Joyland

The South |

Ricky's Shoulders: an excerpt

by Blake Butler

in the room there below Ricky, Ricky saw his mother’s newer size, Ricky’s mother’s body had quadrupled in the weird light off the wall, where before the windows to the front yard had once been, quadrupled or some exponent, Ricky did not know the name for when a thing became so many times the size of what it once was, Ricky’s mother’s body had ridges set into it wide enough to climb inside,


Ricky could see the upper curls of Ricky’s mother’s bush, the hair had a golden yet slightly reddened sheen about it, the hair was patchy in parts as if someone had gone at it with an electric razor in the dark, there was crustaceans large as Ricky’s whole head lodged in the chalky coils of her pubic looping, Ricky’s mother’s flesh had gone waffled in long patches, the texture of tennis court nets and fat shoelaces, Ricky’s mother had always worn Velcro as she could not bend over far enough to reach her feet, a trait which she’d passed down to Ricky in her blood code,


Ricky once had felt a part of him underneath his belly, a kind of button or a latch, set into the underfold of his chub-cushion, he could not see it in the mirror, the flesh would not stay still, he knew he’d pressed the button at least 3 times, he could not figure out whether the button was on or off, sometimes in his sleep he knew he’d pressed the button also, his semen for weeks at a time at times was orange,


Ricky had once ejaculated in a man’s roast beef sandwich during the eighteen weeks he’d been employed at Arby’s on night manager’s salary, the guy had been a real cock on the ordering speaker, he kept making his voice robotic, mocking Ricky, Ricky had gone into the back slide shower mat area reserved for ruined employees, he’d thought of the last time he’d dreamed of being beat to death, he ejaculated into the sandwich in less time than it took for the man to come around the long cold corner of the building at the window, once the man had paid for and received the sandwich Ricky watched him through the sliding glass window as he pulled over to park, idling over two rust-stained spaces in the side lot and Ricky could see the man’s forehead in the rearview glass, he could not see the man’s mouth moving, taking the sandwich, though he could see the pulsed veins on each side of his head, he could see the man’s eyes in his head, the man never stopped looking, the man did not move his car out of the lot, the car stayed in the lot for several weeks while Ricky came and went and came and went until he quit, he could never bring himself to peer into the car’s front seat though some nights in the night he would stand up on his bed and try to find a way to lick his hair,


in the crudfold of Ricky’s mother’s bellybutton he could see where the piano had moored into her, the piano stayed connected to his mother by a scorched inch of umbilical cord left behind from Ricky, which now plugged into the piano at its backside, the keys were embedded in the ache of Ricky’s mother’s stomach, the stomach flesh heaving with its heat,


the piano keys were made of inches of bees wings glued together, the keys were dense and semi-translucent, there must have been a billion wings in each key, a hundred hives, the still-living bees in the room stuck to Ricky’s butt and ass and underbelly


as he hung suspended above his mother in the air, the stairwell having disappeared right underneath him, having sucked, he guessed, into the floor, there were other layers to the house,


Ricky spread his fingers on the wall looking for a way to pull himself back down,


Ricky could see from his angle where his mother’s cordless upper body continued on into the next room, though the droop and sculpt of her massive tits obscured her head and whatever else the room held, the room of horses and of TV,


the bottom portion of the tits were badly bruised as if having been set inside a vice or thrown against the side of a building for several hours in a heavy slickstorm, the slip of the skin had turned so finely purpled it became reflective and yet in the room around it there was no light. By ways and inches, breathing inward, Ricky made his body take on size, shoveling the air with his hands around him, clogging himself back onto the ground, his body spun and spattered on the half-air with the friction as someone outside the house rang the bell, the bell seemed to ring in the whole house and in Ricky’s lower intestine and then something there inside him opened,


Ricky’s legs went lax against the hallway floor. Ricky on his knees before his mother. Rick in the pancaked stick of supplication. Ricky with no explanation. 
Ricky with his mouth wide-open and something rummaging among his teeth, the 
footsteps in his ballsack, the peel of old nails in his waistband, something disrupted, something made public, behind his eyes he felt the parade of massive inflatable cartoons, the cartoon cat vomited a sparkshower, the cartoon bitchmaster had a flask of rubbing alcohol and was pouring it through Ricky’s veins into Ricky’s liver, Ricky’s fingers began to stick together, the ridges of his fingers had sucked into themselves


