Doors of Perception 2 - Wears the soap
The vomit that he was staring at looked fake, like gelatine with bits in. The wooden rim of the tub that he was sitting in cut into his chest. Seth groaned. The inside of his mouth was coated with peyote slime and the rank contents of his own stomach.
‘I thought this was supposed to be enjoyable.’
Tasted like shit, and his tongue felt too big. His tongue, his teeth. He was intensely aware of the feeling of his own mouth on his face. And then that his mouth was an opening into his skull, a hinged cavity. He tried to stop thinking about that.
Late afternoon sun hung in dusty rods through the bath-house. Swearengen was sitting in the other tub with his underwear unbuttoned at the neck. The water that engulfed him shimmered like milk.
‘I am enjoying myself in full, Bullock. You make a good appearance, even as you labour to shed your inner contents. But then I suppose that was to be expected.’
Seth looked twice and saw what Swearengen had in his hand.
Swearengen brandished the second piece of cactus, still uneaten, with his eyebrows raised.
‘At my advanced years I find it better to observe than to participate.’
Seth launched himself – his limbs somehow feeling too multiple, too powerful – across the bath house. The wooden tub he had been sitting in went flying; the arc of water caught his attention like a rainbow sheet, with lights – somehow bright lights like multiple suns – caught in it, reflected in it. Then he was onto Al, his hand at his throat. Warm water sucked on his naked legs.
Swearengen, surprised, fell backwards and the second tub spilled out over the bathhouse floor, the whole place awash, and the two men rolling about on the wet and muddy boards in a most ridiculous manner.
‘You fucking maniac, Bullock.’
‘Eat it you bastard.’
Bullock had grabbed the peyote button and he was forcing it into Swearengen’s mouth.
‘Eat. It.’ Bullock could hardy recognise his own voice. To fight the sensation of floating above his body he concentrated more intensely on Swearengen. He could see the lines of force running through his limbs like red wires, and paying attention to them, he could anticipate every move that the older slower man might make and compensate for it. This and the reckless disregard for the existence and safety of his own body, made it easy for him to force himself.
He pushed Al’s jaw shut around the cactus button. Swearengen’s eyes bulged, watered. Their faces were an inch apart, Seth’s lips drawn back from his teeth. He couldn’t remember ever feeling so angry.
And then, under his hand, Swearengen’s face melted away. He became someone else, simultaneously urbane and frightened, effete and powerful. Seth was straddling a stranger, who smelled something like a woman, something like a grocer. He smelled like soap and spices, and his face was suddenly quite wrong. A different man altogether.
Seth froze in bewilderment and the stranger with Al’s face took the opportunity to throw him off. Seth went sprawling, wet and naked on the wooden floor, expecting a renewed attack. But the stranger, the not-Swearengen, didn’t follow through; he scrambled up, ungainly and shaking, feeling inside his mouth with one finger, hunched over. Old.
Seth suddenly felt overcome with lethargy and nausea. He turned his head and saw the pool of vomit. It had no smell or consistency. It really was gelatine with bits in it.
The stranger fished out the piece of peyote from his mouth and held it up, speaking out to the fourth wall of the bath-house. As if there were people there, a few steps away.
‘This is fucking real!’ he said, in an English accent. ‘Tim’s eaten it and he’s gone nuts.’
Seth imagined that somewhere, outside the universe, a woman’s voice said ‘cut’. This is fucking real. Looking up at the not-Swearengen, Seth saw that the bathhouse had no roof, and looking further upwards he saw not the Dakota sky in autumn, but an array of dazzling lights like multiple suns and high, high above, a sky of metal.
And he was surrounded by people.
But this, even this, will pass away. He lay, with the world spinning under his back, and waited for it to dissolve.