The Boy Who Cried Bacon
Short Story About Depression
Rachel Steep, currently seated in a hunter’s green armchair across a mahogany table from her student, normally stands a full foot taller than the neurochem-wunderkind Irwin Twimble; granted this doesn’t say much given the fact that Dr. Steep, who rowed for her women’s crew team in college is, predictably, tall and blonde while Irwin is one of those pencil-neck type anemic kids who used to be bullied constantly for being generally greasy and pale, among other things. However, the size difference does mean that Irwin currently feels like he fell through a rip in space-time and is now back at the principal’s office after getting caught with homemade firecrackers during recess in the first grade — that’s to say, hecurrently is in such a state of discipline induced existential terror that he would have run home to his mother afterwards if she were still around.
“So just so we’re on the same page, tell me one more time why you’re showing up empty-handed again?” asks Steep, holding her hands under her chin, her index fingers touching at the tips to form a steeple used to alternatively point at the young Mr. Twimble and touch her lips as desired for dramatic emphasis.
“It’s … my dog … She ate them all this morning.”
“Your dog. This Princess Bacon you’ve been told me so much about. The Schnauzer.”
“Yes ma’am, that dog.”
“And you’re telling me that—”
“—yes ma’am, she ate em’ all this morning. Made a big mess. Shredded everything to pieces. Still trying to clean it all up. That’s why I’m showing up empty handed.”
“Again. Empty handed again.”
“Y-yes ma’am, again. But this time I swear, I’m telling the truth.”
“Irwin, you must see it from my perspective, don’t you? You must know how hard this is to believe. I mean. This excuse seems a little silly, at best, even for you.”
It’s a general rule that instructors are supposed to at least try to treat their students more-or-less equally and see the good in them and all that, but it would be a lie to say that Rachel didn’t find Irwin a little bit repellent for the same reasons that quite literally everyone else tended to — for example, he had the habit of picking his nose during class with great enthusiasm and frequency, a habit that Rachel, back when Irwin was enrolled in her classes, always got a full, unobstructed view of — which wasn’t helping Irwin out at the moment, especially given the fact that for some reason, academic repercussions seemed to be the only thing that really freaked the 14-year-old PhD candidate out, psycho-spiritually speaking.
“I get that, but you’ve got to believe me. I’ve just been really busy trying to take care of this situation.”
“I’m going to need some kind of proof. A note from someone. Give me something.”
“But I keep telling you, I’m trying but it’s taking them so long to get to me on anything.”
In addition to the thin film of oil that seems to coat Irwin at all times, he is now sweating profusely from his anxiety, creating a feedback loop by which his increasing sweat causes Steep to find him more suspect, thus increasing Irwin’s stress and sweat production, and so on.
“And I keep telling you that I want to believe you, but you have to give me something. You have an oral defense in two days, you’re already behind, and the committee isn’t going to just take the excuse yo’’re giving me at face value. You’re brilliant, no one denies that. Your work on neurochemistry is going to move the field forward some day. But that means you’ve got to prove that you deserve to be here, not make some misinformed grade-school excuse as to why you can’t do this or that.”
“It’s this goddamn Schnauzer! It … It must have gotten into the bath salts or something.”
“Yeah. You know that guy in Florida who ate that other guy’s face off? Bath salts.”
“What’re you trying to say?”
“Well I mean I can’t be sure, but I think my dog got into the bath salts.”
“and that’s why—”
“—yeah I think that’s why my dog ate them. My mom, dad, my little brother … and then maybe he ate more bath salts after, I’m not sure what happened. The first responding officer who came to the scene, he never came out of the house. But that’s besides the point.”
“I just don’t understand. You’re saying a schnauzer what, just ate four people? Four whole people?”
“Okay, well… it didn’t eat them in their entirety. I don’t think. Just their faces and, from what I could tell a finger here and there. A chunk of neck.”
“Good God … Look, what you’re claiming here is horrible. And if you’re telling the truth, I can absolutely move some things around. But I’m supposed to just take your word that this happened, what, just a few hours ago? This isn’t the first time you’ve shown up without anything but an excuse, although I must say this would outdo anything you’ve come up with before. I want to help you here and if this real, I’ll do everything I can. But I just can’t move around this defense without something, especially since this wouldn’t be the first time you’ve pulled something like this. I mean if you’re lying, that is.”
Irwin faces Professor Steep, who’s flanked by portraits of of old, slightly-constipated looking men in tweed blazer s— dozens of eyes spanning hundreds of years all staring at the fidgety doctorate candidate. The air is heavy with the smell of worn leather and paper aged yellow. Irwin taps his foot with the ferocious tempo of two rabbits mating.