Ricky waddled on his knees toward his mother, the piano seemed to squirm around him, his mother’s lovehandles had Bose speakers shelved into them from out of which the sound of Christmas presents being wrapped and beaten with hammers came, e x p a n d i n g,


tucked under Ricky’s mother’s side there was a little man in a white suit, his bottom half all squashed, the man had an array of toiletries and other cosmopolitan delights tucked into a small toolbox just there beside him, the blurb of Ricky’s mother’s blubber kissed against it, the man offered Ricky a warm washtowel, the man looked Ricky dead on in the eyes,


when Ricky reached the man he clasped his hands inside the towel and massaged Ricky’s fingers in the fabric, caressing, corroborating, the air around Ricky’s neck went moist, the man licked his chops a little, kissed at Ricky,


Ricky’s mother’s body turned a little and underneath her flab the man was crushed, the man’s innards were all crud and cobweb and they were drunk into the floor where on the other side the floor began to moan.


Ricky turned toward the hive keys. The keys were inlaid with rough inscriptions in a language Ricky could not read, except on the lowest C note, Ricky could read the word destructor, or did it say crud danish, Ricky could not make the air around the key stay still,


Ricky closed his eyes and breathed up, in, Ricky cracked his knuckles on both hands all at once, two tubes worth of toothpaste squirted out the back of Ricky’s head,


some metronomic knob was winking in Ricky’s oldest molar, Ricky leaned in tight with the piano, the piano’s lungs were all around him, Ricky lifted his fat heavy hands, around Ricky Ricky’s mother groaned,


Ricky put his hands down on the piano keyboard in the configuration of a certain chord, a chord never before played on any keyboard, the sounds made the room shit full of blue light, Ricky’s ear bones surged and shattered, outside the house the house was tipping,


Ricky’s arms burped out two tattoos, on one arm Ricky was naked with a tattoo of himself with a tattoo of himself, and so on, repeating; on the other arm Ricky was bent over the piano getting reamed up the ass by a large electric prong,


inside the new light above Ricky the room had opened up into the sky, in the sky there were a billion chandeliers winking on and off beside each other,


Ricky tried to move hands to cover his eyes and ears and mouth and ass at once from all the input, the piano’s keys adhered to Ricky’s fingers, the piano’s keys were part of Ricky’s fingers,


in the tattoos of Ricky Ricky was aging very quickly, in the tattoo of him getting ass-reamed the blood pooled around him on the skin floor,


Ricky could feel his inbox overflowing, the hair of Ricky’s mother’s bush had caught on fire, the piano was sinking back into the folds of Ricky’s mother



and Ricky with it, 
and the light, 
and Ricky felt great intestinal dysfunction,


and men were holding Ricky’s arms down there beside him, other men with huge tattoo guns were appending Ricky’s Ricky tattoo with their needles, they constructed vast contorted metal frameworks around each Ricky until Ricky could no longer see himself for all the wire, for all the locks and lines and battered screen, the mesh of the metal covered over every clear inch of Ricky’s skin, inside the chord another chord emerged,


the clash of sound made Ricky’s mouth fill with bathwater and years of skin cells and sweat and evening drizzle coming off the lip of the dead sky, and the piano had sucked Ricky’s arms in up to his elbows and Ricky’s mother was slow vibrating,


and Ricky’s mother’s spine inside her fattened body convulsed, and from the other room Ricky’s mother’s voice was calling Ricky, saying words Ricky felt sure some year he’d understand⎯that these words, these fat black magnets slurring on the air to find him and insert themselves into his understanding would somehow one way or next one forward form a picture in his head,


and Ricky nodded, and Ricky’s mother’s body there beside him in the front hall began to further bulge, the umbilical knot between Ricky’s mother and the swollen piano grew to grow again, engorged, fat with smudge and pulp and exit, and the tuning wires inside the gut of the piano swung out and stuck to Ricky’s hair, and the piano pulled down on Ricky with its measure, with its innards, and Ricky could not pull his head up high enough to see his mother’s skin say ah,


and in the hall the door was open
and in the hall the piano woke