The woman sitting next to him was a stranger. Her head was thrown back, and she was laughing. It was likely she had no idea of the physiological changes occurring within Davis the moment the photo was taken.
I’m still not sure how I feel about the newspaper printing that particular picture. I know he intended someone to see it, but the fact that the population of an entire city bore witness to his final act would be heart-breaking, if not for one thing.
It was a beautiful shot, really. The image was beautiful, either because of or in spite of its tragedy.
To be honest, I didn’t give Davis too much thought until after the incident happened. We worked together at my uncle’s place for the summer. It was a small burrito stand named Chewy’s - a busy little shop in a good location with low overhead. Its clientele consisted of kids from the community college down the road, construction workers and, late at night, drunks from Henry the Eighth’s, the dingy booze pit across the street.
Chewy’s evening shift consisted of me, Clint, and Davis in back and an ever-changing rotation of frumpy cashier-girls up front. For the life of me I can’t remember the names of any of them, and if it wasn’t for what happened to Davis in August of that year, I’m sure he would have faded into obscurity just as easily.
Clint was a lean 34 year-old with bushy-sideburns, a food-industry lifer and a functioning alcoholic. He had the body of Mick Jagger and the swagger to match. To completely negate these qualities, he had the brains of a bonobo and the ambition of a cow. He claimed to have a ten-inch cock, too, although this had never been independently verified.
It was this cock that Clint was obsessed with, and Davis and I were the captive audience that suffered daily through energetic and often vile descriptions of his most meaty adventures.
He involved himself in the pursuit of sex the way a 13-year-old boy involves himself in masturbation. And his intercourse was certainly not limited to his fiancé, Tiffany, who dropped him off every day before work in an old Chevy Cavalier.
Clint also happened to be my uncle’s favorite employee, due to the fact that he had never missed a day of work in his two-year tenure - quite an extraordinary achievement in the world of fast food. To my Uncle Steve at least, a small man who carried himself with a certain dignity, Clint was unfailingly polite and respectful.
“Your uncle’s a good man, J.P.,” he would tell me. “After college, if none of them high-powered companies grab you up, you come back here. It’s a good place to work, and next year, when you’re 21, we’ll go across the street to Henry the Eighth’s and get hammered. How does that sound, Buddy?”
“Sure, sounds good.”
“Baaaacon!” he would hoot, with a big red smile.
He always said “bacon” when he was excited about something. Coming from his mouth, particularly, the word always seemed a bit obscene, but I must admit that I had fun working with him. He was decent, if you were a guy, and I guess he liked me.
He liked Davis, too, but their relationship was a little different. Without knowing it, they were a comedic duo, the two of them. Davis played the shy one and Clint played the over-the-top guy always giving him crap. I’m pretty sure Davis liked Clint even so, because he always took it sportingly and they went to the bar together almost every night after work. It’s just that they were totally different from each other. Davis was quiet and unassuming. He had too much hair on his neck and too little on his scalp, the kind of glasses with a straight bar over the top, and a slight speech impediment. Clint called him Virge, because Davis was 29 and had never had sex.
“Hey Virge,” Clint would bellow every evening, so that I would hear. “Where are we going tonight?” I tried not to laugh at the way Clint was always kicking him in the pants, but Davis took it so well that I didn’t feel too bad if I let a little chuckle escape.
“Henry the Eight’s,” he would always say. He couldn’t pronounce the ‘th’ sound followed by an ‘s’.
“That’s right, V, let’s find some girls that look like trouble and flirt with them. Bacon!”
“Bacon,” Davis would repeat softly, with a timid grin. Clint would laugh every time he did this. Davis could be pretty funny if he wanted to be. Most of the time, though, he just kept his mouth shut and rolled burritos very, very efficiently.
Nobody knew that much about Davis. I think Clint might have been his only friend, and even they didn’t hang out much outside of Chewy’s and Henry the Eighth’s. The only thing any of us knew he was into was amusement parks. Apparently, he spent all his free time at the Six Flags in Arlington. In fact, my uncle was fond of telling about the time Davis applied for a job at Chewy’s. When asked for a photo ID, Davis had handed over his Six Flags season ticket pass. Of course, he didn’t get hired that day, but a week and a half later he showed up with a fresh state ID and got the job. My uncle thought it was a cute story.
