind tears: her name was Mary.
The sky was overcast; the clouds were vibrant although grey. The sun illuminated everything, yet was hidden behind the clouds like a veil. The tree branches were violent and well defined with barely any leaves they stretched like veins across the sky; a nervous system built of trees and branches. There was enough wind that the dead leaves rustled on the ground and swayed and spun like little tornados across the grass.
He set down a sleeping bag. There was a heavy cover of leaves littering the ground. It was an odd day, one of the ones where you’re not quite sure what to think. Jarvis felt strange like usual, he lay on the sleeping bag with Mary and they looked up at the clouds. He thought she was beautiful, more so than usual.
“What are you thinking?” she asked.
“I don’t know, really,” Jarvis said slowly.
“How do you not know?”
“I don’t know.” He paused for a bit. “It’s nice out isn’t it?”
“It’s kind of cold,” she said. She was always contradicting him. Everything he suggested she denied and rebuffed. She would never agree with him and he hated it, but he never said anything about it. She had to have power and he understood this because his mother was the same way. They were perfect for each other. He was incompetent and she couldn’t live without control.
They were in the park and Jarvis looked over at the vibrantly colored jungle gym. It was red and blue and yellow, like neon colored spaghetti noodles flowing in and out and around each other to form a perfect order of steps, bridges, and slides. There were tennis courts in the distance and swings, hidden among the trees.
“Say something,” she said suddenly, and he thought about every other time she ever uttered those words and cringed. He knew what she wanted but he didn’t have it in him.
“I don’t care, anything. What are you thinking about? Let me in.” She was starting to get louder, anxious and aggressive. Jarvis began to sweat, he felt pressured.
“What are you feeling,” she said not waiting for an answer. “Be honest.”
“I’m numb,” he said.
She got up and walked back to her car. He lay there till he couldn’t see the veins in the clouds any longer.
It was getting late. He had swallowed many pills, and in his prescription pill induced stupor, he dropped the bottle off the roof, and the remaining pills smashed against the sidewalk. Thinking nothing of it, he drank the rest of the bottle of whiskey. Jarvis rarely messed with drugs throughout his lifetime and forgot how good they made him feel. His body was numb and there was that feeling of ecstasy or maybe just complacence – everything felt right. He thought about his dad, the one he could only really remember from photos. They would go to the same park he took Mary to every weekend until he was five. Understandably though, those trips slowly became less and less frequent as his mom began to devote herself to the church and as his father slowly disappeared to the margins and then finally left them. After that, Jarvis rarely spoke to his mother unless she threatened him with the belt.
His dad apparently had been found face down in a toilet at a club called “The Rowdy Cowboy” in Los Angeles. Jarvis’ dad was wearing ass-less chaps and a red bandana on his head tied in the front when he died. They thought it was murder, but found a copious amount of meth in his system upon autopsy.
Jarvis remembered telling Clarence about his father’s death, not leaving a single detail out. He didn’t know why he told Clarence everything, even about the ass-less chaps, but he did, and Clarence began to cry. They sat there for a while and then Jarvis went home. His mother asked him where he had been. Jarvis lied and said he was at the library.
The wind died down and it was turning into a regular Texan night. The lights were coming on down below and he could hear honky-tonk music playing from a bar. He wanted to go to the ledge and sit down, his feet dangling, his mind wandering. He wanted to watch the people now, they were probably worse than before. They were probably drugged up, drunk, and feisty –looking to fuck as they moved from bar to bar. He could see them: little bodies running across the street drunkenly avoiding oncoming traffic. Girls were probably wearing nothing. His mom would have died if she went out on the streets at night. She would’ve run around condemning and reciting passages from the good book. He imagined his mom talking to some broad in a tight tube top with dick on her mind and laughed.
Jarvis pulled a magnum out of his backpack and rubbed it down with the edge of his shirt. It gleamed in the light and looked brand new.
He was head lifeguard at the camp. He didn’t expect to stay another year. He made the lifeguards below him do all the work as he slept in the office. Two kids almost drowned on his watch – that was two more than any lifeguard before him. He didn’t care.
