Peter, the man at the diner with the growth on his face, finally saves up enough to have it removed in October. Opioid painkillers. Face bandaged. Immobilized at first, a few days – pees in one water bottle, drinks from another, chews on saltines.
In the afternoon sun, in the quiet neighborhood, birds chirp, a dog barks, a hose runs. There are no people outside today, not during the week. A cabbage patch doll sits splayed out on the curb. He counts the trees (twelve). He walks and walks, tries sliding glass doors until one opens and he ventures forth, right into someone else’s basement.
There are dolls everywhere. Or maybe not dolls. Figurines, girls in fighting poses with big eyes and big tits. A stairglider at the bottom of the staircase. A wet, musty smell like mold.
Another young man, skinny, bearded, ponytailed, is smoking on the couch. Watching him.
“Can I help you?” asks the man with the ponytail.
“Who are you?”
The man with the ponytail smiles a bit, like he wants to maybe laugh, but it only comes out as a sigh.
“Daryl,” he says.
A water bottle in the corner of the room filled with suspiciously yellow liquid.
“What happened to your face?” asks Daryl.
Peter puts a hand up to his face, forgetting. Wet gauze. Sweat? Blood?
“Is it bleeding?” he asks.
“A little,” says Daryl.
This is why the doctors wanted him to rest, perhaps.
“Do you have a bathroom?” he asks.
Daryl is amused. Unconcerned. Around the corner, he says.
There is a jar of potpourri atop the toilet. An abstract painting that looks like a clown. A toilet seat cover like a mauve shag carpet. Where is he? Where the hell is he?
He forgot they shaved his head when they operated. He barely recognizes himself in the mirror.
There’s minimal blood on the bandages and he wants to see what’s underneath, what’s been underneath this growth all this time. He brings his hand up to the gauze, pulls where it sticks.
“Dinner!” someone calls.
He’s hungry, he realizes. He resticks the bandage, gives it a short pat. There is Oxycontin in his pocket. He pops one in his mouth.
Upstairs there is an overweight woman with swollen ankles and a cane, scooping hamburger helper into a casserole dish. She takes one look at Peter and clutches her chest.
“Daryl!” she screams. “Daryl?!”
Daryl lumbers up the stairs after Peter. “It’s okay,” he says. “Friend of mine.”
Daryl gives him a nudge.
“Peter,” he tells the woman. “Sorry to bother.”
“Well goodness,” says the woman. “Please excuse me. Daryl didn’t tell me he was having a friend over for dinner.”
She’s looking at Peter’s face but she doesn’t say anything. She is polite. She is not the mother like he originally thought, but the grandmother, and Peter knows how it is – he didn’t have parents either.
There is a brother who isn’t there, and a little sister who is – a girl that looks to be about 12 or 13 with greasy black hair and heavy eyeliner and a t‑shirt with Invader Zim on it. Peter didn’t know Invader Zim was still something people watched.
“They put it on Netflix,” Daryl tells him around a mouthful of hash browns. He must have been thinking it out loud.
The grandmother is kind, asks him questions about himself and his life. Where he lives, what he does for a living, what he wants to do next. The sister eats in silence, scowling.
“I have to ask,” the grandmother says. “Are you alright? Your face…”
“I was born with it,” Peter says reflexively.
“You were born with bandages on your face?” the sister asks.
“Don’t be a smartass, Abby,” says Daryl.
After dinner, they go back down into the basement. The moldy smell returns. Grandmother sends them down with peach cobbler for dessert, and they eat it together on the sofa. Daryl offers a joint and Peter accepts.
“Thanks,” he says. “And thanks for letting me stay for dinner.”
Kathryn Mayer lives, works, and writes in Baltimore, MD, where she also grew up. She is a graduate of University of Maryland, College Park, and the Jimenez-Porter Writers House. Her work has been published in Pif Magazine. Other work can be found at https://vegetablelamb.home.blog/.