the muse apprentice guild
--expanding the canon into the 21st century




WORK
BY CHARLES FOX

HELL IS WHAT WE MAKE IT HERE ON THIS EARTH

I guess since I got no choice, I'll tell you why I'm here. But I want it known right here and now that I am speaking under duress. That's right. I want it written down. I'm not doing this out of some sense of obligation for clearing the air. But I tell it so you'll hear from the horse's mouth. I will tell you exactly what I have done to get here.

It started when I was twelve. They called me bear, 'cause I've always had lots of hair. I mean, I was growing facial hair before a lot guys I knew got pubes. At first I thought it'd be cool, and I heard that the hair would grow in thicker and quicker if you shaved your chest, so I did. So in that way, I guess you could say it was my own fault. I mean, once you start down that road, there's no coming back. Right? Man, I swear that's right.

So the hair started coming in when I was twelve-at first on my chest and stomach, then my face, my legs and feet, my arms, even the knuckles on my fingers. Dark hairs. And I mean, I've got what they'd call alabaster skin, if they still talked that way, you know. I mean, look at me. My grandma used to say the moon dreamed of being as white as me. It's like my skin is so white, and the hairs so dark, you can practically see them through my clothes.

So growing up, I'd wear black long sleeve shirts all year long, winter or summer, trying to hide what I knew everyone could see anyway. Once, and this really doesn't have anything to do with wearing long sleeves, but it does illustrate my point, we were waiting to eat at Pancho's Mexican buffet. I was playing a video game and a girl about fourteen was there watching me with her younger brother. I don't remember exactly what the kid said, 'cause I wasn't really thinking too much about him. I was more interested in what she might say or think. So, anyways, she's standing like just close enough behind me so that I could see her face reflected over my shoulder in the video game's glass. So anyways, this kid says something like, "he's got monkey paws." Talking about me, and the world just went blank.

I did the only thing I could think to do. I stuck my hands in pockets and went to the bathroom.

I mean, we all got something, don't we? It's like I could say your eyes are too close together, or your toes are too long, and that's all it take for you to just go off on me. I mean, for some people it takes even less than that. It takes nothing at all when you really think about it. And that's why I don't think I should have to explain this.

I said I would, so I will.

So, like I was saying, the hair came in, and I covered up. I know it made it worse, but I wouldn't take my shirt off to save my life. You know, it's not like my parents didn't tell me that if I would've at the very least gone out in the sun, then maybe my skin wouldn't be so pale, or maybe the sun would bleach my hair. But sometimes you just can't talk reason to me. I don't know why that is, but it's just always been like that. My brain just locks up. It's like I get this idea that I'm going to do what I'm going to do, and there ain't a damn thing you can say or do that'll change my mind.

Which is funny because I used to dream of living in Canada. Perfect place for a bear, I guess. Wear a coat twenty-four, seven. There, I thought, I could take off my shirt, and people would be envious. They'd understand the value of hair on boy's body. And I used to think that if I had been in Canada two hundred years ago, I bet the Indians would've worshipped me like I was a god or something. They'd call me White Boy with Dark Hair, and that would be a name of great honor. They'd probably even give me the chief's daughter, and she would be thankful to him for it. My thick hairy chest her blanket each night. And I could imagine a whole lifetime living with and being worshipped by these Indians, growing older, letting my beard get longer and wilder every year. And I even imagined that the chief's daughter would braid things into it. Eagle talons, bones, charms. Sacred objects wrapped in the hair on my face. It was a beautiful dream, you know. But you can't live like that. I guess I'm proof of that, ain't I.

No, but you just gotta push those things away, don't you? I mean, that's what you do. Obviously, I never made it Canada. But I don't think I ever really tried. I mean I never woke up early, stretched in the light of the new sunrise, and said to myself, "Today I will make it happen. Today I'm going to Canada." I guess you could say that's just not me. I'd rather find a way for them not to know what it is I'm hiding. So I usually keep a razor and shaving cream with me at all times. I don't have one now, obviously, but I have shaved in places stranger than even this one.

What you see right now is three days worth. My beard is already soft 'cause it's grown out so much. When I am free to do as I wish, I usually have to shave my face at the very minimum three times a day. You know, if you had a comb, I could show you how thick it gets even this quick. You ever seen hair on some one's ankle? I won't show you, but let me put it this way, I don't need socks.

And you'd think I would've figured out by now which is worse. Shaving three or four times a day is really hard on the skin, obviously. Just look at the way the skin on my cheeks flakes and bubbles. But if I didn't do it, I'd be up to my eyes in my own hair. What would you do?

So there you go. You asked who I am, and that's how I see me. White Boy with Dark Hair. My life's nothing more than going from one sink to the next. I get excited when I can find real hot water. Sometimes I can even feel it growing. Sitting on a bus, talking to the woman who lives below me, in the frozen food section. Like my skin is being pierced softly from the inside out in a hundred thousand places simultaneously.

My mother said I talk too much, but I think it's probably just the opposite, and that's why I am here now having to tell you why I'm here. Think of it like this: You're having a conversation with a friend, a woman you really find attractive, I mean beautiful, smart, funny, and you think you'd like to know her more, and she gets up to get another cup of coffee, and you stand and offer to get her another 'cause you'd like another, too, and then her phone rings, and she takes it. And boom, you're off her charts. Just when you thought things were good, just when you were keeping sufficiently quiet. And you know it's the wrong thing to do, but you just keep talking anyway. Start telling the most intimate details of you grandmother's dying hours, which you only know secondhand anyway, but since she's dropped you off her charts, you think it's okay to just start making shit up about how you were there and this was something grandma said she thought about every day of her life, and how if you too could follow this pithy little old wives tale, you'd be happy all the days of your life, but she didn't finish, your grandma, what she wanted to tell you. "Because she died half way through the sentence," you tell the girl on the phone. Then you just keep going on about how, now, you've let your life become this stripped bare and miserable existence-nearly shattered looking for the second half of grandma's sentence. You know you're being a shit, but once you start down that road, how do you turn back, you know? And so you just say it to her, you say I love you. Maybe to be mean, downright cruel. But it sucks because you know at the same time it's exactly true. So you add more truth, "You can help me find it." And she's definitely listening to you now, alright. And it's just at that moment that the hair kicks in. And I'm back to square one with my life. Down my back, running across the ass, down the hams, and all the way to my toes, the hairs prickle hard. I'm back to square one.

I usually would just get up and walk away. Leave enough money to pay the bill, maybe say something totally un-offensive and apologetic. But get out, none the less, as quickly as humanly possible.