Anyway, as the Texas summer rolled on and the stickiness and heat became more and more unbearable, Clint, Davis, and I spent a whole lot of time together. In the broiling kitchen of Chewie’s, the three of us slapped together chicken, beef, and veggie burritos almost every day from 5 in the evening to 10 at night. I can still remember the smell of that summer - a mix of avocado, sour cream and hot tortilla which makes me hungry to this day.
It got so hot in July that my uncle had a giant water cooler placed in back for the employees.
“You folks be sure to hydrate yourselves, all right?” he told us in that friendly manner of his. “This is a bad heat wave. Don’t want to lose my best employees, now.”
“Don’t worry about me, Boss,” replied Clint heartily, shaking an almost empty plastic camping bottle, “Two liters every day!”
“That’s good, Clint. You keep up the good work, okay?”
But the bottle didn’t contain water. When Uncle Steve was gone, Clint downed the remainder of his drink and revealed to the rest of us just exactly why he drank two liters of strawberry Kool-Aid every day.
“It ain’t for hydration!” he hooted. “It’s for P-U-S-S-Y! Hey, Virge, do you know what that is?”
Davis looked up at his coworker and grinned meekly. Davis wasn’t stupid. He was just easily overwhelmed by more powerful personalities. And he most definitely admired Clint, in some ways.
“Hey, Virge, I’ll tell you what sex is like,” Clint quacked, “Sex is like when you got a loose tooth, you know, and you keep playing with it and playing with it, rolling it all around with your tongue and shit, and you don’t ever want that fucker to fall out! Never!”
I felt vaguely sickened but amused and tried with difficulty to concentrate on the corn tortilla wrap in my hands.
“Nah, Davis, man. I’m wrong. It’s much better than that, actually.”
“Yeah.” Davis knew not to encourage him.
Rolling a burrito on top of the stainless steel counter, I watched this daily interplay of personalities. It never got old.
Suddenly, Clint leaned in real close to Davis and leered, physically demonstrating what it might be like to play with a loose tooth in his mouth. He lowered his eyelids and, throwing his head back, began feigning a bout of ecstasy within his mouth.
“Oh, yeah, baby! Oh, oh yeah, baby! Suffer!”
We looked over at him. Inside the open cavity of his mouth, we could see a bright red tongue working vigorously. Yeah, the guy drank a lot of Kool-Aid. And he was convinced of the virtues of the sugary drink as a sexual catalyst. He even took the time to explain it to us.
“Dude, you know all chicks are lesbos, right? Well, add that to the fact that their lips are nothing but - and this is science, man – transplanted…sexual signals and there you are! I mean - the lips - they symbolize the pussy lips, right? And so since all chicks are lesbos at heart that’s what attracts them. Just add a little color, a little Kool-Aid and chicks are just gonna go wild after you. Wild, man! Pussy lips. That’s science. That’s the secret to my success. And I don’t even like Kool-Aid!”
I’d been listening to this sort of convoluted logic for most of the summer.
“Hey, Clint,” I said, trying to take the pressure off Davis, “Why don’t you stop talking about pussy and help us fill some orders. Me and Davie do 80 percent of the work around here.”
“Don’t let me get in your way then, Bro! Ha!” Clint grinned his huge red grin. “All right, then. I’m gonna go get some lettuce from the back.”
I smiled and scraped the unused topping bits off the counter. A few minutes later, Clint returned. He was carrying a large sack of produce in one hand and a oversized bottle of something else in the other. He held the bottle up for us to see. It was concentrated rat poison from the back closet.
“Hey, Davis,” Clint said, using his real name. “You know what this is?”
“It’s what virgins drink when they turn thirty and still haven’t speared a fish!” With the cap on, he imitated drinking the contents. “Glug, glug, glug.”
“Ha, Ha, STD-Man.” This was Davis’ most wicked comeback. Clint laughed.
