By Court Walsh
What are you doing? The head nurse asks Nelson after lunch.
“Masturbating,” Nelson says.
That’s what he’s doing all right, in front of the nursing station, wearing only a purple polo shirt and cowboy boots. Are you some kind of pervert? the nurse says.
“It was you who told me to get out of my room more,” Nelson says.
A few minutes later, he overhears the nurse and the on-call doctor debating how to deal with him. Put the old goat in restraints, the nurse says. No, the doctor says, give him Tyroxizone so he can’t get an erection. Pretending to be contrite, Nelson also pretends to swallow the little green pill. He’ll get out of his room for sure.
He waits till the staff is busy helping patients get to the cafeteria for dinner. Then he dresses to kill: a white oxford shirt with a polka-dot bow tie, fancy suspenders and a blue seersucker suit. He puts the crook of his cane over his arm and tip-toes as quietly as he can to the entrance. There’s a code for people in their right minds to open the door. He’s memorized it and Bingo, he’s crossing the front lawn and out on the curb.
He’s in luck. He waves to a taxi and the driver stops. Where to, old-timer, the cabbie says. Nelson wants to bop the guy over the head with his cane; on the other hand, the taxi is his ticket to freedom.
“McGeery’s,” Nelson says.
The driver turns around, looks at Nelson like he’s an alien from outer space. You’re the boss, he says.
“God-damned right, I am.”
They go to the center of town and the cab slows in front of a bar. Only it’s not McGeery’s anymore: The neon sign says Moon Riot.
Inside, it’s so noisy Nelson can’t hear himself think. The air smells like the disinfectant the nurses spray after patients have beshat themselves. People, if you can call them people, are dancing wildly. One has hair dyed the color of putrefying roses. Some have blue hair or spiked hair or hair shaped like a bird’s nest. There are Asian people, black people, one so white he has to be albino. Nelson can't tell the guys from the gals. Everyone has tattoos. The bartender is dressed in black. Nelson hasn’t touched a drop in two years. You got Maker’s Mark? I do, the bartender says. How ‘bout I make it into the cocktail of the day, a Sour Toe?
“Go for it,” Nelson says. “On the rocks.”
Not much room for ice, the man says, pouring out a shot of bourbon. What happened to McGeery’s? Mc Who’s? the guy says.
“It was called McGeery’s last time I was here.” I wouldn’t know, the bartender says.
Nelson can’t believe what happens next. The bartender puts something in the glass, then adds a few small ice cubes. Here you go, he says. Nelson picks up the glass, squints at the contents. “Is this what I think it is?”
“It’s a toe,” the bartender says.
“A human toe?”
“Down the hatch. Don’t think about it.”
“I’m not going to swallow a fucking toe.”
The bartender scowls. “Give it back then.”
“Where did you get it?”
“You ask too many questions.” The man looks impatient. “You think I have an infinite supply of toes?” Nelson hands the man the toe.
“So here you are.” Nelson almost falls off his seat. It’s the head nurse, with a blonde wig, dressed as Little Bo Peep.
“If I buy you a drink, will you fuck me?” Nelson says.
You can’t fuck, she says, not for 72 hours. We’ll see about that, Nelson says, what’s your poison? A vodka gibson, she says. She asks the bartender if he has fresh onions. No room for onions, Nelson says, winking at the man in back of the bar.
While the man is making the drink, Nelson provides a distraction. He unzips his trouser fly so only she can see. Not again! the nurse says.
“Can’t keep a good man down,“ Nelson says. “Birthday’s next week. I’ll be 87 years young.”
Court Walsh was a public school teacher for 30 years and took to writing fiction upon retirement. His stories have been published in "Hunger Mountain," "New Orphic Review," "The Long Story," "Callaloo," "Uncle John's Bathroom Reader," "Kentucky Review," "Moon City Review," and "Marathon."