Mary had been given the assistant camp director job and now lived full time all year round on the camp. Jarvis lived with her; they slept in different beds. Mary wouldn’t allow anything unless they married. It was winter and the only people on the camp were the maintenance crew, and Mary and Jarvis. Jarvis didn’t work. He just watched TV while Mary prepared for the camp in the summer and made sure the maintenance guys got their work done.
It was an ordinary day – Jarvis sat in his chair watching TV, until Mary ran into the house sobbing. Jarvis could hear an ambulance outside.
“Todd tried to kill himself,” she said in between snorts and coughs.
“Really?” Jarvis moved in his chair slightly and lowered the volume on the TV.
“I had to get him up, he wasn’t at work today… I saw it all.”
“What did you see?”
“I could figure that out,” he said.
Mary shot him a horrified glare and collapsed on the floor. He got up, slower than one should in this instance, and walked toward her contorted body. When she came to, she explained that Todd, the maintenance worker, had drank half a gallon of Drain-O and tried to cut his hand off with a metal saw. He got half way and passed out, she found him in a pool of blood. They pumped his stomach and saved his life. Months later Mary got a card from him. It said Fuck You.
Jarvis learned many years later that Todd had been in and out of mental hospitals. He, like Jarvis had an abusive mother and no father. Religion saved Todd, but Mary was never kind. She would yell at him for small errors in his work, and not once did he ever receive even a “Good job.” Mary never let up and only after Todd almost died, did she show compassion.
Jarvis shot the gun into the air. He wasn’t worried. If anyone heard it, they’d think nothing of it. After all, they were all too drunk or just very accustomed to the sound of a gun. He laughed because he lived in Texas.
Jarvis never told Mary he loved her. He couldn’t. He wasn’t sure what to do in situations like that. He was never really good with people. They didn’t seem to like him, and he didn’t really like them; he blamed his mother.
The sun was setting and the nightlife of the small town was in full swing. The douche bags would be coming out, the Edwards and the Jacobs. The queers and their vampires, he thought. It reminded him of a scene in Kerouac’s On the Road, where Jack flashes his piece at random gays, scaring them away after they hit on him. It was a superb passage and Jarvis realized how much that book affected him in college. He laughed again. What a crock of shit, he thought.
He realized then that he had to urinate, but he was too numb to get up. His whiskey was gone and the pill bottle was in a million pieces beyond his reach. He held a false happiness that he didn’t want to leave. He felt better than ever before and looked up into the skies. The clouds were red, the sky was a violent purple and he remembered a dream he had when he was seven.
“They were red.”
“What were?” his mom asked.
“The clouds. They were red as blood in my dream.”
His mom looked at him, she was perplexed, and shock covered her face. It looked like she had just been slapped.
He continued: “The clouds were red, I couldn’t see the stars, it was just red. There were people screaming, dad was there. He was crying and called out to me and I ignored him—”
“As you should have!” she shrieked. “What happened next?”
“The red clouds departed and it was just black. I looked down and there was a graveyard. The grass was black the graves were white and they sat upon a hill. At the top there was a little boy, he had on the pope’s hat and a crusaders tunic. It was white with a red cross that stretched from arm to arm and his neck to his knees. He began to run toward me and I just watched him, and the closer he got the more scared I got. My heart was racing, I was so scared mom.”
She looked at him chanting a prayer under her breath. “Then what Jarvis. What happened next?”
“The little boy, he changed.”
“How so?” she asked.
“His face started to change. It turned grey, his eyes were yellow and his nails grew sharp. He got closer and closer and finally he was on top of me. I could feel his breath on my face, I fell down and all I could see was the clouds. They were red like blood.”
She stood up and went into her bedroom. He could hear her rummaging through the drawers and fear fell over him. She emerged with a belt in her hand and came at him, ironically, like a bat out of hell, striking him hard in the face causing him to fall to his knees. She whipped him in the back until blood seeped through his shirt and then sent him to his room. The wounds never fully healed and he had four scars across his back that looked like he was mauled by a large jungle cat.
