by Steven Stam
When he was five, Jake licked the bars of wrought iron fences. Rust flakes often lodged in his teeth, staining his tongue a rotten orange. The mother shrieked at the sight, collapsing, writhing. Bits of her spittle landed on his nose; her own nose trickled blood.
Later his father beat him, punched his face a speckled mess of red, yellow, and orange. The man blamed the boy for the mother’s seizure, her tears, fractured skull. As Jake lay in pain, he thought his tongue hurt most as metallic spears leeched into his saliva, flooding the space with perceived wintergreen flavor.
His notebook contained the secrets of the universe according to Jake as follows:
1. Do not call him Jacob; he is not a prophet (yet).
2. Always eat mint chocolate chip ice cream twenty-seven minutes before bed (eat the chips first).
3. If one plans to go blind, do so by staring at the sun and watching your retina burn into a pewter abyss.
4. Ingest six wintergreen lifesavers daily.
5. There is nothing more horrifying that a shower sans hot water. Flesh should not pucker in unison, goose bumps are revolting.
6. Under no circumstances should one lick fences.
After two years of college, where he studied foreign affairs, Jake took his scholarship money and purchased a paint sprayer. He was feeling a bit randy and sick of academia. His affairs were to remain locally situated. With a few fliers and a staple gun, Pewter Green Painting launched.
The logic remained simple: fraternity houses throw parties, parties mar walls, he could paint walls ad infinitum. Instead of wet pain, his signs read fucking wet paint. Thus his product was born—cheap paint jobs with a sense of humor. Usually they gave him warm beer. The mother, his father remained ignorant.
During the Rorschach test of his court mandated psychological evaluation, an evaluation stemming from threatening to fight a police officer who was placing a boot on his pewter van due to parking ticket accumulation, he noted that everything, all shapes, resembled Wintergreen Lifesavers. The fact that the ink was black added to the game. He’d eaten onions for lunch and wanted to feel the snowy freshness inside his mouth again. The sugar, the metallic taste reminded him of his youth, of his rules, of his need to ingest. The psychologist’s transformation from perplexed to irked to inattentive stoked his flames.
After the van had been towed away, after the paint sprayer clogged beyond repair, he took a borrowed tent into the wildlife preserve near Fraternity Row. From time-to-time, Jake would bathe in Sunday morning kiddie pools, paddling among hungover feet. The students called him that guy or painter guy, and fed him pizza bones and rotten fruit. They remembered his work, his repairs, and dreaded becoming him.
He thought about his youth, reflecting on iron fences and bicycle spokes and school desk legs, everything he used to lick. Life had been simple and calm then, somehow free.