“You know what your problem is, man?” Clint said as he set down the poison and tumped the big bag of green, shredded lettuce into the bin.
“You don’t have confidence, Big Guy. Confidence. Whatever you wanna do, Bro, you just gotta do it!”
“Man, this one time I was dating this Puerto Rican chick and my cousins said she was too much woman for me. Whoo! Proved them wrong. How? Confidence, Senor. One hundred percent pure, unadulterated confidence.” He glanced at his wristwatch. “Fifteen more minutes, man. Then I’m outta here. You coming to Henry’s, Virge?”
Yes, Clint was a walking erection. A pagan pan. A man you wouldn’t trust to walk your mother home from church. A semen sprinkle-head. A Johnny-Applesemen. But the sheer volume of clitoral conquests he claimed was a little hard to believe. Among many others, the guy claimed to have screwed his high school principal, an ex-member of the Dixie Chicks, and his workman’s comp lawyer, not to mention two Cirque du Soleil acrobats in the same night. And he worked at a burrito stand. Hmm.
“Bought and paid for,” Clint would strut around saying, grabbing his crotch. “Bought and paid for.”
He was colorful, that guy. And he was damned funny. But I wonder if he went a bit too far. With the summer winding down, I figured Clint to be the most lasting memory of my time at Chewy’s. I was already looking forward to next year, when I would come home from school again and finally be able to have a beer with the two guys.
But when my uncle came in that Sunday afternoon and told the staff what happened, it was the most sobering moment I have ever experienced. And I can only imagine what hell it put Clint through.
“Davis is dead,” Uncle Steve told us in a gentle voice. “He killed himself yesterday afternoon.”
I remember standing there aghast, beads of sweat dripping down my temples.
A new roller coaster had opened at the Six Flags in Arlington that summer. It was named The Bobcat, and was supposed to be the highest, fastest roller coaster in the world. To our mounting horror, my uncle told us that the day before, Davis had swigged a mixture of rat poison and Strawberry Kool-Aid before stepping onto the ride. By the time the coaster had screeched to a stop, he was convulsing. The paramedics hadn’t arrived in time.
Uncle Steve told us to go home early that day, and Clint and I left without saying too much to each other. But as we walked out, his pained look seemed to acknowledge the rat poison reference he had made some weeks ago. Clint seemed to be begging silently for forgiveness, begging me not to say anything to our boss. But I wouldn’t have. He didn’t deserve that.
The next day Clint, my uncle’s most loyal and reliable employee, didn’t show up to work. In fact, he never returned to Chewy’s, and I finished the summer working beside the two new guys in a kind of distended shock.
The only thing that managed to brighten my thoughts was the photograph. There was a camera that snapped people’s pictures as they took the massive plunge down The Bobcat’s steep drop. Davis had paid 10 dollars beforehand to have a shot taken of him. God knows why or who he intended to leave it for. Maybe no one. But as it turned out, a resourceful reporter sent by the Morning News to cover the incident got hold of it. And on Monday there it was, next to the article. The photo shows Davis with his eyes sealed shut and what might even be a slight smile gracing his lips. His face is lineless and peaceful.
In the picture, I saw Davis looking radiant and supremely confident for the first time, as if he had just laid the most delectable Hollywood starlet. His face, once typical and withdrawn, was transcendent. I must have looked at it a hundred times.
The article said that no reason for the suicide could be ascertained, and ranked it as one of the most bizarre cases in county history. People still talk about it today.
But there is one person who I’m sure never does. I haven’t seen or heard from him since, but I often wonder what became of Clint. I often wonder how the experience affected him, whether it may have even changed him for the better. I like to think that it has, and I imagine that somewhere out there, somewhere out there in this nonsensical world, is a new Clint.
The new Clint is chaste, straight-laced, almost prudish. The new Clint is a family man who, as he sits with Tiffany and their child on the grass outside their respectable little house, looks up into the blue sky and sees always, in the clouds, the beatific face of a snow-white virgin.
Matthew Peipert is an American poet and fiction writer currently based in Tokyo, Japan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.