by Keef Rutledge on January 30, 2012

A man and his wife are visiting friends after work one evening, enjoying beers in the backyard while meat sizzles on a grill. The leaves on the trees cast dappled shadows on the supersaturated green and well-kept lawn; it will not be dark until after eight-thirty. There is a lull in the conversation when the man suddenly slaps his forehead with the hand not holding a can of beer.  “Dammit!” he says.

“What is it?” asks his wife.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” he says. “I meant to stop on my way over here at the Bed Bath and Beyond and pick up a new mattress cover. The old one’s all torn up and I wanted to replace it.”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter,” she says. “You can go tomorrow.”

“I know, I know,” the man says. “It’s just that I really wanted to get that taken care of today.”

The man lifts the can to his lips and takes a pull of beer. He chokes and spits; he falls to his knees, flings the can away from him into the grass and begins to cough. His knees sink into the grass and the dark loam below. With one hand he supports himself, and with the other he holds his throat. “Jesus, honey!” says his wife, who by this time has set down her beer and run over to where he kneels. She begins to swat him on the back.

The man starts to retch, his eyes watering and his face getting darker. Eventually, accompanied by a noise like a great sewer backing up, he begins to vomit. Instead of the normal consistency of vomit, what emerges from the man’s mouth is bright white, the color of bones bleached by the sun, and it progresses at a snail’s pace.  As the icebergs crossed the great Midwestern plains of the United States, so does the white material make its slow appearance from the man’s mouth. Their friend at the grill is staring, his tongs upraised and glistening like a torch. His friend’s wife is peering over her husband’s shoulder, her press-on nails dug into his bicep, using him as a protective screen to hide behind and peek around.

The material keeps coming. There are two feet of it now, dangling from the man’s mouth, sodden with saliva. It begins to obstruct the man’s face, as it is now pressing into the lawn and raising him up. He rolls onto his back to avoid suffocation and continues. Tears are streaming down his face, which is now the color of an eggplant. He uses both hands to point at his throat, which is distended like a sausage casing.

His wife grabs hold of the white material and begins to pull, screaming and crying herself. It seems to help; the stuff, whatever it is, comes faster when it is aided by her efforts. She turns, still pulling with all her strength, and screams at her friends by the grill. “Help me, please!  Help me!”

The chef drops the tongs onto the grass and runs over, grabbing the material with hands still covered by oven mitts, presses the material against his apron, and yanks. His wife drops to her knees and gets underneath the material, bracing herself against the vomiting man with her feet. It’s clear now that whatever the material is, it is fabric; what feels like rough cotton provides a steady grip.

Finally, the last of it comes loose. The man’s wife and friends topple backwards like a tug-of-war team, the mattress cover unfurling in the summer breeze like a sail, or a national flag.

(Keef Rutledge lives in Austin and can be seen at

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

John Wenzel February 8, 2012 at 7:47 pm



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