Keep it clean the grave, down in Burma Shave : A short story by Dinesh Raghavendra

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Keep it clean the grave, down in Burma Shave : A short story by Dinesh Raghavendra

From the shortlist of the first Short Story Competition organised by Bengaluru Review.

Tom began his long, sorry crash to the bottom after the feds took him off the meteor hunting business. He was addicted to the job and he couldn’t live a day in his life without hunting one down. The veterinarians said it was one of those mental illnesses that one just doesn’t find in the DSM manual and one just has to put up with these neuronally challenged types. Tom had been a sniffer dog for a private detective in the past. One that smells out the epistemically rotten amongst the classes. He was pretty good at it too. Then he turned into a big fucking asshole and he had to be kicked out of his own job.

How did Tom turn into a big fucking asshole? Well he thought he was a hard-knock until he let in Estella Burns back into his life. Estella was a fox from Burma Shave and she had been one of his former wives. She also turned out to be a dealer in private and she specialized in procuring rare and exotic substances that alter your consciousness just enough for you to experience a heightened state of awareness of all the bullshit humans spew around you.

She shows up at Tom’s crash pad the other day and says “Tommy, I got us something special. This shit makes you feel so good you gotta smoke it up with me. We’ll have some grand ol’ times.”

And Tommy says, all sincere and polite: “Sure sweetheart. Why don’t you go ahead and roll us one?”

Estella gets right down to business and Tommy can’t help but notice all her facial muscles jerking and grinding and expanding and contracting while she religiously rolls the joint. She had a lot of tattoos on her face. Tattoos of Aztec Gods and the Roswell aliens and then there was this big tat of an alligator that was discovered on Mars. It was living on a pond there and when the humans found out, they made a big fuss out of it. They even got the alligator down to Planet Earth and it ended up dying in the morgue section of a goddamned pathology lab. Estella had a green one right behind the earlobe that said: “Yuri Gagarin is a badass motherfucker”.

“What is this shit?” says Tom.

“Lazardine” says Estella.

“Fuck is Lazardine?” asks Tom.

Mix of Codeine and some Higgs Boson. You gotta suck it in your bloodstream. It comes all the way from Vietnam. Very impure, man.”

So Tom goes right ahead and takes a bite. He chews it and then chews on it some more until it slips down his throat and dissolves in his bloodstream. Tom likes it. It is tasty and it smells of those Easter Island statues that he had urinated on while working on a case many moons ago.

Estella nods encouragingly. Tom doesn’t really notice her grinning. He feels his consciousness leak out of his eyeballs and run down the floor and collect into pools in the corner. Just like how the pubic hairs of Pvt. Det. John Doe stacked and entwined on the floor in the shower.

Tom found out about Lazardine later. It is composed of frozen gasoline and solidified sulphuric acid and generously laced with asparagus so that you could never tell.

“Right in the bloodstream.”

Tom and Estella sit in the dog pound. They are in a state of bliss. Their fur is gone. It has turned into scaly yellow and its rotting off their bones. Eating away at their innards. Tom and Estella. They’ve been through worse.

But this is not the story of how Tom became ugly. This is the story of how Tom turned into a big fucking asshole.

Tom couldn’t sniff no more. His nose fell off and Detective John told him that he would get him a job elsewhere. But there was no job on planet Earth. All the people were dead and gone and the sun was dying anyway. The astrophysicists estimated that it would only take another couple of years before the ringworms that had infested the sun would eat up the planet from the inside.

NASA organized a lotto to go to space because they needed the moolah. Just like every other poor sucker they were broke as a bunch of motherfuckers. To make their lotto more appealing they had even managed to construct a model of the Apollo spacecraft that had managed to put Aldrin and Armstrong on the moon. That beat the shit out of being catapulted into space on the intergalactic elevator like a big fat sack of potatoes in terms of pure, raw sex appeal. They even ensured there was a small probability that the rocket just might explode on the launch pad, just like the original, which made it dangerous and fun and exciting, like a race car competition. But they did not expect a guy like Tom to win the lotto and get his space traveler license. They had thought of simply stuffing whichever random chump won the lotto and shoot them up in the spaceship so that the chump would get a chance to visit and see everything the United States of America had already put up there in space: the orbiting and almost obliterated Statue of Liberty and the broken and powdered Empire State Building, and the fragile and splintered Houston Astrodome, which the Americans had plonked on the moon to keep it away from the the hands of the Chinese when they bought Arkansas, California, Manhattan, Kansas, Ohio, Michigan, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. But most of all the Americans had put out tons and tons of their garbage, which like the rings of Saturn, orbited the earth. Only the composition was not rock or dirt or ice but rather the composition of the ring was human excrement, broken television sets, rusted out car speakers, and so on. That was the only industry the United States of America had left: putting their shit and piss and garbage into outer space for the world to see and admire.

