The smell was putrid, filling the surrounding space with the fetid stench of decomposing skin and the thick, sour smell of pus. Seven months ago I would’ve gagged, now – well, it’s just another day.
“James, man, what happened?” I asked, frowning at the oozing, deep crater on the underside of his elbow – an abscess.
“That? Eh, that’s where I shot Kerosene and rubbing alcohol.” He peeled the dripping bandage off, slapping it on the counter next to the donuts meant for breakfast. No one flinched.
“Fuck, man! Why would you do that?”
“Why not?” he asked, blinking his sky blue eyes at me in honest confusion.
“Didn’t that burn?” What the hell else can you say to someone that’s honestly confused as to why you’d think it was insane to mainline kerosene.
“Only for a minute. I had to clean out my system, you know?”
“I guess. You have the Unity guys (a mobile medical van that comes by the shelter once a week) take a look at that?”
“Yeah. Was in the hospital last night. Had me IV’ed and everything,” he ran his filthy fingers over his bruised inner elbow. I raised my eyebrows in response, the question hovering but never spoken – ‘why the fuck aren’t you still there?’ “Eh, all I needed was the antibiotics. Soon’s I got that I was OUT!”
By this point was slathering a thick topical ointment on the abscess, trying his best to get the goo inside the abscess itself. By my estimate, I could get the tip of my pinky finger in there. What can you do?
“James, man, c’mere.” I came from around the counter top that divided us and placed his hand on my shoulder. I began packing the the abcess with a steri-pad and then wound clean gauze on it.
“Too tight?” was all I could say.
“Nope, that’s good,” he smiled boyishly.
“Stop shooting in it, or else it’s gonna get bad. They’ll take the arm. Pick another spot bro…if you can. I’ll change it again on Thursday if you need it.” I said in an undertone. For that, I got a a gentle fist bump and a smile.
Now all I needed was a fucking lollipop.