“I promise it’s not an excuse. All the stuff is done as of yesterday. Finito. It’s just that I’ve been so frazzled dealing with the cops, the lawyers, all this insurance stuff, that I haven’t gotten the chance to drop by my house to pick up my papers, and plus the house is like, under quarantine or something so I couldn’t even if I wanted to, which I do, I mean I want to, and that’s why I’m showing up empty-handed. And on top of all of that, I need to figure out whether or not I’m going to put down Princess Bacon.”
“Yeah, I’m not supposed to go back into the house, where all my papers are, according to the police chief. I told him about the papers too, but he still wouldn’t let me in.”
“No, I mean about the dog.”
“Oh yeah, well Princess Bacon was a gift from my parents for my 5th birthday, so I’m a little sentimentally attached. We named her after Sir Francis Bacon. And also bacon the food because that was her favorite.”
“Didn’t you say she ate your parents and your brother?”
“Yeah, but since she’s a gift from them, she’s a way to remember them, which is especially relevant now that they’re not around.”
“Christ … Alright it’s 3:00 and I have another appointment to go to. You’re going to need to give me something concrete to let the committee and me know this actually happened or else I can’t do anything about your defense, and you’re going to need to have all your materials for it.”
Rachel stands and extends her hand; she’s the formal type that always ends any interaction with a handshake, a trait so ingrained that it’s rumored that she, out of pure habit, shook her husband’s hand during their wedding after the ceremonial “I Do’s” and kisses. Irwin wipes his hands on his khakis and meets hers halfway across the desk. His palms are, despite the precautionary measure, still clammy with a wetness that seems less to be produced by him and more to exist as an essential part — in the same way that a snail’s slime seems to constitute the snail just as much as its body or shell. Shortly after he leaves, she spritzes her hand with hand sanitizer.
“Hello, sir? I’m calling about case number 315000145. My thesis advisor wants some sort of form or something.”
“I’m sorry? Is everything okay? Do you have a parent around I can talk to?”
“No, no parents,” Irwin coughs and attempts to lower his still largely prepubescent voice, “I just need some proof or something that this case is happening, for sch — for my studies.”
“Alright. Let me look up your file. You said 315000145?”
The operator sounds as if he’s speaking from some distance away, with that warm, grainy tenor imparted by older phones — a sound that seems to intimately convey the voice on the other side, carefully carried over all those miles along wires and cables. Irwin stands at the payphone outside of the local Denny’s, playing with the strap of his beaten down JanSport backpack with his left hand and holding the phone with his right.
“Hello?” the operator asks.
“Yeah, I’m still here.”
“I see your case file in the internal system here, and I understand how much grief you must be in given what happened. I’m so … so sorry.”
“No no, that’s fine. I just need the file or something so my advisor will push back my oral defense. Honestly, I don’t see why I can’t just give her the case number and be done with it.”
“Yeah, no. I just need some files or something.”
“Look kid, are you okay? I can reference you some trauma specialists. Really, we have resources to—”
“— the only thing I need is some sort of proof of my ongoing case.”
Irwin’s hands are cold, but he barely notices as his picks at his teeth with his index finger and scrapes off a bit of plaque. Upon smelling the white residue, he realizes he hasn’t brushed his teeth in a solid two days. Above him, a gray November sky hangs like smoke, the glowing yellow Denny’s interior beginning to radiate as the rest of the world sinks into evening. Gentle cracks and pops come from the phone as the operator on the other side silently runs through various textbook (i.e. largely pseudo-science) reactions to trauma, attempting to figure out which one fits Irwin’s behavior.
“Look, I’m sure that you’re under a lot of stress.”
“I am, because all my papers are quarantined in my house and I’m screwed for my defense unless you can tell me how to get these case files to my professor.”
“Are you sure you don’t need anyone to talk to.”
“Lord in heaven, for the last time no.”
The operator, having run through his mental list, concludes that the voice on the other side must be in the Denial phase of grief — and also that the kid is kind of a dick — and acquiesces, telling himself that the young child will come to terms with it in his own timeline.
“I’ll do my best to help, but given the peculiar nature of your situation, we appreciate you keeping everything official under the radar for the time being, and urge you to do so for the near future given that this is an ongoing investigation.”
“Uh huh, sure.”
“That being said, since the file itself is still under official review, it means it’ll take at least another week for it to be publicly accessible, and that’s only if it gets clearance immediately.”
“But my defense is this Friday. That’s in two days.”
“I’m sorry, I can ask my boss, but the report just got up an hour ago. Honestly, it’s a miracle that this case file even entered the internal system within such a short time, and it’ll need to be authorized before the information’s printable or accessible online.”