He really wanted a tuna fish sandwich. He stood up, the magnum in one hand a picture in the other.
“Mary is dead,” her mother’s voice came through the phone but Jarvis couldn’t hear anymore. He hung it up, and went outside. He was at the camp, she had gone home to see her parents. He didn’t want to go for they made him feel uncomfortable. She was dead, he thought. How could that be?
It was a few months after Todd had tried to kill himself. Mary was found hanging from a pull up bar that was fixed upon her closet door. Her parents found her hanging and a note left on her desk. She apologized to them for having to see her like that, and told them to call Jarvis to tell him she loved him. He never forgave her for leaving him alone in a world full of perverts and was mad at her funeral. He remembered standing up, mid-ceremony, and screaming that God wouldn’t accept her into heaven. He screamed, “Bitch” as the tears streamed down his face and was soon dragged out by her brothers. They beat the shit out of him in the parking lot and he lay there looking toward the skies. The trees had leaves now; he couldn’t see the branches.
Mary was his control. She knew what he needed, and he obeyed everything she said to him. When she died, he no longer had a censor. There was no barrier holding him back, he became lost. It was Mary who made him care, it was Mary who bothered him about every feeling, every emotion, always digging at him for anything. She gave him meaning, and then took that meaning away when she left him.
He stood on the ledge now, his face was red; it was called a “niacin flush.” Apparently it was common in Asians, but he got it also. He looked down at the crowd grasping the picture. The whores were out; the kids were out; the world was out. They were all as lonely as him and they all needed the same thing, he thought as he noticed a girl throwing up behind a dumpster.
If there was a God and a Hell, then he hoped he’d be forgiven for everything. It wasn’t his fault he was incapable of making his own decisions. He had his thoughts, but he never actually followed them, and instead opted for blindly following all those people who seemed stronger. His mother and Mary; the church and that small brown book that told him what was right and what was wrong. Men wrote the bible, he thought. And men were fickle. He laughed for a moment and then silently just stood there. He could start over now.
“You’re not to hang out with him anymore.” His mother said.
“What, why?” Jarvis moved uncomfortably, avoiding eye contact with his mother as he pushed the peas into his mashed potatoes and twirled them around.
“Because he is full of sin, he is full of sin and a travesty to your Father. You are not to speak with him anymore. He will taint you. I’ve seen how he dresses.”
Jarvis didn’t say another word as he set his fork down. He nodded as he pushed his chair in and walked towards the stairs, past the picture of Jesus. The swastika was no longer there, but there was a white mark where some of the paper was ripped off his forehead with the glue. Jarvis lay down and wondered why the Catholics hated gays so much. He couldn’t think of a passage in the bible that really said they were going to Hell. Nonetheless, he told Clarence the next day that he couldn’t hang out any longer. It wouldn’t be hard, school was almost over and he had to go back to camp where he would see Mary and not worry about any situations outside of the bubble that was camp. Anyways, Mary had told him she didn’t like Clarence either.
He smiled and looked out in front of him, the clouds had departed and the sky was now black. Despite the lights, he could see stars and took a cliché moment to realize how small he was, how small the world was, and how it really didn’t matter. He dropped the gun on the ground and continued to look down at the crowd of people outside the bars. The alcohol and drugs were in full effect and he couldn’t remember why he was on the roof anymore. He got up and stood on the ledge and decided to piss on the people down below, it was his fuck you to the world.
There were shrieks from the street as the girls wearing almost nothing felt something land on their heads. Jarvis was unrecognizable from that height and he watched as some people just ignored it, too drunk to care, or just incredulous to what was actually happening. When he finished, he zipped his fly back up and hopped down from the balcony, stumbling for a second before catching his balance.
Jarvis put the gun back into his backpack and picked up his chair. It was time to go home. He set a picture down on the floor of the roof for a second to fix his backpack. A wind caught the picture of Mary’s face and it flew off the roof down toward the masses, landing in a puddle of water and sat there, its colors fading slowly over time until nothing remained.
Profile: Calvin Boomer-Knapp