It was getting difficult to wash him thoroughly, even his arms weighed like dead dogs when he slept, and he never woke. I left the bedroom lamp off; the light from the sodium lamp outside on the corner showed me more than I wanted to see: the harsh demarcation between the skin on top of his arms pale as cheese and the livid purple where he always lay on his front. I scrubbed his fingers and winced as I touched the indentation around his finger where his ring used to be. Jim wore it until he nearly lost his finger and the surgeon had to cut the metal off with a saw.
I peeled the sheet away to scrub his back, but what I found made me drop the basin, spilling cold water all over my feet. An undulating pasty lump the size of my hand interrupted the normally smooth curve of his whale-like back.
I thought it was some kind of leech, so I ran to the kitchen to get the big knife. My feet were soaked and I slipped on the linoleum, cracking my head against the sink. Purple and white lights exploded all through my head and my arms and legs wouldn't do what I told them. The floor felt cool against my cheek, so I lay there waiting for the walls to straighten themselves back up.
After a couple of minutes I thought I could manage to stand without vomiting. I grabbed hold of the sink and pulled myself up, wondering about the streak of red down its face until I realized it was blood from my head. There was a red mess on the floor, but I had to leave it. I shook the second drawer loose and took out the big knife, hoping the thing on Jim's back hadn't slithered away while I was wallowing in my own blood.
It was still there when I staggered back into the bedroom. The light outside the window wasn't bright enough for this job, so I turned on the bedside lamp, which thrust long fingers of shadow into the corners of the bedroom. The thing on Jim's back wriggled, but it didn't go anywhere. I remembered something about burning leeches with a cigarette to get them to let loose, but I didn't even have a lighter. I looked at it closer to see if I could find a way to pry it off, and slowly realized that it wasn't a leech.
It was flesh, the color of a dead fish and shaped like a malformed ear or a navel turned inside out. I didn't figure it was a bedsore; Jim always lay face down so he got sores on his chest and elbows, but not his back. Besides, this was new. I had bathed Jim the night before, and it hadn't been there then. I prodded it with the sponge. It was definitely attached to him. I swallowed hard and touched it with my finger. The thing squirmed once then fell back to its undulating rhythm. I ran my fingers over it and felt it pulse like a baby kicking inside its mother's belly.
It wanted out.
I could see where its edges folded into the pale flesh of his back. I dug my fingernails underneath and pulled. Jim's breathing shuddered, but he slept hard in the arms of the barbiturates. I pulled as hard as I could, but the thing remained rooted in his back.
That was the problem; I had to get to the root.
I was surprised for a second at how easily his skin parted at the point of the knife then I slid the blade up his spine to where his hair started growing on his neck. Jim groaned in his sleep, but I shushed him. Another slice across the middle of his back and I could slip the blade underneath and peel the skin free and spread it out on either side.
Now I had room to work.
Digging down, I cut tendons and bone out of the way. Jim wasn't helping. He was squealing now and jerked his arms and legs like a puppet tangled in his own strings. The knife handle wanted to slip out of my fingers because it was so slick with blood. God, it was frustrating, but I kept digging until I could reach in. My fingers found where the roots of the thing curled around a squirming mass that I had to grasp with both hands. Jim had finally stopped his puppet dance, so I pulled hard and it came free with a sticky noise.
I wiped the blood from its face; it gasped once then began wailing.
I named him Jim, after his father.