“You can try calling tomorrow to see if any progress has been made, but I don’t think I can do anything for you today.”
“But my defense.”
“I’m so sorry, but I can’t help. Thank you for calling, and I wish you the best of luck. I wish I could do more, I really do. I can still refer you to some trauma hotlines. They do really good work over there and—”
“—no… no that’s fine.”
“Once again, I’m so sorry. I hope for all the best.”
The phone on the other end clicks to the sound of a dial tone. Irwin stands dumbly for a bit, phone to his ear listening to the sound of nothing. Eventually he hangs up and enters the Denny’s, where he proceeds to eat two Lumberjack Slams all by himself, whispering variations of the word “fuck” over and over again as he demolishes four buttermilk pancakes, four pieces of bacon, sausages, eggs, a double-serving of hash browns, ham and toast.
Jean-Luc shares his apartment with two other graduate students named Adalene and Mark, and now, at least starting tonight, an anxiety ridden 14-year-old who he met in a seminar on neurotoxicity last year. The kid didn’t tell him why he needed to crash on the couch, but he, the kid, said that it wouldn’t be for long and that he had no other friends he could ask, a sentiment that Jean-Luc, a former anxiety ridden antisocial 14-year-old, sympathized with.
At the moment, only Jean and Adalene are home, and given that it’s a Wednesday, they’re preparing for hump-day festivities as they generally do — by getting slowly blitzed off mid-tier Beaujolais wine and occasional hits from Adalene’s vaporizer-pen (the tobacco having been substituted long ago with THC-filled wax) while debating the merits of C.W. Mills’ ideal theory.
By the time Irwin walks in, the discussion has shifted to the merits of Mark’s girlfriend, which, unlike the merits of Mills’ ideal theory, Jean and Adalene can both come to a consensus on.
“Hey Irwin,” yells Jean “you know Sarah?”
Irwin shakes his head in the negative.
“She’s a dick. Once broke my bike because she was drunk and tried to joust someone while riding. Instead, she hit a car that was parked and messed the gears up. Joust. Who the hell does that?”
Adalene nods in agreement. “Yeh…”
Irwin forces a polite smile as he puts his backpack down and takes a seat next to Adalene, who at this point has begun to slump into the THC-induced silence that tends to occur between the eighth and ninth puff of the vaporizer.
“Hey,” Irwin asks, “how flexible do you think Professor Steep would be about my oral defense date.”
“Oh, le Steeple? Good luck with that,” Jean says, finishing off his glass of red and pouring himself another. “She’s by the books man. I wouldn’t count on it if I were you. Why, is everything okay?”
“Yeah, just some stuff happened with my dog, and yeah, you know what, never mind.”
“Is it lost? We can help look for it if it is lost. Right Adalene?”
Adalene nods. Or at least does a nod-like motion as she tips her head forward, inhales from her pen again, and comes back up to resume her low-energy resting state.
“Well it is, but that’s not really it. It’s fine though,” Irwin says.
Jean’s thoughts flood back to his childhood in Lyon, where he had a small spaniel named Floof. He remembers how Floof died while he was at Sorbonne — how he didn’t tell anyone, but would cry at night when he was by himself for a solid week.
“No fuck it, we’re going to find it.”
“No, really, it’s fine. Bacon is fine. It’s just that … No never mind… So I guess Steep is pretty trenched in, huh.”
Jean nods and stares blankly at Irwin for a moment, appearing to think deeply about whether or not to pursue the topic further, but in actuality not thinking about much of anything. Eventually, he, like most people who have been under the influence for long enough to lose any immediate grasp of the sensation of sobriety, comes to the conclusion that Irwin must be in the same feel-good mental state that he and Adalene are in and decides that yeah, it probably isn’t a big deal.
Jean-Luc makes a mental note to put up Lost Dog posters come morning and preemptively congratulates himself on his considerations. He stands to get his coat and pats himself down to make sure he has everything he needs for the night ahead. After watching Jean for a moment, Adalene eventually pulls a Lazarus and rises to grab her jacket as well. The two roommates disappear into the cool New England night soon after, off to smoke cigarettes outside of hip bars and drink overpriced IPAs, leaving Irwin by himself.
Irwin is, quite simply speaking, fucked. So fucked. Cold war era 15 megaton bomb fucked. God, why did this have to happen to him. But of course it happened, because things can never be easy. Of course he didn’t keep the stuff for his defense in his backpack, so that when the house got quarantined after he came home to find Bacon in a black iron-smelling puddle surrounded by red fleshy ribbons and gnawed on corpses, he could’ve had everything to present on him, ready, armed to the teeth with key papers and printouts and graphs. He should have been more careful. But he wasn’t and now all his stuff is back at the house, where he can’t go because some cops think that Princess Bacon is a quote unquote literal demon sent from hell, a Schnauzer Cerberus or some shit like that.
