Joyland

Montreal |

Buttermilk

by Nick McArthur

There were three young men living in the upstairs apartment and all of them belonged in hell. There was an invitation that Mr. Bloomer wasn’t sure of. There was a promise of gin. There was a promise of music. There was a promise of something grand you couldn’t even think of if you held your breath. It had come to that. Invitations were getting thin. Mr. Bloomer was old and not above dying. He could die this evening or he might die tomorrow evening. He might die later on next week or not at all. He felt old enough not to die at all, but actually he wasn’t. If he wasn’t going to pass-on this evening, he thought he might attend the party with the three young men upstairs who belonged somewhere in hell. He dressed in mauve and said, “mauve,” into the mirror. He left his apartment and climbed the stairs; knocked on the door and waited. A man in a blue tie opened it, said, “welcome, welcome, welcome,” and patted Mr. Bloomer on the back. The apartment was immense. It spanned into a long, twilit horizon, where sea crabs and sea light danced on the green rocks. In the foyer there was yellow, there was green, there were wretched faces. A fellow with a pink tie and a chin shaped like a shoe box was pulling dollar bills from the top of an open piano. He bundled them in nines and wrapped them in Saran Wrap. Then he threw them at a fan. The money exploded and the man in the pink tie cheered. He glanced over at Mr. Bloomer, who stood dumbly looking on. The man said, “You’re never gonna get rich just standing there, asshole.” The third man, who had a green tie and no chin at all, drew pictures of his children on the floor. He labored on his hands and knees with colored chalk and a smudged face. He hadn’t seen his children in twelve years, had received no letters, had seen no photos, and when he saw Mr. Bloomer he pointed at one of the chalk drawings and said, “Just look how big he’s getting! Bigger than his old man soon!” Mr. Bloomer sat on the chesterfield and waited very selflessly for a drink. He was a little frightened and was thinking how it might be nice to die soon. He waited for something grand to happen that he couldn’t even think of if he held his breath. There were no other guests. There was no music. There were no pink lights, dancing animals, or evidences of God Almighty the progenitor of goodness. The first man, with the blue tie, sat on the couch beside him and sighed. He said: “I’ve been very lonely. I don’t think my wife is ever coming back.” “I’m sorry,” Mr. Bloomer said. The man sighed again. “I killed her,” he said, “I drowned her in a bath full of buttermilk.” He looked very sad for a moment, but did not cry. He looked down at the ground and shuffled his feet together. Then he perked up, drove a finger into the air and said, “Drinks! Now who would like some gin?” and ran out of the room. Mr. Bloomer lay down on the chesterfield and tucked his head under a pillow. He decided to dream. Mr. Bloomer considered what to dream about and decided on something from another universe, from another realm, from another sphere of being altogether. He decided to dream about something he could not even think of if he held his breath, and set to work on conjuring his cat Dixie drinking milk from a bathtub where the man with the blue tie’s wife lay drowned. The wife was beautiful and blue as ice. Mr. Bloomer began to weep. Dixie the old tiger-striped cat with large paws, a large head, and bad hind legs was clearly disgusted by the weeping. She stopped lapping at the milk and turned to Mr. Bloomer. Still perched on the tub ledge, she said, “Now what in the hell is this about?” “Oh, never mind him,” the dead woman said, “Just, please, darling, don’t stop.”