Stains. Everyone leaves a stain.

In a grocery aisle I smashed a jar of raspberry jam, to see the stain. I resisted the urge to lick the glassy jam from the floor. I like raspberry. I like the little seeds in jam that get caught between your teeth. And I like that quivering gelatinous stuff—what’s it called? Pectin? I like pectin. If you cracked a head open it’d probably look like a jar of raspberry jam that someone had knocked off a shelf. All red and quivering.

Today I witnessed three teenagers in an alley beat a homeless man to death. They clubbed him with a metal baseball bat, stomped him with their scuff-black boots, reduced him to wet rags.

Maybe it wasn’t today. Maybe it was in a grassy park, in a before time, when baseball bats were wooden, and homeless men were “hobos,” and were beaten regularly. Because that’s what you do to hobos.


Either way, the image has stayed with me. Mostly the after image, the heap of bloody clothes. The stain.

The next day, or perhaps the next week, I went back to the alley. Or the park. Whichever it was. In the alley there was a smear of black blood on the cement. In the park there was a clot of dirt and gore.

Either way.

That image, too, whichever it was, has stayed with me, like a Rorschach blot imparting some divine, arcane wisdom. Because that’s what those crazy black blots do, right? They swirl and change and tell you something. They whisper.

Doc thought so. He could read things in those black shapes. Said I should, too.

Stains. That’s all they are to me. I didn’t see some terrorist carrying a machine gun. Didn’t see some supermodel’s Labia—majora or minora—unfolding before me. Just stains. I like stains.

That’s why I like painting, too. It’s one big stain. I use my hands. No brushes. As if I’m back in grade 2 and horse-faced Becky Quinn is laughing at the stain I’ve left on the classroom floor. Hands. Just hands. What did they call that? Finger painting? Wet work. I like using my hands. Like getting them dirty.

Doc said I was creative, that I should use my hands, keep busy. Otherwise, idle hands, and all that, you know.

So I do. I use my hands, get them dirty. And before you know it, there’s Doc, slumped in the corner.

All red and quivering.


Michael Kelly is a Canadian writer and editor. His second collection of short stories, Undertow and Other Laments, is available from Dark Regions Press. More fiction is forthcoming in Tesseracts 13, and Postscripts. A novel, Ouroboros, co-written with Carol Weekes, is due to appear later this year.