Irwin eyes the half bottle of red wine remaining, a lone survivor surrounded by the dark-green husks of its hollowed out comrades. In Europe, they let you drink wine when you’re 14, he’s pretty sure. That’s what his parents said anyway when they let him drink the occasional glass at dinner. His brother never drank, but Irwin found that he always liked the taste. Sharp, but in a way that grew on you half a glass in.
He takes the bottle and sips. Chemically speaking, he knows that it’ll help with the stress. That’s science. Also, chemically speaking, it’ll help with creative problem solving, precisely the kind of problem solving he needs right now if he’s going to get himself out of this mess. That’s also science.
Within moments, the liquid in the bottle has seemingly evaporated. To where? Who knows. But Irwin has an idea. An idea so brilliant, so simple, that it’s giving him the same kind of brain-boner he got after first conducting a successful acid based titration when he was 6. That is, he should just break into his house. It’s his house after all, and Princess Bacon disappeared sometime between the first responding officers entering the house and the SWAT team arriving, so he’s totally good on the whole supposed demon-dog front. It’s shocking that such a straightforward option, disobeying orders, hadn’t even crossed his mind until now.
He grabs his backpack and stands to enact his plan, stumbling a bit at first because apparently someone thought it would be funny to replace the firm floor with something about as stable as a waterbed while Irwin was innocently sitting and thinking creatively thanks to science. But he finds his footing soon enough and he’s off.
It feels like his legs are moving without him consciously telling them to. At this point, he’s more gliding than anything, really. Does he always walk this quickly? It was colder outside, last time he checked. What’ll he do if the cops are guarding his house — do cops even guard houses? This plan is not worked out, but that’s fine. Spontaneity is the spice of life.
The house eventually appears in front of him, stretching itself out to meet him like planets after warp speed in Star Trek. No cops are in the area as far as he can tell. Only a little fence of yellow “Do Not Cross” tape across the house’s perimeter gives any indication of an ongoing investigation.
Irwin slips under the tape and enters the house through the front door, which, for some reason, is unlocked. Guess the police assumed that the yellow tape was enough to deter any would-be intruders. Guess again.
Inside, the house looks more or less like it did when Irwin first stumbled on it two days ago. The only real changes are that it smells a little less like iron — more like the sharp vinegary smell of rotting meat, if anything — and the blood has dried on the white carpet so the floor kind of resembles an old Pollock mashed up with one of those gore-fest Saw movies. One could call it Untitled, Princess Bacon, 2007. No wait, Drugs, Princess Bacon, 2007.
Moving quickly, Irwin goes to the stairwell leading to his bedroom, nimbly stepping the over chalk outlines of mangled torsos and legs in the TV lounge. Who knew that cops actually still drew chalk outlines? He always thought those had gone completely out of use.
The door to his bedroom is slightly ajar, and he can see the corner of his work-desk as he approaches. His heart is audible. The moment of truth. Fuck he hopes that the papers are all in one piece.
All his papers are there, uneaten, neatly stacked and organized by topic. He sprints into the room and grabs the goods, stuffing them into his backpack. Who has two thumbs and is about to pass his defense? Irwin, that’s who.
He goes down the steps. His task having been completed, he takes a final look at his house. In the Pinot altered glow, it looks familiar and alien all at once, like he walked into a do-not-touch museum replica of his living room. There’s a stillness, a calm … a noise?
Wait what the fuck.
There’s no way he was mistaken about it. In the deafening silence of a house turned mausoleum, there it was. The sound of something not too heavy hitting the ground or … the sound of a plastic flap smacking shut or … the sound of the dog door being used? He swivels towards the origin of the sound — coincidentally also the general direction of the door that leads from the kitchen to the backyard — and stares closely into the darkness. There’s a faint patter of something clinking against the imitation marble tiling and a soft breathing. A giant schnauzer has a top speed of 28 mph, although Irwin’s not sure how that translates to its smaller, standard counterpart. Still. Even if it was half that.
Outside the air smells like fresh-cut grass, free of the musky, biohazard smell of the house. Parked cars shine under a silver blanket of moonlight as sleeping houses lay silent. Tomorrow, when morning comes and the police resume their investigation, they’ll find a scattering of shredded paper strewn across the living room floor like fresh snow. The only legible remains will be the following title: An Investigation of Mammalian Apathy and Aggression via Induced Serotonin-Deficiency.
photograph by Andrew Neel