I order pizza and wings after my wife goes to bed. Three times a week. There’s a place around the corner that does a deal with a half-size pizza and half order of wings. I call them just before they close. Christmas Eve. People gotta be with family. The delivery dude brings it to the side gate — he knows to do that by now. I always tip him well because he’s discreet. Maybe he’s got his own pizza and wings thing.
There’s a lawn chair — cheap foldable kind — that I stash behind the A/C unit. This is where I eat. It’s dark, out of the back patio’s light. If my wife wakes up, which she almost never does, and looks in the backyard, she wouldn’t see me. I told her to go to bed early — Santa’s coming. She rolled her eyes, kissed me, and tucked herself in, excited to see what I bought her this year.
We don’t have secrets, really. I don’t gamble, don’t risk our life savings on investments behind her back. I’ve never harbored any need to sleep with someone else. And I guess my wife hasn’t either because she would’ve told me. She crumbles like a suspect under hot interrogation lights whenever I ask her if she drank the last of the milk. She can’t lie. We don’t have secrets — except this.
So the delivery dude brings the pizza and I unfold the lawn chair and sit in the dark space between the house and the fence, right next to the A/C and set up the box. Open, unfold. Pizza on one side, dump the wings on the other side. When I’m done I’ll frisbee the empty box into the vacant lot behind our house like I always do — my secret trash becoming a thriving kingdom for bacteria and critters and all kinds of nasty bugs. Cardboard biodegrades, so it’s cool.
Something scurries in the space behind the A/C unit. Anxious to be the first to get at the residue on tonight’s box.
The pizza’s bacon and mushroom. The pizzeria does a crust that’s almost deep-dish, caramelized edges brushed with a buttery garlic sauce. Rich, crunchy. They almost burn their bacon, which is so loaded with delicious fattiness that it’s like pork belly. The wings — all legs — are thick like a genetic mutation, drenched in a hot sauce that’ll give me heartburn for the rest of the night. But it’s worth it.
I don’t get to eat like this outside these private times. In addition to being a vegan and gluten-intolerant, my wife is a health nut. I say that lovingly. She’s always on top of her cholesterol, her fat intake, the balance of her caloric intake and output, and all that kind of stuff. And in turn, I have to stay on top of it. And for the most part I do, willingly. I like being fit. I like knowing my body isn’t going to attack me some day.
But other days, I just want some fucking pizza and wings. Like today.
I always start with the wings. A hunger runs wild through me, sucks at the pit of my stomach. It tells me to grab the biggest wing first, and I obey. This thing is huge, more like a full-sized piece of fried chicken. Dripping with that magic heartburn sauce. I shove half of it in my mouth and bite to the bone.
It’s not the taste, but the texture that tells me this is all wrong. Not a chicken wing. It’s mostly mush. And there’s no middle bone. A bunch of little bones crunch under the first chew. I don’t bite down a second time. I hold the meat in my mouth as if a witch has put a curse on me if I ever bite down again.
I set the pizza box on the A/C unit and rush over to the back patio light. Moths flutter around my face as I bring the chicken wing into the light and inspect it.
First thing I see is fur. Matted, greasy. Then a mess of bubbly, gooey flesh. Nothing like white or dark meat. More like small organs. Small bones.
I spit out what’s in my mouth into my hand. More fur. It’s all mashed up, mixed with the sauce. I can’t tell what’s blood or flesh or fur or sauce. I pitch the chewed up stuff toward the fence and start tearing at the rest of the “wing.” The coating comes off all slimy, messy. It’s the head that stops me cold. Long snout, black bead eyes, whiskers. My mind says mouse as I drop to my knees and vomit in the grass.
I realize I’m in the patio light, so I stand, toss the sauce-drenched mouse over the fence, and go back to my chair by the A/C unit. I put the box back in my lap, grab a slice of pizza, and eat half the slice in one bite — if only to get the taste of mouse out of my mouth. As usual, the pizza’s hearty and succulent. The bacon explodes fatty juices onto my tongue. I eat sloppily, swallow the mostly chewed bite, and almost choke. I ate two more slices like this — desperate to forget the mouse.
When I’m done, I frisbee the box into the vacant lot. But instead of going back inside, I sit on the lawn chair again.
I can’t tell my wife about this. And whatever chance I had at showing the pizzeria that they had served me a deep-fried mouse went over the fence to the pizza box graveyard. It’s probably being torn apart by the mice that live there, unaware they’re eating their own. I’ve got to tell someone.
Through the gate, out into the street. Christmas lights up and down the street. Businesses on the corner with windows frosted with fake ice — it never snows here. It’s cold and I can see my breath. It comes out mouse-shaped. A car drives past carrying holiday music with it. But there’s no one on the street, no one out walking. Christmas Eve. Everyone’s inside roasting chestnuts, watching The Santa Clause 2, and not eating deep-fried mice.
I pull out my phone and scroll through. The first name — DAD. I hit call. I’m on the West Coast and he’s somewhere in Middle America. We only see each other once a year — usually during the holidays. But not this year. And it’s late here, even later there. He’s bound to be asleep. But after the second ring, he answers.
“What’s wrong?” Panic in his voice.
“Dad… I just… I just took a bite out of a dead mouse.”
The silence is equivalent to him asking What the fuck’s wrong with you? I give him the whole story, my pizza and wings ritual, the secret, and the mouse. He listens, probably nodding off, still half asleep.
“I had something like that,” he says. “When you were young. Mine was beer and a hoagie from an Armenian corner store. Guy named Bernie, made me the best damn sandwich. Your mom didn’t want me eating or drinking. Cholesterol. But… I needed it. One day I opened my beer, took a few sips, felt something touching my lip inside the can. A thumb. Water-bloated from the beer. Never told anyone until now.”
I wonder how many untold stories there are out there like this. Thumbs and mice, people too ashamed to tell. Foreign objects almost eaten in secrecy. But mine is no longer secret.
“Hey dad,” I say. “Merry Christmas.”
“You too, son.”
I go inside, brush my teeth in the guest bathroom, bundle up on the couch, put something on TV. I think it’s Waterworld. I fall asleep at some point. We wake up the next morning and open gifts.
Tex Gresham: My experimental hybrid collection Heck, Texas is available from Atlatl Press. I have work published in The Pinch, BOOTH, Hobart, The Normal School, and Back Patio Press, among other places. I live in Las Vegas with my partner and kid. I’m on Twitter as @thatsqueakypig and online at www.squeakypig.com
image: Alan Tenhoeve