Here in the belfry, it goes like this. First, I’m starving. I’m starving in the normal sense, but I’m also starving from a philosophy. I have no philosophy and it hardly matters to me, except it matters to me when, as now, I’m sneaking out of the belfry to scatter around like a rat. It takes a certain philosophy to do so. I’ve read most philosophers, particularly the pessimists. I’ve always preferred the pessimists, but for now I could use some optimism. Optimism for what, though? Optimism I might find a piece of cod stuck between two bottles of beer in a trash can down the street in this rotten Oklahoman town that needs just about anything but a belfry.

I hate them for being too stupid to find me here. No cop wanders around with his flashlight checking the belfry; the cops simply assume no one in this cemetery would ever enter the belfry unwarranted, though I do have several warrants for my arrest. That’s another matter. They’re not even looking for me. They take it I hitched a ride out of town; they think I’m some kind of hobo. I’m not much for traveling. I despise the belfry and this merciless town: I stick to what I know.

Honestly, I hope they do catch me. I’ve tried to make it easy for them. A jail sentence is an identity of sorts. “What do you do?” “I’m in jail.” “Oh, well, I’m sorry to hear that.” “Don’t bother; this is where I want to be.” “I’ve never heard such a thing: wanting to be in jail.” “Then you’ve never heard of me: prisoner 98487. I’ve got my own zip code now, a personal zip code. Now run along and hug your fat wife. Let her know it could be you in my zip code. Look at your cheap socks and cheaper pants. You’re one inch from being here. You know damn well that robbing a bank would be a more profitable enterprise than working for a profitable enterprise. The thought crossed your mind. Admit it.”

These characters inhabit my mind. That’s Jake Freeman. He’s anything but free or a man.

There’s the trash bin behind the restaurant. Christ, to dig through these pigs’ leftovers again. There’s a rib bone but no meat on it. I draw the line at sucking bones. Ah, chicken, almost a whole breast, only two bites out of it. The trick is never to imagine the specific ways in which these leftovers were bitten. What if the diner’s dentures fell out in the meat and had to be picked out like some kind of semi-oval crab? I’d never get through eating a bite if I thought of that, all too possible because this is, after all, the kind of restaurant the nearly-dead populate.

I shove the chicken in my pocket. There’s a little potato salad, but that could have been regurgitated and, besides, I’m not scooping it into my pocket. One more chicken breast would do it, two breasts, get it? A woman for the night. Sometimes I build them in my mind out of the night’s pickings.

Oh, for a woman, but they can’t be trusted. The last woman I loved slept with my sister. I didn’t so much mind that, but my sister’s got half her brain’s left from a car accident. That’s an insult. I broke in on them. They didn’t hide their affair too well given that it took place in my bed. My sister was hollering away, some chain of numbers that meant something to her. She had to take notes to remember to use the bathroom. Cuckolded by a half-wit. Just one of the ways I ended up in the belfry.

Ah, but another chicken breast without one bite taken out of it. The inglorious pigs. Someone should exterminate the whole lot. Seventy years ought to be enough for anyone. It’s nothing but trips to the physicians after that, if not before. I could use a visit myself. My kidneys feel like tenderized meat. One day I’ll probably get desperate enough to cut myself open and eat one. Might need some whiskey for that.

Music! What I would do for that. Not the country-fried shit that comes out of the bars like farts. Give me some Wagner. That would provide some nerve, even dramatize my existence. I would be ennobled.

Ah, feelings of nobility. How few I’ve had! Now I’m at the tail end of capitalism, where the dog shits.

Grargh: Peter Preston. What does that one-balled bastard want? “Complaining about the system again?””Not particularly. What do I care about the system?” “Always going on and on, as if you’ll do anything about it.” “I never said I’d do anything about it. I just note its effects on someone like me.” “Someone without a drop of willpower. What on earth do you expect?” “I expect to be left in peace. And where’d you get your little nest egg, selling your nut?” “You stoop to ridiculing a man with cancer.” “Does it make riding a bicycle any easier? They say that fellow who won all those races in France, that’s how he did it: more aerodynamic with a lighter sack.” “Why do I stand in the street wasting my time talking to you?” “Because you’re not standing there, and you’re not talking. You’re less than a puppet. Now fuck off.”

The goddamned lice. I have to pick them off like I just fell in a Vietnamese rice paddy. Really, now, I’ve had it. I see a cop, pacing around, doing anything but looking for crime. And he’s right: in this barrel-of-retarded-monkeys town, nobody commits crimes, with the exception of the occasional wife beating. The yokels like to beat their wives. They think it’s 1915. And it might as well be 1915. I think I’m in some kind of time capsule. I think I’m locked in one of those vaults they bury. Perhaps if I look around, I might find an old newspaper of interest.

Still, there’s the cop. It seems the right moment, but first I shove the chicken in my mouth, chewing as little as possible. That puts more bulk in the stomach, I figure. Makes the digestion work harder, not like with those tiny bites they take at the restaurant, trying to act dainty and mannerly despite the wife’s being in for a beating when she gets home. I finish off the chicken. It’s not bad; I can hardly taste the breath of the original diner.


“What do you want?”

He looks like a guitar with the strings plucked out, altogether irregular; the best they can do when it comes to uniforms in this place.

“I’ve been living in the belfry.”


“I’ve got warrants for my arrest.”

“I’m on a case. Somebody’s been stealing food from the trash bin of the restaurant.”

I turn my pockets inside-out.”See: chicken crumbs. How else would I feed myself in the belfry?”

“You want a few nights in jail, nice and comfy.”

“But I don’t want to stay in the belfry.”

“Make the best of your lot.”

“I don’t have a lot. I don’t even have Lot’s wife.”

So I pick my lice and talk to my imaginary irritants. It was pleasant having an actual conversation with that cop. Perhaps he’s right that I deserve to have my teeth busted in if I can’t enjoy the pleasures of my place in life. The belfry is quite beautiful and at times I can imagine eating the finest food and listening to Wagner, a woman at my side whom I would never beat. I’ve never done that, not even after the incident with my sister. Who am I to complain?

Outside, the lights burn brightly, the rest of an endless electrical network, and I have the nerve to question the birth of those lights? How painful an electrical birth must be, like plugging the womb into a socket. No more, “Woe is me.” Quite the opposite. Here in my happy home. I shall embrace what God has given me.


PAUL A. TOTH's Airplane Novel, already a Midwest Book Review Reviewer's Choice and the 9/11 novel, is available now. His other novels include Finale, Fishnet and Fizz. Click here to visit his sites.

3 responses to “I Draw the Line at Sucking Bones”

  1. josie says:

    Dammit, PT. I don’t have time to be reading fiction. Quit dangling these tasty morsels in front of me.

  2. Yoly says:

    You make me laugh, cry and pain, like a piece of undigested chicken. Love your work, Paul.

  3. Paul A. Toth says:

    Thanks so much, Yoly! You’re the best.

    By the way, to anyone who might read this, my websites will be down a few days beginning Sat., September 25. I had to switch hosts. DO NOT USE ThinkHost because they do not host a brain with which to think.

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