Anyway, Tom saw an ad for a meteorite hunter in the newspapers and since he had won the lotto and had the license to go to outer space, he decided to try his luck with the gig. There were these rogue meteorites which were ruining interstellar tourism and they had to be blown to smithereens and the humans just couldn’t do it. They were too few in number and those that were left behind were busy managing the dwindling resources anyway. So there was a lot of demand in the economy for meteorite hunters. Guys who had the license to blast off into space and shoot rocks and pound the rocks into smaller and smaller pieces until space was safe for travel again.

Tom applied for the job and they told him there was a screening. The NASA guys checked his pulse, they made go through a scanner. They sent his urine samples to labs. They even poked his balls, just in case he had a hernia or something hiding underneath. Tom met all the criteria to qualify for a meteorite hunter. When they asked him to identify the next of kin in case of any accidents he just barked, “None.”

Tom was perfect for the job. All through the week he had to chase after meteorites in his jet pack and when he came near enough to one, he had to take out his gun and take a good aim at the surface and shoot. The bullets lodged into the meteor would act as timers and the humans at the nearest space station would keep a track of the trajectory and detonate the meteor as and when required.

This job suited Tom fine except he had a habit of groping the ladies on every meteor that he chased after. This was problematic because the rules strictly prohibited the meteor hunter from initiating contact with the inhabitants of the meteor but Tom was never a stickler for rules. Back in his days as a sniffer dog he had so many misdemeanors lodged against his name that he had come inches close to being locked up multiple times.

Tom had a thing for fast women. The kind that make you drink Lazardine and turn you into a half-baked reptile. Those on the meteors were sexy as hell. They had all these great curves and they would look at you longingly and Tom had no choice but to just jump right ahead and hump their legs. Once the feds came to know about this, they dragged Tom right off the gig and threw him into the pound.

The psychiatrists and the veterinarians came later. Tom had seen too much to be knocked off and he was deemed useful for the Central Intelligence Agency. So they had him all locked up and they made him undergo all these tests. And the result was always the same. He was a normal, fully-functioning adult canine who seemed to be a workaholic.

After the Lazardine disaster, Tom had come clean. No drugs or junk food. He was a healthy dog and this was one of the reasons the Feds took kindly to him and did not bat an eyelid when it came to his job application (despite the long rap sheet of his).

His work took up all his time. Tom dedicated all his time to in becoming a meteor hunter. He was the first animal to successfully hunt down more than a hundred meteors. His exploits were even made into a documentary called ‘The Psychogeographer of the Galaxy’ which was then novelized and released on Mars. It became a smash hit and sold millions of copies all over the universe. People kept downloading the film for days and they even screened it at film festivals.

Tom never showed up at these events. He had a lot of interviewers coming after him but he just didn’t bother responding. In fact, he became a bit of a recluse after the film came out. He took an extended leave and then disappeared and nobody had a clue about his whereabouts for days. He was wiped off the radar. Clean as a cucumber.

It was after all the hype died down that he decided to go back to his job stalking meteorites again. These astral wayabouts were turning increasingly dangerous. They hijacked innocent space travelers and robbed them off their belongings. The Fed was too busy fighting crime on Earth to bother much about outer space so they just hired these mercenary types and bounty hunters to go off into space and bring these pirate meteorites down.

There were plenty of them in those days. A whole task force was setup just to plan an attack strategy and Tom was the most successful hunter of them all. He had decades of experience going after the criminal elements and the ones who manned these meteorites were no different. All criminals were the same. Driven by an engine of greed and fear, it was very easy to bring them down once you figured out that their Achilles heel lay in their complacency and their massive egos. Tom loved goading them into confrontation before locking them down with his gun.

Well, Tom decided he had just a few good years left in him anyway so what the fuck? Why not just go out and rob a garbage bag and get his jaws into some good meat? The earth was going to rot away soon and he planned to die well before the putrid stench could get to him. He always was a bit of a bastard and it was not surprising that he had to meet his end in this state. That’s usually how life turns out for bastards. The only consolation was that he did not have a dumb tattoo that said Yuri Gagarin was a motherfucker.

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Dinesh Raghavendra is a 30 year old writer, poet and essayist based out of Bangalore, India. He runs a literary magazine called Former People and had his poems published in an anthology  by North Atlantic Press, California. His work has appeared alongside other reputed writers including National Book Award author Jonathan Lethem.

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